Friday, May 30, 2008

Love - Forever Changes Collector's Edition (Elektra, 1967, 2008)

Arthur Lee's band Love was one of the most artistic and creative bands of the early rock 'n' roll era. On this album they employed string arrangements and other additions to create a masterpiece of songcraft, raising the idea of pop music to high art. This album has been re-released several times, and this current edition is a two-disc set with the original album on disc one and then disc two containing an alternate mix of the album and some B sides and singles. Set at the height of the Summer of Love, Forever Changes spoke to both the joys and the fears of that time in America. The psychedelic arrangements of "Alone Again Or" and "andmoreagain" are framed by gentle strings and a wistful melancholy with a longing for peace and justice. But amidst all of the incense and peppermints, is the undercurrent of unhappiness and anxiety in the lyrics of "Little Red Telephone" and "The Daily Planet" shows the fears of racial inequality and war. The alternate mix of the album really isn't that much different than the original version, only having slight variations in arrangements or vocals. There is an excellent booklet of liner notes with essays and photographs included. This expanded edition is probably best geared toward fanatics of either the band or psychedelic rock in general. But the album itself in it's original state shouldn't be missed on any account. Along with the work of The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, Love was expanding the idea of rock 'n' roll and enlarging thepalette available for all of the musicians that followed them.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-1940 (Mosaic, 2008)

Tenor saxophonist Lester Young had bounced around the Midwest in a variety of groups after leaving the family band his father led. Catching up with the burgeoning Kansas City scene in the mid 1930's he fell in with the group of swing and blues musicians who were gathering around pianist and bandleader Count Basie. Young's unique light tone on the tenor was unusual for the time when saxophonists were in thrall to the heavier Coleman Hawkins sound. But Young doggedly persevered and slowly began to gain acceptance, helped by winning an epic after-hours cutting contest with Hawkins (recounted in detail in the liner notes.) Young became the featured soloist in the Basie orchestra, and that band eventually caught the ear of record producer John Hammond who brought them to New York to record for Columbia Records. This boxed set collects the music Basie recorded for Columbia and associated labels in the immediate pre-war era, with Young at the center of it all. The band also included other luminaries like the singers Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes , and instrumentalists Buck Clayton, Freddie Green and Harry "Sweets" Edison. The music is extraordinary throughout, the band could seemingly take any riff or idea and make it into a mini masterpiece. Mostly based on the blues and honed by one nighters all across the Midwest, the band had a more rough edged sound than did the suave and boundary stretching Ellington ensemble, but what the may have lacked in sophistication, they more than made up in drive and charisma. Rushing stands out as a front man singing the dark and ominous "Evenin'" and the deep blues of "I Left My Baby" and "Goin' to Chicago" but the real star of the show is Lester Young, whose extraordinary solos on the genre defining tracks like "Taxi War Dance" and "Lester Leaps In" would influence generations of saxophonists. This isn't the entire story of course, Basie was also signed to the Decca label at the time and cut many of the same pieces for them in versions that equaled or even surpassed these. But the importance of this set lies in bringing together music that had been split over several LP's of varying quality. Mosaic remasters the music to the highest quality possible for music of this vintage, and includes lengthy very well written liner essays and extraordinary photographs. This is historic music in a very classy package, and it is highly recommended.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mudcrutch - (Self Titled) (Reprise, 2008)

Mudcrutch originally began as a rock band from Gainesville, Florida before moving to southern California in the mid-1970's to take their shot at stardom. That never panned out, and then the group broke up, with bassist and singer Tom Petty picking up the pieces of the band for his backup group The Heartbreakers, and going on to pop superstardom. The band reunited in 2007 to record an album which was released this year followed by a tour. While reunion projects can be problematic, this one is quite successful, rooted in Petty's signature rootsy Americana sound while branching out occasionally into pop and country territory. There are some very nice and lyrical character studies on this album, like the devastating "Orphan of the Storm" which looks at the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the wistful "Lover of the Bayou." Some interesting rockers are available, such as the defiant "Scare Easy" and the trucker's anthem "Six Days on the Road." While there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the music here, it is a well done consolidation of traditional American rock 'n' roll, drawing from diverse influences and combining them into a cohesive whole.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miles Davis - Relaxin' With the Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige, 1956)

