Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Harriet Tubman - Araminta (Sunnyside, 2017)

Named after the hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman consists of Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and JT Lewis on drums. On this album, they are joined by the legendary trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and it was an inspired invitation, making this a strong and vital album. "The Spiral Path To The Throne" opens the album with bouncy fuzz distortion, creating stark relief for the trumpet's soaring sound, focused by light subtle drumming which opens space for trumpet and electric guitar accents. The group creates a wide spectrum for trio and trumpet, developing fast tempo and pushing hard in the final minute, with a ripe guitar solo leading the way. Bass and drums create a fractured funky rhythm for "Taken," with strong trumpet lashing and prowling, using the space to develop a strong track that has shards of guitar, blasts of trumpet and an unusual rhythm that anchors it all. Smith's tone and technique allow him to fit in and thrive, developing a real rapport with the trio. "Ne Ander" has wild overdriven electric bass and guitar with crushing drums clearing the way for Smith's trumpet. Thumping rhythms and unrestrained guitar and effects create a very hot trio improvisation, stratospheric music, improvising through cosmic jazz as Smith rejoins and blasts the music to new heights with an epic trumpet solo. They head for home with snarling and distorted bass and guitar with a thudding beat, framed by sparks and swirls of trumpet. There is a respectful opening with golden tones of trumpet on "Nina Simone," slowly filling the space with melancholy sound, stark yearning trumpet framed by subtle electronics and cymbals. This is a tribute created on its own terms, thoroughly modern and as mysterious as the dedicatee. "Real Cool Killers," named after an excellent Chester Himes novel starts out in an appropriately noirish fashion before unleashing gritty bass and drums with smears of distorted guitar piercing the air around them, playing loud muscular power trio music. There were definitely some more avant-garde things at play, but the music remains very accessible. Smith returns on the fast and exciting performance "President Obama's Speech At The Selma Bridge" with stoic trumpet and fast paced drumming unfolding into a powerful statement with strong guitar and bass along for the ride. There is a definite electric Miles vibe here, with Ross firing off Pete Cosey level blasts of guitar, met with sections of throbbing bass and drums. "Sweet Araminta" concludes the album on a thoughtful note, opening space for electronics, deleting a reflective coda for what has come before. This was an excellent album of wildly exciting music that combines many aspects of modern music, and focuses them into a concentrated and powerful set of performances. Araminta - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Max Johnson - In the West (Clean Feed, 2017)

Bassist and composer Max Johnson has had a wide ranging musical career, performing with luminaries from the jazz, rock and bluegrass world in addition to developing an excellent series of albums as a leader in the progressive jazz vein. This album has a very interesting setting, featuring Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, Kris Davis on piano and Mike Pride on drums. Pulling from a disparate variety of sounds, this group moves through four diverse compositions, beginning with "Ten Hands," which builds in a suite like configuration, continually shifting the focus of the music and its inherent improvisation as it develops and expands motifs as well as solo sections and duo pairings within the overall structure of the piece. Whether it is percussive piano, droning steel guitar and bowed bass or a rattling drum feature, the music remains vibrant and colorful. "Greenwood" uses a large amount of space and takes its time in development, bringing about a spontaneous creative environment with spare piano framed by light guitar, bass and drums. There is a sense of freedom and drive that is further advanced by the performance by increasing volume and adding complex rhythm, with touches of piano notes and chords meeting ropes of steel guitar and shimmering cymbals before fading back to a quiet conclusion. Piano and percussion percolate and flutter against the steel guitar on "Great Big Fat Person" eventually opening the music to a wide range of ideas. Subtle but complex themes are built and extrapolated upon, and interesting details brought into the foreground. Drops of golden sounding guitar accents the frenetic pace of the piano and drums leading to a powerful collective improvisation. “Once Upon a Time in the West” is the only non-original, having been composed by Ennio Morricone for the classic western film of the same name. Here the song is re-arranged by Johnson, but it retains the dynamic and cinematic outlook, over an impressive twenty-one minute length. Incorporating mournful bass bowing which leads to an excellent free sounding improvisation where all the instruments are deep in conversation. This track also resolves itself over several sections, such as ones for spare piano or bass and others for the full band, and builds to a large and wide ranging soundscape. The group is able to evoke the huge landscapes and wide vistas of the American southwest over the course of the album, drawing on the rich musical, cinematic and artistic history of the area to develop a compelling statement. In the West - amazon.com

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Interesting links 8/13/2017

Rolling Stone re-examines the impact of The Beatles on the crimes of Charles Manson and his Family.
Hank Shteamer reviews the early to middle 1970's work of Deep Purple.
AAJ features an interview with modern jazz musician Craig Taborn.
Henry Rollins takes a rueful look at his burgeoning record collection.
Phil Freeman takes an interesting look at the 1970's recordings of pianist Keith Jarrett.
Jim Knipfel reflects on the music of Sun Ra.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey carves a very interesting path on this album, investigating the areas in which jazz improvisation, classical music and modern composition mingle. He is joined on this album by Cory Smythe on piano, toy piano and electronics and Chris Tordini on bass, and they make their way through this shadowy music with tact and dignity. "Cascade in Slow Motion" is the opening track, featuring subtle and spacious percussion using both brushes and sticks, along with spare piano and bass. The music waxes and wanes, but retains an air of mystery throughout. The concept of space and comfort with it are the hallmarks of the second performance, "Flowers for Prashant" which blurs the line between composition and improvisation, and melds them together allowing the music to develop its own language and cadence. Tordini's bowed bass matches the quiet, soft piano which uses slow tumbling notes that probe at the silence, creating motion that lingers just beneath the exterior. Smythe's piano rings and reverberates moments of crystalline beauty which fracture and disperse the path of the music, storing potential energy, and then releasing it to open into a deeper meaning. "Obsidian" develops eerie strokes of sound, and mysterious subtle manipulation of the music with electronics adds a new dimension to the proceedings. Dark piano chords, skittering over the keyboard and scattered percussion allow the musicians to investigate a wider musical soundscape. The group is able to use repetition to build the tension in the music, which is a hallmark of Sorey's music that goes back to his first album, That/Not, which used aspects of minimalism and non jazz techniques. This music utilizes a wide array of percussion, combined with judicious use of electronics to explore a wider textural soundscape, allows for flexibility in interpreting the music, which develops into a faster undercurrent of anxiety with thick bass and alarming chords focused by circling rolls of the percussionist which succeed in building an ominous sense of foreboding.  "Algid November" and "Contemplating Tranquility" are each massive performances that investigate the nature of silence and quiet within the music. It sounds like the instruments are in a large empty room and trying to close the gap between them. This is an apt metaphor for the music as a whole, a deeply meditative experience that allows ideas of deep substance to be conveyed with the utmost restraint. Verisimilitude - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Sun Ra and his Astro-Infinity Arkestra - My Brother the Wind, Vol. 1 (Cosmic Myth Records, 1970/2017)

