Wednesday, April 29, 2015

J.B. Hutto and His Hawks - Hawk Squat Expanded Edition (Delmark 1968, 2015)

J.B. Hutto was a master slide guitarist and a rousing singer originally from South Carolina but best known as a stalwart player (wearing his trademark fez) on the Chicago blues scene at its highpoint in the 1960’s. This album features Sunnyland Slim on organ and piano, and Maurice McIntyre on tenor saxophone, and stands with the music of Otis Rush and Magic Sam as one of the masterpieces of the second generation of Chicago post-war blues. The withering “Speak My Mind” opens the album and you know from the opening blast of raw slide guitar and Hutto’s commanding vocals that he does not suffer fools gladly. The sparse “Too Much Pride” continues this pattern of love and loss using a slow grind put his point across, while the storming “20% Alcohol” rips into gear with slicing guitar and powerful drumming which pulsate a tale of alcoholism and pain. They push things harder with “Hip Shakin’” which is a riotous blast of danceable heat that drives mercilessly forward. They finish up the album with the title track “Hawk Squat” with Hutto talk-singing and everyone in the band taking a solo. The extra tracks on this expanded edition are basically alternate takes of earlier performances. There are no earth shakes among them but they do show the consistent excellence of Hutto’s band on this session. J.B. Hutto would continue to record and tour for about fifteen years after this. He never quite reached these nights again, but what an extraordinary hight it is. Hawk Squat -

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas - Sound Prints: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival (Blue Note, 2015)

Sound Prints is a collaboration between saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas along with pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Joey Baron. The title song “Soundprints” opens the album with a spiritual connection to the great Eric Dolphy/Booker Little quintet, as the band builds to a very exciting intertwining of the horns, weaving to and fro over powerful, propulsive drumming. Linda Oh is a monster on this album and her thick bass provides a firm focus for the music to revolve around. Baron’s delicate brushwork heralds the arrival of the saxophone and trumpet on “Sprints” and they take the opportunity to harmonize in a complex fashion. Lovano breaks free in a Sonny Rollins like flight of fancy, he has a  dark and powerful tone made all the more potent by the crashing drum support. Douglas’s turn follows, and he slowly develops his statement with resilient confidence. There is a fine spotlight for the rhythm section, who really should be given a chance to record their own trio album. “Destination Unknown” moves into mysterious territory, with majestic horns making a complex yet accessible statement accented by high pitched trumpet and thoughtful rhythm accompaniment. The unit of piano, bass and drums is also prominently featured on “To Sail Beyond the Sunset.” The music is light and fleet of foot, and the musicians move with a confident grace. Oh is again impressive with a wonderfully communicative bass solo before the remainder of the band fills in for the conclusion. “Weatherman” is a short fast palette cleanser before the band launches into it’s concluding performance, “Power Ranger.” The music builds tension with aggressive percussion and the whole band is able to spin on a dime, especially Douglas, whose solo is a lithe beauty. Solo space is shared equally on this song, and the excitement never falters, as Lovano solos with burly grace over thrashing drums, before a calm interlude for bass and piano focus the music to a strong finish. This is state of the art modern mainstream jazz. Lovano and Douglas may share the billing, but in fact this is a supergroup of some of the finest players in modern improvised music. Egos are kept in check throughout and the results are stellar. Sound Prints: Live At Monterey Jazz Festival -

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Quick Links

Donny McCaslin - Fast Future (Greenleaf, 2015)

Saxophonist and composer Donny McCaslin has moved progressively farther with each album from straight ahead acoustic jazz to a style that owes as much to electronica and EMD as to modern jazz. He is joined by the same accompaniment as on his excellent 2012 release Casting for Gravity: Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums. Fellow saxophonist David Binney produces the album, adding layers of electronics and processing that even further to develop a radically different sound. McCaslin does have a distinct saxophone tone, dark and burly, but it is lightened somewhat by the arrangements that occasionally bury him amidst all of the electronics. McCaslin’s music moves away from “traditional” fusion like Return to Forever and embraces modern electronic performers like Aphex Twin, whose “54 Cymru Beats,” gets a quick run through. Although the album is predominately taken at a medium or up-tempo, there are some ballads like “Midnight Light” and the odd “Love What is Mortal” with it’s unexpected plaintive female spoken word. The album comes across as a shape-shifting organism, hinting at jazz, pop and much in-between. Fast Future -