When Miles Davis signed a lucrative contract with Columbia records, he still owed his former label, Prestige Records, four albums. He filled this obligation with two marathon recording sessions which were split into albums and released piecemeal later on. This is one of those records, and it was made with the band that became known as the First Great Quintet, with Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
One of the most interesting aspects of this band was the contrast between the trumpeter's trim lines and the gushing music of the saxophonist. Where Davis tried to cut out all but the most essential in his solos, Coltrane seemed in a breathless rush to get it all in. These albums fascinate not only for the very high quality of the music, but the informal nature of the performances, on this occasion beginning with Davis growling at the producer before Garland's spare piano notes opens the album with "If I Were A Bell" then giving way to Davis's gentle and thoughtful reading of the melody. This has a mild middle tempo performance, as opposed to the up-tempo version of "Oleo", composed by Sonny Rollins with plenty of room for Coltrane to stretch out. But the focus of this album is on ballads, of which Davis was a master and his focused and unhurried renditions of "It Could Happen to You" and "You're My Everything" are highlights of this disc. This album and the others in the series: Cookin', Steamin' and Workin' are all classics of modern post bop and would influence legions of listeners and musicians for decades to come.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Orchestra Baobab - Made in Dakar (Nonesuch, 2008)

A longstanding band from Senegal that combines local music styles with Caribbean music as well as R&B, they create a hypnotic blend of musical styles. Some of the tracks have an easygoing and swinging tone with bubbling guitar and percussion. The guitar in particular has a unique vividness and brightness in it's tone, grabbing your attention line a neon sign on a dark night. Throbbing bass keeps the bottom in constant motion, like the great rock solid bassists of the classic Motown sessions of the past, it is locked into the complex and ever shifting drums and percussion that drives the music. Trumpets and saxophones riff and comment on the music throughout, occasionally breaking through for solos. You don't kneed to understand the Wolof language to understand the stories being told by the vocalists who sing beautifully and with great emotion. This was a wonderful and consistently enjoyable album, and anyone looking to broaden their musical horizons is urged to check it out.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Remembering Thomas Chapin

It is hard to believe that has been ten years since the death of composer, saxophonist and flautist Thomas Chapin, who died tragically just barely 40 years of age and at the height of his truly potent powers. Chapin's music appealed to me greatly in the 1990's, when I was beginning to deeply explore jazz, he reminded my of my hero Eric Dolphy, as a multi-instrumentalist of endless invention, and by all accounts a fine and generous soul as well. He came to the notice surprisingly enough through the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, which he eventually became the musical director of. This mainstream and swing element of his music was always present, and even at his most out, his music was always accessible.

Chapin recorded a few albums for the Arabesque label, before hooking up with bassist Mario Pavione and drummer Michael Sarin, to form the Thomas Chapin Trio, one of the finest ensembles of modern jazz. Recording for the Knitting Factory label, the core trio was augmented by extra strings and horns on a few albums, but it was always the near telepathic empathy and unassailable musicianship of the core trio that amazed most.

When leukemia struck, he never complained, never asked “why me” but tried traditional and non-traditional medical treatments to no avail. His death left a massive hole in the jazz world, but his spirit lives on, not just in the great music of his colleagues Mario Pavone, Peter Madsen and others, but in the extraordinarily joyous music he left during his fleeting time on Earth. His greatest legacy may be that of breaking down barriers, a realization that the terms “mainstream” and “avant-garde” are just meaningless boxes that we assign to music we haven't take the time to understand. Compassion for all people and all music like Thomas Chapin showed, is a great lesson for us all.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

James Carter – Present Tense (Emarcy, 2008)

As mercurial as he is talented, this is saxophonist Carter's fourth album on as many labels after a successful stint with Atlantic Records in the 1990's. Produced by legendary jazz re-issue maven Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records fame, he was convinced that we hadn't heard the true Carter, and vowed to bring him forth on this record. Supported by Dwight Adams on trumpet and flugelhorn, D.D. Jackson on piano, Rodney Jones on guitar, James Genus on bass, Victor Lewis on drums and Eli Fountain on percussion, they are quite successful and should be proud of their efforts. Carter is a musician with the entirety of jazz under his fingertips, and much like polymaths of the past like Jaki Byard and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, he is as comfortable with swing as with outre avant garde. Opening with the swinging "Rapid Shave" with it's brisk fanfare tempo, and along with Carter's statements, there are fine solos from the trumpet and piano. "Bro. Dolphy" is a wonderful evocation of Eric Dolphy's singular music and one of the highlights of the disc. Carter pays tribute without slavishly copying the great man's music. "Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure"plays to one of his finest strengths, that of being a great ballad player. He gives a very lyrical reading, never allowing his prodigious technique to overwhelm the melody. "Sussa Nita" and "Bossa J.C." have fine bossa nova grooves juxtaposed against deep saxophone. "Song of Delilah" has a Crescent period Coltrane feel, which is interesting because it always seemed to me that Carter drew his tenor inspiration form pre-bop masters like Don Byas and Ben Webster. "Dodo's Bounce" is a jaunty flute feature, while the lengthy "Shadowy Sands" is an atmospheric and lush performance focusing on bass clarinet. "Hymn to the Orient" uses a fast drum intro to blast us full-bore into a smoldering tenor led hard bop exploration. Like throwing a belt-high fastball to a slugger, Carter smashes it out of the park. The ballad "Tenderly" ends the album on a contemplative note, with trumpet and tenor saxophone slowly caressing the theme. This album successfully presents James Carter as an all around musician, proficient not just a number of different reed instruments, but comfortable in all tempos and situations. Where previous record labels have not known what to do with his extreme talent, Emarcy and Cuscuna realize that gimmicks are not needed, and that Carter's music speaks for itself. This album speaks with true eloquence.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mississippi Heat – Hattiesburg Blues (Delmark, 2008)

