Thursday, December 31, 2009

Matthew Shipp - Nu Bop Live (Rai Trade, 2009)

This was a very exciting album that takes the electronics influenced jazz that pianist and composer Matthew Shipp pioneered earlier in the decade into the live setting. It works very well, accompanied by Daniel Carter palying strong saxophone, Guillermo E. Brown's agile drumming and electronics programming. William Parker is a rock on bass as always, and Shipp's piano is as powerful as it has ever been. The opening "Nu Bop" states its case, with Carter's tart and citrus saxophone wailing over the core trio augmented by electronics. "The Other Side of Anywhere" echoes Sun Ra with the electronics and percussion setting a hypnotic drone that Shipp can dart and weave in and around. The crowning piece is the epic "Nu Abstract" which is simply extraordinary, a massive slab of long form improvisation that takes it's rightful place next to Ra epics like "Atlantis" or "The Magic City." The music moves from moody introspection to full bore free jazz with the collective improvisation of the band aided and abetted by the electronics. Shipp really means "nu bop" as in "new bop" and his goal is to transform the language and feel of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk into a new setting. He achieves this through a wide open conception to music, partly free, partly composed, where the electronics are just a part of the overall whole. This was a very exciting album of new sounds that are shining a light on the pathway of jazz to come. Nu Bop Live - amazon.com

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup

Neil Young - Dreamin' Man '92 (Reprise, 2009) Neil Young has been a fountain of historical releases lately, including his mammoth Archives project, which chronicled his early years as a musician. This is a bit humbler of a project, recorded live in 1992, it is essentially a live version of the acoustic Harvest Moon LP. Taken from various solo acoustic shows he performed in that year, this is a mellow and laid back performance, featuring Young on guitar and harmonica (and piano on the ponderous "Such a Woman.") For those who liked the original album or other "mellow" Young albums like Harvest or Comes a Time, this is a treat. The live versions don't differ from the studio versions that much but they take on added resonance in the live setting. Dreamin' Man Live '92 - amazon.com

Love - Love Lost (Sundazed 2009) Singer-songwriter Arthur Lee's band Love is best remembered masterpiece in the beautiful 1967 album Forever Changes, but they made some other impressive albums as well. Singed of Columbia Records for a brief time, Lee recorded some acoustic demos and full band rockers for an album that was shelved and never issued. Re-issue specialists Sundazed dug up the album re-mastered it and released the results with expanded liner notes. it's fascinating to hear Lee in solo format on demos like "Love Jumped Through My Window." Fleshed out with the rest of the band the influence of Jimi Hendrix is palpable, culminating with “Trippin' & Slippin'/Ezy Ryder” and it’s withering guitar work. Love Lost - amazon.com

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Joe Locke - For the Love of You (E1 Entertainment, 2010)

Inspired by recording the music of Henry Mancini in a previous project and by hearing vocalist Kenny Washington during a club gig, vibraphonist Joe Locke put this group together investigate some of their his songs. The band features Washington along with Geoffrey Keezer on piano, George Mraz on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Much of the music is taken at a slow ballad pace, but "Old Devil Moon" kicks starts the group into a more swinging feel with Locke taking a fine dexterous vibraphone solo. Neil Young's "Birds" is a pleasant surprise and actually works pretty well, replacing Young's shaky warble with Washington's soaring voice. There are a couple of Locke originals as well, “I Miss New York (When I Been Gone Too Long)” and “Verrazano Moon.” This disc was very well played and the musicians are certainly talented, but it just wasn't my thing. Smooth and mellow, with a heavy focus on ballad material, I wish that the music had a little more grit. But in the musicians defense, swing was what they were going for. For the Love of You - amazon.com

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nicolas Masson's Paralell's - Thirty-Six Ghosts (Clean Feed, 2009)

