Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ballister - The Ballister Monologues (Astral Spirits, 2014)

Ballister is a wonderful post-bop/free jazz unit with the awesome lineup of Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. They will play take no prisoners squalling free improvisation which is thrilling to hear, but are also capable of throttling back the actions to sections of spacier, haunting quiet. This album came on cassette tape! How cool is that? Thankfully with a download code since my last tape player went the way of all things a few years ago. The music was recorded live in Austin earlier this year and consists of two side long performances. "The Woman Who Loved to Make Ballisters Happy" is the opening performance and it comes right out of the gate playing hard and fast and very exciting with the raw and ready sound of Rempis' saxophone and withering electronics and jackhammering drums - this kind of intensity would put most rock groups to shame. Listen to an excerpt here. The trio is able to shift through different gears of interplay with Nillsen-Love's drums particularly epic. The music very slowly shifts its course to sections of more space where each member is given a chance to make their statement before falling into a quieter spacious impressionistic phase to end side/track one. "My Angry Ballister" doesn't start out angry at all, but takes up the mantle from the previous track beginning with Rempis exploring empty space with his horn, peeling off waves of raw emotion before the other two members enter the fray. Like the previous track in reverse, the power and majesty of the band's and its music builds back up to a scalding collective free improvisation. The three men work very well together, with Rempis' naked and vulnerable saxophone going from a whisper to a full throated scream at will, and Nilssen-Love, who has seemingly played on 1,000 LP's this year, has pummeling rhythm. Lonberg-Holm is the wild card, almost the trickster as compared to the other more instruments. whether sawing away at his cello or blasting jolts of pure electricity into the proceedings, he has a pivotal role. This was an excellent album, and is well worth picking up for free jazz fans, whether you have a cassette deck handy or not. The Ballister Monologues (mp3)

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

End of the year links

There's a new issue of Point of Departure.
Perfect Sound Forever has articles on Art Pepper and Sun Ra.
The votes are in at the NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Francis Davis breaks it down and offers his own ballot. Tom Hull collates the data, and my ballot is here.
Burning Ambulance counts down their top jazz releases, staring with numbers 25-21.
Hank Shteamer offers his top ten plus.
The NYT's Nate Chinen chimes in with his best of the year list. Ben Ratliff too.
Bomb Magazine has an archival interview with Julius Hemphill.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Books: Van Morrison and William Parker

Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics by Van Morrison - Morrison is certainly an inscrutable figure, unique in whatever genre he belongs in, drifting from rhythm and blues to soul, jazz and gospel, sometimes within the same song. This book tracks a roughly linear path through Morrison's career with a few cuts from his first band, Them, and singles like the immortal "Brown Eyed Girl" and the absolutely devastating "T.B. Sheets" are covered before exploring his revelatory early work. The lyrics on his masterpiece Astral Weeks have been studied and debated ever sine the album was released, so it is very interesting to get the official lyrics which are just as enigmatic as you can imagine. He is working from a state of grace at this point and the lyrics are really for each listener to decide their own meaning. His early '70's work: Moondance, Tupelo Honey and His Band and the Street Choir are quite upbeat, covering issues of love and spirituality. The quest for the spirit would begin to be much more prevalent as his career evolved, sometimes as a sense of the worship of nature and sometimes exploring traditional Christian themes. Juxtaposed against this are quite a few songs that explore the negativity of the music business and travails of life in general. It is made quite clear that Morrison is not happy being a public figure, preferring the silence of contemplation rather than the adulation of the crowd. All in all, though, this is a fascinating look into Morrison's music, perhaps as close as we can really get to a true biography. Amazon

The William Parker Sessionography by Rick Lopez - This is a mind boggling effort of research by Lopez, a jazz discographer and researcher to reflect the date, location and band members for every gig and recording session played by the great bassist and composer William Parker. The results are extraordinary, an epic telephone book sized tome arranged in chronological order compiling all of the information Lopez and fellow traveller Ed Hazell have been able to dig up. Flipping through this book you get the sense that Parker was the hardest working man in the jazz business, playing with anyone and everyone beginning in earnest with his appearance on Frank Lowe's 1973 free-jazz monster Black Beings, before delving headlong into the New York City jazz loft scene of the mid-1970's. His involvement in the cooperative Ensemble Muntu and many other groups kept him quite, busy, but he took the time to record his own music even though he couldn't afford to release it (it was ultimately released in the 2010's by the NoBuniness Label.) As the eighties dawned, Parker really came into his own recording with the likes of Cecil Taylor and becoming a member of one of the greatest jazz groups in recent memory, the incendiary David S. Ware Quartet. Parker's own work began to receive the attention that he deserved during this period, and he was recording voraciously in every context from solo bass to big band. Parker's triumph as a musician and humanitarian is beautifully chronicled with many quotes from musicians and magazine articles included as well as reproductions of flyers and album covers. AUM Fidelity

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Schlippenbach Trio - First Recordings (Trost, 2014)

Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach along with Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxophone and Paul Lovens on drums are one of the longest lasting and most well respected groups in free jazz improvisation. Apparently it all began here on April 2, 1972 during the Workshop Freie Musik at the Acadamy of the Arts, Berlin. It hardly sounds like a first recording, because they come out of the gate with almost telepathic unity on "Deals" which is a continuous collective improvisation lasting over thirty eight minutes. The musicians show an amazing degree of stamina considering that the music is played with a very exciting degree of high energy. While each of these musicians were well on their way to developing their own unique original sounds, Schlippenbach displays a fascinating degree of classical technique filtered through the funhouse fractals of Thelonious Monk's music and Evan Parker's love of John Coltrane is evident. A comparison for Paul Lovens escapes me, but perhaps the fast fleet form of Andrew Cryille or Sunny Murray would be apt. "Deals" is a wonderful roller coaster, most exciting for me when they are barreling ahead full blast with Parker's caustic tone leading the charge over percussive piano and drums. There is quite a bit of dynamism at play as well, the musicians throttle through different speeds and dissolve into solos and duos as the joyride plows onward. Far from exhausted, there are three more shorter improvisations: "Village", "With Forks and Hopes" and then appropriately "Then, Silence." These shorter tracks point to a sharper juxtaposition than the lengthy leading track and show that the group has a wide range and diverse manner of approaches at their command. This was a very enjoyable album, quite exiting in the rough and tumble way that I enjoy, since I often lose my way listening to very quiet and abstract music. This is a must for fans of European free improvisation and is quite interesting in that it shows where the heralded trio got its start. First Recordings - amazon.com

