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.

Send comments to: Tim

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.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Willem Breuker et. al. - The Compositions of Eric Dolphy (BVhaast, 2006)

Eric Dolphy's joyous alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute were a protean force on the jazz scene during his brief life and left a lasting impact, especially in Europe where he played his last concerts. On this disc a group of Dutch musicians with one rogue American play tribute to Dolphy by examining his compositional legacy. While Dolphy was somewhat erroneously lumped in with the "new thing" he was really a multi-faceted writer and performer who left a small but challenging book of original compositions. Recorded live in 2000, the band is Willem Breuker on saxophones and nominal leader, Eric Vloeimans on trumpet, Alex Coke on tenor saxophone and flute, Frank Van Bommel on piano, Arjen Gorter on bass and John Engels on drums. According to the liner notes, several of these musicians have won awards in their native land. The music is at once familiar and mysterious as Dolphy left a lot of room in his writing for improvisation and was surrounded by great players like Booker Little, Richard Davis and Andrew Hill. "GW" and "245" are early compositions that came from Dolpy's first albums on New Jazz and here they are performed respectfully but not reverentially (always the hardest part of any tribute.) Breuker and Alex Coke have the most difficult tasks on this disc, having to navigate the sudden swoops of Eric Dolphy's alto and approximating the bird like wonder of his flute, and both succeed admirably here. Everyone gets to stretch out on "The Prophet" and trumpeter Eric Vloeimans wisely doesn't try to copy the epic soloing that Little achieved on this song during their epochal Five Spot recordings but instead slowly crafts a fine unique statement of his own. Pianist Van Brommel deserves kudos for his playing on the Thelonious Monk inspired "Hat and Beard" by grafting Andrew Hill and Monk with his own pianistic vision. This is a well played and heartfelt tribute to an all too often overlooked master. It also makes for a good way to investigate some of the fine jazz that is being made in Europe.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Here are short reviews of couple vinyl records I've scrounged out of various used bins over the past couple of months:

Don Pullen & Don Moye - (Milano Strut, Black Saint 1978)

This is a very interesting duet recording of pianist Pullen who broke into the majors playing with Charles Mingus before forming a great collective band with George Adams and producing some excellent solo work and Fonomu Don Moye, most well know for being the drummer and percussionist for the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The first and final pieces on this LP, "Conversation" and "Curve Eleven (For Giuseppi)" are the most freely improvised with Pullen's lightning fast, highly percussive runs meshing well with Moye's fluid percussion. The middle two compositions break the mold a little but as communication is a deeply reflective ballad and the title track brings the funk with Pullen on organ and Moye breaking into a backbeat at times. It really shows that although these musicians were associated with the avant-garde, they had many tricks up their sleeves.

Stanley Turrentine - Salt Song (CTI, 1971)

Given CTI's reputation as a provider of proto smooth jazz I wasn't sure this record was really going to be my cup of tea, but considering I love Stanley's bluesy tenor (and the record only cost 99 cents!) I thought it was worth a shot. I was pleasantly surprised with the first song, "Gibraltar" which had some deeply soulful tenor as could be expected, but also some very fine guitar soloing from Eddie Gale who locks into a Grant Greenish R&B groove. The rest of the album is so-so with some nice afro-brazillian grooves on "Vera Cruz" and a rather tame slice of gospel on "I Told Jesus." Turrentine's CTI albums were quite popular and set the tone for the records he made for most of the rest of his career, playing some easy listening stuff to get radio airplay and then coming back to his blues and bop roots when performing live.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Veteran composer and instrumentalist Alice Coltrane has been in the news quite a bit lately, here are some interesting articles with excerpts:

New York Times: Ms. Coltrane has performed a few times in recent years with her son, the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, in New York: once at Town Hall in 1998, and again at Joe's Pub in 2002. (Both times, she was on his bandstand, and just for a few songs.) In 2004 Ms. Coltrane made her first jazzish record in 26 years, "Translinear Light," produced by Ravi Coltrane. This year he encouraged his mother to undertake a three-stop tour with him and a few other first-rate jazz musicians; Sunday's show connected her new work to her old work, and to her husband's and her son's as well.

