Friday, July 30, 2004

Bird Lives again...

Brent Primack, operator of the infamous Bird Lives web site has hooked up with to produce a blog entitled "Jazz and the Net." During its heyday, Bird Lives was a lightning rod for controversy as Primack is notorious for having strong opinions about the world of jazz and its denizens. Hopefully this will spice up AAJ a little bit, the site has a wealth of information - but it can be a little boring.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Vincent Herring – Mr. Wizard (High Note, 2004)
This is another very interesting mainstream jazz release from the High Note label. Vincent Herring gets ample support from up and coming trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and the music is well mixed between uptempo, midtempo and ballad pieces that allow all of the soloists a chance to stand out.

Jeremy Pelt plays really well, and he fits in perfectly with this acoustic hard-bop format. Herring has a mid 60’s like Coltrane sound, particularly on tenor and soprano saxophone on the very upbeat songs like “Encounters” and “Hopscotch.” The ballad material like “You Leave Me Breathless” allows the band more space to stretch out their improvisations in a less cluttered environment.

With excellent with Herring and Don Braden among others, High Note is becoming one of the leading labels of the jazz mainstream. As the major label subsidiaries Verve and Blue Note continue to search for the next big diva or pretty boy singer, the door is open for labels like High Note to pick up the slack, which they are doing quite well.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Mix it up

Thanks a lot to Brain P. who was recently named Best Jazz Artist in the Capital Region of New York State by Metroland Magazine for sending an excellent mix disc, here's the lineup:

Kenny Barron - "Footprints" and "The Lost Ones"
Carrington, Osby, Rogers & Haslip - "Columbus, Ohio" and "Spiral"
Ben Allison - "Buzz" and "Respiration"
Manual Valera - "Prey to Indulgence"
Chris Potter - "What You Wish"
Craig Taborn - "Mysterio"
Jerry Gonzalez - "Hubo un Lugar"
Joe Lovano - "Stella by Starlight"

(From Metroland) Best Jazz Artist - Brian Patneaude

The term most often associated with Brian Patneaude is “ubiquity,” and for good reason; we’re under the impression that Patneaude has the ability to be in three places at once. While this may not be the case, the sax slinger has earned his stripes as most active player in our fair city. Whether it’s his Tuesday night jazz jam at the Larkin (with the Adrian Cohen quartet), his regular Sunday gig with his own quartet at Justin’s or his new Thursday night saxophone-and-DJ combo at the Lark Tavern (Nouveau Chill), he’s almost always playing somewhere. Oh, yeah, and the cat can blow, too. Real good.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Cecil Taylor – Hard Driving Jazz (United Artists, 1959)
This session has appeared under a number of different names, most currently as a John Coltrane re-release called Coltrane Time. This version, which I plucked out of the library’s used book sale room for the princely sum of twenty–five cents is under Taylor’s name with Coltrane taking the pseudonym “Blue Train” so to not violate his then contract with the Prestige label.

It’s interesting to see Coltrane and Taylor, who would both go on to become the leading lights of the avant-garde in jazz performing with a straight hard bop group rounded out with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Check Isreals on bass and Louis Hays on drums. Surprisingly, it all works quite well. The music stays well inside the pocket, except for a few very Monkish chords that Taylor throws in, and some quite intense “sheets of sound” soloing from Coltrane, all of which sound perfectly normal today, 40 years after they have been fully assimilated into the language of jazz – at the time it was probably a little off-putting for the average jazz fan whose experience with Coltrane may have only been a Miles Davis record or two. Nonetheless, this is an intriguing look at how the burgeoning avant-garde and the hard-bop mainstream were able to meet and coexist, and also makes for an interesting foreshadowing of the future career paths of Coltrane and Taylor.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 26, 2004

Mose Allison - Allison Wonderland (Rhino, 1994)
With all due respect to the Gershwins and some others, I think that Mose Allison is the finest lyric writer that America has ever produced. While most singers of jazz and blues (Allison straddles that divide like few others) concentrate on the time worn standards of the genre, Allison writes most of his own tunes, and they are lyrics like nothing else - everything from growing old to man's place in the Universe.