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P.S. the mp3 album on amazon.com is $3.96 (cheap!)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression Part 2: The Music

It is a testament to the power of the Blue Note label that a five disc set can barely scratch the surface with the depth of music and talent running so deep. But rather than trying to tell the entire Blue Note story (that would take one hundred discs plus) the selectors follow the format of the book, breaking the music into the following sections - Disc One: From Boogie to Bop, 1939-1953; Disc Two: Messengers, Preachers and Hard Bop, 1953-1958; Disc Three: Struttin', Moaning', and Somethin' Else, 1958-1960; Disc Four: Bossa, Blues and Hits 1961-1965; and Disc Five: Can You Dig It? 1953-2014. The disc breaks are somewhat arbitrary, but they work well enough to move the story along and highlight major stylistic changes in the music. Disc One is quite interesting from a historical perspective as it shows the label moving from the "hot jazz" of Sidney Bechet, and sticking a tentative toe into bebop as the nature of jazz as a whole moved relentlessly forward in the post-war era. Disc Two covers the first part of the hard-bop era and the label's glory years, featuring prime cuts from Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith and Art Blakey, musicians who really put Blue Note on the map, along with progressive seekers like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Disc Three digs more deeply into the soulful, testifying jazz of this legendary era featuring deep, soulful tracks like Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers "Moaning'" and "True Blue" by the underrated saxophonist Tina Brooks. Looking for a popular record that could help keep them afloat, Blue Note tried some subtle experiments that are showcased on Disc Four. They didn't stray too far from their bread and butter as can be seen by the inclusion of three songs by the great organist Jimmy Smith along with bluesy tracks from guitarists Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. They were still pumping out high quality hard/post bop from the likes of Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, but it was in the groove that they found what they were seeking. Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" climbed the jazz and even pop charts, sustaining the label for a few more years. Finally on Disc Five, the Blue Note label (the brand) began its free-fall through corporate America, first to Liberty Records, then to Capitol and then finally to Universal. The music suffers through this period with very dated attempts at funk-jazz, vocals and other doomed projects. So it's a deal with the devil that keeps Blue Note afloat today, they must have enough money makers like singer Gregory Porter to subsidize the forward thinking jazz of musicians like trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. But all in all it is a good set and takes you on a good (if nostalgic) ride through the label's amazing history. Uncompromising Expression: Singles Collection - amazon.com

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression Part 1: The Book

This lavish doorstop is a beautiful testament to the everlasting impact that Blue Note Records have had on American (and world) culture. It begins as a rags to riches story of two men, Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion, who fled Germany to escape the Holocaust and fascism and moved to America to found one of the most iconic of all record labels. They started out on a shoestring, recording the "hot jazz" they loved, like the boogie-woogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. The book follows the company as they make their tentative steps into bebop, recording Thelonious Monk and Fats Novarro. The meat of the book covers the company's glory years, roughly 1950 - 1970. The book is filled with rampant boosterism, but rightly so, during this period the titans of modern jazz and modern American music as a whole recorded for them. It's a who's who of greats: Monk, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Art Blakey, Grant Green and so many more. The distinctive nature of Blue Note is examined further, looking into the simpatico relationship of Wolff's photography and Reid Miles design techniques which created genuine works of art above and beyond the music. But it couldn't last, as times change and the record buying public turned to rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues, Blue Note was sold to Liberty Records and finally Capitol. There were some good records made in the mid-1970's but they became fewer and farther between before the label lay dormant. There have been sporadic attempts to revive the label with massive reissue campaigns of classic LP's on CD and infusions of new talent. Today the label's roster is a precarious mix of accessible singers and modern instrumental jazz musicians. So the story of Blue Note is told in a continuous narrative, broken into sections that are followed by spotlights on the key albums from that period. It is here that the book really shines with crisp and clear reproductions of Wolff's photographs and contact sheets and gorgeous reproductions of the album covers. This is a very classy book and is highly recommended for fans of the Blue Note label. Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression - amazon.com

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Monday, December 08, 2014

El Intruso -The 8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2014

El Intruso is a website in Spanish founded in 2005 for people who care about music. Our focuses are creative music, jazz and beyond, free improvisation, art-rock and all kind of experimental music. Let us to know your opinion about your favorites in these categories (no more than three choices in each category) Here Goes...

Musician of the year: Sonny Simmons
Newcomer Musician: James Brandon Lewis
Group of the year: Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Nels Cline Singers, Audio One
Newcomer Group: Audio One
Album of the year: John Zorn - Valentine’s Day
Composer: John Zorn, Henry Threadgill
Drums: Dylan Ryan, Paal Nilssen-Love, Chad Taylor
Acoustic Bass: Reid Anderson, Eric Revis, William Parker
Electric Bass: Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten
Guitar: Marc Ribot, Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson
Piano: Kris Davis, Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer
Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Jamie Saft, Larry Goldings, Jared Gold
Tenor Saxophone: Ken Vandermark, Peter Brotzmann, Brian Patneaude
Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake, Steve Lehman, Sonny Simmons
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson, Gary Smulyan
Soprano Saxophone: Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis, Sam Newsome
Trumpet/Cornet: Rob Mazurek, Dave Douglas
Clarinet/bass clarinet: Jeremiah Cymerman, David Murray
Trombone: Steve Swell, Steve Davis
Flute: Henry Threadgill, Nicole Mitchell
Violin/Viola: Jessica Pavone, Eyvind Kang, Jenny Scheinman
Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm
Vibraphone - Jason Adasiewicz, Bobby Hutcherson
Electronics: Rob MazurekOthers instruments: Brandon Seabrook (banjo), Sonny Simmon (Cor anglais)
Female Vocals: Linda Sharrock, Leena Conquest
Male Vocals: Theo Bleckman
Best Live Band: The Thing, Jon Irabagon Trio, The Bad Plus
Record Label: Cuneiform, Improvising Beings, Clean Feed

