In every form of art, there have been masters, known to initiates, but who paradoxically themselves remained unknown. Jazz is no exception. The rare breed that falls into this category are such legends as Dewey Redman, Von Freeman, and George Garzone… In their time, there were also the unsung greats: Frank Strozier, Billy Bean, Don Sleet, Booker Little and Eddie Costa—masters whom one saw all too rarely in the limelight.
Bunky Green is also one such legend and he is finally stepping into the public eye after long years of relative obscurity. Considered a “musician’s musician,” a term generally difficult to define, but not in this case. He is considered a legend among his peers, and his all-too-rare recordings are swapped among devotees like precious stones. He often draws inspiration from events exterior to music—personal life, teaching—far from the center of events.
He is produced by one of his faithful fans, saxophonist Steve Coleman, and backed up by a group of musicians who have a profound mastery of their art, and who have also taken alternate paths: Jason Moran (Piano), Lonnie Plaxico (Bass) and Nasheet Waits (Percussion). You can sense the excitement they feel at working with someone whose influence on the history and vitality of jazz has been so extensive—the electricity on the album is palpable.
Born on April 23rd, 1935, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, saxophonist Bunky Green’s earliest influence was the style of Charlie Parker. While he appreciated the richness of the “Bird’s” language, he also recognized the need to elaborate his own. He quickly forged his own inimitable style, drawing upon the rich history of jazz while simultaneously exploring new paths. As one of his ardent admirers, Joe Lovano, put it: “Bunky personifies jazz; he synthesized the influences of Parker and Dolphy and integrated them into his own individual language. It’s also what I try to do with my music: taking into account the strengths of history and then moving beyond through individual expression.”
In 1960, Bunky moved to New York and replaced Jackie McLean in Charlie Mingus’ group. He claims to have learned “the joy and the nobility of the “wrong notes” from the earthy bassist. He left that same year for Chicago where he collaborated with Andrew Hill, Louie Bellson, Yussef Lateef and Sonny Stitt. At the beginning of the 1970s, he decided to dedicate himself to education and began teaching in Chicago until 1989, when he was asked to teach Jazz Studies at the University of Jacksonville in Florida. He was later elected president of the International Association of Jazz Educators.
Throughout his career, which is divided between education and the development of his music, he released fourteen albums in his name. Most of them are very rare and are coveted collector’s objects.
Steve Coleman has always maintained that his main mentors were Von Freeman, Doug Hammond and Bunky Green. Coleman is deeply involved in this new musical venture; he is overseeing the recording with generosity and a deep sense of commitment, mingled with a profound admiration. It is particularly touching to observe the stylistic relationships between the two saxophonists. Just as he lends this extraordinary musician a means of recognition, Coleman modestly illuminates the roots of his own musical evolution.
During the studio sessions in Brooklyn, everyone was taken aback by the freshness of the legendary saxophonist’s sound, which has not suffered in the least from not being in the limelight. His mastery of the instrument is mind-blowing, and he emanates that energy and sense of risk that is the essence of jazz, making this youthful 70-year-old one of the freshest talents on the scene.
As he listens to his playbacks, Bunky Green seems to rediscover himself. He seems to be experiencing a personal renaissance, and gives the impression of being almost taken aback by the force of his music. Moran, Plaxico and Waits, all exceptionally inspired, share the sentiment and their performance is equaled only by the respect they have for the venerated elder in their midst. For example, it was a moving moment when Jason Moran arrived one morning at the studio with a 33rpm record of Green’s in his hand, his way of paying homage to his mentor.
He is a man who is rare in every sense of the word—scarce albums, rarer live performances, and a singular musical style. The long-awaited release of this new album of Bunky Green’s is an event in itself: spontaneous, emotional, and infused with the incredible energy generated by the relationship between the group and their producer.
Name: Reno Di Matteo
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