Monday, February 28, 2005

Quick reviews...

I'm trying to come to grips with all of the music I've been spinning and spare people some of the multi-paragraph "state the obvious" reviews I've done in the past.

Dexter Gordon - Doin' Allright - This is a fine Dexter Gordon LP, the first in his excellent run of records for Blue Note in the 1960's. Joined by Horace Parlan and Freddie Hubbard, the band roars through a fine blend of bebop and ballads. The highlight is a lengthy twelve minute version of "Society Red."

Otis Rush - Mourning in the Morning - This album by the great blues guitarist won't make anyone forget the classics he cut in the 50's but despite a few mis-steps it's a worthy spin. The long simmering "Gambler's Blues" was made for Otis allowing his with his deeply emotional voice and guitar spinning a harrowing story. The record ending "Can't Wait No Longer" is a true flop however, attempting to pair Rush up with female backup singers in a psuedo-soul nightmare.

Joe Henderson - Double Rainbow - This came at the end of Henderson's Grammy winning run with Verve, and is one of the most relaxed and melodic recordings he ever made. It's fascinating to go back and lisen to the Blue Note records he made at the brginning of his career and hear the jagged edge he was playing with at the time and compare it to his mellower more patient tone here. Regardless, this Jobim tribute is quite beautiful with wonderful spare arrengements for Henderson on tenor backed with guitar, bass, piano and drums.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Interesting Articles

The New York Times has another one of their lengthy "Listening to CD's With" articles posted, this time Ben Ratliff listens with guitarist Pat Metheny:

My proposal was that we listen together to a few pieces of music (not his) that affected him strongly. It could be any music: the point wasn't desert-island endorsements or a strict autobiography of influence; it was to talk about how music works. I had defined "a few" as three, or even one long piece, like a whole record. But Mr. Metheny took the challenge seriously.

Francis Davis has an interesting article about a couple of new releases on the Cuneiform Label that has actually raised some hackles on the Organissimo foum in a thread called "Francis Davis on Don & Miles, Still A Dipshit After All These Years." I have to say that I think that the thread starter is a little over the top with his rant, I have always found Davis' criticism to be pretty well researched and even-handed.

Whereas Upriver, the third double CD by Yo Miles!, the ad hoc jam band led by Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith, reversions (reverts to?) post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis, Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind, the debut CD by Gary Lucas and Phillip Johnston's Fast 'n' Bulbous, treats Captain Beefheart to boisterous, full-scale version-a-ning, raising a curious point about tribute albums in the process—you can enjoy the better ones without being all that keen on the honoree.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, February 25, 2005

Dave Holland Big Band – Overtime (Dare2/Sunnyside, 2005)

After leading one of the most popular and innovative an ensemble in jazz for a number of years now, Dave Holland has made the leap to form his own label Dare2 Productions distributed by Sunnyside records. This is quite a step, considering he has been recording for the German based ECM Records for over 30 years. This sea change hasn’t affected the quality of the music one bit however, and the first release of the new venture is a big band album recorded in 2002.

Much like their previous big band project What Goes Around, this features the great quintet’s usual suspects, saxophonist Chris Potter and Steve Nelson on vibes, and there’s plenty of space for the leader to stretch out on bass. What makes this a little different is the inclusion of an extended suite of music written for the Monterey Jazz Festival in addition to the band's usual intricate compositions.

I've been really enjoying this disc. It's quite long, clocking in at nearly the full length of the compact disc, so I've been taking it a little bit at a time. There are some wonderful solos as can be expected from nearly everyone, but for me Chris Potter and Steve Nelson deserve particular kudos. Nelson is especially interesting on marimba which adds a wonderful texture to the music. The ensemble playing and compositions are first rate as well.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Quiet Numbskull, I'm Broadcasting!

Er, podcasting... Either way, the classic Three Stooges episode I alluded to above applies. OK, so I'm attempting to enter the world of podcasting. What I'm going to (try) to do is create a downloadable radio program with music and some commentary, and make it available once per week. The first "show" is available for downloading at libsyn (click on the link after where it says direct download) and then more sophisticated users can access the RSS feed.

