Cry up, Look Down.
Wayne Shorter-The All Seeing Eye
The same names are always cited as the first holy trinity of sax
players (Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster). The listing of the
second trinity is more subjective, but the first two slots almost always
include the same two names John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.
Two player/composers who signify two sides of the same coin,
John Coltrane being spirit while Wayne Shorter representing intellect. That is
not to say either forever stayed neatly within the domain of their specific
If John Coltranes masterpiece A Love Supreme (Impulse!)
was man crying up to God, then Wayne Shorters The All Seeing Eye (Blue
Note Records) was God looking down on man.
Around this time other musicians had extended pieces which were
sometimes described as their Love Supreme (Lee Morgan Search
For The New Land, Hank Mobley Thinking of Home, both Blue
Note Records) While compelling in their own right, suite-like construction is
where the similarities end. Separated by a year both Wayne Shorter and John
Coltranes album share the same artistic intent in regards to conveyed
emotions, using drastically different sonic tools.
Wayne Shorter started out as one of Blue Notes stable of
artists in the late 50s early 60s, some times referred to as the
young lions. He cut his teeth before joining the army in various R&B
He was with Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers from 1959-1963.
Always being about artistic evolution, it was during this time he put an offer
to join a new Miles Davis group on the back burner. Like Miles, Art Blakey had
a genius for cherry picking collaborators from the best of each generations
players. Drummers aside, the list of Jazz Messengers reads like a roll call of
jazz royalty. Within each new verson of The Jazz Messengers, Art put equal
for-sight into who became the bands arranger. Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham,
Benny Golson to Wayne, he being perhaps the most forward thinking of this
impressive list. While Art would experiment with brief forays into ethno-world
music, usually using a multi percussionist approach (Orgy In Rhythm Vol.
1&2, Drums Around The Corner, Holiday For Skins all Blue Note Records) that
mixed with a modal flavoring, Art never had a major departure from his hard-bop
Finally after his five year stint as a Messenger, Miles
persuaded Wayne to join what would be known as his second great quintet
(1965-1968 Shorter/Williams/Carter/Hancock). This version of Miles band
created what could rightfully be called high-art and was also the one
incarnation of the band in which all the band members did writing for the
group. While with Miles group all the members recorded Blue Note albums,
sometimes using songs which had also been recorded by the quintet.
It was while with Miles too, that there was exciting
experimentation going on at Blue Note Records. They had always had the policy
of paid rehearsals which allowed for the possibilities of far more complex
pieces. Not having to worry about getting a piece down within the first few
tries and not having to rely on trying to morph well known standards allowed
for a decade of some of the most forward looking music, which has withstood the
test of time, some of it just starting to be appreciated now. Of great help to
the equation too was that a lot of the musicians had played and composed
together over the course of many now, classic albums.
This was Wayne Shorters first of two extended ensemble
albums. The other, Schizophrenia (Blue Note Records) would be his last fully
acoustic album and contain the same line up save for a switch to the less
progressive Curtis Fuller on trombone. Schizophrenia is the more accessible of
the two, but ultimately The All Seeing Eye offers a more intense journey for
Although only one of two larger ensemble works by Wayne, this
was no mere experiment. It was an artistic avenue which he decided to detour
from, much like Herbie Hancocks one off foray, Speak Like A Child (Blue
The band assembled for this album had an impressive pedigree.
They borrowed from all that was going on in jazz at the time, while never
aligning themselves with a specific movement or its aesthetic. This suite
contains strong elements of chamber jazz, but not the proper staid version of
the Modern Jazz Quartet. It also has symphonic leanings but is not mere third
stream music. It would not sound out of place alongside pieces by Charles
Mingus or Shostakovich. It may be even closer to the later, the free influenced
discordance which occasionally bubbles up coming from groupings of instruments
as opposed to Mingus preference of one screaming.
All the parts of the suit were written by Wayne except for the
last, Mephistopheles, written by his brother Alan Shorter.
Contributing to the success of the album was the already
established understanding of extended and complex forms by the players.
Drummer Joe Chambers had written one half of the two suite piece
on Bobby Hutchersons album Components (Blue Note Records) which also
featured Spaulding/Hancock/Hubbard/Carter from this album. His playing is full
of intricate voicing without ever being distracting. Aside from Elvin Jones or
Tony Williams no one else would have been as organic of a fit.
