Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jenny Scheinman - Mischief and Mayhem (Self-Released, 2012)

Violinist and songwriter Jenny Scheinman is a multi-talented musician playing everything from rock to folk and jazz with the likes of Bill Frisell, Norah Jones and a series of well received solo albums. This album is from her Mischief and Mayhem quartet with Jim Black on drums, Todd Sickafoose on bass and Nels Cline on guitar. The bands name is apt, because there is a sense of impish fun that the band has playing a wide variety of material like the crunchy rock-influenced performances "A Ride With Polly Jean" and "The Mite" which bookend the album. "Ride" features swaying violin over a loping groove. Spritzes of electronics are added making for a cool vibe. "The Mite" takes things even further out with chunky guitar and drums pounding out a ferocious beat while Scheinman's violin swoops and sways and Nels Cline (who is well mannered on most of thins album) gets a well deserved spot for a guitar freakout. Jim Black's nimble percussion is the centerpiece of "Sand Dipper" and "July Tenth in Three Four" developing a clattering and clanking percussion that is an excellent foil for the rest of the band. Add to this long tones of lonesome violin and and excellent bass solo and you get music that is quite evocative. The Village Vanguard tribute "Blues for the Double Vee" has some cool plucked violin and drum rhythm before moving into a sawing violin solo over a persistent beat and a slinky guitar solo. This is an interesting and diverse album of music that should appeal to many open eared music fans. The music is multi-layered, intense and emotional without being too draining. While Scheinmann is associated with the downtown free jazz crowd to some extent, she should not be pidgeon-holed because this disc shows considerable depth and breadth in both her composing and instrumental ability. She strikes out on an original path and it pays off in a very nice album. Mischief and Mayhem -

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio w/ Jeb Bishop - Burning Live (JACC Records, 2012)

Recorded live in Coimbra, Rodrigo Amado's Motion Trio along with special guest Jeb Bishop features the leader on tenor saxophone, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. The group really is "burning live" with three lengthy collectively improvised songs that really show off the groups mindful and "in the moment" approach. Built and played like a three part incantation, beginning with the title performance, "Burning Live," which introduces the group and their distinctive sound. The music is built around the unique sound of the cello and rock solid drumming which lays down a great foundation for the front line of saxophone and trombone. Their improvisations build organically, especially on the epic middle piece, "Imaginary Caverns"" which develops slowly from the two horns to engulf the full band and carves out an unstoppable momentum. "Red Halo" opens with some excellent plucked cello setting the pace in a hypnotic manner before the rest of the band slowly enters, building to a frenetic and very exciting improvisation. The group dynamics are what make this record special. The musicians play with a great respect for each other but also with a devil may care approach to making music in the moment that keeps everything fresh.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ben Wendel - Frame (Sunnyside, 2012)

Ben Wendel is a young saxophonist and composer, recently transplanted to New York City from the West Coast. On this, his second album as a leader, he is featured on saxophones, bassoon and melodica, accompanied by Gerald Clayton and Tigran Hamasyan on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, Adam Benjamin on piano and Fender Rhodes, Ben Street on bass and Nate Wood on drums. The first two tracks, “Chorale” and “Clayland” are uptempo nimble performances showing the group navigating a tricky course with speed and agility. A reworked version of the bebop standard “Con Alma” is particularly interesting, played as a spare duet for saxophone and piano. Wendel plays in a controlled yet quiet manner, that adds notes but not volume. “Backbou” has a choppy and jaunty full band melody. Piano and rhythm slowly build the pace as Wnedel’s saxophone slowly glides in over percussive piano and drums. After an open moment for saxophone and drums, Felder enters and wraps things up. “Jean and Renata” keeps the pace moving briskly with saxophone and drums leading off in a confident manner, before the full band comes in playing sharp and subtle, giving the music a strong, rippling and muscular feel. The lengthy performance entitled “Blocks” slows the momentum down a little bit, building a light and airy sound anchored by excellent thick and full sounding bass. The bass works really well as a foundation for a yearning saxophone solo that develops and quickens, becoming more passionate. They shift the music dynamically slower to a percussion led section and finally out. The title performance “Frame” has a fast and nimble melody with guitar shading and accompanying a brisk saxophone solo. Wendel builds his statement very fast and nimble with Wood’s percussion keeping pace. After a rumbling piano, bass and drums interlude, the full band returns with a complex full band improvisation. The composition “Leaving” was written to commemorate Wendel’s leaving the West Coast and has a lonely and elegiac feel of someone taking a leap into the unknown. The music fills out with multiple layers of music before scaling back in conclusion. Frame -

