Saxophonist Doug Webb grew up in California before moving east to study at Berklee. He is in great demand as a sideman and a film score composer, and this album presents him leading a band with Peter Zak on piano, Dwayne Bruno on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. This is a well played and accessible modern mainstream jazz album that takes its inspiration from the likes of Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. “Mr. Milo” opens the album at a bright, swinging tempo. A strong piano, bass and drums break is wrapped on either side by Webb’s saxophone which has an appealing classic tenor tone. Starting as a ballad, “One For Art” then jumps up as an exercise in uptempo hard-bop. Royston is featured appropriately as his percussion drives the band forward as well as trading phrases with Webb’s saxophone. “Another Step” is a very nice fast paced performance based on John Coltrane’s classic song “Giant Steps.” the music is bright and sharp and tumbles forward in an enjoyable fashion. The band is very tight on “Rhythm with Rudy” where tight saxophone and drums interplay makes for a locked in rhythmic feel. “Verdi Variations” also evokes John Coltrane, beginning with a dark and spiritual feel, where he reaches forth on the saxophone, stretching and searching. Another Scene - amazon.com
Shauli Einav is an up and coming jazz saxophonist from Israel. He has a light and buoyant tone that is very appealing on tenor and soprano saxophones and the remainder of the group consists of Itai Kriss on flute, Don Friedman on piano, Or Bareket on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. “Thermo Blues” opens the album with the quartet playing with great dexterity, and the leader moves from a choppy theme into a confident tenor saxophone solo. There is a medium tempoed jaunty swing on “The More I See You” where Freidman’s rippling piano leads the band into a deep and accessible swing. The flute of Itai Kriss enters on “As You Like It” intertwined with Einav’s saxophone. In the pocket bass and drums are quite supportive of a lengthy flute solo. Musicians trade phrases, and then take the tune out. Saxophone and flute again intertwine on “Land of Nod” where an interesting drum rhythm sets up some strong, gutsy tenor saxophone, and then there is a section of subtle bubbling percussion with the softer breath of flute. “Renewal” is also a very exciting song, with Einav switching to soprano saxophone, and the light tone of that instrument combined with flute make for a light and airy sound. Saxophone and extended flute solos follow before the two instruments return to harmony and a driving drum feature leads to a graceful fade out. This album worked quite well, and mainstream jazz fans should find much to interest them. The combined front line of saxophone and flute made for an appealing combination and the rhythm section played very well whether supporting or soloing. Generations - amazon.com
Moondance was Van Morrison’s third album as a leader, and was a follow up to the timeless Astral Weeks. Whereas that album was about the spiritual side of Morrison’s work, this album represents the earthier, flesh and blood side. Originally released in 1970, it was extremely well received and became a staple on the emerging FM album oriented radio format. This version is the 2CD remastered version with the original LP on one disc and a selection of alternate takes and extra tracks on the second. There is also a whopping 5CD version with many alternate takes and a BLU-RAY with high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround sound audio of original album. The original album is nonpareil, ranging from the iconic title track with it’s jazzy arrangement for piano and saxophone to the driving rhythm and blues of “Caravan” and “Glad Tidings.” The album shows the range of music and lyrics that Morrison was capable of from the falsetto laden ballad “Crazy Love” to the introspective and allegorical songs “And It Stoned Me” and “Into the Mystic.” If the original album is flawless, the disc of alternate takes and extras is surprisingly good. While it is interesting to see the band experiment with different arrangements on the alternate takes, there are a couple of rhythm and blues performances that do not show up on the finished LP that are worthy of note. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” was contemporaneously covered very well by Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos band, but Morrison’s version is no slouch either, hinting at the loneliness and pathos of the famous version by Bessie Smith. “I’ve Been Working” would show up on a subsequent album and would be a staple of Morrison’s live recordings for years to come. Soulful and horn driven, it makes for a powerful performance. This 2CD version is a good deal for Morrison fans, although be aware the he does not support the release (fourth paragraph) of any version. It presents an exquisite version of a classic album and then a selection of rarities that place the original album in context. Moondance Expanded Edition - amazon.com
