Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kenny Garrett - Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue, 2008)

Alto saxophonist and composer Kenny Garrett is a complex and multi-faceted musician, equally at home with burning post-bop and vamping funk jazz. Both of those are on display in this live album where he is supported by Benito Gonzales on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Jamire Williams on drums and special guest Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone. My favorite Garrett events occur when he is ripping through a wide open free-bop performance, like the leadoff track "The Ring" which is strong modal jazz with a long meaty alto solo. Sanders comes in for a trademark rasping solo over hard comping piano that recalls the very intense music McCoy Tyner was recording in the early 1970's. "Intro to Africa" loses the momentum of the first performance with a slow and ponderous start and a feel of heaviness and a static and spiritual meditative groove that never seems to really take shape. "Sketches of MD" which is dedicated to Garrett's mentor Miles Davis incorporates some of the electronics and synths that were a hallmark of the Davis bands during Garrett's tenure in the 1980's. "Wayne's Thang" also goes for groove with a funky electric bass and electric piano feel, but never really takes off to become exciting or captivating. The disc concludes with "Happy People" featuring bass and drums funk, but unfortunately Garrett spends more time encouraging the audience than playing the saxophone. It's not that I was disappointed by this disc, but much of the music presented here leaned toward the funky aspects of Garrett's playing, where I most enjoy the burning acoustic music found on albums like Triology and Persuance. I'm also spoiled by having seen him play a small performance space in Princeton a few years ago where his opening piece absolutely ripped the roof off the place with an acoustic trio. Please understand that this is not a criticism of the band, but merely a personal preference of mine. Regardless of the caveats, this is a well played disc that shows diverse aspects of a very talented musician.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Big Road Blues has a fine examination of the Maxwell Street scene in Chicago:
"The Maxwell Street open air market was a seven- to ten-block area in Chicago that from the 1920s to the middle 1960’s played host to various blues musicians — both professional and amateur — who performed right on the street for tips from passerbys."
Destination Out writes up the new Anthony Braxton Mosaic set, complete with mp3's and a chance to win a copy:
"Which brings us to Braxton’s Arista recordings. Maybe in the context of the 1970s these recordings sounded overly daunting and complex. But today, it’s a different story. While still adventurous, many of these sides are instantly compelling, filled with unexpected drama and humor. There are moments of great beauty and recognizable nods and tweaks to the tradition. For all their conceptual headiness, they often deliver on that most rare quality: pure pleasure."
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blind Faith - (self titled) (Polydor, 1969)

This was one of rock 'n' roll's first super-groups, consisting of guitarist and singer Eric Clapton, keyboardist and singer Steve Winwood, bassist Rich Grech and drummer Ginger Baker. The group grew out of an informal series of jam sessions Clapton and Winwood held together, which eventually grew into this short lived group and their only album. Nearly forty years on, the music still hangs together quite well, with only the album ending jam "Do What You Like," which makes up most of side two of the original LP and incorporating a massive drum solo devolving into anything approaching self indulgent wankery. The first side of the album is very consistent, leading off with a couple of Winwood compositions, the strongly improvisational "Had to Cry Today" with some superbly focused instrumental playing and the delicate and acoustic "Can't Find My Way Home." Covering Buddy Holly's "Well, All Right" makes for a happy go lucky uptempo jam, while the first side ends with the majestic gospel of Clapton's "Presence of the Lord." Overall, this is one sixties artifact that remains a powerful listening experience, maintaining a sense of innocence and hope that wasn't long to last.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Martin Taylor - Double Standards (P3 Music, 2008)

