Saturday, September 30, 2006

Keith Jarrett - Tokyo Solo DVD (ECM, 2006)

This is a video release of a Jarrett solo concert from Japan, recorded in 2002 shortly after he began to recover from his bout with chronic fatigue syndrome and develop a more intensive public performance schedule. He looks fit and healthy on this release and part of the fascination with this DVD is watching Jarrett perform. His predilection for grunting and humming in performance is well known, but it's a trip to watch him twist and contort his body, crossing his hands on the piano at times a la Thelonious Monk and basically throwing his entire physical being in the music. As for the music, he begins each of his lengthy improvisations starting slowly and working his way into a more feveish state as the music develops. It's difficult to understand whether he has some themes or melodies planned when he begins or not. There are long sections of reflective music and distinct melodies that pop up from time to time, but over all the sense is that of a flowing river of music. Fans of Jarrett or of piano music in general would find this enjoyable.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Bob Dylan - Modern Times (Columbia, 2006)

Ol' Bob Dylan keeps on rollin' on. Hot on the heels of last years successful documentary No Direction Home, comes this album and the man appearing everywhere from the cover of Rolling Store to an Apple iPod commercial. The hype has certainly produced results, with the album reaching the #1 position on the Billboard charts and gaining praise far and wide. The music is a really solid slice of rootsy Americana, calling on folk, blues, gospel and even a little country swing. There is a meditative serenity to a lot of the music, and ballads and mid-tempo songs dominate, but the old man still knows how to cut loose as he shows with the jumpin' swagger of the blues standard "Rollin' and Tumblin" and the gritty "Workingman's Blues #2." "Thunder on the Mountain" contains some classic Dylan wordplay over a bubbling shuffle groove. As good as all that is, "Nettie Moore" may be the pick of this particular litter. Moving at a slow meditative pace, he draws of her story into an amazingly full bodied narrative. "Ain't Talkin'" sees Dylan moving along a landscape like something out of a Cormac McCarthy novel... chaos and madness all around him, but he merely shrugs his shoulders and moves on down the road.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006 has an interview entitled Bill Frisell: Why So Stressed Out?: "Titled simply, Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian (Nonesuch, 2006), this ten-track disc blurs the lines that divide music into various styles and genres. "I'm always bothered by labels proclaiming this is jazz, this is blues, this is country, this is rock," says Frisell. "All those boundaries, I don't think they really exist.""

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Jason Moran - Artist in Residence (Blue Note, 2006)

Jason Moran is one of the most interesting young musicians on the scene today, grounded in the innovations of his mentors Andrew Hill and Jaki Byard, Moran still reaches for fresh and innovative approaches like using subtle electronics and sampling. This album doesn't have the unified concept of some of his previous albums, rather there is a diverse approach that finds Moran's core trio (the leader on piano with Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums) joined by vocalists and speakers both sampled and live, and special guests like trumpeter Ralph Alessi and guitarist Marvin Sewell. What this album amounts to is a mixed bag of material that Jason Moran has written as grant-funded projects from arts organizations. They demonstrate the diverse nature of Moran's writing but the wildly divergent nature of the different tracks keeps the music from developing into a coherent album.

"Break Down" and "The Artists Ought to be Writing" have the Moran trio improvising while sampled spoken pronouncements from artist Adrian Piper are sampled into the mix. It's an interesting concept, but the sampled dialogue seems stiff next to the flowing and dynamic music. An operatic composition "Milestone," seems a little out of place as well. As much as I respect his experimental tracks, it's the more traditional tracks that I feel work best on this album. "Lift Every Voice" featuring guitarist Sewell who was stellar on Moran's album Same Mother is wonderful here, propelling the band on a bluesy gospel groove. Also, the complex freebop of "RAIN" echoes the thoughtfully exploratory music of Hill and Byard in a lengthy performance. The open mindedness at work here is too be commended and it will be interesting to see where Moran takes his music next.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti, 2006)

With her flaming red hair and imposing good looks, Neko Case strikes an impressive pose, but that's nothing compared to the development of her singing and songwriting over the past few years. This album bathes her strong voice with echoing reverb, making her tales of love and loss seem even more apocalyptic. Case mixes country, folk and pop with an unusual deftness that sets her apart from the veritable army of female singer songwriters on todays music scene, and with backup from the likes of Calexico, one of the finest roots rock groups around, the music meshes very well with the lyrics.

