Blues and the Abstract Truth Take 2!

Bill Cunliffe Septet Live

On this pleasant March evening at Vitello's in Studio City, PIANIST, COMPOSER, ARRANGER, EDUCATOR BILL CUNLIFFE unveiled a live version of BLUES AND THE ABSTRACT TRUTH TAKE 2. The personnel was slightly different than on the CD, but I'm confident it in no way produced a lesser musical experience. In fact, hearing these great virtuostic musicians live is a more satisfying musical experience than listening to any CD.

i'm reviewing this performance without listening to the CD first and without a total recall of the OLIVER NELSON'S ORIGINAL BLUES AND THE ABSTRACT TRUTH.

The original will always remain one of my favorite jazz CDS; what sticks in my mind about this CD is Nelson's triads in the opening solo of STOLEN MOMENTS and ERIC DOLPHY'S far out playing.

What emerges in CUNLIFFE'S reharmonization and rearranging or reorchestration is the harmonic beauty of CLARE FISCHER arrangements with less than half the personnel.

STOLEN MOMENTS'S opening exemplifies gorgeous harmonic colors; the groove is set, and we begin the OLIVER NELSON - BILL CUNLIFFE journey. It's very likely had Oliver Nelson not passed at age 43, he would have done a TAKE 2 today at 77 years old similar to what Cunliffe produced. Likewise ERIC DOLPHY would have been proud of BRIAN SCANLON's excellent soloing,building on a simple motif and ending it inside and outside with an exciting climax. (this was my first meeting with Scanlon who teaches at PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY and is an Eastman graduate like Cunliff and tenorist ROB LOCKHART.)

It was the great trombonist ANDY MARTIN who set the standard for solos on STOLEN MOMENTS and other tunes. (I met Martin personally after being a FACEBOOK FRIEND.) Martin opened with a hip staccato like moitif and consistently built a logical lyrical line, getting more and more complex with each measure before handing it over to CUNLIFFE who began with georgeous block chords. Cunliffe also created lucious lyricism as his line stretched up and down the entire keyboard. ( Also if you're a soloist, you couldn't have a better person to assist you along your solo than CUNLIFFE.)

It seemed to me that SCANLON practices like SONNY ROLLINS! he began with a simple motif and expanded on it, playing many variations, going outside and back into the blues form where all 12 tones are allowed. all you have to do is choose the right notes in logical sequence and tell a blues story as Scanlon did. Oliver and Eric would have been proud of this performance of STOLEN MOMENTS!

HOE DOWN is a hip, sophisticated call and response head based on I GOT RHYTHM changes as the foundation of BLUES AND THE ABSTRACT TRUTH are blues and rhythm changes. The cleanly articulate trumpeter BOB SUMMERS opens the soloing with chops to burn. (SUMMERS IS A TOP FLIGHT BRASSMAN ALONG THE LINES OF CARL SAUNDERS, RON STOUT, MAYNARD FERGUSON with whom he's recorded.) Summers quotes the head and created lyrical beauty as did all the soloists this evening. He ended on the tonic and then passed it on to Cunliffe who displays his incredible chops at about 240, spining long lines of inside, outside lyricism wih MCCOY TYNER like chord extensions. (I GOT RHYTHM has long been reinvented by all the jazz masters.) ROB LOCKHART follows Cunliffe with a "TEMPTATION" like motif and then takes it outside like a MICHAEL BRECKER. Lockhart humorously ends his solo and passes it on to former San Franciscan, DRUMMER MARK FERBER. Kicking ass behind the soloists, Ferber also plays a MAX ROACH like solo. The soloists trade fours, then twos, inside, outside, head out, a gloriously hip HOEDOWN is achieved.

OLIVER NELSON passed in 1975; CUNLIFFE first played Oliver Nelson's music nearly 30 years ago at EASTMAN; and now we have the 2009 version; that's how futuristic Nelson's music was.

MARY LOU'S BLUES for MARY LOU WILLIAMS who at DUKE UNIVERSITY was Cunliffe's first piano teacher seemed like STOLEN MOMENTS played backwards. Lockhart opens the solo with a classic blues riff and then proceeds to express his version of the 12 bar blues. He weaves inside and out, chorus after chorus with a good laid back feeling, goes up and down in fourths, a little altisimo, a smear here and there; ends on the tonic; then FIRST CALL BASSIST TOM WARRINGTON gets to show off his chops, good tone; he's up and down the fret board and brings it home. (Warrington reminds me physically and musically of ROBERTA GAMBARINI'S BASSIST, NEAL SWAINSON); Cunliffe opens his solo simply, then a little outside, some far out chords, up and down a blues keyboard, punctuating where appropriate and then SCANLON takes over and with just WARRINGTON and shows us his mastery of the BLUES. Cunliffe comes back with some out chords to spur Scanlon on, Ferber and the band return to give Scanlon a foundation to play off of; Scanlon continues to soar and soar, higher and higher, and climaxes with a little altisimo. The ensemble plays out the gorgeously harmonized head. MARY LOU would have loved this hip blues!

