Sunday, July 24, 2022

Stefano Orlando Puracchio Presents “Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato” - September 10, Budapest, Hungary – Special Guests The Ádám Török-Ádám Fehér Duo

The esteemed Italian Cultural Institute of Budapest has announced that Stefano Orlando Puracchio will present his magnificent book Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato on September 10, 2022, at one of the most prestigious houses of art and culture in Hungary, the Virág Benedek Ház.

The bilingual event presents the first-ever Italian-language book about the great Hungarian guitarist in the very storied city of his birth, youth and all-too early death.

Ádám Fehér and Ádám Török

Special musical guests include flautist/vocalist Ádám Török, dean of Hungarian prog-rock and founder of the jazz-rock group Mini, along with guitarist Ádám Fehér, performing a selection of material associated with Gábor Szabó. Török, who played with Gábor in a 1974 jam session, regularly features Szabó-related material in his repertoire. Bassist and collaborator of Italian jazz magazine JAZZIT Andrea Parente is also set to appear.

“Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato” – “The Forgotten Jazzman” in English and “Az elfeledett jazzman” in Hungarian – was published by the Italian press Demian Edizioni earlier this year, marking the fortieth anniversary of the guitarist’s death. Stefano’s book not only memorializes the life and musical journey of Gábor Szabó, but reveals just how influential and meaningful the guitarist’s legacy has become over the last four decades.

Stefano Orlando Puracchio

Stefano’s book beautifully serves as a tonic for or corrective to the myths and marketing that grew – with or without Gábor’s consent – around the guitarist and likely stifled the way people heard his music. While Szabó’s highs and lows necessarily factor into any study of the guitarist, Stefano looks beyond labels like “exoticism” (or “esotism”) and “gypsy” that marginalize or “other”-ize Gábor Szabó.

The event is by invitation only. But if you are in Budapest on September 10 and can visit the Virág Benedek Ház, you are encouraged to stop by. If seats are available, you will be welcome to attend. This is sure to be a great celebration of Gábor Szabó’s music and the incredible legacy he left behind.

Viva Gábor Szabó and folks like Stefano Orlando Puracchio who keep this great guitarist’s music and legacy alive.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Complete Recording Sessions of Rudy Van Gelder (1953-2011)

As a jazz researcher and serial discographer, I have relied on and been grateful for the great chroniclers and documentarians of recorded jazz. Not only is it an art to present a cohesive document of the messy history that makes up any one record, much less a whole body of recordings, it is a lot of work. A lot.

It takes much more effort than mere crate digging. Discographers are historians, pure and simple.

Those who have mastered this art are not especially well known among listeners who just want to enjoy the music. But for those of us who want to know more about who makes the music, how and when it is made and who else peoples the musical universe (in this case, jazz), discographers are teachers and their discographies are essential texts.

During my years of searching, digging and wanting to know more, I have relied extensively on the great work of Walter Bruyninckx, Michel Ruppli and Tom Lord. While their books are often expensive and found only in better libraries, I thought it necessary to own Ruppli’s Prestige, Verve and (with Michael Cuscuna, himself a great historian) Blue Note discographies and annual (or, for me, occasionally annual) updates of Tom Lord’s The JAZZ Discography on CD-ROM.

Such mad compunction made me shell out sixty bucks for Michael Malott’s Complete Recording Sessions of Rudy Van Gelder (1953-2011). Apparently first published in 2017, I wondered how I had never even heard of this “print on demand” book.

Rudy Van Gelder (RVG) factors in a huge amount of the work I have chronicled and a “complete recording sessions” of his is of significant interest to me. Imagine my surprise, then, when I accidentally stumbled over this listing on Amazon – incidentally, while searching for something completely different. After some internal debate about just how “complete” a nearly 500-page book on RVG could be, not to mention the price tag, I went ahead and clicked “Buy Now.” I was better off to “buy no.”

This is a maddening book.

It is hopelessly incomplete and contains almost no information that hasn’t been readily available elsewhere for years. A simple search for Rudy Van Gelder on Discogs yields 4611 (as of this writing) Technical credits.

While this number includes mixing and mastering credits that are not necessarily recording sessions, Malott’s book lists far less. I would guess somewhere around 1500 sessions – clearly on the low side – but I don’t know because Malott neither numbers his sessions, nor, worse, indexes anything.

Malott doesn’t bother to explain how he researched his subject or where he got any of his information. Much of it could have come from Ruppli’s Prestige and Blue Note books. The rest could have come right off the internet.

Since the word “complete” is in the title, I was counting on Malott to have worked with Van Gelder himself (or Maureen Sickler, RVG’s assistant for many years) in gathering the detail, either from RVG’s notes over the years or logs he might have kept. Nope. As there are no acknowledgements in the text – a common feature of any historian’s work – there is likely no reason to believe Malott consulted with RVG at all.

There is so much wrong with this book. Let’s start with the title. First, there is nothing “complete” about Malott’s text. We’ll get to that. Next, the book chronicles not “recording sessions” but actual released recordings. While Malott generally indicates any disc’s various dates, it doesn’t show how RVG recorded – or re-recorded – multiple artists on any one day.

In other words, this “complete” book wholly lacks any unissued, abandoned, overdubbed, corrective or replacement recordings, no singles (or, for that matter, any pop recordings)…all the messy details that go into a carefully engineered recording.

Here is how much completeness I was willing to delve in to. I am sure there is so much more:

Vox: Malott briefly notes early on that RVG mastered dozens of recordings for the budget classical label, Vox Records. Many of these records were cheaply recorded in Europe and American concert halls and Van Gelder was hired to clean them up. In the fifties, Vox, Blue Note and Prestige were RVG’s biggest clients, essentially building his business and cementing his legendary reputation.

