LJC, LJC, it’s always the same: always something different…
Enough of comparing vinyl reissues, all that commercial competitive chest-beating stuff, lets get “musical” and what could be more musical than to compare… musicians . The subject of this post is jazz saxophone pairings, a setting which allows attentive listeners to compare and contrast the way jazz is played, how two similar musicians make different noises and make different choices in the same open setting. You may decide one of the two is better than the other, that’s your prerogative.
The solo goes double
The familiar structure of modern jazz performance often runs thus: opening statement, main theme, chorus, solo 1, solo 2, solo 3, reprise main theme, finale fade. Solos in turn: brass 1, brass 2, piano, possibly a little window for bass and drums, a satisfying musical outing where both the expected and unexpected happily co-exist. (Unless of course it is Cecil Taylor, in which music is formless, melody evaporates before it takes shape, harmony is largely accidental, and tempo merely implied or quickly discarded. I’m beginning to get it)
Modern jazz is the home of improvisation, and the showcase of the improviser is the solo, expanding the melody and exploring the harmonic possibilities, “conversing” with the other musicians, and demonstrating the technical fluency and quick-thinking of a master of their instrument.
The duet Two people playing a similar instrument sequentially in a small group setting is something different. Despite their common influences, every musician’s voice is unique. Art Pepper’s alto is immediately recognisable from Mclean, Konitz, and Lou Donaldson. The same instrument, but different voices. So what caught my interest when listening to some recordings recently was where the front line includes two soloists with the same instrument. The tune is the same, the instrument is the same, the opportunities are the same, only the intonation and compositional imaginations differ.
The interest in
the duet two similar instruments played sequentially in a small group setting for the attentive listener is therefore slightly different from the conventional quartet or quintet outing: follow which player is which through their different voices, their different approaches, and ultimately, the successful marriage of the solos rather than the contest to prove who can play better and faster (though there is a place for that too). It’s sort of competitive jazz artistry, where I am sure human nature dictates a little “competition” pushes higher endeavour, to the greater good of all.
So I give you by way of an experiment, three separate pairings on vinyl, you could say a triple double.
(This post has been peer reviewed for the correct use of descriptive musical terminology. It contains no duets, but may contain nuts, or traces of irony…)
1. WARNE MARSH AND TED BROWN: TWO TENORS, CLASSIC IMPERIAL SESSIONS (1956)
Jazz of Two Cities (® 1956 -re 1970s)
Selection: Jazz of Two Cities (Ted Brown)
Warne Marsh,Ted Brown (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Ball (piano), Ben Tucker (bass) Jeff Morton (drums) recorded October 3 &11, 1956 at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA
Original Release: Imperial LP 9027
Controversial Stereo Edition: originally issued in mono, a heavily edited stereo version with the new title The Winds of Marsh was released by Imperial. It featured several solos spliced from different takes, without Marsh’s permission, and which he angrily denounced to be a “bootleg”.
The “one-fer” album pitch of Marsh as “”Boss” of the avant-garde saxophone” suggests something quite difficult, not so, this is pure West Coast sunshine: a classic album of Tristano-school cool jazz. Happy tunes, bright forward piano with more attack than mere accompaniment, a tight swing-time bass and drums, graced with extended weaving saxophone lines.
The tenor tandem of Marsh and Ted Brown leaves your ears scanning for the handover with subtly different voice and phrasing, as they ride the tenor’s upper register, graceful and melodic in duet and solo.
Vinyl: BNP 25.106 (French press, United Artists early ’70s).
Blue Note Two-fer lookalike that is only a one-fer. Nothing “Blue Note” about it, merely licensed for release by United Artists on their Blue Note imprint from whoever held the rights to the Imperial recording, remastered and pressed in France.
Whilst the two-fer Blue Note Reissue series can be sonically superb where sourced from van Gelder engineered original Blue Note tapes, their reissue of other studio recordings can be a trifle lack-lustre. The French reissue producers of this pressing were either working with a weak n-th generation copy tape, or didn’t have the skills to produce top transfer, as the dynamics are somewhat lacking, however the music is unquestionably top rate.
Blue Note BNP 25.106
Marsh and Brown: where are they now?
Warne famously died onstage at the Los Angeles club Donte’s in 1987, in the middle of playing “Out of Nowhere”. Ted Brown is still very much alive and kicking, with his own website, and offering up and coming saxophonists coaching and tuition on line (Paypal accepted)
2. CHARLIE ROUSE AND PAUL QUINICHETTE: TWO “BIG” TENORS.
Parlophone PMC 1090 The Chase is On – first UK release of Bethlehem BCP 6021 ® 1957
Paul Quinichette, Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone) Wynton Kelly (piano) Wendell Marshall (bass) Ed Thigpen (drums) recorded NYC, August 29, 1957
On selection, Hank Jones (piano) replaces Wynton Kelly, adds Freddie Green (guitar) recorded NYC, September 8, 1957
Sax duels, rather than duets, were big in the ’50s and ’60s: Tenor Madness, Alto Summit and the like, but here on this slow blues the duet is conversational, honouring the blues tradition with elegant phrasing and sensitive handovers. Freddie Green adds just a touch of rhythmic spritz strumming guitar chords lightly without shipping the ensemble to The Loop. It’s jazz sensibility, not blues.
Rouse has the more full-bodied tone similar to Dexter Gordon, while Paul Quinichette’s breathy style earned him the soubriquet “Vice Prez” to Lester Young. Listen through, isn’t this just gorgeous? Languid, liquid, sonorous, heartfelt.
Vinyl: Parlophone PMC 1090 – EMI pressing.
Quinichette and Rouse: Where are they now?
Paul Quinichette died May 25, 1983, Charlie Rouse died November 30, 1988 age 64, leaving behind ten solid years with Monk’s quartet.
3. KEN MCINTYRE AND ERIC DOLPHY: TWO “BAD” ALTOS (and occasionally, flutes, bassoon, bass clarinet, exploring new sounds through unconventional jazz instruments)
Ken McIntyre (alto saxophone, flute) Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute) Walter Bishop Jr. (piano) Sam Jones (bass) Art Taylor (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 28, 1960
Both multi-instrumentalists, McIntyre’s approach is similarly exploratory to Dolphy’s, although tone was softer with less ferocious in attack. Heard side by side you realise how much so.
Esquire 32-133 first UK release of New Jazz NJLP 8247
McIntyre died in 2001 at the age of 69, equivalent to old age and of natural causes. Dolphy died on June 29, 1964 in a diabetic coma, however his musical contribution and recorded legacy rendered him musically immortal.
Hope that was interesting. New ideas and suggestions for future posts always welcome, as long as they don’t involve any more audiophile reissues!
Coming up shortly, another first, the LJC Jazz Quiz: a chance to test your jazz knowledge and listening skills by correctly identifying who the player is. This one will really stretch you. Hehehe