Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Greg Lewis - Organ Monk (CDBaby, 2010)

Thelonious Monk’s music is so iconic and malleable that it lends itself to almost any instrument imaginable. Organist Greg Lewis leads a wonderfully swinging trio on a Monk themed program accompanied by Cindy Blackman on drums and Ron Jackson on guitar. I have always found a particular joyousness in Monk’s music as if it was written to dance to. This trio keeps the same vision, keeping the songs short, to the point and focused on those indelible melodies. Their swinging, uptempo performances carry the most weight, especially “Work,” which is a tremendous burning performance with the full band pulling together and making a fast and powerful statement. “We See” has a bouncy, buoyant swing that carries the music through the air. Jackson gets a nice feature on “Think of One” bookended by an interesting arrangement that has a choppy, stuttering beginning and end. Lewis takes “Monk’s Mood” as an atmospheric solo ballad, getting an almost churchy or gospel feeling from the instrument. The group moves to a strong finish with “Introspection,” which despite its title features swinging drums and probing organ and guitar. Blackman is also the focus of the album closing “Kohl's Here” which slowly builds power, culminating in an expressive drum solo. This was a consistently charming evocation of Thelonious Monk’s music by a finely integrated trio. The musicians treat the music with respect, but aren’t afraid to put their own unique stamp on it. Organ Monk -

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Joe Lovano Quintet - Village Ryhthm (Soul Note, 1988)

Before saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano became a household name with his lengthy tenure at Blue Note Records, he gigged constantly and recorded both as a leader and as a sideman. This album features all original compositions save one, Charles Mingus’ lush “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love.” Joining Lovano on this album is a potent group with Tom Harrell on trumpet, Kenny Werner on piano, Marc Johnson on bass and Paul Motian on drums. "Village Rhythm" opens the album with strong and confident medium-up tempoed swing. Lovano solos lustily as does Harrell with ripe piano accompaniment. "Birds of Springtime Gone By" is a lovely and patient ballad with the piano shadowing the saxophone in a beautiful and polished manner. The pace quickens on “Dewey Said,” dedicated to both Dewey Redman and Miles Davis. Motian’s superb drumming leads the way before a spitfire trumpet solo takes hold over pulsating bass and drums. Lovano finally enters with a torrid solo that makes this performance the highlight of the set. "T'Was to Me Part 1: Celebration of Life Everlasting," a tribute to Lovano’s father has a hollow sounding saxophone tone with complex percussion akin to some of Don Cherry’s world-jazz experiments. “Sleepy Giant” and “Spirit of the Night” wrap up the album with a fast pace with fast full band swing. There are joyous tenor saxophone solos with piano accompaniment, and storming trumpet that lead the full band to a fine conclusion. This was a very solid LP and well worth investigating for fans of Lovano’s more polished and thematic Blue Note recordings. The music may be a little rougher around the edges, but it is all the more exciting for it. Village Rhythm -

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Tim Mayer - Resilience (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2011)

Boston based tenor saxophonist Tim Meyer must have a great enjoyment for the trumpet, because he peppers his new album with compositions and dedications related to some famous trumpet players of the past and present. He is accompanied by a core group of George Cables on piano, Derzon Douglas on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Also joining him are a raft of special guests on trumpet, trombone, and other instruments. Opening with the dedicated track “For Miles,” the quartet is joined by saxophonist Michael Dease for a swinging medium tempo performance, right down the center of the mainstream jazz continuum. I was please to see the band cover one of my favorite musicians, Charles Tolliver, adding a woodwind trio along with trumpet and trombones to create a lush and vibrant version of “Emperor March.” “Dance of the Infidels” is credited to the great trumpeter Fats Navarro which was interesting to me, because I have so long associated the song with Bud Powell. Regardless, it’s a fine version with the band plus Dease navigating the tricky melody with grace and improvising well, making for a memorable performance. Thelonious Monk’s knotty “Work” is also given a fine run-through, with Cables sounding particularly ebullient as he does on his original “Klimo,” the set ending closer. This was a well done mainstream jazz album with an interesting selection of compositions. The addition of guests keeps the format of the music fresh and the musicians perform at an admirable level. Resilience -

