Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Bob Mintzer - All L.A. Big Band

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Recently, we reviewed on these pages new CD’s from New York based big bands led by John Fedchock, Hector Martignon and Dick Oatts/Mats Holmquist.

Now comes word that the Left Coast Big Band scene is also rising as L.A.’s top players joining saxophonist Bob Mintzer and drummer Peter Erskine on their new CD All L.A. Big Band which is set for release in August, 2016 on Fuzzy Music [PEPCD 022].

The CD will be accompanied by a new app which can be downloaded from Fuzzy Music mobile which allows musicians and students to play along, record and mix their own versions of the music on All L.A. Big Band [read more about the app’s features below].

If you are a fan of big band Jazz, you won’t want to miss this one.

Here’s the press release that Jim Eigo of JazzPromo Services sent along in advance of the CD’s release.

“The extraordinary saxophonist/composer Bob Mintzer and master drummer Peter Erskine go back nearly 50 years since their high school days in a big band at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy. Afterwards, when Bob was in Buddy Rich's big band and Peter worked with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, their paths crossed often.

But in the 1980s in New York City, their big band collaborating took full root, resulting in numerous projects over the years. Now both of them are in Los Angeles and the outstanding new album Bob Mintzer - All L.A. Band on Fuzzy Music is the latest gem to blossom from this fruitful relationship.

Joined by some of the finest musicians on the L.A. scene for ten marvelous tracks, they have added another component that is both ambitious and ingenious to the mix. Through Fuzzy Music Mobile, they have developed a new app that brings the stimulating big band experience directly to students and musicians, allowing them to play along, record and mix their own versions of this inspired music. Where most play-along products allow the user to music-minus two or three tracks, this new app allows the user to minus (or solo) virtually any of the instruments involved in the recording. Each part can be printed directly from the app, and resultant play-along recordings can be mailed to teachers, colleagues and friends.


But the primary treasure is in the music itself, whether participating through the app or simply enjoying the remarkable music contained in this album. Bob and Peter are joined by 15 splendid musicians - a trumpet section of Wayne Bergeron, James Blackwell, John Thomas, Chad Willis and Michael Stever; Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Julianne Gralle and Craig Gosnell on trombones; Bob Sheppard on alto and Adam Schroeder on baritone join Bob in the reed section; pianist (and Bob's fellow Yellowjackets colleague) Russ Ferrante; guitarist Larry Koonse; Edwin Livingston on bass and Aaron Serfaty on percussion. In addition to playing drums, Peter also supervised the project and produced the recording.

The collaborative relationship between Mintzer and Erskine is the central nervous system upon which this entire journey is constructed. Bob's exceptional tenor is the primary storyteller in the plot and theme provided by his brilliant compositions and arrangements. His writing is highly imaginative and wonderfully textured with layer upon layer of sonic brushstrokes painted on the canvas. Call and response, thrust and parry, multi-leveled conversation and bold counterpoint create harmonic and rhythmic structure and tension that challenge in contemporary fashion while remaining thoroughly musical in the finest traditions of the big band legacy from Basie and Ellington to Charles Mingus and George Russell.

Bob's experience with Buddy Rich clearly instilled a sense of the drums providing the big band's engine. Peter's impeccable rhythmic sense and consummate artistry provide the mortar that fortifies the structure, while also stirring the kettle to properly cook all the ingredients in the brew - whether driving powerfully, enhancing subtly, rocking or stomping as demanded by the music.

While there is solo space for a number of the musicians, Bob's virtuosic tenor is the key ingredient - muscular, passionate, adventurous, lyrical and urgent - dancing and interweaving in perfect synch within the rich textures of the horn parts that are constantly in motion creating a vibrant and exhilarating atmosphere for every tale told on this album.


Afro-Cuban influences have been a major part of orchestral jazz since the 1940s when Machito and Mario Bauza poured the foundation and Dizzy Gillespie and George Russell built upon it. There are three pieces rooted in that style here, crossing it with sheer swing in a manner that evokes the spirit of another West Coast legend, Gerald Wilson.

