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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970

Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970

Posted: 2005-12-20

By Greg Masters

Miles Davis
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970

For devotees of Miles Davis’s so-called “electric period,” the full release of the music recorded live in December 1970 at the Washington, DC club The Cellar Door has long been something of a holy grail. A healthy sampling was released in 1971 on Live-Evil providing evidence that more of this sound existed. The possibility that more from this lineup was in the vault gave hope to at least many of the baby boomers I keep in touch with. With the release of the 6-CD box set The Cellar Door Sessions 1970, all the anticipation is rewarded beyond measure.

The music on these CDs has continued to evolve even from the heights of the four extraordinary studio LPs Miles Davis recorded in the previous 18 months: In a Silent Way (rec. February 1969), Bitches Brew (rec. August 1969, double LP) and A Tribute to Jack Johnson (rec. April 1970). Besides being a live date, the ensemble here was made up of a different cast of characters. Those earlier “electric” albums are masterpieces partly because the musicians were pushed to the extremes of their creative artistry, they were of a caliber that could provide surprises, and because producer/collaborator Teo Macero took the session tapes and chiseled into form the rehearsed tunes and hours of spirited improvising.

Here, on the live dates, the musicians fill hour-long sets by stretching out some of the material previously worked out in the studio. Teo is at the controls again, manning the recorder at the club, but this time without his post-session work of crafting the material into a collaged suite. This is a strictly live recording, excellent sound quality, with only a few insubstantial edits.

Miles is forging something extraordinary here. Without concession to audience expectation, he’d been using club dates to grow his sound. Never one to repeat himself, his concept by this time clearly was not to present tunes. While the repertory across the six CDs consists of eight composition—10 sets were recorded over four nights and six complete sets are presented here—each piece is a springboard from which to invent, unfettered by the restraints of chord changes or the need to serve a melody. Miles is leading the ensemble into free territory. There’s no room for show biz slickness or pandering for dramatic effect. Miles is a patient listener and steps back to allow the other soloists to ignore 12-bar convention and reach full articulation. This is artistry of the highest order, creative expression at its most sophisticated.

The one-hour sets appropriate elements from funk and rock, but this is an entirely new uncategorizable beast—an amalgam of funk, rock and traditional jazz. The music is unlike anything. Comparisons are futile. It’s even a stretch to say the music is an extension of what Miles himself had been creating in the studio. It’s essentially a small group format, but is as far from conforming to a traditional jazz audience’s expectations as the listening experience at the Fillmore East is from that at the Village Vanguard.

Occasionally, a head statement will be played in unison by Miles and saxophonist Gary Bartz, with the rest of the band filling in the chordal progression, but that melodic phrase is merely a concession to the audience’s need for something familiar to tether their experience to.

Keith Jarrett’s playing on Fender Rhodes is perhaps the greatest prize from the set. The timbre of the electronic keyboard might grate some listeners after a while, but his explorations transcend the funk/rock indications defined by Jack DeJohnette’s solid 4/4 time-keeping and electric bassist Michael Henderson’s precise vamps. Jarrett’s keyboard utterances push into territory too colorful to be constrained by pulse. When the other musicians drop out to allow his cadenzas to go where they may, particularly during four “Improvisations,” Jarrett takes advantage, maximizing the electronics to novelty effect, but more importantly, using the full range of the keyboards (he’s also playing a Fender electric organ at times). His improvisations have more complicated intentions than the prescribed boundaries of the tunes’ formal structure. When freed from the rigor of the funk/rock requirements, there’s a chance for the expression of more complex emotions and an exploration instead of a proclamation.

Gary Bartz was a logical choice for the sax spot. He was already empathetic with the stripped down funk direction. He’d held sax chairs with Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach through the 60s, but in 1969 formed the NTU Troop in which he brought a funk groove to prominence. On this date, his melodious, refined and well- shaped runs up and down the horn unfurl into elegant Baroque-like solos and tender the oftentimes raucous activity swirling around him.

Although Miles is hitting high notes throughout the four-day gig, his playing is not as refined and virtuosic as it was on the prior year’s studio sessions, or as commanding as on the live sets at the Fillmore East and Fillmore West from earlier in 1970. Rather than proclaiming his statements with rolling, melodious passages that ride the churning ensemble as in those earlier dates, here his trumpet sound stabs to emphasize the rhythmic focus.

“The one-hour sets appropriate elements from funk and rock, but this is an entirely new uncategorizable beast . . .”