But RVG also recorded a number of the Vox label’s smaller groupings (solo, duo and trio discs), something Malott acknowledges but never properly identifies. Of those Vox titles – like Kenny Clarke’s Spotlight on Percussion (1955), Holidays for Percussion (1958) and Josquin des Pres’s Choral Works (1960) – none are identified here.

Creed Taylor, Part 1: None of the first three known (to me) collaborations between RVG and Creed Taylor are listed here: Jazz at the Metropole (Bethlehem, rec. May 1955), Charlie Mariano (Bethlehem, rec. June 1955) and Urbie Green’s Blues and Other Shades of Green (ABC-Paramount, rec. October 1955).

Here, RVG-Creed Taylor’s first listed collaboration is Jimmy Raney’s The Fourmost Guitars (ABC-Paramount), recorded not on May 4, 1955, as Malott reports, but on May 4, 1956. The first correct RVG-Taylor listing here is the October-November 1960 Winding/Johnson Impulse recording The Great Kai & J.J..

Creed Taylor, Part 2: Shortly after launching the Impulse label, producer Creed Taylor left to head up the MGM-owned Verve Records in 1961. While there, Taylor worked with a variety of engineers – often generically credited to “Director of Engineering – Val Valentin” – but he also worked often with RVG.

While several of Taylor’s earliest and better-known Verve productions recorded by RVG are included here (Jimmy Smith’s Bashin’ and Johnny Hodges’s Blue Hodge), quite a few are not.

These include Dizzy Gillespie’s Perceptions (1961), Johnny Hodges, Soloist/Billy Strayhorn/The Orchestra (1961), Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt’s Boss Tenors in Orbit (1962), Shelly Manne and Bill Evans’s Empathy (1962 – recorded in New York City, but by RVG) and Kai Winding’s Suspense Themes in Jazz (1962 – also recorded in NYC, partially by RVG).

These were the only ones I was willing to look for. I’m sure there are more.

A&M/CTI: Of the nearly three dozen titles RVG recorded for Creed Taylor’s A&M/CTI imprint between 1967 and 1970, only 10 are listed here: the two by Antonio Carlos Jobim, three by George Benson, two by Paul Desmond and the two by Quincy Jones (one not credited to Taylor).

Surprisingly listed here – given all else not going on in this text – are the first two independent CTI releases: Hubert Laws’s Crying Song and Kathy McCord’s eponymous disc.

CTI Records: RVG recorded the bulk of Creed Taylor’s output on the CTI, Kudu and Salvation labels – particularly in the label’s first decade. (Notably, I should add, using obviously different techniques than those that define his Blue Note and Prestige dates.)

While Malott lists a few of these discs – which he dismisses as “financially successful but not always well received by critics” – more than a few CTI sessions are missing here. Between 1970 and 1975, Malott omits no less than 45 CTI LPs.

Also missing are an additional 22 titles RVG recorded – in full or part, including overdub sessions – for the CTI label between 1977 (a year when RVG was supposedly contracted exclusively to CTI) and 1993. The only disc listed during this period is the 1982 Studio Trieste, credited to Chet Baker, Jim Hall and Hubert Laws.

My count doesn’t even include the many CTI titles mixed or mastered by RVG that were recorded at other studios during this period.

Muse/HighNote: There are 30 some titles RVG recorded for Joe Fields’s Muse Records between 1977 (when funds began drying up at CTI) and 1981 (when I stopped counting . . . and a year this book lists a measly two recordings) that are not included here. Again, this does not count any of the Muse titles mixed or mastered by RVG, recorded at other studios during this period.

In what is little better than an utter disregard for RVG’s later work, hardly any of RVG’s many Muse recordings (through 1994) are listed here. And only five of RVG’s many recordings for Fields’s later HighNote and Savant labels (from 1997 on) are here – all by pianist Cedar Walton.

Criss Cross Jazz: Between 1984 and 1991 – accounting for a mere twelve pages of text in Malott’s book – RVG recorded a series of discs for the Danish Criss Cross Jazz label. While several Criss Cross discs are listed here, there are 18 titles I counted that RVG recorded for such artists as Benny Green, Mike Ledonne, Brian Lynch, Ralph Moore, Jim Snidero and others not included.

Indeed, Malott devotes five more pages of text to RVG’s 1960 recordings than he does to all of RVG’s work between 1980 and 2011. There are less pages devoted to those later years – 27, in fact – than years themselves. (And why stop at 2011? Van Gelder worked actively up until his death, the year before this book was published.)

After all this, I gave up spot checking any of Malott’s Blue Note and Prestige listings. At first glance, though, they look mostly right and complete; to his credit, Malott even notes sessions that weren’t released until many years after their original recordings. But, again, this information was readily available elsewhere.

Another frustration of this book is that Malott notes session producers (mostly correctly, though he mistakenly credits Val Valentin as producer of Gary McFarland’s 1964 Soft Samba) and musicians – but no song titles recorded at those sessions. Granted, this would make for a much longer book.

But such an encyclopedia is the reason anyone would want to consult a book like this in the first place.

There is room in this world – and a need – for the complete recordings of Rudy Van Gelder. It might even take more than one volume to make such a meaningful case for the man Malott properly cites as the one “behind the magic of practically every major jazz recording.”

But that’s about all you get here: the notable and already well-noted major jazz recordings. This poorly sourced and presented book is anything but the “complete recordings of Rudy Van Gelder.”

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Fifty Years Ago Today: Masabumi Kikuchi + Gil Evans

I first experienced pianist, keyboardist and composer Masabumi Kikuchi in 1981 on his American solo debut Susto (Columbia). Back then it was a riveting experience. Unlike anything I had ever heard before, Susto seemed to promise how exciting fusion jazz could be in the eighties. Masabumi Kikuchi would later be heard stateside in his Tethered Moon trio. But he’s had an extended discography of Japanese-only releases, including Masabumi Kikuchi + Gil Evans , recently reissued on CD on the fiftieth anniversary of its recording.