The new Sun Ra webpage on Bandcamp is an embarrassment of riches, with dozens of the bandleader's albums for streaming, downloading and ordering physical product. The first album on the list is My Brother the Wind Part One, recorded in 1969, released the following year, and containing some of Sun Ra's earliest experiments with the Moog Synthesizer. This is a small band recording with only Ra, John Gilmore on drums and tenor saxophone, Marshall Allen on alto saxophone, piccolo and oboe, Danny Davis on alto saxophone, alto clarinet and drums and Gershon Kingsley programming the Moog itself. The recording is fascinating, running the gamut from electronic experimentation to free jazz and everything in-between. "My Brother the Wind" is a spacey performance with Ra probing the textures and possibilities of the instrument. Things get stronger in "Intergalactic II" with squalls of saxophone placed against Ra's kneading of electronic notes and chords. He has a unique conception of the instrument, taking it in a vastly different direction than progressive rock groups like ELP and King Crimson or composers like Wendy Carlos. The fractured electronic bells and chimes of "From Nature's God" are framed by Allen's piccolo getting a light and airy sound with subtle percussion from Gilmore. This would lead into the sprawling track "The Code Of Interdependence" which begins with Ra exploring the nature of the instrument, trying different approaches pushing it into electronic overdrive. Subtle percussion focuses the experiment, while reed swirl around the performance. The music gets progressively wilder as the group locks into a groove and the reeds are able to make solid statements over the keyboards and drums. Ra holds a massive sustain note that pierces your brain and then goes to town improvising against his own tone, blasting out sounds of future video games as Gilmore thrashes the drums. This is where the original album ends, but this expanded edition adds almost thirty more minutes of music, beginning with two takes of "The Perfect Man" with slick keyboards and saxophone and a functional drum beat. These are compact and well contained performances, but the real treat is the nearly eighteen minute version of "Space Probe" which stands with "Atlantis" and "The Magic City" as one of Ra's most exciting long form works. He's got the machine working for him now, bending it to his will and blasting off laser sounds into the cosmos. The other musicians stand down and he is able to get a wide range of fantastic textures and color from the instrument, and seems giddy at the possibilities, building massive swathes of sound from the patches available on the synthesizer. This is a fascinating and at times astonishing album. Sun Ra takes the Moog and creates thoroughly original music that is extraordinary and completely his own. My Brother The Wind, Vol. 1 - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Matthew Shipp - Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zürich (hatOLOGY, 2017)

Matthew Shipp is one of the most reliably exciting pianists in the world regardless of how he chooses to record, and this excellent album is another example of his mastery of the solo piano format. This album was recorded live in May of 2016 at the Taktlos Festival and features a concentrated burst of improvisational vigor. One of the most interesting aspects of Shipp's piano style is how he makes the most of the entire length and breadth of the piano, juxtaposing cascading runs with powerful low end depth charges. It makes every performance unique and allows him to draw on a vivid palate of sound. "Intro Z" begins with a gentle and melodic opening, that slowly gathers pace, developing themes and improvisations and gradually working them into the overall improvisation, changing the tactile nature and temperament of the music. The music becomes complex and fleet of foot, expanding the improvisation into a focused core. "Pocket" is a short concentrated burst of musical energy, with Shipp rippling across the keyboard, punctuating his light runs with booming bass chords. This leads to "Gamma Ray" with its deceptively gentle opening subsumed by crashing sounds and urgent clusters of notes. He makes the most of changes in dynamics, with the spaces that in-between the musical poles. There is a lush opening to the standard "Tenderly" which is a surprise, but Shipp finds much to use within this song, stretching and pulling at the various threads of the music until something interesting begins to emerge. The music develops a sharp-angled tone, with an edginess that cuts and slices where very low tones are suddenly present in the music throwing the lighter portions into sharp relief. There is an urgency to "Monk's Nightmare" that takes the percussive piano attack of Thelonious and uses it to develop reverberating blasts of chords, moving into a relentless current of sound that is very exciting to listen to. Motifs and lines of though carom off one an other in a dynamic fashion, as the music spools out making it the longest track and centerpiece of the album. There is a crystal clarity to "Blue in Orion" with notes hanging in space like stars in the sky, mixing melodic lines and improvisations, before the music evolves into "It" which features cascading avalanches of notes punctuated by dramatic silences. Matthew Shipp stays true to his own style, no matter what the musical situation, and this is a powerful example of music that channels the spirit of exploration and a personal philosophy of continuous growth, allowing him to bring his inner strength of character to forefront. Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zürich - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Roots Music - Last Kind Words (Clean Feed, 2017)

