Thursday, September 29, 2011

September Music: 3rd Stream Reissues: Brubeck Quartet (+)/The Modern Jazz Quartet/George Russell NY Big Band/Gillespie Orchestra/David Amram &--

I think I've made it clear by now how much I love third stream music...the term Gunther Schuller coined for music which mixes jazz idiom with that of the European court and ceremonial traditions, which almost as soon as it was in print was expanded (certainly in the work of the likes of Randy Weston and Toshiko Akiyoshi) to incorporate other "serious" musics from other ethnic traditions. Third stream music recurs throughout the history of jazz, from the origins involving the "Spanish tinge" (jazz as cousin to tango and, more distantly, milonga and other forms) and classic ragtime even before that (Scott Joplin, James Scott and their colleagues seeking to create a first Truly American classical tradition), and into the New Orleans marching bands and their extensions and Harlem ragtime and its extensions at the turn of the 1900s, through the more ambitious big-band music (Gershwin commissioned, Ellington on his own ticket, and hardly they alone), into the bebop-influenced big bands (the Gillespie Orchestra also cementing Afro-Cuban jazz, the Gil Evans and John Lewis assemblies helping to establish the "cool" approach that owed so much to Beiderbecke and Young but nonetheless, it moved; Dave Brubeck's Octet of jazz-loving classical students among the Left Coast stirrings). George Russell discovering modal improvisation and teaching it to Bill Evans so that he could teach it to the Miles Davis quintet; meanwhile, the free jazz players beginning to find their liberation, and learning (as Ornette Coleman noted) that it was possible to play incorrectly in free jazz...while Sun Ra and company played orchestral R&B in one selection, large-band collective-improvisational free jazz in the next. Ellington most consistently, and probably most ambitiously, pushing his swing orchestra to more and more adventurous music (as well as playing the hits), but from Benny Carter suites for the Count Basie band to Stan Kenton's almost jazzless longform compositions, from the Chico Hamilton and Jimmy Giuffre small groups and the larger ones under the direction of Charles Mingus and eventually John Coltrane, from Max Roach when working in this mode and Lennie Tristano nearly always--and Thelonious Monk nearly always defaulting into this mode by his very nature, there arose the hugely popular quartet, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and the very popular and even more stable quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and even if there hadn't been support from folks ranging from Eric Dolphy to Ran Blake, from Claude Thornhill to Gerry Mulligan to Cecil Taylor, the two quartets would've made a case for this kind of music to be popular and important (and continued to blaze trails for those who would follow, from Anthony Braxton with his "For Four Orchestras" and Carla Bley to the "chamber jazz" of the '70s). It didn't hurt that Davis wanted to record with the Gil Evans Orchestra, but it might've been even more important that Gillespie wasn't done with his experimentation with jazz orchestral composition, either (and was happy to have his young protege Lalo Schifrin spread his wings), nor was a young magpie classically-trained player, helping to pioneer what was later tagged "world music" as well as working on increasingly adventurous film-soundtrack scoring, David Amram. And George Russell couldn't sit still, composing his own album-length suites and shorter pieces, as organically experimental as Monk and perhaps even more protean.

So, these five albums, not hardly the sum total of the 3rd Stream movement, though one of the best of the Modern Jazz Quartet's albums is Third Stream Music, but these all reissued in the last half-decade or so, or in the case of the Brubeck newly packaged and released this month, the Russell as part of a set devoted to his complete recordings for the 1970s label Black Saint/Soul Note, including no fewer than three albums devoted largely or entirely to Russell's "Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature," probably still the best composition of its sort (electronic third stream music, of course). Ridiculously, the best of Russell's 1970s albums, Living Time, attributed to featured soloist Bill Evans the way Gil Evans's albums were to Davis, remains out of print...but at least the New York Big Band album features a good, not quite as good, reading of the longest segment of the "Living Time" suite, "Event V" among other works, including a reading of his first professional work, for the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra of the mid 1940s, "Cubano Be/Cubano Bop"...and a version of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child." Though perhaps the new listener should start with the Russell "Smalltet" (with Bill Evans) and their Jazz Workshop album, you can do worse than the NYBB disc. Or almost any of his other albums...but Living Time needs to be back in print.

As noted, Gillespie gave Russell his entre into professional jazz work, and did the same, at least in the States, for Brazilian emigre Lalo Schifrin, not yet a household name for the likes of the theme to Mission: Impossible nor such film soundtracks as that for Bullitt. Schifrin's suite sought to suggest the story of first contact and war and conquest, and the eventual partial (never complete) rapprochement between the nations of the Americas and those who named the continents thus. Shifrin and the orchestra does so brilliantly, and I'm not sure I've heard better playing from Gillespie in any context in that decade (as with the very late Rhymthmstick tour, I think Gillespie always enjoyed being at the head of an orchestra the best, though when playing in a small group, as in the only time I saw him in a "cutting contest" with David Amram, in part...he was rarely a slouch, either.)