Trombonists Grachan Moncur started his musical life on cello but
soon switched. He was in Benny Golson/Art Farmer Jazztet and also cut some
genre defying albums with Jackie Mclean and Bobby Hutcherson, (One Step Beyond,
Evolution, Destination Out all Blue Note Records) which, although smaller
ensembles share a great deal in common with this album. He still continues to
this day to play with and write for his own larger ensembles. He, along with
Roswell Rudd have brought a symphonic modernism to playing and writing for the
Freddie Hubbard had been a Jazz Messenger and also made a string
of classic Blue Note albums as leader. His own albums often blended modal jazz
with masculine blues drenched hard-bop. As a sideman Freddie has
appeared on many forward leaning albums. Often his place on these albums has
been referred to as that of playing the straight man to all going
on around him. His oeuvre contains too many appearances on experimental albums
all of them seminal for their genre for this to be true. (John Coltrane,
Ornette Coleman). His tone here, as always is bright complimenting the other
voicings well both in tone and what is played. Never does he appear lost or
James Spaulding is a multi instrumentalist and perhaps one of
the only cats in jazz besides Eric Dolphy who can make jazz flute work without
sounding overly fragile. Here he is heard only on alto sax which he plays with
great fluidity and a controlled frenetic series of bursts. He played on Bobby
Hutcherson/Joe Chambers Components and also the larger ensemble works of
Freddie Hubbard ( Blue Spirits, Ready For Freddie, Night of The Cookers all
Ron Carter was, along with Herbie Hancock and Wayne part of
Miles group. More so than almost any other jazz group these players had
always displayed an almost telepathic rapport. Ron Carters playing
manages to fill the low end, while always rising above merely providing a time
signature. His tone deep, rounded and rich. One of jazzs all time great
bass players he brings something to every session in which he appears.
Alan Shorter, Waynes brother was somewhat jazzs
enigma. Many critics disliked his horn playing, citing a lack of technique, yet
he contributed to the early important body of work of new thing jazz progenitor
Archie Shepp (Impulse!). Alan was also a writer/social commentator. He would
sometimes stop mid concert to yell at the audience about their lack of
understanding and not understanding or being ready for him. He
released two albums which have only now been reissued (Orgasm on Verve). He
wrote and appears on the final track, one which is often cited as listeners
favorite. Aside from the piece being well written, I find no fault with his
technique, nothing lacking. He gels with the band seamlessly.
Herbie Hancock has become one of my favorites. He has created a
body of work staggering in its diversity and power, Most of the time there is a
certain cerebral aspect to his playing which turns some people off. There is
ample evidence, especially in Blue Note catalog of the sixties that he could
swing too, although usually occurring on other peoples dates. He has
always, even within one piece been able to vary his attack and tone yet remain
instantly recognizable. He also does not seem to need a specific playing
situation to bring out his best. Solo, duo et al it is equally worth listening
Wayne Shorter, like Herbie Hancock has sometimes turned people
off with what is viewed as an overly intellectual approach to his playing.
Wayne can cut it with the best of them, but he seems to have always put equal
effort into the actual compositions. Regardless of the size of the ensemble,
his solos statements always serve to enhance the main body of the whole as
opposed to a piece just being a vehicle with which to soar over.
The CD is broken up into different songs, although when
listening it does make one long suite, flowing uninterrupted. Often during this
time, the few that would dare to write and record such music were forced to
name the different parts to give the illusion of several songs in hopes of
I enjoyed the entire album. Some stand out moments for me are:
On the title track when Freddie Hubbard enters he sounds
somewhat like Miles in his aggressive mode, but with far greater articulation.
As he solos there are percussive burst from Herbie Hancock which come and go.
Wayne enters the piece with a buzzing solo which builds seeming to gain moment
from the locomotion of the drums and the percussive piano patterns. All this
occurs as a thick tapestry of bass continues uninterrupted under it all. There
are some great time changes and a Morse code like beat which both piano and sax
state as the piece slows, before picking up again as it approaches its climax
to the flurry of piano runs and hi-hats and the main theme being stated once
more by the group en-masse.
