Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Book Review – Escaping the Delta by Elijah Wald

I was finally able to get my hands on Elija Wald’s new book about Robert Johnson and the blues culture of the thirties and forties. It’s been pretty popular at my library, which is a good sign. The book offers some pretty intriguing commentary about Johnson’s role in the blues world, particularly about misconceptions on the part of white blues scholars about the world and the era within which Johnson lived.

The popular view of Robert Johnson and the music he has made is one of the tragic forlorn figure who has sold his soul to the devil to become the great musician that he was. To Wald’s credit, he completely ignores the sold soul myth and instead focuses on re-creating the world with which Johnson performed. Wald believes that Johnson was only popular regionally, and that the most popular blues artists of the era were smoother more accessible musicians like Leroy Carr. He backs this up with solid research into the culture of the Mississippi delta area during the short period that Johnson was a recording artist.

Wald devotes the middle portion of his book to taking a track-by-track look at the music Johnson recorded. He uses this to explain how Johnson’s music was not the epic poetry of a lone genius, but the music of a man very much of his time and affected by other musicians like Carr and Kokomo Arnold.

This myth-debunking revisionist history isn’t for the romantic blues fan, but for people who are interested in solid scholarship and research into one of the most important and misunderstood figures in American music, it’s a must-read.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Today's Spins:

John Coltrane - Plays
Jimmy Rogers - His Best
The Who - Quadrophenia

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, March 29, 2004

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 (Columbia/Legacy 2004)

Legacy’s latest set of previously unreleased Bob Dylan material is a concert from New York City’s Philharmonic Hall on October 31, 1964. As the man himself states early in the show, “It’s Halloween and I’ve got my Bob Dylan mask on!” And for the most part he is on for this all acoustic concert which took place prior to the release of Bringing It All Back Home, the first Dylan record to feature electric instruments. He’s at a turning point here and is clearly ready to move on. At one point in the performance he responds to an audience request with “What! What! A protest song!?”

That said, this is an excellent summation of Dylan’s early work. Some of his best political and protest numbers are performed with gusto, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” “Who Killed Davey Moore” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” But the concert also foreshadows some of the more abstract and experimental lyrics he was moving into with versions of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Gates of Eden” and “It’s All Right Ma.”

The crowd is very responsive, shouting out requests and greeting Dylan with rapturous applause. He would meet a much different response after he plugged in and changed his sound. But for this concert he was the folkies darling. Apparently, the sound quality, liner notes and photography in this release are excellent. I’m reviewing this from my old bootleg cassette (bootleg series, indeed!) so I can’t vouch for those.

Rating: 8

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Susie Ibarra – Tampgre Jazz Happening 11/3/02

This is a nice radio broadcast of drummer Susie Ibarra with Craig Taborn on piano, Jenny Choi on violin and Ikue Mori on electronics. I saw this band without Mori about a month after this performance and it was very impressive. Ibarra has held down the drum chair in David S. Ware’s band as well as performing in a number of downtown outfits and she has excellent records out on Tzadik and Hopscotch.

The music on this disc is intelligent and graceful. At times it moves into chamber music territory, but never becomes stifled or boring. I’m a little at a loss to understand what Mori’s role was in this setting other then to provide some extra texture for the musicians to improvise over, but perhaps listening to a CD-R of a radio broadcast has taken some of the sound quality away.

Regardless, it’s a wonderful snapshot of an excellent working band, and a great reminder that not all of the music from the “downtown” scene is hardcore skull-grabbing free jazz. There’s a lot of thoughtful composition and performance as well as Ms. Ibarra and her comrades show here

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Burning CD-R's

Here's a fascinating post on the Jazzcorner Speakeasr by Mark Kleinhaut:

I’m one of those jazz musicians with a website that supports this board. I have four CD’s of my own, and am co-owner of my small record label (about 30 titles), so I have a few thoughts on this subject. Any way you cut it, this is not a simple issue. What may apply to the estate of Hank Mobley is different to the concerns of the many people involved in putting out new products, most of us being generally unknown.

I’ve heard of cases where people have burned copies of my discs rather than buy them, but I’ll tell you what’s much worse… We sent out hundreds of promotional copies of my latest CD. How many? 350 radio play copies, 250 review copies and 150 promos for the disc’s distributor (City Hall Records). Every single copy has the bar code punched through and a sticker that says “NOT FOR SALE, this CD is the property of Invisible Music and is for promotional purposes only”. But guess what, you can buy any number of these promotional CDs you want from places like ebay, and a bunch of others who hawk MY PROPERTY as being in “like new” condition! Some actually say the “only defect is a hole in the bar code” Sheesh!!!