(Today is my 3,000th post, thank you to everyone who reads this blog.) Pianist Matthew Shipp pulls no punches in either his words or his music. He makes another definitive statement on this album, the latest in a series of solo LP’s that have covered a wide range of ground from jazz tunes and standards to free improvisation. Sutras are pithy collections of wisdom, and Shipp adapts the format work for music very well, developing short improvisations ranging from one to five minutes. It is quite a work of restraint, instead of trying to cram in as many notes as possible, Shipp takes a pithy approach, allowing the notes and chords of the piano to hang in space and time in stark relief against the silence. There is also some very delicate playing - not ornamental, but elegant and probing, and many of the songs on the album have a haiku-like brevity. Short teases of “Giant Steps” and “Nefertiti” demonstrate his ties to the jazz tradition, as he weaves glimpses of the melody like a sleight of hand artist performing magic and illusion. Shipp plays the depth and breadth of the piano building structural foundations out of notes and chords. Most of the pieces on this album are subtle, and the listener is given a fleeting glimpse of the music before it drifts away on the wind. The performances here are quite short and to the point, and the album itself is quite economical. It is very interesting to watch Shipp's music continually develop, he is never willing to sit still and his individual style is that of one who is in control of the entire piano and of his muse, allowing him free reign to let his musical spirit free, moving forward at all times. Piano Sutras - amazon.com
The wonderful progressive jazz group Mostly Other People Do the Killing has gently skewered jazz genres from hard-bop to smooth jazz. On this album they turn their sights to early jazz combining the music of the 1920’s with their post-modern aesthetic. The core lineup of the band remains the same: Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxophones, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums. For this album, they also welcome guests: Brandon Seabrook on banjo, Rob Stabinsky on piano and David Taylor on trombone. This does alter the bands sound slightly, but works very well considering the type of music they are exploring on this album. Stabinsky in particular shows wit and bravado and an encyclopedic knowledge of the music that is on display throughout, referencing everything from early jazz through contemporary pop music. “The Shickshinny Shimmy” moves toward the goal of combining the group’s modern jazz feel with the of the music which is nearly 100 years old. The mash up works surprisingly well, especially during Irabagon’s witty solo. “Red Hot” which begins with a piercing tone before developing into a happy lurching groove, propelled by Seabrook’s driving banjo and fast paced trills. “King of Prussia” has some excellent bowed bass soloing in an open and expansive setting. An interesting drum solo opens “Zelienople” before the horns come in to take over. The album works well, and cements the group’s position as one of the most interesting bands on the current jazz scene. Red Hot - amazon.com
Alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne had a critical hit last year with his ECM debut Snakeoil, and he returns on this follow-up leading a band of the same name. He is joined on this album by Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums, percussion and vibes. The music is quite dynamic in its intensity, moving from loud to soft and from spare to full bodied in a fresh and unpredictable manner. “Son of Not So Sure” opens the album the slow with abstract notes and smears and Mitchell’s piano building against the silence. He builds to a cascade of notes with probing horn in the background and the music grows louder through thrashing drums and keening saxophone. The band comes out blasting on “Static” led by clattering drums and hollow sounding clarinet making for a very compelling sound. Berne plays some of his most scalding and thrilling saxophone here, stark and powerful when framed against Smith’s vibes. “Psalm” is a change of pace, with light piano and saxophone playing in a reverential manner. “OC/DC” is the first of three epics that make up the remainder of the album. Jumping in with fast and exciting and exciting piano and saxophone before