Tuesday, December 30, 2003

John Lee Hooker – The Legendary Modern Recordings (Virgin, 1994)

The late Allmusic Guide blues reviewer Cub Coda had a great line saying that Hooker’s recordings had been around the block more times than a cop car in a bad neighborhood. Given the plethora of Hooker releases available it’s great to have a one disc collection of his earliest and rawest material. There are a series of boxed sets covering the same material if you’re looking for more, JSP has an excellent mid-priced 4 disc set that is a wise investment.

Getting back to the matter at hand, this disc tracks Hooker’s music for the Modern label during the years 1948 – 52. John Lee recorded for a number of labels under a number of different names during this period, making his discography a maddening place to try to come to grips with.

As can be expected, the disc kicks off with his signature piece and hit “Boogie Chillen” which is a formula he revisited for and number of other tunes and labels. Some of JLH’s best known songs are here in their earliest forms: “Sally Mae”, “I’m in the Mod”, and the classic “Crawling Kingsnake” all make appearances.

If you’re looking for one slab of classic early Hooker this is an excellent disc, and it makes a wonderful companion to Rhino’s two-disc career overview The Ultimate Collection. For more information on JLH, check to see if your local library has a copy of Charles Shaar Murray’s very long but interesting Hooker biography Boogie Man.

Rating: 10

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Musician of the Year - William Parker

A poster on the Jazzcorner's Speakeasy used to refer to William Parker as the "King of New York." Perhaps "King of Jazz" may be more appropriate after the amazing string of successes he had in 2003. Not only did he release three excellent CDs, the big band disc Spontaneous in addition to top ten discs Eloping With the Sun and Scrapbook, but add to this his bass playing on two other top ten discs and his organization in conjunction with his wife Patricia of a downtown jazz festival and you have a very important person indeed!

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Monday, December 29, 2003

2003 Top Ten

1. Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals
2. Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester
3. Dave Holland - Extended Play
4. David Murray - Now is Another Time
5. William Parker - Eloping With the Sun
6. Matthew Shipp - Equilibrium
7. Spring Heel Jack - Live
8. William Parker - Scrapbook
9. Neil Young - Greendale
10. The White Stripes - Elephant

2003 Honorable Mention

Scott Amendola - Cry
The Magic Band - Back to the Front
The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas
The Black Keys - Thickfreakness
Richard Thompson - Old Kit Bag
Joe Louis Walker - Shes My Moneymaker
Blue Series Continuum - Good & Evil Sessions
Brian Patneaude - Variations
Kenny Garrett - Standard of Language
Fred Hersch - Live at the Village V.
The Kills - Keep on Your Mean Side
Kurt Rosenwinkel - Heartcore
Soulive - Soulive
Jesse Van Ruller - Circles
Vandermark 5 - Airports for Light
Matt Wilson - Humidity
John Zorn - Masada Guitars

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Richard Thompson – Old Kit Bag (Cooking Vinyl, 2003)

After Richard Thompson was unceremoniously dropped the Capitol label, he bounced back on his feet this year with a new stripped-down album on the indie Cooking Vinyl label. It’s a back to basics CD that brings him around to the music melding folk and rock that he’s been exploring since his days in Fairport Convention. On this disc, Thompson is backed by a spare trio of bass, drums and background vocals.

The music moves back and forth between acoustic folk – “A Love You Can’t Survive” is one of Thompson’s finest songs of recent years, a tale of love lost to a smuggler, who gets everything he wants in life except for the love he has lost. “I’ve Got No Right to Have It All” also expands on the lovelorn folk theme that he’s been exploring in his music for quite some time. Perhaps the most fascinating song on the album is “Outside the Inside” which examines how fundamentalists look at the society and culture of the west. The opening lyrics are stark:

God never listened to Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker lived in vain
Blasphemer, womanizer
Let a needle numb his brain…

The song goes to chastise western cultural heroes like Albert Einstein and western painters who brought color into a world that is best left to shades of grey. This is one of the most thought-provoking songs he has ever written and will no doubt be one of the most controversial.

Just to prove that the album isn’t full of just philosophizing and lost-love downers, he throws is a great paranoid rocker “I’ll Tag Along” which allows the band to stretch its wings.

Rating: 8.5 (honorable mention, best of 2003)

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Saturday, December 27, 2003

R.L. Burnside – First Recordings (Fat Possum, 2003)

R.L. Burnside is a worldwide blues institution now, but when these tracks were cut in the late 60’s he was unknown outside of the small Mississippi blues community clustered around Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint. The Fat Possum label changed all of that, committing the music of Burnside, Kimbrough and their contemporaries to disc starting in the 1990’s.

It’s fascinating to hear how little change there is in Burnside’s music between the late 60’s and today. These tracks were recorded solo on acoustic guitar, so there isn’t much of the amped up atmospherics of his electrical recordings, and thankfully none of the techno blues the he experimented with in the ‘90’s.

Burnside runs through the standard tunes that make up the core of his repertoire to this day. From the drone like “Goin’ Down South” to the rave up’s “Jumper on the Line” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” Burnside stays true to his Mississippi roots.

Rating: 7.5

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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Andrew Hill – Grass Roots (Blue Note 1969, 2000)

Grass Roots was one of the final albums of Andrew Hill’s first tenure at Blue Note. Hill is joined by Lee Morgan on trumpet, Booker Ervin on tenor saxophone, Ron Carter on Bass, and Freddie Waits on drums. On of the first things you notice when listening to this record is that the angular, abstract sound that Andrew Hill is usually noted for is toned down here for a much more straight-ahead “populist” feel.

In the liner notes, Hill is quoted as saying that he was looking for a more lyrical sound, and the title track achieves that, harkening back to the classic Blue Note sound of the Messengers and Horace Silver’s groups without losing the adventurousness that marks much of Hill’s most famous work. The front line is very helpful in achieving his goal of more accessible music; Ervin’s wide-open tenor sound is matched well by Morgan’s punching trumpet.

The final track on the first side, Mira is an interesting excursion into Latin jazz. Hill takes his Dominican roots and adds a funky touch to create an infectious groove. The final tracks, “Soul Special” and “Bayou Red” continue in the same manner of well rooted groove.

This is an interesting record in Hill’s output, finding him between his challenging early masterpieces like Point of Departure and Smokestack, and his 1970’s work which found him without firm label support and concentrating on solo piano. While this may not be his most important album, this points toward Andrew Hill as a composer and a musician who is comfortable in any setting and is able to adapt himself to different situations without affecting that which makes him so original.

Rating: 8

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Sunday, December 21, 2003

John Coltrane - The Olatunji Concert (Impulse 1967, 2001)

This is the last recorded performance of John Coltrane's career, a concert taking place at the Olatunji African-American Cultural Center in New York City. Coltrane is joined by his regular band of the period: Alice Coltrane on piano, Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Garrison on bass and then guests Algie DeWitt and Jumma Santon on percussion. This recording was not made for public release, but rater as a reference copy for Coltrane to learn from. Therefore, there is a rough almost bootleg sound quality to the disc.

The music is not for the faint of heart, because it is some of the most ferocious free-jazz I've ever heard. The disc contains two composition, Ogunde and My Favorite Things, although the respective melodies are only hinted at and most of the music is made of up free form improvisation. It's fascinating to contrast Coltrane and Sanders. Pharoah tales a number of blood-curdling solos which seem to stand apart for the music around him. He seems to only be able to operate in overdrive, where Coltrane is able to throttle the power and dynamics of his playing to meet the situation and accompaniment. As time went by, I think Pharoah was able to find musical situations that fit him a little more comfortably in the drone like compositions that he recorded on a series of very successful Impulse releases of the late 60's and early 70's.

I'm really not sure if this recording should have been issued. The sound recording quality is so poor that Garrison is pretty much lost in the mix, with Pharoah and Ali coming through as an amazon.com customer wrote as a wall of "white noise." I've traded for unofficial concert tapes for quite a while, and I think if I received this music in a trade I would have been quite happy, but as an official release it makes for a very tough listen.

Rating: 6

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Very cool jazz festival pictures here.

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If anyone sees a copy of Miya Masaoka's Monk's Japanese Folk Song please let me know. I heard a song from this on Radio at Netscape's Avant-Garde station and I really liked it, but the disc cannot be found anywhere. I e-mailed the artist and she said that her own sister had to get a copy via e-bay - how's that for a rarity!

