Monday, October 26, 2009

Burton Greene, Shinedown, Steve Reich

Originally posted on December 21, 2007

Free jazz is a music that came out of the US beginning in the early-to mid-sixties and spread over the planet. It survives today among dedicated musicians and an equally dedicated audience. Probably the first record label to cover the music in depth was ESP-Disk, a New York based company that had an open view of what people might want to hear. Around 1965 they recorded Burton Greene’s Bloom in the Commune. It has been out of print for many years and recently, with the revival of ESP, has been reissued. Now you either like free jazz or you don’t.

Those that do and those looking to experience it, can do no better than with this release. Burton Greene was and is a pioneering pianist of the music. He coaxes all kinds of sounds out of the piano, getting inside it and playing it like a harp, percussively assaulting it with a two-fisted heartiness, quieting down for a lyrical moment. This first release of Greene’s features Marion Brown on alto sax, who wails and warbles his way through the cuts. He is joined by tenor saxman Frank Smith, adding a deeper tone to the proceedings. Henry Grimes, the bassist, is a volcano of sound and brings an especially rugged edge to the group texture. He was an incredible bassist and he has come back on the scene after disappearing for many years. Here he is in his prime. There are two different drummers depending on the cuts, and they apply a smeared free tempoed wash behind the soloists. This is not music for everybody. Nonetheless it still sounds completely contemporary. There is a timeless quality to the music, in more ways than one. And the reissue features some bonus tracks consisting of interesting retrospective interviews with Greene and ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman. The remastering is well done. Go to if you want to order a copy.

Changing gears, I am also checking out an alternative rock band that released a CD called Us and Them a few years ago on Atlantic. I refer to Shinedown. Listening to the CD, I fail to have much to say about it, except that there are memorable melodies and a thickly applied musicianship. It’s just likeable.

One more CD for Friday. The music form sometimes called “minimalism” had its heyday in the ‘70s, but continues on in some form or other today. Many of the absolute classics of the music were written by New Yorker Steve Reich. Up there among the few absolute knockout pieces is his Drumming which was appealingly recorded a few years ago by So Percussion (Cataloupe), although there have been others as well. This version has a kick to it. Basically, the piece involves four percussionists, plus flute and vocals, driving through a cyclical, post-African set of ever-evolving rhythmic figures. They start on tom toms, move to marimbas, then glockenspiels, and finally combine all four instruments. It certainly could be called toe-tapping music, and all musicians can learn from listening to it, I have no doubt! Have a good weekend.

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