Songs like "Star Witness" and "Margaret vs. Pauline" tackle working class themes and issues without the slightest smirk and are devastating performances. Surprising, but equally powerful are the gospel influences in the music, most overtly brought forth in "John Saw That Number." But the theme that most pervades the album is one of hope amidst a great struggle, exemplified by songs like "That Teenage Feeling" and "Maybe Sparrow" which acknowledge the hardships of ordinary life but never give into depression or clinched optimism, just small hard won triumphs. 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.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Music - Ornette Coleman - New York Times: "The alto saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman, one of the last of the truly imposing figures from a generation of jazz players that was full of them, seldom talks about other people's music. People generally want to ask him about his own, and that becomes the subject he addresses. Or half-addresses: what he's really focused on is a set of interrelated questions about music, religion and the nature of being. Sometimes he can seem indirect, or sentimental, or thoroughly confusing. Other times he sounds like one of the world's killer aphorists."

Friday, September 22, 2006

John Mooney - Big Ol' Fiya (CDBaby, 2006)

The very real ups and downs that John Mooney has experienced in his life have taught him the real meaning of the blues. Learning to play a mean slide guitar and sing with passion at the foot of the legendary Son House, Mooney's professional career has been one of fits and starts, thrilling CD's and passionate concerts and longs gaps of silence while the personal demons were dealt with. This most recent comeback finds him with a self produced CD that emphasizes rhythm and vocals over his protean slide guitar playing. The songs however, are still as strong as ever. Although it's not an explicit tribute as many records in the wake of Katrina have been, the atmosphere of New Orleans, Mooney's adopted hometown, pervades the music.

"2 Get 2 Heaven" opens the disc with Mooney directly confronting his problems over a boiling shuffle groove. "Big ol' Fiya" and "Dig My Way 2 China" are more traditional blues songs with some great lyrical turns, especially in the latter where he plaintively sings that his baby has him down so low that he's going to dig a hole to China to escape her. You can't get much more traditional that "Louise McGhee" either, one of Son House's classic tunes and here Mooney does his old mentor proud with a stripped down version of this famous blues song. "Drink a Little Poison (4 U Die)" is another song of note, with some killer New Orleans flavored drumming and a sing-a-long chorus. This is fine stuff from the always interesting John Mooney and fans of delta of swamp blues shouldn't hesitate. Hopefully he'll stick around for a while this time and grace us with some more great music soon.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau - Metheny/Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2006)

Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau are musicians that I have respected more than enjoyed over the past several years. I tend to like each man's more adventurous material (Song X and 80/81 for Metheny and Largo for Mehldau) rather than their more popular work, but both are major players on the contemporary jazz scene, so a collaboration between the two is an important album. Seven of the nine tracks on the disc are pure duets, with Mehldau sticking to acoustic piano throughout while Metheny runs the gamut of acoustic and electric guitars. On two tracks, they are joined by Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums. The music begins with a moody and brooding opener, "Unrequited" before moving into "Ahmid-6," a more upbeat and personable duet performance, where both musicians seem well engaged with the song and each other. "Summer Day" has a pastel feel from the mix of electric and acoustic instruments, which gives the music a wistful and nostalgic sensibility, recalling Metheny's duet album with Charlie Haden, Beyond the Missouri Sky. Metheny adds some deft and flashy acoustic guitar to the mix. "Ring of Life" adds bass and drums, finally giving the music a little life and moving things along at a brisk tempo. Mehldau gets a splashy solo backed by bass and drums and Metheny not to be outdone, comes in with a heavily synthed-up guitar solo.

