Thursday, June 30, 2011

John Escreet – The Age We Live in (Mythology Records, 2011)

With each new release, keyboardist and composer John Escreet has become more adventurous in his outlook toward music. This is his most diverse album yet, hinting at modern fusion while remaining true to his post-bop roots. Performing with him is a stellar lineup including David Binney on alto saxophone and electronics, Wayne Krantz on guitar, Marcus Gilmore on drums, plus a few special guests. After a brief introductory statement, electronics and electric piano begin “The Domino Effect” which builds with the help of a scalding guitar solo, and an interesting section of saxophone and electronics. Funk is an element of a few of the compositions on this album, namely “Half Baked,” “Kickback” and “Stand Clear” which take the music in a fun and accessible direction, with some strutting horn work along with nimble electric piano weaving with guitar. The epic title song “The Age We Live In” develops a mysterious feel, with extra horns riffing behind Binney’s alto saxophone, then gradually adding electronics and guitar for a complex improvisation that accurately reflects the modern age. “A Day in Music” is a milder ballad featuring melodic saxophone and deeply textured electric piano. The sax solo builds patiently before handing off to guitar and building to a conclusion. Escreet’s acoustic piano chops are spotlighted on the short tracks “Hidden Beauty” and “As the Moon Disappears” which set up spare and at times spooky mix of electric and acoustic music. This was a taught and enjoyable album with consistently interesting writing and performing. Blending a diverse mix of influences, the group builds a formidable statement. The Age We Live In -

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dave Douglas - GPS Vol. 1, Rare Metals (Greenleaf, 2011)

Trumpeter, cornet player and composer Dave Douglas leads a myriad of bands that cover a lot of territory. This one, Brass Ecstasy, takes the ideas from brass bands and New Orleans bands of the past and moves the music into the present. Recorded in an informal manner, the music feels off the cuff, the sounds of musicians playing for themselves and having fun doing it. The personnel of the group is: Dave Douglas on trumpet, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas on tuba and Nasheet Waits on drums. "Town Hall" begins with uptempo fun horns riffing behind a pungent trumpet solo. There is a smooth unaccompanied break then the band returns to the melody, speeding to a fine conclusion. Bumping tuba and slinky brass open "Night Growl" with a charming parade style strut. Tuba or French horn develop a deep throaty response. The standard "Lush Life" is taken mid-tempo with trumpet and brushes patiently developing a quietly melancholy air. Tuba underpins other horns, making for a subtle and powerful performance. "Thread" features stuttering horns building momentum. With the other horns weaving mid-tempo pace to accompany a fiery trumpet solo. "Safeway" is a ballad with brushes and the horns developing a plangent setting, slowly building rich tones, culminating in strong trumpet over support brass. Yearning trumpet in a slightly mournful format ushers in "My Old Sign." The music builds to impressive full band section before slowing back down to a mellow ending. As a label owner, Douglas has the ability to release albums like this in the digital format as he pleases. But this was not on a whim, Rare Metals, is an excellent set from Brass Ecstasy band. Nothing to prove here, musicians having fun playing jazz. Greenleaf Portable Series, Volume 1: Rare Metals -

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Stefon Harris, David Sanchez and Christian Scott - Ninety Miles (Concord Picante, 2011)

Ninety Miles (the distance between the tip of Florida and the island of Cuba) is a collaborative album featuring David Sanchez on saxophones, Stefon Harris on vibraphone and marimba and Christian Scott on trumpet. Joining them are a range of Cuban musicians that make this quite a special and successful project. Jazz and the music of Cuba have a long history, dating back to the experiments of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo and even before that to Jelly Roll Morton’s notion of the “Spanish Tinge.” This album takes a modern approach, combining the fresh distinctive approach of the American headliners with the deep rhythmic sensibility of their Cuban counterparts. The music works really well throughout, the band is tight and the music flows like a deep river of sound. Highlights are many but include Harris’ composition “Black Action Figure” which was the title track of an earlier album of his. “Congo” and “Brown Belle Blues” develop complex percussive rhythms and fine playing from the front line. Harris can weave in and out of the drums and percussion, while Sanchez and Scott ride over them or punch through depending on the situation. The CD version of the album comes with a couple of short documentary films about the making of the album. Ninety Miles -

