Friday, April 30, 2004

Spaceways Inc. and Zu – Radiale (Atavistic, 2004)

This is an interesting split album. The first half of the disc finds Ken Vandermark sitting in with the free-improvising trio Zu on four original tunes and the second half finds the members of Zu returning the favor by sitting in with Spaceways Inc. and jamming on four tunes associated with Funkadelic and Sun Ra.

“Canicula” leads off the disc blasting out of the gates with the horns improvising over an ominous theme. Luca Mai’s baritone saxophone and Vandermark’s tenor make for a potent combination. “Vegitalistia” is a very fast paced free tune with the electric bass giving it almost a prog-rock feel, while the hyperactive drums push everything forward. There’s a quieter section in the middle for Vandermark on bass clarinet, then both of the horns improvise collectively with Mai’s baritone holding down the bottom and Vandermark improvising on top.

“Pharmakon” finds the group building up a slow opening theme slowly gathering steam like an approaching train while the drummer keeps a martial beat. There’s a stuttering free section for Vandermark backed by drums and then the horns come together in a blasting improvisation, which is very heavy as the combination of baritone and tenor make for a deep, dark tone. “Trash a go-go” combines Zu with the rest of Spaceways Inc. and the difference is apparent in the funky drum opening that Hamid Drake supplies. The electric bass comes in, digging a deep groove in the proceedings, then the horns finally come in to state the theme. There’s more patience here that on the Zu w/ Vandermark recordings, the drumming stays funky and simmering and the musicians take their time in developing improvisations.

“Theme de Yo-Yo” opens with some funky bass and drums – this is Spaceways Inc. at their best, combining funk and free jazz. The horns state the theme and then improvise. There are breaks of free improvisation interspersed with improvising of the sings melody. The disc ends with a blast of Sun Ra, starting with a low key reading of “We Travel the Spaceways” which moves into a blasting rendition of “Space is the Place.” During this medley there is some wonderfully melodic bass playing.

This is a very successful disc, third in a string of great discs for Spaceways Inc. I would have preferred having the whole Spaceways ensemble on all songs, but Zu held their own quite well. Recommended.

Rating: 8.5

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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Cecil Taylor – Owner of the River Bank (Enja, 2004)

Owner of the River Bank is a collaboration between the renowned avant-garde composer and pianist Cecil Taylor and the Italian Instable Orchestra, recorded in 2000. It’s interesting to hear Taylor, who can often summon orchestral music just playing solo to meet with this large group. It’s a very successful meeting. The music is in one continuous suite with track numbers inserted into the disc.

Part One starts off slowly, almost like the musicians are tuning up, the orchestra and the star are feeling each other out – probing, looking for their bearings and direction. Things start to come together with Part Two where the music slowly builds in intensity as the horns square off against Taylor’s dark chords. Things build to hurricane force intensity led by a trumpet solo over full orchestra. The music drops back down to a simmer (the dynamics constantly shift over the course of the suite) as Taylor lays out and allows the horns to speak. Thunderheads build again late in the section, as the horns testify over Taylor’s piano onslaught.

Part Three ushers in a quieter, almost symphonic section. Horns begin to up the ante behind Taylor’s cascading piano. The music becomes faster paced and takes on a nervous feel… a roller coaster thrill ride, with the thunderous drums really rolling. At this point the music really does seem to take on the personification of a river – rolling along in an unending stream where the same face is never presented to you twice. Part Four is a shimmering piano solo, where Taylor gradually builds momentum. This builds into Part Five where Taylor continues to pick out notes to improvise on and the band kicks in following his lead. Chanted voices chime in during what almost seems like an incantation with the voices, horns and piano all reaching. The music waxes and wanes through loud and soft passages. Voices return adding a spooky sound to the proceedings. This part ends with a round of intense collective improvisation, led by Taylor’s fleet fingered chords.

Part Six begins with a milder Taylor solo, accompanied by trumpet. A somewhat ominous and quiet section follows almost like seeing a storm brewing in the distance. Things start to pick up in intensity and drums thunder and horns flash as Taylor supports and encourages it all. The Seventh and final section is by far the quietest of them all coming like peace following a great tumult. The record isn’t all over the top playing; in fact much of the music is admirable in its restraint. This is an excellent meeting of the minds.

Rating: 8.5

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Craig Taborn – Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

In the upstate New York area there was a musician who went under the moniker “The Junkman” playing percussive music on old hubcaps and instruments of his own design from the local junkyards. Tabor’s idea of junk music is something altogether different, but still percussive – the use of electronic beats and samples as a springboard for improvisation. He’s joined by The Bad Plus’ David King on drums, Mat Maneri on violin and Aaron Stewart on tenor saxophone.

The title track opens the record with spare electronic piano and violin. With the entry of the electronics, a song develops which moves into up-tempo electronic improvisation. “Mysterio” Starts out with the electronics right off the bat and then adds sampled and remixed saxophone to the mix. The sampled saxophone and beats give the composition a fractured feel. Some heavy drumming by King propels the piece along as grinding violin and electronics join the percussion to create a hypnotic effect.

