Quarantine jazz: What we're listening to while Denver jazz clubs are closed
I’m usually here to tell you about live music that is scheduled to transpire on various local stages in the weeks to come. But there is no live music in the next month or so at least, so I’d like to remind you that while all performing artists will suffer to a certain degree financially during this unprecedented novel coronavirus pandemic, the musicians who depend on touring and playing smaller venues where creative music is presented often don’t have the resources to fall back compared to what, say, Pearl Jam or Taylor Swift might have at their disposal.
Please consider seeking out your favorite jazz artists on platforms like bandcamp.com and supporting their art with downloads and physical products. That’s not an act of charity; it’s fairly compensating the people who illuminate our universe.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of TV bingeing going on, and whatever we need to do to maintain a sense of normalcy is great, right? Music is magnificent therapy, and here’s what I’ve had on heavy rotation at home in the past few weeks.
Mosaic Records was basically created for binge-listening. Founded in the 1980s, the mail-order label has excavated countless exciting projects, making available definitive collections of long-underappreciated music. They’re at it again with “The Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions, 1963-1970.” Mobley was known as the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone,” but that does little to describe the energy and commitment he applied to every project he led.
An emotionally engaging player with a keen intellect, Mobley was an equally sensitive composer, as these eight CDs demonstrate time after time. He sounds wonderful in hard bop or Bossa Nova settings, and part of the fun of traveling back with this package is the lineup of first-rate trumpeters who served as his collaborators: Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell and Dizzy Reece. You’ll want to luxuriate in this utopian music, then seek out vintage titles from these artists as well. (That’s how becoming a jazz obsessive works; it’s the project of a lifetime.) They’re only making 2,500 of these, so order at mosaicrecords.com.
New sounds that are hanging in the air at my home include guitarist Liberty Ellman’s contemplative, sprawling “Last Desert” (Pi Recordings); Shabaka & The Ancestors’ “We Are Sent Here By History, (Impulse!)” which impressively reaches back to the ’70s sounds of Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas while hurtling toward the future; and Tim Berne’s latest album with his group Snakeoil, “The Fantastic Mrs. 10” (Intakt). Berne’s alto solos veer into unpredictable places, and he’s been doing this sort of thing for an admirably long time.
In memoriam: It was a shock to learn of the passing of longtime Denver saxophonist and bandleader Freddy Rodriguez Sr., from complications associated with COVID-19, on March 25 at the age of 89. Anyone who saw him perform at El Chapultepec knew of his boundless energy, and it’s reported that he was seen onstage there until recently. It’s a tragic loss for his family and our community.
RELATED: Denver jazz legend Freddy Rodriguez, Sr., dies from coronavirus complications
I pulled a CD featuring his work off the shelf, “The Jazz Corps,” recorded for Pacific Jazz in 1966. The album featured the group’s leader, trumpeter Tommy Peltier and Roland (not yet Rahsaan) Kirk on the cover, but there’s a photo on the back of “Fred” Rodriguez, wearing a sharp suit with a cigarette in his right hand, smiling. Michael Cuscuna’s 1994 reissue liner notes say that Rodriguez played with Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra, Horace Tapscott and Perez Prado before returning to Denver. That’s a stunning resume. Put on the record and Rodriguez is on the left channel, playing his heart out and serving as a foil to the multi-faceted Kirk, who’s on the right. Few musicians could “compete” with Kirk, but there’s Rodriguez, holding up his end, note for note. Rest in Peace.
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