British jazz guitarist Taylor grew up listing to legends like Django Reinhardt, and eventually went on to perform with the legend's former partner, violinist Stephane Grapelli, before moving on to a successful solo career. This is a pleasant and enjoyable album of standards and familiar songs arranged for solo guitar. Taylor has impeccable technique, but he never uses it in a showy or boastful manner, but rather much of the album is quite restrained and his energy is focused on interpreting the song and it's melody. Particularly enjoyable are the Toot's Thielemans classic "Blusette" and a nimble and impressive "Drop Me Off In Harlem." Taylor has a patient and thoughtful way of playing ballads and the beautiful melodies of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "I Fall In Love Too Easily" suit him well. This is a good album for reading and relaxing, it is thoughtful and well designed, and will no doubt be appreciated by acoustic guitar partisans.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The newest Downbeat Magazine has some interesting articles about two of my favorite musicians. Bill Frisell's trio with Kenny Wollesen and Tony Scherr get the cover story, where Ted Panken spends time with the group at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. Multi-instrumentalist and composer William Parker is interviewed about the many projects he is involved in. There are also a number of reviews and news items as well. The quality of Downbeat seems to wax and wane, but this was a strong issue.

Also strong this month was the British publication Jazzwise, which featured a remembrance of Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson, and an article tracing the influence of bossa-nova in jazz along with a large review section.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Magic Slim and the Teardrops - Midnight Blues (Earwig, 2008)

Playing the old school Chicago blues in all of its raucous glory, Slim and and the band rip through thirteen textbook examples of no frills, take no prisoners electric blues. Slim's strong guitar playing and deep, protean vocals lead the group through a mix of originals and covers like the explosive version of Hound Dog Taylor's immortal rave up "Give Me Back My Wig" and stomping versions of "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad" and "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had." Slim must have something against cats, because felines get the short end of the stick on "Crosseyed Cat" and "House Cat Blues." Slim's vocals are so strong that he sometimes overwhelms the microphone... forgive me but the first time I heard "Spider in My Stew", I thought he said he found a spider in his stool(!) Hmmm... that would give you the blues, wouldn't it! But regardless of the lyrical content, the band lock into a deep and wide blues groove that is present in all of the music here. Bass and drums clear the path like a great offensive line and then Slim's vocals and sting guitar come blasting through like a tailback headed for a touchdown. Fans of traditional electric blues will be thrilled by this disc, which is filled with strong, earthy and justifiably proud music.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Big Road Blues has another interesting post, continuing their look at under appreciated blues musicians:

Today we spotlight six great slide/bottleneck guitar players: Casey Bill Weldon, Kokomo Arnold, Oscar “Buddy” Woods, Black Ace, Bo Weavil Jackson and Sylvester Weaver. The Hawaiian guitar influence can be heard to good effect in the playing of Casey Bill Weldon, Oscar Woods and the Black Ace. It was a style performed flat across the player’s knees as he slides a steel bar along the strings, producing glissando or vibrato effects.
Ross Lawson's Illasounds podcast focuses on the great alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley:
An 80th birthday celebration of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley featuring tracks from albums by Cannonball Adderley: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy: Live at 'The Club', Somethin' Else, Them Dirty Blues, Jazz Workshop Revisited, At the Lighthouse, Know What I Mean?, The Black Messiah, Cannonball's Bossa Nova, Cannonball's Sharpshooters, Cannonball Enroute, Phenix, Money in the Pocket, Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley, Presenting Cannonball Adderley; by Miles Davis: Milestones; and by Kenny Clarke: Bohemia After Dark.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I have a new podcast available: Jazz and Blues Podcast

Here is the playlist:

Song - Artist - Album

Dreamsville - Ted Nash - The Mancini Project
Calypso - Kenny Barron - The Traveler
The Bells are Ringing - Smiley Lewis - Mama Don't Like It
Eternal Joy - Joe Lovano - Symphonica
Chung Dynasty - Joe Chambers - New World
Bottleneck Dub - Little Axe - Stone Cold Ohio
Cherry Cherry - James "Blood" Ulmer - Music Speaks Louder Than Words
India - Jack DeJohnette - Special Edition
Chicago Breakdown - Big Maceo - Best Of
Five O'Clock Follies - Adam Lane - Drunk Butterfly
Pennies From Heaven - Dinah Washington - After Hours With Miss D