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Interesting Links

  • Ted Panken reprises a few interviews with saxophonist Von Freeman in the wake of Freeman being named an NEA Jazz Master.
  • Panken also presents an interesting article about the saxophonist Chris Potter.
  • Allaboutjazz interviews Ty Tyterman from the jazz/rock group Gutbucket.
  • AAJ also interviews saxophonist David Binney, concentrating on his two 2011 releases.
  • Fellow musician Jaleel Shaw interviews Mark Turner about his musical conception and favorite musicians.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

BB and C - The Veil (Cryptogramophone, 2011)

BB and C is a cooperative group consisting of alto saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Jim Black and guitarist Nels Cline. This music is taken from a from a live recording at made at The Stone in New York City. This was a very exciting and continuously engaging album to listen to, moving between avant-garde squalls of noise and abstract passages of sound sculpture. The trio is very well integrated, but Nels Cline sounds particularly inspired, on a busman’s holiday from the rock ‘n’ roll band Wilco where he also performs. The album opens with two extraordinary tracks, “Railroaded” and “Impairment Posse” which set the tone for the album with very strong and potent playing from all three instruments, with the full-frontal guitar and alto saxophone right up front and Black stoking the engine from behind. These performances hit hard with the best that “downtown” jazz and improvised music hast to offer. “Momento” and “Dawn of the Lawn” develop a little more slowly like a landscape painting evolving over time. The use of texture and dynamics comes to the forefront on these performances, as well as the patience to develop coherent improvisations at slower tempos. Things pick back up with “The Barbarella Syndrome,” possibly referring to the odd but enjoyable science fiction movie starring Jane Fonda. The song picks up on some of the weirdness of the film’s cinematography and soundtrack and channels them into a unique and compelling performance. After the atmospheric beauty of the title song “The Veil,” the group ends their set with a two part suite Called “Tiny Movement.” This brings everything together and touches on all of the diverse energy and dexterity that the group can muster and ends the performance to much deserved rousing applause. The Veil -

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Books: Dark Companion by Jim Nisbet

Dark CompanionDark Companion by Jim Nisbet

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short novel by progressive crime and noir author Nisbet is a strange mix of ideas that don't seem to cohere thoroughly, adding elements of science, science fiction and family drama and despite an interesting premise don't quite flow as well as they should. Main character B.J. Rolf is a chemical engineer, laid off by his mega-corporation after their latest round of Darwinian acquisition and downsizing. Left at home to brood, he compulsively does yard work and reads about astronomical phenomenon, especially neutron stars, while his faithful wife works and cooks, and his son attends university. When his wife leaves suddenly to scout out opportunities in Chicago, B.J. is pulled into the life of his neighbor, whom he previously considered a ne'er do well, but is forced to change his mind in a hurry as an incident of extraordinary violence upends his life completely and sends him on the run as a fugitive. Nisbet does show considerable imagination and sympathy with his characters, which are well drawn in the course of what is essentially three interlocked stories loosely held together by a few interlocking elements. But in the end, we are left with more questions than answers from this talented and enigmatic author. Dark Companion: A Novel -

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chris Byars - Lucky Strickes Again (Steeplechase, 2011)

Coming into the jazz world at the intersection of swing and bop, saxophonist Lucky Thompson was a well regarded performer in the 1950's and 60's before leaving the music business in the 1970's. One of his most well regarded albums was the Lucky Strikes album released on OJC in 1964. Inspired by Thompson's approach to music and aided by an excellent cast: Leader Chris Byars on tenor and soprano saxophones, Scott Wendholt on trumpet, John Mosca on trombone, Zaid Nesser on alto saxophone, Mark Lopeman on baritone saxophone, Ari Roland on bass and Stefan Schatz on drums, they play the music of the man himself in a well arranged little-big-band format that allows for the compositions to shine for themselves, but also gives the musicians to take their own unique approach during solo improvisations. "Munsoon" and "Fanfare" work well as uptempo vehicles, allowing for fine soloing and propulsion from the rhythm section. The group is able to throttle back for ballads as well, with "Could I Meet You Later" and "Notorious Love" receiving rapturous treatment. This is a solid well played album that will certainly appeal to fans of modern mainstream jazz and come as a welcome reminder of the talented Lucky Thompson. Lucky Strikes Again:

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Books: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

This was a wonderfully unusual detective story with several hard-boiled twists that make it uniquely appealing. Claire DeWitt, the main character, is a hard bitten private eye who came into the business via a mysterious book she discovered as a child. Using this book as her guide, and a lost friend as a guide star, she traveled to New Orleans to apprentice under the mysterious master detective known as Candice. DeWitt had not been back to New Orleans since Candice's death and the city's own near-death at the hands of Hurricane Katrina, but is lured to return by the promise of a payday from a man looking for news of his uncle, presumed lost in the storm. Returning to one's former home is never easy, and Claire is shocked by the state of the city in the wake of the natural disaster. Turning back layer upon layer of the story, she finds a tale that is much deeper and more sordid than she had previously imagined. Sara Gran is an excellent storyteller and in Claire DeWitt, she has created a masterstroke of a character (which will hopefully be continued in a series) and populates the city with a wild bunch of supporting characters from depressive social workers, to gun-toting gangbangers. Claire is about as far from Nancy Drew and Stephanie Plum as you can get, but if you are looking for a gritty and well written crime novel, this is one of the year's finest. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead -

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Matthew Shipp and Sabir Mateen - SaMa Live in Moscow (SoLyd, 2011)

If two men were ever born to perform together, pianist Matthew Shipp and saxophonist Sabir Mateen are those two. In this extraordinary duo performance, they expand on last year's excellent studio performance, SaMa, with a live performance which takes their improvised communication even closer to the edge. Mateen's tenor is strong and supple, honed to a razor's sharpness, and Shipp uses the entire keyboard, whether it's bombs of bass notes or rippling high register figures. They begin with a few shorter pieces including an excellent blues and solo piano feature before moving into the main event. A thirteen minute deconstruction of the standard "Yesterdays" is followed by the awesome twenty one minute improvisation "Inner Chambers" which shows both men in full flow, deeply plugged into the music, the Universe, and each other. In "Yesterdays" they deconstruct the standard, like an master mechanic might dismantle a fine sports car before re-tooling, giving it a tune up and taking it on the road for a full throttle test drive. "Inner Chambers" finds the duo exploring a complex labyrinth of sound that blurs the divide between free, melodic and pure sound. Like explorers plunging deep into the musical cosmos, they travel to places hitherto unimagined and returned unscathed for a quick encore and a round of rapturous applause from the audience.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Interesting Links

There is a petition up soliciting better pay for musicians at the upcoming Undead and Winter Jazz Festivals in New York City (NYT):
Winter / Undead Jazz Festival Musician Petition: We believe that as major critically acclaimed festivals drawing overflow crowds and international attention, the Undead and Winter Jazz Festivals have a responsibility to respect community standards of pay and other conditions. Therefore: we the undersigned artists who have played or been invited to play* the Winter Jazz or Undead Jazz festivals call on the promoters of these Festivals to meet with representatives of the Winter Undead Jazz Festivals musicians, and their bargaining representative, Associated Musicians of Greater NY Local 802 AFM, to engage in good faith negotiation on the terms and conditions for the future concert appearances we provide.
Ethan Iverson has an thought-provoking response as well as some other interesting jazz links:
If everybody knew well in advance that the "union" demanded $200 (a figure suggested by the petition) for approved, concert-level improvising musicians, then that would make every gig in town instantly more scarce and valuable. (Uh, maybe we should start with a $100 baseline, even that would be revolutionary.) Perhaps society will eventually realize that live performance is actually worth more than surfing the internet. If so, it would be good to begin experimenting with these ideas sooner rather than later.
A Blog Supreme wants to know what you're favorite albums are for the first half of 2011. I think I'd go with: David S. Ware - Planetary Unknown, Nicole Mitchell - Awakening, Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord - Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!, Wadada Leo Smith - Heart's Reflections, Matt LaVelle - Goodbye New York, Hello World, William Hooker w/ Thomas Chapin - Crossing Points, Matthew Shipp - Art of the Improviser, Inzinzac, John Surman - Flashpoint: NDR Workshop, Donny McCaslin - Perpetual Motion, WSQ - Yes We Can, Mostly Other People Do the Killing - The Coimbra Concert, and Miles Davis - Bitches Brew Live. How about you?

