Tuesday, December 30, 2003

John Lee Hooker – The Legendary Modern Recordings (Virgin, 1994)

The late Allmusic Guide blues reviewer Cub Coda had a great line saying that Hooker’s recordings had been around the block more times than a cop car in a bad neighborhood. Given the plethora of Hooker releases available it’s great to have a one disc collection of his earliest and rawest material. There are a series of boxed sets covering the same material if you’re looking for more, JSP has an excellent mid-priced 4 disc set that is a wise investment.

Getting back to the matter at hand, this disc tracks Hooker’s music for the Modern label during the years 1948 – 52. John Lee recorded for a number of labels under a number of different names during this period, making his discography a maddening place to try to come to grips with.

As can be expected, the disc kicks off with his signature piece and hit “Boogie Chillen” which is a formula he revisited for and number of other tunes and labels. Some of JLH’s best known songs are here in their earliest forms: “Sally Mae”, “I’m in the Mod”, and the classic “Crawling Kingsnake” all make appearances.

If you’re looking for one slab of classic early Hooker this is an excellent disc, and it makes a wonderful companion to Rhino’s two-disc career overview The Ultimate Collection. For more information on JLH, check to see if your local library has a copy of Charles Shaar Murray’s very long but interesting Hooker biography Boogie Man.

Rating: 10

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Musician of the Year - William Parker

A poster on the Jazzcorner's Speakeasy used to refer to William Parker as the "King of New York." Perhaps "King of Jazz" may be more appropriate after the amazing string of successes he had in 2003. Not only did he release three excellent CDs, the big band disc Spontaneous in addition to top ten discs Eloping With the Sun and Scrapbook, but add to this his bass playing on two other top ten discs and his organization in conjunction with his wife Patricia of a downtown jazz festival and you have a very important person indeed!

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Monday, December 29, 2003

2003 Top Ten

1. Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals
2. Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester
3. Dave Holland - Extended Play
4. David Murray - Now is Another Time
5. William Parker - Eloping With the Sun
6. Matthew Shipp - Equilibrium
7. Spring Heel Jack - Live
8. William Parker - Scrapbook
9. Neil Young - Greendale
10. The White Stripes - Elephant

2003 Honorable Mention

Scott Amendola - Cry
The Magic Band - Back to the Front
The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas
The Black Keys - Thickfreakness
Richard Thompson - Old Kit Bag
Joe Louis Walker - Shes My Moneymaker
Blue Series Continuum - Good & Evil Sessions
Brian Patneaude - Variations
Kenny Garrett - Standard of Language
Fred Hersch - Live at the Village V.
The Kills - Keep on Your Mean Side
Kurt Rosenwinkel - Heartcore
Soulive - Soulive
Jesse Van Ruller - Circles
Vandermark 5 - Airports for Light
Matt Wilson - Humidity
John Zorn - Masada Guitars

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Richard Thompson – Old Kit Bag (Cooking Vinyl, 2003)

After Richard Thompson was unceremoniously dropped the Capitol label, he bounced back on his feet this year with a new stripped-down album on the indie Cooking Vinyl label. It’s a back to basics CD that brings him around to the music melding folk and rock that he’s been exploring since his days in Fairport Convention. On this disc, Thompson is backed by a spare trio of bass, drums and background vocals.

The music moves back and forth between acoustic folk – “A Love You Can’t Survive” is one of Thompson’s finest songs of recent years, a tale of love lost to a smuggler, who gets everything he wants in life except for the love he has lost. “I’ve Got No Right to Have It All” also expands on the lovelorn folk theme that he’s been exploring in his music for quite some time. Perhaps the most fascinating song on the album is “Outside the Inside” which examines how fundamentalists look at the society and culture of the west. The opening lyrics are stark:

God never listened to Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker lived in vain
Blasphemer, womanizer
Let a needle numb his brain…

The song goes to chastise western cultural heroes like Albert Einstein and western painters who brought color into a world that is best left to shades of grey. This is one of the most thought-provoking songs he has ever written and will no doubt be one of the most controversial.

