Montreux Through The Decades: Jazz Recordings, Part One – @All About Jazz28 de junho, 2016
To celebrate Montreux Jazz Festival’s 50th edition in 2016, and as a posthumous tribute to the festival’s founder, the late Claude Nobs, All About Jazz is launching a new column entitled Montreux Through the Decades, which will periodically present reviews of officially released live recordings from MJF, from its first edition in 1967 to the present. This first batch of multiple reviews features ten jazz recordings spanning the years 1968 to 2012. To coincide with this year’s MJF two further multiple reviews will cover blues, soul and funk, and then rock, pop and folk.
Bill Evans at Montreux Jazz Festival 1968
This recording of a short-lived Bill Evans trio at the Montreux Jazz Festival would give the pianist another Grammy award, his first having come with Conversations with Myself (1963) a few years earlier. Captured by Radio Suisse Romande and released promptly by Verve in 1968, the one-hour concert is also notable for being Jack DeJohnette‘s only recording with Evans. The drummer, who had recently left Charles Lloyd‘s group, would soon move on to be replaced by Marty Morell, but his short tenure with Evans had a significant impact on the pianist, as can be heard throughout this lively trio performance, with Evans evidently inspired.
DeJohnette’s empathetic animation—on sticks and brushes alike—in tandem withEddie Gomez‘s visceral approach, lights a fire under Evans, who responds with an exuberance rarely heard before, particularly on an extraordinary version of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” where the pianist is at his most expansive and uninhibited, unleashing thrilling Art Tatum-esque runs.
There’s little of Evan’s more customary introspection on these ballsy workouts, and even on the two balladic solo piano pieces, “Quiet Now” and a beautiful rendition of “I Loves You Porgy,” Evans is in cheery, playful form. As Brian Priestly noted in his liner notes to a 1998 CD reissue, it was unusual for Evans to perform solo pieces in a trio setting, which make this Montreux set all the more special.
Puerto Rican bassist Gomez had only been with Evans for two years at the time of this Montreux performance but his muscular, guitar-like attack clearly excited Evans, who atypically devotes an entire number (“Embraceable You”) to the bassist. Gomez also illuminates the Earl Zindar’s “Mother of Earl,” and “One for Helen,” one of two Evan’s originals along with “Walkin’ Up” that bookend this memorable concert.
Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux 1973
Festival director Claude Nobs was partly right when he said by way of introduction to flautist Bobbi Humphrey’s Montreux Jazz Festival appearance that there hadn’t been that many female jazz artists in the history of jazz. Or at least, not that many in 1973 were given top billing at festivals or led bands. Humphrey had been spotted by Dizzy Gillespie in a school competition and with his encouragement moved to New York, where within days she had played with Duke Ellington. Such endorsements no doubt paved the way in 1971 for Humphrey to become the first woman instrumentalist since German pianist Jutta Hippin 1954 to be signed by Blue Note.
This concert features tracks from Flute In (Blue Note, 1971) and Dig This! (Blue Note, 1972), stretched to two or three times their studio length and showcasing Humphrey’s undoubted virtuosity. Humphrey and guitarist Barney Perry’s unison melody introducesAlphonse Mouzon‘s “Virtue” with bassist Henry Franklin‘s mantra-like ostinato and drummer Keith Killgo‘s bustle providing anchor and spring-board respectively for Humphrey’s four-and-a-half minute exploration -a fluid solo of continuous invention and melodic taste.
Humphrey leaves substantial room for her sidemen to stretch out on Stanley Turrentine‘s “Sugar” and shares protagonism with electric pianist Kevin Toney on Dick Griffin‘s “Sad Bag,” which Humphrey steers seamlessly from seductive ballad to breezy workout, her playing lyrical and warm-toned throughout. Toney takes the baton and goes up a gear with an animated solo before Humphrey’s returns to see the tune quietly home, her unaccompanied flute providing a delightful ending. A grooving, jazz-funk take on Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” with Humphrey and Toney once again stretching out impressively, closes an engaging concert on a high note.
The crowd’s enthusiastic response during the performance, between songs and at the end is testament to the impact Humphrey made at Montreux Jazz 1973 and a ringing endorsement of her talent.