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Adam Lane - Drunk Butterfly (Clean Feed, 2008)

This has been a very good year for saxophone trios, with fine records from Donny McCaslin, J.D. Allen and Steve Lehman. Add to that list a trio led by bassist and composer Adam Lane, joined here by Mark Whitcage on alto saxophone and clarinet and Lou Grassi on drums. This is a lean and strong trio that works well together, beginning with "The Last of the Beboppers" which is nice raw free-bop, featuring Whitcage's strong alto saxophone sounding good over swirling bass and drums. "Sanctum" has a mellow and vaguely Middle Eastern feel, very open sounding and mysterious as is "Like Nothing Else" which has a low and caustic bowed bass opening that evolves into an ominous, probing and swirling improvisation. "Chichi Rides the Tiger" is a strong performance with cool high sounding reed improvisation. Fast paced and interesting, this is one of the of the highlights of the disc. "Avanti Galoppi", "Marshall" and especially "Five O'Clock Follies" from the latter half of the disc are excellent as well, sounding akin to the tough, streamlined saxophone trios that Sonny Rollins led in the 1950's. This is interesting music that blurs the intersection between mainstream and avant-garde jazz in an intelligent and thoughtful fashion.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Best of Big Maceo: King of Chicago Blues Piano (Arhoolie, 1992)

Although Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and the rest of the Chess Records stable get most of the attention when people think about Chicago blues, the musicians of the generation preceding them where just as influential. Those men included the original Sonny Boy, harmonica ace John Lee Williamson,as well as guitarist Tampa Red, and pianist Big Maceo Merriweather. Maceo played at a time where the guitar hadn't quite become the dominant instrument in the blues and his storming two-fisted instrumental "Chicago Breakdown" would lay the groundwork for the next generation of pianists like Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann. The collection also includes a Maceo performance that would become a standard, the deeply thoughtful lament "Worried Life Blues." He had a wise and knowing vocal delivery, that made him an excellent storyteller, whether remaking Robert Johnson on "Maceo's 32-20" or laying down stomps like "Big Road Blues." It would be a mistake to write Maceo off as a mere transitional figure, he was a valuable bluesman of considerable skill and deserves a place in the Chicago pantheon. This is a fine introduction to his recorded legacy.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Joe Lovano - Symphonica (Blue Note, 2008)

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Joe Lovano's most recent project is an ambitious collaboration with the WDR Radio Orchestra of Germany, putting him in front of not only a big band, but an entire symphony orchestra. He has done these "third stream" collaborations before, with arranger Gunther Schuller, so this is not a stretch. How much you like this recording really will depend on how much you enjoy elaborate musical arrangements, particularly with strings. I'm not a real big fan of these type of projects, but I approached it with as open of a mind as possible. I must say that Lovano was superb throughout the recording, playing with majesty and grace on every track. The problem was that I feel his wonderful performance was diminished by the very rich accompaniment of the symphony. My favorite pieces on the album where the two uptempo ones, where he was given an opportunity to stretch out and blow. "Eternal Joy" was a knotty and twisting performance, where he weaves a complex improvisation while "Alexander The Great" is more of a straight-ahead jam. Both were exciting and captivating performances and gave Lovano a chance to muscle the strings out of the way and lay claim to the music. The baggage of the orchestra becomes too much to ignore on the ballads. Charles Mingus' great composition "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" and the standard "I'm All For You" become like confections that are bogged down with heavy cream, sugar and eggs, they became ponderous and there was just no room to move. Despite some fine solos from Lovano, these tracks are dragged down by the weight of the arrangements. So overall, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Joe Lovano is clearly at the top of his game, but the intricate arrangements of the orchestra and their lack of flexibility prevent this from being an entirely successful project.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