The album's opener El Caborojeno features percussive, layered horn lines in rich syncopation. Spirited horn riffs cushion a lyrical Cuban/hard-bop trumpet solo by Stever and punchy, deeply grooved simmer-to-boil blowing from Mintzer.

Ellis Island is a 6/8 excursion built on vividly intricate interplay between brass and reeds, with a fluid baritone solo by Schroeder caressed by swirling horns and buoyed by darkly luminous low brass.

A blending with R&B and a touch of calypso is at play on Latin Dance and features Bob's tenor in a hollerin' conversation with trombones, McChesney's trombone solo driven by counterpointing horns and flared with a trumpet fanfare, and a vigorous drum solo rooted by deliciously suspended horn lines.

A different Caribbean island adds a spice in the reggae-tinged Original People with a gentle groove that blends easy swing with the inside-out reggae rhythmic approach, providing a relaxed setting for smoothly lyrical tenor and trumpet solos.


At the other end of the thermometer, Runferyerlife is a rip-roaring be-boppish romp with Bob's tenor roaring through, around in, out and under the horn lines into a scorching solo. McChesney's blistering trombone solo follows and a robust drum solo pitted against the horns closes it out.

Mintzer has been a member of The Yellowjackets for over 20 years, so it makes sense that soulful R&B would be the flavor for three items neatly blended with the swing feel. New Rochelle (originally written for that group) opens with baroque-ish brass before easing into its R&B groove, providing the setting for Bob's soulful sojourn in the territory so often staked by Hank Mobley and Stanley Turrentine.

Slo Funk written by Bob for the Buddy Rich band swings mightily over a half-time funk bottom with Bob Sheppard taking a barking alto solo so funkily rooted in Maceo Parker territory that one might expect to hear Fred Wesley chime in beside him. That marriage of pure swing and R&B is most appropriate on Home Basie, which could be a portrayal of the Count meeting the pre-funk big band James Brown and the Famous Flames. Punctuated by syncopated horns, Mintzer's solo pays homage to King Curtis and Junior Walker.

A more traditional Basie influence is at hand for two pieces. Havin' Some Fun was composed in the classic Count Basie style - from that smoothly dulcet Neal Hefti Li'l Darlin' angle of perspective. Bob's tenor does a captivating dance with the horns, and Schroeder offers a lyrically virile baritone solo.

The album's extended closing track Tribute was conceived to honor the many immortals who came out of the Basie band - most specifically, the legendary Thad Jones, who made his own mark on the big band legacy holding his own court along with Mel Lewis in their co-led orchestra at NYC's landmark Village Vanguard from the mid-sixties through the seventies. An excursion in blue swing, launched by Ferrante with that profound Basie blues simplicity, it features a deeply soulful Mintzer and Steven's very Thad-ish homage - providing a perfect ending to this truly wonderful album. Special note must be made regarding the peerless lead trumpet playing throughout by the legendary Wayne Bergeron.

To sum it all up in Bob's words: "It was a total joy to record this music with my long time colleague Peter Erskine, and my new family of musicians in Los Angeles. Special thanks to Talley Sherwood for his expert engineering."

For more information about this album and its related app, visit www.petererskine.com and www.bobmintzer.com.

The following video features the music from the Slo Funk track.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

"The Far-Out World of Jack Sheldon " by John Tynan

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“... For most of his musical career, [Jack] Sheldon has been best known as an exceptional exponent of the cooler West Coast trumpet sound. … The influence of Chet Baker and Shorty Rogers is apparent at such moments. The [three recordings he made with bassist Curtis] Counce’s band, in contrast, gradually brought out a different side of Sheldon's playing. A more forceful, Clifford Brown-inflected style, perhaps reinforced by the presence of former Brown bandmate Harold Land, emerged during his tenure with the group. … flashes of this new approach are apparent on the band’s earliest work, it is with Sheldon's composition "Pink Lady," released on the Carl's Blues album, that the trumpeter makes his strongest statement in the new idiom. His sinewy melody line and assertive solo are the work of a dedicated hard-bopper.”
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945 - 1960

In a previous posting about Jack Sheldon I wrote:

“Jack Sheldon’s puckish, vibrato-less, mid-range sound on trumpet has always been a favorite of mine dating back to the first time I heard him on the Contemporary Records he made with bassist Curtis Counce’s quintet in the 1950’s.