Despite their name, this is a Chicago blues band with an interesting touch of Latin music and soul surging through their music. Led by harmonicist Pierre Lacocque and vocalist Inetta Visor, the group plays mostly original music with a couple of covers thrown in. Things start off promisingly, with a very saucy and soulful blues, “Tiger Man,” featuring the strong pipes of Ms. Visor. “Chicago is My Home” is a gutsy straight up blues with guitarist and vocalist Lurrie Bell sitting in and celebrating his hometown with a fine performance. The blues is at it's core a music that is by and of the working class, and several of the songs on this disc look at what it is like to make it in the city today as a blue collar citizen. "How Much Worse Can It Be" and "Hell and Back" have well written lyrics and good musical performances that make you think, as well as dance. But the highlight of the disc for me was the fascinating instrumental "Calypso in Blue" which puts Lacocque's harmonica front and center with a strong, jazzy performance. This is a solid and well played if occasionally generic example of modern blues. The band is hardworking, and have a wide range of music that they explore.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Yorker Jazz

The occasionally annoying but often interesting jazz DJ Phil Schaap is profiled by David Remnick in The New Yorker:
"Not long ago, I listened to him play a recording of “Okiedoke,” a tune that Parker recorded in 1949 with Machito and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra. Schaap, in his pontifical baritone, first provided routine detail on the session and Parker’s interest (via Dizzy Gillespie) in Latin jazz, and then, like a car hitting a patch of black ice, he veered off into a riff of many minutes’ duration on the pronunciation and meaning of the title—of “Okiedoke.”"
Inspired by his profile of Schaap, Remnick goes on to list 100 Essential Jazz Albums:
"These hundred titles are meant to provide a broad sampling of jazz classics and wonders across the music’s century-long history. Early New Orleans jazz, swing, bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz, hard bop, free jazz, third stream, and fusion are all represented, though not equally. We have tried not to overdo it with expensive boxed sets and obscure imports; sometimes it couldn’t be helped."
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey, 2008)

Trumpeter and cornetist Rob Mazurek is the nominal leader of the Exploding Star Orchestra, a Sun Ra Arkestra like ensemble that made its debut last year with the interesting album We Are All From Somewhere Else. Trumpeter and educator Bill Dixon had been a longtime influence on Mazurek, and who invited Dixon to make an album with his large ensemble as featured soloist. Dixon and the Orchestra have stretches where the musical sound is reminiscent of the early fusion of Miles Davis, with the shimmering vibes and pungent and mysterious trumpet echoing the music of classic albums like In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, then giving way to stretches which sound like Sun Ra at his most cosmically cacophonous. The space poetry of the second track is certainly a Ra trip, but the abstract sequences of fractured poetic trumpet is pure Dixon. Full, beefy improvisation of a intergalactic big band with splashes of vibraphone providing Jackson Pollock like swathes of color compete with sections of spacey interlude are the order of the day here. This is challenging music to be sure, but it is also quite rewarding. Just as there are visionary scientists exploring the edge of the cosmos, Dixon, Mazurek and this ensemble are exploring the edges of the musical cosmos.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

I have a new online mix tape for your streaming pleasure at Muxtape. It contains music that I have been listening to recently, blogged and unblogged. Enjoy!

The playlist:
Bill Frisell - Sub-conscious Lee
Fleshtones - Shiney Hiney
Sun Ra - El is a Sound of Joy
Mudcrutch - Six Days On The Road
Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington - Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me
Elvis Costello & The Imposters - Stella Hurt
Sékouba Bambino - Famou (Remix Danse)
Brad Mehldau - Wonderwall
Elmore James - Sho' Nuff I Do
Lionel Loueke - Seven Teens (Featuring Herbie Hancock)
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - More News From Nowhere
Willis Jackson and Pat Martino - The Goose Is Loose

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Commentary on Musical Inclusiveness