The legendary Gil Evans (1912-88) was always known – and revered – among listeners more for his successes with Miles Davis (Birth of the Cool, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain) than his own recordings. In a career dotted with only the occasional studio date under his name, perhaps only Evans’s 1961 masterful Out of the Cool stands out.

But Evans helmed other such notable studio dates as the superb The Individualism of Gil Evans (1964), two sets with the great French band leader Laurent Cugny late in Evans’ career and this very special one with the hugely underrated Japanese pianist and composer Masabumi Kikuchi.

Kikuchi (1939-2015) first met Evans during a February 1972 trip to New York City – where the keyboardist permanently relocated several years later – to record an album with drummer Elvin Jones (the Japan-only trio date Hollow Out).

The two hit it off right away.

Evans asked Kikuchi to coordinate the bandleader’s first-ever four-city tour of Japan in the early part of summer 1972. Evans took two members of his band, trumpeter Hannibal Marvin Peterson and composer and tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. The day before the group’s first concert in Tokyo, Evans, Peterson and Harper recorded several numbers with singer Kimiko Kasai for her Japan-only album Satin Doll.

The following week, on July 5, 1972, Evans and Kikuchi were in a Japanese studio to record what was originally issued as a monumental double-disc set. Although billed as a Masabumi Kikuchi album (the Japan-only disc was originally issued on Kikuchi’s Philips label), this is very much a Gil Evans date…with the ever-respectful Kikuchi seemingly happy to be a special guest on occasional electric piano.

Sadly, though, no one in the States knew anything about this record at the time.

For Evans, MK+GE comes in between the studio-set Where Flamingos Fly - likely recorded for Capitol Records in 1971 but not issued until 1981 by the mail-order Artist’s House label and later on CD by A&M – and the well-regarded Svengali (Atlantic/1973), an album title that serves as an absolutely apt anagram of Gil Evans.

Kikuchi, who got his start as pianist in Sadao Watanabe’s band, was no stranger to playing with Americans. He’d already been heard with Charlie Mariano, Oliver Nelson, Gary Peacock (who would later factor in Kikuchi’s wonderful Tethered Moon trio with Paul Motian) and Joe Henderson. Here, Kikuchi sticks to electric piano, but with a much subtler hand than he was known for elsewhere at the time.

Originally, the double-disc MK+GE roughly reproduced the concert program from the week before, with the Gershwins’ “Gone” not surprisingly gone from the studio set. Unexpectedly opening with a brief but blustery version of Carla Bley’s “Ictus” announces that MK+GE was more about where its leaders stood in 1972, not 1958 – when Evans first waxed “Gone” with Miles Davis.

”Ictus” seems to have been a momentary fixation for Evans. He had waxed performances of Bley’s tune – originally written for the Jimmy Giuffre Trio in 1961 – for Svengali and his 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival performance, but neither version was ever released.

Billy Harper’s dazzling, cinematic yet consummately improvisational “Thoroughbred,” a staple of Evans’s repertoire in the early 70s, gets its second hearing here. Known better in its third recording – on Svengali - this pedigree is among its better iterations. “Thoroughbred” ranks up there with Evans’s own “La Nevada” as a definitive tune in the Evansography.

The intoxicating “Priestess,” another Harper original, opens evocatively with Evans’ ring modulator (and percussion), as though torching a flame, before offering up fiery solos from Peterson, Kikuchi and the composer then winds down in a smoldering flute outro. This is Evans’s first recording of “Priestess,” a tune which didn’t factor on another disc of his until a 1983 (!) release of a 1977 performance, also titled Priestess.

Worth noting here is the unusually protracted outros this album affords many of its songs. It’s the sort of thing most American record companies would typically fade out on. Not here. There is a sense of belonging in these outros, as though they were a necessary part of the songs’ arcs; the last act of a compelling short story by a Japanese novelist.

Evans’s own “Love in the Open” is, typically for him, more sketch than painting. The song first appeared on an absolutely underrated 1970 Ampex disc that was later reissued as Blues in Orbit by the German Enja label. At least here, “Love” feels like a mad mix of Lee Morgan’s “Search for the New Land” as if arranged by West Coaster Gerald Wilson and played by Sun Ra’s Arkestra. How great is that?

If Kikuchi sits out “Love in the Open,” then he takes a star turn on his own Evanescent “Drizzling Rain.” Superbly scored – with Evans beautifully employing Michiko Takahashi’s marimba to underpin the melody – Kikuchi seems to pluck Charles Lloyd’s “A Rose for Booker” for a more ornate garden of his own. Kikuchi first performed “Drizzling Rain” (as “Drizzing Rain”) on his 1970 album Collaboration with Sadao Watanabe, an album that also features “Lunar Eclipse,” another Kikuchi piece Evans often played.

Like “Ictus,” the stark and ever-so brief “Eleven” bookends the original program. It is another feature for Kikuchi’s electric piano. Credited to Evans and Miles Davis, “Eleven” is more of a lick to riff on than a full-fledged melody. This is Evans’s first recording of the bit, likely fashioned in the late 60s for an unreleased Miles Davis project.

When MK+GE was first issued on CD in 1989 (now on the EmArcy label), a second, equally long and seemingly more percussive take of “Love in the Open” was added. Also added was the genuine surprise of Billy Harper’s “Cry of Hunger.”

While both tunes were likely excluded from the original album due to Kikuchi’s more backgrounded presence, it turns out that this “Cry of Hunger” is the song’s first-ever recorded performance. Harper’s noteworthy original would not be heard by listeners until 1973 – on both Evans’ Svengali and the composer’s solo debut Capra Black.