Is Clean Feed Records the new Blue Note? Whereas the famous label has fallen almost dormant in the corporate controlled, recession wracked new millennium, this scrappy Portuguese label has filled the gap, recording progressive jazz musicians from around the world. A talented tenor saxophonist of an inside/oustide bent, Nicolas Masson is joined on this album by Colin Vallon on electric piano, Patric Moret on bass and Lionel Frieldi on drums. The group gets a thoroughly modern jazz sound, drawing on diverse influences and experiences and making them into an original and integrated whole. "Sirius" and "La Phasme" open the ambum with mid tempo sounds before building to dynamic conclusions, particularly the latter, during which Masson builds and architecturally impressive solo. Funky drums and electric piano kick "Hellboy" into gear with some very dynamic playing by the entire band, and an exciting saxophone feature. "Thirty Six Ghosts" moves dynamically though a loud - soft dynamic that is well paced. Masson's "Yeah Baby" just kills: overdriven, 'dirty' sounding fender rhodes piano, pile-driving drums, go for broke saxophone, make this the most impressive song on a very well done album. Much like fellow minded seekers Dave Douglas and The Bad Plus, this group draws inspiration from alternative rock, pop and other sources in a coherent way, looking to incorporate these influences in their own improvised sound and vision. On this album they succeed admirably. Thirty Six Ghosts - amazon.com

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scott LaFaro - Pieces of Jade (Resonance, 2009)

Bassist Scott LaFaro was like a comet streaking across the jazz skyline. Cut down in an automobile accident at the age of only 25, he was still able to accomplish quite a bit, performing with Bill Evans and Paul Motian in a fondly remembered trio and also working with experimental progressives like Ornette Coleman. This album breaks down into four parts with the first five tracks feature LaFaro performing with pianist Don Freidman and drummer Pete Larocca. The trio plays a couple of takes of the Friedman original "Sacre Bleu" and three standards, concluding with a very nice romp through the bebop chestnut "Woody 'n' You" that makes room for a fine elastic sounding bass solo. Next is a muddy sounding but still quite listenable rehearsal tape with pianist Bill Evans and Lafaro working on the standard "My Foolish Heart." It is interesting to hear the two men search for approaches to the song, singing and humming different approaches and ideas for them to try. A spoken interlude with WKCR disc jockey George Klabin interviewing Evans about his partnership with LaFaro makes for illuminating commentary. Finally, there is a solo piano performance by Friedman called "Memories of Scotty" that brings the album to a poignant close. This was an interesting historical album. LaFaro has become a legend in the music during the intervening years since his death, and hearing him performing, especially on the rehearsal, humanizes him, and is a thoughtful reminder that this was a young man who had so much more to give to the music he clearly loved. Pieces of Jade - amazon.con

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Best Music Writing 2009 Best Music Writing 2009 by Greil Marcus


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the yearly collection of music writing, skewed toward rock and pop as a matter of course, but Marcus takes a wide look at music and includes several interesting selections. David Remnick's examination of jazz DJ Phil Schapp's mania for jazz musicians makes for a great cautionary tale for music obsessives. This article originally appeared in The New Yorker, and focuses on Schapp's WKCR radio program "Bird Flight" which takes a look at the life and music of Charlie Parker in absurd detail. Schapp's mania for music has taken over his life, and driven people into taking sides: some love him, some hate him, but no one can ignore him. John Sullivan's "Unknown Bards" from Harpers, uses a profile of John Fahey as the lynchpin for the examination of little known blues men and women of the 20's and 30's. Examining the lyrics and meaning of blues songs, Sullivan takes a very thoughtful look at the music. He also examines the way white critics view black musicians as well, making this a very valuable essay. Other interesting essays include a fascinating glimpse into the "Emo" culture of Mexico City and the discrimination the teenagers of that sub-culture face from their enemies. The mix of genres and writing styles can be a bit scattershot at times, but there really is something for everyone in the collection, and it is well worth a trip to the library to check it out.