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Friday, June 17, 2011

David S. Ware - Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity, 2011)

There are few musicians quite as dedicated to their craft as saxophonist David S. Ware. Coming up on the loft scene, apprenticing with Cecil Taylor, driving a cab during the lean years, and surviving a kidney transplant, all of the ups and downs of his life go into the passion of his music. On this album, he is aided by an all-star group of free-jazz luminaries: William Parker on bass, Cooper-Moore on piano and former Albert Ayler sideman and brother of another drum great (Rashied) Muhammad Ali. Opening with a massive epic, "Passage Wadang" Ware's awesome tenor saxophone cuts like a laser, building a collective improvisation with big raindrops of piano splattering on the music's surface. Ware returns to the fray, getting wild and peaking with controlled shrieks. He holds a massive low note while the band swirls around him before the music ebbs to a spare and open conclusion. Reserved and haunted horn opens "Divination Unfathomable" before building to high pitched swirls of saxophone, developing faster, deeper, staring unflinchingly into the unknown. where all possibilities lie. Parker's bowed bass and Ali's nimble drumming accentuate the performance and propel it into the Cosmos. Parker is the key to "Ancestry Supplemental" with his massive tone setting the stage for fast and assured drumstrokes and a saxophone entry of extraordinary speed and power. Ware switches to sapranino saxophone for divination, which has a pinched Middle Eastern sound and developing a slow patient improvisation with help from Ali's nice brushwork. This was a really extraordinary album and is highly recommended. You can chart Ware's lineage in the depth and strength of the music, from a young devotee of Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler, to a loft scene veteran developing his own unique sound to an esteemed elder statesman and master improviser and instrumentalist, Davis S. Ware is one of a kind and every note is a treasure. Planetary Unknown -

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The New Gary Burton Quartet - Common Ground (Mack Avenue, 2011)

Vibraphonist Gary Burton has led or co-led a number of bands throughout his lengthy career, but he is particularly enthusiastic about this new group featuring guitar prodigy Julian Lange, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. The group achieves a light and nimble sound throughout the record focusing on melody and group interaction. This spry, dexterous interaction is on display with the first few compositions that are buoyant and agile, "Late Night Sunrise" and "Never the Same Way" feature a tight guitar and vibraphone sound that is lightweight but doesn't clash, developing a shimmering feel, that is also present on the fast paced tune "Did You Get It" which gives Lage a chance to strut his stuff, spiraling out waves of notes. There are a couple of ballad features, the Burton original "Was is So Long Ago?" written for Astor Piazolla, and the haunting "Last Snow." Both are slow and stately performances, they develop their melodic nature in a patient manner with crystalline vibes and rippling guitar. The only standard on the album is the oft recorded "My Funny Valentine" sporting a solo guitar introduction before the rest of the band falls in to the well known melody. They end with another ballad, Keith Jarrett's "In Your Quiet Place" whose tempo and use of silence suits the group well as they slowly develop their melodic improvisation. Common Ground -

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Recommended Reading

  • Alternative Takes has an interview with the always provocative Nicholas Payton.
  • Ethan Iverson conducts an epic interview with mystery master Lawrence Block.
  • Burning Ambulance interviews Matana Roberts.
  • George Colligan conducts a lengthy interview with drummer Ralph Peterson.
  • Ted Panken celebrates Chick Corea's 70th birthday, re-printing an interview from 2009.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day II (Songlines, 2011)