Please send me an e-mail and let me know if you're able to download the show and how it sounds. It's pretty big, about 30 mb so keep that in mind.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cream – The Best of Cream (Atco, 1969)

This was a bargain bin find for me a while back, bringing back memories of all the British 60’s rock that was a staple (along with the Grateful Dead and Bob Marley) of the college dormitories I lived in during the in the early 1990’s. This was the first in a long line of Cream reissues and collections, gathering some of the singles the band released during their brief run and staying clear of the extended jamming they were known for in concert.

By sticking to the hits this record (supplanted on compact disc by any number of compilations) packs quite a punch in a short period of time. Selections from each of their albums is represented, including some excellent blues covers of the Albert King classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” as well as Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” and a manic high-wire version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” with Eric Clapton playing some scalding guitar and singing.

Cream was a very influential band, setting the standard for power trios in rock and roll for everyone from the Jimi Hendrix Experience onward to follow. This record is out of print, but if you are a vinyl crate-digger it can probably be found without much effort and makes for an excellent introduction to the band.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, February 21, 2005

More interesting Odds and Ends

The Organissimo Jazz Forum has been hosting an interesting discussion about tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray. It's interesting that this thread started as a celebration of Murray's 50th birthday but then turned into a spirited discussion of his ability and overall worth to the jazz community. One wag even goes so far as to call him the "Wynton of the Avant-Garde!"

The Times has an article about the auction of jazz memorabilia that has been much talked about recently:

Before the auction, jazz scholars expressed concern that many items had not been given directly to the Smithsonian or a comparable institution by the musicians' families. Scholars worried that the items would be taken out of the United States or otherwise never be made available again. (One piece, Coltrane's original arrangement for his most famous composition, "A Love Supreme," is an example. It has detailed notes in Coltrane's hand indicating that he planned five other percussionists for the piece besides his core quartet.)

They also have an article of short reviews of some recent records, including those by Ravi Coltrane and Dave Holland:

Mr. Coltrane avoids tired song structures and doesn't want to bore you. He's fascinated on one hand by miniatures and on the other by the idea of longer songs that sound like collective improvisation from start to finish. It's a record that you can point to and say: This is what jazz sounds like now in New York.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Furry records...

What's the strangest/most disgusting you've ever found in a used record? I've had bugs crawl out of one and marijuana seeds fall out of others, but this must take the cake. I scored a copy of Hasil Adkins Out to Lunch a while back and I finally got a chance to listen to it (shows how big my "listen to" stack is) and I take the record out of the sleeve and... it's covered in cat fur!

Now it just happens that I really like cats, but still, it's gross!

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, February 19, 2005

New CD’s from Sam Rivers

Multi-instrumentalist (tenor and soprano saxophones along with flute and piano) and composer Sam Rivers has a couple of new CD’s out, one under his name called Purple Violets in a quartet format and then another disc sitting in with the Canadian progressive big band NOJO entitled City of Neighborhoods. Both of these discs are very interesting and continue to cement Rivers position as one of the foremost instrumentalists of American improvised music.

Purple Violets is a small band recording that offers a lot of space for improvisation on some of Rivers original compositions as well as improvised collaborations with the rest of the group and an inspired cover of Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche.” One interesting aspect of this recording is the use of the vibraphone replacing piano on some selections. This just gives the music a different feel and it’s the first time I can recall Rivers performing with vibraphone. It makes for a very pleasing combination. Overall, this reminds me somewhat of the Blue Note recordings he made during the mid-1960’s - it is challenging music, but with enough melodic content to keep mainstream fans from getting squeamish.

City of Neighborhoods is a different animal all together. NOJO is a little big band with 8-10 pieces and they hosted Rivers on a couple of tours of Canada during 2001 and 2003. The sound is a little bit different than what you would hear on Rivers recordings of his RivBea orchestra, with a little bit of funk and blues elements thrown in as well, especially on the wonderfully titled “The Human Blockhead” where Rivers gets to take a honkin’ R&B tenor saxophone solo.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Raiding the Bargain Bin

I had a rare day off so I drove south to Red Bank, a wanna-be hip town where Count Basie was born and raised. They have an interesting music store called Jack's which has one level of music books and instruments and another level of CD's and vinyl. I didn't want to spend a lot of money, so I did a little bit of crate digging and came up with some interesting things. Now the problem with looking for used vinyl at Jack's is that there's always some gems mixed in with the utter crap and they make no effort to separate them. So, many times I've just given up after looking through too many crates of 80's hair bands and Grandma's crooners.

