Sunday, May 30, 2010

DVD Review: Icons Among Us

This film takes a wide-ranging look at the modern jazz scene, interviewing many musicians and providing some very nice concert footage from a variety of venues. Subtitled "jazz in the present tense," it is something of a rebuttal to the lengthy PBS series Jazz that aired several years ago and was criticized for presenting the music as a static museum piece rather than a vibrant art form. This film really makes clear the diversity of today's music: male and female, black and white, American and European, it is one of the great triumphs of the music that it can cross all of these perceived boundaries and remain such an inspiration to so many musicians. It is interesting to see how the different approaches to the music are presented in the film: Wynton Marsalis defends the well funded and tradition heavy Jazz at Lincoln Center model, juxtaposed against interview segments where pianists Robert Glasper and Matthew Shipp passionately offer a profanity laden "kill-your-idols" approach to music creation. Critic Paul de Barros sides with Marsails, opining that JALC's historical bent offers a cultural context that audiences can relate with, while guitarist Bill Frisell speaks broadly about the freedom and beauty of improvisation that draws on many different sources, while trusting the audience to understand this freedom as a core value of jazz. Saxophonist Donald Harrison speaks at length about education and rigorous training, while John Medeski and Marco Benevento speak passionately about taking the music to the people directly as part of the jam-band scene. What stuck me as most successful about this film is that it didn't take any sides in the debate. Wisely withholding editorial comment, the filmmakers allow the musicians to speak for themselves, presenting their goals and ideas for the music. Sure to spark debate, this is an important and well done film that sheds much needed light on the musicians who are creating in the moment. Icons Among Us - amazon.com

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Friday, May 28, 2010

McCoy Tyner - Mosaic Select 25 (Mosaic, 2007)

After a very successful tenure with the great John Coltrane Quartet from 1961-1965, pianist McCoy Tyner struck out on his own, signing with Blue Note records and putting together his own groups and albums. Things started off very well, with the classic albums The Real McCoy and Tender Moments being released in 1967. However, as the sixties waned, Tyner's record sales and performance opportunities grew fewer, to the point where he was driving a cab in New York to make ends meet. The music on this three disc set contains the final four albums of Tyner's first stay with Blue Note: Expansions, Extensions, Asante and Cosmos. It's kind of a mystery why these albums never gained much attention the first time around, as they are filled with exciting and thoughtful music, with Tyner accompanied by the likes of Gary Bartz, Woody Shaw, Wayne Shorter and many others. The Expansions LP, taking up most of disc one, is open ended spiritual hard bop, clearly influenced with the exploratory music he had played with Coltrane, but much more centered in the hard-bop mainstream. Bartz, Shorter and Shaw make for an awesome front line, with "Vision" and "Song of Happiness" taking lengthy journeys into spiritual modality. The Cosmos session was the most experimental, and that is probably why the music was withheld until 1974. The core trio of Tyner with Herbie Lewis on bass and Freddie Watts on drums is joined by a small string section that swirls and slides around the percussive trio. The Extensions session, making up the latter half of disc two is excellent, featuring the explosive "Message from the Nile" and "Survival Blues." Anchored by Ron Carter and Elvin Jones, the music is relentlessly propulsive, and with Bartz and Shorter returning to the front line and Alice Coltrane adding showers of sparks from her harp, the music is memorable and very exciting. Disc three wraps up the remaining music with the string-free tracks of Cosmos and Asante, which are interesting for adding extra percussion, guitar and wordless vocals. After leaving Blue Note, Tyner's fortunes thankfully revived with excellent (and popular) albums like Sahara and the torrid live LP's Atlantis and Enlightenment. These albums consolidated the music he made on these under-appreciated Blue Note albums and solidified his standing as a jazz legend. Mosaic Select 25 - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

James Moody - Moody 4B (IPO Recordings, 2010)

Saxophonist James Moody (who is also a great flute player, just not on this album) is well into his eighth decade, and still making wonderful music. Moody has been at the forefront of mainstream jazz since the bebop era and he brings all of the wisdom and experience he has gained to a set of standards (and a few originals) recorded the day after his successful predecessor Moody 4A. Accompanied on this album by Kenny Barron on piano, Todd Coolman on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, the music exudes class and dignity mixing in equal measure cookers, ballads and mid-tempo groovers. Opening with a genial and swinging version of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A Train" the band really sets the tone for the album. Coolman and Nash provide a huge pocket, playing a wonderfully supportive role with great compassion. Barron is the perfect pianist for this setting, accompanying Moody with beautiful and subtle chords and soloing with discriminating taste. The ballads played by the band are quite tasteful and patient, the standard "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and Kenny Barron's original "Nikara's Song" move slowly, allowing the band to gently probe the length and breadth of the songs. Moody plays with great melodic sense, telling a story with each of his solos and never overplaying. They swing the tempos back up with versions of "Swing Low" and Benny Golson's classic composition "Along Came Betty." This was a very well played relaxed and easy going album of straight ahead jazz. Moody's beautiful tone on tenor saxophone is the centerpiece, as it should be, and the rhythm section is tasteful and supportive, making for relaxed and swinging music throughout.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry

I'll Mature When I'm Dead: Dave Barry's Amazing Tales of Adulthood I'll Mature When I'm Dead: Dave Barry's Amazing Tales of Adulthood by Dave Barry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After reading a lot of heavy duty crime and espionage fiction, I wanted to take a break with something a little lighter, and the new book by humorist Dave Berry was just the ticket. Collecting the short pieces he has written since leaving the Miami Herald, he is in top form skewering everything from male-female relations to the "wedding-industrial complex." Every story in this book has laugh-out-loud moments (don't read it at a coffee shop like I did if you don't want people giving you dirty looks for giggling and snickering convulsively.) Some of the funniest moments in the book were in his story "Dog Ownership for Beginners" where he takes a hysterical look at the caring and feeding of man's best friend. "Tips for Visiting Miami" takes us into the territory of Barry's friend and colleague Carl Hiaasen, examining the rampant crime and occasional bus riding sharks of his home city. Tackling relationship issues on "The Elephant and the Dandelion" and "If You Will Just Shut Up, I'll Explain" he provides typically outrageous answers in a Q&A format. He ends the book with an epic put-down of the vapid and shallow vampire fiction craze in the satirical "Fangs of Endearment" that provides some much needed comeuppance to the genre of selfish and narcissistic claptrap. All in all, a very funny and thoroughly enjoyable collection. I'll Mature When I'm Dead - amazon.com

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blog round-up

Nate Chinen re-prints an article on the composer and bandleader Sun Ra that he wrote for a Philadelphia area magazine last year: "So is it any wonder that in the 16 years since Sun Ra’s departure, his influence has rippled across so many borders of culture and genre? When soul-punk dynamo Janelle MonĂ¡e declares herself “an alien from outer space,” or hip-hop trickster Lil Wayne rants about being a Martian, they’re riding a wavelength best exemplified, if not generated, by the potent precedent of Sun Ra."

Ethan Iverson interviews pianist and composer Django Bates: "...Well, one thing that I think is important about the jazz isn’t just humor, but also being entertaining and putting on a show. All these musicians that you talk about—Jelly Roll or Monk or Mingus or even John Coltrane—have a deliberate and embracing outreach to the audience."

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Claudia Quintet w/ Gary Versace - Royal Toast (Cuneiform Records, 2010)

With a wide variety of influences ranging from experimental jazz to rock and classical, the eclectic Claudia Quintet can always be counted on to make interesting and unusual music. Consisting of Drew Gress on bass, John Hollenbeck on drums, Matt Moran on vibraphone, Ted Reichman on accordion, Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, and special guest Gary Versace on piano. The group covers a wide range of musical territory on this album. The music is broken down into original improvisations for the group and short individual unaccompanied interludes from each musician of the group. There is a lightness and an airy feeling to the music that separates it from most contemporary jazz being made today. Hollenback has been quoted as saying that he wanted the group's sound to have something of a female quality, and this come through quite successfully here. Speed's clarinet and saxophone gently float over a luxurious bed of shimmering vibraphone and swirling accordion. Hollenbeck's compositions and agile drumwork are the foundation of the groups overall sound, carving out a unique niche. "Crane Merit" opens the album with a mellow and dreamy slow building hypnotic feel. Gently comped piano and slow saxophone round out the gauzy sound that envelops the music. "Keramag" raises to tempo to a spritely fast level with agile drums and vibes and punchy accordion. This combination of instruments is unusual in jazz and makes for a very cool and enjoyable sound. Smears of saxophone over light and fast percussion usher in "Paterna Terra" building to an intense quasi-free feel with swirling accordion gaining in intensity and speed throughout. "Ideal Standard" slows the pace down to a moderate level and allows the band to fully investigate the haunting melody and arrangement. This is multi-faceted music that always deviates from the expected. Often filled with a gentle impish humor, the music here is filled with the personalities of its creators and makes for compelling listening. Royal Toast - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book Review: The Killer by Tom Hinshelwood