Jack was also a favorite of composer-arranger Marty Paich who used him on his [too few] big band recordings and paired him with alto saxophonist Art Pepper on the classic Art Pepper Plus Eleven Contemporary LP.

For a while, it seemed that Jack was everywhere on the West Coast Jazz scene including stints with bassist Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse Cafe All-Stars, Stan Kenton’s orchestra and Dave Pell’s octet.

In addition to the recordings he made with Curtis Counce and Art Pepper, Jack also made small group recordings with the Jimmy Giuffre Quartet, the Mel Lewis Sextet and the John Grass Nonet.”

In addition to his prowess on trumpet and his well-developed sense of humor, one could always expect something else from Jack - the unexpected. If you have any doubts about this assertion, just read the following article by John Tynan.

“JACK SHELDON has become something of a legend in his own time.

The rusty-faced, crew-cut trumpeter, now 31 and located in Los Angeles, would be the first to admit his jazz recognition has been late in coming. But he would also admit, as readily, that he hasn't been in any particular hurry to seek it.

Yet among his contemporaries, he is regarded with more than mere respect for his trumpet prowess; he is considered to be one of the most expressive and articulate of jazz horn men. His sole shortcoming may be a degree of inconsistency in performance that is more a reflection of his devil-may-care personality than his musicianship.

Sheldon's sense of humor and utterly happy outlook is on constant tap. It is never more in evidence than when he and his cohort, sax man Joe Maini, are on the same bandstand. Then the between-tunes periods—and these interludes have understandably irritated many a play-for-pay clubowner—frequently develop into minor riots. Without a cue, the two may take off into a zany, impromptu dialog, Sheldon may deliver a speech to the customers on any subject that pops into his head, or he and Maini may decide that a duet shuffle dance is in order. It isn't so much that the two are off their rockers; it's just that, for them, life is like that.

For almost a year, Sheldon has been creating original song material for himself, centered in what he terms a jazz opera, hopefully titled Freaky Friday.

The role of singer is not new to him. As a youth in his native Jacksonville, Fla., he sang regularly with USO shows. He resumed singing when he joined the Stan Kenton Band in 1958 and has been vocalizing in public more or less regularly ever since—with Benny Goodman (with whose band he toured Europe in the fall of '59), with Julie London in her night-club act, with whatever groups he has taken into various jazz spots, and most recently on Capitol records in his own album, aptly titled Out!, which is scheduled to be released in March.

Freaky Friday, now almost completed, might well be subtitled The Far-Out Soul of Jack Sheldon. As he now envisions the production—and he solemnly vows it will be produced, grandly —the cast will consist of his big band; the heroine, Freka ("She's a German girl," he blandly explains); and himself in the role of the male lead, Dandelion.

"Dandelion," he said recently, "got his name because he's a dandy liar; he lays down a dandy line. He's always lying to Freka, but he really loves her. She loves him too, but one night when he's putting some valve oil on his horn, one of the musicians steals Freka away for some romance. When she comes back, she tells Dandelion she's sorry, that he's the one she really loves and sings The Forgive Me Waltz to him."

There are five songs in the opera so far, Sheldon said. The big love song, which Dandelion sings to Freka, is titled Atomic Bomb. He said that this tune, more than any of the other four, truly captures the message he has to convey to operagoers. It is included in his Capitol album and may even be released as a single by the company. The three remaining songs are Freaky Friday, Dandelion, and That's the Way It Goes.

"The title came to me in Pittsburgh," he explained, "when I was working with Benny Goodman's band there. One Friday night a bunch of the guys from the band and myself went to this all-night joint, and the way one couple was acting — in a booth — inspired me to do the opera and to name it Freaky Friday."

Nowadays, when he's not on the road with either Julie London or June Christy, Sheldon's days are taken up teaching swimming at his mother's swim school in Hollywood. A champion swimmer and exhibition diver, he taught the older of his two daughters, Julie, now 9, to swim at the age of two months. The infant's aquatics were pictured at the time in Life magazine. Sheldon's younger children, Kevin and Jessie, are equally enthusiastic pool denizens.