Kikuchi permanently relocated to New York City around 1976, playing and recording with many musicians associated with Miles Davis in the seventies. Recordings around this period (1976-82) sound particularly Milesian and are well worth checking out. (Legend has it that the then-“retired” Miles and Kikuchi recorded together in 1978 – the results of which have never been released.)

Kikuchi also reunited with Evans during this period and can be heard on such later Evans recordings as Gil Evans Live at the Royal Festival Hall London 1978 (1979 – and never issued on CD) and both volumes of Live at the Public Theater (New York 1980) (1980 – which Kikuchi himself produced for the Japanese Trio label).

Throughout, MK+GE boasts the elegance of precision of earlier Evans recordings that was so often and likely intentionally absent on later recordings – even the all-too uneven RCA studio sets. The ferocity of the three primary soloists balances out any pretensions to prettiness or orderliness.

It is yet another example of the superb fusion of American and Japanese jazz players that too few Americans knew about at the time - and a real joy.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Rediscovery: Essence All Stars - Afro Cubano Chant

Back in the nineties – a phrase I never imagined writing – drummer and producer Lenny White with producer and author Milan Simich set about putting out a series of jazz “all-star” recordings. There were two on Atlantic – one nominally led by Charles Lloyd and another by Bobby Hutcherson (both wonderful) – several on their short-lived Hip Bop Essence label and one called Chartbusters on Mike Mainieri’s NYC label.

Jazz all-star records date back at least to Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic records of the fifties. But White and Simich’s model likely owes itself to Creed Taylor’s CTI All Stars, a group which did summer tours for a few years in the early seventies. Several records resulted from these tours, including the monumental California Concert (1972) and three volumes of the 1972 Hollywood Bowl performances, issued in 1977.

White himself was part of a CTI all-star date, the starry yet underrated studio concoction Fuse One (recorded in 1980 and released in Japan that year, but not issued in the US until 1981). The drummer was also part of one of CTI’s earliest successes, Red Clay (1970) by Freddie Hubbard – the subject of Hip Bop Essence’s 1995 all-star tribute, Hub Art (notably with former CTI All Star and Red Clay bassist Ron Carter).

Recorded in September 1995, Afro Cubano Chant is one of White and Simich’s better “Essence All Stars” dates. It isn’t great, maybe not even all that memorable. But it is an absolutely pleasurable listen and one of the more inspired teamings of musicians the producers devised.

Perversely, the disc is neither credited to the Essence All Stars nor were any of the named players contracted with the (Hip Bop) Essence label. None of the contributing artists are listed on the disc’s cover, so you’d have to do some serious digging if you’re a fan of any of these guys.

But here you have saxophonist Gato Barbieri – who, for some reason, had not recorded for a full decade before this – surprisingly paired with smooth-jazz avatar and former CTI All Star Bob James, as well as the hugely underrated vibraphonist and aforementioned producer Mike Mainieri.

In addition to White on drums, Afro Cubana Chant offers up the mighty Fort Apache Band members Andy Gonzalez on bass and Steve Berrios on percussion – who both have brief CTI affiliations of their own: the former on Charles Fambrough’s The Proper Angle (1991) and the latter on George Benson’s The Other Side of Abbey Road (1970 – also with Bob James).

Lenny White had previously played with Gato Barbieri on the tenor saxophonist’s Fenix (1971) and the more popular crossover albums Caliente! (1976) and Ruby, Ruby (1977 – both of which featured many musicians associated with Bob James at the time). Speaking of James, White factored briefly on the keyboardist’s 1986 disc Obsession.

Additionally, White and Mainieri could be heard together on Norwegian pianist and guitarist Kenneth Sivertsen’s Remembering North (1993) as well as George Garzone’s Alone (1995) while White and Berrios went on to appear together on trumpeter Wallace Roney’s 1997 Village.

James, who, like White, had seemingly played with everyone by this point, had brief sojourns with Mainieri on the keyboardist’s 1978 album Heads and Steve Berrios on Mongo Santamaria’s Red Hot (1979 – both on James’s own Tappan Zee label).

Afro Cubano Chant is a solid mix of straight-ahead jazz classics and strong group originals set in a pleasing Latin mood that would make Cal Tjader and fans of the late vibist proud. It also marks the first time in decades that Bob James was heard exclusively on piano throughout. This one-off session likely inspired James’s choice to go briefly “straight ahead” on the fab trio-set Straight Up, recorded three months later in December 1995. One can only wonder how much more there was from these sessions.

Indeed, it is as a Bob James session that makes this disc most notable. But it is not James who either commands or dominates the proceedings – nor makes it that interesting.

BJ’s one shining moment comes on Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” Now a jazz standard, Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” was originally written for Art Blakey’s 1956 album The Jazz Messengers (surprisingly, Tjader recorded the tune only once, in 1969). It is, however, a lovely performance and likely inspired James, the pianist, to feature Silver’s “The Jody Grind” on Straight Up.

Inevitably, it is Barbieri’s sax and Mainieri’s vibes that take the lead throughout and, frankly, give the set the energy it has – but not always at the same time. Together, they lead the charge on James’s “Last-Tango”-esque and somehow very James-ish “Mui Tarde Amor” (a piece that deserves much better notoriety in James’s catalog) and White’s interesting, but all-too-little-explored “Casablanca.”

Barbieri factors in his inimitable way on “Cubano Chant” and “Suave” while Mainieri serves up his bona fides on “Tanya” and his own “Los Dos Lorettas” – riffing off Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and later covered by the composer on his own An American Diary: The Dreamings and Pools as well as guitarist Kazumi Watanabe’s 2011 disc Lotus Night.