The Dizzy Gillespie Big 7 at Montreux Jazz Festival 1975
As part of a Pablo recording artists’ package featured at the Montreux Jazz Festival ’75, Dizzy Gillespie leads an all-star band of some of the most celebrated names in jazz of the previous thirty years. There are no real surprises in a set list that draws from the beboppers songbook and the music follows an unwaveringly predictable pattern of opening melody followed by a sequence of solos and then a return to the head. While the songs and the idiom border on the clichéd, the musicianship is unquestionably out of the top drawer.
The septet opens with the Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein hit from 1928, “Lover Come Back to Me”; Gillespie’s lyrical intro soon gives way to Niels Henning Orsted Pederson’s fast-walking bass and Micky Roker’s industry on the kit; the duo’s up-tempo time-keeping stokes the fires of Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Milt Jackson, Gillespie, Johnny Griffin and Tommy Flanagan in turn, where free-wheeling individual virtuosity is the order of the day.
In spite of the all-star nature of the band the musicians are well familiar with each other. In the previous decade Roker had played frequently with both Gillespie and Jackson, while Davis and Griffin had recorded no fewer than ten albums together in their co-led group between 1960 and 1962 on the Prestige label. Orsted Pederson, the go-to bassist for all the great American musicians visiting Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s had recorded a couple of live recordings with Gillespie prior to this Montreux outing. Given the shared history of the musicians, the unadventurous arrangements and familiar bebop template of these well-known standards comes across as just a little stale, not matter how passionate the playing.
And the soloing is full of verve, from all concerned, though Orsted Pedersen only gets a run out towards the end of “I’ll Remember April,” another fast-temp workout. The first collective breather comes after half an hour, with a slow, bluesy rendition of “What’s New?, Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke’s 1939 hit. Davis sets the tone with a mellifluous solo and the measured improvisations that follow from Gillespie—not without fire—Griffin and Jackson receive soulful, nuanced support that’s largely absent in the break-neck tempos elsewhere in the set.
“Cherokee” once again reignites the bebop juggernaut with extended closing statements from all bar Orsted Pederson. The music is exhilarating in places, to be sure, but twenty years after Charlie Parker’s death it sounds like an anachronism.
Live at Montreux 1976
Weather Report was always a band in transition and this 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival appearance finds the jazz-fusion pioneers led by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter at a particularly fascinating crossroads. In switching from percussion to the drum chair—replacing Chester Thompson—six months earlier, Alex Acuna became the band’s ninth drummer, while Manolo Badrena—formerly of Miles Davis—became the band’s eighth percussionist at around the same time. The biggest change, however, saw the arrival ofJaco Pastorius, who joined half-way through the recording sessions for Black Market(Columbia, 1976), and it’s the music from that essential album that features in this electrifying performance.
With digitally remastered sound and four cameras highlighting the intensity and emotion in the playing—Acuna and Badrena’s joie de vivre contrasting with Zawinul and Shorter’s seriousness—this is Weather Report captured at its most exhilarating. The tight arrangements of “Elegant People” and “Scarlet Woman” allow plenty of room for freedom, with the lines between comping and soloing from all thrillingly blurred. The sweat is literally pouring off the players—the cool Pastorius apart—from the get go, and so charged is some of the interplay from Acuna and Badrena that it made it would way onto the next studio album, Heavy Weather in unedited form as “Rumba Mama.”
With the band touring Europe to promote Black Market, there were already signs of the way ahead, with Zawinul toying with the melody to “Birdland”—the Grammy-nominated tune from Heavy Weather—on the intro to “Dr. Honoris Causa,” before the band enters more loosely explorative terrain on “Directions,” both Zawinul compositions from I Sing The Body Electric (Columbia, 1972).
The duets between Acuna and Badrena, and another between Zawinul on classically-influenced piano and Shorter are fascinating exchanges between virtuosic and imaginative musicians, but it’s Pastorius’ harmonically sophisticated solo bass piece, “Portrait of Tracey” that stands out as something out of the ordinary. Still, the greatest moments are when the quintet is firing on all cylinders on stonking versions of “Barbary Coast”—complete with the familiar train horn intro—”Black Market” and the “Gibraltar,” which brings an unforgettable show, in turn lyrical and visceral, to a simply stunning climax.
Little wonder that Weather Report remains so influential to this day. One for the ages.
