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Larry Kart

Al Cohn

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Was reminded yesterday that Al died at age sixty-two. He had so much music left in him, was playing better than ever in his final decade.

 

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Agreed, here's one that I just recently acquired, recorded just 8 months before his untimely demise. Not sure how many people know of this one, Amazon has a couple of cheap copies right now.

cohn.JPG

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Yup, Al was the real deal.  He had a great run of albums on Concord.  Also check out his son Joe Cohn:

51Z12OKbbNL.jpg

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8 minutes ago, mjzee said:

Yup, Al was the real deal.  He had a great run of albums on Concord.  

mjzee, I agree with you that Cohn's run on Concord was excellent. :tup  But I think the four LPs that Cohn made for Xanadu -- just before Concord -- were even better. 

- Play It Now (1975)
- Al Cohn's America (1977)
- Heavy Love - with Jimmy Rowles (1978)
- No Problem (1980)

Play It Now and Heavy Love are my favorites -- but all four of them are outstanding.

 

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5 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

mjzee, I agree with you that Cohn's run on Concord was excellent. :tup  But I think the four LPs that Cohn made for Xanadu -- just before Concord -- were even better. 

- Play It Now (1975)
- Al Cohn's America (1977)
- Heavy Love - with Jimmy Rowles (1978)
- No Problem (1980)

Play It Now and Heavy Love are my favorites -- but all four of them are outstanding.

 

Agree about the Xanadu albums. I got to see Al fairly regularly in Chicago in the early '80s, and it was a joy, especially one gig where he was paired with Lee Konitz. 

On a visit to Copenhagen, Al was asked if he'd tried the estimable Danish brew Elephant Beer. "No, man," Al replied, "I drink to forget."

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2 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

Agree about the Xanadu albums. I got to see Al fairly regularly in Chicago in the early '80s, and it was a joy, especially one gig where he was paired with Lee Konitz. 

I wish I could have seen that Cohn - Konitz gig!!!  I bet that was fantastic!

 

2 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

On a visit to Copenhagen, Al was asked if he'd tried the estimable Danish brew Elephant Beer. "No, man," Al replied, "I drink to forget."

Ha! :) 

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I'd like to know the details of the disagreement between him and Johnny Bothwell.

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Relatively brief Cohn-Konitz review:

 

[1980]

It’s the first set at the Jazz Showcase, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, as he has done so often throughout his career, is coaxing sounds  out of silence. Or perhaps silence is coaxing sounds  out of him, for Konitz’s gravely  sincere  art seems always to have been based on the assumption that music of requisite purity can emerge  only  when  the corresponding purity of silence is given its due. The song he plays is the charmingly cobwebby  standard “Weaver of Dreams,” and Konitz, accompanied by bassist Jim Atlas and drummer Wilbur Campbell, approaches it  as though he were  rediscovering that  improvisation is possible. His solo begins with abrupt  tongued phrases that then are smoothed out into longer, flowing lines so firmly rooted in the theme that  the point  at which Victor Young’s melody has become Konitz’s personal creation is difficult to define.

Then tenorman Al Cohn  joins  Konitz  on  “Yardbird Suite” and is simply ferocious, a man who seems to have been born again as a musician since he cut back on his labors as an arranger. Initially inspired by Lester Young, Cohn has built his sound into a huge, elementally  dark force.  And the rhythmic undercarriage that supports all this tonal and melodic weight is so imposing in itself that one feels that Cohn, in his rebirth, has revived the  aesthetically  rather  dormant soul of Sonny Rollins as well.

Cohn is alone with the rhythm section now,  and he plays “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” at a very  down tempo, as though he were out to prove that his recent gains in rhythmic power enable him to set into useful motion what seems  likely  to be inanimate. And he does just that, roaring like a lion of Judea. (Cohn and Konitz may be the two quintessentially Jewish jazz musicians--Cohn a fierce Maccabean  rabbi of the tenor saxophone, Konitz  the alto’s Talmudic scholar.) 

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Those Xanadu albums are superb, all of them. I like the Concords well enough, but, like all that label's output, they seem to have been run through some musical/sonic equivalent of Woody Allen's mom's famed "flavor remover". I'll blame the label, the playing is generally just fine, but the records themselves are lacking in grab to my ears. Not so the Xanadu's Don Schlitten was always good to give the grab.

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From Marc Meyers' Jazz Wax blog: "Bothwell's replacement was Hal McKusick, who at the time was in Los Angeles with pianist and arranger George Handy. The two had flown to California a year earlier after leaving Raeburn's band over another Bothwell incident involving Al Cohn. Hal and Handy were fed up with Raeburn handing solos written for Cohn to Bothwell."

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I'd also heard that Bothwell as a section leader was kind of a dick in a way up with which Cohn got fed. That's sort of an inference on my part, though.