Ideally kicking off with Ray Bryant’s classic “Cubano Chant,” these all-stars already sound firmly in the pocket. The tune, originally written in 1955 for Cal Tjader, quickly became a staple in both Tjader and pianist Oscar Peterson’s repertoire and was covered by many including the George Shearing Quintet, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and composer/pianist Ray Bryant himself.

Lonnie Hewitt’s wonderfully moody “Tanya” was also written for Tjader (the song appears on the vibist’s superlative 1965 Creed Taylor-produced album Soul Sauce) while the lush “Suave,” from bassist Santi DeBriano, who doesn’t appear here but recorded as part of Simich’s 1993 all-star grouping Grand Central, is a wonderful addition that sounds as though it could have come from his terrific 1993 album Panamaniacs.

All told, Afro Cubano Chant makes for great listening, even in the background.

While it’s a shame these guys never recorded together again, a second recording, billed as Afro Cubano Chant Two, was released in 2000, during the waning days of the Hip Bop Essence label. That set brings back only Gato Barbieri for his own “Habotan” and Bob James for a cover of Ernesto Lecuona’s “La Compasara” – neither one together and none with any of the other folks heard here.

There is also a CD recording featuring this exact same line-up titled Auberge du Soleil – Napa Valley California – Jazz on sale for rather outrageous amounts on Amazon and eBay, But it is, l suspect, nothing more than a repackaging of this exact recording.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Rediscovery: Art Farmer with Joe Henderson “Yama”

Forty years ago this month, one of the last of the original CTI releases found its way onto American record-store shelves. But hardly anyone noticed. The shame of it is that Art Farmer and Joe Henderson’s Yama is a terrific record – and one that pointed the way to a new “CTI sound” that could have accorded well in the post-fusion Eighties.

Surprisingly, Yama represents the only time trumpeter Art Farmer had ever recorded with Joe Henderson – though, even here, they may not have been in the studio at the same time. While trumpeter and “flumpeter” (a flugelhorn-trumpet combo) Art Farmer (1928-99) had a busy solo and studio career in the Fifties and Sixties, he had done very little work under the auspices of Creed Taylor, other than several early sessions for Oscar Pettiford, Candido and Quincy Jones.

Yama was the last of five albums Farmer recorded for CTI between 1977 and 1979 (he also appeared on CTI albums by Bob James, Yusef Lateef and the 1990 all-star Rhythmstick). Farmer had been living in Vienna since 1968, yet all but one of his CTI LPs were recorded in New York – excepting the Japanese-only Live in Tokyo.

Remarkably, Yama is one of only a handful of tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s (1937-2001) recordings produced by Creed Taylor. Henderson could be heard on a few tracks of George Benson’s Tell it Like it Is (1969), Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay (1970) and Straight Life (1971 - Hubbard and Henderson had earlier co-led a group called The Jazz Communicators), Ron Carter’s All Blues (1973) and a favorite of mine, Johnny Hammond’s massive Higher Ground (1973).

Curiously, though, Henderson appears on one song from a 1979 Ben Sidran album The Cat and the Hat - arranged and co-produced by Yama’s Mike Mainieri – “courtesy of CTI.” The label’s waning fortunes at the time likely prevented any further releases by Joe Henderson on CTI. But you have to wonder what else may have been recorded and remains unreleased.

Interestingly, both Farmer and Henderson were born in Iowa. But it’s there the similarities end. Farmer got his chops in Los Angeles while Henderson honed his in Detroit and a later stint in the Army. Farmer had long been in New York by the time Henderson arrived in the early Sixties. By then, Farmer’s Jazztet was winding down and his quartet with Jim Hall was kicking into gear.

Henderson made a name for himself on Kenny Dorham’s “Una Mas” and Horace Silver’s hit “Song for My Father, factoring on some 30 Blue Note albums, including five of his own. As Farmer headed off to Europe, Henderson made a string of highly underappreciated records for Milestone between 1968 and 1976, during which time he permanently relocated to San Francisco.

How Farmer and Henderson’s paths ever crossed in the first place is something of a miracle. Yama is that miracle, one of two paths that really should have crossed much more often but surprisingly didn’t. The record was recorded in April 1979 (and there is likely much more than the five tracks heard here) and although it was announced as a forthcoming release later in the year, CTI ran out of funding and this and several other discs were not released stateside. Yama was, however, issued in Japan that year but was not released in the US until May 1982.

The record’s sound and success – and, most likely, its programming – are due in no small measure to the participation of composer, arranger, producer, keyboardist, percussionist, and, oh yeah, vibes player Mike Mainieri. Although, to be fair, drummer Steve Gadd and synthesizer programmer Suzanne Ciani had appeared on all three of CTI’s 1979 productions. Mainieri (b. 1938) made a splash in the Sixties playing the electric vibraphone – sounding as mellifluous as the Fender Rhodes and far less fuzzy than Gary Burton’s electric vibes – but never really broke out the way Burton and Bobby Hutcherson did during those years.

By the late sixties Mainieri began to take an interest in rock: not merely “fusion,” as such but rock. He formed the NYC musical collective White Elephant – featuring many players who would go on to CTI session work, including Warren Bernhardt and Steve Gadd here – and could be heard on later hits by Don McLean, Aerosmith and Billy Joel.

By 1979, Mainieri was doing loads of session work and began producing pop acts like Carly Simon, with whom he produced and co-wrote the 1980 hit “Jesse” (and later orchestrated her magnificent jazz album Torch with the especially haunting “I Get Along Without You Very Well”). Mainieri had also worked with Creed Taylor on productions for Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Paul Desmond, Urbie Green and, notably, Art Farmer’s previous CTI album with Jim Hall, Big Blues.

