“…what modern free jazz could sound like while still [being] entirely listenable…”
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“Best of the year” lists
2012 — Little Played Little Bird — Dan McClenaghan — All About Jazz
“Drummer Todd Bishop is an underground treasure. He doesn’t boast the highest of profiles, but he has put out two consecutive great CDs for the Origin Records label: 2009’s 69 Annee Erotique and now, this nod to alto saxophonist/free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.”
2012 — Little Played Little Bird — Dave Sumner — Bird Is The Worm / eMusic.com
“So, take obscure compositions from the songbook of a challenging artist and perform renditions… the math for that equation should result in something resembling a didactic lecture of music theory and not the refreshingly listenable Little Played Little Bird. Todd Bishop tackles the music of Ornette Coleman, and without watering down the source material, has created a recording that was both tuneful and a fun listen. It’s an impressive accomplishment, and a solid album when judged on its own merits. I find this album as infectious at the end of the year as I did when it originally came out.”
2009 — 69 Année Érotique — Larry Appelbaum — WPFW, Washington, DC; jazz specialist US Library of Congress
2009 — 69 Année Érotique — C. Michael Bailey — All About Jazz
2009 — 69 Année Érotique — Dan McClenaghan — All About Jazz
“A meticulously-crafted jazz/pop mix nod to the music of the late French musical Renaissance man, Serge Gainsbourg.”
TODD BISHOP GROUP — CAFÉ BELGA / BRUSSELS
by Jacques Prouvost AKA Jazzques
English translation by Google Translate
Read original piece in French.
This Sunday, November 4, [Todd Bishop] was Café Belga Brussels.
The world, the noise, the usual deal of the place. So Todd Bishop slams the first shots on the snare. Must be heard. His game is tight, bright and dry. The pulse is strong. And it works! The quartet starts like clockwork.Very quickly, the soloists take their brands and Méreau Martin embarks on a solo feverish Check Up. Then it’s Guinea Don Cherry with his throbbing trance. The music hums, rolls and fills the space.
This is a fantastic playground for Jean-Paul Estiévenart. His way up phrases, to invent by mixing always that little bit of humor shifted, this slight ray of light that is in the density of the moment, make him a trumpet definitely always interesting to listen . Guess we always looking for novelty, the truth and the desire to never repeat.Todd Bishop was quickly understood and exchanges with accomplices enrich natural confusing.Then the music turns better and Olivier Stalon benefits and spaces to enter the dance. His improvisations, extremely effective – both rich and simple – revive a Martin Méreau increasingly released vibraphone.
The themes are connected (Feet Music, Comme Il Faut) to the powerful Enfant, played here with an incredible passion. This is probably the best moment of the concert. Dialogues ignite quickly, ideas jostle. This dizzy and it seems that nobody wants to stop. There is a chorus of bidding more attractive to each other. The quartet has found and pleasure on their faces. Each dare go further, driven by one or the other. Bishop gives some indication at a glance, module tensions, holds and releases the clamp. […]
Ornette be happy, he really has not been betrayed.
Selected CD Reviews
Review of Little Played Little Bird — C. Michael Bailey — All About Jazz
“The music selected by Bishop covers 1959—”Lonely Woman” from The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic)—to 1987—”Feet Music” from In All Languages (Caravan of Dreams). The band Bishop assembled to perform this rarified music is notable for the lack of an alto saxophone. Instead, Bishop heads up a quintet made up of Hristo Vitchev’s pianist Weber Iago, bass reeds player Richard Cole, tenor and soprano saxophonist Tim Willcox, and bassist Bill Athens. In contrast to much of Coleman’s work, Bishop’s inclusion of Iago on piano lends a greater harmonic depth, and therefore, a foundation to these ruminative compositions.
Bishop’s performances plumb the freedom inspired by Coleman while placing the composer’s song in a postmodern light. Most notably, the plaintive alto wail that is the hallmark of “Lonely Woman” is conspicuously absent, the underlying theme presented instead by Willcox on tenor and Cole cleverly on bass clarinet. Iago plays nervous, percussive dances in the background. Iago’s use of the Wurlitzer on “Friends and Neighbors” and “Country Town Blues” is very effective. For a collection based on music where the piano is anathema, Iago discharges himself admirably on both keyboards. The leader provides that vibe essential to the Coleman sound—that controlled chaos that so permeated post bop in the wake of John Coltrane’s classic quartet and Miles Davis’s second great quintet—freewheeling and solid.”