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ab Baars - Slate Blue (Wig, 2015)

Ab Baars is a highly respected saxophonist on the jazz and free jazz scene, working as a leader and collaborating with the likes of Ken Vandermark among many others. On this album he is playing tenor saxophone, clarinet and shakuhachi along with Wilbert de Joode on bass and Martin van Duynhoven on drums. The album consists of ten original tracks inspired by classical composer Olivier Messiaen. The trio probes the length of music with a flighty but fun sensibility that keeps the proceedings open for expression by each member of the group. “Steen” is one of the highlights with Duynhoven developing a shimmering drum feature to a deeply rhythmic foundation and allowing bass and high-pitched clarinet to jump off into their own improvisations. The hollow sound of the shakuhachi gives the music of “Karmozijn” a haunted air, as does the band’s use of mysterious silences throughout the piece. “Fanfare” is a surprisingly gentle ballad with light drumming, prominent bass and a dirge of melodic saxophone. Things develop in a rawer manner on “Raaf” where squawks and peals of raw saxophone evoke the anguish of Albert Ayler’s early music, as the trio develops the free improvisation in a loose formation. The album holds together well as meeting of contemporary classical music and free jazz and is recommended to fans of European free improvisation. Slate Blue - CdBaby

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll Ballot

Downbeat Magazine continues to mis-represent me as a “critic” and invites me to take part in their annual Critics Poll. I do get a free t-shirt out of the deal, and hopefully can shed some light on musicians that mean a lot to me. So, the ballot allows you to assign 5 “points” across musicians for a given instrument or genre. You could vote for their nominees or write in your own. These are the musicians I chose for the categories I felt comfortable writing in, others I just left blank out of my own ignorance.

Hall of Fame: Sam Rivers, John Zorn, Thomas Chapin
Jazz Artist: Matthew Shipp, Ken Vandermark
Rising Star Jazz Artist: Jason Adasiewicz, Mary Halvorson, Jon Irabagon
Album of the Year: John Zorn – Valentine’s Day, Marc Ribot – Live at the Village Vanguard
Re-issue of the Year: John Coltrane – Offering: Live at Temple University, Junior Wells – Southside Blues Jam
Jazz Group: John Zorn’s Masada, Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, The Bad Plus
Rising Star Group: Mary Halvorson Trio, The Thing, Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook-Up
Big Band: Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, William Parker’s Little Huey Orchestra
Rising Star Big Band: (blank)
Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Douglas, Jonathan Finlayson
Rising Star Trumpet: Peter Evans, Matt Lavelle, Nate Wooley
Trombone: Steve Swell
Rising Star Trombone: (blank)
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome, Wayne Shorter
Rising Star Soprano Saxophone: (blank)
Alto Saxophone: Steve Coleman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, John Zorn
Rising Star Alto Saxophone: Steve Lehman, Andrew D’Angelo
Tenor Saxophone: Branford Marsalis, Chris Potter, Jon Irabagon
Rising Star Tenor Saxophone: Brian Patneaude
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafssaon
Rising Star Baritone Saxophone: Dave Rempis, Gebhard Ullman
Clarinet: Anat Cohen, Ben Goldberg
Rising Star Clarinet: Russ Johnson, Oscar Noriega
Flute: Charles Lloyd, Henry Threadgill
Rising Star Flute: Anat Cohen
Piano: Vijay Iyer, Matthew Shipp, Kris Davis
Rising Star Piano: Kris Davis, Matt Mitchell
Electric Keyboard: Craig Taborn, John Medeski
Rising Star Electric Keyboard: Jason Linder, David Virelles
Organ: Jared Gold, John Medeski
Rising Star Organ: Brian Charette, John Zorn
Violin: Mark Feldman, Jeff Gauthier
Rising Star Violin: Jenny Scheinman, Mat Maneri
Guitar: Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson, Marc Ribot
Rising Star Guitar: Raoul Bjorkenheim, Jon Lundbom, Brandon Seabrook
Bass: William Parker, Linda Oh, Ben Allison
Rising Star Bass: Moppa Elliott, Adam Lane
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Tony Levin
Rising Star Electric Bass: (blank)
Drums: Hamid Drake, Gerald Cleaver, Matt Wilson
Rising Star Drums: Ches Smith, Tyshawn Sorey
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Rising Star Vibes: Chris Dingman, Matt Morgan
Misc. Instrument: David Murray, Chris Potter, Ken Vandermark (bass clarinet for all)
Rising Star Misc. Instrument: Colin Stetson (bass saxophone), Brandon Seabrook (banjo)
Male Vocalist: Mose Allison, Theo Bleckman
Rising Star Male Vocalist: (blank)
Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson
Rising Star Female Vocalist: Jen Shyu
Composer: John Zorn, Henry Threadgill
Rising Star Composer: Brian Patneaude
Arranger: Ryan Truesdell, Ken Vandermark
Rising Star Arranger: Ben Allison
Record Label: AUM Fidelity, Clean Feed, Cuneiform
Producer: David Binney
Rising Star Producer: (blank)
Blues Artist: Gary Clark Jr., Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: Gary Clark Jr. – Live
Beyond Artist: The Black Keys, Dr. John, Tom Waits

