Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life (Columbia, 2009)

Apart from possibly Frank Sinatra, has there ever been a pop musician as consistently productive and interesting as Bob Dylan? Nearing seventy, he continues to tour and make fascinating music filled with wry commentary on life, love and loss. This album was quickly recorded with his touring band at the end of their 2008 road trip, and it has a spontaneous feel, like a set of snapshots or short stories with a narrative about the place of romance and the modern world running through it. Bookended by two spectacular compositions, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" and "It's All Good" the album shifts through rock 'n' roll, country, roots and blues at a genial and enjoyable pace. The aforementioned songs are the real keepers filled with sandpaper dry humor and insight, plus the excellent playing of the band. Dylan's unique voice seals the deal - there's nothing like it, shifting from doom laden prophet to trickster con-man at the drop of a hat. The rest of the album is quite solid also, with the the band playing bluesy shuffles on "My Wife's Hometown," "Shake Shake Mama" and "If You Ever Go to Houston" and thoughtful acoustic ballads in "Life is Hard" and "Forgetful Heart." While this album may not be as monumental as his two previous ones, it remains excellent and a great pleasure to listen to. Hopefully these wonderful updates from Dylan-world will become more frequent in the years to come.
Together Through Life -

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chick Corea - Early Circle (Blue Note, 1992)

Although credited to composer and pianist Corea, this was a collective super-group that only lasted a short period of time. Apart from Corea who made some of his most avant-garde music in this group are multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. Much of the music here is freely improvised and quite experimental, and I had the sense that it was probably a little more interesting to play than to listen to. That said, the first two performances are actually quite interesting and enjoyable. "Starp" and "73 Degrees Kelvin" have all the hallmarks of Braxton's most accessible music, with his free-bopping saxophone that is rooted in Parker and Dolphy and an impish elastic sense of time. Things got a little more difficult for me after this. As I have mentioned before, slow and abstract improvisation throws me for a loop, and the majority of the rest of the disc was in this vein. The accurately titled "Ballad" has some slow sweet flute and guitar before Corea's piano comes in and takes things into non-concrete territory. Two short piano and bass duets follow, with free and spontaneous improvisation flowing between Corea and Holland. Clarinet and piano duets follow, flowing between philosophical and wild eyed. "Chimes I" and "Chimes II" add unusual bell like percussion as the name implies, and underpins it with some plinking and plunking piano and bowed bass. "Percussion Piece" wraps things up with more of the same, bells, chimes and vibes. Apart from the first two performances here, the music was a little too theoretical and indefinite for my taste. Die hard fans of this group or of the individual musicians may find otherwise, but this one didn't grab me.
Early Circle -

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rob Mazurek - Sound Is (Delmark, 2009)

Cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek is living in Brazil these days, but he still has strong connections the Chicago area and the Delmark label. The album title also alludes to one of Delmark's most famous releases, Roscoe Mitchell's highly regarded Sound LP. Joining him on this album are: Matthew Lux on bass guitar, Josh Abrams on acoustic bass, and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, and John Herndon on drums. This is a very interesting album, with a lot of shifts and turns of shading and cinematic color. The two bass lineup offers some interesting possibilities and Mazurek's writing makes the most of it. With the two basses in a state of quantum flux and the vibes ringing and cornet punching through with well timed commentary, it makes for a unique and beguiling sound. "As if an Angel Fell from the Sky" and "The Earthquake Tree" are vibrant compositions the build nicely from a resonating low end and higher pitched vibes. Mazurek's cornet swoops and smears the music making for an almost futuristic vision of what jazz can be - this is the music of possibilities, full of intrigue. Some of the slower pieces have a noirish sensibility running through them, it would be interesting to hear this band score a film, perhaps some type of futuristic dystopian crime film. I liked this album quite a bit, the dusky sound of the twin basses and the beguiling sound of the vibraphone, which resonates through the music like ripples through a pond creates memorable and unusual sound textures.
Sound Is -

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Jimmy Giuffre - Free Fall (Columbia, 1962)

