Hot Bim House

CHARLES MCPHERSON IN CONCERT – Last Thursday, the audience at Bimhuis, Amsterdam was delighted by the simultaneously burning and sophisticated message of alto saxophonist Charles McPherson (78), one of the prime torchbearers of the bop tradition.

McPherson’s last album, 2015’s excellent The Journey, suggested that the veteran saxophonist wasn’t planning to rest on his laurels. At the Bimhuis, the Joplin, Missouri-born saxophonist, who has been associated with, among others, Charles Mingus and Barry Harris, made abundantly clear that he remains a force to be reckoned with in a live setting as well. In great shape and eager as a young lion, McPherson presented a program of tunes like What Is This Thing Called Love, Lester Leaps In, Off Minor and original compositions by McPherson such as Reflections On An Election.

It’s memorable to be witnessing the real deal, the kind of phrasing, timing and storytelling so typical for the bop and hard bop era. McPherson conjures up vivid images of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss while at the same time delivering supple lines, fluent phrases, blood-red tag endings and humorous asides all his own, topped off with an edgy sound reminding us that his brand of jazz came from the kind of joints where, with the regularity of a clock, a burly whisky drinker is arguing at the bar with a dishwater blonde whose mascara has been steadily running down from her crow’s feet to the decorated birthmark on her left cheek. Meanwhile, the viper is trying to trade his junk.

McPherson’s forceful wail and unexpected excursions in the high register of the alto point out that the saxophonist, like all old-school cats, could in fact do without amplification; he carries the band, particularly noticeable during his rendition of Nature Boy, a beautiful melody and the most surprising pick of the evening. The controlled fury of his lines at breakneck speeds is easily taken for granted. His lines in themselves are sustained efforts of literal storytelling: they comprise a reflection of his personality while also following a logical, musical course. This is most evident during the ballad Embraceable You, the vehicle for some of Charlie Parker’s most enduring statements and a canvas too for McPherson’s breathtaking figures that slowly but surely gain momentum.

The band may have been somewhat out of habit, since bassist Daryll Hall, involved in an unfortunate accident, had to be replaced at short notice by Dutchman Joris Teepe. Occasionally, one of them is waving with a piece of music paper. However, the members of McPherson’s group provide a bed of roses for McPherson’s resolute game of bop, blues and ballads. Like the inclusion of Nature Boy, another surprise was in stock: one would expect some tough customers as accompanists of a monster player like McPherson but instead the trio exhibites an unusual, but far from unbearable, lightness of being. The distinguished Teepe is pure silkiness, pianist Alberto Palau’s touch is restrained and drummer Stephen Keogh’s intricate shadings and subtle rhythmic variations are reminiscent of the great Alan Dawson’s style. Not so much hard but subtle swing. It has its charm, and the boss alto on this particular Bimhuis meeting, Charles McPherson, is very charming as well, conversating more intimately and wittily with the audience as the evening progresses.

Charles McPherson

Place and date: Bimhuis, Amsterdam, March 8, 2018
Line-up: Charles McPherson (alto saxophone), Alberto Palau (piano), Joris Teepe (bass), Stepen Keogh (drums)
Website: Charles McPherson.

Tenor & Alto Madness

CHARLES MCPHERSON, GRANT STEWART, ALAN SKIDMORE – LIVE

Great weeks for fans of real jazz and sax aficionados in The Lowlands. The English tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore has been touring the country with the trio of pianist Rein de Graaff, bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke. Last chance to see this excellent group also including saxophonists Tineke Postma and Benjamin Herman perform is tonight at The Bimhuis, Amsterdam and tomorrow at Tivoli, Utrecht. On March 8 the 78-year old alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, who has been keeping the flame of bebop burning in a most confident, energetic and excellent way, will be playing at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam. Great gig! McPherson will be assisted by pianist Alberto Palau, bassist Daryll Hall and drummer Stephen Keogh.