View all my reviews >>

Best Music Writing 2009 - amazon.com

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bobby Previte - Pan Atlantic (Palmetto, 2009)

Drummer Bobby Prevites's album is unusual, but in a good way. Joined by Gianluca Petrella on trombone, Wolfgang Puschnig on alto and baritone saxophone, Benoit Delbecq on electric piano and Nils Davidsen on bass, they are sometimes brawny and emotional when the saxophone in in charge, at other times cold and metallic. This gives the group the ability to move through a wide range of emotions and moods. "Deep Lake" opens the album with bass and drums improvising with shimmering electric piano that sounds like vibes. Squealing sax comes in to probe the depths of the performance, sounding strong and oblique. Pulsing electric bass and mysterious rhodes accents make for a eerie and cinematic sounding middle passage. Strong and potent tenor saxophone opens "Stay On Path" with ominous sounding drums and phosphorescent electric piano. Strutting trombone enters and then the horns harmonize before Puschnig breaks free once again for a nice free-ish tenor solo. "The Eternity" has strutting horns and drums, giving the music a touch of funk, and again some nice solos from the front line musicians. "Destruction" is mid-tempo and enigmatic, the horns are featured in an unaccompanied section, and a section featuring rhodes and bass. Funky sounding drums open "Pan Atlantic" before cool electric piano framed by drums takes charge. A free-bop saxophone solo and rumbling drums feature round out the performance. Low, rolling trombone and rhodes mark "Question Mark" before Puschnig comes in with a patient and thoughtful solo. The shimmering and occasionally clanking rhodes adds an extra dimension to the music that sounds like movie msuic at times. Hopefully these guys will get a chance to score an atmospheric film noir in the near future. Fender rhodes electric piano and trumpet make for a haunting combination with their enigmatic musical statements on a few tunes. Pan Atlantic - amazon.com

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Jazz Icons: John Coltrane Live in '60, '61 & '65 (Reelin' in the Years, 2007)

Incredible footage of Coltrane performing in 1960 with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb beginning his epic quest, with his Atlantic and Prestige recordings behind him and his Impulse ones to come. They follow what was by then the standard Miles Davis repertoire such as "Walkin'" and "Autumn Leaves." There is a special treat at the end of this session with Oscar Peterson guesting on piano, and Stan Getz joining Coltrane on tenor for a wonderful version of Thelonious Monk's "Hackensack." This was Coltrane at a watershed moment, on his final tour as part of the Miles Davis Quintet, his last engagement as a sideman, he was truly at a crossroads. A year later he is leading his own group with a perfect foil in Eric Dlophy on alto saxophone and flute, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. The version of "My Favorite Things" is particularly thrilling, with Coltrane's eastern-tinged soprano saxophone and Dolphy's swirling flute making for an unforgettable combination. The performance from Belguim 1965 is absolutely thrilling, with Coltrane in another transitional phase, having recently released his classic A Love Supreme, and evolving his own particularly unique blend of spiritually infused free jazz. Opening with the band already in the process of playing the caustic "Vigil" the music is incredibly intense, with the group playing at a very high level. "Naima" slows the pace down and proves that they were still at this stage interested in song form, with a beautiful performance of the great Coltrane ballad. Finally, an epic version of "My Favorite Things" deconstructs the the tune into a vehicle for pure expression, greeted by rapturous applause from the audience. Jazz Icons: John Coltrane - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Little Sonny - New King of the Blues Harmonica (Stax/Enterprise, 1970)