Percussionist and composer Harris Eisenstadt is one of the leading lights of the new jazz scene, leading and participating in several bands including this one that includes Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone, Chris Dingman on vibraphone and Eivind Opsvik on bass. They get a nimble quintet sound with some very nice tunes arranged well by Eisenstadt, beginning with “Cobble Hook” developing fast vibraphone and excellent bass, and engaging a fine saxophone solo to boot. “To Seventeen” and “Song For Owen” develop a gentle loping swing at a medium tempo with a fine trumpet solo on the latter. An interesting mysterious feeling is developed on “Now Longer,” sounding spare and open. The pace picks up with “To Eh” which introduces swinging horns and vibes to the equation and a great slurring trumpet solo. “To Be” has a medium tempo setting with saxophone and vibes mixing nicely, under deeply propulsive drumming from the leader. The group develops a nice dynamic fashion of improvising, picking up a fine section for bass and vibes. Particularly impressive is “To See/Tootie” which has a fast and strong open feel, developing dynamic tension through pinched trumpet, vibraphone and a fluid saxophone solo. Strong collective improvisation takes the tune out with excellent bass serving as the foundation. The languid “Judo With Tokyo Joe (For John Zorn)” wraps up the music with an Ellingtonian arrangement with languorous vibes developing in a slow and stately fashion. Canada Day II -

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Demetria Taylor - Bad Girl (Delmark, 2011)

If there was ever anyone born with the blues in their blood, it would certainly be singer Demetria Taylor, daughter of blues legend Eddie Taylor and part of a large musical family in the blues nurturing city of Chicago. Ms. Taylor has a strong voice, and likes to takes blues standards and transform them to a woman’s point of view. It takes her a little while to get going, but when she moves into the depth of the material, she makes an impact. “Voodoo Woman” and the title track “Bad Girl” (a gender switched remake of her father’s hit “Bad Boy”) find the singer and the talented band clicking and working well together. When the hit the meat of the album, especially on the Luther Allison popularized “Cherry Red Wine” she sings thoughtfully and powerfully about the effects of alcoholism. Jimmy Reed’s classic “Big Boss Man” is a chance for everybody to get together and have fun with a familiar classic, and then fellow blues singer Big Time Sarah joins the group for some added vocal might on a couple of Willie Dixon classic songs long associated with the deep Chicago blues, “Little Red Rooster” and “Wang Dang Doodle.” This was a solid beginning for the recording career of Demetria Taylor, with more experience and some memorable original songs she could be poised to make a big impact on the blues scene. Bad Girl -

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Art Pepper - Blues for the Fisherman Sampler (Widow's Taste, 2011)

This is a one disc sampler of a planned four compact disc set of alto saxophonist Art Pepper's run at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London during 1980. There were a couple of LP's released of this material on Mole Records, but due to contractual obligations, Pepper could not be noted as the leader of the ensemble. This sampler from the material sets the matter straight, giving credit to Art Pepper's band with Milcho Leviev on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. The music shows the main man in top late-period form, swinging hard before a live London audience, developing a deep and hard tone that is rooted in bebop, but showing the influences of tenor saxophonists like Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. The liner notes state that Pepper was extremely nervous during the engagement, but it doesn't come through on the music, which is uniformly excellent. Opening with "Blues for Blanche" (dedicated to his cat!) Pepper and the band are off and running at a strong and agile pace. The band is totally integrated into the music and seemingly have a telepathic notion of when to jump in and lay out. Thelonious Monk's "Ryhthm-a-Ning" is another riveting highlight of the the album, with the band making the most of the opportunities presented by Monk's knotty composition. "I'll Remember April" investigates Pepper's bebop roots with a fast paced improvisation, and the finale "Blues for the Fisherman" is an excellent blowing tune, where everyone gets a turn and then Pepper ends things by thanking the enthusiastic audience. The music on this disc was extremely worthwhile and Laurie Pepper's liner notes make for fascinating reading. The boxed set will be available on June 14, it is unknown whether the sampler will be sold separately. For more information, e-mail Widow's Taste.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Nicole Mitchell - Awakening (Delmark Records, 2011)

