Monday, January 30, 2006

With the revamped Vandermark Five out on tour again, All About Jazz posts an profile of Ken Vandermark: "But in Chicago Vandermark has thrived, making countless musical friendships that have led to his extensive discography, plentiful tour schedule and critical attention. “Musicians [here] are not likely to see each other as a competitor, but maybe more as a collaborator. And when they hear something that they like, they tend to communicate with each other."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Francis Davis discusses his four favorite jazz recordings of last year: "Who could've imagined that finally becoming part of a critical consensus would leave me feeling so blue? If anything, the average age of the musicians on my list is higher, by virtue of including Gerald Wilson - at 87, only a year younger than Monk and Gillespie would be, and older than Parker or Coltrane."

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Bad Plus' blog has a very interesting post about early recordings of The Art Ensemble of Chicago - DO THE MATH: Nessa Records: "The most outstanding thing about this early Art Ensemble music is the ferocious determination of great players to advance the music even further. The Art Ensemble didn’t imitate any of the styles on the above roster. Famously, it was Chicago music. New York City—where all those other records were recorded—was far away, with its own hectic pace. When compared to any New York band playing free, The Art Ensemble was spacious, delicate, and thoughtful."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jazz Police - Out to Lunch in Northfield, the Music of Eric Dolphy revisited: "That night vibraphonist David Hagedorn brought in a chart he had transcribed for Eric Dolphy's 'Hat and Beard' from 'Out to Lunch'. The charts were new to the band, and the material challenging, but the sound knocked me out. It recalled my pleasure from listening to that record for the first time, when the haunting sound of Bobby Hutcherson's vibes, left to hang naked, along with the jagged and jarring lines from Dolphy's bass clarinet, opened a new door to music for me. It also made me realize what a shame it was that these interesting and unusual tunes were rarely covered."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rufus Harley - Re-Creation of the Gods (Ankh, 1967)

Jazz bagpiper Rufus Harley has a unique sound, but how could be not when playing the bagpipes? On this album he fronts a groovy psychedelic-jazz organ group... break out the lava lamps! Harley testifies with the spoken word to his "congregation" in the opening to "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" laying the groundwork for a grooving bagpipe and bass performance. A mad organ solo, both happening and happy introduces "Hypothesis" and sets the bagpipes and organ off against each other. The only drawback is that they have similar sounds and occasionally cancel each other out in a wall of droning white noise. It comes off like a soundtrack theme to a Mod 60's TV show. "Malika" sets a psychedelic drone from Rufus while the organ bubbles like the world's largest bong underneath it all. Right on! This is fun stuff.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray - We Is: Live at the Bop Shop (Delmark, 2004)

Tenor sax and bass clarinet hero David Murray and master percussionist Kahil El'Zabar have collaborated before in a variety of contexts, and this album finds them improvising live all by themselves. The opening "Groove Allure" is just like the name says with Murray taking an easy going groovin' solo over some hip sounding hand percussion from El'Zabar. Sounds like they should be providing the background for a beat poetry reading! "We Is" snaps us out of that reverie real quick... Murray breaks out a
stompin' free tenor solo, growing and squeaking to his hearts content - this is very exciting stuff. Not to be out done is El'Zabar, now manning a full drum set as he knocks out a killer drum solo.

On "Blues Affirmation" Murray goes way down in the alley on tenor saxophone, recalling some of his gospel and R&B roots with a massive slow grind solo. El'Zabar takes a very interesting mallet & vibes solo to take the performance into a different direction. "One World Family" finds Murray breaking out the big gun with a bass clarinet solo to open things up, getting a fascinating hollow and percussive sound from the instrument as El'Zabar scats a vocal chant extolling the virtues of peace and love. They wrap things up with "Sweet Meat" heading back into storming tenor saxophone and drumset duo improv. If you are a fan of either musician, this is a must as it's a classy performance all the way.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Bittorrent download - Sam Rivers/Barry Altschul Quartet - Oakland, CA 11/10/93: This club performance finds Sam Rivers in a quartet format, performing with drummer Barry Altschul, pianist Uri Caine and bassist Santi DiBriano. It's not quite as free-wheeling as his trio or big band concerts, but the music has some moments of real beauty. The ballads are especially beautiful - one doesn't always think of Rivers as a ballad player, but with some of the performances here, it's made clear that he was comfortable playing at any tempo. The music here is quite reminiscent of the music he made during his brief stay with Blue Note Records during the mid 1960's, especially during the revisiting of "Beatrice" and "Fuschia Swing Song," both chestnuts of that period. His three main instruments are well represented here, with lengthy workouts for tenor and soprano saxophone and a beautiful flute improvisation. Mixing ballads, mid-tempo pieces and frenetic free-jazz, this is another example of why Sam Rivers is one of the most well rounded composers and improvisers of the age.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

