Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mike Clark - Blueprints of Jazz Vol. 1 (Talking House Records, 2008)

Drummer Mike Clark kicks off an interesting series of records on a new label that is also releasing records from fellow veterans like Billy Harper and Donald Bailey. This disc has a nice engaging swing feel, like older recordings by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers or Horace Silver's groups in the 50's and 60's. Clark is joined by Christian McBride on bass, Patrice Rushen on piano, Christian Scott on trumpet, Donald Harrison on alto saxophone and Jed Levy on tenor saxophone. The drumming is crisp and keeps everyone in the pocket, supplying the strong and deep groove that is critical in successful hard bop jazz. "In the House" and "Like That" begin the album with swinging uptempo hard bop songs while "10th Ave. 1957" slows to a bluesy simmer. "Past Lives" has deep and potent saxophone solos with strong and supple drumming. "Thanks Len" is a strutting swinger with a rippling piano solo and elastic bass solo buoyed by riffing horns. "Loft Funk" brings the Silver like gritty funk with a strong trumpet solo and propulsive piano and drums, and grinding tenor solo. "Clark Kent" features Scott with a mild and well controlled trumpet spotlight. "Conchita's Dance" has strong hard bop riffing, a strong tenor saxophone solo taking charge, then a nice full piano interlude. "I Want to Talk About You" is a beautiful ballad with a wonderful Coltrane inspired tenor saxophone melody statement and solo and is a masterful highlight, Levy really makes a strong statement here. This is a very patient and thoughtful album, and shows that modern hard bop and mainstream jazz in general still has plenty of room for innovation and exploration.
Blueprints Of Jazz Vol. 1 -

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

R.E.M. - Murmur Deluxe Edition (IRS, 1983; Universal, 2008)

To mark the twenty five years since its release, R.E.M.'s first full length album gets the deluxe remastering and unreleased stuff added treatment, and it works quite well. This album struck a nerve in the burgeoning college and indie rock scene, and word of mouth became a landslide which helped the group start to cross over. The mix of chiming guitars, mumbled lyrics (recorded in the studio bathroom) and incomprehensible lyrics made this album memorable. The remastering job is almost too good, shining light in and taking away some of the mystery that made tracks like "Radio Free Europe" and "Moral Kiosk" so fascinating. But the power of the original album cannot be denied, the band developed an original sound, and used that to enliven an unforgettable set of songs. They would reach these heights again with Document and Automatic for the People, but never with such mystery and imagination. Disc two is a live album recorded in Toronto in 1983, and reprises much of the material from the album. While there is a little more energy in the live setting, the arrangements are not drastically different from the studio versions, and this makes the second disc a pleasant but unessential addition. So, all in all, I think that the original album is a classic and worthy of any rock music fan's collection. Whether you need this deluxe edition is another question, it is probably best left for the big R.E.M. fans who will also enjoy the rarities in the live set like the cover of The Velvet Underground's "There She Goes Again."
Murmur [Deluxe Edition] -

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith - Born In Arkansas (Big Eye, 2008)

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith leaves the drums to his son and confidently stands up as a front man on this fine album of old school Chicago blues. Smith leads a strong and tight band with Bob Stroger on bass, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Billy Flynn on guitar, Little Frank Krakowski on guitar and Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith on drums. The play the blues in the classic Chicago style of Smith's mentor Muddy Waters and his former collaborative project, the Legendary Blues Band. The group riffs on familiar themes of the blues that have been around since time immemorial, but there is always a fresh spin as the band makes the music its own. Smith was originally known as a drummer, but here he shows himself to be a fine singer and harmonica player, particularly on the chromatic harp feature "Dreamin'" where he paints a fine picture of drifting through a dusty and lonely landscape, possibly of his youth in Arkansas. The acoustic and back porch "Overcoat Mama" has a fine relaxed groove as well. But the meat of the disc is the straight up electric blues, played very effectively. "Money Talk" has a tough urban groove and strong guitar with some direct urban philosophy in it's lyrics. "World in an Uproar" keeps the thoughtful lyrics coming over a grinding organ and drums groove. This is timeless music made by a strong band with is led by a confident, veteran musician. The music here is never forced, and the solos have a story to them. This is the sound of substance triumphing over style, from the dirt roads of Arkansas to the city streets of Chicago, this is the blues.
Born in Arkansas -

