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 Wah-Wah Oboe

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PostSubject: Wah-Wah Oboe    Fri Sep 28, 2018 7:22 pm

In my recent flurry of buying baritone saxophone albums — Pepper Adams, Gerry Mulligan, Serge Chaloff, Cecil Payne, Nick Brignola et al — I ran across a Mulligan track (one only) where he plays clarinet.

Now there have been several jazz clarinetists, like Benny Goodman, Pete Fountain, Sidney Bechet, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, Jimmy Giuffre, Woody Herman and many others.  I believe the fingering is similar(?) to the sax so if you can play one you can play the other fairly easily.

But what about double reed instruments, oboes and bassoons?  I could only think of one jazz reed player who occasionally played oboe, Eric Dolphy.  Paul Winter’s Consort (and later Oregon) included oboist Paul McCandless, but he didn’t really play in a jazz idiom.  He was one reason those groups bridged jazz and classical — he played classically.

Well, Karl Jenkins played occasional oboe in Soft Machine.  He was sorta jazzy.  Bob Cooper and Yusef Lateef played occasional oboe.  Roscoe Mitchell too.

And the RIO jazz-rock groups like Univers Zero, Present, Aranis, Henry Cow, Art Zoyd usually employed a bassoonist (always one of the same three: Michel Berckmans, Dirk Descheemaeker or Lindsay Cooper).

But IN GENERAL, seeing how many saxophonists also played flute or clarinet, or other sizes soprano/alto/tenor/baritone/bass sax, it struck me that jazz oboe and jazz bassoon are almost unheard of.  So I went looking.

I read several articles online that said the double reed instruments are really hard to “swing.”  Dunno why exactly, but everyone agrees.

Found two jazz bassoonists, both fairly young, both fairly unknown.  Michael Rabinowitz is a New Yorker (by way of CT) who has “introduced the bassoon to jazz.”  His 1995 release “Bassoon on Fire” is described in the liner notes as the first-ever jazz bassoon album.  On one track his plays through a wah-wah creating a very unbassoonlike sound.

The other is Californian Paul Hanson, who includes electronic effects and electric guitar so his “Voodoo Suite” (2000) isn’t really straight jazz.  But it’s very, very interesting.

I still think it’s odd these instruments are so rare in jazz.
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PostSubject: Re: Wah-Wah Oboe    Fri Sep 28, 2018 7:57 pm

Correction: Dolphy played bass clarinet. Not oboe.
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PostSubject: Re: Wah-Wah Oboe    Fri Oct 26, 2018 7:25 pm

Bought or downloaded about nine albums by clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, whose ensembles have been notable for not having any rhythm section (bass & drums).  For instance, his “Travlin’ Light” (1958) includes just clarinet, Bob Brookmeyer’s trombone and Jim Hall’s guitar.

Without a rhythmic foundation to the music it sounds a lot closer to chamber classical music than jazz.  This reminds me of Dave Brubeck’s octet recordings (1946-9) which were written while he was a student of Darius Milhaud.  Whether these are jazz or classical is really a matter of interpretation.  One thing is sure, they point up the “seriousness” and respectability of jazz that only the Modern Jazz Quartet and Jacques Loussier later established on stages in New York.  I guess Igor Stravinsky wrote a concerto for Woody Herman’s band in 1946.  

George Barnes had an octet in the forties that similarly blurs the line between well-rehearsed ensemble jazz and small-ensemble chamber music.  Even Ozzie Nelson (of “Ozzie & Harriet” fame) had a hot little band that did a lot of neo-classical themes, as did, come to think of it, John Kirby and his “Biggest Little Band In The Land” both about the same time (pre-War).

Too bad all this merging, cross-fertilization, convergence of the forties and fifties seems to have been followed by fence-building and unbreachable domains ever since.
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PostSubject: Re: Wah-Wah Oboe    Wed Feb 06, 2019 2:49 pm

Could've SWORN I posted about this before but can't find my post now, so forgive me if this duplicates.

In my never-ending search for weird jazz instruments I bought a couple of CD compilations by Don Elliott, who played mellophone, which is a French Horn with a straight bell.  It sounds like a cross between a French Horn and a cornet.  He also did the soundtrack to "A Thurber Carnival" which I used to have on LP.

Bob Cooper was a saxophonist who played occasional oboe so I had to get a box of his recordings too.

Which leads me into today's discoveries, French Hornist John Clark.  I had a couple ECM records he was on*, but turns out there are four albums where he was the leader on jazz French Horn.  Sought, downloaded, burned.  Quelle fromage!



* - Wow. Discogs lists 232 credits for albums he contributed to.
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PostSubject: Re: Wah-Wah Oboe    Wed Feb 06, 2019 3:09 pm

Also, while filing away Rabinowitz and Hanson, who I decided to file under "bassoon" because I'll never remember their names, I discovered that several years ago I'd bought two CDs by the Caliban Quartet, which is four bassoonists. They play mostly light classical fare, but occasionally venture afield as in Raymond Scott's "Music for a Pack Of Hungry Cannibals." Nice stuff!
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PostSubject: Re: Wah-Wah Oboe    Thu Feb 07, 2019 11:25 am

After having listened to all three Clark albums I downloaded -- the fourth one, which included electric guitar and attempts to be "funky," sounded just too disjointed and ill-advised to burn -- I have to say this is some of the oddest "jazz" I've ever heard. The French Horn does not swing.

Clark certainly doesn't lack in bona fides. He's been a member of several well-established big bands such as Bob Mintzer, Paul Bley, Gil Evans, New England Conservatory, and others. But then, there probably isn't a whole lot of competition in his field.

His playing sounds very conservatory-trained: always on the beat, always cleanly articulated. Not "jazzy" in other words.

What he lacks in swing he attempts to make up with occasional extended playing techniques -- humming through the mouthpiece, overblowing, underblowing, and riding the gray area between the valves. It doesn't work, for the most part.

The best of the three, "Faces," which has never beeen issued on CD, takes a very ECM-ish approach with long floating chords of brass against a shimmering backdrop. This is less jazz than soundtrack music, mood music, in search of a film.

Fascinating attempt to bridge two very different worlds.
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