Review of Little Played Little Bird — Scotty Yanow — LA Jazz Scene
“The lack of an alto and trumpet allows the quintet to get a bit of distance from Ornette Coleman’s recordings, as does the utilization of Iago’s Fender Rhodes. The music is explored on its own terms. Ranging from free bop romps to lyrical ballad statements, with the highpoints including spirited renditions of “Friends And Neighbors” and “Check Up,” these fresh and adventurous interpretations cast new light on Ornette Coleman’s songs. Little Played Little Bird is easily recommended and available from www.origin-records.com.”
Review of Little Played Little Bird — Dan McClenaghan — All About Jazz
“Little Played Little Bird sounds unlike any set that Coleman has ever put together, despite the temptation to compare it to his Hidden Man and Sound Museum Three Women—simultaneously-released on his Harmolodic Records label in 1996—mostly because these overlooked gems in Coleman’s discography included pianist Geri Allen. In terms of sound, Cole’s baritone sax—fierce and growling on “Enfant”—recalls tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman’s work during his Blue Note Records years with Coleman. Aside from that, the vision here is purely the Todd Bishop Group’s.
For those with passing knowledge of the saxophonist/composer’s sound, this wouldn’t, on a blind listen, be recognizable as Coleman’s music. For his ardent fans, the melodies are there, laid down with a compellingly original harmonic and rhythmic approach, with bassist Bill Athens—who is essential to the music’s unqualified success—laying down a viscous and pulsating murk that flows through Bishop’s idiosyncratic steam hiss cymbal sizzles and off-kilter but-tight drum work on this immaculate exploration of Ornette Coleman’s music.”
Review of Little Played Little Bird — Dave Sumner — Bird Is The Worm
Taking ownership of a series of obscure Ornette Coleman songs, drummer Todd Bishop shines them through a facet of his own view of the music, while leaving the beating heart of the originals intact, not a scratch upon them.
Most strikingly, the album is an easy listen. Not in the sense that it’s straight-forward, but instead, Bishop doesn’t needlessly complicate matters. Due to his inventiveness, Coleman’s music already comes with its dangers and pitfalls, wrapped with a bow on top. Bishop doesn’t try to out-free Coleman, instead, just takes the music as it is, and then plays it his way. That’s a big reason why this album works. It’s an impressive music statement to sound both personal and referential, to create music that feels In The Now and simultaneously nostalgic. […]
Amazingly, Bishop has negated the requirement of actually needing to like Coleman’s music to enjoy Little Played Little Bird, without extinguishing the heart of the source music, and thus, making this an album accessible to Coleman enthusiasts, too.
Review of Little Played Little Bird — Gallery 41
“A really good drummer, a very musical drummer, and absolutely fun to listen to.
The Todd Bishop Group has a terrific new release on Origin Records “Little Played Little Bird: The Music of Ornette Coleman”. Todd’s group includes Richard Cole and Tim Willcox / reeds, Weber Iago / keyboards, Bill Athens bass. In case you haven’t guessed from the title, it’s a collection of Ornette’s compositions, there are 9 of them on the cd, all played great!!!
Todd Bishop, the drummer (in case you’ve lost track), has a very cool blog some might say is written specifically/only for drummers, but I think everyone who plays an instrument, writes music, listens to music…would find it interesting, entertaining, and fun.”
Review of Little Played Little Bird — Dave Sumner — eMusic
“Todd Bishop Group, Little Played Little Bird: The Music of Ornette Coleman: Concept album that performs renditions of lesser-known Ornette Coleman tunes (except “Lonely Woman,” which Bishop admits to including because he loves playing it, “concept be damned.”). Bishop on drums and leading a quintet that includes a family of saxes, bass clarinet, piano & Wurlitzer, and bass. A strong recording that brings plenty of swing, fire, and blues to the Coleman compositions. Not a requirement to actually enjoy Ornette Coleman’s music to like this album; Bishop brings his own voice and vision to this excellent album. Highly Recommended.”