ALTHOUGH Sheldon was previously recorded by the Jazz:West label, now defunct, and more recently by Reprise, neither of the firms took advantage of what Capitol's a&r men consider one of the trumpeter's principal assets— his comedy flair. It is his overriding sense of fun that constitutes much of his appeal in night clubs. Understandably the record producers hope this rubs off successfully on vinyl.

It is as a jazz trumpeter, however, that Sheldon maintains a well-earned reputation as one of the best; and for all his clowning, it is as a horn man that he continues to command respect."

You can check out Jack’s singular trumpet style as he takes the first solo on the following video tribute to composer-arranger Marty Paich, with whom, Jack had a long association.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wynton Kelly - "A Happy Feeling"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Of the late pianist Wynton Kelly [1931-1971], Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. have written: “His chording [comping or accompaniment] behind a soloist has a gentle but dynamic bounce. He never does anything to startle a listener, but he has a bright, swinging, communicative style that always appeals. He deserves wider recognition.”

And so the following piece about Wynton by Gene Lees in an effort to promote this wider recognition.

“If they gave awards for unpretentiousness, Wynton Kelly would win a large loving cup. The stocky pianist, just entering his fourth year in the rhythm section of the Miles Davis quintet-turned-sextet, has the distinction of being about the most unobtrusive pianist in jazz, while at the same time inspiring an enormous professional admiration.

If being imitated is the mark of having arrived, Kelly has arrived. His ebullient approach to solos has seeped into the playing of a wide variety of pianists, and he has written the very definition of good comping.

"Wynton," said Voice of America jazz commentator Willis Conover, one of the many persons who has tried (with middling success) to pin down verbally the nature of Kelly and his music, "has a marvelous go-to-hell attitude. Like the Miles Davis attitude turned active, and with humor added."

Not that there is a hint of antagonism in Kelly or his playing. "He always projects a happy feeling, regardless of the tempo," said trombonist J. J. Johnson, currently a co-worker of Kelly's in the Davis group. But there is a disinclination to overwhelm the listener. Kelly seems content to let the listener come to him.

"Wynton has by no means shown all the things he can do," commented Bill Evans, a forerunner of Kelly's with Miles. (First there was Red Garland, then Evans, who in turn was succeeded by Kelly.)

"For one thing," Evans continued, "Wynton is a fine accompanist. I heard him first with Dinah Washington, and immediately I felt an affinity for his playing.

"He has a wonderful technique, and he gets a true piano sound out of the instrument. He approaches the instrument legitimately and, although I don't know his training background, I know that if someone else hasn't disciplined him, he has disciplined himself.

"I can hear in his mind that he's broad enough to be able to play solo — that is, unaccompanied by rhythm section — but I like him in a rhythm section so much that I'm not sure I'd want him to do it."

After a moment's reflection, Evans added, "Wynton and I approach jazz essentially the same way.

"Wynton is an eclectic, not in the cheap way, but in the sense of copying the spirit and not the letter of the things he has liked."

The man who elicits this musicianly admiration was born in Brooklyn in 1931. Like his friend Oscar Peterson, Kelly has West Indian parents. When the two meet, they will sometimes slip into a West Indian patois that leaves them laughing and other musicians staring in confusion.

Kelly started playing piano at the age of 4. "I didn't have much formal study," he said.

"I went to Music and Art High School and Metropolitan Vocational. They wouldn't give us piano, so I fooled around with the bass and studied theory.

"I used to work around Brooklyn with Ray Abrams, the tenor player, and his brother Lee, the drummer, and also Cecil Payne, Ahmad Abdul-Malik, and Ernie Henry. We all came up together.

"One of the first bands I worked with was Hot Lips Page's. Then I went with Lockjaw Davis for about a year. After that I did a stint with the Three Blazes. Then Dinah Washington. I worked for Dizzy Gillespie too. I was between Dinah and Dizzy for years."