I used to feel very indignant when I’d learn of someone pirating my CD, you’d think I’d been mugged or something. But the truth is, if I’m giving away hundreds of CD’s in the name of publicity then what difference does it make if a fan burns a copy for a friend? At least this is a person to person recommendation for my music and I prefer it greatly to someone selling my promotional copies. So, I’ve come full circle in my thinking as a jazz musician. I now feel that ANYTHING that gets my name out there is a good thing-good in the sense that every micro-bit of publicity is worth its relatively small cost. The CDs are's ME that needs to get out there!

Our situation as jazz musicians is fundamentally different from the pop records that make all the news with kaza, napster and the legal actions of the record “industry”. Pop records sell in the millions and jazz records sell in the hundreds (or a really big hit sells a few thousand copies). And that’s the difference…big money versus, well, peanuts. If Joe Pop Star loses 10% of sales it’s enough to form a full time legal department on Madison Avenue! Guess what 10% of my sales buys?

But back to publicity. The problem is that it is very difficult to find any correlation between hard publicity and record sales. Great reviews, national radio charts and coordinated advertising do NOT translate to record sales. I’ll give you one small example. A few months ago I gave jazzcorner 10 promo copies of my CD A Balance of Light (with Bobby Watson) for the group review thread here on JC. Many wonderful reviews and supportive posts followed which greatly warmed my heart and swelled my head, but do you know how many CD sales were processed through Jazzcorner on-line ordering? Zero! Not a single copy sold from then through now! Maybe someone picked it up at towers or other online stores, but I thought JC would be the natural first stop for any BBS participant, no?

So, what’s to make of this? Well, first I’ve come to believe that jazz record buyers have become extremely conservative and just won’t spend money unless they know what they’re going to get. Thus, I sell records by the dozens when I do high profile concerts with my guest artists (like Bobby or Tiger Okoshi) where we perform the music that’s on the CD. Otherwise, sales are minimal despite all the publicity and even good radio play (we made it to #20 on Jazzweek), which doesn’t make a dent. Second, jazz records never go out of style (at least the good ones don’t), so every new artist releasing a CD still has to compete with all of the masterworks that have come before. It all comes down to consumer motivation if there is to be any market for a CD.

And how many people really give a shit about collecting a full set of Hank Mobley? Not enough to warrant a pressing of 1,000 apparently! All it would take to put it out is about two grand!

At my level, the bottom line is that piracy does more (or at least as much) to build a market for me as all of the voluntary investments I’ve made into publicity (self-piracy??). I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but I now feel that if you rob me at least maybe you’ll know me- it’s indeed just another form of promotion! In the end that's all most artists are trying to be heard. Oh, and to survive, but for most of us that really has precious little to do with the record business.

Send comments to: Tim
Steve Coleman & Five Elements – Yoshi’s, Oakland, CA 2/25/93

This is a very nice audience recording of Coleman and his band hitting on all cylinders in front of an appreciative crowd. The music mixes M Base style funk jazz with some of the more complex flourishes of bebop and free jazz. The band’s ensemble and collective improvisation is excellent and intuitive at all tempos, and superb solo spots abound, particularly for Coleman on alto saxophone and David Gilmour on guitar.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, March 26, 2004

There's a Miles Davis concert from the Fillmore West in San Francisco October 17, 1970 available for downloading at

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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Arthur Blythe – Katowice, Poland 4/24/03

This concert features alto saxophonist Blythe with the group that put together his excellent Focus album: Gus Gillis, marimba, Bob Stewart, tuba and Cecil Brooks III drums. The group runs through some of the material from that album, which brought Blythe some of the recognition that he hadn’t seen in years, particularly a nice column in the Village Voice by Gary Giddins.

They fight sound problems during the first set, with Blythe constantly asking the sound engineer to work on fixing the levels in the monitors. Despite this, the band sounds excellent, truly engaged with each other and the material they are playing. The sounds is pretty good on the discs from this trade, with a little bit of digital distortion and some breaking up in the high end. Also there are some dropouts in the left channel.

It’s a worthwhile set of music. If you’re a concert trader or a fan of Arthur Blythe, you would do well to track this down as a compliment to the excellent CD Focus.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Here's an interesting article from the New York Times entitled Blues Musicians Get Help Overcoming Hard Times.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Today's Spins:

Jack DeJohnette w/ Metheny, Hancock & Holland - Mellon, Jazz Fest. Philadelphia '90
Elvis Costello - Armed Forces
Clarence Gatemouth Brown - The Original Peacock Recordings
Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Blacknuss
Arthur Blythe - Lenox Ave. Breakdown
The Blasters - Self-titled first album

Send comments to: Tim
Short takes:

- Many thanks to Todd for tracking down Miya Mayasoka’s Monk’s Japanese Folk Song, a disc that I’ve been coveting since I heard a cut on the Natscape Radio avant-garde channel. It’s a very interesting disc, mixing traditional Japanese music with modern jazz and Thelonious Monk’s unique worldview.

