Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The wonderful blog of The Bad Plus has another great post, this one an excerpt from their travels. DO THE MATH: Tour diary continued: "Ethan to Dave: "You know you are in England when you drive though a town called 'Chipping Sodbury.'" Arrive at venue just as opening band (Polar Star) begins playing. At 9:30 hit the stage, playing for over 700 people, no sound check, wrong drums, smelling like we have traveled all day and not taken a shower. It was still a very good gig."

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dr. John - Mercernary (Blue Note, 2006)

Dr. John's latest LP for Blue Note records is a tribute to composer and lyricist Johnny Mercer, who wrote classy pop songs for the likes of Frank Sinatra and others. One of Dr. John's greatest talents is that when he covers the songs of another artist, be it Mercer, Doc Pomus or Duke Ellington, they come out in a manner that is all is own, with a deep Louisiana beat, and the honey drenched voice of someone who has been around the block a few times (and he has - his biography, Under a Hoodo Moon, tells quite a tale.) So the Mercer classics are in good hands here, and the Doctor's fans needn't worry about the man playing it safe, as he adds a hefty dose of greasy funk to the proceedings.

The leadoff track, "Blues in the Night" sounds like it was written with Dr. John in mind and he nails it. The poppier material shines too, it's hard to imagine anyone apart from Sonny Rollins (on the epochal Way Out West LP) making a statement with "I'm An Old Cowhand," but the gentle and humorous treatment here (all instrumental) is excellent, same with "Moon River" which is reclaimed from the jaws of a million maudlin lounge versions. These are the songs of Mac Rebenack's (his given name) youth, and they clearly mean a lot to him. The passion and love invested in this album make this one of the few tribute albums that can be heartily recommended. Rarely have pop and blues walked hand in hand so well.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Ropeadope Records has some excellent podcasts available for downloading including this superb one by Bob Belden, playing the music of one of my favorites, Grant Green: "in the mock guitar god draft, we at the fake offices picked Grant Green in the first round and then put the 'franchise player' tag on him to boot. On this, another precious Bob Belden Ropeadope podcast, old Bob digs deep into his personal vinyl collection to present a fresh baked batch of out-of-print Grant Green tracks. Click here to hear."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ko Melina, leader of the Detroit garage rock band Ko and the Knockouts and occasional bassist for The Dirtbombs has the late Saturday night slot on Little Steven's Underground Garage station on Sirius Satellite Radio. Whenever I've had enough coffee, I like to stay up and check her out. In addition to playing great music by the likes of Nic Armstrong, The Caesars, early Who, Chuck Berry and others, she's liable to tell loopy stories about Detroit, life on the road or anything else that has her interest. Tonight's episode was "Ko's Memorial Day Weekend Campfire Show." Which of course led to campfire stories of the strange and bizarre along with a set of Detroit garage rock by The Gories and the Detroit Cobras. Plus she plays The Kinks "Sittin' On My Sofa" one of their coolest tracks that nobody's ever heard. She also told a story that serial murderer John Wayne Gacy once used to be a concert promoter and once invited The Kinks to stay at his house while they were on tour!

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bittorrent Boogie

John Zorn's Cobra - Budapest, Hungary May 21, 2006: Cobra is one of John Zorn's stranger ensembles, according to Wikipedia, "There are classes of cues, each with an associated body part and color, for changing the ensemble, solo and duo improvisational games, "cartoon trades" for fast intercuts between players, varying one dimension (music, ensemble, or volume), live sampling, and endings. There are a total of 19 basic cues. In addition, there are "guerilla systems" with "tactics" that may disrupt the ongoing proceedings." Without being there to actually see the action, the music comes across as a strange mix of jazz, gypsy music and spacey prog-rock. It builds to an ominous tension that never seems to resolve itself, as instruments like wildly scratched violin, booming bass or Hendrixian guitar bubble out of the mix, if anything it sounds like a mashup between the Masada String Trio and the quieter - spacier moments of an Electric Masada performance.