And on Monday the 5th of March, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart will be performing at Murphy’s Law in The Hague. The 46-year old, Canada-born Stewart is one of the most prolific saxophonists of mainstream jazz today. He’s a fixture on the NYC scene and has been performing all around the world. Stewart played and recorded with, among others, Jimmy Cobb, Clark Terry, Louis Hayes, Brad Meldau, Larry Goldings and Eric Alexander.

The concert at Murphy’s Law, organized by Equinox Jazz Productions, starts at 21:00. A rare opportunity to hear one of the best in the business in an intimate setting. Stewart is performing with Dan Nicholas on guitar, Kenji Rabson on bass and Wouter Kühne on drums.

Find Murphy’s Law here
Check out Grant Stewart’s website here.

Cook, Book!

BOOKER ERVIN – THE GOOD BOOK

Booker Ervin - The Good Book

Acrobat released a 4CD set of Booker Ervin: The Good Book – The Early Years 1960-1962. It is a compilation of performances from Ervin’s debut album The Book Cooks, That’s It and guest appearances on albums by Horace Parlan, Mal Waldron, Teddy Charles and Bill Barron. At the time, the Denison, Texas-born Ervin had just made his mark in the group of Charles Mingus, his forceful, fire and brimstone-style being a big asset on classic albums as, among others, Mingus Ah Um and Blues & Roots. Ervin was ready to capitalize on his recent exposure through the Mingus association, but regardless of his recording activity life as a freelancer in New York was tough. It turned out that the tenor saxophonist never really gained the public acclaim he deserved.

There are a number of misunderstandings about the life and career of Booker Ervin, a tenor saxophonist adored by legions of classic jazz fans and, to be sure, certainly also derided by some because of his supposedly ‘superficial’ wailing style. For one thing, Booker Ervin is a sincere, passionate and unique saxophonist but not the harmonically advanced Coltranesque musician a number of critics and aficionados believed him to be. The English saxophonist and writer Simon Spillett, who wrote the liner notes to The Good Book, tackles other myths as well about the life and style of Ervin, who died in 1969 at the age of 39. Rarely does the jazz fan encounter such extensive and insightful essays. Spillett has written the definitive account of Ervin’s life and offers a balanced evaluation of his legacy in a booklet that would look far from silly as a separate publication. On the contrary.

The Book Cooks showed Ervin’s potential, That’s It perfectly nails his singular aesthetic. The contrast of his style with Eric Dolphy’s on Mal Waldron’s The Quest is one of the reasons why that album is epic. Acrobat also picked intriguing albums by Bill Barron (Hot Line – The Tenor Of Bill Barron) and Teddy Charles (Metronome Presents Jazz In The Garden At The Museum Of Modern Art), both very collectable LP’s. Hopefully Acrobat will focus on mid-and late career in the future.

Check the Acrobat website here. Buy The Good Book here.

Benny Green - Soul Stirrin'

Benny Green Soul Stirrin’ (Blue Note 1599)

Of the invariably soulful albums from trombonist Benny Green, Soul Stirrin’, with the heavyweight line up of Gene Ammons, Billy Root, Sonny Clark and Elvin Jones, is arguably his finest effort.

Benny Green - Soul Stirrin'

Personnel

Benny Green (trombone), Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Billy Root (tenor saxophone), Sonny Clark (piano), Ike Isaacs (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), Babs Gonzalez (vocals A1, A2,)

Recorded

on April 28, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1599 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
The Cooker
Benny’s Back
Bossa Rocka
All Of Me
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
Benson’s Rider
Ready And Able
The Borgia Stick
Return Of The Prodigal Son
Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid


Benny Green is like that friendly uncle who always takes you aside at a family gathering, stuffing a couple of bucks into your pocket, ‘here kid, go buy yourself some candy.’ Green’s playing is accessible, uplifting, his phrases smack of smoke-filled back rooms, where burly whisky drinkers throw dirty jokes to the other end of the card table. His altogether very deft, modern style retains a lurid sense of old-timey swing, which places him at the other end of the spectrum opposite pioneer J.J. Johnson. His tone is tart, a lovely blast of fresh air.

