Sunday, February 28, 2010

Around the blogs...

Phil Freeman writes a lengthy profile of pianist Matthew Shipp (via David Adler.)
(Freeman) "Actually watching him play is fascinating. He hunches and sways, delivering hand-over-hand swipes at the keyboard and striking powerful low notes from the far left side; sometimes his mouth drops open and he pants with great force."
Matt Lavelle posts about some of the great jazz trumpeters:
(Lavelle) "Playing trumpet seems to somehow push all of us a little closer to the edge. It's living your life a little louder than everybody else, and reminding the world you exist every time you play."

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thelonious Monk - Jazz Icons: Live in '66 (Reelin' in the Years, 2006)

Containing two black and white performances by pianist and composer Thelonious Monk recorded for European television in 1966, this DVD features Monk with Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums. It is fascinating to watch Monk and the sheer physicality of his performance style. He crosses his hands as he plays and stabs at the keyboard. As unusual as it looks, he is always perfectly on time with the rest of the band and his playing and improvisations are logical and well thought out. Interesting too is how Monk would react to other member of the band soloing, at times doing a shuffling dance while keeping time with a twitching elbow especially on "Lulu’s Back In Town". Drummer Ben Riley plays a very small kit that is stripped down to just the bare few pieces, but his brush work is deft and he provides a firm rhythmic foundation with bassist Larry Gales who gets some lengthy solo opportunities. They play a very nice and enigmatic version of the moody Monk classic "Round Midnight" with Monk stating the melody and then the rest of the band falling in with thoughtful interplay and great restraint. "Blue Monk" finds the band at its most jubilant, with wonderful saxophone playing from Charlie Rouse. He has a deep, pinched sound to his horn and the way he constructs his solos were perfect for Monk's music. This was an excellent DVD, and I only wish it could have been longer. Hopefully more footage on Monk will turn up and be released. Thelonious Monk Live in '66 -

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Friday, February 26, 2010

DKV Trio - Wels & Chicago, 1998 (OkkaDisk, 1999)

DKV stands for Hamid Drake on drums and percussion, Kent Kessler on bass and Ken Vandermark on reeds. This was a very exciting power trio playing at the peak of their abilites on this two disc set. Disc number one comes from a live recording of the group at the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria, and is remarkable for the trio's performance of trumpeter Don Cherry's "Complete Communion Suite." Originally recorded in 1964, it was a landmark effort that melded long form composition and free jazz. Without a trumpeter, the trio still manages to dig into the music and build powerful riffs that they are able to explore in very exciting ways. Each member of the trio is potent on their own way, with Drake's ever shifting and evolving web of percussion and Kessler's deep and thick bass tones. Vandermark references Cherry's melodies throughout the performance and uses them as springboards for excellent improvisations. The second disc of the set has three very lengthy performances recorded live at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge in Chicago. The first performance, "Open Door" shows how well the band uses dynamics, shifting from loud to soft, and from free to abstract. But the second track, "Blues for Tomorrow," is the key, where the group becomes the epitome of a power trio, building a colossal collective improvisation, which is extraordinary to hear. This is one of many ensembles that Ken Vandermark leads or co-leads, and it is a very exciting one. Hopefully he will be able to return to this rewarding format soon.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Claudio Roditi - Simpatico (Resonance, 2010)

Trumpeter Claudio Roditi's new album makes for a placid and tranquil listening experience, heavily under the influence of the music of Brazil. Roditi plays trumpet and flugelhorn (and sings on a track), accompanied by Romero Lubambo on guitar, Michael Dease on trombone, Helio Alves on piano, John Lee on electric bass and Duduka da Fonseca on drums. Coming off of his previous album which was nominated for a Grammy Award, Roditi mixes samba and bossa nova with straight-ahead jazz. All of the compositions are Roditi originals, featuring the opening performance "Spring Samba" which is uptempo with a jaunty beat, loping electric bass providing a propulsive foundation for some fast sputtering trombone and trumpet. "Piccolo Blues" has Roditi playing an instrument that is relatively new to him and quite uncommon in jazz, the tiny piccolo trumpet. The song has a dapper medium-up tempo feel, and the piccolo trumpet has an interesting pinched sound to it. Strong bass and piano add fuel to the fire. "A Dream for Kristen" is a thoughtful and patient ballad, featuring some lush trumpet and piano chords, and some nice acoustic guitar accents. The whole album proceeds smoothly, but not cloyingly so. The gentle swing of the music and Roditi's compositions stays consistently interesting. The only down side for me was "Slow Fire" which has an orchestral arrangement on by Kuno Schmid. This is more of a personal preference than anything else, but I feel that placing a thick drape of strings over the track was unnecessary. Simpatico -

