Envelope-Pushers From the Past and Present

Don Heckman writes frequently about jazz for The Times

The '60s were dramatic years of change for jazz. As in the '40s, the music was transitioning through radical alterations in a fashion directly reflecting the shifting currents of society.

In the '40s, bebop coincided with World War II and its aftermath, the start of the nuclear age and the beginning of the Cold War. In the '60s, a similarly revolutionary musical movement--variously described as avant-garde, new thing, etc.--surfaced coincident with the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the expansion of the war in Vietnam.

The similarities taper off, however, when considering how this ferment of ingredients affected the jazz of each decade. In the case of the '40s, bebop prevailed, its approaches to rhythm and harmony, in particular, profoundly shaping the music for the balance of the 20th century and beyond. The music of the '60s had a more diffuse effect, with many of its advances ignored by succeeding players, while others were synthesized indirectly into the pop world.

As that pop world became the dominant musical culture of the next few decades, jazz artists searched for solutions that might bring the music back into public consciousness. But the rigorously avant-garde efforts of the '60s did not strike many as the appropriate answer. Some turned to jazz-rock combinations; others sought solutions in the rapidly advancing electronic music world; others insisted on remaining safely within the familiar orbit of bop and hard bop.

In the process, a great deal of adventurous music was overlooked, and, along with it, some compelling players who have never really received the credit they fully deserve for their determination to be pioneers in new territory.

A lot of recorded material from the decade has been reissued. But several players of the era continue to produce provocative efforts. "Archie Shepp & Roswell Rudd, Live in New York" (* * * , Verve Records) showcases the current playing of tenor saxophonist Shepp and trombonist Rudd--who were among the most active and vital of the '60s musical revolutionaries.

Shepp and Rudd make for an especially compatible pairing because both made intriguing linkages between their cutting-edge playing and the root elements of jazz. They illuminated the continuous thread that continues to reach through, and connect, jazz of every stripe.

The Shepp-Rudd CD was recorded live last September at Manhattan's Jazz Standard club. Other participants include trombonist Grachan Moncur III, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille (all were active in the music of the '60s). One track, in particular, in which poet Amiri Baraka reads his "We Are the Blues" in an improvised setting, echoes both the musical quest and the intrinsic social awareness that were essential elements of the decade.

Other pieces integrate their outward-seeking notions within somewhat more structured frameworks than were generally the case in the '60s. But the soloing is wide open, and the performances--with their refusal to be locked into any specific format, with their willingness to leap from New Orleans to free improvising, with stops in between--have the sort of anything-goes sense of liberation too rare in the '90s and post-'90s retro-bop political correctness.

Trombonist Steve Turre is too young to have participated in the music of the '60s, but his willingness to push the envelope would have made him a valuable participant then. One wonders, for example, how those avant-gardists--continually seeking new instrumental sounds--would have responded to Turre's remarkable excursions on conch shells.

On "T N T: Trombone N Tenor" (* * * , Telarc Jazz), however, Turre omits the conch shells, concentrating instead on his superlative trombone work in association with three ensembles featuring first-rate tenor saxophonists--James Carter, Dewey Redman and David Sanchez. Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, it is Redman--who was around in the '60s--who offers the most straight-ahead, lyrical playing. Carter, with the ability to reach into his instrument's outer limits, is relatively subdued until he digs into Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" to generate a honking, snorting, walk-the-bar tenor saxophone solo straight out of the '50s. His soloing on "Eric the Great" is more gripping, a better example of his capacity--still not fully formed--to be a dominant player on his instrument. And Sanchez, at his best on Turre's original "Puente of Soul," comes up, as always, with consistently inventive solos.

But Turre is the front man, taking advantage of extended space to reveal a wealth of improvisational ideas, offering convincing evidence that--the novelty of his conch shell playing aside--he belongs among the top trombone players. In addition, his four well-crafted originals in the program are the work of a composer who can write music that is both entertaining and exploratory.

Speaking of trombone players, no one ever did more with the instrument than the late J.J. Johnson. Two current reissues, "The Eminent J.J. Johnson Vol. 1" and "The Eminent J.J. Johnson Vol. 2" (both * * * * , Blue Note), are must-haves for any serious jazz collection. Vol. 1 was Johnson's first session for Blue Note, performing with a now-legendary ensemble that included trumpeter Clifford Brown, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, pianist John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke. The CD reissue includes three additional alternate takes. Vol. 2 gathers Johnson's second and third efforts for Blue Note. Clarke returns, and the other players include Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers alternating on bass, Wynton Kelly and Horace Silver on piano, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, and Sabu Martinez on congas. Three alternate takes are included. Both CDs have been newly remastered by Rudy Van Gelder, who engineered the original sessions.

FOR THE RECORD Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 1, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 No Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction Jazz engineer--In the July 29 Sunday Calendar, the Jazz Spotlight column mistakenly said that Rudy Van Gelder engineered all three J.J. Johnson recording sessions included in CD reissues. The first session was engineered by Doug Hawkins. For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday August 5, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction Jazz engineer--In the July 29 Sunday Calendar, the Jazz Spotlight column mistakenly said that Rudy Van Gelder engineered all three J.J. Johnson recording sessions included in CD reissues. The first session was engineered by Doug Hawkins.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World