Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Soft Machine – Out-Bloody-Rageous (Sony International, 2005)

This is a collection of material by the British progressive – psychedelic rock / jazz fusion band Soft Machine. The band had a fascinating evolution during the 1967-1973 period covered by this set with band members coming and going and the music continuously evolving. At the beginning of their life as a band, Soft Machine was a “Nuggets” type British psychedelic band with shorter and poppier songs that contained a particularly quirky British sensibility. Songs like “We Did It Again” and “A Concise British Alphabet” from the bands first couple of albums had them in this short pop song mode.

Things start to get even more interesting with the next album, imaginatively entitled Third. Featuring epic side-long improvisational songs which still contained some vocals at this stage, this record and songs like this compilation’s title track, “Out-Bloody-Rageous,” start to take band in a more progressive rock direction. From here on, the band used their impressive instrumental chops to move into a jazz fusion direction.

As opposed to the afro-funk direction Miles Davis was taking fusion on the other side of the Atlantic, Soft Machine kept true their rock roots using electric piano, synthesizer, and electric guitars and bass to blast off on their improvisations. This is a well chosen introduction to an interesting group that was always evolving. While not that well known in the United States during their time, the band had quite an influence on the European rock and jazz scenes of the time and the former members continue to do so as they get together in groups like Softworks and Soft Machine Legacy.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Interesting articles (About Sonny Rollins)

The Boston Globe has two interesting articles on its web site about Sonny Rollins new album The 9-11 Concert:

One: Anyone who attended Sonny Rollins's memorable Sept. 15, 2001, concert at the Berklee Performance Center should be delighted to learn it was recorded -- and that an abridged CD version is being released on Tuesday, titled ''Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert."

Two: Carl Smith, now 66, doesn't call himself a bootlegger. The Sept. 15 concert would be just one of four he recorded between 2001 and April 2003. His main job is serving as a self-appointed archivist who has, over time, acquired more than 350 live recordings of Rollins. They range from a 1949 tape of a 19-year-old Rollins trying a sax at Seymour's Record Shop in Chicago to a concert this past June in Rochester, N.Y.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dr. John - The Best of the Parlophone Years (Blue Note, 2005)

This compilation is from the records the good doctor has put out over the past couple of years, and it's a bit of an odd one considering that he only put out three records in this period... looks like a bit of a Blue Note cash grab, but it can still be useful if you heard some of the man's music live or on the radio but don't have the albums, which were a couple of New Orleans swampers and a Duke Ellington tribute. All of which were good in their own way, but never quite reached the leve of the voodo man's best work (1968's Gris-Gris.)

But there are always gems to be unearthed, and the funked up version of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" puts a very unexpected twist on an old chestnut. Dr. John's plea to the allmighty, "Hello God" lays the problems of the world on the line pretty well, and "Marie Laveau" sets up a chill-inducing New Orleans swamp groove. For some unfathonable reason (afraid of a backlash?) "Soulful Warrior," one of the best songs he has ever recorded was left off of this compilation. A heartbreaking meditation on war and combat, it is a song that begs to be heard in this political climate - seek it out!

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Billy Bang – Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time, 2005)

Violinist and composer Billy Bang saw some horrific things during his service in the Vietnam War, things that he has been trying to grapple with ever since. In an effort to finally make peace with himself after all these years, Bang invited a group of musicians, all of whom served in the war, to make an album of the experience. The result, Vietnam: the Aftermath was a cathartic breakthrough for Bang and won him Album of the Year in the Cadence Magazine reader’s poll. This album picks up where that one left off, and continues the same fiery improvisation over Asian themed melodies.

This is another courageous album as Bang continues to face down the demons that have plagued him. It’s a little mellower than the previous CD and with song titles like “Reflections” and “Meditations” it’s possible that Bang has moved past the need for confrontation and now can begin the search for peace. Some great sidemen aid in the task. Enlisting heavyweights like James Spaulding and Henry Threadgill on alto saxophone and flute ensure that the music will be nimble to move in any direction Bang chooses. What’s most interesting is some beautifully haunting vocals that give much of the record an ethereal air.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Captain Beefheart – Clear Spot (Reprise, 1972)

This was something of a departure for the Beefheart ensemble. After making a couple of avant-garde rock and roll masterpieces in Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off Baby, the Captain and the Magic Band started adding some ballads and some tunes that played down the stranger side of their music. Still, much of the music was well off the radar of most mainstream rock listeners, but of the “compromise” albums Beefheart made, this was arguably the most successful, although longtime Beefheart wonks may cringe at some of the slower paced material.