Pull quote courtesy of Google Translate: “The entertainment is assured.”
“Son muchos los fans del pionero del free-jazz Ornette Coleman. Tras su estela se han grabado ya unos cuantos álbumes en su nombre. Pero ahora hacía ya tiempo que los acordes y desacordes de esta favorecedora música no sonaban en un estudio de grabación. El baterista Todd Bishop pone en alerta a sus más afines colaboradores, para adentrarse en la oscuridad de las melodías de Coleman. Como buenos fans del rey del free jazz, los componentes de Todd Bishop Group, interpretan con elegancia los diferentes temas que componen este álbum, bautizado como “Little Played Little Bird”. La interpretación del free-jazz en ocasiones crea controversia, sin embargo en esta grabación sus ejecutantes combinan diferentes instrumentos de viento-madera, dándole un toque sinfónico y variado. El soplador Richard Cole se llevó al estudio unos cuantos arcaduces agujereados; un clarinete bajo, un saxo barítono, un tenor y un soprano. Tim Willcox, también bufaba un saxo tenor y un soprano. Al contrabajo Bill Athens, y al batería el líder del grupo, Todd Bishop. Cuesta recomendar un álbum de este caprichoso estilo de jazz, pero me atrevería a afirmar que los amantes del género y seguidores de Ornette Coleman, encontrarán en “Little Played Little Bird” una muy buena fuente de inspiración. El entretenimiento está asegurado.”
Review of 69 Année Érotique — Dan McClenaghan — All About Jazz
“…a strange and excellent musical experience.”
“…a peculiar yet distinctively compelling sound…”
“…post-listening cold shower required.”
69 Annee Erotique gets extra credit for off-the-beaten-path-ness. It is a work celebrating the music of the late French pop songster Serge Gainsbourg (1928- 1991), by Portland Oregon-based Todd Bishop’s Pop Art 4. Gainsbourg, whose name may not be person-on-the-street familiar in the United States, was a pop icon in France from the late-1950s to the 1980s, a musical renaissance man of sorts who delved into jazz, pop, reggae, soundtracks, psychedelia and electronica, all while nurturing a reputation for unseemliness and personal excess in the mode of California poet/writer Charles Bukowski, to whom he has been compared.
The sound that drummer/band leader Bishop has crafted is a curious mix of garage/surf rock and Phil Spector-like wall of sound production, with some gritty saxophone, a dash of Neil Young and Crazy Horse grunge, going with gusto after Gainsbourg’s simple and engaging yet ofttimes Brian Wilson (of The Beach Boys) type of pop song melodies.
The title tune opens the set with a memorable saxophone-blown melody wrapped in some psychedelic keyboard swirls and echoing, and recorded-in-the-basement string washes. “Bonnie and Clyde” features the disc’s woodwind master, Richard Cole, on bass clarinet and soprano sax—weaving low and high around each instrument’s lines, in front of a trudging drum beat and sparkling keyboard rhythm. “Cannabis” has a light and loopy marching band feeling, with Cole out front blowing with straightforward muscularity, while “New York, U.S.A” is full of fast, forward bustle, underlain by a squeaky rhythmic squall that sounds like a nest of rutting rats.
“Valse de Melody” injects a spooky atmosphere into the set, like part of a soundtrack to a noir movie, followed by “Le Poinconneur des Lilas,” with its saucy, jazzy and stripped-down sax-and-rhythm section approach.
The disc’s closer, “Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus,” in its original version, was once declared offensive by the Vatican. It features guitarist Dab Duval’s metallic chords and Casey Scott’s breathy, ardently sensual vocals: post-listening cold shower required.
Todd Bishop and his Pop Art 4 have come up with a peculiar yet distinctively compelling sound with 69 Annee Erotique, a strange and excellent musical experience.
“…what modern free jazz could sound like while still [being] entirely listenable…”
“…slinks and squirms all the way, keeping a sultry vibe…”
“An excellent bit of reworking…”
Todd Bishop has taken groups Lower Monumental and Flatland through somewhat revolutionary jazz territory before, exploring what modern free jazz could sound like while still putting together entirely listenable albums. On 69 Annee Erotique, Bishop takes his Pop Art 4 through some surprising new arrangements of old Serge Gainsbourg songs.