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Miles Davis - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (Columbia, 2009)

So, Miles Davis, relatively healthy and in the midst in leading on of his many revolutionary movements in jazz, turning to electric musical instruments and cut-up techniques in the studio. Bitches Brew was released to flummoxed masses in 1970, and the backlash from mouldy figs came hard without subtlety. Ignored by Davis who was (arguably) to strongest he has ever been, a necessity to cut through the tumult breaking loose around him. Along for the ride are Gary Bartz on soprano saxophone, Chick Corea on electric piano, Keith Jarrett on organ, Dave Holland on electric bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. Miles performed on Saturday afternoon of the 29th (following Tiny Tim!) Of the up to 700,000 attendees, I wonder how many would understand what was going on. Miles muscular blasts, he then turning his back on the audience (something he had done for many years (no announcement of song titles while spilled out it a thirty-five minute performance (split up?) moving from suite to suite in a fashion that connects all of the music together. His set opener "Directions" showed people what they were with Jarrett and Corea vying to provide texture and structure to the freest music Davis had ever recorded. Miles Davis was a great boxing fan working out at gums and studying the "sweet science." This agility served in well in interacting with many years younger, darting and weaving on "Spanish Key" and "About That Time" where the soft mute Miles of the 1950's gave way the scalding runs that tear the very fabric of the music they are performing. The music ends as Davis usually did in the 1960's and 70' tipping his hat to the past by playing "The Theme." Hard to make of this record, which is also available on DVD or YouTube if you are short of funds. Regardless, don't miss it, it is another piece of the enigmatic puzzle that is Miles DavisIsle of Wight - Amazon.com

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Miles Davis-Live at The Isle of Wight Festival (29-08-1970)

Friday, December 05, 2014

Crate digging...

Picked up some jazz today...


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Sonny Simmons - Nomadic (Improvising Beings, 2014)

After a career of being under the radar, saxophonist and exotic instrument player Sonny Simmons is getting some well deserved attention with a boxed set released earlier this year, and then this unusual and beguiling album. On this album he is accompanied Thomas Bellier on electric bass, Michel Kristof on sitar and Sebastien Bismuth on drums and electronics. This is a very interesting and risk taking endeavor with the music developing very slowly and demanding extreme patience and discretion on behalf of the musicians and the listener. The music here is drenched in reverberation, giving it the air of an enchanting ceremony being held deep underground or in an ancient cathedral. The sororities of Simmons alto saxophone and English horn echo through "Help Them Through This World" where he develops his improvisation in conjunction with sitar and percussion, moving through a processional exclamation of spiritual inquiry. The idea of seeking develops further on "We Are Entering The Place Of That" and "I Put It In A Dark Area Where I Don't Remember No More" are an investigations into the nature of humanity by musical means with an interesting payoff. This album works quite well and has an unusual vibe that separates it from much of the other jazz release this year. Enigmatic and soulful it is emblematic of Sonny Simmons personal and universal quest. Nomadic - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keith Jarrett - Hamburg '72 (ECM, 2014)

While for the past few decades pianist Keith Jarrett has devoted himself to solo piano and trio performances (in fact, he's just up the road tonight) there was a time that he was avery adventurous and thrill seeking musician. This album finds him in the company of Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motion on drums, only lacking Dewey Redman from Jarrett's great american quartet. This is a very exciting concert, especially for Jarrett who adds flute and soprano saxophone to his piano playing. But it was the keyboard that he opens the concert in a solo configuration on "Rainbow" and he takes a lush and melodic journey before Haden and Motian come in to move the music into a more muscular trio improvisation. The first surprise of the album comes with "Everything that Lives Laments" where Jarrett takes up the flute for an elegiac and haunted performance. Haden's bass is elastic and grounding while Motian frames Jarrett with chimes and ringing percussion. "Piece for Ornette" is a wonder, with Jarrett switching to soprano saxophone and playing it with raw and passionate fervor. Again, Haden acts as the anchor and as fascinating as Jarrett is on this track, Motian is a whirlwind of epic drumming: loud, fast and angular. It was surprising to hear, as he is often thought of as an enigmatic presence using shading of light and shadow in his percussion. Not here, on this track his driving drumming and Jarrett's raw almost reckless soprano will certainly raise an eyebrow or two. They end the performance with a powerful version of Haden's "Song For Che." Everybody takes stock and then lays into the fifteen minute episodic performance that makes for a fine capstone to this recording. ECM has been releasing one historical Jarrett album per year and they have been champs. Like last years vastly underrated No End, this album shows another facet of Jarrett's earlier work and gives the listener a different perspective to his music. Hamburg '72 - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Michael Musillami - Pride (Playscape, 2014)