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Books: Wyatt by Garry Disher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's no secret, Wyatt is an Australian Parker. Like Richard Stark's great American anti-hero, Wyatt is a cold and calculating thief, looking for ways to ply his trade in an increasingly digital world. A fellow thief comes to Wyatt with a plan: knock over two wealthy jewelers when they transport their goods via car. After stealing the car, everything goes pear-shaped: Wyatt is double-crossed and he and the third thief of their string are shot and left for dead by the double-crosser and his psychotic femme-fatale companion. They bring further heat by killing the jewelers in an aborted ransom attempt. Wyatt now must seek revenge against the duplicitous former ally, care for the injured partner (a woman he is becoming increasingly attracted to despite his best efforts to maintain a cold and calculating veneer) and most importantly, get the money which turned out not to be jewels, but bearer bonds worth millions. Throw in a crooked cop looking for a payout and a courier turned hitman, and you've got an explosive mix. This was an a very enjoyable thriller, thoroughly in the Stark/Parker mode. Disher knows this and has fun with it by employing wry in jokes like having one the crooks named Lydia Stark, having Wyatt investigate the Westlake apartments, and finally one of the inmates in a drunk tank is named... Parker. So if you enjoyed the Parker series or are a fan of hard-bioled crime, you will most certainly enjoy this one and I look forward to catching up with earlier novels and the further adventures of Wyatt. Wyatt -

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Buddy Guy - Buddy's Blues (MCA Chess, 1997)

Blues guitarist and singer Buddy Guy followed the great migration route that many African-American musicians followed from the deep south to Chicago, Illinois; at that time the heart of the blues music in America. Guy scuffled for a while as most musicians do before being picked up by the legendary Chess Records as a session musician and eventual leader from 1960-1968. This one disc collection pulls together some notable singles from the period that feature the wide range of music that Guy recorded during that era. "First Time I Met the Blues" has a Chicagoan from another era Little Brother Montgomery, on piano, along with intensely powerful vocals and striking guitar. Another storming uptempo track is Willie Dixon's "Let Me Love You Baby" with it's composer on bass and Guy charging through the track. "Stone Crazy" may be the highlight of the set, a long deep performance with burning intensity on vocals and guitar. There are some other burning slow blues to round out the program, the haunting and powerful "Sit and Cry and Sing the Blues" is an epic of the heartbroken blues genre and "When My Left Eye Jumps" is a slow burning, ominous piece of hoodoo, showing that Guy was patient in allowing a song to develop. His patience would pay off as well, after wandering as a journeyman through the 70's and 80's he struck gold with the 1990's blues revival and catapulted into world-wide stardom, reigning today as the current king of the Chicago blues scene. This interesting disc shows how it all began. Buddy's Blues -

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jon Crowley - At the Edge (Lonely Crow Records, 2011)

Trumpeter Jon Crowley is always looking to improve his sound and musical conception. Whether it is through continuous practice and gigging or playing with his rock ‘n’ roll side project Red Light Growler, Crowley is a musician who refuses to stand still. This album is a fine example of the evolution of his work. His first record, Connections, from 2009, was an expertly played post-bop acoustic date, refracting the music of the freebop bands of the 1960’s through postmodern jazz. This one takes the music in an entirely different direction, being a beautiful sounding album full of mystery and spaciousness. It sounds like Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way meeting the post-rock band Tortoise by way of a minimalist, patient aesthetic. It is the nature of the music which moves suite like through a shimmering atmospheric form. Joining Crowley on this album are Jeremy Udden on alto saxophone, Ziv Ravitz on drums, Julian Pollack on Rhodes and piano, and is a big part of providing the atmospherics, and Julian Smith is on bass. The music is broken down in an interesting way, with longer pieces divided short vignettes of improvisation, which keep the music moving forward and the listener on their toes for subtle shifts This was a very successful album that should prove enjoyable to both modern jazz fans and adventurous rock ‘n’ roll fans. The music has an enigmatic quality that encourages repeated listens, and the musicians are really locked into the loose free flowing aesthetic of the music. At the Edge -

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Around the Blogs

Peter Hum has a thoughtful and well-reasoned response to an interesting Branford Marsalis article in a Seattle newspaper.

Congratulations to Stef on his millionth visitor.

Ethan Iverson has an annotated list of the music that has most influenced pianist Fred Hersch.

