Friday, December 31, 2004

White Stripes - Under Blackpool Lights DVD (V2, 2004)

This is The White Stripes first officially released concert DVD, and it captures the entirety of a concert in England from the 2003 Elephant tour. The cinematography is a little self-consciously "indie" and the the film is left with a grainy and raw quality, much like the band's music.There are a couple of different cameras used on stage and then few shots from handheld cameras in the audience.

The music itself is excellent, Jack and Meg have really hit their stride performing live. Whereas some of their earlier performances had a jumply hyperactive quality, they have now learned to pace their material for dramatic effect without losing any of the raw energy that makes them so exciting. Highlights are many, but of particular note are Jack's slide guitar playing on Son House's immortal "Death Letter Blues" which also works in the House classic "Grinnin' in Your Face" as well. Leadbells really inspires the band and they take great pleasure in performing "Boll Wevil Blues" as the set ender. Original material shines as well, from the bluesy grind of "Ball and Biscuit" to the relative tranquility of "Apple Blossom." All in all, a superb performance and highly recommended to fans of garage rock.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

More year-end lists

Newsday has a list of Gene Seymour's favorite jazz CDs in addition to some pop and rock lists:

Lots more women on my list this year than usual. And they're not all singers, either. What to make of it? Just say for now that it's a very good thing to see. In any case, it's nowhere near as surprising as the fact that Keith Jarrett (my jazz musician of 2004, by the way) made this list for the first time and that I actually have a Marsalis brother to single out for special praise this year.

Also, the venerable New York Times has it's best jazz list, which is coming under heavy fire at the Jazzcorner Speakeasy for their conservative choices. A much more interesting list comes from the Village Voice.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Top Ten Non - Jazz

Mission of Burma – On Off On: A punk band comes back from a 20 year layoff and makes music equal to or better that the music of their youth – are you kidding me?

Libertines – (self titled): Pete Doherty’s drug problems had the band on the edge of extinction the whole way, but they still manage to hold together for another excellent album.

Franz Ferdinand – (self titled): Punk goes pop, and this is my guilty pleasure of the year.

Elvis Costello – Delivery Man: I originally wrote this off as another one of Elvis’ genre experiments, but happily it’s a blasting country rock album. A couple of dead spots on the ballads, but overall it’s a winner.

Joe Louis Walker – New Direction: Joe Louis Walker may just be the most consistently great bluesman of his generation. While this album may be titled New Direction, the music remains a mix of gutbucket blues and deep soul - the patented Joe Louis Walker sound.

Jody Williams – You Kept Me In the Dark: Ever since coming out of retirement a few years ago this former Howlin’ Wolf sideman has become a force on the blues scene.

The Blasters – Live (Going Home): Traditional rock and roll at its finest, a couple of guitars, bass, drums and a horn section… what more do you need?

Wilco – A Ghost is Born: I think the unexpected addition of experimental guitar hero Nels Cline was the real difference in improving the band’s reach over the overrated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The Black Keys – Rubber Factory: Scalding blues rock from this great duo. Greasy, stripped to the bone and raw.

Futureheads – (self titled): Another punk-pop band out of England, riding in Franz Ferdinand’s wake, but possibly even more talented.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 27, 2004

Top 10 Jazz 2004

10. Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost

Too big with dodgy sound and superfluous material, it's still a fascinating artifact of Ayler's development in a live setting. From warped bebopper to free jazz Messiah to gospel r&b this is quite a package.

9. The Bad Plus - Give

A moldy fig's worst nightmare, The Bad Plus continue their mix of jazz and pop, creating an acoustic fusion all their own.

8. Dead Cat Bounce - Home Speaks to the Wandering

An out of left field disc, this creative group from Boston keeps alive the swinging bluesy jazz that Charles Mingus' groups made famous.

7. Sam Rivers - Celebration

Recorded just prior to his 80th (!) birthday, Rivers switches effortlessly between tenor and soprano sax, flute and piano. The ageless one.

6. Fred Hersch - Fred Hersch Trio + 2

After years of playing solo or trio formats Hersch hooks up with a couple of horns and proves that his lyrical, thoughtful style of piano is comfortable in any setting.

5. Dave Douglas - Strange Liberation

Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell seemed like a match made in heaven and the music bore this out. Not a polite meeting of leaders, this disc had a true group feel to it.

4. Chris Potter - Lift

Chris Potter adds his name to an impressive array of musicians who have made their mark at the Village Vanguard.

3. Marilyn Crispell Trio - Storyteller

Beautiful, haunting piano music. Crispell and her colleagues play music that is crystalline and elegiac but never maudlin or sentimental.

2. Don Braden - The New Hang

Braden's New Hang is pretty close to his old hang. If there was any saxophonist today who was meant to play with a groovin' organ trio, he is it. At any tempo from cooker to ballad, the group just nails it.

1. Susie Ibarra - Folkloriko

When I saw Susie Ibarra's trio in concert a few years ago I know they were on the verge of something great and this proves it. Portraying the day of a Filipono laborer in music, the music is exploratory and deeply moving.

Honorable mention:

Jenny Scheinman - Shalagaster
Branford Marsalis - The Steep Anthology
Cecil Taylor & the Italian Instabile Orchestra - The Owner of the Riverbank
Spaceways Inc. VS. Zü - Radiale
Vincent Herring - Mr. Wizzard
John Scofield Trio - EnRoute: Live
Greg Osby - Public
David Murray - Gwotet
Vandermark 5 - Elements Of Style, Exercises In Surprise
Myra Melford's The Tent - Where the Two Worlds Touch
Andrew Hill Jazzpar Octet + 1 - The Day the World Stood Still
Charles Mingus - The Great Concert Of Charles Mingus
Tim Berne's Big Satan - Souls Saved Hear
Thelonious Monk - Monk 'Round The World
Geri Allen - Life of a Song
Grachan Moncour III - Exploration
Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte's Groundtruther - Latitude
Bill Frisell - Unspeakable
Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts - Wake Up! (to what's happening)
Sam Rivers/Adam Rudolph/Harris Eisenstadt - Vista
Alice Coltrane - Translinear Light
Larry Young - Of Love and Peace
Jimmy Smith - Retrospective
Peter Brotzmann - Medicina
Nels Cline Singers - The Giant Pin

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Son House - The Original Delta Blues (Columbia 1965, 1998)

This was part of Columbia/Legacy's endless recycling of their back catalog. Actually, it's pretty slick marketing (before the so-called "year of the blues," no less) to bring together pithy one disc collections of the best known blues musicians on their roster and then put them out for a bargain price. Son House was one of the most famous of the original bluesmen, the one who had a young Robert Johnson sitting at his feet to learn from the best.

Young white scholars and musicians like John Fahey traveled through the south in the early 1960's searching for the music of the pre-war blues and the men and women that made it and one of the musicians that they helped to prominence on the folk blues circuit was Son House. House hadn't recorded for more than 25 years when this music was committed to tape in 1965, but you would hardly know it. Of all the "rediscovered" musicians, Son House was the one who kept the most passion of his earlier music, whether it be the a capella of "Grinnin' in Your Face" or "John the Revelator" or the intense slide guitar of "Death Letter" and his own epic "Preachin' the Blues."

While these may be a touch behind the epochal recordings House made in the 30's and 40's, they have their own special magic. It's ironic that although Johnson gets all the print, his mentor has had the last laugh with one of those rare "second acts" in American music.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Interesting Articles

The New York Times has an interesting article where they sent a reporter to listen to some CD's with Wayne Shorter:

Mr. Shorter, 71, may get oracular in his everyday conversations, but jazz musicians are often this way, to one degree or another. And while there is no better way to find out what's going on in their music than to ask, you have to find the right way in. Talking about music objectively, while not listening to it, is to superimpose one form over another: it pits the literary or critical endeavor against the musical. Asking a creative musician pointed questions about his discography can be dull, and asking him about the implications of an interval that he has written, or a solo he has improvised, can be nearly rude: he didn't make it to talk about it, he made it to play it.

And Fred Kaplan of Slate Magazine lists his favorite jazz records of the past year:

It was a good year for jazz recordings. Yes, sales continued to slip, a few more labels shut their doors, and the next John Coltrane or Charlie Parker—some genius-messiah who transcends all boundaries and pushes jazz to a startling new level—failed, once again, to materialize. Still, young musicians scaled new heights, elders renewed their spirits, and, in the reissue bins, forgotten masterworks returned to astonish us.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, December 24, 2004


Recent bittorret downloads have included a White Stripes concert from Chicago from 2002. It’s a typically solid set of garage rock from Meg and Jack, who will hopefully have a new album out in 2005. There is a new concert DVD that was just (officially) released. I was very excited to find a Chris Potter video CD for downloading. It looks pretty good although I’ve been saving it for when I have time to watch it straight through. It features a very interesting band including CraigTaborn and Wayne Krantz. Finally, a rare show from blues legend Mississippi John Hurt – this was a real find, I’ve never seen any of his material available for trading or downloading before. It’s a wonderful concert of is intricate finger-picked guitar and gentle vocals.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 23, 2004

NPR on Fat Possum

NPR ran a story over the weekend about the Fat Possum blues and roots record label:

Fat Possum Records, based in Oxford, Miss., is an independent label founded as a platform for gritty bluesmakers R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. But as the label's artists have grown old and some have died, NPR's Jesse Baker reports on a shift to a new generation of blues-oriented alternative rock.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Sad Blues News

Chicago blues musician Son Seals has passed away:

Blues singer-guitarist Son Seals, one of the most distinctive voices to emerge in the genre during the 1970s, died Monday in Chicago of complications from diabetes. He was 62.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Otis Rush – Ain’t Enough Comin’ In (This Way Up, 1994)

This was my album of the year for 1994, so revisiting it brought back fond memories. Otis Rush hadn’t recorded in nearly ten years when this album was cut, and there were whispers that he was past his prime. Not so by a long shot – Rush, who had cut classic upon classic in the mid to late 1950’s had put together a checkered record of albums since then, but this brought it all together for this project – scalding guitar work, soulful vocals and a tight band with a killer horn section.

The album itself is a finely produced mix of up-tempo burners and mournful ballads. On the up-tempo front, there is the swaggering re-make of Rush’s classic “Homework” featuring some killer horn work and the swinging “She’s a Good’un” while the slow tempoed songs allow him to really stretch out with some beautiful single-line guitar playing and deeply emotional singing on songs like “My Jug and I” and the heartbreakingly intense “As the Years Go Passing By.”

This is one not to miss if you can find it, since I’m not sure if it’s still in print. Rush’s epochal 1950’s sides stand as some of the finest electric blues ever made, but these don’t stand too far behind, as an example of an older and wiser musician who still has a lot to say.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 20, 2004

Albert Ayler Holy Ghost Review

I found the review of the Holy Ghost boxed set in the New York Times by Ben Ratliff that I alluded to yesterday, here's the full text:

JAZZ musicians are often mythologized, but in the case of the tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, the effect is so extreme that he has become an abstraction, swathed in Baptist-church language, the revolutionary rhetoric of the mid-60's Black Arts movement, and hot-palmed record-collector desire. ''Holy Ghost,'' a new boxed set of his work put out by the Revenant label, is his worshipful monument.

It is a black plastic box containing nine discs, a partial facsimile edition of an issue of ''The Cricket,'' the magazine of which Amiri Baraka was one of the editors, and an oblong, hardcover, 208-page book of essays and data, tracking Ayler's life up, down and sideways. There are copies of a snapshot depicting the prepubescent Albert with saxophone and of a flyer from the nightclub Slug's along with a real pressed flower in a plastic sleeve. It feels funereal, like something that should be buried with the body. Or mutely symbolic, like some totem in a dream.

Ayler himself seems like dream material. In 1970, at 34, he was found drowned in New York's East River -- it's still unknown whether it was suicide -- after practicing eight years of a kind of jazz stripped of all its niceties, its complex rules of harmony and rhythm. As much as he loved Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker, he apparently had no desire to learn how to improvise through chord changes, the most basic obligation of a jazz saxophonist.
So his songs, and his improvisations, finally tended to use basic, major-triad harmony. Anthems, hymns and marches often use major triads, too, and thereby he cracked a secret: he figured out a way to make music that sounded ancient and somehow inevitable.
The box set's accompanying book repeats one story, over and over again, with different names and places. It is about Ayler, in his early performing years, eagerly sitting in on a bandstand, following along for a few bars of the standard material the band is playing. (It's ''Moanin''' in one anecdote, ''How High the Moon,'' in another, ''Billie's Bounce'' in a third -- but it doesn't matter.) And then Ayler explodes, in some mixture of rapture, one-upmanship and free-tonality improvisational zeal. He shrieks and cries through his instrument, and uses his one professional refinement -- a big tone and vibrato learned from playing in R&B bands. The other musicians, or the promoter, or the fans drop their drinks, or stalk off stage, or drag Ayler away.

It sounds like an exaggeration, an idealization, some kind of special pleading. Or, again, like a dream: stepping up to a practiced bandstand and offering primitivism instead of professionalism is a little like the one about showing up to school with no clothes on. But Ayler probably knew why he was there; both his ruckus and his melodies make historical sense. He was under the trance of Ornette Coleman's first records, sensing the possibilities in jazz of looser tonal relationships, stronger folk elements, and wilder playing. He had been playing marches for three years, with the 76th United States Army band in Orleans, France. And he was -- perhaps -- starting to come undone with religious visions.

Ayler's acquaintances report that he talked a great deal about ''the truth'' and ''holiness.'' He insisted that the music is out there, and musicians are just vessels. ''You think it's about you?'' he once asked Amiri Baraka, after reading his appraisal of someone-or-other's jazz. He spoke about visions, and once wrote them down in a letter to Mr. Baraka: ''The Devil angel thrives off of uncleanliness, curse words, blasphemy and discord.''

Ayler wasn't naive. He was creating some crossing-point of gospel and shock, art-brut flung up to God; his technical ability may have been rudimentary, but he had a killer sense of how to spook jazz bohemians of the early 1960's down to the core. Even in jazz, there can be something beyond technique -- some intuitive form of style -- and Ayler had it.
The producers of ''Holy Ghost'' have prowled the margins of Ayleriana to put out material that isn't well-known and protected by license. The best of Albert Ayler? To me it is ''Spiritual Unity'' (1964, ESP); ''The Hilversum Session'' (1964, Coppens); ''Albert Ayler Live in Greenwich Village'' (1965-67, Impulse). What they've found isn't all good; with such slender technique, there are no guarantees. Let's say you are a Type-B Ayler appreciator, someone who doesn't actually feel that he was the Holy Ghost. How do you work through it?
There's some instructive juvenilia here: on a bonus disc, rehearsals of his Army band in 1960, with Ayler soloing ineptly during the big band standard ''Leap Frog.'' There's a chilling recording of the concentrated little set Ayler played at Coltrane's memorial. And there are two entire discs of Ayler being interviewed. He's all sweetly credulous enthusiasm: his speaking voice exposes him. The conversations provide more details -- his parents' illnesses, his pay scale ($10,000 for his final Impulse contract), endless homilies about the challenge to the avant-garde artist in society. But if you can get through them, someone should devote a nine-disk box set to you.

This Type-B Ayler appreciator really only wants to hear the best of the 1965-1967 period, when Ayler moved from a free, liquid concept of group improvisation toward the sound of a band repeating his national-anthem-like melodies, over and over and over, in a kind of fractured unison. There's a surfeit of it here, much of it with muffled sound.

And please, save me from the original demos behind the album ''New Grass,'' his 1968 album of spiritual R&B cut with reputable session players -- a record ultimately compromised by Impulse Records, which hired singers and musicians against Ayler's plan. But the demos here show that the album didn't start promisingly, either.

Here's the good news. At the end of disc one, and for nearly all of disc two, we get a sense of how Albert Ayler spent 1964. This is the music that approaches a state of grace. It is his trio with the bassist Gary Peacock and the drummer Sunny Murray, and they play the most extraordinary music: it begins with and returns to little motifs, but is essentially free jazz, a very early example of the real thing -- long, exploratory solos of shapes and texture with no determined key, players moving in and out of a running stream.

And here's where I will join the mythmakers: these three musicians are in a trance. They make light, dancing music -- Sunny Murray, in particular, made his cymbals sound like running water. (Around this time, he was seen onstage using knitting needles for sticks.) Mr. Peacock played all over his instrument in almost random patterns, coming down on a fat, resonant low E once in a while. But there is space in the music: if free jazz often suffers from an oppressive density, don't blame these father-figures.

Here, there's nothing gratuitous about Ayler's saxophone language. As he demonstrates in ''Saints,'' he believed that there could be such a thing as a free-improvisation ballad. He doesn't clonk you over the head with what would become his sure tactics: volume, repetition, or the hint of old-time religion. That he played music on such a high level, then hardened it into a routine and finally lost his way, seems the saddest and most real story; much of the rest of the book of Ayler feels like apocrypha.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A couple more articles...

The first is from the New York Times, about the boxed sets that have been realeased for the holiday season. I don't remember seeing their review of the Ayler set, I'll have to search the archives:

Throughout the CD era, record labels have delved into their archives to create boxed sets for musicians well known and obscure. Now they're digging deeper, not just for hits and album tracks, but for outtakes, concert recordings, rehearsal tapes and hotel-room demos. Where a boxed set used to sum up a career, now it's just as likely to be an alternative history of musicians' second thoughts and might-have-beens. Here, the pop and jazz critics of The New York Times review notable boxed sets of three CD's or more. Other major boxed sets, including collections of Nirvana and Albert Ayler, were reviewed earlier this year.

Here is an interview with Esbjörn Svensson, leader of the Swedish jazz trio E.S.T. by Josh Weiner of

Pianist Esbjörn Svensson leads the Swedish group EST, one of the most exciting and original piano trios in jazz today. They've been playing together for over 10 years, an extraordinary length of time for a jazz lineup, and have known each other much longer than that.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Thanks to John for sending me this cool picture of Albert Ayler - this is also featured in the book that comes with the Holy Ghost boxed set.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Pharoah Sanders Article

There's in interesting article about Pharoah Sanders by Jennifer Odell on, here's an excerpt:

But with Sanders, it's not quite that black and white. His improvisation is based on a carefully learned language, and academia is in his blood. Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., both of his parents taught music for a living. After high school, Ferrell (his given name) studied art and music at Oakland Junior High. When he came on the New York scene in the early '60s - known as “Little Rock” after his hometown - Sun Ra took an interest in his style and took him under his wing, where another kind of education ensued.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Velvet Underground - Live at Max's Kansas City (Rhino 1972, 2004)

This was recorded during Lou Reed's final stand with the group, a residency at the famous New York club in the summer of 1970. At this point only Reed and Sterling Morrison were left from the original band, with John Cale leaving a few years before and then Maureen Tucker leaving to raise a family, Doug and Billy Yule took over on bass and drums respectively. This was originally released as a single record from bootleg quality audience recordings and the re-release adds another disc of music and cleans up the audio a little, although the barfly chatter still overwhelms the group at points.

The first disc is the strongest of the two, holding most of the uptempo proto-punk songs that made the band famous (and infamous.) Opening with raucous versions of "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "White Light/White Heat" the band still shows a lot of energy even though Reed was clearly looking toward a solo career at this point. Three songs from thier final studio album Loaded appear on the first disc, notably the rock anthem to be "Sweet Jane."

Disc two slows things down a little bit with some of the ballad material the band recorded over their brief history. Reed and the band were capable of some beautiful ballads but sequencing five in row does tend to bog down the proceedings a little bit. That said, it's interesting to hear Reed try to wrap his New York croak around two Nico ballads, "I'll be Your Mirror" and "Femme Fatale." Things pick up at the end and the group rides off into the sunset appropiately enough with a second version of "Lonesome Cowboy Bill."

It's interesting to hear a cleaned up and expanded version of this record, and the liner notes are quite interesting too, setting the early 70's New York scene quite well. This set is really aimed at fans and rock historians however, and newcomers looking for a slice of the band at it's peek are advised to seek out the excellent two disc "1969 Live" recorded at verious venues on a tour the previous year.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ken Vandermark Tour Diary

Ken Vandermark has posted the most recent entry in his tour diary. It's a wonder this guy ever gets a chance to rest given all of the touring and recording he does. Here's an excerpt from the diary:

London. Days off- reading, walking, writing, checking out the Tate. Trying to remember all that's happened since the end of October FME sessions... The fall has been an amazing recording period. In September SONORE live on tour, and the newest version of the TERRITORY BAND documented in Chicago. In October the last three concerts by Paul Lytton, Philipp Waschmann, and myself during our European tour were recorded- hoping the tapes sound good enough for a release, the music was incredible. Then Oslo for the FME "cave sessions," new material for a new album.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 13, 2004

Jazz in the Times

There have been a couple of interesting articles about jazz in the New York Times recently. First, a review of a Jenny Scheinman concert from the Tonic. I really liked her most recent CD and it's in the running for my top 10 which I am feverishly trying to compile. The second is a quick round-up for some jazz DVD's recently released, including Branford Marsalis' "A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam" which I blogged about a while back.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Keith Jarrett – Impulse Recordings 1973-74 (Impulse, 1997)

These Keith Jarrett recordings are in the form of a five disc collection released by Impulse in the late 1990’s. This is Jarrett’s so-called “American” quartet with Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone and musette, Charlie Haden (a veteran of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet) on bass and Paul Motian on drums. With the success of Jarrett’s “Standard’s Trio” in the 1990’s and beyond, people may not realize that he was a prolific composer and bandleader in the 1970’s with a large number of excellent records for the Impulse label writing for this explosive group, that mixed the intensity of free jazz with the structure of modern compositional techniques.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, December 10, 2004

Albert Ayler – Holy Ghost Disc 6 (Revenant, 2004)

Disc six kicks off with the Ayler band recorded at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival. The announcer introducing the band clearly doesn’t know what to make of the group, but they are well represented here with this pristine recording. A medley of “The Truth is Marching In” and “Omega” introduces the Newport crowd to some of Ayler’s familiar folk themes and the crowd takes it pretty well. “Japan” is a very interesting track – where the group has previously mined American folk and gospel, this branches out into an oriental theme which has a great delicate sound. “Our Prayer” ends their performance with a more typical blowout, mixing the free improvisation the band was known for with the spiritual music they were exploring.

Albert Ayler sits in with Pharoah Sanders’ group on “Venus” which is very interesting because it is one of the 20-minute spiritual dirges that Sanders was doing during this period. Their interplay is fascinating since they were considered two of the more “out” saxophonists of the period it’s interesting to compare the two in a live performance. A poorly recorded but poignant medley of “Love Cry” and “The Truth is Marching In” is included from John Coltrane’s funeral.

Finally we move into the truly bizarre, unreleased recordings from Ayler’s final period, where he was experimenting with vocals and pop song formats. The first recording of an untitled blues is OK, Ayler’s deep tone works well in an R&B context. But when he starts preaching on “Untitled Sermon” and singing on the mind-bendingly awful “Thank God for Women” things really go bad. I’m usually a staunch defender of late-period Ayler, but this is too much! When he’s not singing, things are OK, he’s playing the blues… but the lyrics are doggerel. Then end is a scatted version of one of his classic themes entitled “New Ghosts” which showed some promise for his vocals, but not much.

Send comments to: Tim
New issue of Downbeat

The new Downbeat is a bit of a strange proposition. It’s a “collector’s edition” in which they reprise some of their most famous (and infamous) articles and reviews of the past – I guess it beats paying writers for new copy! But seriously, there’s a real Ken Burns-ian sense of “jazz as a museum piece” with an issue like this.

Yes, they do have their best of 2004 CDs in this issue, a list of the four to five star reviews from the previous 11 months, but it seems like a missed opportunity to be celebrating the 1950’s and 60’s when 2004 saw its own share of excellent recordings. It is important to honor the noble dead for their achievements, but I think it is event more important to write about the living musicians who are working to further the music and keep it a progressive, forward thinking artform.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost Disc 5 (Revenant, 2004)

Disc five has a couple of explosive live performances from Europe in 1966. The band on this tour was Ayler tenor and soprano saxophones, Donald Ayler trumpet, Michael Smason violin, Bill Folwell bass and Beaver Harris drums. First from the Berlin Philharmonic we get a medley of "Ghosts" and "Bells" that stays pretty close to the original folk themes. "The Truth is Marching In" struts in with its fanfare theme before blasting into an improvisation. "Omega" is fascinating, nearly all melody, it’s a near-classical composition with a soft beauty that the band wasn’t really known for. It wouldn’t last - Don Ayler’s "Our Prayer" is one of the most violent improvisations in the entire box, or in the canon of jazz for that matter.

We move to a concert in Holland for the remainder of the disc with the same group. "Truth" gets another go-round with an intense violin solo leading into frenetic group improvisation. Ayler and Harris lock into an almost Coltrane/Jones mind-meld before the rest of the group comes barging back in. "Bells" enters with a shrieking cacophony led by Donald Ayler’s fire-spitting trumpet followed by a scraping violin solo, drum solo and then the horns re-enter for a full-speed run to... nowhere. They have a complete meltdown and the music grinds inexplicably to a halt.

Undaunted, the martial theme of "Spirits Rejoice" begins linking bowed bass and violin to nearly classical horn lines. There is some beautiful melodic interplay here between the horns and violin as Samson had become an integral part of the group by this point. What is fascinating about this performance is how the band is able to hold it’s fire and milk the most out of the melodic material that is available with quite a bit of restraint. The heavy lifting kicks in with the final track of the performance where fast group improvisation is built around a swirling violin solo.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Odds and Ends

There's a nice article in the Newark Star-Ledger in praise of Clark Terry, and for what it's worth, the Grammy nominations are in. You have to scroll way down for the Jazz and Blues nominations.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 06, 2004

The blog of the British Magazine Jazzwise has a short article about Wynton Marsalis' soundtrack to an upcoming documentary film by Ken Burns about the life and career of boxer Jack Johnson. Yes, that's the same Jack Johnson that inspired Miles Davis to make one of his finest fusion albums as... the soundtrack to a documentary film! The world is indeed filled with strange coincidences, however, I don't expect Marsalis to use loud electric guitar and Fender Rhodes piano on his soundtrack. Wouldn't it be something if he did... naah!

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Charles Mingus – The Great Concert of Charles Mingus (Verve 1964, 2004)

This concert from 1964 in Paris has been released many times both legitimately and as a bootleg. It’s a classic performance that actually lives up to its billing with one of the greatest Mingus ensembles: Eric Dolphy and Clifforn Jordon on saxophones, Jaki Byard on piano and Dannie Richmond on drums. Trumpeter Johnny Coles was a member of this band, but fell ill before this performance and is not included here.

