Monday, January 31, 2011

Jamaaladeen Tacuma - For the Love of Ornette (Jam All Productions, 2010)

Jamaaladeen Tacuma is an underrated electric bassist who came up playing the unique harmolodic music of legendary saxophonist Ornette Coleman. On this album, he pays tribute to Coleman's influence with a set of wonderfully invigorating original music that plugs into the electric music Coleman created with his Prime Time band. Starting off with a touching spoken dedication to Coleman, the music then moves into a very fast improvisation which pulls off the great coup of having the master himself as a guest soloist on a few tracks. Joining Tacuma and Coleman are Tony Kofi on tenor saxophone, Wolfgang Puschnig on flute, Yoichi Uzeki on piano, Justin Faulkner on drums, David “Fingers” Haynes on finger drums and Wadud Ahmad on spoken word. The opening track "Journey" sets the tone for the music to follow with a scalding collective improvisation that hews to the harmolodic ideal of "everybody solos, nobody solos" with the music developing in an empathatic nature. "Tacuma Song" was written by Coleman and is a starkly beautiful peice of music centered around the leaders nimble bass guitar. The album also includes two versions of the suite "Movement" which allow interlocking compositions and improvisations to give the musicians an opportunity to improvise at length in a structured, yet free environment. This was an excellent and every exciting album, fans of Coleman's music and free-funk in general will gain a lot of pleasure from listening to this challenging and thought provoking music. For the Love of Ornette - Jamaaladeen Tacuma.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Adam Pieronczyk - Komeda: The Innocent Sorcerer (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010)

Composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda was a legend in both jazz and film music, most well known for the Penguin crowned album Astigmatic and soundtrack work for several Roman Polanski movies. This album by talented tenor and soprano saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk takes a detailed look at eight Komeda compositions arranged by the leader for a band including Gary Thomas on tenor saxophone, Nelson Veras on guitar, Anthony Cox on bass and Lukasz Zyta on drums and percussion. The music has a wonderfully buoyant and light feel as if it could lift off into the stratosphere on the strength of the music and the compositions at any moment. The band works together very well with each member in service of the song rather than ego. Highlights of the album are the excellent guitar work and the unusual use of an old manual typewriter by Zyta on "Sleep Safe and Warm" which gives the music an unsettling and unusual air. "Crazy Girl," which the composer had dedicated to his wife is an exciting performance that allows the band members to stretch out both as a collective unit and in solo improvisation. Komeda composed many themes that are just beginning to be rediscovered by jazz musicians, hopefully this excellent and compelling album will pave the way for some more of his music to enter the repertoire of adventurous jazz musicians. Innocent Sorcerer -

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee - Hometown Blues (Mainstream, 1993)

Harmonica player Sonny Terry and guitarist Brownie McGhee formed one of the most enduring partnerships in the blues, lasting from before the second world war into the 1970's. Although their partnership had some ups and downs, they were certainly on an upswing when they recorded these sides for the Sittin' In With label during the years 1948-1952. Later re-released on the Mainstream label on compact disc and mp3 this compilation finds the duo playing a nice mix of electric R&B and acoustic duo tracks. They draw on traditional blues standards for the bulk of the material on this album, but with Terry's swooping harp and distinctive yodel and McGhee's deftly plucked guitar, they add a new spin on tracks like "Mean Old Frisco" and "Sittin' On Top of the World." After years of just knowing this partnership as an acoustic duo, it is fascinating to hear them play in an electric blues context with with addition of bass, drums and occasionally piano. It turns them into a rollicking little combo that could have held their own at any juke joint in post-war Chicago. This is a great introductory album for those who are interested in the duo as it presents them in a couple of different contexts and allows the listener to enjoy the full range of their talents. Definitely one to keep an eye out for. Hometown Blues -

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Champion Jack Dupree - Blues From the Gutter (Atlantic, 1958)

Blues singer and pianist lived a fascinating life (someone really should cobble together a biography) and this may be his best known LP. Cut with a wonderful band under perfect conditions for Atlantic, the music is a rare combination of fascinating and wry lyrics (about some pretty heavy topics) and just spot-on playing. He does cover the traditional blues themes of troubles with money and women on "Evil Woman" and "Bad Blood" but things go "way down in the alley" as B.B. King would say on songs that deal with the dark side of life. Addiction and its consequences are unflinchingly discussed on "Junker's Blues" and "Can't Kick the Habit" which are frank and non-nonsense in their descriptions of drug use and abuse. These songs go hand in hand with the well known blues classic "Goin' Down Slow" in which Dupree describes the narrator's descent in harrowing detail. He ends the album with a few well known traditional songs, the murder ballad "Frankie and Johnnie," taken at a jaunty pace despite the subject matter, and the classic American folkloric take of gambling gone wrong, "Stack-O-Lee." He invests these time worn tales with all of the integrity that he brings to his original material, and from start to finish this album is just a clinic on how to play the blues with a depth of feeling rarely matched. A classic not to be missed on any account. Blues From The Gutter -

