Various Artists: First Steps

Matt Gonzales

Various Artists

First Steps

Label: Savoy
US Release Date: 2003-03-11
UK Release Date: Available as import

Before Eminem revealed to us his dirty laundry in heretofore unheard of ways; before the Stooges parlayed sexual angst and nowhere-nothing nihilism into purgative noise; before Elvis stimulated the collective estrus of American women with a simple thrust of his pelvis -- before all of these instances of defiant insolence through music -- there were these guys.

Charlie Parker. Stan Getz. Dizzy Gillespie. Miles Davis. Dexter Gordon.

In the early 1940s, these mostly 20-something musicians, among others, were the rebels of their time. They were part of the movement that begat bebop -- a swirling, improvisational, and sometimes drug-influenced reaction to the sterilized sway of the erstwhile mainstream swing sound.

For today's young rebels who wish to reject established modes while at the same time appreciating their forbears, Savoy Jazz is re-releasing a truckload of old recordings by these seminal musical iconoclasts. First Steps captures some of bebop's earliest and finest practitioners in the act of inventing a brusquely expressive and stylistically irreverent genre.

A fairly balanced mix of well-known and obscure names appears here, resulting in an engaging cross-section of artists with varying styles and dispositions. To uninitiated ears, it may come off as homogenous at first, but for jazz aficionados and neophytes with patience, this is a veritable minefield of sonic jewels, each one possessing the singular personality of the different performers who carved them out.

The first real treat comes with "Shaw 'Nuff", a collaboration that features jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The track begins with a syncopated bass-drum-piano line that leads into a Latin-tinged horn salvo, which gives way to a brisk and volatile three minutes of freaky, fast-paced bliss.

Following is an intoxicating tenor sax workout compliments of the criminally under-recognized Ike Quebec, whose All-Stars step back and while he rips it up on "Jim Dawgs".

The Erroll Garner Trio slows things down with "Laura", a shimmering display of piano virtuoso by Mr. Garner that is as rich in sublimity as it is in technical prowess.

Later one gets to listen in on the burgeoning talent of a young Stan Getz, who infuses "And the Angels Swing" with a seamy, faintly sexual swagger that effortlessly commands the head to bob and the fingers to snap.

Other highlights include Miles Davis's "Half Nelson", where you'll hear hints of the cool, ethereal style that, only a few years later, would captivate the hearts and minds of young urbanites everywhere. Also deserving mention is a "True Blues" by Milt Jackson, who magically elicits a blue silkiness from the metallic clang of the vibraphone.

The truth is, all of these gentlemen deserve mention. From the slipping and sliding trombone of Jay Jay Johnson, to the gentle lyricism of Harold Land's saxophone on "I'll Remember April", First Steps is jam-packed with moments of passionately executed and lovingly preserved songs that were revolutionary then, and even today sound fresh, affecting, and vital. So get out there, kids, and learn about the true genesis of the profanation of American music. If it doesn't impress your friends, it will no doubt endear you to that "cool" high school English teacher that you're almost guaranteed to encounter sooner or later.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.