- I’ve been hooked on a band with the appalling name of Dead Cat Bounce. This Boston based band mixes traditional hardbop and bebop with free jazz, it’s a very good disc. Of course, when people ask me what I’ve been listening to lately I have to tell them Bondage Fruit and Dead Cat Bounce. People look at me strangely at work.

- I almost miss upstate New York (not really.) The Dave Holland quintet is playing the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall shortly and they will sound terrific there, it’s a great space with wonderful acoustics.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, March 22, 2004

Byther Smith – Throw Away the Book (Black & Tan, 2004)

The Man is out to get Byther Smith. His name is whispered in the corridors of power in the White House and at the U.N. and The Man has put a $10,000 bounty on his head. Only women with “hearts and money” and the “angels of the Earth” can save him.

One of the things I like about Byther Smith’s music is that there is at least one off the wall track on each record. Who can forget “I’m a Mad Man” or “Play My Blues on the Moon?” The aptly titled tale of conspiracy entitled “The Man Wants Me Dead” on this album is a winner even by his high standards!

Another thing to like about Smith’s music is that it’s no-frills electric blues – bass, drums, a little organ or piano and his own stinging guitar. When he’s not running from The Man, Smith cranks up a mix of up-tempo slash and burn blues and slower, more contemplative tunes. “I Didn’t Get None” and the blasting cover of Willie Dixon’s “Close to You Baby” have the band at full force, with Smith’s guitar leading the way, while “Things That I Used to Do” and “Mean Old Daddy” slow this down to a fast simmer.

So if straight ahead electric Chicago blues is your thing, and you don’t mind the occasional curveball thrown your way, than this album is well worth picking up. Smith has never really gotten the attention he deserves, so hopefully this record will go some way toward changing that situation.

Rating: 8

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, March 21, 2004

A couple of interesing articles:

From the Detriot Free Press, The Coleman Experience, an article on Ornette Coleman and his first visit to Detroit in 20 years.

From comes a reprint of a lengthy interview with John Coltrane by Frank Kofsky in his book Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Best of Little Walter (Chess, 1958, 1989)

Little Walter first came to prominence with the Muddy Waters band in the middle and late 1950’s part of the group of legendary “headhunters” that would go from club to club in Chicago stealing stages from the house band. Walter broke from Muddy after he had a hit of his own, the instrumental “Juke” but would return to Muddy’s band in the studio from time to time.

Little Walter’s music combined swaggering vocals with some of the most advanced harmonica playing of the era. Walter also was one of the pioneers of the amplified blues harp, using the distortion of electricity to further compliment his distinctive sound. “My Babe” kicks of the collection with a jumping vibe as Walter spits out the lyrics and punctuates them with blasts of amplified harp.

The instrumentals like “Off the Wall” and the aforementioned “Juke” are really the cornerstone of Little Walter’s legacy. Bending and curving his notes like a master saxophonist and making the most of the possibilities of amplification, Walter was one of the most innovative bluesmen of his time.

He wasn’t a half bad singer and lyricist either as evidenced by the slow blues of “Mean Old World” and “Last Night” as well as the jump blues of “You’re So Fine.” Walker took advantage of his Chess lablemates to include some of the finest Chicago talent in his backing bands.

Like all Chess artists, Little Walter’s material has been issued on a number of records and compact discs over the years. But however you collect this material, it’s an indispensable part of Chicago blues history.

Rating: 10

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Bad Plus – Give (Columbia, 2004)

Dynamics are the key to The Bad Plus and their music. They are an "acoustic fusion" band which melds the energy of rock and roll to the instrumental prowess of jazz. Much like the music of Nirvana and the other rock bands that have influenced them, the band’s music will go from a whisper to a scream and build to emotional crescendos. But it’s not all bombast, regardless of what some will tell you.

There’s a lot of musicianship at work here. Consider “Layin’ a Strip…” which is a fun, funky and fast paced tune that is played with considerable tact and intelligence. Dave King keeps the pot boiling on this tune, proving that he is not the ham-fisted Neanderthal that some would make him out to be. “1979 Semi-Finalist” and “Neptune (The Planet)" are taken at mid tempo, where they are equally adept and comfortable spinning melody as blasting out on a fleet improvisation.

Of course, what would a Bad Plus record be without an irreverent cover, and turning Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” into an almost Wagnerian opus certainly fits the bill. The bombast is all tongue in cheek, but the musicians are clearly having a ball.

In the end, maybe that’s what so infuriates some people about the band’s music. They are having fun playing the music. In a genre where credibility rests on chops and speed, The Bad Plus bring a garage rock element to the music that isn’t so polished and perfect.

Rating 8.5

Send comments to: Tim
Today's Spins:

The Bad Plus - Give
Pharoah Sanders - Boulder, CO 2003
Fred Anderson - The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 1
Wadada Leo Smith - The Kabell Years
Traffic - Mr. Fantasy
The Best of Little Walter, Vol. 1
The Who - A Quick One

Send comments to: Tim
There's an interesting article on the Pop Matters web site entitled Matthew Shipp, Restlesss Visionary Behind the Blue Series.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Arthur Blythe – Exhale (Savant, 2003)

Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe has found a home at the Savant record label, putting out a disc a year for the last several years. Here he is joined by some of his long time cohorts, John Hicks on piano and organ, Bob Stewart on tuba and Cecil Brooks III on drums.