Hank Shteamer has an excellent write-up of the recent archival Miles Davis release: Live in Europe 1967.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

JC Stylles - Exhilaration and Other States (Motema, 2011)

On his web site, guitarist JC Stylles fashions himself as “the keeper of the flame of jazz guitar that swings, grooves & just plain makes you feel good.” He actually succeeds quite well in fulfilling that lofty goal, leading a strong organ trio that wouldn’t have sounded out of place during the heyday of Brother Jack McDuff and Grant Green. He is joined by the excellent Hammond B3 organ player Pat Bianchi and the tasteful and unobtrusive drummer Laurence Leathers. The album begins with a fast paced version of “Kucklebean” which I always thought was a Bobby Hutcherson composition, but apparently not. The group moves nicely through the intricate theme, with Bianchi laying down subtle grooves and bass from the pedals. The group functions well as a trio with the musicians working together to form an ensemble sound rather than soloist and support. Moving into grooving territory, they tackle Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help Help It” which adds elements R&B and gospel to their playing. Slowing things down, the band offers some atmospheric ballads, like the standard “I Want to Talk About You” and a lush version of “Don’t Explain.” But they are at their best when exploring a medium or up-tempo groove, navigating their way through Wayne Shorter’s “Pinnochio” or the set ending original “Samba Steps.” Fans of straight-head organ trios will definitely want to give this one a try, it’s unpretentious straight up groove-jazz that aims to please and does so admirably. Exhilaration and Other States -

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

The History of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, 1992)

During his lengthy career that stretched from the late 1940’s to the late 1980’s, drummer Art Blakey was at the forefront of bebop and hard-bop jazz. His band would become an incubator for young jazz talent, many of whom went on to have significant careers in the music. This three-disc set presents highlights from Blakey’s recordings, and while by no means a comprehensive summation (Mosaic once did a six disc boxed set about one year of Blakey’s music, 1960) it serves as an excellent sampler of his many fine recordings. Disc One opens the collection with a look at Blakey’s early years as a leader or co-leader of the Messengers with Horace Silver. The pianist Silver and drummer Blakey were a potent combination, heralding in the new style of hard-bop which combined the virtuosity of bebop with soulful and bluesy elements. Selections from their residency at the club Birdland in New York City, featuring the impeccable Clifford Brown on trumpet and Lou Donaldson on alto saxophone are powerful live performances. From the October 30, 1958 studio session, comes two of the bands most well known tunes, “Moanin’” by pianist Bobby Timmons and “Blues March” by saxophonist Benny Golson, both of which would go on to become hard-bop standards. As the 1960’s dawned Blakey would reach his peak in the company of powerful modernists like the saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, whose beautiful Lester Young tribute “Lester Left Town” is a towering performance, along with potent trumpeters like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Their search for new directions in jazz while paying homage to the hard bop past gave the band the dynamism it needed to remain relevant as the jazz world changed around them. A lengthy performance of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” bears this out as the bebop chestnut is stretched and pulled like taffy at the hands of the musicians. Moving onto Disc Three, the band would record some of its finest performances in the mid 1960’s with Shorter’s extraordinary “Free For All” capturing the unit at its most intense, while “The Egyptian” would add the ripe sound of Curtis Fuller’s trombone to the front line to make the band into a crackling three horn sextet. The remaining tracks show glimpses of Blakey after he had left the Blue Note label with performance from stars in the making like Woody Shaw, Bobby Watson and of course the Marsalis brothers, Branford and Wynton. This is a truly excellent and completely enjoyable collection of music and makes a clear case for Art Blakey as one of the most important post-war jazz musicians, as a protean drummer, bandleader and developer of young talent. The History of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers -

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Ron Carter's Great Big Band (Sunnyside, 2011)

Bassist and composer Ron Carter has accomplished just about everything possible in jazz from his famous tenure with Miles Davis to hundreds of recorded sessions as a leader or a sideman. But there's one exception up until now he has never led a big band. Now he has fulfilled this dream, with a seventeen member large ensemble playing originals and standards arranged by collaborator Bob Freedman. The selections the band play run the gamut from bass led originals like “Opus 15 (Theme for C.B.)” to nicely done performances of jazz standards. The standards themselves are a varied from Wayne Shorter’s enigmatic “Footprints” to “St. Louis Blues” and the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol composition “Caravan.” The band is well rehearsed and plays the compositions beautifully, segueing from ensemble sections to short solo features easily. It is actually the brevity of the performances that works in the music’s favor. Only one track, “Sweet Emma,” clock in at over five minutes, and the lack of flashy soloing keeps the music focused on the ensemble playing. This album works very well, the music is focused and the band is on top of things from the beginning. For fans of large ensemble music this is a real treat with intricate playing and fine arrangements. Ron Carter's Great Big Band -