While Farmer and Henderson here might have seemed to fill roles that the Brecker brothers would have otherwise occupied, they are both game and deliver the goods – with the force of their by-then wholly distinctive personalities.

The album opens with Clare Fischer’s festive “Dulzura” (Spanish for “sweetness”). It's an inspired choice. Remarkably, for a Fischer melody, this memorable tune, which debuted on Clare’s 1965 album Manteca!, has had almost no coverage apart from Yama and a 1965 cover by the Jazz Crusaders (that also featured CTI stalwart Hubert Laws).

The Bee Gees’ little-known “Stop (Think Again)” (originally on the group’s first post Saturday Night Fever album Spirits Having Flown) elicits the Brothers Gibb’s – particularly brother Barry’s – remarkable ear for strong, albeit unusual melodies.

Joe Zawinul’s peculiar “Young and Fine” had originally appeared the year before on the Weather Report album Mr. Gone, a song which also featured Yama drummer Steve Gadd. Mainieri’s group, Steps (a group seemingly modeled on Weather Report that later evolved in to Steps Ahead), featured a take of “Young and Fine” on its 1981 Japanese-only album Smokin’ in the Pit - also with Yama’s Don Grolnick, Eddie Gomez and Steve Gadd.

Grolnick, long an undervalued composer and a player whose sensitivities mesh to perfection with Mainieri (witness the much later Medianoche), provides his compelling Latinate “Lotus Blossom,” a tune he first recorded on David Sanborn’s 1978 album Heart to Heart (also featuring Mainieri). Michael Franks added lyrics to his 1980 version of the song on the album One Bad Habit while Sanborn and Grolnick would wax the song again on the 1984 album Straight to the Heart.

Closing out the set is “Blue Montreux,” Mainieri’s magnificent title track to a particularly good album co-led by Mainieri and Warren Bernhardt – later billed as “The Arista All-Stars” – and recorded at the July 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival. While it rounds out the album, it seems to call out here for an encore that never comes.

”In Yoga,” the liner notes tell us, “Yama is the first rung on the ladder toward the gateway to self-realization. Yama is also the Japanese word for mountain.” It goes on to say “Yama can be as big as a mountain or as silent as archways in a formal garden.”

Oddly, though, the 1982 American release of the album omits why the album derived this particular title. From the 1979 Japanese release come these additional words, credited to former DownBeat editor Arnold Jay Smith (who also penned the 1995 notes to the CD release of another 1979 CTI album released stateside in 1982, La Cuna by Ray Barretto):

“The Yoga synthesis came to us from an interview Art Farmer gave to CBS Radio in which he echoed his friend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s approach to his art.

”’First you get together with yourself. Then you get together with your instrument. Finally, you arrive at direct communication – with the people you are playing with and those you are performing for.’”

That’s what Yama is really all about: good communication. For this listener, Yama is a success that leaves you wanting more. And that’s its only fault: Yama ends after a mere 33 breezy minutes.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Interview with Stefano Orlando Puracchio

Italian journalist and author Stefano Orlando Puracchio’s latest book, Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato (The Forgotten Jazzman), is a remarkable survey of the life and art of the legendary Hungarian jazz guitarist. The Italian-language book was published on February 26, 2002 – the fortieth anniversary of Szabó’s death – by the prestigious Demian Edizioni, which had Puracchio interviewed on the occasion of the book’s release. The interview, as translated by me and approved by the author, offers much as to what makes the book a valuable addition to Gábor Szabó’s story...

Last year an essay on Domenico Bini, now you move on to a legend of guitar like Gábor. Are you a schizoid figure or is there a linearity to all of this?

You found me out! King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" is me! Seriously, there is a kind of linearity. Bini, at first, could be seen by people just like a "strange" YouTube phenomenon. However, he is a more complex figure. Not a professional entertainer, not professional musician, not a true phenomenon. My aim with him was to show people he is more like a raw (actually, very raw) diamond instead of a simple and easy YouTuber, like anybody else. Regarding Szabó, on the other hand, I went back to an old Klingon proverb (alien warriors of Star Trek). There is a saying - quoted in the saga [Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Ed.] - which says: "In the long run, the ones who can really understand a Klingon are Klingons." I firmly believe that only a person who has a deep connection with Hungary is able to explain to "strangers" figures such as Szabó. The fact of being Italian-Hungarian helped me a lot to "translate" Szabó for an Italian audience. Honestly, I was afraid of the amenities that a person alien to the Magyar culture could have written. So, for both Bini and Szabó, I wanted to arrive there first so as not to discover later what would have caused me very severe heartburn. And some colorful cursing.

This work of yours is the first Italian book on Szabó. How do you explain the historical absence of local interest in him?

It is not the absence of interest from potential readers, but from that of publishers. There is little risk and a tendency to maximize profits. With proposals of safe-playing editorials. Which causes a noticeable flattening of the cultural curve. We curl up on ourselves like this. For heaven's sake, there are still some indomitable "enlightened" publishing houses. But, in general, we work "of entrenchment" and not attack. A shame. Many, perhaps too many, have forgotten about that old ad that said, "If you don't play, you don't win". Leaving the game gambling and returning to music, Frank Zappa said: "Without deviating (from norm) progress is not possible." This is definitely an editorial release which deviates from the norm. It could not be otherwise, as far as I am concerned, since with "progress" and "progressive" I have a long love story in progress. And, in any case, although [Szabó] "deviated" from safe commercial logic, there is a good preliminary confirmation.

More generally, why is [Szabó] a forgotten jazz player?