Just to prove that the album isn’t full of just philosophizing and lost-love downers, he throws is a great paranoid rocker “I’ll Tag Along” which allows the band to stretch its wings.

Rating: 8.5 (honorable mention, best of 2003)

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Saturday, December 27, 2003

R.L. Burnside – First Recordings (Fat Possum, 2003)

R.L. Burnside is a worldwide blues institution now, but when these tracks were cut in the late 60’s he was unknown outside of the small Mississippi blues community clustered around Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint. The Fat Possum label changed all of that, committing the music of Burnside, Kimbrough and their contemporaries to disc starting in the 1990’s.

It’s fascinating to hear how little change there is in Burnside’s music between the late 60’s and today. These tracks were recorded solo on acoustic guitar, so there isn’t much of the amped up atmospherics of his electrical recordings, and thankfully none of the techno blues the he experimented with in the ‘90’s.

Burnside runs through the standard tunes that make up the core of his repertoire to this day. From the drone like “Goin’ Down South” to the rave up’s “Jumper on the Line” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” Burnside stays true to his Mississippi roots.

Rating: 7.5

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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Andrew Hill – Grass Roots (Blue Note 1969, 2000)

Grass Roots was one of the final albums of Andrew Hill’s first tenure at Blue Note. Hill is joined by Lee Morgan on trumpet, Booker Ervin on tenor saxophone, Ron Carter on Bass, and Freddie Waits on drums. On of the first things you notice when listening to this record is that the angular, abstract sound that Andrew Hill is usually noted for is toned down here for a much more straight-ahead “populist” feel.

In the liner notes, Hill is quoted as saying that he was looking for a more lyrical sound, and the title track achieves that, harkening back to the classic Blue Note sound of the Messengers and Horace Silver’s groups without losing the adventurousness that marks much of Hill’s most famous work. The front line is very helpful in achieving his goal of more accessible music; Ervin’s wide-open tenor sound is matched well by Morgan’s punching trumpet.

The final track on the first side, Mira is an interesting excursion into Latin jazz. Hill takes his Dominican roots and adds a funky touch to create an infectious groove. The final tracks, “Soul Special” and “Bayou Red” continue in the same manner of well rooted groove.

This is an interesting record in Hill’s output, finding him between his challenging early masterpieces like Point of Departure and Smokestack, and his 1970’s work which found him without firm label support and concentrating on solo piano. While this may not be his most important album, this points toward Andrew Hill as a composer and a musician who is comfortable in any setting and is able to adapt himself to different situations without affecting that which makes him so original.

Rating: 8

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Sunday, December 21, 2003

John Coltrane - The Olatunji Concert (Impulse 1967, 2001)

This is the last recorded performance of John Coltrane's career, a concert taking place at the Olatunji African-American Cultural Center in New York City. Coltrane is joined by his regular band of the period: Alice Coltrane on piano, Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Garrison on bass and then guests Algie DeWitt and Jumma Santon on percussion. This recording was not made for public release, but rater as a reference copy for Coltrane to learn from. Therefore, there is a rough almost bootleg sound quality to the disc.

The music is not for the faint of heart, because it is some of the most ferocious free-jazz I've ever heard. The disc contains two composition, Ogunde and My Favorite Things, although the respective melodies are only hinted at and most of the music is made of up free form improvisation. It's fascinating to contrast Coltrane and Sanders. Pharoah tales a number of blood-curdling solos which seem to stand apart for the music around him. He seems to only be able to operate in overdrive, where Coltrane is able to throttle the power and dynamics of his playing to meet the situation and accompaniment. As time went by, I think Pharoah was able to find musical situations that fit him a little more comfortably in the drone like compositions that he recorded on a series of very successful Impulse releases of the late 60's and early 70's.