This two-disc collection is probably the best of the number that Rhino made in the mid 1990's. That Allison's output from the 50's to the 80's was so consistently fine is probably the reason why: throwing darts at the Mose catalog would yield a serviceable collection. There is an embarrassment of riches here, from the early piano blues of "Back Country Suite" and "V-8 Ford Blues" which come from his earliest period to the classic sides he cut with the Atlantic label like "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" and "I Don't Want Much." There are also a number of well chosen covers like Percy Mayfield's "Lost Mind" and Willie Dixon's "I Live the Life I Love."

The end of the set covers some of his finest Blue Note material like "Ever Since the World Ended," "Ever Since I Stole the Blues" and "Hello There Universe" which manage to wax philosophical without being the least bit coy or foolish. Mose Allison is a true treasure, a musician that bridges jazz and blues equally and remains one of the most original songwriters to this day. This set remains a perfect introduction to his work if you are not that familiar with it, or a convenient package for fans, where they can find his most well known songs in one place.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 24, 2004

The Firey Furnaces - Blueberry Boat (Sanctuary, 2004)

Last year, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, known as The Firey Furnaces came out of nowhere with their debut CD Gallowsbird’s Bark, one of the quirkiest and most interesting rock and roll CDs of the year. Their music combined everything from garage rock to techno and the English music hall tradition, and in a world full of flaccid pop music and cookie cutter “alternative” rock their music was a refreshing jolt.

Their second disc, Blueberry Boat, was released to very high expectations in the wake of the buzz surrounding their first disc and subsequent high profile gigs opening for Franz Ferdinand. The first thing you notice about the new disc is that if anything, the Friedberger’s have become more experimental in their approach, adding a lot of progressive rock influenced synthesizers and lengthening some of their songs to near epic proportions. The opening cut on the disc “Quay Cur” runs nearly 12 minutes of synth driven narrative – say what you will, but you cannot accuse them of trying to sell out to the pop market.

The lyrics of the music have really taken on a life of their own, coming in almost a Dylanesque stream of consciousness manner. Both of the Friedberger’s sing well, although Eleanor gets the majority of the vocals and makes the most of them, switching between swaggering and self confident singing like the title track where she is the captain of an imaginary boat full of blueberries attacked by pirates to the coy singing on “Inspector Blancheflower” where she trades of vocal sections with her brother, her section being an strange ditty about a police investigation.

The music is nearly as fascinating as the lyrics and just as confounding as well. Rounding out the traditional rock and roll lineup of guitar-bass-drums with an array of synths and electronic gear, the songs have arrangements that meet the grandiosity of their lyrics. The music halts, shifts and changes without warning that gives much of the proceedings a slightly disjointed feel.

The Firey Furnases have solidified their place as one of the most interesting bands on the current music scene. By abandoning the traditional pop song lyric and musical structure, they have set themselves apart in an increasingly tepid musical landscape. This album is not perfect, it’s overlong and experimental, but it shows that if the Friedberger’s grasp ever catches up with their reach, they will truly be a band to be reckoned with.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 22, 2004

