Monday, May 31, 2004

Jazz and Blues Festival

This weekend is also the Red Bank Jazz and Blues Festival, so you know what that means - driving around like a madman looking for a place to park and then trying to weave through cigar smoking, beer swilling wankers who know nothing about the music, but want to make the "scene." Aren't festivals fun? They really like Fathead Newman here, this is the third year in a row he's headlining the festival.

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Vinyl madness...

Although I've been trying to wean myself from buying vinyl records, I keep slipping back... can't help it, vinyl is less expensive and has cool artwork and liner notes. So I did a little bargain bin scrounging at Izzy's Records and Jack's Music Shoppe and came up with the following:

Freddie Hubbard - Backlash
Soft Machine - Six
McCoy Tyner - Live at Newport
Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore - Blowin' in From Chicago
The Band - The Last Waltz
Taj Mahal - The Real Thing
The Beatles - A Hard Days Night

There's also an all vinyl record show in Springfield next weekend, so after I attend that, I'll stop buying vinyl... honest.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Bill McHenry in the Times

There was an interesting article on tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry in the New York Times a few days ago.

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DVD Review – Shane MacGowan: If I Should Fall From Grace

Shane MacGowan was the lead singer and lyricist for the great Irish rock and roll band The Pogues during the 80’s and 90’s. He’s also infamous for his problems with drugs and alcohol and for his horrible teeth. This bio film traces his younger years in both Ireland and England, interviewing him and his parents at length.

The majority of the film chronicles the rise and fall of The Pogues through interviews, music videos and some rare concert footage. It’s a valuable document in the sense that The Pogues were one of the finest and most unique rock and roll bands of their time, but the interview segments of MacGowan himself are pitiful and pandering – the man has simply done so much damage to himself that there is nothing left but a shell and a cliché of a drunken Irishman.

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Where else would you expect to see an all star band but Matawan – Aberdeen Regional High School in central New Jersey? Well, regardless the concert was excellent with a band made up of Kenny Barron on piano, Anne Drummond on flute, Tim Warfield on tenor saxophone, Russell Malone on guitar, Mathew Parrish on bass, Steve Turre on trombone, and Myles Weinstein on drums. Stefon Harris and Russell Gunn were also advertised to be performing but couldn’t make it due to a prior commitment. Nonetheless, the concert was successful and as could be expected the music was excellent. The group played a mixture of standards and originals including a couple of tunes from Kenny Barron’s new album. This was a fund raiser for the school band, and I can only hope that they'll keep getting bands like this in the future.

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R.L. Burnside – Burnside on Burnside (Fat Possum, 2001)

This was my pick for album of the year in 2001. Burnside had been recording for the Mississippi based Fat Possum label for the past several years and had released some very good records as well as some truly bizarre experiments with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This record however was the apex of his work, his blasting working group caught live in concert on stage in Oregon.

He comes absolutely roaring out of the gate with a couple of pieces from his standard repertoire “Shake ‘em On Down,” “Skinny Woman,” and “Miss Maybelle.” This is with the full band blasting – Burnside on vocals and slide guitar with a couple of other guitars, bass and drums playing roadhouse blues sounding like they’re coming straight from a Mississippi juke. Things reach an almost hysterical level of intensity with the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” before things calm down with Burnside doing a solo version of the Robert Johnson classic “Walkin’ Blues” and then running through his comedy shtick “He Ain’t Your Daddy.”

Things crank back up toward the end of the concert with R.L. leading the band at full throttle through another one of his no holds barred droning blues masterpieces “Jumper On the Line” before finishing things off with an absurdly powerful version of “Snake Drive.” No, this may not be the most subtle music ever recorded, but Burnside’s music is some of the most intense and unadulterated Mississippi blues still being played today. Both he and this disc are a treasure.

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Here's an article from today's Star Ledger about Jackie McLean's group with Garchan Moncour at the Iridum in New York City.

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Here's an article from Ben Ratliff in the New York Times about a recent McCoy Tyner concert featuring Pharoah Sanders and Ravi Coltrane. An excerpt:

The set opened with Mr. [McCoy Tyner]'s ''Angelina,'' and right away the band established momentum. Mr. [Eric Harland] is an exact, firm-tempo drummer, filling in rolling, popping details through the width of the groove, but making them surge and ebb and function as dramatic elements. He locked in with Mr. Tyner, pushing him, and then began a long drum solo, building up drum chants and pressing hard on the groove, making it rock. Next [Ravi Coltrane], who is John's son, and Mr. [Pharoah Sanders] appeared, establishing a pattern that lasted through several pieces: Mr. Sanders played torrentially, Mr. Coltrane shrewdly.

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Dead Cat Bounce - Home Speaks to the Wandering (Innova, 2004)

Dead Cat Bounce is a somewhat alarming name for a jazz band -
especially for this lover of four legged felines. But nonetheless,
their music is a wonderfully upbeat mixture of hardbop and free jazz
with a four horn front line. Their music is exuberant, full of life and
humor which recalls if nothing else the gospel infused splendor of
Charles Mingus' Atlantic recordings.

Both the ensemble playing and the soloing on this record are
excellent. The band's compositions show a strong flair for irreverence
and humor. Their composition "Hepcat Revival" might be the most Mingus
like performance on the whole disc, with vocal exhortations
encouraging the soloists to take flight like the great man did on
"Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." There are some more interesting
tongue in cheek titles as well, like "Angelic and Podlike" and
"Department of Homeland Strategery" (sic).

That Dead Cat Bounce is able to keep their sense of humor without
being reduced to a parody of themselves is a feather in their cap.
This is an excellent disc by a band that deserves close scrutiny.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Reviews news:

Nate Dorward's excellent jazz reviews are available at

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Streaming Osby

Thanks to the Organissimo forum for this heads up: Blue Note's web site is streaming three tracks from the new Greg Osby live album Public, which is being released next Tuesday. Here's the blurb:

Album Info

Greg Osby - Public

Saxophonist Greg Osby has gathered an amazing all-star cast of musicians including vocalist Joan Osborne and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Public represents what today’s music is missing – spontaneous creation and improvisation without thinking too much. This ensemble has collectively produced an album of stunning standards and originals to keep you on your toes and for all to enjoy. Unbelievable group interaction with an incredibly cohesive sound, Greg and the band deliver remarkable intensity on every track.

Greg Osby: alto saxophone
Nicholas Payton: trumpet (2, 4, 6 & 7)
Megumi Yonezawa: piano
Robert Hurst: bass
Rodney Green: drums
Joan Osborne: Vocals (track 7)

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Short takes:

Yesterday I downloaded the new Chris Potter and Ben Allison discs from Itunes – for the princely sum of $16.63 I was able to get both discs. I’ll have full reviews shortly, but they both sound great, Allison’s is more focused on composition and arrangement (as befits the leader of the Jazz Composers Collective) and the Potter disc features him as a soloist, especially on a ripping version of Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle.”

2004 may go down in rock and roll circles as the year of the comeback. I’ve already blogged a little about the impressive live shows that the reunited Pixies have put on, but now comes an even more improbable comeback. The Boston punk band Mission of Burma was an underground legend during their brief run in the early 1980’s. Health problems and personality disputes led the band to breakup, but last year after more than 20 years apart, the band came back together for a brief but highly lauded tour. They then went into the studio and recorded an album entitled OnOffOn of all original material, which against all odds stands up well when compared to the music of their 80’s heyday. The same snarling punk rock with highly intelligent lyrics are there, but if anything is different, it seems that there’s a touch of humor to the band’s recent music this time and an enjoyment in playing that these musicians didn’t have the first time around

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Sunnyland Slim – Slim’s Shout (Prestige, 1969)

Sunnyland Slim was one of the premier piano and organ players on the Chicago scene during it’s heyday in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Hooking up with the soon to be legendary R&B tenor saxophonist King Curtis, they recorded this classic blues album with jazz record producer Rudy Van Gelder in his New Jersey studio.

As great as the music is on this disc, what really stands out is the songwriting. Slim works deep within the blues tradition but never surrenders to it’s clichés. He’ll approach taboo subjects and take a look at lyrical matters from a different angle. Take for example “The Devil is a Busy Man” in which the devil is off collecting the souls of all of the fallen women that have gone wrong.

Sunnyland also handles standard material with flair, as an easy rolling version of Leroy Carr's classic song “Baby How Long” and and wonderfully mournful version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Decoration Day” demonstrate. He slips in some more wonderfully wry tunes like “Harlem Can’t Be Heaven” where he tells you too keep an eye out for “the fat women.”

This is one of the classic records of piano blues (not to mention organ, too) and shouldn’t be missed under any circumstances. It all came together on this session, the music, the lyrics and the performances are all top drawer.

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Monday, May 24, 2004

Elmore James – Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Relic, 1992)

This is another in the innumerable series of Elmore James compilations available. It’s pretty hard to pick out a bad one, because the man made such amazing music during his peak years, which ran approximately from 1953-1961. All of his best-known songs are here, these versions are from the Fire and Enjoy labels.

The blasting guitar and bass and drums of the title track on this disc probably should lay claim to being the first rock and roll record ever waxed, the intensity level is so high. High intensity is also the name of the game in a couple of Elmore’s most famous tunes “Dust My Broom” and “The Sky is Crying.” On all tracks, James’ slide guitar and anguished vocals are featured with bass and drum support.

Some of the other standout tracks on this collection include the humorous “Twelve Year Old Boy” and the blasting version of “Shake Your Moneymaker.” This is a solid one-disc collection of a fertile period of Elmore James’ career. The Rhino release The Sky is Crying may be a more effective career overview for those new to his work, but this is a solid choice as well.

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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Can't wait for Thursday!

Benefit Jazz Concert
THURSDAY - MAY 27, 2004 -- 7:30 pm
The Matawan Regional High School Band Department is having a benefit jazz concert with an all-star band, featuring some of the greatest jazz artists :

Kenny Barron - piano
Steve Turre - trombone & shells
Russell Gunn - trumpet
Stefon Harris - vibraphone
Russell Malone - guitar
Mathew Parrish - bass
Anne Drummond - flute
Myles Weinstein - drums

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Morning Mix: set the mp3 player on "random" and let it rip!

Artist/Group - Song Title - Album - Genre

Pernice Brothers - Waiting for the Universe - Yours Mine Ours - Rock
Don Preston - I Love You - Transformation - Jazz
Champion Jack Dupree - Junker's Blues - New Orleans Barrellhouse Boogie - Blues
David Murray - Flowers For Albert - Acoustic Octfunk '93 - Jazz
Grant Lee Phillips - Lily a Passion - Virginia Creeper - Rock
Sun Ra - Nuclear War - Live at Praxis '84 - Jazz
Alan Silva - Skillfullness - Skillfullness - Jazz
Sun Ra - We Travel the Spaceways - Live at Hackney Empire - Jazz
Joel Frahm - Oleo - Don't Explain - Jazz
Dr. John - Back by the River - Mo' Scoscious: A Collection - Blues
John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillen - The Classic Early Years 1948-1951 - Blues
Muddy Waters - Appealing Blues - The Golden Anniversary Collection - Blues
Grateful Dead - Samson and Delilah - The Closing of Winterland - Rock
Van Morrison - Not Supposed to Break Down - The Philosopher's Stone - Rock
Grateful Dead - Drums - Fillmore 2/12/69 - Rock
R.L. Burnside - Bad Luck and Trouble - Burnside on Burnside - Blues

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A couple of interesting articles:

The Atlantic had an article from the always interesting Francis Davis about Wayne Shorter focusing on his last two albums, but also looking at his career as a whole. An excerpt:

Shorter was the most emulated saxophonist in jazz, and arguably the most influential composer, from the early 1970s straight through the 1990s—but you wouldn't know it from his spotty output over those thirty years, during which his early work only loomed larger the further he strayed from it. He was everywhere, but somehow never quite there.