I'm really not sure if this recording should have been issued. The sound recording quality is so poor that Garrison is pretty much lost in the mix, with Pharoah and Ali coming through as an amazon.com customer wrote as a wall of "white noise." I've traded for unofficial concert tapes for quite a while, and I think if I received this music in a trade I would have been quite happy, but as an official release it makes for a very tough listen.

Rating: 6

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Very cool jazz festival pictures here.

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If anyone sees a copy of Miya Masaoka's Monk's Japanese Folk Song please let me know. I heard a song from this on Radio at Netscape's Avant-Garde station and I really liked it, but the disc cannot be found anywhere. I e-mailed the artist and she said that her own sister had to get a copy via e-bay - how's that for a rarity!

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Darkfunk.com strikes again. This time with a two set concert from Billy Martin, Calvin Weston and DJ Logic.

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Make sure to check out the be.jazz blog. Lots of great information and insightful blogging!

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I've had a terrible cold, so I've been lying around my apartment like a zombie listening to music and occasionally drifting off into some trance-like sleep. For the past several years but especially this year I been enjoying the so-called "jazztronica" put out on the Thirsty Ear Blue Series, curated by Matthew Shipp. When I read jazz history books, one common theme that seems to come up is where the music can go in the post fusion/free/neo-con era. I think that the Blue Series offers one interesting possibility. Mixing live improvisation of acoustic and electric instruments with both prepared and spontaneous electronics, the artists are able to create new soundscapes and new avenues for composition and improvisation. It seems that this also vindicates fusion and experimental musicians who were reviled in their own time for selling out. The influence of electric-period Miles Davis and the Sun Ra Arkestra are only now being felt.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

John Szwed - Sun Ra: Space is the Place (Book)

OK, so I’ve been a little obsessed with the man from Saturn lately. But after watching the film, I just had to go back and re-read Szwed’s book which is one of the most well researched and written (IHMO) jazz biographies available. Jazz biography is a dodgy subject, there’s a lot of junk out here but some gems as well and this is one of them.

Szwed tracks Ra from his birth (he would say arrival) in Alabama on May 22, 1914 (he shares my birthday!) and sketches out his formative years. There’s not much for him to work with, since Ra was deliberately vague about his childhood, but he paints a picture of a shy, bookish young man obsessed with religion, science and music.

Sun Ra arrives in Chicago after the Second World War and passes briefly through Fletcher Henderson’s ensemble before forming his famous Arkestra. Szwed describes in fascinating detail about Ra’s voracious and esoteric reading habits... every religion book imaginable, Egyptian history, afro-centric history, science fiction and hard science all found their way into his mindset and therefore into his music.

The descriptions of the epic length bull sessions/rehearsals really give an insight into the music and the man who made it. There’s a fairly detailed discography at the end of the book. Ra recorded for small labels and released massive amounts of material, so not everything is there, but enough to give you an appreciation of the man’s career and accomplishments.

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There's a couple of new shows up for downloading in case anyone is interested. Darkfunk.com has an excellent Miles Davis concert from the "lost quintet" 7/26/69. Glide Magazine has a concert from the Strokes. Enjoy!

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Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sun Ra - Space is the Place DVD (Prexifilm 1972, 2003)

Oh man, this is a hoot. Whether it is supposed to be or not is another matter. Imagine Shaft starring Sun Ra and you have some idea what is going one here. Basically, the "plot" of the story is that Sun Ra lands his spaceship in Oakland in 1972 in order to save the black race from oppression and self destruction. While there is some pretty deft social commentary going on here, it's hidden by a story so campy that it's possible to miss it.

It's Savior Sun Ra versus the FBI, NASA and the super-galactic pimp "The Overseer" in a battle for the "hearts and minds" of the world. Needless to say, that world is destroyed in classic B movie sci fi style at the end but not before Sun Ra is able to spirit away some pilgrims.

Besides the camp and sheer fun of the film, there are some wonderful shots of the Arkestra in action. The band was a well-oiled machine at this point, featuring Ra's compositions and arrangements and June Tyson's ethereal vocals.