But to make a long story a little shorter, today I found two records by a musician who I have been curious about but just haven't gotten around to exploring that much, multi-wind instrument player and composer Yusef Lateef. The two records I found were an Impulse title called 1984 (which must have sounded quite futuristic when the record was cut in 1965) and an Atlantic record called The Complete Yusef Lateef. Ironically, this is not a compilation but the actual title of the record which according to tried to show him as a complete musician. Something that is never seen in a bargain bin is an original 60's Blue Note record. But to my amazement, here was the record Good Move but organist Freddie Roach who cut a few sessions for them in the 1960's. I could see why it was in the $1.99 bin rather than on ebay for $50 and that was some terrible water damage to the cover and liner notes. But the vinyl was in fine shape and the record was eminently playable. Sometimes record geeks do get the last laugh!

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, February 16, 2005 has a very interesting article and interview by Kurt Gottschalk with composer and mulit-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill:

”There are no scholars trying to analyze what I've done and critics certainly don't know,” he said. “Nobody gets reviews so people look at you the same way year after year after year. I could turn into Jesus tomorrow and you wouldn't know it.”

Christopher Porter has an excellent article about jazz musician Dizzy Reece and his re-emergance on the jazz scene:

But for the most part, Reece’s career has been so far under the radar that many people, tuned-in critics and musicians alike, think he has died. Ironically, Reece looks extremely healthy and vital—and he’s ready to be heard again.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A couple of interesting articles...

Here's a very nice article from SFGate about Bill Frisell (Grammy winner!) and the interesting new CD, Richter 858.

Now Frisell is touring as leader of a string quartet whose radicalism ranks with that of such mavericks as Kronos, Ethel and the Soldier String Quartet. His 858 Quartet -- which performs Thursday, Feb. 3 in Healdsburg, Friday, Feb. 4 in Berkeley and Saturday, Feb. 5 in San Francisco -- was originally formed to play music inspired by a suite of eight abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter; San Francisco journalist/poet/record producer David Breskin masterminded the project. The music, initially packaged with a limited-edition book, was recently released by Songlines as a hybrid CD with a CD-ROM program featuring the paintings.

Ben Ratliff has written an article about an interesting ensemble playing the music of Thelonious Monk.

It is seldom heard in a small group, its original format, without a piano, the instrument Monk played. The drummer Ben Riley, who played with Monk for a fertile stretch in the mid-1960's, has taken on this challenge, leading the Ben Riley Monk Legacy Septet with arrangements by the trumpeter Don Sickler.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, February 14, 2005

Stefano di Battista - Parker's Mood (Blue Note, 2005)

Italian alto and soprano saxophonist di Battista is joined on this tribute to Charlie Parker by Kenny Barron on piano, Rosario Bonaccorso on bass, Herlin Riley on drums and Flavio Bolrto on trumpet for four tracks. The liner notes make no bones about it, this is a tribute record in the truest sense of the word, some of the solos are even played note for note as transcribed from the Parker versions. So if you are looking for an interpretation of Parker's music along the lines of Anthony Braxton's Charlie Parker Project, then you'll have to look elsewhere. di Battista wants to preach the gospel of bebop as it was handed down by it's foremost apostle.

For the most part it works quite well. The music is split almost evenly between uptempo cookers and more meditative ballads. On the cooker side are numbers like the leadoff "Salt Peanuts" which is kept at a 78 RPM length 2:49. Holding firm to the original version, they keep the blasting tempo and the vocal chants as the front line alto and trumpet solo over Barron comping and the drums keeping very fast time. "Night in Tunisia" gets some wonderful Latin flavored piano from Kenny Barron who seems to be enjoying himself immensely throughout this whole disc. "Hot House" is given a very rhythm centered feel with the drums mixed up front and Barron laying out.

On the ballad side of the spectrum, "Embraceable You" is taken at a stately tempo, opening with piano along and allowing for a long piano trio interlude at mid-song. "Laura" is taken super-slow with some luscious alto saxophone over gentle piano accompaniment. Kenny Barron gets another stellar solo turn on this tune as well. While this band may not be stretching the boundaries of modern jazz with this CD, they certainly do what they set out to which is to pay tribute to the music of Charlie Parker and stay as close to the path he carved as possible. Bebop fans and admirers of Kenny Barron should definitely keep an eye out for this one.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Re-Thinking the Grammys

Maybe they're not just a complete excersise in self-indulgent ignorance after all... Bill Frisell won a Grammy, how cool is that! Possibly even more important, Maria Schnieder won a Grammy even though she released it through Artist's Share and it never appeared in stores.

Best Contemporary Jazz Album (For albums containing 51% or more playing time of INSTRUMENTAL tracks.)

Unspeakable - Bill Frisell [Nonesuch Records]

Best Jazz Instrumental Solo (For an instrumental jazz solo performance. Two equal performers on one recording may be eligible as one entry. If the soloist listed appears on a recording billed to another artist, the latter's name is in parenthesis for identification. Singles or Tracks only.)

Speak Like A Child - Herbie Hancock, soloist Track from: With All My Heart (Harvey Mason) [Bluebird]

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group (For albums containing 51% or more playing time of INSTRUMENTAL tracks.)

Illuminations - McCoy Tyner With Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, Christian McBride & Lewis Nash [Telarc Jazz]

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (For large jazz ensembles, including big band sounds. Albums must contain 51% or more INSTRUMENTAL tracks.)

Concert In The Garden - Maria Schneider Orchestra [ArtistShare]

Best Latin Jazz Album (Vocal or Instrumental.)

Land Of The Sun - Charlie Haden [Verve International]

Send comments to: Tim
Satellite Radio

There are some interesting guest hosted shows on Sirius that I have been listening to lately. On the Pure Jazz channel, Blue Note boss Bruce Lundvall hosts The Blue Note Hour on Sunday morning - a nice propaganda coup for them, but since the label has one of the deepest catalogs in jazz, there's usually something interesting going on. Today's show was the Grammy preview show, which unfortunately meant a lot of singers like Bobby McFerrin and Norah Jones which I don't particularly care for but also had some interesting instrumental tracks from Joe Lovano and Don Byron. Another Sunday show is Artists Choice hosted by Gary Burton. He gets a big chunk of time, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and plays some of his favorite recordings and talks about the musicians he knows. Finally, and on a different note, former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham hosts a weekly show on the Underground Garage Sirius station, filling in with some new and classic garage rock an also telling a lot of stories about British Invasion rock and roll. At the risk of turning into a shill, I have to say that I'm really getting hooked on this satellite radio thing, and while I'm not totally convinced that it will be able to avoid all of the pitfalls that have ruined most commercial radio, in it's present state it offers an excellent alternative.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Jason Moran – Same Mother (Blue Note, 2005)

This pianist and composer Jason Moran’s exploration of the blues. Unlike Wynton Marsalis’ rather hidebound explorations of that noble history, Moran takes a much more modern approach. Joining him on this disc are his regular mates, Tarus Mateen on bass, and drummer Nasheet Waits. The ringer on this session is the addition of guitarist Marvin Sewell who adds his urgent, earthy tone to several of the tracks.

The album moves through several different stages, from solo piano to a full blown quartet with snarling electric guitar and pounding piano out of the Ethan Iverson/Bad Plus camp. The version of Albert King's "I'll Play the Blues for You" is particularly interesting as the band navigates through the classic composition and shows just how much you can do when improvising on the blues. Highly recommended!

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, February 11, 2005

Paul Motian w/ Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano – I Have the Room Above Her (ECM, 2005)

This trio has been working together for over twenty years, nominally under Motian's leadership, but the musicianship has grown so tight and nearly telepathic that it's not a matter of ego to list all three names on the cover of the compact disc, it is entirely appropriate. This is a quiet record with all Motian original songs except for the title track. The music shies away from any flash and stark highs and lows, instead focusing on a series of meditations of the shadows and shades of grey which are available in composition and improvisation.

Lovano sounds right at home with the slower tempos, coming off of his ballad album of last year, and Motian who is a veteran of the classic Bill Evans trio among countless other ensembles has the patience and experience to shine at this tempo. He can speak volumes with a gentle brush stroke or soft cymbal playing. This spare, open atmosphere brings out some of the jazziest playing in a long time from Bill Frisell. Without his usual array of electronics (although some are used), he gets a spare and graceful tone, still steeped in Americana and uniquely his own. This is a disc that needs to be listened to and lived with for a while for the music to sink in, but the effort is worth it to hear three master improvisers communicating in a state of almost Zen state of egoless bliss.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Jimmy Smith did indeed pass away on February 8th and tributes are coming in from all over the jazz world. An obituary can be found here.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sad News

It looks like one of my all-time favorite musicians, jazz organist Jimmy Smith has died. The only word I have of this was a brief notice on Yoshi's web site: Tribute to Jimmy Smith (Mr. Smith passed away February 8.) This was originally posted by a member of the bulletin board. I'll post more information as it becomes available.