“Shining Through” opens appropriately with a shimmering synthesizer introduction which gives way to remixed piano, saxophone and electronic effects. This is a more spare and abstract piece of music that features some soundscapes of violin and electric piano. “Prismatica” brings saxophone to the fore, improvising over percussion, beats and synth. Taborn comps underneath and Maneri joins in with some violin flourishes. This becomes something of a collective improvisation, but it’s hard to tell how collective with all of the sampling and electronic beats.

“Bodies at Rest, Bodies in Motion” Starts off with a spare saxophone and piano duet, and then some subtle electronic elements come into play. Things pick up as bodies go into motion with electronic samples and saxophone improve. The record ends with the most abstract composition, “The Golden Age” which begins with an solemn and ominous violin and synth opening. Elegiac violin competes with synthesizer buzzes and echoed beats. The band creates a very abstract and experimental soundscape, somewhat reminiscent of the electronic experiments of Sun Ra.

This is an interesting record and certainly fits in well with Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series, which has sought to combine avant garde jazz and electronic music. This plays down the jazz chops that Taborn has shown on his previous records as a leader and sideman appearances with James Carter and Susie Ibarra, but it shows another fact of his compositional and improvisational ideas.

Rating: 7

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Short takes:

Happy Apple: If you’re a fan of David King of The Bad Plus, check out the other band he’s involved in, Happy Apple. The group is based in King’s hometown of Minneapolis (a great jazz city by the way) and is made up of King on drums, Michael Lewis on saxophones and Erik Fratzke on electric bass. They have some of the same rock and pop influences as The Bad Plus, but they approach them with a bit of a jazzier attitude.

Their album Youth Oriented is an excellent introduction to the band and their music. It also has some of the coolest artwork of the CD era in their comic book liner notes. If received two concerts of the band’s 2003 tour of France in a trade and can confirm that they are excellent live as well. Along with The Bad Plus, this band could be one of the groups that brings jazz to the attention of a young audience.

Fred Anderson: Fred Anderson started attracting attention late in his career, getting hooked up with Ken Vandermark and the rest of the Chicago avant-garde crowd. He’s not your typical avant-gardist however, as his long career has allowed him to absorb bop, swing and the revolutionary work of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. His new disc Back Together Again, presents him in a duet context with longtome cohort and master percussionist Hamid Drake, a musician who is comfortable in every setting from reggae to free jazz. The two men share an almost telepathic bond and this infuses the music. Only the poor recording quality of the disc hold things back. I’ve never had problems before with any of Thrill Jockey’s material, so I was disappointed to hear a nesting buzzing sound throughout the first tune, and the DVD that accompanied the music was also defective. It’s a shame – music this good deserves better.

Happy Apple – Youth Oriented: 7.5
Anderson and Drake – Back Together Again: 7

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Monday, April 26, 2004

The Pixies Reunion Tour

I was a little dubious when I first heard the news that The Pixies were getting back together to tour and record. When the band collapsed in the early ‘90’s, the break seemed so nasty that there was never any real expectation that this would happen. Frank Black’s solo career has been pretty successful, artistically if not commercially. But nonetheless, ten years after Black bolted the band vowing never to speak to Kim Deal again, they’re back at it and sounding a lot better than they have any right to.

The concerts I’ve heard have been excellent. Deal sounds sober, Frank Black sounds appropriately pissed and the band is pretty tight. A little ragged and out of tune on occasion, but this isn’t exactly chamber music. They blast through some of their best known songs, and some of the more obscure ones as well. Not much new material yet, supposedly that will be forthcoming.

How long will it last? Who knows… The Velvet Underground reunion tour imploded after a few months in 1993 while The Who’s ongoing tours have become a joke. Keep your fingers crossed.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Lester Young and the Giants of Jazz ’56 (Verve, 1957)

Conventional wisdom has it that Lester Young’s protean powers began to fade after his disastrous stint in the US Army during World War II. Young’s experience with the racism and violence of the army were a far cry form the admiration he had enjoyed during his tenure as the featured soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra and were one of many factors that led him on a downward spiral that led to his early death in 1959.

But he hardly went out like a lamb. Young was well recorded during the 1950’s by Norman Granz’s Verve label, both in the studio and as a stalwart on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours that took jazz legends all around the world during this time. While it’s true that Young’s soloing my not be as innovative on the Verve recordings as those of prior years, albums like this and the classic Lester Young Meets the Oscar Peterson Trio belay the notion that The President was washed up.

This record is somewhat unusual because it puts Young in the company of a larger group of “giants” made up of Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Teddy Wilson on piano, Vic Dickinson on trombone, Gene Ramey on bass, Freddie Green on guitar and Jo Jones on drums. The larger format is very helpful, because Young no longer has to dominate the music as he did on many records of this period, and the solo duties are well spread out amongst the band members.

Blues, standards and ballads were the order of the day, particularly the aptly titled “The Gigantic Blues” during which everyone gets in a rousing solo on a swinging uptempo blues. It’s a fine record, recommended for all of Young’s fans. He was nearing the end of his term as “The President” but it’s foolhardy for anyone to say that he didn’t go out swinging.

Rating: 8

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Friday, April 23, 2004

The Yardbirds – Live Blueswailing ’64 (Earmark, 2004)

This album releases a previously unheard live set from the Yardbirds at the beginning of their career and a few months before the seminal Five Live Yardbirds record was released. A record store clerk assured me that this was every bit Five Live’s equal, and even if it doesn’t quite stand up to that hype, it’s still a vigorous live document of a potent band.