Proving that music is truly a universal language, the Italian group Roots Music delve deep into the history of American blues and jazz and create an exciting and contemporary sound that honors the originators while taking a thoroughly modern approach. The group consists of Alberto Popolla on clarinet and bass clarinet, Errico De Fabritiis on alto and baritone saxophone, Gianfranco Tedeschi on bass, Fabrizio Spera on drums, with guests Luca Venitucci on organ, Luca Tilli on cello and Antonio Castiello providing dub effects. The music is mixed between classic delta blues reinterpretations and free jazz works by blues influenced composers like Julius Hemphill. "Down the Dirt Road Blues" and the title track "Last Kind Words" dig deep into the fertile soil of early blues replacing the otherworldly vocal moan and cry of men like Charlie Patton or Blind Willie Johnson with starkly emotional saxophone and clarinet playing. The sound is raw and earthy, with supportive playing from the rhythm team, it allows the whole band to use the universal language of the blues to excellent effect. Moving into modern jazz, they tackle one of saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill's most storied performances, "Dogon A.D." Deftly mixing their impressive free jazz chops with Hemphill's blues influenced signposts, they create a fine version of intense and provocative music. Also covered is saxophonist and composer Marion Brown, whose “November Cotton Flower” is given a lengthy exploration by the band with the addition of piano filling out the sound even more as the rhythm section develops an mysterious shifting setting to the music and joins into an excellent collective improvisation with the horns. Both Hemphill and Brown were from the American deep south and they were well versed in the traditions of the blues, bringing that experience to the wonderful avant-garde jazz they created during their careers. Castiello is the secret ingredient to the final piece on the album, "Bermuda Blues (Quasi Dub)" which suggests further avenues of roots music for the group to explore in the future, perhaps delving into Jamaican reggae or dub on future albums. But on this particular track, the band dives deeply into a gutsy free blues improvisation with the core quartet improvising a spiraling and swaying performance that Castiello gently alters and tweaks as the track progresses. This isn't some sort of gimmick, it works quite well and adds a further dimension to the band's style of playing. This was a very successful album of blues based modern jazz. The musicians are clearly deeply schooled in the history of jazz and blues, but what emerges in not a stale academic exercise, but a heartfelt and passionate performance. Last Kind Words - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar - Escalator (Catalytic Sound, 2017)

The music on this excellent album was created by a highly combustible trio consisting of Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Mark Tokar on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums and percussion. This album was recorded at the Alchemia Club in Krakow in May of 2016 and begins with "13 Lines" which blasts hard right out of the gate, with Vandermark's expressive saxophone holding court with the elastic bass and drums. They proceed into an epic blowout of collective improvisation, moving massive slabs of sound and developing a hypnotic gaze. There are long low tones of reed to open "Automatic Suite" which moves through several layers, swirling with gentle percussion and chimes giving way to shrieks of clarinet, with fractured rhythm refracting the music in all directions like a funhouse mirror. Vandermark moves back to tenor saxophone as the music deepens like an industrial machine that grinds relentlessly forward. The music becomes fast, deep and muscular, punctuated by growls and roars of saxophone. Supportive bass and drums are simpatico with the torrid saxophone, cracking like a weak levee and allowing a massive wall of improvisation to pour forth. "Flight" develops a very interesting texture with raw toned bowed bass sweeping across the landscape of the music, with saxophone joining at a similar pitch creating an alarming and unnerving sound. The trio comes together to create a fascinating mix, investigating the universe of free improvisation at light speed. Thick and fast bass and drums fuel "Rough Distance" with Vandermark adding a low and guttural saxophone which steams ahead full bore. There is a gleeful exchange of ideas, led by deep bellows of gruff saxophone, and the music is wild, yet coherent as the drums and bass open a fascinating rhythm which results in cascading waves of sound engulfing the listener. The finale, "End Numbers," has more abstract bowed bass with percolating saxophone and drums. They gradually develop a drone that makes excellent fodder for the impending burst of improvisation. There is a rich textural sound with raw peals of saxophone, that builds energy through repetition. The group builds to a rippling improvisation, reveling in the freedom of choice that is available. Everything flows organically as the music gradually proceeds to its conclusion. There is great empathy between the musicians themselves, and between the group and the music on this album. This is one of the most exciting album that I have heard this year, there is constant joy to be found in the bracing interaction of these musicians. Escalator - Bandcamp

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ambrose Akinmusire - A Rift In Decorum: Live At The Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 2017)

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is a well regarded musician on the modern mainstream jazz scene. He has been patient in building his craft, recording sparingly and not jumping into fads or judgement. To record a live album at the Village Vanguard is a daunting task, since it is the club where John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins among many others recorded some of their finest material. Like those men, he is the sole horn in this band, but he is buoyed by this group that features Sam Harris on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums. "Maurice and Michael (Sorry I Didn't Say Hello)" is an interesting way to open the album, showing a thoughtful sense of social consciousness, and allowing the music to speak for him, developing from a spare and well paced beginning to a more active section for full band improvisation and the leader's solo. Akinmusire has a nice tone to his instrument, often thoughtful and meditative, but willing to be brash and loud if the music calls for it. The more open ended nature of the music allows the band to weave complex textures on "Brooklyn (ODB)" where tight communication and deep listening are critical to the execution of the music. It is another lengthy performance that begins deceptively slowly and quietly with spare piano. Harris takes this opportunity and runs with it, developing a faster and more frenetic pace that opens up the music for the remaining band members. The leader plays long tones of brass over the sound, making for an inviting creative atmosphere. The music resolves about four minutes into more conventional rhythm section with trumpet. Akinmusire's solo statement is powerful and self assured, pushing through the air around him, and taking full control of the situation. You hear muted blast of trumpet, but also low register growling as he makes the most of the possibilities inherent his instrument, before the group comes back for a strong conclusion. One of the lengthiest pieces on the album, "Trumpet Sketch (Milky Pete)" opens with a soft solo statement on trumpet, carefully placing the notes as if he were displaying artworks in a gallery. The rest of the group jumps in after a few minutes, demonstrating their ability to create in real time, taking an idea introduced by one of the members and and using it to craft a memorable performance. Akinmusire pushes the band forward nicely with some very well articulated trumpet plating, and they rhythm section obliges, taking a fine trio feature and further developing interesting rhythmic ideas. They are very impressive in nudging the tempo even faster with Harris romping over the keyboard, and the bass and drums giving chase. The trumpet re-enters, improvising over subtle percussion and bass, playing tightly never sounding forced or heavy handed. Akinmusire develops a trumpet / percussion dynamic is excellent and they really challenge each other as supercharged trumpet phrases and lashing drums arise in an appealing go for broke improvisation, recalling done of the famous horn and drums battles of the Vanguard's past, and giving the music an edgy character that makes it one of the highlights of this very solid collection of live modern jazz. A Rift In Decorum: Live At The Village Vanguard - amazon.com