The songs vary from dark to light, slow to jumpy, but they’re all given a strong touch of the new in Bishop’s arrangements. There’s some extra electrofunk quietly placed into the opening title track, and some extended low-end soloing on the sax from Richard Cole in the Ballade de Melody Nelson. A stronger European flavor makes its way in with Initials B.B., a bit of Albert Ayler-style funkiness in Cannabis, and an incredible mix of Brazilian friction drums, saxophones, and Olatunji’s Akiwowo in New York, USA. The pace slows down considerably for a more sultry waltz then immediately jumps back up for Le Poinconneur des Lilas. The keyboards, courtesy of Steve Moore, get a chance to shine in Intoxicated Man, and the album finishes off with more of a period piece in Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus, complete with a few sultry vocals thrown in.
The album slinks and squirms all the way, keeping a sultry vibe to the proceedings, but at the same time never leaving a vibe to fend for itself. The arrangements and the band hold up each sound with care, giving it just the right bit of timbre to carry it through the piece in an almost destined manner. An excellent bit of reworking from a group that sounds like it has more to offer yet.
Review of 69 Année Érotique — Paul Abella — Chicago Jazz
“Origin Records strikes again with another outstanding disc…”
“Oh man, this really is hip!”
“I loved Bishop’s disc from the second I put it in the CD player…”
“… fat bass lines and funky drum grooves…”
Origin Records strikes again with another outstanding disc, this time from drummer Todd Bishop and an outstanding group playing the music of Serge Gainsbourg. I have to admit, I hadn’t a clue who Serge Gainsbourg was, prior to seeing this disc make its way across my desk. Of course, curiosity got the best of me and I had to check out Gainsbourg’s music to hear these songs straight from the source. What I heard was charming and familiar on a number of levels. At once, I heard the jazz meets French folk of Maurice Chevalier (or Edith Piaf), the soundtracks of any number of hip sixties and seventies movies, the nouveau chanson of Pauline Croze and even the music of Beck. What started off as, “These guys are doing a tribute to who?” quickly turned into, “Oh man, this really is hip!” I loved Bishop’s disc from the second I put it in the CD player––I am a sucker for fat bass lines and funky drum grooves, after all. But now, armed with the knowledge of what this stuff sounded like the first time around, I was eager to go back again and check it out anew.
The one downside to this disc is a reasonable quibble, and it might do best to get it out of the way upfront: on far too many of these songs, Bishop and company stay too close to the originals. And while one wants to make sure that the songs are still at least a little recognizable, frankly, for all of Gainsbourg’s qualities as a writer and arranger, he didn’t always focus a lot on melody. Which is fine to an extent, because these songs seem to be just as much about texture as anything. But, in those instances, vocals can forgive a lot…or make a lot of things more forgivable. So, on tracks like “Ballade de Melody Nelson,” where neither vocals nor melody are anywhere to be found, even these great musicians can fall a little flat. But, on “Bonnie and Clyde,” where the melody is equally absent but Bishop’s arranging is a little more aggressive, it works. On “Initials B.B.” Bishop has it both ways, by utilizing a vocalist and keeping the arrangement pretty close to the original, he knocks one out of the park. But if the jazz purists might already be offended by the lack of more conventional jazz material, they’d lose their minds when confronted with a song that has more in common with Sonic Youth’s “Bull In The Heather” than it does with “Autumn Leaves.”
This disc does get your attention right off the bat. An insistent groove, some psychedelic keyboards and strings set up a nice melody on 69 Annee Erotique. The true pleasure to be found on this track, though, is the burning saxophone solo by Richard Cole, which really takes this disc up a notch.
“Cannabis” is aptly named, and moves at a slightly woozy pace. Again, Richard Cole lays down a ripping solo on tenor solo that really elevates the tune. While it has the feel of a song that should have closing credits rolling down a screen while it’s played, it’s a great jam and a nice display not only of Cole’s chops, but also Bishop’s arranging skills.