Seeing as this received a crown in the Penguin Guide and influenced Ken Vandermark to the point that he named one of his groups after it, I knew I wanted to give it a try, but but found it to be tough sledding indeed. I react viscerally and and immediately to the type of avant-garde jazz that is loud and penetrating, uptempo music with the Beats "go man, go" philosophy; but the abstract slower and more pointillist type of improvisation is very difficult for me, and leaves me confused with a vague feeling of inadequacy. I know this is my weakness as a listener and that my lack of patience robs me of many great musical experiences. The music here is slow building, moving and darting almost taunting in its impenetrability. Divided by thirds into solos for Guiffrie, duos and trios, it strikes me as the aural representation of Jackson Pollock's drip painting technique, in the case, drips of musical color dot the landscape or canvas, a splash of clarinet, a fragmented piano chord, an isolated note from the bass. I know from my reading that Ornette Coleman's band shocked the jazz world around this time with their free improvisations, but it seems to me that Coleman was firmly grounded in Charlie Parker's vision of bebop as well as Texas R&B. What must people have thought of this intractable music Giuffre was presenting, sounding like it was beaming in from an alternate Universe?
Free Fall - (mp3 version)

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Various Artists - Chicago Blues: A Living History (Raisin Music, 2009)

Co-led by bluesmen Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell, this audacious two disc set attempts nothing less than charting the history of and paying tribute to fifty years of post-war Chicago blues. For the most part this collection succeeds very well with spirited renditions of well known blues classics, and the different men take turns leading and singing. Arnold has been a presence on the Chicago scene for decades, and he uses this experience to fill his harmonica and vocals with passion, swinging hard on "She's Love Crazy" and "I Wish You Would." John Primer's strong guitar playing and deep emotional vocals power Howlin' Wolf's "Moanin' at Midnight" as well as "Sugar Sweet" and "Can't Stand To See You Go." Little know Johnny Iguana keeps the Chicago blues piano tradition alive, taking Big Maceo's "Chicago Breakdown" solo and then keeping the music flowing briskly on "Memphis Slim, USA." Harmonica Player ans singer Billy Branch swaggers through a couple of classics, Junior Wells legendary "Hoodoo Man Blues" and the classic "One More Mile" with swooping harp and resonant vocals. Fans of the traditional electric blues, especially of the Windy City variety will find a lot to like on this collection as if features some of the city's top musical talent coming together to keep the music alive and moving forward.
Chicago Blues: A Living History -

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book Review

The Hunter: A Parker Novel The Hunter: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
They left him for dead, gutshot in a burning building. But they didn't make sure he was really gone and that was their fatal mistake. Because when the criminal is Parker, hell hath no fury. Tracking the double-crossers to New York City, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, Parker wants the man who set him up, and when that isn't good enough, he decides to take on the whole east coast mob - solo. So begins one of the greatest series in post-war crime fiction, Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) great anti-hero, Parker. I had read some of the later novels in the series out of order, and was thrilled when University of Chicago Press announced it was going to bring the older ones back into print. Slightly oversized paperbacks with classy, stylish artwork, these are well done and respectful reissues. Stark's style has the clipped tenacity of his noir forebears, but is already coming into it's own. Parker is a towering creation, the unstoppable criminal who makes women flush with desire and men shake with fear. The term is overused these days, but truly, this is a classic.

View all my reviews.
The Hunter -

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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Nu Band - Lower East Side Blues (Porter Records, 2009)

Formed as a collaborative venture in 2003, The Nu Band consisting of Mark Whitecage on alto saxophone and clarinet, Lou Grassi on drums, Roy Campbell on trumpet and flugelhorn and Joe Fonda on bass explores in a very interesting way the intersection of mainstream and free jazz. It is clear that the musicians have a great respect for the jazz tradition and use that as a springboard for their compositions and improvisations on this album. "Lower East Side Blues" opens the album with a strong and deep performance, with the soloing and ensemble playing marking a fertile and earthy feel. "In a Whitecage/The Path" is a medley featuring a swirling solo by the saxophonist and then a mellow and midtempo collective improvisation. "Connecticut Solution" starts medium-up tempo with a nice drum feel. Campbell's trumpet has an interesting pinched sound on his solo which is well supported by good solid thick sounding bass. Whitcage takes over with a strong but well controlled solo, and there is a nice bass and drums interlude. "The Last of the Beboppers" was the highlight of the album for me, opening with a sweet sounding full band free-bop melody before tart alto saxophone with echoes of Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean take over. Trumpet supported by deep elastic bass makes tart commentary on the proceedings and a slick drum solo seals a great performance. "Heavenly Ascending" introduces bowed bass and a serious and deep melody. Profound and emotional saxophone and trumpet solos are presented before the return to melody and the shift to free improvisation for the conclusion. "Avanti Galoppi" has a folk-ish theme like the type Albert Ayler used to use before opening to strong collective improvisation. Elastic bass and drums buoy a somber and emotional feel. John Coltrane's "Like Sonny" finishes up the album with a swinging full band performance featuring a nice drum solo. This was a well played and thoroughly enjoyable album of progressive jazz that is quite accessible. The music is both thoughtful and exciting and the musicians involved have a deep sense of the jazz tradition without being beholden to it.
Lower East Side Blues -