Saxophonist Ken Vandermark and drummer Tim Daisy are currently on a short duo tour of Europe. Someone posted an audience recording of the concert from Graz, Austria on the Internet and it was interesting to hear Vandermark talk between songs about the grass roots organizing that had led to his tour. He talks about how difficult is to find places to play “creative music” in this challenging economic environment, and thanks the people that made the tour possible. Vandermark is one of my favorite musicians, and his music is certainly creative, but I have always been uncomfortable in labeling improvised music in this manner. Many musicians, in particular Miles Davis, have been unhappy with the word “jazz”, feeling that it did not fully describe the depth and complexity of their music. But in applying the moniker “creative music” to free jazz or improvised music outside of the jazz mainstream seems to sell other types of music short. Does this mean that when Bill Frisell deconstructs an American folk song, or James Carter improvises on a song by the rock band Pavement, that their music isn’t creative? It seems that this throws down an unnecessary gauntlet of snobbishness that isn’t required. Of course Vandermark and other musicians on the cutting edge are creative, but I think that musicians who play bebop, ballads and blues can be so as well. Arguably, they have to be even more so, since they tread on ground that has already been well trodden by others and in order to get attention for their performances they need to be especially creative in order to stand out from the crowd. It’s interesting to think about this as the Vision Festival begins next month in New York City. As the festival season begins in earnest with the JVC Festival, there will be a lot of music competing for a limited dollar. It doesn’t seem like a wise idea to split an already fractured scene even further, for example on New York City, with the mainstream centered around The Jazz Standard and Village Vanguard, the “creative” musicians around The Stone and venues in Brooklyn and Jersey City, and everybody else scrounging for gigs and recording opportunities wherever they can get them. A philosophy of musical inclusiveness would be beneficial to everybody, with a rising tide hopefully raising all boats. It’s fascinating to look at concert posters from the 1960’s to see venues hosing two or three bands a night of wildly diverse musical focus. It would be a great way to broaden horizons and break down barriers if this could be done today. If musicians and fans work together to support the music as a whole, and recognize that all musicians are creative people instead of allowing further faults to develop between groups that have more in common than they realize, there could be substantial benefits for all.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bill Frisell - History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008)

As ambitious and eclectic as ever, guitarist Bill Frisell's most recent release is a two CD set of live and studio songs covering Frisell's beloved Americana, along with jazz, classical and world music. The band joining him is made up of Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola, Hank Roberts on cello, Greg Tardy on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Ron Miles on cornet, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Jenny Scheinman and the other string players really shine on the shorter more atmospheric studio pieces, while the band as a whole gives a great reading to the Boubacar Toure song "Baba Drame", and Greg Tardy takes a majestic, explosive and deeply soulful solo on "Change is Gonna Come". The breakneck pace of the band's cartoon theme like version of Monk's "Jackie-ing" is excellent fun. After the uneasy calm of the studio pieces, the live cuts where the band takes off and really blows are welcome. The leader himself finally breaks out with a scalding electric guitar and drums interlude on "Struggle Part 2." Disc two features the beautiful and vaguely middle eastern melody of "Faces", and the gleefully impish version of Lee Konitz's "Sub-Conscious Lee" with another fine Tardy solo. The saxophonist shines again on "Waltz for Baltimore" with swaths of deep and bold tenor bursting out kaleidoscopically. Careful listening, especially on headphones will reveal details about how finely crafted this album is. There is quite a bit of music to absorb, but the depth and breadth of the band's vision is inspiring.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

World music roundup

Toumani Diabaté - The Monde Variations (Nonesuch, 2008)

The kora is one of the most beautiful and expressive instruments in music. A 21-string harp-lute used extensively by peoples in West Africa, Diabate is a contemporary master, and a crossover sensation who is popular at festivals and concerts. Although he plays with bands and other musicians, this is a crystal clear solo recital that is very well recorded so that the depth and breadth of the instrument shines through. The sound is light, but emotionally resonant, and the music is deeply thoughtful and meditative, sometimes melancholy, but never sorrowful.

Various Artists - African Party (Putumayo, 2008)

The mission of the Putumayo music label is to introduce people to a wide range of music from many cultures. To this end, they release sampler CD's from different geographic areas and musical genres. This is one of the most successful of their discs I have heard, focusing on the upbeat celebratory music of the African continent. While none of the names found on this disc may be immediately familiar, the groups play some very upbeat and enjoyable music which is buoyed by insightful horn charts and percussion.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup

The Fleshtones – Take a Good Look (Yep Roc, 2008)

The deans of New York City garage rock, The Fleshtones, Keith Streng guitar, and vocals, Peter Zaremba, harmonica and vocals, Bill Milhizer on drums, and Ken Fox on bass, play fresh, fun and completely unpretentious rock and roll. This album is consistently good and filled with enjoyable and reliably entertaining songs, and simple but effective playing. The raucous and funny "Shiney Hiney" and strutting "Never Grew Up" set the tone for the record, with juvenile lyrics and in your face music. "Jet Set Fleshtones" and "New York City" strut with good natured humor and the ironic "Back to School" proves that they aren't afraid to laugh at themselves. While other bands may be looking to make grand statements with their music, the Fleshtones have a more more modest, but still noble goal of playing straightforward guitar based rock 'n' roll and having fun with it. The perfect soundtrack to a summer afternoon, it's shallow but never stupid, flaky but always fun.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig Lazarus Dig! (Anti, 2008)