This is quite a mainstream date for Blythe, who throughout his career has gone back and forth (quite successfully) between mainstream hard bop and blues and more adventurous music that leans toward the avant-garde. The disc leads off with a couple of jazz standards, Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary” and Ellington’s “Come Sunday” both of which are taken at a rather easygoing pace.

Following the opening songs, there is a suite of music by Brooks entitled “Exhaust” which is made up of four rather fractured short pieces, two of which feature John Hicks on organ, an instrument upon which he has not recorded much if at all. The short broken nature of the suite makes it difficult to get a grip on.

The bluesy lope of Ellington’s “Night Train” follows as does another Coltrane tune, “Eqiunox.” All of the music played immaculately, but without the passion that is usually expected from Blythe, his acid tone unusually muted. The strange Bob Stewart original “CT” morphs into another jazz standard, Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and then Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and a snippet of Blythe’s “Exhale” ends the disc.

Overall the disc leaves my with a strange feeling, one of opportunity lost – the cover tunes seem to offer few challenges to musicians of this caliber; and one of opportunities not yet explored – Hicks on organ? Blythe with is biting tone fronting an organ group? I hope that his contract with Savant is a long and fruitful one and he has an opportunity to explore some of these more intriguing angles.

Rating: 6

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Today's Spins:

The Pogues - Peace and Love
Big Joe Williams - And the Stars of Mississippi Blues (discs 1 & 2)

Send comments to: Tim
Adam Rogers – Allegory (Criss Cross, 2003)

Adam Rogers has been in demand as a sideman in a variety of contexts lately, which is one reason why this is only his second recording as a leader. He’s joined by Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Edward Simon on keyboards, Scott Colley on bass and Clarence Penn on drums.

‘Confluence” kicks off the disc with the band coming out improvising collectively on the theme, making way for a piano solo backed with bass and drums. Rogers takes a solo with a very fluid tone on the guitar, and then Chris Potter takes the first of his many excellent solos on this disc. Even though “Phrygia” comes early in the disc, it is the centerpiece of the album. The song opens with a quiet, foreboding feeling, which a short bass solo keeps until the music builds to a strong guitar solo by Rogers, which gradually builds pace, prodded by Penn’s drums. Potter comes in with a dark toned solo. This is one of the most intense solos Chris Potter has recorded, a real “dark night of the soul” type solo, as Penn cracks the whip from the rear.

The rest of the disc isn’t exactly and afterthought, it’s just a hard act to follow after “Phrygia,” Potter gets strong solos on “Gengis,” and “Was” with Rogers being featured on acoustic guitar on “Red Leaves.” The rest of the band stays pretty much in a supporting role, with Simon getting another nice solo turn on “Cleveland.”

At times intense, mellow and boppish, this is a long CD (over 70 minutes) that covers a lot of ground. As well as Rogers plays, it’s hard to overlook that this is some of Chris Potter’s finest playing to date. His tone has darkened and hardened somewhat, which works well on some of the fast paced numbers, but he still retains the ability to play lyrically which suits the ballads.

Rating: 8

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Today's Spins:

Adam Rogers - Allegory
Arthur Blythe - Exhale
Bob Dylan - Bringing it all Back Home

Send comments to: Tim
Pharoah Sanders - San Francisco 11/9/73

This concert finds Pharoah in the full out spiritual
jazz mode that he popularized in the late 60's and
early 70's. It's a pretty powerful lineup: Pharoah
Sanders saxophones, percussion and vocals, Joseph
Bonner piano, Calvin Hill bass, Jimmy Hopps drums,
Lawrence Killian drums and percussion, Michael Carvin
drums and percussion, Sedatrius Brown vocals.

There is some intense soloing by Sanders and the band
as well as many mellower groove based passages.
Actually the band sets up a droning groove for a lot
of the concert, holding a meditative, spiritual vibe
that is broken only with some of the more intense

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, March 15, 2004

More short takes:

· When Charlie Wilmoth asked what exactly I liked so much about Matthew Shipp’s Equilibrium, I really had a hard time coming up with a coherent answer. I am not a musician, which is a problem with my reviews, but I react to music on a purely emotional level. So I guess the disc just appealed to me. Again, I feel that where some of the hip-hop jazz experiments of the early 90’s didn’t work very well, this does have a little more impact. It’s a jazz record through and through and then Flam gets a chance to remix it and make some changes after the fact. I wonder how much of Flam’s work on discs like Equilibrium is like Teo Macero’s work with electric Miles Davis material?