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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Cookers - Believe (Motema, 2012)

The Cookers are an all-star band much like the group The Leaders was in the 1980's. They play strong muscular hard bop in the tradition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. There's no sense of the music being time-locked however, its sound like up to date modern mainstream jazz played by a group of true professionals. The group is first class with one of my favorite saxophone players, Billy Harper, on tenor, Craig Handy on alto saxophone, Eddie Henderson and Dan Weiss (he also produced and arranged the music on the album) on trumpet, George Cables on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums. To their credit they play egoless music, where the ensemble passages are played with care and each soloist is supported by the other members of the band in a collaborative rather than competitive fashion. The centerpiece of the album is a blistering version of Wayne Shorter's composition "Free For All" form the Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers album of the same name, featuring some truly inspired soloing from Harper. The passion and precision the musicians bring to this track is emblematic of their vision of hard-bop and modern jazz in general. Apart from that, the remainder of the compositions come from the band members themselves, with Weiss delving deep into their back catalogs looking for unheralded gems to perform. They run the gamut of emotions from Harper's hard driving diamond edged compositions, to Cables' pastel shaded ballads. (Release date: June 12) Believe -

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Books: The Lovers by John Connolly

The Lovers (Charlie Parker, #8)The Lovers by John Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlie Parker is a man adrift. He has lost his private investigator's license and the woman who had his child has left him. Now making ends meet working in a Maine bar, he looks to solve the mystery that has haunted him nearly all his life: why did his policeman father shoot to death two apparently unarmed teenagers, before alter tuning the gun on himself? Parker travels to a New York City suburb where the incident happened, chased by a tenacious reporter who is bent on telling Parker's story whether he likes it or not. Hunting down the remaining colleagues of his father who are willing to talk, Parker uncovers layers upon layers of mystery - who were his parents, really? Why do a mysterious young couple turn up seemingly unaged every few decades? The story unravels like the layer of an onion with the answers Parker gets only leading to more questions until the violent climax in the home where his wife and daughter were killed. This was a dark and melancholy book, demonstrating what can happen when someone doggedly researches their past, and must accept their consequences. As the truth is revealed, we learn more about Charlie Parker, who he is, and why he is the man he has become. Connolly writes as well as ever, with deft shading and characterization. The elements of the supernatural are not contrived in the slightest and make the story even more spookier than one of a detective chasing the ghosts of his own past. The Lovers: A Thriller

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Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012)

The music on this momentous album reflects the gravity of its subject matter, which is tracking the triumphs and tragedies of the American civil rights movement through music. Although many other artists have tackled this theme with extraordinary results like Max Roach's We Insist! and Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite, Smith writes and performs his music through the lens of time allowing him to make connections, draw conclusions and take his personal experience into account while composing this epic statement. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's was tied into other momentous events of the time like the Cold War, space race and the war on poverty. But while Smith places his music in context of broader American history, it is the struggle for black equality and freedom that is at the forefront of this music. Evoking the names of Emmit Till, Medgar Evers and the Little Rock Nine, the music reflects the price that had to be paid by those courageous enough to press for progress. Moving begone that historical era and evoking the horror of the September 11 attacks, along with a three part suite called "America" and the composition "Democracy," Smith brings the music back full circle to remind us that the promise of America did not end with the Civil Rights Act and that the vow of "freedom and justice for all" is an ongoing process that must continue if America is to live up to it's lofty ideals. It is interesting that Smith would choose to combine works for his Golden Quintet with those written for the Southwest Chamber Ensemble, combining the music of African-Americans with that of European Americans to show us through music that the lessons of the civil rights era are freedom and equal opportunity for all with all people working together for a greater good. This is an important and thoughtfully done project that shows the beauty and the horror of a particular time in American history, when the very nature of its people were in flux, and Smith shows great courage and fortitude in seeing this project to fruition. Ten Freedom Summers -

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Double Tandem - Cement (PNL, 2012)

