Saturday, January 11, 2014

New records from Thelonious Monk, Rosanne Cash

Alfred Lion, a refugee from Nazi Germany, founded Blue Note Records in New York on Jan. 6, 1939, when he recorded the boogie-woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade (Lux) Lewis after hearing them at the historic “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in New York the month before.

Lion, along with his business partner Francis Wolf, another refugee from Germany, recorded most of the important jazz musicians over the next 30 years, from Sidney Bechet (whose bluesy “Summertime” is one of the greatest recordings of all time) to John Coltrane (whose “Blue Trane,” his only Blue Note recording as a leader, is among my favorites) to Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell (two giants of jazz piano who did their best work with Blue Note) to Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson, who continue to record for Blue Note 50 years after their debuts with the label.

Blue Note still issues important jazz — Shorter’s live recordings, “Without a Net,” marked his return to the label last year — and there were also important CDs from Terrence Blanchard and Joe Lovano. Monk is back with a live recording, “Paris 1969,” which was recorded at the Salle Pleyel music hall for French TV. The video of the show comes with the new release.

It’s a great find, with Charlie Rouse on saxophone and a  surprise appearance by drummer Philly Joe Jones on one number, played before an appreciative audience. Monk reciprocated with a flawless performance. The producers made sure he had a good piano to play on for a change.

The CD is an hour long and includes such Monk classics as “I Mean You,” “Straight No Chaser” and “Blue Monk,” along with three solo piano performances, as well as the entire TV show on DVD. A historic document that would have made Alfred Lion proud.

Lion probably didn’t hear any country music until the Army sent him to Fort Bliss in El Paso,  Texas, during the Second World War. He may have heard plenty of western swing there. 

He would have enjoyed hearing Blue Note’s latest star, the Grammy Award-winning country singer Rosanne Cash, whose latest CD is “The River and the Thread,” an album of original songs written by Cash and her husband John Leventhal.

Like all Blue Note releases, “The River and the Thread,” is meticulously recorded with a gorgeous sound, giving it a live quality. All the songs have southern themes, inspired by the couple’s trip from Memphis to New Orleans.

The lineup includes “Etta’s Tune,” “The Sunken Lands,” “A Feather’s Not a Bird,” “Tell Heaven,” “Money Road,” “50,000 Watts” and more. They previewed their fine new CD before a couple of hundred lucky fans in Little Rock in November. 

Cash, who was born in Memphis, is the daughter of Johnny Cash, who grew up in Dyess (Mississippi County). She joins another singer with Arkansas roots on the Blue Note label, Al Green, who is from Forrest City. Let’s hope they’ll do a duet together.

East Arkansas has produced several musical giants, including Howlin Wolf, who farmed north of Parkin (Cross County) before he started recording for Sun, Chess and Modern Records after the Second World War; Charlie Rich, who was born in Colt (St. Francis County), not far from Parkin; Albert King, who lived in Osceola, not far from Cash’s boyhood home, which is being restored with Rosanne’s help, and Louis Jordan of Brinkley (Monroe County), whose childhood home, sadly, has been demolished.


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