Much of the music is similar to the other record, with blues standards like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” making up the majority of the setlist. There’s an interesting section of the liner notes that discusses Eric Clapton’s influence in pushing the band in a purely blues direction as opposed to some of the poppier sounds of the other British Invasion bands. The Yardbirds would go on in fact to back up and then eventually record with Chess blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson – the other Sonny Boy, that is – Aleck “Rice” Miller.

The packaging of the record (I bought the vinyl version) is top notch. There are some wonderful photos of the band as well as pictures of vintage handbills, flyers and newspaper articles advertising the band’s gigs. Also, a very well written and researched liner essay is included. On the downside, the music is over in a flash, clocking in at a little over a half an hour.

Rating: 8

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Ken Vandermark's web site is streaming the new collaberation between Spaceways Inc. and Zu entitled Radiale, it's quite good.

Some concerts from The Pixies reunion tour are available for downloading.

The White Stripes live in Vera Groningen, Netherlands 11.23.01 is available for downloading at

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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Blog break...

I'm going away on business for a few days, and hope to resume regularly scheduled blogging late this week.

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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Brad Mehldau – Anything Goes (Warner Jazz, 2004)

I have to confess to never really being a big fan of Mehldau’s music. He’s obviously a talented pianist, but his music has always struck me as rather mannered and a little cold. The exception was last years Largo which fleshed out his sound with some tasteful electronic elements and horns. This added texture benefited him greatly, and I was sad to see him revert to the traditional trio format for this album.

“Tres Palabras” has a relaxed opening, melodic, spare and mid-tempo with the drummer filling in on brushes. The title track “Anything Goes” keeps the mid-tempo vibe, with the drummer keeping subtle time on cymbals. The music is very mild mannered and polite, grandma will love it! After a bass solo, Mehldau brings the group back from slumberland with a nice solo that adds energy without breaking the groove. “Dreamsville” is also taken at a ballad tempo, but thing start to wake up a little with a cover of Radiohead’s “Everything in it’s Right Place.” Bass opens the tune, giving way to a darker and lower key melody. Mehldau ups the ante with a fleet fingered solo, but the overall effect and feel of the tune is still pretty chilly, you would hardly recognize it as a Radiohead song unless you were a fan of the band.

“Get Happy” starts off in a little more spirited fashion, than some of the other tunes. The melody gives way for Mehldau to improvise on the theme and then he’s joined by the bass and drums for a round of collective improvisation. This is an extended improvisation with melodic and fast paced solos – nicely done. “Skippy” keeps things upbeat and the band delivers a nice uptempo performance that shows that they do indeed have a pulse. Rounding out the disc is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stilly Crazy After All These Years.” He slows down the familiar balled melody to a ballad tempo, very rhapsodic and surely radio friendly.

In the end, I find this to be a pleasant but not overly interesting piano trio. It would be nice to see Mehldau abandon the trio format more often and use different players – his recent duet with Joel Frahm shows that he is a sympathetic accompanist to horn players, and some of the sideman roles he has taken on with the Fresh Sound New Talent label have paired him with challenging colleagues like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Cheek.

Rating: 6

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Rutgers Institute for Jazz Studies – Small Group Showcase

Keeping with my vow to see more live music, I went up to New Brunswick to see a couple of their student ensembles. Rutgers has one of the finest and oldest jazz studies programs anywhere and the faculty has some big names, so I knew the music would be good. The first group was a piano trio led by graduate student Rachel Eqioff (sp?) with a bassist and a drummer that I did not catch the name of.

The band led off with Joe Henderson’s “Afrocentric” taken at a mid-tempo with some strong playing by the leader. Fred Hersch’s melodic “Heart Song” followed, opening with a drum solo and then with the rest of the group joining in. The music had a melancholy pastel like feel with the drummer switching to brushes. Their set ended with an arrangement of the standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” which began at a stately mid-tempo with the drummer keeping a strong beat. Things downshifted a little for the bass solo, but the drummer kept things moving along briskly. The drummer took a slightly fractured solo of his own with the pianist playing chords underneath him.

The second group was “coached” by well-known drummer Victor Lewis and included Eric Swingtowski on piano, Justin Tomsorid on drums and Jason Wexler on piano. The group opened with an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” starting with a lush opening and then breaking into a really fast improvisation. The group shifted dynamics between loud and fast and mid-tempo. They’re not exactly The Bad Plus, but I bet the drummer really gets a kick out of David King’s playing. He took a forceful and powerful drum solo that drew enthusiastic applause for the audience. They followed with a medley of original tunes by the pianist, “Absolution” and “Catch You on the Flip Side.” Bowed bass and mallets introduced “Absolution” which gave way to a slower tempoed and darkly romantic melody. The band improvised very well together. “Catch You” ups the tempo to a full boil and the drummer keeps a driving beat the whole way through. The bass player gets a nice dark, elastic tone that holds up well amidst the improvising piano and drums. He uses this tone well in his solo, getting a nice full bodied sound and never rushing the music. The pianist indulges in a few romantic flourishes before leading the trio back into the theme at full throttle and taking the song out.