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed, 2011)

One of the most exciting and innovative bands on the modern jazz scene, Mostly Other People Do the Killing is a jazz ensemble consisting of Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums. What makes the band so much fun to follow is the impish delight they take in making music, from the delightful spoof covers to wryly quoting famous jazz songs amidst their original compositions. But make no mistake, their music is taken seriously and played with a very high degree of competence. This double live album was recorded live in Portugal and marks their first appearance on a label other than Hot Cup. Filled with fun, infectious and utterly enjoyable music. They play Ornette-ish free bop with sly quotes of other music, like sneaking in "Night in Tunisia" amidst the massive 30+ "Blue Ball" which anchors the first disc and evolves like a suite with a wonderful sense of timing and balance. "Pen Argyl" features smoking hot collective improvisation with fire to burn. "Burning Well" showcases Evans on a scorching strong trumpet solo, building up a riotous energy between the instruments, with epic drumming and bass pulse prod the horns on to ever greater heights. Wonderful, almost telepathic interplay amongst the band members is a key component of the music. "Factoryville" built around a thick and dexterous bass solo. The trumpet and tenor saxophone intertwine nicely over funky backbeat, getting a feel akin to classic Jazz Messengers albums. There's a quieter interlude midway through for light trumpet, bass and bells. The music slowly picks up speed and intensity with a growing saxophone solo. "St. Mary’s" has strong up-tempo full band interplay, followed by a playful spacey droning interlude and light soft horn interplay, intricate and deep. Picks the pace back up slowly in a dynamic fashion. "Elliott Mills" wraps up this wonderful album with a fast paced funky fun coda. The Coimbra Concert - Clean Feed

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Short Takes:

Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza Band - Paraphrase (Yeah-Yeah, 2011) This is an interesting young quartet with a lineup of Blostein on alto saxophone, Sperrazza on drums, Jacob Garchick on trombone and Geoff Kraly on electric bass. The rather unique setting gets an interesting sound with the saxophone and trombone on the front line without piano or guitar to support them. Kraly's electric bass does that duty along with locking in with the drums to keep the beat moving. The uptempo tracks like "One Hour" and "TJ" are quite effective with the bass ranging from from rhythm to solo and back and the the horns swirling and swaying on the front line. The ballads explore open space with the concluding track "Let Your Arms Fall Down" using silence and space as a force to shape the instruments and improvisation. A promising album from an interesting group. Paraphrase -

John Lee Hooker Plays and Sings the Blues (MCA/Chess, 1961) This is a great short collection of the legendary blues guitarist and singer John Lee Hooker focusing on some of his earliest recordings from the early 50's. I used to have this on cassette back in the day and it was on heavy rotation in my first car. Hooker's driving heavily amped guitar and rhythmic foot stomping drive the music relentlessly forward. "Mad Man Blues" simply roars along in overdrive as the title might suggest with Hooker's guitar overloading the primitive recording equipment and and his voice darkly ominous throughout. "Me and My Telephone" sets up a great rhythm with foot tapping and guitar strumming, while "Worried Life Blues by Big Maceo gets deep in the heart of the blues. This album has been overshadowed by many more comprehensive collections, but can't be beat for a short, sharp blast of concentrated blues. Plays & Sings the Blues -

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Peter Hum - A Boy's Journey (Self-Released, 2010)

Keyboardist and composer Peter Hum leads a dual life as both a journalist and blogger and a jazz musician. His new album has a deep narrative sense, like a prose writer linking together a set of interconnected short stories. He is joined on this album by Kenji Omae on tenor saxophone, Nathan Cepelinski on alto and soprano saxophones, Alec Walkington on bass and Ted Warren on drums. All of the compositions are by the leader beginning with "Take the High Road" which has a sweet melody taken at a medium tempo. A couple of sections for saxophone with bass and drums and then saxophone with piano keep the music fresh and dynamic. Swinging around deeply entrenched bass, "New Toy" is fine straight ahead jazz with the the two saxophones harmonizing nicely. Hum switches to Fender Rhodes electric piano on "Big Lou" giving the music a lighter texture and with the addition of Cepelinski's soprano, the music has a Return to Forever feel. "Midway" is a slow, lush sounding ballad with the saxophones intertwining in a luxuriant manner. Electric piano builds back in on "Sojourner's Truth" over a stronger beat of splashy cymbals the rippling keyboards set the stage for a strong and powerful saxophone solo. The album concludes with a suite called "Three Wishes" that builds from an opening of spare bass and light piano to a strong full band improvisation featuring excellent saxophone playing. This was a very well done and enjoyable album of mainstream jazz. Hum and company investigate many different textures and moods of music and weave together a fine album in the process. Boy's Journey -

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gregg Allman - Low Country Blues (Rounder, 2011)