· I’ve been listening to a wonderful David Murray concert that I received in a trade recently. From Northeastern Univ. in Boston 10/25/86, this is a pristine radio broadcast of the David Murray Big Band with Strings. The first three tracks come from Murray’s album Saxmen, “Lester,” “Ben,” and “Paul Gonsalves.” The tribute to Gonsalves is a composition based on Murray’s transcription of Gonsalves famous solo on Duke Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” As an encore they run through “Murray’s Steps.” The band is in excellent form and includes such luminaries-to-be as Greg Osby and Don Byron. The leader gets some wonderful solos in as well.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Today's Spins:

David Murray (Big Band with Strings) - Northeastern Univ. 10/25/86
Pharoah Sanders - San Fran 11/9/73

Send comments to: Tim

Thanks to Charlie Wilmoth for writing a thoughtful response to my comments on his review of the recent Thirsty Ear release "The Sorcerer Sessions."

Dear Tim:

Thanks for the link to my review of the recent Blue
Series Continuum record.

I am flattered, if a little disturbed, that you
consider my review the problem with "music reviews in
general." You write, "Too much time is spent on the
marketing of the music and the superfluous agendas

Maybe this is so; maybe it isn't. What I'm worried
about, though, is situations in which criticism of the
music and the agenda behind the music begin to mix.

You're right that press releases are generally
hyperbolic; in fact, I said this in my review. But
what concerns me about Shipp is not only the extremes
of hyperbole (and for what it's worth, I don't see
that sort of hyperbole very much in reviews of
avant-garde records, and that context is relevant to
Shipp, whether he likes it or not), but also the
degrees to which critics take the hyperbole seriously.
Many write as if what he's doing is actually brand
new, and whether you like the music or not, that just
isn't true. Many also use language very similar to the
language the Shipp camp uses. My guess is that many of
these writers don't review releases from improv or the
avant-garde very much, and simply take Shipp at his

These sorts of reviews make it seem as if Shipp is
leading some sort of revolution. Actually, he's way
behind the curve (again, whether you like the music or
not), and the sort of dialogue we're used to hearing
about Shipp's music simplifies a very complex
phenomenon and pushes more inventive (and, frankly,
more interesting) musicians to the margins.

I think, then, that a lot of discussions of Shipp's
music are actually, secretly, about his press
releases. This happens a lot with criticism in
general, but it seems to happen much more with Shipp.

So even though I agree with you that we should be
talking about the music, I don't think 'talking about
the music' is as easy as we realize, nor do I think
that's what's actually going on even when people seem
to be talking about music. A lot of the writing I read
that's ostensibly about Shipp music - by Shipp and
others - is ultimately distracting and misleading.

I guess I thought that it might be helpful and
productive to write a piece that attempted to cut
through the B.S. journalism that seems to gush over
just about every note Shipp plays anymore. Maybe
people will read it and begin to put Shipp in his
proper context - he's not a Great Man, or a Great
Genius, but a really good pianist and a guy who's
trying to forge a way ahead. I don't think he's doing
a particularly good job of it yet, but maybe one day
he will.

For what it's worth, lots of musicians wrote to me
after the review was published and thanked me for
saying something they'd been wishing someone would
say. Maybe there's some professional jealousy there,
but I don't think so. I'm genuinely trying to get to a
place where the music can be discussed without the
mess of P.R. getting in the way.

Feel free to quote this for your blog, if you want.

Why did you dislike the album, but not Equilibrium?


Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Today's Spins:

Sun Ra - Monorails and Satellites Vol. 2
J.B. Lenior - Natural Man
Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Princeton, NJ 4/3/73

Send comments to: Tim
Short takes:

· I’ve really been knocked out by the Branford Marsalis collection Steep Anthology that Legacy put out a few weeks ago. Picking the cream of the crop from the younger Marsalis’ Columbia output, this disc really makes a case for Branford as one of the most inventive mainstream musicians of the past 20 years. There’s not much in the way of un-released material on this disc (just one live cut) so if you already have most of his records, you may be a little wary of picking this up – MSRP $18.99, which is ridiculous, but it’s a well-chosen compilation and makes for great listening.

· Recently I’ve been listening to a progressive improv. unit from Japan with the alarming name of Bondage Fruit. Their disc Selected is an interesting mix of progressive rock, free improvisation and Zornish mahem. It’s interesting stuff, but I haven’t been able to find anything else about the band or other discs they may have released. I sent an e-mail to DTMG but so far, it’s been unanswered.

· Finally, a couple more quotes from the Hamid Drake interview in the March Cadence magazine that I found interesting. He’s talking about being labeled as a free jazz musician: “A free player to me is someone who’s not limited by style… It’s a player who is willing to check out every genre of what we might call the great tradition of music… But to me a free player is a person who is really free and they have the ability to move through various forms. Form is not a hindrance to them.”