Speaking of grand statements, a rock and roll album about the biblical story of Lazarus rising from the grave might seem like a pretty heavy subject for a rock band to take on, but when it is from a songwriter as good and pleasingly warped as Nick Cave, it is a blessing indeed. In the first song alone "Larry" comes back from the dead to cruise Los Angeles and San Francisco only to end up strung out in a New York City soup kitchen. The religious themes are always delivered with a skeptical sly wink, like in "We Call Upon the Author to Explain" where answers are demanded from God, but none are forthcoming. It's not all deep navel gazing, "Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl)" is a pulverizing rocker that sounds like an outtake from last years Grinderman project, and "More News From Nowhere" taps a great melodic feel with some excellent wordplay. This is an excellent album, deep but never pretentious, it's a thinking man's rock record.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Willis Jackson & Pat Martino - Willis... With Pat (32Jazz, 1998)

Tenor saxophonist Willis "Gator" Jackson and guitarist Pat Martino performed together quite a bit in the 1960's and 70's in organ groove bands that were popular at the time. This album collects the highlights of the music they recorded for the Muse label, mostly under Jackson's leadership. The music on this CD is made up of R&B flavored cookers and slow jam ballads that would not be out of place in the Newark and Philadelphia taverns where the band plied its wares. "Gator Whale" which plays off of Jackson's nickname, and the storming "The Goose Is Loose" is indicative of the former, with the saxophonist peeling back layers of ripe melody like the layers of an onion, while Martino and a cookin' organist lay down a massive pocket and then take fine solos of their own. A version of Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann" is something of a surprise for a groove based group, but they handle it with aplomb. The slower "Bolita" and the standard "My One and only Love" both play to the groups strength as ballad players, both Jackson and Martino are willing to take their time and let the music come to them and this patience is well rewarded with fine slow groove performances. This is a collection of very good bluesy jazz from a team whose time together was sadly cut short due to health problems. But while it lasted Jackson and Martino were a potent combo which produced enjoyable and accessible jazz.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Lionel Loueke – Karibu (Blue Note, 2008)

Guitarist and vocalist Loueke came to the attention of Blue Note records while playing in Herbie Hancock's touring band. He is joined on this record by Massimo Biolcati on bass and Ferenc Nemeth on drums. Pianist Hancock and tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter guest on the record and their sheer uniqueness tends to steal some of the available thunder. Hancock in particular is just spectacular on “Seven Teens” where his unique piano style is thrown into sharp focus by the open and spare accompaniment. Shorter plays on the John Coltrane classic “Naima” and his pointillist approach to improvisation gives a new spin to this oft-performed standard. Loueke finally gets an excellent and inventive solo spot of his own near the end of the record on “Agbannon Blues.” This is a record that is a little unsure of whether it wants to examine African, jazz or pop music, and while it does each of those pretty well, the overall effect is diffused by a lack of focus and tends to be overwhelmed by the star power of Hancock and Shorter. Hopefully Blue Note will hive this unique musician a chance to shine on his own, either with a solo recording or with a trio recording sans guests.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Elmore James – The Classic Early Recordings 1951-1956 (Ace 1993, 2007)

This three disc collection takes an extended look at the first half of the lamentably short recording career of the great blues slide guitarist and singer Elmore James. Disc one begins with James's most well known song, an adaptation of Robert Johnson's “Dust My Broom.” Propelled by a stinging slide riff and the swooping harmonica of Sonny Boy Williamson II, it became an unexpected hit and launched not only his career, but was the seed of many blues and rock 'n' roll ands to come. Many of the songs he was to record in the future were based upon this riff as producers tried to recapture the magic of that hit. But he was far from a one-trick pony, as shown by the likes of the fascinating instrumental “Hawaiian Boogie” where adapts aspect of the Hawaiian stlye of slack-key guitar playing to his own electric delta blues foundation. Other notable tracks on the first CD are the strong shuffle “My Baby's Gone” and the deeply emotional slow blues “I Held My Baby Last Night” As impressive as his guitar playing is, his vocals are equally important and hair-raising in their intensity. Some singles featuring James as a sideman are also included, with him sitting in with saxophonist J.T. Brown on some jump blues, and The Bep Brown Orchestra on the ironic “Dumb Woman Blues.” The multiple takes and breakdowns found on discs two and three can be a little repetitive, but that is natural in order to pad out such a large collection. The vast majority of the music found here is electric blues of the highest order, like the scalding up-tempo boogie “Elmo's Shuffle” and the hyper-emotional ballad “Sho' Nuff I Do.” The discs come with an excellent forty page booklet of essays, photos and discography. While this big set might not be the easiest way for a newcomer to discover James's great music, once you have fallen under his spell, it is a great place to dig deeper.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Elvis Costello - Momofuku (Lost Highway, 2008)