Renowned Chicago flautist and composer Nicole Mitchell has embarked on some very ambitious projects in the past, but this quartet recording pares back her group to a small set of colleagues, Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Avreeayl Ra on drums. It’s a group of some of Chicago’s most talented improvisers, and the music is adventurous and thoughtful throughout. Nicole Mitchell plays adventurous flute reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, using throaty growls and swirling figures plus the wonderful guitar work from Jeff Parker, and a rock solid rhythm section keep things moving briskly forward."Momentum" is a centerpiece of the recording with swirling flute developing into a vortex of full band collective improvisation featuring great guitar and drums interacting before for Ra steps put on a fine solo of his own. The group shows their mastery of dynamism as they slow the tempo down for a ruminative flute solo and guitar interlude. "More Than I Can Say" plays off the haunting vibe with spiraling flute and shards of guitar over abstract percussion. The develop a long form improvisation here as well as on "Journey on a Thread" where an introductory duet of guitar and drums is split by a long slow spot anchored by a bass solo before returning to the earlier tempo. There is a sense of mystery and the unexpected that pervades this recording that makes it exciting listening. The sound of flute and subtle electric guitar is an enticing one and the rhythm section is locked in throughout. Awakening -

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Reading material revisited

  • George Colligan, who has been on a wonderful roll of late, posts part two if his interview with Dwayne Bruno and asks Do the Airlines Hate Music?
  • Ted Panken's excellent new blog, Tomorrow Is the Question, features an interview with saxophonist Evan Parker.
  • George Lewis discusses Charlie Parker and his Penguin crowned album Homage to Charles Parker on Destination Out (with mp3 excerpt.)
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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Craig Taborn - Avenging Angel (ECM, 2011)

Pianist Craig Taborn has taken his time in becoming a band leader. He has led some interesting electric units, and has apprenticed with seemingly everyone of note from James Carter to Roscoe Mitchell and beyond. This album find him stripped of all of his electronic effects, focusing on solo acoustic piano in an intimate and detailed atmosphere. Texture and dynamics are the key to the success of the album, at times he develops spare motifs using the bass notes of the piano well like his colleague Matthew Shipp. He weaves small improvisations into thoughtful statements, not in a grandiose or bombastic way, but in a manner that allows the music and ideas to flow through him in an unimpeded manner. But he also knows how to up the ante as well, building the music into swirling two-handed lines that show the manual dexterity he is capable of. The music is recorded very well, working to the musicians advantage, allowing the clarity and subtlety of the notes to come through very clearly. All of the experience that he has picked up working for a multiple diversity of leaders combined with his own vision of the piano and improvisation make for a continually rewarding album. 2011 has been a very good year for solo piano aficionados, with very good albums released by Matthew Shipp, Brad Mehldau and others.This one stands well in that company, and shows another facet of Taborn’s musical personality. Avenging Angel -

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Books: Out of the Vinly Deeps

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock MusicOut of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music by Nona Willis Aronowitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The career of Ellen Willis as a rock music critic was comparatively brief, spanning the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s, but during that time she wrote some of the most insightful and thought provoking essays on rock and roll to date. As a radical feminist writing about a male dominated music for male dominated media, it took strong will and opinions to get her ideas out there, and she never wavered in her convictions. Beginning with the essay about Bob Dylan which brought her to the attention of The New Yorker, her writing is bold, assertive and unafraid to challenge the conventions of the day. This collection of her music writing, edited by her daughter is broken down thematically rather than chronologically, but it is still fascinating to follow the development of her burgeoning feminist consciousness as time moves forward. Highlights of this collection are many, but perhaps none more so than the essay “The Velvet Underground” included in Greil Marcus’ groundbreaking collection Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. Willis imagines the ultimate collection by the seminal New York City band, and then in an audacious and provocative piece, she proceeds to deconstruct the band and its music, comparing the band’s bohemian aspects with their nascent spiritual quest. Using this metaphor of sin and salvation brings the Velvet’s progressive and ground-breaking music into thoughtful focus. Willis never lost sight of the music as a fan, and her essay about Creedence Clearwater Revival is prefaced by her recollection of dancing in front of her mirror to CCR albums – what other rock critic would admit to that? Reading these essays was a fascinating experience, since there are comparatively few female music critics (and hardly any at the time of her writing peak) and the unique female sensibility that she brings to the essays and the reactions of the fans and fellow critics. She looks at the borderline misogyny of the “cock-rock” of the 1970’s led by The Rolling Stones, a band she loved and loathed in equal measures. She also examines the beginning of women’s music and women’s consciousness in music in equal measures, particularly in her writings about the beginnings of the punk rock movement, and what she believed were its inherently conservative views on women despite their outwardly provocative stance. This is a very important and recommended collection for both rock and roll fans and those interested in the development of music journalism, particularly from an alternate point of view that swims against the mainstream of orthodox criticism. Out of the Vinyl Deeps -

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Interesting Links

  • There is a new issue of the improvised music web-zine Point of Departure available.
  • There is a new issue of Burning Ambulance available, including a Kindle version (yea!)
  • Part Two of George Colligan's interview with Dwayne Bruno is available at Jazztruth.