Szabó was forgotten, despite having reached the mainstream, for two reasons. The first is that he failed to have an active and constant fanbase, which has perpetuated his memory. On the other hand, it is known as the artists were lucky to have loyal fans, they managed to "live" even when they materially disappeared. Then there are other, more specific reasons that I talk about in the text. Let's say Szabó was a sometimes-divisive figure. Despite himself. He has admirers but, at the same time, even detractors. And here we go back to the point before: if you don't have a base of loyal fans, willing to fight for you, the detractors win. Wrongly, since Szabó was a good artist, but they win. With the book I try to rebalance things a little, without hiding the critical issues.

He is also a key figure in understanding the Hungarian music of the Twentieth century. Although he is attributable to the jazz universe, how much of his roots are there in the music he wrote?

Gábor Szabó is a jazz player but is, at the same time, a direct "musical son" of Bartók and Kodály. The essence of Szabó is in his "Hungarianness." The Hungarian guitarist deeply loved jazz music. Perhaps, more than many American jazzmen. However, over the course of his career, he had to come down to pacts between his "Hungarian" soul and his love for jazz. And, for us, luckily, he did it in the best way. Blending the two aspects. In the majority of cases, the merger was excellent. For the rest he was a man too. Do not all a man's outings can be expected to be perfect. And, also Szabó, made his mistakes. Some too daring fusion is present in his discography.

Speaking of mergers. Szabó skillfully re-read many artists, from the Beatles to Burt Bacharach. In what context do you think he expressed himself best as interpreter?

Personally, I love the many reinterpretations Szabó recorded. And we must point out how, as to the Beatles, artistically speaking, Szabó had known it all along. However, the appearance of the "jazz cover" is, for many, one of the critical points of Szabó. If not really THE critical issue. Many fans (musicians and listeners alike) of jazz - which I define jokingly as "the stinkers" - never forgave the Hungarian guitarist for making jazz elaborations of the pop songs he did.

They accuse Szabó of chasing the "sirens" of popularity. To have, essentially, "flirted too much" with commercial music. Without waiting for a hit song “to decant” properly. Opinions, however not shareable, they are always worthy of attention and respect. But ... and here is a but as big as a house ... you can't point the finger at Szabó with this story and then ignore the fundamental contribution that Szabó has brought to jazz. Or, in a nutshell, the lessons of Bartók and Kodály. Why, if you stick him for the (alleged) demerits and you don't talk about his merits, you're not doing a clean thing. We must not praise Szabó too much. But don’t unload tons of mud on the history of pop either. He must be judged for what he really was. Perhaps Szabó is not worthy to sit at the table of the jazz greats. The table of Coltrane, Davis, Peterson, Mulligan and others, so to speak. But he's certainly present at that banquet. Maybe, sitting at a side table. At the head of the table.

America welcomed him, trained him, launched him. According to you, was Gabor purely American or did he retain something of Eastern Europe in his way of being and playing?

I dare say that the United States welcomed and launched him. Szabó's musical formation, though, once he arrived in the United States, was already at a high level. If not, the prestigious Berklee school would have never admitted him. Also, I want to mention the fact that when Szabó followed the "American model," the style of American guitarists, it was not particularly appreciated. For better or worse, returning to what we initially talked about, the key to his success was his "Hungarianness".

Good, because we know he was a virtuoso and talented guitarist. Bad, because the marketing campaign they launched him on as a soloist / leader, that of being "a magician," "a guitar sorcerer" or something "exotic," due to his unconventional style (read: non-American), eventually backfired. He endorsed it because he believed it was useful to do so. To settle down and ensure a decent living for his family. But it was, perhaps, his biggest mistake. I suspect he was seen by many only as a "curiosity," and not representing the cultured musician he was and remains.

The Breezin’ "case." What differences are there in your opinion between the pioneering version of '71 and the triumphal George Benson one?

The difference is only one: Szabó's version - although flawless and played with the legal author of the song - was not successful. Benson’s cover, however, was very successful. In the book I take apart the "fake news" about this song. Some on the internet say that Szabó was envious of the success of Benson. In reality this is not the case. So much so that the two played the song together, following its success.

Inevitable to mention Gypsy Queen. Do you believe the Carlos Santana cover has done well by its author or has it clouded it?

Gypsy Queen was a godsend for Szabó. The copyright allowed him to raise a lot of money. It might seem like a "bad" thing to see it from the point of view of profit. However, I do remember one thing that, at times, escapes many. The artists do not live on air. Gypsy Queen permitted Szabó to settle down and think more calmly about his art. Of course, it didn't make him rich. And the copyrights were not enough to have any sort of "weight" with the record companies. Now, regardless of the economic discourse, Gypsy Queen is a good piece. Not the best Szabó had to offer but it is a good piece. Santana, who was heavily influenced by Szabó's style, decided to make the song "his own.” Which, merged with Black Magic Woman by Peter Green, made rock-music history.

You have involved many professionals on different sides. What is the thread that connects their writings?

The wise men I involved in the project wore no blinders and they have judged and observed Szabó's work without preconceptions. Needless to say, they are all people I respect professionally and personally.

You are half Hungarian. What did it mean for you to confront such a giant?

It represented having to fight for months with the typical accents of the Magyar language. A nightmare. In fact, some accents will have escaped me and I apologize. Returning to the original question, if any oversight occured on my part, I don’t dare imagine what could have happened to others. Ah, yeah ... nothing. Knowing that, generally, the authors who spoke of Gábor Szabó wrote his name without accents. That is, as it is also reported on the discs. Pity that his real name was Gábor Szabó. Indeed, Szabó Gábor! In Hungary, it starts traditionally first the surname and then the name.

Accentuations aside, I would like to focus on the fact that, inevitably, to help Italian readers understand how, where and when the cultural background of Szabó was formed, I was forced to write a sort of Bignami [named for a series of Italian booklets similar to the CliffsNotes student study guides Americans use – Ed.] type of Hungarian history from 1936 (the birth of the guitarist) to 1956 (when Szabó repaired to the United States). I would have liked to do without it.