Genesis starts with a piano pattern which could have been
composed by one of the piano figures from the romantic era. The piece quickly
morphs in both tempo and texture. Everything drops away for a symphonic
sounding bass solo from Ron Carter with soft modernist piano heard playing low
underneath. This is indicative of the mercurial quality to be found in Herbie
Face of the deep with its slow tempo start of bowed bass and
multi horn voicing is amazing for not just its moodiness but the outright
beauty of the initial piano figures heard. Within this piece are moments of a
trio, brushed drums, bass and piano. It is laconic and sweet like watching a
rose wave in a soft breeze. The first sax solo too follows in this mood, not
breaking the spell.
The often cited Mephistopheles starts with an off kilter
sounding march which then changes as the bass and drums again beat out a Morse
code type of beat. The piano provides a percussive staccato. The solos have an
urgent sense of drama to them that Berlioz or Goethe would have approved of.
This is by no means light music, nor would it be for most people
instantly accessible. A bad trend over the last few years has been the
co-opting of jazz. Jazz has become homogenized, made safe, a soundtrack for
people to shop at the Gap to. There is nothing wrong with jazzs lighter
moments, but aside from tiny pockets of resistance, it is ceasing to be an
active living art form, high art, in much the same way as American cinema.
This album, like a handful of others allows us to hear greats
creating art of the highest order and we should all take advantage of that less
it disappear like anything else unused, unappreciated.
Maxwell Chandler, October '06
Maxwell will return with more adventures in sound
Soul Eyes: Mal Waldron
Most often there is one of two key ingredients which account for
a jazz musician being considered a great.
One route, a restless exploration which keeps them ever in
artistic flux/evolution, birthing various phases such as in a career overview
of Miles Davis or John Coltrane.
The other way is to step outside of time and trends, spend a
career perfecting a specific way of doing things, one never changing voice
whose cadence achieves an artistic perfection such as in the case of Coleman
Hawkins or Ben Webster.
Mal Waldron managed to do a little bit of both. While an omnibus
of his career would not show radical shifts in style or mission, there was an
ever ongoing artistic evolution. A constant factor was a forward thinking way
of playing and composing which should account for him being far more
appreciated in the states outside of just the in the know jazz
Mal Waldron (1926-2002) learned classical piano at the age of
eight. He also played alto sax in his school band. He often cites having heard
Bird play as making the prospect of going on with alto too intimidating, the
catalyst for him switching full time to piano.
In 1943 he served in the U.S Army, based out of New York,
training cavalry horses. Being able to remain in New York allowed him to delve
deeply into the jazz scene. 1946 found him demobilized. At Queens College in
New York he obtained his B.A in composition. Four years after this he made his
professional debut with saxophonist Ike Quebec.
Mals next prime gig was a two year stint with Charles
Minguss Jazz Workshop. At this point, Mingus was already exploring the
extended suite-like forms that showed him to be heir apparent to Duke
Temperaments aside, the two men artistically shared the ability
to, regardless of the size of their ensembles, write and play music which was
directly in line with European-classical tone-poems and programmatic
compositions being done by composers such as Richard Strauss, Dimitri
Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky.
Two good examples of what this brief collaboration achieved can
be found on CD. Charles Minguss first album for Atlantic
Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) features the tone-poem title track
which is said to be the first recorded appearance of one of Charles
Minguss extended compositions, describing mans first walking
The live album Mingus at the Bohemia (1955
Debut/Fantasy) features a different front line with same rhythm section. (there
is also a companion album from this live date Plus Max Roach). The
track All the Things You C# finds the standard All the
Things You Are being seamlessly married to Rachmaninovs
Prelude in C Sharp. A further classical connection is made when Mal
conjures up motifs of Debussys Clair de Lune.
Later in life Mal Waldron had said that Charles Mingus further
widened his musical vocabulary, having him not just play from the middle
of the piano, but from end to end utilizing both hands and even some times his
There was always a classical aspect to his playing, yet he never
got locked down to playing and writing just in that vein as Modern Jazz
Quartets John Lewis so brilliantly would. He was also in touch with the
more primal aspects of his music, such as the blues, his piano the late night
wisdom which would wait until dawn or that last kiss. An ability to work in
great sympathy with whom-ever he recorded/gigged combined with and a fierce,
always present intellect allowed him to work with Billy Holiday as her last
accompanist. A partnership which lasted until her death, one of her most
successful with a pianist, save for that with Teddy Wilson.