Moving back into the duet scene, "Legend" is another melancholy performance. Mehldau gets a more spritely solo piano interlude during the middle passage of the song. Likewise "Find Me In Your Dreams" is a quiet elegiac duet. "Say the Bother's Name" has bass and drums kick back in with a much needed boost, enlivening the atmosphere that gets a little too stilted and close in the duets. The whole quartet is well engaged on this cut, making me wish that the entire album had been recorded as a quartet project. It would be a hoot to hear this band recorded live, hopefully that is in the works. A few quiet duo songs end the disc, "Annie's Bittersweet Cake" and the all acoustic "Make Peace" which opens with gentle acoustic guitar, and the piano joins quietly to keep the music peaceful and reflective. There's some nice acoustic guitar - piano interplay here. The music on this disc is impeccably played as can be imagined from musicians of this level, but there's just a sense of clinical lifelessness to some of the duo tracks that leaves me cold. The quartet tracks are really quite nice, adding some bluesy exuberance to the proceedings and snapping the co-leaders out of the torpor they occasionally fall into. Regardless, fans of either of the two principals will find this enjoyable, and it will probably prove to be quite popular.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This was a very interesting find on the dimeadozen bittorrent site, a recording of Ornette Coleman performing the Skies of America suite with his band of the day, Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums; joined by the American Symphony Orchestra, with Leon Thompson conducting. This concert took place during the Newport in New York Festival, at Philharmonic Hall in New York City on July 4, 1972. The first unnamed track finds Ornette and company improvising with the symphony on alternating sections of the composition, and sounds pretty cool. Blackwell sounds particularly on fire, playing with abandon and passion. It's also fascinating to hear how Coleman and Redman compliment each other without getting in each other's way. Ornette ends the piece with some sublime solo alto. Track two starts out with the symphony playing cacophonously before slipping into a more playful mode. Ornette's band come in and the two play together sounding deep and strong, both the symphony and quartet inspire and dance around each other. The symphony steps aside and lets Ornette grove on alto over a cookin' rhythm section. Track three Finishes up the proceedings with some feverish exchanges between the orchestra and quartet. Jazz and classical may make for strange bedfellows, but they do make fascinating music.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Grateful Dead - Fillmore West, 1969 (Rhino, 2006)

This three-disc set tracks the Grateful Dead's performances during the height of their early power. The material collected here had been previously bootlegged by the Dead's legion of collecting fans, but this official release cherry picks the finest performances and adds lengthy liner notes and many color photographs to create a nice package. While the music contained herein demonstrates the breadth of the bands music, certain things do stand out. For me it was Ron "Pigpen" McKernan lending the band some bluesy credibility that they may have otherwise lacked. Pigpen plays swirling organ and some strong harmonica throughout the music, but is heard to best effect on the blues songs he took lead vocals on.

He leads the band through an absolutely charging version of Bobby Bland's "Turn on Your Lovelight" and sings with great authority on Muddy Waters' "King Bee" and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." The rest of the band is certainly not to be undone, as the music alternates between spacey on "Mountains on the Moon," "Dark Star" and blasting rock and roll on tracks like "Cosmic Charlie" and the go-for-broke final concert ending medley jam. In a sense this music would be the high water mark of the band's early period, with a shift to acoustic instruments and the first of many personnel additions and subtractions on the way. Still, this is a great snapshot of one of the finest live-performance bands in rock and roll history.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

DO THE MATH: Jason Moran interviewed by Ethan Iverson: "Jason Moran interviewed by Ethan Iverson (They spoke Saturday night after the gig at the Blue Note. Naturally, the topic is other piano players.)"

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bill Frisell w/ Ron Carter and Paul Motian (Nonesuch, 2006)

Eclectic guitarist Bill Frisell has long been one of my favorite musicians, his sense of humor and boundary-stretching big picture idea of what it is to play "jazz" appeals to me greatly. On this album, he has two other legendary musicians in tow, bassist Carter and drummer Motian and produces one of the "jazziest" albums of his eclectic career. Paul Motian has played with Frisell for years in a long running trio with saxophonist Joe Lovano, and Ron Carter has been the object of Frisell's admiration to the point of having a tune dedicated to him on Frisell's Blues Dream release. The music examines several different sub-genres. Two Thelonious Monk compositions, "Raise Four" and "Misterioso," give the trio a chance to stretch out interpreting the master's intricate compositions.

