Tag Archives: Jazz

Toshiko – Bebop with a Japanese twist

Toshiko Akiyoshi was born in 1929 in what is today know as Dalian, (formerly known as Darien or Port Arthur) Manchuria, at the time ruled by the Japanese after the victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
Born from upper class parents, her father was a textile and steel mill owner, she and her sisters was brought up studying traditional Japanese dance, classic piano and ballet. Toshiko was addicted to the piano and soon focused of that.

As you can easily imagine the family luck changes dramatically in 1946 after the war. They were relocated to Beppu on the island of Kyushu in southern japan, with little money and only the belongings they could carry. Resulting in the fact that Toshiko Akiyoshi now 7 years old no longer had a piano.

From “The Subject is Jazz” 1958

Japan was full of American soldiers after the war, and entertainment establishments opened offering dance music. Toshiko Akiyoshi got a job playing in a dance band getting access to a piano and could practise classic piano outside working hours. One day a Japanese record collector heard her play and introduced her to Jazz playing a recording of Afro-American jazz pianist Teddy Wilson.

From “Her Trio, Her Quartet” – “Thou Swell” 1956

This was a revolution to the young Toshiko Akiyoshi, she started listening to and practice Jazz, in 1950 she moved to Tokyo to start up her own band. In 1952 pianist Oscar Peterson saw Akiyoshi playing in a club and soon Toshiko was recording her first album “Toshiko’s Piano” with members of Oscar Peterson’s band in Radio Tokyo Studio. The first two albums was dominate by covers of American Jazz, but on the third “The Toshiko Trio” (1956) it was mainly her own compositions. Recorded in New York City after she moved to US to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston

From “The Toshiko Trio” – “Kyoshu” 1956

In the 1960’s she was living in both Tokyo and New York, when not turing.

In 1964 her daughter Michiru Mariano was born, but she was divorced in 1967 from the father, two years later she married saxophonist Lew Tabackin.

Inspired by an interview with Duke Ellington expressing how proud he was of his race, Toshiko Akiyoshi gained interest in how to incorporate Japanese culture and music in her writing.

This was first attempted on Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band’s album “Kogun” (1974), and came to its full on their album “Insights” (1976), on the brilliant sidelong Jazz suite “Minamata”.

Nowhere near Japanese traditional music, but complex Jazz with a slight Japanese twist.

From “Insights” – “Minamata” 1976

To be continued

For additional reading on the subject I can recommend this great article by Susan Fleet,  generally a rich source of information on pioneering women in music.

 

 

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Milky Way Six & Streng

I you havent already read the first post suggest that you start here

After Lambertland bassist and founding member Måns Groundstroem left Tasavallan Presidentti and was replaced by Heikki Virtanen, before the band made their final album “Milky Way Moses”. At first glance not much difference from what we had on the previous recording, but there are some important changes.

Music writing no longer only in the hands of Tolonen, this time Pöyry and Koivistoinen participates. There is a new lightness and you may say Milky Way Moses is much more straight forward than any of the previous albums.

I’m sure many listeners will find it pleasant especially if you already love typical 70’s progressive (Jazz) Rock, personally though I’m a fan of the oddity and unique moods of the previous albums that to some extent was lost here, never the less a great and special album from the early Scandinavian rock scene.

This was the end at Tasavallan Presidentti, or more precisely the end for a long long time, as the band reunited in 2005 to release their 6th album in 2006.

Frank Robson was now back on vocals and also creating the lyrics. Jukka Tolonen writing the music, besides two tracks completely by Robson. Another founding member Juhani Aaltonen also back as Pekka Pöyry who was suffering from manic depression tragically committed suicide in 1980.

The new album was another step in the direction of a more mainstream sound, fine Blues/Jazz Rock but anything distinctly “Tasavallan” is almost gone.

You may wonder why this is the 6th album, as I have previously only mentioned four, the reason is that there is an 1970 album by Pekka Streng & Tasavallan Presidentti called Magneettimiehen Kuolema.

The reason I did not mention in the Tasavallan Presidentti chronology is that the album was very much a Pekka Streng album.

Very interesting album in its own right though. An album I see as experimental or psychedelic prog folk, stylistically far from all the other albums.

Streng work was not recognized much in his own lifetime, but received some attention later on. Streng died of cancer in 1975 just 26 years old

President of the Republic

Finnish “Tasavallan Presidentti” released their self-titled debut in 1969, the band was formed by the 17 years old guitarist Jukka Tolonen, drummer Vesa Aaltonen, English vocalist and keyboard player Frank Robson, Juhani Aaltonen (saxophones, flute) and Måns Groundstroem (bass, organ).

The debut is an interesting mix of many elements from blues rock jazz folk and even some minor classical inspired sections, it is all very interesting but that said it is also bit unfocused, can’t say the album turns out as a united piece of music, but definitely not bad either.

After replacing Juhani Aaltonen with Pekka Pöyry (saxophones and flute), Tasavallan Presidentti recorded their 2nd album in 1970. This album was originally only released in Sweden and very rare, but in 2002 it came out on CD and in 2014 it was released as “Limited Edition” on vinyl by Finnish Svart Records.