Organist, occasional guitarist and singer Gregg Allman has seen a fair amount of ups and down during his lengthy career, none more serious than the serious health problems that required a liver transplant last year. But Allman is nothing if not a survivor, and delving deeply into the blues he has recorded an excellent album that marks a hard won victory over adversity. He knows the blues well, both musically and personally and that really shows in the music, as he covers a wide range of music from the haunting version of Skip James' epochal "Devil Got My Woman" with its sinister overtones of mystery and fear to the playful version of Muddy Waters' "Can't Be Satisfied" featuring some buoyant slide guitar, and a sense of fun that borders on the giddy. Horns are added on a few tracks, and are particularly useful on the soul blues of Bobby Bland's "Blind Man" where they frame Allman's deeply emotional voice and add to the flavor of the music. This was a very fine and consistent album, Allman is in very good voice throughout and there is not hint of weakness or aftereffects of his health problems. This album is accessible to both rock and blues fans and even the purists should find it to be a worthwhile effort. Low Country Blues -

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mario Pavone - Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (Playscape, 2010)

Bassist Mario Pavone has been one of the leading lights of the New York creative music scene for many years now, whether as a leader or as a sideman in the likes of the sorely missed Thomas Chapin Trio. He's assembled an excellent band here with Tony Malaby tenor and soprano saxophone, Jimmy Greene on tenor saxophone, Dave Ballou on trumpet and cornet, Peter Madsen on piano, Gerald Cleaver on drums and Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet. Pavone's compositions give this music a strong and powerful Mingus like feel, with the colors of a little big band and the nimbleness of a smaller ensemble. Highlights of the album include the opening track "Continuing" which has a nice arrangement for the group, with a bass solo that allows the horns to build back in gradually and featuring a well paced trumpet solo. "East Arc" develops a medium-up swing feel with supple trumpet soloing over strong drumming. Tenor saxophone builds in over strong rhythm section accompaniment to excellent effect. The music develops even deeper on "Poles" with higher pitched saxophone and dynamic drumming. Horns roll on underneath supporting strong bass and drums, before opening up for piano, bass and drums. A strong, urgent theme ushers in "West of Crash" with powerful tenor saxophone swirling and billowing. Trumpet shears off the top with fast drumming in support. This was an energetic album full of music that is fresh, exciting and alive. Pavone's bass playing and his compositions are exemplary and deserve wider recognition on the modern jazz scene. Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po -

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder (Blue Note, 1964)

Like a hothouse orchid, trumpeter Lee Morgan reveled in the competitive Philadelphia jazz scene of the 1940’s and 50’s developing a prodigious talent that saw him hitting the road professionally at a mere eighteen years of age. Morgan’s career had some down points and an undeniably tragic end, but when he was on and in sympathetic company he stood shoulder to shoulder with Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Booker Little and the rest of the trumpeters that were evolving out of bebop and hard bop. While some of those players experimented with the freer forms of jazz, Morgan went the other way, retrenching himself in the blues and boogaloo that led up to this extraordinary album. Putting together an excellent band with bebop master Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Billy Higgins on drums and the irrepressible Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, they entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey on December 21, 1963 and cut a wonderful album that combines soul, R&B with Blue Note’s trademark hard-bop sound in a very successful manner. The bluesy title track would be forever associated with Morgan, even though Harris wrote it, but it is the sheer exuberance of the music and the sense of joy that it produces that makes it so effective. Bouncy and danceable yet clearly serious jazz, it was a combination of art and culture that Blue Note could only have dreamed of. The rest of the album may be overshadowed by that behemoth, but they needn’t be, there isn’t a bad note on the album. Henderson’s steely tenor is the centerpiece of the two takes of “Totem Pole” aided and abetted by Billy Higgins shimmering rhythm and Cranshaw’s rock solid bass. Harris stays behind a little bit but his comping keeps all the players on pace and focused and his solo spots are pithy and sterling. This album is one of Blue Note’s classics, coming at just the right time to attract fans who were interested in the burgeoning rock and soul scenes, and the music stands up just as well today. The Sidewinder -

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kermit Driscoll – Reveille

Bassist Kermit Driscoll has played in the band of the idiosyncratic guitarist Bill Frisell on many occasions, so it’s nice to hear them with him in the leadership position. Also joining them are the up and coming pianist Kris Davis and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. The music still retains the heartland vibe of a Frisell record, but the music is focused and song based, and with Davis adding enigmatic piano accents and thick bass leaving open space for the group to get a very interesting and fluid sound. “Chicken Reel” takes the Americana groove that has become the foundation of Frisell’s material and uses that for the foundation of a fun improvisation. While most of the compositions are originals, the inclusion of the rarely covered Miles Davis piece “Great Expectations” from the early 1970’s gives the band a chance to stretch on music with elements of funk and fusion. The music works very well, and although Frisell is the dominant soloist, one should not make the mistake that this is his record under another name. Driscoll’s compositions are well drawn vignettes that challenge the band to make unique and always interesting music, they cover a lot of ground from the folksy to the funky and should make the album appealing to a wide variety of music fans from both the jam-band and hard-core jazz camps. Reveille -