No home is complete without one...

Rating: 10

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I've been listening to a bit of Alice Coltrane lately, having made it up to the C's in the never ending project to convert all of my LPs to mp3 format. Yes, it has occurred to me that this project would be a lot easier if I just stopped buying LPs and stuck to CD...

Alice Coltrane is a fascinating musician, it's a shame that she doesn't record any longer. She falls squarely into the genre of "Ecstatic Jazz" made popular (sort of) by the Impulse label in the late 60's and early 70's. Her contribution to her husband's later period work only tells part of the story - what impresses me the most is that she's one of the most original jazz organ players I've ever heard.

She really attacks the keyboard, not in a Jimmy Smith bluesy way, although blues and especially gospel are a part of her music, but I think it's the influence of all of the eastern music that she had been listening to and studying that led her to develop such a unique approach. Check her out if you get a chance, her records go in and out of print, so you'll need to keep a sharp eye out.

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Friday, December 12, 2003

I turned in my entry to the Cadence Jazz Magazine readers poll. You get 25 points to distribute between as many records as you want.


Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester (4)
Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals (4)
Dave Holland - Extended Play (3)
David Murray - Now is Another Time (2)
William Parker - Eloping With the Sun (2)
Matthew Shipp - Equlibrium (2)
Spring Heel Jack - Live (2)
William Parker - Scrapbook (2)
Scott Amendola - Cry (2)
The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas (2)

Since Cadence just covers jazz and improvised music, I didn't include any rock or blues... the true and final top 10 and honorable mentions will be released on December 31st, but here are the contenders:

Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals 10
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester 10
Dave Holland - Extended Play 10
David Murray - Now is Another Time 9
William Parker - Eloping With the Sun 9
Matthew Shipp - Equlibrium 9
Spring Heel Jack - Live 9
William Parker - Scrapbook 9
Neil Young - Greendale 9
The White Stripes - Elephant 9
Scott Amendola - Cry 8.5
The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas 8.5
The Black Keys - Thickfreakness 8.5
Richard Thompson - Old Kit Bag 8.5
Joe Louis Walker - Shes My Moneymaker 8.5
Blue Series Continuum - Good & Evil Sessions 8
Brian Patneaude - Variations 8
Kenny Garrett - Standard of Language 8
Fred Hersch - Live at the Village V. 8
The Kills - Keep on Your Mean Side 8
Kurt Rosenwinkel - Heartcore 8
Soulive - Soulive 8
Jesse Van Ruller - Circles 8
Vandermark 5 - Airports for Light 8
Matt Wilson - Humidity 8
John Zorn - Masada Guitars 8

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Henry Threadgill - Too Much Sugar for a Dime (Axiom, 1993)

How's this for a lineup: two electric guitars, two tubas, French horn, drums and alto saxophone. Henry Threadgill makes some of the most inventive and unusual modern music in jazz today. His alto saxophone and flute are instantly recognizable and this disc was recorded with his ensemble the "Very Very Circus." The music kicks off with one of my favorite song titles "Little Pocket Sized Demons" which plays the snarling guitars off against the brass and drums. Threadgill's compositions always make the most of whatever musical palette he has at his disposal and this is no exception.

It's understandable why Threadgill feels that the word jazz is too constraining for the music that his bands make. This mix of the avant garde, jazz and modern composition is highly recommended to all those with open ears and a sense of adventure.

Rating: 9

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I joined a Yahoo group that trades Sun Ra's music, and there's been an interesting thread lately about formats and sound quality. First it started with people talking about trading Ra's music on mp3 - most of Sun Ra's voluminous output was self-produced or came out on very small labels so they are well out of print. But when people started suggesting making mp3 discs, others got very upset, saying the mp3 was a "lossy" format, and that it was an insult to the music to have it presented in this manner.