In his notes to this new record, Costello writes "Some rock and roll music is better if you don't think too hard on it." Seriously fed up with the business of music, he had threatened to either quit recording, playing live or both. Thankfully a guest role helping out alt-country singer Jenny Lewis rekindled his love for music and sparked him to go back to his rock 'n' roll roots and make one of his best latter day records. For all of Costello's genre experiments, he is much like fellow lifers Neil Young and Van Morrison, they keep coming back to the basics to make their best statements. When he sings about his "gunslinger swagger" on the snarling "Go Away" he really means it. This is the EC that made his mark with short, sharp and witty songs; and it where he has his most success. "Stella Hurt" with the great refrain of:

Blues song! Red alert! Who made Stella hurt?

is another excellent winner in an album filled with small gems of inspired songwriting and tight performing. One of the things that has dogged him over the past twenty years is a propensity for maudlin ballads. In this case only the sentimental "My Three Sons" approaches this trap, with the other ballad, "Flutter and Wow" is a truly inspired piece of allegory and song craft. Fans who have fallen away over the past few decades may be surprised how inspired and modern the music sounds, and this album is very highly recommended.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, May 09, 2008

Dave Douglas & Keystone - Live at the Jazz Standard 4/12/08, Early Set (Greenleaf, 2008)

For the second time, Dave Douglas has offered near immediate downloads of the music his band performed during a week long run at the Jazz Standard in New York City. This kind of immediacy and warts and all releases are a wonderful treat for fans of this group, as you get to hear them in the act of creation and re-creation of their music. I downloaded the early set of the April 12 performance, and the band consisted of Douglas on trumpet, Marcus Strickland on saxophones, Adam Benjamin on fender rhodes electric piano, Brad Jones on bass, Gene Lake on drums and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. The music is drawn from recent Douglas LPs, with the keyboards and laptop adding a unique science fiction feeling to the proceedings on occasion. “Luke The Dog” mixes a funky beat with some trippy rhodes and videogame like effects from the laptop to good effect, along with solid frontline playing from the trumpet and saxophone. “Silent Stars” probes with stuttering trumpet, then twin sax and trumpet in a melancholy groove. Cleanly articulated mid tempo trumpet, solo probing sax, and a spacey rhodes interlude are featured before all the instruments come back to take things out. Ominous laptop effects open “The First Hundred Years” along with inserted atmospheric rhodes chords. Slow dark and stark trumpet slides into “Travelling Salesman”, which is a fractured and experimental performance, and adds samples of the current American president's comments on war in an ironic fashion. The instruments then kick in with improv over more samples. “Circus Peanuts” is a more accessible and whimsical performance, with a cyclic melody and strong, pithy trumpet and saxophone solos. The set ending “Tough” is a lengthy improvisation, clocking in at over sixteen minutes. Starting funky with drums and beats and strong bass, Douglas's trumpet rips in near the five minute mark backed by strong rhodes comping. He plays a strutting and potent long solo, full of invention and sounding great. Then McCaslin moves to the front, deep and strong and responding to Douglas's challenge well. A funky drum solo is also featured. It's a long track, but not a note is wasted, and it is a powerful demonstration of this group's considerable talents. This set is a fine example of this forward thinking band not afraid to take chances in a live setting. This music is challenging and thoughtful, and very good.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Newark Star-Ledger has an interesting article in today's paper:

"But "Art Ford's Jazz Party" wasn't just another one of early TV's many entertainment offerings. It was one that showcased jazz in an open, free-spirited atmosphere, much the way a nightclub would. Aired without benefit of rehearsals or set lists, "Jazz Party" established a standard that experts say has rarely, if ever, been matched."

Avant Music News points to a great blog post from The Guardian about Joe McPhee's Nation Time:
"Although Joe McPhee is not as well-known as other players in the free jazz scene, the 60s and early 70s saw work of consistent brilliance. Nation Time was his second release and captured an exact moment when black artists were politically charged with the need for change."
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The online journal Point of Departure, edited by Bill Shoemaker has a new issue available:
As Lacy listed the names of musicians that hung out with Monk in his kitchen – Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane; generally, a cross-section of the era’s innovators – I looked over to see how much tape was left on the first side of the cassette. Usually, I try to keep the recorder directly in front of me; but the layout of the room forced me to put the machine on a table behind my shoulder. To my astonishment, the machine had somehow jammed and hundreds of feet of tape were in a spaghetti-like pile.
Allmusic's blog has an interesting piece on Elvis Costello's new album:
That quicksilver speed is the key to Momofuku, what separates it from all the albums Elvis Costello has cut in the decade since he signed with Universal. Almost every record from 1998’s Painted from Memory on has had a conceptual thrust - even 2002’s When I Was Cruel was designed as a back-to-basics - but not this. It’s merely a collection of 12 songs, all bashed out in a matter of weeks, not an album that’s been labored over for months.
Ross Lawson's latest Illasounds podcast is The Time Machine 2: 1958 -
Take a trip back in time to hear jazz recorded May to August 1958: featuring Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Bud Powell, Cannonball Adderley, Lou Donaldson, Gil Evans, Cecil Taylor, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, Clark Terry, Blue Mitchell (above), Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis and Gene Ammons.
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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Maceo Parker - Roots and Grooves (Heads Up, 2008)