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Chris Kelsey rattles cages

Saxophonist Chris Kelsey has an excellent blog, and also has a tendency to stir the jazz soup and elicit emotional responses. A few months ago, Kelsey had a post about modern big band jazz comparing the recent albums by John Hollenbeck and Graham Collier. He got a lot of interesting feedback, especially from critic and blogger David Adler, and their exchange became a little heated before settling down. On Sunday, blogger Chris Rich (a cage rattler in his own right) posted excerpts from Kelsey's yet to be published book on jazz, and the section on the perils of jazz education at the college level brought on a heated response in the comments section from jazz guitarist and educator Joe Morris. While the conversation in both of these instances may have brought out some sharp edges, ultimately they are valuable for both the jazz blogosphere and the music as a whole. Kelsey and Adler both had interesting comments about the nature of big band music, and I think it was a missed opportunity that they were not able to develop a dialogue about the relative merits of Hollenbeck and Collier and modern large ensemble jazz in general. A thoughtful and respectful exchange of ideas would have been a wonderful thing to read. Kelsey and Morris are clearly at odds about the role of formal education in jazz (Kelsey's response), and I hope that when the smoke clears someone can give them a forum to share their ideas on the subject. This exchange of ideas moderated by some impartial blogger like Patrick Jarenwattananon or Jason Crane would be valuable to the jazz blogosphere and a compelling read or listen that may even interest new fans of the music. Instead of speaking past each other in the heat of passionate argument, channeling thought into positive debate and discussion would be a wonderful thing.

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Jazz Icons DVD (Naxos, 2008)

It is ironic that the one of the jazz musicians that is most fascinating to watch play is one who could not see. Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk was blinded shortly after birth, but used a nearly mystical love of music to learn a raft of reed instruments, and famously learned to play them simultaneously, creating a one-man reed section. The footage here is from three separate European television appearances, is clear black and white and shows Kirk fronting a rhythm section with a mix of European and American players. Watching him deftly switch between instruments and combining them all together is a real treat. The first two sections of the DVD are from 1963, recorded in Belgium and Holland with Kirk playing two exciting versions of his classic song "Three for the Festival" and deftly moving between instruments. Some interesting jazz standards are explored as well, digging into a bluesy version of Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove" and a nice version of the Miles Davis classic "Mliestones." The final section of the video is from Norway in 1967, and shows Kirk really developing into a powerful individual force, with the excellent bebop of Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice" and bluesy "Blue Rol" and "Making Love After Hours." This was a wonderful addition to the Jazz Icons lineup, and hopefully they will continue to plumb the television archives for more gems like this one. Jazz Icons: Rahsaan Roland Kirk -

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ken Vandermark, et. al. - Resonance (Not Two, 2009)

Continuing the evening jam sessions at the Alchemia club in Krakow, Poland, disc three of this ten disc box features a set with Michael Zerang on drums, Mikolaj Trzaska on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Mark Tokar on bass and Yuriy Yaremchuk tenor and soprano saxes and clarinet. They warm up quickly with a very exciting and caustic uptempo improvisation, that is played with blazing speed. The second piece (all of which are unnamed free improvisations) digs even deeper over the course of a twenty four minute improvisation. Starting with a slow buildup of probing saxophones which creates an open soundscape, the music builds to a wonderfully exciting fast pace with Trzaska and Yaremchuk swirling around each other like acrobats over rolling bass and drum accompaniment. The second set of this disc features Tim Daisy on drums, Dave Rempis tenor and alto saxophones, Magnus Broo on trumpet and Michael Zerang drums. They open with trumpet and deeply toned saxophone setting a strong and spacious vibe. Broo adds some powerful clarion calls almost like a jazz call to arms and Rempis responds beautifully with a potent freely improvised saxophone solo. The groups returns together for a collectively improvised section before taking the tune out. A couple of shorter improvisations round out a very exciting and spontaneously improvised performances. The magic of these jam sessions is in bringing in musicians who weren't that familiar with each other before this project began, and allowing them the chance to get to know each other musically. It's fascinating to hear how the musicians react to each other and how the music responds to their own individual strengths. Each of the musicians taking part in this project was interviewed for the liner notes and it is interesting to read their responses to the music and how it evolved. Resonance -