“ATFW” short for Art Tatum – Fats Waller begins the concert with an example of Jaki Byard’s piano artistry as he moves through stride, swing, bop and everything in-between. “So Long Eric” brings out the entire band for a tribute to Dolphy who was preparing to leave the band to embark on a solo career in Europe. Starting with the fanfare like theme, Clifford Jordon gets a deep burning tenor saxophone solo followed by piano. Dolphy enters with an ebullient solo of his own and after that Richmond and Mingus trade fours at the end of the tune. “Orange was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk” gets a very Ellingtonian feel with swinging solos from Jordan and Byard before Dolphy loops in with a solo that instantly modernizes everything.

“Fables of Faubus” begins with the great mocking theme followed by a long tenor saxophone solo – after that the whole band kicks back in with a burning group improvisation. The Duke Ellington composition “Sophisticated Lady” is a bass feature for Mingus who improvises deeply on Duke’s beautiful melody. “Parkeriana” is a medly of Charlie Parker songs and sets Eric Dolphy loose on an amazing improvisational flight, and Jordon not to be out done, digs deep into his bebop bag on a lengthy solo. The horn players lay out for Byard’s solo which starts out with fleet bop before breaking into a stride interlude to the delight of the audience. Dolphy re-enters and solos again, really showing that his music was the logical extension of Parker’s music of the 40’s and 50’s.

The concert ends with a long performance of Mingus’ “Meditations (On Integration)” prefaced by a spoken introduction by the leader before the sad melody begins. Beautiful solos abound from Dolphy’s bass clarinet to Mingus’ deeply felt bowed bass solo. This was really a landmark performance and it’s good to see it widely available. The whole tour was widely bootlegged, so hopefully some more of this amazing music will be rescued and officially released.

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Friday, December 03, 2004

A New Look at New Grass

Here's an interesting article by Trevor MacLaren from AAJ taking a look at Albert Ayler's controversial Impulse! release New Grass. MacLaren also told me in an e-mail that he is trying to put together a petition to send to Verve to get them to release the remaining out of print Ayler albums of which this is one. It's a worthy cause, so keep an eye out for it. Here's an excerpt from the article:

If there is one word that is poison in the minds of jazz fans and critics, it's sellout. If any musician, for whatever reason, decides to change their sound in a way that could be considered commercial, they have committed the deadliest of sins. So many debate and whine over whether an artist is a sellout, but really, what the hell difference does it make? None. If a record is great, it's great.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Bittorrent Boogie

Still more shows becoming available for downloading on’s bittorrent site. There’s been a lot of Miles Davis posted recently and I downloaded a couple of them. First off is a concert from Belgium in 1967 which has the classic lineup of Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. The sound quality is a little sketchy in spots because this concert has been cobbled together from several sources, but it’s still a reminder of how potent this band was and how far they had progressed since even the Plugged Nickel concerts of a few years before. The band is even more aggressive with Miles spitting fire and Wayne Shorter swirling in an elliptical fashion around the melodies. It’s interesting to hear the band leave behind a lot of the popular songbook that they had relied upon in the past for material in favor of the compositions that they had been recording on records like ESP and Miles Smiles. So, in this concert, were treated to versions of the Shorter classic "Footprints," and "Agitation" among others.

The other Miles concert I downloaded was also from Belgium, but from 1971 and hence a whole different animal than the previous one. This is full out electric Miles with Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett (!), Michael Henderson, Mtume and Jack DeJohnette. The sound quality is pretty rough with over amplified electric bass drowning out a lot of the subtleties of the music, but still what comes through is a reinvigorated Davis playing step-for-step with his younger sidemen over a blistering electric funk groove. Bartz’s pinched, bluesy alto fits right in with the wall of percussion created by DeJohnette and Mtume. If anyone it a little out it’s Jarrett whose organ and electric piano never seem to be comfortable in the mix. Shortly, Jarrett would leave and swear off electronics forever and Miles would drop the keyboards (except for his own organ playing) in favor of another guitarist. This doesn’t pack the punch of the recordings form the Cellar Door on Washington, DC that would make up the majority of the Live-Evil release, but it’s still a great archaeological discovery.

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