Miles doesn’t play notes to display his virtuosity or even to define a melody. He uses the notes to communicate intimate feelings ranging from longing to his assertive strut. His soloing through the wah-wah pedal conjures intangibles into form, evokes hints and variations of the head, and steers the ensemble to the briefest of unison passages. When Miles switches from playing through the wah-wah pedal to begin a new phase of a solo on open horn, it’s a dramatic sensation like a change of key.

Miles allows it to happen and the musicians are up to the challenge. These guys are as attuned to each other as a flock of birds in flight.

Michael Henderson holds the whole package together. His touch is certain yet warm and rounded. His sense of timing is impeccable. His notes define the pulse of eternity. His electric bass playing not only gives structure, but at times contributes a playful attitude to the proceedings.

Electric guitarist John McLaughlin is only on discs 5 and 6, but his searing solos, even as he searches for a way into the ensemble sound, add an element of fearful grace. It’s the sound of lightning brought indoors.

Airto Moreira’s palette of percussive effects (including vocalizing), integrate rain forest influences and colors with decorative aural embellishments.

The reason the set is not simply a funk session is owing to the drumming of Jack DeJohnette. While he serves the time-keeping function of laying down a groove, his sensible propulsion continuously urges the band forward with rolls, cymbal work and a bass drum foot that releases a surge of adrenalin with each pounce. His energetic but precise rococo accompaniment sets a high standard that compels the other musicians to match his intensity and service.

In addition to the nearly six hours of music, over three hours of which has never been issued officially, the box contains photos and essays by each of the band members, all expressing enthusiasm for the gig and grateful that the music is finally getting a chance to be heard.

Every moment on these discs is killer. This band is at its peak and the intensity never wavers. This music is clearly not for everyone, but I envy the uninitiated listener with an open ear for whom these sets are a first exposure to Miles’s electric music.


The Red Light is Off: A Chat With Michael Henderson, 7/16/05

“It never stopped,” says Michael Henderson, electric bassist, referring to his career after six years with Miles Davis from April 1970-December 1976. “I’ve played with just about everybody on the planet—Snoop Dog, LL Cool J, Carl Thomas, Mob Deep. I’ve been having a great time.”

This is a man who has nearly 50 platinum records. Miles Davis plucked him out of Stevie Wonder’s band when he was 19. But, he says, he was already “a hardened criminal of music at 13.” He’d played in Detroit with the Motown session musicians who’d later come to be called the Funk Brothers. He was with Stevie Wonder for five years (including an appearance on Ed Sullivan’s show in 1967), and at the same time backed Aretha Franklin. There were also dates with The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, James Jameson (they recorded together on Marvin Gaye’s “You’re the Man” from 1972), Earl Van Dyke (called the father of the Motown rhythm section) and others.

After he left Miles, he had a hit in 1975 with “Valentine Love,” his song for drummer Normon Connors on which he sings a duet with Jean Carn. In 1976, the gold album You Are My Starship, under Connors’ leadership, had a number of hits including, “We Both Need Each Other,” a duet with Henderson and Phyllis Hyman, and the title cut featuring Henderson. Henderson also recorded and did arrangements for The Dramatics and Jagged Edge among others.

He sounds a bit peeved when referring to press at the time Miles recruited him which referred to him as a 19-year-old session player. “How serious is Stevie Wonder?” he posits. “Stevie is as serious as Miles, maybe even more. People say that Michael Henderson was the devil that changed Miles Davis’s music, but they didn’t know I came from greatness in Detroit. I came up with people who worked with Paul Chambers. Look at the musicians. How serious is Motown?”

When I tell him how blown away I am by the music on The Cellar Door Sessions 1970, which chronicles a four-day engagement with Miles Davis at a Washington, DC club, he says that wasn’t even the greatest moment for the band. “Any date before that would blow your hair out.” He singles out a date at Paul’s Mall in Boston, circulated on a bootleg recording.

Speaking of the Cellar Door gig, he says it was a little-bitty club. “We just played unabashed, no hiding anything. We went for it. It’s hard, brash, outgoing, ferocious. We knew we were doing something great.”

It was raining the first few nights of the gig, he remembers, and the club was not full. But, he says, those who were there enjoyed what they were witnessing. Miles, he adds, paid the band out of his pocket.

Nobody played that kind of music, he says. “In this modern age, at sessions, guys stop being creative. If they play too much they want to get paid for it. When the green light goes on, you play what you’re required to play.”