Tenor saxophonist Maceo Parker hooks up with the German WDR Big Band for a two disc live set, the first disc is a tribute to Ray Charles with Parker taking on the vocal duties in addition to his saxophone. The second disc has a set of James Brown styled funk that Parker's fans will be more familiar with. On the Charles tribute, the up-tempo numbers like "Hit the Road Jack" and "What I'd Say" really benefit from the horn-heavy and whip-tight big band urging them along. Parker sings well on these and on the slower soulful ballad numbers like "Margie" and "You Don't Know Me." The second disc brings the old school funk and the crowd just goes crazy culminating in the seventeen minute plus blowout "Pass the Peas." The band is really with Parker every step of the way, proving that funk is a worldwide phenomenon. This is a very well done double disc, both discs hold up independently or together with Parker and the other members of the band soloing with great excitement and the ensemble playing is stellar. Fans of funky soul jazz will really enjoy this set.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Willie King - Down in the Woods (Visible World Films, 2008)

I became entranced by the music and lyrics of blues musician and activist Willie King with his extraordinary album Freedom Creek, and have been a fan ever since. This is his first DVD, containing an hour long documentary and about a half hour of musical performances. The main film is very interesting as it follows Willie throughout his rural Alabama hometown checking up on friends and neighbors and talking about his upbringing as a poor sharecropper. King is a courageous civil rights activist, and it is a very prominent moment in the film to accompany him to the former master's house of the sharecropping plantation, now lying in ruins, while he ruminates on community and the struggle for dignity. The film crew follows King to gigs at local community centers and schools as well as blues clubs and festivals. He is an inspiring figure who really lives the philosophy he espouses. The musical performances feature some of his activist songs like "Terrorized" and "America" and they show the unique trance like groove that King's music operates in. Somewhat akin to the Mississippi hill country music of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, but with a touch of gospel testifying. This was a very enjoyable and though provoking film both in its music and its message and is highly recommended to fans of the blues.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Big Road Blues serves up a great post about bluesman Joe Callicott:
It appears Mitchell was looking for Callicott although it’s unclear if he was tipped off about his whereabouts or if it was his own initiative: “On that Saturday in Hernando, we pulled up in front of a cluster of Black men shooting the bull in front of the courthouse and spitting tobacco juice on the sidewalk. …I asked if anyone had ever heard of Joe Callicott.” He was directed to Nesbit, seven miles south where he was greeted by a smiling, friendly man: “How y’all doing? Have a seat. I’m Joe.”
Callum MacKenzie's fairly new blog, The Jazz Monster, is one to check out. It's brash and opinionated and well written. I hope he sticks with it. Here's an excerpt from a post about Marc Ribot:
Marc Ribot's new album, "Exercises in Futility," is not a jazz record by any particular stretch; as far as I can tell very few notes on the album are improvised, and the vibe is much more in tune with contemporary classical music. However, in spite of the fact that it is not very "jazz," it is very "Marc Ribot," and so a review of it should fit here along with anything else. "Exercises in Futility" is, instead, a series of impossibly hard etudes (the "Exercises in Futility" of the title; Ribot described it as a sort of "Mean-Tempered Guitar" in an interview with on extended guitar technique and a final 9 minute improvisation ("The Joy of Repetition") built on some of the ideas from the etudes.
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Saturday, May 03, 2008

John Coltrane - Live in Japan (Impulse, 1966, 1991)