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Joe Lovano Us5 - Bird Songs (Blue Note, 2011)

Multi saxophonist Joe Lovano began his unique two drummer band Us5 a few years ago, releasing their first unsettled album on Blue Note last year. Touring and greater familiarity with each other has led the band to the music of Charlie Parker, not a tribute exactly, but an exploration of Parker themes brought into the present day. The band sounds tightly focused on this album, consisting of Lovano on saxophones and reed instruments, James Weidman on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela on drums and percussion. “Passport” opens the album with a medium/up tempo swing feel. The band alternates between a graceful swing and speeding bop phrases to give the music a dynamic feel. Parker’s “Donna Lee” is slowed down with the two drummers gently criss crossing. Lovano’s ballad saxophone patiently weaves a fine performance. The music further develops light and spritely on “Barbados” and strong and muscular on “Moose the Mooche” which builds a feeling of freedom with excellent interplay. “Lover Man” finds Lovano on soprano saxophone weaving and rippling around chatty percussion on a nicely paced performance. The fast and knotty melody of “Birdyard” is handled with great facility, and the leader solos on the double-soprano horn called aulochrome which has a fascinating pinched buzzing sound that is unusual and exotic. Teasing the familiar melody of “Ko Ko” Weidman lays out to offer a spacious open ended feel. The two drummers are the focus of “Dewey Square” getting a dexterous feature of their own before Spalding solos over piano accompaniment. The album is wrapped up with a lengthy version of “Yardbird Suite” which begins as a nicely developed ballad, building into a classy performance featuring fine piano and bass interludes. Joe Lovano has played in many different situations from big band to free trio, but it seems that bebop is the music that touches him the most. With this band of young, hungry musicians, he is able to explore the mysteries and subtleties of bebop and view the language of jazz with fresh eyes. Bird Songs -

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Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (OJC, 1956)

Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was beginning an awe inspiring burst of creativity when this album was recorded on June 22, 1956 in the company of Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Max Roach on drums. Developing some of the thematic material that he would continue to explore for the rest of his career, the album opens with the immortal “St. Thomas” one of the most immediately recognizable songs in jazz, with a calypso melody that imbeds itself in the ear and became one of Rollins’ trademark pieces. As beautiful as his saxophone playing is here, it is the drumming of Max Roach that really makes the performance, from his rolling introduction to the shifting and deeply rhythmic playing giving the music wide latitude. Ballads have always been a Rollins specialty and the performance of the standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” becomes a rapturous reading supported by Flanagan’s beautifully melodic playing. “Moriat,” otherwise known as “Mack the Knife” is another wonderful performance with very witty and wry saxophone playing and a full team effort from the rhythm section. Finishing with “Blue 7,” a composition and improvisation that has received a lot of attention from musicologists like Gunter Schuler is a fine ending to what is essentially a flawless album. There is a palpable sense of joy running through the music, as if Rollins has realized that he completed a major breakthrough, and was beginning one of the most legendary runs in the music’s history. Saxophone Colossus -

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dexter Gordon - Our Man In Paris (Blue Note, 1963)

When I bought this disc many years ago, the music manager of the now defunct Borders in Colonie, NY told me a story that for this record date Gordon had brought a number of complicated originals to the studio. Pianist Bud Powell was having none of it however, and in the end the album focused on well known popular and jazz standards. Whether this story was apocryphal or not, it was a wise decision. Gordon and Powell, along with Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums dig into the music and what results is one of Gordon’s finest albums. Gordon’s tone on the tenor saxophone is chiseled in granite and immediately recognizable, as is his penchant for weaving wry quotes from other songs into his solos. A couple of bebop chestnuts anchor the album, “Scrapple From The Apple” and “A Night in Tunisia” are played with tremendous facility by the band. Powell is lucid and playing with a lightning fast touch and Clarke drives from the rear relentlessly. But its Gordon’s show, and he spools out long ribbons of improvisation that are a joy to behold. Gordon was always a masterful ballad player and “Stairway to the Stars” presents him in full narrative mode, telling the story of the song through his instrument. Dexter Gordon made wonderful music throughout his long life, but his relatively short tenure in Blue Note in the early to mid 1960’s has always been a favorite period of his for me. As this excellent album shows, he was at the peak of his playing power and accompanied by talented colleagues at every step. Our Man in Paris -

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Monday, January 17, 2011

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (Impulse! 1965)