William Parker - Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity, 2008)

For this special occasion, a live recording at last year's Vision Festival, bassist and composer William Parker actually leaves his regular instrument behind on this recording in favor of reed instruments and conducting a large ensemble that includes Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Sabir Mateen on tenor saxophone among many others. The real key to the recording is the extraordinary Indian vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay who sings lyrics and wordless vocals that are the focal point of this fascinating recording. Parker's goal for this project was to bring together musicians from all over the world in search for "universal tonality" and for the most part they succeed quite well. There are three very long performances, each of which allow the musicians to develop an ever shifting backdrop for Bandyopadhyay's vocal improvisations. The range of her voice allows her to act almost as another wind instrument, whether singing in front of the group or improvising collectively with them. The band is excellent as well, with Brown and Mateen playing some intertwined hair raising saxophone on the epic "Neptune's Mirror" and Hamid Drake and Gerald Cleaver providing massive percussive accompaniment. I thought that this turned out very well and was a very successful recording. Because there are so many elements involved in the music, it makes sense that there were difficulties bringing it all together. Those problems were worth it however, and this is a very interesting amalgam of jazz and music from all over the world.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Anat Cohen - Notes from the Village (Anzic, 2008)

Clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen has become a rising force on the mainstream jazz scene both as a leader and as a supporting musician. Her newest album mixes originals and covers, and she is joined by Jason Linder on piano and keyboards, Omer Avital on bass, Gilad Hekselman on guitar and David Freedman on drums. "Washington Square Park" opens the disc in an uptempo fashion with fleet soprano saxophone, a liquid sounding guitar solo, sweeping over a percussive groove and a weird synth noodle at the end which sounds a little bit out of place. "Until You're in Love Again" has a mellower, melancholy feel with the bowed bass adding to the brooding feel, a full bodied lush piano interlude and some nice dark and probing guitar, then deep and hollow sounding clarinet. "Siboney" has a piano opening, and reedy clarinet introducing a catchy Latin feel, with the clarinet picking up steam and is followed by a bouncing and swirling piano solo. John Coltrane's beautifully moody composition "After the Rain" gets a slow and meditative performance, spiritual and probing. Perhaps a little to reverential and reticent, this version doesn't quite make the mark. "Lullaby for the Native Ones" has gentle feel, soothing with melodic tenor sax, that slowly begins to dig deeper, and sounding good in a very well developed and paced solo. Sam Cooke's "Change is Gonna Come" has some sweet, woody clarinet, but is just a little too mellow for my taste. "Jitterbug Waltz" however, is very enjoyable, it's jaunty with a pecking clarinet and piano, then an expansive clarinet solo and piano interlude start slow but builds well in a fun performance. This was a solid and well performed disc. It's nice to hear someone with a distinctive clarinet tone, as that instrument has seemingly fallen out of favor amongst contemporary jazz performers.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Marilyn Crispell – Vignettes (ECM, 2008)

Pianist Marilyn Crispell has had a long and productive career playing with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Paul Motian. On this disc, she is solo, mixing spare and pointillist improvisations with longer song like compositions. The music covers a wide range of tempos and feeling from classical like, dark and patient on "Cuida tu Espiritu" and "Once" to a Keith Jarrett like crystalline waterfall of notes "Gathering Light" and "Ballade" even adding a touch of gospel for a warmer feeling. "Vignettes" III and IV are like aural short stories, using plenty of space and rumbling bass from the low end of the piano. "Axis" is fast and skittish, running up and down the keyboard freely like a spooked animal, while "Sweden" is gentle, caressing and melodic. This is a fine album for late night contemplation, it is spacious, quiet and spare, but never slipping into background music.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Atomic - Retrograde (Jazzland, 2008)

