Tag Archives: marty ehrlich

Marty Ehrlich & Greg Osby: In Traning

Fell asleep to “After The Rain” last night. Fun to seen so many Coltrane nods in the last few days. Yesterday, of course, was the great one’s birthday. Lately I’ve been unpacking ancient interviews, and came across chats with Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins about their thoughts on Trane’s approach. Here are two more from that era, the late 80s. Marty and Greg had spent lots of time considering the tenor saxophonist’s impact on jazz, that’s for sure. Think I’ll add Eugene Chadbourne’s thoughts to this tonight.


I once said that Trane had a harmonic density. I didn’t mean it in a “cluttered” sense, I just meant he had a whole lot of options. A lot of players exhaust their options quickly. Coltrane could hold your interest by just playing a vamp, or some modal stuff. He had more resources; he studied a lot more. He was more of a searcher, he never stagnated, he never stayed in one place for too long. To me, the main thing he represented was change. When his peers, or others of his generation, got hip to what he was doing, he was off into another thing. No idle time. Those are things I’m interested in.

There are a lot of people now who are trying to adhere to old principles, old ideas, and establish those as modern day traditionalism or whatever, and that’s cool if you want to preserve the things you think are jazz. But I don’t think there are any dictates or prescribe methods people should have in their playing. Trane knew that.

I heard him when I was still listening to funk. I guess it was around ’74 or so. I hadn’t been playing for more than two years, and we had a little funk band. I’d play my little funk licks on top of “Giant Steps.” I didn’t know any of his musical logic, but I could enjoy it. I knew it was bad, and I knew one day I wanted to get with that. That’s when I discovered Charlie Parker, too. I’d been listening to Ronnie Laws, David Sanborn, and Grover. But I was drawn to the magnetism and density of what Bird and Trane were doing. They were playing a whole lot of notes.

Jazz is about versatility. You’re supposed to derive stuff from all sorts of sources. I hear some players today who are so conservative they could be on Reagan’s staff. The music isn’t really progressing right now because people are afraid to cross a few lines.


Coltrane seemed to be one of those artists who, besides his incredible popularity and meaning to those who listened to jazz and paid attention to black culture in general, was someone who  commanded the attention of many people who don’t listen to jazz. A couple of things made it happen. It’s interesting because he wasn’t a commercial artist in the sense of someone reaching across boundaries today; he was very serious and at times played very difficult music. A lot of that had to do with the times. His music certainly reflected the energy of the ’60s. I’ve found an interesting parallel between him and Bela Bartok: within their respective cultures they represented a few of the same things. People who didn’t listen to contemporary music often listened to Bartok. So here are these two artists who communicated beyond the style they played in. Both were very innovative, expanding the language of their idiom, but at the same time used traditional and folk materials in their music. Radical conservatives, really. They both had visceral emotions with involved processes, so they grabbed you intellectually and emotionally in a way that doesn’t often happen. A Love Supreme was a gold record. It’s very hard to think of a record of that intensity being a gold record in this day and age. People wanted a bit more seriousness at that time. To me he was an example of what a committed artist could be.

He was very consistent. I like all his stuff. At the end of his life, around the time of Expression, you can hear new areas of time, along with some very beautiful harmonic motion. Consistent definitely, maybe a bit obsessive. We hear his long solos, and we’re more used to shorter ones these days.

Everyone has to play out of their own psychology. I’ve never known Trane to play anything funny or tongue in cheek, like Sonny Rollins would. What we learned from him is how hard he worked to find what he had to do. Even though he was a part of the mainstream in a way that Ornette and Cecil never were, he still had to find his own way, which isn’t easy. Everything he played sounded like he had lived through it, like he had felt it first.

Five By Five: Andrew Hill

The first artists I learned about when initially absorbing jazz were Mingus, Monk, and Miles. Ellington came quickly, Rollins of course. These guys might be the standard toeholds for those testing out the music. But one of the “other” artists that found his way into my heart early on was Andrew Hill. I didn’t know squat about him except that, when it came to his string of Blue Note titles, allure and splendor went hand in hand. His work was richer, and a bit more complex, than several of his fellow pianists. Smokestack, Andrew!, and of course Point of Departure, were all go-to discs for me in the mid-70s. From California With Love, too, now that I think about it.