Saxophonist and composer John Coltrane's "humble offering to Him" has become one of the most revered albums in jazz and indeed all of American music. A deeply spiritual man who claimed to have experienced a religious epiphany that allowed him to cast aside alcohol and drugs and fully commit himself to a musical and spiritual quest that were becoming one and the same, Coltrane entered the studio with the other members of what would come to be called his "classic quartet" and recorded a four part suite that marked a milestone in his career. After this album, Coltrane would more fully embrace free jazz, continuing his explorations of inner and outer space freed from the boundaries of traditional jazz. This album features the intensity of the music to come, but tempers it with powerful compassion and strong sense of purpose. Part One "Acknowledgment" opens the album with a slow building and reverent statement of purpose, culminating with the chanting of the incantation "A Love Supreme... A Love Supreme..." building to a transcendent state. Part Two "Rseolution" has one of the most searing solos in the Coltrane canon, and his entrance in the beginning of the song is hair-raising in its emotional intensity. His saxophone cuts through like a beacon in the night, with Elvin Jones' rolling and storming percussion at his heels. Jones leads off Part Three "Persuance" with a beautiful drum solo, showing all of the rhythmic possibility of the music, then Coltrane comes in with another short solo that burns from within, before allowing McCoy Tyner a rippling and fleet fingered solo. Coltrane's re-entry is amazingly powerful and his interaction with Jones is like two forces of nature coming together. Garrison is granted a deeply grounded bass interlude that serves as a connecting piece between the two final movements of the suite. After the power and vision of the first three parts of the album, Part four "Psalm" represents the hard fought victory of Coltrane's spiritual and musical triumph. The music is slow and haunted, but possessed by a sense of grace and vision that few musicians have possessed. This is an album like few others, one that gives a sense of wonder and awe each time it is heard, no matter how many times it is played. All four musicians achieved perfection on that have very rarely been approached in music, but it was a singular triumph for John Coltrane in the melding of the spiritual and the musical, the solo and the ensemble. Coltrane shown a bright light into the darkness of America, showing us a better way, away from war, greed and avarice. Much like the man we revere today (and every day) Martin Luther King, John Coltrane was on a mission of peace and enlightenment and we are all better for it. A Love Supreme -

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

John Carter - Bobby Bradford - Mosaic Select 36 (Mosaic, 2010)

Clarinetist and saxophonist John Carter and trumpeter Bobby Bradford co-led an excellent band in the 1970's that was steeped in the freebop of Ornette Coleman, but clearly taken in a unique and personal direction. This three disc compilation brings together the albums that Carter and Bradford recorded for Revelation Records, Seeking and Secrets, along with unreleased material including a fascinating duo performance. Seeking is a quartet album with the co-leaders joined by Tom Williamson on bass and Bruz Freeman on drums. he band called themselves The New Jazz Art Ensemble at the time and recorded this album in 1969. "In the Vineyard" and the "The Village Dancers" are very exciting uptempo performances, with the band improvising collectively very well, and Carter and Bradford soloing with great strength and power. "Karen On Monday" is a very interesting sound-painting, spacious and well paced and featuring a potent yet well controlled trumpet solo. John Carter breaks out the flute on the title track "Seeking" with the flute and bass coupling with light percussion to create an open and poignant performance. "Song For The Unsung"ends the album with an open ended mid-tempo performance. Secrets, recorded in 1971 and '72 adds an interesting new wrinkle with a pianist joining the group. This helps the group fill out their sound a little bit but does nothing to obstruct the implied freedom of their music. Bill Henderson's piano bounces brightly around shifting bass and drums on "Latin" and the strong full piano on "Woodmen Hall Blues" provides an excellent foundation leading to an open break for intertwined saxophone and trumpet. The unreleased material finds Carter and Bradford in the very studio where Stevie Wonder recorded his classic Innervisions album playing a series of duets that are haunting and beautiful. "And She Speaks" builds from silence to smears and vocalizations that are fascinating to listen to, while the remainder of the session shows the maturity and patience of the musicians using open space and near telepathic interplay to weave compelling improvisations. Jonathan Horwich and Bill Hardy did a great service to the jazz community recording this great band on a shoestring in the 1970's and Mosaic has done their usual excellent job in reissuing this valuable material by one of the great unsung bands of the 1970's with fine liner notes and packaging. Mosaic Select 36 -

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Friday, January 14, 2011

World Saxophone Quartet – Yes We Can (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011)

Entering their fourth decade as a progressive musical force, the WSQ present a very exciting live album recorded in March of 2009 in Berlin. Hamiet Bluiett on baritone sax and clarinet and David Murray on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet are the only holdovers from the original lineup, but they are more than ably joined by Kidd Jordan on alto saxophone and James Carter on tenor and soprano saxophones. High energy excitement is the order of the day here, inspired by the election of the first African-American president; the group lays it all on the line. Sounding particularly inspired on the leadoff track “Hattie Wall” which was composed by one of their founding members, Julius Hemphill, the group is almost delirious with joy. Playing saxophone lines that weave in and out like someone constructing a complex garment, the horns soar over Bluiett’s low down honks and percussive bleats. The energy remains high on “The River Niger” and “Yes We Can” (which incorporates a snippet of “Hail to the Chief” as a wry salute.) The music moves into a raw bluesy territory with the stark track “The God of Pain.” Murray’s beautiful composition “The Long March to Freedom” gets an in-depth and powerful exploration before the band returns to a reprise of the potent “Hattie Wall” to close out a decisive and dynamic performance. The musicians play with great authority throughout this very exciting album, showing that regardless of the passing of time and the changing of lineups, the WSQ remains a powerful force in jazz. Yes We Can -

