Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saxophonist and composer Brian Patneaude has his top ten CDs of 2006 on his blog: "As 2006 draws to a close, here are ten jazz recordings that I've enjoyed this year, as well as a half-dozen non-jazz albums that spent a good deal of time playing on my iPod..."

Critic Zan Stewart of the Newark Star-Ledger adds his choices: "... jazz continues to thrive. Just look at the high level of quality and art in so many of the CDs released this year. Hearing music live will always remain the best avenue of exposure, but listening to an A-1 CD while relaxing at home is a pretty close second."

Finally, Francis Davis edits a meta list of jazz critics for the Village Voice including Tom Hull: "Critics were asked to list 10 albums in descending order, with 10 points awarded for their 1, 9 for 2, etc."

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, December 29, 2006

Top 10 New Releases of 2006

1. Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar: The music is classic Coleman with sweeping joyful arcs of alto on some reinterpretations of classics and a few new compositions. This is an endlessly exciting and powerful disc proving that Ornette Coleman is still a vital force in jazz.

2. Andrew Hill - Time Lines: A great band made up of a mixture of veteran musicians and younger up-and-coming talents for this disc of all original Hill compositions. This is a very good record and should go a long way to cementing Hill's status as one of jazz's most relentless pioneers.

3. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood: This album itself is a triumph of class, dignity and open minded musicians drawing from many different genres and ideas to create an impressive cohesive whole.

4. Sonny Rollins – Sonny, Please: The music is quintessential Sonny Rollins - uptempo swingers, lush ballads and a calypso. He has a hard-won wisdom and trust in his band and this is a fine album and should make any long time Sonny watcher very happy.

5. Rudresh Mahanthappa – Codebook: Very good improvisations, mining a scalding mostly uptempo free-bop feel, owing some to Ornette Coleman's pioneering trail but is definitely the group's own.

6. Joe Louis Walker - Playin' Dirty: Walker's music explores a wide range of blues styles from soul to gutbucket and everything in between.

7. Vandermark 5 - A Discontinuous Line: What makes the group so special is that they remain grounded in the post bop and free jazz tradition but instead of being enslaved by that tradition they use it as the launching pad for their improvisational explorations.

8. Trio Beyond – Saudades: With the glut of tribute albums coming down the pike it's refreshing to hear one that calls attention to the pioneering fusion band Lifetime, originally led by drummer Tony Williams.

9. Elvis Costello - The River in Reverse: There have been many songs and albums recorded about Katrina and New Orleans, but the dignity and beauty of this music makes it one of the most memorable.

10. Ben Allison - Cowboy Justice: There's a "chamber jazz" feel to this record, but it doesn't distract from the music at all. In fact, it forces the listener to concentrate even more closely on the improvisations and the compositional structure of the music.

Honorable mention:

Mingus Big Band - Live in Tokyo
Dave Holland - Critical Mass
Harmonica Shah - Listen at Me Good
Calexico - Garden Ruin
Jimmy Heath Big Band – Turn Up the Heath
Dave Douglas - Jazz Standard: December 6, 2006, Set 1

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Top Historical Releases of 2006

1. Junior Wells - Live at Theresa's 1975: The music is top notch with Phil Guy (Buddy's under appreciated brother) sparking off hot runs on guitar, and Junior playing superb harp and singing in his deep soulful voice.For a glimpse into a hometown gig from one of Chicago's legends this can't be beat.

2. Miles Davis - Cellar Door Sessions 1970: All of the struggling to get this set out was worth it. Miles and the band are in fighting trim and fully plugged in, melding jazz, rock and R&B into something new.

3. Steve Lacy - Esteem: Live in Paris, 1975: An self-recorded live performance from Paris in 1975, it does lack the quality of a professional live recording, but this is easy to overlook for music of this high quality.

4. Thomas Chapin Trio - Ride: This archival release of the Chapin Trio performing live at the North Sea Jazz Festival brings back fond memories of what a truly special band that was.

5. John Lee Hooker - Hooker: The fisrt comprehensive boxed set covering the length of the great bluesman's career, from his early raw Detroit recordings to his final collaborative projects.

6. Sonny Simmons - Live at the Cheshire Cat: This limited edition release has two steaming sets of the great altoist recorded in 1980.

7. Gerald Wilson - Artist Selects: Composer and arranger Wilson cherry-picks his own favorite recordings from his Pacific Jazz years and provides a perfect introduction to his work.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Book 'em - Penguin Guides to Blues and Jazz

I have always been a sucker for guides and lists and so on, so picking up the new edition of the Penguin Guide to Jazz was a natural. This year for the first time there is a Penguin Guide to Blues as well. Both are extensive reference tomes clocking in at nearly 1,000 pages each, written by British music critics. While their reviews are certainly subjective and can't be taken as the gospel, both books are fascinating to flip through to get some recommendations about musicians you may be unaware of or are curious about. It's also occasionally infuriating to see them get a little sour with records you may know and love. On the jazz side, fans of the avant-garde and European improvisation will be well served by excellent coverage, while fans of bluesy soul jazz may feel looked down upon a tad. The blues guide has thorough coverage of both pre and post war blues with some fairly tough reviewing. Both books offer "crowns" to a handful of releases they deem to be of highest honor. Some of these are a little odd (no crown for any Coleman Hawkins disc?) but they are usually dependable choices and make for excellent discussion fodder. Note however, that both guides limit themselves to albums that were in print on compact disc at the time they went to press. Records that haven't made the leap to CD or discs that have fallen out of print are not reviewed. Despite the quirks, both books are highly recommended to music collectors as they open up many new avenues of musical enjoyment.
Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 25, 2006

CNN: James Brown, the legendary R&B belter, a singer and songwriter who created a foundation for funk and provided the roots of rap, a man of many nicknames but a talent that can only be described as one of a kind, is dead. Brown died early Monday at Atlanta's Emory Crawford Long Hospital of congestive heart failure, his agent said. He was 73.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sun Ra - Sun Sound Pleasure (Saturn, 1953-60)

This record (also released on compact disc through the Evidence label) documents some of the earliest commercial recordings of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Recorded when the band was based in Chicago, this has highly arranged orchestral jazz which might surprise those who only know Ra as a Saturnian wild man. Beginning with a swanky version of Monk's "Round Midnight" with Hattie Randolph on vocals, the band moves into "You Never Told Me That You Care" a languorous, full-figured arrangement. The pace picks up about 2/3 of the way through the performance with some very nice trumpet playing for Hobart Dotson. "Hour of Parting" has a mild arrangement, but things really fall into place with "Enlightenment," a future Ra standard which opens with a blast of gong and then some excellent baritone saxophone by Pat Patrick on the memorable melody. "I Could Have Danced All Night" ends the proceedings with a more percussive feel, foreshadowing the adventurous music to come on future records. There's a strong full band intro with heavily comped piano from Ra, and a touch of exotic flute in the improv section. This was an auspicious start for the Sun Ra Arkestra, walking a fine line between composition, arrangement and improvisation. This album would make excellent blindfold test material when mixed amongst comparable big band recordings of the era.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Various Artists - Wildflowers 2 (Douglas, 1976)

