Archive for January 3, 2015

The Sidewinder

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 3, 2015 by telescoper

I don’t really know why it has taken me so long to write a post about this track. After all it is one of the most played pieces of music on my iPod. Better late than never, though, so here goes.

Recorded in New York City in 1963, and released on the Blue Note label a year later, The Sidewinder was the title track of an album that expanded trumpeter Lee Morgan’s place in Jazz from that of a musically respected artist to a higher and broader platform as a hit maker. The tune, an original composition by Morgan, is basically a long-meter blues, with 24 measures to each chorus instead of the usual 12. The chord sequence is close to that of a standard blues, but with an unexpected and highly effective minor chord subsitution at bars 17-18. It’s such a clever composition that it’s no surprise it has become a jazz standard. It even entered Billboard magazine’s top 100 chart for a while, which is unusual for an uncompromising piece of hard bop.

When I first heard the track many moons ago, I expected the intriguing rhythmic figure established during the opening ensembles to give way to a standard 4/4 beat to free up the soloists but it is kept up throughout the piece, showing that these musicians didn’t need to be freed up at all!

Lee Morgan was an amazing trumpeter, but he sometimes had a tendency to over-elaborate. Not here, though. He mixes simple phrases with long runs in a solo that must rank among his absolute best; the repeated B-flat in the last of his three choruses is a particularly fine example of the virtue of keeping it simple. Joe Henderson also delivers a fine and very propulsive solo on tenor saxophone, full of melodic variety and demonstrating his characteristic use of unusual intervals as well as that wonderful leathery sound. To my ears Barry Harris on piano struggles to keep the momentum going until the horns pick up a riff behind him to spur him on. Billy Higgins on drums keeps that complex but infectious beat going in superb style.

But for me the real star of the show is Bob Cranshaw whose funky bass lines in accompaniment demonstrate his rock-solid sense of time  and his solo is one of the grooviest you’ll ever hear from a double-bass.

If this doesn’t rouse you from post New Year torpor then nothing will!


Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 3, 2015 by telescoper

Meanwhile, in Antarctica, the search for signatures of primordial gravitational waves in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background goes on. Here’s a fascinating blog by a member of the SPIDER team, whose balloon-borne experiment was recently launched and is currently circling the South Pole taking data. Here’s hoping it works out as planned!

SPIDER on the Ice

This is surreal.

I have been working on SPIDER for three and a half years, and much of the rest of the collaboration has been working for many years beyond that. We have all gone through intense times of stress and disappointment, victories and defeats. The personal sacrifice on the part of every individual on the team to get SPIDER to the point of flight readiness has been a weight on all of our shoulders as we prepared to launch our hopes and dreams on a balloon.

Ballooning is incredibly risky. Everything can work flawlessly on the ground, and then one thing can break during launch, or freeze or overheat at float altitude, and no amount of commanding from afar can bring it back to life. This happens so often in ballooning, and all you can do is obsess over every aspect of the experiment, have redundancy where possible, and…

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