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Special CD Review Section

Rhino/Atlantic 50th Anniversary Jazz Deluxe Editions

By Brian L. Knight

To celebrate 50 years of producing albums, Atlantic Records has joined up with Rhino Records and re-released a series of classic jazz albums from the 1950s and 1960s. In an impressing display of CD packaging, the re-issues contain the original album covers and liner notes. They also have been updated with new notes and essays. As a huge bonus, each of the albums also contains alternate versions and takes from the original recording sessions. The CD packages also contain overviews of various charities such as Amnesty International, Reading Is Fundamental, Council On Economic Priorities and Greenpeace.

So enlighten yourself all around and check out these musical treats.

Ornette Coleman/Free Jazz

Ornette Coleman ushered in a new age for jazz music. The music of Ornette Coleman is unstructured and to some it may even sound incoherent. His was not a style that every musician could handle. Even Miles Davis, another master of jazz transformation, could not embrace the direction of Coleman’s music. To Davis, Coleman’s approach lacked rhythm and structure. This was a common sentiment among music enthusiasts, but to other audiophiles, Coleman’s approach was groundbreaking. The impact of Ornette Coleman’s music is obvious in the sounds of many of today’s "avant-garde" jazz musicians such as Myra Melford and Gerry Hemingway, Discover Jazz Festival alumnus.

The complete name of this album is Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation by The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet. The first two words pretty much say it all. The album was recorded in 1960 in one uninterrupted take without any editing or dubs. The band members had no preconceived notions before heading into the studio and essentially let tape recorders go. The Double Quartet consisted of Coleman(sax), Eric Dolphy(bass clarinet), Don Cherry(pocket trumpet), Freddie Hubbard(trumpet), Scott LaFaro(bass), Charlie Haden(bass), Billy Higgins(drums) and Ed Blackwell (drums). The end result is two reeds, two trumpets, two basses and two drums. The album cover of Free Jazz features White Light by Jackson Pollock suggesting the close relationship between free form jazz and painting as modern art mediums.

Charles Mingus/Blues and Roots

Bassist Charles Mingus was known for both his temper and his integrity. In 1951 he quit Red Norvo’s group because he was replaced by a white bassist for a live television performance. A few years later, Mingus was one of the few people ever to be fired from Duke Ellington’s band. Mingus’ human characteristics directly reflected his ability as a player and composer, as his music was driven by fire and innovation. Jerry Wexler, producer for Atlantic Records, described Mingus in his book Rhythm and Blues: "Mingus was on a revival tear when he came to our label.......ferociously digging up the gospel roots of modern music and constructing works of contradictory genius, at once moving forwards and back, his screaming explorations into a jet fueled future executed with a wide-eyed, breathless, backwoods wonder."

Wexler’s description of Mingus perfectly describes Blues and Roots. Recorded on February 4, 1959, Blues and Roots features six tunes that were both nostalgic and experimental. Every tune on the album is an original Mingus composition and each track has a different flavor to it, typifying Mingus’ diverse musical approaches. For Blues and Roots, Mingus employed a nonet consisting of Jackie McLean(also sax), John Handy(alto sax), Booker Ervin (tenor sax), Pepper Adams(baritone sax), Jimmy Knepper(trombone), Willie Dennis(trombone), Horace Parlan(piano) and Dannie Richmond(drums). The new re-release features alternative takes of "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting", "Tensions", "My Jelly Roll Soul" and "E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too", all recently uncovered in the Atlantic vaults.

John Coltrane/Giant Steps

Giant Steps was recorded in three separate sessions during the winter and spring of 1959. At this time, Coltrane was part of the Miles Davis Quintet. Ultimately it was the recording of Giant Steps that led to Coltrane leaving Davis’ band and forming his own outfit. Giant Steps was the first album consisting entirely of Coltrane originals. The album demonstrates not only his skill as a powerful soloist, but his ability as a composer as well.

Giant Steps captures Coltrane right before he took a dramatic change in musical approach. On Giant Steps, Coltrane utilizes the chord changes that typified contemporary jazz. In subsequent albums, Coltrane began to revolutionize jazz and began to focus on extended solos.

Many of the songs on the album are named after people in his life; Giant Steps offers one of the earliest versions of "Naima", a song named after his wife. "MR. P.C." is named for bassist Paul Chambers; "Syeeda’s Song Flute" was named for his ten year old daughter and "Cousin Mary" was named for...well you can figure it out.

John Coltrane/My Favorite Things

Giant Steps was the Coltrane album that made the jazz world think twice about the way it listened to music. Coltrane opened up new avenues of listening and revolutionized the tenor and soprano saxophones through lengthy improvisations and the deconstruction of any given melody. The problem of Giant Steps was that it wasn’t comprehended by the regular listener - it was too revolutionary for the mainstream.

In October of 1960, Coltrane set out to solve this problem with the magnificent My Favorite Things. With the assistance of McCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass), and Elvin Jones(drums), Coltrane took popular songs and "Coltranized" them. For example, the title track was written by Rogers and Hammerstein and was made popular by Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music." Practically everyone knew this tune in 1960 and Coltrane gave the world a completely different way to hear the song. Also "Coltranized" are: Cole Porter’s "Everytime We Say Goodbye" and the Gershwin Brother’s " Summertime" and "But Not For Me". The CD reissue also features two alternatives versions of "My favorite Things".

Roland Kirk/The Inflated Tear

Roland Kirk’s led an interesting life in which he triumphed over handicap. As a youth, a freak accident left him permanently blind. By the time he was 14, he was leading his own band. When he reached his early twenties, Kirk began to experiment by simultaneously playing with multiple horns. He rediscovered the stritch and manzello horns, which resembled alto and soprano saxophones. These instruments were originally used in turn of the century Spanish marching bands and had since been forgotten. Kirk also invented his own instruments: the trumpophone, which was a trumpet with a soprano saxophone mouthpiece; the slidesophone, which was a miniature trombone and the black puzzle flute. In addition, he developed the technique of circular breathing which allowed for him to inhale while blowing out of his instrument. During the peak of his career, Kirk changed his name to Rashaan Roland Kirk after he was given the instruction in a dream. As leader of the Jazz and Peoples Movement, Kirk disrupted a taping of the Merv Griffin show to protest the lack of black musicians on radio and television shows. In 1975, Kirk suffered a stroke that made one of his hands useless. This didn’t stop him from learning all of his instruments with one hand.

The Inflated Tear was recorded in November of 1967 and its re-release has been a blessing for the world of jazz music. During this recording session, Kirk played the tenor, manzello, stritch, clarinet, flute, English horn, flexafone and whistle, showing his ability to play just about any brass or reed instrument in the book. The album is full of Kirk originals as well as a cover of Duke Ellington’s "Creole Love Call." The highlight of the album comes with "Fingers In The Wind" which is an excellent display of Kirk’s flute mastery.