Edit: "Like Sonny" is a Mark Whitecage original, not the John Coltrane composition.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tony Malaby - Paloma Recio (New World Records, 2009)

Tenor saxophonist and composer Tony Malaby is one of the more interesting inside-outside bandleaders and improvisers playing today, combining the structured improvisation of the jazz tradition and the energy and drive of free improvisation. On this disc, he is joined by Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The music has an interesting and wide open sound, beginning with "Obambo" a fast paced, excellent opener with strong playing and a little overblowing for emphasis. "Lucedes" and "Hidden" have a slow moving dreamlike feel - slow, probing and abstract. "Alenchinsky" features long eerie wails of saxophone over insistent nervous drumming; building to a fast paced section with stinging guitar and strong sax, climaxing in intense overblowing. A couple of short improvisations, "Boludos," with unusual brush strokes of guitar and streaks of sax and "Puppets" with bass and sax probe builds to the culminating moment of the album, "Loud Dove," fast paced strong jazz, featuring bowed bass, and exciting collective improvisation. Slowly unfolding collaborative sound painting it's the musical equivalent of time-lapse photography of a flower opening. I liked this album quite a bit, the intuitive interaction of the musicians and the coiled energy of the music made it consistently interesting and engaging.
Paloma Recio -

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Around the blogs

The Blues Blogger has an interesting post on the great bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon: "After composing and playing in many local groups, Dixon eventually signed to Chess Records as a recording artist. He began performing less and started getting more involved with the label. Dixon became a full time employee with Chess in 1951, where he acted as producer, A&R talent scout, session musician and staff songwriter. His relationship with the label was nervy at times, but his output and influence was extraordinary. He worked with all the greats such as Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II, just to name a few."
Willie Dixon -

Big Road Blues has the notes from their latest radio show in an essay: "Today’s wide ranging mix show spans the years 1927 through 1977. We have a whole slew of fine pre-war recordings on tap today including a set of fine female singers and a set of excellent piano players."
Blues music -

The Princeton Record Exchange's Blog reviews a concert with Ab Baars and Ken Vandermark: "This night belonged to the front line of Baars and Vandermark. Both of them switched freely from tenor to clarinet (and on one piece, Baars on bamboo flute), sometimes in the middle of a piece, creating pungent and creative dialogues."
Willie Dixon -

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Burnt Sugar (The Arkestra Chamber) - Making Love to the Dark Ages (Livewired Music, 2009)

Guitarist, composer and conductor Greg Tate leads a rotating large ensemble called Burnt Sugar which intelligently mixes the large scale mysticism of Sun Ra, and the earthy fusion of Miles Davis with elements of hip-hop. It makes for an interesting gumbo of styles that works well for the most part. A three part suite that evokes the terrible legacy of slavery in America celled "Chains and Water" opens the album, featuring the evocative vocals of a singer that sound a lot like June Tyson from the old Sun Ra band on the first section. The second and third sections of this suite mix some very nice jazzy improvisation with a touch of psychedelia. The album does have a dry spot with "Dominita - The Gabri Ballad" which has some classy trumpet playing but overstays its welcome by lingering for over fifteen minutes. It was often said that Duke Ellington's instrument was his orchestra, and the same could be said for Tate who uses conducting techniques similar to those used by Butch Morris and John Zorn to set up interesting scenarios for his musicians. By using cues and themes, Tate is able to guide the improvisation into territory that makes for interesting music, keeping the proceedings consistently engaging for the listeners and the performers.
Making Love to the Dark Ages -

