Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cleveland Fats - The Way Things Go (Honeybee, 2006)

A veteran of Robert Lockwood's band, bluesman Cleveland Fats brings a fine dose of old school blues on his latest CD. Fats plays guitar, sings and wrote the majority of the tunes, while being supported by Aron Burton on bass, Dave Jefferson on drums. Aaron Moore, Ariyo, and Vince Willis share keyboard duties. This is traditional electric blues with a strong Chicago influence. Instead of relying on a lot of time worn standard compositions, the tunes update traditional blues themes, like the enjoyable "Cell Phone Blues" which cheekily describes Fats attempts to get out and have a good time being foiled by his lady keeping track of him through the phone. The swinging "Cheaters Never Win" and "You'll Love Again" slow the tempo down and allow Fats gruff vocal stylings and fluid guitar to take center stage. This is a fine modern blues disc with a tight band and some well written songs. There's nothing radical here, just an re-invention of the time-honored traditional themes of the blues and this disc is well worth the time of blues fans.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The New York Times covers the reunion of the Sam Rivers Trio in New York: "In a pair of roughly hourlong performances Mr. Rivers and his rhythm partners created a jubilant strain of free jazz. Tempos and tonal centers moved in a restless swirl, frequently dissolving into textural abstraction. But there were discernable roots in bebop and blues, and the musicians often followed a traditional arrangement of roles. Mr. Rivers, playing tenor and soprano saxophones as well as flute and piano, mostly occupied center stage."

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Charles Mingus - In Paris: The Complete America Session (Sunnyside, 2007)

This is a re-release of an obscure Charles Mingus session originally recorded for the America label. The legendary bassist and composer is joined by Jaki Byard on piano, Bobby Jones on tenor saxophone, Charles McPherson on alto saxophone, Eddie Preston on trumpet, and Dannie Richmond on drums. This is a two disc set which I downloaded through Emusic, the first disc is all of the master takes, and then the second is made up of false starts and incomplete takes. I only downloaded disc one. After a brief warm-up with "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" the band follows with some of the finest long form improvising of Mingus's final period. He had been battling depression and would soon feel the effects of Lou Gherig's disease, but on these recordings the leader and indeed the entire band play as if within a state of grace. "Reincarnation of a Lovebird" and "Peggy's Blue Skylight" are astounding group improvisations. The band lacks an extraordinary solo voice like Mingus had available previously with the likes of Eric Dolphy or Booker Ervin, so everyone rallies together and collectively explores the compositional terrain like conquistadors in the New World. There are some fine solos throughout the disc, but it is the group triumph that stands out, culminating with a spectacular re-recording of one of Mingus's most influential compositions "Pithecanthropus Erectus" in which he does no less than detail the rise of man in music. The music itself rises to an amazing level with everyone at the top of their game. Hopefully this release will raise the profile of the music recorded herein, because it is played at a very high level.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Nels Cline Singers– Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone, 2007)

The gag, of course, is that there are no vocalists. Guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola sing through their collective instruments. Cline is most well known for his avant-garde jazz and rock recordings and his unexpected but most welcome stint in the pop rock band Wilco. The Nels Cline Singers allow him to explore a number of different moods and textures in an improvised trio setting. The opening “Caved in Heart Blues” starts out in a spare, lyrical manner before building to an ominous climax and returning to the spare, haunted theme. With “Attempted” and especially the very lengthy and exploratory “Evening at Pops’” the group takes unfettered improvisational flight, interacting well with each other and splitting off for some solo and duo passages. “Attempted” builds to some really wild free jazz improvising – think Sonny Sharrock on some type of prog-rock bender, and you have the right idea. “Mixed Message” is a fascinating experimental collage of power trio with electronics, and has a lot of shifting dynamic movements within. I wonder how many Wilco fans will be able to enjoy this? It’s not all shredding and hell for leather improvising, however. “Confection” has a rock and roll feel with some very strong and fast drumming and an interesting break featuring bowed bass. “Angel of Angels” has a lyrical feel, mixing acoustic instruments with electric, touching on Bill Frisell-ish ground at times. “Recognize” parts one and two are purely acoustic and introspective, providing an interesting change of pace and variety to the music. “Squirrel of God” ends things on a cinematic note; the music starts with a shaded noir like feel and develops further using percussion and electronics to produce a cinematic improvisation. This is another very good effort from the Singers who make quality searching music for people with open ears. Fans of progressive jazz or rock and roll will find much to enjoy here.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Charles Mingus - Cornell 1964 (Blue Note, 2007)