The album is in my opinion a steep up from the debut, the band are finding a more streamlined sound and style, still very varied but overall the album works better as “one piece of music”. The style is now very close you what I would for most parts call Progressive Rock with a clear jazz twist.

After the 2nd album Frank Robson was replaced by already established Finnish vocalist Eero Raittinen. Another important change is that Jukka Tolonen now took over the music writing that were a more shared process on the previous albums, something that might be the reason why we now has a huge development in the direction of the music and for the first time a style that is unique to Tasavallan Presidentti.

This is clearly Jazz/Rock but not in the American style where Jazz musicians take in elements from rock, this is the opposite way around, rock musicians taking in elements from Jazz, it makes a huge difference – I LOVE IT.

Lambertland was rather successful, number 7 on the Finnish album charts. It was released in UK and provided the band with some high profile concerts in UK and other countries.

As you may have already guessed Tasavallan Presidentti translate into President of the Republic.

to be continued…….

Cantaloupe and the Hancock

Undoubtable Herbie Hancock’s commercial  success really took off from his 1973 album Head Hunters, arguably peaking with his Academy Award for Best Original Score for Round Midnight in 1986.

But commercial  success is one thing another is his huge and impressive contribution to Jazz music overall.

“Tell me a bedtime story” from his 1969 album Fat Albert Rotunda

At the above album Hancock was already starting a transition into Jazz-Fusion that would be dominant in the 1970’s, but Herbie Hancock did recordings also all the way through the 1960’s, making his first solo release in 1962 with “Takin’ Off” on blue note

“Us3” a London founded Jazz-rap group had a huge hit with “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” from their debut album  “Hand on the Torch” in 1992/93. The track was based on Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” using samples from the 1964 original.

“Cantaloupe Island” was recorded for Herbie Hancock’s fourth solo album Empyrean Isles from 1964, then I listen to this it is easy to understand why “Us3” took up the cover version, true brilliance where less is so much more.

 

The musicians for the original 1964 recording were: Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (cornet), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums).

The Three String Double Bass

Usually when I think of bass as a solo instrument what pop up will be the modern Jazz bassist, especially Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke, there are also a few very good solo bassist rooted in rock, my favorite clearly Tony Levin.

And there are even entire albums dedicated only to the Bass, as an example Marcin Oles – Ornette On Bass from 2003. Marcin Oles is a Polish bass player, composer and record producer born in 1973. He has released several albums since 1999 sometimes solo, sometimes with others, often involving his brother Bartłomiej “Brat” Oleś.

Well that was a long introduction to something quite different.

As the main object of all this talk lead back almost 200 hundred years, back to 1835 and the day when Pietro Bottesini got a scholarship for his son Giovanni. Pietro was himself a skilled Clarinet player and Romantic Era Composer, some of his works is if not famous, then at least recognized and recorded.

I was wondering of again ! back to Giovanni.

Giovanni had received some education in violin but the scholarship in Milan there was only bassoon or double bass vacant, Giovanni decided to go for the Bass.

Form here the stone was rolling he soon got an offer to join the opera house in Havana, touring the united states sometimes with appearances as a soloist. 1849 was his debut in London to great success and form here his fame lead him to every corner of Europe, Turkey, Egypt, Buenos Aires, Mexico etc, he met Giuseppe Verdi in Venice, and they became lifelong friends

At this point (1849) Bottesini had completed quite a large number of compositions, many of his famous compositions for the double bass were if not finished then written in “first” version.

Bottesini was in favour of Three Strings of pure gut, at the time some places used mostly four and even five strings, such as Germany. France had just accepted the four strings as standard. Italy, England and Spain, etc. were still using three strings, England was one of the last places to change, as three strings were rather common until the first world war.

Bottesini bought his bass in 1839, an instrument made in 1716 by Carlo Antonio Testore in Milan, the eldest son of Carlo Giuseppe. According to Thomas Martin (see note) it was originally a four string instrument transformed to three strings.

It is so sad to know that we will never the able to enjoy Bottesini’s performances, he must have been no less than fabulous, nicknames “the Paganini of the double bass” without doubt evolving the bass technique and reform the use of double bass as a solo instrument.

Never the less Bottesini saw himself mainly as a composer, who also played bass or conducted. His style of composing was not ground breaking although he was successful with his operas, but it is his solo works for the double bass that stands out, still standard repertoire for the double bassists.

This is played on an original three stringed period instrument

Note: I usually won’t mention my sources, as that would often be a boring journey, but in this case I would like to mention that I have read and truly enjoyed reading this article by Thomas Martin of Thomas and George Martin Violin Makers.

Yume no Fusion

Japanese Kenso was originally formed in 1974, but founding and the only consistent member to this date, Yoshihisa Shimizu departed for Kanagawa Dental College and the band went on hiatus, but reformed in 1979 to released their first self-titled vinyl in 1981.

Yoshihisa Shimizu often comes to stage in a lab coat, to reflect his daytime trade.

