Sunday, October 31, 2004

My computer is finally on the mend and back at home, so I celebrated by downloading a concert from It’s a really nice set of two concerts from the Dave Holland Quintet back when they were just starting their run as one of the best bands on the planet. It’s great stuff, here’s the details:

Dave Holland Quintet - Live at the Bimhuis Amsterdam, October 1999 and at the Northsea Jazz Festival, The Hague, June 1998

Dave Holland - bass
Chris Potter - sax
Robin Eubanks - trombone
Steve Nelson - vibes
Billy Kelson – drums

cd 1:
setlist Bim:

1. Balance 12:38
2. Cosmosis 13:18
3. Make Believe 7:23
4. Metamorphosis 14:33
5. Jugglers Parade 18:01

total time : 65:55


6. High Wire 15:34
7. Bedouin Trail 13:12
8. Prime Directive 9:36

North Sea concert:

9. Unknown One 10:03
10. Obitious 16:03
11. Unknown Two 12:10

total time: 76:46

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Jimmy Smith Retrospective

This four disc mini-box came out on Blue Note last week. I'm a big fan, but most of my Blue Notes are on used vinyl of the "pop and crackle" variety so this was a worthwhile investment for me. It's a pretty nice set touching on the high points of his Blue Note output, like "The Champ" and "The Sermon." I particularly like the recordings which hook him up with Lou Donaldson, they could really lock into a groove.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Computer Problems

Yuk, my computer is back in the shop – refusing to even boot the operating system and emitting a tantalizing aroma of burnt plastic. I Can’t wait for the call from the repairman whose eyes must just be lighting up with dollar signs. Before the meltdown, I’d been experimenting with the Russian web site (hopefully this wasn’t the cause of the problem) which works something like Itunes, except that songs are approximately $ .04 instead of $ .99. It’s mostly pop and rock but I found some things I was interested in such as new Elvis Costello (excellent!) and the new Bjork (strange!) There’s a disclaimer on the web site stating that it meets all Russian Federation Internet laws, so maybe this vague statement will keep the RIAA from knocking on my door in the middle of the night. If anyone has a thought pro or con on this web site, please send me an e-mail.

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Alice Coltrane Interview

NPR has an interview with Alice Coltrane online.

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Friday, October 22, 2004

Junior Wells – Calling All Blues (Fuel 2000, 2000)

This disc collects the forty-fives that Junior Wells cut for the Clef label in the 1950’s before he signed to Delmark and recorded his seminal records South Side Blues Jam and Hoodo Man Blues. Although this finds Wells at the beginning of his career, his singing, harmonica playing and braggadocio were completely formed and in full effect.

Wells runs through a number of compositions that would become his basic repertoire in the future – Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too,” along with several Willie Dixon compositions and his own classic-to-be “Messin’ With the Kid.” It’s interesting to see an R&B influence in these records, the Delmark music would be primarily gutbucket Chicago blues. Wells vocals really shine on the R&B flavored tunes, smooth and supple, with almost a Bobby Bland feeling.

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

My new baby...

A Music Hall MMF 2.1 turntable. Yup, I am now officially a "record geek."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Larry Young - Of Love and Peace (Blue Note 1966, 2004)

Larry Young may be the hottest organist in jazz right now, so it's shame that he's been dead for nearly 20 years. Last years re-release of Lawrence of Newark (great title!) was greeted with considerable buzz and this year Blue Note has done Young proud by re-releasing two of his records, Mother Ship and Of Love and Peace.

"Pavanne" opens the record with a fairly free collective improvisation of organ, drums, trumpet and tenor saxophone. Deep throated tenor saxophone and trumpet solos arc over grinding organ and drums that keep the tension high. James Spaulding gets a swirling alto solo and then Young takes center stage for a full-flight organ solo - bubbling and grooving but very much in control. Things come back to an intense full band crescendo before fading out - an intense opening.