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Recent Reads

Horns by Joe Hill Joe Hill's novel Heart Shaped Box was my favorite book of 2007, and his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts was excellent as well. So I was eagerly awaiting this follow up novel, and like the old saying, be careful what you wish for... In this novel, Ig Parrish is distraught over the death of his girlfriend, who was raped and murdered. Ig was exonerated, but the killer was never found and many people in his small town believe that he got away with murder. After after a night of trying to wash away the pain with alcohol, Ig wakes up to find horns growing from his head. He is slowly turning into a demon... This should be the setup for a great, creepy story like HSB, and indeed the beginning and the end of the book are classic Hill, deftly mixing dark comedy with aspects of horror. But the middle of the story just drags, delving into Ig's relationship with his girlfriend and best friend in extreme detail, and in effect derailing the momentum that the first part of the novel had set. Its not a bad book by any means, I think that my expectations were unrealistically high coming in, since this is much more of a mainstream novel dealing with love and friendship than a darkly comic horror novel about a man turning into a demon.

Exit Wounds by John Westermann Orrin is a burned out cop just transferred to the most hated district of Long Island. He's pulled a lot of stunts in the past and the only way to redeem himself is to root out the corruption and petty crime that is an epidemic in his new assignment. This books was a recommendation of Andrew Vachss, one of my favorite storytellers, and it is easy to see why it would appeal to him. The street cops pull no punches in Westermann's dialogue laying it on the line and adding some blistering humor as well. The plot develops into one of personal redemption, to see if Orrin can save is career and even his marriage by turning the tables on crooks and cops alike. Fans of Joseph Wambaugh's recent series of "Hollywood" novels will feel right at home here. While the wastelands of Long Island aren't nearly as glamorous as the glitter of Hollywood, the grizzled cops her do make for a good story.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Around the blogosphere

Greg Osby has a very interesting blog post about the art of playing quietly. He really struck a chord (no pun intended) with me by talking about how as a musician coming up he always wanted to play fast and loud with as many notes as possible crammed in, but then changed as his playing evolved.
(Osby) "I've since realized just how much content during a jazz set is fatalistically obscured by the sheer lack of dynamics. And as a player, it has become tiresome for me to continue to try to put my best musical foot forward within a perpetual wall of relentless sound."
As a listener, I still gravitate toward music that is very visceral and emotional, and the toughest music for me to appreciate is very spacey soft music, like the abstract free jazz that Roscoe Mitchell or Ken Vandermark will occasionally make. I respect this music and the amount of restraint it must take in order to play it, but I think that I lack the patience to really appreciate it.

Peter Hum uses a review of Graham Collier's recent book and compact disc as a jumping off point for a wonderful commentary of the aesthetics of jazz.
(Hum) "I think that young people are doing it their way, whether they're more indebted to (and we'll just talk about saxophonists) to early Coltrane than late Coltrane, early Wayne Shorter than present-day Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman or Coleman Hawkins. More broadly, we might see today's jazz musicians be equally inspired by the Beatles or Radiohead or Robert Wyatt, numerology, early Weather Report, or any number of ethnic musics."
Hum covers a lot of very interesting ground in the course of his essay, like standards vs. originals, types of jazz composition and improvisation, and other philosophical aspects of the music called.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dave Holland - Archive Series Vol. 1 (Dare2, 2010)

Bassist and composer Dave Holland has been leading one of the most exciting bands in jazz over the past decade. This year his website was completely revamped, and as part of this project he began to offer for download a series of archival concerts, starting with this one. Recorded live during their 2007 tour, this version of the band consists of Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibes, Chris Potter on saxophones and Nate Smith on drums. The four lengthy tracks on this collection begin with "Looking Up" which slowly builds from a medium tempo to a deep tenor saxophone solo, supported ably by strong thick bass. Potter steps out for a lengthy, potent tenor solo framed by nice vibes. Nelson takes his own pointillist solo over elastic bass and drums before the full band returns to the melody. Slow bass making way for gentle saxophone and trombone open "Easy Did It," then Eubanks takes center stage for a supple trombone solo over increasingly strong drumming. Shimmering vibes probe further before the bands drifts back to the lazy melody. "Secret Garden" has the band probing at the mysterious melody, Potter's tenor saxophone sounding strong and slinky, and Holland stepping out himself for a slow and probing solo. The band returns to a medium tempo swing to open "Claressence" with Nelson taking a lengthy and percussive vibes solo. He makes way for Chris Potter who spools out an excellent lengthy tenor saxophone solo that is exciting and potent. There is also some nice interplay between vibraphone, saxophone and drums that is quite compelling before the full band regroups for a collective ending. This was a very nice collection of live material, hopefully the first in what will become a many series of many volumes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ken Vandermark - Resonance, Discs One & Two (NotTwo, 2009)