This was the second LP in a five record set docummenting the avant-garde jazz "loft scene" that flourished in and around Sam Rivers' Studio RivBea loft in New York City in the mid-1970's. Both veteran musicians and newcomers to the scene were docummented, and the entire set was reissued by Knitting Factory on compact disc in the 1990's. On this record, a group called Flight to Sanity featuring drummer Harold Smith and soprano saxophonist Art Bennett establish a groove of swirling, vaguely Middle Eastern sounding soprano saxophone over piano, bass, drums and percussion. The pianist, Sunelius Smith comps heavily while Don Moye of the Art Ensemble of Chicago simmers on hand percussion. Flautist Ken McIntyre plays a flighty and birdlike improvisation on "Naomi." Anthony Braxton leads a very complex improvisation called "73-S Kelvin." The music is as complex as the title indicates, with no set melody to hang onto. The band plays freely and Braxton takes some high register squeaking solos on alto saxophone and clarinet. Marion Brown takes a solo alto sax feature on "And Then They Danced" playing in a slightly caustic but not overblown manner. He tells a fine story, but runs a little long. Finally trumpeter Leo Smith leads a free group including Stanley Crouch on drums (!) through a jittery performance where instruments pop up and and drop out at will. There is some very fine music throughout this whole set and fans of free jazz are encouraged to track this down as either an LP or CD.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rudresh Mahanthappa – Codebook (Pi, 2006)

Alto saxophonist and composer Mahanthappa picks some really interesting concepts for his albums. His last record, Mother Tongue, contained improvisations based on the different languages and dialects spoken in India. This one takes the different mathematical methods of cryptography, code making and breaking as jumping off points for improvisations. And what good improvisations they are, mining a scalding mostly uptempo free-bop feel, that owes some to Ornette Coleman's pioneering trail but is definitely the group's own. Joining Mahanthappa on this disc are frequent collaborator Vijay Iyer on piano, along with Francois Moutin on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. "The Decider" comes barreling out of the gate with a complex theme and a blistering alto solo from the leader. "Frontburner" is another tune taken at a quick tempo. It's a testament to the quality of the musicians that they can improvise on such intricate themes at such speed without faltering. Things mellow out a little bit on a few numbers, but it is the barn burners that really stick in my mind. This is very exciting and interesting music. Don't let the complexity throw you off, the music may be very tough to play but much like John Coltrane's music like "Giant Steps" or "Mr. P.C." that difficulty does not't effect the enjoyment of one of the best jazz albums of the year.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 18, 2006

"The King of Blues, B.B. King, has been given the highest civilian honour in the U.S. — the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The musician, born Riley B. King on a Mississippi plantation, continued to expand his fan base, becoming an opening act on The Rolling Stones' 1969 American tour and broadening his success with hits during the 1970s, including To Know You Is to Love You, The Thrill is Gone and I Like to Live the Love."

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gerald Wilson - Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2006)

Wilson has had a long and successful career as an arranger and composer (and occasional trumpeter) on the west coast jazz scene. This is a one disc collection with the selections chosen by Wilson himself, made up of from his recordings on the Pacific Jazz label in the early to mid 1960's. These are all large band recordings, but there are some interesting touches that make all the difference. The first few tracks including “Jeri” and “Blues for Yna-Yna” feature songs that are built around the swirling Hammond b3 organ of Richard “Groove” Holmes. Wilson was a big fan of bullfighting, and Spanish music comes through as an influence on the brassy “Carlos” and “Paco” which also features some woncerful guitar from Joe Pass. Along with the original compositions, there are some well arranged standards featured on this disc. Miles Davis' “Milestones” expands on the original quintet version with a large group riffing through the melody. Thelonious Monk's “Round Midnight” gets a fine turn with another solo spot for Pass. Wilson's liner notes are interesting and provide background information and historical context for the music. The music here is interesting and original, this is a very classy and well done collection which is recommended to jazz fans interested in Wilson's music.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, December 15, 2006

There's a nice article on Vijay Iyer in the Detroit Free Press: "One of the things both Vijay and I have worked on is integrating elements of Indian classical music on a conceptual level," says alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has worked regularly with Iyer for a decade. "It's a synthesis of ideas. It ends up transcending not only superficial notions of Indo-jazz fusion, but it also transcends what is the average jazz sound."

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dave Douglas - Jazz Standard: December 6, 2006, Set 1

By forming his own record label, Dave Douglas has much more flexibility in recording and distributing his music. His latest project was recording a weeks worth of live performances by his band at the Jazz Standard in New York City and making them available for sale through his web site. I downloaded the first set from their second night of recording. The band is Douglas on cornet; Donny McCaslin on tenor saxophone; Uri Caine on electric piano; James Genus on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. The recordings sound is very good and the files are non-DRM mp3 files encoded at 192Kbps. The set starts with "Penelope" which is a mid-tempo performance, with a break about 2/3 of the way through, building tension which is resolved by some shimmering electric piano. Douglas sounds very good and confident on the cornet. "Painter's Way" features some funky fender rhodes electric piano setting a nice melody."Living Streams" opens with cornet and then McCaslin comes in with some mellower ballad playing, sounding a little forced. This song drags a little and is the weak link of the set. The group bounces back with "Skeeterism" as Douglas and McCaslin intertwine in the melody before the tenor saxophone breaks free for some fine modern bop soloing. Caine gets some nice pastel-ish rhodes in over riffing horns. "Meaning and Mystery" is a fine feature for Douglas' cornet over some mellow electric piano. The set ending "Seventeen" allows the band to stretch out at great length with some fine ensemble playing and a round of good solos. This is a good snapshot of an important working band on the job, and is recommended to Douglas' many fans.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Trumpeter and blogger Taylor Ho Bynum writes in his blog Spider Monkey Stories about fellow brassman Dave Douglas: "The basic improvisational and melodic language of his Quintet music is far more harmonically rigorous and specific, so I wanted to see how he would navigate that context on the new horn. A switch like this is a subtle risk, but a real one, and I respect that an artist in Dave’s position, with his success, is giving himself some new challenges and trying to hear things differently."

The wonderful blog Destination Out has mp3's from Pharoah Sanders' rare Impulse album Village of the Pharoahs: "But then along comes Village of the Pharoahs. It’s a practically a cliche in free jazz circles to prize the rare track over the better known composition, but ”Village” gets us going in a way that “The Creator” simply doesn’t. Unlike some of Sanders’ work (”Creator” included) that hits a solid groove and then adds or subtracts chants and musical textures in a musical equation that can produce diminishing returns, “Village” keeps on giving."

The out-of-print free jazz blog Church Number Nine has a wonderful LP from Sabir Mateen called Tenor Rising Drums Expanding for downloading: "In 1996 Sabir Mateen, Daniel Carter and David Nuss formed a short-lived trio Tenor Rising Drums Expanding. As you may know they collaborate often and many recordings exists, but this particular band printed only one and a half record, that is one full LP (offered here) and a one-sided album. The short one was recorded in 1996, while this in 1997. Curiously Daniel Carter here plays only drums, as does David Nuss, whereas Sabir Mateen plays tenor and organ. (how about that? How many times you’ve heard Sabir Mateen playing organ?)"