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Big Walter Horton - Blues Harmonica Giant (JSP, 2010)

Big Walter “Shakey” Horton was an influential blues harmonica player and singer who recorded as a leader and a sideman for a variety of labels from the early 1950’s until the late 1970’s. Horton has a huge impact amongst blues players, but was rather reticent himself, preferring to play as a sideman rather than aggressively promote himself as a leader. This compilation has two discs that cover Horton’s early records under his own name from 1951 - 1956, primarily for the Sun Records label and then subsequently licensed to other labels. Horton’s harmonica playing is strong and supple throughout these two discs, and his vocals are not half had either (a couple of early sides were attributed to Mumbles, which Walter understandably didn’t care for.) Horton’s vocals come through particularly well on the mid-tempo “Hard Hearted Woman” and “Black Gal” which make for complete performances. But the most impressive performances are the harmonica based instrumentals like the bruising “Off the Wall” and a couple dedicated to his namesake “Little Walter’s Boogie” in multiple takes. Disc 2 picks up the remaining sides of the period along with some alternate and rehearsal takes. Disc 3 is the ringer in the batch, a bootleg quality live recording of Horton and harmonica protege Carey Bell performing in concert in either 1968 or 1973 depending on who you believe. Both men are in fine form, but the chronology is out of sync with the other discs and the poor recording quality make it a questionable inclusion. The collection also does not include Horton’s discs cut for the Chess Records label in the 1950’s apparently due to licensing concerns. The discographical data is adequate for the first two discs, but missing for the final disc. Neil Slaven’s liner notes are brief and leave considerable gaps in Walter Horton’s story. Overall, this is recommended with reservations for fans of the post war blues scene. The music itself for the most part is quite good, and Horton deserves more recognition for his role in developing the amplified harmonica, but the collection is a little bit patchy and unfocused and perhaps geared more toward hard collectors rather than general blues enthusiasts. Blues Harmonica Giant -

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Book Review: Plunder Squad by Richard Stark

Plunder Squad: A Parker NovelPlunder Squad: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel should be titled A Study In Frustration because whatever the ultimate thief and anti-hero Parker tries to set for a score falls through, leaving him angry, frustrated and low on funds. After a couple of jobs fall through due to an ambush and personal problems, Parker is forced to eliminate one of his rivals that he allowed to live during a rare moment of compassion in a previous novel. Finally Parker and colleagues settle on an ingenious heist of an armored car loaded with precious artwork that they believe they can sell through a fence. When the fence falls through, Parker is caught in a vicious trap, the money is lost and all Parker can do is hope to escape alive... After a mild thaw in his character in a few of the previous installments, the ice-cold and ruthless Parker we know and love is back with a vengeance. Gunning down rivals, disgustedly walking away from half-baked plans, Parker is the ultimate pro, always a blast to follow even when everything is going wrong. Plunder Squad -

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blog Links and commentary

Hank Shteamer from the Blog Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches had a very interesting commentary piece on his blog recently, entitled “I Am Not a Jazz Journalist.” After attending a meeting of the Jazz Journalists Association, the main crux of his concern was that jazz writers (and by proxy fans) are not listening to music from outside their favorite genre in order to expand their musical horizons.

(excerpt) “But the plain fact of the matter is, a fact that ought to be acknowledged by anyone who's being paid to think about music, there's a lot of REALLY GREAT STUFF going on in mainstream pop these days. I don't need to bore anyone with some paean to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but I think it needs to be stated that we writers-about-music who love jazz shouldn't make it our beeswax to learn about pop because it might make us more marketable, we should do so because if we don't, we're cutting ourselves off from some really wonderful and fascinating music.” (Emphasis in original)

He goes on to talk about his own experience as a music snob, and how he was able to escape from that rut, by taking different writing assignments that brough him out of his comfort zones and allowed him to appreciate new musical experiences. He ended this excellent essay with: (excerpt) “All I'm really saying here is: Let's not pigeonhole ourselves right out of the gate. Let's bond over our shared love of this music without building a fence to keep non-jazz-obsessives out, and to blind us to the possibilities of the pop world and beyond. The best jazz I heard in 2010—records by the Bad Plus, Chris Lightcap, Dan Weiss and others—didn't need some sort of rubber-stamp Seal of Jazz Approval to convey its message. It just sounded beautiful, in a way that didn't need to be explained.”