Resonance is a set of music that multi-reedist and composer Ken Vandermark worked on in preparation for a concert in Ukraine where he would lead a ten member big band. He stayed in Krakow, Poland for a week beforehand, writing the music and rehearsing the band. The first eight discs in this collection feature freely improvised evening sets that followed the rehearsals at the Alchemia Club in Krakow. For Day One, Set one the group featured Tim Daisy on drums, Dave Rempis on alto saxophone, Mark Tokar on bass, on Yuriy Yaremchuk on soprano sax. This group spotlighted strong swirling saxophones, alto and soprano dueling and supporting each other in wild flights of fancy. Yaremchuk gets curling, keening tones from the soprano, while Rempis responds with deep guttural cries, strong and gutsy. The band uses a loud/soft dynamic to their advantage, using flurries of notes and well spaced swathes of music, building the music to great crescendos of sound. Day One, Set two has Yaremchuk on tenor, soprano saxes and clarinet, Vandermark on baritone saxophone and clarinet, Dave Rempis on tenor saxophone and Mikolaj Trzaska alto saxophone. Vandermark joins in for a four saxophone quartet, building a short wild sounding introductory passage from mountains of swirling air. The improvisation has short choppy phrases, like a conversation spoken in tongues, and echoes of the Sonore group that Vandermark shares with Mats Gustaffson and Peter Brotzmann. The music evolves into staccato machine gun blasts of music followed by stretches of abstract breathy tones. Day One, Set 3 has Michael Zerang on drums, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Per-Ake Holmlander on tuba, Steve Swell on trombone. Lots of brass makes for a more probing and spacious sound. Strutting, sputtering trumpet and trombone over skittering shifting drumwork. Three horns improvise together over the percussion, which seems muted, making for an ominous rolling drums sound. Horn sounds zoom past with a doppler like rising and falling effect. Day Two, Set 1 has Per-Ake Holmlander on tuba, Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Mark Tokar on bass, Steve Swell on trombone interesting with the low bass and tuba holding down a big bottom for sax and trombone to improvise over. Spacey with smears of music like a version of impressionism. Resonance -

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wayne Escoffery - Uptown (Posi-Tone, 2009)

Tenor Saxophonist and composer Wayne Escoffery has slowly been building a fine resume, both as a leader and a sideman with the likes of the Mingus Big Band and trumpeter Tom Harrell. On this album, he leads a hard swinging band with Avi Rothbard on guitar Gary Versace on organ and Jason Brown on drums. "No Desert" opens the album with an uptempo organ groove and boppish saxophone. Escoffery solos with great dexterity and speed. After a fluid guitar solo with organ and drums, saxophone returns to lead the tune out. "Cross Bronx" has a bright, up-tempo feel led by brisk and hard edged tenor saxophone. There is some fast and agile full band improvisation that is polished and exciting. "You Know I Care" is a lush ballad with nice, patient saxophone soloing over full, rich organ sound. Rothbard steps out with a well paced solo, reminiscent of Grant Green in its phrasing. The group builds in some R&B elements on a few songs, "Nu Soul" and "Easy Now," but the music stays firm and swinging, incorporating these elements well. This was a well done album, easily recommendable to fans of the modern mainstream. The organ - tenor combination is an enjoyable one, and the musicians make the best of it on this album. Uptown -

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown - Varmint (Cuneiform, 2009)