Tim Ries was the coach of the final ensemble of the evening. Piano, drums, guitar, tenor saxophone and the bass player from the previous group. The bass player kicked things off with a strong melodic solo and the group was off at a very fast tempo. The saxophonist and the guitarist were improvising in tandem and then the pianist took over still at the same scalding tempo. It’s impressive to see the group play at this speed, but the very speed of the music seems to limit their improvisational choices and they become stuck in a repetitive groove. Then, inevitably, when the group tried to downshift to a more reasonable tempo they got lost and nearly had a train-wreck as the guitarist missed the signal to relax the speed. They recovered quickly, though and finished the song, apparently entitled “Patch’s Revenge” with no further problems.

An interesting cover of Jason Moran’s “Gangsterism on Canvas” followed and slowed things down with a lilting melody. The tenor player gets a nicely controlled solo somewhere along the Seamus Blake/Chris Cheek continuum of tenor saxophone playing. The guitarist also contributes a fluid and well paced solo. Their final selection of the evening was a very interesting arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Nardis” which has the guitarist switching to an acoustic guitar for a flamenco like opening. The tenor player comes in, taking a darker tone and the drummer backs the group with an ominous mallet pulse. The opening segment gives way to a swinging groove with the tenor player (too bad they didn’t announce the members names) taking a solid solo over the guitarist’s folksy accompaniment. After the pianist takes a brief solo, the tenor player indulges in a little free playing out of the late period Coltrane bag. This was by far the most adventurous group of the evening, and while they were a little ragged in spots they showed a lot of spirit and energy.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Interesting article:

The King Of Ragtime Guitar: Blind Blake & His Piano-Sounding Guitar

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If you're tastes run toward the avant-garde side of things, the BBC's Jazz on 3 is streaming a concert from Evan Parker this week. Click on "Listen again to the latest show." There's also a very interesting interview/audio docummentary segment about independent promoters and grass roots organizations putting on concerts of improvised music in the United States.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Brian Patneadue has a new group of live mp3's posted on his web site recorded live at Justin's, in Albany, NY 3/21/04. Brian is also planning to record his second compact disc sometime this year. Also check out Brian's other web site, Albany Jazz. Now if we can only encourage Brian to start a blog as well...

Send comments to: Tim
The Ponys - Laced With Romance (In the Red, 2004)

The Ponys are an indie/garage rock unit that I first heard through WPRB, the Princeton University radio station. They have a straight - ahead old school punk sound very reminiscent of the old CBGB New York City punk bands of the mid to late 1970's but actually they're a Chicago band who put out their debut record in 2004.

Richard Hell and the Voidiods and Television are the bands of the New York City salad era that come to mind with regard to the Pony's sound. Lead singer Jared Gummere is a dead ringer vocally for Richard Hell at one point, on the tune "Chemical Imbalance" that the band sounds like it's playing a cut that was left off of Blank Generation. The band's instrumental prowess lacks some of the punch of their forebears - they don't have a soloist of the caliber of Tom Verlaine for instance, but they do have a crunching garage groove occasionally punctuated by a little organ, hearkening back to the 60's garage rock "Nuggets" era bands.

"Let's Get Together and Kill Ourselves" is a nihilistic punk anthem that wouldn't seem out of place on CBGB's stage. The band isn't completely derivative however, and as they take the time to develop their instrumental and songwriting skills there's every reason to believe that they will become a more original sounding unit.

Rating 6.5

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Branford Marsalis – The Steep Anthology (Columbia, 2004)

The Steep Anthology is a collection of the work that Branford Marsalis did while signed to the Columbia label in the 1980’s and 90’s. In a sense it is a summation of his work during the first phase of his career and also makes the case for him as one of the most inventive mainstream jazz musicians of the period. While his brother Wynton may have gained more attention by being retrogressive and backward looking, Branford was willing to experiment, digesting the music of Ornette Coleman and the funk and soul bands he listened to as a youth.

The music on this disc shows Branford in a variety of settings (but omits his funk-fusion outfit Buckshot LaFonque) from the retro New Orleans style of “Royal Garden Blues” to the ultra-modern composition “The Dark Keys.” Marsalis had a steady band during most of this period, made up of Kenny Kirkland on piano, Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.

Most of Branford’s records from this period are worth owning and if you already have them, this may not be an essential purchase. The only non-album addition to this collection is a wonderful live reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.” But for those without a lot of the elder Marsalis in their collection, this makes for a great introduction – the playing is first-rate and the compositions worthwhile.

Rating: 9

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, April 12, 2004

Today's Spins:

Branford Marsalis - Steep Anthology
Jackie McLean - One Step Beyond
REM - Life's Rich Pageant
The Bad Plus - Self titled first album

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Kenny Neal and Billy Branch – Double Take (Alligator, 2004)

This nice raw acoustic blues do strips away a lot of the sheen that surrounds a lot of the “blues” today and gets back to the real thing. Branch has a wonderful full bodied swooping sound on the harmonica, and Neal’s picking matches him step for step. This is an unusual disc for Alligator, not staying in line with their “genuine houserocking music” credo, but this diversion is most welcome. It’s a wonderful slice of blues, here’s hoping it’s a format Alligator decides to revisit often.