After The Jazz Workshop and after Billy, Mal went to the
Prestige label where he basically became the house pianist. It was
also during this time he wrote the jazz standard Soul Eyes.
His first great partnership in which all concerned were on the
same wrung of the fame ladder was with the Eric Dolphy/Booker
Little ensemble. They recorded three historic live albums in 1961. (Live
at the Five Spot Prestige)
Booker Little was a trumpet wunderkind, with a crisp
articulation and an orchestral way of thinking. He brought something new and
exciting to jazz. Like Mal, Booker had formally studied, at The Chicago
Conservatory. Booker had appeared (non-soloing) in the brass section of John
Coltranes Africa Brass Session (Impulse!) which was
orchestrated by Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner.
Although Bookers early albums are compelling, done mostly
under the wing of Max Roach, he did not fully blossom until his partnership
with Eric and Mal. Sadly this partnership would also prove to be his swan song,
Booker dying right as the bands reputation was gaining momentum of Uremia
at the too young age of 23.
Eric Dolphy was a multi-reedman who got his start in
percussionist Chico Hamiltons band. Although he expressively played alto
sax, he was equally adapt on several instruments not usually associated with
jazz (bassoon, clarinet and bass clarinet). Like Mal he thought outside of the
established constraints of how jazz music should be played/written. Indeed
these three together, had they had more time, would most likely be considered
closer to modern classical or the downtown sound as exemplified by John Zorn.
Erics way of playing and constructing his solos, a fertile, speaking in
tongues, was so new a thing it was edited out of the original Ellington
Suite album by Chico Hamilton (only restored in 2006). A beauty,
complexly built out of certain elements of discordance which served him well in
partnerships with Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. Occasionally Eric Dolphy
would go back to Charles Mingus to play in one of his various sized ensembles.
It was while his first Blue Note Records release as a leader (Out To
Lunch) was being readied for release and he was winding down a European
tour, that Eric Dolphy would die from complications of Diabetes.
News of Erics premature death would figure in as a factor
in a period of ill health for both Charles Mingus and Mal. According to Mal,
after this nervous break down he would have to relearn to play by listening to
his own records.
The first wave of be-boppers wanted to be considered musicians,
not entertainers. Now, almost a generation later, a new group was emerging who
were not just musicians, but composers. They embraced formal studies and the
Western classical tradition while also embracing ethnic-roots driven world
music. Charles Mingus and his circle of peers would embrace these elements and
mix them with the vernacular of the day, jazz. A jazz style that often
As Eric Dolphy had been in the process of doing, Mal emigrated
to Europe where his music could organically grow, supported by the respect it
Europe proved itself fertile ground for Mal. Work was not always
easy to come by, but an asset to any artist who wished to follow their muse and
transcend concerns of audience and critics being able to easily pigeon hole
their art into a ready made genre was the inherent elasticity of modern art
tradition found in Europe.
In New York Mal had played before small, knowing crowds in clubs
and cafes, while in Europe he scored films and ballets.
It was during the initial phase of what would be a long European
exile Mal would start his second great partnership, one which would span some
thirty years and last right up until he died.
Steve Lacy (1934-2004) started his career playing soprano sax in
Dixieland bands. At time only Sidney Bechet had been widely heard on this
temperamental instrument, it instantly cast a spell over him. He originally
appeared in jazz roots bands of Henry Red Allen and
Pops Foster. There was a lack of music for his instrument and
transcriptions of other instruments solos never sounded right to his
ears. It forced him to very quickly not only devise his own way of playing but
new things to play.
This avant-approach made for a key ingredient in
pianist/composer Cecil Taylors debut album Jazz Advance (Blue
Note Records 1955). He would also appear on early solo efforts of
arranger/composer/pianist Gil Evans. He would work with both artists off and on
throughout the late fifties into the early sixties.
Transcriptions of well covered songs still sounded off to him,
even more so now that he had been so fully immersed in the unique art of Cecil
Taylor. At this time Thelonious Monks music was little known and rarely
covered. The perfect new soil from which this new instrument could
sprout. Reflections (1958 Prestige) was Steves first all Monk
album. It featured Mal Waldron on piano. For the rest of his life, Steve would
always go back to the music of Monk and to projects that included Mal on piano.