Kelly joined the Miles Davis group in the early part of 1959. It was then that the public really began to be aware of him, not only as a soloist but as a pulsing rhythm-section player. Though he has recorded six albums on his own —"three for Vee Jay, two for Riverside, and one I made in 1950 when I was 19 that doesn't even count" — it is nonetheless for his work in the Davis unit that he is best known.

If the Kelly style is not an obtrusive one — not a style that one hears once and ever afterwards recognizes — it has its curious distinctiveness. There is in it a highly personal ease and lightness, an infectious, casually bouncing quality to which one rapidly becomes attached.

"He never," J. J. Johnson said, "lets his technical facility, which he has plenty of, dominate. The swing is the thing with Wynton."

As an accompanist for horns, Kelly is the ne plus ultra of skilled, meaningful, and yet non interfering comping. "He does all the right things at the right times," Johnson said.

Kelly loves to comp. "In fact," he said, "at one time I didn't like to solo. I'd just like to get a groove going and never solo.

"The first pianist I admired for comping was Clyde Hart, and later Bud Powell.
"The way you comp varies from group to group. Some guys will leave a lot of space open for you to fill, like Miles. Others won't. And so you have to use your discretion. In general, I like to stay out of a man's way. But you have to judge it by the situation. I did some things with Dizzy I wouldn't do with Dinah, and things I did with them that I wouldn't do with Miles.

"It's good to sit down and hear how other guys comp and then learn to do it yourself."

Kelly's tastes among pianists are predictably broad. An incomplete list of his preferences includes:

Oscar Peterson —"First of all, he's tasty. And he knows the instrument very well."

Erroll Garner —"He's a hell of a stylist, and he's very versatile."

Bud Powell —"I respect Bud as one of the main figures in starting modern jazz piano."

Bill Evans — "For beauty. That's all I can say. He also knows the instrument very well. He's one of the prettiest piano players I've heard in a long time."

Phineas Newborn—"We were in the Army together, bunk to bunk. He's a genius."

Walter Bishop Jr.—"I've liked him since I was a kid."

McCoy Tyner — "He's a serious-minded musician. I like his style, and he fits well with the other instruments in Coltrane's group."

Unlike most pianists who come to prominence in someone else's group, Kelly has no pressing urge to form a group of his own.

"It's in the back of my mind," he said. "But not now.”

Source - January 3, 1963 edition of Downbeat Magazine.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Clare Fischer - Surging Ahead

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Think you can lick it?  Get to the wicket.
Buy you a ticket.   Go!


Go by bus, by plane, by car, by train...
New York, N.Y..


What they call a somethin' else town.
A city of more than eight million people,
with a million people passin'
through every day. Some come just to visit
and some come to say. If you scuffle hard enough
and you ain't no dunce, you can always get by
in New York City. I heard somebody say once.


Yeah...if you can't make it
in New York City, man, you can't make
it nowhere.


Not too long after its inception in New Orleans during the WWI years and its incubation in Chicago in the mid-1920s, Jazz moved to New York City which, as implied in the above lyrics by Jon Hendricks, has become the music’s proving ground ever since.


If musicians want to make it big in the Jazz World, sooner or later they have to test their luck in New York City.


The ease of moving around the city via its public transportation system, the close proximity of people and venues made possible by the restricted island geography, the cultural proclivity of many of its denizens toward The Arts which is underscored by its status as the financial capital of the United States made New York City the premier “place-to-be” for the aspiring Jazz artist.


With lots of people, plenty of places to play and a ton of money to be spent on entertainment, what’s not to like about being in New York if you are a Jazz musician looking to make a name for yourself?


And yet, following World War II, plenty of first-rate Jazz musicians eschewed New York City and came to the Los Angeles area where the backyard living made possible by the sunny and healthy southern California weather, a geographic dispersement into affordable family homes facilitated by the automobile and the stunning growth of freeways and the development of  the entertainment, aircraft and assorted service industries provided a financial base for the explosive growth of the area from 1945-1965.


During this period, southern California wasn’t the mess that it is today. In 1960, the entire state of California had a population of 15 million as compared with today’s 38 million. The 3.7 million folks living in LA was about half the size of the population of NYC, but they were spread over an area of 4,084 square miles compared to NYC’s 304.8 square miles.