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Darkfunk.com strikes again. This time with a two set concert from Billy Martin, Calvin Weston and DJ Logic.

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Make sure to check out the be.jazz blog. Lots of great information and insightful blogging!

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I've had a terrible cold, so I've been lying around my apartment like a zombie listening to music and occasionally drifting off into some trance-like sleep. For the past several years but especially this year I been enjoying the so-called "jazztronica" put out on the Thirsty Ear Blue Series, curated by Matthew Shipp. When I read jazz history books, one common theme that seems to come up is where the music can go in the post fusion/free/neo-con era. I think that the Blue Series offers one interesting possibility. Mixing live improvisation of acoustic and electric instruments with both prepared and spontaneous electronics, the artists are able to create new soundscapes and new avenues for composition and improvisation. It seems that this also vindicates fusion and experimental musicians who were reviled in their own time for selling out. The influence of electric-period Miles Davis and the Sun Ra Arkestra are only now being felt.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

John Szwed - Sun Ra: Space is the Place (Book)

OK, so I’ve been a little obsessed with the man from Saturn lately. But after watching the film, I just had to go back and re-read Szwed’s book which is one of the most well researched and written (IHMO) jazz biographies available. Jazz biography is a dodgy subject, there’s a lot of junk out here but some gems as well and this is one of them.

Szwed tracks Ra from his birth (he would say arrival) in Alabama on May 22, 1914 (he shares my birthday!) and sketches out his formative years. There’s not much for him to work with, since Ra was deliberately vague about his childhood, but he paints a picture of a shy, bookish young man obsessed with religion, science and music.

Sun Ra arrives in Chicago after the Second World War and passes briefly through Fletcher Henderson’s ensemble before forming his famous Arkestra. Szwed describes in fascinating detail about Ra’s voracious and esoteric reading habits... every religion book imaginable, Egyptian history, afro-centric history, science fiction and hard science all found their way into his mindset and therefore into his music.

The descriptions of the epic length bull sessions/rehearsals really give an insight into the music and the man who made it. There’s a fairly detailed discography at the end of the book. Ra recorded for small labels and released massive amounts of material, so not everything is there, but enough to give you an appreciation of the man’s career and accomplishments.

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There's a couple of new shows up for downloading in case anyone is interested. Darkfunk.com has an excellent Miles Davis concert from the "lost quintet" 7/26/69. Glide Magazine has a concert from the Strokes. Enjoy!

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Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sun Ra - Space is the Place DVD (Prexifilm 1972, 2003)

Oh man, this is a hoot. Whether it is supposed to be or not is another matter. Imagine Shaft starring Sun Ra and you have some idea what is going one here. Basically, the "plot" of the story is that Sun Ra lands his spaceship in Oakland in 1972 in order to save the black race from oppression and self destruction. While there is some pretty deft social commentary going on here, it's hidden by a story so campy that it's possible to miss it.

It's Savior Sun Ra versus the FBI, NASA and the super-galactic pimp "The Overseer" in a battle for the "hearts and minds" of the world. Needless to say, that world is destroyed in classic B movie sci fi style at the end but not before Sun Ra is able to spirit away some pilgrims.

Besides the camp and sheer fun of the film, there are some wonderful shots of the Arkestra in action. The band was a well-oiled machine at this point, featuring Ra's compositions and arrangements and June Tyson's ethereal vocals.

No home is complete without one...

Rating: 10

Send comments to: Tim
I've been listening to a bit of Alice Coltrane lately, having made it up to the C's in the never ending project to convert all of my LPs to mp3 format. Yes, it has occurred to me that this project would be a lot easier if I just stopped buying LPs and stuck to CD...

Alice Coltrane is a fascinating musician, it's a shame that she doesn't record any longer. She falls squarely into the genre of "Ecstatic Jazz" made popular (sort of) by the Impulse label in the late 60's and early 70's. Her contribution to her husband's later period work only tells part of the story - what impresses me the most is that she's one of the most original jazz organ players I've ever heard.

She really attacks the keyboard, not in a Jimmy Smith bluesy way, although blues and especially gospel are a part of her music, but I think it's the influence of all of the eastern music that she had been listening to and studying that led her to develop such a unique approach. Check her out if you get a chance, her records go in and out of print, so you'll need to keep a sharp eye out.

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Friday, December 12, 2003

I turned in my entry to the Cadence Jazz Magazine readers poll. You get 25 points to distribute between as many records as you want.


Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester (4)
Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals (4)
Dave Holland - Extended Play (3)
David Murray - Now is Another Time (2)
William Parker - Eloping With the Sun (2)
Matthew Shipp - Equlibrium (2)
Spring Heel Jack - Live (2)
William Parker - Scrapbook (2)
Scott Amendola - Cry (2)
The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas (2)

Since Cadence just covers jazz and improvised music, I didn't include any rock or blues... the true and final top 10 and honorable mentions will be released on December 31st, but here are the contenders:

Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals 10
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester 10
Dave Holland - Extended Play 10
David Murray - Now is Another Time 9
William Parker - Eloping With the Sun 9
Matthew Shipp - Equlibrium 9
Spring Heel Jack - Live 9
William Parker - Scrapbook 9
Neil Young - Greendale 9
The White Stripes - Elephant 9
Scott Amendola - Cry 8.5
The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas 8.5
The Black Keys - Thickfreakness 8.5
Richard Thompson - Old Kit Bag 8.5
Joe Louis Walker - Shes My Moneymaker 8.5
Blue Series Continuum - Good & Evil Sessions 8
Brian Patneaude - Variations 8
Kenny Garrett - Standard of Language 8
Fred Hersch - Live at the Village V. 8
The Kills - Keep on Your Mean Side 8
Kurt Rosenwinkel - Heartcore 8
Soulive - Soulive 8
Jesse Van Ruller - Circles 8
Vandermark 5 - Airports for Light 8
Matt Wilson - Humidity 8
John Zorn - Masada Guitars 8

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Henry Threadgill - Too Much Sugar for a Dime (Axiom, 1993)

How's this for a lineup: two electric guitars, two tubas, French horn, drums and alto saxophone. Henry Threadgill makes some of the most inventive and unusual modern music in jazz today. His alto saxophone and flute are instantly recognizable and this disc was recorded with his ensemble the "Very Very Circus." The music kicks off with one of my favorite song titles "Little Pocket Sized Demons" which plays the snarling guitars off against the brass and drums. Threadgill's compositions always make the most of whatever musical palette he has at his disposal and this is no exception.

It's understandable why Threadgill feels that the word jazz is too constraining for the music that his bands make. This mix of the avant garde, jazz and modern composition is highly recommended to all those with open ears and a sense of adventure.

Rating: 9

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I joined a Yahoo group that trades Sun Ra's music, and there's been an interesting thread lately about formats and sound quality. First it started with people talking about trading Ra's music on mp3 - most of Sun Ra's voluminous output was self-produced or came out on very small labels so they are well out of print. But when people started suggesting making mp3 discs, others got very upset, saying the mp3 was a "lossy" format, and that it was an insult to the music to have it presented in this manner.

I remember e-mailing people like this back during the old tape-trading days... people who would only trade with traders who have gold plated tape decks sprinkled with unicorn dust. Never understood it. These guys are wild... they will only trade in these particular digital formats that they claim will never degrade... but I thought the whole point of digital formats is that they would never degrade...confusion!

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All right! A couple more concert trades came through. This time I traded for a nice mix of music, here's the plunder:

Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell Hartford 6/7/85
Ornette Coleman - Paris 3/11/87
Lead Belly - Apratment Tape 1/19/48
Lou Reed - Tinley Tark, IL 12/9/92
Velvet Underground - At the End of Cole Ave.
Velvet Underground - Etc./And So On
Sun Ra - Oblique Paralax (OOP Saturn)
Steve Coleman - Unknown Location 2/25/93
Sun Ra - Electric Circus, Washington DC? 3/68
Sun Ra - Chicago 1974
Sun Ra - Seattle '85
Velvet Underground - Searching for My Mainline (3 CD's)

I think I may take a little time off from music buying now... I need to digest.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

James Carter – Gardenias for Lady Day (Columbia, 2003)

The new album by James Carter mixes strings with reeds and rhythm in another in a long series of tribute albums pumped out by the majors. Whereas the nimble improvising strings of Carter’s Django tribute Chasin’ The Gypsy worked well, the heavily arranged strings here don’t have the ability to juke and move with the music. The strings are static and they tend to smother the music. Another album where a string section that actually worked was Greg Osby’s Symbols of Light (A Solution) where the arrangements were agile and unusual unlike this album where they seem decorative and do not add to the improvisational possibilities of the music.