There's no hint of the compromise to come as the album blasts off with one of the Magic Band's classic fractured blues riffs and the Captain’s free-association lyrics on “The Low Yo-Yo Stuff.” Same thing with the twisted social commentary of “Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man,” as he supports the women’s liberation movement in his own unique way. The shock comes with the ballads, especially “Too Much Time” with its cloying background singers sounding like a schlock song from Bread or some other light-rock group. “My Head is My Only House Unless It Rains” is a ballad that actually works, however – the song is accessible, yet strange… what does the title mean, anyway?

It all adds up to a pretty strong album. While it is not as grab-you-by-the-throat amazing as Trout Mask Replica, this may be the ideal album to use when introducing someone to the strange and wonderful world of Captain Beefheart. The album has melodic songs and ballads that people can grasp, but also contains targeted blasts of the bizarre and unusual.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Iggy Pop - A Million in Prizes (Virgin, 2005)

Hard to believe that Iggy Pop has been kicking around the music business for almost 40 years (hard to believe he's still alive after all the abuse he's put himself through!) This compilation takes a deep look into Pop's career and finds a lot to admire from this one-time blues drummer turned punk icon. This two disc set kicks off in fine fashion with some classic Stooges tunes like the Ron Asheton fueled "1969" and the epochal "I Want to Be Your Dog." Then things move into the James Williamson era Stooges (all Stooges records are great, but they fall into two categories defined by different lead guitar players) for snarling proto-punk like "Search and Destroy" and "Raw Power."

Iggy left the Stooges in the early 70's and through drink and drugs nearly became the prototype deranged rock and roller. Shepherded into the studio by David Bowie, Pop began his solo career with some overproduced but excellent records like The Idiot and Lust for Life. After his association with Bowie ended, Iggy entered another journeyman phase, putting out inconsistent music that always seemed to have a gem or two buried in it. The real accomplishment of this set is to cherry pick the best tunes from a scattered solo career and present them in a logical way. While I could do without some of his lightweight collaborations with Debbie Harry, most of the tunes are prime Pop.

Iggy reunited with the Ron Asheton era Stooges around 2000 and the two live tracks included here, "T.V. Eye" and "Loose" defy the old notion that you can't go home again. Iggy sounds completely re-energized and the band takes no prisoners. The remaining tracks from his recent solo albums like "Corruption" and "Skull Ring" continue this renaissance - my only regret is the absence of the title track to American Caesar, which is one of the weirdest and wildest things he ever recorded. Regardless, this is an excellent compilation, and anyone interested in this wild man should keep an eye out for it.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Once a Punk, Always a Punk...

Thanks a lot to John T. for passing this story my way about John Lydon aka Johny Rotten mixing it up outside the U.S. Embassy in London. Too bad he wasn't leading an anti-war rally:

Onlookers, included Scots pop duo The Proclaimers, saw Lydon shout: "F**k off!" Pursey continued, "Next thing I knew, he'd thrown his coffee all over me." Despite Pursey's claims, Lydon denies his bad behaviour, saying, "All the usual low-rent and lies. He's not fit to be in the same sentence as me. What do you expect from a low-rent fake 'mockney' (fake east Londoner) two-bob runt?"

Monday, August 22, 2005

Revolutionary Ensemble – The People’s Republic (A&M/Horizon, 1975)

The Revolutionary Ensemble leaped back into the public consciousness last year by releasing their first album in 30 years on the Pi label. This is the one prior to that before the group made up of Leroy Jenkins on violin, Sirone (Norris Jones) on bass and Jerome Cooper on drums and percussion took an extended hiatus from recording. The group members were hardly idle during this time frame, performing live and making records under their own names as well as teaching.

The first side of the album includes the composition “New York” which features Jenkins’ fast paced violin playing over superb support from Sirone and Cooper. “Trio For Trio” is a more arranged sounding piece of music with classical overtones adding trombone to the trio’s arsenal. “The People’s Republic” is a very interesting, almost Art Ensemble-ish in its slowly evolving construction based around vocals – not traditional singing, but chants, yelps and screams. Using the vocals with the scrapes and plucks of the violin and very percussive bass and drums creates something of an otherworldly effect.