NY Times gets the blues

A review of the new Howlin' Wolf biography: 
White historians usually deserve the blame for overmythologizing blues singers. But James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, co-authors of the biography "Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf," have little to fear. Howlin' Wolf's feral act led everyone to mythologize him: black and white, musicians and laymen, and especially Wolf himself. Here the biographers repeat the myths, and lay them on a chronological grid. 
The Bluesman Who Behaved Too Well is an article written by Elijah Wlad, continuing on the thesis he's built in his latest book, Escaping the Delta:
Leroy Carr, the most influential male blues singer and songwriter of the first half of the 20th century, fell out of sight for a white audience that wanted its blues artists as unpolished as possible.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Downbeat Readers Poll
I’m going to break down and buy a copy of the new Downbeat so I am eligible to vote in the Readers Poll. So far my ballot is looking like this:
Hall of Fame -  Sam Rivers
Musician of the Year - William Parker
Album of the Year - Susie Ibarra – Folkloriko
Reissue - Big John Patton - Mosaic Select
Record Label - Thirsty Ear
Electric Combo - Bill Frisell Quartet
Acoustic Combo - Dave Holland Quintet
Big Band - Sam Rivers’ RivBea Orchestra
Blues Musician – Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album - Kenny Neal & Billy Branch – Double Take
Beyond Group - The White Stripes
Beyond Album - Fiery Furnaces – Gallowsbird’s Bark
Arranger - -still thinking-
Composer - Andrew Hill
Trumpet - Dave Douglas
Flute - Sam Rivers
Tenor Saxophone - Chris Potter
Alto Saxophone - Greg Osby
Soprano Saxophone - Wayne Shorter
Clarinet - Perry Robinson
Electric Keyboard - Chick Corea
Acoustic Keyboard - Ethan Iverson
Oragn - Sam Yahel
Guitar - Bill Frisell
Electric Bass - -still thinking-
Acoustic Bass - Richard Davis
Drums - Matt Wilson
Percussion -  -still thinking-
Vibes - Stefon Harris
Misc. Instrument - David Murray (bass clarinet)
Male Singer - Mose Allison
Female Singer - -still thinking-
Vocal Group - who cares?

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Grateful Dead – Fillmore East 2/12/69

At their core, The Grateful Dead were a rock and roll band which performed best live – they were like the rock and roll equivalent of Sonny Rollins, making some great records in the studio, but their greatest work came in the hothouse environment of the live concert setting. This is one of the reasons they developed such a rabid following and that their concerts were so well received. What I downloaded from the Internet of the concert from the Fillmore East in New York City was just a small portion of what was undoubtedly a long and epic performance that evening, but it gives a sense of what the band’s live performances were like during this period.

We only get to hear a few minutes of “Dark Star” which is particularly moody on this night before moving into a well executed version of “St. Stephen.” The band was probably playing at its highest level at this point and it shows in the tight arrangements and harmony vocals. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is taken out of its normal blues context, but still maintains a mournful, melancholy feel. I think that Jerry Garcia’s voice was most well suited for slower tempoed and ballad material, and he wrings every ounce of emotion out of this old tune.

Things pick back up with an epic uptempo jam – Pigpen shakes the house down with “Alligator” moving into a duo drum conversation and then concluding with a blistering version of "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks.)" Garcia’s rampaging lead guitar is pushed into the stratosphere by Phil Lesh’s pulsating bass, Pigpen’s swirling organ and the twin drum kits. The concert concludes with the traditional gospel tune “And We Bid You Goodnight” followed by Bill Graham bidding adieu. Whether it was out of sequence on my mp3 player or really was an encore, the last tune for me was “Feedback” which comes blasting out like an Albert Ayler improvisation.

The band was truly at its peak during this period and most of the concerts of this timeframe betray the notion of the Dead as a peaceful troupe of hippie minstrels. At their best they were a truly blasting rock and roll band who drew on a number of diverse influences to create and new and original synthesis.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 19, 2004

Free concert mp3's
Thanks to Brian P. for pointing out that Greg Osby has finally made good on his promise to update the mp3's on his web page and the results are very impressive, with many different bands available - this is quite a gift to his fans. 
Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Andrew Hill - Black Fire (Blue Note 1963, 2004)
Black Fire was Andrew Hill's first Blue Note album, the first of many albums of innovative compositions and piano that he would produce for that label in the 1960's. Joining him on this disc are Richard Davis on bass, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Roy Haynes on drums.
Hill's prickly compositions dominate this disc, and his approach to both composition and piano playing has often been compared to Thelonious Monk, but even at this early stage in his career Hill is truly his own man. All of the musicians seem comfortable with his songs which are not quite as difficult and dissonant as some of his later work, but still are a far cry from what the usual Blue Note listener would expect and paved the way for that label's brief flirtation with the avant-garde as they released recrds by Hill, Sam Rivers, Eric Dolphy and a few others.
Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Mylab – Mylab (Terminus, 2004)
A Wayne Horvitz project that's a bizarre mix of found sound, samples, remixes and jazz, Mylab is a look at jazz and roots music through a fun-house mirror of electronic experimentation. Bill Frisell is an excellent co-conspirator for this project with his penchant for the music of America's past and his own willingness to experiment.According to the All Music Guide, this record began with Horvitz and his collaborators taking various pieces of folk, blues and other older roots music and then remixing them and adding their own instrumental flair to the music of an earlier age. For the most part, the endeavor succeeds. Bill Frisell, as you would expect given his pedigree, is right at home in this context, adding pithy solos throughout and interacting with both the live musicians and the remixes very well.
Send comments to: Tim

