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.