"Of Love and Peace" begins in a lower-key fashion with trumpet and flute. The trumpet takes a stark solo against the organ backdrop. Young's solo keeps the dark feel, backed by an ominous drumbeat. "Seven Steps to Heaven" livens the mood a little bit with the sprightly organ laying down a grooving carpet for the horns to improvise over. The trumpet jumps out of the pack with storming upbeat solo and then Spaulding get the opportunity to take another deep and well thought out solo - why didn't Blue Note sign him in the 60's? The full band gets back together to restate the theme before the track fades out. The final track “Falag” keeps a medium level groove with the full band cooking. Kudos to Blue Note for bringing this one back (17.99 is a little too much to pay for the honor, however.) Regardless, it is an excellent album and well worth listening to.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Alice Coltrane – Translinear Light (Verve, 2004)

It’s great to see Alice Coltrane recording again, she’s been on an extended sabbatical since the late 1970’s when she retreated into Eastern Spirituality. I’ve spent the last couple of years tracking down her old Impulse releases, many of which are out of print. This brings together some heavy hitters like Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden and also Alice’s sons Ravi and Oran.

“Sita Ram” opens the disc with her distinctive sound on the Whurlitzer organ. Alice Coltrance was always a unique organ player throughout her career. There’s a really nice Eastern sounding groove here over light percussion. “Walk With Me” has Alice playing dark piano chords on a gospelish theme, a very dark and meditative performance. The title track “Translinear Light” has a piano opening playing yearning chords, Ravi Coltrane enters on tenor saxophone with a deep and mournful tone. This then moves into a full band improvisation, with Ravi sounding excellent over his mother’s carpet of piano. “Jagadishwar” has a mellow synth opening followed by gentle and meditative saxophone – ballad playing, a very deep and well hewn tone. “This Train” has Alice back on the organ – she’s capable of grooving as she does on this performance but her style is never beholden to anyone – she has her own unique sound.

“The Hymn” slows things back down to a ballad tempo with soprano saxophone and gentle chords from the piano, while “Blue Nile” has tenor saxophone improvising over a more urgent theme and Charlie Haden takes a nice bass solo. “Crescent” brings back the classic John Coltrane composition with Ravi taking a tenor solo. “Leo” is a surprise, originally released on John Coltrane’s “Interstellar Space” LP. It’s a killer track, with Alice’s swirling organ and Jack DeJohnette’s dynamic drumming. There’s some great storming improve on organ before Ravi Coltrane comes back in with a complex and deeply felt solo. The record ends on a mellow note with the piano and bass duet Triloka and the vocal chant “Satya Sai Isha.” Overall, it’s an excellent return to form from a fascinating musician who has been off the scene for far too long.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, October 18, 2004

Nils Peter Molvaer - Steamer (Live)

Nils Peter Molvaer is one of the leading lights of the Scandinavian "jazztronica" scene, he possesses a laconic trumpet sound, heavily indebted to Miles Davis and a has penchant for improvising over shimmering frosty electronic grooves. His work for the German ECM label was quite interesting, and this new record finds him in live setting.

The appropriately titled "Frozen" starts out slowly with icy electronics and then Molvaer's Miles-like trumpet. Samples vocals and live beats bubble under and around the trumpet soloing. "Marrow" finds him soloing over beats and samples while "Little Indian" brings forth a slow groove and more sampled vocals. This would make a good track for a "chill out" electronica mix.

"Kahonita" continues the slow groove with some unaccompanied trumpet. The fact that Molvaer gets some of his best playing out of an a cappella setting begs the question of just how spontaneous this music can be when it relies on the rigidity of sampled beats rather than a human that can improvise in real time. Regardless, Molvaer sneaks in some well played gentle trumpet over light electronics. It's pretty delicate - another "chill out" track. "Simply So" finally picks up the pace as the trumpet plays over a slinky electronic groove. "Solid Ether" combines jazz and electronica well and ends the record on a solid note. Things pick up with a snarling guitar solo - the music finally shows some signs of life! This shows potential for this type of music in a live setting; it's the mix that matters, as any DJ will tell you.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost, Disc 3 (Revenant, 2004)

Disc 3 finds Ayler at the height of his powers in various live settings in New York City. The disc leads off with prime Ayler on "Spirits Rejoice" a folk like theme that he would revisit many times over the course of his career. This is a particularly raw version with a marching band feel and some nice textures from the violin. "DC" has everybody charging into raucous free interplay. The violin's solo is undermiked and hard to hear. This is followed by a tearing Ayler solo, where he is all over the high register of the horn. There's a 'quiet' interlude with Ayler and the violin dueting before another tenor blastoff and a return to the theme - a truly hair-raising performance.