My friend Brian went to The Jazz Standard in New York City to see one of his favorite jazz groups, the Swedish Jazz Trio E.S.T.

Friday, January 20, 2006

There is a nice article in the NYT about listening to music with the famous drummer: Paul Motian: Rhythm Melodist - New York Times
Steve Coleman - Lucidarium (Label Blue, 2004)

Alto saxophonist, composer and M-Base leader Steve Coleman's latest album is a complex mix of instrumentation, composition and improvisation. "Playgal Transitions" has a wild mix of saxophone, harmonica, singers and rappers performing an intoxicating mix. The music can seem a little dry at times, but the singer has a very operatic voice and uses her talent to give wordless vocal accompaniment to the music, which lends the proceedings a very spooky air. "Meditations on Cardinal 137" has a collective improvisation of trumpet, alto saxophone, bass and drums forming a complex mix of music.

"Kabbalah" features extra percussion, and about three minutes into the performance, it locks into an exciting up-tempo improvisation with alto sax and trumpet in the front line, then the harmonica player and rapper start to chime in and things really take off and get interesting. "Beyond All We Know" has a spacier, more explorational groove with yearning wordless vocals and clarion trumpet. "Egypt To Crypts In Hieroglyphs" Has a blasting rap section over background vocals and deep groove percussion. Not everything in this dense, experimental album works, but Coleman deserves credit for never standing still and always being open to experiment with new ideas.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971)

Mahavishnu Orchestra were one of the leading lights of the jazz-fusion movement coming in the wake of Miles Davis epochal album Bitches Brew. The MO's leader, guitarist John McLaughlin had a pretty impressive pedigree as he had played on Bitches Brew and some other Davis LP's as well as performing in the groundbreaking trio Lifetime with Tony Williams and Larry Young. He had also produced some fine solo work, particularly the renowned album Extrapolation. During this period, McLaughlin had become deeply involved with eastern spirituality and religion taking the spirit name Mahavishnu that he would eventually bestow on the band.

This music on this album is truly a display of virtuoso performing, but it does come perilously close at times to empty, self-congratulatory wankery. The uptempo music is played at a blinding speed and with very complex rhythm - impressive stuff to be sure, but sometimes it's a little difficult to warm up to. The ballads are a little easier on the ear, allowing the band to slow down and breathe a little bit. Actually, in retrospect, it may be easier for fans to approach this music than fans of post-bop jazz. Fans of guitar led bands like King Crimson would feel right at home with the blast furnace pyrotechnics of "The Noonward Race" or "Vital Transformation."

Some of McLaughlin's spiritual leanings are brought to the forefront of the comparably calm numbers like "A Lotus on Irish Streams" and the concluding "Awakening." This album came out at a fascinating time in music, when the experimental and the commercial co-mingled in relative harmony and this album is an interesting if not always successful meeting of many diverse styles and passions.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Jazz Times Magazine has the results of their 2005 Reader's Poll up on their web site: Jazz | JazzTimes Magazine > Columns and Features > Web Exclusive > Readers Poll

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wilco - Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (Noneusch, 2005)

Despite the experimentalism and controversy of their last two albums, Wilco remains a pop band at their core. While they still maintain their alt-country roots, the addition of guitar hero Nels Cline to the band and their use of subtle electronic effects has expanded the band's range and kept them at the forefront of modern pop music. This live double CD consolidates the changes the band has embraced over the past few years.

If there is any complaint to be made about this set, it's that many of the songs fall into the same anonymous mid tempo groove that is the comfort zone for most of the band. By placing too many of these like tempoed songs in a row, parts of the album tend to lumber and that undermines the quality of the song lyrics. Some songs do work well at this speed like "Hell is Chrome" with its inscrutable lyrics, which are sung in a high whisper with some haunting organ underneath. "Via Chicago" works well with some really pretty steel or slide guitar (hard to tell which) and piano.

Luckily there are enough rockers to pick up the pace a little bit. "I'm the One Who Loves You" is an faster rock tune with a little bit of honky-tonk piano looking back to their alt-country days. "Heavy Metal Drummer" is one of their finest pop gongs with a catchy chorus and driving beat. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is the highlight of the faster songs with the song itself dispensed with quickly to allow for an epic guitar workout. There's a lot of good music here, but maybe too much to be heard in one sitting. I think some judicious editing would have been helpful here. There's a great single album of varied exciting music hidden under the padding of a double album.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sonic Liberation Front - Ashe a Go-Go (High Two, 2004)

Despite their militant name, which might suggest an out-of-control free jazz ensemble, Sonic Liberation Front is actually a collective of musicians who work within the bounds of melody for the most part, but manage to have a new and different sound by incorporating different layers of percussion and some vocal tracks. The music has touch of Latin Jazz, but still sounds very modern and the soloists are excellent and fit well into the bands overall concept.

Marvin Sewell - The Worker's Dance (Lewis Recordings/CD Baby, 2005)

Guitarist Marvin Sewell was the secret weapon on last years excellent album Same Mother by Jason Moran. That disc was an exploration of the blues in jazz and Sewell's urgent, ringing tone was a tremendous asset to the music. On his own, Sewell branches out quite a bit, but still keeps one foot in the blues, especially on the first track "Uncle Red" which is a wonderful electric jazz meets John Lee Hooker boogie woogie, and "Mexico Blues" where he goes way down in the alley as B.B. King would say. Accordion is featured throughout the album and on the title track, where Rachelle Garniez is featured on that instrument and Sewell takes a gentle tango-ish tone in a restrained and beautiful performance by all concerned.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bassist Dave Holland has found his bliss in his bands: "Jazz bassist Dave Holland's quintet with saxophonist Chris Potter, Teaneck-based trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist-marimba player Steve Nelson, and drummer Nate Smith is a knock-you-flat, powerhouse ensemble, easily one of the top bands performing today."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Yusef Lateef - Hush 'n' Thunder (Atlantic, 1973)

This album by saxophonist and flautist Yusef Lateef is a bit of a strange mix of acoustic jazz, electric jazz funk R&B and more spaced out spiritual jazz. Future great Kenny Barron is featured on acoustic and electric piano and even a little organ and writes the majority of the compositions. An austere and compelling version of Duke Ellington's standard "Come Sunday" begins the proceedings as a duet between flute and cello. Things get a little bit odd with the composition "This Old Building" which takes a kitchen-sink approach, including sound effects, vocal shouts and a bluesy section in a cinematic performance. "Sunset" is a milder tune, featuring some very tastefully played Fender Rhodes electric piano by Kenny Barron. "His Eye is on the Sparrow" casts the net a bit wider by including a large vocal chior, in addition to very gospelized organ from Barron and a robust tenor saxophone solo from Lateef. "Destination Paradise" ends the album with a haunting flute centered improvisation, bringing the music around full circle back to its humble opening.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006 has palced all of their year end top tens in one handy-dandy spot - Jazz | All About Jazz: "We compiled all the 'best of' lists and the 'year in review' articles and placed the links on one convenient page. From the #1 release (Wayne Shorter's Beyond the Sound Barrier) to the most popular article read (Pat Metheny Group live at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal)..."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas | | Arts & Entertainment: "The late blues legend Robert Johnson, who recorded some of his most important work in Dallas, is one of several musicians being awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award."
The new edition of Downbeat Magazine has some articles well worth reading at your local library or bookstore. Of greatest interest are the lead article profiling B.B. King on his 80th birthday, an article detailing saxophonist Chris Potter's emergence as a band leader and an article about the different kinds of bands keyboardist Uri Caine has been leading and the projects he has been recording for the Winter and Winter label.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

