THE true hallmark of a musical visionary is when their music influences new generations of musicians to either play like their icons note, phrasing and chops, or at least a semblance of the brilliance, or the influence is starkly impactful in the new music the younger cats make.
One of the fundamental aspects of a visionary is that the music they created or improvised from within a set genre back then sounds just as fresh now in the 21st Century.
Many aspects of classic rock did not pass the acid test of time, hence they are quickly categorised as classic rock while classical music, from the time of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, bristle at improvisation, so they are faithfully reproduced note for note, even if 300 years have passed, with a difference only in tone, tempo and the choice of period or modern instruments.
But in jazz, what you hear is what you get: If the music was done and recorded pristinely, say, 40 to 50 years ago, you’d think a Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans classic was produced quite recently.
Sleeper — Tokyo, April 16, 1979
Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson, Jon Christensen
TAPES of this 1979 live set from Tokyo, during Jarrett’s salad days, was idling in the ECM vaults for 30-odd years before it was given the modern remastered treatment and released last week to a very grateful jazz community and Jarrett disciples.
First of all, this 2CD set was recorded around the same time Jarrett and his so-called European combo were trailblazing a “euro” sound that is both highly melodic (think Abba-like melodic sweetness!) but injected with superlative improvisation that stretches many tunes to beyond 20 minutes.
Garbarek’s sound on the saxophones is pointedly raking and brusque — no other saxophone sound comes close — while Christensen’s drums constantly moving and jiving to bassist Danielsson’s deep end exuberance.
The tunes are familiar — they were made during the time of the quartet’s last studio album Belonging in 1974 and heard endlessly in Personal Mountains (live in Tokyo 1979) and Nude Ants (live at the Village Vanguard in 1980).
The tunes are vividly Jarrett’s, such is the effervescence of the tunes. Innocence gets whipped up in so much free improvisation in the first five minutes you’d thought the beauty of the melody had been totally deconstructed but when the first notes of Jarrett’s instinctive piano vamps on the melody, you realise how good these guys were in those halcyon years.
The rhythm section’s drive and freedom goes ballistic in Personal Mountains, a 20-minute powerhouse of boundless harmonies and grooving. Still, the free-improvisation permeates in all songs, ensuring that this peerless quartet stays as one of the biggest influences for decades after that made musicians play with heart, sensitivity and maybe a little bit more funk.
Live At Art D’Lugoff’s: Top Of The Gate
BILL Evans is such a crucial marker in jazz literally every great pianist that came post-1970s tends to sound or is heavily influenced by his lyricism, emotionally-driven notes and personal-to-holder type of improvisation within his favourite trio structure.
At the rate tapes of unknown Evans’ live gigs are being dug out every few years you’d think there was a reservoir down there, which may be the case, since his discography extends beyond scores of titles.
But this engaging live set, truth be told, sounds no more different from the slew of recordings that have emerged in the past decade. Nonetheless, Evans, sympathetically supported by Eddie Gomez (acoustic bass) and Marty Morell (drums) bares himself naked, his soul flowing in those gorgeous notes you hear in minute detail.
There are several things different in this 1968 recording though: It’s the first time Evans recorded My Funny Valentine and Yesterdays while Witchcraft gets resurrected this one time since he first did it in a 1959 studio version in Portrait In Jazz.
At a relative short 4:44, My Funny Valentine is the price of entry, given the Evans circumspect treatment, which is only bettered by Keith Jarrett’s 1986 trio reading. But it is in the trio setting that Evans flies and swoops, grooving hypnotically as Morell and Gomez act as able wingmen. It’s a stunning performance, which is enough for Evans to retain his crown as King of the piano trio.
The Mothership Returns
Return To Forever
Eagle Rock Entertainment
A RETURN To Forever resurrection without guitar wizard Al Di Meola may sound sacrilegious to fans but Chick Corea (keyboards), Stanley Clarke (bass) and Lenny White (drums) put their faith in Frank Gambale (who last collaborated in the Chick Corea Elektric) is just as fleet-fingered and technically muscular as Di Meola.
Resurging after the last resurrection in 2008 Return To Forever Returns, this new live gig from their 2011 tour is injected with a new fervour, the scintillating violin of Jean-Luc Ponty, who is no stranger to Clarke who have collaborated on many projects.
Two tunes stand out — Senor Mouse is the distillation of pomp, power and virtuoso solos (check out Gambale’s stinging response if anyone thought Di Meola was indispensable in the RTF scheme of things).
Then, of course, the staple of any RTF gig — Spain, veered from the usual introductory splendour, starting with Corea’s succulent introduction and a serenade utilising the Ponty sound before it explodes in the tune’s familiar romanticism.
Renaissance and The Romantic Warrior are extended indulgently, 18 and 19 minutes respectively — synth-driven generously touched up by what can only be described as progressive rock, thanks to White’s massive and Clarke’s hard funk and thumping basslines.
The only signature tune missing is No Mystery but still, the remaking of these RTF favourites is pleasing and should satiate the most rabid fan.