"Untitled #1" is a duet between Ayler and violin which is quite spacious - Ayler plays in a burly but not overblown fashion. "Our Prayer" brings back the full band on a gospelish theme. The leader improvises over trumpet and swirling violin. "Ghosts" is a familiar Ayler theme and this version is taken at a much faster pace and is more full-bodied with the larger group than the well known version on the Spiritual Unity LP. The pace picks up and settles and then picks back up again to an impossibly ferocious level with heavy drums underpinning intense squalls from the horns.

"Untitled #2" is a full band performance where swirling violin ushers in a free improvisation at a fast pace. Trumpet soars over the cacophony followed by a violin solo and a return to the theme, where Ayler takes a high register solo over the martial theme. "Medley" takes off at full blast hitting on Ayler's familiar folk-gospel compositional themes along the way and tying them together with sections of torrid free improv. "Our Prayer" ends the disc with the full band playing together and Ayler ripping another solo with fire-breathing trumpet and pounding drums in support.

This was a very impressive disc - a little exhausting considering the length of it (79 min.) and the ferocity of the playing. Ayler was leading one of his finest groups and was clearly heading toward the triumphant live performances this would be chronicled in the Impulse release The Village Concerts.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Pharoah Sanders – Save Our Children (Verve, 1999)

Today is Pharoah Sanders’ 66th birthday, and I celebrated by playing the only album of his that is on my mp3 player. Save Our Children isn’t Pharoah’s best album, but it’s an example of the music he made with Bill Laswell in the 1990’s tapping into Laswell’s motif of new-age/ethnic music. The title track kicks off the disc with sleek pop-rap vocals and heavy electronics – Sanders almost comes off as a sideman on his own record here!

“Berkeley Square” is a ballad performance of the well-known standard with synth strings and a very smooth performance. Fans of Sanders’ hair-raising 1960’s music may not take to this too kindly, because the strings are just too much. On the upside, Pharoah does play ballads well, proving that he is much more than just a one-dimensional musician. “Jewels of Love” brings back some of the Pharoah sound of the old Impulse recordings with Indian instruments adding texture to the sound. Electric keyboards kick in around the 3:20 mark and Sanders comes in with a mellow, peaceful sound on soprano sax. “Kazuko” has a synthesized opening as befits a Laswell production, with Sanders improvising over it in a spare and mournful fashion. There’s a very “new-age” quality to the performance – kind of dull, truth be told. Sanders goes back on the tenor improvising over the synth to take the tune out.

“The Ancient Sounds” has the Indian instruments again, with Sanders taking a very eastern tone, possibly processed through electronics. Percussion kicks in at the 3:20 mark to give things a needed boost. Things really start to cook with the percussion and electronics and then Pharoah comes in to improvise strongly over this base, including some of his trademark overblowing – this is a highpoint of the album. “Far Off Sand” ends the disc with another middle eastern sounding with call-to-prayer type vocals.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Dexter Gordon – Dexter Calling (Blue Note, 1961)

Dexter Gordon was at the highpoint of his memorable career while signed to Blue Note Records during the early and mid 60’s. This record features Gordon with Kenny Drew on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Much of the material keeps a pretty brisk pace and shows Gordon stretching out and soloing at length.

“Soul Sister” opens the record with a mice mid-tempo feel, both Gordon and Kenny Drew get the opportunity for excellent solos. “Modal Mood” is a very interesting performance in which Gordon shows off a surprising John Coltrane influence. A burning, up-tempo performance but not in Gordon’s usual bebop based up-tempo way, but taking things pretty way out as if he’d been spending time listening to “Chasin’ the Trane.” “I Want More” brings things back to the hard bop arena where Dexter is more comfortable. This is classic Gordon playing with a medium-fast speed with a stentorian tone. Kenny Drew also gets an excellent solo spot.

“End of a Love Affair” is played as a swinging flag waver with Dexter’s deep dark tone soling over the rest of the band. Dexter plays with fluid grace, always in control. “Ernie’s Tune” finally slows things down to a ballad tempo, with the leader getting a lush and unhurried Lester Young like tone. The final tunes, “Smile” and “Landslide” turn the heat back up the mid-fast tempos and swing ferociously. This album is a fine example of Gordon at the height of his powers in the mid-60’s, and all are well worth tracking down.

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Monday, October 11, 2004

Ahmad Jamal - Re-Evaluations: The Impulse Years (Impulse, 1974)

Ahmad Jamal only spent a few years with the Impulse label, from 1968 - 1971, but they were important ones in the pianist's career and development. Jamal burst onto the jazz scene in the 1950's heralded by Miles Davis and others for his unique piano trio style and for the use of spaces and pauses during performances to let the music breathe. After the breakup of that original trio during the 1960's, Jamal's music took on other characteristics - those of soft to loud dynamics that would increasingly become a part of his performing style.