In the post WWII years, Southern California’s movie and television studios and its radio stations provided lots of commercial work for musicians who could read music as well as improvise Jazz. There were excellent symphony orchestras, concert venues and numerous hotel lounges that featured excellent show bands. And LA had twice as many Jazz clubs as Manhattan, although it’s true that many of them were not as well known as those in NYC.


Is it not surprising then that a number of excellent Jazz musicians shunned New York City and preferred to remain in southern California?


Many of the musicians who settled in Los Angeles during the post WWII period were transplants from the East Coast and the Midwest who came to California as members of touring big bands and vocal groups and discovered in southern California’s sun-drenched climate that, among other things, winter was optional.


One such Midwestern transplant from Durand, MI was keyboardist, composer and arranger, Clare Fischer who arrived in Los Angeles as the Musical Director for the vocal group The Hi-Lo’s in 1957.


Soon after his arrival, Clare established his own trio and began a recording career with Dick Bock’s Pacific Jazz label.


The distinguished Jazz author Leonard feather picks up the story from there with this article about Clare’s earliest recordings for that label.


In the summer of 1962, reviewing Clare Fischer's First Time Out (Pacific Jazz PJ 52) for Down Beat and assessing it as a five-star surprise of the year, I commented that "Fischer has had enough trouble establishing himself as a major jazz composer-arranger, through a series of bad breaks (the non-release of his Donald Byrd LP, the failure to credit him on Dizzy Gillespie's Duke Ellington portrait album); but hardly anyone knew that he is also an extraordinary jazz pianist." [Leonard’s review follows this piece]


Some of the reasons for the delay in recognizing Fischer were made clear by biographical details as sketched by John William Hardy in the liner notes for the album in question. Because of his extensive schooling, interrupted for two years by his Army service and then resumed until he obtained his master's degree, it was not until 1957 that Fischer came to Los Angeles and began to be noticed by big-league professional contemporaries.


But the next few years were spent largely on tour with the Hi Los. For all their superiority over other vocal groups of the late 1950s, and despite the occasional credit accorded Clare for his remarkable work with them as pianist and arranger, the job was hardly conducive to the kind of prestige and artistic freedom of expression he has been enjoying more recently.


Having decided once and for all to find his own direction, Clare in 1962 became a part of the local jazz scene. For a while he had a regular gig playing one night a week at Shelly's Manne Hole. The group that worked with him there (Larry Bunker and Ralph Pena) is heard in three tracks on the present set; Strayhorn, Things Ain't What They Used To Be and Davenport Blues. Later he gave up this weekly showcase in order to gain some experience as a working member of a jazz combo: he joined Cal Tjader, and at the time these words went to press was within earshot of Pee Wee Marquette as the Tjader group played one of its intermittent stands at Birdland.


The Tjader job obviously is a stepping stone toward his ultimate objective. Eventually Clare will be able to keep a trio of his own together on a steady basis, and will be able to select, from the many offers reaching him, whatever album writing assignments may provide the most stimulating challenge to his pen.


The sides between these covers mark Clare Fischer's third major pianistic exposure on records. In addition to First Time Out there was the remarkable bossa nova album, Brasamba!, on Pacific Jazz PJ 64, presenting him in a different instrumental context (Bud Shank, Joe Pass et al) in one of his several flings in the realm of Brazilian music. (He has also written bossa nova compositions and arrangements for such leaders as Tjader and George Shearing.) But this new LP is like neither of the previous ventures. Instrumentally, it returns to the piano-bass-drums format of the original; but from the standpoint of material it places an entirely different accent, for instead of an album dedicated largely to original material, we have here a collection that includes jazz and pop standards, one recent movie song and only a single Fischer composition. With the exception of the final track the personnel, too, is different from that heard on Clare's debut sides.


These differences are not necessarily qualitative; they simply represent an attempt to find new approaches, sympathetic new talent and appropriate familiar material. Inevitably, though, comparisons are going to be drawn. There will be those who find the Fischer style easier to grasp and more fascinating to follow when the framework is an established, recognizable piece; there will be others, of course, for whom the manner rather than the matter of his playing is the only relevant factor (or, as I heard a critic observe one night at the Half Note, "the material is immaterial.")