It was thrilling to watch AH have a career resurgence of sorts back in the early-to-mid aughts. He was still playing with a glorious whimsy that allowed room for lots of poetry to fleck his well-designed writing. He passed in 2oo7, but June 30 is his birthday, so I thought I’d ask a few pals about a Hill tune that they have always been impressed by. As you can see below, there’s a slight consensus regarding the knotty playing that drives his terrific trio date from 1980. Quite understandable (don’t neglect its solo mate, Faces of Hope). Thanks to the participants for taking a sec to respond.

1. Marty Ehrlich,  T.C., Dusk (Palmetto)

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I mean, you do, you try, but in Andrew’s case it was a large “passing ship” to take in. It was an honor to play with him for sure. He let me know in small ways that he didn’t want my improvising to be regular, but instinctive and expressive. You had to use your ears. Over the three or four years he did the Point of Departure Sextet, the compositions melded together in my mind as a sound world. As unique as they could be, at some point they all had a phrase or phrases that was a supplication, something that grabbed the listener from within this floating world of harmony and rhythm.

I hadn’t played with Andrew for a number of years and then he called me to do two gigs with his quintet with Charles Tolliver, John Hebert, and Eric McPherson. Musicians talk all the time about the use of space, but on these gigs it became an intense reality. The less I played in my solos, the richer the music seemed to be – like a slow-paced dance going on below the surface of the music making.

I marveled at the sound Andrew got from the piano, the way he brought out the overtones of a chord, the sense of depth in the sonic field. There was a alot of mystery going on. Maybe you can’t know it until it’s already gone. Happy Birthday, Andrew!

2. Frank Kimbrough: Domani, Shades (Soul Note) 

Recorded July 3 and 4, 1986 in Milano, it features Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, with Rufus Reid on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. The tune is in two sections: 14 bars, then 18 bars, rather than the expected 16 and 16.   It’s taken at a very fast tempo, but the rhythm section changes it up by going into a 12/8 loping feel from time to time.  Clifford’s solo is electrifying, and the slippery time feel makes it all feel very risky indeed.  This album is part quartet and part trio – my favorite trio tune from this date is “Ball Square.”

3. Russ Lossing, Strange Serenade, Strange Serenade (Soul Note) 

Pure heart and soul filtered through a sharp, but playfully restrained intellect.

4. Joe Morris, Compulsion, Compulsion (Blue Note)

Epic Andrew Hill. Great performance by the whole group. There is a beautiful collective independence on this, great dynamic intensity, and also really focused and coherent.

5. John HebertStrange Serenade (Soul Note) 

Does it have to be one track? I love Strange Serenade the whole record, with Alan Silva and Freddie Waits.  You dig?

What Andrew Hill tune do most often go back to? Plop it in “Comments” below.

Ted Panken profiles Andrew Hill. 

Our last “Five By Five” was about Jim Hall. 

Here’s some more essential Andrew Hill at Mosaic.

Here’s Ben Ratliff spinning records with AH in Jersey City.

David Adler has a wonderfully informative profile of Andrew Hill in Jazz Times. 

10 Great Jazz Spins On Bob Dylan Songs

Since the main thrust of Dylan’s canon has been the way he’s wielded words, it’s a bit odd that instrumentalists would be jumping into his songbook. But those Zimmy melodies are rather remarkable as well, and from Bill Frisell’s “Just Like a Woman” to Marty Ehrlich’s “I Pity The Poor Immigrant,” they offer improvisers some sweet turf to plow. Everyone’s celebrating the man’s 70th birthday, which takes place on Tuesday. Here are 10 jazz pieces to plop on your playlist.

1 “Blind Willie McTell,” Marty Ehrlich’s Dark Woods Ensemble, Sojourn (Tzadik)

Slave ships, chain gangs, bootleg whiskey – Dylan drums up a portrait of psychological decimation citing spots “where many martyrs fell” while burglarizing the melody of “St. James Infirmary.” Ehrlich salutes such incisiveness with one of his most passionate soprano outings ever. With guitarist Marc Ribot plucking along, the saxophonist goes for several deep moans, sustaining the melancholy and milking the sorrow.