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roy Haynes - Roy-alty

Drummer Roy Haynes augments his regular Fountain of Youth Quartet featuring Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone; Martin Bejerano on piano and David Wong on bass with some special guest spots by pianist Chick Corea and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. The duets with Corea are fascinating to hear; these two men have a long relationship playing together and it really shows on their extraordinary rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor” where their affinity for the angularity and uniqueness of Monk’s music shines through. They shift gears completely a little bit later on in the album with the completely improvised “All the Bars are Open” which develops slowly with a melancholy air as the two musicians allow the music to develop in a natural and unhurried manner. Hargrove joins the base quartet on a number of tracks, soloing with great facility and power on “Milestones” and the ballad feature, “These Foolish Things.” The focus is on Haynes and Hargrove on the wonderful version of “Tin Tin Deo” where Haynes scats and gives a spoken word reminiscence of coming up as young jazz musician in the 1940’s, listening to Dizzy Gillespie’s big band with the great percussionist Chano Pozo. They wrap up with a blistering version of McCoy Tyner’s composition “Passion Dance” with superb cascading round of solos and impeccable ensemble playing all around. This was an excellent album, and shows why Roy Haynes has been at the forefront of jazz for as long as he has. From bop to free playing to ballads, everyone is pulling together toward a common goal of making great music and succeeding in grand fashion. Roy-Alty -

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Books:The Burning Soul by John Connolly

The Burning SoulThe Burning Soul by John Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Private detective Charlie Parker is retained by a local attorney in Pastor's Bay, Maine to look into the affairs of a man named Randall Haight, who many years ago was complicit in the rape and murder of a young woman. Another young Maine woman has disappeared and Haight is worried this his past will be exposed and he will fall under suspicion despite an alibi. But as Parker digs deeper and deeper into the small town's facade, he finds that things aren't as cut and dried as they seem. The missing girl is the niece of a Boston Mafia don, and the internecine warfare between mob factions brings the FBI into the picture. Parker has to weave through a thicket of secret messages, lost and changed identities and violence to find out the truth about the man who calls himself Haight and hopefully find a missing girl in the process. Charlie Parker remains a compelling character, a man who is (literally) haunted by his past, and that makes his interaction with Randal Haight and his supernatural experiences all the more interesting. The narrative does seem a little bit scattered at times, with the point of view switching between Parker, Haight and the mobsters. But just as things seem to be spinning out of control, Connolly pulls everything to together in a powerful ending. Like the rest of this series, this novel is crime fiction with just a touch of the supernatural or paranormal. This shouldn't deter hard core mystery or crime fiction readers from checking out this excellent series, as Connolly writes exceedingly well and Charlie Parker is as great a lone-wolf character as James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux or Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor. The Burning Soul -

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jemeel Moondoc - Nostalgia in Times Square (Soul Note, 1986)

Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, an open thinking veteran of the 1970's jazz loft scene, cut this forward thinking, yet swinging album for the Italian Soul Note label in 1985. Joining him were a powerful crew of William Parker on bass, Dennis Charles on drums, Rahn Burton on piano and Bern Nix on guitar. Despite just being a quintet, the group was able to achieve a much bigger sound than their size indicated, allowing them to perform a beautiful version of the Charles Mingus composition “Nostalgia in Times Square” which loses nothing of the lushness and longing of the Mingus original. “In Walked Monk” is another tribute to one of the masters of jazz, with the group playing wide open for fifteen minutes, the group riffing off of the Thelonious Monk tribute to Bud Powell (wheels within wheels) and spinning off for some dazzling solos. “Flora” is the album’s lone ballad, a poignant performance that has Moondoc switching to soprano saxophone and playing it well with elegant piano and guitar in accompaniment. This was a very enjoyable album, reminiscent of the music that was made by Charles Mingus last great working band with Don Pullen and George Adams. It’s well worth revisiting the Black Saint and Soul Note catalogs for overlooked gems like this, especially since has mp3 versions of those albums priced to sell. Nostalgia In Times Square -

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Gene Ammons - Three Classic Albums Plus (Avid, 2011)