In fairness to Bothwell, though, the Raeburn sections which he led were really, really good. Not that he wasn't that kind of a dick, just saying, it got results for as long as it did.

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

Those Xanadu albums are superb, all of them. I like the Concords well enough, but, like all that label's output, they seem to have been run through some musical/sonic equivalent of Woody Allen's mom's famed "flavor remover". I'll blame the label, the playing is generally just fine, but the records themselves are lacking in grab to my ears. Not so the Xanadu's Don Schlitten was always good to give the grab.

 

I think Al Cohn's best work on Concord was as a sideman for Ross Tompkins on this LP:

71YwF0FiGcL._SX500_.jpg

Ross Tompkins and Good Friends (1978)
with Cohn, Monty Budwig, and Nick Ceroli

Along with Cohn's muscular playing, Ceroli may be the difference-maker here. (Concord's house drummer, Jake Hanna, isn't one of my favorites.) Incidentally, this record was made right in the middle of Cohn's late-70s "purple patch" for Xanadu.

 

Edited by HutchFan

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The forementioned Al Cohn "Rifftide" on Timeless is really excellent ..

.

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3 hours ago, HutchFan said:

 

. (Concord's house drummer, Jake Hanna, isn't one of my favorites.)

Years ago, I went to see Roberta Gambarini perform at the San Jose Jazz Festival.  I had no idea who would be in her supporting band, but when I arrived at the venue where the concert was to be, I was intrigued by one of the most bare-bones drum kits I'd ever seen on a professional stage:  just a bass drum, a mounted snare, a mounted tom and a ride cymbal.  When the band came out, the drummer looked familiar, but it wasn't until she introduced the band that I found out it was Jake Hanna.  For me, the rest of that concert was not about the singer, but about the master class in jazz drumming put on by Mr. Hanna.  He did everything he needed to do on that scaled down kit; i don't think either he or the audience missed any of the other instruments which could have supplemented that kit.  And he seemed to be having a blast the whole time.

That was the only time I ever saw him perform, so I don't know -- was that bare kit his regular  set-up?  Had his years of musical experience brought him to simplify things down to just the basics?  Or did an airline lose some of his luggage?  :lol:

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Jake's playing on Warne Marsh's "All Music" (Nessa) is superb.

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He was one of the definitive Woody Herman drummers, but after that...different strokes, etc.

 

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Yes, Al Cohn's Xanadu albums are marvelous. Also agree that his Concord recordings though good are not up to the level of his playing on Xanadu.

Don't ignore Cohn's Xanadu sessions with Dexter Gordon, his 2 CD set with Billy Mitchell in Africa, and his Xanadu At Montreux  recordings. 

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6 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

Relatively brief Cohn-Konitz review:

 

[1980]

It’s the first set at the Jazz Showcase, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, as he has done so often throughout his career, is coaxing sounds  out of silence. Or perhaps silence is coaxing sounds  out of him, for Konitz’s gravely  sincere  art seems always to have been based on the assumption that music of requisite purity can emerge  only  when  the corresponding purity of silence is given its due. The song he plays is the charmingly cobwebby  standard “Weaver of Dreams,” and Konitz, accompanied by bassist Jim Atlas and drummer Wilbur Campbell, approaches it  as though he were  rediscovering that  improvisation is possible. His solo begins with abrupt  tongued phrases that then are smoothed out into longer, flowing lines so firmly rooted in the theme that  the point  at which Victor Young’s melody has become Konitz’s personal creation is difficult to define.

Then tenorman Al Cohn  joins  Konitz  on  “Yardbird Suite” and is simply ferocious, a man who seems to have been born again as a musician since he cut back on his labors as an arranger. Initially inspired by Lester Young, Cohn has built his sound into a huge, elementally  dark force.  And the rhythmic undercarriage that supports all this tonal and melodic weight is so imposing in itself that one feels that Cohn, in his rebirth, has revived the  aesthetically  rather  dormant soul of Sonny Rollins as well.

Cohn is alone with the rhythm section now,  and he plays “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” at a very  down tempo, as though he were out to prove that his recent gains in rhythmic power enable him to set into useful motion what seems  likely  to be inanimate. And he does just that, roaring like a lion of Judea. (Cohn and Konitz may be the two quintessentially Jewish jazz musicians--Cohn a fierce Maccabean  rabbi of the tenor saxophone, Konitz  the alto’s Talmudic scholar.) 

Nice writing on that one, as usual, Larry. Did you ever see Cohn and oft-partner Zoot Sims live? I would have liked to have seen that duo!

 

 

gregmo

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8 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

Was reminded yesterday that Al died at age sixty-two. He had so much music left in him, was playing better than ever in his final decade.