The music itself is a mix of standards with a few originals thrown in. The standards are really chestnuts, Little Walter’s “My Babe” and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller)’s “Don’t Start Me to Talkin” really put a lot of pressure on Branch to deliver on the harp and he brings the goods each time. Kenny Neal’s originals “Early One Morning” and “Going to the Country” betray his Louisiana swamp blues roots.

This is a nice laid back, back porch session, but there’s enough energy present so nobody starts to nod off. Taking a chance by doing a blasting cover of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” proves that these two are not going to take the easy listening Keb Mo approach to acoustic blues. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8.5

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Article on and interview with Sam Rivers on the All About Jazz web site. Really dopey title though...

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Tarbox Ramblers – In a Fix Back East (Rounder, 2004)

What piqued my interest was a story on the band on NPR, linking them to the much lamented Morphine in the Boston scene. They’re a mix of Fat Possum blues, string band hillbilly and gospel, sounding all the world like Bob Dylan’s recent music. “Already Gone” is a blasting roadhouse rocker, coming off as an R.L. Burnside garage-blues tune. “Were You There” mines the bands gospel roots, complete with mourning violin. Michael Tarbox’s vocals are very well suited to these types of tales of ominous woe. “Country Blues” digs deeper into the fertile Mississippi soil that brought forth legends like Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The lyrics restate the same blues clichés, but like the best blues, the music redeems it – pounding but not plodding drums, and snarling guitar.

The band channels Mark Sandman and Morphine on the title track, with mysterious guitar and fiddle framing a tale of loss and trouble. The music and the stories the band tell are rarely resolved, somewhat like 16 Horsepower, another band that mines Americana and the dark and mysterious corners of roots music. “No Night There” is a fiddle fueled gospel hoedown and “Honey Babe” is kicked off with a snarling blues riff, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Lee Hooker record. “The Shining Sun” latches onto another trucking blues groove. The band seems to have two modes of operation, the chugging blues groove and the mysterious gospel plea.

This band is definitely one to keep an eye on; right now they wear their influences on their sleeves, but what influences they are! As soon as the Tarbox Ramblers start to make their own music and not just an excellent reflection of the masters, then they will have accomplished a major achievement.

Rating 7.5

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Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Yardbirds- Five Live Yardbirds (Columbia, 1964)

The Yardbirds were one of the finest of the British invasion groups when it came to melding blues with rock and roll. They took equal parts of the electric blues they worshipped and the rock and roll they were inventing and concocted a ferocious brew. As good as their records were, live they take things to another level. This is an early incarnation of the band with Eric Clapton holding the guitar chair and featuring some of the finest playing of his entire career.

It's fascinating how comfortable this group of young Englishmen were with the music that make up this record. Mixing the early rock and roll of Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" (the latter featuring a killer harp solo from Keith Relf over a pounding bass and drums backdrop) with the electric blues covers of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years" the band nails everything at an unrelenting tempo.

The Yardbirds would go on to make more excellent music including the great psychedelic album Roger the Engineer, but none would capture the frenetic energy of this one. This is one of the first great live albums to come out of the rock and roll era and can be cherished by both blues and rock fans.

Rating: 10

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Short Takes: has posted a long out of print Julian Priester album and a Miles Davis concert from 1970 for downloading. Largeheartedboy is a great resource for downloads of indie rock.

Speaking of indie rock, I dragged myself out of my apartment last night to see local indie rockers The Jon Caspi Collective at a local cafe. I really want to get out and see more live music, but a combination of my anxiety problems and my crazy schedule comspire against it. But I do want to see more live music, so hopefully this week I'll go out to see the Rutgers University Jazz Ensemble. Rutgers has one of the finest jazz studies programs in the world with heavy hitters like Ralph Bowen on the payroll, so I know the band will be good.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Pharoah Sanders - With a Heartbeat (Evolver, 2003)

Pharoah Sanders is no stranger to spiritual meditative music, having
started his career with the free-form cosmic explorations of John and
Alice Coltrane and then through a series of ecstatic jazz releases of
his own on the Impulse label in the late 60's and early 70's. His
releases since them have been a strange mix of mainstream, free jazz and
even the odd trip into smooth jazz and disco. This disc finds Sanders
with producer-mixmaster Bill Laswell who attempts to update Pharoah's
60's spiritual music for the modern computer age.

All of the tunes on this disc are tied together by the sound of a
beating heart. The first tune sets a trippy vibe with some nice soloing
by Sanders on tenor over Laswell's shimmering synth beats. On this tune
they meet as equals, with neither the synths or Sanders potentially
explosive saxophone gaining the upper hand. This is continued on the
second track, "Morning Tala," where Sanders is blowing freely over a nix
of tabla, synths and sampled beats.

"Alankara" sets a somewhat different tone entirely. Tablas and scatted
vocalese coming of as some type of proto-rap are used throughout the
song and Pharoah lays out entirely. It's hard to tell whether the
vocalese was sampled or was done in time with the tablas. It's a strange
track, and then the disc ends with "Gamaka" which opens with Indian
sounding instruments over the ever-present heartbeat and synth. Graham
Haynes enters on heavily processed trumpet and the beat picks up to a
nearly techno-dance beat. With Pharoah playing in the background, the
beats really take center stage.