The Killer The Killer by Tom Hinshelwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Victor is an assassin, a hired gun with few possessions and no relationships beyond the next target. Paid to kill at Latvian national and recover a small computer flash drive, Victor accomplishes his task with cool and calculating efficiency. Only then the hunter becomes the hunted as he is set upon by a seven member kill team in a Paris hotel and has to use all of his skills and wit to survive the ensuing bloodbath. Hoping to figure out who set him up and why, he reluctantly teams up with Rebecca, his rogue CIA handler, and soon finds himself in the cross hairs of killers from around the world. Victor must use all of his cold blooded prowess to be the last man standing. This was a very exciting and action packed novel, Hinshelwood keeps the pace breathless throughout as we switch locations from the intelligence offices of the United States and Russia to the brutal killers that track Victor across Europe. Victor is a fascinating character, the master of disguise and the dark art of assassination, he reminded me of Richard Stark's great character, the anti-hero and master thief Parker, with his single minded approach to survival. This book works well on a couple of levels: as a spy/espionage thriller and as a straight up action story that begs to be adapted for the big screen, particularly an epic car chase and mano e mano battle to death in the book's final quarter. Note that the level of violence of the this book is nearly of James Ellroy proportions, so those with an aversion to blood may want to look elsewhere. But for action or espionage fans, this was a very well written and compelling story that has twists and turns right up to the end and is highly recommended. The Killer - amazon.com

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup - The Black Keys, The White Stripes

The Black Keys - Brothers After working on a surprising hip-hop experiment called BlakRoc and a solo album by Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys return with their first proper album since 2008's attack and release. Guitarist and vocalist Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney continue their development as a group, working with guests and producers to flesh out their core sound and add different textures to their music. While straight up garage rock still remains their focus of the group's sound, there is a strong tinge of soulful R&B on this record. Mixing in deep soul with world weary R&B helps the band expand their range, and makes for a powerfully expressive record. Appropriately recorded for the most part in the Muscle Shoals, AL studio that gave birth to so many great soul albums in the 1960's, the lead-off track "Everlasting Light" sets the stage nicely with a gently chugging groove and vocals in a light and airy falsetto. The guys still remember how to go down in the alley with stinging guitars and ominous singing underpinning "Next Girl" and "Ten Cent Pistol." The track "Sinister Kid" pulls all of these influences together with lean guitars and a thick beat laying the foundation for deep strong singing. While this album may lack the visceral impact of their stark, hard rocking earlier album, the music has become deeper and more thoughtful, pulling together all of their diverse influences and interests and weaving them into a unique and diverse whole.

The White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights The White Stripes have been relatively inactive during the past few years due to the debilitating anxiety problems suffered by drummer Meg White and guitarist and singer Jack White's directing his energy to other bands, notably The The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. This album is something of a placeholder for the band, it's a soundtrack for the film of the same name, chronicling their tour in 2007 Canadian tour. The duo has always been a powerful life act, and the music on this album bears that out. Jack White's powerful guitar and near hysterical vocals and Meg White's potent yet primitive drums drive the music ever forward, with Jack adding some huge slabs of keyboards and organ to change up the texture on "The Union Forever" and "Ball and Biscuit." But apart from that, they wisely stick to their bread and butter, scalding garage rock honed to a very tight edge. Piledrivers like the singles "Blue Orchid" and "Icky Thump" play off nicely against the potent yearning of the dynamic yearning of "Jolene" and lighter pop fare like "We are Going to Be Friends." It's a very solid live album and both the soundtrack and the DVD provide ample evidence for the bands continued success.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: 61 Hours by Lee Child

61 Hours (Jack Reacher Series, #14) 61 Hours by Lee Child

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When ex-Army MP and current drifter Jack Reacher hitches a ride on a senior citizen tour bus, he has no idea what is in store for him. After the bus skids off the road during a snowstorm in Bolton, South Dakota, Reacher finds himself marooned in a town in turmoil. An elderly woman has observed a large drug deal going down, and agrees to testify if the outmatched local police can keep her alive long enough to reach the trial. When the police ask for his help, Reacher moves in to protect the woman, and solve the mystery of a biker gang squatting at an abandoned military base no one seems to know the purpose of. Child's setting of this novel in frozen tundra of a South Dakota winter adds an element of man-versus-nature to the mix. To ratchet up the tension even further, he ends each chapter with a running countdown until... what? I'm not going to give it away but the conclusion is worth the wait. This story follows the template of all of the Reacher stories preceding it. Our man drifts into town, finds out the town has a problem, uses his sense of modern chivalry and honor to inject himself into the situation and find a conclusion, kicking much ass in the process. But Child builds in enough tension and surprises to keep the plot gaining momentum throughout the story and keeps the formula fresh and productive. He's got it down to a science by now and the result is a taut and satisfying thriller. 61 Hours - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sabir Mateen - Urdla XXX (Rogue Art, 2010)