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Minutemen - We Jam Econo DVD (Plexifilm, 2006)

The Minutemen were a legendary post-punk rock and roll band, blasting out of California in the early 1980's. This very well done DVD mixes some rare concert footage and interviews with the two surviving band members, Mike Watt and George Hurley and many other musicians from the hardcore scene to produce a definitive overview of this influential band and a fond remembrance of guitarist and singer D. Boon, whose death in a car accident brought the band to an early end. The DVD begins the story with Boon and Watt meeting in high school and Boon's mother encouraging them to play music to stay out of trouble and then follows their path to meeting drummer Hurley and joining the roster of SST records. While the tone of the documentary is overwhelmingly positive, there are a few funny moments where the sparks and anger of touring the country in a van took their toll. Commentaries come from musicians (Nels Cline waxing nostalgic while sitting in a chair with his cat on his lap!) and scenesters and music critics. The music clips tend to be mostly on the lo-fi side, but definitely shows the energy of the band. This excellent mix of music and commentary is recommended to any fan of rock and roll.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, December 08, 2006

Normally I'm not too impressed by the Grammy nominations in any particular year, and this year is no exception, except for one catagory:

Category 48: Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group (For albums containing 51% or more playing time of INSTRUMENTAL tracks.)

Sound Grammar
Ornette Coleman
[Sound Grammar]

The Ultimate Adventure
Chick Corea
[Stretch Records]

Trio Beyond — Saudades
Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings & John Scofield

Beyond The Wall
Kenny Garrett

Sonny, Please
Sonny Rollins
[Doxy Records]

That's not too shabby of a list... the Coleman, Rollins and Trio Beyond discs will most likely show up on my top 10 for this year and the Garrett has some very good moments. It's also interesting to see three albums nominated that are by independent musician run labels. The Corea is the weak link for me, I love his acoustic piano playing but this fusion-lite concept album left me cold.

If I ruled the world, I think my nominees for this category would be: Andrew Hill - Time Lines (Blue Note), Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar), Vandermark 5 - A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic), Sonny Rollins - Sonny, Please (Doxy) and Ben Allison - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto). While we're at it, my nominees for Contemporary Blues Album would include: Joe Louis Walker - Playin' Dirty (JSP) and Harmonica Shah - Listen at Me Good (Electro-Fi); and nominees for the pop/rock fields would have to include Elvis Costello & Allen Toussiant - The River in Reverse and Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti).

Send your nominees to: Tim

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Frank Wright - Unity (ESP, 2006)

Fire breathing saxophonist Frank Wright burst into the free jazz world immediately following the exploits of Albert Ayler. He locked on to the spiritually informed, high energy playing of Ayler and Pharoah Sanders and then made his own way, playing as a journeyman until his death in the early 1990's. This disc was recorded live at the Moers Jazz Festival in 1974 with Bobby Few on piano, Alan Silva on bass and Muhammad Ali on drums. Although the first blush heyday of free jazz had passed, the crowd is very enthusiastic and establishes a great rapport with the band. This concert consisted of a non-stop improvisation just short of one hour, broken on the disc into two parts. The music recorded here is very loose and freewheeling, to the point of nearly flying apart at times. Silva's bass is lost for the most part except when he is soloing, and the loud percussive power of Ali's drums and Few's McCoy Tyner meets Cecil Taylor piano style dominates with Wright blasting squalls of tenor saxophone (and a little harmonica and melodica) over the rumbling foundation. Yes, things do get a little sloppy at times, this isn't intricate bebop or arranged swing, it's a free for all sausage factory style... messy but pretty tasty in the end. Wright hasn't been to popular amongst jazz critics because he was a one trick pony, but if you happen to enjoy that trick, it's not bad. Fans of ecstatic old-school free jazz should find a lot to enjoy here, because it's an exciting, crowd pleasing performance.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Nate Chinen writes in the New York Times: "Over the last six months, a far-flung contingent of musicians and aficionados has made an effort to upend that prevailing notion, armed with stacks of vinyl, high-speed Internet and a shared conviction that things back then were really far from moribund. Along the way, they touched off the year’s most animated public discourse on jazz, a democratic exchange that culminated last weekend in the debut of, an interactive database devoted to the music’s most conflicted period."

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sonny Rollins - Sonny, Please (Doxy, 2006)

This is Sonny Rollins' first new studio album in five years and the first since the passing of his beloved wife Lucille and the formation of his own record label. That's a lot of changes for one person to go through, but one thing that hasn't changed is his commitment to music. Joining Rollins on this record are Clifton Anderson on trombone, Bobby Broom on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Steve Jordan on drums and Kimati Dinizulu on percussion. The music is quintessential Sonny Rollins - uptempo swingers, lush ballads and a calypso. The uptempo flag-wavers are the opening track, "Sonny, Please" which allows Rollins to solo at length over a bubbling cauldron of drums and percussion, "Nishi," which may be the highlight of the entire disc, finds our hero digging deep on tenor for a lengthy improvisation brimming with ideas. "Park Palace Parade" rounds the disc out with a funky calypso-like tune adding some whistle effects to keep things moving briskly along. "Someday I'll Find You" and "Remembering Tommy" hold up the ballad end very well, with a longing but never sentimental or sloppy feel. Much has been made in the past about Sonny Rollins' discomfort with the studio environment, but there really isn't a trace of that here. Everyone seems comfortable and happy and the record is well produced. There's also been some talk on websites and blogs about whether Sonny has lost a step in his playing. Truthfully, I don't hear that on this album. His solos are a little shorter and pithier, but I think that comes from a hard-won wisdom and trust in his band rather than any decline in skills. This is a fine album and should make any long time Sonny watcher very happy.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, December 04, 2006

Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra - MTO, Vol. 1 (Sunnyside, 2006)

Trumpeter and composer Steven Bernstein is another eclectic musician who is at home in many different settings from the funky jazz of the Sex Mob ensemble to heavy acoustic recordings with multi-reedist Sam Rivers. This album is a larger group recording which tips its hat to the "territory bands" that toured the Midwest and southwest during the 1930's. Groups led by legends to be like Count Basie and Walter Page toured incessantly during the depression era making towns like Oklahoma City and of course Kansas City capitals of blues based swing music. Instead of taking a nostalgic or archival look back at this period, Bernstein's ensemble is thoroughly modern. On this album, the "little big band" formula is put to good effect, as the band is large enough to have many musical options available, but not too large as to lose the nimble feel. The instrumental songs are quite strong with Bernstein leading the way himself on the swinging "Happy Hour Blues." The ensemble as a whole shines on the unlikely cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki." A couple of vocal tracks are also here like the slowed down but very funky cover of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and the not quite as successful kitschy version of "Pennies From Heaven." Fans of eclectic music should enjoy this album, because it's difficult to pigeonhole. Taking an idea from jazz's past and updating it with modern musical idea and compositions, Bernstein has hit upon a very interesting concept, one that he will hopefully continue to build on with future albums.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Elliot Sharp - Sharp? Monk? Sharp! Monk! (Clean Feed, 2006)

Guitarist Elloit Sharp has covered a lot of ground in his career, from gutbucket blues to experimental jazz, he has never been afraid to tackle tough projects. On this, his most recent album for the Portuguese Clean Feed label, he radically reinterprets some of the most well known pieces of the Thelonious Monk songbook on unaccompanied solo guitar. Many tributes have come Monk's way since his death, most were very respectful to his knotty sensibilities, but few tried to re-imagine Monk's unique music. That as at the core of Sharp's mission here, stripping Monk's music down to the chassis to find out what makes him roll so well. The well known melodies are still there, but they are reflected through the funhouse of Sharp's Shackleton-like explorations. The melody for "Bemsha Swing" is picked out carefully before being deconstructed, "Round Midnight" keeps its noir sensibility, but leaves its New York stomping grounds for a near Waits-ian trip to distant lands. "Mysterioso" and especially "Well You Needn't" most successfully meld Monk's jumpy melodies to Sharp's minimalist explorations. This can be a tough listen, somewhat along the lines of Sharp's colleague Marc Ribot's Saints LP from a few years ago, just not as eclectic. But as Monk tributes go, it's definitely an original one, and does manage to shed some new light on the well dissected corpus of Thelonious Monk's music.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Beatles - Love (Capitol, 2006)