Little Sonny (aka Aaron Willis) grew up in Alabama, but came into his own as part of the fertile Detroit blues scene before finding a home with the famous Stax soul music label. On this album, he deftly mixes deep blues with soulful R&B with excellent results. It’s a pretty heavy burden to be called the "new king" of anything, let alone something as rich as the blues harmonica legacy, but he is up to the task. Little Sonny sings on a few tracks, and he has a fine voice, opening with the classic Jimmy Reed shuffle “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,” the band takes things at a nice easy gallop. “Don't Ask Me No Questions” has a Little Walter-ish feel, with Sonny making the strutting lyric his own. “Goin’ Down Slow” revisits some classic blues territory to good effect, with Sonny taking his time and delivering the vocal and harp with class and dignity. The remainder of the album consists of instrumentals featuring Little Sonny’s harmonica playing. While he never did quite ascend to the the level of king, he was quite a player as these performances demonstrate. Songs like “Eli’s Pork Chop” mix the down home blues with some soulful touches to good effect, with the organist in the band and occasional horn accompaniment move things along nicely. Blues fell on hard times for a while in the 1970‘s, with clubs closing and some of the legendary musicians falling ill and passing on. But Little Sonny was an example of the torch of the blues being passed on to a younger man, and on this album he held that torch high. New King of Blues Harmonica - amazon.com

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anders Nilsson's AORTA Ensemble (Kopasetic, 2009)

Brooklyn guitarist and composer Anders Nilsson plays an exciting brand of jazz on this album, touching on progressive rock, and avant-garde classical along the way. Joining him on this album are Mattias Carlson and Cennet J├Ânsson on saxophones, David Carlsson on electric bass, Ken Filiano on acoustic bass and Michael Evans and Peter Nilsson on drums. The album opens with "Soundfear" which has a slow and spacey sound scape, slowly building with electric guitar and percussion. Swirling bowed bass and saxophone fights to be heard amidst the emerging cacophony, before things mellow out at bit for the conclusion. Strong electric guitar on "Tuning In" sets a prog rock like feel, then the saxophones bubble up strong and deep evoking a Miles Davis Dark Magus feel. One of the saxophones breaks free to solo with some nice drumming before clearing the decks for a very impressive bass interlude. The short "Nacken" is a short interlude for electric guitar and flute with bowed bass, introducing the epic "3D" which probes the musical seascape like a sonar sending out pings of yearning guitar.The saxophones and drums take over, moving into a very cool improvised section. "Vortex" wraps things up with strong full band improvisation, a collectively improvised cacophony that is very exciting, led by rock influenced guitar and drums. According to Nilsson, the group is an experiment in multidimensional music that pays attention to background, middle ground, and foreground, along the lines of Blue Note era Wayne Shorter or the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It works very well and the music the group makes is consistently interesting and exciting.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

(Another) Nuttree Quartet - Something Sentimental (Kind of Blue, 2009)

This group with the interesting name is a jazz collective consisting of John Abercrombie on guitar, Jay Anderson on bass, Dave Liebman on soprano saxophone and wooden flute and Adam Nussbaum on drums and percussion. Originally conveniend to honor Nussbaum's recently departed mother, this record is filled with celebrations for lives well lived. I originally head them by a cut played on Jim Wilke's Jazz After Hours and it piqued my interest. The group plays subtle well shaded jazz and echoes of the world jazz ensemble Codona are present in Liebman's flute and Nussbaum's gently played percussion. Tracks that I really enjoyed include the opening "Poinciana," which has a soft and yearning saxophone and probing guitar developing a patient and pleasant improvisation. "I Hear a Rhapsody" opens with gentle percussion and guitar, evolving into a trio improvisation with Anderson's elastic bass taking the lead. Liebman finally enters late in the performance and floats above and around the trio with dexterous soprano saxophone. The standard "Lover Man" begins with Abercrombie alone, before well paced bass and moderate saxophone and drums arrive on the scene. Anderson again takes center stage with a solo, giving way to a thoughtful and Zen-like interlude of guitar and brushed drums. Their unique treatment of "Besame Mucho" was my favorite track, focusing on Liebman's spare flute with soft percussion and snaking guitar showing an enigmatic Native American influence. Liebman moves to saxophone for a potent solo, before returning to flute to close the tune out, making this a mysterious and moving performance. This is an album of thoughtful and patient music by players who are willing to put their egos aside for the benefit of the music and the group. Something Sentimental - amazon.com