By 1958, Green’s experience consisted of a decade spent in the bands of Earl Hines and Charlie Ventura. He had worked and recorded with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Criss, Hank Mobley and Randy Weston. Green was up for his second Blue Note album, following Back On The Scene and a slew of releases on Prestige onwards from 1951.

Not only did Green have aboard Ammons, Root, Clark, bassist Ike Isaacs and Jones, the bop poet and songwriter Babs Gonzalez also put his best foot forward, providing two melodies. Throughout the album, there are ample examples that justify the title. It’s a spirited, blues-drenched affair. There’s the sparse, precise riffing behind the soloists in We Wanna Cook, an uptempo, twelve-bar blues swinger, reminiscent of the Count Basie cookers, and also marked by Papa Jo Jones-style drumming by Elvin Jones. The same procedures – saxes spurring on trombone – mark the title track, absolutely the best tune of the album, a heated Blues March-type groove, albeit a bit slower. Babs Gonzalez hums the melody, the soloists take off, Gene Ammons especially commanding, on top of his game, blowing long wailing notes, coupled with sparse, melodic bop figures, a wall of sound from The Boss.

Gonzalez’ Lullaby Of The Doomed, Round Midnight-ish, is a breather. B.G. Mambo’s fat-bottomed theme jumps and jives, but turns into a rather pedestrian, straightforward 4/4 rhythm. Sonny Clark’s introspective side comes to the fore in Lullaby, his accompaniment on the album is spicy, he turns a beat here, injects a persuasive bass note further away from the sequence there, continuing to hold momentum all the way. Perhaps the mutual understanding of Green, Ammons and Root, who played together earlier in their careers, contribute to the album’s coherent soul groove. Billy Root, rather the mystery man of this set, a great, hard-swinging player, had a more imposing career than most people probably realize, most of the time spent as a sideman. He played with John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Stan Kenton, Lucky Thompson, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie and many others. Check out an enlightening interview of the candid Root with guest writer Gordon Jack on the great Jazz Profiles website of Steven Cerra here.

When listening to Black Pearl, you will notice that it closely resembles Black Pearls – with the added ‘s’ – from John Coltrane’s album Black Pearls. Soul Stirrin’ was recorded on April 28, 1958. Black Pearls – released as a profitable afterthought by Prestige in 1964 when Coltrane had long since moved to Atlantic and Impulse – is recorded on May 23, 1958. So Bennie beat ‘Trane to a month. The liner notes to Soul Stirrin’ say: ‘The program is completed with Black Pearl penned by sax man Bill Graham.’ However, Coltrane’s album credits not Graham but John Coltrane as composer. Did Coltrane nick a tune? Aficionados on the in-depth Organissimo website suggested that Graham’s credit got lost, it was then registered as unknown, and subsequently assigned to Coltrane. Apparently, Coltrane remembered the nice melody, picking it for that wonderful session with Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. Organissimo adds the fact that the tune is registered to Graham in The Coltrane Reference, the Bible of Coltrane facts. Recognition after all for Bill Graham, born 1918, a relatively unknown saxophonist who warrants more than a few words in another time and place. To be sure, Black Pearl is another one of the tunes making sure Soul Stirrin’s a keeper.

Red Ahooo! (Red 001)

NEW RELEASE – RED

Ahooo! is the buoyant debut album of Red, a groove jazz outfit that swings the ol’American way.

Red - Ahooo!

Personnel

Ellister van der Molen (trumpet, flugelhorn), Gideon Tazelaar (tenor saxophone), Bob Wijnen (organ), Wouter Kühne (drums)

Recorded

in 2017 at Studio Smederij

Released

as Red 001 in 2017

Track listing

Mr. Feelgood
Toi Toi Moi
Delegatrix
DTR/Stardust
Just What The Doctor Ordered
The Red One
Big “P”
Ahooo!


