Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone, 2011)

Putting together a big band in these dicey economic times is a tough proposition at best, but pianist and composer Orin Evans is bucking the odds with this large ensemble that features tight ensemble playing and fine soloing. It is a particularly large band and this allows them to play several distinct textures and work them into the bands overall sound. The ensemble meshes nicely like a finely woven garment and everybody is on the same page throughout the album. Recorded live in New York City and Philadelphia, the band plays with considerable panache, with a crisp brashness to the horns and subtle intricate playing from the rhythm section. Ralph Peterson’s “Act of War” shows the band honoring the big band tradition of the past, while bringing it at warp speed into the present. The arrangement is very effective and frames Rob Landham’s alto saxophone solo quite nicely. “Here’s the Captain” keeps the tempo moving briskly, with Evans in particular taking a rippling piano solo the fits in well with the overall motif of the music. The crowd responds the music heartily, urging the soloists on and providing hearty applause to the musicians. Several Orrin Evan originals conclude the album, and this is a good thing as he has a bold and thoughtful ear and writes some fine tunes including “Jena 6” a protest piece that retains the nature of social commentary while swinging quite nicely. There are precious few big bands left on the jazz scene, so this group is an exciting addition to their ranks. The overall musicianship is excellent and the music remains exciting and compelling throughout. Captain Black Big Band -

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Friday, April 29, 2011

I Stand Corrected

Thanks a lot to everyone who wrote in to remind me that Bill Frisell has recorded with Charlie Haden. The played together on a couple of excellent Ginger Baker LP's, Going Back Home and Falling Off the Roof.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bill Frisell - Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz, 2011)

Guitarist and composer Bill Frisell is a polymath who works in many different contexts, but like fellow traveller Charlie Haden (have they ever recorded together?) the traditional vernacular music of the United States, namely country music, bluegrasss, folk and blues lie closest to his heart. This album of mostly short vignettes was recorded with his 858 Quartet, which was originally convened for an excellent album of musical art interpretation. Without the visual stimuli, the group, consisting of Bill Frisell on guitar, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola; and Hank Roberts on cello, move into the realm of atmospheric set pieces, amounting to something like an Americana chamber quartet. The music is quiet and intimate, and for the most part rather somber, possibly reflecting the mood of the American heartland in tough economic times. The music almost seems sepia toned at times as if it had been beamed in from another era. The unique string band format does allow for a lot of textural potential that the band uses, whether Frisell glides over the top of a trio of strings or interacts in real time with the full band. Jenny Scheinman continues to impress both as a soloist and an ensemble player who is comfortable in nearly any situation. To be honest, although Bill Frisell is one of my favorite musicians, I found this album a bit of a slog to get through. Slow, deeply woven textures and tempos seem to blend into each other like dreams taken out of context. The musicianship is first rate to be sure, but great patience is requited to mine the riches within. Sign Of Life -

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

James Farm – James Farm (Nonesuch, 2011)

James Farm is a modern jazz collective consisting of Joshua Redman on saxophones, Aaron Parks on piano, Matt Penman on bass and Eric Harland on drums. They play a nicely atmospheric brand of modern jazz that is influenced by many different genres and experiences. It’s a true cooperative, with egos pushed to the side and everyone concentrating on the music. The music tends to build slowly and develop and morph as the improvising begins in full. The opening track “Coax” demonstrates this with slow building saxophone and drums making way for a piano interlude before Redman steps up with a confident solo building to a fine conclusion. “Chronos” continues in this vein with the quartet patiently building in an architectural manner, developing a faster and mysterious vein of music. They use the loud/soft dynamic to their advantage, building tension and then releasing it at the best possible moment. There are some nice uptempo workouts to be found here as well, like the spunky piano, bass and drums that open “Polliwog” making way for a well constructed saxophone solo over some excellent drumming. “I-10” continues the supple drumming with saxophone and piano probing and gaining speed with a post-modern rock influence on the bands improvisation. Their ballads show comfort with slow grooves and tempos, with the music played in a patient and non-rushed manner. “Bijou” develops a slow gospel-ish feel from the piano, while light and gentle saxophone move things along at a slow and easy pace. The same is true of “Unravel” where ballad saxophone and deep, thoughtful bass set the table for a flowing piano solo. Supergroups can sometimes be a dicey proposition, but this one works quite well, with the musicians playing with great focus and the music thoughtful and accessible throughout. James Farm -