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

James Moody - Moody 4A (IPO Recordings, 2009)

Saxophonist James Moody has been riding an inspiring late career renaissance, playing live regularly and recording as well. This is a beautifully relaxed session of swinging classic jazz, mostly taken at a gentle mid-tempo. Moody sticks to tenor saxophone for the most part with Kenny Barron on piano, Todd Coolman on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. The selections on this albums are heavy on well-known standards and, two ballads are very well played, "'Round Midnight" and "East of the Sun" have Moody distilling a career's worth of patience and experience into beautiful improvisations. They move the pace of the music to a more brisk mid-tepmo on Benny Golson's "Stablemates" and Barron's own "Voyages," but for the most part, the band keeps this at a simmer and the quality of the music remains high throughout. Coolman and Nash are a tight ryhthm section, alternately keeping the music moving along and caressing the melodies, they are an excellent backbone for the music on this album. Barron is the ideal partner for James Moody with his thoughtful melodicism and sprightly improvising during solo spots. But the focus is squarely on Moody throughout, his imperturbability is amazing, regardless of tempo or setting he plays with restraint and self-control. Highly recommended for fans of classic bop based mainstream jazz, it's a class act. Moody 4A - amazon.com

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Charlie Apicella and Iron City - Sparks (Carlo Music, 2009)

Mining a rich vein of music pioneered by the likes of Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell, the grits 'n' gravy soul jazz that was popular in the 50's and 60's in the small clubs of cities like Newark and Philadelphia is the inspiration of this talented group. Apicella is the leader and guitarist, with Stephen Riley on tenor saxophone, Dave Mattock on organ, Alan Korzin on drums, and John Blake, Jr. and Amy Bateman guesting on violin for a track apice. The band keeps the groove at the forefront and the music works quite well, I was originally surprised to see violin on a soul-jazz date, but it works really well, adding either a extra solo voice or an interesting accompaniment in place of the bass, the texture the group achieves is quite enjoyable. The Green influence comes to the front on "Blues In Maude's Flat" originally cut on Grantstand (my favorite Green album) the organ driven turn gets an excellent version driven by Apicella's solid and propulsive soloing. Lou Donaldson's greasy "Caracas" has a nice rhythm and some solid soloing from Riley. and The finale is a nod to the recently deceased king of pop with a funky version of "Billie Jean" that is actually quite effective. The music here is an unpretentious blend of soulful R&B and jazz, skillfully played. Fans of organ and guitar combos and mainstream jazz should find a lot to like.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book review

The Score: A Parker Novel (Parker) The Score: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Master thief and anti-hero Parker is getting antsy and bored. So when the call comes offering him a chance to head up to Jersey City to hear about a potential job he takes it. And what a job it is - the plan is to immobilize an entire small North Dakota town and rob it blind. Even for somebody like Parker, who has ice water in his veins, this is an audacious plan. Can a dozen men really take out an entire town and get away with the loot? This was another exciting fast-paced Parker adventure, Stark (aka Donald Wastlake) takes us through the planning, the heist and then the moment it all goes pear-shaped. Parker is such a refreshing character because he has no pretenses or morals that get in the way of the crackling plot. The plot is fast paced and the dialogue is sharp and fun. It's easy to see how the series lasted as long as it did, with the wealth of detail and Stark's mastery of the form. View all my reviews >>


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jazz Icons: Charles Mingus Live in '64 (Jazz Icons, 2007)