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society - Simultonality (Eremite Records, 2017)

Joshua Abrams is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who makes very interesting and original music that draws from jazz, minimalism, krautrock and much more to develop a blend of music that is inclusive and compelling. On this album, he is playing guimbri, bass, harp, bells and he is accompanied by a band called Natural Information Society, consisting of Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and percussion, Michael Avery on drums and percussion, Ben Boye on chromatic electric autoharp, piano and Wurlitzer, Emmett Kelly on electric guitar, Frank Rosaly on drums, percussion and resonator bells and Ari Brown guests on tenor saxophone on the final track. The music is complex but exciting, often using a motorik type beat to pull the listeners into the soundworld the band is creating. "Maroon Dune" opens the album with a thick and hypnotic gaze as the musical instruments weave in and out of the music, subtly changing the tone and color of the music as they progress. Abrams develops themes and motifs, making the most out of the guimbri with which is a three string African lute, and the remainder of the musicians in the band pick up on this and elaborate upon what he is playing. The pace is pretty fast, but it develops organically, waxing and waning according to the real time development of the piece, creating a delicate lattice of instrumentation, and a mood was that is free from coercion. The musicians are listening very closely to one another, focusing their improvisation into a unified whole, giving the performance a communal sensibility, absorbing all of the individuals and subsuming them into the music. Brown is the guest star on "2821 1/2," (the location on S. Indiana Ave. in Chicago of Fred Anderson’s legendary Velvet Lounge) and he is welcomed by a plethora of percussive instruments like shakers and bells that create a meditative feeling. Keyboards, exotic stringed instruments and electric guitar build the music layer upon layer, moving carefully toward Abrams' goal of pure motion. Brown's authoritative tenor saxophone joins in a little under halfway through, slowly and patiently probing the music and patiently weaving a solo feature, one of the few on the album. Brown calls forth with a very emotional tone, continually searching and reaching, and he was perfectly chosen for this part of the album, as he moves from a wistful ballad tone to overdriven free blowing, he stakes his claim and makes the music his own. This music on this album was a joyful experience to hear, one where traditional "jazz" instrumentation takes a backseat for the most part, and allows the musicians freedom to inhabit new aural contexts. This results are quite accessible, and many music fans would enjoy it, given the opportunity to hear the music. Simultonality - amazon.com

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Albert Ayler Quartet - Copenhagen Live 1964 (hatOLOGY, 2017)

The legendary free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler was at the height of his powers in 1964, the year of his landmark recording Spiritual Unity, so anything from this period is a big deal and this live album captures him in action with the people who accompanied him on that that classic LP, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. Even more interesting is the addition of Don Cherry on cornet, just after he finished serving in Ornette Coleman's pioneering quartet, going from strength to strength and shoring up the front line of this extraordinary band. They play wide open and exciting versions of some of Ayler's most well known themes, beginning with "Spirits" which is infused with the leader's billowing tenor saxophone lines that are further aided by Cherry's probing and provocative brass. The group also returns to reprise that theme to end the concert which brought brings the entire experience around full circle. The quartet follows that performance up with "Vibrations" and "Saints" which take the music even further into the spiritual jazz vibe. The rhythm section of Peacock and Murray keeps the music unfettered but structured and allows the music to flow with a series of fully engaged collective improvisations, but there are solos that develop with the instrumentalists making bold statements and featuring some powerful and punchy cornet from Don Cherry. "Mothers" and "Children" form a bridge to some of Ayler's later period music, opening groove oriented statements that allows the group to take these haunting themes and use them for stark and powerful improvisational performances, The combination of Ayler and Murray is particularly potent, driving each other to greater heights of furor. The focus is on ensemble play, with excellent group playing, and no heroes trying to dominate the music. This is an excellent archival release from a group that was together for only a short time. Recorded live at Club Montmartre, the sound is quite acceptable for the time and is an excellent investment for fans of avant-garde jazz.  Copenhagen Live 1964 - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Denys Baptiste - The Late Trane (Edition Records, 2017)