This out of print two record set shows how Jamal and his new group were in a transitional stage during this period but were still creating excellent music. There are a couple of compositions by Antonia Carlos Jobim, along with a couple of compositions by the leader himself. Some standout performances on this album include a beautiful reading of the haunting Oliver Nelson standard "Stolen Moments” and a pulsating, urgent Jamal original entitled "Manhattan Reflections" where stabbing piano notes are juxtaposed against insistent bass playing to an excellent effect.

Another interesting performance is "Bogotá", taking up the entire third side of the record and allowing the band to stretch out in live performance. This piece also has Jamal on electric Fender Rhodes piano for some portions of the improvisation, showing that he was well aware of what was going on in the jazz scene around him and was willing to experiment.

While not as well thought of as his early popular records on the Chess label or his recent elder-statesman records on Verve, Jamal's Impulse recordings left some music of true value. If you have a turntable and an interest in Ahmad Jamal, this record is well worth searching for.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Groundtruther - Latitude (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

This disc really seemed to have "train wreck" written all over it, and it's a tribute to the musicians involved that it actually turned out so well. The group is a duo of soul-jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, downtown percussionist Bobby Previte and on several tunes they are joined by alto saxophonist Greg Osby. All of the tunes are electronically manipulated, something akin to the manipulations that FLAM does on the Matthew Shipp Thirsty Ear releases.

The disc as a whole works very well, in fact it is probably one of the most unique and interesting CDs to come out in 2004. Although Osby now has a reputation for being a straight-laced acoustic musician, he began his career with hip-hop jazz in the M-Base collective, so this isn't quite as big a leap into the unknown as you might think. The electronic beats and manipulation of the source music is quite prevalent throughout the album, but it adds texture rather than detracting from the music. This is an adventurous disc, and another winning entry from Thirsty Ear.

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Friday, October 08, 2004

A couple of interesting articles:

The New York Times has an article by Ben Ratliff from a few days ago, going over some new releases including the new Alice Coltrane disc.

An article from the Newark Star Leger about the history of our humble little jazz radio station, WBGO.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Albert Ayler – Holy Ghost Discs One & Two (Revenant, 2004)

Holy Ghost is the long-awaited boxed set with ten discs worth of previously unreleased material by the legendary avant-garde saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler. Packed in a large plastic replica “spirit box” with a hard cover 200 page book and some other ephemera, it’s quite an artifact. It’s interesting that I can buy a ten disc boxed set with all this stuff for around $80, but the new Miles Davis set with less music and “stuff” costs over $100!

The music is in chronological order, so it kicks off with Ayler in Europe in 1962 playing with a very conventional group of musicians who were clearly not ready for the journey that he was starting to embark upon. It’s interesting to hear Ayler play with this relatively straight-ahead backing group on some standards, notably “Sonnymoon For Two” and “Summertime” during which he starts to hint at the dark wide tone he would use in future recordings. Disc one then moves on to a fascinating find, Ayler sitting in with Cecil Taylor’s group in Copenhagen. This was around the time Taylor recorded his famous album Nefertiti and Ayler fits right in with the group improvising well and truly holding his own.

Disc Two documents Ayler back in the U.S. with sympathetic backing form Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray and it marks the first appearance in this set of some of the themes that Ayler would play for the rest of his life. “Ghosts,” “The Wizard” and “Spirits” would all hearken back to an earlier time in African-American music when brass funeral bands and field-hollers were common throughout the south. Despite the relative simplicity of the themes, Ayler and company make the most of them, staying rooted in the gospel/spiritual ground, but using volume and texture to explore the length and breadth of the musical possibilities that these compositions allow. The sound quality is surprisingly good for these recordings, the subtlety of Murray’s rhythms and Peacock’s bass come through clearly, and the leader’s saxophone comes through like an air-raid siren.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Matthew Shipp - Harmony and Abyss (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

This is Matthew Shipp's most recent entry in the Blue Series he curates for the Thirsty Ear label. Once again it's a mixture of acoustic jazz and electronics with some remixing and synth programming thrown in to boot. This is pretty similar to Shipp's other entries in the series, so fans should be pleased with the effort, while there is nothing here to change the minds of the skeptical. Shipp performs on synth in addition to piano, joined by regular cohorts William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and remixer and electronic manipulator FLAM.

