Backward Glances” – #2
All my LP records were placed in storage in NJ beginning in 1994, and I have only recently been reunited with the survivors here in Oz after a depressing trip to The States in late 2016. Ergo, this occasional series as a celebration of being able to hear some of my favorite music again!
So, further adventures into the recorded jazz of my past life, looking into the nooks and crannies that were unavailable to me in storage for too long until now! Back in the day, I would often gift a couple of jazz LPs to people who were important in my life as holiday presents that I thought were seriously worth everybody hearing. Spreading the gospel, as it were, to the uninitiated! One was Duke Ellington’s “Such Sweet Thunder”, his sound pictures of Shakespearean figures and events. This is one collection where Duke (and Swee’ Pea) took on a “big” idea and really hit the nail on the head. I still feel that way about that particular album. But, wait… there’s more!
The other gift LP was usually an LP by Duke’s favorite modern guitarist, Kenny Burrell. “Guitar Forms” (Verve V-8612) was a wonderful collection of a great variety of approaches to presenting jazz guitar. There were three basic piano quartet pieces (gtr w. pno/bs/dms), a solo acoustic excerpt of Gershwin, and five (mostly acoustic) with an orchestra lead and arranged by Gil Evans. The small group recordings with Roger Kellaway (pno), Joe Benamin (bs), and, with either Elvin Jones or Charli Persip (dms), plus a bit of Willie Rodriguez (cga) are tight and often funky (especially on the opener, Downstairs, which hits the right note as an ear-catching opener). In and of themselves, the quartet pieces are not mind blowing, but they are very good as such… high quality music… smooth jazz in its original definition! The LP ended Side One with an acoustic Gershwin bit – it’s an excerpt from Gershwin, but maybe only that portion of the Prelude No. 2 was recorded at the time – nonetheless, it is beautiful, and a great change of pace. Kenny is always da bomb.
It is the Evans orchestral work with Kenny that is right up there with Gil’s past and future arrangements and they make this LP worthy of our attention. The music is uniquely (and typically) mesmerizing and totally apt in a way that only Gil Evans could pull off. The arrangements/compositions are the equal of any of the work he did with Miles Davis or his own later band/orchestra, but are not anywhere near as well known by “us”, I feel. One finds one’s self immersed in waves of SOUND that are totally appropriate for the musician whose name is on the album cover and the piece in question!
Lotus Land is a lengthy Evans “Spanish-influenced” piece (think La Nevada, or all of “Sketches of Spain” with Miles), with Kenny playing acoustic lead guitar. The backing orchestra slowly builds in volume and intensity as Kenny strolls along Gil’s expanding sound cushion. This is followed by a quartet piece, Terrace Theme, and then Side One closes with the Gershwin excerpt. Moon And Sand opens Side Two with Kenny and Gil, and leans towards cool orchestral bossa nova, again with Burrell playing acoustic guitar against Evans’ orchestration. Loie is a mild mambo, again with Kenny unplugged against a surprising (literally) Gil Evans orchestration. The unexpected treatment of the well-known English “folk song”, Greensleeves, opens with Kenny acoustically, then a blast from Gil’s orchestra and Kenny picks up his electric and swings the hell out of the ice cream truck favorite! Mr. Whippy, indeed – with a funky ending (or should it be “topping”!). The final ballad, Last Night When We Were Young is Kenny/acoustic again with the last orchestral piece on the album – absolutely beautiful and breath-taking to these ears! The LP ends with Breadwinner, a quartet act of swing – n.b., all of the small group sides have Kenny plugged in. All in all, this is a great and varied album, and that variety is a VERY positive point to these ears!
This record also has stuck with my mind’s ear over the years because of a concert at Town Hall in NYC back ca. 1965 or so that reproduced the music from the album, including the Evans material! For once, recorded and “live” performance lived up to each other’s expectations (as it were), with the latter capable of duplicating the former on stage – the evening was superb!
I am aware of one CD release (Verve 521 403-2) in their Master Edition series of releases – there are multiple takes of the quartet sides (too many!), no alternatives of the orchestral ones, and not a complete Gershwin Prelude (although original liner notes indicate that what was released on the album was an excerpt of Prelude No.2 and made it sound as if there was more!).
Kenny Burrell was and is a masterful guitar player and musician, and this Creed Taylor production* gives his talent a greatly varied and free/full reign. That is why I picked it as one of my pressies back in the day – variety über alles, you know! As Duke said, there are two kinds of music… good music, and the other kind: this is truly good music. To cite Kenny, himself:
“I didn’t want to put out an album with a variety of sounds and persuasions just as a showcase, without having depth to it… I’d like to play many types of music. “Guitar Forms” is probably the best reflection of that of any album I’ve done, in terms of the variety of things I truly love.”
Again, a peek at Amazon indicates that this music can be obtained in numerous ways. If it has bypassed your ears, then you should do something about it, pronto! Great music and great cover art in which a double fold LP package is put to good use for once. One for the books, for sure, and a great album qua album!
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney (2017)
* before he went all “soft” and commercial! Smooth jazz, my ass! Wimpy “jazz” at best from Creed was yet to come, I’m afraid.