s Tom Hull: Rearview Mirror

Rearview Mirror #2

Repaying Old Debts With Flowers

by Tom Hull

Flowers for Johnny
(1983-85, Ayler)

Johnny Dyani played bass in pianist Chris McGregor's South African jazz band, the Blue Notes. In 1964 the band played a jazz festival in Europe, and never went back. Dyani played briefly with Steve Lacy, Don Cherry, and David Murray, before settling down in Copenhagen with Pierre DÝrge's New Jungle Orchestra. He cut a few albums under his own name, often using South African themes, often cursing the Boers and their apartheid regime. Anders Gahnold has a day job as a software hacker in Sweden and also plays highly improvised post-bop alto sax. In the early '80s, he bumped into Dyani, telling him he was forming a band and needed a bass player. Dyani joined, bringing South African Gilbert Matthews along to play drums. The group played some gigs, but never made it into the studio before Dyani died in 1986. Gahnold didn't make it to the studio until May 2002, when William Parker and Hamid Drake picked him up for a fast-paced jam session called . . . And William Danced (Ayler) that cocked open a lot of ears, leading Gahnold to dig up some old live tapes of his trio with Dyani. They, too, are something to hear: Dyani's bass is mixed up front, almost reverently, making this an exceptionally good showcase for his broad skills and exquisite timing. But Gahnold is again a knockout, thinking fast and playing with fearless authority. A ruminative "Summertime," the disc's one cover, is especially useful as a Rosetta stone.

Off the Coast of Me
(1980, Rainman)

Too Cool to Conga!
(2001, Rainman)

With his brother's perfect Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band stalled, August Darnell took to writing Latino jive (sometimes in German) and hooked up with downtown no-wave impresario Michael Zilkha. For what was initially a side project, Darnell styled himself as the zoot-suited Kid Creole, hiring three fetching Coconuts to taunt him with lines like, "I know you can't satisfy/But at least you can try." The thin sound on Off the Coast of Me came from Zilkha releasing the demos. Darnell/Creole's sound and concept gained enough momentum over the next two albums to let him coast for the rest of the decade. But his name dropping on "Darrio" -- the Coconuts implore him to take them to Studio 54, while he'd rather check out James White & the Blacks -- announced the end of the great disco/punk dichotomy, after which New York got more interesting and a lot weirder. Too Cool to Conga! is probably his best album since 1991's You Shoulda Told Me You Were . . . , but the covers give his decline away: "Flip Flop and Fly" and "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" hint that he invented retro swing (duh!), but his remake of his own "Endicott," with its Dixieland aside, is breathtaking.

The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces
(1953-55, Pablo)

The Best of the Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces
(1954-56, Pablo)

Norman Granz didn't just sell jazz in the early LP era. He made a lot of it happen, getting mileage out of past-their-prime Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, introducing Ella Fitzgerald to the great American songbooks, and introducing what seems like every saxophonist on the planet to Oscar Peterson. Art Tatum was the ultimate dazzling pianist, playing so fast and with such complete control over his instrument that he could harmonize with himself and tack on little decorative flourishes to boot. In the four years before Tatum's death, Granz recorded Tatum extensively, both in the solo performances Tatum preferred (eight separate CDs or a seven-CD box) and in small groups (eight separate CDs or a six-CD box). These two samplers are welcome for anyone daunted by the choices, especially with the solo recordings: Solo piano always seems a bit underdressed, but everyone should hear at least a little of Tatum flying solo. The only problem with the group best-of is that the individual sessions hold up so well on their own, especially Vol. 8, with Ben Webster, though Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, and Buddy DeFranco aren't far behind. Tatum had only very rarely recorded with horns before, so this is one more debt we owe Granz.