Selection: Uschi (Keno Duke)
. . .
Song title dedicated to the designer/photographer credited with the front cover, “Uschi” , which is a female name, apparently the Germanic diminutive of Ursula. The name Keno is also Germanic in origin. Somewhere is a connection, but there seems little known of either. The dedication is to Keno’s father, “Juliano”, the Latin “Julianus” derivative spelling found in Portugese and Spanish, the Italian form being Giuliano, so not from around these parts, and no internet reference I could find. A few pieces of a jigsaw, final number of pieces unknown.
Keno Duke, drums; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Frank Strozier, alto saxophone/ flute; Harold Mabern, piano; Lisle Atkinson, bass; recorded at Minot Studios, White Plains, N.Y. engineer, Randy Adler; front cover photo, Uschi Hahn.
Keno Duke’s very small discography consists of just two albums for Strata East under the name Jazz Contemporaries, with George Coleman and Harold Mabern in common, Reasons In Tonality (1972) – too much Julius Watkins french horn for me, Sense Of Values (1974) and this title for the obscure Trident Records label.
Keno seems to have disappeared without trace in the mid ’70s, having little or no internet footprint apart from this small discography. He is a capable drummer, nothing out of the ordinary; his strength, unusually for a drummer, was composition. If you are still out there Keno, give us a shout. Any one who knows anything more, tell.
DJ’s like the beats – Keno’s most sampled tracks are the funky Too Late, Fall Back Baby from the Strata East Sense Of Values album (and The Universal Sound sampler), and Some Other Time from Crest Of The Wave. These are a little lightweight for me, not much use for DJ dance tunes, and the selection Uschi is made of stronger stuff. After a brief drum-solo establishing Keno’s credentials as leader, a lyrical easy opening theme gives way to a tasty upright bass sortie by unknown to me player Lisle Atkinson, before handover to George Coleman to develop the driving force over the modal backdrop. Great.
The best known of the Keno Duke’s Jazz Contemporaries is George Coleman, of Miles Davis’ Quintet (1963–4, replaced briefly by Hank Mobley) and tenor saxophone on Herbie Hancock’s iconic Maiden Voyage (1965). Coleman is a very capable tenor player, why else would Miles have chosen him? But not everyone’s premiere league , why else would Miles have let him go? Stealing the limelight, possibly, as with Hank? An inventive and fluent player who maintained the spirit of ’60s jazz through six decades, frequently in collaboration with fellow straight-ahead players Harold Mabern, the late and most swingingest Billy Higgins, Sam Jones and Ray Drummond. Coleman still with us, age 84. Clean living, good genes, and maybe just a little luck. We all need that kind of luck.
Great-sounding album from 1974, in the Strata East vein, high energy, punchy, bright, lively pre-digital. One foot in the Spiritual Jazz genre, the other … a bit more whimsical, funky. An album led by a drummer puts you at risk of death-by-drum solo, and there is one briefly, but on the whole the Jazz Contemporaries keep everything in proportion.
Coleman is the strongest element, along with Mabern’s melodic-leaning piano. Altoist Frank Strozier was one of the Vee Jay young lions from 1960, led a few titles of his own, but was destined ultimately to be a sideman, and eventually left music altogether. His place here is owed to frequent collaboration with Coleman, but his solos are the lesser of the two. Coleman can really turn on the heat, and with a growing fierce hard tone weaves blisteringly fast runs with interesting musical ideas.
George Coleman joins Harold Vick, and Harold Land, in my list of players to listen out for: they are undervalued.
Vinyl: Trident Records TRS 501
Little is known of Keno Duke, or indeed the New York record label Trident Records (active 1975-82) which released just six titles, in the spiritual /modal jazz vein of Strata East.
The artists appear interchangeably between Trident and Strata East, and both used the same studios, Minot Sound, White Plains N.Y. Effectively, they might be one and the same.
This album piqued my curiosity, repaid with some interest, nothing earth-shattering, but I was becoming frustrated by a string of mediocre sounding albums, like a 1978 Prestige Jazz Masterpiece Japan Victor press of a New Jazz album NJ 8265, “Where?” Ron Carter, Mal Waldron, Eric Dolphy, what a line up!
New Jazz is a frustratingly rare and expensive label in its original form, which were not infrequently troubled by the inclusion of recycled vinyl during manufacture. A Japanese copy is less rare, less expensive, and avoid the disappointment of contaminated vinyl, and one turned up, from Victor Japan, so I took the risk.
A 1961 Van Gelder recording by rights should sound fantastic but sadly it was completely lifeless, dead, a really poor transfer or Fantasy copy tape bodge. Unfortunately I forgot that I had a similar experience with another Prestige/New Jazz title by Victor, low gain, wishy-washy nothing sound.
I thought about starting a Bad Jazz Reissues Section, Rogues Gallery with warning flags. Might be a big one, any thoughts welcome.
Toys-R-Us , Vinyl Edition.
If like me you occasionally find yourself drifting off in a late night listening session, and I suspect one or two out there do, I was introduced by a kindly friend to a little device called a Safety Raiser, by Audio Technica. It is a solution to prevent a tonearm cart spinning in the run-out groove overnight. That is a lot of hours use for no benefit.
It is designed to fit almost any turntable, even my Avid, which is a fairly quirky design.It is exasperatingly fiddly to fit, and has a tendency to malfunction occasionally and has required jigsaw-puzzle reassembly, but when it works, it works! When correctly aligned, and you have remembered to prime it before play, it lifts your tonearm up clear of the vinyl surface, at a point you set just short of the record label. Depending on your listening habits, you may find a device like this – there are probably others, something that can prolong an expensive cartridge life considerably.
It is also fun. Takes me right back to one of my first record players with an auto-changer, an arm that automatically lifted up at the end of the single or album and jerkily returned to its resting point after play (and clicked off, something the Safety Raiser doesn’t). Maybe one day audiophile turntable manufacturers will fit such a device as standard. Or with the benefit of modern technology, a facial recognition-triggered rubber hand, that swings out and slaps you in the face if you appear to be dozing off. The Safety Slapper™
Any other remedies for vinyl malpractice welcomed. Or indeed anything else. And whatever happened to Keno Duke? Someone must know. I love a happy ending, though they seem increasingly rare in our collective dystopia.
Happy Approaching New year, has to be an improvement on the last.