downshifting to a swirl of reeds and vibes. The music builds with Brene’s saxophone playing strong free-bop making for sensational excitement. Once again they ease back down for a Noriega feature, before everyone comes together in a raucous conclusion. “Socket” punches hard with some very exciting bellowing saxophone and heavy drums giving way to a finale that features strong almost desperate emotion. The album is wrapped up with the song “Cornered (Duck)” that has a fast and frenetic opening, they draw potential energy and then come flying out in a burst of the kinetic power of crashing piano and drums and wild overblown saxophone. This album has challenging and bracing music that is relentlessly creative. Moving through time and melding the shape and density of the music they are able to develop a unique band sound, one that continues to flow and evolve. Shadow Man - amazon.com
Three decades plus in the making, The first volume in Crouch's biography of Charlie Parker is a curious, but enjoyable read. The opening chapter of the book finds Parker at the cusp of the breakthroughs that would catapult him to immortality, getting ready for a battle of the bands with the Jay McShann Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in 1940. Then we snap back to the beginning, where the young Parker is growing up in Kansas City, having his head turned around by the famous musicians of the city. His indulgent mother buys him a saxophone and his obsession had begun. There were many bumps on the road: being laughed off the bandstand for not being able to play in the proper key, drug addiction from an early age, a teenage marriage that he was ill-equipped to deal with and more. Charlie Parker wasn't born a genius, he didn't sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads for talent, he got there through sheer pigheaded practice and determination to the exclusion of all else. Crouch tracks his progress through local bands, territory orchestras, and hoboing all the way to New York for his aborted first crack at stardom. He would return to Kansas City one more time, before lighting out for New York again to co-lead the bebop upheaval and revolutionize jazz. Crouch writes very well and the book is very readable. Despite the number of interviews he conducted in his research, large parts of Parker's early life are unknown, which is not unusual for the biography of a black man living on the margins of a racist society. Crouch indulges his inner novelist, fleshing out the relationships Parker held with his family and fellow musicians. To pad the book out to full size, he also goes on tangents on a dizzying array of topics of the 1930's, anything from Joe Louis' fighting style to mini profiles of musicians like Roy Eldridge and Buster Smith. So what we wind up with is bit of a scattershot amalgamation of fact, speculation, legend, lore and digression. It suits Parker well, he remained and enigma to the end and continues to be so. Kansas City Lightning - amazon.com
This is a collective band featuring John Tchicai and Charlie Kohlhase on saxophones, Garrison Fewell on guitar and percussion, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Recorded live at Birdland in 2007, “Tribal Ghost” opens the album with light horns and guitar floating over a subtle bed of bass and drums. There is low sounding tenor saxophone with a nice gritty sound playing over the undercurrent of the other saxophone, before both of the saxes gain momentum and reach forth. Fewell develops a slow building guitar opening to “The Queen of Ra” that reminds me of the opening of of “Shhh>Peaceful” by Miles Davis. Light bass and drums move in, with pinched alto and tenor saxophones harmonizing and weaving textures. Stuttering blasts of nasal sounding alto and tenor come in with coiled power, playing in stark relief with minimal accompaniment of bowed bass. On “Dark Matter” sombre horns and guitar weave through the music over patient and thoughtful bass and drums, while “Llanto del Indio” ends this live concert with a slow and mysterious opening for guitar and horns, harmonizing in a spectral and haunted manner. Horns move around each other like a double helix, with subtle guitar accents coloring the music further. The album features very light percussion by Billy Hart who plays in a very subtle and shape shifting manner. Fewell has an appealing tone, moving through and weaving in and out if the music. Tchicai and Kohlhase play at a slow burn throughout and the mystical - spiritual - incantatory vibe suits the music well. This is a fine collective album, quiet and thoughtful, played at a summering level which allows space for all voices to be heard, it's a cooperative group where no one dominates. Tribal Ghost - NoBusiness Records.