Multi-instrumentalist Sabir Mateen is no stranger to playing in music in off the beaten path locations. Whether its busking in the subway tunnels of Manhattan with the band Test, or a improvising in a stifling Unitarian church in upstate New York where I first saw him, Mateen remains committed to his muse regardless of the locale. So being invited to present a solo concert for a French arts group celebrating their 30th anniversary is so sweat. He starts things confidently by striding up to the performance space chanting and setting the mood for the enchantment to come. What emerges is a fascinating suite of solo free jazz improvisations for clarinet and alto saxophone. Mateen has always struck me as the spiritual successor of Sam Rivers, and like the older man he acts like an expert embroiderer, weaving together desperate strands of melody and texture into a cohesive whole. Adding tips of the music hat to forbears Jimmy Lyons and Frank Wright add to the excitement of the music which takes on a visual hue at times with Mateen swirling and swaying swaths of musical color which were no doubt appreciated by the artists in attendance. Totally improvised solo concerts must be amongst the most challenging settings in jazz, but Mateen is more than up to the task, even breaking into verse at one point with his poem "Music Is Sound and Sound Is Music," that can be seen as something of a mission statement for his music. The music of sound is within and without, joy and pain, beauty and suffering. It is when we listen, really listen, we will hear music all around us. Wise words, and an agenda that was adhered to well on this exciting spontaneous album.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lean Left - The Ex Guitars meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo: Volume 1 (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010)

This is a fascinating collaboration of avant-garde rock and jazz musicians coming together to make completely improvised music in the moment. Recorded live at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, the group consists of Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor of the Dutch punk rock band The Ex on guitars, with Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The concert opens with tenor and drums in a duet setting on the opening track, "Left Lung," building in a fast paced and exciting formation. The dialogue is stark and sharp, shifting between funky and free accentuated with streaks of guttural rawness. "Lean Over" continues the sax and drums dialogue before the guitars slowly and almost imperceptibly enter and engage the music. The rubber really meets the road in the epic "Right Lung" which is a very dynamic performance with the entire quartet spontaneously exploring different textures and tempos. A scraping and slowly developing abstract improvisation evolves into higher intensity as the musicians engage deeply in conversation. The music develops into a swaggering quasi-funk section (reminiscent of Vandermark's wonderful and sadly dormant Spaceways Incorporated group) with deep tenor saxophone, powerhouse drumming and guitar accents. A shift in the dynamic brings them to a more open section with squeals and squalls of open expression, before building back to scratching guitars, honking saxophone and pounding drums. The group has one more trick up their sleeves on this very long performance and that is to cut off abruptly for a few seconds and re-emerge with drops and smears of wide open percussion and Vandermark switching to clarinet which provides pastel shaded tones then bleats and squeals of pointillist music. They bring it all back home on "Lung Leftover" a short three minute throat clearing blowout, fast and wild and building to an apocalyptic conclusion. This was a wild and exciting collaboration of like minded musicians from across genres, and it worked really well. Far from two disparate duos, they are a fully integrated band, making exciting and spontaneous music.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Eric Alexander Quartet - Chim Chim Cheree (Venus Jazz, 2010)

The spirit of John Coltrane looms large over this album by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Playing a program of Coltrane originals and songs associated with him sets the bar high, but the music is successful and accessible. Supported by Harold Mabern on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth and drums, the group places their focus on the music recorded by Coltrane's "classic quartet" of the early and mid 1960's. "You Don't Know What Love Is" opens the album at ballad tempo, with the leader getting a deep tone and supported by rippling piano and subtle brushes. The music develops a sultry, late night feel and makes way for an unaccompanied tag ending for saxophone. The full band opens "Dear Lord" at a medium pace, with the saxophone swirling and taking a gently yearning tone. "On a Misty Night" returns to the ballad setting, with gently breathy saxophone building to a classical hard bop swing formation. A strong foundation of piano, bass and drums introduces "Chim Chim Cheree" with heavy sounding tenor saxophone striving for a more open modal feel. This fast and agile performance is the most overt Coltrane homage on the record, not necessarily "out" but more intense than most of Alexander's performances and quite well done. The legendary "Pursuance" from A Love Supreme blasts right off with strong drums and deep tenor and develops a muscular power that may lack the caustic cleansing of the original but is still a potent courageous improvisation that verges on overblowing at times, but never completely lets go. Strength is also the key point for "The Night has a Thousand Eyes" with a deeply swinging hard bop performance. After a fast and dexterous piano trio interlude, Alexander and Farnsworth trade nicely rolling phrases to close things out. While it may round off some of the rough edges of the music and lack the spiritual angst that propelled much of Coltrane's music, this is a well done album that pays tribute to someone who was clearly important to Alexander's musical development. Chim Chim Cheree - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review - Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke

Heaven's Prisoners Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The second novel in James Lee Burke's long running series of Dave Robicheaux novels finds Dave running a bait and tackle business in the swamps and deltas of southern Louisiana. He's left the New Orleans police force, quit drinking and has remarried. His domestic bliss is broken when a plane crashes near his boat. Diving to investigate, he rescues a young girl being smuggled in from Central America and in inadvertently stumbles across a drug running operation. This knowledge puts him in the middle of a nasty collection of crooks, cops and feds all vying for their own ends. After Robicheaux's wife is murdered during an attempt to silence him, he vows to take the criminals and killers down, whatever the cost. Like all of Burke's novels, this is a haunting meditation on violence and its effects. To his credit, the violence in his novels always has consequences, for both the good guys and bad. Everyone is haunted by the depression and anger that it brings and no one escapes unscathed. The character of Dave Robicheaux is a fascinating one, obsessed with regret and remorse over his alcoholism and deeply scarred by his experiences in the Vietnam War, he still manages to find the strength to struggle onward despite the heavy baggage he carries. Nature plays a huge role in this (and all Burke novels I have read) book. The sights, sounds and smells of the Louisiana bayou is described in vivid detail and the natural world becomes as much a character as any of the people involved.

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One for All - Incorrigible (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010)

One for All is a collective band that mines the fertile soil first seeded by hard-bop pioneers like Horace Silver and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Using the mainstream jazz of the 1950's and 60's a jumping off point, the group creates their own bop, ballads and blues investigating that style. The band consists of Jim Rotondi on trumpet and flugelhorn, David Hazeltine on piano, Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, John Webber on bass, Steve Davis on trombone and Joe Farnsworth on drums. The opening track is "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" which is medium up in tempo and jaunty, featuring a fast tenor saxophone solo. Piano, bass and drums take command with solos. "Petite Ange" opens with piano, bass and drums at mid-tempo with trumpet cutting through strong and clean. Tenor and classy strutting trombone improvise over rippling piano, before trumpet builds to a sputtering climax. Trumpet is featured over slower stately brushes in the delicate ballad performance of "Voice." The full strutting band returns on "Incorrigible," playing at a fast paced with big lusty trumpet setting the stage for tenor saxophone which probes over strongly comped piano before the horns return to the theme together to takes things out. "Blues for Jose" is deep and thick and taken at a medium tempo. Raw flavored trombone floats over the rhythm section, giving way to stocky tenor saxophone that thickens the music like a spicy chili. "Spirit Waltz" opens with a deep piano trio and harmonizing horn, really developing into a format that will be familiar to fans of the classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings. The trombone of Steve Davis cuts in bobbing and weaving with slabs of music. Farnsworth weighs in with a nice drum interlude before the horns return to usher out a well done hard-bop performance. A gently swinging Latin feel provides the foundation of "Back to Back," with Alexander getting the featured solo, cutting strongly through the music with a tone reminiscent of the classic tenors like Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons. "So Soon" concludes the album with a bluesy strut and some strong dark tenor that is idiomatic of their music. The music on this album is a classy and accessible form of hard-bop, and while it might not be on the cutting edge of improvised music today, the musicians perform it with wit and energy and fans of classic jazz will find it enjoyable. Incorrigible - amazon.com

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Mike Reed's People, Places and Things - Stories and Negotiations (482 Music, 2010)

Drummer and composer Mike Reed has been a rising force in the jazz scene, not just in his home base of Chicago but around the jazz world. Leading a few bands on the 482 Music label, his People, Places and Things band pays tribute to the great history of jazz in Chicago, which stretches from swing to bop to the avant-garde. Looking to shed some light on musicians from the Windy City that have slipped under the radar, this live album recorded in 2008 features a multi-generational lineup: Jeb Bishop and Julian Priester on trombone, Tim Haldeman and Ira Sullivan on tenor saxophone, Art Hoyle on trumpet and flugehorn, Jason Roebke on bass, and Greg Ward on alto saxophone. Blustery, broad shouldered jazz is the order of the day here, the music is exciting and intricate. Combining the swing and bop history of the city's music with aspects of the the avant-garde scene that had developed over the last couple of decades gives the music a wide range of range and texture. The great composer and bandleader Sun Ra spent several years in the city and leads this group in their exciting cover of Ra's "El is the Sound of Joy" which builds to an exuberant and hard driving conclusion. "Door #1 (For Julian Priester)" takes a different tracks using smears of brass and long tones to create a unique soundscape. The music comes together quite nicely and surpasses the normal polite conversation that one might find on a tribute record and instead becomes a testament to the music that great city has produced, and to the musicians from different eras who come together under one banner to make this album. Stories and Negotiations - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Azar Lawrence - Mystic Journey (Furthermore, 2010)