Send comments to: Tim
More odds and ends

There's an article in the Seattle Times about Herbie Hancock back out on the road with the Directions in Music ensemble including Michael Brecker and Ray Hargrove:

Directions in Music, which debuted in 2001 at Toronto's Massey Hall as a nod to John Coltrane and Miles Davis and won two Grammys in 2002, could have been just another yawner tribute band. But in fact, it is a taut, scintillating ensemble in the white-heat modal style of the late '60s. In concert, especially, it brings out the best in Hargrove.

The new issue of Downbeat is actually quite interesting, featuring a lead article about the collaboration between Pharoah Sanders and Kenny Garrett as well as a collaboration between organists Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco. Also, there are some pretty well written reviews of Jason Moran's Same Mother and I Have the Room Above Her by Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell including a rare 4 1/2 star nod from DB arch-curmudgeon John McDonough.

Finally, saxophonist and composer Brain Patenaude has scheduled the CD release party for his new disc Distance at the WAMC concert space in Albany, NY on March 19th:

Distance CD Release Party Saturday 3/19 @ WAMC Performing Arts Studio's Linda Norris Auditorium (8pm) 339 Central Ave., Albany, NY - (518) 465-5233 Ext. 4 featuring: George Muscatello (g), Ryan Lukas (b), Danny Whelchel (d) w/s/g Dave Payette (p & fr)

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Jeff Parker – The Relatives (Thrill Jockey, 2005)

Jeff Parker is a mover and shaker on the Chicago improvised music scene, best known for his role as the guitarist in the post-rock ensemble Tortoise. This is his second solo album and he’s joined by Sam Barsheshet on electric piano, Chris Lopes on bass and other sundry instruments and Chad Taylor on drums. The music has a mellow and enjoyable vibe anchored by Barsheshet’s electric piano which gets a starring role on most of the tunes.

“Istanbul” begins the album with something of a Tortoise like feel that is a slinky groove which Parker is able to improvise over with a nice clean Grant Green-ish tone on his guitar. “Mannerisms” bumps things up to a funky groove with some fine Fender Rhodes piano accents and a steady pulse from Taylor. There is a little more life on songs like this then there is on most Tortoise records, which while always good sort of become aural wallpaper after a while. The improvisation on this record keeps it from receding into the background. “Sea Change” has a more rapid guitar figure to open and with time being kept on the cymbals. Parker gets a bit of a flamenco feel on his solo, especially on the strummed sections.

The only cover on the disc is a funky one of Marvin Gaye’s “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.” The electric piano gets things moving with a groovy 70’s like feel which Parker joins with a mix of strumming and single line playing over a straight-ahead bass and drums pocket. Barsheshet really shines on this song with some excellent soloing. Chris Lopes picks up the flute on “Beanstalk” to add a bit of a different flavor to the proceedings. The mix of electric piano and flute gives things a Return to Forever feel.

“The Relative” gets a little more abstract with some rumbling bass and subtle electronics which Parker lets simmer for a while before he joins on guitar over some hand percussion and electric piano. This song moves into a couple of different sections with a suite-like effect. “Toy Boat” brings things back to the funky realm with some Grant Green inspired electric guitar, very patient and well paced over a shimmering electric piano backdrop. The disc ends with “Rang,” beginning with a drum and electric piano duo – the piano plays repeating notes while Taylor improvises below it gradually building tension. Parker finally joins the fray and leads the band into a group improvisation.

This was a successful CD, although it may be a little brief clocking in at a vinyl-length 40 minutes, the music never outstays its welcome and the songs are well thought out and pithy. The quartet plays well as a whole, but special kudos must go out to Barsheshet’s superb electric piano and Parker’s clean Grant Green inspired guitar. If you are a fan of Green or Tortoise or of well played Fender Rhodes piano, this CD is recommended.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, February 07, 2005

John Coltrane – Selflessness (Impulse, 1965)

This is a bit of a mix and match Coltrane LP with a couple of tracks from the Newport Jazz Festival (since added to the CD release of the split disc New Thing at Newport) and the lengthy title track (since added to the CD release The Major Works of John Coltrane.) I picked this up while doing a little bit of vinyl shopping – the cover looks like somebody ran it through a lawnmower, but amazingly the vinyl was near pristine.