THEN CUNLIFFE played a beautiful THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT with just Ferber and Warrington. His rubato intro with luscious chords with appropriate pauses, perhaps a little BILL EVANS, HERBIE HANCOCK, In tempo, the well known head at about 200, Cunliffe again shows his tremendous lyricism, inside, outside, in chords, out chords, quick, dextorous treatment of a well known standard 2009 jazz style. CUNLIFFE BURNS! VITELLO'S IS ON FIRE! CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! Warrington solos with the tempo still at 200; Warrington plays snippets of the melody; Cunliffe comps for him beautifully; cuts the time in half at the bridge; Ferber solos; head out with Cunliffe continuing his heavy bebop lines, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT!

OLIVER NELSON'S "BLACK BROWN AND BEAUTIFUL", is quite similar to my FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA. (www.myspace.com/wenmew1) Cunliffe didn't seem to use the chromatic chords i have, but he sticks in the blues although he goes outside; Warrington gets a piece of this lovely tune; he too sticks in the blues. (maybe i will rerecord mine again and see where i can stick in the blues.) they end it with i think a G minor drone.

The first set closes with BUTCH AND BUTCH, a hip bebop swinger on the 12 bar blues at about 210; SUMMERS burns on the first solo, punctuating nicely, playing his motifs up and down, getting in all his blues licks; the ensemble gives him a foundation, ends on a smeared 7th; MARTIN takes over, and he has chops to spare; he shows why he's one of the great bone players in the world; he can flat out fly with melodic sense; Warrington contributes a walking bass line, still at 210 of course; Cunliffe comps chromatically; Ferber cuts the time in half on his solo; head out with Nelson's hip melody.

YEARNING opened the 2nd set with drone like chords which placed pictures of a NEW ORLEANS funeral in my head. Summers wails on this medium 12 bar blues which he's played thousands of times; SCANLON take the blues outside; but his alto sound reflects the cries of despair and gives us hope for a better day.

CASCADES built upon OLIVER NELSON'S exercise pattern of major thirds allows LOCKHART to open the tune with a MICHAEL BRECKER type cadenza. obviously Lockhart practiced this exercise to make it work, but he gave it an original interpretation. Cunliffe joined with an appropriate counter melody; the ensemble gave Lockhart a foundation and allowed Lockhart to complete a tour de force peformance. his improvisation was in and out; Summers takes over and simply burns. (THE FIRE IS NEVER OUT AT VITELLO'S.) CUNLIFFE takes over and quotes COLTRANE'S "MR. P.C.", "EQUINOX", and maybe even "COUSIN MARY", all this is going on at a tempo of about 240. Lockhart takes it out and burns; his playing is as hip any tenor man in the world. the head out is like "EQUINOX" and "COUSIN MARY". Ferber brings the tune to a climatic LOUIE BELLSON near close, and LOCKHART takes it out burning on the exercise of major thirds.

TEENIES BLUES opens with seemingly dissonant chords, but it sounded really hip to me as i've been trying to do the same thing. Scanlon does it with no problem; he wails inside, outside, altisimo, sheets of sound, and everything in the kitchen sink; MARTIN triple tongues through the blues form, lays back and gives you some home boy blues talk with a whole bunch of notes. Warrington lays down some dissonance of his own, a walking bass line with THING'S AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE, a very fine, hip horn like solo on the double bass; the ensemble returns with those dissonant chords, a really hip bomb to end the tune.

PORT AUTHORITY by Cunliffe is a fast blues at about 200; Cunliffe burns on the opening solo; he adds those MCOY TYNER type chords, goes up and down the entire keyboard, quotes SONNY MOON FOR TWO; Summers explodes again; the ensemble gives him a foundation; Lockhart quotes Summers and gives his blues history, outside, inside, sheets of sound, ends on the tonic; Cunliffe takes it out with Ferber injecting some solo propulsion every few measures, and the performance is hippily OVER appropriately ON A DISSONANT CHORD!

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