This is the first (official) remixing of The Beatles music, done as the soundtrack to a Las Vegas show in their honor, and it's causing a little controversey in Beatlemaina. The music itself is not tampered with an any meaningful way, just stitched together with snippets of bridging music that has been remixed or altered. There's no unreleased material here and most of the songs featured here are very well known to any pop music fan. So what it amounts to is a mix-tape like offering of some of the Beatles greatest hits. The music flows together seemlessly and the songs themselves of course are of unimpeachable quality, but the whole enterprise begs the question: why? This collection certainly doesn't shame anyone, but by the same token it doesn't shed any new light on the music. Since The Beatles catalog is a license to print money (hard to believe it's still not available digitally), this CD will certainly be popular and make a pile of cash (the cynic in me says this is the real reason for the release) but unless you're a big fan of the stage show and don't already own much of this music, this seems like a release you can safely pass by.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 scores again with a very interesting interview with legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Victor L. Schermer writes,

"I found him to be one of the most accessible and kindly individuals I’ve ever come across. Not only that, he has an impish sense of humor, which sometimes appears in his music as well. In addition, he was quite open to talking about himself, his life, and his views in a candid and lucid way."

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, November 27, 2006

Steve Lacy - Esteem: Live in Paris, 1975 (Atavistic UMS, 2006)

During his lifetime, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy was one of the most prolific of all jazz musicians, releasing many records and CDs on a variety of labels. Upon his passing a few years ago, his wife and collaborator Irene Aebi planned to release a series of archival recordings culled from Lacy's own collection of cassette recordings. This inaugural release was recorded during a live performance in Paris in 1975 with the group featuring Lacy on soprano saxophone, Aebi on cello and violin, Steve Potts on alto and soprano saxophones, Kent Carter on bass, and Kenneth Tyler on drums. The music comes from one of Lacy's most productive and creative periods, and it's interesting to hear the compositions, which are quite spacious in their studio versions, transformed into raucous freewheeling improvisations. Lacy and Potts make for a potent saxophone combo, battling for space and collaborating on themes. Aebi and Carter support the reed players admirably while making solid contributions of their own to the freer sections. Tyler keeps the music moving at a brisk pace throughout sounding particularly good on Lacy's Jimi Hendrix tribute "The Uh Uh Uh." The only caveat with this very good release is the sound quality. While not bad, it does lack the quality of a professional live recording. It is easy to look past this however, for music of this high quality. For fans of adventurous improvisation, this release is definitely worth hearing.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rob Mariani posted this interesting article to about seeing Thelonious Monk perform in New York:

"Theolonius Sphere Monk - some legends say he’d added that middle name himself back in the '40's when he was first coming up in bebop, reportedly "to show that he wasn’t square" - as if anyone with ears could possibly mistake his music for anything but music from another very hip planet. Theolonius was back playing again at the Five Spot Cafe."

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Reptet - Do This (Monktail Records, 2006)

It's appropriate that the Seattle jazz outfit The Reptet would dedicate four of their compositions on this album to The Marx Brothers, because they add a good dose of madcap fun and humor to their music. This doesn't mean that they do not take their music seriously, quite the contrary, this band made up of Tobi Stone and Izaak Millson on reeds, Ben O'Shea on trombone, Samantha Boshnack on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ben Verdier on bass, John Ewing on drums was formed for the express purpose of performing original improvisational compositions in an increasingly homogenized jazz world. The bands music is bold and exuberant, exploring some of the freer and avant-garde realms but without with honk 'n' squeal that could scare some of the more timid jazz listeners away. "Bad Reed Blues" and the live "Ro" show the band at their feverish peak with good soloing, and on the slower, more introspective songs like "Mumia's Lament" and "Groucho" the band's ensemble playing creates tone colors worthy of a big band. This is an interesting band that deserves attention beyond the fertile Seattle scene. They remind me a bit of another regional favorite, the Boston based ensemble Dead Cat Bounce, another collective that encourages original composition and exploratory improvisation. It's good to see outfits like this evolve independently from the hothouse scene of New York and hopefully they will continue to produce interesting original music.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, November 23, 2006

More Bittorrent Bliss

Lots of good stuff popping up on Dime lately. For those of you out of the loop, an explanation: For many years, collectors have traded through the mail (on a strictly not for profit basis) music (concerts, outtakes, etc.) recorded in the audience, from the radio or more recently on the Internet. While collectors still do trade concerts in the mail, the computer file distribution tool Bittorrent has made this much easier by allowing collectors to share large computer music files via a peer-to-peer system which can then be decoded and burned onto compact disc. These are a couple of concerts I recently downloaded in the manner.

Evan Parker - London 11/17/06:
This was a fascinating gig by free-jazz saxophonist Parker's "Electro-Acoustic" ensemble, a large group split between jazz musicians freely improvising on acoustic instruments a bevy of electronic musicians (laptops, gadgetry) taking that acoustic music and rexmixing it and basically messing with it in real time. It sounds like it would be a recipe for disaster, but it worked very well and created some really interesting and spooky soundscapes over the course of two long improvisations. The first half of the concert was a solo performance by Parker on soprano saxophone with the electronics taking his swirling, sweeping sound and building upon it in layers until it became a hurricane of sound whipping around the auditorium. Adding piano, violin, bass and drums for the second half of the concert along with more engineers gave the music a more percussive effect as the layered and distorted music crashed and receded like waves on a beach. Purists will no doubt sniff that this is not "jazz" and perhaps not, but in combining traditional acoustic instrumentation with cutting edge computer techniques, Parker has hit upon a very interesting synthesis. Recorded from a BBC web broadcast, the sound is excellent as well.

Snooks Eaglin - Chicago 6/1/89: Soulful guitarist and vocalist Eaglin left his New Orleans stomping grounds for a little while, but brought some of that great city with him for this festival gig. This well recorded radio broadcast shows that the R&B legend had the crowd eating right out of his hand, singing along and requesting songs. Eaglin hasn't written many original songs, but as an interpreter of funky New Orleans blues he's second to none as he shows by kicking off the concert with a playful version of Professor Longhair's "Bald Head" along with a devastating "Red Beans." He slows things down to a simmering tempo with the standard "Since I Met You Baby" which has some wonderfully deep singing and expressive guitar playing, before wrapping things up with a couple of non New Orleans tunes, a version of "Mustang Sally" that has the crowd nearly rioting with joy and then shuffling out with Jimmy Reed's "Baby What Do You Want Me to Do." A masterful performance.

Send comments to: Tim

Robert Lockwood Jr. Passes Away: "Mr. Lockwood began his solo career in the 1970s, and his records combined fierce Delta-style picking with horn-backed swing blues. The Rounder label paired him with fellow Johnson disciple Johnny Shines on the albums 'Hangin' On' (1979) and 'Mr. Blues Is Back to Stay' (1980).His 1998 release 'I've Got to Find Me a Woman,' including a guitar duet with B.B. King, received a Grammy Award nomination for traditional blues album. 'Delta Crossroads' (2000), released on the Telarc label, received a second nomination."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Scrapper Blackwell - Mr. Scrapper's Blues (Original Blues Classics, 1962)

Blackwell led a very active early career in the twenties and thirties, particularly in a duet with guitarist Leroy Carr that was quite influential. This was his comeback album after he was "rediscovered" by folklorists and researchers in the late 50's. Sadly, he saw murdered just after completing this LP, cutting short what would have no doubt been a triumphant resumption of his musical career. The music itself is quite varied and shows Blackwell as a very talented guitarist and singer. His original compositions are quite memorable, like "Goin' Where the Monon Crosses the Yellow Dog" which tells a tale as old as the blues itself in an interesting way. His instrumental playing on "A Blues" and "E Blues" is sparkling and has jazzy complexity. But as good as these performances are, the highlights are a couple of cover performances, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" was originally popularized by Bessie Smith, and then revived by Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes in the early 70's. Blackwell performs it with the perfect edge of lived in world weariness of a man who knows life's ups and downs. The other memorable performance is "Blues Before Sunrise" by his old partner Leroy Carr. This is another emotionally potent performance. This album received a "crown" in the new edition of The Penguin Guide to the Blues, and certainly deserves consideration from fans of acoustic blues.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I have a new podcast available here. Right click, then "save target as," and choose the directory for downloading. The playlist:

Freddie Hubbard - Mirrors (45 rpm version)
Beau Jocque - Sack 'o Woe
Ron Miles - I Woke Up In Love This Morning
Scrapper Blackwell - Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
Tartit - Chargouba
Dizzy Reece - A Variation on Monk
Roswell Rudd - You Blew It
Sonny Simmons - New Groove Mode
Archie Shepp - Back Back
Art Ensemble Of Chicago - Song For Charles
Randy Weston - Berkshire Blues

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, November 20, 2006

Miles Davis - New York Times: "Fifteen years after his death Miles Davis has been enjoying a comeback tour. A new marketing campaign, capitalizing on what would have been his 80th birthday earlier this year, has been touting Davis, the trumpeter, bandleader and jazz legend, as "the original icon of cool." His music is being repackaged and (of course) remixed. And, as befits a musical giant, his life story - one that has long eluded Hollywood - appears finally to be headed for the big screen."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bittorrent Roundup

There have been some very interesting torrented concerts coming down the line at Dime lately so here's a short roundup of the things I've been downloading and listening to:

Dave Duoglas - Karlsruhe, Germany 11/20/98: This radio broadcast of trumpeter Douglas leading an octet including Louis Sclavis on clarinet and saxophones, Rabih Abou-Khalil on oud, and Jim Black on drums playing some selections from Douglas's Witness LP and other music has both good sound quality and performing. Some of the music is political in nature like Abou-Khalil's satirical "The Lewinski March" and Douglas's "Woman at Point Zero" where the band mixes European and Middle Eastern influences with American jazz. Some very good solos are present, but the group interplay is the most interesting thing here making this an enjoyable concert.

The Black Keys - Atlanta, GA 11/10/06: Garage rcokers The Black Keys have been hitting the road hard recently in support of their new Nonesuch LP Magic Potion and this very nice sounding audience recording catches the duo on the southern swing of their tour. The group is very tight, mixing up material from the new record like the pulsing "Your Touch" in with songs from their earlier LP's like "10 a.m. Automatic" and their take on the Stagolee myth "Stack Shot Billy." There's nothing fancy here, just basic rock and roll with good songs and energetic performances. The band and the audience are deeply in sync and we are lucky to have this document of a great performance.

Otis Rush - Cambridge, MA 8/1/87: Veteran bluesman Otis Rush is always something of a crapshoot live. When he's on as was recently released as the Delmark CD All Your Love I Miss Loving, he can be mezmerizing, and when he's off, well, things don't quite work out. This so-so quality audience recording has Rush on an OK night, spinning out lengthy guitar solos and vocals to an upbeat, if well-lubricated audience. The most interesting aspect of this concert is to hear him tackle Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Working" which I had never heard him play before. Most of the rest of the concert is made up of his classic repertoire with the standards "Double Trouble," and "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" prominently displayed.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, November 18, 2006

There's a very interesting essay on Bagatellen by Marc Medwin called Moran in Monkian Terms: "I've heard everything from Herbie Nichols to Bill Evans in the 31-year-old Moran's playing and trio deployment, not to mention the merging of even more disparate forces like James P. Johnson and Cecil Taylor, coloring each moment on Moran's seven Blue Note records with a different and boldly effective hew. Furthermore, he's made all that influence apparent without resorting to heavy-handed reference. His work is never encyclopedic for its own sake; it exudes pride in the broadest interpretations of music as witnessed by the early 21st century."
Ruth Brown, 78; R& B Singer Championed Musicians' Rights: "Ruth Brown, 78, a rhythm-and-blues singer whose hits in the 1950s made Atlantic Records 'the house that Ruth built' and who revived her career decades later as the Tony Award-winning star of the musical revue 'Black and Blue,' died Nov. 17 at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson, Nev., after a stroke and heart attack."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NPR : Ornette Coleman: Decades of Jazz on the Edge: "It's not easy living on the avant-garde edge of any art, let alone the always-changing world of jazz. But for nearly 50 years, the sound of Ornette Coleman has proven to be one of the most unorthodox -- and most influential -- in modern jazz."

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Roswell Rudd - Blown Bone (Emanem, 2006)

Most of the music on this album saw the light of day as a Japan-only release in 1979, which is kind of surprising considering the heavy-duty crew on board. Besides trombonist and composer Rudd, the musicians include Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone, Enrico Rava on trumpet, Paul Motian on drums, Sheila Jordan on vocals on a couple of tracks and bluesman Louisiana Red on vocals and guitar on one. Rudd has played everything from traditional dixieland to way-out avant-garde, and the music here has a very wide range from gutbucket electric blues with Louisiana Red peeling off some nasty electric guitar and singing while the band riffs and honks behind him on Rudd's ode to New York City, "Cement Blues". Of Jordan's two vocal features, "You Blew It" is the most successful allowing her a chance to scat out the vocals in a sassy manner after the band takes an impressive and intense collective improvisation. The instrumental tracks are very nice, the lead-off track "It's Happening" and the concluding "Bethesda Fountain" are both over ten minutes in length and allow for plenty of solo space and room for collective interplay. The music is not necessarily free jazz per se, but open ended compositions allow for add-libbing by all concerned. It's a worthy record and good to see it get a little more attention.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

OkkaDisk: Article by Stu Vandermark: "Jazz is a living, breathing sonic art form - not merely "of the moment" but of a moment. A crucial moment in an ongoing life process of the improvising artist. Yes, Eric Dolphy was right, righter than most fans acknowledge. Even when someone captures some of the sounds of a gig or studio session, the essence of the art of that moment is not captured."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Archie Shepp - Kwanza (Impulse, 1974, 2006)