The musicians who work closely with Clare on the first side (one dare not say that they "accompany him!' for the trio as a piano-with-rhythm-accompaniment composite is a thing of the past) are both comparative newcomers to the scene. Colin Bailey, a 28-year-old drummer from Swindon, England, came to this country in 1961 as a member of Bryce Rohde's Australian Jazz Quartet, but stayed on after the group broke up and worked for 16 months in San Francisco with Vince Guaraldi. He came to Los Angeles in January of 1963 and has been playing with Victor Feldman's Trio at the Scene.


Albert Stinson is a discovery of Charles Lloyd, saxophonist with the Chico Hamilton Quintet. A native of Pasadena, he has been working with Chico in recent months. Colin Bailey says: "The first time I heard Al take a solo, I stopped playing and just sat there listening in amazement. We hit it off well together right away. Needless to say I have the greatest respect for him — he's like another Scott La Faro!'

The original intention on this session was simply to cut Way Down East for a single disc release, but the trio achieved such an immediately happy groove that Dick Bock immediately declared himself in favor of extending the date to complete a whole album side.


Concerning Clare's own work, it might be fitting to recall some of my comments in the review of the first LP: "It is hard to describe his style. There are in him elements that suggest a harmonic sympathy for Bill Evans, and at moments his articulation and right-hand voicing reminded me of the early Dodo Marmarosa. He is always in complete command of the keyboard; unlike Gil Evans, Tadd Dameron and other arrangers who are secondarily pianists, he can be judged entirely by a pianistic yardstick!'


These comments came to mind when I listened for the first time to Billie's Bounce. Using the 1945 Charlie Parker blues line as a point of departure, Clare manages from the outset to retain the essence of Bird's theme while adding harmonic changes that were never envisioned in the simple original. After the thematic statement has been completed, he is off on his own, playing the blues, constantly emphasizing his concern for the rhythmic and emotional essentials of the form while extending it to reach new and intriguing harmonic horizons.


As Clare remarked concerning this album in general: "I suppose my underlying intention was to present the blues oriented side of me, so that later I can present the lyrical side in another. You can well understand that the side presented here I've found in clubs to be the more readily graspable!' To these comments it should be added that no hard and fast line can or should be! drawn between the two aspects. There are lyrical moments in his blues-directed moods just as there is a touch of the blues here and there in his more lyrical performances.


Way Down East was, as noted, recorded as an idea for a motion picture called The Chase, it was composed by Larry Adler, whose reputation as a strictly pop harmonica soloist has long concealed his deep concern for modern jazz (recently he insisted on using Bill Evans in a TV show; for years his pianist was Ellis Larkins). Adler's waltz is a charming theme and Clare's interpretation commercial in the better sense of the term, i.e. appealing and melodic on a high level.


Satin Doll, a 1952 Duke Ellington tune, is used as the groundwork for a seven-minute harmonic masterpiece. The intensity builds magnificently, the creative process is at work constantly as Fischer flexes all his mental and physical muscles in an infuriatingly perfect performance. Infuriating to me, that is, because I become angrily jealous of all pianists with gifts such as Clare's. Here is a rare example of mind, hands, heart and soul in impeccable collaboration.


This Can't Be Love is a tour de force in the course of which, notably during the third and fourth choruses, Clare indulges in octave unison lines for two hands, a technique that recalls Phineas Newborn, though his application of it is entirely his own. Bailey has a tasteful solo chorus and Stinson maintains the remarkable sense of note-selection that is a strong feature throughout this side.


Strayhorn, one of the three tracks cut with the trio Clare led at the Manne Hole, is to the best of my knowledge the first song ever dedicated to Swee'pea since Duke himself recorded Weely in 1939. "The tune" says Clare had been used on Johnny Come Lately for Diz's album.  He has always been part of my admiration for Duke's group" The only original in the album, this occasionally gospel-tinged work moves with grace from 4/4 to 3/4 time and reflects some of the airy charm of Strayhorn the person, of whom Clare must have an instinctive knowledge. Larry Bunker and Ralph Pena, long among the most respected musicians both in jazz and studio circles around Hollywood, lend strong support.


