Taylor Ho Bynum

*Photo by Peter Gannushkin

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Behearer Be Heard

The positive fallout from the “great jazz of the 70’s and 80’s” discussion continues to accumulate. It got mainstream coverage in Nate Chinen’s article in the NY Times two days ago, and a new wiki site has been launched compiling all the various contributions, behearer.com. This is a pretty amazing resource, and while most of my favorites are already added and/or discussed (in particular, check out Steve Smith’s wonderful overview of John Carter), I couldn’t resist adding a couple of great albums other folks missed. (In addition to Bill Dixon’s November 1981, discussed at length below).

Anthony Braxton & George Lewis – Donaueschingen (Duo) 1976
Perhaps my favorite of all of Braxton’s brilliant duo albums in the ’70’s. (Though Birth and Rebirth with Max Roach would run a very close second.) George Lewis sounds great, the recording has a palpable playfullness, and as an encore, they hit an incredibly tight Donna Lee.

Peter Kowald/Wadada Leo Smith/Gunter Sommers – Touch the Earth-Break the Shells 1979/1981
For me, Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Dixon are the two living masters of the trumpet in improvised music. But while Dixon nailed me from the first listen, it took me more time to appreciate Smith’s music. Go in Numbers was my first of his records, and while I now love it, at first I couldn’t find a foothold, Smith’s use of space and sound was too subtle for me. But when I heard this recording, I started to understand. (Maybe the relatively “traditional” bass & drums lineup helped me out). This cooperative American/European trio only played together for a few years, but their communication is stellar, and everyone plays their ass off.

(When I input this record into the Behearer site, I was surprised to see that no other Wadada Leo Smith record had yet made the cut! So I also posted Kabell Years: 1971-1979, the stunning 4 CD set that came out on Tzadik a few years ago, that rereleased all of his recordings on his own Kabell label. Mostly solo, but with some great ensemble music with Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Wes Brown, and Pheeroan akLaff. There is probably no recording I’ve heard in the last ten years that influenced my playing more than this set and Dixon’s Odyssey set. Well, maybe the Miles at the Plugged Nickel box set. But that’s out of this time range.)

Amina Claudine Myers – Salutes Bessie Smith 1980
The great accordionist/composer Ted Reichman (who is also now blogging) turned me on to this one when we were in college, and it’s remained one of my all-time favorites. Amina sings with so much soul and passion, and plays so much piano! Probably my favorite jazz vocal record of the past forty years. The way tribute albums should be; she recognizes a past master, but does it in completely her own voice, and uses it as a springboard for her own innovations.

Anthony Davis – Lady of the Mirrors 1980
One of my favorite solo piano records. You can hear hints of Duke and perhaps Abdullah Ibrahim, and maybe some Ravel in there, but ultimately an utterly unique statement. Both delicate and dramatic.

Joe McPhee – Oleo & A Future Retrospective 1982
One of the records that made me understand how standards can be creatively reinterpreted. McPhee starts out Oleo tight and boppish, then the guitar comes in and demolishes jazz in a lovely way. And on top of his great pocket cornet playing, McPhee’s tenor playing on this record provided a bridge for me to appreciate and understand Ayler. (One of the fun things about getting into this music as a teenager in the early ’90’s was the strange backwards chronology of influence that sometimes happened. Listening to McPhee before Ayler, or for that matter, hearing Dizzy and Miles before Armstrong.)

Muhal Richard Abrams – The Hearinga Suite 1989
I got this CD when I was in high school, because I had started studying with Bill Lowe, and he plays bass trombone on it. It makes me realize how lucky I was to hook up with someone that cool that young. Through Bill, I started checking out Abrams and Threadgill and such before anybody (or any PBS documentary) could tell me they were “weird”. So I thought this was what a contemporary big band should sound like. Actually, I still think this is what a contemporary big band should sound like.

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