This is a collectively improvised session recorded live at Cementen in Norway. The band consists of Ab Baars on tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet and shakuhachi, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion and Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and Bb clarinet. All three men are well versed in each others music, having performed together in many other settings, so this was truly a meeting of the minds. "Marl" opens the album with probing squeaks and percussion building up and developing. The way the two reed players work together is quite interesting on this track they seem to be taking turns supporting each other, laying down lines that compliment rather than conflict. Nilssen-Love takes a   rolling drum solo that is patient and never overly busy. One of the saxophonists moves to clarinet at the end of the piece for a swirling solo and both men will swap saxophone and clarinet for the remainder of the album. On the short interlude "Skarn," the music comes in short, slow abstract waves, with an interlude of high pitched horns intertwining over skittish percussion. "Shale" is the epic of the album, clocking over thirty minutes and running the gamut of emotions from tumultuous to gentle. Wavy drums and sax introduce the music with the saxophones stretching out in a powerful collectively improvised section. Stretching out long tones of reeds over light percussion, the music moves suite like fashion between solo, duo and trio sections. From playful squeaks against ringing bells to the haunting texture of Baars' shakuhachi, they cover a lot of improvisatory ground. Fans of free improvisation should be quite happy with the results. The fact that these men can come together in real time and create art in real time is very impressive. Cement - Squidco.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hailey Niswanger - The Keeper (Calmit Productions, 2012)

Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger is a promising young musician just out of Boston's Berklee College of Music and recently relocated to Brooklyn. Her compositions and cover tunes reflect her interest bop and post-bop genres of jazz and her continued investigation of the history of jazz. On this album, she is joined by Takeshi Ohbayashi on piano, Max Moran on bass, and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums. For three selections, trumpeter Darren Barrett adds to the group. "Scraps" and "The Tale of Dale" are the hardest hitting performances on the album, taking a burning uptempo track that effectively grabs attention and develops an appealing early 1960's Blue Note feel. The pace is lightened a bit on "Straight Up" and "Norman" which take a medium tempo and melodic approach with mild mannered saxophone over solid piano trio accompaniment. Barrett makes his presence felt on the bebop standard "Milestones" played at a swinging pace over light percussion. The song develops further with some lightly shaded saxophone and dexterous trumpet. Thelonious Monk's "Played Twice" starts with a gentle reading of the melody then a flighty alto solo and a solid piano, bass and drums interlude, finally gives way to a saxophone and drums section that makes for a fine payoff. This was a well done album by a precocious talent. It can't be easy for a young musician to make it in the ever dwindling scene, but Niswanger certainly has the talent to do so. The Keeper -

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Janel and Anthony - Where is Home (Cuneiform, 2012)

Janel and Anthony are a duo consisting of cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Priog. They combine with the benefit of some electronics and loops to create a sound world all their own, falling in-between the cracks of jazz, classical and cinematic music. “Big Sur” opens with a deeply felt bass line and some jangly guitar. Developing into an electric prog-rock type section where Lepin’s cello swoops and glides with a vaguely Middle Eastern sounding voice, combining with solid electric guitar. The next few tracks combine into a medley of slow and spooky soundscapes, eerie and textural. “Lily in the Garden” features ghostly slow guitar and cello that ebbs and flows like the tide, slow and probing with a ravishing sound. “Mustang Song” evokes a spare desert landscape with the duo’s eclectic music drawing on a sense of wariness as if from a long trip. This was an unusual and enigmatic album, created as if the sounds are coming from a hall of mirrors where nothing is as it seems. Fans of outsider music and post-rock experiments should consider this worth their while. Where Is Home -

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Many Arms - Many Arms (Tzadik, 2012)

Blurring the lines between post-punk rock and free jazz, the exciting trio Many Arms makes such conventions moot by combining rock intensity with jazz intricacy. They also assiduously avoid any of the trappings of a progressive rock chops-fest, by keeping even their lengthy improvisations taut and the flow of the music inexorable. Consisting of Nick Millevoi on guitar, John DeBlase on bass and Ricardo Lagomasino on drums, the band limits itself to three lengthy performances on this album. ”Beyond Territories” and ”Rising Artifacts in a Five Point Field” develop a Mahahavishnu Orchestra like power albeit cycled through James ”Blood” Ulmer’s playing on classic recordings like Tales of Captain Black and Ornette Coleman’s Body Meta. They come on fast and strong and the energy level is extremely high, but the music is all the more exciting for that, like watching a troupe of acrobats on a high trapeze. ”In Dealing With The Laws Of Physics On Planet Earth” does slow things down for a little bit, allowing the band the band to show its command of dynamic structure, by building block by block until the reach an over the top crescendo. Accessible by both jazz fusion fans and those of punk rock affiliations this album remains thrilling throughout. Many Arms -

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Steve Swell’s Nation of We - The Business Of Here: Live @ Roulette, August 13th 2008 (Cadence, 2012)