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, March 12, 2004

Today's Spins:

Grant Green - Goin' West
Various Artists - Nuggets: Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era (Disc 1)
Booker Little - Untitled Record (1960 Time 2000 series??)
Branford Marsalis - Steep Anthology
Alice Coltrane/Carlos Santana - Illuminations

Send comments to: Tim
Sonny Boy Williamson – Down and Out Blues (Chess 1959, 1989)

No one quite knows how old crafty Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller aka Sonny Boy Williamson #2) was when this brief blues masterpiece was collected in 1959. The music here was made up of singles that Sonny Boy cut for the Chess label from 1955 – 1958 and features Robert Lockwood on guitar and several members of the Chess stable along with the leader’s harp and world weary voice. It also features one of the most unforgettable album covers ever – a bum stares forlornly into the camera lens from a city sidewalk, down and out indeed.

Some of Williamson’s greatest songs grace the grooves of this record. “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’” and “Wake Up Baby” are Sonny Boy’s take on domestic strife, while “Fattening Frogs for Snakes” and “Your Funeral and My Trial” are classic boasting Chicago blues. Sonny Boy’s swooping harmonica and wry singing are in full effect on these songs, and it is his delivery of these songs along with the masterful songwriting that make their impact so strong. He sings with a sly knowing wink, hinting at oblique secrets of which he sang.

While the music on this album has been included in the innumerable collections of Williamson’s music that Chess and its subsequent corporate owners have since released, it’s still an excellent purchase and a reminder of the latter Sonny Boy’s mastery of the blues.

Rating: 10

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, March 11, 2004

James Cotton – Electric Lady Studios, 1976

This is a fun concert that I spun for the first time in ages in the car over the past couple of days. It’s a live radio broadcast of Cotton and a crack band performing before a live studio audience. The music is hot, and the leader’s voice and harp sound great. The band sans Cotton comes out blasting with a cover of Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack” and then Cotton joins them on his instrumental “Off the Wall.”

Cotton takes to the vocal mike with a cover of “Rocket 88,” a song which he has made his own over the years. This version is particularly fast paced, with the band and the audience urging him on. Some nice Muddy Waters covers come up next, “One More Mile” and “Got My Mojo Workin’” update the classic 50’s Chicago sound and find the leader swaggering through them with the appropriate braggadocio. It’s great to hear Cotton’s voice, because over the last few years he’s had to stick to harmonica playing only after a bout with illness.

They take out the concert with some slower material, covering T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and Little Willie John’s “Fever.” The band does well at these slower tempos too, sticking a nice loping groove on “Fever” particularly. Overall this is a nice fun concert.

Rating: 8

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Today's Spins:

Adam Rogers - Allegory
James Cotton - Electric Lady Studios, 1976

Send comments to: Tim
There's a very nice hour of duet performances from Matthew Shipp and William Parker on the Jazz on 3 web page from Gateway Studios in London, recorded last year. This will especially interest those who prefer their Shipp and Parker electronics-free, since FLAM is nowhere in sight!

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Today's Spins:

Sam Rivers and Dave Holland - Hull, 1978
Matthew Shipp & William Parker - Gateway Studio, London, 2003
Josh Abrams - Cipher

Send comments to: Tim
Jazz Times has been stirring the soup a little bit with their latest issue. It’s interesting because this also happens to be one of the more entertaining issues they’ve put in a while, often they succumb to press-release journalism, doing fluffy interviews with major label stars. For this issue, they take on a few major label stars again, but they are willing to work in a little criticism.

The lead story is on The Bad Plus, who have a new record coming out on Columbia entitled Give. Jazz Times takes the approach of having three reviewers write about the disc and the band, one who really likes the band, one who sort of likes the band and one who hates the band. It’s an interesting approach, one most notably used in Downbeat when Ornette Coleman’s record Free Jazz was released.

While Give is unlikely to have as much of an impact as Coleman’s work, the three reviews give alternate viewpoints on one of the more controversial bands of the day. In way of full disclosure, I really like TBP and will be reviewing the new record here soon.

Finally, JT does a compare and contrast of the two new discs by arguably the two most recognizable trumpet players in jazz, Dave Douglas and Wynton Marsalis. This was a little alarming for me at first, because it’s hard to avoid the racial overtones when comparing black and white musicians. Basically, the crux of the double review was to compare and contrast their styles both as musicians and bandleaders. It went pretty well, so here’s hoping that JT can keep it up in future issues

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Monday, March 08, 2004

Today's Spins:

J.B. Lenoir - Natural Man
The Bad Plus - Give
Gang of Four - Entertainment!
Santana/Shorter Band - North Sea Jazz Festival 7/10/88

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Matthew Shipp posted this on the All About Jazz bulletin board:

Balancing being the curator for the blue series and being an artist is not that hard for me I guess my temperament is suited for it. What is interesting is when talking to artist as a curator I often hear things from their point of view which is a point of view I know being an artist myself but I have to put my businessman hat on and sometimes be an a**hole - I can also see things from the side of record companies and see what they are up against to survive in this environment- as far as getting in the proper physiological framework to be an artist and do my own work that is easy to flip the switch and get back to - its my priority.