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book review: Ben Ratliff - The Jazz Ear (Times Books, 2008)

The most recent book by the New York Times jazz reporter Ben Ratliff collects the Listening With columns he files with the paper over the past several years. The premise of the column is that musicians would pick some of the songs that had influenced them over the years and then Ratliff would listen to that music with them and get their reaction to it as a conversation over music, rather than a traditional interview. He ties each interview together with a brief biography of each musician, and a list of the music they listened to. This format and structure brought out some interesting comments and revelations about the music, for instance hearing Joshua Redman's awe in listening to the music of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane is fascinating, particularly when they are discussing "Transition", one of Coltrane's fiercest avant-garde performances. Rollins himself also sticks to his heroes with interesting comments about the music of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. The Ornette Coleman section is a trip, with Coleman listening to everything from a famous Cantor to field recordings from Central Asia. Ratliff was wise to interview musicians in this format, it seemed to put them at ease, and allowed them to talk about musicians that they admired. He thoughtfully lets the musicians do most of the talking and keeps things flowing briskly.
The Jazz Ear -

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Markus James - Snakeskin Violin (Firenze, 2008)

Roots musician Markus James collaborated with both American and Malian musicians in the development of this album, which moves through an ambitious mélange of blues, world music and roots rock. The stomping “Are You Ready” and the ominous sounding back porch acoustic “Weather Vane” with its sharp slide guitar and harmonica are highlights with their strong instrumental playing and emotional vocals. “I Won’t Let It” also works well, blending spoken word, proto-rap and call and response to a powerful blues beat with good effect. “Drivin’ By” gets an otherworldly moodiness with keening violin and chanted and sung African vocals in the background. The interesting mix of James gritty singing voice and the beautiful vocalizations of the African musicians helps this album take on a hypnotic, trance like groove. This is an interesting album, many people speak of Africa as the roots of the blues, but few go as far as James in collaborating and reaching out to modern day African musicians.
Snakeskin Violin -

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Billy Harper - Black Saint (Black Saint, 1975)

I was thrilled when emusic started offering a large chunk of the Black Saint/Soul Note catalog for downloading, because that label is often hard to find and recorded so much wonderful music. This was the first Black Saint LP, and it remains one of their finest. The music is strong and potent spiritual jazz that draws on the legacy of John Coltrane and then expands upon it with well thought out improvisations and very impressive playing. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper is one of the unsung heroes of the past forty years of jazz and here he plays brilliantly, supported by Virgil Jones on trumpet, Joe Bonner on piano, David Friesen on bass and Malcolm Pinson on drums. Harper and the band play three long improvised compositions, each brilliant and never flagging in either intensity or innovation. "Dance, Eternal Spirits, Dance" opens the album sounding like one of the strong modal tracks that McCoy Tyner used to record for Blue Note and Milestone in the late '60's and early 70's. "Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart" unleashed one of Harper's finest solos, full of fire and spirit, but always respectful and never trying to dominate the music. This is a wonderful album, and it deserves wider knowledge than it already has. It honors the history of the music while pushing the boundaries of what jazz is and the unlimited potential of what it can become.
Black Saint -

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ernest Dawkins - Jo'burg Jump (Delmark, 2000)

I came across this album while listening to Pandora, and was really impressed so I clicked the link, bought the album through iTunes, and I was glad I did. This is a very good mix of AACM style Chicago jazz, blues and South African township music like the legendary Blue Notes. The group is made up of Ernest Dawkins on tenor and alto saxophones, Ameen Muhammad on trumpet, Steve Berry on trombone, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums and Jeff Parker on guitar. Each of the tracks on this disc was impressive, but "Shorter Suite" which uses the enigmatic nature of the music of Wayne Shorter as a starter as a starting point, and "Turtle Island Dance" adds flute and exotic instruments to great effect. Apparently Dawkins and the band were inspired by the warm reception they received during a South African tour, and that enthusiasm is palpable. At the heart of it all is the earthy core of jazz that makes all of the music here accessible and enjoyable.
Jo'burg Jump -

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Floyd Lee Band - Doctors, Devils and Drugs (Amogla Records, 2008)