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mathias Eick - Skala (ECM Records, 2011)

Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Mathias Eick performs in a number contexts, from the hard to classify fusion group Jaga Jazzist to his jazz recordings as a leader and a sideman for ECM Records. This album adds a pop sheen to an interesting group consisting of a wide variety of musicians and musical textures. Eick primarily plays the trumpet with a light and airy tone that adds an air of mystery to the opener “Skala.” Against a gentle soundscape backdrop, the group builds a cinematic improvisation based spacious piano chords. “Edinburgh” introduces a pulsing tempo with saxophone and trumpet playing lightly against a propulsive rhythm. Eick develops his solo well and gets stronger as the song progresses before returning to gentle interplay with piano. “June” is a performance filled with fog shrouded shadows as light piano and breathy trumpet add to the haunted feeling. Spare, icy trumpet introduces “Oslo” overdubbing for a very interesting effect before the band comes in with an interesting beat and piano riff. They work the dynamics well, even approaching funk at times, before dialing down to spare trumpet and piano. The slow beat and spare brass return on “Biermann” where the leader builds calmly to a majestic trumpet solo over compelling beats and comping. Strong piano vamp and probing trumpet mark “Day After” with a nice insistent beat allowing the musicians (including excellent saxophone) a stable platform to improvise over. This was an enjoyable album that was consistently interesting and challenging. Taking “fusion” in a new direction, Eick is developing a unique aesthetic for his music which serves him well. Skala -

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Quick blog round-up

Nice article from Paul Morley on bassist Charlie Haden and other matters.

Hank Stheamer gives a glowing review to the recent collaboration between Joshua Redman and The Bad Plus.

Destination Out gets funky when Don Cherry goes pop.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Terell Stafford - This Side of Strayhorn (MaxJazz, 2011)

The great composer, arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn’s compositions were a staple of the Duke Ellington songbook and remain a great inspiration to modern jazz musicians. Trumpeter Terell Stafford presents his view of some of the more well known compositions on this album where he is accompanied by Tim Warfield on tenor saxophone, Bruce Barth on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Dana Hall on drums. The musicians are comfortable at many different tempos like the the lilting and haunting “Day Dream”, which is taken as a duet for piano and trumpet. The dreamy landscape is articulated through patient and thoughtful improvising from both musicians. “Lana Turner” has a languid tempo, patient and un-hurried. Warfield is featured on a slow after-hours type saxophone solo that suits him well. One of Strayhorn’s most famous compositions, “Lush Life”, has slow and almost vaporous trumpet over a bed of piano chords, while brushes gently keep time. The music is efficient at brisk speed as well, one of the highlights of the album is “Johnny Come Lately”, which is re-made as storming hard-bop. The music on this performance has a driving beat from the rhythm section and a string of excellent solos from trumpet and saxophone. “Raincheck” has fast saxophone and trumpet trading passages before Stafford takes command for a bright and agile solo turn. Fast, nimble saxophone and rippling piano complete a fine performance. While some of the performances, especially the ballads, stretched on a bit too long (a little bit of judicious editing couldn’t have hurt) overall this was a solid nod to one of jazz’s finest composers. The musicians are very talented and play quite well, and fans of mainstream jazz should be please by this outing. This Side of Strayhorn -

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jared Gold - All Wrapped Up (Posi-Tone, 2011)

Organist Jared Gold builds a fine mainstream outing of hard-bop, blues and ballads on this album in conjunction with Ralph Bowen on tenor saxophone, Jim Rotondi on trumpet and flugelhorn and Quincy Davis on drums. They open the the record fast with a couple of fine cookers, “My Sentiments Exactly” and “Get Out of My Sandbox”, both of which feature fast grooving organ solos and deft bass pedal work, along with fleet work from the horns and drums. The full band as an organic unit is the key to “Midnight Snack”, with the horns raving strongly over organ and drums before Rotundi breaks out with a deep sputtering trumpet solo over bubbling organ and drums. Blues comes to the forefront on “Mama Said”, introduced by strutting horns, they set the stage for a deeply grooved tenor saxophone solo over a rock solid medium boil organ and drums table setting. Ballads are also a part of the album, with “Piece of Mine”, “Dark Blue” and “Saudades” slowing the tempos. These performances allow Gold to play in a more lush, full bodied style, where texture takes precedence over muscularity. The horns play with great patience and style and Davis keeps things moving admirably. This album is accessible and enjoyable for mainstream jazz or B-3 organ aficionados, the music is played with a thoughtful panache that suits the players and compositions well. All Wrapped Up -