In 1964, the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus toured Europe with what was probably the greatest band of his career. Eric Dolphy on flute, alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Jaki Byard on piano, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone and Danny Richmond on drums made up an epic unit that brought Mingus's compositions to life as never before. This band was well documented on this tour, both officially and unofficially (Mingus's widow Sue has spent years chasing down the bootleggers) but this DVD is officially released, digitally remastered television footage which is a joy to behold. Dolphy was getting ready to leave the band, striking out on his own like many expatriate jazzmen before him who were tired of racism and lack of opportunity in the United States. "So Long Eric" is a long form composition that Mingus wrote for his departure. These compositions are long and complex, but the band never misses a beat, and seems to revel in the challenges presented to them. "Meditations on Integration" and "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" move through ever shifting sections of melody and improvisation with beauty and grace. Dolphy is the centerpiece of the Charlie Parker tribute "Ow" or "Parkerania." He was truly Parker's heir, taking the alto saxophone and the bebop language into the space age with a completely unique style. Byard is a wonder too, bouncing from bop to stride to free, he was a chameleon, able to play in any situation and in any type of music. The footage here is all black and white, but looks great. Seeing these legendary musicians in this way after listening to them on disc for so long is a moving experience and is highly recommended. Jazz Icons: Charles Mingus Live in '64 - amazon.com

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ethan Iverson on the AACM

Don't miss the excellent long essay that Ethan Iverson has written, about his experiences listening to the music composed and performed by members of the AACM.

Pete McCann - Extra Mile (Nineteen-Eight Records, 2009)

Guitarist Pete Mcann plays thoughtful, up to the minute modern jazz on this album, accompanied by John O'Gallagher on alto saxophone, Henry Hey on piano, Matt Clohesy on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. "Fielder's Choice" opens the album with a mid tempo swinger, while the following track, "Isosceles" builds to a fast tempo with stinging guitar and propulsive drumming, making way for a strong burning sax solo. "Stasis" and "Extra Mile" are fast paced and urgent performances, with McCann spitting out lightning runs and propelled by agile bass and drums, while "Pi" is a nice change of pace with acoustic guitar front and center, and center with a mild and pleasing tone. The ballad "Tributary," a pleasant easy paced ballad, is played carefully and not rushed. "Angry Panda" has an urgent faster pace, and a storming exciting guitar solo which has a very appealing sound. "Hybrid" has a strong uptempo feel with deep guitar strong exciting sax solo. "Rhodes Less Traveled" ends the album on a slightly funky note, with Hey switching to electric piano, and the band taking on a sound akin to classic Weather Report. Their sound is intricate, and somewhat reminiscent of the Kurt Rosenwinkel/Mark Turner Quintet that recorded earlier in the decade, or the music that Mark Musillami has made for his Playscape label. Extra Mile - amazon.com

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Han Bennink Trio - Parken (ILK Music, 2009)

Drummer and percussionist Han Bennink is best known as a free jazz drummer, but he has played in a great variety of settings and is ready for any situation. This album of witty, thoughtful and exciting improvisation moves from free jazz to melodic versions of Duke Ellington standards without missing a beat. Bennink is joined on this album by Simon Toldman on piano and Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet. First two pieces, "Music for Camping" and "Flemische March" are freebop performances with great interplay, especially between piano and drums. Subtle brushwork and clarinet follows on the winsome ballad "Lady of the Lavander Mist." "Myckewelk" is a rip-snorting free improvisation filled with gleeful energy. This is followed by an interesting free-ish take on Duke Ellignton's Isfahan, which is miles away from the original version. Breathy clarinet sneaks in halfway through to add commentary on the proceedings, echoing from a distance Johnny Hodges epic solo on the version from The Far East Suite. Bennink keeps the percussion ever shifting on "Reedeater" building dunes of sound an then eroding them back down again, before slowing the tempo down again for a compassionate and concise reading of Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine." "After the March" is a moody abstract improvisation. Sad and mealancholy vocals on "Parken" end the album on a rather blue and somber note. Bennink seems mis-cast as the wildman of new Dutch swing, there's a lot of careful listening and subtle interplay at work here, and the subtle re-working of the Ellington classics bespeaks a great knowledge and passion for the history of jazz. Parken - amazon.com

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bobby Hutcherson - Wise One (Kind of Blue, 2009)