Guitarist Michael Musillami stays quite busy with his duties as a label head and producer in addition to recording about one album per year of predominately original music. This album may be one of his most expansive projects: two CD's, one studio and one live both with his crack trio mates Joe Fonda on bass and Gunther Schuller on drums, and high profile guests in both sessions. Disc one is the studio album where the core trio is joined by Kris Davis on piano and Jimmy Greene on tenor saxophone. Greene sits in admirably on the tracks "Bald Yet Hip" and "Courageous David B." playing in a bright and swinging fashion. Not to make light of either his or the trio's contributions, but Kris Davis is simply stellar throughout this whole disc. Whether providing insightful accompaniment or endlessly inventive soloing, she just steals the show. Musillami is a magnanimous and generous leader, allowing Davis the space she needs to truly spread her wings. She is continually thought of as an up-and-coming musical powerhouse but with this excellent performance and her recent albums as a leader, her time has truly come to stand with the best contemporary jazz pianists. Disc two is a freewheeling live date where the Musillami/Fonda/Schuller trio is joined by violinist Mark Feldman. This is a much more even handed date, as the musicians are stretching out into only four lengthy tracks that allow plenty of solo opportunities for all involved. Feldman is a fine addition to the group, swooping and sawing through the band, adding swathes of color that allude to classical music and Americana as well as modern jazz. The familiarity of the core trio leads for a cohesiveness that allows even the freest improvisation to maintain balance. This was a long collection of music, over two hours, but it never felt over indulgent. Musillami knows how to pick some of the finest players on the contemporary jazz scene and place them in situations where both he and they shine brightly. Pride - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Francis Davis 8th Annual Jazz Critics Poll

Well, my status as a "critic" will be met with snickers and rightly so, but when one of the leading jazz writers asks for my input on a list for NPR Music, how can I say no? Just to be clear, I'm really terrible at these things, invariably forgetting albums, and the rankings here were part of the conditions of the poll, I'd rather have these LP's seen as some of the best records of the year in an unranked format. Davis also asked for best vocal and best Latin recordings, but since I rarely listen to either of those genres I had to take a pass. Here goes...

•Your choices for this year’s ten best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.

  1. John Zorn - Valentine’s Day
  2. Audio One - The Midwest School
  3. Steve Lehman - Mise en Abime
  4. Lean Left - Live at the Area Sismica
  5. Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Unseen
  6. Brandon Seabrook - Sylphid Vitalizers
  7. Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
  8. Nels Cline Singers - Macroscope
  9. Chicago Underground Duo - Locus
  10. Raoul Björkenheim - Ecstasy


•Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order

  1. John Coltrane - Live at Temple University
  2. Miles Davis - Miles at the Fillmore 1970
  3. Sonny Simmons - Leaving Knowledge Wisdom and Brilliance

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

This Week in Music - November 22

A confluence of issues have led to me not being able to blog more regularly. I really want to keep slogging on so I'd like to use the weekly format that Tom Hull uses so effectively and recap the music that I have been listening to during the week. So, with no further ado....

Wilco - What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (Nonesuch, 2014) After the "alt-country" powerhouse Uncle Tupelo imploded in the early 1990's, vocalist and guitarist Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco, discarding any pigeonholes and developing into a powerful rock 'n' roll band. Their earlier years are captured on the first disc leading with the poppy "Box Full of Letters" and the grinding rock of "I Got You (at the end of the Century)" and "Monday." They also write some moody and enigmatic music on "Misunderstood" and "Via Chicago." When Nels Cline joined the group they now had a genuine guitar hero which power the witty "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Handshake Drugs." While fans will always quibble (where is "Bull Black Nova"!?!) the selection is really well chosen, featuring the band's most familiar songs and including excellent album tracks as well.

Avishai Cohen's Triveni - Dark Nights (Anzic Records, 2014) Avishai Cohen is a trumpeter (not to be confused with the bassist of the same name) originally from Israel but now living in the United States after attending the Berklee School of music.  On this album he is joined by Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums and guests like his clarinetist sister Anat on "Betray" which also uses electronic effects to excellent effect. There are two jazz standards, a subtle and mournful bass and trumpet duet on "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and the quieter nature of their music is also explored on Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." The album concludes with a swinging version of "I Fall In Love Too Easily" with guests Gerald Clayton on piano and Keren Ann on vocals.

The Rolling Stones - From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Eagle Rock, 2014) The Rolling Stones join the ranks of The Grateful Dead and King Crimson in regularly releasing concerts and rare recordings from their archives. This concert was originally a pay-per-view event from Virginia, and is presented here as two audio CD's and a DVD of the original broadcast. It's quite a value for Stones fans as well, clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours both in audio and video. They were at the end of a 50 concert grind following the Tattoo You LP and mix some of the new material with older classics. Right from the start they juxtapose a tentative "Under My Thumb" and piano driven "Let's Spend the Night Together" with funkier tracks like "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down." There are a few gaffs and Mick Jagger desperately tries to keep both the live and TV audience engaged, but overall when the group hits its stride this is a worthy addition to the canon.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

John Zorn - Valentines Day (Tzadik, 2014)

We truly live in interesting times when the best rock 'n' roll album of the year (IMHO) is made by a group of open minded jazz musicians. The trio on this particular album is Trevor Dunn on bass and bass guitar, Marc Ribot on electric guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. They are playing a series of John Zorn compositions, which are given individual names but also fall into a larger "Enigma" suite. With Zorn's bottomless imagination and the facility of these these first rate players, there comes music that truly defines genre, except for that which goes for the throat whether as a take no prisoner's free jazz outfit, or as a hell for leather rock band that could eat alive, bones and all, any of the poseurs on the current rock and pop scene. Zorn's name is front and center on the label, because he picked the players and wrote the material. Like Duke Ellington, Zorn will write for individual musicians and play to their strengths, like on this album of caustic and thrilling music. The sounds are somewhat akin to what you may hear on an album by Ribot's Ceramic Dog band, and like that group, the music here is filled with wit and fun. Valentine's Day - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Aki Takase/Alexander Von Schlippenbach - So Long Eric! Homage to Eric Dolphy (Intakt Records, 2014)

