June 24, 2006

Jazz Art

Miles Davis





We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Bruce Springsteen: We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Bruce Springsteen
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

[Sony; 2006]

On paper, The Seeger Sessions seems like a terrible idea: traditional American folksongs paid hyper-reverent homage by one of rock'n'roll's most earnest performers, an attempt to transform campfire songs into sermons and anoint sweet, old, cord-cutting Pete Seeger high priest of Americana. Instead, this collection-- consisting of songs Seeger has sung, but none he's written-- is a boisterous, spirit-raising throwdown, conjured by a 12-man band (guitar, harmonica, tuba, violin, B3 organ, upright bass, banjo, piano, drums, accordion, trombone, saxophone, trumpet, and more) and a pack of grinning backup singers. Perhaps ironically, Bruce Springsteen-- one of America's most-adored songsmiths-- is soaring high on a record full of tracks other people wrote.

On The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen growls, warbles, groans, and gags, sounding often like Tom Waits (check the scratchy, ominous vocals on "Erie Canal") or later Bob Dylan. It's a stark contrast to Seeger's crisp, clear pipes, and it reinvigorates a handful of ancient American tracks. Like any good folk record, The Seeger Sessions tackles the tangle of war, strife, poverty, and unrest, but does so without sacrificing joy or release (really, the very reasons people began singing in the first place). The resulting collection happily drowns out echoes of Springsteen's underwhelming recent efforts, and just might be the very best and most inspiring album Bruce has produced in more than a decade.

Embracing early E Street shuffle and ditching the solemnity of 2005's Devils and Dust, The Seeger Sessions culls from a century of rich, gritty Americana tradition, from bluegrass to country to rhythm and blues to gospel, rock'n'roll, Zydeco, Dixieland, and more. Springsteen is an obvious descendent of folk tradition, but, as he writes in the record's liner notes, this is "street corner music, parlor music, tavern music, wilderness music, circus music, church music, gutter music." Or: The Seeger Sessions is a party record.

Clawing through Seeger's considerable catalogue, Springsteen ultimately selected a smart, varied, and cohesive smattering of songs, proving he retains a deep and nuanced understanding of folk tradition. In a recent New Yorker profile of Seeger, Springsteen talks about folk songs as tools with potential to become "righteous implements when connected to historical consciousness," and claims to have chosen this particular repertoire because, "Everything I wanted, I found there." Appropriately, Spingsteen's voice seems custom-made for tracks like "We Shall Overcome", where his signature gravity spreads shivers, destined to silence even the most jaded listeners with its convincing optimism. Written in 1905, "Erie Canal" (sealed comfortably in the consciousness of any kid born or raised in western New York), is ominous and hypnotizing, with banjo picks punctuated by organs, strings, and an unexpected Dixieland breakdown midway through-- it's not hard to imagine whole arenas shouting, "Low bridge, everybody down!"

The gorgeously explosive "O Mary Don't You Weep" cracks open with teasing fiddles, before horns and drums kick up and Springsteen's throaty shouts are rounded out by a bevy of backing singers, organs sliding in and out, a gloriously sloppy mélange of sound, as indebted to New Orleans as it is to Newport. Springteen's voice is gravelly and real, happily divorced from the overproduction and studio tweaking that plagues his recent work, and perfectly in sync with his band's raucous, gleeful pounding. Everyone here is loose and intoxicated, and nowhere else is the record's quasi-live conceit (the record was made in three day-long sessions, preceded by no rehearsals) as gloriously palpable.

Springsteen has a habit of folding current events into his songs without ever being specific enough to limit a verse to a single time and place. Unsurprisingly, that timelessness syncs up perfectly with the centuries-old songs on The Seeger Sessions, and, if nothing else, confirms that Bruce Springsteen was the right (and maybe only) person for this particular gig. Less an exhumation than a celebration, The Seeger Sessions is the best proof we've got that America's folksongs are also our finest artifacts. It's all here: recipes, prayers, promises, fears, hopes, and hollers.