Building on the inspiration of the classic Blue Note albums of the mid 1960's by the likes of Bobby Hutcherson and Sam Rivers, vibraphonist and composer Jason Adasiewicz leads a forward thinking ensemble consisting of Josh Berman on cornet, Aram Shelton on alto saxophone and clarinet, Jason Roebke on bass and Frank Rosaly drums. "Green Grass" opens the album, with shimmering and probing vibes combining the drums to make a fertile playing field for the horns to improvise over. Adasiewicz's vibes recall the work of other progressives on the instrument like Khan Jamal and Walt Dickerson, and he gets many different types of shading and texture from exploring the full possibility of the instrument. Andrew Hill's composition "Griots" is the perfect jazz vehicle for this band, with plenty of open space for fine soloing and ensemble playing. Horns strut out on the title track "Varmint" chased by vibes and drums like a farmer chasing a pesky cartoon critter. The music is complex and often shifts gears, but it never seems to overwhelm the musicians. Berman takes a strong fiery solo, and Shelton takes a strong and meaty solo of his own. "Dagger" and "Punchbag" have Shelton switching to clarinet, which is an appealing sound when paired with vibes. This songs are taken at a wide open mid-tempo feel, and feature dexterous bass work from Roebke. "Hide" has a fast and quirky melody and some deft bowed bass, before giving way to a very potent alto saxophone solo. "I Hope She's Awake" slows things down to a ballad tempo, with atmospheric vibes and thick probing bass. Although the music may be influenced by the open ended hard bop of the early 1960's the musicians are far from slavish imitators, the music on this album is fresh and thoughtful and the band has used it to make an excellent statement. Another fine example of how Chicago is starting to rival New York as a center for progressive jazz. Varmint -

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dave King - Indelicate (Sunnyside, 2010)

Pianist Ethan Iverson assures us in his funny blog post that he is the true pianist of the jazz band The Bad Plus, not his colleague, drummer Dave King. But King is a good piano player in his own right, and he shows those skills on this solo LP. His piano attack has some of the heavy percussive nature of Iverson's TBP work at times, especially on the opening track "Werewolf and the Silver Bullet," where piano and drums wage a full out attack that is very exciting. Most of the tracks are pretty short, and the album itself is a digestible LP length. "Homage: Young People" and "Bees also keep the pace moving along briskly, adding a little touch of electronics at times for added color. I downloaded this album from, and don't have access to liner notes, so I'm not sure if King played all of the instruments himself and overdubbed them or if other musicians were involved. "Highly Varnished Academic Realism" has strong piano over a funky beat, with an abstract percussive interlude, and "Arts High Boogie" builds to a dynamic and exciting conclusion. This album was a lot of fun to listen to, it draws from the open ended dynamism that makes The Bad Plus so much fun to listen to, but filters it through Kings own musical vision to good effect. Indelicate -

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bill Frisell - Blues Dream Live (Image, 2009)

Recorded live at the 2002 Montreal Jazz Festival, this DVD shows guitarist and composer Bill Frisell performing work from his 2001 album Blues Dream and other music, accompanied by Matt Chamberlain on drums, Billy Drewes on alto saxophone, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Greg Leisz on steel guitars and mandolin, Ron Miles on trumpet and David Piltch on bass. The group is tight and responsive and much of the music flows out on mini-medleys of two or three songs at a time and everybody makes their marks each time. There are three episodes of collective improvisation during the first half of the concert which are interesting to watch as the group moves away from the tightly scripted Frisell themes into their own unique version of free jazz. Leisz's steel guitar adds a unique sound to the group and adds an "Americana" flavor to the music, especially on the winsome version of Hank Williams "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" which has weeping steel guitar setting the mood for the rest of the band to follow. Frisell is great throughout this DVD, playing a colorful guitar filled with cartoons, and he's quite the character himself, with his shock of graying hair and wry smile, prowling the stage, and adjusting various effects pedals. He digs deep to make a stinging solo on "Blues for Los Angeles," and uses different effects and sound manipulators on the quirky "Egg Radio." This was a very well made DVD, with several differerent cameras and angles cutting and swaying from long shots of the band and the audience to tight in close ups of soloing musicians. This was a classy production the whole way through and caught the musicians during an inspired performance. Blues Dream Live -

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Ralph Lalama - The Audience (Mighty Quinn, 2010)

Well known as an educator and as a first call sideman for the likes of Joe Lovano (who contributes the liner essay) and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama also has released a string of swinging mainstream jazz albums as a leader. On this album, he is joined by John Hart on guitar, Rick Petrone on bass and Joe Corsello on drums. The album opens up with Wayne Shorter's "Marie Antoinette" (digression: check out Ethan Iverson's excellent blog post about Shorter) which is uptempo swinging hard bop, balanced by a strong guitar solo and deep brawny tenor. There's a soulful version of "Livin' for the City" by Stevie Wonder, that gives Hart a chance to stretch out with a Grant Green flavored solo. Duke Person's "Minor League" is taken at a medium tempo, with the full quartet swinging propulsively before Lalama steps out with a strong and muscular solo. Petrone and Corsello lock in to make an excellent and deep bass and drums pocket. The album closes with a lengthy version of "I'm An Old Cowhand" that swings gently and recalls the classic Sonny Rollins version and includes a lengthy mid tempo guitar solo. This was a consistently good album of swinging hard bop jazz, and both the soloing and ensemble playing was top notch. Audience -