Friday, July 16, 2004

Sonny Rollins – Paris 1/15/63
I traded for this disc with a gentleman from Argentina. He’s a big Don Cherry collector so I was excited to get a chance to hear Sonny Rollins with Cherry in a transitional and experimental period for both men, and in a live setting to boot.
During Sonny Rollins' stay on the RCA label, he played in many different settings, recording the classic album The Bridge with guitarist Jim Hall and then collaborating on a fascinating record with Coleman Hawkins. He also recorded with the Ornette Coleman group (sans Coleman) which featured Don Cherry. It’s to Rollins’ credit that he met and experimented with the new free-jazz musicians of the period.
This concert finds Rollins in Cherry’s company along with Henry Grimes on bass (it’s great to see Grimes back on the scene after a prolonged absence.) Rounding out the band is another Coleman veteran, Billy Higgins on drums. The music is a mix of originals (Sonnymoon for Two) and standards, and the absence of a piano player allows the band more space within which to improvise. Rollins and Cherry make for a surprisingly nimble front line whether improvising collectively or taking turns soloing, they never seem to conflict or get in each other’s way.
This is an interesting snapshot in the careers of both Rollins and Cherry. Both would go on to stellar careers, Rollins as the preeminent tenor saxophone soloist in jazz and Cherry as one of the most tireless experimenters of ethnic and world music. This is a fascinating meeting of the minds.
Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Short Takes:

• The worst part of buying records at my library’s used book sale is that I pick up things I normally wouldn’t because they’re only a quarter each.
• The new version of the All Music Guide isn’t winning very many admirers. It’s still very early in the update, but a buggy system that’s difficult to navigate is a huge disappointment for one of the most valuable music sites on the web.
• I finally got a chance to start listening to some of the records I picked up at Princeton over the weekend. The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Full Force has received some pretty mediocre reviews in the Penguin Guide and the All Music Guide, but I rather enjoyed it. If anything, it’s a “typical” AEC record, with a long percussion section on the band’s “little instruments” along with a fiercely free blown section. Along the way, there are parts of considerable melodic beauty and very subtle interplay among the musicians. Keith Jarrett’s Death and the Flower comes from a series of records he made for the Impulse! Label in the mid 1970’s with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. The first side of the record is entirely made up of the title composition which starts with spare percussion and slowly moves into a full band improvisation. Jarrett’s piano throughout the record has a haunted and fractured quality. It’s too bad Impulse hasn’t re-released the records this band made during this period – they are all of high quality and this one is no exception.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Scanning for some articles about jazz, I found this interesting piece from Smithsonian Magazine about Roy Haynes. Here's an excerpt:

A robust 78, one of the greatest drummers of all time still riffs up a storm and wows fellow musicians

In nearly 60 years as a jazz drummer, Roy Haynes has appeared on some 600 recordings, many of them classics. With Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, with Sarah Vaughan and Thelonious Monk, with John Coltrane, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Ray Charles and Chick Corea-on one historic recording after another, Haynes propels the music. He is the "father of modern drumming," says the guitarist Pat Metheny.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The new Jazz Times has some interesting articles this time around. Maybe not worth buying, but certainly worth stopping at Borders to read over a cup of coffee. Among the gems are an interesting article by the ever-reliable Gary Giddins entitled “The New Benedetti’s” about people who record and collect concerts! No, he doesn’t talk about, but he does talk about some people who have made it their goal to record the music of certain musicians, he gives the example of people recording Sarah Vaughan and Sonny Rollins.