In the summer and fall of 1968, Soft Machine drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt stayed in America after his band had toured in support of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix bequeathed some of his extra studio time to Wyatt, who produced these demos, lost to this mists of time until just recently. In a lengthy interview contained in the liner notes, Wyatt stated that he would start by laying down a drumbeat and then overdubbing piano, vocals and organ in turn. The music has a quaint psychedelic feel reinforced by Wyatt’s wistful vocals and lyrics. “Chelsea” opens the album with a relatively short song where organ and drums and whispery vocals drift in and out. “Rivmic Melodies” is the first of two epics, a collage of song fragments that would later be recorded by Soft Machine as the first side of their second LP. It is wistful and sly fun, very British, literally reciting the alphabet backwards and then forward. Overdubbing vocals upon vocals give the music a hallucinatory manner of being. From there, Wyatt drifts into Spanish before moving into double time on piano and drums for the conclusion. Jimi Hendrix has a guest spot playing bass on “Slow Walkin’ Talk” which is a jaunty shorter tune with a flavor of rhythm and blues. Hendrix’s strong electric bass meshes well the soulful organ. “Moon in June” would go on to be the centerpiece of Soft Machine’s Third LP and band members Hugh Hopper on bass and Mike Ratledge on organ sit in on the second half of this twenty minute epic. Stream of consciousness lyrics and Wyatt’s yearning voice make for an affecting sound backed by some piano and light cymbals. When Hopper and Ratledge kick in the music moves into a higher gear developing an improvised jam and wordless scat singing. They eventually slow to a quieter section ending the album on a mysterious note. This was a very interesting album, far from a historical curio, it stands on its own as a very enjoyable piece of jazzy psychedelica. The seeds of later Soft Machine and Wyatt solo albums are contained within. Robert Wyatt '68 - amazon.com
Luis Lopes is an adventurous guitarist based in Portugal. He plays free-jazz and improvised music and on this album he makes a solo foray into abstract noise with this spontaneously performed live improvisation from the ZDB Club in Lisbon. The music on this album is bracing and frequently exciting. Opening the album with an expansive drone, Lopes builds tension and excitement before finally releasing squalls of sound and great buzzing bolts of electricity. The closest analogue in jazz could be found in the work of Nels Cline, but the music is more at home with the likes of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (which is critically reviled, but I love it) and the projects of Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke. Lopes sculpts the sounds he produces like a visual artist, bending and shaping it to fit his needs. At times he resembles a conjurer, barely in control of the powerful beast he is summoning. Whether this involves strong attacks of punishing noise or wailing feedback, this is an impressive album where the music comes out of the speakers in powerful shimmering waves. It is not just a blast of unbridled power, Lopes uses a great deal of dynamics that keep the music continually interesting. This cacophonous improvisation is not for the faint of heart, but open-eared music fans should track it down (LP Only). Noise Solo - Bitcartel.com
Pianist Aaron Parks gained a lot of recognition for his album Invisible Cinema where his atmospheric and thought provoking compositions and performances seemed tailor made for the big screen. In this regard, it is fortuitous that he should be signed by ECM, as their exacting and crystalline production values make a fine fit for this album of solo piano. There is a feeling of slow and haunted patience to the music on this album. It’s hard to shake the idea of film scoring, in this case as a soundtrack to deep-blue noir movie where the broken detective faces a dark night of the soul on remorseless rain drenched streets of a late night city before seeking redemption and solace. Parks entered the studio without much material prepared, and it worked in his behalf, in fact it is possible to compare this album to another famous ECM pianist, Keith Jarrett. There are echoes of the spontaneous composition employed by Jarrett in his early solo work like the Koln Concerts and the Bremen/Lausanne concerts. Parks plays in a less florid manner, making each note count and allowing the silence of the recording hall to act as a silent partner in the music. The music ebbs and flows gently and reaches out to invite you into a hypnotic dream world. This album certainly isn’t background music, but close listening yields a thoughtful and consistently well played album. Parks lets his guard down and plays with an open vulnerability, taking inspiration from iconoclasts Paul Bley and Ran Blake in the liner notes, while creating a unique statement of his own. Arborescence - amazon.com