The music that the great saxophonist John Coltrane recorded near the end of his life is a fertile field for adventurous musicians to explore. On this album, the band consisting of Denys Baptiste on tenor and soprano saxophones, Nikki Yeoh on piano and keyboards, Neil Charles on bass and Ron Youngs on drums along with special guests Gary Crosby on bass and Steve Williamson on tenor saxophone re-imagine and rework ten compositions from the master's 1963 – 1967 period. "Dusk Dawn" opens the album with deep saxophone and sympathetic rhythm accompaniment developing the music toward an open and ripe sounding ballad resolution. The piano, bass and drums team simmer at a low volume, gaining power gracefully as Baptiste's saxophone returns to lead the group to the conclusion. There is spare percussion along with quiet and reverent saxophone laying the foundation on "Living Space" and Yeoh gently builds the structure with droplets of piano and the leader adds stoic tenor saxophone. The volume gradually rises with the open ended improvisation making room for an extra horn. There is a feature for Charles on bass to open "Ascent," which is framed by echoing saxophone, sparse keyboards and percussion developing an understated sound that reflects and reverberates. They build a lightly funky tone, with the saxophone growing more intense and developing a collective improvisation climaxing with impassioned overblowing. Subtle bass with piano and hushed cymbals open "Transition" allowing the saxophone to glide in with an unhurried manner. The music is soft and spare, making for an interesting arrangement considering the volatility of the original performance. "Neptune" uses a choppy melodic theme and breathy saxophone to set up the band's performance. Deep saxophones soar over strong piano, bass and drums moving the music further afield allowing the band to open up and really explore the potential energy within. Heavy drums crash, heralding the introduction of "Astral Trane," as thick bass and saxophones build in making for a brief but powerful improvisation that is deep with conviction. The music on this album isn't quite as raw as the source material and the band works hard to tease out melodic fragments that they can extrapolate upon. They play the beautiful Coltrane hymn "After the Rain" with subtle grace, as keyboards, resonant bass and soft and accessible saxophone ply the familiar melody. After a controlled and thoughtful saxophone solo, the band fills out with a well coordinated conclusion. This was a well done and thought provoking album. Many musicians shy away from Coltrane's more controversial late period works, but albums like this show a way forward, making the music more accessible without removing any of the passion that makes it so powerful. The Late Trane - amazon.com

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Film: I Called Him Morgan by Kasper Collin (Kasper Collin Produktion, 2016)

This was a thoughtful and well done film that describes the relationship between the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common law wife Helen and the events that led up to the fatal shooting that took place at Slug's Saloon in New York City in February 1972. There were giants of the jazz trumpet walking the earth when Lee Morgan's career began with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in the late 1950's but it soon became clear that Morgan was a special talent that had a very bright future for himself in music. After leaving the Gillespie ensemble, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers during one of their most exciting and productive periods. He was also cutting solo records as a leader for Blue Note records at this time which were prime examples of the hard-bop sound that had developed during that time period. It was at this time that Morgan fell under the spell of heroin and he fell hard. Some sources say that Blakey, the functioning addict, may have introduced him to the drug. Regardless, Morgan hit rock bottom, neither playing or recording or even at times having no shoes to wear. It was at this period, in the early 1960's that Helen enters the picture in the beginning as an almost maternal figure as she was several years older than Morgan. She helped him get into a treatment program and come out clean, and worked tirelessly as a de-facto manager, helping Morgan rebuild his image as a responsible and sober musician and bandleader. The mid to late 1960's were the salad years of their relationship, Morgan had found massive success with his recording "The Sidewinder" and a series of popular albums followed. They were able to tour the west coast with Helen on some of these trips as a straw boss, and for all appearances things were going well. That started to change when Morgan began to take an interest in a young woman he had met in Atlantic City, and they began to spend more and more time together, stoking Helen's ire. Ironically, this woman states poignantly that their relationship was rarely intimate since Morgan's period of intense narcotics usage led to ongoing health and stamina issues. Everything came to a head the night of a raging blizzard in New York City. Helen had originally planned to decamp to Chicago, but decided to come to Slugs to see Morgan play. Morgan was accompanied by his young partner, and the friction between the three was becoming toxic. At one point Helen was thrown out of the club without her coat, and the pistol she kept for protection fell out of her purse and clattered onto the sidewalk. She picked it up, re-entered the club tapped him on the shoulder and and shot him in the abdomen upon turning around. Police responded quickly and placed Helen in custody, but it took the ambulance over an hour to navigate the snow clogged streets to the club and Lee Morgan was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, dead at just 33 years of age. Helen was convicted of second degree manslaughter, and was released after spending a comparatively short time in custody. She returned to her North Carolina roots, becoming very active in the church, and was taking classes to further her education when she met Larry Reni Thomas who was a jazz DJ in addition to being a history professor. Several years later and shortly before her death in 1996, Helen sat down with Thomas for a lengthy interview. This squeaky old cassette tape opens Helen's backstory from being a young unwed mother in North Carolina who fled for New York City, and became known as a character around town, someone who always had an open door and a pot of food on the stove. This was the time period where she met Morgan, he was at his lowest point and she helped him to get back on his feet and spur him on to some of his finest performances. But there was bitterness building, and Helen did not wish to be a kept woman while Morgan saw other women and circumstances and missed opportunities led to that tragic night when one of the leading lights of contemporary jazz was cut down by someone who was shattered and immediately contrite. But the damage had been done and the history of jazz was irrevocably altered. The structure and format of the film is straightforward and works well. Some famous musicians like Wayne Shorter, Billy Harper and others lend thoughtful and pithy comments and Thomas plays excerpts of the taped interview with Helen in addition to providing commentary and context. There is some wonderful footage of Morgan playing in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and then leading his own group for a local television station in New York City. This was a well done and compassionate film that tells the story in an organic manner, never getting in the way of the musicians and other friends and family, allowing them to tell their own story. The film does have a melancholy or elegiac air, but that is fitting given the subject matter. It is highly recommended and easier to find, now that it is streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Riverside - The New National Anthem (Greenleaf Music, 2017)