“Ion” opens with synthesized strings and piano at a medium tempo with electronic beats and then an acoustic piano break. “New ID” has a slow piano opening which gives way to heavy beats as things take off with percussive piano playing off against the electronic beats with Parker’s plucked bass adding yet another rhythm to the mix. He seems to be a little more well recorded on this disc – the acoustic bass was getting lost amongst the electronics in previous Shipp Thirsty Ear releases. “3 in 1” puts the electronics on hold for a moment with a straight piano trio piece with some subtle beats. “Virgin Complex” has a synth opening with distorted dark piano chords, bowed bass and sci fi synth. Lest things get too serious, “Galaxy 105” has funky bass and an upbeat swinging piano - very jaunty music, nice stuff but perhaps a little out of place in this album. “String Theory” blasts us back into the electronic realm with synth and electronics as FLAM takes center stage.

“Blood 2 the Brain” has piano with electronic beats which mix with live drum beats. This is an interesting well integrated track, perhaps the most successful on the record, with the synths acting as arrangements. “Invisible Light” has piano with percussion. “Abyss” leaves the realm of jazz almost entirely for soundscapes of electronic music - organ like synth with bowed bass, Parker’s work is the only grounding in jazz as the music reaches for the stars.

This may be more of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary album for Shipp – he’s consolidated his interests in acoustic and electronic music so they flow together almost seamlessly. Now it will be interesting to see what kinds of wrinkles he can throw into future releases to keep the music fresh.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, October 04, 2004

Digital Portable Audio Magazine

Browsing around at Barnes and Noble I came across the new magazine Playlist which is dedicated to mp3 players, gadgets and the like. It's published by the people who make MacWorld so there's a definite "iPod bias" but a lot of the articles and information are usable by other players as well.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Strange but true

A member of the jazz forum posted a bizzare story from the Wall Street Journal (!) about jazz bassist Cecil McBee, here's an excerpt:

Cecil McBee, an American jazz musician on tour in Japan, made an unscheduled stop one night in the early 1990s. A friend in Tokyo hurried him off to a shopping mall and said there was something he just had to see.When the elevator doors opened on the third floor, Mr. McBee couldn't believe his eyes: The words "Cecil McBee" were emblazoned above the window of a chain store selling clothes to teenagers. Ever since, in Japanese and U.S. courts, Mr. McBee, who has appeared for 40 years with the likes of Benny Goodman and Miles Davis, has been on a crusade to reclaim his name. The 69-year-old bass player hasn't been able to stop his moniker from appearing on bikinis, dog sweaters, cellphone covers and credit cards.

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Tortoise - It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey, 2004)

Tortoise is an interesting band, standing at the nexus of rock and roll, jazz and electronic music, but fitting easily into none of the above categories. This Chicago instrumental group continues to defy categorization and expectation with their new album. The record begins with the title track, opening with a slinky drumbeat groove mixed with electric guitar. Electronic beats and cool vibraphone also keep things pretty upbeat.

Things slow down with "The Lithium Shifts," which, as can be expected by the title of the piece has a subtle narcotic quality. Electronic beats open the music with sampled voices moaning wordless vocals. There's light drifting feel to the music. Things become a little more urgent with "Crest" which introduces darker piano chords, and more aggressive prog-rock like electronics. Synthesized strings add some more texture to the piece, lending the music an almost symphonic quality. "Stretch" and "Salt the Skies" attempt to pick up the pace a little bit by adding elements of funk to the mix, but things never quite leave the cerebral realm to become danceable. "Dot/Eyes" takes the fastest pace of the album with heavy percussion mixing live drums and electronic percussion. Sampled voices are added again and the whole proceeding takes on an ominous urgency before stopping abruptly - a strange ending for a song that seemed to be building so forcefully.

There is some music that is described as "aural wallpaper" something that while not unpleasant, never jumps out of the background to command your attention. That's really where this album lies - pleasant background music, whose true potential will be released when Tortoise performs live, improvising with and manipulating the music to create something new out of the seeds of music presented here.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, October 01, 2004

Jazz Hall of Fame

Here's an article/press release about the new Jazz Hall of Fame begun by Lincoln Center w/ capsule biographies of the inductees.

Send comments to: Tim