The style on the debut was instrumental and very inspired by early 70’s British Progressive Rock.

 

Over the next few albums Kenso’s music changed towards a more Jazz Rock inspired style, British acts like Brand X or Bruford comes to mind, but also Return to Forever and many others.

That said Kenso is far from copying anyone, they have their own sound and style and I believe you can also sense something very Japanese in their music.

 

Besides the wonderful Hiromi Uehara  (a very different story altogether). Kenso is as far as I know the most well-known Jazz Rock artist coming from Japan and for very good reason, their music is very varied and complex, touching many subgenres of (prog) Rock and Jazz fussion, mostly instrumental but never boring or one-sided.

Current lineup:

清水義央  (Yoshihisa Shimizu) Guitars

小口健一 (Kenichi Oguchi) Keyboards

光田健一 (Kenichi Mitsuda) Keyboads

三枝俊治 (Shunji Saegusa) Bass

小森啓資 (Keisuke Komori)Drums

 

 

Kenso have made 10 studio albums, the latest in 2014, and a serie of live albums. They are also featured with 5 tracks on “Live at Progfest-2000” DVD released by Musea.

Kenso played NEARfest 2005

 

 

Steve Lacy – Bop, Free Jazz and Avant Garde Prog

Steven Norman Lackritz was born in New York City back in 1934. He is best known to be the first to specialize on soprano saxophone in modern Jazz, but he was also a very diverse saxophonist, from interpreting the classics masters especially Thelonious Monk, to free Jazz, avant-garde and even progressive jazz rock.

Steve Lacy playing Monk’s “Played Twice”

Starting his career playing Dixieland with various musicians from 1952-55, by the 2nd half of the 50’s he moved into more modern styles and playing with giants like free Jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor , Gil Evans, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

From Steve Lacy Sortie 1966, this was Steve Lacy’s sixth album, the first based only on his own compositions and his first take on free jazz as a band leader.

 

Steve Lacy appears on Italian band Area’s fourth studio album maledetti, the album is a mystic journey of styles and moods in the more avant-garde division of progressive rock, but also inspired by free/experimental Jazz.

Lacy on Area’s “maledetti” (1976)

 

 

A Liquid Fusion from the Adriatic Sea.

After Miles was opening the door between Jazz and Rock with Filles de Kilimanjaro (68), In a Silent Way (69) and especially with Bitches Brew (70), there was a lot of good creative bands playing a great fusions of Jazz and Rock throughout the 70’s.

One of these Groups was Italian Agora from Ancona area at the Adriatic side of central Italy, Their first studio album (1976) was called Angora´2 based on the fact that they had already released a live album from Montreux international jazz festival.

 

Agora is a relative unknown band (outside the absolute inner fussion circle), playing a style that is not ground breaking, the similarities to the big Jazz/Rock fusion legends is very evident, but to me it is still a nice album with some very fine fusion. Especially the woodwind instruments works very well for me on this album.

 

 

Hawkins Encounters Webster

Jazz can be many things, and do many things to me as a listener. Today I have fund an example of Jazz as a Zen moment, filled with true beauty. When I listen to these tracks from   “Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster”, every stressful thought leaves me and I am filled with ease. My thought go back to late night / early mornings, wandering empty streets on my way home from great nights.

Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster is studio album recorded in 1957, on the Verve label. The band was :

Coleman Hawkins – tenor saxophone, Ben Webster – tenor saxophone, Oscar Peterson – piano, Herb Ellis – guitar, Ray Brown – double bass, Alvin Stoller – drums.

In the United Kingdom, the album was released with the title Blue Saxophones.

Hawkins was born in Missouri 1904, active from the early 1920’s to 1967. He was one of the first prominent Jazz musicians to play the tenor saxophone, and have been a major influence on many tenor saxophonists. Hawkins has played with a lot of famous Jazz musicians, far too many to mention here.

 

 

Rahsaan Roland Kirk, what jazz is all about

So much is to be said about Rahsaan Roland Kirk, his immensely creativity, his unique techniques, his ability as a multi-instrumentalist, his amassing solo improvisations, and his ability to perform within a wide range of Jazz styles. I urge everyone interested in his talents to search more, there is so much more to Kirk, than what I can cover here.

Roland Kirk with McCoy Tyner and Stanley Clarke

Kirk was able to play several instruments it the same time, and developed a breathing technique making him able to play notes for a long period of time without pause.
Kirk played a wide range of saxophones often modified, clarinets, flutes, harmonica, English horn, recorders and trumpets. He additionally used many non-musical devices and tape-manipulated electronics sounds, long before they became common practice.

Serenade To A Cuckoo (covered by Jethro Tull, on This Was 1968)

The extravaganza of his stage appearance, although extremely talented may have come in the way of his recognition as a true master of Jazz, due to it being too spectacular for the serious jazz critics and audience at the time, but I don’t mind his inventive approach to music, or his political idea’s, I think he sounds just great and that all that matters to me.
Mingus said “This man is what jazz is all about”, Kirk died in 1977 after a stroke, 42 years old.