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Ben Allison – Action-Refraction (Palmetto Records, 2011)

Bassist and composer Ben Allison has been at the forefront of the modern jazz scene as a band leader and the driving force behind the (now sadly defunct) Jazz Composers Collective and Herbie Nichols Project. Although widely respected as a composer, on this album he turns the tables, covering the music of other artists for the most part, and including aspects of progressive rock into his palette. He is accompanied on this album by Michael Blake on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Jason Lindner on synthesizer and piano and Rudy Royston on drums. Opening up with Thelonious Monk's “Jackie-ing” the group slowly develops an ominous melody around saxophone and electric guitar with rock-ish drums building to a strong full band climax. Strong drums and guitar lock in on “Missed” with Blake’s saxophone developing a personal sandpaper toned feel. The group develops a dynamic loud/soft dynamic (akin to Ahmad Jamal, or Nirvana for that matter) that comes to a hard conclusion. “Someday We’ll All Be Free” is spacious and open with electric piano over slow building saxophone and drums. Guitar undercurrents build under the saxophone in a subversive manner, before the band builds deeply around a repetitive saxophone riff. Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” is taken at a slow, mournful tempo with just guitar, bass and drums, while “St. Ida’s Vision” changes the game completely with slow bass and moody synthesizer creating a weird musical atmosphere. The unusual mix of bass, drums and synth hints at progressive rock as well as modern classical music. The Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” seems and odd choice for a jazz album, but it really works quite well as a feature for Michael Blake, whose unique tone and musical vision allow him to use the melodic material at hand to develop a strong solo statement. Royston shines too with excellent support on drums as the music alternates between funky and near-free. The band closes the album with the sole Allison original, “Broken,” which has Linder again return to synthesizer for arrangement and texture around a swirling guitar and drum vamp. Action-Refraction -

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Potsa Lotsa - The Complete Works of Eric Dolphy (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011)

Multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy was primarily known as a virtuoso musician and improviser during his brief life, playing with the likes of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and making records on his own. But as this two-disc set shows, he was quite a prolific composer as well. Potsa Lotsa is a collective band featuring Silke Eberhard on alto saxophone, Patrick Braun on tenor saxophone, Nikolaus Nueser on trumpet and Gerhard Gschlobl on trombone. On this album they play the entire composed output of Eric Dolphy, quite an ambitious task, but they succeed admirably. The music has a spacious feeling, moving through the compositions with reverence, yet re-arranging them to allow them to work with the drummerless instrumentation and letting the group add their own personal touch to the music. The unique instrumentation is interesting, horns blaring and smearing against the saxophones at times add an otherworldly air to the proceedings, with the lack of drums leading to spacial disorientation. Horns harmonize and then play against each other on “Red Planet,” weaving through open space and adding abstract smears of breath. Nimble swing, akin to an instrumental dance enlivens “Les,” while urgent saxophone propels the “Out There/Far Cry” medley, leading to a multi-horn collective improvisation. The band covers a wide variety of ground from the gently swinging “PL” to the jagged and Monk-ish “Straight Up and Down.” The last couple of tracks, “17 West” and “Inner Fly/Hat and Beard Reprise (Dedicated to E.D.)" pull out all of the stops, getting free and intense, yet ending the album in an earthly manner. This album works quite well and does not tire over the course of two full discs. It is a testament to both the enduring power of Eric Dolphy’s music and the talent of the group that chose to interpret it. Posta Lotsa - Complete Works of Eric Dolphy

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Adam Cruz - Milestone (Sunnyside, 2011)