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Miles Okazaki - Mirror (Self Released, 2009)

I took a chance on this album after reading about it in the Downtown Music Gallery's newsletter. What originally caught my eye was the presence of one of my favorite saxophone players, Chris Potter. Little did I know that Potter guests on only one track, but that is OK because the rest of the album is very good too - interesting compositions and textures and great playing are found throughout. Okazaki plays guitar, and wrote all of the compositions (and also did the amazing artwork on the disc and notes.) He is accompanied by David Binney, Miguel Zenon, Chris Potter (1 track!) on saxophones and Christof Knoche on sax and bass clarinet, Jon Flaugher bass and Dan Weiss on drums. The music is quite nice and consistently engaging with saxophones and occasional bass clarinted weaving around guitar bass and drums. On "Howl", Okazaki lays down some choppy funk with Zenon following with a fluid and graceful solo. "Halfway" starts with gentle acoustic guitar, building to a lullaby with the band with Knoche breaking free for a subtle bass clarinet solo, later switching to soprano saxophone. "Momentum" has a powerful Zenon solo, and then "Canon" starts with some interesting percussive playing before evolving into a rapid fire David Binney solo that is very exciting. I liked this album quite a bit, it is well played and thoughtful modern jazz performed by very talented musicians. Apparrently this album was released by a small Italian label in 2006 before being re-released by Okazaki himself this year. Hopefully it will get some more attention this time around.
Mirror -

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chick Corea & John McLaughlin - Five Peace Band (Concord, 2009)

Five Peace Band is a jazz super-group co-led by Miles Davis alums and longtime fusion pioneers Chick Corea on piano and electronic keyboards and John McLaughlin on guitar. Rounding out the group are Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. The litmus test for how much one may enjoy this double disc compilation of their 2008 European tour is whether or not you are a fan of 1970's jazz-rock fusion bands like Corea's recently re-formed Return to Forever or McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. If you enjoy those bands, chances are you'll like this because the musky, incense laden scent of the 1970's pervades from the retro artwork on the cover to the overlong jams that bog down some of the music. This isn't to say it's a total flop, all five musicians are masters of their collective instruments, and have moments of powerful soloing. Garrett is a little out of place in what is essentially a retro-fusion group but still finds chances to build potent solos which even work in some Pharoah Sanders like over-blowing on the likes of "Raju" and the surprising inclusion, Jackie McLean's bebop anthem "Dr. Jackle." He is able to liven up the nearly half hour long "Hymn to Andromeda" with a tart solo about twelve minutes in, rescuing a very slow performance that was on its way to becoming stultifying. I guess that was my biggest disappointment of the album - despite the high powered musicianship available, was that the music seemed to be watered down by unnecessary jams and vamps which robbed the potent sections of much of their power. Perhaps a judiciously edited single CD would have been more appropriate than a two-hour plus double album. If you are nostalgic for the heyday of fusion, you'll undoubtedly enjoy this, but I found it a little disappointing because of the self indulgent jamming, and in need of some pithy and thoughtful restraint.
Five Peace Band -

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Recent Reads

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

British explorer Percy Fawcett is largely forgotten today, but back in the mid 1920's he was an famous explorer in South America, navigating the Amazon basin in search of his own El Dorado, an unknown civilization he called Z. This book recounts his career as an explorer making several trips to this area, culminating in the disappearance of Fawcett, his son and family friend during an expedition. No trace of Fawcett was ever found despite several attempts to unravel the mystery. Grann mixes two narratives in his book, recounting Fawcett's career as a military man and then explorer, mixing the professional with the personal accounts of relatives and friends. He also describes his own research and growing obsession in the Fawcett case, which leads him around the world and eventually to walk in Fawcett's footsteps in the Amazonian jungle. This was an interesting story - you can see how the true story of Fawcett must have been an inspiration to the pulp and comic stories and films like the Indiana Jones series.
The Lost City of Z -

Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

Private Detective Max Mingus is released from prison after killing three perpetrators of a vicious crime. Upon release, he is hired by a wealthy Haitian family to probe the disappearance of their young son. Mingus travels to Haiti to attempt to separate truth from legend and fiction, like the legend of Mr. Clarinet who is stealing children from their homes. This is Stone's first novel, the precursor to the extraordinary novel King of Swords, and you can tell that Stone was working the kinks out in this earlier story as there are a few dead ends and loose threads here. Still, this is an excellent detective story, filled with voodoo priests, vicious criminals and characters searching for redemption.
Mr. Clarinet -

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

This extraordinary story, might just be the most disturbing book I have ever read. Not just for violence, although there are some extremely graphic scenes of bloodshed, but it is the unflinching examination of loneliness and life and what it means to be alive in Japan and the United States. Kenji is a tour guide in Tokyo, specializing in showing visiting tourists the ins and outs of Tokyo's sex scene. He is contacted by Frank, who he thinks at first is merely another American tourist looking for action. He soon finds out that Frank is much, much more. There is one act of horrific violence in the middle of the story that everything else pivots around, but the sense of emptiness, loneliness and unease that leads up to it is so genuine and creepy, and the examination of banality, fear and self-worth that follows the penultimate scene is just extraordinary and deeply affecting. If you have the stomach for it, I can't recommend this book highly enough, it's mix of existential horror and noir crime is like nothing else I have ever read.
In the Miso Soup -

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Friday, April 17, 2009

John Esposito - A Book of Five Rings (Sunjump, 2008)

I saw pianist and composer John Esposito play a couple of times live with saxophonist Eric Person and was impressed with his strong and percussive style, which I found to be reminiscent of McCoy Tyner. So when this large group jam session popped up on eMusic, I wanted to check it out. According to Esposito's notes, this was originally supposed to be released on the revived ESP label, and it certainly has a free-ish vibe like the old ESP discs. Along with the leader and Person are Janya Nelson on flute, Matt Schulman on trumpet, James Finn on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Tony Underwood on tuba, Hilliard Greene on bass and Peter O'Brien on drums. Recorded live at the Knitting Factory back in 1997, it's a hot concert, a jam, but one that never gets out of control regardless of the energy, which is a complement to both Esposito and the other members of the group. "Bwarat" opens with some sweet and breathy flute from Nelson and a strong exotic sounding soprano saxophone solo giving way to tart trumpet over percussively comped piano. "Smitty" was the highpoint of the album for me, featuring strong and rapid piano, a trumpet solo that digs deep and then climaxes with an explosive tenor saxophone solo that is simply extraordinary in its flame throwing energy. "Two Worlds" is a lengthy suite-like performance that alternates accordingly between sections of delicate interplay and cacophonous improvisation. The finale, another suite, "...and His Spirit Ascended/Trane's Church" builds slowly from a flute led meditation to a full out late period Coltrane ecstatic blowout. It's quite impressive and the musicians never lose focus during the near half our long dramatic improvisation. It unfolds like a ceremony and as such is quite an accomplishment. I enjoyed this album quite a bit, at times it reminded me of some of the big band projects of Sam Rivers or the gospel tinged intensity of some Charles Mingus recordings. Certainly worthwhile for fans of modal to free jazz.
A Book of Five Rings -

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Around the Blogs

Destination Out takes another look at the enigmatic composer, keyboardist, philosopher Sun Ra: "What makes the double-album Other Voices special is the rare opportunity to hear Sun Ra in a quartet setting. It’s easier to focus on his resourceful keyboard acumen, the invigorating interplay between the musicians, the etched fireworks of John Gilmore’s sax and dramatically emotional trumpet of Michael Ray."

Big Road Blues looks at the field recordings of John and Alan Lomax in their most recent essay called Dangerous Blues: "In July they acquired a state-of-the-art, 315-pound acetate phonograph disk recorder. Installing it in the trunk of his Ford sedan, Lomax soon used it to record, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a twelve-string guitar player by the name of Huddie Ledbetter, better known as “Lead Belly,” whom they considered one of their most significant finds. During the next year and a half, father and son continued to make disc recordings of musicians throughout the South."

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

J.B. Lenior - Vietnam Blues (Evidence, 1995)

These stark yet beautiful recordings were originally released on the German L+R label in the mid 60's and still resonate as some of the most powerful music to confront the evils of racial injustice. Lenoir came to Chicago in the 1950's and played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Sunnyland Slim, making records for J.O.B. and Chess that were popular and influential, culminating in the hit "Mamma Talk To Your Daughter" in 1954. By the mid sixties however, Lenoir was scuffling through hard times - rock 'n' roll had eroded his audience, and he was branching out into challenging musical forms like African music and deep acoustic blues. The blues don't get any deeper and stronger than are found here, especially when he renounces Alabama for the bombings and killings taking place their during the burgeoning civil rights movement in "Alabama Blues." Much like John Coltrane's famous composition "Alabama" which was inspired by the same events, Lenior's music draws strength from its quiet courage and conviction, and is inspiring in its honesty. "Born Dead," "Down on Mississippi" and "Shot on James Merideth" cover the same territory brilliantly - it is impossible not to admire J.B. Lenoir, not only for his superb songwriting and guitar playing, but for his quality of spirit that enabled him to document these injustices so eloquently. Although these albums are primarily devoted to protest music, he also gives glimpses of other aspects of his musical personality, like the gospel songs "God's Word" and "Whale Has Swallowed Me" and he even reprises "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" as an acoustic rave up. It's hard to recommend this music highly enough, both as a documentarian of history and struggle and a maker great music, Lenoir's achievement was triumphant and will echo through the blues for all time.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

John Lee Hooker - Urban Blues (BGO, 1967)

The great blues man John Lee Hooker had a long and prolific career, beginning with classic solo recordings with just his slashing guitar, pounding foot and emotional vocals. Twenty years on he was making a successful transition to the ballroom rock 'n' roll scene as the all night boogie man playing with the likes of Canned Heat and the British band The Groundhogs. This album benefits from a tight backing band who provides a rock solid beat and allows Hooker's idiosyncratic guitar and vocals to go their own way at will. The boogie comes to the fore on some of the albums most successful selections, songs that would become Hooker staples like "Boom Boom Boom" and "Mr. Lucky" which would later become the title of one of his popular late period LPs. Hooker sings about the changing times in which he was living in a great song about his adopted hometown "The Motor City Is Burning" which concerns the riots that took place in Detroit in the mid 1960's. "Want Ad Blues" is just as timely today as it was back then. I guess this would be considered a transitional album, but it's a good one, and Hooker sounds in fighting trim throughout.
Urban Blues -

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Nathan Davis - '65 - '72 (Jazzman, 2009)

Born on the jazz hotbed of Kansas City, MO, saxophonist, flautist and composer Nathan Davis stayed on in Europe after his service there in the U.S. Army and had opportunities to perform with other expatriate jazzmen and heavy hitters like Woody Shaw and Larry Young. He make several interesting records that combined hard bop, bebop and soul jazz with just a hint of the influence of John Coltrane, especially in his soprano saxophone playing. The music on this compilation of his early recordings (most of which are out of print) is pretty interesting - Davis' soprano saxophone has a hypnotic swirling sound that is unique and consistently appealing. His flute playing is sweet and nimble without being cloying. Fans of mainstream jazz who missed Davis' music the first time around will find this compilation interesting, he has his own voice, and a deep love of the traditions of the music. After this period of his career, Davis would embark on a successful career as an educator while still performing as a bandleader and a collaborator.
'65-76 -

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rashied Ali Quintet - Live in Europe (Survival, 2009)

Veteran drummer Ali leads a band that explores the hallowed ground between hard bop jazz and the avant-garde, where the boundaries of form fade and the promise of freedom tempts. He is joined on this journey by Josh Evans in trumpet, Lawrence Clark on tenor saxophone, Greg Murphy on piano and Joris Teepe on bass. The sound their best when they fly close to the sun, taking risks and reaping huge rewards on the two epic performances of compositions by guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer, "Theme for Captain Black" and "Thing for Joe." Both of these long improvised performances allow the band to stretch out, everyone soloing at length, with Clark taking the honors as he blows with great lust and vigor, at times channeling Ali's former boss, John Coltrane, and then taking particular inspiration from Joe Henderson, whom the latter piece was dedicated to. Murphy seems in thrall to another Coltrane band veteran, McCoy Tyner, as his strong lush playing bears his influence. But this isn't some repertory or tribute band, Ali keeps the pace moving briskly and his weaving of unpredictable patterns keeps everyone on their toes. The standard hard bop of Evans' original "Lourana" is pleasant, inspiring the composer to find his inner Lee Morgan, but doesn't quite provide the spark to lift the band as the open ended and exciting Ulmer compositions do. This is a solid slice of free-bop jazz with the concentration on solos rather than on collective improvisation. People who enjoyed the adventurous Blue Note mid 60's recordings by the likes of Sam Rivers or Jackie McLean would probably enjoy this, as well as people who remember the late 1970's Wildflowers loft jazz sessions.
Live In Europe -

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Lotte Anker w/ Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver - Live at the Loft (ILK, 2009)

Saxophonist Lotte Anker takes a different approach to free jazz than is normally expected. Collaborating with pianist Craig Taborn and percussionist Gerald Cleaver, she investigates the subtleties and nuances of collectively and freely improvised music. Performances start slow with whispers and hints of melody and harmony and then patientlyAnker and her colleagues add more and more, building brick by brick until the have an architecturally sound group improvisation. Group interaction is really the key to this recording, the musicians are listening closely and reacting in real time to what the others are doing. "Magic Carpet" clocks in at over twenty six minutes and is quite a journey beginning with slow abstract scrapes and bleats, and the music is very wide open with possibilities for almost anything to happen. Anker and Taborn probe the territory like explorers on the frontier, as her saxophone picks up a fluid and flowing dynamic over a gentle and unobtrusive percussive pulse by Cleaver. This slow examination builds its pace gradually and by the eighteen minute mark, a more frenetic pace has been achieved, culminating in a fine piano and percussion interlude. "Real Solid" is another lengthy track with the same MO, with the musicians are quietly probing like boxers feeling each other out and waiting for an opening. Skittering and disjointed improvisation gives way to quietly emotional and yearning saxophone backed by light and nimble percussion and rippling piano. The subtleties give way to a fuller sounding improvisation at the thirteen minute mark, where strong, full-figured saxophone playing meets shimmering piano and percussion, building to great intensity. The comparatively short "Berber" sounds like a coda or an encore to the two earlier performances. This improvisation is kept quiet and its development is turned inward and the music becomes introspective. Patience and thoughtful subtleties are the hallmarks of this album, the music does not give up its mysteries lightly, but it is this sense of freedom and the mystery of exploration that make this worthy music for those willing to take the time and probe its depths.
Live at the Loft -

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Outhouse - self titled (Babel, 2008)

Outhouse is a British jazz band that according to their press got their name from their rehearsal space - an outdoor privy. Consisting of Mark Hanslip on tenor saxophone, Robin Fincker on tenor saxophone & clarinet, Johnny Brierley on bass and Dave Smith on drums & percussion, their music is very intricate with interesting twists and turns, and reminds me of some of the recent music by American saxophonist Steve Coleman. "The Tin Box" opens the album on a very strong note with and upbeat tempo, with some cool riffing and unaccompanied saxophone sections tied together by strong drumming. "Japaseloho" has some very interesting sounding percussion work, integrated with the saxophones. "Pig" has complex open sounding improvisation, building to an intense tenor saxophone and drums section. After a slow bass solo, the group drops back into a more probing improv. "The Foreign Meat" changes things up a little bit, beginning with some hyperactive percussion and adding wordless vocals who sings in harmony with the horns, making for a very cool sound. "MU" finds the saxes opening and weaving before the bass and drums enter and build tension. "Zmerish" has the saxophones improvising with the vocalist again before she lays out and gives way to a strong tenor saxophone solo and excellent drumming. This album took a little while to grow on me, but I really began to enjoy it. The group has a finely honed and unique sound, especially the drummer Smith, who has an excellent conception and keeps the music consistently interesting.
Outhouse -

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone - Thin Air (Thirsty Ear, 2009)

Guitarist Mary Halvorson and violinist Jessica Pavone have a unique conception of jazz and improvised music, adding snippets of indie rock and classical music to make a unique combination. On this duet album, all of their influences come together. "For You or Them" opens with harmony vocals and guitar joining sawing violin making for a haunting avant-pop sound. "Thin Air" begins with gentle guitar and vocals in harmony before it becomes discordant and fractured like a fun house mirror where all is not as it seems. "Juice" has romantic violin which then scrapes into action backed by pointillist guitar. "Sinking" is one of the high points with a quasi-classical feel, slightly un-nerving getting wild with swooping violin before returning to the somber melody. The performance moves into slashing guitar chords and swooping violin and sweet tempting vocals. "Lull" is another fine song, opening with gentle violin and probing gently plucked guitar. "... and Goodnight" ends things on a gentle and melodic note. This is an interesting and unusual album that deftly melds downtown jazz with skewered pop and makes for music unlike anything else out there, and should be appealing to fans of thoughtful jazz or pop music.
Thin Air -