When asked about his style, cellist Tristan Honsinger said, ‘I’m not playing me, I’m playing us.’ A very wise statement. Although she’s in a totally different musical zone, it can be readily applied to Ellister van der Molen. The Dutch trumpeter, engaged in bop, hard bop, Latin jazz, even Dixieland, has a lot working for her, not least a consuming passion for that tradition. She’s part of the group Red, collaborating with her longtime companion from The Hague, pianist/organist Bob Wijnen, tenor saxophonist Gideon Tazelaar and drummer Wouter Kühne. Red presents the kind of accessible, foot-tapping organ combo jazz that was such a prevalent entertaining force in the sixties. Its update for the 21st century is fresh, energetic, a lurid and clever hodgepodge of funky thickness and tart soul jazz uplifting enough to transform any self-respecting couch potato into Swivel Hips. Hey, it’s Mr. Swivel Hips to you.

There’s more to it than just groove. The fluently swinging Van der Molen tune Delegatrix has the trumpeter crossing the Mason-Dixie line to shake hands with the post bop boys of Blue Note in the mid-sixties. Her placing of notes is sparse and intriguing, the ending of her solo an enthusiastic question for Tazelaar to answer. Van der Molen wrote DTR to segue into Stardust. Van der Molen’s crystalline sound topped with a side of huskiness, with tinges of Farmer, Terry, Morgan, is featured in the former, Gideon Tazelaar’s smoky phrases are featured in the latter. They share a sophistication that runs through the whole down-home program, that consists of bashful flagwavers like Van der Molen’s Mr. Feelgood, Wijnen’s The Red One, nifty funk jazz as Van der Molen’s Toi Toi Moi and Wijnen’s Just What The Doctor Ordered.

Jimmy Heath’s Big “P” brings the group into the realm of classic mainstream jazz. Twenty-year old Gideon Tazelaar, dubbed ‘a young man with an old soul’ by the Dutch bop piano master Rein de Graaff, builds a sweeping solo from a sassy entrance and takes part in an upheaving section of simultaneous improvisation with Van der Molen. Wijnen’s statements are precise and audacious, a highlight in an altogether saucy and dynamic rendering of Hammond accompaniment.

Ahooo!, the title track, is an exuberant, funky showstopper. Built on a foundation of rousing figures on the snare drum, the group is rejoicing, like a bunch of old friends out on the weekend. There’s a jubilant aspect to Van der Molen’s style in general, certainly not blood-red, more the red of strawberries and the hearts that kids draw.

Buy Ahooo! here.
Check out Ellister van der Molen’s website here.

The George Benson Quartet - Cookbook

The George Benson Quartet Cookbook (Columbia 1966)

There are two, maybe three or four George Bensons. However, for straightforward jazz fans, there’s only one: the cat that made gritty, in-your-face soul jazz albums like 1966’s Cookbook.

The George Benson Quartet - Cookbook

Personnel

George Benson (guitar), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Lonnie Smith (organ), Jimmy Lovelace (drums), Marion Booker (drums)

Recorded

From August 1 – October 19, 1966 at Columbia Studio, NYC

Released

as CS 9413 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
The Cooker
Benny’s Back
Bossa Rocka
All Of Me
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
Benson’s Rider
Ready And Able
The Borgia Stick
Return Of The Prodigal Son
Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid


For those fans, listening to George Benson after 1966 is like the obligatory New Years Drink from your employer. Damn, is guessing who’s been under the sheets with whom the only game around here?. Ok, one might answer the demure jazz buff, next time bring your turntable, light things up a bit, you crank. And the fifty-something who grew up on a diet of Average White Band and Santana might add, hey pal, George Benson did record some awesome stuff after ’66.

Sure he did. Except most of it is drowned in an overstuffed sound soup of strings, harp, flute, synth and, yuk, strings from the synth. A&M and CTI albums like The Other Side Of Abbey Road (1970) and White Rabbit (1972) are, notwithstanding the heavyweight line-ups of, among others, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, technically exceptional elevator muzak affairs, no less. If it wasn’t for the greasy, steamroller beat of drummer Idris Muhammad, 1968’s The Shape Of Things To Come would’ve been nothing more than schlock for the building constructors working on the streets where you live. Then again, few are prepared for My Latin Brother from Bad Benson (1974), a smoking, exotic and sizzling Latin tune with a quintet line up from the matured guitar player. And the highlights of Benson’s big break as a smooth jazz star in 1976, collected on Breezin’, are, despite their schmaltzy coating of synth, pretty darn good courtesy of the experienced, first-class session players – take So This Is Love. The only thing it needs is the voice of Barry White. Next thing you know one of sixteen vestal virgins appears from out of the blue, ready to sign up for Procol Harum’s harem.