The fiftieth anniversary of the release of Eric Dolphy's ultimate masterpiece Out to Lunch and his tragic death in Berlin have spurred a wave of attention to his work and a number of tribute albums including this one. Pianists Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach lead a large band in providing fresh arrangements of some of Dolphy's most well known pieces. They open with one of his early compositions, "Les" which features a spritely saxophone solo with horns riffing happily in the background. There is an interlude of bass clarinet, one of the instruments that Dolphy was a master of, and then fine sections of horns and brass and then piano, bass and drums. Eric Dolphy's tribute to Thelonious Monk, "Hat and Beard" follows with some fascinating piano work, percussive and deeply ingrained with the lowest notes of the instrument. The tune is taken at length, developing a suite like structure with the soloists and full ensemble hinting at the melody throughout. The music loses a little bit of 0it's edge during the middle of album (a live recording) but builds back up to speed with "Miss Ann". Horns swirl playfully with the melody, backed with urgent drumming by Han Bennink, who played a session with Dolphy as young man in 1964. Saxophones whoop as the fire is further stoked by a swinging piano solo and a hot duet of saxophone and drums. Finally, "Out to Lunch" brings the proceedings to a rousing conclusion, featuring a righteous Bennink drum solo developing into the rattling march that Tony Williams used on the original recording. The wonderful melody is finally stated and then the horns take the music to the heavens. This is a fitting tribute to Eric Dolphy's memory, he was one of the most unique and talented musicians in jazz history and his compositions sound as fresh as anything being written today. So Long, Eric! - Homage to Eric Dolphy - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sun Ra - My Brother the Wind, Volume 1 (Saturn, 1970)

This is another relatively rare Sun Ra LP that focuses on Ra's investigation into many of the new types of electronic keyboards coming into existence during the late 1960's. Sun Ra's love of science and technology extended far beyond his Afro-Futurist worldview into the use of the most up to date musical technology. There is a smaller band on this recording than many of his other Arkestra recordings, but the usual suspects like Marshall Allen and John Gilmore on saxophone make their presence felt. Moog synthesizers were all the rage in progressive rock circles at this time, but no one developed them to their full potential quite like Sun Ra. Using a bank of keyboards he was able to conjure the eerie texture of the title track, and "Intergalactic 2" where the two saxophones are panned to the far edge of the soundstage, while Ra works like mad the rest of the way. It is on the two final lengthy pieces "Code of Interdependence" and "Space Probe" that things get truly and delightfully unhinged. Sun Ra takes the bleeps and bloops you might have heard from a satellite of the early years of the space program and stretches and pulls them though his keyboard until he makes music that sounds like a lava lamp crossed with a theremin. He is taking this technology that seems primitive to us today and uses it to create music that is otherworldly and stands with his finest work. My Brother the Wind Vol. 1 - iTunes.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Kinks - The Essential Kinks (Legacy, 2014)

Like any other band who's career has lasted this long, The Kinks have been anthologized in many ways, but surprisingly none seem quite as pithy and succinct as this one. While Legacy may pump these "Essentials" collections out as a cash grab for any band they have rights to, this one was really handled with care, by people who know and love the band. Of course, there are the early hits like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" are here but just as importantly are the inclusion of the beautifully composed and arranged tracks from their extraordinary late '60's and early '70's albums, which flew under the psychedelic radar of the time, but stand as some of the most beautiful music of the period. Songs like the extraordinary "Waterloo Sunset", "David Watts" and "Village Green Preservation Society" present beautiful vignettes of English life, and were sadly all but ignored at the time. There would be one more hit, the winking "Lola" but it is the evocative and heartbreaking track "Strangers" that most poignantly closes out the first phase of The Kinks story. For the remainder of the bands career, they would suffer a series of ups and downs marked by squabbles the usual record industry folderol. Principal songwriter Ray Davies became a little overambitious during the mid 1970's, developing grand notions of rock opera and theatre which were neither musical nor financial successes. They persevered however and found success as an arena rock band, plying the heavy riffs of the earlier material to a new audience, along with some pithy songs that co-opted hard rock sound. Ironically, they found their hit not with a crunching riff but with a swirling organ sound that allowed "Come Dancing" to move past the nostalgia of it's lyrics and capture a wider audience. Though the continued to soldier on into the following decade, until Ray Davies successful solo album "Other Peoples Lives" and Dave Davies health challenges seem to have finally put paid to The Kinks long and fascinating journey. This collection is rounded out with a fine liner note essay including quotes from musicians the band has influenced. For a budget compilation you really can't hope for anything better than this. The music is expertly chosen and logically presented, making for an ideal addition to the collections of both newbies and long term fans alike. The Essential Kinks - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Linda Sharrock - No is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women (Improvising Beings, 2014)

Unjustly remembered solely as the wife of the late extraordinary guitarist Sonny Sharrock, Linda Sharrock carves out a unique niche of her own on this album with a vocalizing style born of the free jazz movement of the 1960’s along with aspects of rhythm and blues and gospel music. in 1969, she participated in Sonny’s Black Woman LP, which was a milestone, as her screams, wails and soaring vocalizations brought to the human voice the cries of freedom akin to saxophonists Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders. She has recorded sporadically since then, but generally maintaining a low profile until the release of this fascinating package. The two discs contained within consist of studio and live recordings of collective improvisations, 50 minutes each, with Sharrock vocalizing in the company of Itaru Oki on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mario Rechtern on saxophones, Eric Zinman on piano, Makoto Sato on drums and Yoram Rosilio on bass. The music on both takes is wide open and free, the musicians are respectful to each other but also not afraid to take to the challenge of making things let go and fly. While Linda Sharrock’s vocal power may not be what it once was, it is fascinating to hear her pick her spots, and the use her instrument to the fullest to duck and weave through the assembled instruments and then take command for solo flights of her own. This is true outsider music with perceived boundaries being crossed with ease and then discarded altogether. While she may have been in the background for quite some time, this album and it’s title throw down the gauntlet for women in improvised music and women in general: their time has come. No is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women - Improvising Beings

