Two surprising new solo-piano records will be amply sampled in March on “Now’s the Time.” On Grand River Crossings: Motown and Motor City Inspirations, the great Geri Allen pays homage to Detroit, with plenty of Motown covers. But she also remembers the Tribe Records collective that fluorished there in the 1970s, including trumpeter Marcus Belgrave (heard here on a pair of duets with Allen). And there’s a sideways tribute to Aretha Franklin, daughter of a Detroit preacher man, via the interpolation of Aretha’s piano lines from her version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” into Allen’s version of the Beatles‘ “Let It Be.”
Bernie Worrell, whose fierce, dense mini-Moog playing undergirded the profound sound of Parliament-Funkadelic, offers Elevation: The Upper Air, a spare, solemn recital of covers of jazz and soul hits, as well as a handful of originals that are sparer still. Producer Bill Laswell has called this record “Black Ambient,” and I’m not sure what that means. But I know where it fits – on our late-night radio program.
Thinking about piano, I chose this month’s Miles Davis record to highlight a pianist with whom Miles enjoyed a telepathic empathy: Wynton Kelly. His playing is among the highlights of the 1961 recording Miles Davis In Person Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco. At least two other Miles pianists I hold in higher esteem: Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock. But few delights exceed the interplay between Miles and Kelly during their relatively brief time together, and these 1961 San Francisco club dates are especially rich. This is what the indispensable Richard Cook and Brian Morton had to say about the Blackhawk records:
These are the proof that Miles could cut it as a hard-blowing and straightahead jazz musician, terms which he probably regarded as demeaning even as he picked up his campaign medals… The Blackhawk sessions do not present a great jazz musician as ambitious auteur, but as a passionate exponent of a great vernacular art form… They don’t mark a transition in Miles’s career so much as reassert some basic principles that for much of the rest of his long and productive life were left unspoken and too often went unheard.