Eric Dolphy with Booker Little: Far Cry. 1961. New Jazz.
This record takes on a particular luminescence with presence of its two tragic headliners. Booker Little developed his sound and left us documentation like this even as he never lived to see his 24th birthday and Eric Dolphy was gone far too soon just four years after this recording date, leaving us at age 36. And yet the creative spark they left behind on Far Cry continues to burn, leaving an important statement about jazz tradition and how there is always room for the individual to plumb its revolutionary angles. Opening with "Mrs. Parker of K.C." and its interplay of bass clarinet and trumpet and segueing into "Ode to Charlie Parker" with the interaction between flute and trumpet this 1960 set is no historical curiosity. It is a vibrant thing that remains fresh more than half a century later. From there we get the classic Dolphy originals of "Far Cry" and "Miss Ann" as the hard bop/free jazz gauntlet is thrown. The rhythm section backing up these flights accounts for much of the burn and scorch found here with this being the recording debut of the great Ron Carter on bass with Roy Haynes on drums and Jaki Byard on piano. The deep impression left behind by this record is not diminished by its brevity. There is much to stimulate the ears in less than three quarters of an hour, a set duration that reflects the frustratingly short period of time these players had to set the jazz world on fire. Admiring what they did do while aching for what might have been, this record occupies the same hallowed ground as John Coltrane's A Love Supreme or Miles Davis' Kind of Blue as one of the stand out recordings of a jazz language that is far richer because of the contributions found here.
Nels Cline: New Monastery. 2006. Cryptogramophone.
The most striking thing about this particular "view into the music of Andrew Hill" is that you can cleanly plot the lines between the source of inspiration and the music found on this set. The extreme magnification that forms the cover art for New Monastery is an apt representation of the compositional and improvised energy that makes up this recording. Sharp details of Andrew Hill's sound are expanded upon as a sonic universe is explored within pockets of the larger landscape of Hill's music. The degree of inspiration is entirely understandable. Making this a recording well worth revisiting. Hearing this ensemble's take on "Dedication" is a particular thrill as the notes of the familiar opening take shape leading into the deliciously introspective improvisation that Nels Cline adds to this durable piece.
The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity? 2005. Columbia Records.
A jazz trio record brought to you by a generation that has internalized the best qualities of concept albums. The sequencing of these polished gems is every bit as thrilling as the individual moments of groove heavy bliss that pour out from this recording. Much has been written about the way The Bad Plus plays covers. So I'll just say that this one includes the theme from Chariots of Fire and it is every bit as creative and polished as the originals found here. Speaking of those originals, "Anthem for the Earnest" remains my fondest introduction to The Bad Plus. Having "Prehensile Dream" leading right into it makes for a record that immediately makes the ears take notice. This is a piano trio in the best sense. Ethan Iverson brings a brilliant intensity to the piano. But focus the ears on the drumming of Dave King and one finds just as much intensity and intricate detail at work. Then there is the brilliant bass work of Reid Anderson. There is very little here that can be called "supporting" or side-men. This is an old friend to these ears in the rotation.