The Newark Star-Ledger had a very positive review of a recent concert by Chris Potter. An excerpt:

There are few tenor saxophonists in jazz, few artists on any instrument, for that matter, who can play with the invention, poise and vigor that Chris Potter offered on Tuesday at the Village Vanguard.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

From the New York Times...

May 19, 2004
Elvin Jones, Jazz Drummer With Coltrane, Dies at 76

lvin Jones, whose explosive drumming powered the John Coltrane Quartet, the most influential and controversial jazz ensemble of the 1960's, died yesterday in Englewood, N.J. He was 76 and lived in Manhattan and Nagasaki, Japan.

Mr. Jones's death, which came after several months of failing health, was announced by John DeChristopher, director of artist relations for the Avedis Zildjian Company, maker of Mr. Jones's cymbals. Mr. Jones continued to perform until a few weeks ago, often taking an oxygen tank onto the bandstand.

Mr. Jones, a fixture of the Coltrane group from late 1960 to early 1966 and for more than three decades the leader of several noteworthy groups of his own, was the first great post-bebop percussionist. Building on the innovations of the jazz modernists Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, who liberated the drum kit from a purely time-keeping function in the 1940's, he paved the way for a later generation of drummers who dispensed with a steady rhythmic pulse altogether in the interest of greater improvisational freedom. But he never lost that pulse: the beat was always palpable when he played, even as he embellished it with layer upon layer of interlocking polyrhythms.

The critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Mr. Jones's significance this way: "His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group."

But if the self-taught Mr. Jones had a profound influence on other drummers, not many of them directly emulated his style, at least in part because few had the stamina for it. None of the images that the critics invoked to describe his playing — volcano, thunderstorm, perpetual-motion machine — quite did justice to the strength of his attack, the complexity of his ideas or the originality of his approach.

Elvin Ray Jones was born in Pontiac, Mich., on Sept. 9, 1927. The youngest of 10 children, he was the third Jones brother to become a professional musician, following Hank, a respected jazz pianist who is still active, and Thad, a cornetist, composer, arranger and bandleader, who died in 1986.

He began teaching himself to play drums at 13, but he had lost his heart to the instrument long before then. "I never wanted to play anything else since I was 2," he told one interviewer. "I would get these wooden spoons from my mother and beat on the pots and pans in the kitchen."

After spending three years in the Army he joined his brothers as a fixture on the busy Detroit jazz scene of the early 1950's. As the house drummer at a local nightclub, the Bluebird Inn, he worked with local musicians like Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Burrell as well as visiting jazz stars like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

In 1956 after briefly touring with the bassist Charles Mingus and the pianist Bud Powell, Mr. Jones moved to New York, where he was soon in great demand as an accompanist. He occasionally sat in with Miles Davis, and he later recalled that Coltrane, who was then Davis's saxophonist, promised to hire Mr. Jones whenever he formed his own group. In the fall of 1960 Coltrane made good on that promise.

Working with Coltrane, a relentless musical explorer, emboldened Mr. Jones to expand the expressive range of his instrument. "My experience with Coltrane," he told the writer James Isaacs in 1973, "was that John was a catalyst in my finding the way that drums could be played most musically." He in turn influenced Coltrane, Mr. Jones's ferocious rhythms goading Coltrane to ecstatic heights in performance and on recordings like "A Love Supreme" and "Ascension."

Coltrane's quartet helped redefine the concept of the jazz combo. Mr. Jones and the other members of the rhythm section, the pianist McCoy Tyner and the bassist Jimmy Garrison, did not accompany Coltrane so much as engage him in an open-ended four-way conversation. Audiences found the group's intensity galvanizing, and many critics shared their enthusiasm.

But despite its popularity, the group divided the jazz world. John Tynan of Down Beat magazine dismissed its music as "anti-jazz," and others agreed. Mr. Jones's drumming, a revelation to some listeners, was dismissed by others as overly busy and distractingly loud.

Mr. Jones left the group in March 1966, shortly after Coltrane, as part of his constant quest for new sounds, began adding musicians. Although he never publicly explained why he left, he was widely believed to have been insulted by Coltrane's decision to hire a second drummer.

Mr. Jones spent two weeks with Duke Ellington's big band and briefly worked in Paris before returning to the United States, where he formed a trio with Garrison, who had also recently left Coltrane, and the saxophonist Joe Farrell. That group was short-lived, but Mr. Jones continued to lead small groups for the rest of his life. Over the years many exceptional musicians passed in and out of the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, as the ensemble came to be known in all its various incarnations, and the group performed regularly all over the world and recorded prolifically.

Mr. Jones's survivors include his wife, Keiko, who also managed his career and composed several of the pieces in his band's repertory, and his brother Hank.

Mr. Jones came to see it as his mission to offer training and experience to promising young musicians, and in recent years he gave early exposure to budding jazz stars like the saxophonist Joshua Redman, the trumpeter Nicholas Payton and the trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. A particularly noteworthy addition to the Jazz Machine lineup in the 1990's was the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, John's son.

Mr. Jones was also a tireless proselytizer for an instrument that he believed was too often maligned and misunderstood. "I played a job in a bar once as a young man," he told his fellow drummer Lewis Nash in a 1997 interview for Down Beat. "One of the customers came up to me and said, `Hey, make some noise.' What he really meant was that he wanted me to play a drum solo. So that is a general perception, and that way of thinking still exists."

"People never understood," he continued, "that the drum is a musical instrument."

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Sad News...

Jazz Drummer Elvin Ray Jones Dies at 76

NEW YORK - Elvin Ray Jones, a renowned jazz drummer and member of John Coltrane's quartet who also played alongside Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, died Tuesday. He was 76. Jones died of heart failure in an Englewood, N.J., hospital, said his wife of 38 years, Keiko Jones.

He's happy. No more suffering," said Keiko Jones. "He's been fighting for so long."

Jones, called by Life magazine "the world's greatest rhythmic drummer," was born in Pontiac, Mich., one of ten children. He had two musician brothers: Hank, a jazz pianist, and Thad, a trumpet and flugelhorn player.

Jones entered the Detroit jazz scene in the late 1940s after touring as a stagehand with the Army Special Services show Operation Happiness.

After a brief gig at the Detroit club Grand River Street, he went to work at another club, backing up such jazz greats as Parker, Davis and Wardell Grey.

Jones came to New York in 1955 for an unsuccessful audition for the Benny Goodman band but stayed in the city, joining Charlie Mingus' band and making a record called "J is Jazz." In 1960, he became a member of John Coltrane's quartet.

Jones, with his rhythmic, innovative style, became one of jazz's most famous drummers under Coltrane. He can be heard on Coltrane's "A love Supreme" and "Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard."

After leaving the Coltrane quartet, Jones briefly played with Duke Ellington and formed the Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine. He put out several solo albums and continued to tour, including last month in Oakland, Calif., Keiko Jones said.

Besides his wife, Jones is survived by a son and a daughter.

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Sun Ra – Live at Praxis ’84 (Leo, 1985)

This double disc set (apparently a three record deal in it original incarnation) presents the Sun Ra Arkestra at an interesting point in their career. The core of the band had been together for many years, soloists like John Gilmore and Marshall Allen had been with Ra since the 1950’s, but their was also an infusion of new blood into the band from the likes of trumpeter Michael Ray. At this point, Ra was beginning to look back on his career with a little bit of nostalgia and some swing and popular standards began to enter the bands set lists along with the familiar odes to space and the sections of freer improvisation.

The concert does in fact open with an intense free improvisation by Gilmore on tenor saxophone as if to say that the band will not go quietly into the night. The first set is made up primarily of Sun Ra material including with the riotous “Nuclear War” with the chanted chorus when they push that button, your ass gotta go! Other warhorses from the bandbook include “Fate in a Pleasant Mood” and a medley of “Space is the Place” and “We Travel the Spaceways.” All of these have sections of chanting vocals mixed in with improvisation from the full band and soloing from individual members.

The second set is where Ra and the band start to pull out songs from the earlier history of jazz and popular music, starting with a version of “Mack the Knife” complete with growling vocals. Versions of “Over the Rainbow,” Ellington’s “Satin Doll” and “Days of Wine and Roses” follow before the band kicks back into their regular repertoire for the big finale of the Arkestra epic “Enlightenment.”

Unlike several of the other live records to come from the group in this period (not to mention innumerable bootlegs) this one is pretty well recorded, and that fact along with the diverse set list and solid soloing and ensemble playing make this an attractive set for those with an interest in the man from Saturn’s later period.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Art Ensemble of Chicago – Americans Swinging in Paris: The Pathe Sessions (EMI, 2003)

Americans Swinging in Paris brings together two Art Ensemble of Chicago sessions which were recorded in Europe during the late 1960’s This was an extremely fruitful period for the band. Like many American musicians, members of the group left the United States for a couple of years to take advantage of the performance and recording opportunities available in Europe.

The first album included here is Les Stances a Sophie which has the Art Ensemble augmented on the first track “Theme de Yo-Yo” by the soulful vocals of gospel and soul singer Fontella Bass, who was the wife of Art Ensemble trumpet player Lester Bowie at the time. “Yo-Yo” is an amazing amalgamation of funk, soul and free jazz that stands as one of the AEC’s finest accomplishments. The funky theme and vocals repeat throughout the song and are interspersed with some vicious free blowing.

The remainder of the music on the record follows the same line, combining free jazz with some joyous and frenetic soulful funk. There are a couple of classical variations and a couple of free pieces. The second record included on this disc was also recorded in Europe during this period and is entitled People in Sorrow. This has an altogether different feel than the first record with a somber and melancholy mood dominating the proceedings. The two improvisations feature most of the band members playing percussion as well as some funeral flute, saxophones and trumpet. There are some freer sections which are more intense, but they are few and far between and overall, most of the music has a sad tone.

Thisis a fascinating look at the Art Ensemble during one of their early peaks. From the joyful free soul of Les Stances a Sophie to the melancholy People in Sorrow, the disc covers a lot of ground and shows a number of facets of the band's music.

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Monday, May 17, 2004

Robert Lockwood, Jr. - The Legend Live (M.C. Records, 2004)

If any blues musician performing today deserves the moniker of "legend" it's Robert Lockwood Jr. He's Robert Johnson's stepson and the accompanist of equally famous bluesmen like Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller.) Lockwood has recorded occasionally during the course of his long career (he's nearly 90 years old) and this most recent record has him performing before an appreciative live audience.

The setlist is made up of standards and he plays it well. At his advanced age, his voice is no longer as strong as it once was, but his guitar playing is still as fluid and distinctive as ever. Lockwood separated himself from other guitar players in a couple of ways over the years, first by adopting a 12 string guitar as his primary instrument which gave him a different sound than his contemporaries. Also, he embraced some of the jazz music that was being played by Charlie Christian and others, incorporating complex chords and harmonies into his style of playing giving it a warmer more sophisticated feel. This can be seen here in his performance of the jazz standard "Exactly Like You" where he dips into his Charlie Christian/Django Reinhardt bag for some tasteful and elegant guitar work.

Later on in the concert, Lockwood pays tribute to his famous stepfather by performing three of Robert Johnson's best known songs, "From Four Until Late," "Love in Vain" and "Ramblin' on My Mind." Also present are a couple of Leroy Carr tunes and the standard "Sweet Home Chicago." Lockwood isn't resting on his laurels as one of the elder statesmen of the blues, Although his voice may let him down now and then, his guitar playing remains as beautiful as ever.

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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Thomasz Stanko – Rarum: Selected Recordings (ECM, 2004)

Thomasz Stanko is a veteran trumpeter from Poland who is a heavyweight on the European jazz scene, but not quite as well known in the United States. I became interested in his work because he’s frequently mentioned on the BBC’s jazz radio programs and he is highly regarded in the Penguin Guide to Jazz.

This is part of the Rarum series of collections on the ECM label, a collection of his music as it’s appeared on that label over the years. Someone on the Jazzcorner Speakeasy mentioned that Stanko’s music can be a little somber. While not exactly being depressing, the themes and tones can be quite melancholy. Stanko pays tribute to another Polish bandleader, Krzysztof Komeda, in whose band he played for a number of years in the 1960’s. Some of the most beautiful pieces on this disc come from an disc entitled Litania which contains some beautiful elegiac music.

From the Green Hill is another one of his records represented in this collection which sounds very interesting. It has an accessible lighter sound with the addition of violin. All in all, his music is quite interesting and I look forward to investigating some more of his work.

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Friday, May 14, 2004

DVD Review – Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus

This DVD, originally released in (a few) theatres in 1986 mixes interviews with Sonny Rollins and his wife and manager Lucille with live recordings from two concerts and comments from jazz critics including Ira Gitler and Gary Giddins.

The majority of the film consists of some very potent concert footage first from an outdoor concert near Woodstock and then from a special concert with a Japanese symphony orchestra. The first and most memorable piece of concert material is one of my favorite Rollins’ performances, the epic improvisation “G-Man” which lasts nearly 15 minutes. It’s one of Sonny’s most intense performances and solos – rough, fast and strong, but always melodic and beautifully in control.

The footage from Japan is from a special project, Rollins fronting a symphony orchestra and improvising over their arrangements. It’s a very interesting experiment, not the environment where I would really expect to find one of jazz’s greatest soloists, and to some extent the strings do dampen his ebullience a little bit, but he obviously enjoys the challenge.

The interviews are interesting as well. The ones with Sonny and Lucille are the most revealing as they speak about making records and his spiritual beliefs and methods of preparing for live performances. The critic interviews are a little less interesting – sort of a “talking head” portion of the program. A young Gary Giddins speaks in rapid fire sentences as his eyes dart all around, and Ira Gitler is able to give Rollins’ career some historical context.

The concert material is the most memorable. Sonny is at home at times energetic and volatile and at other lush and lyrical. He’s at the height of his powers.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, May 13, 2004

T-Bone Walker – T-Bone Blues (Atlantic, 1959) calls this “the last truly indispensable album” of T-Bone Walker’s career. While that may not exactly be the case, this disc does prove to be one of the finest slices of blues you’re likely to hear, an example of a blues musician at the height of his powers. Walker is placed in an environment where he is likely to thrive, out in front of a good rhythm section and a great group of horns where he can play sterling solos on his guitar and sing in a classy, dignified manner.

The setlist features some classic tunes including a remake of Walker’s best known song “They Call It Stormy Monday” which features some beautiful guitar work as well as a wry, world weary vocal that wrings every drop of energy from the song. There are also some wonderful instrumentals, “Two Bones and a Pick,” and “Blues Rock” which have Walker’s incomparable guitar soloing in front of the band. Another standard that deserves mention is “Mean Old World.” T-Bone works so well at a ballad tempo, never rushing the music, but pacing everything perfectly and timing his vocals and guitar breaks just so.

Walker would fall from favor a little bit toward the end of his career as rock and roll and funk began their ascendancy replacing his type of classy rhythm and blues in the r & b charts, but as this record shows, he never lost his touch.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Don Braden - The New Hang (High Note, 2004)

Don Braden is pretty well known in this area (central New Jersey), being deeply involved in jazz education and some projects with the Newark radio station WBGO. He’s got a nice mainstream tenor saxophone tone and on this disc he’s joined by Conrad Herwig on trombone, Cecil Brooks III on drums and Kyle Koehler playing the Hammond B3 Organ.

“Through the Fire” comes out swinging with a swaggering theme, drums thumping and the tenor and trombone holding down the front line over a bubbling organ groove. The theme breaks into a mellow but happy mid-tempo tenor saxophone solo. The organ solo is grooving and upbeat while the drummer keeps time on the cymbals and then the band comes back together for the theme. “Without a Song” has a strong opening from Braden backed by Herwing and the organ with a fast paced drumbeat. A trombone solo keeps the fast beat skipping through the improvisation in a blithe fashion. The organ drops in with a grinding solo over a fast cymbal beat, followed by a strong burning tenor saxophone solo from the leader and a loose-limbed solo from Brooks on drums.

“The Traveller” is a mid-tempo song with the horns stating the melody and then going into an improvisation. Braden takes a strong toned solo which is loose but always in control. He sounds great with the organ, utilizing the space within the music well and constructing solos in a very logical manner. Herwig takes a fleet and solid solo, he seems very comfortable at the fast tempo. “No Complaints” also has a jaunty mid tempoed groove. There’s a slinky organ feel with swinging drums that recalls the classic Jimmy Smith records of the past. After a strutting trombone solo, Braden takes a nice bluesy solo of his own which fits in very well with the organ accompaniment. There’s a nice extended collective improvisation of the theme at the end of the song with everybody playing in tandem.

“Wish List” finally breaks things down into an easier tempo, but not for long. After dispensing with the melody and moving on to the improvisational section of the song, Braden ups the ante, making the solo a little fireier. He has the front line to himself as the trombone lays out and there’s a great organ solo over a fast drumbeat. “Release” keeps the tempo up which seems to be where the band is most comfortable. The band takes a Blakey like groove – imagine the Messengers with an organist. “Mother’s Wish” is finally a true ballad from the group – mellow organ opening and Braden taking a slow mild solo. There’s a nice slow tempoed organ solo backed by tasteful drumming from Brooks. Braden has a beautiful tone in his saxophone for ballads, with a touch of Hank Mobley. “Code Blue” returns to the high speed tempo. There’s a steaming trombone solo followed by a fast paced tenor solo, and then the two trade fours at a fast pace. The title track ends the disc with an upbeat theme – a nice swinging sax solo for Braden, and the record ends on a very positive note.

This is an excellent disc, one that fans of mainstream jazz shouldn’t pass up. The band plays very well together as a unit and the individual improvisations and solos are first rate.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bittorent bonanza…

Neil Young – Colors on the Street

This set of concert recordings was downloaded from and features a couple of concerts from early 1989 when Neil Young was entering his renaissance period, releasing the Eldorado EP and the Freedom LP which featured his strongest material in years. The concerts begin with Young playing solo acoustic and running through a set of his standard older material like “Pocahontas,” and “Heart of Gold.” He’s joined by Ben Keith on guitar and mandolin for some of the folkier tunes like “For the Turnstiles.”

He brings out his backing band The Lost Dogs for a blasting set of rock and roll featuring some excellent songs getting their first public performances. The Japanese audience is very responsive to the material but the songs are so strong that it’s easy to see why. “Rockin’ in the Free World,” “No More,” and “On Broadway” would appear on the Freedom LP and “Cocaine Eyes” came off of the Eldorado EP.

This is a fascinating snapshot of a risk-taking musician regaining his bearings. During the 1980’s Young drifted, releasing experimental albums like Trans along with folk and country experiments like Life and Old Ways. Just when it seemed that his muse had taken him so far away that he couldn’t possibly reel it back in, he got it together and the rest is history.

Tony Williams Lifetime – Village Gate, NYC 1969

Lifetime was one of the original fusion bands with Williams on drums, Larry Young on organ and John McLaughlin on guitar. All three were alums of Miles Davis’ bands of longer or shorter duration (Young only played on the legendary Bitches Brew record) before setting off on their own. This is a truly wild recording, the band is amped up to eleven and beyond – way over the recording capacity of whatever primitive device was being used to record them, with distortion dogging the recording the whole way. Still it’s a pretty amazing recording of a band first starting to come together as a unit, figuring out where they are going (with a few train wrecks along the way.) But when they do hit it the results are impressive. Williams multiple rhythms propel McLaughlin through screaming improvisations that foreshadow the ones he would unleash on future Davis records like Jack Johnson and Live Evil. Larry Young’s droning and swirling organ fill out the sound and also supply the bass lines.

Art Ensemble of Chicago – Europe 3/21/02

This was recorded for radio in Europe probably in France or Italy, because Roscoe Mitchell makes announcements in both languages during the concert. The music starts out with a classic Art Ensemble percussion improvisation with all of the members of the band playing drums or “little instruments” for a lengthy collective improvisation. The AEC was reduced to a trio in 1999 with the death of Lester Bowie, so there is some lean saxophone trio playing with Roscoe Mitchell out in front leading the group. For some added flavor, a Malian musician joins the group for a few songs, adding an exotic flavor to the band’s sound.

Now with the death of Malachi Favors, it looks like the Art Ensemble of Chicago may finally be at the end of it’s long and fascinating road, but they have left an amazing legacy behind.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, May 10, 2004

Detroit Junior – Live at the Toledo Museum of Art

Junior gets around – he’s a Chicago style piano-pounding bluesman who comes from Detroit but records in Toledo. Further proof that the blues is the universal language is the fact that he is belting out blues and early rock and roll standards in an art museum on a piano that according to the introduction is a piece of artwork itself. A long way from the saloons of Detroit!

Detroit Junior is a bit of a throwback to the piano blues tradition of the past. Where the guitar has dominated the blues for the past several decades, in earlier times, the piano blues of artists like Charles Brown and Leroy Carr were among some of the more popular blues musicians to record, a point Elija Wald made in his book Escaping the Delta. Junior combines the mellower style of those two musicians with the percussive style of musicians like Roosevelt Sykes and Pete Johnson.

The selections on this disc range from the early rock and roll of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” combined with Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” to more traditional blues like “Key to the Highway” and “Caledonia.” This is a solid if unspectacular album of piano blues. In an era dominated by guitar histrionics it’s an interesting look back at an older era of the blues.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, May 07, 2004

Interesting article:

Playing Old Records (No Needle Required)

The traditional way to preserve old sound recordings is to play them, typically with a stylus, and then convert the sound into a file that can be stored digitally. But two physicists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California have developed a new way to preserve the contents of old discs and wax cylinders: they take pictures of the groove instead of dropping a needle into it.

The team shoots thousands of precise sequential images of the groove and then stitches the images together, measuring the shape of each undulation and calculating the route a stylus would take along the path.

"We grab the image and let the computer model what the stylus would have done if it had run through the surface," said Carl Haber, a senior scientist at the lab who led the research team in collaboration with Vitaliy Fadeyev, a postdoctoral researcher there.

The new method may be particularly important for recovering the contents of recordings that are too fragile or too damaged to be played in traditional ways. It can work on disks or cylinders that have been scratched, cracked or even shattered.

"The real excitement for me is that the method has the potential to rescue recordings," said Daniel P. Sbardella, a sound engineer at the Rodgers and Hammerstein archives of recorded sound of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. A recording could even be scanned in bits and pieces, Mr. Sbardella said, and then converted to audio files that can be edited to reconstruct the whole recording.

"The mission of a sound archive is to preserve as much sound as possible," he said, "so even if that means rescuing a few seconds that are one of a kind, it's really worthwhile."

The Library of Congress is financing research in the new method, now in the early stage of development. The library holds some of the earliest sound recordings, including many wax cylinders, said Mark S. Roosa, the director for preservation at the library. The cylinders were made of inexpensive materials and have not held up well, he said. Some of the cylinders and early Edison discs are cracked or in pieces.

"This method is going to have far-reaching impact on sound archives," he said.

Mr. Roosa predicts that the technology will one day make a dent in the enormous preservation tasks that libraries face. "We have thousands and thousands of cylinders and hundreds of thousands of discs, and we are just one library," he said.

The method involves no contact with the recording surface. After the camera does its work, image-processing algorithms take over, detecting scratches or spots of dust and deleting them. Then software simulates the stylus motion, and the results are converted to a digital sound format.

"The advantage of the method is that it is completely noncontact," extracting information from the groove by mapping the surface, Dr. Haber said. "You take these pictures and it's purely a software issue of how the recording is processed after that," he said.

Both Dr. Haber and Dr. Fadeyev came to music preservation accidentally: they are particle physicists, not music archivists. But at work they routinely use precision optical techniques to align arrays of particle-tracing detectors.

One day a few years ago, a radio program that caught their attention prompted them to consider a new application. "We heard a show on National Public Radio on the problems of preserving delicate recordings of the past," Dr. Haber said. He wondered whether the precision methods the group used for particle detectors might be of use. "Why not just measure the shape of the grooves on the surface?" Dr. Haber said, and then pose the question to a software program: what would a needle do?

The physicists began with old 78 r.p.m. discs, on which grooves run laterally, undulating in the plane of the record parallel to its surface. "So from the top down, you can see the groove profile," Dr. Haber said.

The team used a commercially available electronic camera and zoom microscope to acquire images of the grooves. But it was a slow process. It took 40 minutes to scan one second of audio, primarily because the optical tools were not optimized for the task. "It will run much faster when people use a machine built solely for scanning records," Dr. Haber said.

The reconstruction of a snippet of a 1950 recording of the folk song "Goodnight Irene" by the Weavers and Marion Anderson's 1947 rendering of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," both released on shellac discs, can be heard at For comparison, the same music can be heard there drawn from a commercial CD remastered from the original studio tape, as well as in a playback by stylus of the original shellac disc.

Recently the team reconstructed music stored on a 1909 wax cylinder. In cylinders the information is stored vertically, perpendicular to the surface. "You can't tell height when looking at it from above," Dr. Haber said, so the two-dimensional techniques used with discs would not work. Instead, the group used a scanning microscope able to measure the height for any given point on the surface of the groove.

The three-dimensional method is even slower than the two-dimensional one, and much work lies ahead to develop special machines configured to match the requirements of record scanning.

But Dr. Haber is confident that such machines will emerge, partly in response to demands for precision measurement in many fields. "We just wanted to prove in principle that optical methods could do this job," he said.

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Thursday, May 06, 2004

I had to copy a couple of Steve Coleman concerts for a trade, so I took the opportunity to listen to them for the first time in a while. I really like Coleman’s playing and the band’s framework – a mix of the complexity of bebop and free jazz with the earthiness of funk and rhythm and blues.

Steve Coleman started his career as the leader of the M Base movement with combined jazz with hip hop and r & b, but over the past several years he has moved in more of a straight ahead modern jazz direction, living in France and recording for the French outfit Label Bleu. One of the concerts I have of Coleman and his band The Five Elements is from an unknown location in 1993. Wherever the band was, they certainly made an impression – one audience member keeps yelling “Goddamn!!” after every solo, and his enthusiasm is warranted, Coleman’s alto is white hot, and his playing is complex and very fast, almost like a modern day Charlie Parker. The second concert is from 1993 also, an excellent year for the band, recorded at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Killer solos abound from the band, particularly David Gilmour on guitar and of course, the leader himself.

Of the more recent studio sets, Resistance is Futile is a two-disc set recorded live in France with the latest edition of the Five Elements, and On the Rising of the 64 Paths is a recent studio set captured early last year. Both are recommended, as is Coleman’s extensive web site, which has much information on his musical philosophy and free downloads of many of his prior albums.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Les from the Blues Blog was looking for information about Elvin Jones health status, I didn't find much but thought I'd share this short article from the Jazz Times web site:

We’ve received dozens of e-mails claiming that Elvin Jones (pictured) was dying and/or dead—all because of an e-mail sent to various places by Len Dobbin. Most of the e-mails addressed to JazzTimes about Jones were tinged with sadness, but some were filled with odd vitriol toward us for not immediately dignifying an unsubstantiated rumor that flew around Internet chat rooms and list-serves with the speed of the recent Sasser virus. Here was Lee Ann Carpenter’s charming note: “Elvin is dying and all you can write about is Diana Krall's tour schedule? Excuse me, but aren't you guys going to choke on all the fluff you produce?”
After JazzTimes cleared its collective throat and put down Kenny G’s summer concert itinerary, we contacted Adam Mansbach to set the record straight. Mansbach is the co-author of Elvin Jones' forthcoming memoirs, Different Drummer (Da Capo). He agreed to have his response to our inquiry printed at because, he writes, “I know [the rumors] are quite disturbing to Elvin and [his wife] Keiko.”

I just called Keiko after reading your email. Elvin is alive and recuperating. I was at Yoshi's with him all week, and while he was weak and has lost weight (and had difficulty playing at some points), the whole experience was, for me, tremendously uplifting: To see him walk onstage with an oxygen tank and proceed to not only play an entire set, but also an amazing fifteen-minute solo while the room was being cleared (as he did on two of the nights) was truly inspiring. Set by set, there was a lot of variation in terms of Elvin's strength -- largely due to whether or not he had the oxygen with him, which he only did about half the time. A lot of the reports circulating have seemingly been from people who only saw one set and thus didn't really get a full picture. Elvin is certainly in very grave condition, but he's still full of tremendous love -- for the music and for life -- and that, along with his many friends and loved ones, seems to be keeping him going.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Tridruga is a project of Brad Shepik's and it's a delightful excursion into European influenced jazz. Joined by accordion and bass, they create a peaceful and sad gypsy type music that one would expect to hear in a Europen sidewalk cafe. There is a nice folky feel to the music, akin to the music that was created by Stephane Grappeli and Djanor Reinheardt in the 30's and 40's. Shepik had experimented in Balkan music before as a member of the Dave Douglas Tiny Bell Trio and that experience pays off here as he creates beautiful improvisational landscapes with this trio.