Saxophonist Azar Lawrence was in the thick of the 1970's jazz scene, recording with the likes of McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis before stepping away from music for a while. After beginning his comeback a few years ago, he turns to his strength of modal post bop on this album featuring Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. Strength is really the operative term on this album, the music is deep and rich with strong deeply articulated soloing and ensemble passages. Lawrence is powerfully influenced by John Coltrane (who isn't?) and that comes through in his playing, especially on the ballad "Say It Over Again" where the lyricism and subtlety of his soloing recalls Coltrane's performance from the Ballads LP. Lawrence builds potent solos on the uptempo numbers as well, he has a deep and slightly raspy tone on tenor this is quite appealing, especially when used at speed like on "Starting Point" where he weaves through a deep thicket of piano, bass and drums while building to potent squalls of saxophone. Other impressive uptempo performances include Tyner's "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" which features appropriately muscular playing from the rhythm section laying the foundation for punchy trumpet and very strong swirling and swaying saxophone. Strong saxophone with a modal feel is the anchor of "Mystic Journey," playing fast and loose over this piano, bass and drums. I guess the knock on this album if there is one is that it is quite derivative of the music that McCoy Tyner made in the 1970's like the potent live albums Atlantis and Enlightenment. Lawrence was at the center of those bands, making jazz that was fiercely compelling without ever being quite "free." But since I really liked those albums I think this one is quite worthwhile as well. This is a veteran band playing strong, deep modern jazz that is powerful and supple. Mystic Journey - amazon.com

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Book review: Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith

Wake Up Dead: A Thriller Wake Up Dead: A Thriller by Roger Smith


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After reading about the renaissance in South African crime fiction in Library Journal and Booklist, I decided to take a look at this book. Blurbed by one of my favorite authors, Ken Bruen, as "unrelenting noir" it seemed like a good place to start. Beginning with a carjacking and a murder and building to a horror-show of atrocities, this story certainly isn't for the weak of stomach. Billy Afrika, a mixed race former mercenary and cop is the pivotal character around which a wild cast of characters turns: Piper, the homicidal maniac who wants nothing more than to be reunited with his jailhouse "wife" Disco, while Ernie Maggot (great name!) the feeble minded but honest cop tries to see how all of the murder and mayhem is linked together with the burgeoning drug trade. Add to that Roxy, the American former model with a score to settle and The Cannibal with his Ukrainian whore (seriously!) and you've got a real rogue's gallery. Bruen's blurb really sums it up, this is pitch black crime noir with a body count to rival a James Ellroy novel and some really cringe inducing scenes. If you can stand the violence and sadism though, Smith tells a crackling take of post apartheid South Africa, where racial tensions still run roughshod and crime and brutal punishment are never far away. Imagine A Clockwork Orange mixed with The Wire and Oz, set in South Africa and you have some idea of what to expect.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Paul Dunmall and Chris Corsano - Identical Sunsets (ESP Disk, 2010)

British saxophonist (doubling here on border pipes) Paul Dunmall and American drummer Chris Corsano combine for an intense and high spirited duet album, most appropriate for the newly reactivated ESP label which is famous for free jazz albums by the likes of Albert Ayler and Sonny Simmons. A few jazz musicians (notably Rufus Harley) have doubled on bagpipes, but Dunmall is the first I've heard on the Scottish border pipes, which he plays on the opening performance, "Identical Sunsets." The pipes have a cool sound that is raw and unusual, sounding nasal and pinched, swirling and hypnotic. Accompanied by droning percussion, this gives the whole piece an unrefined and exotic sound. He moves back to tenor saxophone for the remainder of the album, opening the lengthy "Living Proof" with strong fast paced free improvisation. The deep tenor and muscular drumming recall the John Coltrane - Rashied Ali classic album Interstellar Space. Throughout the seventeen minute performance the two musicians slow the tempo and then speed it back up creating an elastic dynamism that is very exciting. Corasno deftly switches between brushes and drumsticks and Dumnall rotates between strong bleating honks and nimble short bursts of notes. The music segues directly into "Better Get Another Lighthouse" with a nimble and richly textured drum solo. Strong tenor saxophone peels out, wild and exciting with deep guttural squalls of tenor over fast drumming building to a very exciting finish of high intensity music. "Out of Sight" starts slowly with light saxophone squeaks and gently percussion, building speed and strength to a deep and potent conclusion. This was a rousing and exciting album with a great deal of dynamic depth. Both musicians lock in well together supporting and encouraging each other to make exciting and passionate music. Identical Sunsets - amazon.com

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth - Deluxe (Clean Feed, 2010)