Heavy, boogie laced blues rock is the order of the day in this band made up of veteran guitarist and singer Lee, guitarist Joel Poluck, and an uncredited drummer. The music is strong, bracing stuff, rock based but miles ahead of Pappa Chubby and the rest of the blues rock posers out there. "Empty Well" and "Think I Got Something' On My Mind" work well with intertwined rhythm and strong slide guitar sounding like a slowed down version of Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers. The band can be light and nimble too like on the back porch acoustic "Bird With a Broken Wing." They start to lose the plot a little toward the end of the disc with "Nella" and "Blues Is a Beautiful Woman" sounding a little generic and cliched. The bizarre "Lunar Landing" ends the disc by improbably melding blues with progressive rock, and clips of the actual dialogue of moon bound astronauts. I'm fascinated by space exploration too, but while I applaud the band's effort here, they can't quite pull it off as the track is overlong and out of focus. Still, most of the record is good and if blues rock is your thing, you could do a lot words than this.
Doctors, Devils & Drugs -

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Friday, November 21, 2008

John McLaughlin – Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008)

Guitarist John McLaughlin combines two of his great passions on his most recent album, jazz fusion and the music of India. McLaughlin spent several months in India working with musicians and building a unique sound for this project. He spends much of this album playing a guitar synthesizer, while the rest of the band is made up of Indian musicians who take eagerly to the multi-cultural fusion. The disc begins with the fast and intense "Raju" where McLaughlin alternates between synth and electric guitar, and he is driven by some ferocious drumming and sitar playing. The slower "Maharina" is given atmosphere by the synthesizer and acoustic piano. The addition of swirling flute to "Off the One" lends some very interesting texture to the music. Flute also drives "14U" the melody of which sounds something like a 1970's TV show theme, but whose improvisational section is quite potent with synth, percussion and elastic electric bass leading the way. Vocals are included on the aptly titled "The Voice," improvising around the synth and percussion. "Inside Out" has some spitfire guitar playing and upfront, brittle drumming offset by softer synth interludes. "Five Reave Band" wraps things up with burning guitar led fusion that is a very impressive performance. This was a solid and interesting album built on some very thoughtful musical cross pollination, something that McLaughlin has advocated for a long time. While I can't quite agree with Downbeat's recent five-star rapture over this disc, it is definitely commendable and recommended to fans of fusion.
Floating Point -

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Khan Jamal - Cool (Porter Records, 1989, 2008)

One of the more interesting reissue projects of the past few years has been the Porter Records catalog documenting the Philadelphia jazz scene in the 1970's and 80's. This album brings together vibraphonist Kahn Jamal with Warren Ore on bass, John Rogers on cello and Dwight Jones on drums. The combination of the two string instruments and two percussion instruments makes for a unique and interesting sound. I found the the upbeat tracks to be the most exciting, because of Jamal's dynamic approach to his instrument. Rhythm is the focus and vibes and drums lock into forceful grooves on "Professor B.L.," "Six Plus Seven," and the appropriately named "Rhythm Thang." The mellower tracks work as well, with the cello and bass taking center stage and the metallic sounding vibes the accents. This was an interesting album from an often overlooked musician. The musicians meld jazz, modern classical music and a lot of rhythm to intoxicating effect.
Cool -

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Big Road Blues has an essay detailing their latest radio show: "I’ve been trying to get a handle on my record collection in the last couple of weeks which seems to have escaped from my record room to take over the house. I still haven’t tamed my collection but did stumble upon some interesting records that are featured on today’s program."

Destination Out takes a look at Beaver Harris and 360 Degree Music Experience: "We’re big tent people and welcome folks coming to enjoy this music for whatever reason. Jazz should be made more friendly, not less. The music we showcase here is what we loosely term adventurous jazz (or “adj,” for short). The history of this music is wide and multi-faceted, the tradition feeding the avant garde, and vice versa."