After a two-decade career as an in-demand sideman as a drummer and percussionist, Adam Cruz, decided to make a record as a leader, recruiting a strong team including Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone, Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Steve Cardenas on guitar, Edward Simon on acoustic and electric piano, and Ben Street on bass. This is a lengthy album that covers a variety of moods, beginning with “Secret Life” that opens with drums and piano, while the horns harmonize at a medium tempo. Chris Potter takes a strong and deeply impressive tenor saxophone solo that builds to an explosive peak. “Emje” has a mysterious opening, with the saxophones harmonizing over a cool beat. The music has a feeling of a Wayne Shorter composition, and after a lengthy piano/bass/drums interlude a lighter sounding saxophone builds backed up by only piano. A strutting, happy groove and a guitar solo that pokes and probes introduces “The Gadfly” along with gliding saxophone, strong piano and a deep backbeat. The saxophones build in, trade phrases and then construct a wildly exciting conclusion. The music then downshifts to a couple of slower performances, “Resonances” and “Outer Reaches” which feature patient soloing and ensemble playing and haunting melodies. “Magic Ladder” and “Bird of Paradise” conclude the album. The latter featuring saxophones playing together over a thick rich bass pivot point and the former pulling in the full band at a medium tempo developing into a light open nearly free improvisation. The music works quite well throughout this album. It’s a powerhouse band, no doubt, with some of the hottest players on the mainstream scene. But egos are put aside in the service of the music, and the results are most worthy. Milestone -

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Dave Douglas Brass Ecstacy - United Front: Live at Newport (Greenleaf, 2011)

Trumpeter, cornetist and composer Dave Douglas is a man who wears many hats: leader of multiple bands, this one being called Brass Ecstasy consisting of Douglas on trumpet, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas on tuba and Nasheet Waits on drums. With the music recorded live, it has a festive and fun feel, at one hand harkening back to the brass bands that gave birth to jazz, and the modern jazz that Douglas always looks toward. “Spirit Moves” combines these two notions quite well (something many other musicians, including Wynton Marsalis have done with varying degrees of success) allowing spirituals to come into play with the brass and jazz improvisation to good effect. “Rava” and “Fats” are seemingly dedicated to the great Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava and silent film star Fatty Arbuckle respectively and transpose well into this setting allowing Douglas to take fluid and flowing solos while the band, especially the always excellent Waits, urges him on. "United Front" has a union song/protest feel like something Charlie Haden would have done with his Liberation Music Orchestra. The set ending “Bowie” is a fine tribute to Lester Bowie, who was part of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The AEOC’s credo was “from the ancient to the future” and that notion is something that guides this ensemble as well, as can be seen by the juxtaposition of the progressive “Bowie” with the band’s surprising take on the old country standard “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Brass Ecstacy at Newport -

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Books: In the Cut by Susanna Moore

In the CutIn the Cut by Susanna Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was on Ethan Iverson's list of the ten most shocking thrillers and it lives up to its billing as a very satisfying mystery/thriller. The protagonist is a female literature professor at an unnamed New York City college. When she meets one of her students at a bar, and inadvertently sees something she shouldn't, and sets off a chain of events that lead to a shocking conclusion. This was a well written book with nice elements of dark, dry wit, at least in the beginning before things start to get really heavy. It can be seen as quite literary, with the main character being a academic and linguist who "collects" words and slang, but the book remains accessible throughout and her dark introspective nature makes her a very compelling character. Moore writes very well, placing herself at the intersection of literature, police procedural and thriller, and she keeps the action moving along nicely. Just an FYI - there is a lot of very graphic, blush inducing (for me, anyway) sex in the novel and quite a bit of violence, so if that upsets you, you may wish to pass it by. But you'd be missing a finely crafted story that justly deserves the accolades Iverson gives it. In the Cut -

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Saturday, April 16, 2011


Ethan Iverson has a very cool post called Thrill Ride, where he writes about the most shocking thriller fiction he has read.

Iverson's post was more grist for my never ending "to be read" list. But it also got me thinking about my favorite thrillers (BTW, he was a little unimpressed by Don Winslow's Savages, but I loved it.)

OK, favorite thrillers (and I take a little latitude with "thrillers")

The Guards by Ken Bruen: This is one of the best and most unusual private eye novels you will read - sad, funny, scary, it is all of these things and more.

American Tabloid by James Ellroy: Ellroy takes the hard boiled crime fiction style that made his previous books L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia so successful and fits it effortlessly into a political thriller.

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson: What is so haunting about this novel is the way Thompson writes it, in the cold and calculating first person, presenting a man who has everybody fooled at first before things go horribly wrong.