 

A lot of those greats from the Herman Band died too soon. Getz-64, Cohn-62, Zoot -59, Chaloff-34 , even Bernie Glow, who I did a week long show with, was only 56. The guy looked like my dentist! They all became junkies on the Herman band, and some alcoholics after they kicked heroin. Most died of liver cancer.

One of my fave Cohn sessions was "Jimmy Raney In Three Degrees". The blend between Raney and Cohn was beautiful.

Cohn was always writing tunes, doing small group and big band arrangements, and he even arranged "Sophisticated ladies on Broadway.

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An Al and Zoot review:

[1982]

Dented here and there and almost devoid of their original bright  finish, the tenor saxophones of  Al Cohn and Zoot Sims look like they’ve been  through the Thirty Years War, which in one sense is true. It was more than three decades ago--in January  1948--that Cohn met Sims, his new section-mate in Woody Herman’s Second Herd, and began a musical partnership that has grown steadily  in meaning. Both were  first-generation Lester  Young disciples, and each had found a personal style within Young’s fruitful universe--Sims favoring  a light,  gliding,  almost breezy approach  while Cohn’s manner is deep-toned and rhythmically aggressive, with a moaning  lyricism at its core. 

Several years ago a friend half-seriously suggested that each of the first wave of Lester Young disciples built his style on a specific Young solo. Al Cohn was “Tickle Toe,” Zoot Sims was “Blow Top,” Brew Moore was “Pound Cake,” and so forth. Listening to Cohn and Sims at the Jazz Showcase Wednesday night, that notion seemed to make a good deal of sense, especially when Cohn quoted “Tickle Toe” toward the end of a fast bossa nova. And it made  even more sense the next day, when I played the original “Tickle Toe” and “Blow Top.” There, on “Tickle Toe,” were the hallmarks of Cohn’s style--the dense, burrowing harmonic sense and the urgent, driving swing--while the sun-drenched ease  of Young’s “Blow Top” solo was equally in tune with Sims’s lighter, more lyrical approach.This type of influence  redounds to the credit of all parties concerned--reminding us, on the one hand, how multifaceted Young’s  art was and, on the other, how subtly and honestly Sims, Cohn, and all the other “brothers” were able to respond to their master’s voice, or perhaps that should be “their master’s voices.”

Today, of course, Sims and Cohn are full-fledged masters themselves. The latter, especially,  grows in stature with each  passing year, to the point where it’s hard to think of another tenor saxophonist who plays with such consistent seriousness  and weight.  Not that Cohn is an unduly sober improviser, for his sense of humor is as sly as S.J. Perlman’s. The “Tickle Toe” quote, for instance, was sandwiched into a very unlikely harmonic cul de sac, as though Cohn wished to prove that he could state any  idea at  any time and get away with it--in the same way that Perlman would place a foppish, Anglophile locution alongside a phrase that spoke of the world of lox, bagels, and pastrami  on rye. 

Sims is more variable these days, perhaps because his music depends so much on the freshness of his lyrical impulse. Swinging comes so effortlessly to him that Sims can give pleasure even when he falls back on familiar patterns. Yet when he really “sings,” as he did Wednesday  night on his own  familiar piece “The Red Door”--linking each phrase to the next so gracefully that the entire solo seemed  a single thought--one realizes that beneath Sims’s familiar  rhythmic  ease there is another, richer  level of invention. Circumstances dictate how often that side of Sims rises to the surface; and playing alongside Cohn is one of the circumstances that does the trick, for both  men were at or near the peak of their form. Cohn and Sims  must have played “The Red Door” many thousands of times, but every time it swings open on something new. 

BTW, it was Dan Morgenstern who told me that Al was inspired by Pres' "Tickle Toe" solo and Zoot by Pres' solo on "Blow Top."

 

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Marvelous writing about marvelous musicians. 

Thanks for sharing that, Larry!

Edited by HutchFan

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7 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Marvelous writing about marvelous musicians. 

Thanks for sharing that, Larry!

That was a good night at the Showcase and back at the paper too. I think I wrote the review on deadline, which usually was stimulating.

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I saw Al Cohn only once, and that was in  July 1985 with Woody Herman, who then performed with a smaller "All Star Group" . I think it was Woody with Al Cohn, Buddy Tate, Varren Vaché, John Bunch was on piano, the drummer I think was Jake Hanna, and there was a young bass player as a replacement for the scheduled George Duvivier..

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On 6/12/2019 at 4:09 PM, HutchFan said:

Marvelous writing about marvelous musicians. 

Thanks for sharing that, Larry!

Ditto. Very nice piece! Luckily, we have no shortage of great recordings of them together!

 

 

gregmo

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On 12/06/2019 at 5:02 PM, Larry Kart said:

On a visit to Copenhagen, Al was asked if he'd tried the estimable Danish brew Elephant Beer. "No, man," Al replied, "I drink to forget."

:D That's a very good one. And Cohn's answer is devastating.

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