2 “Dark Eyes,” Jewels & Binoculars, Jewels and Binoculars (Ramboy)

Michael Moore, Lindsay Horner, and Michael Vatcher get the prize for the deepest dedication to the Dylan songbook. From “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” to “One More Cup of Coffee” to “Sign On the Window,” they have turned overlooked nuggets into unexpected beacons on three distinct albums. “Dark Eyes” is a perfect example. Eloquence is everywhere on this genteel stroll through the sullen ballad. Somehow it finds beauty at each turn.

3 “Blowing In the Wind” Stan Getz, Reflections (Verve)

Every time it seems as if there’s nothing left to do but rubber stamp this ‘60s track as misguided hokiness, something about said hokiness becomes a bit more attractive. The soft glow of the tenor giant’s tone – full of air yet full of heart – balances the icky formula moves of the strings and the rhythm section. Commercial silliness with a heart of gold.

4 “Dirge,” Jamie Saft, Trouble (Tzadik)

There’s a chill in the air when Zimmy wanders lower Broadway mumbling “I hate myself for loving you.” Breaking up is hard to do, no doubt. Pianist Saft, in a full Dylan program, lets bassist Greg Cohen do all the emoting on this Planet Waves plaint. And tempo-wise they take the title as an instruction.

5 “I Shall Be Released,” Nina Simone, Just Like a Woman (Sony)

Odd that she would use a slow grind groove to wax plaintive about being hemmed in, but then again idiosyncrasy is her stock in trade. It’s got the church, it’s got the barroom, and the depth of its blues reverberates in several key phrases (“every man must fall”). This album also features a capable take on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”

6 “The Times They Are A-Changing,” Joshua Redman, Timeless Tales (For Changing  Times) (Warner Bros)

He attacks it from the downbeat, like he can’t wait for everyone within earshot to heed the call. When I first heard it I thought it was a tad fussy – over-arranged. But Josh has a way of making intricacy sound natural, and as the blues creep from the piano and the tempos aggressively shift (“the wheel’s still in spin,” indeed) the message hits home.

7 “Mr Tambourine Man,” Abbey Lincoln, Who Used To Dance (Verve)

She once told me that she’d never heard the iconic fantasia before she recorded it in 1996. Seems impossible, right? But the ardent way Abbey dances below that diamond sky glows is full of a newcomer’s joy. Happily, the performance also resounds with a veteran’s perspective for narrative. Gotta think she was reading the lyrics from a page in front of that mic, but between the drummer crashing and the bassist twirling, she sounds like she’s singing a story she’s been waiting forever to tell.

8 “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Bill Frisell, East-West (Nonesuch)

In the intro, he searches for answers as he twists the melody: “Where did you go/what did you see?.” I didn’t know it was possible for desolation to be dreamy, but acting alone, Frisell comes up with a stretch of sound that could drive a few chapters of McCarthy’s The Road. Later, when Viktor Krauss and Kenny Wollesen kick in, the sweep makes everyone waltz the plank.

9 Masters Of War, Scott Amendola, Cry (Cryptogramophone)

This one takes the protest to the explosive level. You can almost see the drummer and his crew (Cline, Sheinman, Sickafoose, Crystal) landing a punch on the chin of the Bush/Cheney machine (the disc was released in 2003, during the Iraq invasion). Carla Bozulich’s wailing anguish is a blend of Yoko and Diamanda, perfectly integrating with the instrumental onslaught, especially that martial undertow.

10 “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” Jewels & Binoculars, Ships With Tattooed Sails (Upshot)

The buzzing alto, the pulsing rhythm section – both ignite to parallel the original’s ornery mania. Some “rules of the road have been dodged,” no question. But the trio makes sure its frenzy is lined with grace. The whole thing is utterly buoyant; even special guest Bill Frisell’s fractious solo errs on the side of shimmer. The galloping tempo is still palpable long after the music fades away.

Jazz Times’ Lee Mergner speaks with Ben Sidran on his Dylan spins.

Jazz  Times’ Tom Wilmeth mulls over Bob’s connection to the music. 