Finally, “Ponderous Planets” which sounds very much like a Sun Ra title finishes the album. This selection is nearly suite-like in its linked sections of composition and improvisation, ending with a trio improvisation taken at a breakneck pace. This was a very interesting record and fans of jazz violin or 70’s loft scene era jazz should definitely be on the lookout for it.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cool Site

Erik Telford sent me a link to his very cool Miles Davis blog Miles Radio. He hosts a radio show that can be accessed through the web once a week and a lot of Miles Davis related information, including the release date for the much anticipated Cellar Door recordings from 1970.

Sens comments to: Tim

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Michael Brecker Update

Saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker has been battling a serious illness, and this article from the New York Times provides an update on his condition:

Mr. Brecker, 56, was recently found to have myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells. His doctors say he needs a blood stem cell and bone marrow transplant, a harrowing procedure that will be possible only if Mr. Brecker finds a stem cell donor with a specific enough genetic match for his tissue type. So far, they have been unable to find one from the millions of people on an international registry for bone marrow donors.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bittorrent Boogie

Sun Ra - Venice, Italy 11/24/77 (DVD) This is a short television broadcast of an interview and solo piano recital in Venice. There is some great footage of Sun Ra walking around the ancient city, brooding on the nature of mankind. Too bad most of the interview is illegible as Ra's rant is translated into Italian. Some of the English seeps through however as Ra speaks of the happiness he finds when he travels to other dimensions! The piano concert is pretty short and is recorded in a studio. Ra's piano is fascinating to watch, because it was often obscured by his direction of the band, like Duke Ellington's. Ra's piano technique betrays his swing influences, while at the same time using some odd flourishes a la Thelonious Monk. Interesting stuff - just which I spoke Italian!

David Murray Octfunk Quartet - Berkeley, CA 7/8/91 This concert catches David Murray in a quartet setting in his old California stomping grounds. Backed by guitar, bass and drums he truly does bring the funk although the "oct" is something of a mystery. Murray grew up playing R&B and gospel, so this is hardly a stretch for him and and his slightly hysterical tenor saxophone fits right in with the proceedings as he weeps and wails over a bluesy, funky groove. "High Priest" takes things to the mountain from the jump and "Blues for Savannah" proves that while Murray may be categorized as an avant-gardist, his true allegiance lies with the classic blues and ballad tenor players like Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves. Good stuff.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

How Jimi Got Out of the Army has a review of the new Jimi Hemdrix biography Room Full of Mirrors by Charles R. Cross, with an interesting revelation:
Hendrix's subterfuge, contained in his military medical records, is revealed for the first time in Charles R. Cross' new biography, "Room Full of Mirrors." Publicly, Hendrix always claimed he was discharged after breaking his ankle on a parachute jump, but his medical records do not mention such an injury.

In regular visits to the base psychiatrist at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in spring 1962, Hendrix complained that he was in love with one of his squad mates and that he had become addicted to masturbating, Cross writes. Finally, Capt. John Halbert recommended him for discharge, citing his "homosexual tendencies."

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Critical of criticism

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt writes an interesting article on entitled Modern Jazz Criticism:

Some time ago I was having dinner with a musician friend of mine and we started talking about the state of modern jazz criticism. Ever since I can remember, I never understood the profession of criticism. I always thought that everyone’s a critic in some way or another, so why pay any substantial attention to any one person because that’s their job?!

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Bill Frisell - East/West (Nonesuch, 2005)

Bill Frisell’s newest album finds him back in the trio format with some old companions playing live dates on both the east and west coasts. He looks back to the mellow music he made in this format on albums like Good Dog Happy Man and The Willies, with some covers thrown in as well that would not sound out of place on Frisell’s classic albums like Have a Little Faith and This Land. Although I still prefer to hear him in a larger band setting, there is something to be said for the easygoing familiarity within which the trio operates. The only drawback is that they sometimes fail to push each other to reach beyond themselves into new territory.

The West CD is made up of longer electrical jams, kicking off with one of the most interesting of the quirky covers he’s done in a while. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” has a slinky feel, hinting at the familiar melody while not giving in to it outright. “Blues For Los Angeles” cuts a tough bluesy groove over a straight percussion backdrop. “Shenandoah” slows this down a bit with a loping majestic Americana feel, although pasting some electronic loops on as a tag ending does hit at a bit of a subversive sense of humor. “Pipe Down” makes things a bit funky with some nice work from Victor Krauss and Kenny Wollesen. Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” ends disc one with a slow mellow reading of the anti-war standard. Things are pretty laid back here, but pick up toward the end, with the band sticking close to the melody throughout.