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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Today's Spins:

Sun Ra - Nidhamu
The Greenhorns - Self Titled
R.L. Burnside - Too Bad Jim

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Blue Series Under Attack

There's a nasty hatchet job by Charlie Wilmoth in the online magazine Dusted about Matthew Shipp's curation of the Blue Series of jazz meets electronica discs on the Thirsty Ear label. The review itself chiefly concerns the 2003 release The Sorcerer Sessions, which I wasn't too fond of either truth be told, but overall I think it's a great series so I take umbrage with some of the reviewer's comments.

What Shipp has been doing in this series is combining the free jazz of a number of downtown NYC musicians like William Parker, Tim Berne and especially Shipp himself with some elements of electronic music and hip-hop. On occasion it is an uneasy alliance, but more often than not it yields fascinating results. Wilmoth writes:

In 2002, Shipp unleashed the hip-hop influenced Nu Bop, and he has since released collaborations with several hip underground producers. Now, hip hop may be the hot thing to 'do' now, but there's a little problem with combining it with free jazz: they don't have much to do with one another. It's fine to try to do so, but you'd better have a pretty good strategy. Nu Bop got great reviews, apparently because it was 'daring' or something, but it sounded terrible.

IMHO, Nu Bop received great reviews because it was an excellent album. Much of the music on that record was jazz, filtered through a veneer of electronic processing. The result was a highly organic album where the improvisers and the electronics co-existed and thrived with superb results.

The reviewer continues: At one time, Matthew Shipp had some very good music he wanted to sell you. Now he realizes that the style he was good at, free jazz, is not easy to sell. So now he and his label want to sell you a set of ideas. Music is stagnant, he says. A small group of Musical Geniuses is needed to make Great Music that changes everything.

This is the crux of the problem with this review and with music reviews in general (including mine.) Too much time is spent on the marketing of the music and the superfluous agendas involved. The writer of this review goes on at length about the press release and the marketing hype for the Blue Series and the Sorcerer Sessions in particular. This is irrelevant to the task at hand, reviewing the music. If we condemned every album with hyperbolic liner notes, there wouldn't be much music left for us to enjoy.

I don't want to come off as an apologist for the Blue Series because I don't think it needs one. This series has recorded some of the best jazz and some of the most innovative music of the past few years and I think it will stand the test of time. But I do feel the need to protect the music I enjoy from a malicious and mean-spirited attack.

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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Today's Spins:

Capt. Beefheart - Kansas City, 1974
Sun Ra - Horizons
Alice Coltrane/Carlos Santana - Illuminations

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Spirituality and Free Jazz

There's an interesting article in the new Cadence Magazine with the drummer Hamid Drake, who plays with William Parker, Peter Brotzmann and other luminaries of the avant-garde jazz world (as well as being a respected reggae drummer!) He talks at length about some of the spiritual aspects of the music and bonding with other musicians on a deep level. He doesn't seem to be speaking about any religious faith, but rather a general sense of spirituality. It seems that ever since John Coltrane melded his spiritual quest with his musical quest, other musicians have been following in that direction.

Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler are two of the best examples. One played with Coltrane directly and the other was deeply influenced by his work. Pharoah's subsequent solo career has kept the spiritual path with an excellent series of records on the Impulse label. Ayler is even more interesting, combing some aspects of "old time religion" with free jazz to form a unique brand of spiritual music.

Alice Coltrane is another musician who had a direct link to John Coltrane and continued her search for spiritual music after her husband's death. Recording for Impulse and later for Warner Brothers, Alice Coltrane combined her jazz background with her devotion to Indian spiritualism to create a unique brand of spiritual jazz.

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Friday, March 05, 2004

Today's Spins:

Dave Douglas - Iridium, NY 9/19/00
Dave Holland - Seeds of Time
Netscape Radio - Avant Garde Jazz station

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Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - Bremen to
Bridgwater (Cuneiform, 2004)

Brotherhood of Breath was a progressive jazz big band
formed by South African expatriate Chris McGregor in
the late 60's and early 70's. McGregor and some of his
colleagues moved from South Africa to London, England
seeking greater political and musical freedom, after
having experimented with a mixed-race band in their
native country. This was a heady time for experimental
jazz, with fusion just beginning and free music
collectives like the AACM and BAG pushing the music
forward, while legends like Duke Ellington continued
to produce valuable and influential music.

Brotherhood of Breath took some of the finest free
improvisers in Europe and put them together in a big
band setting where both composition and improvisation
could thrive. Along with McGregor, the band included
Evan Parker, Elton Dean and Louis Moholo.