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Monday, November 17, 2008

James Moody and Hank Jones - Our Delight (IPO Records, 2008)

I read an enthusiastic review review of this album in the New York Times and it sounded like a winner. Legendary saxophonist and flutist James Moody and the ageless piano master Hank Jones team up with Todd Coolman on bass (what a great name for a jazz musician!) and Adam Nussbaum on drums. This is a pleasant and charming album of veteran jazz musicians playing some well known bebop and pop standards simply for the joy of making music. There is nothing rushed here, Moody and company take the tunes at relaxed mid tempo or ballad paces that bathe the listener in waves of sound and allows you to luxuriate in the deep texture of the music. Particularly impressive are the ballads, where the principals draw on a lifetime of music to create mini masterpieces of taste and restraint. Moody's tenor is verdant and fresh on the longtime favorite of saxophonists, "Body and Soul" and his flute playing is as nimble as ever on "Darben the Red Fox." He does not sing on this recording, but does accompany vocalist and frequent Jones collaborator Roberta Gambarini on the infectiously boppish "Moody's Groove." Jones himself is a wonder of understated solidity, deftly backing Moody with supportive accompniment, and soloing with grace and distinction. This a joyful and informal album that sounds like a group of old friends getting together to jam on their favorite songs. The feeling is infectious and this album is warmly recommended.
Our Delight -

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sonny Rollins - Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy/Universal, 2008)

Saxophonist Sonny Rollins is legendary for his prodigious live performances. He also hates listening to himself on tapes or discs, but he grudgingly started going through his archive and picking performances for what will hopefully become a long running series of live music compilations. Cherry picking from the past twenty years, the disc leads off with an extraordinary performance of "Best Wishes" which is a rousing uptempo song in which Sonny absolutely charges through the music like a mounted knight with a lance. Electric bass pulses underneath while bashing drums encourage a breakneck momentum. Seemingly possessing limitless energy, Rollins is like a star streaming light and heat into space. This is just a gargantuan performance, just larger than life. In a way, it overwhelms the rest of the selections here, as good as they are. "More Than You Know" is a medium tempoed song, sounding lush and full. There is a meek sounding guitar solo before Sonny takes command and gets the music back on track. "Blossom" also begins at a medium tempo with some strong saxophone and piano, before Rollins breaks free from the band with a potent, lashing solo wailing like a force of nature. "Tenor Madness" hearkens back to the glory days of the late 1950's when giants walked the earth, and the solos here are truly special as they are on the disc ending ballad "Some Enchanted Evening." Given Rollins well documented discomfort in the sterile environment of recording studios, this may be the best way to hear him at his finest, in the hothouse environment of the live concert. This was a wonderful album, and hopefully the first of many volumes.
Road Shows: Vol. 1 -

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Saturday, November 15, 2008 has a fascinating review of the music of Andrew Hill by pianist and composer Vijay Iyer:

"Just as Hill found a narrative context for his highbrow ideas within “the church perspective” and the blues, Iyer, who is the son of immigrants from South India, found his in melding advanced jazz harmony with surging vamps and ostinatos drawn from the intricate cycles of South India and West Africa, illuminating precise symbolic connections between personal imperatives and the stories, images and states of mind encoded in the rhythms he deploys, which, after all, originated in the service of social ritual."

Drummer Alex Cline guest blogs for Greenleaf Music with a thoughtful appraisal of recently passed drummer Mitch Mitchell:

"As soon as we had the necessary dollars saved from our allowance, we went out and purchased the album, Are You Experienced? It was one of our musical life's most important milestones. Besides the visceral yet other-worldly guitar virtuosity, there was the drumming. It was dazzling, driving, fluid, solid, intense. At the time I didn't recognize that Mitch's approach was essentially that of a master jazz drummer playing cutting-edge rock. Just listen to "Third Stone from the Sun"! I had no idea how he was doing what he was doing, but what I did know was that it was what I myself wanted to be able to do."

Ben Ratliff (who has a new book out himself) reviews Ted Gioia's new book Delta Blues:

"Instead, Gioia uses original research, interviews with reliable sources and his own calm, argument-closing incantations to draw a line through a century of the Delta blues — a history that is probably more over than he cares to admit in his book’s final pages. He has balanced the story of the music with that of its reception, and where the truth of either one is inaccessible, he says so. He’s in favor of the blues retaining some mystery, but only highly informed mystery."