Atomic is a Scandinavian band specializing in fine modern jazz, mixing spacey open improvisation with tight pithy tunes. Using free improvisation, hard bop and everything in between, and consisting of Magnus Broo on trumpet, Fredrik Ljungkvist on saxophones, Havard Wiik on piano, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Atomic has the whole of post-war jazz at their fingertips. Surprisingly, this is their third three-disc set in the last few years, and the band still has a lot of ideas and territory to explore. The first two CDs are studio recordings of the band, while the third was recorded live in Seattle. "Painbody" was my favorite track of the uptempo pieces, it is a flat out burner, but the band is always in control and playing as a group rather than looking for personal glory. At a little over five minutes, it is a breathless example of the power of this group. Two takes of "Invisible Cities" show the band's moodier and introspective side, with slow building long tones, and subtle percussion. I think that it is getting to the point where you can make the case that the most exciting and forward thinking jazz is coming out of Northern Europe at the moment. Jazz is truly a worldwide language now, and bands like Atomic are leading the charge, making wonderful and exciting music.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells - Play the Blues (Atlantic, 1972)

Guitarist Buddy and harmonica ace Junior Wells had been collaborating since both moved to Chicago from the deep south in the 1950's. This album cemented their longstanding partnership. Equal parts deep blues and funky R&B, this disc plays well to both man's strength, with each splitting the solo spotlight and vocal duties. Things get funky right off the bat with Buddy taking the lead vocals on "Man of Many Words" strutting out over a nasty groove and spitting strong guitar licks. "Poor Man's Plea" takes Junior's vocals way down in the alley, and he adds some fine harp against a groove set by riffing horns. Wells bring it on a version of his oft-covered "Messin' With the Kid" and Buddy sneaks in a fleet solo as well. The come together very well for a swirling version of "This Old Fool" with a blasting guitar in interlude and a nasty harp riff in the background. "Bad Bad Whiskey" has an interesting acoustic back-porch feel, and they end things on a classy note with the instrumental "Honeydripper." This is a consistently fine and well done blues album, with a couple of of the finest musicians of Chicago's second generation of electric bluesmen showing their prowess in a pithy and restrained way.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

David Byrne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Self-Released, 2008)

The collaboration presented here came from David Byrne adding lyrics and vocals to music that Eno had developed. This is a tight and well designed pop album, not quite as experimental as their previous collaboration, but still thoughtful and intelligent. There's a sense of nostalgia and wistful longing that pervades the music, best represented on the opening track "Home" and "The River." "Life is Long" is a very well done pop song, both enthusiastic and catchy without being cloying. "My Big Nurse" melds acoustic guitar to a sweeping cinematic arrangement to good effect. "Strange Overtones" has an interesting electro-pop feel, as does "Wanted for Life" which is a very interesting song. "One Fine Day" has a soaring feel lead by Byrne's deeply emotional singing. They finally start to get a little quirky on the song "Poor Boy" with it's choppy vocals and synth groove. This is a deep and absorbing album, unusual for pop music today which often seems vapid and concerned with style over substance.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Aaron Parks - Invisible Cinema (Blue Note, 2008)

Pianist Aaron Parks is a much-hyped young musician who came up playing with Terence Blanchard among others. The album, recorded with Matt Penman on bass, Eric Harland on drums, and Mike Moreno on guitar is very well played but has a cold and clinical lack of emotion that keeps me from developing an personal attachment to it, like the music is being dissected on a stainless steel operating table rather than a studio. As the name of this album suggests, Parks compositions seem like they are tailor made for film work, so it will be interesting to see if he gets a chance to do some film scoring. "Nemesis" is one of the finer performances on the album, with Parks dark and probing piano combining with some slippery guitar lines to produce a noirishly cinematic effect. "Riddle me This" has some fine rhythmic work that keeps it particularly interesting, but the solo piano performances "Into the Labyrinth" and "Afterglow" seem shallow and florid. There is some interesting music to be found here and I respect it, but I just wasn't able to get into the album as a whole. Your mileage may vary.

Send comments to: Tim