Asbury Park Press: Leading a quintet that included the ageless and incredible drumming of Jack DeJohnette, her son Ravi Coltrane on sax with bassists Drew Gress and Reggie Workman, Coltrane played two roughly 45-minute sets that included late husband John Coltrane's "Africa" and the opening of his "A Love Supreme." She also previewed some large ensemble numbers from her upcoming Impulse CD of inspirational music.

Washington Post: Indeed, watching Alice on organ, beaming till her dimples pop, it's not hard to catch a glimpse of the child prodigy from Detroit playing in the Baptist church. To see the young bebop player, the one with whom John Coltrane fell in love, back at Birdland so many years ago

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kenny Garrett - Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch, 2006)

Alto saxophonist and composer Kenny Garrett's most recent compact disc was influenced by his travels in the far east. But try as he might, his strongest suit remains fast paced modern hard bop, and that is where the most successful music on this disc lies. Joining Garrett on this disc are quite a crew including Pharoah Sanders, Mulgrew Miller, Brian Blade and Robert Hurst. The music itself is split between the previously mentioned burning hard bop, and more mystical songs informed by Garrett's travels. Of the former, "Calling", "Beyond the Wall" and "NOW" are bravura performances filled with daredevil saxophone acrobatics from Garrett and Sanders pitching in some of his trademark tone to ratchet up the intensity even more. Mulgrew Miller is a very fine pianist, and he sounds eerily like McCoy Tyner with lighning fast runs and full bodied comping. When things slow down and attempt to introduce an eastern feel, the music isn't quite so successful. Wordless vocals are introduced into songs like "Quing Wen" and "Kiss to the Skies" but they really serve no purpose in supporting the music except to add a layer of ornamentality that isn't necessary. It's ironic that Sanders performs on this disc, because much of the eastern influenced music here bears a striking similarity to music he recorded in the 1970's on albums like Heart is a Melody and Rejoice. So while I respect the musicians for taking chances with their music and incorporating eastern motifs into their music, the disc as a whole has an uneven quality that keeps it from taking its place amongst Garrett's finest work.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

IV Thieves - If We Can't Escape My Pretty (New West, 2006)

Singer-Songwriter Nic Armstrong has gotten all democratic and taken his name off the marquee, joining his former backing band in the IV Thieves. They also ditched England for the hothouse music scene of Austin, Texas and recorded this album which combines shaggy garage rock and roll with Beatle-esque pop flourishes. The album has a couple of rockers that have been groomed as singles like "You Can't Love What You Don't Understand" which has a roomier more well produced sound, and "Take This Heart" which adds some psychedelic touches to the fist pumping chant along lyrics. The most interesting songs come later as the band mines the Revolver/Rubber Soul sound of the Beatles quite deeply with complex but pleasing harmonies on "Catastrophe" and the scorching "Take This Heart." Escape the home country if they like, but they still sound like an English rock band in the lineage of Oasis and The Libertines which are pretty heavy company, so there's nothing wrong with that. While they haven't yet become a very original group, they wear their influences proudly and make good, tight retro-rock. If any of the bands mentioned above strike your fancy, this disc might be something you would enjoy as well.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, October 23, 2006

Nils Petter Molvaer - An American Compilation (Thirsty Ear, 2006)

Nils Petter Molvaer is a Norwegian jazz trumpeter who has been a pioneer in using electronics in jazz, gaining fame with his ECM records Solid Ether and Khmer that wedded techno beats and electronic soundscapes to jazz. This collection features selections from albums he cut in the early 2000's that were not available in the USA and serves as his introduction to the Thirsty Ear label who has done quite a few "jazztronica" experiments with artists like Matthew Shipp and Spring Heel Jack. Molvaer does have a unique sound and it is interesting listening to him as the beats and grooves he uses seem alien to the mainstream jazz of the United States which is based on the bluesy hard bop of the 1950's and 60's. Some examples are the tracks "Frozen" and "Little Indian" which keep a mid tempo sheen of electronic music while Molvaer's open trumpet floats over the top. "Vildermness," which was recorded live is a standout track using the skittering electronic beats to take a fast pace as the trumpeter bobs and weaves in and out. To those interested in the intersection of jazz and electronic music or the hybrid jazz that has become popular in Europe this makes for apassableeintroductionn to Molvaer's work. People whose tastes run toward the traditional American bop, blues and ballads can safely pass this by.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Branford Marsalis - Braggtown (Marsalis Music, 2006)

