Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


My record collection is full of things I have bought, usually from charity shops, as blind punts. Something about the cover, about the personnel, about the record label, has appealed to me or somehow set off a connection in my brain. Usually, the blind punt turns out to have been ill-advised and the record goes back into the wild to, hopefully, give joy to someone else.
So it was with Al Haig's Invitation. I prevaricated for about 10 minutes before buying this record. I even had a cup of coffee to think about it!
You can probably tell from the fact that I'm writing about it that I'm pleased I did.
Al Haig was part of the bebop revolution and played with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Classically trained he was able to keep up with the frantic pace of many of bop's songs. He went on to play with Stan Getz and was part of the nontet that played on Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool.
Intriguingly, he was accused after his death, by his second wife, of killing his first wife and of being a serial spouse abuser. Of these violent tendencies there is no obvious evidence in his music, unless you count his propensity to explode into playing as many notes as possible in as short a space of time as possible before relaxing back into a more languid style.
This record was recorded in 1974 by which time Haig's career was seeing something of a revival, particularly in Europe. Perhaps his slightly 'cool' style was regarded as a relaxing alternative to some of the prevalent styles of jazz. Indeed jazz has always had a rather divided attitude to its elder statesmen, lauding them while at the same time regarding those who like their music as being, in Philip Larkin's wonderful phrase, 'mouldy old figs'.
A brief glance at the track list confirms that Haig wasn't playing for modern jazz tastes with songs written by Cedar Walton, Billy Strayhorn, JJ Johnson and Tad Dameron. Intriguingly he also records Invitation by Bronislaw Kaper which was recorded by John Coltrane in 1958 and Art Blakey in 1961, as well as Dorothy Ashby, Harold Land and Haig's old partner Stan Getz. Kaper also wrote On Green Dolphin Street another of my all time favourite jazz standards.
Haig is very ably assisted by Gilbert 'Bibi' Rovere, the French bassist who played with amongst others Bud Powell (see the bop connection?) and Kenny Clarke on drums. In my view Clarke is to bebop drumming what Parker was to saxophone, Gillespie was to trumpet and Charlie Christian was to guitar. Clarke moved to France in 1958 and went on to form the Kenny Clarke/ Francy Boland Band - about whom we will hear more in the pages of this very blog!
As an aside all three men had, had some experience of jazz and classical music. Haig with his classical training used to play Chopin as a warm up before Parker came on stage, Rovere played with Martial Solal who was well known for including classical elements into his jazz music, and Clarke played in the first incarnation of the Modern Jazz Quartet, when it was still the Milt Jackson Quartet.
That all three men came from similar musical backgrounds can be heard in the way they play together.While Haig is obviously the leader the others in the band are more than merely a rhythm section. Clarke in particular, who was particularly experienced in playing behind pianists is in wonderful form throughout.
There is much to enjoy on this record but recently I have become slightly enthralled to one track - Haig's own composition Linear Motion.
On this song the trio suddenly seem to find their voice together and begin to make some distinctive music.
It starts with some beautiful interplay between Haig and Rovere, the double bass notes booming out above the jumping piano chords, Clarke using the brushes gently in the background. Suddenly the tempo is upped and they spring into action. Clarke playing with his cymbal and Rovere walking all over the bass, provide an inventive but solid backing for Haig to improvise over. Whatever the meaning of the title Linear Motion I don't think it can apply to Haig's playing as he sweeps and soars, at one moment racing upwards in a clutch of high notes and then the next moment dropping down with only a few well placed touches of the keys. Then, Haig and Clarke drop back to let Rovere take a solo and there is a brief moment of funkiness before Clarke drops a few drum bombs and rolls, sounding effortless and determined at the same time. With a brief refrain this beautiful song comes to an end.
I'm not a big fan of posting clips but I am prepared to make an exception for this simply lovely piece of music.
I hope you enjoy it as  much as I do.

Al Haig - Linear Motion

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