Overall this is a strange record, which finds Pharoah Sanders, normally
one of strongest soloists in jazz reduced to the position of being a
sideman on his own record. Laswell's synths and beats really command
attention and the third track without Sanders entirely allows the music
to drift from focus. It's a noble attempt to combine spiritual free jazz
and fusion, but what really needs to happen if the musicians experiment
in this format again is for everybody to be on a level playing field and
allowed to contribute to the overall sound.

Rating: 6.5

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Spaceways Inc. Velvet Lounge; Chicago, IL 8/11/03

Spaceways Inc. is my favorite of the many projects that Ken Vandermark leads or is involved in. This groove based outfit with Nate McBride on bass and Hamid Drake on drums was originally put together to play the music of George Clinton and Sun Ra as they did on their first album Thirteen Cosmic Standards (Atavistic, 2000.) Their second album saw them reaching out even further, taking the groove of the first album and melding it to original songs written specifically for this band. The result, their second album Version Soul (Atavistic) was one of the finest jazz releases of 2002. An eagerly awaited third disc is due out shortly.

This set captures the band in its adopted hometown of Chicago, at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge, on of the premier locations for creative improvised music in Chicago; a city that has a vibrant jazz and blues scene. The band improvises on a variety of themes from the first two discs, Vandermark's strong tenor works very well on the r&b themed music, but is always looking for chances to explore the music and pull it out of any potential genre ghettoization. Hamid Drake's drumming is as excellent as always, his grounding in the groove based rhythms of reggae as we as the polyrhythms of free jazz make him the perfect percussionist for this project. McBride is the gravitational center that both of the principles revolve around. He also gets some notable solo space as well.

This is an excellent band, and it's only due to the high demand for Drake in a number of bands as well as Vandermark's busy schedule that keeps them from playing together more often. If you ever have the chance to see this group in person, don't miss it!

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E.S.T – Live in London, November 2003

E.S.T. stands for the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, and much like The Bad Plus, they are “not your fathers" piano trio. Svensson is joined by bassist Daniel Berglund, and drummer Magnus Öström for this concert. Theit music is a little difficult to describe – they are an acoustic piano trio that uses electronic flourishes to augment their sound. This is done in a very tasteful way and it does not interfere with the music, it's omewhat akin to the sound that Brad Mehldau got on last year’s interesting Largo. The Scandinavian jazz musicians seem to take more easily into the intermeshing of electronics and acoustic instrumentations then do their American counterparts. Considering the rapturous applause during this concert, it would seem that this group has quite a following in the U.K. and around Europe as well – they’re an interesting group, one to keep an eye on.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

In heavy rotation lately:

The Shins - Live in Austin 2002 & 2003 (via largeheartedboy)
E.S.T. - London, November 2003
Magic Sam - Black Magic
James Carter - Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge
Spaceways Inc & Zu - Radiale

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James Carter – Live at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (Warner, 2004)

This live album was recorded in 2001 and then sat in limbo for three years as Carter was signed to the Warner label only to be shown the door a short time later. He eventually resurfaced on Columbia, releasing last years string heavy Billie Holiday tribute Gardenias for Lady Day. This set was originally scheduled to be a double disc album, but has been trimmed to one disc for release. Rumor had it that Aretha Franklin and other Detroit luminaries were to be featured, but for unknown reasons they are nowhere to be see in the official release. We do get a couple of guest appearances from David Murray, whose jumping register hopping sound can be seen a big influence on Carter’s playing.

“Freedom Jazz Dance” kicks off with a nice multi horn opening courtesy of Murray and Carter. David Murray really steps up to the plate with a fierce overblown solo dipping into the Ayler bag, but also showing the influence of one of his other idols, Paul Gonsalves. “Soul Street” sets a funky organ groove and morphs into a keyboard solo of sampled vocals coming off as sort of the Manhattan Transfer from hell – pretty strange, but it works in kind of a hot dog – show off kind of way. “I Can’t Get Started” has a mellow tenor and organ opening, harkening back to the swing era, with the singer’s gruff vocals belting out the words. “Free and Easy” has a simmering mid-tempo groove, with nice trumpet solos from D. Adams.

This is a fun record – not as much fun as it could have been perhaps, but it still gives you a chance to hear James Carter when not enveloped by a string section as he was in Gardenias. The knock on Carter in a live setting is that he’s something of a ham and allows his showmanship to exceed his good taste. That’s really not the case here, for the most part, he’s in full control of his considerable talent.

Rating 7.5

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Eric Dolphy – Live at the Five Spot Vol. 1 (Fantasy 1961, 1989)

This was the first in the series of legendary live recordings that Eric Dolphy made at the Five Spot Café in New York City in 1961. At this time he was performing with the John Coltrane Quartet and was also embroiled in controversy, after a writer in Downbeat had labeled both Coltrane and Dolphy as “anti-jazz.” For these recording, he was joined by Booker Little on trumpet, Mal Waldron on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums.

The selections on this disc (and on the series as a whole which includes Vol. 2 and The Memorial Album) are quite long and allow the band to stretch out at length, exploring the themes in depth and allowing for much instrumental solo space. The intense “Fire Waltz” begins the album with Dolphy on alto saxophone as he is for most of this record. Dolphy’s register hopping tone is often speech like and can be seen as a logical extension of Charlie Parker’s alto explorations in the 1940’s and 50”s. Booker Little has a more mainstream and centered tone on trumpet. He was very young when this was recorded (and sadly would pass on not long after) but his voice is his own, born of Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown, but moving easily into the more open territory Dolphy was exploring.

