This album is rightfully co-credited to Don Cherry (trumpet), who ably trades blows with John Coltrane (tenor/soprano sax) throughout. The Avant-Garde also boasts the debut studio recording of Coltrane playing soprano sax – on "The Blessing" – in addition to his continuing advancements on tenor. Although these tracks were recorded during the summer of 1960, they remained shelved for nearly six years. Joining Coltrane and Cherry are essentially the rest of the members of the Ornette Coleman Quartet, Ed Blackwell (drums) and Charlie Haden (bass) on "Cherryco" and "The Blessing," as well as Percy Heath (bass) on the remaining three selections.
The Unknown is saxophonist/composer Phillip Johnston's soundtrack to the 1927 silent film of the same name. As with much of Johnston's other work, the music here is a witty, often changing mix of sounds and styles from various eras. Appropriately, there is an emphasis on various film music archetypes, although not just from the silent film era, but from more modern times, too. The tracks weave in and out of frantic, polka-driven chase-scene themes, genteel waltzes, nostalgic parlor-room piano sections, sultry noir-jazz passages, and more. Johnston also adds in more modern elements, from dissonant horn harmonies and free-leaning improvisation to a few rock-oriented rhythms and even some electronic/synthesizer touches.
I’m honored to discuss this CD. I found Fred Ho’s Monkey: Part One a glorious surprise, and this second section of his musical setting for the trickster tale is no disappointment. The ensemble’s personnel has few changes, notably Francis Wong as tenorist; but its spirit remains dramatic, flexible and visionary as Ho achieves tremendous range from trombone, three saxophones (including his own baritone), bass and drums, and several performers on Chinese traditional instruments.
Monkey is a two-part recording of baritone saxophonist Fred Ho's multimedia musical Journey Beyond the West, centered around the Chinese trickster figure of Monkey (à la Coyote in much native American lore) that combines Chinese folk music and instrumentation with jazz. Acts I and III (composed in 1990/1989, respectively) are featured here, with Acts II and IV (both written in 1994) on the companion Monkey, Pt. 2 disc.
The Avant Garde was a coffeehouse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that played host to a variety of rock, blues, and folk performers in the '60s, and Windy City guitar wizard Magic Sam (aka Sam Maghett) rolled in to play a few sets in June 1968. A local kid with an interest in recording named Jim Charne showed up with a reel-to-reel machine and a couple of microphones, and he captured Magic Sam's show on tape; 45 years later, those tapes have finally been made public on the album Live at the Avant Garde, and given the relatively small amount of material that's surfaced on the late blues legend (who succumbed to a heart attack when he was just 32), this set is a very welcome find. Live at the Avant Garde has a decidedly different feel than Magic Sam Live, which preserved radio broadcasts from 1963 and 1964 and a 1969 appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival; while those recordings blazed with intensity, this captures Magic Sam and his band in more laid-back form, playing a small, booze-free venue rather than a rowdy bar or a festival audience in the thousands.