The centerpiece of the record is Holiday’s harrowing “Strange Fruit,” a horrific song about a lynching murder in a small southern town. On this version, vocals are spat out with the appropriate venom, and Carter gets a chance to chance to flex his Ayler chops, but to what end? It seems so planned as to lose its emotional effect. You can almost imagine a group of suits sitting around a boardroom saying “what if we insert a screaming tenor solo here…”

Companies really have no idea what to do with Carter. Atlantic dropped him after apparently recording a live album that featured Aretha Franklin and David Murray in guest appearances. A tantalizing possibility – hopefully it will see the light of day.

We’ve never really had the chance to see Carter the composer. If there must be a concept, how about setting up Carter with a sympathetic rhythm section and letting them record a disc of original compositions? It will be more cost effective that hiring a string section and may put Carter back in the environment where his considerable talent can thrive.

Rating: 5

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The Bad Plus - These are the Vistas (Columbia, 2003)

The Bad Plus are an unusual jazz trio made up of Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and David King on drums. Yes, that's the standard piano trio format, but what makes the group different than some of the famous trios of the past is their use of dynamics and choice of material.

The group plays something that could be called for the lack of a better term "acoustic fusion." That is, they play standard acoustic instruments, but with a flair that comes from rock and pop music. Iverson doesn't hesitite to use the very low bass notes of the piano to form loud, crashing chords that play off against King's rock-influenced drumming.

The band has gained attention outside of the jazz community for thier covers of pop material like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" as well as tunes by Abba and Black Sabbath (!) But these are not merely gimmicks, the Nirvana tune works really well as Iverson puts the entire piano into play in the shifting dynamics of the song. Likewise the form and structure of "Heart of Glass" lends itself very well to King's hyperactive druming style.

For all of the other aspects of the band, their greatest gift may be their extraordinary snese of melody. The originals "Big Eater" and "1972 Bronze Medalist" make use of both the band's melodic sensibility and their skill in collective improvisation. Anderson's "Silence Is the Question" ends this disc on a elegaic note, but proves that the band is just as comfortable with slower tempos and ballad material as they are with covering rock and pop standards.

Rating: 8.5

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Monday, December 08, 2003

One last thing - did Sun Ra invent string theory before the astronomers? I quote from the Strange Strings liner notes:

"On this record, STRANGE STRINGS SOUND; STRINGS instruments linking east and west, - The Universe is stretched, stroked, struck, bowed, plucked and picked to vibrate the air ..."

If you watched the Nova special from last month or have read Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" then you know that string theorists believe that the Universe is made up of infinitely small vibrating strings of energy - maybe Sun Ra was on to something!

And Reese and the Smooth Ones is anything but smooth... It looks like a prime candidate to bring into work and share with my co-workers! Ahem... in the unlikely event that my musical choices lead me to become "occupationally challenged" please keep me updated with opening for librarians in you area...

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Ahhh... finally out of the apartment after the blizzard, and where better to celebrate my freedom than the Princeton Record Exchange! I didn't have any luck trying to track down some of the music I've been obsessive compulsive about lately (60's garage rock like the Nuggets and Pebbles comps) but I did hit the jazz vinyl section which never lets me down. The plunder:

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Reese and the Smooth Ones
Sun Ra - Strange Strings
The Jazztet - Meet the Jazztet
Miles Davis - The Complete Amsterdam Concert

I have no idea about the Miles, this is the first time I've seen it anywhere. It's Miles with an European backing group 12/8/57. I'll post more information after I've had a chance to spin it.

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I'm a little bit surprised to be saying this, but I've become pretty fascinated with Marc Ribot's music lately. He's got two new discs out on the Tzadik label, Scelsi Morning, and Soundtracks II and both are pretty warped, but thouroghly enjoyable discs. Not necessarily "jazz" per se but an odd mix of composition, improv and film music. Beats the heck out of that Yo I Made a Bad Record! he put out a few years ago.

Other discs in heavy rotation:
Cafe Tacuba - Cuatro Caminos
JLW - She's My Money Maker
VA - Savoy Records 60th Anniversary (WBGO freebie!)
Sun Ra - My Brother the Wind II

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Saturday, December 06, 2003

OK, so I'm snowed in with this monster blizzard, at least I'll have some good music to listen to and a little football on the tube. Got a chance to listen to the Joe Louis Walker record and it's as good as I expected. It's beyond me why he doesn't get the attention he deserves. I'm also trying to catch up with my project of converting all of my records and concert tapes into mp3 format. It must be a librarian thing...

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Thursday, December 04, 2003

My download allotment finally refreshed at Emusic, so I now have 65 tracks to download. Also, they finally posted Joe Louis Walker's latest album "She's My Money Maker" so I downloaded that along with an older ESP title, "The Call" by Henry Grimes featuring Perry Robinson. I became interested in Grimes recently, he has been off the jazz scene for so long, recently re-discovered living on the west coast. He has just started performing again with a bass donated by William Parker. Perry Robinson was also featured on a recent two-disc album of Parker's entitled "Bob's Pink Cadillac" which is an excellent set of music.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Chris Potter – Gratitude (Verve, 2001)

Chris Potter is one of the finest young saxophonists of the age, getting a little lost amongst the “young lions” but slowly building a reputation through his early records on the Criss Cross and Concord labels and then gaining even more attention as a featured soloist and sometime composer in Dave Holland’s stellar ensemble. Gratitude was Potter’s first record for the major label Verve and he is joined by Kevin Hays on electric and acoustic piano, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums.

The major labels seem to need a gimmick for all of their jazz releases, seemingly not comfortable with allowing their musicians to speak to their audiences by themselves, or perhaps afraid that their audience won’t “get it.” So this is a tribute album, but it’s a tribute album with a twist – most of the disc is original compositions, so it allows Potter to speak his piece without forcing him to play standards for the umpteenth time.

Some of the highlights of the CD include “Sun King” which is a dark toned nod to Sonny Rollins and “High Noon,” a Fender Rhodes fueled rave up dedicated to the oft-forgotten tenor master Eddie Harris. Interesting also is the tribute to Ornette Coleman, “Vox Humana” which Potter plays on a flute he picked up while touring in China. Also interesting to note is the presence of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, which is played with subtlety and taste by Hays. All in all, this is a very good modern mainstream record. Perhaps not as wonderful as Potter’s adventurous Traveling Mercies, which would follow in 2002, but still well worth the time and effort to investigate, and a model for how the tired tribute album niche can be revived.

Rating: 8

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In the new issue of Rolling Stone they have their Top 500 Albums of All Time. It's interesting that the choices are so conservative. Goes to show you that what was once a bastion of the underground has just become another market driven corporate entity.

Their top ten:
1. Beatles – Sgt. Pepper
2. Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
3. Beatles – Revolver
4. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
5. Beatles – Rubber Soul
6. Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin’ On
7. Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.
8. The Clash – London Calling
9. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
10. Beatles – White Album

Not that these records are bad, mind you (quite the opposite) but you mean to say that nothing in the past 25 years of all recorded music is worthy?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Come to think of it, I have a bit of a history in musical mayhem. When I was in grad school, I was back home, living with my father who used to listen to nothing but sports talk radio non-stop, 24 hours a day. Now I like sports too, but sometimes you need a break.

So, one morning we were having breakfast, and I knew that a local college radio station was broadcasting a jazz program and I humbly asked to change the station on the kitchen radio. Of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in and as soon as I tuned the station in, they queued up one of Albert Ayler’s most howling tenor saxophone solos.

I should have switched back to sports talk, but the Imp of the Perverse was sitting on my shoulder, so instead of switching I thought “I wonder how long I can get away with this…” and let it rip.

It lasted about ten seconds. “What is this…music” he asked, with icicles hanging off of each word. Needless to say with my tuition at stake, we switched back to sports radio very quickly!