Gene Ammons was one of the leading advocates of the Chicago sound of big brawny tenor saxophone and lush emotional ballads. Despite some personal problems that kept him off the scene a few times, he remained a vital and popular part of the jazz scene from the late 40’s to the early 70’s. This collection features selections from four albums he recorded for Prestige Records from 1956-1960. The first album covered in this collection is Groove Blues, with a very interesting lineup featuring John Coltrane playing alto saxophone for a change, and Jerome Richardson’s flute adding a light and floating texture for the proceedings. Mal Waldron is on piano, and also wrote three of the four themes recorded o this album. Highlights include the lengthy “Ammon Joy” a theme that gives everybody a chance to step out and blow, and the standard “It Might as Well Be Spring.’ Boss Tenor is one of Ammons best known LP’s, and it is a stellar small band session with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, Arthur Taylor on drums and Ray Barretto on congas. Ammons own “Hittin’ the Jug” and “Blue Ammons” shine a light on his beautifully robust tenor saxophone, do a couple of standards. Blue Gene brings Waldron back into the picture and the group performs four of his compositions. This album features Ammons in a medium sized band being supported by trumpet and baritone saxophone in addition to the rhythm section. These are mostly studio jam based tunes that the band could perform with little preparation or rehearsal. But they are all pros and flow through the mix of uptempo cookers and ballads. Due to space issues on the compact disc, the final album covered, The Happy Blues has to omit a track, but the remaining performances are of a well recorded blowing session. This is a nice concentrated burst of some of Gene Ammons best playing at the height of his career in the late 1950’s. Supported by some very fine talent, he plays with great depth and feeling. Fans of bluesy hard-bop will be much please by this re-release. Three Classic Albums Plus -

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Books: The Gentlemen's Hour by Don Winslow

The Gentlemen's Hour (Boone Daniels #2)The Gentlemen's Hour by Don Winslow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boone Daniels is the archetypal California surf-bum, whose laid back personal hides a powerful intellect. He is a former cop turned private investigator, who quickly gets involved in some cases that alienate him from longtime friends. First comes a matrimonial case where a rich friend of Daniels asks him to follow his wife, suspecting infidelity. Then comes another case that haunts him, a fellow surfer and man of great humility and dignity in addition to being a friend of Daniels is killed by a gang member outside a bar. Daniels, in desperate need of cash, it hired on by the defense team, and slowly begins to unravel how the two cases revolve around "Chinatown" type land fraud. Alienating his friends in the surfing community and the police force, Daniels joins with an unlikely group of allies to crack a case that is much larger than it seems. This is another excellent Winslow adventure, a sequel to The Dawn Patrol (although reading that book first is not necessary.) Daniels is a very appealing character, someone we really we really want to root for to win against all odds. Winslow's snarky humor ties it all together, he is a riot to read and uses short chapters and snappy dialogue to excellent effect. The Gentlemen's Hour: A Novel -

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sonny Rollins - Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Doxy/Decca, 2011)

The legendary saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins is renowned for his extraordinary live performances. On this second volume of live recordings he is releasing under the Road Shows banner, the music focuses on 2010 and his interaction with special guests. He sounds completely at ease on stage, talking to the crowd and introducing his band and guests, and his playing is as vibrant as ever. The recording is bookended by two recordings from an autumn 2010 tour of Japan with his touring band, consisting of Russell Malone on guitar, 
Bob Cranshaw on bass, 
Kobie Watkins on drums and 
Sammy Figueroa on percussion playing a lengthy and pulsating version of "They Say It's Wonderful" with Rollins soloing with energy and enthusiasm. There is also a brief snippet of Rollins' theme song "St. Thomas" from the Japanese tour while he graciously thanks the crowd and introduces his musicians. But the main crux of the album comes from the famous Sonny @ 80 birthday concert from The Beacon Theatre, in New York city; September 10, 2010. Many special quests were on hand for this special occasion, including guitarist Jim Hall, whom Rollins recorded with in the 1960's. Hall is graciously handed the spotlight on a short but poignant version of "In a Sentimental Mood." Things really start to heat up with an apocalyptic twenty-minute plus version of "Sonnymoon for Two," backed by Christian McBride on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. This would be enough to bring the house down, but when Ornette Coleman joins in on alto saxophone, magic truly happens. Coleman and Rollins bob and weave around each other, occasionally speaking different dialects of the same language, but playing beautifully on a history making performance. Highly lauded by Rollins in his introduction, Roy Hargrove joins the regular working band on trumpet for fine performances of the standard "I Can't Get Started" and Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck." On his web site, Sonny Rollins states that there is much more to come in the Road Shows series, but he was anxious to document his playing at the present time. As as can be heard on this album, that playing is as wonderful as ever. Road Shows Vol. 2 -

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Interesting Links

Destination-Out continues their Summer re-up series with a look at Anthony Davis' foray into Gamelan music.

