Wayne Shorter, "Infant Eyes"

Miles Davis
photo: Don Haristein
Miles Davis

Working his way through a Coltrane influence, Shorter demonstrated pensive originality as tenor saxophonist and composer with a stellar edition of Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Then he blossomed with Davis's bruising second great quintet, whose members enjoyed a life apart, mostly at Blue Note—a record label that enjoyed an unlikely flurry of hits with Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," and Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." "Infant Eyes," a ballad written for his daughter, brings out Shorter's raw, unaffected tenderness. It recycles a quote from Gershwin's "Soon" in a 27-bar ABA structure with one chord per measure. Shorter's improvisation ranges over three octaves, yet it consists of few notes, and each one counts for timbre as well as melody. He later developed an equally expressive approach to the soprano sax, conspicuously evading Coltrane's shadow, while writing a body of sly tunes unlike anything anywhere. *Speak No Evil (Blue Note)


Archie Shepp, "Hambone"

Shepp's militancy was too shrewd to be one-dimensional, his music too generous to be exclusively strident. The album that produced "Malcolm, Malcolm—Semper Malcolm," almost certainly the best poetry-and-jazz side ever made (some voice, some reading), also offered sextet arrangements of Ellington and bossa nova, a poised response to Buñuel's Los Olvidados, and the multi-themed "Hambone," based on a character in a kiddie show. It begins with a familiar mariachi theme and proceeds to a passage that alternates measures in seven and five. The fine solos by trumpeter Ted Curson, altoist Marion Brown, and Shepp—with his raspy, skittery, anxious tenor sax sound—are subordinate to the ensemble, which comes on like a crazed marching band. Yet the new thing, new wave, new music, or new jazz, as it was variously called, was as much derided as Monk had been a decade earlier. *Fire Music (Impulse!)


Albert Ayler, "Our Prayer/Spirits Rejoice"

He replaced notes with glossolalia and made a band music out of raucous disharmonies, folk melodies, marches, hymns, and bugle calls; his trumpet-playing brother, Donald, had an appropriately tinny sound for the latter. Ayler's grinding tenor saxophone threatened to burst asunder from the effusiveness of his playing. He scared the hell out of people, yet radiated a wildly optimistic passion. The optimism was manic. Dead at 34, in 1970, he never found the acceptance here that he won in Europe—some folks figured he was putting everyone on, among them true believers who were mortified by his later au courant compromises. Yet even in flower-child mode, he carried a cello and howled at the moon; he was never cut out for the Fillmore. Still, his mid-'60s bands electrify, and his medley of two original themes, complete with an interpolation of the "Marseillaise," suggests an old New Orleans parade band brought to a peak of revivalist hysteria.*Lorrach, Paris 1966 (Hatology)


Sonny Criss, "Willow Weep for Me"

Few people noticed Lester Bowie's Numbers 1 & 2 or acknowledged Far East Suite as one of Ellington's masterworks, both recorded this year. But for a brief span, modest attention was paid a blues-driven altoist who had created his own lapidary version of Charlie Parker, yet had not recorded at home in seven years. The third album of his comeback reflected a siege mentality by covering two hits (jazz musicians and producers always went for the most banal chart toppers). Criss's creamy proficiency had no trouble riding roughshod over the Fifth Dimension, but he was in his glory with great tunes. The pitfall of drenching a ballad in minor-thirds and other blues devices is the potential for cliché. Criss—alertly supported by guitarist Tal Farlow and pianist Cedar Walton—averts the danger with infallible taste and gleaming technique, producing a flawless gem, right down to the lustrous cadenza. *Up, Up and Away (Prestige)


Jaki Byard, "Memories of You"

Byard and Roland Kirk were made for each other—savoring the past as a cocktail of irreverence and sentiment. Byard contributed to Kirk's Rip, Rig and Panic, and now Kirk repaid the favor. The rhythm section brought together for Booker Ervin's Book series—Byard, bassist Richard Davis, drummer Alan Dawson—was present on all but one old tune by Eubie Blake, who, at 85, was a year away from his famous comeback. Kirk sticks to tenor and, whether soloing or backing Byard, rarely pauses to breathe. Byard's ebullient take on stride piano is emboldened by his peerless, tumbling arpeggios: Tatum-esque in concept, Taylor-esque in touch. If the most ambitious release of the year was The Jazz Composer's Orchestra, this duet was perhaps the most serendipitous. Not much noted at the time, it exercised an influence that would be evident 30 years later. *The Jaki Byard Experience (Prestige)


Tony Williams, "Spectrum"

As rock pushed jazz aside, a few musicians sought common ground not in dinky tunes or soul-brother affectations, but in energy, electricity, and coloration. Miles's Bitches Brew and Williams's Emergency! were as shocking to some as Ayler had been, yet for the drummer, born in 1945, fusion held the promise of destiny, if not of commercial salvation. He had joined McLean and Miles at 17, had recorded with cutting-edge players like Sam Rivers; to him, rock was a natural challenge and an opportunity. So he took the standard organ-trio instrumentation and maxed it out, fusing free improvisation to blistering rhythms. It pleased hardly anyone—his Hendrixian singing was ill-advised—yet a track like "Spectrum," admittedly more jazz than rock, suggests exciting possibilities. The cymbals' lightning response to the first figure of John McLaughlin's guitar improv prepares you for the alert vitality that abides during Larry Young's organ spot as well as in their signature wrap-up crescendo. *Spectrum: The Anthology (Verve).

Post-War Jazz, Continued: 1970-2001

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