The two takes of Little’s “Bee Vamp” and the extended exploration of Dolphy’s “The Prophet” allow the band ample opportunity to explore this new territory. The music has a sense of freedom but it never truly leaves the melodic based nature of bebop and hardbop behind. Mal Waldron also makes the most of his solo space – he’s aptly suited for this role, having mastered melody and harmony as Billie Holiday’s accompanist for many years in the 1950’s but also having played with Coltrane and the other modernists.

This is some of the finest music of the era, combining the tradition of the past with the adventurous nature of the free and avant-garde music that was beginning to take hold in jazz at that time. Unfortunately, neither Dolphy or Little would have much time to continue their explorations, but they left an amazing legacy for other seekers to follow.

Rating: 10

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Sun Ra - Discipline 27-II (Saturn, 1973)

This is one of the out of print Saturn LP's I picked up in the recent vine. Recorded in a Chicago studio in late 1972, this record features several Ra lifers including John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshal Allen and June Tyson.

This disc is broken up like many of Ra's projects into a set of shorter pieces on one side and a longer composition or suite on the second side of the second. In this case, the compositions on the first side, "Pan Afro" and "Discipline 8" combine set arrnagements cued by Ra's electric keyboard with free blowing by the soloists. The final tune on side one, "Neptune" has a male vocalist talking about the "news from Neptune" over an Arkestra accompanyment.

The epic on this release is the title track "Discipline 27-II" where Ra and a chorus of female backup singers led by June Tyson debate the nature of reality over a mid tempo arrangement of the Arkestra. There are very few solos on this section and the call and response spoken vocals dominate.

The Sun Ra discography notes "The album (unusually for a Saturn) was reviewed in Down Beat, 41 (1), 1/17/74, by Ray Townley, who called it a "lackluster session" and said "the worst feature... is the random slicing of the long title cut" into several bands, apparently in an effort to get airplay. It's not quite that bad, in fact there are several interesting passages. Ra's philosophy does get a little tiresome on the long title cut, but overall, this is an interesing record and deserves to be re-released.

Rating: 7.5

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Monday, April 05, 2004

Today's Spins:

Sun Ra - Discipline 27-II
Sam Rivers and Don Pullen - Capricorn Rising
Tom Waits - Rain Dogs
Horace Silver - Song for My Father
Ganelin Trio - Ancora da Capo

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Charles Mingus – Changes One (Atlantic, 1974)

Charles Mingus emerged from a very difficult period of mental and physical illness (see Gene Santoro’s Myself When I Am Real for information about that in excruciating detail) to form one of the finest working bands of his career. Joined by George Adams on tenor saxophone and vocals, Don Pullen on piano, Jack Walrath on trumpet and Mingus stalwart Dannie Richmond on drums, he released Changes One and Two (two separate albums) in the mid 1970’s.

The band comes out of the gate with one of Mingus’ finest political commentary compositions, “Remember Rockefeller at Attica,” which was written to commemorate the prison riot that had just taken place in upstate New York. The swirling mid-tempo composition echoes and at one time directly quotes Mingus’ most famous political piece, “Fables of Faubus.” “Sue’s Changes” was written for Mingus’ eventual wife Sue Graham and is a multi-leyered piece of music with several sections, starting as a ballad and evolving into very dramatic music. Sue was his muse during his final years and he wrote several compositions for her.

The record takes a lighthearted turn as George Adams takes to the mic to sing a gruff but enthusiastic version of Clarence Gatemouth Brown’s “Devil Woman.” Adams isn’t the most adept singer in the world, but he’s clearly having a lot of fun and this gives the band a chance to stretch out on the blues. Mingus wrote the final song, “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” as a tribute just after Ellington passed away. Easily one of Mingus’ best later compositions, the deeply emotional melody draws beautiful solos from all of the band members.

Sadly, Mingus’ health would begin to decline shortly after this album was released. But it sealed his reputation as one of the finest musicians and composers of the 20th century. Geoege Adams, Don Pullen and for a while Dannie Richmond would go on to form perhaps the finest jazz group of the 1980’s, the Adams/Pullen quartet.

Rating: 9

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Sunday, April 04, 2004

Today's Spins:

Various Artists – Back from the Grave, Vol. 2
Sleater-Kinney – One Beat
Spaceways Inc. - Velvet Lounge, Chicago 8/11/01
Furry Lewis – Good Morning Judge
Charles Mingus – Changes One
John Zorn – String Quartets

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Short Takes:

- Emusic has posted a ton of music by the avant-garde jazz label Leo with some interesting stuff by Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra becoming available.

- Speaking of Sun Ra, I've received 9 discs worth of out of print Sun Ra recordings as part of a "vine" on the Yahoo group Sun Ra Trading. A vine is like a trade, except you make copies of the master discs for yourself and then send them on to the next person in the queue.