“There was no green light for us,” he says, “no red light. Guys just don’t do that anymore.” He offers some advice for today’s musicians, at least for those with creative ambition: “A lot of guys need to forget about the red light, forget about getting paid.”

Henderson reveals one more moment from his time with Miles: “When the album [A Tribute to] Jack Johnson was about to come out, I told Miles, ‘They don’t put our names on the albums in Detroit.’ I demanded they put our names on the record ‘What You See Is What You Get’ from The Dramatics. The other musicians were afraid that Berry Gordy wouldn’t like the fact that they were moonlighting. But I was a bad ass. I told Miles and Miles called Teo and told him to put the names on the cover.” First versions of the LP include personnel credits on the front. “I raised hell. I’m a fighter. That’s why Miles hired me.”

He states that he’s been in the studio lately with two battery mates from Miles’s mid-70s band—electric guitarists Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey. He’s also touring a band called Bass Players’ Ball with Ray Parker Jr. on guitar (another teenage sensation on sessions for Holland-Dozier-Holland before playing on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book and Innervisions albums, and later under his own name, Ghostbusters) and George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson on bass.

“These are not just session guys,” he says. “These are session guys with million selling records.”

He adds that he’s recorded a lot of music that is still in the vault, including his tune, “You Are My Starship,” recorded with Keith Jarrett, Al Foster, Mtume and Reggie Lucas, and “Treat Me Like a Man,” which he wrote for The Dramatics, with Jarrett and Al Foster.

And, my Miles fanatic friends on the Web will salivate over this tidbit: He says he has a black and white video shot live at a gig in Philadelphia in 1970 that documents the Miles band which a few months later played The Cellar Door. “That band was more incredible each night,” he says.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ralph J. Gleason Celebrates Duke Ellington: "Love You Madly / A Concert Of Sacred Music At Grace Cathedral" on DVD :: : The Number One J

Ralph J. Gleason Celebrates Duke Ellington: "Love You Madly / A Concert Of Sacred Music At Grace Cathedral" on DVD :: : The Number One Jazz News Resource On The Net :: Jazz News Daily Ralph J. Gleason Celebrates Duke Ellington: "Love You Madly / A Concert Of Sacred Music At Grace Cathedral" on DVD
Posted by: editoron Saturday, December 17, 2005 - 07:07 PM
CD Releases Two Emmy-Nominated Duke Ellington Programs On DVD For First Time Offer Rare Slice Of Jazz History: Ralph J. Gleason Celebrates Duke Ellington: Love You Madly / A Concert Of Sacred Music At Grace Cathedral

NEW YORK -- Eagle Rock Entertainment, the leading independent source for high quality music audio/visual programming, in cooperation withJazz Casual Productions, Inc., will release Duke Ellington: Love You Madly/ A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral. Now available on DVD for the first time ever are these two Emmy-nominated programs from producer Ralph J. Gleason: a 1965 documentary that explores the life and legacy of Ellington, perhaps the greatest single American composer, and the September 1965 commissioned premiere Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.

Ellington considered the Concert of Sacred Music “the most important statement (the) orchestra had ever done.” Footage of the concert has been long sought after by Ellington enthusiasts and jazz fans in general. He assembled the program for the consecration of the Grace Cathedral, which was finally ready after decades of stop-start reconstruction following San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.

Presented here for the first time since its broadcast 38 years ago, the Concert features choice selections from the maestro' s catalog--”Come Sunday,” “Ain't But the One,” “David Danced Before the Lord With All His Might,” and a tune composed specifically for the church's consecration, “In the Beginning, God.” It was immediately hailed by the jazz cognoscenti as one of Ellington's greatest achievements.

Shot in and around the Bay Area in 1965 and originally broadcast on NET (the precursor to PBS), Love You Madly portrays Ellington in his autumn years, as he prepares for his benchmark Concert of Sacred Music and plays with his band at the Monterey Jazz Festival, at San Francisco's Basin Street West and recording sessions. We see him playing piano with and conducting his band through selections from his hallowed songbook--which ultimately was the purest expression of his mtier.