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Russ Johnson - Still Out to Lunch (Enja, 2014)

The great jazz musician Eric Dolphy is justly remembered as an extraordinary instrumentalist, playing alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute in a unique and unprecedented manner. But he was also an excellent composer of knotty and memorable melodies, especially on his universally acknowledged masterpiece Out To Lunch. It is the melodic content of this great album that is the inspiration for the interpretations by Russ Johnson on trumpet, Myra Melford on piano, Roy Nathanson on saxophone, Brad Jones on bass, and George Schuller on drums. It is interesting to hear Myra Melford trying to take on the roll that vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson held on the original LP. On the Thelonious Monk tribute "Hat and Beard" she brings a very interesting viewpoint, using her own considerable skill to make for an arresting performance. Johnson takes the lead on melodic "Something Sweet, Something Tender" playing in both a punchy and thoughtful manner. The complex Dolphy composition "Out To Lunch" is one of the highlights of the album, making space for Jones to anchor the music while Schuller makes the most of the march rhythm of the original recording. Dolphy's flute feature "Gazzeloni" is moved into a different direction with swirling trumpet and saxophone and muscular bass powering the performance along. This album worked really well, demonstrating the enduring beauty of Eric Dolphy's music, while allowing these talented musicians to make their own mark. Still Out to Lunch - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anthony Pirog - Palo Colorado Dream (Cunieform, 2014)

Anthony Pirorg is an up and coming guitarist based in the Washington D.C. area. He has a heavy support crew on this album with Michael Formanek on bass and Ches Smith on drums. The music can rock hard at times with an edge that approaches fusion or progressive rock, but also allows for spacious interludes and memorable melodies. The title song opens the album with a short soundscape, a format that is repeated through the album before the music ramps up with the track called "The Great Northern" which builds patiently from a Bill Frisell like beginning to a section of grinding guitar and heavily accented drums about midway through the track which is well paced, running confidently from a placid beginning to a rough and ready conclusion. "Song In Five" moves in an angular and fluid fashion, playing with the melody and improvisation in a dynamic fashion, flowing and then shooting off sparks of electricity. "Threshold" is strong and tough with Pirog playing snarly guitar and then looping and processing the sound over this bass and robust drumming. It's a short track, but it packs a powerful punch. The tribute to the late drummer Paul Motian, simply called "Motian" is a spot for Smith to shine, building shapeshifting rhythms before handing the baton to Formanek for a polished bass solo and then some out of this world guitar playing and looping from the leader. The concluding "Vicious Cricket" is a thrilling all out blast of energy, which has some scalding electronic affected guitar propelled by thick drums and bass. This is Anthony Pirog's first album as a leader and it is an auspicious beginning, his music is well constructed and thoughtful while keeping enough of an edge to keep listeners from becoming complacent. Palo Colorado Dream

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Matthew Shipp - I've Been to Many Places (Thirsty Ear, 2014)

Matthew Shipp's catalog as a solo pianist becomes more impressive by the year. While he works well as a leader or a sideman in a variety of musical configurations, it is in the solo setting that he lays bare his soul in an in intimate and powerful manner. The title of this album is accurate, because he has indeed been in many places as a solo artist, recording American songbook and jazz standards in addition to a few pop songs and his own protean originals and free improvisations. All of that is on display here, whether he is deconstructing the Gershwin chestnut "Summertime" like a demented surgeon, hinting at the familiar melody, but swooping and diving over and through the keyboard, taking a fresh and uniquely personal approach to this familiar song. Another surprising inclusion is the soul and pop song "Where Is The Love" originally recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in in 1972. It may seem like a perverse entry, this song that had topped the Billboard easy listening charts for goodness sake. But it proves Shipp's innate ability to take any form of musical clay, be it a completely spontaneous improvisation or a cheesy pop song and make a moving statement from it. As he did on the Gershwin composition, he weaves the melody in and out of the song this two separate short readings of the music. One of the keys to the success of the album is the brevity of the songs, with only the title track "I've Been to Many Places" topping five minutes in length. But it is also a blast to hear Shipp rip into music of his own devising like on "Brain Stem Grammar" which takes a Monk like fractured approach to set up a storming improvisation using his powerful approach to the lower end of the piano, rolling thunderous waves of sound that contrast and frame some of the lighter sections. "Web Play" toys with a gentle music box type melody before the forceful attack of Mr. Shipp takes the music in another direction. This was another excellent album from Matthew Shipp. Much like Cecil Taylor, he continues to investigate the possibilities of solo piano even while working in other formations that range from duo to full ensemble. I've Been to Many Places - amazon.com

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Sun Ra - Marshall Allen Presents In the Orbit of Ra (Strut Records, 2014)

Sun Ra had an epic career that lasted from the late 1940's to the early 1990's and saxophonist Marshal Allen was with him for much of the ride, continuing the Arkestra to the present day after Ra's passing in 1993. This is a collection of the tracks that Allen felt were the most representative of the band's best output. Not necessarily Sun Ra's best known tracks, but there are a very interesting sampling of the Arkestra's music from the mid 1950's through the 1970's. Highlights abound like the episodic chant-along "Rocket Number Nine", one of Ra's best known science fiction tracks which takes the listener from Venus to Jupiter and beyond powered by the horn sections stop and shift on a dime playing. "Astro Black" features the great vocalist June Tyson, a staple of Ra's later bands, leading one of the bands afrofutirist tracks clearing the path for some hair-raising playing. Allen also focuses on the band's approach to percussion and rhythm like on the exotic "Lady With the Golden Stockings" and the beautiful "Plutonian Nights." Ra was perhaps best known in his lifetime as the eccentric who wore wild costumes and composed music that reference the stars and the planets. But the people who wrote him off as a crank were misinformed as these science fiction tracks such as "Dance of the Cosmo Aliens" and "We Travel the Spaceways" were some of his finest performances. It'e better late than never that the jazz critics and fan base began to realize that Sun Ra was a unique and powerful force. While the one disc Evidence Records compilation Greatest Hits for Intergalactic Travel is probably the best beginning album for the Sun Ra neophyte, this is a logical next step, delving under the hood as it were and presenting a cohesive selection for both hardcore fans and newcomers alike. In the Orbit of Ra - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bill Frisell - Guitar in the Space Age (Okeh Records, 2014)