-Amanda Petrusich, April 24, 2006 Pitchfork .com

Charles Lloyd: Confluence

Charles Lloyd: Confluence

”Charles“It’s all part of a continuum,” Charles Lloyd says about the music of his new trio with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland. “Sangam is a confluence, a meeting—it’s a supercharged atmosphere when we get together. We play in the now, looking for the One. Zakir, Eric and I may come from different backgrounds, but it is a small planet and we are here on the homeward journey together.”

Charles Lloyd’s “journey” is one of the more intriguing stories in jazz. Born in Memphis, Tenn., on March 15th, 1938, he got his first saxophone at the age of ten. “I started out on alto,” he remembers, “and while Bird was my ‘all in all’, I also loved Johnny Hodges and Lee Konitz’s sound.” Lloyd studied informally with the great pianist Phineas Newborn and formally at Manansas High School (where Jimmie Lunceford had once taught). His fellow students included Booker Little (his best friend), Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern and George Coleman (then as now a strict taskmaster, who challenged his peers to develop both technical and musical virtuosity). His first professional gigs were with bluesmen Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf.

Even as a teenager Lloyd’s musical tastes were diverse. In addition to his love of jazz and blues he developed a strong interest in classical music. “I had been drawn to the sheer transcendence of J.S. Bach and the late string quartets of Beethoven,” he recalls, “and Bartók, with the way he tapped into his native folk melodies.” His interest in the latter led to his matriculation at USC, where he studied composition. “When I was in college in Los Angeles, there was a rich cauldron of music makers all around me—as there had been in Memphis,” he continues. “There was Gerald Wilson’s big band, which we all played in. At various times, in the reeds were Harold Land, Walter Benton, Clifford Jordan, Eric Dolphy, Ornette and myself. Some of the other musicians were Don Cherry, Lester Robinson, Garnett Brown, Horace Tapscott, Frank Butler, Elmo Hope ... I jammed at night with Master [Billy] Higgins, Scotty LaFaro, Bobby Hutcherson, Cherry and many others.”

When Dolphy left Chico Hamilton’s band in 1960 to join Charles Mingus, Lloyd succeeded his altoist friend in the innovative drummer’s group. After a year of playing alto (and flute) in the Hamilton quintet that featured Nate Gershman on cello, Lloyd switched to tenor and took over as music director.

Under his direction the course of the band, which now included Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, noticeably changed, as evidenced on the album Drumfusion, a date comprised entirely of Lloyd compositions. He says, “At the time, I was listening to recordings of Bismallah Khan and got to hear Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. When I discovered this music and heard how they could bend the notes—it was so soulful and took me back to my childhood and the blues in Byhalia, Mississippi—I introduced Gabor to Indian music; he had already heard the music of the Roma people in his native Hungary and he began to bend his notes, even more, in that Eastern direction.” The startling effect can be heard on Hamilton’s classic Impulse album, Man from Two Worlds, which features an early recording of Lloyd’s “Forest Flower”.

Soon afterwards, Lloyd joined Cannonball Adderley’s Sextet, replacing Yusef Lateef, who ironically would similarly move on to a pioneering role in the as yet unnamed world music movement. While still touring and/or recording with Cannon and Chico, Lloyd made his first albums as a leader, Discovery and Of Course, Of Course, for Columbia. The latter, newly reissued by Mosaic, is a groundbreaking quartet date with Szabo and the Miles Davis rhythm team of Ron Carter and Tony Williams, but it was Lloyd’s next foursome, featuring the virtually unknown rhythm section of Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette that would soon make history.

In 1966, touring after their first studio recording, Dream Weaver, which featured an intellectual looking Lloyd with a full Afro, wearing a three piece pinstriped suit on the cover, the quartet performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The group’s set, including an extended version of Lloyd’s “Forest Flower”, was issued with the previously recorded tune as the title track.

“Zakir, Eric and I may come from different backgrounds, but it is a small planet and we are here on the homeward journey together.”

”Charles The album Forest Flower became the first jazz record to sell a million copies, earning the group tours of Europe and Russia and appearances in America in rock venues like the Fillmore West, where they shared bills with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. With Ron McClure replacing McBee, the group recorded a series of live albums—Love In, Journey Within, In The Soviet Union and Soundtrack—that reflected Lloyd’s early worldview of jazz.