Beyond Album: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Dave Stryker - Messin’ With Mr. T (Strikezone, 2015)

Popular jazz guitarist Dave Stryker develops a tribute album to tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, whom he worked with as a sideman for many years. He shares the wealth, inviting a different saxophonist to sit in on each tune. The core band is Stryker with Jared Gold on organ, McClenty Hunter on drums and Mayra Casales on percussion. Houston Person is the featured saxophonist on “La Place Street” where the band develops a swinging tempo, making for a happy and relaxed sensibility. Person builds his solo gradually to a nice statement and leaves room for guitar and organ features. “Don’t Mess With Mister T.” with saxophonist Don Braden is the spiritual heart of the album, developing a fine bluesy grind supported by thick organ and a heavy beat. There are also fine organ and guitar solos, backed by Hunter’s unshakeable beat. Jimmy Heath provides a sultry saxophone feel on the Duke Ellington ballad “In A Sentimental Mood” while Chris Potter ramps up the tempo for a burning version of John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” The band set a rapid tone to launch Potter into a wonderfully unencumbered and expressive solo. Organ bubbles underneath with some fine drumming and a deft return to the familiar Coltrane melody. There’s the sense of a late night jam session as Stryker spars jovially with saxophonist Eric Alexander. They swing gently before some strong drumming allows the band to develop a little heat toward the end. Jason Jackson provides the saxophone on one of Turrentine’s most well known tunes, “Sugar.” They patiently develop the tune with a mellow and full medium tempo. Jackson’s solo is well controlled and respectful, while the band closes with a pleasantly melodic sensibility. This is a solid mainstream jazz record. Allowing several different saxophones to examine a wide range of tunes from blues to standards provides different approaches to the music. Messin' With Mr. T -

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Monday, April 13, 2015

John Zorn - The Hermetic Organ Vol. 3 (Tzadik, 2015)