Howard Mandel had an interesting retort which defended the orthodoxy of the jazz criticism complex. Mandel states that members of the organization are far from a star chamber declaring what is and is not jazz, but a group where professional music journalists can commiserate about common experiences. (excerpt) “The JJA tries to identify itself first and foremost as journalists. The organization strives to uphold and instill professional journalistic standards and we are trying to develop new approaches to using new media for music journalism. Those approaches have value across music genres. We have never turned down anyone for membership due to what they cover. We assume every member is interested in good music, as they hear it.

What I particularly enjoyed about this dialogue of ideas is that it was conducted in a civilized and thoughtful way. With much opinion being bantered about with malice aforethought, it was nice to see opposing commentaries that did not devolve into name calling and mudslinging. That said, I think that Shteamer had some particularly interesting points about breaking out of the musical blinders we place around ourselves. This is something that I would really like to do to. I like to think that I have fairly eclectic tastes in jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll but I do get into ruts that lessen the enjoyment of music, so broadening my listening to other genres and areas. I joined the MOG music streaming music service which will allow me to listen to more albums the pop and rock genres that I’m not willing to buy at $16.00. I'm also a big fan of, Pandora and Slacker which help curious fans discover new music.

Problems (and opportunities) for Mandel’s JJA run along a different track. With print magazines and journals disappearing at an alarming rate, the role of a professional journalist, let alone for an arts correspondent is in jeopardy. To their credit, JJA has launched a number of new initiatives in order to attract readers and contributions from a diminishing pool of advertising dollars. I suspect that as traditional journalism declines, amateur or semi-pro writing will take it’s place. The preponderance of blog and twitter feeds dedicated to music is a valuable resource, especially in their coverage of smaller and fringe scenes, but does the question remains, can this replace a professional journalist and a talented editor? Time will tell. But in the meantime, this is kind of debate that jazz needs: courteous, passionate and thoughtful. Well done on both counts.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder (Stray Dog Music, 2011)

An international cast of characters makes up the group led by New York City based guitarist and composer Chris Parrello, and the group creates an enchanting amalgam of indie rock and modern jazz. Consisting of Karlie Bruce on vocals, Ian Young on saxophones, Kevin Thomas on bass, Aviv Cohen on drums, Rubin Kodheli on cello, Greg Glassman on trumpet and Rich Hinman on pedal steel, the unusual instrumentation allows the band to create varied and continually shifting sound-scapes. “Choices” opens the album with wordless vocals and strong guitar propelled by excellent drumming. “Anymore” features subtle lullaby like guitar playing, developing a gently emotional ballad, with soulful moans and haunting string accompaniment. “Open Out” has strong saxophone and breathy vocals over slinky groove, while slow moaning vocals (with lyrics) permeate “Broken Shell” with violin and acoustic guitar “In Spite of You” builds a guitar – bass – drums trio in a shimmering dynamic, with guitar building strong neon shards of notes through the charges musical atmosphere. “She Laughs” is a short interlude for haunting vocals and acoustic guitar. Vocals emoting plaintive and longing are featured on “Undone,” with a languorous groove that builds around the singing with subtle horns accenting. “My War” roars into indie rock territory with slashing guitar drums and guitar and strong evocative vocals. Soft cello and acoustic guitar provide a slow and graceful coda on the concluding “Welcome Home.” Pulling together the best aspects of modern rock and jazz the group has created unique and compelling album. Bruce’s vocals are excellent throughout, sounding at times like an adventurous Chan Marshall of Cat Power, and other times a Nico like chanteuse. Fine stuff, recommended to adventurous jazz and rock fans. Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder -

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Dirty Shirt Rock ‘n’ Roll (Shout Factory, 2010) The Explosion isn’t a blues band per se, but an indie/punk rock band steeped in the blues and other American roots music. This compilation covers their records released in the preceding ten years, a fascinating combination of snarling punk like the live version of “F--- S--- Up”which shows the dynamism of their live shows. Blasting rock ‘n’ roll is also the order of the day with the uptempo “Bellbottoms.”Blues legend R.L. Burnside recorded a couple of albums with the band (to the horror of purists) and from their collaboration we get a torrid version of “Shake ‘em On Down.” This is a interesting introduction to one of the most interesting and multi-faceted rock ‘n’ roll bands of the past few years. Their willingness to experiment with form and genre and their in your face punk ethos make this a gem. Dirty Shirt Rock 'N Roll -

The Greenhorns “****” (Third Man, 2010) The venerable rust belt garage rock band The Greenhorns are back with their first album in several years, with Jack White signing them to his label after poaching several band members for his projects Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. They continue to mine the same 60’s style rock and roll, but they have a twist on the template that makes the music their own. On this disc they add a little more overt soul and R&B to their repertoire, in songs like "Saying Goodbye" and "Better Off Without It" where they lock into a loping groove and ride it well. They can still bare their teeth when necessary like on the blasting rocker "Need Your Love" which has an early garage punk feel like something off a Garage Beat compilation. This was a solid album for fans of straight up rock ‘n’ roll or sixties revival music, perhaps not quite four stars, but worthwhile for the inclined. 4 Stars -