The East disc was recorded at the Village Vanguard and has a much more intimate, jazzy vibe then the west coast CD. Henry Mancici’s “The Days and Wine and Roses” takes a very jazzy turn with Frisell playing acoustic guitar and Wollensen chipping in some fine brushwork. “Ron Carter” doesn’t quite have the smoking solo that made the studio version such a jaw-dropper although the leader is able to get in some fine bluesy licks. Throughout the second disc there are short interludes of electronic guitar loops that act as something of a bridge between pieces. Overall this is another fine effort from Bill Frisell. If it isn’t quite as groundbreaking as his last couple of albums, there is a sense of joy in hearing the music performed live before an appreciative audience.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sunny Murray – Perles Noirs Vol. 2 (Eremite, 2005)

Murray is one of the masters of free jazz drumming and here he’s paired up with the Sam Rivers influenced multi reedman Sabir Mateen who does a little leather lunged fire breathing on alto saxophone, and also throws in some deft post-bop touches, especially on “Top Dog’s Boogie” where he’s just hell for leather over a twenty minute improvisation. There’s an ominous, quiet drums solo from Murray on the same track like distant thunder building, and a very nice spot for special guest Dave Burrell on piano who takes a wonderfully full sounding piano solo.

Top Dog is just killer stuff. There’s a deep rhythmic drum solo from Murray to boot, definitely the highpoint of the album. Another great moment is when the group launches into the mournful haunted melody of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” with Louis Belugenis on tenor saxophone and Alan Silva on bass rounding out the sound and adding some heft to this classic composition. All in all this is an excellent free jazz compact disc, so if you like the stuff from the outer fringes (although truth be told, this isn’t really super wild) you’ll really enjoy this. Can’t wait to hear the first one!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Herbie Hancock – V.S.O.P. (Columbia, 1976)

This was recorded at the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival and presented as a retrospective of the music of Herbie Hancock. It's mostly well known as the first reunion of the classic Miles Davis band of the mid 1960's (sans Miles, of course) but there's also a side of the great Mwandishi band, back together for the concert and the final side is of Hancock's then current free-funk ensemble. For showing the many sides of Herbie Hancock, this is a very interesting record.

The acoustic set, with Freddie Hubbard filling in the trumpet slot is made up of a couple of Hancock compositions, “Eye of the Hurricane” and “Maiden Voyage” plus the classic Wayne Shorter composition “Nefertiti” which was recorded by the Davis band on the album of the same name. Hubbard lacks the subtlety of Miles Davis, but the band still sounds tight ten years on. Hancock’s Mwandishi ensemble comes next, a fascinating group that had just broken up a few years earlier, after making three records where Hancock’s fender Rhodes piano meshed with layers of reeds and percussion. Eddie Henderson plays some beautiful delicate trumpet on the lengthy “Toys” and the whole ensemble shines on “You’ll Know When You Get There.”

The concert wraps up with the funk band that Hancock was leading at the time of the recording. These is probably the weakest of the tracks on the album, as the groove tends to be pretty static and the improvisations are not nearly as adventurous as the two previous units. Still, overall this is an interesting summation of Herbie Hancock’s musical journey up to 1976. It would be interesting to reprise this concept now, nearly twenty years after V.S.O.P. It would probably take a boxed set to contain all the music, but it would be one fascinating trip.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Allaboutjazz has an interview with James "Blood" Ulmer entitled James Blood Ulmer: "There is Another Place to Go". Please note, there are some mistakes in the introduction to the interview, but the interview itself is quite interesting.

The blues, see, people don’t want to look at it right. They don’t realize that blues is an ingredient. And it’s in everything. You can put it in all music, all kind of music. Blues is in everything. So that ingredient is there, and you can make it stand alone, it’ll stand alone, too. But it’s in other things, and I’ve been doing that forever. I don’t have to make it stand alone just to prove that I am bluesy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Various Artists – Hastings Street Grease, Vol. 2 (Blue Suit, 2001)

Subtitled Detroit Blues is Alive! This collection focuses on the motor city’s finest bluesmen, including some famous names. Detroit is known today as a mecca of garage rock, giving birth to bands like the White Stripes and the Dirtbombs. But the city has always had a deep musical history in jazz and blues as well, with the blues scene kicking into high gear when John Lee Hooker moved to the city in the late 1940’s. Hooker’s imposing shadow looms large over this collection as well, with his longtime sideman Eddie Kirkland present on many cuts as well as other artists covering Hooker staples “I’m in the Mood” and “Boogie Chillun’” It’s too bad nobody chose to cover Hooker’s tune “The Motor City is Burnin’” which would have been a natural fit.