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Colin Walcott - Cloud Dance (ECM, 1975, 2008)

This was a very interesting album that flew under my radar before stumbling upon it while looking at some of the reissues in ECM's Touchstones series. I was a little familiar with his work through his association with trumpeter and world music pioneer Don Cherry and their collective band Codona (whose albums are ripe for reissue.) On this album, Walcott is playing sitar and tabla, and he is joined by what is essentially the Gateway trio, John Abercrombie on guitar, Dave Holland on bass and jack DeJohnette on drums. I am having quite a difficult time trying to describe the music presented here in words, but suffice it to say that the album unfolds in a suite like manner, or like a flower, opening slowly to reveal the treasures within. Much like the Oregon record (Walcott was also a member of that band) I reviewed a few days ago, this album takes some time and contemplation to really get into, but the effort is well worth it. The three strings blend together well, with the exotic sounds of the sitar, the dynamic guitar and the pulsating bass work very well, especially when being underpinned by DeJohnette's supple drumming. This was a very interesting album and a fine example of how jazz and world music can successfully collaborate and draw inspiration from one another.
Cloud Dance -

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (Impulse, 1965, 1997)

Saxophonist and composer John Coltrane's "classic" quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums was reaching the end of its life on this wonderful transitional album. The original Impulse album had two cover songs, "Chim Chim Cheree" with it's sing-song melody on soprano saxophone, along with the standard "Nature Boy" both mix melodic performances and progressive improvisation trying to catch lightning in a bottle like the ever popular "My Favorite Things." The original LP also contained two original compositions, the extraordinarily intense "Brazilia" with its intense modal to free improvisation, and the deeply spiritual and bass led "Song of Praise." Included on the 1997 compact disc version are two more versions of "Nature Boy" one in the studio and one live and both featuring bassist Art Davis adding some more bottom. The song "Feeling Good" is also included, but is relatively tame and seems to be filler more than anything else. This album still fascinates because it shows the ever-questing Coltrane bursting through the constrictions of bop-based jazz and into the freer realms where he would spend the remainder of his career. The versions of "Nature Boy" provide benchmarks for that quest, as the track evolves over the course of three successive performances.
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays -

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anthony Braxton - The Complete Arista Recordings, Disc Three (Mosaic, 2008)

Disc Three focuses on the solo album Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979. Shorn of all accompaniment and limited to a single horn, Braxton really shines. The solos are very impressive and complex but enjoyable to listen to. The music flows really well and uses a variety of different tempos and textures.I particularly liked the versions of jazz standards "Along Came Betty" by Benny Golson, and "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane, which are at once true to their origins and completely remade in Braxton's vision of what an unaccompanied saxophone can do. No matter how far out he seems to get on these improvisations, the music remains grounded in the tradition and spirit of jazz.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oregon - self titled (ECM 1983, 2008)

Oregon was a chamber jazz group consisting of Paul McCandless on reeds and flute, Glen Moore on bass, violin and piano, Ralph Towner on guitar, piano and synthesizer and Collin Walcott on sitar, percussion and voice. They recorded for Vanguard and Elektra in the 1970's before finding an apt home on the ECM label, whose clean production vales suited the band very well. "The Rapids" opens the album with some delicate piano, bells and soprano saxophone, the music has a calm, vaguely classical feel. "Beacon" has a light and swirling sound, including an odd sounding synth interlude. "Taos" is the key track of the album for me, with a soft percussion opening and some beautiful Native American sounding flute and hand percussion sounding exotic and mysterious. Other enjoyable tracks on the album were "Arianna" which feature Walcott's sitar playing off against McCandless' saxophone to good effect, and the final track, "Impending Bloom" which has hand percussion and scat vocals as well as piano and swirling sax framed by synthesizers for a unique and evolving sound. This was an interesting album that grew on me once I started to listen to is as a series of soundscapes rather than a "jazz" album. This would be a good album for late night reading or navel-gazing.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Louis Armstrong - New Orleans Nights (Decca, 1957; Verve, 2008)

By the mid 1950's, trumpeter Louis Armstrong had taken jazz all over the world, playing to audiences far and wide on U.S. State Department sponsored tours. But his heart never really left the city of his birth, New Orleans, and this album is a collection of Crescent City standards, interpreted by Pops and a rotating band he called the All-Stars. "New Orleans Function" is actually a New Orleans jazz funeral with the All-Stars taking the place of a marching band, and delivering a lively version of "Didn't He Ramble" in the middle. "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It" has a nice trumpet and trombone mixture as Armstrong and Jack Teagarden (who sounds like he recently emptied a few buckets himself) also share the vocals. Armstrong himself takes center stage with some extraordinary playing on the warhorses "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" and "Bugle Call Rag" along with singing and playing a fine horn on the epochal "Basin Street Blues." There's just something about listening to Louis Armstrong play and sing that brings a smile to my face. This is a very happy album and it will spread joy wherever it is played.
New Orleans Nights -