Chick Corea with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard - Tralfamadore Cafe; Buffalo, NY November 27, 2000: This is a very nice trio concert with all three band members given a chance to stretch out and everybody sounding comfortable either soloing or improvising together. Corea is the star, obviously and plays very well, but special attention should be paid to Ballard who layers many different rhythmic ideas throughout the concert and sounds great. He locks in with the always interesting Cohen and their boss to make a very percussive piano trio. A big treat is the three Monk tunes all of which are played with a great deal of wit and energy. The percussive nature of the band really lends a nice touch to the Iberian flavored versions of "Anna's Tango" and Corea's classic "Spain."

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Do the Math, the weblog of The Bad Plus had this link to the sad but fascinating story of bassist Butch Warren: Decades of Discord Lie Between a Man and His Music: "The staff at Springfield Hospital Center -- Butch Warren refers to it only as 'the loony bin' -- knows him as 'Ed.' He's one more guy whose mental illness got him in trouble and landed him in a state hospital 50 miles from home, locked up in a secure ward, behind a chain-link fence."

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Brooklyn Jazz Renaissance: High-Quality Music in Casual Caf├ęs - New York Times: "Through a growing network of low-rent spaces mostly booked by enterprising musicians, Brooklyn has assumed a vital role in the city's larger jazz culture. And the music has been a boon for listeners of all kinds, including those who have to cross the East River to hear it."

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wardell Gray - Blue Lou (Proper, 2003)

Wardell Gray was a journeyman swing-to-bop tenor saxophone player who was active in the 1940's and 50's. Blue Lou is the first disc in a multi-disc set released by the British budget label Proper gathering Gray's most famous sides both as a leader and a sideman. Starting off with Gray's tenure with the Earl Hines Orchestra in 1945, he gets some space for distinctive but unhurried solos augmented by big band riffing on "Straight Life" and "Let's Get Started." The sound quality is pretty bleak for these early records, but Gray's tenor shines through the fog. "Dell's Bells" from a small band session a year later sounds much better and his tenor saxophone sounds great, controlling but not constricting the pace of his solo.

"One For Prez" keeps up the easy-going swing in a tribute to one of his primary influences, Lester Young. But it's interesting to hear on the ballad "The Man I Love" that Gray was definitely his own man with his own sound and his tone is sharper and tarter than Young's at that tempo. Bop rears its head on the title track, and this comes to a climax on the epic 16 minute track "Backbreaker" which riffs a "Night in Tunisia" like melody hard, JATP style, before giving way to a storming round robin set of pure bebop solos from a famous concert at the Los Angeles Elks Club in 1947 that featured many other west coast luminaries like Sonny Criss and Howard McGhee. The disc finishes up with Gray holding down the tenor chair in McGhee's band, playing fast paced bebop on Dizzy Gillespie standards "Groovin' High," "Hothouse" and "Bebop."

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Chico Hamilton - El Chico (Impulse, 1966)

This album hasn't been released on CD yet, which is appropriate in a way - you really need the LP to appreciate the cover photograph of Chico in that cape, looking like some kind of villain from a superhero comic book. Damn, Impulse made some cool covers... that's one thing that will be missed as we transition from the analog to the digital, all those great album covers. But I digress, because the music here is quite good as well, and definitely deserves a second life as a compact disc. Freeman states in the liner notes that he took his time approaching Latin jazz, not wanting to rush to cash in an a fad. His patience pays off handsomely on this record, as he mixes modern jazz with Latin rhythms and popular songs to make some fine music.