Lloyd remembers, “When I moved to NY in the early ‘60s the musical horizons kept expanding. I discovered the Ali brothers, Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan. I lived in the village and I listened to their tapes every morning. Some things in your life are focal—that tape was one of them. The Ali brothers were a big influence on me during the period with Keith and Jack when we recorded Journey Within.” Just as influential, according to Lloyd, was the music of John Coltrane: “When I first heard Coltrane he was with Miles and played in starts and stops—I heard him coming out of Dexter and Bird. This was in the mid ‘50s when I was in LA and he was clearly looking for something.

The next time I heard him, he had made a breakthrough and he was opening up a new path for those of us who followed… Many writers make the comparison between us, I don’t think I come close to his sound—what I think they do hear is that spiritual connection. We both are trying to find something deeper and our music is an expression of that search and journey.”

Lloyd’s journey would take a sharp detour due to what he describes as “life in the fast lane.” “I blew a fuse,” he says. “I wanted to change the world with music and I realized I had failed at that… Despite my life in the fast lane and detours in the ‘60s, my pursuit of the spiritual and teachings from the East also deepened. I was reading Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Tagore, the Sufi poets Hafez and Rumi, the Upanishads, the Vedas and the teachings of the Buddha, Milareppa and Vivekanada. I also had the songs and teachings of my great grandmother, Sally Sunflower Whitecloud, who was Chickasaw and Choctaw. I always felt that America was a religious country, but not necessarily a spiritual one.” Lloyd retreated to Big Sur to pursue an inner journey.

The ‘70s found Lloyd experimenting with popular music, both as a leader and with groups like the Beach Boys, Canned Heat and the Doors (a date with the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn even paired him with Bob Dylan’s harmonica on one song). His own albums moved from pop-rock (Moon Man and Warm Waters) to Indian influenced fusion (Geeta and Morning Sunrise) to new age (Koto and Big Sur Tapestry).

Finally, in 1981 an 18-year-old Michel Petrucciani sought out the legendary saxophonist and coaxed him into returning to the jazz scene. Lloyd made several tours and recordings with the young pianist, culminating in a recorded appearance at the legendary 1985 One Night With Blue Note concert that reunited him with his original quartet members Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. Then a life threatening medical condition forced him in into yet another hiatus.

Lloyd reemerged in 1990 with renewed fervor and began a prolific relationship with ECM records that remains fruitful to this day. In 1993, he recorded one album, Acoustic Masters, for his old label Atlantic, with Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and most importantly, Billy Higgins. Lloyd rekindled the deep friendship with the drummer that went back to his LA college days and in 1997 they began touring and recording together regularly. In January 2001 Lloyd invited an ailing Higgins to come to his home in Big Sur and the two spent several days improvising music together on a vast array of instruments. The result, Which Way Is East, is a unique, deeply spiritual recording that had Lloyd returning to earlier inner sources of inspiration. Higgins passed away not long afterwards.

”Charles“When Billy left in 2001 he said to me that we would always be together,” Lloyd reminisces, “and now I know what he meant because after he left he introduced me from the other side to Zakir and then he sent Eric Harland to me [Lloyd met the Texas drummer at the Blue Note in New York, where they were playing separately the first night the club opened following the tragedy of 9/11]…so this is a very interesting formation of souls who have a confluence of meeting in a place where there is no space or time.”

The three musicians came together as trio for the first time at a May 2004 concert billed as “Homage To Billy Higgins”. Sangam (ECM), the recorded document, is an auspicious debut of what is now a working band, exploring directions in music Lloyd first began mining nearly a half a century ago.

Asked if he hopes to convey any extra-musical message through the music of Sangam, Lloyd replies, “Let Truth and Love be your guide. The message is in the music, which has always been healing medicine for me. The music dances on many shores, but I still have mud on my shoes and even in this configuration with Zakir and Eric, I hear the blues. And when I get up in there, I am found. Music can speak to direct states that can’t be articulated in words, it goes deeper and more directly to the small space within the heart which is vaster than vast universes

From All About Jazz