This album is really the tale of two Branfords, the first being the tenor saxophone wielding scrapper fighting his way through bruising workouts that sound like Crescent era John Coltrane, chased by Elvin Jones own doppelganger, Jeff "Tain" Watts. The other Branford is the romantic poet using his soprano saxophone at crawling tempos to create lush patient improvisations. Besides Marsalis and Watts, Joey Calderazzo plays piano and Eric Revis plays bass. The burning tenor songs make the biggest impact on me, they are the easiest to understand as they are firmly rooted in the past and paovide the frame of reference in the music that John Coltrane had pioneered in the mid-1960's.

"Jack Baker" leads off the album and along with the Watts feature "Blakzilla" and "Black Elk Speaks" the music is very exciting and very much in the post bop tenor saxophone tradition. Often, Calderazzo and Revis become superfluous to the music, and Marsails and Watts break away and interact much like Coltrane and Jones at their most intense. The soprano saxophone features, "Hope," "Fate" and "O Solitude" are much more difficult for me to understand, as the music is taken at a very slow pace and requires a lot of patience to listen to and understand. Marsalis also has a very limpid tone on the soprano, which although quite individual and unique, is not something that reaches out and grabs your attention. So in the end, there is an interesting album which runs the gamut from very fast to very slow, becoming the tortoise and the hare simultaneously.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sonny Rollins - New York Times: "As an elder statesman, Mr. Rollins is aware of the emblematic impact of his decision to abandon the traditional recording-industry model, though he plays down that impact. "This is where the business is going," he said. "I hate technology myself, but that aside, one of the good things technology has done is allowed guys to use the Internet and sell their own product. I think this is inevitable."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Trio Beyond - Saudades (ECM, 2006)

Trio Beyond is a collective unit made up of Jack DeJohnette on drums and percussion, John Scofield on guitar, and Larry Goldings on Hammond organ and electric keyboards. 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 made up of drummer Tony Williams, guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young. This collection is a two-CD live recording that channels some of the energy of the original band and also adds some very interesting covers and originals. "If" is a straightforward groover with some clean sounding guitar over organ and drums. The organ then moves out front, cookin' hard before trading phrases with the drums.

"7 Steps to Heaven" kicks in fast and hard with some great drumming. Jack DeJohnette is inspired throughout the entire recording, no doubt by paying homage to his friend and colleague Tony Williams. "As One" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" slow things down to a spacey groove with some probing electric keyboards. "Spectrum" and "Emergency" are the two most direct links coming from the original Lifetime Emergency LP and show the band improvising collectively at a very high level, with all members of the trio quite inspired by the proceedings and the audience roaring its approval. With these three players at the peak of their powers, this is a very exciting album and is recommended highly to fans of fusion or modern jazz in general.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

There's an interesting article on Dave Douglas at Bloomberg.com: "I get disappointed when I go to Europe,'' Douglas says, "and I'm sitting in some cafe and I'm talking with the musicians and promoters and somebody says: 'Isn't it ironic that the country that gave us this music is only capable of looking back? In America, it's all about playing Louis Armstrong music, recreating the 50s, and wearing old-fashioned suits.' I hear this all the time. I'm trying to prove that there is also progressive music in the U.S.'' Douglas also comments on this article in his blog.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A couple of the local Jersey papers have carried this nice article, A Love Supreme For Alice Coltrane: "She filled in for McCoy Tyner as Coltrane's pianist in 1966, helping drive her husband's music to new avant-garde dimensions. After John Coltrane's death in 1967, she made a series of albums weaving Hindu and one-world religious messages with free jazz and modal improvisations, switching between outlandish timbres like jazz harp (a historical first), jazz organ, sitar and tamboura. She was accompanied and assisted on those recordings by such artists as Tyner, Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar, 2006)

Of the few remaining legends in jazz, Ornette Coleman is the only one that doesn't record fairly often. Cecil Taylor records fairly often for a variety of labels, Sonny Rollins had long running deal with Milestone before starting his own label, and Ornette has followed that route in starting his own imprint and releasing Sound Grammar, his first album in nine years which is a recording of a concert from Germany in 2005 where he performed on alto saxophone, violin and trumpet and was joined by his son Denardo Coleman on drums, Gregory Cohen on bass, and Tony Falanga on bass. The music is classic Coleman with sweeping joyful arcs of alto on some reinterpretations of classics and a few new compositions.