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville: This was a searing novel of guilt and retribution, now that peace has come to Ireland at last, Fagan is tormented by the fact that he killed for nothing, and that he took the fall and bears the shame while those who ordered the killings are called peacemakers.

Rain Gods by James Lee Burke: Like most Burke novels, the description of the natural environment is key. The landscape and weather of the desert of west Texas is described in such clarity as to almost become a character in the story as well.

The Hunter by Richard Stark: Stark's style has the clipped tenacity of his noir forebears, but is already coming into it's own. Parker is a towering creation, the unstoppable criminal who makes women flush with desire and men shake with fear.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Matthew Shipp - Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear, 2011)

Over his career on the jazz scene, Matthew Shipp has patiently developed a unique piano and improvisation style. Apprenticing with the likes of saxophonists David S. Ware and Roscoe Mitchell has allowed him to develop a style of performing that draws on the length and breadth of the piano and all of the opportunities enclosed within. This album is a two-CD set, the first disc captures Shipp performing live with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums, while the second disc is a solo recital. The trio music is continuously interactive and exciting, leading off with "The New Fact," where trio led by Shipp's fast deep piano plumbs oceanic depths of music, then develops into rapid trio interplay weaving into patiently probing lengthy bass solo. "3 in 1" absorbs Bisio's bass solo for ominous dark themed tone, developing thoughtful elegiac music. Shipp's repetitive riff is hypnotic and leads to a drum solo filled with impressive rhythms. "Circular Temple" features probing piano and bowed bass with deep piano and light percussion shift to plucked bass with light piano. The dynamism of the piece is what makes it so fascinating, moving to a section of free trio action with the group deep and locked in. Duke Ellignton's "Take the A Train" is equally interesting, with Shipp playing and teasing the melody accented with percussive piano flurries. "Virgin Complex" ends the trio section with an excellent bowed bass feature with piano and percussion riding shotgun. Shipp's solo style shows his vision of the piano in stark relief and it is a format that clearly appeals to him with recent recitals from Thirsty Ear and a double disc set from Moscow that didn't receive the attention it deserved. Highlights of this disc include "4d" with its subtle and sombre solo tone. I love how he rumbles the bass notes, and makes use of the entire piano. "Fly Me to the Moon" demonstrates Shipp's Unique oblique approach to standards, probing and skittering, with repetitive bass notes sounding ominous. "Wholetone" is faster, rumbling deep and dark, sounding rich like strong like gourmet chocolate then turning light and tentative. The power of the piece comes from the juxtaposition of heavy with light, much like the recent work of Ahmad Jamal. This was an excellent set that is highly recommended to anyone looking for the state of the art in jazz piano. Shipp talks a tough game but he always backs it up, and he is truly at the top of his game here. Art of the Improviser -

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Odean Pope - Universal Sounds (Porter Records, 2011)

After moving to the great jazz city of Philadelphia as a young man, saxophonist Odean Pope embarked on a successful career as a sideman and a leader. Porter Records, also based in Philadelphia has been very supportive of Pope's work as of late re-issuing past records by the Catalyst collective and new records like this one that continue Pope's exploration of experimental jazz, past and present. He's got a fantastic band in tow, including Marshall Allen on alto saxophone and electronic wind instrument, Lee Smith on bass and drummers Craig McIver, Jim Hamilton and Warren Smith. "The Binder" wails extraordinarily on saxophone and drums with nearly unbearable intensity before breaking for a fast, subtle bass solo. A gentle percussion interlude builds pace with bells and other instruments. Saxophone and drums return in torrid gales like a force of nature. "She Smiles" is a subtle ballad with deep bass and chimes, carried along by caressing saxophone. A thick bass solo followed by weary saxophone. The fascinating and very unusual "Track" features Allen's electronic instrument along with percussion sounding like marimba or xylophone feeling appropriately Sun Ra mysterious and strange, as they explore the outer reaches of the musical cosmos. "Blues" brings everybody back to ground earth as the deep and strong two saxes harmonize the melody and one breaks out fast. Saxophone and drums dialogue are key here, building faster with a wide open sax/bass/drums and then subtle bass/perc groove. "Custody of the American (Bullshit Version)" opens with swirling sax & electronics. Vocal moans and bowed bass spoken word rage, Mingus like in intensity and indignation. Percussion and wordless vocal lead strong drums building almost frantic, concluding with twin saxes and torrid drumming. Universal Sounds -