His guitarist, Gabor Szabo, who would go on to his own string of successful Impulse releases is a real star on this album, rescuing the terribly maudlin song "People" and making it into a haunting ballad. Other tracks of note on this album are "Conquistadores" which adds hand percussion to Hamilton's drums building a mass of Latin rhythms for Szabo to take another excellent solo over. Hamilton gets some solo space to himself on "El Moors" and builds a rumbling controlled statement. There's some fine music to be heard here, so hopefully Impulse or whomever their corporate masters are now can see their way clear to stop issuing quickie compilation discs, and put out interesting back catalog albums like this (through iTunes if nothing else) to allow people to hear the interesting music within.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bit 'o Torrent

Billy Bang w/ William Parker and Hamid Drake - Vision Festival, NY 5/25/00:
Early in the concert, Parker and Drake set a far eastern groove with wood flutes and percussion, with Drake really putting together some deeply moving rhythms. There's an interesting role reversal as Parker and Band trade short phrases - Bang plucking notes on the violin, and Parker returning them on wood flute, before Billy Bang finally takes to the bow at the very end of the first piece. The second piece finds the musicians back on their "standard" instruments. The band improvises passionately, but always in control of the situation with Bang worrying the same short phrase, setting it up to spin off into a different groove. Bang returns to plucking notes and scraping in a percussive duet with the always responsive Drake. Bang and Drake lay out and allow Parker to weave a deeply textured and propulsive solo bass interlude before things move back to a ferocious collective improvisation with Drake leading the way as a multi-rhythmic tornado of sound. They pull back at the then with a gentle coda to the evening's festivities - wow!

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

TRICKSTER!: Sun Ra and His Band from Outer Space: "SUN RA had many names. Mr Ra. Mr Re. Mr Mystery. Herman Blount. Le Sony'r Ra. Lucifer. He was one of the most prodigious American bandleaders and composers of the 20th century--part of a line that includes the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. But he was also a communitarian cult leader; a record label head; the father of a particular strain of black American pop culture that bended nationalism with Egyptology and science fiction; and a pioneering electronic keyboard player (perhaps the only Moog player to develop a unique vocabulary for the instrument)."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Little Milton - Greatest Hits (Chess, 2002)

Few musicians combined blues and soul music as well as Little Milton. On his very successful Chess sides, Milton's declamatory, gospelish vocals and stinging guitar were combined with intricate large band horn arrangements along the model of the music Bobby "Blue" Bland was taking into the R&B charts during this period. Milton's slow burning version of Bland's hit "Blind Man" is a centerpiece for his deep and passionate vocals, while the jumping horn-led swingers like "We're Gonna Make It" and a hopping version of Ike Turner's "Grits Ain't Groceries" kept Milton in the thick of the action in the competitive R&B singles market. Little Milton would go on to have a very long and successful career with the Malaco record label which tones down his guitar and turned up the soulful arrangements, but he made his best music for Chess, and this makes for an excellent introductory work.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bit 'o Torrent...

Sun Ra All Stars - Paris 11/1/83: This is a fine FM recording of the Sun Ra Arkestra augmented by some real heavy hitters like Lester Bowie and Don Cherry on trumpet, Archie Shepp on saxophones, Richard Davis on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and Don Moye on percussion. They fit hand in glove with the group, particularly Bowie and Cherry who blow hard and strong on the early open themed improvisations. Full-frontal improv in not the only thing on the menu, as the group plays a fascinating version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" where the band skirts the melody, never explicitly playing it, but never drifting out into the aether. They round this special concert out with "Poinciana" and "Round Midnight," a couple of standards to finish up a fascinating concert.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown - Chronological 1947-51 (Classics, 2002)

During Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's six-decade long blues career, he led many a band and cut scores of records for many different labels, but none jumped and swung quite as hard as these cracking examples of proto rock 'n' roll Brown cut in the post-war years. Influenced by the jiving blues of the great Louis Jordan and the sophisticated swing of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Brown put together a horn heavy band that swung the jump blues like mad and then went the extra mile of layering his protean electric guitar and powerful vocals on top, creating a genre defying monster in the process.