Duke also ruminates on the composing process that produced “Sophisticated Lady” and “Take the A Train” as well as his extended piece “Black, Brown and Beige.” Peers like Earl “Fatha” Hines and Dizzy Gillespie each attest to Ellington's greatness in the film. The interviews are conducted by Ralph J. Gleason, a world renowned jazz critic and lifelong devotee of Ellington, who would go on to co-found Rolling Stone magazine, and champion the likes of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Only Louis Armstrong could possibly rival Ellington as a seminal figure in jazz music. He is without peer as a jazz composer: he used his long-running band as a laboratory by which largely improvised music could be forged into large-scale compositions incorporating uniquely American elements. The son of a White House butler, Edward Ellington (born 1899) formed his first band, the Washingtonians, in 1917, and upon moving to New York City, first recorded in 1924. Ellington and company were at the forefront of swing music in the 20s and 30s, cutting immortal recordings like “It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing),” “Mood Indigo,” “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” and “Creole Love Call” while in residence at Harlem's Cotton Club.

Ellington's recordings were seldom out of the top ten during the 30s, and by the early 40s, his organization was enhanced by arranger/co-composer Billy Strayhorn, saxophonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton. The end of the swing era left Ellington largely unaffected, as he continued to tour and began to compose large-scale pieces, like 1943's “Black, Brown and Beige.” After a brief dip in the 50s, his tours extended into Europe and his second career scoring films, like 1958's Anatomy of a Murder, burgeoned.

Through the 60s until his death in 1974, Ellington's work rate never slowed-- he toured the world and conceived and enacted new compositions at a furious pace. His legacy as a composer and bandleader is one that will likely never be surpassed.

Eagle Rock Entertainment is one of the leading independent sources for music audio and audio/visual programming, which it releases worldwide on DVD, CD and other formats, as well as through channels such as television and VOD. Eagle Rock's mission is to bring music fans high quality music audio and audio/ visual content from the broadest range of artists, with superior production, sound and high definition visuals, as well as other historically significant releases. Eagle Vision's extensive catalog covers every genre of music, and includes the Classic Albums documentary series, which tells the stories behind some of the greatest albums in rock history, and Live at Montreux, which features performances from top artists at the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival.

The company's record imprints include frontline artist label Eagle Records, and the hard rock/heavy metal label Spitfire Records. Eagle Media releases a variety of comedy, television and fact-based programming. Eagle Vision, Eagle Records, Eagle Media, Eagle Eye Media and Spitfire are imprints of Eagle Rock Entertainment, Inc. in the U.S., which is a part of Eagle Rock Entertainment, Ltd. The company's North American headquarters are in New York City. Its corporate headquarters are in London, with offices in Toronto, Paris and Hamburg.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Jazz great's sax auctioned off :: : The Number One Jazz News Resource On The Net :: Jazz News Daily

Jazz great's sax auctioned off :: : The Number One Jazz News Resource On The Net :: Jazz News Daily Jazz great's sax auctioned off
Posted by: editoron Thursday, December 08, 2005 - 08:25 PM
Jazz News Paris - Jazz great Sidney Bechet's soprano saxophone sold at auction in Paris on Wednesday for more than $140 000.

The instrument, which Bechet used to compose many of his standards, inspired the highest bid among 32 pieces up for sale at the Hotel Drouot auction house. The total selling price, including fees, was $140 900, the auction house said.

A hand-written love letter from the New Orleans jazzman to his wife, Jacqueline, sold for $2 817. Golden cuff links decorated with the initials "SB" went for $2 957.

Daniel Bechet, a drummer who lives in France, organised the auction to finance a foundation dedicated to his father's memory in the south of France. Born in New Orleans in 1897, the clarinet and saxophone player died in France in 1959.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Print Story: Auctioneers to Offer Bechet Items on Yahoo! News

Print Story: Auctioneers to Offer Bechet Items on Yahoo! News Auctioneers to Offer Bechet Items

Tue Dec 6, 3:17 PM ET

Sidney Bechet's clarinet, soprano saxophone and love letters were scheduled to go on the auction block Wednesday.

Among the 32 pieces up for sale at the Hotel Drouot auction house: the fake leopard-fur jacket Bechet often wore onstage, estimated at $11,800.

Bechet's musical instruments were expected to bring in about $47,000 each, while golden cuff links decorated with the initials "SB" were estimated at $1,700.

Fans could also purchase Bechet's letters to his wife, Jacqueline, and a plaster mortuary mask modeled on the musician's face after his death in 1959.

Auctioneer Olivier Collin du Bocage said he had talked about the sale with film director-clarinet player Woody Allen, who named one of his daughters Bechet in honor of the jazz great.

Daniel Bechet, a drummer who lives in France, organized the auction. He will finance a foundation dedicated to his father's memory in the south of France from the profits, the auction house said.

Born in New Orleans in 1897, Bechet died in France. He composed the famous "Petite Fleur" and performed with artists including Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker.