Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Bill Frisell – Unspeakable (Nonesuch, 2004)

Bill Frisell's follow up to his wonderful 2003 release, The Intercontenentals continues his experimental bent after several albums of country-ish Americana. This album is a collaboration with producer Hal Wilner that takes Frisell even farther from Americana, into funk and electronic music. There's a small string section on board as well, anchored by Frisell veteran Jenny Scheinman. The strings weave an intricate pattern on the elegiac ballad "Theme for Ginsberg" and play a large role on the album, particularly on the quieter tracks, where they are not drowned out by the electronics.

"Stringbean" is one of the more experimental pieces on the disc, with samples and processed guitar that Frisell improvises over accompanied by a funky backbeat. Horns including Briggan Krauss join in on the track "Alias," which sounds like an updated theme to a mod-60’s television show. It's a pretty heady mix with guitar, percussion, electronics and horns all jockeying for position, but the arrangement avoids a train wreck.

The experimentalism hits its peak in "Old Sugar Bear" with looped guitar and electronics giving way to an almost techno beat. The disc ends with the haunting "Goodbye Goodbye" which again mixes guitar, strings and electronics. Overall, this is an interesting album - while it's not quite as successful as last year’s masterpiece, it is great to see Frisell continue to break out of the country-jazz rut he was in and explore different facets of music.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, August 30, 2004

Sonny Simmons became a favorite of mine after I discovered his Warner Brothers comeback releases in the 1990’s. This interview is a few months old, but it’s an amazing and frightening story.

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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Short Takes:

Greg Osby’s web site has been updated with new mp3’s for your downloading pleasure. I listened to the set from the Jazz Standard June 1999 yesterday and it was quite good – don’t pass these up!

All About Jazz has an interesting article entitled “Nels Cline: An Intrepid Guitarist.” I just downloaded Cline’s new record The Giant Pin from E-Music, they have it months before the release date, and it’s quite good. It’s some pretty intense guitar – my colleagues in the office weren’t too happy when I was listening to it at my desk, but I enjoyed it!

Correction: John wrote in with a correction about my review of The Kinks Face to Face:

"Wonderboy" was a single in 1968, two years after Face To Face.
"Sunny Afternoon" would be considered the single.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, August 27, 2004

Albert Ayler – The Hilversum Session (Osmosis, 1964, 1999)

Albert Ayler was just starting to hit his peak as one of the legends of the avant-garde when this was recorded in the Netherlands in 1964. He was already a polarizing influence in the United States, but like so many members of the jazz avant-garde (and even some mainstream musicians like Ben Webster) he found more acceptance for his music and less racism while performing in Europe. Joining him on this session were Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums.

"Angels" kicks this off with a mournful theme played in unison, many of Ayler's melodies were based on older folk melodies giving his music a distinctive feel. The group improvises collectively and then Cherry take a brief solo before finishing the tune. "C.A.C." is more uptempo and frenetic, with an intense solo from Ayler that then interweaves with Cherry's trumpet while Peacock and Murray back up solidly from behind. "Ghosts" is one of Ayler's classic melodies, mixing gospel, folk and r&b. When Ayler began to play estatic gospel-jazz toward the end of his career, people acted appaled, as if it was beyond precedent, but it really wasn't – the roots are all here in his best known tune.

Don Cherry's "Infant Happiness" finds Ayler taking an infant-like crying solo followed by an extended improvisation by the composer. "Spirits" is another familiar Ayler song, and would be repeated many times on future albums. Ayler again gets in another intense "speaking in tounges" solo. The record ends with an unnamed tune. This one might be a little hard to find, but it's worth the search to hear what amounts to a free jazz supergroup playing at a very high level.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Kinks – Face to Face (Castle, 1966)

This album came at an interesting juncture in The Kinks career, being released between their earlier hits as a singles related band and their classic concept albums coming down the road. This album is singles related, but Ray Davies songwriting is starting to turn toward the pithy examination of postwar society and culture in England that would become a hallmark of the band’s work. Far from a mere transitional album, the record shows the band comfortable in both settings, still being able to produce dependable singles for the 45 rpm market while starting to string together their songs along a coherent theme.

“Holiday in Waikiki” and “Most Exclusive Residence for Sale” both lampoon culture in general and English culture in particular. “Wonderboy” was the designated single from the record, although it did not do as well as anticipated. The record includes some of the Kinks most snarling tunes, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” and the classic misanthropic anthem “Sunny Afternoon.” The whole album is worthwhile and started one of the most consistently great runs in rock history as the Kinks put out some of the most well crafted records imaginable from 1967-72. Sadly, people had all but stopped listening, as the Kinks music turned inward, and the music of pop culture looked outward toward psychedelia.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Ornette Coleman – Ornette at 12 (Impulse, 1969)

I was thrilled to score a mint copy of this record on E-bay (for only nine dollars!) since it’s been long out of print and one of the few Ornette Coleman records that I do not have. This album was quite controversial at the time because Ornette’s then 12 year old son Denardo was featured on drums. One of the reasons Coleman gave for using him at that age and then again on the Blue Note album The Empty Foxhole a few years later was that young Denardo was much more open to ideas and ways of playing, having no preconceived notions about music and the instrument except for those he learned from his father. Rounding out the personnel on the record were Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone and Charlie Haden on bass, Ornette Coleman plays alto saxophone, trumpet and violin.

It’s a pretty interesting record – recorded live in concert, as was Ornette’s other Impulse! Release, Crisis. It’s a shame that these haven’t been re-issued on compact disc. The leader plays beautifully on alto sax as can be imagined, but acquits himself well on violin and trumpet, instruments that he had been woodshedding with while on a sabbatical from performing. So don’t let the thought of a 12 year old drummer scare you away – if you’re a fan of Coleman’s music and have a chance to pick this up some where, do so.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Peter Bernstein

Here's a good article from the Newark Star-Ledger about Peter Bernstein and the trio he has been playing with on and off for years.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, August 23, 2004

Dr. John – Remedies (Wounded Bird, 1970)

This is a nice mish-mash of Dr. John’s favorite themes mixed up with some psychedelic rock and a heavy New Orleans influence. “On a Mardi Gras Day” leads the band on a march through the city streets with the Doctor banging our some boogie-woogie piano and the horns and the background vocals keeping the syncopated time. “Wash, Mama Wash” has almost a nursery rhyme feel, but he can’t resist turning it into something of a ribald ditty by the end. The most interesting part of the record is the side long 17 minute “Angola Anthem” which is about the prisoners plight in the Angola Prison in Louisiana – the man had done a little time in the course of his career and also Louisiana blues culture was rife with prison songs, stories and lore, so this is a natural. What makes it special is the music and the arrangement, which is heavy on percussion and work-gang like chanted vocals – it’s a really heavy vibe, but works very well and holds up throughout the entire epic song.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Here's a very interesting article entitled Muslim roots of the blues: The music of famous American blues singers reaches back through the South to the culture of West Africa. Excerpt:

Sylviane Diouf knows her audience might be skeptical, so to demonstrate the connection between Islam and American blues music, she'll play two recordings: The Muslim call to prayer (the religious recitation that's heard from mosques around the world), and "Levee Camp Holler" an early type of blues song that first sprang up in the Mississippi Delta more than 100 years ago.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, August 20, 2004

Taj Mahal – Blues With a Feeling: Best of the Private Years (Private, 2003)

It’s hard to believe that Taj Mahal’s career has stretched on for almost 40 years now. This collection covers his tenure with the Private Records label where he spent most of the 1990’s. It was an interesting decade, in which Taj took home his first his first Grammy award and continued his trend of releasing diverse blues and roots based music.

The collection kicks off with a track from the Grammy winning title track to his album Senior Blues, a soulful version of the Horace Silver classic. He tackles some other classic songs, particularly a very funky version of “Love Her with a Feeling” and a nice rendition of Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue” and a rousing version of Dave Bartholomew’s “Let the Four Winds Blow.” A couple of Taj’s own tunes get a reprise including his strutting “Cakewalk Into Town.”

Taj has moved on again – on to a new label and new adventures, especially an album of Hawaiian music released last year which confirmed his eclectic nature as a musician and as a performer. This is a very solid one disc collection of his 90’s material and is worthy of tracking down if one is inclined.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Ken Vandermark is the guest musician in the Catching Up section of allaboutjazz.com's bulletin borad and has put up some epic posts sparking wide ranging discussion.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Howlin' Wolf – His Best Vol. 2 (MCA/Chess, 1999)

This material has been issued by Chess and whatever corporate hierarchy they have been owned by many times over the years. It doesn't make the music any less wonderful, but it does make it a little more difficult to pull together a good sample of Wolf's Chess output – things get pretty confusing after a while. MCA/Chess re-issued some of their most popular blues material in 1997 with each artist getting a best of, and the more prolific musicians like the Wolf had a second volume released a few years later.

So this disc digs a little deeper into the Wolf's Chess catalog, but it's no less interesting. All of the tunes are anchored by snarling guitar of Hubert Sumlin and others along with Wolf's wild harmonica and earth shaking vocals. Some well known Wolf singles included in this collection include the slow grinding "Nachez Burnin'" and "Tail Dragger" and the blasting uptempo numbers like "Commit A Crime."

All in all it's a really solid cross-section of some of Howlin' Wolf's less well known Chess material from the 1950's and 1960's. Newcomers to the Wolf's hardcore blues are advised to check out Volume One first to get the lowdown on his best known material, but after that this disc and the music Wolf cut in Memphis for Sun Records are must haves.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, August 16, 2004

Ornette Coleman

I'm not really sure what the Big News Network is, but they are reporting that Ornette Coleman has won a large monetary prize for his career accomplishments.

Largest arts prize awarded Ornette Coleman
Big News Network.com Friday 13th August, 2004
Jazz composer and saxophonist Ornette Coleman Thursday won the largest prize in the arts field, the $250,000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.The prize, established by the late actress Lillian Gish in memory of her actress sister, Dorothy, will be presented to Coleman at an awards ceremony Oct. 14 at the Hudson Theater on Broadway. According to the Gish Prize Trust committee announcement, Coleman is being honored for ushering in a new era for jazz with his harmolodic concept that broke music away from prevailing conventions of harmony, rhythm and melody.The 2004 prize was selected by a committee of judges from several fields of the arts without any application process or competition.I am so happy for this recognition and for the light it shines on the world of jazz and all musicians working hard to be heard, said Coleman in a statement accompanying the announcement.Previous winners of the Gish Prize have been choreographer Bill T. Jones, theater director Lloyd Richards, songwriter Bob Dylan, playwright Arthur Miller, author Isabelle Allende and architect Frank Gehry.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Ken Vandermark

Vandermark sent out the following update to people on his mailing list. I couldn't find a direct link to this, so here is the full text - it's pretty interesting:

Hello Listeners-
Sorry for this late posting, was hoping to send Notes for July and August, but too much happened too quickly to keep up to date. So while having this minute while on vacation preparing for the upcoming SONORE tour in North America and the next TERRITORY BAND material, I thought I'd send this recap of the final work in the first half of 2004 and let you know about the first projects for the second half of this year.

Most of June and half of July was focused on the VANDERMARK 5 tour with ATOMIC in the United States, gigs in Canada by the V5 at the end of that tour, and the recording with Bob Weston at Semaphore in Chicago at the conclusion of that road work. The trip with ATOMIC was pretty incredible. Starting with the first concerts in Chicago on the 11th and 12th of June, each band would play a set, then a third set would take place with various combinations of musicians taken from both groups. In two weeks of shows neither band performed the same program, and in the third combinative set the lineup was never repeated- a ton of different music was heard on those nights by the members of the groups and the few audience members that could make more than one show. The VANDERMARK 5 focused on playing compositions from the new album, ELEMENTS OF STYLE/EXERCISES IN SURPRISE, and brand new pieces in order to prepare for the next recording (which took place on the 10th and 11th of July). Since the V5 had three weeks to tour the group played in a number of new places, particularly in the Midwest, which was fantastic- always great to bring the music somewhere different. Unfortunately, ATOMIC couldn't stay for the whole tour, finishing in Baltimore on the 26th. To be on the road and listen to that band play every night will be something I won't forget. Their music was open and exhilarating, and really inspired me. Everybody in that band, Haavard Wiik, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Magnus Broo, played their hearts out at every performance. And to be honest, Magnus took my head off EVERY night- so amazing to hear trumpet attacked like that. ATOMIC means soul!

The first half of 2004 meant a lot of work for the V5, a long tour in Europe in March, a long tour in North America in June/July, recording Roland Kirk material in Chicago during February, recording live in Krakow in March, recording a new album for Atavistic in July. I brought in demanding compositions and arrangements that asked a lot from all the members of the group, and as usual they delivered music of the highest order both in their interpretations of the scores and in their improvising. Thanks to all of them: Jeb, Tim, Dave and Kent. We have three shows in August, one in Chicago; one in Mulhouse, France; one in Groningen, Holland; and that's it for at least a year- the biggest break in the band's existence. I can't say that I look forward to it, but we've got to do it. The band's recording session with Bob Weston at the board felt like it was the most successful time we've ever spent in the studio. Almost every composition was a first take, the tour meant the band was incredibly prepared and we weren't burned out, the music was kinetic and inspired. I am not sure how the music will be released, too much successful music was caught on tape for one cd: two versions of ROAD WORK, one each of CAMERA, PIECES OF THE PAST, VEHICLE, THAT WAS NOW, SUITCASE, BURN NOSTALGIA, CHANCE. Maybe a double cd?

After the VANDERMARK 5 recording session I headed to Molde Jazz Festival in Norway to perform with ATOMIC/SCHOOL DAYS and FREE FALL. Haavard Wiik was the "Artist In Residence" at the festival a proved why he deserved to be so- he is truly one of the great pianists of this time period and he's not even 30 years old yet! The ATOMIC/SCHOOL DAYS concert was packed and the audience was so enthused we needed to play three encores. The FREE FALL show was the last of the first half of the year for me, now I'm in the middle of a month break from performing. The time is being spent resting and studying, getting ready for the second half of the year, especially the composing necessary for the TERRITORY BAND-4 project which takes place in Chicago during the September. In the first part of that month the reed trio, SONORE (Peter Br√∂tzmann, Mats Gustafsson, myself), goes on tour in North America. Our tour in Europe last October was one of the highlights of 2003 for me, and I expect this chance to bring our music to this side of the ocean will one of the highlights of this year. We‚ll be be traveling by van with Amos Scattergood who will drive and record the shows, and probably a dozen saxophones and clarinets. Check the web site for the itinerary, the full tour will be posted shortly!

In July the DUAL PLEASURE 2 was released by smalltownsupersound. A double cd of live and studio performances made by Paal Nilssen-Love and myself in Oslo last fall. I think the music could be fairly described as EXPLOSIVE. Plans are in the works for a European tour next spring, I will keep you posted! In time for the SONORE tour and the TERRITORY BAND-4 performances Okka Disk will be releasing two new albums by those groups, NO ONE EVER WORKS ALONE by SONORE and MAP THEORY (as a double cd) by the TERRITORY BAND-3. The music for the SONORE cd comes from the last concert of our European tour in October, 2003, in Cologne, Germany. MAP THEORY was recorded in September of 2002 and I am extremely happy that this music is being released now and in time for the band getting back together for more work.

Keep your eyes and ears posted on the site, new music and new texts are set for release, most of which can't be found anywhere else. I will be starting a new set of communications on the COLLABORATIONS section called Postcards, short updates of ideas and events from the road. Lastly, check out the ALL ABOUT JAZZ web site, I will be the artist in residence for the month of August, posting the column Defining Terms and answering questions. Look forward to seeing you when I return to concerts later this month, wherever you are!

Until then, keep listening-
Ken Vandermark, August 8, 2004.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, August 14, 2004

There's a very cool write-up about the upcoming Alice Coltrane (!) album at the Verve web site. Here's an excerpt:

Translinear Light is Alice Coltrane’s first recording in 26 years, since she withdrew from active performing and recording in the late ’70s to open an ashram and devote herself primarily to spiritual pursuits. If she had never made another recording, she still would have a lofty place in the jazz pantheon, as a gifted pianist and organist, as the pianist in her husband John Coltrane’s final band and last recordings, as a pioneer on the harp in jazz, and for her own legacy of penetrating albums that continued the lineage of musical/spiritual exploration that John Coltrane began in his later recordings.

Send comments to: Tim
It looks like sharingthegroove.org is back up and running after a prolonged absence due to technical re-furbishing. There's much jazz and blues to be downloaded through STG and other sites like EZ Torrent. If you're interested in bittorrent, here's a FAQ on how to get started.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, August 13, 2004

Mephista - Unknown Location 5/15/03

Mephista is a band featuring one of my favorite drummers, Susie Ibarra, along with Ikue Mori on electronics and Sylvie Courvoisier on piano. I've been curious about their music for a while, but I haven't been able to track down their disc, so I was happy to get this concert in a recent trade.

Their music is quiet, patient and open spaced for the most part, proving that music doesn't have to be loud to explore and be experimental. Bubbling electronics play off against piano and light percussion. The music grows slowly with intensity, you really need to have a lot of patience with this music which demands and rewards close listening - an audience recording of a concert doesn't really do justice to the sonic textures the band is creating.

Susie Ibarra is a wonder throughout, using both sticks and brushes to create a variety of rhythms and textures that flow within the context of the electronics and piano. The level of group improvisation is high with each of the musicians attuned to one another as they sculpt their improvisations. I'm really looking forward to checking out their CD, this is a fascinating band.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Ginger Baker & Sonny Sharrock - Geneva 3/19/87

This one really piqued my interest when I traded for it recently, and it lived up to it's billing, being avery interesting set. Baker lays down a bunch of different rythyms accompanied by African percussion while Sharrock improvises over the top of it. If you think it would turn out to be like an old Cream type jam, think again - while Sharrock is certainly grounded in the blues, it is the estatic saxophone of atrists like Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane that are his primary influences, and especially in the sections where chanting vocals fill in between the guitar and percussion this recalls classic Sanders records like Karma and Thauid.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Courtney Pine - Devotion (Telarc, 2004)

Upon first listen, I really liked this CD, but the bloom fell off of the rose rather quickly. On the upside, Pine sounds great - he has a deep, strong tone on tenor saxophone and a fluid sound on soprano. What holds things back on this disc are the arrangements which range anywhere from slick r&b experiments to smooth ballads with vocals. When Pine has a chance to stretch out and play he does well, particularly on the Indian influenced "Translucence" where he is placed in an exotic setting of sitar and electric instrumentation. Overall, the music is too scattershot to really be effective, it's as if he tried to include all of his diverse musical interests in one record. Pine is an admirably multifaceted musician, but the attempt to include everything leads to a lack of coherence in an otherwise promising disc.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Here's an interesting article from the Newark Star-Ledger from a few weeks ago about saxophonist, composer and educator Ralph Bowen. Here's an excerpt:

Ralph Bowen, the former Horace Silver saxophonist and associate professor of music at Rutgers University New Brunswick, is what jazz musicians appreciatively call a "monster." Particularly on tenor saxophone, but also on soprano, he boasts a virtuosic technique and a winsome sound, and he can be as inventive and compelling a soloist as you'll find.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, August 09, 2004

Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (Palmetto, 2004)

This is Fred Hersch’s second album for the independent label Palmetto and his lush music seems ideally suited for them. Coming off the success of last years Live at the Village Vanguard, Hersch adds tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and trumpeter Ralph Alessi to the rhythm team of Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits and heads into the studio. The horns add some wonderful accents to the music without breaking the mood of Hersch’s often romantic piano.

The romanticism of Hersch’s piano playing really shines through on the group’s cover of The Beatles “And I Love Her” which is well suited to a rich ballad interpretation. “Black Dogs Pays a Visit” changes things up as a bass heavy tune with a lot of soloing which slowly builds into a rhapsodic piano trio and then finally adds the horns dramatically to reach an improvisational crescendo. The horn solos throughout fit in well within the course of the music. Hersch’s music is normally trio related so you may think that the other instruments would be extraneous but this is not so, they are fully integrated into the band as Malaby’s solo on “Lee’s Dream” and Alessi’s beautifully stentorian playing on “A Riddle Song” aptly documents.

This is a very thoughtful and well played disc of modern jazz that both respects the past glories of the music and also looks unflinchingly into the present and the future. Here’s hoping that Palmetto provided Hersch with more opportunities to record with challenging and supportive musicians.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Dr. John - N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda (Blue Note, 2004)

Dr. John heads back to his old stomping grounds of New Orleans for another foray into music rich with Crescent City standards, voodoo queens, potions, curses and all of the other folklore that makes the city and its culture what it is. This time he's joined by a few special guests on some tracks like Willie Nelson and B.B. King.

All together, it's a pretty good record if a little long, overstaying its welcome by clocking in at over 70 minutes. Dumping some of the tracks especially the orchestral arrangements that bookend the disc would have trimmed the fat and made the music a little leaner, but there are still pleasures to be found here. Dr. John contributes his funky brand of piano (and a little organ too) and sings in his usual congenial growl. The standards are radically re-arranged – it's interesting to hear the Doctor forgo the usual boogie posture and slow "When the Saints Go Marching In" to a mournful crawl. He also enlists the Dirty Dozen Brass band to keep the brass flavor high on "Saint James Infirmary." The collaboration with B.B. King works well, but the one with Willie Nelson doesn't quite fill the bill, with the older country legend sounding flat and out of place.

You get the feeling that Dr. John could play this type of New Orleans music in his sleep, so it would be nice to hear him experiment with the format a little bit like he did in his classic early records like Gris Gris when he was combining the New Orleans tradition with blues, rock and psychedelic music. But until then this provides an adequate summation of Dr. John's traditional songbook.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Allaboutjazz.com has an interesting article about the late-period music of John Coltrane's carreer entitled Circling Om: An Exploration of John Coltrane's Later Works. Here's an excerpt:

Elvin Jones left John Coltrane's group in January 1966. A couple of months afterwards he declared: “At times I couldn't hear what I was doing - matter of fact, I couldn't hear what anybody was doing. All I could hear was a lot of noise.” But, shortly after Coltrane's death in July 1967, Jones defended the saxophonist's late music: “Well, of course it's far out, because this is a tremendous mind that's involved, you know. You wouldn't expect Einstein to be playing jacks, would you?”

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, August 06, 2004

Marilyn Crispell – Storyteller (ECM, 2004)

This is an endearing album full of quiet and thoughtful trio music with Crispell on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Each member of the trio contributes compositions to the record. The music is low-key and heartfelt, which may be something of a surprise coming from a musician like Crispell who has been influenced by the likes of Cecil Taylor and spent many years playing in the bands of Anthony Braxton.

The music is quite beautiful and haunting, with each of the performers hanging on every note. The depth of feeling in the music, like a late night mystery is captured beautifully by the ECM engineers, who often come under criticism for the so called "ECM sound." Whatever that sound may be, it is perfectly suited for music like this, where each member of the trio is allowed space to breathe.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Tim Berne's Big Satan – Souls Saved Hear (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

Tim Berne takes a break from the Science Friction band that he has been working with over the past couple of years to bring back the "Big Satan" group where he's joined by Marc Drucet on guitar and Tom Rainey on drums. The music is very complex and intricate, but remains accessible for the most part due to the nearly telegraphic interplay between the members of the trio. The first track of the disc is an example of the level of interaction between the musicians, starting off with an almost gentle guitar solo before morphing into a complex and frenetic jazz improvisation.

"Deadpan" kicks off with a nearly funky drum solo before Berne's pinched alto saxophone and Drucet's nimble guitar enter the fray. Drucet even drops in a fuzz-toned guitar solo recalling Sonny Sharrock which keeps things moving along briskly, before the music moves back into a torrid collective improvisation… hardly deadpan at all! "Mr. Subliminal" has some solo Berne before the band joins back in and then the disc ends on an interesting note with the electronically processed "Plantain Surgery."