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lightnin' Hopkins - Rockin' at Herald (Acrobat, 2008)

The great blues guitarist and singer Lightnin' Hopkins had a lengthy career, and made many records for anybody that would provide cash money up front. Many of these records were solo performances with acoustic guitar, but the ones presented here are fascinating not only for their quality, but for the setting, with Hopkins playing some extraordinary electric guitar in a small combo setting. Mixing down in the alley slow blues with riotous uptempo R&B Occasionally music fans and critics will debate what the first rock 'n' roll records were and they never mention some of these sides which is a shame because the energy flowing from the songs like "Hopkins Sky Hop" and "Lightnin's Boogie" is deserving of the highest esteem. When he slows the tempos, he wrings all of the emotion out of songs like "My Baby's Gone" and "Evil Hearted Boogie." I really liked this disc a lot, it shows what a crafty and resourceful musician Hopkins was and of course the music is very exciting.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Around the Blogs

The Blues Blogger takes an interesting look back at Muddy Waters Fathers and Sons LP: "As successful as Muddy Waters was during the fifties, his record sales were for the most part limited to the Mississippi Delta, the New Orleans area and of course Chicago. However, by this time his reputation was internationally known and in the sixties his music began reaching rock listeners. He often appeared at concerts and festivals nationally."

Meanwhile, Big Road Blues looks at the history of the Specialty Records label: "Art Rupe founded Juke Box Records in 1946, but changed the company’s name to Specialty the following year to indicate that, unlike the major labels, his specialized in particular kinds of music - African-American blues and gospel. The Hollywood-based firm became a leader in both fields, with a roster that included R&B artists Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Guitar Slim, and Lloyd Price and gospel stars like the Pilgrim Travelers, the Soul Stirrers (featuring Sam Cooke), Brother Joe May, Alex Bradford, and the Original Gospel Harmonettes."

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

String Trio of New York Concert

Normally, my social anxiety problems keep me from attending live concerts, but when a grant brought the String Trio of New York to my Library, I didn't have any excuses to keep me from going. The longstanding band who recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary consists of James Emery on guitar, John Lindberg on bass and Rob Thomas on guitar. It was interesting and a little amusing to see a band who had played famous concert halls all around the world rehearsing in our staff kitchen and then setting up their music stands by the magazine rack in the reading room. They drew a pretty respectable crowd of about fifty people despite frequent downpours of rain during the day. Set one consisted of a lecture demonstration of what the band and their music was all about. They opened with a nice composition from a recently composed suite called "First Light", which was followed by talk, answering questions explaining what they do and how their music is similar and different to swing musicians the predominantly senior citizen audience was familiar with. A neat example of free improvisation followed and then the group explained about listening to each other and responding to what each was playing in real time. An excerpt of movement three from the "First Light" suite followed with discussion about improvisation and its role in their music. After an intermission the band returned to play a concert, beginning with a Duke Ellington composition called "Heaven," a gentle, yearning and melodic song which was ironically accompanied by a massive downpour of rain rattling and slapping against the windows and roof. A portion of the "First Light" suite called "E-Pedal" was performed next and featured a nice swirling guitar solo. To show the audience how each performance of a particular piece was different, the group played "First Light" movement three again, and this version was longer with a sweet sounding violin feature. Lindberg used his bass as percussion, slapping the body and popping the strings. They moved into a pointillist abstract improvisation, before building back to melody. A Lindberg composition called "Time" opening with a bass solo, followed by the other instruments entering slowly with a wide open feel. Another Lindberg composition concluded the concert, "The Anticipator" where the music kept building and buzzing, moving through different short sections that didn't resolve, but kept the anticipation of resolution hanging. There was a bowed bass solo, a very intense violin solo before a wild free ending. This was a very nice performance and I thought it was quite successful. Most of the audience stuck with it for the duration which is good, because I was worried that the challenging music might drive them away. If you get a chance to see this group live, definitely do so, the music was very exciting.
String Trio of New York -

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