After moving to New York City from Jersey City in the 1970’s trombonist Steve Swell has played everything from Broadway tunes to ecstatic free jazz blowouts. This is one of the latter, with his large improvising ensemble Nation of We, 22 members strong, caught blowing up a storm at the New York City jazz venue Roulette. This is a long, continuous 70+ minute set with the music ebbing and flowing through different passages and configurations of instruments and featuring some very talented soloists like the saxophonists Darius Jones and Sabir Mateen and Matt LaVelle on trumpet. The music moves from riotous free blowing sections to those of abstract subtle quiet and even a spoken word recitation. Building potential energy like a roller coaster the band roars down to begin the disc with collective improvisation and solo sections in which the rest of the ensemble frames and supports to soloist. The music is very powerful but never out of control, somewhat akin to Sam Rivers' Rivbea Orchestra or William Parker’s Little Huey Big Band. The large ensemble builds a lot of trust and there is a great deal of give and take among the musicians, building a web of sound that can be quite intricate. Part of the thrill of this recording is listening to the musicians create in the moment mindfully, aware of the structure and scaffolding of the writing, but free to make their own interpretation. The ensemble sections are tight and the solos are very impressive, making for a very exciting and hypnotic performance. The Business of Here - iTunes

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Talking Cows - Almost Human (Jazzsick Records, 2012)

Possessing a welcome dose of wit that is a hallmark of the “New Dutch Swing,” the group Talking Cows from The Netherlands consists of Frans Vermeerssen on tenor saxophone, Robert Vermeulen on piano, Dion Nijland on double bass and Yonga Sun on drums. Influenced by jazz iconoclasts like Thelonious Monk and Misha Mengelberg, the music moves at a brisk pace and shows a shrewd knowledge of jazz both past and present. The album is well performed throughout, mixing live and studio recordings. Among the highlights are the tongue in cheek “A Serious Lack of Humor” which opens with Nijland’s bass before the rest of the band comes storming in. The music is taken at a fast pace with propulsive drumming increasing the drive and velocity of the performance. Sun is particularly powerful on drums, keeping the pot boiling the whole way. Playing with a medium tempo choppy feel, “Dinner is Served” toys with the aura of Monk and features a nicely developed saxophone solo. The pace picks up with an concentrated interlude for piano, bass and drums before soaring to a fine conclusion. Clattering percussion and bass develop a funky groove to usher in “Most Def!” which shows the full band developing a deep pocket for their music. Saxophone and drums dig in deep to power the track through to a fine finish. The compositions on this album were quite well done, demonstrating the band’s varied skills and repertoire. It was an enjoyable and fun album with an with a direct sound and concept. Almost Human -

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Quintus McCormick - Still Called the Blues (Delmark, 1012)

Singer and guitarist McCormick plays a grab bag mix of soul funk, R and B and rock music. McCormick has a deep and soulful voice and plays some fine guitar on a selection of lovelorn tales and funky filagrees. Some of the soulful work recalls the classic R and B and soul of the 1970's but McCormick keeps the music varied and thoughtfully done. He mixes his own deep soul songs like ”Always Searching For Your Love” and ”I'm In Love With You Baby” with some covers like The Beatles ”Oh Darlin'" and a gritty take on Bob Seger's ”Old Time Rock and Roll.” Still Called The Blues -

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aych - As the Crow Flies (Relative Pitch, 2011)

This is an angular and abstract album of progressive jazz from a collective unit consisting of Jim Hobbs on alto saxophone, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and brass. The music has an sharp cornered and edgy feel with ominous overtones flowing through it, like walking through a closed carnival late at night, where shadows and un-nerving noises lurk in wait. The performances are a mix of Jim Hobbs compositions like the lengthy title track and high-wire free improvisations credited to the group as a whole. The short collective improvisations are quite exciting like "The North Wind" or "Bimini Road" where the group develops a short pointed performances spontaneously. Hobbs' own compositions go into greater textural depth, using the full palette of sounds available from the trio. Hobbs and Bynum spit and slur their lines obscuring the music until the mostly short pieces become one haunting sphere of sound. Mary Halvorson alternatively strums her guitar and hurls bolts of nervous energy complementing the other two instruments and adding to the atmosphere of the recording. As the Crow Flies -

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up - The Air is Different (482 Music, 2012)

