Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nick Moss and the Flip Tops - Live at Chan's Combo Platter No. 2 (Blue Bella Records, 2009)

With so many blues bands leaving the tradition of the music behind to engage in over the top wankery, it is a great pleasure to hear this band. With a nice crisp, clean sound and no pretentious soloing, this band is the real deal. Consisting of Moss on guitar and vocals, Gary Hundt on bass and harmonica, Kate Moss on bass, Willie Oshawny on piano and Bob Carter on drums, this is a tight and strong band whose live performance has been honed to a razor's edge. "Spare Ribs and Chopsticks" opens the album with a nice tight instrumental performance which has the band sounding fresh and firm. "Try to Treat You Right" is a mid-tempo grinder featuring deep and soulful vocals. "Whiskey Makes Me Mean" changes up the pace with the band using acoustic instruments to get a nice barrel-house boogie feel. "Lonesome Bedroom Blues" is a deep slow blues, with thoughtful and patient electric guitar work in the spotlight. Rippling piano work from Oshawny is a treat too. "Fill 'er Up" brings the tempo back up with a well done blues harp interlude swinging the band into a hot instrumental performance. Blues guitarist Lurrie Bell sits in for the remainder of the album and opens "Don't You Lie to Me" with a stinging solo, encouraging the band to a loose jam. Eddie Boyd's classic "Five Long Years" is taken at medium tempo, with nice emotional vocals and a grounded and earthy guitar solo. Muddy Waters' chest thumper "I'm Ready" gets an appropriately strutting treatment from the band, with some nice fluid guitar work from Bell and Moss taking center stage. This was a very good live album of old-school electric blues. Moss and the band have a wonderful sound, and must be a treat to see live in concert. Mixing originals with blues standards, they have a unique and enjoyable sound which pays homage to the blues tradition without being slavishly retro.
Live At Chan's - Combo Platter No. 2 -

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trespass Trio - …was there to illuminate the night sky… (Clean Feed, 2009)

Viewed as a way for the members of the band (Martin Kuchen on alto and baritone saxophones, Per Zanussi on bass and Raymond Strid on drums) to speak out collectively through their art against war and injustice, this is a corrosive and powerful blast of strong free jazz. The band has a very open ended sound, and alternates in-your-face burning uptempo improvisations with moody and abstract musical meditations. "Like a Drum" opens the album with somber and fractured bowed bass and percussion, which leads into "Sad Salsa in F" which builds slowly with long saxophone tones and spacious percussion. "Zanussi Times" shakes off any torpor that may have built up with a very hitting and fast paced collective improvisation. After a nice solo feature for the dedicatee, the trio reconvenes for a scalding finish of primal and very exciting music. Kuchen breaks out the baritone saxophone for "Walking the Dead" which has a haunting slow improvisation for droning baritone and bowed bass. "...Was There to Illuminate the Night Sky..." is a raw and scraggly improvisation with unadorned saxophone leading the way. As a cry of pain and anger, the over the top energy is very impressive. The near manic pace continues with "Strid Comes" which is a skull crushing free improvisation wrapped around an up-front and immediate sounding drum solo. "The Indispensable Warlords" slows the pace to mid-tempo, with pulsing bass and world weary saxophone playing over subtle brush work. "... Was There To Illuminate The Night Sky... September Take" is a bonus track with a raw and boiling sound, wide open free jazz that is potent, yet exhilarating. The Trespass Trio shake an angry fist on this album, and I hope people listen. These musicians clearly take their role as artists very seriously and they have produced music that demands to be heard. The music presented here is both exciting and thought provoking.
...Was There To Illuminate The Night Sky...

Send comments to: Tim

Recent Reads

I haven't blogged about what I have been reading in a while, so here goes. Mostly crime fiction over the past month or so:

Rain Dogs by James Lee Burke: After getting a mysterious phone call from a distraught witness, rural Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland makes a grisly discovery: the bodies of nine young Thai women who were murdered while being smuggled into the country as prostitutes and drug mules. In the aftermath of this slaughter, the witness and his girlfriend go on the run leading to a vicious conflict between cops, gangsters and cold blooded killers. This was a crackling story of greed, violence and the hope of redemption. Burke is the master of characterization, and the men and women who populate his novels are fully formed individuals. Holland, the rural sheriff haunted by his memories of the Korean War, killer "Preacher" Jack Collins who is obsessed by old school religion, and the other characters of the story are not cookie cutter constructs, but deep people with the same contradictory emotions that all of us face daily. Like most Burke novels, the description of the natural environment is key. The landscape and weather of the desert of west Texas is described in such clarity as to almost become a character in the story as well. With his extraordinary eye for detail and thoughtful and sympathetic characterizations, this is crime writing on a sublime level and is very highly recommended.
Rain Gods -

Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale: Longtime favorite characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are back - contacted by their friend Marvin who asks them to get his granddaughter away from a group of criminals in the East Texas woods, the boys find much more then they bargained for. Coming up against crooked cops, double dealing feds and the Dixie Mafia they must find a way out of the mess. This one actually started out a little slow - Lansdale dedicates the book to fans who begged another Hap & Leonard adventure, and the beginning seems a little forced. Lansdale quickly finds his footing though and the familiar mix of ribald humor and ultra-violence commences. What is interesting about Lansdale's thrillers is that violence always has a cost and it is never bloodletting for its own sake. Hap and Leonard are multi-dimensional characters and that is what makes them so compelling to follow.
Vanilla Ride -

The Midnight Road by Tom Picrilli: Flynn leads a life of quiet desperation, trying to save children by day as part of the Long Island CPS and filling his nights with film noir revivals in the Village. When he is called to a Long Island home, he is appalled to find an autistic man caged in a basement and an armed woman at the end of her rope. Flynn flees with two children from the house only to crash into the freezing water of Long Island Sound during his escape. After being clinically dead for nearly a half-hour Flynn is miraculously revived only to discover that someone... is trying to kill him. This was a fascinating story - Picirilli originally made his mark as a well regarded horror writer, and there are elements of the supernatural that play a role in this one as well, as he transitions into the noir writer who would pen the excellent modern crime novels The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile.
The Midnight Road -

Get Real by Donald Westlake: John Dortmunder and his gang of bumbling fellow thieves are back for one final adventure. When a reality TV producer hears about the gang he has a brain-wave - what if he filmed the gang planning and executing a real life heist, broadcast weekly on television - it could be a surefire blockbuster. Of course, Dortmunder and the gang aren't exactly thrilled by the idea of breaking the law on national television, but they wonder if it's possible to go along with the plan just long enough to get a really big score. The Dortmunder novels are always a joy to read, and this one is no exception. Westlake was a master storyteller, and he told humorous stories as well as hard-boiled ones. The notion of "reality" TV is ripe for a fine skewering, and Westlake does an excellent job making light of the whole situation. With the boys looking to use the un-reality of reality TV to their advantage, the laughs come quick and often. With Westlake's unfortunate passing last year, it's sad to think that there will be no more stories of the bumbling gang. But if you haven't already made Dortmunder's acquaintance, this is a fine way to do so.
Get Real -

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jerome Sabbagh - One Two Three (Bee Jazz, 2009)

When saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh started landing trio gigs at various New York City jazz clubs, the band kept to jazz and popular music standards, thinking it wouldn't be too taxing. Sabbagh writes on his web site that it was just the opposite, and that playing without a pianist or guitarist made him push even harder. Inspired by the great masters of the saxophone trio jazz idiom like Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, Sabbagh, along with Ben Street on bass and Rodney Green on drums, recorded this album together in a small studio keeping the intimacy of their regular live gig. Pianist and composer Thelonious Monk is clearly a huge inspiration for this trio (ironic for a piano-less group!) and they cover three of his compositions here. On "Work" they get a sharp and angular approach to the music, Sabbagh branching out in a spiderweb of fractured sounds backed by probing bass and subtle drums. "Boo Boo's Birthday" struts through the wonderful melody in a cool and melodic fashion. "Off Minor" is a great way to end the album, with another great Monk melody that clearly fills the musicians with joy at the thought of the possibilities it entails. They slow things down for "Body and Soul (obligatory for tenor saxophone players) and Sabbagh takes it without accompaniment for the first half of the performance before unobtrusive bass and subtle drums join the music. Billy Strayhorn's "Clelsea Bridge" is another ballad performance, taken at a gentle tempo. This is a subtle and unpretentious album of straight-ahead jazz, and it seems to be a fine representation of their club set. Hopefully the trio will be allowed to record again, this time live on their regular gig.
One Two Three -

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 27, 2009

Levon Helm - Electric Dirt (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard Records, 2009)

Singer and former drummer for the legendary rock 'n' roll group The Band, Levon Helm releases his second solo album in as many years, filled with energy and renewed optimism after a successful recovery from throat cancer. Helm's solo music continues the country fused Americana music he made with his former group. He is joined by an excellent crew of musicians including Larry Campbell, who acts as a straw boss for the whole affair. Opening with the old Grateful Dead chestnut "Tennessee Jed" the group mines a deep country-rock sound that is laid back and soulful. Female harmony singers join in to take up any slack Helm might have after his illness, but there's not much, he still sounds deeply soulful. The group digs deep into the blues as well, covering Muddy Waters' "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had" and Pops Staples "Move Along Train" catching a deep and gutsy groove and riding it for all they are worth. The highlight of the album for me came with the impressive Helm/Campbell original, "Growin' Trade," a harrowing tale of a farmer who is willing to fight for his family farm no matter the cost. Happy Traum's beautiful "Golden Bird" features an extraordinary vocal performance by Helm on a supremely haunting song about greed and loss. There's a timelessness to the music presented here, which is deeply connected to the rich southern soil that gave the world the great American musics of blues, country and rock 'n' roll. Helm taps into this great vein of Americana and mines it for some excellent music. Now if we could just hook him up with that other Americana master, Bill Frisell, how cool would that be?
Electric Dirt -