Following up on their debut release from 2014, Riverside is a collaborative group featuring Dave Douglas on trumpet, Chet Doxas on clarinet and saxophones, Steve Swallow on electric bass and Jim Doxas on drums. This album has very impressive instrumental playing and interaction along with interesting compositions. The album was recorded in the summer of 2015 and begins with "The New National Anthem," which has a choppy melody of bass and drums leading into "Old Country" which bursts open colorfully with strong brass punctuated by sharp percussion and electric bass. Douglas contributes a concentrated trumpet solo set to pulsating accompaniment before Doxas's saxophone joins in for a keen collective improvisation and a solo spot of his own. "King Conlon" has a crisp full band theme statement which is punchy and exciting evolving into a powerful trumpet solo over bass and drums. Chet Doxas switches to clarinet and swoops in unexpectedly over rolling drum accents, and the whole band comes together with excellent interplay. Hollow sounding clarinet and punchy brass push forward on the following track, "King Korn," making for a taut and exciting performance. Solo electric bass opens "View From a Bird" building a medium tempo and adding languid saxophone and trumpet along with subtle brushes. Shimmering cymbals and trumpet join in to frame the bass with eddies of sound and motion. "Enormous Tots" has a funky and friendly feel to it, with the horns strutting and swaggering over strong rhythm. They joyously chant a nonsense vocal before embarking on a sharp melodic improvisation, sounding like modern day hot jazz with billowing saxophone and drums. The music on "Demigods" slows back down to a medium tempo, with sympathetic musical motifs at hand. Subtle bass and percussion builds to a slow groove, gaining pace as the saxophone and brass open the music further over a subtle backbeat. Finally, "Americano" ends the album in excellent fashion, with strong bass and drums setting the pace for the stylish horns to enter. Douglas unleashes an excellent trumpet solo over tight bass and drums, then makes way for a fine saxophone feature over a gleefully primal beat. This was a good album, the band is really tight and makes the most of their experiences to create wide ranging music. This is a bright and accessible album that should be well received. The New National Anthem - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Charles Lloyd New Quartet - Passin' Thru (Blue Note, 2017)

Tenor saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd has had a long career filled with highlights, from his popular early recordings on Atlantic that led to him playing psychedelic ballrooms in the late sixties to a lengthy purple patch with ECM in the nineties and oughties. Now on Blue Note, he reconvenes the New Quartet, featuring Jason Moran on piano, Ruben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. The opening track, a near eighteen minute version of the Lloyd classic "Dream Weaver" was recorded live at last year's Montreux Jazz Festival, and it encapsulates the leader's musical history in a suite-like performance that includes elements of blues, spirituals and more open-ended improvisational elements. The album's remaining tracks were recorded in Sante Fe beginning with "Part 5, Ruminations" which has a gentle and meditative melody that develops into a thoughtful and gentle improvisation which allows the rhythm section maximum freedom while Lloyd swoops and sways around them, building a thoughtful and lilting statement all his own. "Nu Blues" is a more recent composition, one that hints at the rhythm and blues of his hometown of Memphis, while encouraging the music to move into a little more intense state of being with crisp rhythmic playing and full throated saxophone soloing. There is a wistful, balladic feeling to "How Can I Tell You" and the band paces itself nicely developing a soft and patient performance that rides on the thermals of air in an organic improvisation that moves with the grain of the music. "Tagore On The Delta" opens up the throttle, making the most of the availability of space and time, taking a composition out of his past, and moving it completely into the moment with excellent piano playing and elastic bass and drums making an excellent construct. Lloyd's music has always had a deeply spiritual quality to it, and this is firmly demonstrated on the concluding piece "Shiva Prayer" which develops a hard won serenity showing all that he has learned during his long and successful career. He carries the rest of his band with genial authority, completely at home with the younger musicians who continually respect and challenge him. Passin' Thru - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Downbeat Readers' Poll Ballot 2017

Downbeat Magazine is accepting ballots for the 2017 Readers' Poll. My choices are as follows:
Hall of Fame: Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist: Ivo Perelman
Jazz Group: Lean Left
Big Band: Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album (Released June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017): Rodrigo Amado / Goncalo Almeida / Marco Franco - The Attic (NoBusiness Records)
Historical Album (Released June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017) David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp Duo, Live in Sant'Anna Arresi 2004 (AUM Fidelity)
Trumpet: Amir ElSaffar
Trombone: Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Steve Coleman
Tenor Saxophone: Peter Brotzmann
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson
Clarinet: Anat Cohen
Flute: Nicole Mitchell
Piano: Matthew Shipp
Keyboards: Craig Taborn
Organ: John Medeski
Guitar: Brandon Seabrook
Bass: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Violin: Mark Feldman
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion: Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument: David Murray (bass clarinet)
Male Vocalist: Theo Bleckmann
Female Vocalist: Leena Conquest
Composer: Roscoe Mitchell
Arranger: Nels Cline
Record Label: No Business
Blues Artist/Group: Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: Gary Clark Jr., Live North America 2016 (Warner Bros.)
Beyond Artist or Group: Richard Thompson
Beyond Album (Released June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017): Sleater-Kinney - Live in Paris

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Peter Brotzmann / Steve Swell / Paal Nilssen-Love - Live in Tel Aviv (Not Two Records, 2017)

This is an excellent meeting of three of the most exciting musicians in avant-garde jazz with Steve Swell on trombone, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion and Peter Brotzmann on saxophone and clarinet. This album was recorded live at Leontin 7 in Tel Aviv, Israel October 24, 2016. These musicians have played with each other countless times in many different configurations so the trust level they have is very high and they have no problem letting their guard down and playing for the sheer love of the music. That affection comes shining through on the main track, wonderfully titled "The Greasy Grind" which begins with an all out collective improvisation that is very exciting. Nilssen-Love's crashing drums and cymbals make a fine foundation for guttural saxophone and smears of brass that hit with raw physicality but are also played with great tact and depth. The music stretches out for a thirty minute exploration of the disparate sonic terrain, with spaces for solos and duets as well as the superb trio interaction. The music exists at many levels, whether it is a muscular free jazz blowout or an abstract sound collage with varying colors and strokes evoking a wide range of emotion. The second and shorter piece is called "Ticklish Pickle" is also aptly named, because the trio creates a slower, prickly performance that is gritty and focused on the granular level of the music. Brotzmann plays clarinet, and the hollow, woody sound of the instrument is perfectly placed to improvise the with long rough tones of brass and skittish percussion. It takes a great deal of patience and trust to pull off a performance like this, and you can almost sense the audience hanging on every note as the trio navigates the thickets and underbrush of the music, emerging triumphant after ten minutes of risk taking on the edge creativity. This is another excellent entry in the collective discographies of these three great musicians. Playing wide open, unfettered modern jazz, they provide a beacon of hope and demonstrate what real freedom means. Live in Tel Aviv - amazon.com