I remember e-mailing people like this back during the old tape-trading days... people who would only trade with traders who have gold plated tape decks sprinkled with unicorn dust. Never understood it. These guys are wild... they will only trade in these particular digital formats that they claim will never degrade... but I thought the whole point of digital formats is that they would never degrade...confusion!

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All right! A couple more concert trades came through. This time I traded for a nice mix of music, here's the plunder:

Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell Hartford 6/7/85
Ornette Coleman - Paris 3/11/87
Lead Belly - Apratment Tape 1/19/48
Lou Reed - Tinley Tark, IL 12/9/92
Velvet Underground - At the End of Cole Ave.
Velvet Underground - Etc./And So On
Sun Ra - Oblique Paralax (OOP Saturn)
Steve Coleman - Unknown Location 2/25/93
Sun Ra - Electric Circus, Washington DC? 3/68
Sun Ra - Chicago 1974
Sun Ra - Seattle '85
Velvet Underground - Searching for My Mainline (3 CD's)

I think I may take a little time off from music buying now... I need to digest.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

James Carter – Gardenias for Lady Day (Columbia, 2003)

The new album by James Carter mixes strings with reeds and rhythm in another in a long series of tribute albums pumped out by the majors. Whereas the nimble improvising strings of Carter’s Django tribute Chasin’ The Gypsy worked well, the heavily arranged strings here don’t have the ability to juke and move with the music. The strings are static and they tend to smother the music. Another album where a string section that actually worked was Greg Osby’s Symbols of Light (A Solution) where the arrangements were agile and unusual unlike this album where they seem decorative and do not add to the improvisational possibilities of the music.

The centerpiece of the record is Holiday’s harrowing “Strange Fruit,” a horrific song about a lynching murder in a small southern town. On this version, vocals are spat out with the appropriate venom, and Carter gets a chance to chance to flex his Ayler chops, but to what end? It seems so planned as to lose its emotional effect. You can almost imagine a group of suits sitting around a boardroom saying “what if we insert a screaming tenor solo here…”

Companies really have no idea what to do with Carter. Atlantic dropped him after apparently recording a live album that featured Aretha Franklin and David Murray in guest appearances. A tantalizing possibility – hopefully it will see the light of day.

We’ve never really had the chance to see Carter the composer. If there must be a concept, how about setting up Carter with a sympathetic rhythm section and letting them record a disc of original compositions? It will be more cost effective that hiring a string section and may put Carter back in the environment where his considerable talent can thrive.

Rating: 5

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The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas (Columbia, 2003)

The Bad Plus are an unusual jazz trio made up of Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and David King on drums. Yes, that's the standard piano trio format, but what makes the group different than some of the famous trios of the past is their use of dynamics and choice of material.

The group plays something that could be called for the lack of a better term "acoustic fusion." That is, they play standard acoustic instruments, but with a flair that comes from rock and pop music. Iverson doesn't hesitite to use the very low bass notes of the piano to form loud, crashing chords that play off against King's rock-influenced drumming.

The band has gained attention outside of the jazz community for thier covers of pop material like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" as well as tunes by Abba and Black Sabbath (!) But these are not merely gimmicks, the Nirvana tune works really well as Iverson puts the entire piano into play in the shifting dynamics of the song. Likewise the form and structure of "Heart of Glass" lends itself very well to King's hyperactive druming style.

For all of the other aspects of the band, their greatest gift may be their extraordinary snese of melody. The originals "Big Eater" and "1972 Bronze Medalist" make use of both the band's melodic sensibility and their skill in collective improvisation. Anderson's "Silence Is the Question" ends this disc on a elegaic note, but proves that the band is just as comfortable with slower tempos and ballad material as they are with covering rock and pop standards.

Rating: 8.5

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Monday, December 08, 2003

One last thing - did Sun Ra invent string theory before the astronomers? I quote from the Strange Strings liner notes:

"On this record, STRANGE STRINGS SOUND; STRINGS instruments linking east and west, - The Universe is stretched, stroked, struck, bowed, plucked and picked to vibrate the air ..."