Bassist Chris Lightcap brings together a heavy hitting modern jazz band called Bigmouth featuring Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone, Andrew D'Angelo alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on keyboards and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The band gets a really nice and unique sound with horns harmonizing together on some tracks and playing against each other on others. Taborn uses Fender Rhodes electric piano to excellent effect building different shadings and textures that add atmosphere to the music. "Platform" has a cool electric piano opening with a multi-horn melody. Graceful saxophone builds up to a raw toned tenor solo. "Silvertone" has open bass and drums and horns building a slightly melancholy feel. A saxophone builds to an aching and emotional solo before the rest of the horns join and build to an exciting finish. "Year of the Rooster" slows to a mellow mysterious feel, making the music moody and shimmering like light diffused through early morning mist. Taborn shifts to acoustic piano abetted by thick bass on "The Clutch" laying the groundwork for intricate horn soloing. Medium tempo harmonizing saxophones usher in "Two Face" bobbing and weaving through the music before building to an energetic and freer conclusion. "Deluxe Version" has an intricate improvisation featuring a subtle, shaded electric piano solo. Cool sounding saxophones riff hard and strong creating a propulsive swing feel. "Fuzz" wraps things up in a potent fashion with strong bass and drums, and the saxophones spewing notes in an energetic fashion. This was a very well done disc and is easily recommended, the band makes for a interesting sound world and the compositions and improvisations are consistently compelling. Deluxe - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman - Dual Identity (Clean Feed, 2010)

Both Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman have unique conceptions of saxophone playing and improvisation that draws on linguistics, science and mathematics in addition to the more traditional blues, bop and ballads. These ideas expand the options that the group has and makes for a fresh and exciting sound. Joining them on this live recording are Liberty Ellman on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums. "The General" and "Foster Brothers" lead off the album and mark something of a statement of purpose with fast paced and strong saxophones twirling like a helix, developing into a new modern jazz form of DNA. "SMS" is slow and moody improvisation with a dark toned guitar solo and ominous probing bass and drums. Pinched alto swirls are added, picking up speed to form a fast improvised performance. "Post Modern Pharaohs" is one of the highlights of the album, a fast and very dexterous improvisation with saxophones bouncing and gliding, prodded on by rapid and agile drumming. Ripe altos tear at the fabric of the music in a very exciting fashion. "Extensions of Extensions of" opens with a strong and supple drum solo, before making way for accelerated improvised alto shredding over a guitar based foundation. The music builds to dueling altos, then makes way for a guitar feature, spreading fast and sharp shards of music like broken glass winking in the light. "Katchu" slows the pace down focusing on long tones of saxophone accented by cymbals. The horns probe space and time, stretching and kneading the music at will while Ellman's guitar prods and probes the opening. "Rudreshm" starts out slow and stately and then gradually ramps up to a potent alto led performance. "1010" has a deep and elastic bass solo before the rest of the band returns speeding up to an energetic collective improvisation. "Dual Identities" finishes up the album with a coda for two saxes swirling like aerial acrobats. This was a very exciting live album that captured a dynamic band in full flight. The music covers a wide range of territory and made for compelling listening. The co-leaders have combined their unique approaches to jazz and use this to make a conceptual leap into exploring unexpected sonic territory. Dual Identity - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Interesting Links

Jazz saxophonist Ellery Eskelin has started a new blog, filled with interesting commentary, like his thoughts about musicians who pass under the radar:
"I regret that the the history of jazz does not do better service to local scenes and players who while not well known outside of their hometowns played a great role in the development of the music. Often we read interviews with one or another of the greats who will reference a name or two of someone who greatly influenced them. Often that player was someone who did not record much if at all and not much is usually found out beyond these informal anecdotes."
Jazz journalist Peter Hum writes a very thoughtful essay about the internecine sniping that still plagues the jazz scene:
"Yes, we all resort to stylistic classifications -- despite their shortcomings -- because they are part of the unavoidable shorthand at our disposal when it comes to describing music. However, the arguments begin when jazz-lovers (and I use that term broadly) make blanket decisions about music based on stylistic and ideological considerations."
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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Bruce Barth and Steve Wilson - Home (We Always Swing, 2010)

This is a lyrical and spacious collaboration between pianist Bruce Barth and alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson. The music is a mix of Barth original compositions and well known standards recorded live before a sympathetic audience. The sound is very close and intimate with the musicians sculpting the empty space and silence around them. Fast paced tracks show the musicians at their best, the opening "All Through the Night" spools out into a very lengthy investigation of the standard, with Wilson's tart alto and Barth's full bodied pianism making the most of the open ended format. Bud Powell's bebop anthem "Wail" was an excellent performance, taken at a very fast pace and showing the agility and imagination of the duo, they move through the bebop chestnut with a great deal of energy, injecting some much needed energy into the proceedings. "The Ways of the West" has Wilson switching to soprano saxophone and swirling buoyantly above Barth's solid and earthy comping. "Keep It Moving" has some jaunty almost stride like piano, before Wilson glides back in with fluid and graceful saxophone taken at an easy going medium tempo. "L.C." slows things down to a gentle ballad tempo, with some soft and billowing soprano gliding around spacious piano chords in a very patient performance. "Blues Interruptus" has a slow grooving, slightly funky feel to it, picking up to a strong mid-tempo performance. Recorded live before an appreciative crowd in Columbia, Missouri this is a very solid performance of modern mainstream jazz, the musicians are patient and thoughtful and make for very compassionate partners.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Michael Musillami - Old Tea (Playscape, 2010)