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Darren Johnston - The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed, 2008)

Trumpeter and composer Darren Johnson leads an interesting and open ended ensemble on this, his debut album as a solo bandleader. Collaborating with him on this album are Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Sheldon Brown on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Devin Hoff on bass and Smith Dobson on drums. Rob Reich guests on accordion on “Foggy.” The enigmatically titled “Be the Frog” opens things with a quirky melody and some fine clarinet soloing from Goldberg. The group uses texture and shading to make the most of the improvisational opportunities provided by the music. The addition of the accordion of “Foggy” is a case in point, adding a mysterious and melancholy air to the proceedings. “Apples” opens with a sound akin to a Dave Douglas performance (I think fans of Douglas would really enjoy this album) before adding layers of musical fabric to build to a very exciting performance which was the highlight of the album for me. Brown in particular digs deep for an excellent tenor saxophone solo. “Cabin 5” opens with a thick, urgent groove, decamping to a full and ripe sounding solo from the leader. “Borken” has a bruised and abstract feel, Johnson’s trumpet smearing sounds like a painter mixing different colored hues. The music shakes off its sadness as the band kicks in behind Dobson’s snappy drumming. Ben Goldberg takes a wistful clarinet solo on “The Edge of the Forest” before the leader comes back with a tight and economical solo. I liked this album - the group had a nice, clear identity and plant to move their music forward. The compositions were well written and not fussy, leaving a lot of room for individual interpretation. Johnston was a very democratic bandleader, generous with solo space for his colleagues. Another winner for Clean Feed, which is rapidly becoming the one of the go-to labels for exciting and creative jazz.
The Edge of the Forest -

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Muddy Waters - The Woodstock Album (Chess, 1975)

During the end of his tenure with Chess records, the label tried putting the great guitarist and singer in a number of different musical situations (playing with rock musicians, employing funky horns) with limited success. Someone then had a brainwave - lets put him in a comfortable studio with fellow musicians that respect and admire him and record some tunes that were road tested and thoughtfully chosen. Those respectful admirers included Garth Hudson and Levon Helm of The Band, harmonica master Paul Butterfield, as well as pianist Pinetop Perkins and guitarist Bob Margolin from Muddy's touring band The result was one of the more consistently good LP's of Muddy's late career - no, it won't make you forget the classics of the 1950's, but it will make you realize that he remained a protean force in the music for quite a while after his initial glory days. Muddy's funky strut enlivens the swaggering "Why are People Like That" and a very nice remake of Louis Jordan's "Let the Good Times Roll" with the raucous energy these rave ups deserve. Pinetop Perkins is a key figure in this album's success, he grounds the music in the deep blues with his strong playing and tosses vocal choruses and sly asides back and forth with Muddy on the excellent versions of "Caldonia" and "Kansas City." The music here has the relaxed feel of a group of friends getting together to play some tunes and have fun. The great man still has a lot left in him and he sings and plays slide very well, dominating the music in a congenial and enjoyable manner. That off the cuff nature of the album is the key to it's success, and would inspire guitarist Johnny Winter to form his Blue Sky label to record Muddy in similar settings after his Chess days were over.
Woodstock Album -

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bill Frisell - Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009)

When guitarist and composer Bill Frisell saw the photographs of Mike Disfarmer, he knew he had found a kindred spirit. Disfarmer took stark and haunting photographs of people in rural Arkansas in the 1950's that have the realism and unnerving clarity of Walker Evans. Frisell, who is known for his Americana projects as much as his jazz work recognized a fellow eccentric and developed a project that he toured with, playing music inspired by the photographs while displaying them on a large screen while the band improvised live. Joining him on this studio version of the project are regular Frisell collaborators Greg Leisz on steel guitar and mandolin, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Viktor Krauss on bass. The music reflects the austere images quite well, from the haunting and eerie "Focus" which uses a repeating violin motif to create tension, to the playful cover of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's blues classic "That's Alright Mama." Frisell uses the photographs to create music that reflects a time and place that were unique to America. The music is often gentle and melancholy and the performances are quite short, like fragments of memory that manifest themselves in a dream. But to his credit, Bill Frisell never lets the music become reverential or overly sentimental, it remains vital and quirky from the opening track "Disfarmer Theme" which works in some of his trademark guitar loops and subtle electronics to excellent effect. This was a very enjoyable album, and one of Frisell's finest "Americana" projects. The music must be listened to with a patient ear, but the beauty of the music and the unadorned nature of Disfarmer's photography make for a compelling experience.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Dead Weather - Horehound (WEA/Reprise, 2009)

The Dead Weather is a rock 'n' roll super group consisting of Jack White of The White Stripes and The Raconteurs on drums, guitar and vocals, Allison Mosshart of The Kills on vocals, Jack Lawrence of The Greenhorns on guitar and Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age on bass. Melding garage band rock 'n' roll to a decidedly sleazy and dangerous vibe, the group makes some pretty seductive music. Things click on the opening track, "60 Feet Tall" which builds ominously to a point where Mosshart spits bile in the vicious chorus. A stuttering riff opens "Hang You Up from the Heavens" which introduces a bluesy "sinner vs. saved" theme to the lyrics that will crop up repeatedly in the album. "I Cut Like a Buffalo" is one of the key tracks of the album, with the band pounding out a massive bass led fractured reggae groove, White takes the microphone to spout emotional and enigmatic lyrics. "Treat Me Like Your Mother" is the most scalding rock 'n' roll on the album, perfectly stitching together the scorching primal rock riffs with a hint of 70's period Rolling Stones vulgarity. A cover of the obscure Bob Dylan track "New Pony" gets the bands juices flowing as well, with White drumming in a muscular fashion and screaming out background lyrics, while Mosshart grinds out the lead vocal. This was a good album, and more than the sum of its parts which is always a concern with the egos at play. There is an off the cuff quality to the music, but even when the summon rock 'n' roll cliches, they do them with energy and excitement.
Horehound -

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Acoustic Ladyland - Living With a Tiger (Strong and Wrong, 2009)

Far from acoustic, but certainly Hendrixian in nature, Acoustic Ladyland combines jazz and punk rock in the manner of Gutbucket and other electrified instrumental groups. The group is made up of Peter Wareham on saxophones, Chris Sharkey on guitar, Ruth Goller on bass, and Seb Rochford on drums. The group has a real go for broke sound on most of the album, with short pithy songs that hit hard and end quickly, focusing more on combined instrumental impact than elaborate soloing. The title track, “Living With the Tiger” and it’s follow up, “Gratitude” had the most impact for me, driven by propulsive, almost manic bass and drums, along with slashing guitar and raw and grinding saxophone. When they keep the kettle on full boil, the group is very successful, and as they would have it, most of the album operates that way, creating an atmosphere not unlike a jazz analogue of an old Ramones LP, with short, potent blasts of sound. The energy flags at the end of the album, as if the group was exhausted at expanding so much energy. The attempt at a ballad, “The Mighty Q” comes off a little stale, but the group rallies to finish strong with medium-up rockers “Worry” and “You and I.” I like the impish sense of in your face play that pervades most of this album. The band plays a taught jazz - rock fusion, but they never fall into the empty virtuosity that holds back other music of that ilk.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lucky 7s - Pluto Junkyard (Clean Feed, 2009)

When Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast on the United States in 2005, it scattered the survivors far and wide. Some of the city's musicians followed the migration path that musicians have been following for decades, moving north to Chicago. What has resulted are some interesting collaborative projects, including this one consisting of Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert on trombone, Josh Berman on cornet, Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone, Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, Matthew Golombisky on bass and Quin Kirchner on drums. The sound that the group gets is quite interesting, their performances meld the spontaneity of free jazz with the structure of composition and they are often suite like, moving through sections of shifting focus over the course of one performance. The opening "#6" has shimmering vibes and sputtering trumpet in an uptempo fashion, giving way to an interesting and blustery trombone and bass duet interlude, then the music shifts into an abstract collective free section. "Pluto Junkyard" has a strutting feel featuring trombone, before moving into a slower slurred section."Ash" opens with some slow unaccompanied trombone and then mysterious sounding vibes backed with bass and drums. Kirchner picks up the pace, pushing the cornet and trombone in an exciting fashion. A swirling dreamy collective section and a speech like trombone solo round things out. "Cultural Baggage" has an urgent melody, propelling the music into a strong vines led improvisation. Jackson solos on saxophone, sounding raw and caustic. "Future Dog (For Jaki)" features free and open improvisation with strong tenor saxophone over percussive vibes and drums. The music becomes strong and cacophonous before downshifting to a slower trombone, vibes and drums setting. Berman adds a strong, ripe cornet solo over some cool and rhythmic drum work. Cross cultural collaborations like this are excellent for the continued development of the music. Using the language of jazz and improvisation as a starting point, musicians from around the country and around the world are able to share experiences and bring new vibrancy and focus to the music they create. Let's just hope it won't take another natural disaster the likes of Katrina to encourage further cross pollination.
Pluto Junkyard -

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Christian McBride - Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue, 2009)

After several years playing electric jazz and fusion, which culminated in an epic three disc live album, bassist Christian McBride shifted gears and returned to straight up acoustic jazz with in a quartet he calls Inside Straight with Eric Reed on piano, Steve Wilson on alto saxophone, Warren Wolf on vibraphone and Carl Allen on drums. McBride states that his goal for this project was to find solid melodies with chord changes that offered a lot of opportunity for the musicians to improvise. They are quite successful in fulfilling that stated goal, making meat and potatoes jazz in a classy and unpretentious manner. Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme for Kareem” has some knotty ensemble playing and fine soloing. The following “Rainbow Wheel” is another up-tempo performance that allows the band a lot of room for self expression. “Shade of the Cedar Tree” reprises an older McBride composition at a jaunty medium tempo trot, with a nice vibraphone feature for Wolf. The high point of the album for me came with “Stick and Move” which was a wonderful go for broke jam that allows everyone to stretch out and dig in for a very exciting performance. It is nice to hear McBride playing in an acoustic setting again, his big, thick tone which is inspired by his mentor Ray Brown is at the center of the action here, providing an axis for all the musicians an improvisations to revolve. Warren Wolf makes the most of his debut recording, with some excellent solos and a wonderful feel and sense of texture on the vibes. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from him soon. Overall this was a fine mainstream jazz album, and I hope this group is able to stick together as a working unit.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Various Artists – Hommage a Neushi (Rhino Handmade, 2009)

It’s not often that a record producer and A&R man is recognized and has a commemorative boxed set dedicated to him, but Neushi Ertegun wasn’t your typical producer. Founder of Atlantic Records jazz division and producer of some of its most memorable jazz and R&B sessions, he was a passionate advocate for the music and musicians. This set was the last project completed by Ertegun’s protégé Joel Dorn, and Dorn’s liner notes also annotate much of the material. The music included on this five disc set is a who’s who of famous jazz and rhythm and blues. From the progressive end of the jazz spectrum are tracks from John Coltrane, “Cousin Mary”, “Giant Steps” and Charles Mingus, “Hog Callin’ Blues” and “Passions of a Man”. Soul jazz and swinging mainstream are well represented throughout the set by the likes of Sonny Stitt and Eddie Harris and several tracks from the Modern Jazz Quartet. The only music that did not appeal to me were the jazz singers, usually draped in heavy string section accompaniment. Jimmy Scott, Chris Connor and Ray Charles were undeniably talented, but the heavy velvet drape of the strings smothers a lot of the emotional impact of the music for me. That is just a personal quibble for me, and overall, the music included in here is some of the finest recorded during the classic era of post-bop jazz in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Ertegun cast a towering shadow in the music business and this set is a fine tribute to him. Deep pockets are required to buy this collection on disc as the price clocks in at $150, but if you don’t mind a digital version, it’s quite a bargain at under thirty dollars including a full color PDF scan of the liner notes.
Hommage à Nesuhi -

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Thing - Bag It! (Smalltown Superjazz, 2009)

Leading lights of Scandinavian free jazz with a name conjuring up thoughts of 1950's B-Grade horror films, The Thing is made up of MatsGustafsson on tenor saxophone, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Although they originally came together to honor the work of musical polymath Don Cherry, they quickly expanded their repertoire to include other jazz legends and punk rock songs as well as original compositions. This album is a two disc set that includes a relatively even mix of original blowing vehicles, jazz and rock covers. "Hidegen Fujnak A Szelek" opens strong with cacophonous improvisation melding melding high energy free jazz to in your face punk rock. "Drop the Gun" was quite interesting, a performance in two parts, starting with a straight up free jazz collective improvisation with the group getting a boisterous sound. The song them evolves into a free-noise experiment with Gustafsson adding buzzing electronics that cast a unearthly pall over the proceedings. Albert Ayler's composition "Angels" is a compelling performance that takes the group into another direction still. Spare and mournful, the music the group conceives hints at the ancient spirituals that originally inspired Ayler, while moving into a haunting and emotional textural terrain. "Beef Brisket" is a thirty minute jam included on a bonus disc, which moves suite-like between dissonant all out playing and huskier spacey sections. It is interesting to hear the group trying to expand their palette with the use of electronics and different types of textural structures. Although their original reputation was built on harsh and rowdy performances, it is clear that this band is more then just a group of sonic extremists, but rather a trio that is trying to push the boundaries of improvised music in several directions.
Bag It -

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

J.D. Allen - Shine! (Sunnyside, 2009)

Tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen’s second album for Sunnyside continues the taught and austere music that he recorded on his previous album, I Am, I Am. Playing in an open ended trio setting with bassist Greg August and drummer Rudy Royston, Allen explores the tough, no-nonsense musical territory that Sonny Rollins pioneered in his trio recordings of the 1950’s. The music recorded on this album is made up of relatively short and angular compositions, shards of music like pieces of glass from a broken window. The first two tracks are excellent; “Esre” and “Sonhouse” have strong saxophone and a raw, ripe feel. The music is fast and loose, buoyed by hyper drumming and filled with nervous energy. “Conjuration of Angles” tones things down a bit, the music is still robust, but with a hollow drum sound and strong bass giving the music an ominous feel, like storm clouds gathering in the distance. “East Boogie (Kolby’s Theme)” and “Ephraim” take things back to the faster pace, with hard charging bass and drums setting the pace and Allen’s tenor sounding ripe and strong. This was a solid album of tight, tough modern jazz. The lack of a pianist or guitarist adds more risk for the players involved, but they seem to revel in the freedom and use that open space to create compelling music. The music stretches time to acclimate itself to the music, assimilating blues, bop and modal strains of jazz into their own unique conception.
Shine -

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 13, 2009

Matt Wilson - That’s Gonna Leave a Mark (Palmetto, 2009)

If there is one thing that sets drummer Matt Wilson’s music apart from the rest of his peers, it is the impish sense of joy that comes forth in his music. The musicians sound like they are having a blast and that feeling is infectious for the listener as well. Along for the ride are Andrew D’Angelo on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Jeff Lederer on tenor saxophone and Chris Lightcap on bass. “Shooshabuster” opens the album with an uptempo alto saxophone having a fast and energetic feel. Wilson and Lightcap push the music hard. “Arts and Crafts” swings hard with a strutting backbeat and a confident tenor saxophone solo. A funky drum beat lays down a fine foundation for some excellent bass clarinet on “Rear Control.” The cover of “Two Bass Hit” is a massive strutting version of the bebop classic with strong bass and killing drums whipping the music along. Lederer takes a swinging tenor solo that is strong and hot. “Area Man” makes the music even hotter, with strutting high energy honking with massive bass and drum support. Wilson has drawn inspiration from garage and punk rock in the past and he does again here on “Area Man” and on “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark” which is a two minute blast of gleeful energy. “Celibate Oriole” is also a winner with some great riffing by all the horns and a hot free-bop tenor saxophone solo. As important as the horns are for the success of this album, is is the bass and drums that provide the music with the boost that allows them to reach to the stratosphere. This is exciting, fun and thoroughly enjoyable music that will definitely be there then the best albums of the year are tallied in December.
That's Gonna Leave a Mark -

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 12, 2009

David S. Ware - Live in Vilnius (No Business, 2009)

With David S. Ware on the DL for a little while while he recovers from successful kidney transplant surgery, this excellent live album serves as a reminder of what a protean force he is in the world of jazz. This album was recorded during his final tour with the quartet that he had led for the past decade, with Ware on tenor saxophone, Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums. "Ganesh Sound" opens the album with a darkly spiritual theme that builds to the unflagging intensity that this band was famous for. Never shrieking or pounding for the sake of making a racket, the band uses volume and energy as a tool to present its focused and deeply considered music. "Theme of the Ages" has an exploratory feel that leads to a drum solo from Brown that is nimble and subtle. Ware's return is raw and beautiful, pushing the music to new and majestic heights. "Mikuro's Blues" features a beautiful bass solo from William Parker, strong and elastic, it lays the foundation for the band when they enter and Ware leads the group on a deeply emotional free-bop performance. "The Stargazers" is the centerpiece of the set, with an epic performance. There is a ten minute introduction from the trio with Ware laying out. Building from a quiet start, the music builds upon itself as Shipp moves to the low end of the keyboard sending out waves of music like a sonar operator plumbing the depths of the sea. When Ware finally enters at the ten minute mark, it is with a rush of energy that is truly galvanizing. His wrenching saxophone sound is awesome in its vitality. This was a wonderful album, full of deeply emotional playing from all involved. This group was much loved during their tenure and it is easy to see why. Hopefully David S. Ware will recover fully and soon from his recent surgery so he can continue to spread his message of peace and understanding through music like he did in this wonderful concert.
Live in Vilnuis - No Business Records

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jerry Bergonzi - Simply Put (Savant, 2009)

Mining a fertile vein of modern mainstream jazz, tenor and soprano saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi displays echoes of the great bop based albums John Coltrane made for Atlantic around 1960. Joined on this album by Bruce Barth on piano, Dave Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums, the group uses the classic jazz of the past as a jumping off point for their own unique music. "Mr. MB" opens the album with mid tempo swing, featuring a fluid and lucid tenor solo and a swift piano interlude. "Dancing in the Dark" is a milder tenor ballad, with the pace picking up slightly during the solo feature for saxophone. "Come Fly With Me" picks the pace back up with a bright, upbeat swinging feel. Bergonzi's tenor jumps and jukes and them makes way for a spirited and Tyner-ish piano solo. Tenor sax returns for a lengthy and yearning solo. The deeply rhythmic piano, bass and drums set the scene for a strong and supple saxophone solo on "Out of Nowhere" with a ripe and full sound. Another interesting upbeat tune is "Transphybian" which dynamically shifts between breakneck and mid-tempo paces to good effect. This was a really solid modern mainstream jazz recording with good ensemble playing and interesting and effective soloing. Tough no-nonsense small group jazz, the group is on the ball throughout.
Simply Put -

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Old Dog - By Any Other Name (Porter, 2009)

Old Dog is a collaborative band consisting of Louie Belogenis on tenor sax, Karl Berger on vibes and piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Warren Smith on drums. They meet at the intersection of free jazz and post bop and explore the spaces in between those two forms of improvisational music. "By Any Other Name (Trio)" opens the album with Berger on the sidelines as the trio takes a low-tempo approach, focused on yearning saxophone playing. "Endless Return" is a very exciting performance that uses urgent throbbing bass and rippling piano to move things along briskly. Bisio's excellent playing is the key here, pushing and prodding the tart saxophone playing forward. "Swa Swu Sui" has Berger switching to vibes, over a furious bass and drum pace. Belogenis' tenor cooks hot and deep, he really digs in and blows hard. "Round and Round" has some more raw saxophone over bowed bass. Taken at a slower, more ominous tempo, the music evokes raw and primal fear with slight vibraphone accents playing off the wounded and plaintive feel of the music. "Living Large" has yearning tenor saxophone playing long tones over pulsating bass and broken beat drumming. "Zephyr Revisited" moves the band back into more traditional post-bop territory, with vibes interacting nicely with bass and drums and evoking mid-tempo swing. The crystalline sound makes a perfect launching pad for a strong free-bop tenor saxophone solo. "Constellation" finds the drums moving in low to the ground, making a firm foundation for the tenor sax and piano moving in and picking the pace up. This was an enjoyable and exciting album, with music that is grounded in the great inside/outside music that was made for Blue Note in the early 1960's by musicians like Sam Rivers and Bobby Hutcherson. It is very heartening to hear musicians that are taking the traditions of that music and moving them forward into the music of today.
By Any Other Name -

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Houston Person - The Art and Soul of Houston Person (High Note, 2009)

Soulful and melodic tenor saxophonist Houston Person has had a lengthy career in the basics of classic jazz: blues, ballads and bop. This three disc set tracks the highlights (and some new recordings) from his tenure for High Note Records, with whom he has recorded with for the past fifteen years. Many different sidemen appear on the material including Bill Charlap, Ron Carter, Russell Malone, Grady Tate and Ray Drummond. I found this to be a really nice set to set on shuffle play late in the evening when I am reading, the music is full of patience and deep emotion, and Person injects his own personality and sound into the music. This collection focuses on his interpretation of standards from the Great American Songbook, leading off with a nice mid-tempo swinging version of "You Do Something to Me." His calm and thoughtful interpretation of ballads is the highlight of the collection, with the standard ballads "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance" and "Skylark" making a dignified and thoughtful statement. He has the classic deep toned and dignified tone in his instrumental playing as fellow travelers like Stanley Turrentine and a deep and inspiring feel on ballads inspired by greats like Johnny Hodges and Lester Young. Three discs of soulful ballads and mid-tempo swing might be a little too much. but this is a nice set to dip into when the mood hits and you want to listen to something that is relaxing without being overly saccharine.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Louisiana Red - Back to the Black Bayou (Ruf, 2009)

Blues guitarist and songwriter Louisiana Red has been around for a long time, moving between acoustic and electric settings for his emotional and often autobiographical songs. Red's songs convey the wisdom of a long life earned the hard way, and he never lets his periods of scuffling and heartbreak get to him, but turns them into material for his music. He's backed here by a tough combo called Victor's Juke Joint, and the band's sound does have the classic sound of the blues juke joint like Junior Kimbrough's famous juke in the Hill Country of Mississippi or a tavern like Theresa's in Chicago. He tells his own story in the opener "I'm Louisiana Red", a biographical blues that demonstrates the ups and downs of his life over a nice shuffle beat. "Alabama Train" draws on some of the classic mythology of the blues, that of the bluesman being in constant motion, and the lure and lore of the locomotive. "Ride On, Ride On" really kicks the band into overdrive with a propulsive beat and stinging guitar work. "Too Poor To Die" brings back some more classic refrains from blues history, riffing on the poverty of the working man who can't die because he's too poor to pay the undertaker. "At the Zanzibar" wraps things up with some very nice guitar playing backed by locked tight bass and drums. This is a good solid album of raw and immediate old school blues. This music was actually recorded in Norway, but you wouldn't know it by the sound. Captured on vintage equipment, it recalls the classic halcyon days of electric blues while keeping the music in a forward looking direction.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, July 06, 2009

Profound Sound Trio - Opus de Life (Porter Records, 2009)

This ad-hoc free jazz supergroup lives up to its billing with a thrilling live performance recorded at the 2008 Vision Festival in New York City. Consisting of Paul Dunmall on tenor saxophone and bagpipes, Henry Grimes on bass and violin and Andrew Cyrille on drums, this group whips up a storming racket of collective improvisation that recalls the early '60's avant guard of Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. "This Way, Please" opens the performance with strong trio improvisation with bowed bass and drums laying down a massive foundation for Dunmall's raw and passionate tenor saxophone. There is an immediate intensity of this music that is very appealing and it builds to a thrilling, bracing performance that doesn't flag over the course of fifteen minutes of free flowing improvisation. "Call Paul" has Grimes switching to violin and locking in with Cyrille's percussion in a duet before Dunmall comes in on bagpipes (somewhere Rufus Harley is smiling!) and this configuration makes for an unusual and cool sound. The decks are cleared for Andrew Cyrille on "Whirligging" and he responds with a taught drum solo. Everyone reconvenes on "Beyonder" for another very lengthy improvisation . Strong, masculine tenor playing ripe with energy bellows forth, before Grimes responds with a deft bowed bass solo. Not to be outdone, Dunmall comes right back with a brawling solo, wildly exciting and accented with thrilling honks and squeals. After this exhausting piece, the band still has energy left for an encore, "Futurity", a fine example of their collective knowledge of the outer limits of the jazz genre. This was a sensational performance by three veterans of the free jazz scene, and it must have been seen as one of the highlights of the 2008 festival. The energy of the music and it's continuing evolution over the course of the performance makes for a most pleasing listening experience.
Opus De Life -

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sonic Youth - The Eternal (Matador, 2009)

Venerable rock 'n' roll band Sonic Youth is "indie" once again, signing with Matador Records after a long term recording for the major label Geffen Records. In the end it really doesn't matter whom the group is recording for, they have their own personal sound which has developed over many years of touring and recording. If anything it's interesting how "un-radical" they sound now that the rest of the music world has caught on to their formula. But, with no need to prove themselves, they just continue to make excellent music. This is a consistently interesting album both lyrically and musically and should make both longtime fans and new converts happy. The music moves between poppy short pieces like Kim Gordon's short, sharp "Sacred Trickster" and "Leaky Lifeboat" which although dedicated to Gregory Corso, name checks some great Sun Ra album titles. They also spin out some longer improvisatory tunes like "Anti-Orgasm" which starts with a chant along chorus before evolving into a guitar freak out. "Walking Blue" is one of the most conventional tracks, the hooks it uses wouldn't sound out of place on a classic rock radio station. The album ends with the freaky and ominous "Massage the History" which takes things out on an exploratory note. I enjoyed this album quite a bit, the songs were lucid and interesting and the lyrics were passionate, poetic and even humorous. The music is quite accessible as well, making this a good place for listeners who are curious about the band to start.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Charlie Musselwhite - Memphis, Tennessee (Capitol, 1970)

When he was three years old Charlie Musselwhite's family moved to Memphis, and that city would always have a great hold on the young man who would eventually become an influential blues harmonica player and singer. Even when he moved the California in the late '60's he never lost that deep south feel to his music. On this album he is accompanied by steel guitarist Freddie Roulette, Jack Myers on bass and Skip Rose on piano. These men give the music a unique and original sound, moving from gutbucket blues to soul jazz. In between Memphis and California, Musselwhite had a lengthy stop in the blues mecca of Chicago where he learned at the feet of some of the masters of the genre, and this apprenticeship pays off handsomely in the opener "She Used to Be Beautiful" and the raging tale of alcohol fueled excess "One Mint Julep" both of which have a storming Chicago blues feel to them, tough and urban music with some excellent harmonica playing from the leader. The disc ends with a couple more Chicago standards, showing Musselwhite's deep ties to the tradition by playing Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Done Somebody Wrong." The group also gets to show off their jazz chops with a subtle rendition of "Willow Weep For Me." This is a very solid album and it deserves wider recognition, Charlie Musselwhite's singing and harp playing are excellent throughout, and the addition of steel guitar gives the band's sound a unique and interesting feel.
Memphis Tennessee -

Send comments to: Tim