If you watched the Nova special from last month or have read Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" then you know that string theorists believe that the Universe is made up of infinitely small vibrating strings of energy - maybe Sun Ra was on to something!

And Reese and the Smooth Ones is anything but smooth... It looks like a prime candidate to bring into work and share with my co-workers! Ahem... in the unlikely event that my musical choices lead me to become "occupationally challenged" please keep me updated with opening for librarians in you area...

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Ahhh... finally out of the apartment after the blizzard, and where better to celebrate my freedom than the Princeton Record Exchange! I didn't have any luck trying to track down some of the music I've been obsessive compulsive about lately (60's garage rock like the Nuggets and Pebbles comps) but I did hit the jazz vinyl section which never lets me down. The plunder:

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Reese and the Smooth Ones
Sun Ra - Strange Strings
The Jazztet - Meet the Jazztet
Miles Davis - The Complete Amsterdam Concert

I have no idea about the Miles, this is the first time I've seen it anywhere. It's Miles with an European backing group 12/8/57. I'll post more information after I've had a chance to spin it.

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I'm a little bit surprised to be saying this, but I've become pretty fascinated with Marc Ribot's music lately. He's got two new discs out on the Tzadik label, Scelsi Morning, and Soundtracks II and both are pretty warped, but thouroghly enjoyable discs. Not necessarily "jazz" per se but an odd mix of composition, improv and film music. Beats the heck out of that Yo I Made a Bad Record! he put out a few years ago.

Other discs in heavy rotation:
Cafe Tacuba - Cuatro Caminos
JLW - She's My Money Maker
VA - Savoy Records 60th Anniversary (WBGO freebie!)
Sun Ra - My Brother the Wind II

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Saturday, December 06, 2003

OK, so I'm snowed in with this monster blizzard, at least I'll have some good music to listen to and a little football on the tube. Got a chance to listen to the Joe Louis Walker record and it's as good as I expected. It's beyond me why he doesn't get the attention he deserves. I'm also trying to catch up with my project of converting all of my records and concert tapes into mp3 format. It must be a librarian thing...

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Thursday, December 04, 2003

My download allotment finally refreshed at Emusic, so I now have 65 tracks to download. Also, they finally posted Joe Louis Walker's latest album "She's My Money Maker" so I downloaded that along with an older ESP title, "The Call" by Henry Grimes featuring Perry Robinson. I became interested in Grimes recently, he has been off the jazz scene for so long, recently re-discovered living on the west coast. He has just started performing again with a bass donated by William Parker. Perry Robinson was also featured on a recent two-disc album of Parker's entitled "Bob's Pink Cadillac" which is an excellent set of music.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Chris Potter – Gratitude (Verve, 2001)

Chris Potter is one of the finest young saxophonists of the age, getting a little lost amongst the “young lions” but slowly building a reputation through his early records on the Criss Cross and Concord labels and then gaining even more attention as a featured soloist and sometime composer in Dave Holland’s stellar ensemble. Gratitude was Potter’s first record for the major label Verve and he is joined by Kevin Hays on electric and acoustic piano, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums.

The major labels seem to need a gimmick for all of their jazz releases, seemingly not comfortable with allowing their musicians to speak to their audiences by themselves, or perhaps afraid that their audience won’t “get it.” So this is a tribute album, but it’s a tribute album with a twist – most of the disc is original compositions, so it allows Potter to speak his piece without forcing him to play standards for the umpteenth time.

Some of the highlights of the CD include “Sun King” which is a dark toned nod to Sonny Rollins and “High Noon,” a Fender Rhodes fueled rave up dedicated to the oft-forgotten tenor master Eddie Harris. Interesting also is the tribute to Ornette Coleman, “Vox Humana” which Potter plays on a flute he picked up while touring in China. Also interesting to note is the presence of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, which is played with subtlety and taste by Hays. All in all, this is a very good modern mainstream record. Perhaps not as wonderful as Potter’s adventurous Traveling Mercies, which would follow in 2002, but still well worth the time and effort to investigate, and a model for how the tired tribute album niche can be revived.