With Tunes like "Boogie Rambler" and "Gatemouth Boogie" the music was probably pretty popular in the jukeboxes of the times as well. The band could spin a fine ballad too, as "2 O'Clock in the Morning" demonstrates. The finest tune on the set may be the absolutely blasting "I Live My Life" which finds the band playing full-out rock 'n' roll six years before Elvis with the band riffing up a storm behind him as Gatemouth heaves thunderbolts of electric guitar and chest thumping vocals. Neophytes may want to go with the classic early-Brown compilation The Peacock Recordings on Rounder Records, but if you like what you hear there, this is a can't-miss way to dig deeper into the great musician's early years.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Blues News: "2006 Blues Music Awards Go To.... Last night at a star-studded and fun fun evening, the 2006 Blues Music Awards were given out in 25 categories. The evening's most honored nominee was the late Little Milton. His widow Pat was on hand to accept the four awards he received as a result of the votes cast by Blues Foundation members. The four awards are: Soul Blues Male Artist; Soul Blues Album for Think of Me; Song of the Year for 'Think of Me' and Album of the Year, also for Think of Me. There were two other multiple winners. Legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin took home two awards for--Best Guitarist and for Traditional Blues Album for About Them Shoes. First-time winner Paul Oscher was selected as the Acoustic Artist of the Year and his Down in the Delta was chosen as the Acoustic Album of the Year. "

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Irma Thomas - After the Rain (Rounder, 2006)

Hurricane Katrina may have destroyed vocalist Irma Thomas' New Orleans home, but it did nothing to dent her spirit. Regrouping in the still devastated city with crack musicians including members of the Neville Brothers band to cut her latest record, she stays true to her bluesy r&b roots."Flowers" tells a sad tale of a man taken all too soon, and the aftermath of his death on those who mourn him. "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" and "Another Man Done Gone" (a variation on Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go") go way down in the alley and allow Thomas to really belt out the old school blues, and they are the among the most successful tracks on the album. "These Honey Dos" puts that no-good man in his place over some rollicking piano accompaniment.

"Another Lonely Heart" and "Till I Can't Take It Anymore" add a little too much pop sugar to the mix, although "Heart" is redeemed by some tasty violin and guitar playing. "Soul of a Man" by Blind Willie Johnson gets things back on track with a quietly powerful and haunted reading backed with tasteful acoustic guitars. "Stone Survivor" blasts out with a full band rave-up; after what she lost in Katrina, this is a great statement of purpose. People who think the blues is just sadness and woe should listen to the grit and determination in her voice and the playing of the band (especially Sonny Landreth with some stunning slide guitar) on this track. "Shelter in the Rain" brings it all back to New Orleans with Thomas' gospel/r&b voice reaching near-operatic heights. This is solid and occasionally great music from one of America's legendary Rhythm and Blues singers.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Dave Liebman - Drum Ode (ECM, 1974)

Just like it says on the tin, Drum Ode is saxophonist and composer Dave Liebman's salute to drums and drummers which he gives a brief spoken word introduction to over a cacophonous percussion. Liebman is joined by frequent collaborator of the time Richard Beirach on electric piano, and a slew of drummers and percussionists including Barry Altschul. Liebman's experience playing in the Miles Davis band had definitely worn off as the band was rhythm heavy with a lot of atmospheric Fender Rhodes piano. The leader contributes some swirling soprano saxophone amidst the vibraphone-like probing of the electronic piano. The drummers take center stage too, applying many different types of rhythms to the proceedings - John Abercrombie drops in to add some atmospheric guitar to the proceedings as well. As far as thinking man's fusion goes, this is the goods.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dave Douglas - Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf, 2006)

Throughout this very enjoyable disc, Dave Douglas plays strong open trumpet atop a bed of lush Fender Rhodes electric piano accompaniment. Douglas sounds great against the shimmering electronic arrangements and the overall sound is clean, more in the mode of one of his previous album The Infinite as opposed to the greasy and gritty feel of Freak Out. The music reminds me of the Miles Davis album Filles de Kilimanjaro. Donny McCaslin holds down the saxophone chair, continuing the big year he is having with an appearance on this disc in addition to the two solo albums he has released so far this year on Sunnyside and Criss Cross. The man behind the Fender Rhodes is Uri Caine. Besides being a frequent collaborator of Dave Douglas, Caine may be the musician on the current scene who is exploring the possibilities of the electric piano to its fullest extent in creating atmospheric tension, funk lines and using the instrument as an expressive vehicle for soloing. James Genus and Clarence Penn hold down the bass and drum spots respectively, and they create a superb pocket for the rest of the band to improvise upon.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Another one of my favorite musicians is gone, pianist John Hicks has passed away at age 63. I loved his ability to play both "inside" and "outside" with power and grace, supporting firebreathers like Pharoah Sanders and David Murray as well as leading his own swinging trios through tributes to Earl Hines and Errol Garner. I only saw him in person once, in a duo performance with guitarist Peter Leitch at "A Place For Jazz" in Schenectady, NY; which held their concerts in an acoustically perfect Unitarian Church. I remember being a little apprehensive, wondering how one of my favorite pianists would sound in that setting, but the music was wonderful - warm, graceful and always swinging, like all of Hicks' music.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Various Artists - Chicago Ain't Nothin' But a Blues Band (Delmark 1972, 1999)

I'm partial to this record because it has one of my all time favorite album covers. The look on the kid's face is just priceless. The music isn't half bad either, as it is a collection of blues and blues-rock from the Delmark archives. Pianist Sunnyland Slim contributes some killer tracks like "Recession Blues" and the jumping "Everything's Gonna Be All Right" while there are some rare early tracks from Eddie "The Chief" Clearwater while he was going through a serious Chuck Berry phase.

In fact, much of the collection comes from the intersection of early rock 'n' roll, r&b and blues, a pivotal time where talent was as important as style and blues still had a chance to be a hit. It's fascinating to hear the veterans like Slim and Henry Gray (another Chicago piano pounder that had a long and productive career) giving way to the young guard of the time, artists like Clearwater who were paving the way for r&b to morph into rock 'n' roll. This was a great example of how potent the Chicago blues and r&b scene was in fifties and sixties, when the city was seemingly awash in great music.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

My Favorite Podcasts

Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. The distribution format of a podcast uses either the RSS or Atom syndication formats (Wikipedia). While it goes without saying that you should download my podcast first, after you've digested it here are some other suggestions for your listening pleasure:

Bending Corners: Jazz 'n' Groove
Red Jazz
Portland Jazz Jams
Northern Blues

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia, 2006)

Like all great Americana music, the band lurches in and out of control like a Salvation Army ensemble being mashed-up with a Tom Waits band. Springsteen's voice has gotten much more rough and populist - how did that Jersey boy get that Okie twang in his voice anyway? The Seeger songs are timeless and really shine through: "John Henry" is the story of the legendary steel-drivin' man and builds a ferocious momentum as does the gospel drenched "Mary Don't You Weep." A Nebraska-like sense of desolation and lost hope fills the ballads "Jacob's Ladder" and "My Oklahoma Home." The only thing that even approaches a mis-step is the over the top arrangement that pushes "Shenandoah" into maudlin territory. Still, with a hard fought and triumphant version of "We Shall Overcome" and a wry "Froggy Went A-Courtin," the album wraps up in grand style. This is a really fine example of how a tribute album should be done. Not a slavish recreation of the original music or a complete overhaul, but a loving re-examination of great traditional music.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Library Journal chimes with an article the best books about jazz: Library Journal - In Praise of Blue Notes: "More than a century after its birth in New Orleans, jazz continues to thrive by resisting assimilation and definition. Spontaneity, experimentation, and individuality have defined this music since Louis Armstrong brought everything into focus with his seminal Hot Fives and Sevens recordings in the late 1920s. As a result, many of jazz's greatest moments are as ephemeral as sand paintings." In Praise of Blue Notes Web Addendum

