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Chaconne A Son Gout

JW Player

Liner Notes by Mark Gardner (Jazz-Journal-International)

Collaborative, convivial friendships between musicians defy generational, nationalist and any other differences of background and upbringing. Music, especially jazz, promotes unifi cation and understanding. The alliance between American bass maestro Chuck Israels (born 1936) and rising German guitar talent Axel Hagen (born 1963) is a perfect example of cultural coalition.They met some years ago when Chuck was invited to Holland for a project with the Metropole orchestra, of which Axel was a member. “I was very impressed with Axel as a fi ne soloist,” says Chuck. “We decided to make a CD together and since then have done a couple of tours to Italy, and are planning further projects together.” “Although Axel is in Holland and I’m based in Portland, Oregon, we speak to each other every week and have a close relationship.”

For his part Axel is delighted to play beside one of the most accomplished modern bassists. “I grew up imagining how it would be to play with men like Chuck. So now it seems like a dream come true. Learning to swing comes from experience when working with musicians who know the secret. Our friendship is very important to me.” Chuck Israels had an unusual musical apprenticeship spent in Cleveland and his birthplace New York. He studied guitar and cello at junior high school, but did not take up the bass until 1955. He is often described as ‘self-taught’, but points out that he received much help along the way, especially from Bill Rhein, bassist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “In my late teens I spent much time hanging out with pianist Hod O’Brien. We were good friends, and I’d go down to hear Hod play with the Oscar Pettiford Orchestra. Being around Oscar, I thought he played the bass the way it should be played. He was the biggest influence on me as a bassist.” Making his record debut as a part of an all-star cast including John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Kenny Dorham and Louis Hayes in 1958, Chuck went on to play with Bud Powell, George Russell, Max Roach, Tony Scott and Eric Dolphy. He even gigged with Billy Holiday. But perhaps his most crucial association was with pianist Bill Evans, whose trio he joined in 1961, following the death of Scott La Faro, and stayed for five years, with Larry Bunker on drums. That edition of the Evans Trio set impeccable, adventurous standards of performance. I was fortunate to hear and see them at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London, in March 1965 – still one of the most memorable listening experiences of my life.

The Evans legacy, particularly an unackowledged aspect of his work, remains a constant in Chuck’s subsequent career path. “People tend to focus on the integrated trio, the beauty of his ballad work, but the rhythmic variety and the richness of his material and the way he shaped it tend to be overlooked.

I tried to capture that spirit and feeling in arrangements I made for a fi ve-horn band. Bill’s inspiration as a solo pianist and in his playing within that trio context has given me a strong basis to work on, also by the way he integrated with an orchestra. Bill left us with so much music to consider and explore.” On this 2007 session, the programme opens with a reminder of Evans’s legacy in ‘The Boy Next Door’, a favoured tune in Bill’s repertoire, and closes with a nod to Chuck’s admired bass face Oscar Pettiford, who composed ‘Laverne Walk’. In between those two totems is a happy mix of jazz originals and standards. Six of the tunes are arranged by Chuck with two more (‘Chaconne A Son Gout’ and ‘Minor Tributary’) his own compositions Axel Hagen weighed in with charts for ‘The Sweetest Sounds’, ‘Why Was I Born’ and “Love Letters’. For the quartet, Axel recruited two longstanding associates in drummer Peter Kahlenborn (r.) and saxophonist John Ruocco (l.), who plays tenor for the most part, but Axel felt it would be nice if his excellent clarinet style was also featured to give the group another dimension. Hence the lighter texture achieved on ‘Chaconne A Son Gout’, ‘The Sweetest Sounds’ and ‘Why Was I Born’. Elsewhere John’s tenor holds court admirably. All aspects of Chuck’s vibrant approach are covered. His pizzicato agility is displayed frequently, he walks with swagger on the bluesy ‘Slow Freight’ and deploys the bow for succinct arco resonance on ‘Koko’. His waltzing momentum never fl ags on “The Boy Next Door’. And naturally and gracefully, he swings at all times.

Axel Hagen has grown into an authoritative and splendidly inventive guitar voice. He has carried forward the clean, uncluttered lines of the great Jimmy Raney.”I was lucky enough to meet Jimmy in 1993. It was wonderful to talk jazz with him. He told me that a great infl uence on him was a guitarist from Chicago named Ronnie Singer, virtually unknown, but one tape of his playing has survived, and a copy was given to me by my friend and fellow guitarist Adrian Ingram. The evidence shows that Singer, who took his own life at an early age, was a wonderful bebop guitarist in the Raney style.”

Other influences on Hagen were René Thomas, Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. Of the younger players he admires Peter Bernstein. Axel, besides playing whenever possible, teaches jazz guitar at a German university and he lectures on jazz to audiences. “I enjoy this work. Teaching an audience is fun, but there is no substitute for playing”.

Looking back on the making of this well produced, ever stimulating CD, Chuck states: “It was a very pleasant experience. We spent two lovely days together and everyone worked hard to get the music out right. I don’t like to release performances containing mistakes when you know you can make a better job of it. That’s what we tried to do”. For his part, Axel described the dates as nice and friendly occasions which had cemented their collaboration.

“The tunes were chosen and arranged by Chuck. He knows the repertoire, picking out tunes that others might pass over. You don’t hear pieces like ‘Johnny Come Lately’ and ‘Love Letters’ too often. His arrangement are really good and original. I hope we can do more recording together in the future.” After hearing and absorbing the subtleties and nuances of this fluent and fluid quartet that hope will be shared, I suspect, by most listeners. To each his own indeed.

Mark Gardner (Contributor to Jazz Journal since 1962)

Chuck Israels-bass

Axel Hagen-guitar

John Ruocco-ten.sax/clarinet

Peter Kahlenborn-drums

recorded october 2007 at Fattoriamusica, Germany, released by BlueJackJazz in march of 2013