This is a very nice post bop quintet session with excellent band interplay. Led by drummer Tomas Fujiwara and consisting of Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Trevor Dunn on bass and Brian Settles on tenor saxophone. The band achieves a very potent and progressive sound, with the leader providing ever shifting and pulsating rhythms accompanied by rock solid bass. Settles and Finlayson make for an excellent front line, playing in unison and soloing well, but the real center of attention is Mary Halvorson, who seemingly has the ability to dictate the feeling of the music at will with gentle strums, probing strokes and electric shards of guitar that permeate the music. The album is well paced with short nimble selections like the brisk "Double Lake, Defined" leading into the later longer works "Smoke Breathing Lights" and "Postcards" which build dynamically to powerful and satisfying conclusions. The payoff is that this is an excellent album, with suburb ensemble and group playing. The musicians in their group all have their own groups and configurations, but hopefully they will be able to reconvene and record again soon, because they're on to something special here. The Air is Different -

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Darius Jones Quartet - Book of Mae'Bul: Another Kind of Sunrise (AUM Fidelity, 2012)

Alto saxophonist and composer Darius Jones completes the first trilogy in his Man’ish Boy series with this album accompanied by Matt Mitchell on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass and Ches Smith on drums. The music has the ability to move from bop-based jazz to free music, using space and sound as a malleable substance. Jones uses his deep and piercing saxophone tone to develop texture and sonic waves to great effect and the quartet develops as an organic entity, mindfully channeling their own transitory nature to keep the music fresh and alive. “The Enjoli Moon” opens the album with pinched and ripe alto saxophone playing a circular melody over bouncing piano chords as Jones further develops his impressive solo statement, building in fast and raw. A sweet melody, gentle as a lullaby is featured in “The Fagley Blues” which also incorporates a fine piano, bass and drums section, before Jones returns with the rhythm section deftly supporting him. Jones’ yearning, dark hewn sound imbues “My Baby,” playing over a jagged piano, bass and drum backdrop. “You Have Me Seeing Red” has strong, fast group playing moving into an emotionally wrought saxophone section which evolves into the gentle ballad “So Sad” which is dark and haunting. I liked this album a lot, it had a searching, seeking tone that was emotionally resonant and very impressive. The artwork is extraordinary too, making me wish for a vinyl version. Book of Mae'Bul: Another Kind of Sunrise -

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rockin' Johnny Band - Grim Reaper (Delmark, 2012)

Guitarist and vocalist “Rockin Johnny” Burgin worked his way into an admirable position on the current Chicago blues scene the hard way, making his way from South Carolina to the Windy City, and earning the nickname “Rockin’ Johnny” as a DJ at a college radio station. Rockin’ Johnny began playing in the clubs of Chicago’s West Side with blues singer Taildragger, and then began touring nationally as a sideman with former Howlin’ Wolf drummer Sam Lay and blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins. Rockin’ Johnny has a slow and drawn out way of phrasing his vocals, reminiscent of Charlie Musslewhite and Mose Allison. Supported by Rick Kreher on rhythm guitar, John Sefner on bass, Steve Bass and drums and Big D on harmonica. Rockin’ Johnny’s guitar work is economical and potent, and some of the tracks are framed by horn arrangements. The music is solid and respectable and you can imagine how it must whip up a crowd on a Saturday night. The title track “Grim Reaper” is an interesting one to come out of the gate with, a crossroads like tale of trying to keep death at bay. He plays to his strengths with the working man’s lament “It's Expensive To Be Broke,” then lovelorn “One And One Ain't Two,” and the travelling itinerant musicians plea “Shoe Leather and Tire Rubber.” Grim Reaper -

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Books: Sara Benincasa, John Connolly

Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My BedroomAgorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sara Benincasa is a reporter, blogger and stand-up comic. The fact that she could accomplish all of these things in the midst of crippling depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts is amazing and inspiring. Her book is quite funny, but serious at the same time, as she talks about a debilitating panic attack that briefly hospitalized her during a student trip to Italy made worse by a group of mean kids bent on tormenting her. When she was in college, she developed a debilitating fear of leaving her apartment, and even using the bathroom. Melting down into complete agoraphobia, she had to have her parents come to drive her home at her lowest point. The very idea that she is able to relate these and other stories with a touch of self-deprecating humor is very inspiring, especially for someone who has struggled with depression and panic disorders for many years. It is good to hear a success story of someone who went to the brink a couple of times but made it through to the other side to not only talk about it (the hardest part) but really open herself up an laugh about it. This book is both funny and thought provoking.