This is the third entry in John Zorn’s Hermetic Organ series, where he performs solo on massive pipe organ, this time the music was recorded live in St. Paul’s Hall in the UK, with the recital appropriately starting at midnight. “The Fall of Satan” begins with a massive slab of sound coming from the organ. The sound swirls and casts a shadow in an ominous, foreboding fashion. He is able to shift gears, getting some light almost flute-like sounds, before turning the music back into something like a warning signal as if to say danger ahead. Zorn then pulls all of these ideas together, evoking feedback like sounds, heavy curtains of organ which surround you with eerie claustrophobic fear. There is a ghostly air to “Spectral Angels” where Zorn is able to provide a kaleidoscope of sounds, which build upon each other ratcheting up the tension. The music drops into a haunting fantasia, where he employs a lighter touch but the atmosphere doesn’t let up. Lonely and ethereal, the music moves back into a heavier, shadowlike presence at the end. “The Revelation of Saint John” regains the high pitched warning sounds, but he is able to modulate the sounds into smears of powerful wind, building like a snarling beast that he has a tenuous grip on. The massive beast creaks and groans in a threatening fashion, building dynamically, mysteriously and finally pummeling the listener with relentless waves of sound. This is a very intense experience, Zorn takes much of his compositional strength from spiritual texts and that is clear within the music. It sounds like a dark night of the soul, questioning the very nature of faith and the Universe around us. This is scary stuff to be sure, but it is also epic and powerful. Hermetic Organ 3 -

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

John Zorn - Simulacrum (Tzadik, 2015)

Billed as “the most extreme organ trio ever” John Zorn supplies the compositions and then sets loose the trio of John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar on a wild ride which throws free jazz, metal and progressive rock into a blender. “The Illusionist” begins the album with Medeski’s organ shielding the guitar and drums before they break out for a grinding section, which sounds like the Tony Williams Lifetime on a generous helping of amphetamines. This is a long performance and the group is able to control the dynamics of the music by dropping down into quieter, spacier sections before putting the boot back in. Smears of organ and guitar over kinetic drumming drives their improvisation to a locomotive conclusion. “Marmarath” has a crushing metal riff echoed by heavy, pummeling drumming slashing into pure relentless noise. There is a complex interplay at work on “Snakes and Ladders” with the mysterious sounding organ offering up a twilight zone effect, accentuated by zaps of electric guitar. Hollenberg jacks things back up with a massive riff, building to a scalding solo, and moving forward with a hard metallic grind. “Alterities” is reminiscent of one of Zorn’s games pieces or a Naked City vignette, with choppy start/stop organ trading jabs with guitar and drums. Ominous organ and smeared guitar are featured on “Paradigm Shift” before Hollenberg’s guitar sharpens up and does battle with Grohowski’s crushing beat. The band goes all out in a thrilling fashion as Medeski’s organ scrabbles for purchase amidst the drum and guitar onslaught. “The Divine Comedy” develops a spooky spooky theme, atmospheric organ building the aura with prog rock overtones. Suddenly the hammer is dropped, and the band goes all out like a post-modern Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s a long blowout of heavy grating and relentless guitar made even more poignant by the brief breaks of near silence that occur sporadically. Although John Zorn doesn’t play on this album, his fingerprints are all over it. He is able to compose for particular musicians and situations that work like clockwork, making for ceaselessly stimulating music. Simulacrum -

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Interesting Links

Nate Chinen on Charles Lloyd.
Jon Pareles and Nate Chinen present a podcast about Charles Lloyd.
A lengthy interview with percussionist Ches Smith.
Hank Shteamer interviews Antonio Sanchez about Birman.
H. Shteamer also interviews Jason Moran about the Village Vanguard.
An interview with Bill Laswell entitled No Boundaries.
An interview with guitarist Mary Halvorson.
Burning Ambulance on Cecil Taylor circa 1983.
Troy Collins interviews saxophonist Tony Malaby for the new issue of Point of Departure.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up (482 Music, 2015)

The Hook Up band led by drummer Tomas Fujiwara has been together for nearly eight years now and their sense of togetherness is really borne out by the playing on this album, propelling Fujiwara’s interesting and complex compositions. The band consists of Mary Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass, Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and flute and Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet. “Lastly” opens with drums, a little skittering guitar and a touch of flute giving the proceedings a mysterious air. They develop a medium tempo, with trumpet sliding in over flinty shards of guitar. Cymbals shimmer and call the group patiently to order, before moving to a percussion based trumpet solo. Nimble guitar and drums set the tone for ”The Comb” which has shards of guitar and percussion, both of which are light and graceful. There is a selection of collective improvisation, which like almost all of the music on this album has a shape-shifting quality where everything is not quite what it seems. After a graceful drum feature on “For Tom and Gerald” the group returns on “Boaster’s Roast” where trumpet and angular guitar develop a sense of openness amidst rumbling drums. The music builds quickly with hammering percussion and squalls of epic guitar, followed by the full band returning in layers. The music changes so rapidly that it is hard to keep track, it is impressive in its complexity and quite immersive as each member of the band is attuned to the others. Fujiwara leads by example with tight and amazingly supple control of his instrument. “Solar Wind” has hollow sounding drums that develop a complex rhythm. Settles’ saxophone nudges in setting up a fine trio section, added to with Finlayson’s trumpet making for a conversational sound. There are solo sections for trumpet and bass, shaded ably by Mary Halvorson’s guitar. This is a very interesting group that makes the most of their long time together by developing a unique band identity. After All Is Said -

