For some MPS might feel like a treasure trove that had to be dug up from the twilights of Germany’s Black Forest. With diversity, courage, and quality as the trademarks of the label, founder Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer achieved world-wide renown as Germany’s first jazz label. A Mecca for international jazz stars like Oscar Peterson, George Duke, The Singers Unlimited and a host of talented young European discoveries. Situated in Villingen, in Germany’s Black Forest region, for some two decades MPS Records and studios wrote pioneering jazz history through its high-level recording technique and unmistakable aesthetic. Today the “most perfect sound made in the Black Forest” continues to light up the ears of analogue fans worldwide. Here at fopp we’re taking a look in no particular order at ten of our favourite MPS releases, all of them featured in our current MPS promotion in-store.
Bill Evans – Symbiosis
Legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans is most often thought of as a “trio” player, as most of his albums have been piano/bass/drums, with the occasional solo or duo album. But he did record a select few albums with orchestras, and that’s what makes Symbiosis a special and unique entry in Evans’ hugh catalog. Recorded in 1974, it was released in 1994 on CD for the first time. Further, this albums contains no standards or Evans originals–the title piece is a multi-part suite composed, arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman (who also collaborated with Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra, among many others). The album runs the stylistic gamut: there are moments of Philip Glass-like minimalism (!), samba-flavored big-band passages, echoes of the early 20th century Russian composers, Third Stream jazz, lush yet slightly ominous string arrangements and ’70s film music. Throughout, Evans, alternating between acoustic and electric pianos, shimmers and entrances with his inventively lyrical solos. Not your “typical” Bill Evans album–but that’s what makes Symbiosis such a fine, gently challenging listen.
CD £9 LP £21
DEXTER GORDON & SLIDE HAMPTON – A DAY IN COPENHAGEN
With his big, warm, round-toned sound, sophisticated phrasing, and hip quotes, Dexter Gordon was one of the major forces on the tenor saxophone from the mid-1940’s until his death in 1990. Gordon was cited by both Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane as a major influence on their playing. Dexter moved to Europe in the early 1960’s, settling in Copenhagen, Denmark. During this period, he usually played and recorded backed by a piano trio, so, with two horns joining him, this album is special. One of the great modern jazz trombonists, Slide Hampton is also a composer/arranger of note. Three of the compositions and all of the arrangements on the album are his. The classy Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reese completes the front line. The rhythm section includes two jazz giants with whom Gordon played at Copenhagen’s famous Club Montmartre, fellow American expatriate pianist Kenny Drew and Danish bassist N-H Örsted Peterson. Drummer Art Taylor was brought in from Paris to complete the all-star rhythm section. Slide’s minor My Blues starts off the set with a bright, upbeat Dex showing he had been listening to Trane and Rollins as much as they had been to him. Everyone gets a chance to blow on this one. Normally a ballad, You Don’t Know What Love Is glides along at a medium clip; Slide states his intention was to keep the feeling that Billy Holliday and Miles Davis had in their versions. Hampton’s New Thing is actually straight-ahead hard-bop, with Dexter once again shinning out front. On What’s New, Slide changes what is normally a ballad into something special; this time a medium-tempo 12/8 with some beautiful solos by all three horns. Dexter reserves The Shadow of Your Smile for himself and the trio, giving the ballad a breathtakingly lush rendition. The set ends with A Day In Vienna, Slide’s richly voiced tribute to the Austrian Radio’s Jazz Workshop.
CD £9 LP £21
Ella Fitzgerald – Sunshine of your Love
Ella Fitzgerald singing Eric Clapton’s Sunshine of Your Love, or the Beatles’ Hey Jude? Something of a revelation for those who know Fitzgerald as purely a jazz singer. In October 1968 Ella Fitzgerald performed such a set of selected pop songs at the Venetian Room in The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel. Ella’s pristine clarity of earlier years, now tinged with a throaty worldliness, is a perfect foil to her choices from the world of rock and pop. It also adds new depth to such standards as Give Me the Simple Life, Old Devil Moon, and Burt Bachrach’s A House is Not a Home. Recorded live, the album is divided into a big band set and Ella with her long-time accompaniment, the Tommy Flanagan trio. Pianist Flanagan is simply one of the all-time greats.
