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!

Send comments to: Tim
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

Send comments to: Tim

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