Sun Ra Arkestra
Live at Montreux 1976
Inner City Jazz
This double CD is a visceral document of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, just over twenty years into its legendary musical odyssey. The twenty-one piece band, which includes three dancers, roars its way through a thrilling set that, stylistically, spans a broad arc of jazz history. Though undoubtedly influenced by bandleader Fletcher Henderson—for whom Ra arranged in the 1940s—and by Duke Ellington, there’s never been a large ensemble quite like those led by Sun Ra, as this memorable concert amply demonstrates.
The band dives headlong into avant-garde exploration on “Of the Other Tomorrow,” where ecstatic polyphony is punctuated by wonderfully charismatic improvisations by Elo Omo on bass clarinet, Marshall Allen on alto and Ra on piano. Across the two discs Ra impresses with some of his most adventurous unaccompanied piano solos ever captured on live record, as boldly uninhibited as Cecil Taylor at one extreme, as refined asCount Basie at the other.
For all his virtuosity, Ra’s true instrument, like Ellington and Basie, is his orchestra—a simultaneously primal and sophisticated one at that. Take the breathless flow of ideas on “On Sound Infinity Spheres,” which twists its way through dense free-jazz cacophony, Ra’s moog-driven sci-fi impressionism and extraordinary solo spots by John Gilmore, trumpeter Chris Capers and altoist Danny Davis. The band out-bops the be-boppers on a devilishly fast and furious rendition of Billy Strayhorn‘s “Take the “A” Train,” swings like Basie’s orchestra on the celebratory “El is the Sound of Joy” and frequently howls, cries and sings like a Charles Mingus group on fire, notably on the aptly titled “Gods of the Thunder Realm.” Dissonance and harmony are two sides of the same coin on the strangely hypnotic “Lights on a Satellite.”
Following a terrifically uproarious free-for-all, vocalist June Tyson leads the Arkestra—and the rhythmically attuned clapping audience—through the call-and-response mantra of the signature “We Travel the Spaceways.”
The glorious sound of surprise indeed.
Live at Montreux 1982
Carmen McRae was renowned for being a perfectionist, so the singer should have been pleased with this concert, which sees her give a masterclass in jazz standards delivery. With tasteful accompaniment from bassist John Leftwich, drummer Donald Bailey and pianistMarshall Otwell McCrae demonstrates the sort of nuanced expression and technical control that’s influenced singers from Norma Winstone to Diana Krall.
Following breezy renditions of “Nice Work if you can Get it” and “Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me,” McRae hits her stride on the bluesy stroll of “Everything a Good Man Needs,” her sassy delivery framed by short solos from her sidemen. The singer’s stretching out of a single word, never mind a phrase, is seen to great effect on the brushes-led “Body and Soul,” with the last utterance of the word “soul” drawn out into a nine-syllable delight. McRae, like her contemporary Sheila Jordan, digs into the emotional core of a ballad’s lyrics, with “My Funny Valentine” and “Everything Happens to Me—where the full range of her voice is felt—providing highlights of the set. The duet with Otwell, her pianist of six years, on another beautiful ballad “Don’t Misunderstand,” recalls her collaboration with George Shearing.
McRae’s penchant for Latin numbers brings mixed results. An English-sung interpretation of Brazilian singer-songwriter Djavan’s “Flor de Lis” sees McCrae and trio negotiate a nifty change of tempo, with the singer carving out an effortlessly fluid scat. “Besame Mucho” is tackled in the original Spanish, though McRae’s anglicized pronunciation detracts from her emotive delivery.
The band cooks on Paul Desmond’s vampy “Take Five,” with McRae reprising the role she performed on Dave Brubeck‘s album Take Five Live (Columbia, 1961), one of three Brubeck albums the singer graced. “Them There Eyes” swings buoyantly and briefly, while a samba vibe infuses the up-tempo “No More Blues,” featuring McRae’s most impressive vocal improvisation of the set. Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” follows a slow, bluesy groove with McRae cajoled by Otwell’s gently funky lines.
Vintage stuff from the ever-classy McRae.
Monteiro, Young & Holt
Live at Montreux 1988
2011 (CD + bonus DVD)
It took persistence, but Claude Nobs finally got his wish when he persuaded Isaac Redd Holt and Eldee Young to return to Montreux Jazz Festival, twenty years after their rousing performance as Young-Holt Unlimited in 1968. This concert sees the two formerRamsey Lewis Trio members in top form, led by the exciting young Singaporean pianistJeremy Monteiro and with special guests ODonel Levy and John Stubblefield. It’s a high-octane performance of tremendous energy, virtuosity and passion, prompting Nobs to describe it as an “unforgettable set which will remain a classic of the first twenty two years of Montreux.”