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Boogaloo Joe Jones - Right On Brother (Prestige, 1970, 2008)

With a pair of famous drummers already sporing the Joe Jones moniker (Papa Jo Jones with Basie and Philly Joe Jones with Miles Davis) soul jazz guitarist Jones wisely chose a stage name that let people know exactly what he was all about - bluesy, soulful jazz guitar. While Jones never built up a following akin to Grant Green or any of the other soulful guitarists of the period, this album shows him to be a fine player, particularly on the uptempo pieces like the feverish "Poppin'" which is taken at a very fast pace and is a fun and effective performance. "Right On" and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" also work well, with Jones getting ample support from Rusty Bryant on alto and tenor saxophone, Charles Earland on Hammond B-3 Organ, Jimmy Lewis on bass and Bernard Pretty" Purdie on drums. This is a solid slice of R&B influenced jazz and will be a welcome reissue amongst partisans of groove jazz.
Right on Brother -

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Anthony Braxton - The Complete Arista Recordings, Disc One (Mosaic, 2008)

It's fascinating today to think that at one time, major pop music labels actually had divisions that recorded experimental modern jazz musicians. The Freedom division of Arista had one of the best catalogs, recording a wide variety of musicians, including multi-reedist and composer Anthony Braxton. What is fascinating about this opening disc, is that considering Braxton's fearsome reputation, much of the music found here is fairly accessible free-bop, with Braxton's alto playing showing a great debt to Eric Dolphy. Whether in collective jazz improvisation on "Opus 23B" and "Opus 23D" or completely composed on "Opus 23C", there's nothing here to scare a savvy listener, and much to enjoy. Things get a little strange on "Opus 38A" which has Braxton improvising in tandem with a Moog synthethysizer in a Sun Ra like electronic experiment, that sounds a little dated to today's ears. "Opus 37" finds him in what would become the World Saxophone Quartet for some windy blowing. "Opus 23G" has some sweet free alto improvising in a great quartet that includes Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Dave Holland on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. There's a link to some of the liner note material that writer Mike Heffley had to leave out of the extensive booklet that accompanies the set.
Anthony Braxton -

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Various Artists - Rarum Box Set 2: Selected Recordings IX - XX (ECM, 2007)

A few years ago, the German jazz and classical music label ECM began asking some of its most prolific and popular musicians to put together collections of single or double disc samplers of music they had recorded for the label either as a leader or a sideman. Far from traditional "best of" or "greatest hits" collections, these were often quirky and surprising, much like the musicians themselves. These discs often made for good entry points for listeners who were curious about these musicians, but unsure where to start exploring their catalogs. ECM has upped the ante even further here by making 12 of these discs available as either a traditional CD boxed set, or a digital download (for an absurdly low price.) It makes for a fascinating listen, especially on random shuffle play. I was familiar with several of the musicians here like Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett and and Jack DeJohnette, so as enjoyable as their msuic is, the real revelation for me was listening to hitherto unheard musicians like Arild Andersen, Eberhard Weber and Masqualero. The drawback of downloading the music digitally is the lack of liner note and side person information, but that was more than offset by the price, which made this an attractive way to delve into the ECM catalog and discover new music.
Rarum Box Set 2 -

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tony Williams – Mosaic Select 24, Disc Two (Mosaic, 2006)

Disc two of this set features the legendary drummer leading a hard hitting modern hard-bop group with Wallace Roney on trumpet, Bill Pierce on tenor and soprano saxophone, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Charnett Moffett on bass. The Blue Note album Angel Street from 1988 takes center stage here, but there are a few tracks from other albums, like the wonderfully vibrant opener “Mutants on the Beach” (great title!) which takes the free flowing hard bop Williams made during is tenures with Miles Davis and Jackie McLean, and whips it into thoroughly modern shape with a very potent performance. The title track “Angel Street” and some short drum solos scattered around the disc are quite memorable for the solo acumen of the members. Miller, in particular sounds like the true heir to McCoy Tyner with a very strong playing style that is full bodied and propulsive, but still sensitive when need arises. Roney has taken loads of “Miles-clone” criticism over the years, but he sounds very comfortable and every inch his own man here. But what comes through the most is that this was a true band, not a star with a collection of followers, but a group that shared the vision of their leader to take traditional small group acoustic jazz and make it modern through the strength of Williams compositions and the bands improvisational prowess.
Mosaic Select: Tony Williams -