Things Ain't What They Used To Be is a 1941 blues concocted by Mercer Ellington (now a disc jockey on New York's WLIB) and his father. As with Billie's Bounce, it is subjected to extensive renovation without losing any of its blues-drawn essence.

Davenport Blues was recorded by its composer, Bix Beiderbecke, in 1925. Except for the opening phrase (starting with the two triads stated by Pena), little is retained of the original theme and the performance to all intents becomes an original, and a mood-sustaining one, to which the 12/8 meter lends much of its character.

Without A Song is the only track that uses the personnel heard on the previous trio album (Gene Stone and Gary Peacock). Played in long meter (the tune is rarely heard nowadays in its original 32-bar form), it provides a point of departure for some of the most buoyant improvisation of the album.


It is difficult, until one has lived with an LP for a while, to select the items most likely to prove lastingly valuable and most certain of repeated playing. All that need be added at this point with reference to these two sides, and to the outlook in general for Clare Fischer at this stage of his career, is that the evidence of his stature continues to mount. Musicians of his caliber, and with his outlook, are not merely an invigorating element in the present day scene; more meaningfully, they symbolize the wave of the future in the progress of jazz.”


Clare Fischer FIRST TIME OUT—Pacific Jazz 52:
Nigerian Walk; Toddler; Stranger; Afterfact; I've Been Free Too Long; Piece for   Scotty; Blues for Home; I Love  You.
Personnel: Fischer, piano;   Gary  Peacock, bass;
Gene Stone,  drums.
Rating:   *****


“This is the surprise of the year.


Fischer has had trouble enough establishing himself as a major jazz composer-arranger, through a series of bad breaks (the non-release of his Donald Byrd LP, the failure to credit him on Dizzy Gillespie's Duke Ellington portrait album); but hardly anyone knew that he is also an extraordinary jazz pianist.


It is hard to describe Fischer's style; there are in him elements that suggest a harmonic sympathy for Bill Evans, and at moments his articulation and right-hand voicings reminded me of the early (not the recent) Dodo Marmarosa. He is always in complete command of the keyboard; unlike Gil Evans, Tadd Dameron, and other arrangers who are secondarily pianists, he can be judged entirely by a pianistic yardstick.


Five of the eight pieces are Fischer originals. The others are Peacock's Stranger, the Cole Porter’s I Love You, and the most attractive Nigerian Walk by drummer Ed Shaughnessy. All the Fischer works are of vertical as well as horizontal interest. Scotty, dedicated to the late Scott LaFaro, is a poignantly pretty tribute. Afterfact is a compiling swinger.


Free Too Long is a study in group improvisation, with no set plan structurally, melodically, or harmonically. It is not exactly atonal and seems at most times to be geared to a C feel or pedal point; whatever the technicalities, it comes off better than any experiment of this kind since Lennie Tristano's Intuition. This freedom is constructive rather than anarchistic.


Home is an unpretentious piece, always true to the blues changes and never betrayed into condescending pseudo-funk. The mood is ruined by the drum solo; in fact, the often-obtrusive drums almost reduced the rating by half a star. Yet Stone on the whole is a capable, swinging musician.


Peacock, though, is worth an extra full star in himself. He is one of the most amazing bassists I have heard, with the dexterity of a guitarist and consequently tremendous melodic strength. His solos are consistently original and inventive. His only faults are a tendency at times to get too busy during Fischer's solos instead of just playing straight time, and an occasional intonation lapse in the higher register.


This is not the best-organized trio on the scene, but it includes two talents of such magnitude that the album is essential listening for anyone interested in unexploited talents. It is ironic that Fischer had to wait almost until his 34th birthday for the first exposure of a talent that probably has been his for 10 or 15 years.”                                           (L.G.F.)


Source:
Downbeat Magazine
September 13, 1962

The following video features Clare, Ralph Pena and Larry Bunker on Things Ain't What They Used To Be.