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Billy Bang

Like many other jazz fans, I was saddened to hear of the passing of the great violinist and composer Billy Bang at the age of 63. Bang’s story was a harrowing and inspiring one, after surviving traumatic experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War, Bang returned to the States, and employed his violin in many jazz contexts from swinging tributes to Stuff Smith to experimental recordings as a leader and a member of the String Trio of New York. Bang was able to courageously recover from drug and alcohol addiction and confront his wartime demons with a duo of extraordinary albums, Vietnam the Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections, which cathartically allowed him to finally make peace with is experiences through music. Bang also recorded several albums for the Italian Soul Note label, which remain in print, and are all worthwhile. He was a musician with true heart and soul and will be missed.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Derek and the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Deluxe Edition) (Polydor 1970, 2011)

This staple of classic rock radio has been around so long it’s hard to believe that it is just reaching its fortieth birthday. Rolled out once again in a nice double disc package, complete with nice liners and photographs, this may not be the definitive version of this evergreen, but it will certainly foot the bill for all but the most diehard fan. Eric Clapton’s legendary reticence to assume the leadership position in a solo career and his unrequited love for the wife of George Harrison led him to form an extraordinary band, and drawing deeply on the blues and soul create one of the masterpieces of rock era. While the incendiary title cut and the accompanying piano coda get most of the classic rock airplay, there are other tracks on the LP that deserve considerable attention. Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” benefits from anguished vocals and superb backup to excellent effect, Clapton has rarely played the blues with more authority. He dips into the blues again with a jaunty version of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” and the anguished “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” The original compositions are hardly a letdown, with the blasting rockers “Got to Get Better in a Little While” and cathartic “Why Does Love Go to Be So Sad” demonstrates. Disc two of the set is a bit of a mixed bag of outtakes and live performances, but there are some real gems, especially Carl Perkins joining the group for an incendiary “Matchbox” from the Johnny Cash television program. Classic rock fans may look askance at having to buy this album once again, but rock ‘n’ roll fans who have yet to meet its acquaintance. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs [2 CD 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] -

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Monday, April 11, 2011

John Zorn - Interzone (Tzadik, 2010)

To call John Zorn a saxophonist and composer really limits the scope of his music His vision derives from many sources, from art to film, to in this case the literature of William S. Burroughs. The author became famous in the early to mid 1960’s for his technique of “cut up” storytelling; a process that Zorn borrowed for his own technique of card based musical improvisation. For this album, Zorn appropriates musical representations of several of Burroughs’ themes and develops an aural montage. The depth of the music is extraordinary, what at first seems like cathartic anarchy, develops into a controlled, yet risk taking musical performance. “Interzone 1” begins wild and skronky with allusions to Zorn’s Naked City work, building to what you would expect from a Zorn composition with a cacophonous splattered cut ‘n’ paste style. The epic “Interzone 2” is the lynchpin of the album; starting slow and reflective before giving way to a wild electric guitar and drums interlude, the music plays with dynamics throughout, throttling back to interludes of piano, organ and vibes to guitar fueled freakouts. There’s a section where the wah-wah guitar, played by Marc Ribot, fuses with electronics and percussion to build a righteous 1970’s Miles Davis dirty-funk vibe. “Interzone 3” concludes the album, opening with a slow, late night noir feel, before the music develops such a fast collage that it is hard to keep pace with the changes in tempo and instrumentation. This is music that is very difficult to describe, and must truly be influenced to be fully appreciated. Drawing on art, literature, music and improvisation, Zorn has developed a unique statement unlike anything else in contemporary music. Interzone -

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Books: Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccrilli

Every Shallow CutEvery Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark, dark read for our dark times. The narrator of this novella has lost it all, his house, his bank accounts, his wife, and is slowly losing his mind. All he has left is his dog Churchill, whatever possessions he can hock at the local pawnshop and his car. Headed east from Denver to Long Island and his brother's home, what we get is something akin to Travels With Charley in reverse. As he travels the country, stuck in a near biblical flood subsisting on junk food, his mind continues to gnaw at him replaying all of the failures and perceived mistakes he has made from the course of his life. Arriving at his destination, armed with a pistol for some unknown reason he can't quite fathom, he is taken in by both his brother and a psychiatrist friend who both realize how precarious his grip on sanity really is. Spurned by a former girlfriend and enraged by the climactic argument with his brother, he takes to the road once more with his gun, his dog and his rage...