I've been downloading a lot of concerts from Sharingthegroove, now that I've figured out the mysteries of bittorent. They have a lot of neat stuff up, so if you have a fast connection and a little patience it's worth checking out. So far I've downloaded a couple of Henry Threadgill concerts and a concert from Chick Corea's Akoustic Band. These are all posted on flac or shn format, so after you download them, you have to convert them to wav (and then to mp3 if you wish.)

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, May 03, 2004

Susie Ibarra – Folklorio (Tzadik, 2004)

Susie Ibarra’s new disc features the group she has been playing with for the past couple of years with Jennifer Choi on violin and Craig Taborn on piano. Also featured are guest appearances by Ibarra’s husband Ruberto Rodriguez on percussion and Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet.

“Anitos” starts the album as a stand alone composition as a percussion duet between Ibarra and Rodriguez. This composition is dedicated to the Pilipino trickster spirit and is an amazing dexterous piece of improvisation.

“Gawain” starts the Lukaby suite which makes up the majority of the disc, a suite chronicling a day in the life of a Pilipino field hand. This continues the percussive feeling with Ibarra switching to brushes for “Umaga” which brings Taborn and Choi into the mix for spare and quiet improvising. A high pitched violin mournfully plays over sad piano chords and skittering percussion. On “Marienda,” Wadada Leo Smith plays trumpet backed by the trio – improvising together particularly with Choi as they share the front line. This song uses samples of voices as part of the musical landscape. The music on this piece builds and slows dynamically. Smith was an inspired choice to sit in, as his trumpet tone which is sometimes clear and sometimes smeared fits in well with the dynamic of the band.

“Awit Sa Trabaho” has a tribal percussion opening, making way for improvising violin and very melodic drumming. Two minutes into the composition, the music settles down to an improvisation led by violin with an eastern sounding melody. The band improvises well together, taking risks but staying tight. Taborn takes a fast paced solo followed by a solo by Jennifer Choi on violin while the leader lays down a shifting drumbeat. “Ang Sayaw” has a jazzy melody with violin improvising over piano. Sad, almost Stephene Grapelli like violin, later on plucked violin and percussion shift over dark piano chords before returning to the chamber like melody. “Palengke” finds Smith improvising over plucked and then bowed violin. The two spar with each other, looking for openings in the music and dialogue.

“Paniniwala” opens with Taborn on solo piano playing gently cascading notes. This song is quiet and meditative before picking up speed. Percussion enters slowly and then the violin and piano as the three improvise together joined by Smith. The tempos shift from mid-tempo to fast with Smith’s trumpet out front. Fast time on the cymbals push the other musicians in the improvisations. “Lullaby” is a coda with weary violin and light percussion. It seems to represent the weary end of a hard days work and the end of an amazing record.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Stefon Harris – Evolution (Blue Note, 2004)

Stefon Harris is the latest of the young musicians that have embraced electric instruments and jazz fusion. This album has a very bright and produced sound, not quite slick, but I bet this band would sound even better live where they would have a chance to stretch out and really explore the music.

“Nothing Personal” kicks off the record, zipping out of the gate with organ and electric piano, vibes and multiple overdubbed keyboards coming into play. Harris takes a shimmering organ solo over organ and funky upbeat drumming. Casey Benjamin takes a very contemporary sounding alto saxophone solo. “For Him For Her” slows down the tempo a little bit, opening with marimba and electric piano – akin to the “bachelor pad” kitsch that has come back into vogue. There a beautiful flute solo by Anne Drummond which gives this track a Return to Forever feel.

“Until” has a light percussive opening with vibraphone, joined by Xavier Davis on acoustic piano, this composition has a dark, yearning tone. Harris takes a beautiful, lilting solo picking his notes very carefully. Things get funky again with “Red Bone” with a drum and electric piano opening before alto saxophone and flute join the fray. Percussion encourages a fast paced vibraphone solo. This song has a contemporary tropical feel, like something that the Caribbean Jazz Project would play. “Touch of Grace” slows things down again, with electric piano and synthesizer laying down textures for the vibes and reeds to improvise over. Gershwin’s “Summertime” is given a contemporary reading with the saxophone solo and Harris takes a solo.

“Blackout” is an up tempo piece with a fast melody enhanced by electronics. Harris takes a cascading vibraphone solo giving way to a mid tempo electric piano break. “The Lost Ones” and “King Tut’s Strut” feature electric keyboards and percussion to keep things moving.

This is a radio friendly slice of contemporary jazz. The feel of the music bears the influences of Chick Corea, Michael Brecker and Don Grolnick (the disc leads off with one of his compositions) heavyweights in contemporary jazz in the 80’s and 90’s. It will be interesting to see if Harris continues in this direction of light fusion or whether he returns to acoustic jazz.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Short takes:

Tzadik has released the first couple of discs which chronicles the John Zorn 50th birthday celebration that took place at the Tonic in New York City last year. The first release is from the Masada String Trio, which takes an interesting approach in interpreting the Masada and Zorn catalog of music. Much of the Masada catalog comes from jazz interpretations of middle eastern and Jewish folk music and the trio, made up of Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on bass and Greg Cohen on cello directed by John Zorn combine beautifully jazz, classical music and the folk tradition and make the most of the opportunity to play before an appreciative audience.

The second volume in the series is a duet performance with John Zorn and Milford Graves. This is the type of frenetic free jazz that would be expected of Zorn and those who were feeling that his saxophone playing has been underrepresented over the past few years in favor of his composing and arranging will enjoy this quite a bit. Graves keeps the rhythms changing and Zorn's tone ranges from caustic to yearning. Again, the crowd at the Tonic just eats it up.

Masada String Trio: 8
Graves and Zorn: 7

Send comments to: Tim