“New York, U.S.A.” is heads and tails the best thing on this disc. It’s also the song that strays farthest away from Gainsbourg’s original intentions. Given a samba feel that is helped along by Blake Thomas’ cuica, this one just flat out rocks. Much of the saxophone solo is given to the tenor/drums treatment, and without any chords behind him, Cole shows some flashes of early to mid-sixties Sonny Rollins (think “East Broadway Rundown”), and when Steve Moore shows up on the Rhodes to help guide things back home, the results are fantastic.
“Le Poinconneur des Lilas” and “Intoxicated Man” prove that Gainsbourg was capable of writing something somewhat akin to jazz, and Bishop’s arrangement help to showcase that. Bishop rounds out the disc with one of the best pieces of sixties pop cheese that I’ve ever heard, in the form of “Je t’aime…Moi Non Plus.” It’s nice, it’s pleasant and it’s a good way to take this disc home.
69 Annee Erotique is an interesting album if taken on it’s own terms. This disc is as multi-faceted as the artist to whom it is a tribute, and does a great job of covering a lot of those bases. While I think a more interesting album could have been made from the standpoint of seeing how much these songs could have been stretched, tinkered with and reassembled, the final results here are certainly fascinating. An entire album of music as adventurous as what is heard on “New York U.S.A.” would have been more exciting from a jazzer’s standpoint. But after listening to Bishop and crew on this disc a few times, I doubt that’s what they were going for. Instead, we’ve gotten a jazz crew’s take on the music of one of France’s legendary composers and performers. Todd Bishop aimed to stay true to Gainsbourg’s vision instead of creating his own, and in the process made a pretty compelling album. I’m certainly looking forward to more from this group in the future.
Review of 69 Année Érotique — C. Michael Bailey — All About Jazz
“…beautiful decadence, brilliant and bright.”
“…psychedelia wisping into the edges of post-war Western society right before the Summer of Love and the sexual revolution.”
“Todd Bishop has done something special here, respectfully presenting Gainsbourg’s music with [Bishop’s] own… American flair. [He] readily captures the international sexiness of Gainsbourg’s tunes while buffing them to a 21st Century shine.”
Context can be everything or nothing. Listening to 69 Annee Erotique with no background will spark recognition of well-preserved lounge music of the 1960s/’70s, performed with modern sonics imitating those of the period: A bit of psychedelia wisping into the edges of post-war Western society right before the Summer of Love and the sexual revolution. The music is all well played and entertaining. Portland Oregon drummer Todd Bishop creates a themed recording as well integrated as Bob Sneider’s and Joe Locke’s Film Noir Project, Nocturne for Ava (2008, Origin), but that theme has no story.
Given the context of who Serge Gainsbourg was, both artistically and culturally, and particularly after having listened to some of Gainsbourg’s music in situ, 69 Annee Erotique takes on a greater artistic gravity. Todd Bishop has done something special here, respectfully presenting Gainsbourg’s music with his own (Bishop’s) American flair. Bishop readily captures the international sexiness of Gainsbourg’s tunes while buffing them to a 21st Century shine.
Combine Tom Jones, Phil Spector, and Prince and that talent assembly might begin to approach Serge Gainsbourg in popularity and cultural impact in France. A comparison with Frank Sinatra would be in order had Sinatra not been rendered quaintly provincial by America’s anemic puritanism. Gainsbourg had no such cultural governor on his behavior, living la belle vie celebrated in his songs. Watching the many online video’s of Gainsbourg reveals an artist both way ahead of this time musically, but confined by the technology of his time. Gainsbourg’s spoken delivery in many of his songs anticipates Barry White’s a decade later with infinitely greater class and authenticity.
Bishop opens the disc with the title piece, “69 Annee Erotique” (“69 Erotic Year”) over the undulating electric bass line of Geoff Harper, faithful to the original but digitally crisp. A swirl of synthesized strings mix with electric piano and Richard Cole’s tenor sings Gainsbourg’s low notes before ascending to lover Jane Birken’s sensuous response. That is only the beginning. Gainsbourg’s homage to lover Bridgette Bardot, “The Initials BB” contains Dan Duval’s guitar doubling the chorus, channeling Steve Cropper playing “Hang ‘Em High.” The pop sexiness of “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus,” sung by Casey Scott, preserves much of the controversial character introduced by Gainsbourg, beautiful decadence, brilliant and bright.
“…a strange and excellent musical experience.”