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Asprey’s Jazz Vault

Written by Matthew Asprey on October 17, 2008

For those who like their bop hard as granite and faster than a bullet train, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers taped dozens of classic LPs. Down here in the basement I often spin A Night In Tunisia (1960), Mosaic (1961) or the Messenger’s self-titled Impulse! session of 1961. But the Blue Note LP Free For All (1964) is an even better disc to fulfil the need for pugilistic speedbop.

The ’64 sextet edition of the Messengers is fronted by Wayne Shorter (ts), Freddie Hubbard (tpt) and Curtis Fuller (trb). Three horns give the charts a fine textural richness. Cedar Walton is on piano and Reggie Workman, formerly of Coltrane’s quartet, is on bass. Art Blakey drums throughout with unflagging muscle.

Shorter, on the verge of his tenure with the Miles Davis quintet, supplies a dark midnight ruckus of a title tune. The only disappointment is Fuller’s slightly meandering improvisation. But Hubbard, the bull-at-the-gate third soloist, flits and blusters across the choruses and rumbles with Blakey’s pounding beat in flurries of trumpet virtuosity. After the bluesy ‘Hammer Head’, flip to side two for Hubbard’s ‘The Core’, which revisits the chugging groove of the title track. The bossa nova ‘Pensativa’ is relief after all the thunderous turmoil. Free For All is perhaps the heaviest acoustic album ever recorded.

I saw several performances by the American trumpeter Baikida Carroll with the Oliver Lake Trio at the 2005 Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Afterwards I tracked down Carroll’s album Door of the Cage, which came out in 1995 on the Soul Note label.

Although Carroll may be best known as a player of free jazz, Door of the Cage is not far removed from a mid-sixties Blue Note session. That is not to say that this record is some revivalist exercise à la Wynton Marsalis: Door of the Cage is a progressive adventure in contemporary improvised acoustic music.
Carroll is a gifted composer, and this album features ten original ballads and hard-swinging modal numbers. ‘At Roi’ seems to quote from the old Eddie Harris tune ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’. Carroll explores the delicate sonorities of the acoustic ensemble on ‘Against Your Warmth’ and ‘I Thought You Knew’. Erica Lindsay, on tenor sax, is a fine partner for Carroll, and interesting enough on her own to warrant further investigation.

Australia’s greatest alto saxophonist Bernie McGann was little recorded until long after his professional debut. Fortunately a number of sessions have emerged in the last twenty-five years. Kindred Spirits, recorded for the Emanem label in 1987 and since reissued on CD by Rufus Records, is a quartet setting featuring Bobby Gebert (p), Jonathan Zwartz (b) and McGann’s long-time collaborator John Pochée (d). More recently McGann has led trios or quartets sans piano, so it is interesting to hear him in this mid-career context.

The album features six original compositions – four by McGann and two by Gebert. Mick Nock has called McGann’s ‘Spirit Song’, which dates from at least as early as the 1960s, an “anthem for the Australian jazz movement.” It is a stunning jazz waltz. This performance is just one of several recorded versions. I also enjoy the twenty-minute rendition on the concert album Live At The Side-On (Rufus, 2005). A very different, never-released band arrangement was performed in concert by Ten Part Invention at the turn of the millennium.

McGann’s parched bluesy tone, tentative and even miserly, might seem best suited for ballads, but he is also riveting at high speed as on the ebullient title track and the Latin-flavoured ‘Salaam’.    Kindred Spirits is a great place to start if you haven’t yet investigated one of Australia’s most distinctive jazz voices.

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