Since the time of its initial conception Monk has finally taken his place with
in the pantheon of jazz, but many of the songs on this album remain largely
uncovered. A daring enterprise now, all the more so back then.
Steve would actually play with Monk, first in a quintet (1960)
then a few years later as part of a special big band concert lead by Monk and
captured on record as Monks Big Band/Quartet (1963 Columbia).
Both Mal and Steve would remain not only Monks disciples
but also the foremost interpetors of his music. They had the instinctual
abilities to not play what Monk would play, but how he would play it.
The later part of the sixties stateside saw Free Jazz and The
New Thing emerge briefly in prominence. Some of this music is still important
and holds up to the test of time while other albums seem very much to be a
snapshot of the turbulent years which birthed them. The music would very
quickly morph, taking in rock and roll influences, to become fusion. Some of
the Free and New Thing practitioners would embrace elements of world music too.
The composer/musicians in exile seemed to fare a little better.
Together and on their own Mal and Steve would delve deeper into modern
classical also incorporating aspects of the avante-garde.
Like Mal, Steve would write ballets, chamber pieces for solo and
group instruments and pieces which utilized text of modern poets whom he
admired. Eventually Steve, like Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton would be
awarded the McArthur Foundation genius grant.
He possessed a dry tone drastically different from what was
being done on soprano by his nearest contemporary John Coltrane, who usually
opted for a more nasal-mid eastern flavor to his playing. Having immersed
himself in the music of Monk showed him the way with his own music, which
contains figures which often snake back onto themselves to be expressed again
in different tempos. Whether in a solo, group or duo setting Steve would always
go back to the music of Monk as he would also always his partnership with Mal.
In both cases the results never failed to offer up memorable musical moments.
Aside from a great artistic fraternity, another thing that both
Mal and Steve had in common is their discography. Both artist have vast body of
work, but a lot of it, some of their finest moments are on smaller European
labels. This is by no means a factor in the fidelity of sound, but does figure
into both availability and price when trying to obtain the CDs in the states.
It is with this in mind I would recommend as a first foray into
the works of Mal Waldron his album Impressions (1958 Prestige).
This was an album Mal did upon returning from a European tour with Billy
Holiday and right before emigrating to Europe.
The album is a trio date and while in no way watered down, is
more accessible than some of his later works. The fidelity of the album is very
good with no remastering and only the original liner notes reproduced.
Throughout the album the trio plays with great sympathy. On hearing this, one
does not play the game of wishing so and so was behind the drums
The album is made up of originals and some standards made their
own by the trio. Center to the album is what Mal called his Overseas
Formidable) which is a three sectioned suite for the trio built upon his
impressions of Paris. My one bone of contention on this album is the suite is
broken up by other non-suite tracks.
However, the non suite tracks are just as good. One of my
favorite moments on the album is actually one of the non-suite tracks All
About Us. The song was actually written by Mals wife Elaine. It is
very reminiscent of the music written by Italian film director Federico
Fellinis scorer of choice Nino Rota, minus some of the saccharine touches
he sometimes injects. The brushed drums and bass dance a happy waltz to the
melody presented by a piano.
From the start of his solo career, Mal never settled for
constructing songs as a vehicle for his solos. A song routed in the hard-bop
style does not often stay there. The last part of the Overseas suite
Cest Formidable best illustrates this. The song starts off
with slow dark chords which float alone until gaining speed with percussive
kisses which signal the rest of the trios entrance into the piece. Also witness
in this piece how, like few other pianist at this time, Mal was able to
effortlessly change the cadence of his piano with in one piece.
Initially conceived during a rehearsal for a U.K television
special with Billy All the Way starts with a slinking piano figure,
which as the piece progresses is replaced by a more vocal voicing. It is one of
the few songs from the great American song book in which the absence of one of
the many vocalists who have covered it is not noticeable. The same piano figure
which had started the song reenters to end it, reminding us that all we need is
indeed, already right here.
Impressions-The Mal Waldron Trio (Prestige)
Albert Tootie Heath-drums
Maxwell will return with more adventures in sound