Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Terence Blanchard - Choices (Concord, 2009)

Like his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard shows a tendency toward grandiosity in his projects be they film scores or jazz albums. This album attempts to focus on the choices that human beings make as they travel through life, and to that end he is accompanied by Walter Smith on saxophones, Fabian Almazan on piano, Lionel Louke on guitar, Derrick Hodge on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Philosopher Cornell West provides spoken word accompaniment and soul singer Bilal appears on a few tracks. The album opens well on "Byus" with West's monologue giving way to mid tempo bop based jazz, featuring a nice round of solos. When the group is able to get into an uptempo groove, the results are successful. "Him or Me" has a nice uptempo trumpet and drums dialogue and fine saxophone soloing from Smith. Louke takes a fine solo as well, but the spotlight here is on Scott, who keeps the performance simmering the whole way. "A New World" even toys with funk, starting with an urgent groove and then ratcheting down to standard hard-bop derived jazz. Blanchard adds some nice energetic trumpet. Some of the selection on the remainder of the album are a little bit more problematic. Bilal is featured on "When Will You Call" and while the band's music is solid, the vocals and lyrics come across as weak and watered down R&B. Dr. Wests pontificating also seems forced into the music. It is interesting to listen to the first time, but on subsequent listens it seems to interrupt the flow of the music. Overall, this was a bit of a mixed bag. The music was well played and occasionally excellent, but as a grand social statement it falls a bit short. Blanchard deserves admiration for his ambition, but perhaps not as much for his execution.
Choices - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Poncho Sanchez - Psychedelic Blues (Concord, 2009)

Poncho Sánchez, a giant on the Latin jazz scene, has developed into something of an elder statesman on that scene, and this is his 24th album for the Concord label. Melding Latin music, jazz, salsa and a host of other influences, Sanchez plays congas with Andrew Synowiec on guitar, David Torres on keyboards; Javíer Vergara on saxophones, Ron Blake on trumpet and flugelhorn, Francisco Torres on trombone, Tony Banda on bass and vocals, George Ortiz on timbale; and Joey De León on percussion and vocals. The album starts strong, with a wonderful cover of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" which keeps the beautiful melody intact while adding an extra layer of percussion and groove. "Psychedelic Blues" would seem to elude to some type of retro sixties style, but despite the name it is a fast paced and soulful performance that doesn't sound at all dated. F. Torres makes the most of a very nice solo spot on "Silver's Serenade" as do the rest of the horn section and D. Torres who works a Latin feel into Horace Silver's great funky composition. Most of this album works quite well and should appeal to fans of Latin jazz as well as mainstream jazz. Some of the vocals seemed a little cheesy to me at times, but that is a small quibble on what is otherwise a pretty successful album.
Psychedelic Blues - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Benny Reid - Escaping Shadows (Concord, 2009)

This album marks young alto saxophonist Benny Reid’s second album for the Concord label. Growing up in Central New Jersey he became interested in jazz early on then attended university to study music. Influenced by the likes of Stan Getz and Pat Metheny, accessibility and melody are the musical attributes that Reid is striving for. The Pat Metheny group is really a touchstone that the group is going toward during most of the session, using the wordless vocals of Jeff Taylor as a foil for Reid to play off against echoes Metheny’s strategy during his early group recordings on ECM. Rounding out the band are Richard Padrón on guitar, Ryan Fitch on percussion, Pablo Vergara on piano, Daniel Loomis on bass and Kenny Grohowski on drums. A glossy synth groove opens “Facing the Edge” with Reid harmonizing along, developing and almost melancholy cast before the music takes an abrupt turnat the 3:00 mark developing a much heavier sound and a near rocking tinge from electric guitar and drums. “New Days” opens with some mild saxophone before increasing the pace and adding some complicated and fast rhythm. Appropriately, the group includes a Metheny cover, “Always and Forever” a patient and thoughtful performance for guitar and saxophone. While I think that the musicians performing here are quite talented and I bear them no ill will, I must say that this really wasn’t my thing. I found the music to be unchallenging and drifting at times toward the smooth side. I found the music to be a little overproduced, with a glossy studio sheen present throughout most of the tracks. That said, if you are a fan of the early Metheny group recordings, and you are looking for something along the same lines, this may well be to your liking.
Escaping Shadows - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sonny Rollins - Moving Out (Prestige 1954, 2009)

Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins may have been the penultimate musician (or at least soloist) of the 1950’s, reeling off classic after classic in the latter half of that decade. Rollins is a sub-genre of his own, referencing swing, bop, hard bop and free at different times, but never staying pigeon-holed in one place. Like only a few other greats in the music’s history, he transcends category and makes his own unique place. What is so interesting about this album is that we hear Rollins not completely formed, a few years away from his epochal 1957 records and still in thrall to bebop. The first four tracks on this disc bear this out, Rollins performing with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Elmo Hope on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Art Blakey on drums roar through bop influenced blowing pieces with the spirit of Charlie Parker hovering not far away. “Moving Out” and “Swingin’ for Bumsy” are tricky up-tempo performances that are all the more impressive for the clear articulation by the musicians. The music is taught and not a note is wasted even at high speeds. “Silk ‘n’ Satin” is an early indication of the great ballad player Sonny Rollins would grow into. He caresses the melody and his solos are patient and thoughtful. He is not usually thought of as a composer, but Rollins has committed a few great originals to the canon of jazz and “Solid” is one of his most enduring. Taking on hard-bop’s bluesy soul and bending it to his own conception of jazz makes it one of the highlights of this recording. The remaining performance is from a different session several months later featuring the interesting combination of Rollins with pianist and composer Thelonious Monk along with Tommy Potter on bass and Art Taylor on drums. The lengthy performance of the oft-played standard focuses attention on the interplay between Rollins and Monk, and both respond with beautiful performances and solos. I thought this was a very interesting album, it is a fine example of Sonny Rollins as a maturing jazz musician right before his major breakthrough, and it also stands on its own as wonderful, timeless jazz.
Moving Out - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thelonious Monk - Monk (Prestige 1956, 2009)

Coming in between his two more well known tenures for the record labels Blue Note and Riverside, the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk recorded a few albums for the Prestige label, since collected in a three disc boxed set, or now re-releases of the original LP's remastered by engineer Rudy Van Gelder. This album consists of two recording sessions, with the first four tracks featuring Monk on piano, Frank Foster on tenor saxophone, Ray Copeland on trumpet, Curly Russell on bass and Art Blakey on drums. From this session, "We See" opens with a nice swinging uptempo Monk led trio followed by a hearty tenor saxophone solo. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" follows with a mellowed pace and some nicely pointillistic piano. Horns frame and accent Monk's solo. "Locomotive" has percussive piano and drums making way for a spritely trumpet feature and swinging mid-tempo tenor sax. "Hackensack" ends this session with a celebratory and fast paced performance. The final three tracks on this album come from a session with Monk on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Julius Watkins on French horn, Percy Heath on bass and Willie Jones on drums. "Let's Call This" opens with a medium paced strutting melody with a relaxed Rollins solo and an interesting feature for Watkins' French horn. This instrument adds a different dimension to the music and when Watkins and Rollins harmonize together on the melody the sound is unusual and pleasing. Wrapping up this session and album are two takes of "Think of One." Take 2 is first, and I think it is the superior of the two, opening with a strong Monk solo then branching off to fine statements from Rollins and Watkins. Take 1 seems to be a little off, as if the musicians weren't quite comfortable with the composition yet, in particular Sonny Rollins sounds unusually tentative, but Watkins steps up nicely with a clearly articulated solo. All Thelonious Monk albums are fascinating and this is no exception. Monk's fertile imagination as a composer and performer are thoughtfully presented here, and this well done reissue also features the original liner notes and a modern day reflection on Monk from Ira Gitler.
Monk - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Red Garland Quintet w/ John Coltrane - Dig It (Prestige 1958, 2009)

The original liner notes to this archival release note that this is a blowing session, where the individual emotion of the musicians takes precedence over the material composition. Stating that the blowing session was the essence of jazz in New York in the 1950's, they make the case for the primacy of hard bop as the lingua franca of jazz. These statements are borne out by the music which is mostly up-tempo, and based on a foundation of swing, blues and bop. Red Garland is the nominal leader, joined by John Coltrane on tenor saxophone and George Joyner on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Trumpeter Donald Byrd sits in on two tracks and bassist Paul Chambers on one. The album opens with the Charlie Parker composition "Billie's Bounce" which features an attention grabbing solo from Coltrane. He was at the height of his sheets of sound period when this was recorded, and the music comes at a lightning pace. Byrd keeps the kettle boiling with a fast up-tempo solo backed by thick bass and rock solid drums. Garland leads the rhythm trio through a bright and swinging interlude before making way for Joyner who takes an elastic solo. The brief selection "Crazy Rhythm" is taken by the piano trio with Chambers replacing Joyner and contributing a dexterous and scraping bowed solo. Garland and Taylor trade percussive snippets before closing the tune out. Coltrane returns on the rapid "CTA" which is taken at a very fast pace accentuated by a steaming Coltrane solo that is very agile even at high speeds. Foreshadowing his later work with Elvin Jones, he trades phrases with Taylor at the end of the performance. The final selection, "Lazy Mae," filled an entire side of the original vinyl LP, clocking in at over sixteen minutes. Garland opens solo before adding bass and drums and developing a gentle bluesy swing trio: loping bass, steady pulse drums and rippling piano. At the 7:45 mark, Coltrane enters digging in with a deep blues feel, but clearly holding back a little so not to overwhelm the mood. The trio comes back and takes the performance out with brief solo spots for Bryd and Joyner. Although this album comes from several different recording sessions (and even steals a tune from an Art Taylor LP!) stitched together it works quite well, both as a glimpse into the development of John Coltrane in the early stage of his career and a look at Red Garland as a leader. The swinging hard bop found here was the mainstream of the time and this is a solid slice of it.
Dig It! - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Birthday John Coltrane!

Thanks for everything...

Sens comments to: Tim

Jan Garbarek - Dresden (ECM, 2009)

Jan Garbarek is a musician that I had been curious for a while but never had a chance to really check out. The Norwegian saxophonist became fascinated with the music of John Coltrane as a teenager and his path was set. After playing with expatriate American musicians in the 1960's he developed his own unique sound and began a longstanding relationship with the ECM record label not long after. Despite a lengthy recording career, Garbarek had never recorded a live album prior to this one, which was recorded in Germany in October 2007. On this double disc set Garbarek leads on saxophones and flute with Rainer Brüninghaus on piano and keyboards, Yuri Daniel on bass and Manu Katché on drums. The first song, "Paper Nut" was my favorite of the album, starting things off in a fast, swirling and very energetic manner. He has a different conception than the "blues and bop" American musical model. "Heilor" builds to a climax of pinched sounding saxophone, he gets an interesting and unusual sound that is quite compelling. "12 Moons" begins with a nice piano trio, and then moves on extended solo saxophone ruminations. "Rondo" features fender rhodes and electric bass, while "Tao" is a deft electric bass solo. I found "The Reluctant Saxophonist" to be another highlight, Garbarek takes his time developing the music to a furious climactic statement. It was interesting listening to Garbarek's saxophone, because despite his Coltrane influence, he has a different conception to his music. Unlike American saxophonists that takes blues and bebop as their touchstone, his music seems to be rooted in a more European model of folk music and classical training.
Dresden - amazon.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ben Allison - Think Free (Palmetto, 2009)

Looking to move away from the subtle chamber jazz of previous albums, bassist and composer Ben Allison's new offering is a collaboration with Steve Cardenas on guitar, Shane Endsley on trumpet, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Rudy Royston on drums. While it's not really the instrumentation you would normally think of for a group that rocks, there is a palpable energy here that feeds the music and the musicians, and makes for powerful and interesting music. “Fred” opens the album and develops nicely into a majestic violin feature for Scheinman. “Platypus” is a powerful performance propelled by strong electric guitar and drums. “Broke” has a slower paced middle eastern lullaby feel featuring milder toned and "jazzy" electric guitar. Melancholy trumpet and violin are also present and make for unusual and interesting sound combination. “Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Godzilla” is a heavy sounding rockish tune skittish violin and guitar waves and airy trumpet accents. “Sleeping Giant” climaxes with a spitfire trumpet solo. “Peace Pipe” recasts an earlier Allison composition for guitar instead of kora and has some majestic trumpet. Guitar switches for acoustic to electric for some stinging accents as the group takes things out, building to a wonderful performance. “Green Al” brings things to a sweet and soulful conclusion and features excellent violin. This was a very exciting and consistently enjoyable album. Ben Allison is one of my favorite musicians and he does not disappoint, the new compositions are fun and memorable and the recasting of earlier compositions makes for a thoughtful evolution of his sound and improvisational conception.
Think Free - Palmetto Records

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sam Rivers on NPR

One of my favorite musicians, Sam Rivers, was featured in both NPR with an article and a radio feature:
"Rivers is a giant of modern jazz. His distinctive saxophone and flute playing made themselves heard in the mid-1960s in Boston and New York. In the '70s, he helped create Manhattan's Loft Jazz scene — inviting some of the era's most innovative musicians and their fans into his home for performances, and spurring others to do the same."
NPR's Blog Supreme chines in as well:
"I'm a little bit of a huge Sam Rivers fan. I once interviewed him for over two hours about his career, and helped put on his trio in concert (a reunion of the 1970s group with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, FWIW). His music is a complete universe within itself, and that he's experienced a career rebirth since moving out of New York -- what a great story."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Richard Thompson - Walking on a Wire (Shout Factory, 2009)

Singer-songwriter and guitar hero Richard Thompson has been well anthologized over the years, which seems to be the fate of the "cult" artist, one whom has a devoted fan base, but never quite breaks through to mass appeal. This four disc set sticks to the basics, mostly previously released studio recordings beginning with Thompson's early music with the pioneering folk-rock band Fairport Convention, and then following through to his collaboration with his then wife Linda and on to to his solo work. It is hard to fault the song selection, which has been done with great care, accenting Thompson the songwriter through classic compositions like "Shoot Out the Lights" and "The Great Valerio." He works the pop idiom as well and with characteristic humor, on the likes of "Tear Stained Letter" and "I Feel So Good." He is also a legendary electric guitarist and the set includes an epic electric guitar workout in "Hard on Me." Some interesting selections from out of print LP's and fan club only releases might make this more appealing to longtime fans who have most of his output already. This set is apparently designed to replace the three disc Watching the Dark anthology which may have fallen out of print, and it will accompany the five disc odds and sods collection RT. The music here is uniformly excellent and certainly makes a convincing case that Thompson has been one of the most consistently creative musicians in either folk music or rock 'n' roll over the past 40 years.
Walking on a Wire - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, September 18, 2009

John Abercrombie - Wait Till You See Her (ECM, 2009)

Sophisticated and thoughtful jazz guitarist John Abercrombie reconvenes a familiar format for this album, performing with Mark Feldman on violin, Thomas Morgan on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The group takes something of a chamber jazz approach, touching on lullabies and folk music at times, but remaining pretty mellow throughout. "Sad Song" sets the tone for the album with a melancholy and slow paced performance anchored by Baron's subtle brushes. "Line Up" is a little faster with slashing violin and open sounding guitar in consort. A nice interlude of guitar and bass in the centerpiece. Brighter and stronger guitar is also up front on "Trio" with stronger drumming providing the spark for the group's improvisation. The pace slows back down for "I've Overlooked Before" and "Anniversary Waltz" with the former featuring quasi classical violin and the latter having some gently swaying violin and mellow and dexterous guitar. "Out of Towner" was one of the highlights of the album, setting a faster pace and featuring swirling violin and full bodied pulsating bass. Feldman lays out for a very attractive guitar trio interlude before returning to help take things out. Subtlety is really the key to this album, the musicians are improvising at a very intricate level, where finesse is most important. This is thoughtful and sophisticated music, and what it may lose in excitement, it makes up for in craft and patience.
Wait Till You See Her - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside, 2009)

Hollenbeck is one of the most interesting performers and percussionists on the modern jazz scene, playing with his own large and small ensembles and the wonderfully quirky collective The Claudia Quintet. On this album, he is joined by a large jazz orchestra and uses them to combine jazz with modern classical music and demonstrate a wide range of inspirations and ideas. The music here is quite ambitious and forward looking, kicking off with "Foreign One" which builds nicely to one of the jazzier interludes of the album especially with an excellent saxophone solo and propulsive drumming. Things get really deep on the lengthy and cinematic "Eternal Interlude" which builds slowly over the course of nearly twenty minutes. Hopefully some inspired director or producer will hire Hollenbeck to do some film scores, the music here seems built for it with variations of light and shadow throughout. Theo Bleckman's interesting vocalese and some spoken word recitation add different dynamics to some of the other compositions of the album. The music explored a lot of different colors and timbres, bit I had a little bit of trouble with the music here because it was really outside of the jazz and blues that I normally listen to. But if you are interested in third stream jazz or the intersection of jazz and modern classical music than this will definitely be of interest to you.
Eternal Interlude - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Introducing the Open-Minded to Jazz

Patrick Jarenwattananon, proprietor of NPR's A Blog Supreme has asked an interesting question of his readers: name five albums you would recommend to somebody looking to get into modern jazz. It's not as easy as you might think - modern jazz has fallen off the cultural radar it seems, replaced by the idea of jazz as a museum piece. How to to convince the open minded music fan that jazz is a living, breathing artform, viable in the 21st century? Try these:

1. Ben Allison - Peace Pipe (Palmetto, 2002) Already an NPR favorite with his track "Disposable Genius" from this album used as a theme for the radio program On the Media, this is a wonderful album of fascinating and colorful compositions, jazz improvisation and world music with the addition of Mamadou Diabate's beautiful kora.

2. Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch, 2003) Another great example of jazz soaking up the sound of the world, guitarist Bill Frisell takes the rich and exotic music of Mali, Brazil and elsewhere and crafts it to his own unique blend of improvised Americana.

3. The Bad Plus - Prog (Heads Up, 2007) For those who still see jazz as stodgy background music for the pipe and slippers crowd, how about a bracing dose of The Bad Plus? This piano trio's thrilling mix of cheeky rock and pop covers and beautiful original compositions will certainly raise eyebrows.

4. Rudresh Mahanthappa - Kinsmen (Pi Recordings, 2008) Musicians of South Asian descent like Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer and Rez Abbasi have given jazz a fascinating shot in the arm over the past ten years. Compiling music from across multiple cultures and melding them in the all encompassing crucible that is modern jazz, this is the essence of modern jazz.

5. William Parker - Raining on the Moon (Thirsty Ear, 2002) Bassist William Parker is usually presented as the iron man of the avant-garde, but he's much too diverse to fall into any one category. This R&B inspired album is pure joy, featuring the beautiful singing of Leena Conquest and Parker's great band anchored by the awesome percussion of Hamid Drake.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, September 14, 2009

Henry Threadgill - This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi Recordings, 2009)

It has been a long time coming, but mecurial composer and instrumentalist Henry Threadgill finally has a new album. Recorded with his band Zooid, this album of knotty compositions and exciting improvisations was well worth the wait. Along with Threadgill on alto saxophone and flute, Zooid consists of Liberty Ellman on guitar, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi on bass and Elliot Kavee on drums. "White Wednesday Off The Wall" opens the album in a slow and probing fashion, with spaceous acoustic guitar and some beautiful flute over gently flatulent trombone. "To Undertake My Corners Open" has the full band developing a complex sound with individual instruments bubbling out of the collective to take a brief lead before falling back into the bobbling boil. Ellman takes a low key and thoughtful solo and Threadgill responds with some sweet flute that is lyrical and beautiful. "Chairmaster" has bumpin' tuba and drums that are fast and rhythmic. Flute and tuba make for an interesting sound, and guitar commentary probes the open spaces. Threadgill switches to alto saxophone on "After Some Time" and leads a fast full band improvisation. He channels the spirit of Eric Dolphy in a leeping and lunging solo that is very exciting. "Sap" is another thrilling performance, beginning with a drum solo and then evolving into an exciting full band improvisation. Storming alto sax improvises over tuba and reall nice guitar work. "Mirror Mirror The Verb" wraps thigs up with a slower, probing coda. This was an exciting and original album from one of the neglected masters of the music. Threadgill's music sounds like nothing else and is instantly memorable and his joyful and impish music is a pleasure to hear. Hopefully, Volume 2 will be on the way shortly. (To be released 10/27/09)

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Look

I've been doing lost of reading lately...

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

The Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke is one of my favorites, but I came late to it and have never read the early novels. This is the first book of the series, and it starts to fill in the back story for me in this perennial favorite storyline. Robicheaux is a police lieutenant in New Orleans who is a recovering alcoholic and suffers from post-traumatic stress from his service in the Vietnam War. During his investigation of the death of a woman found dead in a swamp, he is pulled into a deadly conspiracy of criminals and crooked military men who are running money and guns to Central American militants. This book begins all of the elements that makes the Robicheaux series so fascinating: interesting mysteries, personal demons, and Burke's deep affinity for the nature of the Louisiana especially the swamps, bayous and wildlife. The story is raw and not as nuanced as the series would later become, but it is still well worth reading and getting in on a great crime series on the ground floor.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce

Opening up with a blast of vitriol against the Creation Museum, where biblical characters saddle up on dinosaurs and other nonsense, Pierce uses founding father James Madison's writings about the need for an educated citizenry to foreshadow the downfall critical thinking in America. Far from a dry academic treatise, Pierce is very funny and snarky in dissecting conservative political pundits and talk radio bloviators, global warming deniers and the fools and liars that are responsible for the phony evidence and lies that led to the Iraq war. Pierce saves his strongest criticism for the people that Madison depended on the most - the ordinary citizens who have a duty to question authority and not be led blindly like sheep by politicians who are more interested in selling an ideology than in leading the country in a reasonable fashion.

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Now for something completely different... Stark is a hitman in Hell, exiled there after being double crossed by underground magic practitioners on Earth. Working for one of Lucifer's generals, he he kills the demon and then finds a way back to the human world. Knowing that then same members of the underground magic circle that exiled him in Hell have murdered his girlfriend he sets out for revenge. I thought it was a blast. It is filled with the same snarky f--- you humor that powers Charlie Huston's great Joe Pitt series. Stark dodges magicians, neo-nazis, demons and angels on his quest for revenge.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Julius Hemphill - Flat Out Jump Suite (Black Saint, 1980)

Julius Hemphill was one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz. Coming out of Fort Worth in the generation following Ornette Coleman, Hemphill moved to St. Louis and helped to found the Black Artists Group before moving on to New York and becoming a pivotal figure in the Loft Scene in the 1970's and a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet. On this album, he is featured on alto saxophone and flute, joined by Olu Dara on trumpet, Abdul Wadud on cello and Warren Smith on drums. The first few compositions are relatively subdued, and take an abstract and open approach to improvisation. "Ear" opens the album with light percussion and flute with trumpet asides. "Mind, Pt. 1" features Dara's stark trumpet while Wadud alternates between plucked and bowed cello and Hemphill adds vocalized flute. Smith gets a feature that ends to first part of the album (and side one of the original LP) with a rolling drum solo. "Heart" has the full band all together on a strong saxophone led improvisation. The trumpet and alto sax on the front line sound great together, leading a nice collective performance. "Body" rounds out the album with strutting horns that seem to be echoing all the way back to the beginning of jazz in New Orleans. Things get modernistic in a hurry as Hemphill breaks out a Dolphyish alto solo along with stoic bass and nice trumpet. The music gives off a vibe of possibility and excitement, that anything is possible and that the best way to pay tribute to masters of the past is by forging your own original way forward. Melding the classic with the modern, this album is a fascinating listen.
Flat-Out Jump Suite - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rez Abbasi - Things to Come (Sunnyside, 2009)

Guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi is part of an emerging group of improvisers of South Asian decent that are adding a wonderful jolt of energy to modern jazz. By adding ideas from the lengthy history of music on the Indian sub-continent, he is able to develop a unique and fascinating conception for his music. Along with Abbasi on guitar, the band includes Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Vijay Iyer on piano, and Dan Weiss on drums; joined by Mike Block on cello and Kiran Ahluwalia vocals on a few tracks. Rez Abbasi is a very diplomatic bandleader, giving much space to the musicians who are collaborating with him. "Dream State" has a nice piano solo that is thick and profound, plus neon blue sounding guitar which is stinging but well controlled. Mahanthappa comes in and wipes the slate clean with a strong saxophone solo that is deep and stimulating. "Hard Colors" is a fine example of their musical design with saxophone and guitar moving together over a strong piano, bass and drums trio and then making way for Ahulwalia's beautiful singing. She has a deep and flowing technique that echoes a saxophone and makes for a very interesting addition to the music. "Air Traffic" also has vocals and guitar improvising and then a very neat saxophone interlude. "Realities of Chromaticism" brings together thick and strong piano playing, which jolts like robust black coffee and a scalding and spitfire alto solo, making for a very exciting performance, and one of the highlights of the album. Mahanthappa has a very cool pinched citrus tone, like a cross between the angularity of Ornette and the fluidity of the great bebop saxophonists. The fronline of his taught guitar and Rudresh Mahanthappa's fascinating snake-charmer alto saxophone with the occasional addition of harmony vocals is album consistently interesting one. Add to this a dynamic bass and drum duo and a pianist with a strong and powerful technique and it makes for compelling music with a unique and interesting conception. This is exotic and exciting while still being accessible, and it is very fresh and thoughtfully produced.
Things to Come - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fred Hersch - Plays Jobim (Sunnyside, 2009)

After facing down some really scary health problems in 2008, pianist Fred Hersch has returned in grand style this year releasing two albums - a live little big band recording and this album, a solo piano album focusing on the music of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Hersch keeps the music pared down and melodic, improvising on the familiar melodies well, while not making the music overly ornate. The uptempo performances were very enjoyable with "O Grande Amor" beginning at a mid-tempo and picking up energy to a long subtle and flowing improvisation. "Meditacaco" is fast and percussive, with strong piano playing shifting spritely and quick. "Brigas Nunca Mais" adds a little bit of subtle hand percussion to bouncing, thick piano making for a fun and enjoyable feel. On the ballad front, "Luiza" is taken at a gentle pace, slow and melodic, and "Insensatez" is deep and melancholy, with a touch of sadness throughout the emotional performance. The slow and spare medley of "Modinha/Olha Maria" is very tender sounding and the music is given space to breathe and move, like a gentle lullaby. This was an elegant and thoughtful album, piano aficionados will certainly find a lot to enjoy here. The music is very well recorded and the majestic sweep of Jobim's compositions and Hersch's piano technique come through clearly. He plays in an elegant and refined fashion that respects the compositions and melodies without sounding stuffy or ornamental.
Fred Hersch Plays Jobim - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Adam Rogers - Sight (Criss Cross, 2009)

Guitarist and composer Adam Rogers's profile has slowly been rising over the past few years on the basis of some plum sideman appearances with the likes of Chris Potter and James Carter, and a series of records as a leader for the Dutch jazz label Criss Cross. What is interesting about this album is that it presents him in a spare trio context, supported by John Patatucci on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Unlike The stinging and angular tone he used at times with Potter and Carter, on this album he uses a much more subtle and rounded guitar tone, shining like a blue neon light against the pulsating bass and drums. There are a couple of interesting jazz and popular standards on this disc that I really enjoyed, like the groups version of Thelonious Monk's "Let's Cool One" which sounds wonderful with the distinctive Monk melody ringing joyfully in a nice fast paced improvisation. Woody Shaw's "The Moontrane" gets a fine up-tempo performance, with fluid and stylish soloing. Shaw was an excellent composer and vastly under-rated trumpeter, hopefully his compositions will be more widely used in the future. The standard "I Hear a Rhapsody" is quite subtle and intricate, featuring a melodic bass solo with guitar comping underneath. "Yesterdays" is fast but still well controlled, with the trio playing in a fleet manner. Penn's drumming keeps things moving along briskly. Among the originals, "Sight" is uptempo with a deep blue guitar feel, melding with supple drumming for a fine performance. "Memory's Translucence" has a mellower feel and a probing guitar solo leaving open space available before picking things up to a collective mid-tempo. This was a laudable album with subtle and intricate performances. The music is not loud or flash, but speaks for itself with well thought out improvisations that were focused and well crafted.
Sight - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, September 07, 2009

Billy Harper - Soran Bushi. B.H. (Denon, 1977; BH Fan Club 2009)

This is another in the series of archival re-issues of great 1970's LP's by the tenor saxophonist and composer Billy Harper. Harper's deep and spiritual music fell between the cracks during the 1970's and 80's but he's been getting more attention of late, which is a very good thing. This album was recorded in Japan in the late 1970's with Harold Mabern on piano, Everett Hollins on trumpet, Billy Hart on drums, and Greg Maker on bass. "Trying to Get Ready" is deep modal jazz taken at a very fast tempo. Hollins's trumpet is just explosive, egged on by thick piano chords. A potent drum solo sets the stage for brawny tenor saxophone and then a hot climax of tenor and drums together. "Loverhood" is quite interesting, it's a solo saxophone ballad, featuring Harper's tough but tender tenor moving in and around the melody, bobbing and weaving in a beautiful fashion. "Soran Bushi B.H." finishes up the album with a lengthy and very exciting performance. The full band is present on a vaguely Asian sounding melody, before strong piano breaks out followed by Harper's tenor shining through like rays of sunshine on a cloudy day. Big slabs of thick piano alternate with bass and drums and sweeping powerful tenor saxophone on a very impressive performance. This was a very enjoyable album, Harper took up the mantle of John Coltrane's music during the early 1970's and has been keeping the spirit of deep powerful music alive ever since. Long may he do so.
Soran Bushi, B.H. - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Monterey Quartet - Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (MJFP, 2009)

When the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival wants to put together an all star band, it doesn't mess around. Leaning heavily on Dave Holland's working group (arguably the best in jazz over the past decade) the group has Holland on bass, Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano and Eric Harland on drums. This live recording is very exciting, filled with passionate soloing and consistently interesting teamwork and compositions. The first track on this live album is "Treachery," and explosive performance that sets the tone right from the start. Potter lays out at first, while the strong deep piano trio plays, and then he enters with a masculine and potent tenor sax solo which adventurous, powerful and filled with dedication. "Minotaur" has a medium tempo starting with a deeply rhythmic drum solo soon joined by pulsing bass and strong saxophone, building to fast paced impressive sax feature. "Outra Mirada" is a nice ballad feature for piano, bass and drums, while "Step To It" increases the tempo to medium and Rubalcaba adding a flavor from the piano chair. Strong tenor sax and bass solos make way for a nice feature for Harland at the end with the full band in support. "Maiden" takes the music back down to ballad tempo, opening with an unaccompanied bass solo and then building to a majestic tenor sax feature. Rubalcaba gets a nice solo feature on his composition "50" which is uptempo and colorful. "Ask Me Why" takes things out in a torrid fashion, with the whole group swinging frantically at a very high tempo. This was an excellent album, consistently exciting and interesting throughout. The state of the art for modern jazz at the moment, the festival chose quite wisely when putting this group together. This will figure strongly in many best of lists at the end of the year.
Live at the 2007 Jazz Festival - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, September 04, 2009

John Patitucci - Remembrance (Concord, 2009)

John Patitucci has become the go-to bassist for many A-List jazz leaders like Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter while maintaining a career as a bandleader in his own right. On this album he leads a wide open trio session, doubling on acoustic and electric bass with Joe Lovano on saxophone and clarinet and Brian Blade on drums. Tribute albums are all the rage, but Patitucci takes this in an admirable direction by focusing on using original compositions as tributes, showing how the musicians he honors have influenced his playing and musical conception. "Monk/Trane" opens the album with a medium tempo trio improvisation making way for a nice acoustic bass solo. Lovano's following solo on tenor has some the angularity that John Coltrane showed in his collaborations with Thelonious Monk. "Messaien's Gumbo" honors the classical composer in an unusual way, with some funky sounding electric bass and drum interplay. "Sonny Side" is taken at a temperate mid-tempo, Lovano's probing saxophone simmering but never boiling over. "Meditations" is a somber ballad, with Lovano recalling middle period John Coltrane in his solo, the is reminiscent of Coltrane performances like "After the Rain" and "Alabama." "Mali" is one of the highlights of the album, opening with nimble electric bass and drums locked in. A punchy and bright saxophone solo and bouncing electric bass interlude make for a happy and fun sounding performance. "Scenes from an Opera" mellows things out with bowed bass and added cello, with sad sounding clarinet. "Blues For Freddie" has a boppish theme, with the trio tight and performing at the high level. "Joe Hen" is another highlight of the disc, Lovano really seems inspired by the thought of honoring another tenor saxophone great (Joe Henderson.) The music is deep and vibrant, and Lovano's solo is bright and striking. This was a good, solid mainstream jazz album. The music has a wide variety of tempos and feels to it and the musicians seem very comfortable with the material and each other. I think this is a good way to do a tribute album, by taking inspiration from past masters and making something new, the musicians have a lot of room to explore terrain both old and new.
Remembrance - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Robert Glasper - Double Booked (Blue Note, 2009)

Pianist and composer Robert Glasper is a multi-faceted musician who enjoys many different genres of music. On this album, he uses two different ensembles, The Robert Glasper Trio which plays acoustic jazz and The Robert Glasper Experiment which combines jazz, hip-hop and soul music. The first half of the album features the acoustic trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Chris Dave on drums. The trio has a nice flowing melodic concept to their music, and "No Worries" is a nice example of this with the group playing well integrated modern jazz. "Yes I’m Country (And That’s O.k.)" has a gentle yearning melody, and a light and flowing improvisation that reminds me of some of Keith Jarrett's music from the early 1970's. "Downtime" spotlights a nice bass solo and some fine brushwork on a mellow groove. The highlight of the album for me was a rousing performance of the Thelonious Monk classic "Think of One" with the group playing a rapidly shifting improvisation that hints at the melody in a unique and thoughtful manner. "Butterfly" opens the electric side of the album, with Casey Benjamin on saxophone, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, Chris Dave on drums, Jahi Sundance on turntables, and Bilal and Mos Def on vocals. The use of vocals distorted with a vocoder recalls 70's experimental records by Herbie Hancock (Feets Don't Fail Me Now) and Neil Young (Trans.) Glasper chips in a nice Fender Rhodes electric piano solo. "Festival" is the highlight of the Glasper Experiment tracks with some really nice saxophone and funky drumming adding some much needed energy to the music. "For You" has the vocoder returning for some music that sounds surprisingly tame. "All Matter" drops the distortion for soulful vocals over an an instrumental backdrop, and "Open Mind" finishes things up with a slow vibe featuring some recorded spoken word in the mix followed by wordless live vocals. Although I admire Glasper's willingness to experiment, for me the most interesting tracks were the ones recorded by the acoustic trio. They had a nimble and fresh nature that kept the music interesting and compelling. By contrast, the music by the Glasper Experiment seemed forced at times with the use of the vocoder giving the music a timelocked and dated feel. In the end it was a bit of a mixed bag, and the split dualism of the album may make it difficult to appeal to either straight ahead jazz or R&B partisans.
Double Booked - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

James Carter et. al. - Heaven on Earth (Half Note, 2009)

Saxophonist James Carter leads a supergroup of modern jazz musicians through a live jam session recorded at the Blue Note in New York. In addition to Carter on tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones, are John Medeski on Hammond B3 Organ, Adam Rogers in guitar, Christian McBride on bass and Joey Baron on drums. Although each of these men is a bandleader in their own right, they work together admirably and create a fun and productive concert. They open with Django Reinhardt's "Diminishing" which has a fast and funky feel with saxophone and organ taking the lead. Raw saxophone and sharp sounding guitar seem to tease Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't" at times. Medeski and McBride lock in together for some swirling organ over bubbling bass, and Carter responds by getting wild with some honks and squeals. Lucky Thompson's "Slam's Mishap" is a nice guitar feature, Rogers employs a much mellower tone than he did in the previous tune, and Medeski responds with an old school organ sound, employing a classic sound that echoes the Jimmy Smith/Jack McDuff school. Also employed is a nice funky drum solo with McBride walking on acoustic bass. "Street of Dreams" has Carter teasing "Broadway" before moving into a ballad feel. Despite his reputation as a honker, Carter's true gift is for ballads, and he makes that plain here with a very thoughtful and patient solo. He slowly ramps up the intensity, building nicely with thick organ supporting him, culminating in a climax that references R&B and gospel. Adam Rogers takes a mild toned but interesting solo on "Infiniment" followed by Carter increasing the pace with dome deep fast tenor saxophone. "Blue Leo" by Leo Parker has Carter on the baritone appropriately enough digging into the deep blues. Rogers is the key here also, he takes a beautiful gutbucket blues solo that is very impressive. The group takes things out on Larry Young's "Heaven on Earth" which is played as a flat out uptempo jam. Carter wails on soprano saxophone and the rest of the band pitches in. This was an enjoyable and fun album of spontaneous and exciting music. Both the ensemble passages and the solo sections were consistently interesting and engaging. There is a danger in a jam session that egos may overrule teamwork, but that is not the case here and the result is a most agreeable disc.
Heaven on Earth - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Billy Harper - Love on the Sudan (BH Fan Club, 2009)

Saxophonist Billy Harper and his fan club (how great is it that a jazz musician has a fan club!) are doing a wonderful service to jazz fans by reissuing his older recordings as compact discs and digital downloads. Harper has been one of the torchbearers on the John Coltrane school of tenor saxophone, blowing lengthy modal and free improvisations that have a deeply soulful and spiritual feel. This session was cut in the late 1970's and finds Harper performing with Everett Hollins on trumpet, Mickey Tucker on piano, Gregg Maker on bass, and Malcolm Pinson on drums. The album opens with "Awakening" which is very aptly named as the music slowly builds in intensity, moving between sections of unaccompanied saxophone and strong and deep full band improvisation. This performance sounds like an incantation with echoes of great Coltrane compositions like "Wise One" and "Crescent." The vibe is deeply spiritual, but far from derivative, Harper is deeply influenced by Coltrane but he brings his own unique conception to the music. "Priestess" is a riveting performance with the full band playing the distinctive melody. Harper lets loose with a scorching tenor solo buoyed by powerful piano comping from Tucker and great support from the band riffing beneath him. "Love on the Sudan" has a yearning and emotional melody, building to an impressive tenor feature and then solos for supple trumpet and a lengthy rippling piano solo. This is a very enjoyable album of strong modal jazz. It is great to have Harper's late 70's albums in print again, they show the continued development of his music after he burst on the scene with classic albums for the Black Saint label in the early part of the decade.
Love On The Sudan - amazon.com

Send comments to: Tim