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I just finished reading Brett Milano’s Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in the Vinyl Underground, and I am pleased to announce that I am nowhere near as addicted to record purchasing as the poor souls described within. I have a (fairly) clean apartment, stable job and I pay my bills on time. And I am most certainly not a near middle age male with poor social skills and complete lack of romantic life. Well, now that I start thinking about it…

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Monday, December 01, 2003

So I left the back office for a minute with Netscape Radio tuned to the Avant Garde station and when I returned... there was no music, but one very annoyed colleague who spat "I had to turn that noise off, it was driving me insane!" Yes! My evil plan to control the mental state of my co-workers is proceeding well... It appears that the culprit was Anthony Braxton's "Composition No. 52" from the album Six Compositions: Quartet. I am now on a quest - I must find this disc!

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Speaking of the Moog, I'm not one who normally collects novelty items, but I am currently coveting Thelonious Moog: Yes We Didn't.

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Sun Ra – Night of the Purple Moon (Saturn, 1970)

Sun Ra plays lounge music! Have you ever heard any of those cheesy “Space Age Bachelor Pad” compilations that were popular background music during the 1960’s? Now imagine this type of music played by a man who claimed to be from the planet Saturn and who called his band The Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra. Sun Ra’s vast discography contains many oddities, but this has to be one of the strangest and most interesting.

On this record, Ra is playing two Moog synthesizers and something called a “rcoksicord,” while main foil John Gilmore is playing drums in addition to his regular tenor saxophone duties. The album cover is a classic, and has Sun Ra as the Moon itself, looking down on the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.

The music itself is quite calm considering that this period of Sun Ra’s career found him playing a lot of high-energy free improvisation. “Sun-Earth Rock” and “Love in Outer Space” are moody, mellow and would not sound out of place in the Rainbow Room of the Holiday Inn Bayonne… The other shoe has to drop someplace of course and John Gilmore clears the dance-floor in a hurry on “A Bird’s Eye View of One Man’s World” with a paint peeling free jazz solo over Ra’s bubbling Moog.

This record is a blast… I don’t think it’s available on CD, but you can get sealed vinyl copies in Princeton for $6.99, so somebody must be cranking them out. Just think, if you like this you can move on to Sun Ra’s 1978 disco classic Lanquidity. Who says collectors don’t have any fun?

Rating: 9

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, November 28, 2003

Favorite not-quite-official concert recordings (don’t call them bootlegs!)

Miles Davis – Salle Playel; Paris 11/3/69

This is an excellent sounding radio broadcast of the so called “Lost Quintet,” the Davis band that included Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. This band never recorded in the studio but left a number of semi-official concert recordings from their 1969 European tour.

Miles had left behind the standard repertoire that he had been playing since the mid-50’s and with the young rock-influenced band backing him up he embarked on his electric period which would lead to classics like Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson.

The music like most of his concerts from this period, the music is made up of long suites with themes that would become the Bitches Brew record popping up amongst the improvisation. The band is hitting on all cylinders, but Wayne Shorter is in particular a revelation – playing some of his most abstract and intense tenor and soprano of his career.

More to come…

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Favorite blues albums (in no particular order)

Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live
Howlin' Wolf - His Best
Sonny Boy Williamson - The Down and Out Blues
Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings
Elmore James - King of the Slide Guitar
Junior Wells - South Side Blues Jam
John Lee Hooker - The Ultimate Collection
B.B. King - Live a the regal
Magic Sam - West Side Soul
J.B. Hutto - Hawk-Squat

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

New additions - I finished up my monthly downloading allotment on Emusic with the following free jazz albums:

Frank Wright - Your Prayer
Sonny Simmons - Music of the Spheres
Gunter Hampel - Music From Europe
Jeff Parker - Out Trios Vol. 2
Revolutionary Ensemble - Vietnam

Also - a couple of concert trades came in the mail (thanks Stefan & Bob):

Pharoah Sanders - Chateauvallon, France 8/17/77
Pharoah Sanders - San Francisco 11/9/73
Pharoah Sanders - Knitting Factory, NYC 9/16/98
Pharoah Sanders - Berlin 10/23/99
Dave Douglas - Zurich 10/25/01
Elvis Costello - London 11/23/86
Bill Frisell - Brooklyn 6/8/02
Sun Ra - Detroit 12/27/80

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Guaranteed to spark debate, I offer my top ten favorite rock albums of all time:

1. The Velvet Underground and Nico
2. The Clash – London Calling
3. Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps
4. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
5. Chuck Berry – The Great 28
6. The Kinks – Village Green Preservation Society
7. Elvis Costello – Armed Forces
8. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
9. REM – Automatic For the People
10. Grateful Dead – American Beauty

Jazz and Blues lists to come!

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, November 24, 2003

Today's Spins:

The Kinks - The EP Collection (Rock)
Various Artists - The Great Blues Men (Blues)
Matthew Shipp - Equilibrium (Jazz)

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The Kinks – The EP Collection (Essential, 1998)

The Kinks were one of the most criminally underrated bands in the history of rock and roll. Part of the problem in the United States was that much of the band’s music focused on traditional English themes and could be seen as conservative during their greatest period, the late 60’s and early 70’s. Most of the rock bands of the era were promoting revolution, while the Kinks longed for a return to the village green of yore. Also, The Kinks were banned from performing live in the United States due to a dispute with the musician's union.

This collection of ten EP’s put out by the band covers their most productive period of 1964-74, before Ray Davies decided to start writing music hall operas (but that’s another story.) Blasting off with the quintessential garage anthem “Louie Louie” the band sets the tone for their raucous early recordings. Their most well known work follows “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and the ominous “Sunny Afternoon” put The Kinks at the forefront of the British invasion on both sides of the Atlantic.

Then The Kinks became more album oriented and singles became less a part of the band’s overall concept. Which isn’t to say that the band couldn’t spin off an amazing stand alone song. “Waterloo Sunset” which is found on this collection and also as the final track on the Something Else album has competition only from R.E.M.’s “Nightswimmng” as the most beautiful pop song ever written (ahem… Todd and Matthew.) Also from the same album is “David Watts” a blasting up-tempo send up of the beautiful people in a high school setting.

For those who have most of the records from this period, there are some obscurities that can make this collection attractive, non-album tracks like “Milk Cow Blues” and “Gotta Get the First Plane Home.” This is an excellent supplement to the overview records Greatest Hits and The Kink Kronikles both of which have been released on Reprise.

Rating: 10

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Daily Spins:

Michael Hill's Blues Mob - Electric Storyland Live (Blues)
The Dishes - 3 (Rock)
Revolutionary Ensemble - Vietnam (Jazz)

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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Daily spins:

Joe Strummer - Streetcore (Rock)
Robert Randolph - Live @ Wetlands (Blues)
Frank Wright - Your Prayer (Jazz)

Send comments to: Tim
Joe Strummer – Streetcore (Hellcat, 2003)

Joe Strummer didn’t mount much of a solo career during the years between the breakup of The Clash and his tragic passing in 2002. A couple of solo records and some acting and producing duties and that was about it. So this posthumous CD comes as something of a shock, all the more surprising and saddening is how good it is. If Strummer had this music in him all along, where was it? Or was he starting to come into his own as a solo artist right when he was cut down by illness, just as he was ready to take his rightful place as one of the elder statesmen of rock & roll?

There’s a fascinating mix of songs on this record. It takes a great deal of moxie to cover Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and while it doesn’t quite come off as straight reggae, Strummer certainly gets points for trying. What works well for the record is when disparate music is blended together, whether it’s the rock and dub of “Midnight Jam” or the gospel/reggae of “Get Down Moses.” Strummer mixes and matches music like a mad scientist, and in staying away from the tried and true makes a fascinating record that will cement a lasting legacy.

Rating: 8

Send comments to: Tim
Robert Randolph – Live at Wetlands (Dare, 2002)

Steel guitar player Robert Randolph first came to the attention of the blues and jam band community by playing sacred and gospel music. On this live album, Randolph and his regular backing “Family Band” rips through a series of instrumental and a few vocal numbers.

“Ted’s Jam” and “The March” open the disc and set the tone. Randolph’s stinging pedal steel guitar slides over a backing of electric bass, organ and percussion. The band stretches out quite a bit melding gospel, blues and jam band rock and roll. The tempo shifts on “Pressing My Way” as Randolph takes to the microphone for the lead vocal shared with gospel-tinged singer and bassist Daniel Morgan. During this twelve-minute jam, the band shifts tempos several times and the enthusiastic crowd is very responsive.