There’s an interesting article by Nate Chimen re-appraising Kurt Rosemwinkle’s 2003 CD Heartcore. This disc was quite controversial in the jazz community for being produced by a hip-hop DJ and for containing a lot of electronics. I really enjoyed the disc and listed it an honorable mention best of 2003, however, not everyone felt the same and a lot of the jazz bulletin boards were burning up with dissention over this disc.

Finally, an article on the Ethiopiques series series of African music recordings that have on occasion focused on the jazz and r&b music that flowed out of that continent during the 70’s and 80’s.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Velvet Underground - Loaded (Cottillion, 1970)

The Velvet Underground had built their reputation on proto-punk tales of New York City sin and salvation, and while they had shown flashes of their ability as a pop band, their final studio album, Loaded, comes as a bit of a surprise from the band that recorded "Heroin" and "Black Angel's Death Song."

But this record found the band playing some of the finest pop music ever recorded. "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll" have become anthems recorded by dozens of other bands over the years. "New Age" was one of their most interesting narrative songs, detailing the career of a failed actress, while "Train Comin' Round the Bend" even hinted at a bluesy shuffle.

The Velvet Underground had really come a long way from their avant-garde beginnings with the Andy Wharhol troupe. After John Cale's departure, the band moved closer to traditional rock and pop without ever losing the individuality the made them stand head and shoulders over the other rock and roll bands of the era. Doug Yule's organ and bass give the group a much different sound than Cale's discordant viola and perhaps it was the concession to the standard pop song format that made Lou Reed decide to abandon the band even before this record was finished. Regardless, the band finished on a true high point and this album stands as one of the true classics of American rock music.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Muddy Waters - At Newport (Chess, 1959)

Muddy Waters was on a huge roll when he hit Newport in the summer of 1959. Leading a killer band featureing James Cotton on harmonica and Otis Spann on piano, Muddy owned Chicago and was looking to expand his empire. Of all the music inspired mayem at Newport over the years, the Paul Gonsalves inspired dancing lunacy of 1958 and the so-called "youth riot" of 1960, perhaps the most explosive was the crowd's reacting to Muddy's "Got My Mojo Workin'." The response of the audience was so blistering that the band had to play it again, so they could get enough.

But that is far from the only highlight here. The band swaggers through Big Joe Williams classic composition "Baby Please Don't Go" and roars through a blasting version of "Tiger in Your Tank" with Cotton's harmonica leading the charge. This was the first time live blues had been released on record and it was blues at its most explosive. Along with Live at the Regal by B.B. King, this sets the gold standard for a live blues album.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Record Shopping

A nice summer day, how could I resist a trip to Princeton to poke through the Record Exchange, so here's the plunder:

Compact Disc -

Stanley Turrentine - Up at Minton's
Bobby Hutcherson - Good Vibes

Vinyl Records -

Keith Jarrett - Death and the Flower
Various Artists - Sweet Home Chicago
Lester Young - Pres is Blue
Circle - The Paris Concert
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Full Force

Heard anything good lately? Send recommendations to: Tim

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Magic Sam – West Side Soul (Delmark, 1967)

Sadly, "Magic" Sam Maghett never received his rightful due as a blues musician due to his early death. He was the total package, a deft guitar player with a soulful voice, he was a legend among the Chicago scene which itself was packed with legends.

Sam’s heartfelt and pleading vocals make the first couple of songs into lovelorn laments. His guitar cranks up, pushed by Mighty Joe Young's rhythm guitar on blasting up-tempo numbers like "I Don't Want No Woman" and the standard "Sweet Home Chicago." Magic Sam's guitar is always on display, but his is never out of control and never wastes a note. The album ends with a amazing one-two punch of the impossibly emotional slow blues "My Love Will Never Die" with Sam's heartbroken cry which chills to the bone and the other is a blasting version of J.B. Lenior's "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" which takes the record out on a high point.