The fallout from the Kurt Rosenwinkel inspired "jazz sucks" debate rolls on with interesting opinions from Peter Hum part one, Peter Hum part two, and John Wertheim.

New Miles Davis boxed set coming around the bend (Hat Tip: BP)

Sun Ra mixtapes.

Roy Haynes First Listen.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Bill Frisell - All We Are Saying... (Savoy Jazz, 2011)

In guitarist Bill Frisell’s liner notes to his most recent LP, he writes about being contacted to perform a special concert of John Lennon compositions. He and the band enjoyed it so much that they continued to tour, playing mostly of the music heard here to an excellent response, and then entered to studio to record. The music really suits the guitarist well, he came up during the heyday of the Beatles popularity, and the melodies are all well embedded in his (and every other music fan’s) head. Joined by usual co-conspirators, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Tony Scherr on bass, Greg Leisz on guitars and Kenny Wollesen on drums, the music has an interesting feel - a combination of British Invastion pop and American roots music. The music evolves in layers, developing the melody and taking it places that are unexpected. Where “Please Please Me” and “Come Together” retain the crunchy pop/rock feel of the original recordings, the availability of violin and steel guitar allow the ballads like “Julia” and “Mother” to develop slowly into deep-seated lyrical statements. Overall this album works pretty well and could serve as an excellent gateway or conduit to fans of pop music that are interested in exploring jazz. Frisell’s arrangements are light and lyrical and the lithe accompaniment of Jenny Scheinman and the rest of the band lead the familiar music in a unique and understated direction. The band understands that Lennon’s music speaks for itself, and with a few modifications they allow it to do so quite beautifully. All We Are Saying... -

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Kali Z. Fasteau with William Parker and Cindy Blackman (Flying Note 2011)

You can tell from the beautiful prog-rockish cover that this is going to be a unique and exploratory record. Multi-instrumentalist Kali Z. Fasteau teams up with the extraordinary bassist William Parker and drummer Cindy Blackman to create a soundscape that is as unusual as it is fascinating. Playing cello, soprano saxophone and electric piano, Fasteau creates a fascinating, buzzing, swirling sound world, when combined with Parker’s plucked and bowed bass and Blackman’s ever-shifting drum rhythms and patterns, make for an unexpected and compelling album. I have been listening to this album a lot over the past few days, and it has an indescribable vibe to it. All three of the musicians are world travelers who have absorbed music from around the world as well has the history and culture of American jazz. What results is a strong buzzing, driving sound that seems like nothing else in improvised music at the moment. The album’s title seems correct, as if Fasteau and her band mates are channeling spiritual music from beyond space and time (Sun Ra would feel right at home here, if you like Ra’s unusual Strange Strings LP, you’ll love this.) The music unfolds like a suite, building and developing its own celestial language, culminating in the extraordinary twenty-five minute improvisation “Ardor,” which builds through many shifting and swirling fields to culminate in an extraordinary performance. This is truly an ensemble performance, the group is an integrated whole, rather than a collection of individuals. Solo space is not the key but the sound world than be created when likeminded musicians create with a singular goal in mind. An Alternate Universe -

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo - Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music, 2011)

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Branford Marsalis pares back to a saxophone and piano duet format, joined by longtime colleague Joey Calderazzo for a subtle ballad oriented program. Slow themes abound, but on the two pieces where Marsalis switches to tenor saxophone, the opener "One Way" and "Endymion" his unique muscularity on the bigger horn comes through. I must admit a personal preference for Marsalis on the tenor saxophone, I've loved his sound on the instrument for a long time. That said his soprano playing may be an even more personal statement, as he has over the years developed a pastel, almost painterly tone on the instrument that is particularly poignant on the ballads that make up the lion's share of this recording. One place where he uses the soprano to excellent effect on an up-tempo piece is "Bri's Dance"which is a jaunty and swirling performance of saxophone and piano. Many of the remaining tracks are slow meditations on melody and improvisation from the two instruments. Calderazzo is a true partner in this sense rather then an accompanist, and his impressionistic playing develops the ballads into a melancholy world of emotional depth. Comparisons to the 1+1 album that Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter made a while back were fresh in my mind listening to this, but while that album dealt with musical abstractions, this one was focused on melody and improvisation within the song form. Most of the program has a elegiac sadness or melancholy and malaise that can't quite be shaken despite the talent of the two performers. Songs of Mirth and Melancholy -