The White Road (Charlie Parker, #4)The White Road by John Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an old friend of detective Charlie Parker calls him to ask for help in protecting a defendant in a high-profile murder case he does so with great trepidation. His partner is pregnant and his nemesis, the evil Reverend Faulker, is soon to be released on bail. Reluctantly traveling to South Carolina, Parker discovers that the accused murderer is the latest in a long line of black men who have run afoul of an old-school wealthy white family. When things go pear shaped and bodies start to pile up, Parker must uncover the truth about a secret shared amongst men who are turning up dead. He is in a race against time to find the killer, have a reckoning with Faulkner and stare down his own demons. Like most of the Parker novels, there is a deep vein of melancholy running through this story, especially this time with Parker out of his element in the deep south. Using a narrative that weaves back and forth in time and the perspective of different characters, Connolly develops a compelling story. We do learn more about the nature of Parker's enigmatic friends Angel and Louis and what events shaped their characters. Connolly uses evocative natural images like the imagery used by James Lee Burke to great effect. The supernatural element is toned down in this novel, although there are still some overtones of the unnatural.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kullhammar/Aalberg/Zetterberg - Basement Sessions Vol. 1 (Clean Feed, 2012)

In the notes on the Clean Feed Records web site, they are almost apologetic about this album, likening it to a refugee from the "hard bop museum." I think they doth protest too much, because this is an excellent album of crackling modern jazz that does nod to Rollins and Coltrane, but makes no bones about going its own way in a thoroughly modern fashion. The band is a collective of Jonas Kullhammar on saxophones, Espen Aalberg on drums and Torbjurn Zetterberg on bass. The opening "As Tajm Goes By" sets the tone for the remainder of the album with a fast uptempo trio improvisation bookending an open bass and percussion feature. The rubber really meets the road on ”7th Father" where the band takes off at a very fast clip, featuring Kullhammar great saxophone (tenor or baritone?) and using overblown accents to ramp up the excitement. The whole trio is playing like gangbusters on this one, strong freebop anchored by great drumming. Slow bass and almost surreal saxophone playing open ”Den Stora Vantan” with low blowing down deep giving the music an ominous feel of a late night foghorn cutting across a lonely sea, giving way to deep peals of anguished saxophone, making for a true dark night of the soul. With that excoriating performance out of their system, ”Pontiac” develops as a three way stylish modern jazz improvisation. Kullhammar builds tension with a repetitive figure before breaking into a powerful solo. This is well controlled and articulated jazz with a great rhythmic base from the bass and drums. Aalberg takes a brief drum solo to open ”Shadow” making way for strong bass and saxophone with a piercing tone. The trio networks well at fast tempos as Kullhammar breaks free for an exciting statement. The passion builds as he takes his solo into the upper reaches of the saxophone and spreads the wealth for a nice bass and drums feature. Basement Sessions Vol.1 -

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Alexander Hawkins - All There, Ever Out (Babel Records, 2012)

British pianist and keyboardist Alexander Hawkins continues his interesting musical experiments, getting bold swaths of sound from the from the diverse groups and pairings of musicians on this album that are fascinating to hear. He will play with the full group and then split the music down into discrete settings to bring his compositions to light. This album features Otto Fischer on electric guitar, Hannah Marshall on cello, Dominic Lash on double bass, Javier Carmona on drums and percussion and Orphy Robinson on marimba. The combination of marimba and percussion on a few tracks leads the music into very interesting territory, adding aspects of African and Latin music to the progressive jazz sound of the band. Tracks like “Ahab” develop around Hawkins rhythmic piano and Caramona’s robust drumming. His piano is also the centerpiece of “Tatum Token III” where cello, piano and marimba develop a unique soundscape. “Marta” and "AW-JL (Differently)” go in a different direction featuring the cello and slowly adding the other instruments into classical sounding motifs. The compositions on this album were quite well done, demonstrating Hawkins’ varied skills and repertoire. It was an enjoyable and exploratory album with an alluring sound and concept. All There, Ever Out -

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Andrew Lamb Trio - Honeymoon on Saturn (CIMP, 2012)