Blues was a little late in the game with regards to releasing albums that weren't just collections of previously released singles, but with records like this and Junior Wells' Hoodo Man Blues and South Side Blues Jam established Delmark as a major player on the music scene and Magic Sam as a musician for the ages.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Charles Mingus - Ravenna 7/27/74

This Mingus concert finds him in a live setting with
his last working band which included Don Pullen on
piano, George Adams on tenor saxophone and flute,
Hamiet Bluiet on baritone saxophone and Mingus
stalwart Dannie Richmond on drums and percussion. The
concert sticks primarily to some older Mingus pieces
and Ellington standards; it's surprising that he did
not include any of the very successful compositions from the two
Changes albums that were released right around this

The concert begins with the composition "Wee," which originally
appeared on the Mingus Moves LP. The group states the theme and then
moves through a round robin series of solos, George
Adams burly tone cutting through the archival sound
quality with a deep blues rooted sound. The group
blends into the Lester Young tribute "Goodbye Prok-Pie
Hat" very well, playing the well-known melody softly
and reverently. The anti-segregation anthem "Fables of
Faubus" is transformed into an anti Richard Nixon rant
with the chent of "Two, four, six, eight, do you
remember Watergate?" Mingus was always ready to fight
injustice and hypocrisy, and this gave him a golden

The concert ends with a Mingus solo version of
"Sophisticated Lady" segueing into a rousing version
of the Billy Strayhorn flag-waver "Take the A Train"
and then the finale is a brief snippet of Ray Noble's
"Cherokee." It's a fine snapshot of a wonderful band.
It's a shame that Sue Mingus hasn't made good on her
promise of bringing more of the bootlegged Mingus
concerts to the public. There's so much good stuff out
there, that it shouldn't just be the traders having
all the fun.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Book review: Highway 61 Revisited by Gene Santoro

I was a little leery of picking this book up - Santoro's first book, Myself When I Am Real, an epic biography of Charles Mingus, was dragged down by amateur psychoanalysis that made Mingus into a pitiable, absurd figure. Thankfully this collection of Santoro's shorter magazine pieces is much more concise and even contains a few gems.

While he doesn't completely succeed in his overarching mission of uniting the diverse threads of American music, the vignettes he paints are telling. An interview with Miles Davis from 1988 is particularly interesting. Santoro details Davis' health problems and also talks to him at length about the need to keep the music moving forward and not repeating yourself. He also pulls a great quote form the normally taciturn Davis: "My idea is the you surround yourself with talented people and make them uncomfortable. Then they gotta come up with some shit." Words to live by.

A story on the folk revival of the 1960's told from the perspective of Dave van Ronk made an interesting juxtaposition to Davis. Where Miles wanted to move forward at all cost, van Ronk wanted to preserve the folk past, and looked with skepticism at the songwriters of the era. Tradition vs. innovation is a theme that ties a lot of these stories together, his thoughts on the Ben Burns Jazz documentary are quite interesting - at one end he applauds the act of exposing people to Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, while questioning the "talking head" nature of the interview segments and the lack of coverage of modern jazz and fusion at the other.

This is a worthwhile book to check out - Santoro's ideas are well thought out and for the most part impressive. He avoids the streetcorner philosophizing that bogged down the Mingus book and achieves some astute, pithy criticism.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 05, 2004

Thanks to Brian P. for sending this very interesting article about composer and arranger Maria Schneider and her new approach to selling CDs.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Wilco - I am Trying to Break Your Heart (DVD)

This is a documentary about the roots-rock band Wilco and the trials and tribulations they suffered in the production of their 2002 CD `Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.' Initially given a good deal of support by their record label (Reprise) Wilco strayed from their previous country folk-rock sound to embrace more experimental studio techniques and used synthesizers and strings to flesh out their sound. Their suits at Reprise balked at this sea-change and eventually refused to release the record and booted the band from the label. While all of this is going on the band is suffering internal strife as one of the members is let go with acrimony.