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Trio 3 Plus Geri Allen - Celebrating Mary Lou Williams Live at Birdland New York (Intakt, 2011)

When the pianist Geri Allen joined the well established Trio 3 (Oliver Lake on alto saxophone, Reggie Workman on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums) it proved to be an auspicious occasion, captured on this album live in concert at Birdland in New York City. While the participants have serious avant-garde cred, they have no problem adapting to Williams' compositions as she was a life-long musical explorer herself. "Blues for Peter" establishes the medium-up groove tempo with some wonderfully ripe saxophone soloing over insistent piano accompaniment. Lake uses a saxophone technique similar to Eric Dolphy here and it works really well. There is a spare and longing piano introduction to "Ghost of Love" that opens into yearning ballad saxophone, with patient accompaniment that caresses the melody and mood. Workman takes an excellent bass solo, taking his time to develop his ideas with a thick strong tone. The rest of the group returns to close out this classy performance with Lake adding some ripe alto to give the proceedings a jolt of energy. "New Musical Express" has a fast, rolling boogie feel, that is undulating and slightly Monk-ish. The tart and citrus flavored alto that Lake uses works well, with some fine elastic bass along for the ride. A nice section of collective improvisation leads into another finely placed bass solo. Strong and lively percussive piano leads the trio on a fine feature sans saxophone, developing to a rhythmic drum solo where Cyrille builds tension be slowly adding elements to his music until he builds a beautiful cohesive whole. "Intermission" is strong, thoroughly modern sounding jazz, with a high-pitched and deeply reaching saxophone statement, before a section of fine piano trio interplay. Lake returns with some more acid-tongued commentary, before the music drops in tempo to a quiet section taken out by a spell of hand-clap percussion. Raw-toned saxophone opens the classic Williams composition "What's Your Story, Morning Glory" and makes way for a series of unaccompanied solo statements, before the group finally comes together for a full band improvisation. After a short solo piano meditation on "Libra" the group concludes with the jaunty "Roll 'em" which opens with a lively piano riff and strong alto saxophone setting up a joyous ride. Ripe, hard collective improvisation led by scalding saxophone keeps the performance vibrant and strong. Workman breaks out for an intricate bass solo that calms things down a bit before the drums and piano return to trade off sections. This was a very well done and classy performance, with the group taking a wide range of Mary Lou Williams compositions and adding their own unique musical imprint to create a unique and memorable performance. The booklet is the icing on the cake with a fine essay and excellent photography. Celebrating Mary Lou Williams (Live At Birdland New York) -

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

John Coltrane - The Impulse! Albums Volume 4 (Hip-O Select, 2011)

This ongoing series of boxed sets has been taking the recordings of saxophonist and composer John Coltrane and restoring them to their original LP format, stripping alternate takes, extra liner material and the like while returning the music to its originally released format, with the artwork and notes as appeared during their first release in 1965-1968. Included in this set are the albums Expression, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, Om, Cosmic Music (co credited to Alice Coltrane) and Selflessness featuring My Favorite Things. Most of the albums contain Coltrane's core group of the time: himself on tenor and soprano saxophone, also flute with Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, flutes and percussion, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. While the music moves into deeply strong free jazz territory for most of the set, there is a fascinating track on Expression called "To Be" where Coltrane and Sanders play flute, giving the music a radically different sound than they had been exploring up to that point. The rest of the album features strong muscular saxophone playing over Ali's ever shifting percussion and Garrison's rock solid bass. Recorded live at the Village Vanguard for the second time, Again! features a very different sound than the first LP they recorded there in 1961. There are a couple of long tracks here, a very beautiful version of the original "Naima," which combines flowing lyricism and deep melodic beauty. Jimmy Garrison is given a lengthy introduction to what became John Coltrane's signature piece, "My Favorite Things." This is simply an awesome performance, with spellbinding solos from the whole group and a fascinating look into the controlled ferocity that Coltrane was capable of as opposed to Sanders heaving, screeching search for his own true voice. Om is a controversial album from 1965, marking the transition between the "classic quartet" with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones and the totally free band that would soon follow. Growing pains are evident, but the music is fascinating if downright frightening in its intensity. Featuring chanted and spoken passages, as well as titanic blowing from the saxophonists, it is unique entry in the leader's catalog. Credited to both John and Alice Coltrane, Cosmic Music has something of an unusual history, being released after the saxophonists death, but finds him playing beautifully on the civil rights anthem "Reverend King." Also included are a couple of Alice Coltrane led recordings that appeared on her solo LP A Monastic Trio. Finally, Selflessness featuring My Favorite Things is a cobbled together LP that features two extraordinary live tracks from the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival with Roy Haynes sitting in for Elvin Jones. "My Favorite Things" is taken at epic length, and Coltrane's solo is one of controlled majesty throughout. "I Want to Talk About You" has a beautifully melodic tag ending that allows him to float unaccompanied in free space to extraordinary effect. Then it's a jarring shift to 1965 and an augmented band playing the furious "Selflessness," a powerful transitional recording with Jones battling to be heard over a towering three horn front line. This set is particularly appealing to music fans who are interested in John Coltrane's transition from so-called modal jazz to totally free improvisation. Although much of the music on these recordings is of an experimental nature, moments of sheer beauty and jaw-dropping power abound. Original Impulse Albums Volume Four