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson has been very active of late, recording and touring with the SF Jazz Collective and recording as a bandleader and re-examining his roots. Whereas 2007's For Sentimental Reasons examined some of his favorite ballads, this album is an homage to one foremost influences, the great saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. Joining him on this album are: Anthony Wilson on guitar, Joe Gilman on piano, Glenn Richman on bass and Eddie Marshall drums. While Hutcherson is certainly familiar with Coltrane's freer late period spiritual music, he chooses to focus on the compositions from his middle years where there are wonderful melodies to play and improvise on. The group really shines on the mid-tempo hallowed material, "Spiritual" which Coltrane based on old folk songs and "Wise One" the anchor of his great Crescent LP are played with a thoughtful and compassionate grace, that never dips into heavy solemnity. "Dear Lord" moves into more open ended territory while still keeping the same sanctified feel. The uptempo and boppish "Like Sonny" puts the band through its paces at a faster tempo with wonderful swirling vibes and probing guitar. This was a very successful album, Hutcherson and the rest of the band play with a great deal of patience and respect for the music. The front line of vibraphone and guitar make for an interesting combination and shed new light on these much loved compositions. Hopefully this group will have more opportunities to record, perhaps continuing in a "songbook" series. It would be wonderful to hear them tackle the Monk or Ellington songbooks. Wise One - amazon.com

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Best of 2009, Part Four: Books

This will be the last "part," I promise! Lots of great books this year, and these were the ones that I enjoyed the most:

1. Blood's A Rover by James Ellroy: Like most Ellroy stories (notably L.A. Confidential) this story has its root in loneliness - desperately lonely men haunted by the violence of their past willing to risk it all for love and that one final chance at redemption that has eluded them.
2. The Coldest Mile by Tom Piccrilli:
Piccirilli has a great gift for dialogue and characterization and uses that ability to his fullest in creating a great story that is highly recommended to all fans of crime fiction.
3. The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville: This haunting and thought provoking thriller about violence and its consequences will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
4. Rain Gods by James Lee Burke: With his extraordinary eye for detail and thoughtful and sympathetic characterizations, this is crime writing on a sublime level and is very highly recommended.
5. Haiku by Andrew Vachss:
The plot and action is pure Vachss, streetwise and tough, yet humble and thoughtful. It is a masterful story and and you will never look at the homeless the same way again after reading it.
6. My Dead Body by Charlie Huston:
If you've had you're fill of touchy-feely vampires by the likes of Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris, give Joe Pitt a try.
7. Sanctuary by Ken Bruen:
Still in Galway, Ireland and trying to care for an ill and despondent friend, Jack Taylor is taunted by a letter claiming that the writer will kill a policeman, a nun and then finally a child unless Taylor can put a stop to it.
8. Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk:
Funny, shocking and terrifying, he holds up a mirror to America and the reflection is vain, shallow and gluttonous. While certainly not for the feint of heart, those with the wherewithal to finish it with find it a remarkably thoughtful and challenging story.
9. Another Lifeby Andrew Vachss:
Vachss's cut-to-the bone writing style is pitch perfect for this dark tale, which rolls along like an out of control freight train. Burke is a dark hero for dark times and this is one of his finest hours.
10. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett:
Slapstick comedy and puns with a touch of class is the order of the day, and this makes for one of the best Discworld tales in quite a while.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Best of 2009, Part Three: New Release Honorable Mention

More jazz is dead/dying talk, this time in Newsweek, but the sheer volume of good music released in 2009 belies any such concern. These are worthwhile albums that just didn't fit in my top ten, lest I turn it into the top thirty.

Nels Cline - Coward (Cryptogramophone, 2009) It's hard to categorize this album as jazz, rock or anything else, it falls into it's own unique cosmic landscape of sound paintings.

Matthew Shipp - Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear, 2009) Shipp and company are capable of taking any melody from the most familiar to the most open and building an exciting and coherent improvisation upon it.