The second half of the disc is a carbon of the first – up-tempo, near over the top improv based on gospel and blues motifs. It’s fun to listen too and must have been a blast to see in person, but it will be interesting to see what Randolph and the band can do in the studio. Will they be able to mix tempos to keep the music fresh or will they turn out to be one of the many jam bands that are interesting on stage, but are unable to bring that energy into the studio.

Rating: 7.5

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Grant Green - Grantstand (Blue Note, 1962)

This is my favorite Grant Green recording and I have almost everything he recorded for Blue Note as a leader. He was just the model of consistency during this period.

Grantstand finds Green on guitar, Brother Jack McDuff on organ, Yusef Lateef on tenor saxophone and flute and Al Harewood on drums. Green is no stranger to organ jazz having record many albums with Larry Young and one with Jimmy Smith. Harewood and McDuff are in excellent form really driving the music forward and Green is with them step for step.

Yusef Lateef's presence is what makes this album particularly interesting and also makes it stand out from Grant Green's many other albums, even his more progressive ones like Solid and Matador. "Blues in Maude's Flat" is a wonderful bluesy jam stretching out over 15 minutes, and Green shows how well he plays the standard jazz canon on "My Funny Valentine." Lateef's flute sounds wonderful with the guitar and organ also, it's a shame that Green didn't record with this lineup more often.

Rating: 10

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Monday, November 17, 2003

REM – In Time (Warner Brothers, 2003)

In Time is a compilation of work that REM has done for Warner Brothers from 1988 – 2003. Not exactly a greatest hits, it’s a bit of a hodge-podge of well known songs, obscurities and a few new tunes thrown in. There’s also a special two-disc version that has an extra disc of b-sides and rarities, something like Dead Letter Office from the Warner Brothers years.

The disc kicks off with “Man on the Moon,” one of their most radio-friendly songs and somewhat unrepresentative of their melancholy yet extraordinary album Automatic For the People. Things bog down a little bit with music from their most recent and least successful albums. “Bad Day” is one of the new songs recorded for this disc and it builds on the old “It’s The End of the World…” template with varying success.

“Losing My Religion” is a throwback to the IRS years with the jangling guitars and ominous, pained vocals. In general, the most recent material from albums like Up and Reveal are the least successful. Originally Michael Stipe was quoted as saying that the band would breakup on December 31, 1999. In retrospect, this may not have been such a bad idea. While they aren’t exactly floundering, the music of recent years lacks the spark of their earlier music. The disc ends on a strong if somber note with three of their finest ballads, “Everybody Hurts,” “Electrolite,” and “Nightswimming” which is rivaled only by The Kinks “Waterloo Sunset” as the most beautiful pop song ever written.

Longtime fans may not much to interest them besides a few new songs, but dabblers and radio listeners may find this to be a listenable package of the band's recent music.

Rating: 7.5

Send comments to: Tim
Emusic has finally rolled out their new subscription plans. They are charging $9.99 for 40 downloads and $14.99 for 65 downloads. I went with the 65 download plan - even though the halycon days of unlimited downloads are over, it's still a pretty good deal. Check out My Mix Tapes: An Emusic Fansite for more reaction to the changes. So far with my available downloads I've gotten Sleater-Kinney's All Hands On the Bad One, The Vandermark 5's Single Piece Flow and a few other things I can't remember at the moment. I still have 18 downloads left for the month.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Ornette Coleman – Virgin Beauty (Portrait, 1991)
Ornette Coleman – Love Call (Blue Note, 1968)

These are two vastly different releases from Ornette Coleman. The first is an electric record with his Prime Time ensemble, and has a fond place in the heart of musically adventurous Deadheads worldwide for the appearance of Jerry Garcia on three cuts. The music is quite complex, combining melody and harmony in Coleman’s “Harmolodic” concept of free jazz.

Although complex, the music is highly enjoyable – Ornette’s keening, yearning alto swoops and dices through a thicket of two electric guitars (three when Garcia sits in) plus electric bass and percussion. There is a palpable sense of adventure and unexpectedness with this recording, and it’s more joyful and playful than some of Coleman’s other recordings. This would make a great starter disc for any rock fan who has heard of Ornette, but doesn’t know where to begin.

Love Call comes from before Ornette's Prime Time era, and consists primarily of outtakes from his 1968 Blue Note recording New York Is Now. On this record, Ornette has an acoustic super-group of Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone, and ex Coltrane band members Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Ornette also adds trumpet to his alto saxophone on three selections. Redman and Coleman always seem to have an affinity for each other when they play together, coming from a similar Texas background and set of influences. The music is very raw, especially when Coleman switches from his primary alto saxophone to trumpet but it fascinating to hear Ornette and Redman play with a driving rhythm section like Garrison and Jones.

Rating: (both records) 8

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, November 13, 2003

There will be a free concert at the Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library by acoustic blues musician Frank Fotusky, Saturday, November 15th at 1:00 p.m. For more info: Library Events or Frank's web site.

Send comments to: Tim
The first set of a three set concert by the Trey Anastasio Band, from the Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, NY - 5/27/03 is available Glide Magazine Downloads

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Bob Dylan – Boston, MA 11/16/02

This was one of the concerts I received during a recent concert trade. Dylan has been on quite a run lately and he’s got a great band backing him up. What’s most interesting about this concert is the number of cover tunes that turn up. You’d think that somebody with a catalog of original music like Bob Dylan would stick to his own music, but he covers Neil Young’s “Old Man” as well as a couple of Warren Zevon tunes and the Rolling Stones “Brown Sugar.”

It’s a pretty solid show, not the best I’ve heard but very solid. The band jumps back and forth between up-tempo electric numbers like “Tombstone Blues” and the aforementioned “Brown Sugar” and more introspective acoustic songs such as Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” and “Mutineer” by Zevon.

Rating: 7.5

Concert set list
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Monday, November 10, 2003

Albert Ayler’s Last Album (Impulse, 1970)

This record was released posthumously after Ayler’s body was dragged from the East River – the crime (if it wasn’t suicide as the police allege) was never solved. Albert Ayler was one of the most controversial avant-garde jazz musicians in history, and in an ironic twist, there was a backlash against his final LP’s which came inside a little bit, experimenting with vocals, rock and r&b. Still he kept the raw edge in his saxophone playing right up the end.

There’s a little bit of everything here – solo bagpipes, electric guitar, and Mary Maria’s vocals. It’s a mixed bag, sure to displease the die hard free-jazz fan, but for those who have followed Ayler’s career and collected his music, it makes for a fascinating “what might have been.”

Rating: 7


Saturday, November 08, 2003

There's a copuple of new concerts available at the Dark Funk website for downloading, a Medeski, Martin & Wood concert from Halloween, and a very recent Sex Mob concert. Check out the darkfunk.com web site and click on "latest shows."

There's also another White Stripes concert for downloading at whitestripes.net.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Neil Young – Greendale (Reprise, 2003)

A lot of people are ready to toss ole Neil in the rock & roll scrapheap after a series of “mediocre” albums of the late '90’s and early ‘00’s (listen again, those albums may have been a little inconsistent, but were hardly failures) and now comes something sure to annoy – a full length retro-60’s concept album covering such topics as peace and love, redemption and ecology. Needless to say, the reviews have been mixed at best.

Which is a shame because it’s a great disc; probably Young’s finest since Sleeps With Angels. Yep, it’s a hippie concept album too, about a fictional town in northern California called Greendale where Grandpa hasn’t watched TV since Leave it to Beaver was on, Grandma’s preaches about “a little love and affection,” Sun Green wants to break away from her parents and Jed just shot a cop in a drug deal gone wrong. The story creaks and groans but it provides fodder for some great songs.

Back with Crazy Horse, the music is mostly a loping, sometimes sloppy groove that they’ve put together over the years. It lacks some of the urgency of Ragged Glory and Weld, falling more toward the lumbering extended jams of Broken Arrow. Many of the tracks clock in at 8 or nine minutes, and Young solos at length on many of them.

Young’s lyrics are a sharp as ever, taking on grief and anguish in the poignant “Carmichael” and attacking corrupt government officials, their corporate bedfellows and polluters in “Sun Green” and “Be the Rain.” Say what you will about the soap-operaish idea behind the story, it’s lit a fire under Neil to write some of his finest recent songs.