This is an overlooked gem of a recording that was just re-released by Verve/Impulse after years as a vinyl only rarity. This album has a curious history, being recorded during 1968 and 1969 and then only slipping out during the end of the original Impulse tenure in 1974. These recordings have a fairly large group of performers including among others Grachan Moncur III on trombone, James Spaulding on alto saxophone, Charles Davis on baritone saxophone, and Dave Burrell on organ. The music itself is a very interesting blend of funky R&B and spiritual "cosmic-groove" free-jazz that was Impulse's stock and trade during the late 1960's. The opening track "Back Back" is the best example of this with some righteous honking over a slippery organ groove. Moncour's "New Africa" allows the band the opportunity to stretch out on a freer angle, without ever sinking into just perfunctory blowing. The only mis-step in the Leon Thomas vocal feature "Spoo Pee Doo" which really never takes flight. Apart from that though, this is a fine album of modal to free jazz which should give open eared jazz listeners a lot to enjoy.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Charles Mingus - UCLA 1965 (Sunnyside, 2006)

This reissues one of the more rare items in the Mingus catalog, a concert originally intended for the Monterey Jazz Festival but which never came off for various reasons. So a few weeks later the band presented the music intended for Monterey at this college concert, recorded for Mingus' own record label. It was an unusual brass heavy Mingus band, notable for the presence of the fine trumpeter Hobart Dotson who made a great impression on the few recordings he made. The music was tipped away from the sanctified blues and soul that makes up the leaders most well known work. Some of the opening compositions have a very melancholy feel with Mingus' bowed bass giving the music a very mournful touch. Since this is a Mingus Workshop performance, you know there will be some drama, and the big man orders most of the band off the stage when he deems them not up to the task of performing his music correctly. This reduces "Bird & Diz" to a quartet performance, but ramps things up even further with some fine solos on this bebop tribute. Back together and with some more energetic material to inspire them, the band finally hits is stride on the ancient New Orleans standard "Muskrat Ramble" where the group gives a fiery if short performance. The finest moment however, comes on the anti-genocide song "Don't Let It Happen Here." Reading his powerful poem:

One day they came and they took the communists,
And I said nothing because I was not a communist.

Then one day they came and they took the people of the Jewish faith,
And I said nothing because I was had no faith left.

One day they came and they took the unionists,
And I said nothing because I was not a unionist.

One day they burned down the Catholic churches.
And I said nothing because I was born a Protestant.

Then one day they came and they took me. And I could say nothing because I was guilty as they were, For not speaking out and saying that all men have a right to freedom.

and then launching into a deep and powerful improvisation, Mingus and the group give a performance to rival Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and Max Roach's "Freedom Now" as one of the finest jazz protest pieces and it still rings true today. While this album as a whole might not be one of Mingus' top-tier works, the power and dignity of "Don't Let It Happen Here" demands that this music be heard.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Julius Hemphill - New York Times: "Mr. Hemphill, a gifted saxophonist both dry-toned and expressive, grew up in Fort Worth and spent his early 30s as part of a multimedia arts collective in St. Louis, the Black Arts Group. This was where he first saw the possibility of composing through such varied formats. He composed and conceptualized like crazy, and he managed to develop his own harmonic language, too, really mastering it toward the end of his life with his saxophone sextet."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Neil, Young and Old: There are a couple of new Neil Young CD's out this year, one of all new compositions called Living With War, recorded quickly as a protest against the war in Iraq and the attack on American civil liberties. Featuring Young's amped up guitar and vocals and occasionally going over the top with trumpets and a 100-voice choir (!) The group really rocks out with songs like "Restless Consumer" and "Shock and Awe." "Let's Impeach the President" makes it very clear where Young's loyalties are, but even people who don't agree can respect and enjoy one of Young's most exciting and interesting albums in a while. Also out this year is the archival release Live at the Fillmore East from 1970, with the original Crazy Horse including the doomed Danny Whitten. Blasting through short versions of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowehere" and "Winterlong" and then very lengthy improvisational versions of "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River" the band sound very inspired and in great form. The guitar solos are long and fluid, moving into an almost free-jazz territory, like Sonny Sharrock playing post-hippie rock and roll. These albums are both good and make for interesting signposts in a long and varied career.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Book Look: There have been some interesting books to come out recently on the blues and jazz front. A few reference books with an English bent are Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia and The Penguin Guide to the Blues. Cook is one of the editors on the Penguin Guide to Jazz, and this book provides brief biographies of jazz musicians past and present and also recommends one compact disc per entry as a starting point. I think this book may be more helpful to newer jazz fans because it gives one stop shopping for a quick bio on a musician they had heard or read about. More knowledgeable readers might be disappointed by the lack of discographical information or reviews. There is no shortage of reviews on The Penguin Guide to the Blues, however, to the tune of about 1,000 pages worth. Their four stars plus system also makes room for special "crowned" recordings that are of extra merit. You can always quibble with another's ratings and there is plenty of fodder for arguments here (that's part of the fun of flipping through it) but by in large the ratings and reviews are thoughtfully done. Where the book really shines is in helping people separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of the tons of reissues that clog the CD bins now. This guide can help cut through the clutter and help you find what you're looking for whether that is the complete works or a one disc introduction to a particular artist. On the non-reference side, I mentioned Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis before and it is a really well written collection of short pieces on musicians and scenes (the piece on Maxwell Street is particularly poignant.) Finally, Is Jazz Dead?: (Or Has It Moved to a New Address) by Stuart Nicholson is bound to cause considerable discussion as he looks at the recent past and future of jazz, excoriating the conservatives in American jazz and praising the experimenters of the European scene. It's an interesting thesis, but at times he gets a little too dogmatic himself, and at times risks becoming what he dislikes. But it's a worthy read, especially for it's discussion of the growing Scandinavian jazz scene.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

There is a very worthwhile issue of Downbeat out for December. Featuring the stern looking mug of Sun Ra on the cover, this issue has a nice article about the exhibit of Ra memorabilia that John Corbett has been curating in Chicago. There's also a nice interview session catching up with some AACM greats like Muhal Richard Abrams. It's interesting to look at some of the albums that they have for review in the "hot box" especially the Evan Parker disc that gets a rapturous five star review from one reviewer and a brutal one star drubbing from another. But the majority of the issue is taken up with the results of the readers poll, so I thought I'd compare my choices to the winners.

Hall of Fame: Tim's Choice: Jimmy Smith; Reader's Choice: Jimmy Smith

Well, I'm a huge B-3 fan so you'll get no argument from me about Jimmy Smith. I just wish that for once the honor would go to a living musician. Perhaps they could honor one living musician and one dead musician each year. Smith and Jackie McLean were voted in by the readers and critics respectively just months after each passed away. Couldn't we let them enjoy the honor while still alive?

Jazz Group: Tim's Choice: The Bad Plus; Reader's Choice: Dave Holland Quintet

I've voted for the DHQ before, so again you'll get no argument from me. I just thought it was time to mix it up this year and give a different band a chance. I love The Bad Plus' CDs, and seeing them in person last year was a revelation.

Big Band: Tim's Choice: Sam Rivers Riv-Bea Orchestra; Reader's Choice: Dave Holland Big Band

I like the DHBB releases, but not as much as the quintet's stuff. Sam Rivers hasn't released a big band album with the RivBea Orchestra for a while, but they are still a potent force.

Bass (acoustic and electric): Tim's Choice: Mario Pavone; Reader's Choice: Dave Holland

Pavone has very few peers as an instrumentalist. He's not flashy, but his solos are always filled with ideas and his ensemble playing is rock solid and supportive.

Male Vocalists: Tim's Choice: Mose Allison; Reader's Choice: Kurt Elling

Jazz vocalists really aren't my thing with the exception of really bluesy singers like Kevin Mahogony or quirky singers like Allison. I also contend that he is the best purely jazz lyricist around.