Although it can be a little bit difficult to follow with all the twists and turns, this is a rewarding album and another feather in the cap of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. The electronics are subtle, so those who haven't been too happy with some of the label's other "jazztronica" projects but still have an ear for free jazz and fusion may find much to admire here. Many of the compositions proceed at a break-neck pace and do not have the traditional melody-solos-melody improvisational structure. But repeated and listening will reveal a wealth of fine and intricate musicianship.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Jenny Scheinman – Shalagaster (Tzadik, 2004)

Jenny Scheinman plays the violin and has been on the creative music scene for several years now, but she really burst forth into the jazz consciousness over the past couple of years by recording and playing high profile gigs with Bill Frisell (she was an integral part of his superb Intercontinentals disc form last year), John Zorn and others. On this latest CD, she is joined by Myra Melford on piano and harmonium, Russ Johnson on trumpet, Trevor Dunnon bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Scheinman also composed all of the songs.

The music is an interesting mix of folk and ethnic music along with modern jazz composition and improvisation. Having a heavyweight composer and pianist like Melford on board ensures that the music will not become static. Her piano is particularly rhapsodic and beautiful on "American Dipper (M)" where she mixes dark chords in with a beautifully flowing improvisation to invoke sorrow and mystery. The harmonium that Melford uses on occasion is an interesting touch as well, giving the music a slightly gypsyish flavor. The leader's violin is also capable of invoking differing emotions throughout the course of the disc, from the playful and sprightly "Wiseacre," to beautiful nostalgia on "Tango for Luna" and then matching Melford's intensity with a scalding solo of her own on "American Dipper (M)."

This is an interesting and diverse album of music that should appeal to many open eared music fans. The music is diverse without being scattered and intense and emotional without being too draining. While Scheinmann is associated with the downtown free jazz crowd to some extent, she should not be pidgeon-holed because this disc shows considerable depth and breadth in both her composing and instrumental ability. She strikes out on an original path and it pays off in a very nice album.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Wilco – A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch, 2004)

Wilco leaped into the public consciousness with the trials and tribulations over their previous album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There was much drama and intrigue with this record as well, as Jeff Tweedy went through various emotional and substance problems related to the making of the new album. The music is still experimental, but the electronics and synths are toned down in favor of guitar based feedback explorations. Several tracks on the album have snarling guitar solos either embedded in them or placed at the end. "At Least That's What You Said" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" rock out harder then the band has in a while – while the experimental electronic structures of Yankee were interesting, I always had the feeling that they were also being restrained by them. "Less Than You Think" actually takes this idea a step too far by tacking on a 12 minute feedback experiment to the end of the track.

It's great that the band is still experimenting and looking for new directions, but this might be a bit much. Perhaps that's why Tweedy recruited experimental jazz guitarist Nels Cline to play with the band - an experienced improviser who can mold the bands free form ambitions into something recognizable instead of the more schizophrenic aspects of this record where that bands ingrained pop sensibility comes up against their urge to strike out for new terrain. And make no mistake, the pop music that has always been at the core of their music is still evident here in tunes like the bizarre "Hell is Chrome" and the album ending "The Late Greats." It's an good disc, more interesting than the overrated YHF but still leaving territory to be explored in future albums if the band can hang together.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, August 02, 2004

Allaboutjazz.com has a new interview with the Vandermark 5 - Here's an excerpt:

Although The Vandermark 5 bears his name, Ken Vandermark is practical enough to realize V5's success should be credited to members Jeb Bishop, Tim Daisy, Kent Kessler, and Dave Rempis. For it is their commitment and loyalty that allows V5 to be a seasoned quintet unlike any other in modern music. V5's popularity obscures musical genres, cultural boundaries, political divides, country borders, limits of age, to command consideration from post-Cold War Yugoslavia to the bright lights, big city of Chicago. Yet debate continues among critical and elite circles of V5's “jazz” worth. The iconic Albert Ayler's responded to knee-jerk reaction to his approach, “It's a new truth now. And there have to be new ways of expressing that truth. I believe music can change people. Our music should be able to remove frustration, to enable people to act more freely, to think more freely.” And perhaps that is V5's (unedited and in their own words) progressing legacy, not as free jazz, but as freedom, an idea that has become as cryptic as the word “jazz.”

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