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Evan Parker - City Fall: Live at Cafe OTO (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2017)

It's an interesting feeling to listen to the great British avant-garde tenor and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker on fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Coltrane. Parker has spoken at length about his debt to Coltrane, but he repays that debt in the best manner possible, not by covering the great man's compositions, but be creating his own spontaneous improvisations that take the baton from Coltrane and show the way forward for the saxophone in free jazz or free improvisation in the twenty first century. Parker has released many live albums and I am far from an expert on his music, but this seems to be one of his finest, recorded during September of 2014 at the Cafe OTO in London. He is in an excellent form, accompanied by friends and colleagues Mikołaj Trzaska on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums. They open with a massive spontaneous composition "Hunting Moon" which they play with a headlong rush of ecstatic music. With the two reed players intertwining as they reach for the heights of the musical creativity, and an ever shifting rhythm from the bass and drums keeping the music hurtling forward. It's the fractured and unpredictable nature of the rhythm that keep things so interesting. Where the saxophones may skitter and squeal and the bowed bass casts stark shadows the percussion skips and jumps to its own accord. They all come together to create a massive blast of creative energy that is most impressive. This continues on "In Case of Fire" in which the musicians complement one another, producing a soaring, optimistic sensibility as if the band is giddy with excitement at the possibilities of their music. The improvisation is emotionally direct, and structurally sound and the quartet is deeply attuned to one another as the reeds make a wide range of sounds and the four players are utterly focused. The quartet develops dynamics with the sound moving from soft and open against full and brash, and using this structure to create powerful momentum. They can play with thunderous force, lashing gales of saxophone and bass clarinet against buttresses of stoic bass and drums, to a triumphant conclusion. The audience erupts with music deserved applause and the trio returns with the shorter performance "Eternity For a Little While" which acts as a coda and a capstone to a remarkable performance. City Fall: Live at Cafe Oto - amazon.com

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro - Rosa Dos Ventos (Anzic Records, 2017)

This album is the most recent foray into Brazilian jazz by clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen. She is joined on this album by the members of Trio Brasileiro: Douglas Lora on guitar, Dudu Maia on mandolin and Alexandre Lora on drums and percussion. The band is inspired by Brazilian choro music, which combines European musical forms with African and South American rhythms to make a fertile playground for improvisers. "Baião Da Esperança" opens the album with a jaunty and rich tune, one that the listener can easily imagine dancing to. The interplay of the strings is nimble and fleet, incorporating the percussion in a deft manner and allowing Cohen's deeply swinging clarinet to move at will. Stout guitar and mandolin introduce "Ijexa" with shaken percussion joining in to develop a very strong rhythmic foundation. The music swoops and sways in an intoxicating manner, coming together to develop a deep groove that Cohen solos over in a plaintive and emotional fashion, picking her spots, and not overwhelming the music or disrupting the feeling it has. After a dynamic downshift to a more melancholy setting, the musicians regroup and push forward to a grand conclusion. "Valsa Do Sul" has hollow sounding clarinet in open space, probing and setting the mood for the trio to jump into an grow into a charming melody. The way the strings and percussion can interact with one another is very impressive, weaving and building textures that are perfect to either encompass or challenge the clarinet in their midst. The light and nimble music is like a fluttering hummingbird, hovering between flowers as a soft breeze flows around it. Clarinet and percussion develop a choppy rhythm on "Sambalelê" which is quite exciting as they improvise beats and notes, channeling the swing tradition of pre-war jazz and the expansive history of Brazilian music. "Choro Pesado" is a lightning fast collective improvisation for the full quartet, with the percussion and strings developing an exciting rhythmic basis for the music that is thrilling to hear. Cohen is deeply intertwined within the music, and the sound she develops further aligns the scope of their improvisation, and allows it to become a whirling dervish of colorful sound. The quiet and thoughtful ballad "Lulubia" ends the album with subtle guitar and mandolin developing a memorable melody, aided by slight percussion, and eventually joined by Cohen's soft and supple clarinet with frames and engages with the other instruments beautifully. This album worked quite well and it is clear that this was a full meeting of the minds rather than soloist with accompaniment. The quartet traverses various styles and traditions of Brazilian music, but also keep in mind the improvisation based nature of the jazz tradition. Rosa Dos Ventos - amazon.com

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Burning Ghosts - Reclamation (Tzadik, 2017)