However, as Hungarian history is little known and complex, it was necessary to show those who know little or nothing about Hungary, the environment in which Szabó was born and lived for his first twenty years of life. Sure, I, too, could ride the wave of the exotic sorcerer that came from one distant land. But I wouldn't have done an artist's memory justice, a talent that deserves to be remembered.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato by Stefano Orlando Puracchio

“Many believe that Szabó is not worthy to sit at the table of the 'grown-ups' of jazz. The table that seats Coltrane, Davis, Peterson, Mulligan…no. However, he is present at the same banquet, perhaps sitting at the head of a secondary table.”

These are the words of Stefano Orlando Puracchio, author of the remarkable new book “Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato” (The Forgotten Jazzman), the first Italian-language book dedicated to legendary jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó (1936-82).

Beautifully published by the Italian press Demian Edizioni on February 26, 2022 – the fortieth anniversary of the guitarist’s death – Puracchio’s book not only memorializes the life and musical journey of Gábor Szabó, but reveals just how influential and meaningful the guitarist’s legacy has become over the last four decades.

My grasp of Italian is rudimentary at best, but it is easy to pick up on Stefano’s affection for and attention to the entirety of Gábor’s music. Even more interesting to me is that he doesn’t come at Gábor from the “fan boy” frame of mind – as, perhaps, I did. While his style is anything but academic, Stefano handily places Gábor’s music in several relevant contexts.

Here, Stefano aims to dispel some of the myths (or marketing) that grew – with or without Gábor’s consent – around the guitarist and likely stifled the way people heard his music. While Szabó’s highs and lows necessarily factor into any study of the guitarist, Stefano looks beyond labels like “exoticism” (or “esotism”) and “gypsy” (the one thing Szabó biographer Károly Libisch emphatically says Gábor is not) that marginalize or “other”-ize Gábor Szabó.

”I strongly believe that only [those] who have a strong connection with Hungary (blood, love for the Hungarian culture, etc.),” Stefano told me, “have the right keys to understand deeply Gábor's music. The fact I am an Italian-Hungarian journalist gave me the necessary knowledge to avoid invalidating stereotypes. For instance, all the marketing things created to launch Gabor's solo career.

”In short, no magic, no sorceries at all: in Gábor you will find just very good Jazz linked to the lessons of Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and other Hungarian musicians. Gábor is a ‘musical son’ of Bartók & Kodály. The ‘esotism’ in Gábor is not [a] real mystery’ if you know his real musical imprinting and background. Gábor [was] a very good student and researcher before [he became] a talented guitarist.”

Stefano Orlando Puracchio (born Rome, 1980) is a journalist and writer who divides his time between the Abruzzo region of Italy and Hungary. His first book, “Progressive Rock - a guide” (2014), received considerable attention and praise and was followed by two other volumes on the subject, released in 2015 and 2016. The three publications were consolidated in his “Manual Minimo del Rock Progressivo” in 2018.

Stefano has also written the short-story collection “Io e il signor Oz (e altri racconti)” (Me and Mr. Oz [and other tales]) and the novels “Un Maestro Particolare” (2020) and “Caccia al Diablero” (2021). Parallel to the writing of his latest novel, Puracchio published a book of interviews with the Italian YouTube phenom Domenico Bini (or, “Il Maestro,” as his fans call him), entitled “Il Vulcano, Schana Wana e altri mondi musicali” (2021).

In “Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato,” Stefano brings a truly fresh perspective to the guitarist’s music. He offers unique insight and often witty commentary, making a compelling argument for Gábor’s “place at the table.” In addition to providing a detailed biography of the guitarist (including what Hungary was like when Gábor was growing up there), Stefano offers particularly insightful analysis of select recordings, notably “Lady Gabor” (1963), “The Look of Love” (1968) and even the curious "Keep Smilin" (1976).

When Stefano brings Frank Zappa into the conversation, you note just how much Stefano himself brings to the table. Citing Lester Bangs’ comment that Zappa’s “Transylvania Boogie” (1970) is “in the style of Gábor Szabó,” it becomes curious that the guitarist records his own Bob James-composed “Transylvania Boogie” in 1975. Even better, Stefano marvelously refers to Small World (1972) and Belsta River (1978) as Szabó’s own Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar.

Another of Stefano’s clever takes is this zinger: “Wind, Sky and Diamonds, released at the end of 1967, could be called: ‘we understand the mistakes of Simpático [the 1966 Impulse album Szabó released with Gary McFarland] and we do not intend to repeat them’.” Not sure I agree with the musical quality of that assessment. But what Stefano gets right is that the singers on the former are easier on the ears than the latter – if, that is, you want to hear singers on these records.

Stefano enhances his lively narrative with shrewd interviews with, among others, guitarist Janne Schaffer, singer Kati Kovács, two members of the Danish rock band Causa Sui (whose most recent disc is called Szabodelico) and brother John Szabó, who has long championed everything Gábor.

The book also generously offers the thoughts and considerations of musicians, journalists and professionals such as Lee Ritenour, Lino Patruno, Toni Fidanza, Donato Zoppo, Csaba Deseő, Sandro Di Pisa, Guido Saraceni, Manuela Romitelli…and an essay (“Gábor Szabó Explores Burt Bacharach”) by yours truly - a version which can be read in English here.

Although Gábor Szabó left us an amazing forty years ago – almost as long ago as he lived – Stefano Orlando Puracchio does much to not only help keep the guitarist’s legacy alive but enhance it with a completely new way of hearing this magisterial jazz legend.

“Gábor Szabó – il jazzista dimenticato” is available online or directly by writing to the publisher (at this writing, a 20% discount will be applied on the cover price). For more information, visit Demian Edizioni. A promotional video is also available on YouTube.