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Alexander von Schlippenbach - Monk's Casino (Intakt, 2005)

There have been many tributes to the music of the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk over the years, but none quite as ambitious as this. German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach arranged the entire Monk songbook for him to play with the excellent German free-bop band Die Enttauschung, which consists of Axel Dorner on trumpet, Rudy Mahall on bass clarinet, Jan Roder on bass and Uli Jenneben on drums. They performed the entire Monk songbook over the course of a single evening at jazz festivals and the A-Trane club in Berlin where this three CD set was recorded. The music itself is outstanding, re-arranged at times to form mini-medleys of songs, or chopped down to just the barest melody, it retains the wit and warmth of the Monk originals while allowing the individual musicians to shine through. Mahall is particularly excellent, his bass clarinet conjures up questions of what it would have been like to hear Thelonious Monk perform with Eric Dolphy. Although there is a lot of music here, it never becomes fatiguing or stale, the musicians always find something fresh to say and take great inspiration and pleasure in interpreting Monk’s unique canon. Monk's Casino -

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Pat Metheny - Orchestrion (Nonesuch, 2010)

This album is a unique "solo" project with guitarist Pat Metheny and a raft of machine controlled musical instruments. Inspired by experimenting with a player piano in his grandfather's basement, which led to a life-long love of technology and its musical applications. It's easy to imagine Metheny in a basement laboratory somewhere preparing his army of musical machines to embark on world conquest. In the end it is a pleasant and enjoyable album to listen to, although not the most exciting and dynamic, falling somewhere in the middle of the softer rounded curves of the Pat Metheny Group and the rougher sound of his trio records. "Orchestrion" has a full, rich sound with mallets and strings leading the way. Metheny's soft toned guitar improvises over the top of the action. The music seems intricately orchestrated, and the music flows organically at a medium tempo, before the pace picks up at the end with piano bubbling to the top. "Entry Point" is slower and more spacious, pretty, but mild and mellow. Metheny takes a slow and patient guitar solo on this track. "Expansion" has a medium-up tempo with a light, floating sound. Guitar synth and light toned "regular" guitar are used for nimble solos. "Soul Search" has piano opening the performance before the rest of the instrumentation come in sounding mild and mellow (and a little too bland for me, to be honest.) Malleted percussion and creates a nice foundation for a snaking and slithering guitar solo on "Spirit of the Air" to wrap things up. Orchestrion -

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The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli. Crease is a man with a problem. He is an undercover cop who has become fed up with leading a double life and has outed himself to a drug kingpin who swears vengeance. On the run for his life, he flees New York City to the rural Vermont town of his birth. Here he finds a mystery that has haunted him throughout his life. His father, also a cop, shot and killed a child during a botched kidnapping. After this he took to drink and died a broken man. Crease picks at the scar, digging up old wounds and vows to solve the mystery, while the showdown with the drug kingpin and his goons looms near. This was a haunting and very dark noir story that resonated with me, having first hand experiences with alcoholic family members and dead end towns I couldn't wait to leave. It's Piccirlli black humor that keeps this story from becoming too maudlin, and the way he sketches his characters allows the reader to relate to them as human beings rather than cardboard cutouts. He keeps the action moving at a fast pace, and at a little under 200 pages, the book flies by quickly.

The Jugger by Richard Stark. Parker, the master thief and ultimate anti-hero, is on vacation in Miami, when he gets an ominous and out of character letter from retired safe cracker Joe Sheer, who acts as Parker's contact to the criminal underworld. Sheer is in trouble and asks Parker to come to his small town Nebraska home to help. When Parker arrives, Sheer is dead of an apparent heart attack, and cops and crooks alike are lining up to cash in on the fortune they believe Sheer squirreled away. Parker needs to walk a fine line between an out of control cop, a devious fellow thief and the obligatory femme fatale to get to the bottom of the mystery. This is another great Parker story, Stark (aka Donald Westlake) winnows the dialogue to the bone and the story flies by as Parker, cool as a cucumber, pulls himself out of one jam after another.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Various Artists - M For Mississippi DVD (M For Mississippi, 2008)