A very interesting and singular modern jazz guitarist, Michael Musillami is also a bandleader and record label owner. This new album for his Playscape label is a stripped down trio date with Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums. Consisting of eleven original compositions, the music channels a variety of rhythms and moods and is consistently engaging. The haunting and spare "Introduction" opens the album with probing guitar accompanied by lightly bowed bass and washes of cymbals. "Old Tea" is an intricate trio improvisation, with Schuller starting the performance playing brushes and switching to drumsticks as the performance picks up pace, becoming very emotional with strong guitar and bass. The group keeps the pace rapid on "Shiner at Rocky's" with Musillami getting a nice tone from his instrument and really setting out his own voice and personality. Drums and guitar trade quick passages before making way for a think bass interlude. Schuller's short drum feature "The Binary Smirk" introduces one of the highlights of the session "King Alok" which has some fast and potent (almost rockish) guitar and drums. Bass and drums lock in well to support a grinding guitar conclusion. "Evy-Boy" slows the tempo down and features well paced guitar that has a graceful and mysterious feel, keeping the music gentle and spacious. The music on this album was dedicated to Musillami's son, who passed away early last year, and it is a fine tribute, running the gamut of emotions in music from joy to pain in a thoughtful and compassionate manner. Old Tea - amazon.com

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Keefe Jackson Quartet - Seeing You See (Clean Feed, 2010)

Wide open and blustery jazz that struts across this ten track disc featuring Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Roebke on bass and Nori Tanaka on drums. "Maker" opens the disc at a medium tempo with the horns improvising together before Jackson breaks out and develops a tenor solo with hints of Albert Ayler before giving way to brash and confident trombone. Bishop takes center stage on "If You Were" playing raw and and fast with slurred accents. Elastic bass and drums make for a wide canvas for the horn players to use to their advantage. Fast, sputtering trombone and a storming free jazz saxophone solo anchor the exciting "Word Made Fresh." Uptempo and fiery, "Eff-Time" features the band at their strongest, pushing the music to a fast, raw and electric conclusion. The musicians take the music on a more abstract journey on the tracks "Sense Then" and "Close" as the music stakes out open territory opening and building to slow soundscapes, using minimalist and spare playing, building a Zen like feel. "How-a-Low" has Jackson switching to bass clarinet and probing the slow and atmospheric end of the music, giving the music a spare and wide open feel accented by light trombone smears. This exciting and fresh album is a fine example of the creative jazz coming out of Chicago, and bodes well for the future of exploratory jazz in that city. Seeing You See - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

David Binney - Aliso (Criss Cross, 2010)

Alto saxophonist David Binney is a vibrant force on the modern mainstream jazz scene releasing many albums as a sideman and a leader, running his own label and recording regularly for the Dutch label Criss Cross. He is joined on this album by Jacob Sacks or John Escreet on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Wayne Krantz on guitar and Dan Weiss on drums. The music is a nice mix of originals and modern jazz covers. The album begins with a couple of original compositions, "Aliso," taken at a medium-fast tempo and featuring a snaking electric guitar solo and a saxophone feature that builds to fast flurries of notes. "A Day in Music" has a choppy opening, with strong saxophone swirling over rapid drums. Sparks of guitar illuminate the music over a strong backbeat. Among the covers a couple of Wayne Shorter compositions are featured, "Toy Tune" and particularly "Teru" which is a very nice ballad, where Binney takes his time and develops a slow and smoky solo. They keep the performance brief, emotional and pointed. Also featured are compositions by Sam Rivers and John Coltrane. "Fuscia Swing Song," the Rivers composition, is a potent and sharp performance, beginning with the urgent melody and developing washes of blazing free-bop saxophone. "Think of One" by Thelonious Monk is typically quirky and exploratory, with great bass and drum interplay, but the highlight may well be the lengthy exploration of the John Coltrane song "Africa." This is one of the lesser performed pieces of the Coltrane canon, and the band sets a dark and mysterious mood before breaking out into potent solos. Strong percussive piano and deep stark saxophone build to a fast and strong full band improvisation. It was really nice to hear contemporary jazz musicians explore some of the music from Africa/Brass, a Coltrane album that often falls under the radar. Aliso - amazon.com

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