CD £9 LP £21
Freddie Hubbard – The Hub of Hubbard
In 1970 Freddie Hubbard’s career reached a crossroads. Ten years after the trumpeter had released his debut album Open Sesame he could already take stock in an impressive array of achievements: around a dozen albums under his own name for Blue Note and Atlantic, participation in ground-breaking free jazz albums by Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, the development of an original sound somewhere between hard bop, soul, and fusion. From there he broke out and into his popular phase with CTI Records. At the same time this MPS album loomed on the horizon as a milestone. Hubbard recorded the album at the MPS studios in Villingen, Germany during a break in his European tour, thus we get to experience a musician and his world-class quintet spontaneously interacting in an open setting. Those who are familiar with the many dreamy versions of the standard Without a Song will be thrilled with this 13-minute escapade spotlighting the band’s unbridled play. Hubbard’s dialogue with saxophonist Eddie Daniels and drummer Louis Hayes’ powerful impulse crown the piece. The energy and enthusiasm increases on Just One of Those Things, as the players unleash an incredible chain of hard-bopping staccato lines. Hubbard dedicates the playful Blues For Duane to his son; bassist Richard Davis grounds the piece in a light-hearted, earthy feel. Hubbard reveals his radiant melodic prowess as he interprets The Things We Did Last Summer in broadly swinging arcs, congenially supported by Roland Hanna’s piano harmonies. Davis has another shining moment as he brings the piece to an end with just the right pensive touch.
CD £9 LP £21
George Duke – Feel
This album with the strange psychedelic sci-fi cover draws a tighter circle around Duke’s fusion language. The keyboard master ventures deep into his synthesizer laboratory. Their textures become a more essential component of his pieces, attaining orchestral dimensions, as evidenced in the opener, Funny Funk, with its smacking, squishing tongue-in-cheek dialogue between the synths. A virtuoso layering of the keyboards is also central to Cora Joberge, and on Rashid, Duke’s electronic orchestra explodes over the stormy drums of Leon “Ndugu” Chancler. Duke shows himself to be a singer with a soulful sound. Shortly before this recording he had shelved his trombone so that he could communicate more directly with the audience, as can be heard in the hymnal, dreamlike title piece. The guest list of players make for an especially exciting concoction. No less than Duke’s playing companion Frank Zappa, under the cryptic pseudonym Obdewl’l X, performs some adventuresome guitar passages on Love and Old Slippers. On the California-sunshine pop samba, Yana Aminah, we have a surprise visit by Brazilian Flora Purim, wife of percussionist Airto Moreira, who opens up his bag of tricks on The Once Over, and plays on three more tracks.
CD £9 LP £21
jim hall – It’s nice to be with you
The intimate musical get together that occurred in June 1969 was due to a large extent to the close friendship between the inimitable American guitarist Jim Hall and Producer Joachim Ernst Berendt. As Hall was visiting him in Berlin, Berendt proposed a recording with bassist Jim Woode and drummer Daniel Humair; this configuration developed into an intensely introspective session. In such a transparent setting, Hall unfurled all his finest qualities – what Humair perceptively summed up as clarity, purity, sensitivity. Hall’s harmonic brilliance on Up, up and Away, demonstrates how he could turn a pop melody into his own, and Blue Joe reveals a free approach to the blues. Whereas brilliantly coordinated interplay comes to the forefront on the title piece, there are also amazing solo elements. In the style of his idol Bill Evans, Hall engages in an intensive conversation with himself on In a Sentimental Mood and the tender Young One; no note is superfluous, and every tone is heart-felt. With its sophisticated Bossa mood, Romaine delivers a surprising finale to the record. Jim Hall had to wait for over a decade to record a second album under his own name. This recording was ample compensation for the long wait he and his fans endured.