The music on this release come from live performances
recorded during a Bremen, Germany concert in 1971 and
then concerts recorded in Bridgwater, England in 1975.
The music is very loose and free, with themes and
melodies giving way to intense solos by the horn
players. McGregor is quoted in the liner notes,
professing his love and admiration for the music of
Duke Ellington, and that influence is apparent in much
of his writing for the band. Certain players are
highlighted for solo spots that appear to be designed
for them, which was a favorite tactic of Ellington in
his writing and arranging.

The ensemble passages are loose but never fall apart
and the solo space is generous for all concerned, they
sound like they are having a ball and really
appreciate the compositions and the freedom they have
to improvise upon it. This is some very interesting
music from a band that is only now beginning to be
documented. Fans of progressive big bands like Sam
Rivers' Rivbea Orchestra or some of Barry Guy's larger
ensembles would do well to check this out.

Rating: 8

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Thursday, March 04, 2004

On October 15, 2003 B.B. King was announced as one of the recipients of the 2004 Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. King was cited for his significant contribution to spreading the blues throughout the world. The prize will be presented by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a gala ceremony in Stockholm May 24. 2004. Two days earlier, King will perform at the Stockholm Concert Hall in what the Academy wants to evolve into a weeklong celebration of music.

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Here's a nice short review and article on Charlie Musslewhite from the New York Times. They discuss a recent Musslewhite concert and give a heads up on his new CD. I've had the chance to see him a couple of times in concert, he never disappoints, and it sounds like this was a good concert as well.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Jazz Composers Collective Festival

I lifted this from JazzTimes.

For one week in April, bassist Ben Allison’s Jazz Composers Collective will present its fourth annual festival at the Jazz Standard in New York City. All of your favorite Jazz Composers Collective members will be there, including Allison (pictured), saxophonist Ted Nash, pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Matt Wilson. Featured concerts in the festival schedule include three CD-release celebrations and two nights of music by Lucky Charms, a JCC all-star group that plays the music of saxophonist Lucky Thompson.

The Jazz Composers Collective is a nonprofit, musician-run organization dedicated to creating and performing new works. The Collective has presented more than 100 concerts, featuring 50 composers, nearly 200 musicians and several hundred compositions.

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Today's Spins:

Chris Thomas King - The Soul of CTK

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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Today's Spins:

Donald Byrd - Kofi
Netscape Radio - All Blues station

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The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (MCA 1985, 1998)

Elvis Costello produced this record, one of the highpoints of The Pogues brief career of melding Irish folk music to the energy of punk rock.

“Sick Bed of Cuchulainn” is a blasting jolt of drunken punk and a classic Pogues tale of anarchic mayhem. “A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday” employs the ethereal vocals of Costello’s then wife Cait O’Riordan. It’s an odd choice, considering that the song concerns a male protagonist, holding forth (where else?) in a pub, narrating a song of his career as a criminal and a vagabond. That said, her vocals are stunning and it’s a shame she didn’t make any records of her own.

There are also a couple of purely instrumental tunes that lighten the pace a little bit. Combining traditional Irish instruments with electric rock and roll, these show another side of the band that was often overlooked.

The Pogues were also a political band, demonstrated in this record by their song “Navigator” which describes the plight of the Irish laborers who worked for low wages and often died building bridges and tunnels. The finale of the record is an amazing cover of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” a fine anti-war song. It describes in emotional terms the plight of Australian soldiers fought in Gallopoli during the first world war.

This record along with If I Should Fall From Grace With God were The Pogues finest albums, soon Shane MacGowan’s drunken brawl would hit the breaking point and the band would be no more. But while they lasted, they were a fascinating and unique band.

Rating: 10

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Monday, March 01, 2004

Today's Spins:

Dave Weckl - Live (and Extremely Plugged In)
Van Morrison - Too Long in Exile
Bobby Conn - Homeland

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Political Blues

Some artists are unafraid of wearing their political hearts on their sleeves. In the past, we have had rabble-rousers like Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill and Willie Dixon. Today there isn't as much politics in music as there used to be but it's still there especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks an subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dave Douglas' recent CD Strange Liberation takes its title from a comment Martin Luther King made regarding the American war in Vietnam. The outspoken Douglas is using this to make a wry commentary about recent military activities. Steve Earle is even more blunt in his criticism of the recent political regime. Drawing on his experiences of being in Europe when an unpopular American led war began, he introduces his songs with withering profanity laden criticism on his recent live CD Just an American Boy: An Audio Documentary. Earle gained a lot of attention for his controversial song "John Walker's Blues" which examined the development of the young American man who was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Earle also calls for the return of Emma Goldman, Malcolm X and Woody Guthrie during the song "Christmas in Washington" and makes more rebellious statements in "Amerika 6.0: Is This the Best We Can Do."

Whether or not you agree with the statements made by these musicians or not is a matter for your conscience and political sensibility. But regardless, their willingness to stand up and be accounted for is admirable.

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