John Surman - Way Back When (Cuneiform, 2005)

This is a very worthwhile CD which brings out previously unreleased music from the beginning of the jazz-rock fusion era. It's interesting how fusion seemed to evolve simultaneously in England with Surman and others like Ian Carr's Nucleus, and then in the United States with the music of Miles Davis. This particular album languished in the vaults for 36 years, but the music remains very fresh. Leading things off, is the jam session suite "Way Back When Suite" which finds Surman in the midst of an epic swirling soprano saxophone solo with very good sounding accompanyment by John Taylor, who plays some wonderfully shimmering Fender Rhodes electric piano. This lengthy jam is split up into four parts with Surman's sweeping soprano leading the way.

The remainder of the album is balanced out by a couple of shorter tracks. Surman switches to baritone saxophone and Mike Osbourne joins in on alto saxophone on "Owlshead" with the two improvising over a nifty Rhodes led beat. There is some nice alto work over agressive drumming by John Marshall. Then the baritone comes in and takes an intensely climaxed solo before a nicely reflective electric piano interlude. The bass sets a good groove for Surman to improvise over on the final tune "Out and About." The alto chimes on also with a high-pitched solo. For fans of early fusion or Fender Rhodes piano, like Miles Davis' In a Silent Way LP, this is highly recomended.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Harold Vick - Straight Up (RCA, 1966)

Late in 2000, Sonny Rollins put out a much praised album called This is What I Do that included an original song called "Did You See Harold Vick?" I liked the tune, and decided maybe I would check out this Vick guy. Well, almost six years later I finally get around to hearing one of his albums, and you know what? Mr. Sonny is right... he's really good! "If I Should Lose You" has Vick performing a rich, lyrical deep tenor solo accompanied strongly by pianist Al Dailey. "Like a Breath of Spring" Is a gentle bossa nova with a with a swanky, nearly loungish arrangement built around fingerpicked guitar. After letting this build, Vick enters improvising over the groove with a deep, patient sound.

"Gone With the Wind" is taken at a medium boil with Virgil Jones' trumpet keeping pace with Vick's tenor saxophone while playing the theme before the tenor breaks free for a solo. Some strong, deep tenor playing is the order of the day here. The title song "Straight Up" is short and sweet at 2 1/2 minutes. Jones is let loose for a nice trumpet solo before Vick, not to be undone, storms in with a strong and blustery solo of his own. This song also features an attractive but brief vibraphone solo from Warren Chiasson. The entire band gets to hone their ballad chops on a nicely well paced "We'll Be Together Again." It says on the back of the LP that this is a "well rounded program of standards and originals by Harold Vick and his combo." Truer words were never spoken. This record was just re-released on compact disc and it will be a treat to fans of straight-ahead jazz. Thanks for the tip!

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bill Frisell - Further East/Further West (Songtone, 2005)

This is a web only download that adds additional music to the East/West live double CD that Bill Frisell released last year. Guitarist Frisell is joined by Kenny Wollesen on drums and Viktor Krauss and Tony Scherr alternate on bass. After the eclectic experimentalism of his previous two albums, The Intercontinentals and Unspeakable, the music presented here returns to the lower key music of some of the "Americana" projects that Frisell recorded during the 1990's. That's not to say there's no energy here, the group's version of the guitarist's own "Lookout for Hope" packs a snarling electric wallop. Since the music was recorded at traditional jazz venues (Yoshi's in Oakland and The Village Vanguard in New York City) some of the more crowd pleasing antics are toned down in favor of more subdued group interplay. Fans of Bill Frisell's jazzier or rootsier recordings should be very pleased by this effort. It's an interesting idea, adding extra material to an album that has been released in the standard way by making it available on the Internet, and worth the effort for fans of the artist.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, January 06, 2006

Did you know The Bad Plus had their own blog? DO THE MATH: DO THE MATH is a weblog mostly documenting what The Bad Plus is reading, watching and hearing. (Some road photos will appear here occasionally; click to make them bigger.) has an interview with pianist and composer Cedar Walton: These days he spends most of his time traveling the world leading his trio. AAJ caught him at his home in Brooklyn having just returned from playing a Caribbean cruise, following a week in Greece.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Revenge of the Top Ten

The improvised music webzine One Final Note has their top ten CDs of the year: Top ten lists of any flavor are what they are: an entirely subjective account of what sounded better than everything else to a select group of self-empowered listeners. But that didn't stop us from taking another shot at something approaching consensus for 2005 - debate the merits of such lists at will, but never question the sincerity and passion with which at least this particular group of pundits embraces such a daunting endeavor.

The venerable New York Times asks the obvious question...are top ten lists really necessary? On newsstands and online, readers get a stupefying catalog of best - of - 2005's, starting with albums and often continuing with singles, music videos, reissues and more; no doubt some blog has already posted a 10-best list of 10-best lists.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - A Blessing (Omnitone, 2005)

John Hollenbeck is one busy musician. In addition to recording with the Claudia Quintet and the Jazz Big Band of Graz (Austria) he leads his own large orchestra. This album, which has been nominated for a Grammy Award, is not quite the usual riffing and solos type of big band project. Hollenbeck writes original and unusual compositions which make use of the large palette of instruments available to him.

The title song "A Blessing" opens the disc and has a soft and spare feel with Theo Blackman's high-pitched vocals which have a near operatic lilt and a gentle soft arrangement for the instruments. Saxophone solos weave in and around swirling swathes of reeds and trumpet. It's a lengthy performance, clocking in at almost 16 minutes. "Folkmoot" begins with a very grandiose theme of the horns and then breaks down into a duet between piano and saxophone. "RAM" has a meditative opening and then moves into a spritely section focusing on vibes and piano with the horns riffing in the backround. There's an odd babble of spoken word tacked on to the end of the track. "Weija" has a percussive, almost tribal feel with some majestic horn playing added to the scene.

Blackman's wordless vocals take center stage on "Abstinence" while grinding trombones and skittering percussion give the music a nervous feel. The composition takes on a suite like structure progressing through different movements in the course of eleven minutes, even kicking into a funky (!) section at around the nine minute mark. "April in Reggae" is a fun tune that lightens the mood a little bit, as it's a bit of a mashup between traditional reggae and the standard "April in Paris." Finally, "Music of Life" has a spoken incantation, much like the opening tune as the music comes full circle, ending the album on a haunted eerie note.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Pixies - Hey Pixies (Emusic, 2005)

The Pixies reunion in 2004 surprised quite a few people who never expected to see the legendary indie rock band on stage together again. But surprise surprise, there they were, playing festivals and clubs around the world to great acclaim. Emusic, the music download service that caters to the indie set, set up an exclusive agreement to present a two CD compilation of songs from the tour for their members. And it's quite a coup for them too, as The Pixies still pack the punch that launched indie and college rock as a valid force in the music world in the late 1980's.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and while there is a certain amount of nostalgia involved (for me an eerie deja vu feeling, it's strange listening to The Pixies and not be in a college dorm room) the old songs are delivered with a great deal of panache and enthusiasm. Two versions of their classic song "Wave of Mutilation" show how much the band has grown musically in the intervening years. The first is a standard electric version recorded live in the U.K., but the second version is slowed to an almost narcotic pace and picked out on acoustic guitars, which gives the music a haunted, psychedelic feel. Make no mistake though, the band still rocks like a demon especially on "Nimrod's Son" where Frank Black spits out the caustic lyrics like the Black Francis of yore.

All the old Pixies favorites are here, like "Gouge Away" and the sing-a-long favorite "Ed Is Dead." The music was recorded professionally, so it definitely has a leg up on the many bootlegs that are floating around the Internet. Longtime Pixies fans and newer indie rock enthusiasts who are curious to see what the fuss is about will be greatly pleased with the music presented here. Hopefully this will set the stage for a new album made up of all-new material in 2006. Even 10 years after their original breakup, The Pixies prove that they are still one of the most vital bands on the rock and roll scene.

Send comments to: Tim