The live tracks are from the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival with Roy Haynes filling in for Elvin Jones and taking up the entire first side of the album is a 17 minute version of the Coltrane standard “My Favorite Things.” While this song hadn’t reached the epic 45 minute stage it would toward the end of his career, this version is still quite intense, filled with swirling soprano saxophone from the leader and forceful piano from McCoy Tyner. Also included is version of the Billy Eckstine song “I Want to Talk About You.”

The most interesting track on the album is the title track which finds the “classic” quartet in the studio augmented with some extra musicians. This is right around the period where Coltrane was starting to investigate free music and the added musicians on the track give him much more of a percussive world-music oriented groove to solo over. The addition of Pharoah Sanders to the band also added much added energy. This may not be their most accomplished piece of music but as an example of a visionary musician in a transition from one phase of his career to another, it is very interesting to listen to.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Odds and Ends

I finally took the plunge and bought a Sirius satellite radio for my car. One of the advantages of Sirius is that you can also stream all of their music stations from any computer with a password. Which means no more having to lug my mp3 player or a bunch of cds to work to annoy my colleagues - now I can annoy them right from my computer! The jazz and blues stations are pretty good if a little pedestrian. Mostly classics with some mainstream new stuff thrown in. Their "Planet Jazz" station listed Soulive and EST as some of the groups played, but when I tried that one all I heard was cheesy smooth jazz. I'll stick with the "Pure Jazz" station that plays the classics. The bast station I've found so far is "Little Steven's Underground Garage" which plays garage rock past and present.

Speaking of garage rock, my friend John has started a rock and roll blog.

I finally have my laptop back up and running, so I'm able to download concerts from easytree again. Not a moment too soon, they've had excellent torrents from R.L. Burnside and the Dave Holland Quintet.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Book Review - Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter by Michelle Mercer

This is the first book length biography of the great composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. This book was made with Shorter's permission and he was interviewed at length as well as several colleagues and family members. The book follows Shorter's life and career in chronological order starting with his growing up fascinated with science fiction and film and translating those images into his budding musical talent. The book moves on to his years as sideman with Art Blakey and Miles Davis and chronicles his development as one of the most renowned jazz composers. Also during this period, he recorded his well regarded solo albums for Blue Note and began his study of Buddhism which was to become a major theme in the book.

After the breakup of the Davis band, Shorter became involved in a 14 year collaboration with Joe Zawinul in the fusion band Weather Report. Mercer traces the history of the group as well as some of the personal troubles that Shorter was dealing with during this period. Eventually Zawinul came to dominate the group and the creative spark left the band. Shorter resumed his solo career in the late 80's to mixed reviews as he tried to reconcile the fusion of Weather Report with the acoustic jazz of his past and the world music that fascinated him. Another tragedy tested him in the late 90's as his wife was killed in the TWA 800 flight lost off the coast of Long Island. Mercer details how his Buddhist faith helped him overcome the grief of the loss and the eventual triumphal emergence of his acoustic band with Danilo Perez, John Patatucci and Brian Blade.

This book is well written and although it can really only offer a glimpse of Shorter's lengthy career, it is an interesting one. Non musicians need not be scared away because what musical analysis there is written in layman's terms. Shorter is a fascinating character and one of the most important musicians and composers in jazz history and his book should be read by anyone interested in his work.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Blues and Other News

A rare blues article in the New York Times leads off with a review of a "Legends of the Blues" triple bill at Avery Fischer Hall:

There's nothing humble about Buddy Guy, who turned a history-lesson concert into performance art on Friday night, when he headlined "Legends of the Blues" at Avery Fisher Hall. The concert was a conscientious event, presented by Q104.3, a classic-rock radio station that rarely if ever plays unvarnished blues.

The Times also has an article on composer - cornetist and frequent David Murray collaborator Butch Morris and his big band:

When you do something for 20 years, an elegance and economy of motion set in; you cut more quickly to the point. In a jazz group, with a musician leading the band, the point is the freedom of all the group's individual players, atop the consensual boundaries of a tune and the tailored group sound. In conducting classical music, the point is the written work filtered through the conductor: his temperament, his tempos, his interpretation of the score.