Tisziji Munoz is a guitarist that plays in the tradition of free-spiritual jazz that includes the likes of Sonny Sharrock and Pete Cosey. Several years back he cut an excellent album called Divine Radiance and then presented this concert, which was recorded June 10, 2003 at the Village Underground, in New York City. There is an excellent band on hand, consisting of Munoz on guitar, Paul Shaffer on piano, Pharoah Sanders and Ravi Coltrane on saxophone, Don Pate on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. Shaffer is a well known TV personality, but plays well in this instance as well. He met Munoz in Toronto many years ago and they have been friends ever since with Shaffer helping him out producing and playing keyboards whenever he can. The music is quite powerful, reminiscent of the “new thing” free jazz that was prevalent in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s on the Impulse! record label among others. “Spirit Path” opens the album for horns in an incantatory fashion, then moving into the appropriately titled “God-Fire” which it potent and powerful music that builds slowly and then develops to an impressive conclusion. A short nod to the standard “Nature Boy” evolves into “No Self, No Thought, No Mind” which takes mindful and in the moment playing to a new level as the musicians collaborate spontaneously in a strong and compelling fashion. The two saxophones work quite well together, with Coltrane’s tentative mainstream style met and abetted by Sanders’ forceful musical personality. “We Will Meet Again in Spirit” has electric guitar salvos butting up against caustic saxophone. This album works quite well, the band is soulful and potent and really believes in the material they are playing. Hopefully with this album, Munoz’s stature in the jazz world will rise to meet his considerable talent. Divine Radiance Live! - amazon.com
Alto saxophonist Elton Dean was a powerful member of the British progressive music scene from free jazz through his work with Soft Machine and its offshoots. Recorded in London during 2004 this is a stellar collective session with Paul Dunmall on tenor saxophone, Tony Bianco on drums and Paul Rogers on bass. This double disc set is made up of four lengthy performances featuring different configurations of musicians. "Trio I" opens the album with the Dean/Rogers/Bianco unit, where Dean's alto weaves notes in calamitous fashion along with with brooding bowed bass and agile drumming. Rogers' dexterous bowed bass adds a dark texture to the music, and coupled with Bianco's unpredictable drumming they make for a formidable pair. Paul Dunmall's dusky and yearning tenor joins the fray on "Quartet" using his brawny stature to develop a muscular and lean approach. The music on this performance develops some very exciting interplay of horns with thick throbbing bass and powerfully rhythmic drumming providing even more energy. Alto and tenor saxophones mix and match with varying hues, creating music that is capable of ferocious power and intensity even thought there is little or no pre-composed material. The horns are stripped out on "Duo" leaving Rogers and Bianco to develop a bass and drums conversation that is very impressive in variety and elasticity of movement. Things come full circle with the concluding "Trio II" developing an amalgamation of the discipline and refinement that builds to a thrilling collective finale. Remembrance - NoBusiness Records.
Alto and soprano saxophonist Kenny Garrett leads a wide ranging cast of characters on his new album. He strategically deploys his musicians, strategically shifting them in and out like a cagey football coach as the music veers from deep jazz to lighter fare with a touch of soul. "A Side Order of Hijiki" open the album nicely, playing to his strength which is burning modern jazz with a strong and pungent tone. A tribute to Chick Corea, with whom he toured with in the Five Peace Band, "Hey, Chick" develops slowly, but builds to a deep and thoughtful performance. Garrett adds a nice Afro-Latin feel to "Chucho's Mambo" as well as a bright, swinging calypso tone to the Sonny Rollins tribute "J'ouvert". The title track, "Pushing the World Away" is quite interesting as well. It reveals it's mysteries slowly, with Garrett moving through peaks and valleys of sound. There is some unusual sounding chanting or vocalization that adds a spiritual tinge to the proceedings, recalling the Pharoah Sanders Impulse albums of the early 1970's. Sanders has guested on Garrett's records on the past, so this isn't much of a stretch. Although he doesn't use the overblowing Sanders is known for, the music builds it's own brooding intensity. This is a long album, but you get the sense that Garrett needs the time to demonstrate all the facets of his musical interests. For the most part it works well and shows the depth and breadth of his musical vision. Pushing the World Away - amazon.com.