Rating: 9

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Sun Ra – Nuclear War (Atavistic 1982/2002)

Sun Ra told everyone that would listen to him that he hailed from Saturn, and the A & R people at Columbia Records must have believed him when he tried to pitch this record to them in the Early 1980’s. Ra thought he had a hit in the making with the title track (who knows, he may have if he had a chance!) but it would have been hard to believe that this chorus could have come out of Regan-era radio:

Nuclear war
It’s a motherfucker
When they push that button
Your ass gotta go!
Whatcha gonna do
Without your ass!

The epic title track was eventually re-made into an EP by Yo La Tengo and caused a brief stir when this disc was re-released last year. The rest of the disc is fine latter-day Sun Ra with Ra running down some standards (late is his career, Ra took on a lot of standards) and some fine originals. June Tyson gets some fine vocal spots, and Sun Ra shows off his organ chops.

All is all it’s a fine record, one of the many quirks and turns of the interesting career and life of Sun Ra.

Rating: 8

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Van Morrison – The Bang Masters (1969, 1992)

The Bang Recordings were the first solo recordings that Van Morrison made after the breakup of the Irish blues-rock band Them. He signed a contract with Bert Berns’ Bang Records in which he gave away most of the songwriting royalties and would later come to regret. Most of the later misanthropic anti-music industry songs of his later career can be traced to this period.

The music itself is never less than fascinating. Everybody knows the radio friendly pop hit “Brown Eyed Girl” that leads off this collection, but the sense from listening to the disc as a whole is the diverse nature of Morrison’s musical interests. Of course, Bang was looking for another hit after “Brown Eyed Girl” made the Top 10, so many of the songs are filtered through a pop sensibility. There’s a female backup chorus on several tracks, but they are arranged well in a call and response fashion, particularly on the remake of Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special.”

Special mention must me made of one of Morrison’s greatest songs, “T.B. Sheets.” It doesn’t fit in well at all with some of the more superficial pop music on this disc, but the harrowing seven minute epic about a visit to a friend who is dying with tuberculosis is one of the most gut-wrenching songs in the Morrison cannon.

Also, it’s interesting to see him setting the stage for his first masterpiece with early run-throughs of “Beside You” and “Madame George” which would appear a year later on Astral Weeks. All in all, this could be seen as a transitional album for Van Morrison, testing the waters of a solo career and injecting pop to the soul/blues framework he had used with Them, but the music stands up on it’s own as one of the first steps of a fascinating and mercurial journey.

Rating: 10

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, November 01, 2003

I've decided to dip a toe back into the tape trading waters. Slowly, I'm putting up a very ugly web site with my tape list on it. The site is: Tim's Tape List

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E-Music is going throughquite a few changes, but the "list" I made of some of the best jazz avaliable through the service is still up at the following url:
"Not necessarily free, but…"

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A great day in Princeton...
A beautiful fall day for a college football game and a trip to the Princeton Record Exchange. Serious vinyl plunder today:

Eric Dolphy - Other Aspects
John Coltrane - Concert in Japan
Andrew Hill - Grass Roots
Wayne Shorter - Etcetera
Larry Young - Heaven on Earth
Spiritualized - Amazing Grace
Louis Armstrong - 1932-33
An Audience With Betty Carter
George Benson - Beyond the Blue Horizon

BTW, Princeton beat Cornell 28-6.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, October 30, 2003

The White Stripes – Elephant (V2, 2003)

The backlash against the White Stripes began when the whole brother/sister shtick turned out to be an ex-husband/ex-wife shtick and started to overshadow the Stripes music. The backlash was in full effect when this CD debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts this spring. Most of the self-consciously indie folks jumped ship at the first whiff of popularity and left the band for the masses.

Which is not a bad deal at all. The band is worth the effort and if their popularity is a turnoff for the hipsters then so be it. The music itself kicks off with something that you usually don’t associate with their music, a bass line. The ominous groove that kicks off “Seven Nation Army” certainly sets the tone for an album that examines many emotional tones. The band augments their sound a few other times as well with multi-tracked guitars and the multi tracked vocals of “There’s No Home For You Here.”

Meg White takes center stage in a Mo Tucker like cameo on “Cold Cold Night” and “It’s True That We Love One Another” but the record truly hits its stride with the seven minute bluesy centerpiece “Ball and Biscuit.” The Stripes may have left their direct homages to the blues behind but the influence is still strong. B & B is a grinding double-entendre blues that features some of Jack’s most explosive guitar work and vocals.

All in all, it’s a fine album. Mixing the blasting garage rock they are famous for with blues, ballads and even folk influences, the Stripes have come into their own as one of the finest straight-ahead rock bands of the day.

Rating: 8.5

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions (MCA/Chess, 1972/2003)

This is an expanded reissue of one of the last records of Wolf’s career. It was standard operating procedure to ship the great American bluesmen (and women) overseas to record with their adoring fans, British rock musicians. So, on this record you see luminaries like Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood backing up the Wolf as he runs through some of his best known songs.

Records like this have always had a bit of a dubious reputation in the blues community, and yes, this doesn’t compare with Wolf’s protean recordings with either the Sun or Chess record labels, the old man still had some tricks left in his bag and it’s interesting to hear some of the studio chatter that was left in, listening to how the fawning British musicians try to cajole Wolf into picking up his guitar to join in and then Wolf explaining where the turnarounds are.

The music itself is solid but unspectacular. Wolf sounds tired, but the band is game and he rises to the occasion. It’s hard when you hear the old songs, because it’s tough not to think of the original versions that the Wolf cut when he was at the top of his game. Still, there’s some good music to be had here, from a lion, or in this case a Wolf, in winter.

Rating: 7

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, October 27, 2003

Van Morrison – What’s Wrong With This Picture (Blue Note, 2003)

This is Van the Man’s debut with the prestigious jazz label, but it’s really a continuation of the folk/soul that Morrison has been mining for the past several years. Fortunately, this is also one of his better records of recent years. He’s still quite the curmudgeon (a word that comes up many times in the new biography Can You Feel the Silence by Clinton Heyland) bemoaning the media and his general perceived misfortune at the hands of fame.

You can tell by some of the titles involved – the title track, along with Goldfish Bowl and Too Many Myths play up the misunderstood woe-is-me Van Morrison. But luckily, he takes the opportunity presented by recording for a jazz label to record a couple of New Orleans standards, Whinin’ Boy Moan and Saint James Infirmary. He also come up with some nice ballads, Once in a Blue Moon and Somerset mine the confessional singer-songwriter genre as well as anyone could hope to do. At his best, Van can still pull the heartstrings without sentiment or sappiness.

The band sounds great as well – excellent arrangements and (thank goodness) he lays off the strings! While there may not be a jaw dropper like “Ballerina” or “Cleaning Windows” on this disc, it marks a good return to form for a musician who is not going to go quietly into the night.

Rating: 7.5

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, October 10, 2003

Various Artists – Delmark Blues: 50 Years (Delmark, 2003)

The Delmark label has been a blues and jazz mainstay for a long time and to celebrate their 50 year anniversary, they have released this specially priced two-disc compilation of some of their finest blues. Although they are based in Chicago and have been instrumental in documenting that scene (along with Chess Records) what’s interesting about this compilation is the variety of the music available. From straight up Chicago blues to boogie-woogie piano, there’s quite a bit of music here.

Highlights abound but some of the real standouts include a killer live “I Can’t Quit You Baby” by Otis Rush – he brings this from deep down with some deeply impassioned singing and as always great guitar playing. Another real treat is the raw treatment of “Rollin and Tumblin’” by Little Walter backed by Muddy Waters. But there really isn’t a bad track on this set.

If you enjoy traditional blues, this is hard to beat for the price. And as an introduction to the Delmark catalog, whether for piano blues, classic south side guitar, or great female vocalists this compilation marks an excellent starting point.

Rating: 8

Comments to: timnil2002@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Chick Corea – Rendezvous in New York (Stretch, 2003)

Rendezvous in New York is a two-disc set of Chick in different duo and ensemble formats in a string of concerts to celebrate his 60th birthday. The set starts on a bit of a wrong foot for me with three rather lengthy tracks with Chick and Bobby McFerrin. I’m afraid that I’ve never had much patience for jazz singers (blues belters are quite another matter) and as interesting as McFerrin’s vocal gymnastics may be, I cannot warm to him. He takes the lead scatting on an abstract version of Blue Monk – Carmen NcRae aside, Monk is tough enough to play, let alone sing!

