Malachi Thompson’s eleventh recording as leader shamelessly dwells in the blues, drinking deeply from that source of inspiration. Blue Jazz keeps the free-bop band alive within the larger Africa Brass. The four trumpet/four trombone combination gives the blue swing the jukebox appeal of early ‘60s Blue Note records. Thompson’s eloquent lead on trumpet brings out the best in two of the best: Billy Harper on tenor, and Gary Bartz on alto. The leader arranges the music into two thematic suites, but each track stands on its own.
The “Black Metropolis Suite” opens the recording with the appealing, intricately layered “Black Metropolis.” When the Brass sits out, Thompson and company channel Lee Morgan. When the Brass returns, Thompson dances over the top of them. Drummer Leon Joyce, Jr. skips on the snare, nearly keeping a shuffle beat with a boogaloo undertow. Bartz contentedly rides the bus the first time through, then plays with meter sounding too cool to hurry. His unique tone can suggest Lou Donaldson at times. Of course, Harper’s not in a hurry, but he plays fast anyway.
“The Panther” uses bold Brass strokes to create a groove similar to Sonny Rollins' “Alfie.” Thompson boosts the excitement into the high register, and Bartz keeps it bluesy with slurred phrases and a taste of Coltrane. “Jazz Revelations” unfolds breezy and urbane, with Thompson slicing through the tenacious Brass. Its hard bop swing puts Harper right where he belongs and he plays with taste and power. Kirk Brown steps out on piano and the rhythm section boils.
On “Blues for a Saint Called Louie Suite,” Thompson and company turn the clock farther back. A portentous opening gets “Po Little Louie” going, with Dee Alexander adding wailing vocals to the wailing horns. “Get on the Train” has Thompson utilizing vocal techniques on horn, but as the tempo rises like a runaway train, he plays it open; Ari Brown keeps the train running in his bass clarinet keys. “Blues for a Saint Called Louis” plays it old time, with Brown back on clarinet this time. Alexander adds vocals to the Prohibition era swing, singing, “There’s a Saint/His name is Louis/He plays a heavenly horn/Now jazz is born.” Thompson works muted against the wah-wah plunger mutes of the Brass.
The title track casts Thompson’s trumpet as straight blues vocalist, preceding Alexander’s voice. Suddenly the band breaks out into the 21st century with Harper leading the way. Harrison Bankhead seems intent on keeping up with him, before the band gears down to the original blues riff and Alexander takes it out. As the disc winds up, Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” gets an unexpected helping of Latin spice.
Quite simply, Blue Jazz is a slab of steaming soul.
Track Listing: Black Metropolis Suite-Black Metropolis; the Panther; Jazz Revelations; Genesis/Rebirth???; Blues for a Saint Called Louis Suite-Po
Personnel: Malachi Thompson, trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Bartz, alto and soprano sax; Billy Harper, tenor sax; David
Spencer, Kenny Anderson, Micah Frazier, Elmer Brown, trumpet; Tracy Kirk, Steve Berry, Bill McFarland, Omar
Jefferson, trombone; Kirk Brown, piano, organ; Harrison Bankhead, bass; Leon Joyce, jr., drums; Dee Alexander,
vocals; Ari Brown, tenor sax, clarinet; Gene
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.