David Amram...whether scoring Pull My Daisy, the Kerouac and other Beats film (looks like the Google video play I embedded some time back has been removed, alas, but I hope the copyright holders are at least getting something out of that) or The Manchurian Candidate (the first film adaptation), whether playing European "classical" music or folk tunes from all over, or jazz or some combination of those and more (in that cutting contest with Gillespie, he played French horn to Gillespie's trumpet, pennywhistles to Gillespie's muted trumpet), he is a force for joy and other passions, as well as for global fellow-feeling. It won't surprise you to learn that in person (as after that first Thelonious Monk Memorial Concert in 1987, or writing to this blog a year or so back), he's an utter gentleman, and an often amused and amusing delight. The compositions on the "genre"-busting manifesto that this album is range widely, but are uniformly engaging, energetic...and great fun. Very little, if anything, of the formalist exercise about them...those practice-room walls, like those between "classical" and jazz and folk, come down as well. Bari saxophonist Pepper Adams, as well as Amram, has rarely been been better than he is here.

The Modern Jazz Quartet (for most of its run John Lewis, piano; Milt Jackson, vibraphone; Percy Heath, bass; Connie Kay, percussion) and the Dave Brubeck Quartet (particularly that, from 1957-1966, made up of Paul Desmond, alto sax; Gene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, percussion), can't be neatly summed up by any single album, which is why such boxed sets as the Mosaic "complete Atlantic studio" MJQ and the DBQ's For All Time cube are so valuable, but the 1960 European Concert album (much later augmented by further recordings from the same tour released after Kay's death as Dedicated to Connie) gives a core sampling of the band's contribution, in 3S and otherwise, much as the third-stream-heavy picking and choosing through Brubeck's career on Columbia/CBS Records and their successors at Sony, while including earlier and later work than the most popular quartet's and some that is less relevant to "classical"/jazz hybrids (because what Brubeck sampler can escape "Take Five" and why not the one recording with Tony Bennett?), nonetheless these, a reissue of the MJQ's double-album that unfortunately edits out Lewis's introductions to some of the tracks (as audible on the LPs) to help fit everything onto one CD, and a sampler that finally(!) puts the entirety of brother Howard Brubeck's composition "Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra" (as performed by the DBQ and the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein) out on cd (only the last movement had been available previously), but also includes the rather weak tea of the orchestral version of "Brandenburg Gate"...better, particularly in the DBQ's performance, than I remembered from the vinyl, but still essentially a "with strings" recording rather than up to "Dialogues" or "Elementals," the earliest Dave Brubeck large-group composition we hear here (along with a movement from Dave Brubeck's much later work for a large group, "Points on Jazz for Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra"). From Lewis's tribute "Django" and Brubeck's "The Duke" through such brilliant and often overlooked work as Lewis's "The Cylinder" and Brubeck's "Winter Ballad" to the straight-ahead blowing of Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove" and Brubeck and Charles Mingus's duo improvisation "Non-Sectarian Blues", these are great starting points, and as someone with dozens of albums by the MJQ, the DBQ and their related projects, I've very glad to have them, as well.

Brubeck Quartet and Orchestra: "Elementals"

since this one's decommissioned:from the European Concert album: The Modern Jazz Quartet: "Django"

Here's the MJQ and the Beaux Arts Trio, from the Third Stream Music album of similar vintage:

Dizzy Gillespie and David Amram, et al., at the Thelonious Monk Memorial Concert

George Russell's band featuring Eric Dolphy: "Round Midnight" (since the NYBB isn't poachable)

For more "forgotten" and rediscovered music selections for this month, please see Scott Parker's blog.


  1. Great post. Sending it to my brother who is a big fan of Dave Brubeck (as am I) and The Modern Jazz Quartet.

    Don't listen to much jazz nowadays, but in our youth....!!

  2. Thanks, Yvette. Hope he likes it, too, and that you might be nudged into revisiting some old favorites, at least...

  3. Wow. That was so many words, saying so much, I'll have to read it four times or more to sort it all out. When it comes to NY big bands, one of my more recent favorites is John Fedchock.

  4. I will always admit to a fault in sentence-packing, particularly in first draft. I've heard the least little bit of Fedchock, but not too much, I think...but the last "new" big band I caught up with was probably the Either/Orchestra or Lester Bowie's...

  5. I'm glad to see you covering jazz. I started listening to bebop back in the 1950's and for decades it was my favorite music. Now I'm into the more avant garde jazz like Cecil Taylor and the music John Coltrane was playing at his death.

    Most of my friends hear the music as just noise but I'm trying to get back into more mainstream jazz. I'm listening to Miles Davis at the Plugged Nickel now.

  6. You can certainly do worse in Davis's catalog...for all his "antijazz" crap against the free players (such as Taylor and Coltrane after he left Davis's group), Davis's fusion work was often alternately dull and noodling or both...or should I say usually? Almost everyone who worked with him beforehand who's turned their hand to fusion, or with him in his fusion bands, has done better on their own or in such groups as Weather Report.

    As I've noted recently in another context, arts don't really have "mainstream"s and jazz certainly doesn't...just a slew of different approaches and schools usually working alongside each other. But, yes, there's plenty of Dexter Gordon to go around when one chooses to listen to him rather than to UNIT STRUCTURES or EXPRESSION.

  7. And, as I like to note, Brubeck and Taylor recommended and praised each other back in the days that the Davis sycophants would try to ice both out. Of course, Brubeck still had a huge audience...who would even listen, at least politely, when he would play freely not too differently from Taylor, albeit usually in only short bursts. (Meanwhile, John Lewis's shepherding of Ornette Coleman among others, at very least at Atlantic Records, hardly needs mentioning, I suspect.)


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