Monday, June 06, 2011

James "Blood" Ulmer - Live at the Bayerischer Hof (In+Out 1994, 2011)

Guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer is one of the most iconoclastic musicians on the modern scene. Equally at home with free-jazz, blues and R&B, Ulmer is at his best when he combines all of the musical aspects of his personality as he does on this excellent live album. Dubbing this band the “Blues Experience” you can tell which direction his is leaning in along with his band mates Amin Ali on electric bass, and Aubrey Dayle on drums and percussion. Beginning with the sweet and funky strains of “Burning Up,” Ulmer’s vocals come in with a low key and mysterious nature. Strong, sharp flavored guitar buries the mumbled vocals, but the deep funk groove more than makes up for it. Ulmer’s unique crunchy guitar sound builds in an unclassifiable way on “Church” with a section of extraordinary trio improvisation front and center before downshifting to a dynamic open-ended conclusion. After a vocal centered slow grind on “Crying,” the band ramps things back up for “Let Me Take You Home” with its fast and strong R&B nature. With a wonderful guitar and drums conversation around strong bass pivot, they develop a wicked improvisation. “Boss Lady” uses some fine drumming and fills to good effect, and Ulmer is strong throughout the killer instrumental section. “Street Bride” is another unique highlight of the set, a storming blues with deft guitar playing that develops into a steaming collective improvisation. It’s nice to have this album back in circulation, and it is sure to boost Ulmer’s considerable reputation as a guitarist who can play in any context or situation you can imagine. Live at the Bayerischer Hof -

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord - Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! (Hot Cup, 2011)

Hot Cup Records can always be counted on to build a refreshingly post-modern view of jazz, whether it is the ironic beauty of Mostly Other People Do the Killing to the country/jazz experiment Pretend It’s the End of the World. Irony and irreverence are the key to their aesthetic, but never at the expense of the music. Jon Lundbom's Quavers mixes a fascinating Sharrock/Sanders aesthetic to elements of funk and post-modern fusion. Joining Lundbom on guitar are some of the usual suspects of the Hot Cup stable: Jon Irabagon on alto and sopranino saxophones, Bryan Murray: saxophones, Moppa Elliott on bass, Danny Fischer on drums and Matt Kanelos and keyboards. A wide-open mindset and unique instrumentation of the band provides a lot of depth to the music. “Meat Without Feet” features the integration of fractured shards of guitar to the rhythm, section building a funk beat and swirling saxophone works to excellent effect. Lundbom’s post - Sonny Sharrock guitar style and raunchy saxophone are welded to a killer backbeat, building music for the booty and the mind. Sort of like if Pharoah Sanders and Sonny Sharrock took a break from late 60's spiritual free-jazz to cut a massive funk record. Guitar and electric bass usher in “New Feats of Horsemanship” before fragmented and skittish saxophone imbue the medium tempo music was a palpable sense of danger. “Faith Based Initiative” brings it all together for a zestful finale building into an all out post-fusion rocker, led by scalding guitar and pounding drums. Saxophone builds and develops into an almost unbearable tension, developing to an outrageous full band collectively improvised conclusion. This was a tremendously fun album to listen to, Lundbom continually challenge the listener and each other and succeed to builds a piece of pan-genre experimentalism that defies pigeon-holing. Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! -

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Random filler

The book Out of the Vinyl Deeps is turning my head around. This us the first time I've read music criticism from a female/feminist view, and the writing and observations are first-rate. Ellen Willis wrote for The New Yorker amongst other venues, and reading her burgeoning feminism come to grips with the male dominated "cock-rock" scene of the 1970's makes for fascinating reading. The reprint of her essay on The Velvet Underground for Greil Marcus' Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island is extraordinary in it's comparison of the Velvets cool nihilism versus the band's spiritual longing.