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Books: God, No! by Penn Jillette

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The tall half of the famous magical duo Penn and Teller wrote this book ostensibly to talk about his atheist views on religion and libertarian views on politics. But it is far from a screed against religion and government as Jillette adds raunchy (and some downright filthy) anecdotes from his life and show business career to lighten what could become an overly serious topic. He is an engeging storyteller and no matter how vulgar he gets, the stories remain laugh-out-loud funny. So he basically interweaves funny stories with more thoughtful chapters about how to raise children in an atheist environment, and coping with the death of beloved family members without believing an an afterlife. It's a thoughtfully laid out argument, using the Christian bible's ten commandments as a starting point for each chapter, and then offering an atheist's alternative to those ideals that focus on mutual respect, dignity and living for the moment rather than focusing on the fear of God and living for the afterlife. So this book can be read strictly for entertainment value as a humor book or as a primer on Jillette's own particular brand of non-belief. Either way, it's an eye-opening experience. God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales -

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Friday, September 02, 2011

Books: Out on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block

Out on the Cutting EdgeOut on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ex-police detective and unlicensed private investigator Matthew Scudder is three years into sobriety, still taking things one day at a time and attending daily AA meetings when he is approached by an Indiana car salesman whose daughter has gone missing in New York City. Scudder knows the possibility of finding the woman alive are slim, but agrees to take the case. Then, when a fellow AA member who asked Scudder to hear his fifth-step confession dies suddenly, there is another mystery on his plate: the death of his friends and a mysterious woman he is falling for. Block spends a lot of this particular novel delving into Scudder's personality and personality as his relationship with the mystery woman develops. At times this turns the actual mystery into an afterthought, but it works due to Block's excellent storytelling ability and his unique ability to compose unique, convincing characters. Finding his way through by dogged diligence and good luck, Scudder is able to crack both of the cases and uncover a previously unknown serial killer in the process. Matthew Scudder is a continually compelling character, who gets deeper and more thoughtful as the series goes by. Like James Lee Burke's great character, Dave Robicheaux, who is also a recovering alcoholic, their personal trials and tribulations are an integral part of the story and the book is deeper and more resonant for it. Out on the Cutting Edge -

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Moreland and Arbuckle - Just a Dream (Telarc, 2011)

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and singer and harmonica player Dustin Arbuckle remain true to their blues roots while adding some roots rock energy to the proceedings on their latest recording. Rounded out by bass and drums, the duo has an appealing sound, rough and Earthy, like early Captain Beefheart or The Black Keys. The do a great job covering Tom Waits’ “Heartattack and Vine,” finding a kindred spirit in the warped story-song and it’s bluesy accompaniment. The unusual “Gypsy Violin” breaks the mold for a double spoken work experiment in the Beefheart/Velvet Underground mold, and doesn’t quite fit in, but the band quickly comes back to base with the slow building blues burner “Shadow Never Changes.” The early tracks of the album state their no-frills agenda nicely, with a solid backbeat, crunchy guitar adding to swooping harmonica and strong soulful vocals to work quite effectively on “The Brown Bomber” and “Just a Love.” “White Lightnin’” ends the album in a similar manner, blasting through a song by the legendary Steve Cooper at wicked speed to bring the album to a satisfying conclusion. Moreland and Arbuckle have spent considerable time on the road, and it has really tightened their music considerably. They have locked on to an accessible yet exciting blues/rock sounds that avoids bombast and remains rooted in the deep soil of American music. Fans of electric blues and rough ‘n’ ready roots much should find much to enjoy here. Just a Dream -

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