The Galaxy – The springtime of my loving….

English: John Bonham - Led Zeppelin

John Bonham – Led Zeppelin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was watching a video recording of the wonderful Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion (it is a shame that they haven’t put out an official release of that performance – it would easily be the DVD release of the decade), and I was struck by how truly progressive some of their later compositions were.  Interesting mathematical constructions, interesting choice of chordal progressions, and some incredible drum parts by John Bonham that go beyond simple timekeeping and make their way into the general structure of the composition (ok, that counts under math, but oh well….).  So my interest this evening is in an examination of some studio recordings from their later period (which I am defining as beginning with the fifth album, Houses of the Holy, from 1973).  With that in mind, let us consider, in some closer detail, our Zep selections for the evening:

  • Achilles Last Stand – A concert staple of theirs during their late era, which is well represented in the 2003 DVD set with a performance from the ’79 Knebworth shows.  The song features some lovely mathematical drum parts from Bonham.  The original can be found on 1976’s Presence.
  • The Song Remains the Same
  • The Rain Song – From Houses of the Holy, their fifth album, these two songs are found together, performed like a medley, on the live The Song Remains the Same release.  There is a little more energy in the live rendition of Song Remains the Same (it is always fruitless to compare their recordings to their stage performances, as they were masters of the concert stage), but the two songs match up well together.  Rain Song in particular is a lovely composition.
  • In The Light – the album track that opens up side two of 1975’s Physical Graffiti, yet there is a familiarity to the medley that is eventually gotten to – a delicate chordal progression that sticks in your head (at least until you hear the next great Zep song).
  • In My Time of Dying – Another song from Physical Graffiti which has an excellent representation on the 2003 DVD set, this time from the ’75 Earl’s Court performances.  Here we see (or, rather, hear) the band blending the sort of exotic time-keeping that we’ve been discussing this evening with a vicious slide guitar workout from Jimmy Page.
  • No Quarter – This song was used as the underpinning for the fantasy clip of John Paul Jones that was made for the Song Remains the Same release.  You know the deal – each band member got some sort of dramatized feature that showed what they wanted to show, a very ’70’s thing  But, if you go beyond the fantasy video clip, you find a wonderful performance of a wonderful song that was released on Houses of the Holy.
  • Nobody’s Fault But Mine – this one can be seen in the Knebworth ’79 clip on the DVD.  A great song on the ’76 Presence LP, with a highly mathematical drum part.  Amazing.

*note* I could easily have inserted Kashmir into this set, with its mathematical bass-pedal arrangement.  But I was going for songs that might be less familiar, yet worthy of a good listen.  Ten Years Gone and The Wanton Song, both from Physical Graffiti, would also have been excellent additions.

Portrait of Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Mile...

After Led Zeppelin, we went to the music of Charlie Parker.  The Bird, whose birthday comes on Wednesday, was possibly the greatest saxophonist who ever lived – ok, although I really don’t like to rank musicians (it is like comparing apples to oranges), Bird had this amazing talent that could not be hidden by his inconsistencies or the drug abuse which eventually killed him well before his time.  This differentiates him from, say, John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins, who worked incessantly to refine their craft.  For various reasons Parker did not do this, and as a result his recordings were sporadic and his live performances are at times uneven.  Yet, at the same time, that very fact makes the end result at times even more incredible, as the pure talent and ability that Parker possessed was truly at the genius level.

So, we start the birthday celebration with a few selected studio recordings.  You will see some familiar names among his collaborators, most of which rank among the who’s who of jazz, and all of whom worked regularly with him.  Musician listings are in the order of piano, bass and drums, with trumpet listed before the piano when present.

  • Now’s The Time – from 1953, with Al Haig, Percy Heath (later of the Modern Jazz Quartet) and Max Roach.
  • Mohawk – 1952, with Dizzy Gillespie (one of Parker’s best friends, and a frequent collaborator), Thelonious Monk (early in Monk’s career, before he was able to make a name for himself), Curley Russel and Buddy Rich (another one who played with Bird numerous times).
  • K.C. Blues, with Miles Davis (1951, after Davis had made Birth of the Cool), Walter Bishop Jr., Teddy Kotick and Max Roach.
  • Lover Man – with Red Rodney (another frequent collaborator, and one of Bird’s more regular touring partners; I had the pleasure of meeting Red Rodney in 1993), John Lewis (who also was part of the Modern Jazz Quartet), Ray Brown, and Kenny Clarke.

"Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes" album cover

We then went to some of the recordings that Parker did with string sections.  These recordings are important in they catch one of the few moments where Parker stepped forward and took risks, both with instrumental arrangements and with song selection.  These recordings were done across several dates – 1949, with a string section led by Mitch Miller (those of a certain age will remember him from “Sing Along with Mitch“), then summer of 1950 with a section led by Joe Lipman.  We heard Just Friends, April in Paris, Summertime (the George Gershwin masterpiece from Porgy and Bess), I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, and Laura (Parker’s rendition of a movie theme-song that had been featured as part of a classic film-noir movie with Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney)

"Complete Live Performances on Savoy" (picture via Amazon)

“Complete Live Performances on Savoy” (picture via Amazon)

We then went to something from the superb “Complete Live Performances on Savoy” box set, which essentially can be referred to as the “Complete Royal Roost” set, plus a Carnegie Hall performance and a Chicago gig with a pick-up band.  The real prize in the box set, of course, is that which comes from the Royal Roost.  Parker participated in a number of live broadcasts from the legendary Royal Roost nightclub in New York City, which was one of the major be-bop performance venues during the late ’40s, a crucial time in jazz history (there are a number of other Royal Roost recordings in circulation, including an excellent set from Miles Davis with his Birth of the Cool group that has to be considered a true treasure).  While many of the radio announcer intros are edited out in this latter-day compilation (I had an early copy years ago with the intros left in, and I truly enjoyed them), and the sound quality is good only when you consider that this is a recorded radio broadcast from 1949, the results might be considered the “Holy Grail” of Charlie Parker recordings.  Tonight we heard a performance from 12/11/1948, with Miles Davis on trumpet, Al Haig on piano, Tommy Potter on bass, and Max Roach on drums: Groovin’ High, Big Foot, Ornithology, and Slow Boat to China.

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