John Coltrane only toured Japan once, but the music he played there left a lasting impression. This massive four disc set contains the entirety of two concerts the group played in Tokyo in June 1966. Coltrane leads on tenor, soprano and alto (!) saxophones, accompanied by Pharaoh Sanders on tenor and alto saxophone, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Rasheid Ali on drums. The music stretches out to extraordinary lengths and is quite fascinating to listen to with its combination of melody and freedom. Disc one begins with an epic near forty minute exploration of Mongo Santamaria's theme "Afro-Blue" with John Coltrane taking the lead solo and sounding larger than life. Pharaoh follows coming off as a bit spastic with his use of honks and squeals not fully yet under control. Alice Coltrane follows with some majestic piano, and then there is a feverish and lengthy duet between Ali and Coltrane, now on soprano saxophone. This is very exciting and stunning in the two musician's stamina and dexterity. "Peace on Earth" follows, with a slow and melodic tenor opening. Coltrane uses fractured and refracted tenor saxophone to set a moody theme, followed by Sanders who promptly shatters the mood with a swirling, gushing solo. Alice Coltrane is the eye of the hurricane, playing the whole piano with classical flourishes. She picks up the pace when prompted by Ali's shifting the tempo to a higher gear, and then John renters for some fairly intense quartet improvisation, followed by Pharaoh's return and the conclusion of the piece. Disc two is a nearly hour long version of the Coltrane composition "Crescent" which begins with an epic bass solo by Jimmy Garrison, before John Coltrane enters, setting the majestic theme and taking the first solo. Although Coltrane is playing free at times, it is fascinating to hear how in control he is throughout the music, as opposed to Sanders, who loses the plot at times with directionless wails during his solo. Disc three begins with a relatively mild quartet improvisation of a second version of "Peace on Earth" where the group is playing with great restraint, but seemingly even stronger for holding that great power they have available in check. Coltrane's saxophone playing is beefy but never out of control. En epic forty-five minute improvisation on "Leo" concludes the set. Very strong and virile improvisation gradually becomes more wild and woolly. Ali sounds like he has four arms and six legs, and the piano and bass pump pneumatically under the din. Sanders takes off for the stratosphere with a powerful and heavy solo, before giving way to Ali who performs a fast paced eight minute drum solo that is light on the beat, and as agile as a dancer. Alice Coltrane takes the helm at this point, playing a swirling piano which sounds like the harp she would play on subsequent solo albums. To conclude this epic, Coltrane and Sanders lead the band by playing alto saxophones that they were given as gifts by the Yamaha company, swirling and sweeping to a feverish conclusion. Disc four has an epic version of the Coltrane standard "My Favorite Things", begun like "Crescent" with a very long Garrison bass solo, before Coltrane enters to on alto sax, giving the familiar song a fascinating new spin. He switches to the familiar soprano saxophone in the middle and then gives way to Alice whose impressionistic piano solo ebbs and flows like the tide, before both saxophonists come back for a lengthy full quintet improvisation to conclude the proceedings. Taken as a whole, this is an extraordinary document of a band exploring the outer reaches of jazz with great energy and endurance. The liner notes have an essay from re-issuing engineer Michael Cuscuna and the transcript of an interview Coltrane conducted in Tokyo during the tour. While the music can be exhausting to listen to, it is a very important part of the Coltrane legacy and demands to be heard, especially by fans of free form jazz.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington - The Great Summit: The Master Takes (Roulette, 1961, 2000)

This is a thoroughly charming meeting between two legends and longtime friends. With Duke at the piano and Pops singing and playing trumpet (joined by Trummy Young on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Mort Herbet on bass, and Danny Barcelona on drums) the group the group glides through a program of Ellington's finest compositions with genial familiarity and bonhomie. Armstrong's vocals are particularly radiant, whether singing "Do Nothin'' 'til You Hear From Me" with a knowing wink, or swinging like mad through "It Don't Mean a Thing" he sounds truly inspired. Trumpet is in the background for much of the album, used to punctuate the music, but the well timed accents have a lifetime of spirit behind them. Duke sounds equally inspired, dropping in unusual piano voicings, and sounding thrilled to have a chance to play with a small band of equals. There is much joy to be found here, whether on the swinging numbers like the opening "Duke's Place" to the raucous "Cottontail" or the ballads, which are radiant, with "Solitude" and "Mood Indigo" shining like gems. Summit meetings between musical legends aren't always what they are cracked up to be, but in this case all expectations are met and exceeded. Jazz enthusiasts shouldn't pass up the chance to hear this beautiful music.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Big Road Blues has a new post from their most recent radio show highlighting Pete Welding’s Testament Records label (now distributed on CD and download by Hightone Records):
“Among other artists Welding recorded more extensively were Johnny Shines and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Welding cut Johnny Shines: Masters of Modern Blues Vol. 1 in 1966, Standing At The Crossroads in 1971 and Johnny Shines with Big Walter in 1969. All are fine records but the standout is Standing At The Crossroads with Shines performing solo and ranks among his finest efforts.”
Wall of Sound writes excitedly about finding one of the final pieces of his David Murray collecting puzzle. As a Murray fan myself, I’m quite jealous:
“This is a far more pensive performance than his other records of the time, with far fewer of the usual gospel ecstatic moments that Murray would become associated with, and far less of the flash than one finds on contemporary concerts made in Europe.”
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