Sunday, March 30, 2008

Birth of the Third Stream--has anyone heard this?

Wow, blogging is now a habit. I have a big paper I'm working on, so this is like an excuse to take a break while technically "working." While I've been looking at pop brass ensembles, there are a number of very sophisticated jazz units that are essential brass ensembles. (I'm thinking, among other groups, of Cerebrus.) Kenny Wheeler in particular uses masses of conical sound in his very rich, warm, quartal compositions. He seems to have come out of the British Brass tradition a bit--he has a very dark flugel/trumpet sound, although I don't think I have his "Music for Small and Large Ensembles" on my computer (which means, I don't know where I burned it to!) There is a track "Sea Lady," that while it features an opening sax solo really typifies a rich brass sound.

But I wanted to call your attention to this album, that I've never heard but have wanted to. Perhaps prof. Manning, being from Boston, has a line on it? It's a Gunther Schuller/Miles Davis/Dmitri Mitropolous (whoa!) collaboration entitled "The Birth of the Third Stream" . The music is by Mingus, the great classical jazz pianist John Lewis, trombone virtuoso J. J. Johnson, harmonic theorist George Russell, two tunes by Schuller (one of those "tunes" being a four movement symphony for brass and percussion), and two tunes by Jimmy Giuffre, who wrote for Woody Herman and was a leading arranger of "cool jazz."

Alot of albums like this fill in with anonymous studio players. Let me make some lists. These are just the highlights. Remember, aside from being a know-it-all jazz scholar, Schuller was then (1956) also a know-it-all horn player in the Met. opera orchestra and he brought some friends along for the ride, as well as the top call jazz players.

Rhythm section: pianist Bill Evans, bassists Milt Hinton and Charles Mingus
Tuba: Bill Barber (a top-call east coast studio player)
Trumpets: Joe Alessi (Sr.), Mel Broiles, a young Art Farmer, lead great Bernie Glow, Louis Mucci, and, of course, Miles as featured soloist.
Trombones: J.J. and Kai, Urbie Green, New York Phil great Gordon Pulis
The entire improvising French Horn world of the 1950s turned out (except, curiously, Julius Watkins--what was he doing?) and the highlights are James Buffington, Schuller himself, classical pedagogue Joseph Singer, Ray Alonge, and Arthur Sussman
Baritone horns are performed throughout by: John Swallow and Ronald Ricketts. Don't know who they are, but they have funny names.

I tend to react negatively to many Schuller things (like some of his books) because he can sometimes seem a little too forceful in overstating his role, and in describing things in yes-or-no terms. But like Wynton Marsalis, you may be able to dislike his playing, or his writing, or his speaking but one can't deny or discount that both (or either) have been tireless advocates of musical and historical education, and providing institutional places for the best musicians to convene and perform.

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