Things improve considerably when McFerrin leaves the bandstand. Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vituous remake some of a Chick’s trio music from the 70’s with a stirring version of Matrix, and then the band that put out the Chick Corea and Friends Remembering Bud Powell disc a few years ago, with Terence Blanchard replacing Wallace Roney. The band just rips through a medley of Glass Enclosure and Tempus Fugit, and it is a highlight of the first disc. Things mellow out a little bit with a duo performance with Gary Burton on Cyrstal Silence. Things move to a galloping conclusion on the first disc with a performance by the Akoustic Band of John Coltrane’s Bessie’s Blues.

Disc 2 picks up where the Akoustic band left off, with a nice version of Autumn Leaves, which was a mainstay of the Akoustic Band’s set lists back during their Grammy winning heyday. It’s interesting to see that the Elektric Band is not represented on these discs at all, one has to wonder if Chick is going the route of another Miles Davis alum, Keith Jarrett, and renouncing electric instruments altogether…

There’s a nice version of Armando’s Tango with the Origin group which has been the vehicle for some of Corea’s finest music of late. Excellent solos abound. A bit of a surprise after that, in the form of a piano duet performance of Concerto De Aranjuez, with Gonzalo Rubalcaba instead of longtime piano duet partner Herbie Hancock. It’s a very pretty performance.

The very successful second disc ends with performances of Lifeline with Corea’s current trio (Cohen and Ballard) and of Quartet Number 2 Part 1 (old confederates Brecker, Gomez and Gadd returning to the fold.) The music is quite nice and the crowd appreciates what the band is putting down.

All in all this was a successful release and continues Chick Corea’s string of winning acoustic albums. Where the mix ‘n match nature of the ensembles may throw off the continuity of the music and the lack of any electric fusion may keep this from being a true career overview, it’s still fine music and an excellent snapshot of where Chick Corea stands now as a jazz musician.

Rating: 7.5

Comments to: timnil2002@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Harold Ray – Harold Ray Live in Concert (Alternative Tentacles, 2003)

This album popped up in Emusic a few weeks back and I finally got a chance to give it a spin. Ray is a soul singer with a tight band and a lot of punkish energy. The thing that holds this disc back however is the crappy sound quality of the live recording. If I had gotten this on a Maxell during my old tape trading days I would have been thrilled, but with this as an actual record release the sound quality is pretty shoddy.

Regardless of the sound quality, the band is pretty hot and this release reminded me a lot of the classic Otis Redding album “Live at the Whiskey a Go Go” with the tight horn section and the band blasting “Satisfaction” riffs a la Otis’ band of yore. This band must be a blast to see in person, since all of the music was uptempo (it would have been nice to have a few soulful ballads thrown in for a chance of pace) and you can just imagine a packed, sweaty dance floor.

All in all this was an interesting release. If the quality of the recording was just a little clearer it would have been a real winner. It bugs me to say this, too because I’m not an audiophile. But it’s a good start – if they can bring the energy of this live concert into the studio for a well recorded album, they could really be on to something.

Rating: 7.5

Send comments to: timnil2002@yahoo.com

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Random thoughts…

· I picked up the new Miles Davis boxed set, The Complete Jack Johnson sessions. Being a big fan of electric Miles, I was looking forward to this set, but also approached it with a bit of caution… the two previous electric Miles boxes (The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions and The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions) have been hit and miss affairs. It’s interesting, you really gain a lot of respect for Teo Macero after listening to the boxes – being able to take the mass of material that the band recorded and working with Miles to distill it into these classic records. The BB and IASW boxes bring on the sausage and hot dog analogy – the end results taste great, but it’s a little unnerving how they get there!
But this is the case where more is more. I’m up to the third disc (out of 5) and was gratified to hear the jaw-dropping guitar riff that opens the Jack Johnson album and the jam that led from it. Even the multiple takes of each track have a different feel, which makes for fascinating listening, as long as Michael Henderson’s repetitive bass riffs don’t drive you nuts! John McLaughlin and to a lesser extent Sonny Sharrock are absolutely turned loose on this music, which is very much guitar oriented. Miles also plays some of the most aggressive trumpet of his career.

· I haven’t been paying as close attention to Martin Scorcese’s The Blues series on PBS as I should be, and I’ll probably catch up with most of it when it comes out on DVD. However, I was very happy to see one of my favorite contemporary blues musicians, Willie King, featured in the first presentation. Willie King writes some of the most socially conscious lyrics and puts them to a driving beat. His 2001 disc “Freedom Creek” made my top 10 for the year and last years “Living in a New World” was an honorable mention – both are highly recommended.

· I’ve been listening to some King Crimson lately, since the Downtown Music Gallery and certain posters on the Jazzcorner Speakeasy rave about them. I haven’t been into prog rock that much except for a brief flirtation with Yes and Rush in college. This is a different breed though with a lot of jazz and contemporary classical influences. I’ll have to listen to them some more, but so far I haven’t been turned off by what I’ve heard. I’ve picked up Lizard and Starless & Bible Black for the used vinyl bins in the area. Next I’d like to check out the British prog/rock/jazz band Soft Machine, which apparently did their best work in the late 60’s and early 70’s – this is another band the Downtown Music Gallery raves about. I have a couple of things of theirs in my stash at Emusic, so they will be explored in due time.

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Monday, September 29, 2003

Angelica Sanchez – Mirror Me (OmniTone, 2003)

Angelica Sanchez’s debut for OmniTone features her on piano, joined by her husband, Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tom Rainey. It’s an interesting disc which is both traditional and forward thinking at the same time. Malaby has a wonderfully dark, full-bodied tone unlike some of the other younger tenor players of the day who prefer a lighter, more fluid approach to their instrument.

The album begins with “Fresh Hell” which starts off with a piano and tenor duet gradually building to involve the whole band. There are a number of places on the disc where the band will break off into duos and trios to explore some of the nuances of the compositions. The title track “Mirror Me” is an example of this – it starts off with soft unaccompanied tenor saxophone, eventually joined by the leader on piano, playing a soft lullaby-like melody. Gradually the rest of the quartet comes in and the music builds in intensity.

Other standout track. include the ballad “Thorns” where Malaby plays with a deep almost Ben Webster like presence, and eventually lays out for soft piano solo backed by bass and drums. “Tragon” starts off with some skittering piano, backed with bass and drums and morphs into a full band collective improvisation.

This was a very interesting album. All of the musicians involved pay tribute to those who have influenced them in the best way possible – by taking original music in a new direction.

Rating: 8

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Friday, September 26, 2003

Greg Osby – St. Louis Shoes (Blue Note, 2003)

Greg Osby’s latest project is a reinterpretation of jazz standards by masters like Ellington and Monk and cover tunes by modern composers like Jack DeJohnette and Cassandra Wilson. Stepping away from his usual partner in crime, Jason Moran, the piano chair is held down by Harol O’Neil as well as Marsalis comrade Robert Hurst on bass and Rodney Green on drums, with special guest Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Osby and Payton make a very interesting front line, they move through the knotty reinterpretations with ease, and work together well as a team.

The setlist includes a couple of Ellington pieces, the lead-off track “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” and “A Single Petal of a Rose” as well as Thelonious Monk’s “Light Blue” and a quirky version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Also of note is a full throttle version of Dizzy Gillsepie’s “Shaw Nuff” with Osby and Payton taking on their Parker and Gillespie roles respectively. Cassandra Wilson’s “Whirlwind Soldier” is an elegiac and atmospheric piece, which slowly evolves with the group improvising on the melody. The record is capped off in fine and appropriate fashion by a version of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.”

This is really a thinking man’s (or woman’s) kind of disc. Osby and the band reinterpret older standards in a thoroughly modern way, never making them sound clich├ęd or hackneyed. All of the members solo well and also improvise well collectively. Overall this is a fine album of modern mainstream jazz and proof that the mainstream doesn’t have to be derivative or repetitious.

Rating: 7

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Scott Amendola - Cry (Cryptogramophone, 2003)

This is a wonderful CD of what I supposed could be labeled fusion, although many of Cryptogramophone's recent discs really defy easy categorization. Amendola on drums, joined by Nels Cline on guitar, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Todd Sickafoose on bass, Eric Crystal on saxophones, and Carla Bozulich on vocals. The band is very tight, and mixes modern fusion with traditional mainstream jazz and ethnic themes, especially with Scheinman's evocative violin which gives a wonderfully distinctive feel to the disc.

It's interesting that this record is also an album of protest music, Amendola was vocal in his criticism on the war in Iraq and posted a live version of Bob Dylan's "Master's of War" on the Cryptogramophone web site. "Masters" is presented here too, and it works surprisingly well, even though Carla Bozulich's vocals become a little overrought at times. Also the tune "A Cry for John Brown" is a very intense exercise in modern fusion with wonderful soloing from Cline and Scheinman.

Rating: 8.5

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Luther Thomas - Funky Donkey Parts One and Two (Atavistic UMS, 2000)

The title is most accurate because this is one Funky Donkey indeed. Released as part of Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, this is in interesting blend of funk, fusion and free jazz. Think of one of Ornette Coleman's harmolodic funk ensembles with the Ayler brothers thrown in and you have an idea of what's going on here. This was recorded live and the musicians bring a lot of energy to the table taking brief themes and blasting them into the stratosphere.

Thomas is joined by a great band, with Lester and Joseph Bowie on trumpet and trombone, J.D. Parran on reeds, Marvin Horne on guitar and Clerence "Bobo" Shaw on drums. The funk involved in the music is of a very organic, bluesy, electric-Miles nature, and allmusic guide compares it to going to a stomping gospel church.

Regardless, labels don't really do this music proper justice. It may not be the most immaculately played or cleanly recorded, but it's music with heart and soul, and it's a lot of fun.

Rating: 9

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Friday, September 19, 2003

Nels Cline And Gregg Bendian - Interstellar Space Revisited

Guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Gregg Bendian pay tribute to John Coltrane and Rashied Ali by performing the tracks that make up the Interstellar Space album, which Coltrane and Ali recorded not long before Coltrane's passing in 1967. If you are expecting a gentle tribute to the master from a couple of young lions, you are in for a bit of a shock - Cline and Bendian take the original record as a jumping off point and pay tribute to it in the best way possible, but crafting their own original improvisations from these imposing and inspiring songs.

The music blasts off with Mars and Leo, which feature Cline's snarling guitar intertwined with Bendian's rhythmic drums. The two players work without a net and are definitely locked into one another. This is not completely a free jazz freak out album, there are moments of stark melodic beauty, especially during culminating parts of the Interstellar Space suite, Jupiter and Saturn and the encore cover of an older Coltrane chestnut Lonnie's Lament, during which Bendian switches to vibes to accompany Cline on a beautiful melodic interpretation of this song.

This is a daring and highly successful album and is much recommended to those who enjoy the outer fringes of jazz or improvised music. Rock fans who are looking for an entry point into jazz may be interested as well - it's an energetic album that doesn't let up.

Cline and Bendian are both currently involved with the excellent California label Cryptogramophone, which licenses its output to Emusic. There's a lot of great music there that is definitely worth exploring.

Rating: 9

Send comments to: Tim
Elmore James – King of the Slide Guitar (Charly, 2003)

Any number of Elmore James re-issues have carried the “King of the Slide Guitar” title, for Elmore is best known for his slashing slide guitar work. But there’s a lot more to his recorded output than just the brilliant and influential slide playing. There was his voice for one – James had one of the most impassioned voices ever to sing the blues. Perhaps not a suave as B.B. King or Joe Williams, but his singing carry and incredible amount of emotion – he believes what he sings.

This latest re-issue is a three disc offering from the British Charly label and contains the complete recordings of Elmore for the Trumpet, Chief and Fire labels. There’s a pretty well done booklet included with an essay, pictures and discographical information.

Disc One kicks things off in grand style with a early rendition of Elmore’s signature tune “Dust My Broom” from 1951 with the equally legendary Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) on harmonica. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” recounts Elmore’s tale of woe, losing his baby to a youngster – if you’re in the same boat he recommends that you try to pawn the kid off on the neighbors! “Elmore’s Contribution to Jazz” is a blistering instrumental that shows off his guitar playing. Gems abound, the juxtaposition from the slow mournful “The Sky Is Crying” to the just blasting “Baby Please Set a Date” is jaw dropping and gives an example of the range of emotion that James could cover in his music. The version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is particularly fine as well – a pulsating bass line and skittish drums back Elmore’s over-amped guitar into the stratosphere.

Disc Two is more of the same great stuff – Elmore’s killer slide riffs playing off against pulse pounding bass and drums. There are times where the record companies are trying to go to the well once too often – recycling riffs on some of the tunes in an attempt to hit the R&B charts again. But what’s amazing is the James’ interest and passion never flags. Some nice features for the Broomdusters and a few harp players are on this disc as well. Of particular interest is Elmore’s impassioned reading of the old Sonny Boy Williamson tune “One Way Out” he alters the tune by changing the verses and the wording, and makes it completely his own. Plus the great one-two punch of “Shake Your Moneymaker” and “Look on Yonder Wall,” followed a few songs later by "Sunnyland Train" is hard to beat.

Disc Three coming soon!

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Tippett/Stabbins/Moholo - Tern (Atavistic, 2003)

Another feather in the cap of the Atavistic Unheard Music Series. I approached this with interest and a little bit of trepidation, having read a lot about Tippett's place in the vanguard of European free improvisation. I wasn't sure whether I would "get it" or not. Actually it turns out to be a wonderful release of a live concert from 1982 - abstract, yes but it always keeps your interest. Larry Stabbins was a revelation to me both on tenor and soprano, he plays very well, navigating both the uptempo almost violent sections of the music but also playing well on the slow spacey parts. This is a very worthwhile download for those with open ears.

Rating: 7.5

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Little Whitt and Big Bo - Moody Swamp Blues (Vent, 1996)

Little Whitt and Big Bo were a fine blues duo who covered well-known blues standards and some original material in a laid back fashion on this release from 1996. These two guys were very comfortable with each other – Bo plays a very country blues style of harp, and Little Whitt plays a solid guitar (with a little slide, too!). They romp through the old Robert Johnson chestnut “Walking Blues” with Whitt laying down some nice delta slide and Bo whooping it up behind him on harp.

There’s a nice “back porch” feel to this record. The run through of Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” is kept afloat with a brisk light drumbeat and Bo gets a nice solo. They manage to keep the braggadocio of the original version while turning it into a down home acoustic stomp.

Sadly, Big Bo McGee passed away in 2002. From what I read, he was a highly respected member of the Alabama blues community. This album makes for a fine memorial though, and it’s a sweet country blues record that should appeal to those blues fans who can enjoy the subtlety and taste of a couple of talented musicians.

Rating: 7

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This is going to be an informal music review site.

OK, here is the first post in this new project... I'm going to start off with the top 10+ so far for 2003. It's only mid September, so there's a long way to go and a lot of music still to be listened to. Discs and records are rated 1 to 10... So, here is a list of "8 and above discs":

Art Ensemble of Chicago Tribute to Lester 10
Frisell, Bill The Intercontinentals 10
Holland, Dave Extended Play 10
Murray, David Now is Another Time 9
Parker, William Eloping With the Sun 9
Shipp, Matthew Equlibrium 9
Amendola, Scott Cry 8.5
Bad Plus, The These are the Vistas 8.5
Black Keys thickfreakness 8.5
Thompson, Richard Old Kit Bag 8.5
White Stripes Elephant 8.5
Blue Series Continuum Good & Evil Sessions 8
DeFrancesco, Papa Jumpin' 8
Patneaude, Brian Variations 8
Garrett, Kenny Standard of Language 8
Hersch, Fred Live at the Village V. 8
Kills, The Keep on Your Mean Side 8
Rosenwinkel, Kurt Heartcore 8
Soulive Soulive 8
Van Ruller, Jesse Circles 8
Vandermark 5 Airports for Light 8
Wilson, Matt Humidity 8
Young, Neil Greendale 8
Zorn, John Masada Guitars 8

I'm not going to try to separate the discs within a given number yet, so when the time comes, a formal top ten is going to be pretty tough. It's been a good year for music!

Let me get one final thing out of the way up front as well - I'm a music fan and listener, I have no musical training and I don't play an instrument. So if I make a few statements that don't make a lot of sense, this is the reason why!

Send comments to: Tim