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Destination Out brings their long series of informative posts about Anthony Braxton to a conclusion with a thoughtful post offering a beginner's guide to this sometimes daunting musician, with mp3's included:

"So if you’ve been intrigued by what you’ve read and heard in our recent Braxton blogothon but aren’t sure where to head next, we’ve asked some Braxton experts for their recommendations. You may even find some albums here that have escaped the attentions of longtime fans. We also hope folks will hit the comments with their own suggestions and eureka moments."

Given D-O's enthusiasm over the past month, I have broken down and ordered the Braxton Mosaic set, so I hope to report back on that shortly. D-O also did their bit for the get out the vote effort, by posting a couple of mp3's in an election day post.
Anthony Braxton -

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ahmad Jamal - It's Magic (Dreyfus, 2008)

Pianist Ahmad Jamal has one of the most unique touches on the piano in all of jazz. Originally he was popular in the 1950's for a gentle blend of cocktail jazz that employed the use of space and impressed the like of Miles Davis. More recently his music has employed loud-soft dynamism that makes it come alive with a living, breathing elasticism. With his longstanding bandmates, James Cammack on bass, Idris Muhammad on drums and joined by Manolo Badrena on percussion, the band jumps right into the give and take from the start with the approprietly named "Dynamo" and the interesting "Swahililand" with show the daredevil lyricism inherent in Jamal's playing and the near telepathic rapport he has with the other members of the band. The title track "It's Magic" slows the tempo to an introspective half-speed, before the medley of "Wild Is the Wind>Sing" kicks things back up to breakneck choreography. This is a fine album, demonstrating that Jamal has never stopped growing or learning as a musician, and that whether it is an obscure show tune or an original composition, Ahmad Jamal always has a fresh perspective to offer.
It's Magic -

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Sun Ra - Secrets of the Sun (Atavistic, 2008)

Scouring the seemingly limitless depths of the Sun Ra archive, Atavistic has released this transitional album, cut when the Arkestra was in the process of moving from Chicago to New York. Maybe it was because of the transition, but this disc features a smaller lineup, consisting of some of the Ra stalwarts like John Gilmore on tenor saxophone and Ronnie Boykins on bass. The most interesting aspect of this album as a whole is the ability to hear Ra's piano in a small band context. He sounds great with his percussive technique cutting through the murky sound quality, with a near Monkian intensity. "Solar Differentials" opens with percussionist Tommy Hunter singing "space bird sounds" which are as bizarre as you can imagine, before Ra's piano leads the group into a strong improvisation. The real find on this disc is the closing 17 minute epic "Flight To Mars" which forshadows some of Ra's lengthy explorations like "Atlantis" and "The Magic City." Unreleased in any form before, this features some beautiful flute work from Marshall Allen. While this probably isn't the best place for the Ra neophyte to begin an exploration of his massive catalog, it's quite a find for the cognescenti and the Ra true believer.
Secrets of the Sun -

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Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher (Nettwerk, 2008)

OCMS evokes old school Americana, so much so that you'd expect Bill Frisell or Charlie Haden to pop up on one their gigs (have they?) I think much of what turns me off to modern country music is the smarmy nature of the "cry in you beer" ballads and the "rally round the flag" rockers. Please, don't give me any more of that pretentious bullshit. Thankfully, OCMS avoids those pitfalls for truly swinging old-school bluegrass and western swing and some really inspired songwriting. Of all the songs that have invoked the death of Martin Luther King Jr., few have the power and the sadness of "Motel in Memphis" which is so haunting it literally sends chills down my spine. Contrast that with the hysterical rave-up of "Hundinger" with the unforgettable lines of "... we've got wine, whiskey, women and guns... if you're not a right-winger, then we'll all have a humdinger..." Hunter S. Thompson would feel right at home in that crowd. When they're not running whiskey and drugs on "Alabama High Test" and "Tennessee Pusher" they are reeling from the effects on the very disturbing "Methamphetamine." Real country music is dangerous stuff, and thankfully OCMS realizes this and hasn't pulled any punches. This is strong music. Tennessee Pusher (

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