What makes this collection such a joy is that it’s an unadorned blast of raw unpretentious blues by performers who have been in the game for a long time and have no need to show off but let things flow naturally. Harmonica Shah may be the MVP of the disc, his cuts as a leader, “Have Mercy, Mr. Reed” and the nasty “Bring Me My Shotgun” have a rough and ready swagger and some killer Sonny Boy influenced harp. Detroit Piano Fats (great name!) provides a brief talking-blues history of the Hastings Street scene and of course, Eddie Kirkland throws down as well with some great guitar solos and a couple of nice tracks as a leader “There’s Got to Be Some Changes Made” and “Going Back to the Backwoods.” All in all this is a great primer on music for one of the world’s finest blues cities.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Newark Star Ledger has a nice review from Zan Stewart of a recent avant garde reunion concert:

In the 1960s halcyon days of the jazz avant-garde, tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille were firebrands, known for their no-holds-barred performances. Thursday at the Iridium, the foursome, all premier jazz voices who have played with each other variously since the early '50s and have been a working quartet since 2000, showed how much their prerogatives have changed -- at least in this ensemble. Their first set was laid-back and melodic yet with an openness, a style that has deep roots with all the players.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Little Milton Passes On

Rolling Stone has a obiturary and a short biography of bluesman Little Milton, who passed away after suffering a stroke:

Blues Hall of Famer Little Milton, who combined the tough electric blues sound of the early 1950s with the punchy, showtime arrangements of R&B, soul and funk, died in Memphis yesterday (August 4) of complications from two recent strokes. He was seventy.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Interesting article

The Newark Star Ledger has an article that details items up for auction from the estate of Dizzy Gillespie:

The memorabilia range from the spectacular to the everyday. Among the former is the hybrid trumpet, called a "pudgy" -- part trumpet, part cornet, part fluegelhorn -- designed by Bob DeNicola of Trenton. Holter said it might fetch $5,000 to $10,000.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Elvis Presley - Sunrise (RCA, 1999)

These are the original Sun Records recordings of Elvis Presley released on a two CD set containing the original master takes on one disc, and then some outtakes and rarities on the second. These recordings have come to be considered one of the founding blocks that all rock and roll would be built on and have developed a mythic reputation over the years. Even more interesting is the light it shines on the influences that Presley brought into his music, drawing on everything from blues and R&B to country and hillbilly music. Elvis' blues influence can be heard right off the bat on this compilation with his famous cover of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right Mama" with its choppy rhythm guitar and strutting vocals. Kokomo Arnold's "Milkcow Blues Boogie" also gets an Elvis makeover.

Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" was a staple of early Presley and there are two versions of this country bluegrass standard here. One aspect of Presley's work that I never had much patience with was his ballad singing such as on "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." Much like burdening Charlie Parker with strings, it makes what's normally fresh and exciting into something maudlin and pale. But overall, this is a valuable collection. Presley's presence in American music and the music of the world at large is massive and cannot be overlooked. These discs show how it all got started and contain an excellent liner essay from Presley biographer Peter Guralnick.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

The 101'ers - Elgin Ave. Breakdown (EMI, 2005)

The 101'ers are legendary for being the first band that rock and roll legend Joe Strummer (The Clash) played in professionally. Squatting in abandoned buildings and on the dole in the wasteland of mid-70's London, Strummer's first band mined the influences of 1950's R&B and greaser rock and roll, but you can also hear the seeds of what would eventually become the sound of The Clash in the slashing guitars and anthemic vocals. This was originally released as an EP back in the day, but this re-issue fleshes things out a little bit by adding some unreleased tracks and alternate takes. In many ways this is a model historical re-issue of an obscure band. The music has been cleaned up (but not too much) and the package contains excellent liner notes and photographs.

As for the music, in many ways it foreshadows the music that Strummer would make in his solo albums after the folding of Clash. The rockabilly influenced "Motor Boys Motor" and a live version of the old R&B favorite "Junko Partner" show the band's reverence for the music of the past, while "Letsagetabitarockin'" kicks off the CD with a blast of high energy rock and roll, and "Rabies (From the Dogs of Love)" shows that the punk rock revolution is just around the corner. Fans of The Clash shouldn't wait to pick up this excellent re-issue, one of the best of the year. Even fans of old school rock and roll may find much to savor.

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