As early as early 1968, when Benson was still a soul jazz guitarist, there were hints of radio-friendly formatting. His album Giblet Gravy has both the low-down dirty blues, injected with typical lightning-bolt fingering, of Groovin’ as the saccharine take of the ultimate crowd pleaser, Bobby Hebb’s Sunny. In fact, he’s singing an r&b-type version of All Of Me on Cookbook that could’ve done well on the jukebox market. George Benson has always been the kind of performer that succeeds in recording bubblegum ditties in the afternoon and play steamin’ r&b at night. Organist Greg Lewis told Flophouse that he regularly tried to sit in as a woodshedding Hammond B3 player in the early nineties in a Manhattan club, sometimes succeeding to replace one of the accomplished organists for a tune or so. Occasionally, Benson, at the height of his fame, would drive his limousine up the sidewalk, park, get in and join the band on stage. Nobody cut George.

Cocksure at heart. Benson was like that when he first hit the scene as a sideman with organist Brother Jack McDuff in late 1963. By no means arrogant, instead playing with a joy of discovery that is contagious. In McDuff’s band, the youngster, who sang professionally as a kid, still played the kind of r&b guitar style from his teenage years, although the influence of his heroes Charlie Christian and Grant Green (interpreted in fast forward motion) were readily discernible. Displaying quicksilver runs, a biting attack, torrents of foul-mouthed but impeccably placed blues phrases, Benson heated up both studio and stage to temperatures uncommon even in New Jersey or New York City summer season. Dig Benson’s fireworks on YouTube, footage of the McDuff Quartet’s 1964 performance at Antibes, France, here.

After a string of albums with McDuff and his debut album on Prestige, The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson, the guitarist had signed to Columbia, releasing It’s Uptown in 1966, with one of those grandiose subtitles I’m sure musicians weren’t too fond of, The Most Exciting New Jazz Guitarist On The Scene Today. It was a thoroughly exciting group that Benson had assembled and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, organist Lonnie Smith and drummer Jimmy Lovelace (alternating with Marion Booker) also gathered for the Cookbook session, still more tight-knit as a unit, delivering a hot barbecue of spicy ribs and saucy side dishes. There’s the opening tune, The Cooker, a strike of stop-time thunder, evidence of the group’s effortless breakneck speed swing and Benson’s fast-fingered blues wizardry. Perhaps already the highlight of the album, which yet doesn’t take anything away from the remainder of the repertory, including other Benson originals like the gentle Bossa Rocka and Big Fat Lady, a perky r&b tune that could easily pass for the background to Jimmy Hughes on Fame or Hank Ballard on King.

Benson gets his kicks with licks on Benson’s Rider, a boogaloo-ish rhythm perfectly suitable for the deeply groovy Lonnie Smith. Benson wrote the The Borgia Stick for a mafia television series, a lush greenery for the mutually responsive soul jazz cultivators, who are effectively aroused by sections of tension and release. The nifty Jimmy Smith tune Ready And Able presents the burgeoning talent of baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber to full effect. He’s like the cookie monster that’s gotten a shot of rhythm&blues, soulfully eating up the breaks off the I Got Rhythm changes.

The other horn player on the date, Benny Green, happened to walk into his friend George Benson on the street prior to Benson’s session. Benson invited Green over to the studio to join the proceedings. Such is the unique nature of jazz and its practitioners, that sheer coincidence may be turned into a musical advantage. Green’s uplifting, swinging style is an asset on Benny’s Back (which was written on the spot by Benson and refers to the fact that Green was also present on Benson’s first Columbia LP) and the swing-styled jam Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid, the longest track on an album that keeps warming the hearts of ‘early-Benson-fans’ around the globe.