How many times have situations like this played out during our current economic meltdown? While companies like GE are allowed to pay no taxes and automobile companies and banks are continuously bailed out, the small man, like the protagonist of this novel is left to suffer until the inevitable breakdown occurs. This book reminded me greatly of Donald Westlake's classic novel "The Axe" where a similar downturn in fortunes leads to a homicidal rage. While this is not nearly as "fun" as some of Piccrilli's other stories, it may be his most profound, and deserves to be read by anyone in possession of a heart or a soul. Every Shallow Cut -

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Brian Lynch - Unsung Heroes Vol. 1 (Hollistic MusicWorks, 2011)

Paying homage to the unheralded masters of the jazz trumpet is a natural project for trumpeter and flugelhornist Bryan Lynch, who has been steeped in the hard-bop linage since serving and apprenticeship in the Horace Silver band in the 1980’s. He is accompanied by a medium sized unit including Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Alex Hoffman on tenor saxophone, Rob Schneiderman on piano, David Wong on bass, Pete Van Nostrand on drums and Vicente "Little Johnny" Rivero on congas. Moving through tempos ranging from ballads to burners and Latin jazz, the band cuts a fine swath through the material with solo and ensemble passages dispatched with great facility. The title hints that perhaps there will be more editions in this series and hard-bop fans are sure to hope so. Lynch has a wealth of material to draw upon and a talented band with which to make a lasting impression. Unsung Heroes -

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Inzinzac - Self-Titled (High Two, 2011)

Influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, free jazz and eastern European music, this Philadelphia based band is composed of Alban Bailly guitar, Dan Scofield on soprano & tenor saxophones and Eli Litwin drums. Combining strong improvisations with densely composed music, Inzinzac has a very strong and deep sound with electric guitar drawing from an intricate knowledge of jazz, ranging from the blustery bellow of Last Exit and Naked City through more composed nods to punk and metal. The music is continuously exciting, driven hard by the relentless drumming along with strong guitar and billowing rips of saxophone that anchor the ensemble. It’s not a continuous freakout, however, the band understands dynamics and wow to build insistently from near silence to a thrilling level of sound. There is an electric current of excitement running through the music that is communicated to the listener in a fun and engaging manner. Check this band out, they are another example of the highly fertile Philadelphia that seems to get lost under the glare of the New York City lights. Inzinzac -

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Books: Nightjack by Tom Piccrilli

NightjackNightjack by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tom Piccrilli creates another masterful blend of horror and crime fiction in this excellent novella that explores the themes of identity, loss and rage. When William Pacella's wife is killed in a restaurant fire set by the mob to collect insurance money, Pacella snaps and falls into Multiple Personality Disorder, with the leading character becoming the narrator Pace, and his other "selves" including a private investigator and Jack the Ripper himself. After Pace/Jack dispatch the mobsters involved in the fire, he voluntarily commits himself to a psychiatric facility where he undergoes radical treatment. Upon his mysterious release, he is joined by his lead psychiatrist and a group of former patients on a quest to to find out what happened to Cassandra, a mysterious woman present both at the fire and the institution, and in the process learn about their illnesses and quest for true identity. This was an extraordinary story, at times darkly funny, violent, and thoughtful. Piccrilli writes with great compassion about those suffering with mental illness and their trials are never treated lightly. This is a short novella (currently in ebook format) but it packs a powerful punch and is an excellent entry in Piccrilli's growing roster of impressive work. Nightjack -

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Sonic Liberation Front Meets Sunny Murray (High Two, 2011)