The band Burning Ghosts is a fascinating hybrid of heavy metal and free jazz consisting of Daniel Rosenboom on trumpet, Jake Vossler on guitar, Richard Giddens on bass and Aaron McLendon on drums. The album opens with "Ftof" which has an insistent rhythm being laid down by the drums followed by some nimble trumpet playing. The group develops a choppy and nervous feel to the music that is even more enhanced with the entry of electric guitar. This pushes everyone forward to a very powerful collective improvisation with guitar and trumpet punching in tandem with deep bass and frenetic drumming. Rosenboom's trumpet leaps over jolts of scalding guitar before laying out and allowing a nasty guitar and percussion battle to commence, where lashing drums lead the way. Trumpet re-enters, taking the music even further afield, and leading a full charge to the conclusion. A drone punctuated by blasts of raw sound opens "Harbinger," creating an imposing musical edifice where trumpet arcs over the massive rhythm trio, growing ever more assertive. They drop into an immense post-rock groove that annihilates anything in their path. The music is dense and towering, eventually yielding an intense climax with slashing cymbals, growling guitar and frenetic trumpet playing, while blending in some opens spaces to ramp up the tension even further. "Radicals" juxtaposes gnarly overdriven guitar with subtle brass to interesting effect, developing opposite roles that build upon each other. There is a nice bass solo interleaved between the two opposing forces, which opens space for the music to breathe. Rosenboom adds further texture with muted trumpet, before everyone enters the blast zone with some over the top full band playing, becoming a thrilling boil. The music strives forward vigorously over a punishing beat, with stoic trumpet and drums achieving excellent cohesion. Subtle and insistent bass ushers in "Catalyst," serving as a foundation for full throttle drums and guitar, with the mad riffs making way for the entry of the trumpet. The music spits fire and lightning, maintaining it's fast speed, regardless of the complexity of the music. The dynamics at play are powerful with the music moving from slow and ponderous to white hot and fast. "Revolution" is a short and ripe blast of power that ends the album in fine fashion. Trumpet soars over vicious guitar, bass and drums, driving the music into a majestic and exciting conclusion. This is heavy and dense music that is still able to retain a tenuous tie to the jazz tradition while blasting it relentlessly into the future. Reclamation - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Steve Coleman - Morphogenesis (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman is an enigmatic musician who is always looking around the next corner, incorporating philosophical and non-musical ideas as inspiration for his compositions. He is a writer and performer of complex music, yet somehow that music remains accessible, with interesting themes constantly bubbling up abetted by witty improvised sections. Many of the musicians on this album have been in Coleman's extended circle for quite some time and they are more then up to the task of performing his knotty music. In addition to Coleman on alto saxophone, the band consists of Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Maria Grand on tenor saxophone, Rane Moore on clarinet; Kristin Lee on violin, Jen Shyu on vocals, Matt Mitchell on piano, Greg Chudzik on bass and Neeraj Mehta on percussion for about half of the tracks. The development of textures and the interplay among player is the is the foremost mission of the band, beginning with the composition "Inside Game" which slowly builds over nine and a half minutes, with reeds and brass developing sweeping forays into the source code of the song while wordless vocals and violin slip and sway around the music which is rooted by thick bass and piano. "Morphing" is the centerpiece of the recording, and at fourteen minutes in length it develops a suite-like structure, allowing themes and melodies to rise up from the simmering cauldron of the music and engage the musicians with open ended opportunities for self expression within the boundaries of the composition. This album was quite interesting to hear, especially when you place it in the context of Steve Coleman's last few LP's. His close relationship with Pi Recordings has given him the opportunity to record regularly while tweaking and modifying the music and the musicians as he sees fit. It is a daunting road that he has embarked upon, but with he is producing excellent results and has a clear-headed vision for the future. Morphogenesis - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup 2017 marks the anniversary of several  important albums in the history of rock music, and special editions of classic albums are landing regularly with a ponderous thud that makes one think of aphorisms like "gilding the lily," but the reissue machine grinds relentlessly forward regardless. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a titanic release in 1967, and has often (especially in Rolling Stone magazine) been held as the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll music. It's hard to listen to this album with fresh ears, especially if you were born after the release of the album, taking all of their innovations for granted because they are indelibly stamped in the DNA of much of the music which followed. This Fiftieth Anniversary edition of the reissue comes in two formats: a two disc set, with a remastered stereo version of the album on disc one, sounding bright and shiny enough to make a Pepper agnostic blush, and a selection of outtakes, loops, alternate takes and chatter on disc two. The second disc is interesting for a behind the curtain look at The Beatles creative process, but it's not compelling enough to be returned to very often. For the hard core Pepperologist, especially one that has deep pockets comes the four disc plus DVD/Blu-ray Super Deluxe Edition, which have various mixes of the record and outtakes in mono, stereo, surround sound, and the requisite big book of essays and photos. Another band who is not known for their modesty is U2, and they are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of their lauded album, The Joshua Tree. The album may be their most enduring work, containing hits and memorable deep cuts. Like the Pepper set, this re-issue comes in two flavors: the poor man's two-disc set that has remastered album, then a live recording of a 1987 Madison Square Garden concert. The big spender edition beefs the package up to four discs, with the two aforementioned along with a deep dive into album remixes along with period B-Sides and outtakes. The Rolling Stones grind out re-issues at a dizzying rate, with live music making the bulk of the material. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones was recorded in Texas on the 1972 Exile On Main Street tour, so it catches the band playing a hot set at near the peak of their powers. Playing cuts from that album and tweaking them on the fly in addition to judicious reprising of some of their earlier hits. The only thing that holds this back from really standing out among the scads of Stones live LPs is the bootleg quality sound, one that wraps the music in a in a muddy miasma that is perhaps appropriate considering how much of the Exile on Main Street album itself was such a gloriously murky sprawl. The three disc deluxe edition of The Doors first LP also celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, gave me a vivid synesthetic flashback of wandering around my first college, spinning this tape in my Walkman (remember those?) This package has a cleanly remastered version of the original LP itself in both mono and stereo in addition to a period live recording and the obligatory expanded liner notes with rare photographs. Nick Cave has always been an enigmatic presence on the rock 'n' roll scene beginning with the band The Birthday Party, and eventually forming his own band called The Bad Seeds. The two disc collection Lovely Creatures - The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is an excellent introduction to his solo work, covering the length of his career, hitting all of the high spots and including some interesting album tracks that give a well rounded look into his musical vision. Finally, The Grateful Dead release what to diehard fans may be the holy grail, a professionally mastered release of the complete concert from Barton Hall at Cornell University in May of 1977. This concert can be purchased separately or as part of the deluxe Get Shown the Light boxed set which includes the concerts immediately preceding and following the Cornell show. The Dead were at a mid career peak, performing at a very high level as well improvising and re-arranging new and familiar material. If you are still in need of more Dead, the soundtrack to the new documentary film Long Strange Trip is available, mixing familiar tracks with previously released songs.

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