Gene Ammons - Brother Jug!

Gene Ammons Brother Jug (Prestige 1970)

As if nothing had happened, Gene Ammons resumed his place in the Prestige roster after his seven-year long stint in jail and delivered four consecutive big-selling albums in 1969/70. Brother Jug is the second in line.

Gene Ammons - Brother Jug!

Personnel

Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Sonny Philips (organ), Junior Mance (piano), Billy Butler (guitar), Bob Bushnell (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), Frankie Jones (drums), Candido (congas)

Recorded

on November 10 & 11, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7792 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Son Of A Preacher Man
Didn’t We
He’s A Real Gone Guy
Side B:
Jungle Strut
Blue Velvet
Ger-Ru


“Jug” was a nickname cast upon Ammons by singer and bandleader Billy Eckstine, whose band Ammons was part of in the mid forties, like so many future modern jazz giants as Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt. One day the band checked out new hats in a store. When Eckstine found out the enormous hat size of Ammons, he blurted out: ‘You jug-head motherfucker!’ The name, shortened to “Jug”, stuck. Shortly after, Ammons had his first big-selling song with 1947’s Red Top. The ballad My Foolish Heart, which had been in the book of Eckstine’s band, was next, a smash hit in 1951. The Prestige albums of Ammons sold well, especially 1960’s Boss Tenor, which spawned the popular Canadian Sunset, and 1962’s Bad! Bossa Nova. At that time, Ammons had become a heroin addict. Already having done stints in jail in the fifties, now the law put him away not only for possession but also selling narcotics, a sure sign that Ammons was abused as a symbol of ‘the degenerate, black musician’. He had to put up with a staggering seven-year sentence.

During those years of 1962-69, Prestige kept his name in the spotlight as best as it possibly could, releasing a number of albums with material from the vaults. Nevertheless, upon the release of Ammons from jail in 1969, the label was curious if the big-toned melodist could still deliver. The answer was affirmative with a capital A. Ammons had honed his chops in prison. The homecoming concert at Chicago’s Plucked Nickel in the fall of ’69 (the liner notes say) was a succes, the following gigs in Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia likewise. New York? No, Ammons wasn’t allowed to play in the Big Apple. A bunch of bureaucrats from the liquor board kept “Jug” out of town. Except for the studio of Rudy van Gelder, where Ammons recorded the well-received The Boss Is Back! and, subsequently, Brother Jug! and The Black Cat!. In between, Prestige released a live album with Dexter Gordon, The Chase!.

Meanwhile, the health of Ammons had detoriated considerably. Ammons passed away in 1974 at the age of forty-nine. They had to dug for “Jug”. At his funeral Sonny Stitt, whom Ammons had been associated with regularly throughout his career, played My Buddy. One of the best friends of Ammons, tenor saxophonist Prince James, also performed. James is featured on Brother Jug as well, on the last track of the album, Ger-Ru, which also includes Junior Mance, the pianist who’d been part of an early Ammons group.

The rest, however, consists of an organ combo including organist Sonny Philips and one of Prestige’s house rhythm sections of bassist Bob Bushnell and drummer Bernard Purdie. Solid groove music assured. The loose, tough-as-nails version of Son Of A Preacher Man is a ringer, while the flagwaving shuffle blues He’s A Real Gone Guy, a song from r&b singer Nellie Lutcher, conjures up images of loved ones leaning against the wall, drowning each other with drunken, smeary kisses. Every Gene Ammons album of the late sixties and early seventies has a stand-out track. On Brother Jug, it’s Jimmy Webb’s Didn’t We, a ballad that finds Ammons at the top of his unsurpassed, unique game of level-headed drama. Soon, as Ammons would grow more ill, his form would understandably falter. But for the moment, “Jug” was back at the forefront of entertaining and hi-level soul jazz.

Scroll down on the Spotify link to listen to most of the Brother Jug album. Well, The Boss Is Back is also pretty swell.