- In a recent trade, I received a copy of the performance of Ravi Coltrane's group from Joe's Pub in New York City in November of 2002 to celebrate the re-release of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. The biggest surprise was to hear Alice Coltrane take the stage to play some very strong piano! All in all, it was an excellent concert, Ravi and Alice (and the rest of the band) played extremely well despite what must have been a big amount of emotional baggage to carry onstange.

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues (JSP, 2004)

Big Joe Williams was a rambling musician, one of many that came and went all over the country during the depression years, riding the rails, hoboing and doing all of the other things blues fans like to romanticize about. By the time Big Joe finally got to record starting in the late thirties, he had already developed a unique style of guitar playing (with his famous nine string guitar) and had developed a repertoire filled with blues, work songs and hillbilly music.

The first two discs here feature Big Joe in various settings from 1937 to 1948, running through a large number of tunes. Of particular interest are the songs where he's joined by another guitarist and fiddle player - hearing Big Joe's standard "Baby Please Don't Go" in this setting is very interesting and insightful into the different kinds of music being played by blues musicians in this period.

The remainder of the 5 disc set is filled out with music from two somewhat lesser known by equally powerful bluesmen, Tommy McClennan and Robert Petway. Rounding out the set is some excellent music from David “Honeyboy” Edwards, a contemporary of the other three who is still making music today. Incidentally, Edwards’ biography The World Don’t Owe Me Nothin’ has some fascinating commentary about blues musicians and the blues community of this period.

For $17.99 + tax and shipping, 5 nearly full discs of music is a pretty good bargain. Things can get a little repetitious at times, but by taking the music in small doses or making playlists, you are able to break the music up into more digestible portions. If you’re a fan of acoustic blues, it’s certainly a wise investment of time and money.

Rating: 8

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Friday, April 02, 2004

The Who – Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973)

Quadrophenia was The Who’s second attempt at a long form concept album after the famous Tommy from 1969. It tells the story of a young man growing up in working class England during the Mods and Rockers gang troubles of the early to mid 1960’s – an important time when the band was just coming into it’s own and had it’s first hits.

The Who were one of the finest rock and roll bands in terms of sheer musical talent and while they didn’t always live up to their potential, this record makes the most of their assets. The late John Entwhistle in particular stands out with his pulsing bass lines leading the charge in much of the music. Synthesizers are also used tastefully and well as an arranging tool to augment the bands sound. This was a new and emerging technology in music at the time and the band took full advantage of it. Keith Moon is all over the music of course, with his surf-influenced drumming propelling the music along.

The music alternates between songs with vocals and instrumental interludes and some of the songs rank amongst the finest performances of the band’s career. “The Real Me” blasts out with some of the most forceful bass playing heard in rock music to that time, while “Sea and Sand” and “I’m One” showcase Pete Townshend’s understanding of street youth culture and songwriting mechanics. “Love Reign O’er Me” is one of the ultimate vocal showcases for Roger Daltery’s powerful, almost operatic singing.

The Who may have become a parody of themselves during the past few years with the endless reunion tours, Entwhistle’s senseless death and Townshend’s embarrassing legal troubles, but this record proves that they were once a formidable band, capable of very powerful music.

Rating: 9

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

NPR has done some interesting features and interviews
about Neil Young's album Greendale, they can be
accessed here.

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Herbie Hancock Donates Instruments to Smithsonian

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. jazz legend Herbie Hancock
donated several of his instruments to the
Smithsonian's National Museum of American History on
Tuesday and said he hoped they would inspire others.

A keyboard used to create some of his most famous
hits, two synthesizers and a headphone microphone
joined the museum's other musical memorabilia from
jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald
(news) and Lionel Hampton.

"Maybe some little kid will identify with them and
think that one day I can create music on a new
instrument. Maybe I can be somebody," Hancock told
Reuters in an interview after a ceremony at the

"But, the truth is that everyone is somebody already.
You don't need the fame to be vital. You would not
exist if you did not have something to bring to the
table of life."

The keyboard, a Fairlight CMI Series II that cost
Hancock $25,000, was the computer-based instrument he
used to compose his 1983 hit "Rockit," a song famous
for its use of a scratching technique.

Hancock said he managed to convince the Australian
supplier of the Fairlight to show him the instrument
before giving a demonstration to another music icon,
Stevie Wonder (news).

A winner of eight Grammy awards in the past two
decades and an Academy Award in 1987 for the film
score "Round Midnight," he is best known for fusing
jazz techniques with electronic instrumentation.

"Hancock's instruments not only represent the career
of one of our country's most prominent musical
figures, they help us to better understand the story
of electric and electronic musical instruments," said
American History museum curator John Hasse.

Born in 1940, Hancock was a child prodigy pianist and
performed at age 11 with the Chicago Symphony

Brought up in a poor neighborhood on the south side of
Chicago, Hancock's mother recognized his talent early
on and bought him a piano for his seventh birthday.

It was the "magnetism of improvisation" that first
attracted Hancock away from his classical roots to
jazz, which he said while growing out of slavery was
more about the human experience than anything else.

Hancock said he had already sold many of his
instruments to a company but was holding onto many of
his more valuable items so they could go into his
estate when he died.

"I am still a jazz musician and not a pop star in
terms of money and so I have to take care of my family
first, then my extended family and my country."

Hancock is working on a new record called "HH Project
2004" which involved a collection of artists. He
declined, for legal reasons, to give any further

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