Tony Malaby - Paloma Recio (New World Records, 2009) the intuitive interaction of the musicians and the coiled energy of the music made it consistently interesting and engaging.

NOMO - Invisible Cities (Ubiquity, 2009) The music has a spell that is fascinating and stimulating, and the short LP length of the album keeps the music from overstaying its welcome and becoming monotonous.

Nick Moss and the Flip Tops - Live At Chans: Combo Platter No. 2 (Blue Bella Records, 2009) Mixing originals with blues standards, they have a unique and enjoyable sound which pays homage to the blues tradition without being slavishly retro.

Bill Frisell - Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009) 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.

Rez Abbasi - Things to Come (Sunnyside, 2009) This is exotic and exciting while still being accessible, and it is very fresh and thoughtfully produced.

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

Joe Morris - Wildlife (AUM Fidelity, 2009) This was a spirited and exciting album which offered a wide open structure allowing the musicians to show off their creativity in a fun and often thrilling manner.

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks: Live At the Hollywood Bowl (Listen to the Lion, 2009) major achievement in looking back at a masterpiece of youth from the perspective of age and hard won wisdom and finding that the ideas and emotions are still valid today.

David S. Ware - Shakti (AUM Fidelity, 2009) Tenor saxophonist Ware has been dealing with some pretty serious health issues lately, but you would never know it from this.

Ellery Eskelin - One Great Night... Live (HatHut, 2009) The music on this album is never stale but constantly evolving, much like the group itself.

Digital Primitives - Hum Crackle and Pop
(Hopscotch, 2009) This group achieves what jazz musicians are always looking for: an original sound that is unique and expressive.

Mike Reed's People Places and Things - About Us (482 Music, 2009) This was a very well done and exciting modern jazz album. Chicago is a hotbed of some of the best improvised music being created right now.

Chad Taylor - Circle Down (482 Music, 2009) While Taylor is nominally the leader, the three voices have equal status and work well together to make consistently original and interesting music.

Jon Crowley - Connections (Jon Crowley Music, 2009) Talented performers drawing for a variety of inspirations making wonderful sounds.

Dave Douglas - A Single Sky (Greenleaf, 2009) The heyday of the large ensemble may be gone, but projects like this indicate that this format is still fertile ground for creativity.

Darius Jones - Man'ish Boy (AUM Fidelity, 2009) it had a searching, seeking tone that was emotionally resonant and very impressive.

Linda Oh Trio - Entry (Linda Oh Music, 2009) If anyone doubts that jazz crosses all genders and cultures, check out this great album led by a woman born in Malaysia, raised in Australia and now living in New York.

Vijay Iyer - Historicity (ACT Music, 2009) The stream of music is ever flowing, and this trio has made a wonderful contribution to the current with this album.

Jon Irabagon - The Observer (Concord, 2009) Jon Irabagon shows that he has a wonderful talent, to be comfortable in the hard swinging world of mainstream jazz and the abstract and ever inquiring world of the avant-garde.

Fred Anderson - 21st Century Chase (Delmark, 2009) Anderson and Jordan are in excellent form and they draw on the entire history of the tenor saxophone in jazz, at times referencing swing, bop and free in the pursuit of their music.

Sharel Cassity - Relentless (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2009) Her music and temperament is confident without being smug, and she’s open to all the possibilities that improvised jazz offer. Hopefully we will hear more from her soon.

Joe Louis Walker - Between A Rock And The Blues (Stony Plain, 2009) With a deep soulful voice and strong supple guitar work, Walker is the complete package, and this album should make blues fans very happy.

The Vandermark 5 - Annular Gift (Not Two, 2009) The music then builds to a strong and vibrant conclusion.This is one of the finest working groups in jazz and their commitment to musical adventure remains as true today as ever.

R.E.M. - Live At The Olympia (Warner Bros., 2009) Far from a band that was playing out the string, these performances and the ensuing Accelerate LP shows that R.E.M. are not going to go quietly.

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