Pianistics (February 28th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Two months into this listening diary project, I have finally realized what my friends and wife have known for quite awhile: these days, I’m spinning jazz more than any other genre.

Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I’d guess its variety of movement and rhythms and its continual struggle to balance freedom and order suit my bodily needs (nothing else feels as good and surprising) and mental habits (jazz’s musical struggle is my teaching struggle). Also, as much as I also read, maybe words get in my way–though I have been known to mow down hundreds of pages with ’65-’66 Dylan cranked to “7.” Also, as a listener, I have gradually evolved to meet the challenge of jazz that’s more (or totally) freely improvised. I’ve always been interested in it, but now I can listen to more daunting works (say, Cecil Taylor’s Winged Serpent / Sliding Quadrants) with as much ease as I would a Flamingos comp. I’m not bragging, but it’s brought me quite a bit of unexpected pleasure, and more and more it matches my better understanding of the world as I age. But…yo…I am not abandoning other music worlds, not by a long-shot. It’s just that I don’t think this is a phase.

Anyway, I was bewitched yesterday by two great recordings of jazz piano that I’d never heard before, picked up in trade for about 30 used CDs–a bargain. Sonny Clark’s The 1960 Time Sessions with George Duvivier and Max Roach is a dancing, blues-soaked look into some of the ill-fated pianist’s lesser-known non-Blue Note work, with interesting, more considered versions of Clark classics like “Nica”–and all the alternate takes on a separate disc (thanks, Tompkins Square!). Also, his supporting musicians could hardly be in better form, or better equipped to propel his compositions.

John Lewis I have known mostly through Modern Jazz Quartet records, but his two valedictory Evolution records are so powerful I couldn’t pass up a crate-dug used copy that ended up being in mint condition. Lewis’ playing on Improvised Meditations and Excursions (a more concise and eloquent description than I can muster) is quite a bit different than Clark’s–I don’t really have the pianistic vocabulary other than to say the former’s European interests seem to add a stateliness to his sound–but, in particular, his recasting of Bird’s “Now’s the Time,” which leads off, is very inventive. Side A features Lewis originals, Side B’s Tin Pan Alley takes. Duvivier’s on bass on this album, too, beside MJQ drummer Connie Kay.

Short-shrift Division:

Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady–One of my all-time favorite records, I found a vinyl copy of it, too (a 2015 reissue), and was knocked out by its swirling, vaguely threatening (why? hmmmm) power. I always hear something different that reaches out and grabs me; last night, it was Quentin Jackson’s trombone explosions that most certainly must have pleased Bubber Miley’s soul. Every American home should have this record.

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