Drummer Sunny Murray is a legend in avant-garde jazz circles, performing with everyone from Albert Ayler to Cecil Taylor, as well as recording several sessions as a leader. An accidental phone call led him to get together with the Philadelphia based ensemble Sonic Liberation Front, and it was a fortuitous meeting for all concerned. This disc is split between two sessions, the first half from a studio meeting in 2008, and then the second half of the disc was recorded live in Philadelphia in 2002. Murray and a chorus of drummers and percussionists lock into a very free, yet totally accessible groove that allows them to form an ever shifting foundation under the horn soloists, while acting as soloists themselves, and as a pivot point around which the music revolves. Murray’s experience in ensemble playing really comes to the forefront, the drums and percussion never dominate the proceedings, but yet they are the critical voice, dictating the action and the ebb and flow of the music like the talking drums of Africa. SLF drummer Kevin Diehl writes that he was looking for a Native American sense of drumming as well as an African-American one, and that is well borne out with the the group drumming and various percussion instruments employed throughout the album. In one of the leadoff chapters in the new book The Information by James Gleick, he writes about the incredible amount of information that can be contained by African talking drums, and while that is not necessarily what the musicians are aiming for here, the concept remains similar as torrent of data steams from the drums and percussion. The group blends Afro-Cuban rhythms with strong potent free jazz on “Cosa de Grupo” and “Ochun Libre,” and the live tracks “Some Other Times” and “Nomingo” develop into powerful releases of pure energy. This was a very exciting album that has a palpable sense of energy running through it the entire way. Drawing on the limitless potential of free jazz and adding musical influences from other cultures, this album creates a unique statement that on no account be missed. Sonic Liberation Front Meets Sunny Murray -

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

T-Model Ford and Gravelroad - Taledragger (Alive Records, 2011)

One of the last of the old - time bluesmen, T-Model Ford’s life would make a great film or book, filled with stories both apocryphal and true. Hooking up the much younger band Gravelroad, he has injected fresh energy into his music and has continued to tour and record despite health problems. All of the pieces fit well on this album, with Ford and the band developing a hypnotic groove, putting their own spin on original material and some fresh takes on blues standards. The studio applies some pretty massive reverb to Ford’s voice, supporting it and giving it something of an old-testament prophet quality (although I’m not sure how many prophets of old sang about big legged women shakin’ it!) Flourishes like saxophone and organ develop the deep drone and groove of the music, and the wah-wah guitar effects on the standard “How Many More Years” betray the influence of the blues records made on the Fat Possum label in the 1990’s. Howlin’ Wolf in the main influence on this album with many of the songs associated with the great man covered. “I Wore My Body for So Long” is a thinly veiled re-make of “44 Blues” with with Ford’s Wolf-like growl and fine playing from the band it works really well. “Big Legged Women” is just a flat out juke joint boogie and one of the most enjoyable pieces on the album, which wraps up with a stripped down version of another Wolf associated piece, “Little Red Rooster." Taledragger -

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Plug for a good cause

My friend, saxophonist Brian Patneaude, is raising money to record his next album. He has started a web site through Kickstarter, where people can support the project and get updates on his progress. Please consider supporting him in this worthwhile endeavor.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Ralph Bowen - Power Play (Posi-Tone, 2011)

Saxophonist Ralph Bowen has carved out a fine niche for himself on the mainstream jazz scene as an educator at Rutgers University, and as a recording artist (BTW, back when the Library where I work had money I actually booked him for a concert!) This is a fine mainstream jazz hard-bop recording where Bowen is performing with Orrin Evans on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Donald Edwards on drums. They open the album with “K.D.’s Blues” which has a nice mid-tempo in the classical jazz mode. The song has swinging fast elastic bass and piano keep the proceedings moving briskly. Pianist Evans gives a vaguely classical opening to “Drumheller Valley” before strong insistent saxophone joins the fray. But this track is really a feature for Evans and he responds admirably. Strong and swinging saxophone builds to a fast and complex solo on “Two-Line Pass” with insistent percussive support from piano and drums. ‘My One And Only Love” is taken at a lush ballad tempo, with Bowen laying back and caressing the melody in a nice musical statement that is patiently stated and never rushed. “The Good Shepherd” was the highlight of the album for me with strong and muscular piano recalling McCoy Tyner during his tenure with John Coltrane or his great early 1970’s albums for Milestone. Bowen responds with vivacious saxophone over strong deep bass and inspired drumming. After that headlong rush, the band slows things back down for “Bella Firenze” taken at a swinging medium pace. Bowen builds things slowly to a complex solo anchored in bebop constructed architecturally. Meat and potatoes mainstream jazz is the order of the day here, and mainstream jazz fans should be quite satisfied by this offering. Power Play -

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