When I first read the album title, Honeymoon on Saturn, I thought that it might be a tribute to Sun Ra. But although not a direct tribute, the music made by this trio has much in common with the music of the Arkestra including strong passionate playing and a dynamic musical approach. The instrumentation is what gives this album a unique flavor, with Andrew Lamb on tenor saxophone, Tom Abbs on bass and tuba and Warren Smith on glockenspiel and drums. The bumping and slurring effects of the tuba really expand the musical possibilities offered to the group particularly on the lengthy opener "Land of the Pure at Heart" where the tuba sometimes takes on the role of bass as well as shadowing Lamb's saxophone and stepping out on its own. Smith's gently played percussion eases the group in while the tide of musical improvisation continues to build. "Honeymoon on Saturn" has Abbs in a dual role, acting as a pivot point for the very strong and passionate saxophone and drums (and screams of excitement) to revolve. The band slows down the torrid pace on "The Call of Love's True Name" playing in a very spacious and probing manner. "A Alegria E O Prazer de uma boa Tarte" takes its time developing but eventually resolves into a very coherent uptempo improvisation where Lamb's clearly articulated saxophone really makes its presence felt. The sarcastic "Theme for Radio Crude Oil" ends the album on a sardonic note with marshaling drums herding the saxophone and bass into a taught, pithy improvisation. There was a lot to enjoy on this album, the playing was adventurous and powerful and the whole conception of the album was well thought out with the goal of making the most of the possibilities available to the group. Honeymoon on Saturn (misspelled) - iTunes.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Mary Halvorson - Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12, 2012)

Daring guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson has been garnering much attention for her work as a collaborator and a leader on several notable albums. After releasing 2011's highly regarded Saturn Sings, she is back in the leadership role, working with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto saxophone, John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums. The album is an interesting and well shaded set of music that takes its inspiration from a variety of sources from avant-garde jazz to rock music, but remains true to the band's risk taking musical nature. "Hemorrhaging Smiles (No. 25)" shows her guitar getting crunchy during an improvised section backed by great drumming, with the horns adding a sunny and memorable melody. Halvorson shows an angular sense of guitar playing on "Forgotten Men In Silver (No. 24)" in a trio concept developing a mysterious and enigmatic music filled with atmosphere and tension. "The Periphery Of Scandal (No. 23)" is another trio track where the group takes a more open and spacious approach becoming increasingly stronger as they develop a thrilling section of distorted guitar and pulsating drums. These are some highlights, but the whole album is a compelling listen and another feather in the cap of one of the most fascinating musicians in contemporary jazz. Mary Halvorson has developed her own unique conception of music, and it is very exciting to hear. As this group stays together and gets more performing opportunities the music becomes all the more powerful. Bending Bridges -

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Books: Immobility by Brian Evenson

ImmobilityImmobility by Brian Evenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Josef Horkai is woken from cryogenic deep-freeze into a life he can scarcely recognize. The world has been irrevocably altered by a cataclysm known as "the kollaps" and the human race has been reduced to scattered groups or "hives" trying to scratch out an existence from a ruined Earth. Horkai is paralyzed from the waist down, but is told by the mysterious group leader Rasmus that he must go on a mission out into the radioactive wasteland in search of a mysterious cylinder that has been taken by a rival group, and that he is the only one who can get it. He is literally carried on his quest by two "mules", humans bred for strength, but susceptible to the radiation that Horaki is somehow immune to. As they set off into the ruined landscape, Horkai begins to realize that he is being manipulated, and that all is not as it seems. I was enthralled by Evenson's previous book, Last Days, and found this to be similar in some respects. Both the characters and the plot are enigmatic and mysterious with the journey (superficially reminiscent to Cormac McCarthy's The Road) filled with trials and the outcome wholly unexpected. The book also explores issues of religion and fanaticism and their effect on society. Evenson writes really well and the story moves along briskly. It can be a bit of a downer, but Horkai and the characters he meets are quite compelling, and the post-apocalyptic dystopia makes for a haunting and memorable setting.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tom Tallitsch - Heads or Tails (Posi-Tone, 2012)

Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch looks to demonstrate his talent as player and a composer on his debut for Posi-Tone Records. He is accompanied by Dave Allen on guitar, Jared Gold on organ and Mark Ferber on drums. The album is made up of original compositions and one interesting cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" which is taken as a stately ballad with melodic saxophone leading the way. Among the original compositions, the opener "Coming Around" has a swinging medium tempo feeling with Tallitsch's saxophone sailing over organ bursts and a fluid guitar solo. Switching to a faster pace, "Double Shot" features light textured saxophone improvising over the music before the organ, bass and drums unit gets their turn setting the leader up for a ripe concluding solo. Drums open "Flat Stanley" setting the stage for Gold's organ to fill in with a quasi funky feeling. Tallitsch's saxophone does a little strutting, keeping with the loose feeling of the song. "Travel Companion" reverts to a medium tempo with the full band improvising on the melody. Gold makes long tones on the organ before building to a flashy solo and Allen makes his mark here as well probing and embellishing on his solo. This was a solid album, definitely worth looking into if you are a fan of modern mainstream jazz. The music is straight ahead and focused on melodic improvisations and remains quite accessible. Heads Or Tales -