For goodness' sake, they're playing a Muzak version of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" at Stop & Shop. Wasn't the original bad enough? It makes me want to run home and bang my head to The Ramones, Ascension and Elmore James. If the sheer barf-inducing nature of this song weren't bad enough, it brings back bad memories of a certain tubby wall flower looking on as the beautiful people danced and fumblingly groped at junior high school dances. The 1980's must be quarantined for the goodness of society.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Helen Sung - (re)Conception (Steeplechase, 2011)

Pianist and composer Helen Sung is one of the new vanguard of young musicians re-making the mainstream jazz firmament in her own way by re-interpreting standards and adding her own original repertoire to the mix. On this album, she performs in a trio setting, accompanied by the extraordinary rhythm section of Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, who have anchored many a great piano trio in the past, particularly with Tommy Flanagan. This album covers a wide range of classic jazz material from Duke Ellington’s ebullient “C-Jam Blues” which the group has a lot of fun, with to the angularity of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo.” There is only one Sung original, “Duplicity,” and that ably shows her conception of the music and the trio format. She has a light and flowing touch on the keyboard, sounding quite natural and graceful, and especially drawn to melodic improvisation. Washington and Nash are of course superb, whether playing straight-ahead rhythm or pushing and pulling the music in subtly different directions. Fans of mainstream piano trios should find much to enjoy here, the music is light, accessible and quite capably performed. Her re-conception of standard and mainstream material works well, and will be appreciated by aficionados of the piano trio or the modern-mainstream in jazz. (re)Conception -

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Recommended Reading

Arts for Art Vision Festival interviews Peter Brotzmann (the honoree at this year's festival.)

Greg Tate on the passing of Gil-Scott Heron.

Time Out New York Presents their NYC Jazz 2011 issue, featuring a lengthy interview with Peter Brotzmnann by Hank Shteamer and Steve Smith.

AAJ has an interview with free-jazz bassist Barry Guy.

George Colligan has a fascinating interview with bassist Dwane Bruno (part 2 to come.)

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Capsule reviews - Tommy Smith, Chase Baird

Tommy Smith - Karma (Spartacus, 2011) Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith is much in demand as a soloist (check his extraordinary playing on Arild Andersen’s Live at Belleville) and as a well regarded educator. Smith’s Karma (no relation to Pharoah Sanders’ free-jazz masterwork of the same name) works well, as the band with Smith: Steve Hamilton on piano, synth and tambourine, Kevin Glasgow on electric bass and Alyn Cosker on drums work well as an integrated unit. Smith has sometimes referred to this group as his “garage” or grunge” band, and that makes sense to a degree as the band investigates several moods from haunting ballads like “Land of Heroes” and “Body or Soul” to R&B tinged jazz, but Smith is at is at his best on the post-Coltrane burners, where his deep and dark tone really takes hold of the music and makes a bold statement. This is a very solid album, and Smith shows himself to be a multi-faceted musician, comfortable in many musical situations from soul to sparse to free. Karma -

Chase Baird - Crosscurrent (Junebeat Records, 2010) Crosscurrent by saxophonist Chase Baird is another solid mainstream jazz album, featuring expressive saxophone over mainly guitar, bass & drums with just a hint of subtle electronics for added texture. Baird is accompanied by Julian Pollack on piano and electric keyboards, John Storie on guitar, Christopher Tordini on bass, Steve Lyman on drums and James Yoshizawa on percussion. They work well as a unit, particularly at speed, on “Fifth Direction” and “Crosscurrent” where the band develops a complex rhythmic state and then navigates like a slalom skier, moving deftly through the music at will. “The Traveller” and Dusk” capture the band at slower tempos, attempting to work on texture and dynamics and weave them into the music they are creating. It’s a pretty impressive statement for a young musician just beginning his career, he has excellent command over his instrument and a lot of ideas that draw from a multitude of sources. Definitely a musician to keep an eye on. Crosscurrent -

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