Trombone: Tim's Choice: Robin Eubanks; Reader's Choice: Steve Turre

Eubanks' soloing and ensemble playing has been an integral part of the Dave Holland Quintet's success.

Jazz Artist: Tim's Choice: Andrew Hill; Reader's Choice: Sonny Rollins

Hill released a wonderful album this year, has battled cancer successfully and has been the recipient of some well put together re-issues.

Jazz Album: Tim's Choice: Andrew Hill - Time Lines; Reader's Choice: Sonny Rollins - Without a Song

Hill back on Blue Note as it was meant to be. Ornette's new one may take my honor at the end of the year, but this is a very good album.

Historical Album: Tim's Choice - Miles Davis @ the Cellar Door; Reader's Choice: Thelonious Monk w/ John Coltrane @ Carnegie Hall

The Monk & Trane was high on my list for last year and deserves the kudos, but for '06 I think it's the Miles, which despite all of my whining about the foolish sausage-factory manner in which it was released is a box of simply astounding music.

Record Label: Tim's Choice: Blue Note; Reader's Choice: Blue Note

Solid mainstream new releases and a peerless back catalog. In retrospect, Cryptogramophone would be an excellent choice.

Trumpet: Tim's Choice: Ron Horton; Reader's Choice: Dave Douglas

I love Horton's thoughtful unhurried approach to improvisation and rich, buttery tone.

Soprano Saxophone: Tim's Choice: Wayne Shorter; Reader's Choice: Wayne Shorter

I prefer to hear Shorter on the tenor, but with Steve Lacy's passing, he is probably the reigning master. Many musicians double on soprano, but few play it with such individuality.

Alto Saxophone: Tim's Choice: Arthur Blythe; Reader's Choice: Phil Woods

Blythe has been forgotten a little since he moved back to the west coast, but he still possesses a startlingly tart, biting tone and is a fleet improviser, recording with unusual groups including tuba or electric cello.

Tenor Saxophone: Tim's Choice: Chris Potter; Reader's Choice: Sonny Rollins

There's really no arguing with Sonny, but Potter has come into his own over the past few years as a tenor player on both his own recordings and heavy duty sideman gigs with the likes of Dave Holland and Paul Motian.

Baritone Saxophone: Tim's Choice: Alex Harding; Reader's Choice: James Carter

I discovered Harding this year on his very good recording Blutopia, and I think he deserves the nod because baritone is his primary horn. As good as Carter is, the bari is just one of many in his arsenal.

Flute: Tim's Choice: Sam Rivers; Reader's Choice: James Moody

From deeply lyrical to profoundly free, nobody does it better.

Clarinet: Tim's Choice: Chris Speed; Reader's Choice: Don Byron

Byron has actually de-emphasized clarinet on his last couple of albums for tenor saxophone, so Speed and his interesting hollow, woody tone get the nod.

Acoustic Piano: Tim's Choice: Chick Corea; Reader's Choice: Keith Jarrett

His touch is full-bodied but not overbearing, with deep melodic feel. Now, if he would just kick the L. Ron Hubbard fascination and reunite the wonderful Origin band...

Electric Keyboard: Tim's Choice: Uri Caine; Reader's Choice: Joe Zawinul

I really like Caine's light and funky touch on the Fender Rhodes on his Bedrock recordings.

Organ: Tim's Choice: Alice Coltrane; Reader's Choice: Joey DeFrancesco

Alice Coltrane's sound in the Whirlitzer electric organ is very unique and her use of drones and spiritual feel separate her from the many Jimmy Smith acolytes.

Guitar: Tim's Choice: Ben Monder; Reader's Choice: Bill Frisell

I'm a longtime Frisell fan, but this past year or so Monder has really impressed me with his dark flavored tones and improvisations.

Drums: Tim's Choice: Hamid Drake; Reader's Choice: Jack DeJohnette

Drake is a polyrythmic monster supporting a wide range of musicians and never breaking stride.

Percussion: Tim's Choice: Susie Ibarra; Reader's Choice: Poncho Sanchez

Susie Ibarra's work on a variety of percussion instruments is always impressive.

Vibes: Tim's Choice: Steve Nelson; Reader's Choice: Gary Burton

Nelson gives the Dave Holland Quintet another percussive sound and his ringing and shimmering sound adds a beautiful touch to this great band.

Female Vocalist: Tim's Choice: Luciana Souza; Reader's Choice: Cassandra Wilson

I don't listen to a lot of jazz singers, but Souza's impressive singing backed by just guitar makes for some beautiful music.

Misc. Instrument: Tim's Choice: David Murray, Bass Clarinet; Reader's Choice: Toots Thielemans

David Murray's burbling and bubbling bass clarinet has gone well beyond its roots in Eric Dolphy's sound to develop a unique, individual feel.

Composer: Dave Douglas; Reader's Choice: Maria Schneider

I really like his compositions as they mix the jazz tradition with whimsical originality. Now on his own label he has free reign to experiment and let his imagination fly.

Blues Artist/Group: Tim's Choice: Joe Louis Walker; Reader's Choice: B.B. King

After being dropped by Verve, Walker put his demons at bay and has released a string of great blues records for the British JSP label.

Blues Album: Tim's Choice: Otis Rush - All Your Love I Miss Loving; Reader's Choice: Buddy Guy - Bring 'em In

I feel a little uneasy about listing a historical album as the best, but the music on this disc is so amazing, equal to the epochal recordings of Rush's '50's heyday, that it has to be the choice.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cephas and Wiggins - Shoulder to Shoulder (Alligator, 2006)

Guitarist and singer John Cephas and harmonica player Phil Wiggins have been playing as an acoustic duo in the Piedmont tradition of musicians like Sleepy John Estes for many years now. Their gentle folk inspired music is a welcome break from the hyperactive electric guitar playing that seems to dominate modern blues. Performing standards and originals in a laid back storytelling manner, these gentlemen recall a time when the blues was a means of communication and storytelling. The blues can be a hard road to travel and the versions of "Broke and Hungry" and "Three Ball Blues" are filled with the imagery of drifters, pawnshops and heartbreak. It's not all sadness and woe however, as "Blues Three Different Ways," "Ain't Seen My Baby" and "Susie Q" show the bands link with the blues tradition. Fans of acoustic folk blues or traditional American music in general should find much to enjoy here.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vandermark 5 - A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic, 2006)

Multi-reedist and composer Ken Vandermark's signature ensemble has been remarkably stable over their ten plus year existence, but recently there was a change with Fred Lonberg-Holm joining the band on cello and Jeb Bishop who played trombone and occasional guitar dropping out. This is their first disc with the new lineup but the band's core sound of both burning and abstract modal and free jazz remains unchanged. The remainder of this stalwart group is Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxophones, Kent Kessler on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. The Vandermark 5 have been one of the most consistent recording and performing ensembles in recent jazz memory. Along with their more mainstream colleagues the Dave Holland Quintet, they show that the strong bonds of a working band can make for stronger, more coherent studio albums than collections of stars and sidemen alone. As has become his custom, many of Vandermark's compositions on this disc are dedicated to people who were or are involved in various artistic endeavors.