Rating: 8

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In the new issue of Rolling Stone they have their Top 500 Albums of All Time. It's interesting that the choices are so conservative. Goes to show you that what was once a bastion of the underground has just become another market driven corporate entity.

Their top ten:
1. Beatles – Sgt. Pepper
2. Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
3. Beatles – Revolver
4. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
5. Beatles – Rubber Soul
6. Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin’ On
7. Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.
8. The Clash – London Calling
9. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
10. Beatles – White Album

Not that these records are bad, mind you (quite the opposite) but you mean to say that nothing in the past 25 years of all recorded music is worthy?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Come to think of it, I have a bit of a history in musical mayhem. When I was in grad school, I was back home, living with my father who used to listen to nothing but sports talk radio non-stop, 24 hours a day. Now I like sports too, but sometimes you need a break.

So, one morning we were having breakfast, and I knew that a local college radio station was broadcasting a jazz program and I humbly asked to change the station on the kitchen radio. Of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in and as soon as I tuned the station in, they queued up one of Albert Ayler’s most howling tenor saxophone solos.

I should have switched back to sports talk, but the Imp of the Perverse was sitting on my shoulder, so instead of switching I thought “I wonder how long I can get away with this…” and let it rip.

It lasted about ten seconds. “What is this…music” he asked, with icicles hanging off of each word. Needless to say with my tuition at stake, we switched back to sports radio very quickly!

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I just finished reading Brett Milano’s Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in the Vinyl Underground, and I am pleased to announce that I am nowhere near as addicted to record purchasing as the poor souls described within. I have a (fairly) clean apartment, stable job and I pay my bills on time. And I am most certainly not a near middle age male with poor social skills and complete lack of romantic life. Well, now that I start thinking about it…

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Monday, December 01, 2003

So I left the back office for a minute with Netscape Radio tuned to the Avant Garde station and when I returned... there was no music, but one very annoyed colleague who spat "I had to turn that noise off, it was driving me insane!" Yes! My evil plan to control the mental state of my co-workers is proceeding well... It appears that the culprit was Anthony Braxton's "Composition No. 52" from the album Six Compositions: Quartet. I am now on a quest - I must find this disc!

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Speaking of the Moog, I'm not one who normally collects novelty items, but I am currently coveting Thelonious Moog: Yes We Didn't.

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Sun Ra – Night of the Purple Moon (Saturn, 1970)

Sun Ra plays lounge music! Have you ever heard any of those cheesy “Space Age Bachelor Pad” compilations that were popular background music during the 1960’s? Now imagine this type of music played by a man who claimed to be from the planet Saturn and who called his band The Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra. Sun Ra’s vast discography contains many oddities, but this has to be one of the strangest and most interesting.

On this record, Ra is playing two Moog synthesizers and something called a “rcoksicord,” while main foil John Gilmore is playing drums in addition to his regular tenor saxophone duties. The album cover is a classic, and has Sun Ra as the Moon itself, looking down on the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.

The music itself is quite calm considering that this period of Sun Ra’s career found him playing a lot of high-energy free improvisation. “Sun-Earth Rock” and “Love in Outer Space” are moody, mellow and would not sound out of place in the Rainbow Room of the Holiday Inn Bayonne… The other shoe has to drop someplace of course and John Gilmore clears the dance-floor in a hurry on “A Bird’s Eye View of One Man’s World” with a paint peeling free jazz solo over Ra’s bubbling Moog.

This record is a blast… I don’t think it’s available on CD, but you can get sealed vinyl copies in Princeton for $6.99, so somebody must be cranking them out. Just think, if you like this you can move on to Sun Ra’s 1978 disco classic Lanquidity. Who says collectors don’t have any fun?

Rating: 9

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