Finally, there's a short article by Nate Chinen in the Village Voice reviewing a recent concert by keyboardist and composer Vijay Iyer:

Halfway through "Ghost Time," the first of his two premieres at Merkin Hall, Vijay Iyer dashed off a series of discordant piano glissandi that evoked the improv iconography of Cecil Taylor. But the piece's algorithmic iBook accompaniment—a striation of chirrups, clicks, and throbs—described an avant-gardism of more recent vintage. Iyer, a rigorous thinker with a player's taste for action, bridged the gap with methodical chordal tattoos.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tonic in Trouble

The legendary NYC experimental music club The Tonic is in danger of folding and has sent out a plea for help:

HELP SAVE TONIC! Since 1998 Tonic has been a haven for creative music. We have helped nurture the vital community of musicians and audiences who keep this music alive. Now we are in danger of closing and ask you to help us keep Tonic alive. Over the past few years we have suffered a series of blows: our rent hasdoubled since 1998, our insurance costs have tripled, we've been robbed, and we've been plagued by the expense of maintaining a building in ill repair including the collapse of our main sewer line. Any of these things would be challenging on their own but together they've taken a more serious toll and we are now facing the threat of eviction. A number of outstanding musicians have come forward to help save Tonic and throughout February we will be holding a series of fundraising concerts. If Tonic has been an important venue to you, we ask that you please attend as many of these concerts as possible. Those who cannot attend but would like to help, please consider making acontribution. For Tonic to survive we will need to raise a upwards of $100,000 in the next few weeks. Only with your support can Tonic continue playing its role in presenting this important music to its fans. Our deepest thanks.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dave Douglas – Mountain Passages (Greenleaf, 2005)

This is a new group from Dave Douglas, the talented trumpeter who leads several ensembles. This is an all-acoustic group featuring Peggy Lee on cello, Michael Moore on alto saxophone and clarinets, Marcus Rojas on tuba, and Dylan Van Der Schyff on drums. The music was originally composed for an Italian jazz festival held high in the Alps.

Starting off appropriately enough with a song called “Summit Music” the band begins with a slow, peaceful groove giving way to a melody carried by cello and tuba with Douglas improvising above this foundation. The music is meditative with a bit of a classical feel to it. “Family of the Climber” refers to his father, a mountain climber to whom this disc is dedicated. The theme is built slowly around Moore’s alto sax, which solos delicately over trumpet and tuba. “Ganrly Snapps” finally picks up the pace a little bit as Douglas leads the band through a short up-tempo group improvisation. “Gumshoe” features trumpet over plucked cello, giving the piece an appropriately noirish feel. Tuba ignites the next track “12 Degrees North” and then holds down the bass duties while Douglas takes a lengthy solo sounding a little less mournful and serious than in the earlier selections. “North Point Memorial” brings us back down to earth. The music is quite beautiful but very sad, built around bowed cello opening and solo with clarinet and trumpet bubbling to the surface. “Cannonball Run” is a swifter paced song that lopes along paced by the tuba’s honking bass line. There’s a section of collective improvisation and then clarinet and drum solos.

“Palisades” slows things back down with a more abstract spacey feel. Plucked cello and light percussion provide a backdrop for clarinet improvisations and trumpet smears. “A Nasty Spill” is the longest track on the disc, an up-tempo composition with the drums keeping the beat and the band stating a sprightly theme with Douglas leading the charge. He then breaks loose with an energetic improvisation blasted forward by some excellent drumming. Moore’s clarinet loops in and out of the track. He spars with Douglas’ trumpet as music slows near the five minute mark before the rest of the group roars back in for a final plunge through the theme. “Off Major” has Douglas leading off over some nice drumming from Van Der Schyff. Bowed cello and bumping tuba lay down an interesting base for the horns to improvise over. “Bury Me Standing” is another abstract composition with sawing cello opening. The cello stays in front with an elegiac feel as the other instruments softly improvise around it. Douglas breaks from the pack with a darkly intense solo. “Encore” ends this disc on a positive note – upbeat and melodic.

This is an interesting debut for Douglas new group and the first CD for his new label as well. Music of the music is rather sad, but it is all played with a very high level of skill. If you are a fan of last year’s Bow River Falls or the Tiny Bell Trio, you will really enjoy this music.

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