Subtitled "a roadtrip through the birthplace of the blues," M for Mississippi is a documentary about two blues lovers traveling through the state over the course of seven days interviewing musicians and fans of the music and visiting the few remaining juke joints left in this part of the country. The filmmakers allow the music and the musicians speak for themselves, giving them a chance to tell their stories about growing up in the south and why the blues appeals to them. Seeing the musicians interviewed on the street and in their own homes, you realize that these men aren't playing music for any monitary reward, but rather for the love of the music. I had thought the tension between secular and religious music was a relic of the past, but not so according to The Mississippi Marvel, who refused to give his identity or allowed his face to be filmed because he didn't want members of his church to see him playing the blues. It is fascinating to hear "T-Model" Ford discuss his rough and tumble life which was filled with as much violence as music. Terry "Harmonica" Bean talks about growing up and how he turned to the blues after losing a chance to be a major league pitcher. Jimmy "Duck" Holmes plays a solo set in his own juke joint and discusses how long the music can last in its native land. This may be the most important facet of this documentary, to capture these wonderful musicians in a live and raw state. Many of the musicians were advanced in age, and are a living link with the blues of the past which is fading fast. Definately a must see for fans of blues and roots music. M for Mississippi -

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Matthew Shipp - 4D (Thirsty Ear, 2010)

This is a solo piano recording from Shipp, recorded in a spontaneous setting before a very small audience. The performances here are quite short and to the point, only in a few cases five minutes or more in length, and the album itself is quite economical. There is also some very delicate playing - not ornamental, but elegant and probing, and many of the songs on the album have a haiku-like brevity. Shipp is fascinating in that he is developing his own conception of piano improvisation, grounded in the jazz piano firmament, but branching out in search of new ideas and methods. He uses the entire piano, especially the bass notes that he drops like ominous depth charges amidst the ever changing music. Shipp builds a deeply percussive sound, with a strong two handed attack, striking rumbling echoes of bass notes that reverberate like waves crashing up against the shore. Strong bass comping with sprinkles of higher notes make for an interesting juxtaposition. Listening to him caress the melody of an old standard like "Greensleves" or the gospel song "What a Friend We have in Jesus is fascinating too. It is very interesting to watch Shipp's music evolve over time, he is developing a very unique and individual style that hints at the piano masters of the past while facing forward at all times. 4D -

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra (Thrill Jockey, 2010)

For a band with only two members, this group gets an impressive variety of sounds. Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor drummer also use the studio as an instrument, alternating between post bop jazz and near ambient soundscapes. Taylor's rhythmic sense is unerring throughout the album, whatever the tempo. Electronics are added at times, and add effect, especially at slower tempos making for spooky music along with slurred horn. "Green Ants" has sputtering cornet and rolling drums setting a fast pace, then moving into a slower abstract section before turning to an echoed effect at the end. "Confliction" was the highlight of the album for me beginning with stark piano and horn, the music builds around thick electric bass and punchy cornet. "Laughing With the Sun" also uses electric bass to great effect, locking in with Taylor's drumming and making an excellent foundation for Mazurek's clarion horn. It's interesting to hear them cover Ornette Coleman, getting a unique take on "Broken Shadows" which opens with vibes and rumbling drums in an ominous fashion. Mazurek's cornet arcs in and out of view building to a potent improvisation around massive slabs of drums. Boca Negra -

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Recent Reads

The First Rule by Robert Crais: When former cop and military contractor Joe Pike learns that one of his former colleagues and his entire family has been brutally murdered in a home invasion, he vows to seek vengeance, no matter the cost. Pike originally began as a side character in Crais's popular Elvis Cole series of detective novels, but here the tables are turned and the wisecracking Cole is the supporting character while the taciturn Pike gets the starring role. It works really well, too. Pike is another in the line of loners and outsiders, pariahs by choice like Lee Child's Jack Reacher or Andrew Vachss's Burke. Pike digs deep into the ethnic gang wars that are forming the dark underbelly of Los Angeles criminal activity as he makes and breaks uneasy alliances with cops and criminals alike in the search for his friends killer. The action is non-stop, and the plot is logical and exciting. Since Pike is the quiet outsider, focus is less on dialogue and more on action and setting which suits Crais's writing style quite well.