It wouldn't be a Bill Frisell album without a dose of Americana, in this case, covers of "You Are My Sunshine," Hank Williams "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and the traditional "Pretty Polly." Polly, in particular, is fascinating as Frisell takes an almost painterly approach deftly adding some electronic enhancements and feedback to create an ominous sound tapestry. Carter's rock solid bass work and Motian's agile percussion (especially his superb brushwork) are spot-on throughout the entire disc. The album is rounded out by one original from each band member, most notably Carter's spry "Eighty-One." Fans who were looking for Frisell to step out and play something akin to the music he made with Joey Baron and John Zorn may be a little disappointed, but music fans who appreciate fine teamwork with a little wry humor will find this disc quite enjoyable.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Jason Moran and the Bad Plus - New York Times: "The members of the Bad Plus are full-on jazz obsessives; if you have doubts, check their blog, which now includes a reader-assisted canon of the great jazz records from what is perceived as the music's dark years, the early 70's to the late 80's. It would be in character for them to cover tunes from out-of-print, small-issue jazz records. But they go the other way, putting pop-radio songs of their youth into their repertory."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wayne Shorter - Adam's Apple (Blue Note, 1966)

Amongst Wayne Shorter's consistently excellent Blue Note recordings of the mid to late '60's, Speak No Evil gets the nod from most critics as the best record of the period, but I have always preferred the stripped down quartet sessions of Juju and this wonderful album. Joining Shorter (tenor sax only, no soprano) on this disc are Herbie Hancock on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Joe Chambers on drums. This session followed the classic Blue Note blueprint of the period, mixing the blues and ballads of hard bop with some of the emerging freedom of the period. There's some burning saxophone on the driving title track, abstract balladering of "501 Blues" and the epic soon-to-be-standard "Footprints" which would go on to be one of the most memorable jazz compositions of the post-war period.

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - Prestige Profiles, Vol. 10 (Prestige, 2005)

Lockjaw Davis' deep tenor saxophone was featured on many wonderful sessions for the Basie band and he also co-led a couple of wonderful small bands with the organist Shirley Scott and fellow tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. This sampler features a number of the tracks with Scott and her swinging gospelish organ fits Davis' bluesy tenor very well. Davis and Scott kick it out on the uptempo wailers "Intermission Riff" and "The Rev" but also throttle back to show off their ballad skills on the standards "Willow Weep For Me" and "Speak Low." In addition to the organ tracks, Davis is displayed in a big band context on an Oliver Nelson composition and arrangement "Trane Whistle," and an acoustic quintet setting with Horace Parlan on piano on "Goin' to a Meeitn'." This is a solid low-cost introduction to Davis' finest work.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Kenny Garrett: Musical Explorer: "Alto saxophonist and composer Kenny Garrett has released more than a dozen albums over a career spanning nearly three decades. His resume would make the average jazz fan weak in the knees: Freddy Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, the Duke Ellington Band, the Mel Lewis Orchestra, and many others."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Vacation time! Hope to be back soon to start blogging again...

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bill Shoemaker has a new issue of the online jazz magazine Point of Departure up and running:

  • The Uh Uh Uhs: Commentary on Current Music Criticism
  • Electric Ascension: Rova and the Coltrane Classic
  • Moment's Notice: Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
  • The Turnaround!: Previously Published Articles, Essays and Reviews
  • The Circle With A Hole In the Middle: Rare Vinyl Revisited
  • Travellin' Light: Michael Moore About Life on the Road
  • Free Jazz: The Point of Departure Contest

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sound in Action Trio - Gate (Atavistic, 2006)

The pace with which Ken Vandermark led or related ensembles have been releasing music on CD has reached a fever pitch recently. This is the second album by his Sound in Action Trio with Vandermark on reed instruments and Robert Barry and Tim Daisy on drums. The set up with two drummers and no bass or piano is an unusual one and sets this trio apart from Vandermark's other ensembles. On "Horizontal Fall (For Han Bennink)" they come out of the gate fast and hard, with the two drummers emulating Bennink's manic style. Vandermark worries a short stuttering phrase while the drummers wail. Ken Vandermark takes the Eric Dolphy composition "The Prophet" at a slower pace than the original, playing bass clarinet. A nice swinging version of an overlooked composition. "Red Cross" is an Elvin Jones tribute, which seems to bear little resemblance to either Jones solo work or his work with Coltrane, rather a tip 'o the hat to a great musician. Vandermark is back on tenor here, sounding ripe and engaged. "Medium Cool (For Paul Lovens)" Calms things way down, with gentle probing on the saxophone and timekeeping on the cymbals. "Enlightenment" was written by the obscure Hobart Dotson, and was a staple of the Sun Ra Arkestra, it has a great and memorable melody. This is a nice version, but I do miss June Tyson's vocals(!) There is some very nice drum interplay when Vandermark steps aside.