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Lee Shaw Trio - Live at Art Gallery Reutlingen (ARC, 2011)

I have fond memories of seeing pianist Lee Shaw many times when I was living in upstate New York, so I was excited to see that she was still playing well and releasing two albums this year, this one from a German jazz festival and another from Albany with her one time student John Medeski. On this album she is joined by her long-time trio mates, Rich Syracuse on bass and Jeff Siegel on drums, and two alternating saxophonists, Johannes Enders on tenor and Michael Lutzeier on baritone. Lee Shaw has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular and jazz standards, leads the album off with “Falling in Love Again” taken at an easy medium tempo swing. The trio shows the deep empathic knowledge of a group that has been playing together for years, and Enders’ deep subtle baritone blends in well. The fast paced “Music 4 Food” is a Lutzeier original with a complex improvisation that demonstrates the group’s facility at high speed. The classic standard “Body and Soul” gets a lustrous reading with beautiful breathy saxophone and wonderful piano accompaniment. Ballads are played well, with “Tears” a long, haunting piece for the full band, and “Lonely Town” This was a wonderfully swinging mainstream jazz disc, incorporating the jazz DNA of bop, ballads and swing in equal portions. Lee Shaw is a great treasure and this album is a joy to hear.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

AALY Trio + Ken Vandermark - Stumble (Wobbly Rail, 1998)

The Scandinavian AALY Trio of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Peter Janson on bass, and Kjell Nordeson on drums is joined by American milti-reedist Ken Vandermark for an album that veers away from the very loud and boisterous free jazz they are normally associated with into more subtle and nuanced terrain. It makes for an interesting departure, Gustafsson and Vandermark can be unfairly categorized as leather lunged blowers, although it takes a great deal of concentration on the part of the listener to stick with them when they play soft and subtle music. The opening “Stumble” sets the stage with a long improvisation working in a dreamlike fashion with smears of saxophone along with quietly rumbling bass and drums. “Umea” was the most interesting track on the album for me as they slowly develop into a strong driving free improvisation with the saxophones developing anguished wails of sound. Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che” is an interesting choice for a cover, giving Janson a long time to stretch out with an impressive bass solo to open the track before the performance develops into a long subtle improvisation. Fans of slowly developing atmospheric free jazz with be right at home here, while short attention fans like me might enjoy their album Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe which has a much more visceral and immediate impact. Stumble -

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Book Review: The Penguin Jazz Guide by Brian Morton

The Penguin Jazz GuideThe Penguin Jazz Guide by Brian Morton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After many iterations going back to the ancient Penguin Guide to Jazz on LP, Cassette and Compact Disc (written in Cuneiform script on clay tablets) the venerable guide has changed its format. Gone are the star ratings and the oft-argued about crowns that sparked so much discussion on the jazz world. The new guide exists in a chronological format, decade by decade, akin to the popular "1,001 things you need to hear" format. Starting with the earliest recordings of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band and then continuing through to modern albums for recent years, the book gives short reviews of each album along with discographical information about the performers involved. Readers of previous editions of the guide will notice that some reviews remain basically unchanged from previous editions while some have been slightly tweaked, while others get whole new reviews or expanded coverage. It's still a quirky piece of work (they love their trad jazz and European free) but I think it still remains a valuable resource for jazz fans. The new chronological format makes it easier to read straight through, coming off as something of an off the cuff history of jazz through recordings. It also works well as a straight reference work, with short biographies and capsule reviews, which will be helpful to the new listener and the curious. The Penguin Jazz Guide -

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Book review: Disciple of the Dog by R. Scott Bakker

Disciple of the DogDisciple of the Dog by R. Scott Bakker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disciple Manning is a private eye with a difference. He can't forget anything... literally, he has a complete photographic memory of all conversations and experiences that he has had. Manning is contacted by a family in distress, their daughter who had run away to join a New Age cult has gone missing and they hire Manning to find her. Manning is a fascinating character, far from the PI from central casting. Dope smoking, womanizing, but most of all he is a complete cynic, which leads to several witty (and occasionally laugh-out-loud) moments. Manning decamps to a rustic Pennsylvania town, where he meets to messianic cult leader along with the local law enforcement. Hooking up with a journalist, he attempts to solve the mystery of the missing girl. It's Bakker's creation of Manning and his hysterical cynicism that makes this book a winner. The dialogue is occasionally repetitive as he replays discussions in his mind after having them, but the pace keeps moving briskly to an unexpected conclusion. Hopefully there is enough enthusiasm for this quirky title for it to become a series. Disciple of the Dog -

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