The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett: I have long found this series of detective novels by John Burdett fascinating. The main character is a devoutly Buddhist Thai cop in Bangkok, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, who tries to remain unscathed by the madness and corruption around him while solving crimes that often involve foreign visitors. This book has three main plots, as the detective must attempt to solve the spectacular murder of an American film director while arranging to be the facilitator of the delivery of a massive shipment of heroin that his corrupt boss conspires to sell with the head of the armed forces. Complicating this is his meeting with Tietsin, a Tibetan with mystical powers that leads the detective to reach out to him as a spiritual guru. So there's a lot going on in this novel, and either of the three plots probably could have been spun out for a novel in their own right. Burdett keeps all of the balls in the air quite admirably though, and the unique perspective of the detective, viewing crime and punishment through the unique lens of Buddhism makes for very interesting story.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Jerry Bergonzi - Three For All (Savant, 2010)

This was a well played album of strong muscular modern jazz rooted in the fertile soil of the trio recordings Sonny Rollins made in the 1950's and 60's. Joining tenor saxophonist Bergonzi in the core trio are Dave Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums. The added space on the trio tracks leaves room for some nice solos from Bergonzi and the bass player. The music on tracks like "Crop Circles" is lean and lithe, and the improvisations are concise and well constructed. Bergonzi either overdubs himself on the melodies of a couple of tracks or has a second saxophonist harmonizing with him, and a pianist joins the group to comp and add a little context on a few of the tracks. "Obama" has a nice mid-tempo feel, with some patient and thoughtful improvising. Bergonzi's tenor frolicks in the open space, while the bass and drums lock in making a tight pocket. "End of the Mayan Calendar" changes things up a bit, with yearning saxophone probing through open space, and recalling early sixties John Coltrane performances like "Spiritual" and "Wise One." Three for All -

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Nels Cline and Norton Wisdom - Stained Radiance DVD (Greenleaf Music, 2010)

This collaboration between guitarist Cline and painter Wisdom is a fascinating glimpse into the heart of pure improvisation. Cline has an battery of electric guitars and electrical and electronic devices which alter the sound while Wisdom paints on a large illuminated plastic sheet called "The Shell." They are filmed improvising together in real time, over the course of two thirty plus minute performances. Wisdom's images are haunting and fascinating, at times recalling the engravings that accompanied William Blake's apocalyptic poetry. Images transform out of the music and the mists of his imagination only to morph and evolve as he develops the image in response to the music. Cline, on the other hand, is completely in his element as well. His music has always struck me as "sound painting" and the opportunity to work with someone who can interpret those sounds into images makes for a fascinating collaboration. One of the "special features" on the DVD is really interesting. Wisdom wears a small camera mounted on his head, giving a bird's eye view of the creative process while a split-screen also focuses in on Cline's dexterous guitar work. This was a very adventerous and exciting DVD. Another extra called "Nortonious Nels" is an interview segment with the two men talking about the work and the ways in which they inspire each other, especially when Cline speaks about creating a "sonic environment" for Wisdom to express himself through creating images. Their discussion of the philosophy behind their individual art and collaborations is very interesting. While performers like Bill Frisell and Dave Douglas have performed to silent films, this takes things even further, with two artists using different means of expression working together to create beautiful sounds and images, it is a really unique and inspiring experience. Stained Radiance - Greenleaf Records

Peter Hum Commentary

Inspired by David Hadju's profile of Fred Hersch, Peter Hum looks at melody, Monk and the idea of beauty in jazz:
(excerpt) "My point isn't to validate "conventional" beauty over "ugly" beauty but simply to wonder about their relationship, about an artistry that can draw upon both esthetics, and a listener who can appreciate both sensibilities, either at different times or in a single sitting/concert. Such musings, of course, can only be an abstract thing, and a concrete case might make everything snap into focus."
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Fred Hercsh Profiled

David Hajdu (biographer of Billy Strayhorn) paints a wonderful portrait of pianist and composer Fred Hersch in a recent New York Times magazine feature:
(excerpt) "Today, at age 54, after many months of rehabilitation and therapy, grueling effort, effective medical care, an almost irrationally defiant refusal to accept his problems as anything less than temporary distractions from his music and a considerable amount of good luck, Hersch has achieved full recovery. Last year, he released two albums: a concert performance of his Pocket Orchestra CD, issued in the spring, and a solo piano record, “Fred Hersch Plays Jobim,” released (to immediate acclaim) in the summer."