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bitorrent Blast - Pharoah Sanders Band featuring Leon Thomas; Jazz Workshop; Boston; Aug 4, 1974

Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and vocalist Leon Thomas recorded several times together, notably on Sanders' classic Impulse album Karma, and a few of Thomas' albums for Flying Dutchman. This live torrent of the band from Boston is fascinating for several reasons. One is Sanders playing gutbucket blues while Thomas takes a break from his usual perch in the spiritual realm for the more earthly pulpit as a blues belter, singing John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" and the traditional "See See Rider." The juxtaposition between Thomas' smooth croon and otherworldly yodel and Sanders sandpaper-toned tenor saxophone is as compelling as always. But nothing can prepare you for the final section of the 19 minute epic "Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord" that finds Sanders playing some of the most caustic, ecstatic and extreme tenor saxophone ever recorded - a capella no less. In fact, it probably had to be - what instrument or vocalist could possibly compete with the musical equivalent of opening up the top of your skull and sprinkling in a can of Drano? Sonic Youth recorded an epic of their own entitled "Expressway to Yr. Skull" but even they sound like Tom Jones in the face of this unprecedented onslaught. This is the holy grail for fans of spiritual jazz, with Leon Thomas warbling like a underwater Swiss yodeler and Sanders altering beautiful melody statements with drop-the-MOAB scorched earth improv like an Old Testament deity. This is one you definitely want to play at work to introduce the cubicle mates to the wonder that is avant-garde jazz. Then you can go on a spiritual journey of your own - right to the unemployment office, after your ass is unceremoniously booted out of there...

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Neil Young's Antiwar Howl: "Neil Young is mad as hell and wants you to know it. Immediately. Having knocked out a ragged collection of antiwar, anti-Bush songs in about two weeks, Young is now rushing the recording into the marketplace.'Living With War,' which Young calls a 'metal folk protest' album, has been streaming since Friday, and just yesterday the 10-song set was made available for purchase as a digital download. The CD will arrive in stores Tuesday, having been hurried through the manufacturing process."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ben Allison - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto, 2006)

Bassist, composer and Jazz Composers Collective leader Ben Allison is one of the most politically aware of modern musicians, a news junkie who composed the theme for NPR's watchdog show "On the Media," he's occasionally written compositions reflecting current events. This album reflects his displeasure with the current American administration with a suite like album of instrumental protest music, where he's joined by Ron Horton on trumpet, Steve Cardenas on guitar and Jeff Ballard on drums. "Talking Heads" sets up an interesting guitar percussion groove by having Cardenas hit the strings with a wooden doll. The resulting sound is almost like some type of African stringed instrument like those Allison used on his Peace Pipe album. "Hey Man" brings a start-stop feel to a tribute to another politically aware bassist, Charlie Haden. "Emergency" really brings the quartet's energy to bear at full force. Unhinged drumming and pulsating bass drive electric guitar and fanfare trumpet into a potent statement.

Horton (my favorite trumpet player of recent vintage) gets a gorgeous solo over the theme of "Midnight Cowboy" which is taken at a spacious mid-tempo. Hollywood should give Terence Blanchard a rest and call Ron Horton up for some film scoring, as he's more than up to the task. The quartet's version of an earlier Allison composition, "Weazy" sounds like a homage to the music Bill Frisell made with trumpeter Ron Miles in the mid 1990's with the open folkish melody and restrained soloing. "Ruby's Roundabout" is a haunting and moving tune written for his daughter - Allison plays acoustic guitar instead of bass and Ballard plays the most gentle of percussive beats including a baby rattle. Horton solos majestically over it all with a somber, yet hopeful tone. "Blabbermouth" finishes the record with an unleashed Jeff Ballard providing some wonderfully intense drumming. Like many of Allison's studio albums, there's a "chamber jazz" feel to this record. 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. It would be great to see this band live to see how they stretch and tug these songs in live performance. This is a wonderful record and is highly recommended.

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