The Green Album
Accessible main stream jazz including originals and jazz classics
Peter Kogan: The Green Album
Liner notes by David Schiff. David Schiff, R.P. Wallenberg Professor of Music at Reed College in Portland, Oregon is a celebrated composer and author of“The Ellington Century” and most recently, “Carter” (Oxford University Press, 2018 )
Let’s picture jazz as a towering oak with deep roots, well over a century old yet still sprouting lush greenery. How can we explain its continuing vitality? We can point to its fertile, resilient African origins, its musical DNA: the home soil. We can point to the great cultivators—performers and composers who re-shaped and renewed its genetic material to mirror and transcend the oppressive evils of slavery and racism: the branches. And we can point to new generations of musicians committed to sustaining its élan vital: the newest leaves. The essence of that élan, the driving force that connects the roots to the branches and enlivens the leaves has always been rhythm. And who better to demonstrate that rhythmic power than a master drummer: Peter Kogan?
For his third album with a marvelous group of fellow Minnesotan musicians, Kogan, as drummer, composer, arranger and curator, once again honors the giants of the jazz past: Mary Lou Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington (among others), and the boundless variety of jazz rhythm. Each track on this album has a distinctive groove, and each groove links these new songs and arrangements to distant places (West Africa, Cuba, the Virgin Islands, Brazil, New Orleans, Harlem) and times (from the 1920s to the present day, with particular attention to the Bebop era of the 1940s and the Hardbop era of the 1960s.) Each groove demands a distinct style of percussion playing, and this album can be heard, and re-heard, as an encyclopedia of the jazz drummer’s art, or (to bring up the tree analogy for the last time) a rhythmic arboretum.
Kogan aficionados will decode the title of the first track, MLW BLUES EVOLUTION, as a sign that this is a reworking of the tribute to Mary Lou Williams, “Blues for Mary Lou,” from his first CD, Cornucopia. Williams’ album Zoning is a favorite of Kogan’s, and the oddly-grooved “Intermission” from that album serves here as an inspiration. The new version is more spacious and contemporary sounding than “Blues for Mary Lou,” with the stylish pianism of Sean Turner taking center stage, framed by the double drums of Kogan and Babatunde Lea.
The title SLIPPERY SLOPE fits all too well the political vertigo of the past two years, and indeed the music was composed in rapid response to the 2016 election results. Kogan puts his political cards on the table right away with the repeated iteration of a downward tritone, the melodic interval known since the Middle Ages as “the devil in music.” The devious off-beats of the theme convey an uncertainty on the verge of panic, a feeling amplified in Jake Baldwin’s out-to-lunch trumpet solo, but the Cannonball Adderley-like drive of Pete Whitman’s sax and Cory Wongs wild guitar solo suggest a spirit of resistance from the 1960s.
Kogan also composed MILES BACK in the aftershock of the election, but it radiates an inner calm—Kogan recalls that he heard it in a dream, woke up, wrote it down, and then went back to sleep. Baldwin’s Harmon-muted trumpet evokes the Miles Davis that Kogan first encountered in the late 1950s, but the expressive melody also recalls, aptly, Horace Silver’s 1959 classic, “Peace.”
The Bebop revolution of the 1940s expanded the expressive and rhythmic dimensions of jazz in irreversible ways, and at the core of this CD Kogan pays tribute to two its giants, Dizzy Gillepsie and Charlie Parker. Collaborating with Cuban musicians like the great drummer Chano Pozo, Gillespie helped instigate Afro-Cuban jazz in the US, and his tune CON ALMA, first heard in 1954, celebrates this fertile fusion with a wistful, harmonically elusive ballad that has served as a constantly reinterpreted jazz standard for well over half a century. Like Oscar Peterson before him, Kogan floats the melody on a subtle West African 12/8 clave rhythm. Kogan’s subtle interplay with bassist Jeff Bailey keeps the party going.
Charlie Parker recorded MY LITTLE SUEDE SHOES in 1951 with an emphatic, ecstatic Cuban percussion. Kogan repositions it slightly, from Cuba to St Thomas. He first heard its Virgin Islands groove played by a trio of steel drums, bass and high hat, when he performed on St Thomas with the touring Pittsburgh Chamber Orchestra in 1973.
No album of tributes to the great jazz masters would be complete without an Ellington composition at the very center. “The Mooche” (written in 1928) exemplifies the no-apologies “jungle music” swagger that Ellington developed for the Cotton Club in the late 1920s, a style that blended the “primitive” growling trumpet style of “Bubber” Miley with Ellington’s sophisticated, modernistic harmonies and chromatic melodies. Kogan’s horn section, Jake Baldwin, Brian Grivna and Scott Agster perfectly evoke the sound of early Ellington—a sound that remains evergreen—and Kogan pays tribute to the under-appreciated Sonny Greer on temple blocks, with the banjo of Chris Olson immediately transporting the listener back to the era of Prohibition when gentlemen wore spats.
Kogan returns as composer on FOOLS BLUES. Listen closely to his short introductory drum solo and you can hear the melody even before the horns enter. Kogan says that the tune has a Monk-ish attitude, and it is a bit reminiscent of Monk’s Brilliant Corners, but he also notes the influence of Wayne Shorter.
DON’T STOP LOVIN’ ME BABE, dedicated to his wife, Julia Bogorad-Kogan, is a mellow bossa nova ballad that Kogan has been refining over the last thirty years. Here it provides a showcase for the artistry of trombonist Scott Agster.
Ever since Charlie Parker recorded MOOSE THE MOOCHE in 1946 it has served jazz musicians as a perfect framework for enjoying each other’s company by trading improvised choruses. Here Jake Baldwin, Pete Whitman, Phil Aaron and Jeff Bailey do the honors. Kogan enhances the casual festivities with a beat inspired by the second line processions of New Orleans, an infectious groove that summons whole neighborhoods out on the street to celebrate.
Ready for some guilty pleasure? Kogan admits to indulging in his soft side from time to time. Like “Live to Learn” on Some Monsterful Wonderthing, HONOLULU (GREEN THEME SONG) stems from a tune Kogan first wrote when he was playing in the Honolulu Symphony in 1980. It evokes memories of 70s sitcoms like MAS*H and Mary Tyler Moore. You can almost feel the warm surf splashing over your toes.
Like several other songs on this album EL RANCHO has its roots in the past but has the fresh sound of the present. It began as a piano composition that Kogan wrote in New York in the 1980s. Because its chords were unconventional it did not seem suited to improvisation—until recently when Kogan reconstructed the harmonies for solos. He describes the piece as a rancher’s workday in the Southwest, followed by an evening serenade to his favored señorita. El Rancho beautifully balances nervous energy with relaxation over a lilting Latin beat.
Mlw Blues Evolution (feat. Jake Baldwin, Pete Whitman, Dave Graf, Cory Wong, Sean Turner, Jeff Bailey & Babatunde Lea) 7:290:00/7:29
Slippery Slope (feat. Jake Baldwin, Pete Whitman, Dave Graf, Cory Wong, Sean Turner & Jeff Bailey) 6:080:00/6:08
The Mooche (feat. Jake Baldwin, Scott Agster, Chris Olson, Sean Turner, Gary Raynor & Brian Grivna) 7:210:00/7:21
Honolulu (Green Theme Song) [feat. Jake Baldwin, Pete Whitman, Scott Agster, Chris Olson, Sean Turner & Jeff Bailey] 4:550:00/4:55
El Rancho (feat. Jake Baldwin, Pete Whitman, Dave Graf, Zacc Harris, Kavyesh Kaviraj & Chris Bates) 8:150:00/8:15