Remarkably, this concert began at 5am, five hours later than originally scheduled, but rather than arriving jaded and tired—which would have been understandable—instead Monteiro, Young and Holt come charging out of the blocks on an energized version of the standard “All the Things You Are,” where Monteiro gives early notice of his outstanding chops with a solo of great melodic fluidity and rhythmic panache.
O’Levy brings bluesy bite to Luiz Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus,” in turn inspiring Monteiro, who then trades back and forth with the Baltimore guitarist in a thrilling exchange. Monteiro’s elegant composition “Carousel in a Child’s Mind” has the feel of a classic and features Stubblefield on soprano saxophone. A collaborator with the likes of Anthony Braxton,McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis, Stubblefield’s keening pyrotechnics are juxtaposed against more lyrical—though equally animated—interventions from O’Levy and Monteiro, over Holt and Young’s propulsive rhythmic drive.
The irrepressible Young holds centre stage with a sassy vocal on a mightily swinging “Storming Monday,” where groove, chops and fun intertwine in an irresistible cocktail. To the roars of a sizeable crowd, the five musicians finish on a high, with a roaring jazz-funk version of Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” with vibrant closing statements from all.
One of the best live recordings from Montreux Jazz’ extensive vaults. Unforgettable indeed.
Miles Davis & Quincy Jones
Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux 1991
Only Claude Nobs, a close friend to both Davis and Jones, could have made this historic concert happen. To persuade these two iconic musicians to perform together on stage for the first time ever was already a major coup, but to convince Davis to revisit music he had recorded decades before was something really rare indeed. Davis, the musical chameleon par excellence, always finished with one project and moved on without a backwards glance, but for one magical evening, Davis turned back the clock to perform music from his famous collaborations with arranger Gil Evans. The recording was the last in Davis lifetime, as he died a little over two months later.
Using Gil Goldstein’s transcriptions of Gil Evans old charts, Jones conducts a large ensemble of nearly fifty musicians from the Gil Evans Orchestra and the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band through stirring selections from Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957), Porgy and Bess (Columbia, 1959) and Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960). The sound quality is excellent, so too the playing of the ensemble and of the chief soloists, saxophonistKenny Garrett and trumpeter Wallace Roney.
Davis features far more than was originally expected, given that his declining health had forced him to skip rehearsals in New York. His tone is warm and in turn tender, and his voice strong soloing on “Boplicity,” which goes back to the 1949 Birth of the Cool session. Elsewhere his interventions are short but unmistakable, leading the way before handing the reins to Roney and Garret.
Maria Schneider transcribed and orchestrated a sumptuous version of “Miles Ahead” but it’s the medley from Porgy and Bess that gets the biggest cheer of the night. The greatest musical drama, however, undoubtedly comes during the finale from Sketches of Spain, where, appropriately, Davis leads “Pan Piper” before the familiar martial drums pattern—played by John Riley—kicks off a rousing eleven-minute version of “Solea.” It was to be Davis’ last hurrah.
Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin
Invitation to Illumination:Live at Montreux 2011
This historic reunion of Carlos Santana and John McLaughlincame thirty eight years after Love, Devotion and Surrender(Columbia, 1973), their collaboration inspired by the spiritual guru Sri Chimnoy and John Coltrane‘s music. Tantalizingly, the album aligned members ofMahavishnu Orchestra and Santana’s band, though the results divided critics and fans alike. Both guitarists have enjoyed a long association with Montreux Jazz Festival—Santana first appeared in 1970 and McLaughlin in 1972—and there’s festive energy about this performance, which revisits Love, devotion and Surrender and myriad other influences common to these two guitar icons.
As you might expect, there are plenty of pyrotechnics from both guitarists, with an all-star band featuring Dennis Chambers, Benny Rietveld, Etienne Mbappe andCindy Blackman-Santana lending plenty of rhythmic muscle. Santana kick-starts the party with his trademark ecstatic crescendos on a shortened version of McLaughlin’s “The Life Divine.” Once past the—ironically—uninspired, clunky medley that weaves a trail through Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Sun Ra, the true fireworks begin.
McLaughlin replicates his incendiary playing on