It is almost as if guitarist Bill Frisell leads a double life as a musician. For John Zorn's Tzadik label he records edgy, unpredictable music as a sideman and as a leader on last years stellar Silent Comedy LP. On most of his other albums, he has taken a more pastoral approach on albums like Sig Sur and 2011's sleepy John Lennon tribute album, all we are saying. This album returns to the 1960's for it's content, using pop songs form Frisell's youth as the gimmick fodder for the tracks on this album. Accompanied by Greg Leisz on pedal steel and electric guitar, Tony Scherr on bass, acoustic guitar and Kenny Wollesen on percussion, they tackle a series of pop/rock songs from the 1960's including surf guitar on "Telstar" and the growling "Rumble" and ballads on The Beach Boys "Surfer Girl." When the group is able to walk up and sink their teeth into the material, the results are excellent. Playing The Byrds arrangement go Pete Seger's "Turn Turn Turn" they stay pretty close to the melody and length of the original, but the hook of the song retains it's grace and depth. The following track is the blues standby "Messin' With the Kid" which allows the group to get their fingernails dirty a bit with a funky rendition, featuring a stinging guitar solo. Most of the tracks are quite short, but the band's arrangement of The Kinks "Tired of Waiting For You" moves beyond this formula, opening with the aching melody of the original but then moving to explore the song in a more deep and complex manner, yielding good results. In the end it is kind of a mixed bag, the music is very well played as to be expected, and will undoubtably be embraced by people nostalgic for the era, but it is in a netherworld that is to poppy for jazz, yet too jazzy for classic rock. Perhaps this is just how Frisell planned it. Guitar in the Space Age - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dylan Ryan Sand - Circa (Cuneiform, 2014)

This is a lean and mean guitar trio, of interest to both fans of modern jazz and experimental rock music. Ryan is the drummer, accompanied by the rhythm section of bassist Devin Hoff and guitarist Timothy Young. The performances are lithe and to the point, coming right out of the gate with “Trees, Voices, Saturn” which has sparks of guitar and drumming balanced around Hoff’s bass. Hoff has played with the likes of Nels Cline so he is well equipped to anchor a hard charging trio. Timothy Young was unknown to me before this recording, but his playing is consistently interesting adding well developed textures to the music as well as shredding when the situation calls for it. Ryan released a very good album last year, Sky Bleached, and his profile has been justifiably rising. “Procession” flirts with some grinding heavy metal and the track “Sludge Thread” takes a post modern look at Mahavishnu Orchestra like fusion, with Ryan’s persistent cymbal rhythm showing the way forward. The group demonstrates their dynamic ability on the track “Visionary Fontana” with the music beginning with grinding guitar riffs before slowing to a more open spaced feel, before ramping things back up again. “Mortgage on My Body” may be a paraphrase from Robert Johnson, but the sound of the band moves away from the blues with effects-laden guitar and keen bass and drums support. Finally, “Raw Rattle” has a raw nature that develops a rending guitar opening into a pummeling trio section, which has the leader’s powerful drumming riding point. This was an album that worked very well, the band has no preconceptions of jazz, rock or anything else, they just take the music at hand and go for it, making for an exhilarating listen. Circa - amazon.com

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Interesting Links 10/13


  • Saxophonist Jon Irabagon talks to All About Jazz.
  • Marc Ribot advocates for musicians rights.
  • The London Jazz Collector looks at Bobby Hutcherson's Dialogue album.
  • John Kelman reviews King Crimson's stand at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco.
  • Do the Math interviews several musicians to celebrate Tim Berne's 60th birthday.
  • Clearly on a roll, DTM takes a deep look into Ornette Coleman's excellent and underrated album Science Foction.
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Friday, October 10, 2014

Capsules 10/10: Sun Ra

Sun Ra - Secrets of the Sun (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2014) This rare Sun Ra LP has been remastered and published on iTunes with extra tracks, and it is well worth checking out. Recorded in 1962 with Ra stalwarts Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, John Gilmore, Ronnie Boykins and Tommy Hunter, this album captures the band moving from their swing based past into the avant-garde path they would follow from the mid-1960's through the 70's. Highlight of the album include the exciting "Solar Differentials" and the chanting buoyed music of the "Reflects Motion" suite. Part two of the suite is particularly impressive with some epic and powerful drumming and a powerful trumpet feature accompanied by Ra's strong piano. The band uses a lot of reverberation on this album, as displayed on Part one of the suite, where flute bounces all over the chanting and the percussion. This is a very good album and a fascinating look at the band in transition. Secrets of the Sun - iTunes.

Sun Ra - Atlantis (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2014) Recorded in 1969 (another expanded iTunes remaster,) Atlantis is one of Sun Ra's crowning achievements. There are five relatively short tracks that feature the band primarily playing percussion instrument to create a pummeling edifice of sound that Sun Ra can improvise over with a fleet or keyboards including clavoline and organ, making a fascinating and slightly ominous sound on the two-part "Yucatan" and the potent "Bimini." But these pale in comparison to the colossal nearly 22 minute long title track "Atlantis". Sun Ra leads his band in search of the ancient city beginning with sonar like bleeps from his keyboard before the whole band slowly comes in and builds the intensity to an a almost unbearable level as if to re-create in sound the cataclysmic disaster that ended the Atlantean civilization, before the band suddenly begins to chant that Sun Ra and his band have been here to entertain you!. There is nothing quite like this in the Ra canon or jazz as a whole for that matter and it truly must be heard to be believed. Atlantis - iTunes.