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Clare Fischer Orchestra - Extension (Pacific Jazz, 1963; International Phonograph, 2012)

Pianist and composer Clare Fischer had paid his dues working with a vocal group along with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Donald Byrd before recording two trio albums for Pacific Jazz. Getting the chance to perform and compose for a large ensemble featuring his own compositions and arrangements, he produced an excellent big band LP, just as big bands were beginning to fade from the scene. The music has an instantly identifiable sound reminiscent of Pacific Jazz records of the period by the likes of Gerald Wilson, with swirling organ and piano supporting a large group of reeds and brass with short, sharp compositions and arrangements leading to crisp charts and pithy solos. The music cuts a wide swath, from the classically influenced “Igor” to the deeply rhythmic “Canto Africanto” which demonstrates Fischer's budding interest in Latin and African music. “Extension” is a two-part suite, beginning as a deeply felt slow blues before developing wings and taking flight in the second half. Fischer’s arrangements make for dynamic performances that are sure to appeal to aficionados of large group jazz. As usual the presentation by the International Phonograph label is immaculate with a beautifully remastered CD, digitally transferred directly from the 3 track master tapes, allowing the sound of the big band ensemble to be preserved and capturing the landscape of tones, textures, colors and shadings that Fischer made full use of. The CD is enclosed in a replica LP gatefold sleeve and includes extensive liner notes and session information, making for a  very classy package. Extension -

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Monday, May 07, 2012

John Zorn - Mount Analogue (Tzadik, 2012)

John Zorn has always been inspired by mystery and mysticism. On this free flowing composition, he doesn't play, but composes and conducts for Cyro Baptista's quartet "Banquet Of The Spirits" plus Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone. The composition is one continuous 38 minute suite of brooding mysterious music. The sound is lush and spacious with excellent bass playing and fascinating vibes. Developing through skittish piano and brushes, and then shifting back to a shining a vibraphone section developing into a creepier vibe with some spoken voices mumbling and chanting unintelligibly in the background this music is appealing and accessible. Shimmering vibes are the key and Wollensen really makes this album, playing alternately spooky and bright. There's a spacious, unhurried feeling with probing vibes and piano, subtle bass and drums creating a very cinematic feel like one of Zorn's film works projects. As the performance progresses, chiming vibes fly over repeating piano figure building up tension in the music slowly before giving way to another shift to acoustic guitar coming to the forefront. Drawing inspiration from spiritual sources the music is thoughtful and well paced. Patient and enigmatic, this is a continually interesting program. Mount Analogue -

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Terrie Ex/Paal Nilssen Love - Hurgu! (PNL, 2012)

This high-energy duet features guitarist Terrie Ex from the seminal Dutch punk rock band The Ex and the omnipresent Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The music is quite exciting, a combination of punk rock and free-jazz that works really well. “Harar” opens the album building tension into a snarling punkish free improvisation where shards of of guitar sounding like pieces of a cracked mirror reflecting light into the pummeling drum assault of hit metal-melting music. Ex scrapes his guitar over riveting dums developing a poison sting of liberating noise. “St. George” stretches the elastic landscape of space and time before slashing guitar envelops the music in a massive metallic wall of sound. Nilssen-Love enters three minutes into the performance and the onslaught begins in earnest with a torrential outpouring of glorious noise. Slabs of sculpted sound waves feeding back into the striking percussion. Scrapes and sighs rattle and clank on “Beadle” squeaking like an old mattress, before Ex enters with gunshots of excoriating feedback. Nilssen-Love builds a massive backbeat against spikes of guitar. The concluding “Meta” brings the album to an abstract conclusion using light percussion and reverberating guitar against increasingly prevalent silence. This album was a lot of fun to listen to and frequently thrilling, it should appeal to both fans of free jazz and punk or indie rock.

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FWIW: Last week's listening

My Top 5 #lastfm Artists: Ralph Bowen (18), World Saxophone Quartet (17), Vinny Golia (16), John Zorn, Rob Burger, Kevin Norton & Bill Laswell (16) & Jack White (13)

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