All posts by Syd Fablo

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Jemeel Moondoc Quintet – Nostalgia in Times Square

Nostalgia in Times Square

Jemeel Moondoc QuintetNostalgia in Times Square Soul Note SN 1141 (1986)

In the 1980s there was an unmistakable “conservative” trend in jazz.  At its worst, this involved musicians picking some arbitrary point in time and disregarding all of jazz history beyond that point (Amish-style).  But not all music of this nature was so reactionary.  David Murray‘s Ming is often cited as the foundational document for another approach, one that took elements of the past and built upon them without being beholden to them.  Another example would be James Newton‘s The African Flower (The Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn), with a bit more restrained tone.  Jemeel Moondoc’s Nostalgia in Times Square fits into this continuum.  Moondoc was a veteran of Cecil Taylor‘s student bands in the 1970s, and had jumped over to New York City where he enmeshed himself in the loft jazz scene there.  He has a pretty clear tone and identifiable voice.  It’s lyrical and precise, with an undercurrent of ironic humor.  The whole album takes off from older jazz styles, kind of a swinging hard bop form, but adds to that more modern solos.  Each soloist is free to deploy unusual squeaks, intervals and harmonies, but the music generally is anchored in a more defined rhythm and flirts with a somewhat conventional melodic and harmonic base much more than the free music of the preceding two decades.  Moondoc has a great band.  Bassist William Parker would return to the same framework two decades later with albums like Sound Unity and Petit oiseau.  If this album has a flaw it’s that it occasionally feels a little rough around the edges, like the band could have used some more time to play together before recording, as sometimes soloists seem to clash in ways not fully intended.  But that’s a petty concern with what is generally a very good album.

Richard Shaull Quote

“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.  Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Richard Shaull, Foreword to Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Directions in Music by Miles Davis – Filles de Kilimanjaro

Filles de Kilimanjaro

Directions in Music by Miles DavisFilles de Kilimanjaro Columbia CS 9750 (1969)

A huge leap forward in the evolution of what became known as jazz “fusion”.  Really one of the finer albums of Miles Davis’ long and storied career.  What made Filles de Kilimanjaro such an advance over Miles in the Sky was the way it subdued and extended the song structures while at the same time elevating the throb of the bass and the kick of the drumming, those seemingly contradictory impulses held together by punchier bursts of horn and keyboard playing that drifted somewhat away from the spotlight and integrated themselves into the songs.  The vamps drive the songs but also leave room for modulation and shifts into improvisational flourishes.  The bass, drums and keyboards trade off each other (see “Tout de suite”) to create tension and forward momentum.  The wind instruments aren’t presented as prominent soloists like in the past, but more as the equals of the rhythm section, which gets to rise to the forefront on a shared basis rather than being relegated to a merely supportive role. This may resemble traditional jazz more than the next few albums, like In a Silent Way and the epochal Bitches Brew, etc, etc.  There is still a clear purpose and distinctive sound achieved that refuses to step back from an increasingly militant — yet hopefully positive — mindset.  Most significantly, this album decisively tipped the balance away from traditional jazz and toward fusion.  This one is just (barely) a half step behind the very best of Davis’ records, which is saying a lot when it comes to arguably the single greatest recording artist of the 20th Century.  This also makes a pretty good entry point to the fusion era.

Lou Reed – Street Hassle

Street Hassle

Lou ReedStreet Hassle Arista AB-4169 (1978)

Perhaps everyone is familiar with the saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  Well, along those same lines, Lou Reed’s Street Hassle might be seen as an attempt to make an album that succeeds by going about everything in the wrong way.  The album is an amalgam of live and studio recordings.  Reed and his band quote old songs, they use a muddy-sounding (and soon obsolete) recording technology, and seem to be against audience expectations.  Reed’s lyrics are also dumb, guttural, defiant, and contrarian. Far from being a liability, this is why the album works!  In fact, it might even be possible to say that songs like “Dirt” helped lay the foundation for the sludge rock of the 1980s — especially Flipper (who used a saxophone similarly on their quasi-hit “Sex Bomb.”  The first side of the album is great, with the title track being one of the very finest moments of Reed’s entire career, and the second side is fairly good too.