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Capsules 10/6/2014: Jimi Hendrix, MOPDTK, Gary Clark Jr.

Jimi Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge (Legacy, 2014) Rainbow Bridge is one of the earliest posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases, and remains closest to the original material. After this there would be catfights about the estate and the copyright holders which led to a slew of dodgy albums, live and studio, even ones with extra musicians dubbed in. This album is shorn of most of those accouterments because the music can clearly stand on its own. The music is very well played and vibrant with a studio version of "The Star Spangled Banner" which is not quite as epochal as the Woodstock version, the funky original "Dolly Dagger", a galloping "Room Full of Mirrors" and a blistering live version of "Hear My Train A Comin.'" This is a fine album and a must for Hendrix fans. Rainbow Bridge - amazon.com

Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014) MOPDTK, consisting of Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto and tenor saxophone, Ron Stabinsky on piano, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums, is one of my favorite groups, but I have to being completely flummoxed by this album. This is a meticulously transcribed and exactly performed recital of Miles Davis' famous album, Kind of Blue. The idea was first proposed when they were students and then slowly germinated until the musicians transcribed an recorded the music. MOPDTK are known for lovingly and humorously chiding jazz sub-genres, so I originally thought that the were taking the piss out of this sacred cow, but no, it is a reverent, if unnerving reflection of the original. Blue - amazon.com

Gary Clark Jr. - Live (Warner Brothers, 2014) On his way up, Gary Clark Jr. turned heads with incendiary live shows and that led to the amazing feat of a blues musician being offered a recording contract by a major label. The studio album Blak and Blu solidified his position in the musical firmament, so it only makes sense that the time honored double live album should follow. Clark's talent and charisma carry the day featuring tunes that touch on Muddy Waters "Catfish Blues" and B.B. King "3 O'Clock Blues" but it is with his own songs that he takes flight with blistering versions of the ominous "Bright Lights" and "When My Train Pulls In." This is leavened by the stomping rhythm and blues of "Travis County" and the Hnedrix nod "Third Stone From the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say." Gary Clark Jr. Live - amazon.com

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Jerome Sabbagh - The Turn (Sunnyside, 2014)

Jerome Sabbagh is a saxophonist and composer with a unique approach to jazz and music in general. His saxophone often has a light and mysterious tone to it, weaving through open spaces and defying expectations. Guitarist Ben Monder is a perfect foil for this type of music making, as he can go from a whisper to a scream and draw on a wide range of musical techniques to accompany the musicians or solo distinctively. Rounding out the band is Joe Martin on bass and Ted Poor on drums and they are fully integrated into the group's sound. The opening track "The Turn" has a deceptively quite and atmospheric beginning, lulling you into a sense of calm before the water heats up and begins to boil around Monder who emerges with a molten guitar solo that propels the music relentlessly forward. Poor is the main man on "Banshee" locking into a groove and swinging unrelentingly hard as the band takes the cue, and rolls through a rollicking section of full band improvisation and solo sections. "The Rodeo" has a lively and organic feel, with the band taking a spontaneous approach to music development, using the intricate strands of melody and it's lyricism to take advantage of the opportunities that bubble up during the course of the song. This band has been together for over ten years and the familiarity shows in the way they can work together and embrace the material at hand. The sound of the ensemble is very attractive in the way that adheres to the jazz tradition while carving out it's own modernist niche within it. The Turn - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Interesting Articles

Perfect Sound Forever offers a guide to the albums of Sun Ra - part 1 and part 2.
Richard Brody proposes a highly subjective list of Perfect Jazz Recordings.
Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin provides a comprehensive overview of his latest projects.
KTVU interviews King Crimson bassist Tony Levin.
Slate laments the use of the fade-out in music.
Guy With Typewriter falls hard for Lydia Loveless.
Aquarium Drunkard interviews Lucinda Williams.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Charles Lloyd - Manhattan Stories (Resonance, 2014)

Charles Lloyd was at a turning point in his career when these recordings were made in 1965. Behind him, high profile sideman positions with Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley. Ahead lay the very popular group he would lead in the late 1960’s, playing to packed rock halls and touring the world. Caught between these two spheres, lay these two concerts at Judson Hall and the infamous Slug’s nightclub, with Lloyd on saxophone and flute, Gabor Szabo on guitar, Ron Carter on bass and Pete LaRocca on drums. The Judson Hall concert on the first disc is very well recorded, open with Lloyd’s own composition “Sweet Georgia Bright” where the band is quite comfortable and allows for a series of excellent solos. Lloyd sounds confident and strong, with echoes of John Coltrane in his tone. Szabo has a sharp and angular guitar tone and Carter and LaRocca swing mightily. “How Can I Tell You” is a sensuous ballad, with a wistful hue. Szabo’s “Lady Gabor” appears twice, from both Judson Hall and Slug’s and Lloyd leads off with light and spritely flute before relinquishing the floor to the composer. Szabo seizes the opportunity on both occasions and builds lengthy, interesting solos, infused by his Hungarian heritage and also filled with sharp corners and flowing shapes. The spontaneous “Slug’s Blues” opens that venue’s set with a fast paced dive into strong, soulful saxophone playing and the rest of the band just rolling along with enjoying the space of an on the fly improvisation. “Dream Weaver” another Lloyd original rounds out the music with a lengthy swinging oration that has soaring saxophone lines and superb accompaniment. This was a very interesting set with the music at a very high level and the sound cleaned as much as possible. There is a fine set of liner essays and a hat must be tipped to Resonance Records who have unearthed two wonderful historical releases, Offering by John Coltrane and Manhattan Stories by Charles Lloyd. Manhattan Stories - amazon.com

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