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth - Epicenter (Clean Feed, 2015)

Bassist Chris Lightcap has worked with a who’s-who of A-list modern jazz talent, but as of yet has released comparatively few albums as a leader. His latest finds him in august company, with Craig Taborn on keyboards, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The ensemble works very well together and the music is consistently interesting. “Nine South” opens with electric piano and saxophones as the music blasts off fast and hard, carving a deep and truly exciting path. Both the solos and ensemble playing is first rate, including percussive keyboards and punishing drums. The saxophones roar out of the gate on “Epicenter,” giving way to a thick and nimble piano, bass and drums section. After some initial probing by one of the saxophonists, the whole group comes in with the power and urgency of a big band, not necessarily playing free, but unencumbered and thrillingly fast. “Down East” develops a powerfully percussive rhythm to underscore squalls of saxophone that achieve an exciting feel, like being bludgeoned by a tidal wave of music. Saxophones slither about on “Stilwell” building the anticipation piece by piece in the shadow of a shape-shifting keyboards before they rip through and fly intertwined over throbbing bass and drums. There is a solemn and reverent feel to “Stone By Stone” with saxophone elegies and beams of keyboard building up with the horns fleshing out their sound along with some elastic bass but the overall sense of mystery prevails. Ending the album by covering The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” was a truly inspired idea where the bass led intro builds to percussive piano that recalls the original and vocalized saxophone ably taking the place of Nico’s moody vocals. This album was excellent and deserves to be remembered when the best-of lists are bandied about in December. The musicians are motivated, and the music is bright and bustling with ideas. Epicenter -

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Doug Webb - Triple Play (Posi-Tone, 2015)

Doug Webb is a well-rounded saxophone player with several albums to his credit as a leader for Posi-Tone as well as high-profile appearances along side pop musicians and writing for television. On this album he is joined by Walt Weiskopf and Joel Frahm on tenor saxophones, Brian Charette on organ and Rudy Royston on drums. The three saxophones referenced in the title work well as they swap in and out as the situation permits. “Jones” opens the album in a bright, swinging fashion with the saxophone solos working well, one player with a lighter tone and another with a darker one contrasting nicely. The saxophones take turns soloing before returning together for the final melody. John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is taken at the appropriately blasting tempo with saxophonists playing hot-potato with the solos, which are lightning quick but still well controlled. “The Way Things Are” contains more vibrant swing, with organ and drums bubbling underneath and tight playing by the saxophonists at the beginning and at the end. Charette proves that he is fleet of foot, keeping the bass pedals moving impressively on “Avalon” where he and Royston finally get a spot to shine in between the blazing saxophone solos. “Your Place or Mine” keeps the modern hard bop flag flying with confident saxophone plowing the field laid by Charette and Royston, who glide out for a moment in-between the swapping saxophones. Things begin to slow things down a bit on “Pali Blues” leveling out at a more medium pace, but as soon as the saxophones start spooling out their solos and the tempo climbs higher and higher. The finale “Triple Play” lifts off in a Jazz Messengers type fashion as the saxophonists play the opening theme together and then separate as the organ and drums simmer relentlessly underneath. You can hear Webb’s penchant for developing TV themes into pleasing earworms on the this album, and while the format of melody – saxophone solos – melody gets a little samey at times, they do it so well that it is hard to quibble with. Triple Play -

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