CD £9 LP £21
Joe Henderson – Mirror, Mirror
Joe Henderson is the essence of jazz. He embodies all the elements that came together in his generation: the virtuosity of hard bop and the avantgarde. He can be harmonically abstract and yet keep to the roots. He is my inspiration. So spoke guitar great John Scofield about the tenor saxophonist. Henderson, who died in 2001, was one of the most important jazz musicians of the last third of the twentieth century. He became an overnight sensation as a member of Horace Silver’s band on the release of Silver’s Song for My Father. Henderson’s solo on Silver’s hit composition is held up as a prime example of brilliant jazz improvisation. Another highpoint in this rather reserved musician’s life was the Grammy Henderson received in 1991 for his album Lush Life. Henderson’s playing style was influenced by, among others, John Coltrane. The connection is amply demonstrated by Henderson’s ecstatic, piercing solo on his modally based composition Joe’s Bolero. On the standard What’s New, the saxophonist shows off his mellow, melodic side, a facet of Henderson’s playing that has always had an appeal beyond the jazz community. With Chick Corea on Piano, Ron Carter on Bass and Drummer Billy Higgins, Henderson has gathered a truly all-star group. This album isn’t about a soloist and his sidemen: all the musicians are on an equal footing, everyone has their space to play.
CD £9 LP £21
Jean-luc Ponty – Sunday Walk
Legendary drummer Kenny Clarke compared Jean-Luc Ponty to Dizzy Gillespie. Fellow violinist Stuff Smith marveled, “He plays violin like Coltrane plays saxophone.” Born in 1942, the French violinist transported jazz violin playing into the world of modern jazz. On Frank Zappa’s urging, Ponty moved to the States in 1970. Over the next years he toured with Zappa, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever”. On the 1967 Sunday Walk the band saunters through two blues, a waltz, and a standard before reaching Suite for Claudia which begins at a blistering pace with Ponty’s saxophone-like “brilliance and fire” playing. It then settles into a medium swing groove with Wolfgang Dauner’s infectious piano play followed by a smoldering Ponty. Daniel Humair’s crisp drum solo segues into a heart-felt waltz. After all, this was written for Ponty’s wife. Ponty is here with a group of Europe’s finest at their youthful best. The way they play, it’s all a walk in the park.
CD £9 LP £21
Alphonse Mouzon – By All Means
For By All Means, Mouzon brought together musicians who were masters in virtually any musical style. The rhythm section belonged to the who’s who of the LA studio scene. Electric bassist Scott Edwards had worked with such stars as Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin. 21-year-old guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. was just beginning his stellar career, had recorded with Aretha Franklin and within a few years he would participate in Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad and would go on to work with the likes of Elton John, George Duke, Al Jarreau, and Marcus Miller. Lee Ritenour began playing and recording with Mouzon in 1974. At the age of 17, Ritenour first worked with Tony Bennett. He was also brought in to put a little more rock in the rock ’n roll of a couple of takes on Pink Floyd’s seminal “The Wall”. Over the years he has recorded with many of the giants of pop, rock, and jazz, and his own recordings have had a slew of Grammy nominations. Herbie Hancock stands beside Mouzon as the other major presence on the recording. Like Mouzon, at the beginning of the eighties he delved into disco, adding danceable grooves to the mix. During this period Mouzon was Herbie’s drummer on four of Hancock’s albums, so it seems appropriate that these two like-minded musicians came together for this recording. The Seawind Horns provide the last needed ingredient in this tasty musical concoction. Guesting on the title track, trumpet great Freddie Hubbard’s contributes a flashy solo.
CD £9 LP £21
Oscar Peterson – Motions & Emotions
On Motions & Emotions we experience Oscar Peterson with jazz versions of popular pieces from Pop, Easy Listening and Songwriting as the protagonist of a quartet of longtime companions, embedded in rich orchestral colors. She was painted by a magician of the guild, the great Claus Ogerman, who had previously worked for Tom Jobim. The Brazilian is also represented with his standard “Wave”, in which the orchestra builds a luminous tropical backdrop for Peterson’s fantastically dragged phrasing. Peterson and Ogerman pay tribute to another great orchestra leader, Henry Mancini, in “Sally’s Tomato” with feather-light trilling brilliance. Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” experiences a metamorphosis almost into the classical – Ogerman opens infinite sound spaces here with the distantly indulging strings. Bobby Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe” cleverly abducts Countryfolk into Bigband Jazz by means of fiery keyboard playing. Finally the hits: from soul comes Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”, whose theme the pianist here cleverly harmonizes out to then decorate it bluesy in dialogue with the wind instruments. Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s In Love With You” shines with a leisurely late night mood and a pompous finale. “Yesterday” is provided with a sparkling bossa substructure, while the second Beatles homage “Eleanor Rigby” oscillates between loose groove, deep melancholy and swing.