"La Dernier Cri (for Elliot Carter)" and "Morricone (for Sergio Leone)" show the band at their most abstract, leaving plenty of space for Lonberg-Holm's plucked and scraped cello to create soundscapes for Vandermark and Rempis to improvise quietly against. By contrast, the band engages in free jazz blowouts on two versions of the song "Convertible." The first, dedicated to designer and architect Charles Eames is the slightly tighter and tamer of the two, while to second version, dedicated to Eames wife Ray, must be considered as one of the group's finest performances. Lonberg-Holm, Kessler and Daisy lay down a rock solid foundation which allows the two saxophonists to just pin their ears back and howl. But they howl with reason and forethought, not just for the mere act of doing so. This is what makes the group so special, they remain grounded in the post bop and free jazz tradition but instead of being enslaved by that tradition they use it as the launching pad for their improvisational explorations. They act like a much needed enema for the body of jazz, cleansing the music of the warbeling crooners and posers that constipate it like so much half digested junk food. This adventurous music is recommended.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Junior Wells - Live at Theresa's 1975 (Delmark, 2006)

Harmonica player and singer Junior Wells held down a long time residency at Theresa's, a working class tavern in Chicago. One of the most interesting things I read in the fascinating book Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis was learning that many of the local blues clubs like Theresa's had a much larger role in the community as a meeting hall, trading post and overall information center for the people who lived in that area. Delmark opted to leave Junior's in between song banter on the disc and it was a very wise decision. This offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of working class African-American Chicagoans as Junior engages in a give and take with the audience, singing "Happy Birthday" to a visitor and joshing and jiving to the crowd while announcing community gatherings and going away parties.

As you can imagine, the music is top notch with Phil Guy (Buddy's under appreciated brother) sparking off hot runs on guitar, and Junior playing superb harp and singing in his deep soulful voice. Highlights are many, but of particular note is the lengthy version of "Snatch It Back And Hold It" with plenty of room for improvisation. Junior's warning to the men in the audience about fooling around behind their wives' back precedes a tight version of "Love Her With a Feeling" where he has the crowd in the palm of his hand. A long deeply emotional version of the blues standard "Goin' Down Slow" goes way down in the alley before Junior ends the show with a fine version of his signature song "Messin' With the Kid." This is a superb archival release equal in quality to the stellar Otis Rush disc Delmark released late last year, and hopefully there are more to come. For a glimpse into a hometown gig from one of Chicago's legends this can't be beat. Recommended without reservation for all fans of the blues.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, November 03, 2006

My November podcast is available for downloading here. These are songs that have caught my ear over the past several weeks. Here's the setlist:

Kenny Garrett - Beyond the Wall
Medeski, Martin, Scofield & Wood - Miles Behind
The Black Keys - Your Touch
Nils Petter Molvaer - Vilderness
Junior Wells - Snatch It Back and Hold It
Kahil El'Zabar - Crumb-Puck-U-Lent
Roy Haynes - Mr. P.C.
Joe Lovano - Fire Prophet (Part V)
Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra - Tapha Niang
IV Thieves - Die In Love
Vandermark 5 - Convertable Version 2
Galactic - Bongo Joe
Chepas and Wiggins - Ain't Seen My Baby

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The online jazz magazine Point of Departure has a new issue out today: "Issue 8 features a comprehensive look at the music of Finnish pianist-composer Iro Haarla. Northbound features a review of Haarla's "ECM Quintet" at the UMO Festival in Helsinki, an interview with Haarla, and an extensive survey of Haarla's recordings with Edward Vesala, Sound & Fury, Rolling Thunder, and her projects as leader and co-leader. The Turnaround! features a 1996 article on pianist Myra Melford. The Circle with a Hole in the Middle revisits an out-of-print album by Voice, a quartet with Julie Tippetts, Maggie Nichols, Phil Minton and Brian Eley. Bassist and film maker John Lindberg takes the Travellin' Light questionnaire. Moment's Notice contains reviews of CDs Don Byron's Junior Walker tribute, Nels Cline's Andrew Hill tribute and a recently unearthed Steve Lacy Quintet session from the mid 1970s."

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Roy Haynes - Whereas (Dreyfus, 2006)

Veteran drummer Roy Haynes is fronting a group of up and coming young musicians appropriately called The Fountain of Youth Band on this exciting live recording of modern hard bop. Haynes is joined by Jaleel Shaw on saxophones, Robert Rodriguez on piano, and John Sullivan on bass. Their repertoire is a fine mix of standards old and new with an original thrown in as a drum feature. Whenever Elvin Jones was unable to make a gig with John Coltrane, Roy Haynes was called on to fill in and that may be one of the reasons that he zips the band through a blasting version of Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." like a formula one driver at the helm of a finely tuned vehicle. Shaw sounds very good here sparking off ideas and keeping up the breakneck pace. Haynes also worked with Thelonious Monk on occasion and the group here covers the Monk chestnut "Bemsha Swing" and then before segueing into Steve Swallow's "True or False." Other lodestars the band touch upon are compositions from former Haynes associates Chick Corea, Joe Henderson and Charlie Parker. There is also the Haynes drum expose "Hippiy Hop." His young charges play very well throughout, and look to have a bright future in the music. This is a good representation of mainstream jazz in modern times. Haynes has the history of postwar jazz at his fingertips, but is never slavish to the past, always pushing his young group to explore and acting as a mentor and example to all.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Odean Pope Saxophone Chior - Locked and Loaded (Half Note, 2006)

Saxophonist Odean Pope has talked in interviews about the tough road he has had to travel to get his music documented. But adding James Carter, Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker to the front line will certainly make labels take notice as they did here on this live recording of Pope's mini-big-band. You might think that solos would be the order of the day with these big time egos at play, but it's the ensemble playing that really stands out on a number of the tunes, particularly the ballads. Songs like the opening "Epitome" and "Terrestrial" show the group playing together in a very patient and cooperative way, getting a very lush and full sound and then one of the horns will dart out to make a solo statement. They play well together on the uptempo songs as well, plunging into a wild near cacophony on "Prince Lasha" which pays respect to a little known musician who was a contemporary of Sonny Simmons and Eric Dolphy in the 1960's. "Coltrane Time" also gives everybody a chance to howl getting a group sound that stops just short of the larger John Coltrane ensembles of the mid-1960's. This was a very interesting disc, it would be nice if Pope could get a residency at a club somewhere to really work with a large band and develop new tunes. But in the meantime, we have this very interesting document which should come as a delight to saxophone fans.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Kahil El'Zabar - Big M (Delmark, 2006)

Drummer Kahil El'Zabar teams with up with longtime cohort, violinist Billy Bang to pay tribute to the recently departed Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors. Joining El'Zabar and Bang on this studio session are Yosef Ben Israel on bass and Ari Brown on tenor saxophone and piano. The music presented her is deeply spiritual and meditative. El'Zabar sets up a firm groove on most of the tunes, allowing Bang to improvise around it, bowing and plucking with deep tenacity and strength. The opener "Crumb Puck U Lent" is a fine example of this with the bass and drums locking into a tight pocket and Bang swirling around tem. The music has a deep sense of grace and a hard won beauty, with billowing saxophone solos from Brown occasionally picking up the pace from elegiac to ecstatic. "Maghoustut" which was Favors' stage name within the Art Ensemble shows the group at a faster pace with Brown's deeply toned and burly tenor saxophone taking the lead role. "Malachi" ends the proceedings with a gentle improvisation which features El'Zabar's soft vocalizations about the virtues of his friend and colleague.This is a deeply humane and genuine tip of the hat to a musician who may not have been famous, but left a lasting impact on those he met.

Send comments to: Tim