"Jordan" leads things off with a choppy start-stop feel which has Ornette improvising over bowed and plucked bass. There's an interlude where the two basses improvise together before Coleman contributes a few trumpet blasts. "Sleep Talking" begins with mournful bowed bass with some light alto sax comments. A bass duet over drums contributes a very open sound to the music. "Turnaround" has an almost "Saints Go Marching In" feel to the melody. Ornette has a gently sweeping solo over a bed of bass and drums. The group gets a beautifully unique sound with Coleman's keening alto and two basses. "Matador" takes things at a faster pace with some jaunty, smiling alto before two basses, both plucked, duke it out before Ornette sweeps back in and takes everybody out.

Both "Waiting" and "Once Only" convey a deep sense of plaintive loss and yearning with Coleman's saxophone nearly crying the blues in these deeply emotional performances. Contrasting those performances are a couple of free up-tempo numbers, "A Call To Duty" and Song X." The first is a fast paced, full throttle improvisation with ominous bass and drums keeping a wicked beat while Ornette contributes some slurred trumpet and sharp alto saxophone. Finally "Song X" ends the concert on a very high note with some daredevil heart-stopping alto improvisation over frantic basses and drums. Denardo Coleman gets his lone drum solo and there a cool bass duet interlude, but the moment belongs to the leader who is absolutely on fire. This is an endlessly exciting and powerful disc proving that Ornette Coleman is still a vital force in jazz. Very highly recommended.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Black Keys - Magic Potion (Nonesuch, 2006)

The Black Keys are one of my favorite rock and roll bands with their garage band minimalism tempered by touches of blues and psychedelia. But I was a little surprised when the band signed to the eclectic Nonesuch label and wondered how this would affect their sound. Well, I needn't wonder at all as this album was literally recorded in a band member's basement and keeps the same raw and exciting sound as the bands previous work. Most of the songs are kept short and sweet with blistering blues based guitar and basic drumming giving way to melodic hooks like in "Your Touch" which is very catchy and has elements of pop without compromising their rough and tumble sound.

"You're the One" slows things down to a ballad tempo with a gauzy, slightly trippy love song that plays against the bands stereotype. "Just a Little Heat" and "Give Your Heart Away" find the band hopping back on the boogie train, while the bluesy wail of "Strange Desire" goes back to the bands roots and shows the groups knows its strength and plays to it admirably as they do with the blasting "Modern Times" and the lengthy workout "Goodbye Babylon." Anyone interested in unadorned rock and roll will find much to enjoy here.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle proclaims Sonny Rollins a Hero of jazz: "Rollins, 76, is considered by many to be the greatest living jazz improviser. Even in his 30s, when the country teemed with brilliant saxophonists -- from Coleman Hawkins to Ben Webster to Charlie Parker to John Coltrane -- Rollins was in a class by himself. Now, when virtually no contemporary of his stature is still active, he stands alone, towering over a jazz scene in which geniuses are dying off faster than they are being replaced."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

There have been some interesting bittorrented concerts coming across dimeadozen lately. The Scorch Trio is a Scandinavian avant-garde jazz trio made up of Raoul Bjorkenheim on electric guitar, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on electric and acoustic bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. This band has been getting some attention in the rock press and individual members have recordedd with Ken Vandermark, so I was eager to check them out and downloaded a concert from the Saalfelden Jazz Festival recorded on August 30, 2003. The band turns out to be something of a "power trio" with shades of early John McLaughlin or Sonny Sharrock, as the charge out of the gate with a ferocious exchange of collective improvisation. There's a lengthy spacey interlude in this continuous performance, with bumping and clanging as all of the instruments are used for percussion. Electric bass and drums then lock into a groove and the guitar joins in for a post-modern fusion exploration featuring a bass solo and squeaky guitar comments. After a gentle guitar interlude, the pace picks up and the music develops into a feedback drenched frenzy. All in all, this is an interesting group for fans of adventurouss fusion or indie rock to explore.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood - Out Louder (Indirecto, 2006)

This is the belated follow-up the 1998 MMW collaboration with John Scofield, A Go-Go, and the music here is of a more collaborative nature rather than featured soloist and backing band. With a few exceptions, the music mines the same funky fusion territory with a few covers and on the two best cuts, the looming influence of John Scofield's one time boss, Miles Davis. I found that the music varied in quality, but preferred the uptempoed music, which focused the band and gave direction to their obvious talent. "Little Walter Rides Again" has a funky feel with some hip drumming and swirling organ... but if it's about Little Walter Jacobs, the bluesman, why no harmonica? "Miles Beyond" name checks Davis directly with a very cool track channeling the "dark funk" of his '73-'75 pre-retirement years. This is the best track on the disc - focused, potent and full of energy. "In Case the World Changes It's Mind" drops down into a more pedestrian funk groove. The problem with some of the more lumbering funk tunes is that they become faceless with nothing to distinguish them from other jams. "Tequila and Chocolate" takes something of a "Touch of Evil" (great Wells film) bordertown vibe. The music gets kind of swanky like Sex Mob's Sexotica experiment with Esquivel like lounge music. Scofield gets a nice solo that has a bit of a sharp Grant Green tinge to it.

"Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing" is a straight-ahead organ groover, a little goofy as can be expected with that title! "Chachaca" is another Latin sounding tune, with some nice "jazzy" soloing from Scofield, and some spacey organ fills behind. "Hanuman" has lonely bass clarinet or bari saxophone opening, giving way to a nice guitar and organ interlude. Scofield cuts loose here with some impressive soloing and the deep horn is integrated well into the song. "Telegraph" takes the group off the rails a bit using a creepy organ intro with some sound effects, and sounding more like an experiment then a fully formed song. "What Now," one of the disc gems, picks up the pace considerably by cutting a tough groove. Again the influence of 1970's Miles Davis is apparent, with this cut getting an On the Corner feel with the filthy sounding organ and guitar trying to slice through any opening available. I'd love to hear with foursome hook up with a nasty trumpet player and cut a "Yo-Miles" like tribute album, then they would really shine. The John Lennon song "Julia" is quite a juxtaposition coming off the wah fueled blast furnace funk, and comes off as a little too "radio-friendly" and respectful to make an impact. The elastic funk feel of "Down the Tube" should appeal to the jam band set. It's a fun jam, but lacks the cohesion of the developed set pieces. They wrap things up with a mildly funky cover of Peter Tosh's reggae song "Legalize It" and a bonus track of "In the Tracks" that has some bluesy harmonica (where was he on the Little Walter tune?) over guitar and drums. Scofield plays with a nice bluesy tone on this song. Overall, the disc has some impressive highpoints and the musicianship is first rate. While the quality of the material doesn't always measure up, fans of either MMW or Scofield will probably enjoy this collaboration.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Podcast available... click here to download. Songs that have caught my ear over the past couple of weeks, 51:53 in length, 36.5 mb in size. Setlist:

Artist - Title - Album

B.B. King - Blind Love - Do The Boogie (Early 50s Classics)
Ben Allison - Disposable Genius - Peace Pipe
The Sadies - American Pageant - In Concert Vol. 1
Tony Williams Lifetime - Vashkar - Emergency!
Dengue Fever - Lake Dolores - Escape From Dragon House
Ornette Coleman - P.S. Unless One Has - Beauty Is A Rare Thing
Gary Primich - Kansas City - Ridin' The Darkhorse
Louis Armstrong - Struttin' With Some Barbecue - Hot Fives And Sevens
Beck - No Complaints - The Information
Avishai Cohen - Nu Nu - Continuo
Albert Ayler - When The Saints Go Marchin' In - Goin' Home
The Pogues - Dingle Regatta - Red Roses For Me (Expanded)
Charles Caldwell - Old Buck - Remember Me

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Darius Brubeck's article on Ornette Coleman has been making the rounds of the jazz blogosphere lately: "Ornette Coleman's emergence and the eruption of 'free jazz' in the 1960's marks the beginning of the end of jazz modernism until it resurfaces in the academy under the aegis of jazz education." Further links: be.jazz, Hurd Audio

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Various Artists - Chicago Blues at Home (Advent, 1977)

This album uses the very interesting concept of taking blues musicians out of the competitive Chicago club scene and recording them in their homes in a relaxed informal environment. The result is some very interesting often laid back music as the bluesmen work their way through both original songs and standards or variations of standards. Louis Meyers gets three cuts on this LP keeping them all in a low key acoustic style, he sings "Going Back to the Ghetto" where the object of his desire is a beef sandwich, before singing the traditional "Stop Breaking Down" which is associated with Robert Johnson. Finally, he compares his lady to a stinging arachnid in "Mean Black Spider." Jimmy Rogers was a Muddy Waters sideman and a very successful artist in his own right and on this album he contributes two very slow tempoed songs. "Ludella" goes back to his Mississippi roots and includes a nice guitar interlude, while "Back Door Friend" sticks to a crawling groove.

Eddie Taylor was best known for his performances with Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker, but here he steps out front to play some solid guitar and sing in a clear voice on "Greyhound Blues" and "Jackson Town." Finally, some remarkable performances on this album come from slide guitar players. Johnny Shines contributes some raw, percussive slide guitar and moaning vocals on "Ramblin'" which is derived from the classic "Walkin' Blues." Homesick James plays slide and sings with passion like is famous cousin Elmore James over hand percussion on "Tell Me Who" and the sadly underrecorded John Littlejohn riffs on "It Hurts Me Too" with an eerie sounding jam called simply "Slidin'." This is a good record and gives a chance for some of the lesser known musicians on the Chicago scene to be heard in a different environment. I found this LP in a used bin, but it looks like it was re-released as a compact disc and is well worth keeping an eye out for.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Soft Machine - Grides (Cuneiform, 2006)

The Cuneiform label has done Soft Machine proud over the past few years, putting out several previously unreleased concerts by the different lineups that constituted this pioneering English jazz-rock fusion band. This particular concert was recorded on October 25, 1970 in Amsterdam, and finds the band with an early lineup of Elton Dean on alto saxophone, saxello, electric piano; Mike Ratledge on electric organ and piano; Hugh Hopper on electric bass and Robert Wyatt on percussion. At this phase in the band's career, they had dropped the vocal component of their music, to concentrate on psychedelic electric jazz.

The music has a heavily droning feel, with swaths of organ and electric piano bathing Dean's saxophones in a gauzy haze. An example of this can be found on the lengthy track strangely titled "Esther's Nose Job" where the band builds on a zoned out keyboard led groove, slowly upping the ante into a furious finish that has the crowd calling them back for an encore. There's also a short DVD recorded around the same time included in the package and since video footage of early versions of Soft Machine are quite rare, it's a treat to be able to have a good quality film of the band performing. Fans of jazz fusion or progressive rock should find this package valuable.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Ben Ratliff writes about Listening With Branford Marsalis: "One of Mr. Marsalis's tough-love opinions is that jazz has precisely the level of exposure it deserves. "Musicians are always talking about, 'Why isn't jazz popular,'" he said. "But musicians today"- and he was talking specifically about jazz musicians - "are completely devoid of charisma. People never really liked the music in the first place. So now you have musicians who are proficient at playing instruments, and people sit there, and it's just boring to them - because they're trying to see something, or feel it.""

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Afrissippi - Fulani Journey (Knockdown, 2006)

Guitarist and songwriter Guelel Kumba journeyed from Senegal, West Africa to the hill country of Mississippi to make this very interesting mash-up of African music and Mississippi blues along with musicians associated with recently passed blues legends like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Kumba plays a gentle acoustic guitar and his melodies sound both familiar and exotic, while he sings in his native language. All the musicians mesh well despite whatever differences that they may have. "Ngol Jimol” which opens the disc is one of my favorite songs on the album, with a full plugged in band kicking out a hypnotic John Lee Hooker groove. "Njulli/Fulani Journey" has poet and activist John Sinclair reciting a spoken work history of the Fulani people and Kumba's travels to America. Anyone interested in the African roots of modern blues would do well to check this disc out.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Don Byron - Do the Boomerang (Blue Note, 2006)

Clarinetist and saxophonist Don Byron's eccentricity is well known in the jazz community as he has recorded tributes to musicians of different genres like klezmer artist Mickey Katz and jazz legends Lester Young and Duke Ellington. Add to that list R&B saxophonist Junior Walker, who was active in the Motown scene in the 1960's and 70's. On this album, Byron appropriately concentrates on tenor saxophone and is joined by David Gilmore on guitar, George Colligan on organ, Brad Jones on bass, Rodney Holmes on drums, Curtis Fowlkes trombone and Dean Bowman and Chris Thomas King on vocals. The music on this CD recalls the glory days of rhythm and blues, keeping the songs short and solos to the point. The band works well as a team, with solos being spread generously amongst group members.

"Mark Anthony Speaks" has some great soul-jazz guitar from Gilmore and greasy Jimmy Smith style organ, and the uproarious "Shotgun" has some bootin' tenor saxophone and very cool funky vocals, as does "Pucker Up, Buttercup" which covers the poppy end of the Walker spectrum with swirling organ and swinging vocals. "There It Is" is a little out of place, being a James Brown cover, Brown and Walker were both pillars of soul music, but their approaches were quite different. While the focus is primarily on uptempo numbers, "What Does It Take" does slow things a little bit to a slow simmering pace, and "Satan's Blues" is a slow, grinding number that gets down and dirty. While I'd really like to hear more original music from Byron and fewer tributes, there's no denying that this disc is a lot of fun and fans of soul-jazz and old-school R&B should enjoy it. The cover art is really cool too, I wish this was available on vinyl...

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Zan Stewart has an interesting article in the Newark Star-Ledger called Keith Jarrett's subtle and solitary art: "For Keith Jarrett, the gifted pianist and composer who is a remarkable interpreter of both jazz and classical music, improvising is his artistic raison d'etre, a very serious undertaking. 'Improvisation is a delicate thing,' he says. 'It's made up of so many billions of things happening at the same exact moment. (While improvising), I am willing myself into a situation I still know nothing about. It's like going to battle ... this thing is so demanding.'"

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mingus Big Band - Live in Tokyo (Sunnyside, 2006)

Amidst the glut of "ghost bands" and never ending tribute albums, one band has been able to link the glories of the past with the innovation of the future. The Mingus Big Band is now a staple on the contemporary jazz scene, holding down a weekly gig in New York City and touring the world. The band embraces both Mingus veterans and provides an incubator to young jazz talent. This live album was recorded at the Blue Note club in Tokyo. "Wham Bam" opens the disc by channelling the great man with some thundering bluesy swing. "Celia" has the lush melody being belied by the hot horn solos on the inside. "Bird Calls" is blast furnace bebop with torrid saxophone solos and some nice swinging piano over a thumping bass beat. One of Charles Mingus' most famous compositions, "Meditations" opens with a deep bowed bass solo, appropriate for very serious music about the civil rights struggle. A gentle Dolphy-esque flute lifts up over the riffing band. This is a very complex piece of music, but the band plays it well and doesn't miss a beat.

"Prayer for Passive Resistance" has a jump and swing feel with some nice bass playing from Kenny Davis (think there's a little pressure playing bass in this band?) opening up to a medium-boil tenor solo from Wayne Escoffery before the band returns to the swirling, swinging melody. "Free Cell Block F" has kaleidoscopic swing and riffing from the band before some sweet flute breaks free on a light, fleet solo sounding like a butterfly, quite a juxtaposition in a composition about riots at the Attica prison. It's not surprising that "Ecclesiastics" starts with the reading of a familiar passage and a few shouted amens, because Charles Mingus was deeply influenced by gospel music since his childhood, and that influence is felt quite strongly on this composition. A majestic tenor saxophone emerges from the testifying band for a solo before being joined by the other saxophonists as they trade ideas over the bands encouragement. This is a very exciting end to a fine concert. Sue Mingus and the members of the band she manages should be commended for putting together another fine album from one of the bast large ensembles in modern jazz.

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