Jazz Goes To College

Don’t believe the naysayers: Academia isn’t antithetical to artistic expression— developing technique and studying theory helps nurture a performer’s eloquence. Boston’s NEC has been sending well-schooled improvisers to New York for decades, and for the last few days, teachers and students have taken over clubland. From pianist Anthony Coleman and saxophonist Jeremy Udden at Cornelia Street last week to the McNeil/McHenry squad at Cornelia Street Cafe on Friday night, the action is thick. The must-see gigs include the coolest faculty meeting ever (McNeil, McBee, Garzone, Hart, Carlberg) and a multi-artist bash with a cast that stretches from Ran Blake to Joe Morris to Jason Moran to Matthew Shipp. Don’t forget the nod to big band theorist George Russell. Here’s the full schedule and venues list.

Haden, Iverson, Ehrlich, Lindberg: Two X Two =

Bop sometimes sounds wan without a drummer, but in the right hands, a percussion-less group can deliver the goods by stressing punctuation – which is pretty much the way Charlie Haden and Ethan Iverson got the job done last night at the Blue Note. The tune was Bird and Fats’ “Wahoo,” which as the bassist said, is a spin on “Perdido” that has a fair amount of forward motion written into it. The gig was the first chapter of Haden’s now-annual “Invitation Series,” his chance to spend a week playing single-evening sets with a variety of pianists (Kuhn, Bley, Barron, and Charlap round out the shows).  Iverson gave the head a crisp reading and fueled that forward motion with an mistakable dollop of bottom thrust. The evening’s fare may have stressed the graceful nature of the duet realm, but time and again – from the jaunty “Humpty Dumpty” to the melancholy “First Song” – a deep sense of pulse implied a palpable rhythm. Abstractions were kept to a minimum – melody was the set’s calling card, as it is the bassist’s signature trait – but Iverson added inspired maneuvers to a couple tunes, chopping one head in an amusing staccato manner and adding delicate, upper register flurries to the conclusion of another. It prompted the guy next to me – who otherwise seemed to know his stuff about Haden – to tell his pals, “this pianist is out there.” If busting inventive moves to nudge a performance towards a more vivid musical spot is being out there, I guess the dude’s right. Haden, whose earthy bass sound became more and more addictive as the set progressed, had a smile on face as his partner steered left of center. (See another kind of Iverson duet here, and if you’re in NYC the week of the 28th, hit the Vanguard to see how he and Reid Anderson interact with Paul Motian).

Which one of Haden’s duet discs is your favorite?

w/Kenny Barron – Night and the City

w/Ornette – Soapsuds, Soapsuds

w/Carlos Paredes -Dialogues

w/Jarrett, Coleman, Coltran, Motian – Closeness

w/Cherry, Coleman, Hawes, Shepp – The Golden Number

w/Antonio Forcione – Heartplay

w/Hank Jones – Steal Away

w/Hampton Hawes – As Long As There’s Music

w/Pat Metheny – Beyond the Missouri Sky

(Check Ethan’s interview with Charlie at Do The Math)


On the other side of town, an hour later, a similar kind of pas de deux took place. Marty Ehrlich and John Lindberg have spent plenty of time playing together during their three-decade association, so it wasn’t overly surprising that their chemistry was cool during a series of duets at The Stone. But the level of connection was so consistent throughout the night that the show was awesome in a way few concerts are. Pauses were shared, feints were telegraphed, flourishes were paralleled. When one participant wanted to turn the music, the other knew exactly how to help get the job done. From Ehrlich’s “The Welcome” (“the only piece of music I’ve written on the New York subway,” declared the reed player) to Lindberg’s “Sophie’s Lullabye” (“it never worked said the bassist of his daughter’s bedtime tune, “it always made her more animated”), their interaction was built on myriad curves. “We’ve played this tune a lot,” offered Lindberg before moving into “Generosity, “but usually with drummers.” Not a whit of aggression was lacking. The entire program assured that sympatico is all you need to have your music swoop, swirl, and soar. Hunt down Unison, a duet disc from “the old days” to see how long their rapport has been in place.

I, Jukebox

The Decemberists, “The Hazards of Love”

The Go-Betweens, “Bachelor Kisses”

R.E.M.,”Letter Never Sent”

Beach Boys, “Girl Don’t Tell Me”

Carter Family “Sweet Fern”

Marc Benno, “Put A Little Love In My Soul”

Mekons, “Darkness and Doubt”