The story of Wilco's last album has become legendary in the music world and this documentary, shot in grainy black and white tells the story and portrays the band and its leader Jeff Tweedy in a sympathetic light. Tweedy is shown as the disheveled genius musician pushing the art forward while the greedy evil corporate executives attempt to thwart him. It's nice to see the band triumph in the end, and the film does throw some light on the pressure that is undergone to make a record for a major label as well as showing some of the seedier sides of the music business as flaks on both sides beat their chest and trumpet their side of the story.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Sleepy John Estes – Stone Blind Blues (Catfish, 1999)

The now defunct Catfish label put out a series of releases in the late 1990’s covering pre-war blues recordings. European labels have different copyright restrictions than American labels, so they are able to release compilations like this just 50 years after the recording dates. Sleepy John Estes was a singer – songwriter and guitarist who had a long career. He recorded in several contexts from solo to string band.

Several of the tunes have become standards over the years. “Broken Hearted, Ragged and Dirty Too” and “Someday Baby Blues” have been recorded many times by diverse artists over the years. There’s an interesting topical element to Estes music too. “Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)” and “Lawyer Clark Blues” look at the Depression from different angles, first singing about the railroad detectives who harassed the hobos and then celebrating the virtues of an attorney who would work to help the poor.

Estes was solid if unspectacular guitarist, the power of his music came from the emotional depth of his voice. He played with some other interesting musicians, particularly the mandolin player Yank Rachell who added some wonderful texture to some tracks on this disc. Also, an unidentified kazoo (!) player adds a bit of hokum to the mix. Estes could play the blues, but like most musicians of the period, he was a songster who was comfortable in many formats.

It’s a shame Catfish is no longer in business, their discs were excellent summations of often overlooked artists. Estes is certainly worth your time and if you’re not able to track this disc down, looking for other recordings of his would still be worthwhile.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, July 02, 2004

John Coltrane - Quartet Plays (Impulse, 1965)

The Classic Coltrane Quartet was starting to implode at the end of 1965. With A Love Supreme under his belt, Coltrane began to move further into the avant-garde, following the lead of pioneers in that area like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, whom he had been listening to intently. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones began to have second thoughts as they started to feel out of touch with the music and the direction it was going.

This record was one of the last sessions the group would do together and in a sense it's a traditional Coltrane session in that it contains a Disney tune "Chim Chim Cheree" and a well-worn standard "Nature Boy" in addition to the originals "Song of Praise" and the exotic "Brazilia."

Even with pop songs on the menu, the music is radically changed, Jones shifts the rhythms and Tyner looks for openings to chord and solo. Coltrane has a wonderful way with melody, something he never lost even in his most "out" improvisations, and his lilting approach to "Nature Boy" is a joy to hear.

This record is often overlooked in the Coltrane discography and that's a shame. Not only is the music first rate, but it's a fascinating glimpse of a great musician at a crossroads in his development leaving the comfort of form for the uncertainty of freedom.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Eddie Kirkland – The Complete Trix Recordings (32 Blues, 1999)

Eddie Kirkland was John Lee Hooker's main man, accompanying the legend on a number of his finest recordings when they were based in Detroit. Not content with being a second banana, Kirkland has also maintained a vibrant solo career as evidenced by the two records collected here, originally recorded for the Trix label in the early 1970s, re-released by 32 blues as a two CD set.

Some of the tunes like "Hobo Blues" and "Boogie Chillun" were first made famous by Hooker and then Kirkland covered them. There is a mix of songs here, some with a full backing band and some which feature him recording solo in the format his mentor Hooker often used. The solo tracks lend a stark intimacy to the music, textured with touches of slide guitar. The full band tracks have touches of funk and soul; after leaving Detroit, Kirkland moved south and eventually joined Otis Redding's backing band while working on various solo projects.

Since 32 Blues has gone defunct, lets hope that somebody else picks up the Trix Record archives, music like this deserves to be heard.

Send comments to: Tim