"Side Car (For Tony Williams)" finds the band celebrating the great drummer, the percussionists are front and center here. Nice stuff - controlled, but still energetic. "Slate (For Paul Lytton)" slows things down again with haunting intro. The song is quiet and spacey, with light touches on cymbals and gentle clarinet. "One Down, One Up" is a Coltrane cover, actually sounding a little Ornette-ish. Impressive drum interaction, and some exciting, frenetic soloing from Vandermark on tenor. The Albert Ayler cover, "Love Cry", was title track of one of Ayler's most neglected albums and is taken slowly, almost reverently, but still retaining the folky feel that Ayler preferred. Vandermark keeps moving into a deep growling and buzzing free solo while the drummers hold up a shimmering floor beneath him. Herbie Nichols' "House Party Starting" is a mellow version of the track by this underrated composer. The drummers interact respectfully and KV improvises gently over them. There's a lot of good music here and fans and collectors of Vandermark's voluminous output should find much to enjoy.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Here is a very interesting article on the ups and downs of one of my favorite blues msucians: A true blues survivor "Not that long ago, Joe Louis Walker was being hailed as one of the emerging stars of the modern American blues, anointed by no less than B.B. King, who recorded one of Walker's songs and rewarded him with a guitar modeled on his famed Lucille."
Dewey Redman, 75, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies - New York Times: "Dewey Redman, an expansive and poetic tenor saxophonist and bandleader who had been at the aesthetic frontiers of jazz since the 1960’s, died on Saturday in Brooklyn. He was 75 and lived in Brooklyn."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Herbie Hancock - Flood (Columbia, 1975)

I spent quite a while searching for this Japan-only release of Herbie and the Headhunters live, but is was certainly worth the wait. The concert opens with Hancock playing some suptuous acoustic piano on "Maiden Voyage" as the band slowly joins him with electric bass, drums and flute seguing into "Actual Proof" which moves things at a more brisk tempo with some excellent flute and bass playing. "Spank-a-Lee" brings the Headhunters funky fusion full force, with hand percussion, bubbling bass and funky saxophone coalescing into a nice funk-jazz collective improvisation by the whole group.

"Watermelon Man" extends the funk to the delight of the crowd, while the horns and synths still manage to maintain an organic feel. Herbie brings in some cool sounding electric piano, and there's a smokin' tenor saxophone solo from Bennie Maupin to boot. Dedicated to 'the beautiful ladies of Tokyo,' "Butterfly" is a ballad with synthesizers and saxophone in the lead. Herbie gets down with his gadgets as funky bass holds down the bottom. "Chameleon" blasts off for sci-fi land with all sorts of futuristic sounding electronic keyboards on display, before the band comes back down to earth with the lengthy "Hang Up Your Hang Ups" which has some wonderful extended fender rhodes soloing from Hancock. This is an enjoyable album and worth searching for if you are a fan of funky fusion.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Dave Holland Quintet - Critical Mass (Dare 2/Sunnyside, 2006)

Critical Mass is the first studio album in four years from what has become the premier working group in modern jazz, the Dave Holland Quintet. After a few early changes, the band's personnel has stabilized with Holland on bass, Chris Potter on tenor and soprano saxophones, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone and marimba, and Nate Smith on drums. The album begins with "The Eyes Have It," featuring the group's always wonderful near-telepathic interplay and a strong and confident tenor saxophone solo from Chris Potter. "Easy Did It" is one of the discs highlights, starting with a mellow beginning and then building in tempo and intensity with some nice trombone soloing over vibes and drums, moving to an extremely hip vibraphone and drums duet before ending with an intense collective improvisation with Pottter on soprano saxophone anchored by some amazing drumming from Nate Smith.

"Vicissitudes" has some more impressive soloing from Chris Potter and a cool sounding vibes solo from Steve Nelson, and a funky drum and bass interlude. "Sacred Garden" takes on a Middle Eastern flavor, an area the group has explored successfully before. "Lucky 7" has a nice stuttering theme breaking out into a strong trombone solo. The most revelatory aspect of this album is the drumming of Nate Smith who is really becoming a star with his complex, yet funky drumming on this record. Combined with the shimmering and percussive quality of Nelson's vibes and marimba, the band becomes a rhythmic powerhouse. For the twenty-first century, this band has been the state of the art in modern mainstream jazz and proof that working groups make the most coherent records. This is yet another feather in their cap.

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