This two CD set presents a previously unreleased concert of arguably bassist and composer Charles Mingus's greatest band, with Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Jaki Byard on piano and Dannie Richmond on drums. Recorded before the bands triumphal tour of Europe, it shows much of the material mastered on that tour in it's transitional state. The concert begins with a couple of solo features, Byard's "ATFW You" allowing him to break into some stride piano in honor of Fats Waller and Art Tatum, and then Mingus follows with a solo take on Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." The full band joins in for an epic thirty-one minute version of the Mingus anti-segregation classic "Fables of Faubus." The microphones aren't strong enough to pick up the spoken lyrics that accompany this song, but the music comes through well, featuring a lengthy and strong Mingus solo followed by a wonderful Dolphy interlude in alto. Microphone troubles also mar "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress" rendering much of Coles trumpet solo inaudible, but thankfully Eric Dolphy, who takes solo honors throughout this concert, is loud and clear. "Meditations" and "So Long Eric" follow, both of which are very lengthy performances with some spots where the band drifts. Mingus often referred to his band as a "workshop" and you can really hear that philosophy at work here as the band probes at the raw materials of the music, trying to shape and mold it into something that they can make a statement with. It is the experiments here that set the stage for the extraordinary music recorded on official and unofficial releases from the 1964 European tour. The band even manages to make interesting jazz out of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" before ending the concert with a fine rendition of "Jitterbug Waltz" featuring some extraordinary Eric Dolphy flute playing. The recorded sound of the performance does leave a bit to be desired as I mentioned. I don't know the provenance of the recording, whether it was done by the students or the group themselves, but the sound quality equates to that of a good bootleg recording. This is a good warts-and-all recording of a great band playing a one-nighter on the college circuit. Better performances would follow including the extraordinary Paris performance released by Sue Mingus as Revenge, but that's not to slight this package which will be savored by Mingus fans.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Destination Out, rapidly becoming the Barry Bonds of the jazz blogging world (but will their trainer testify in court about alleged "chemical enhancements"??) smashes another apocalyptic home run. Introducing their "nineties week" they embark on a stellar project:

"So over the past month, we polled past participants in the Voice ’80s poll, along with other music critics, musicians, and jazz bloggers for their favorite records from the 1990s. We got a terrific response, one that does justice to the remarkably diverse output of the decade. Each day this week, we’ll be sharing a number of these lists, and highlighting tracks from one of the albums chosen. We’ll also try to add some concluding thoughts and summary tallies at the end of the week."

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Monday, May 21, 2007

The New York Times has an article on Alice Coltrane's ascension ceremony at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine: "Ms. Coltrane, who died in January, was more than a jazz keyboardist and harpist and the widow of the saxophonist John Coltrane. After her husband’s death in 1967, she ventured deeper into spiritual study, adopting the name Swamini Turiyasangitananda and releasing albums with a forthright religious intent. In 1983 she founded the Sai Anantam Ashram in Agoura Hills, Calif., and it was there that she focused her energies for the rest of her life. This legacy set the tone on Thursday, as the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, one of her two sons, acknowledged in his remarks. “She truly was the mother of many,” he said."

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Watermelon Slim - The Wheel Man (Northern Blues, 2007)

Mush mouthed blues singer and instrumentalist Watermelon Slim named his band The Workers very aptly. Their working class combination of blues and country music is perfect for the mix of tunes he sings about work, crime and broken hearts. His public service song "Drinkin' and Drivin'" shows he's not just a run of the mill party-hearty bluesman, as do the allusions to a shady past on the title track "Wheel Man" and the song "Fast Eddie." He takes some well deserved shots at politicians in his somber post-Katrina song "Black Water" and wonders why his tax dollars are going to fund a foolish war in "Judge Harsh Blues." "Truck Drivin' Mama" and the strangely effective acapella "Sawmill Holler" continue in a populist vein. Slim is not pretending to be anything other than what he is, a working stiff taking things one day at a time. There is a lot of variety on the CD, using a lot of different configurations of instruments like solo guitar and vocals on "Judge Harsh Blues" and gospel-tinged harmonica and vocals on "Jimmy Bell." This is a very effective and well done modern blues album. Slim and the boys are not beholden to any particular style and make full use of the broad canvas that is the blues. This is good music from a powerful and unique group.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Louis Armstrong - At Pasadena Civic Auditorium (GRP, 1977)

Louis Armstrong and the usual suspects of the All-Stars are presented here performing live in a very sunny and happy performance with Pops joking and laughing before an appreciative California audience. Much of the music is standard fare with the band's regular setlist featuring New Orleans favorites such as "Kokomo" and "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" and standards like Duke Ellington's "Predido" and "How High the Moon" played on the first couple of sides with much joy and spirit by the group. Side three of the two record set is the blues side with singer Velma Middleton joining the festivities on vocals and on an untitled blues and "That's My Desire" with Armstrong playing some fine trumpet and adding some snide comments. Side four sees the band wrapping things up with a reprise of "Sleepy Time Down South" and then moving into a wonderful take of the New Orleans classic "Didn't He Ramble" that ends the concert on a very fine and swinging note. Music by Armstrong's All-Stars always brings a smile to my face and this album is no different, as there was no finer ambassador of the music than Louis Armstrong.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Albert Ayler - My Name is Albert Ayler (Debut, 1963)

Not to be confused with the film of the same name, this is one of tenor saxophonist (soprano saxophonist on this date as well) and composer Ayler's earliest albums, catching him in a transitional phase between his bebop and R&B roots and the ecstatic free jazz of his future. It's an uneasy transition, Ayler is clearly questing and moving forward, but the backing group, made up of Niels Brosted on piano, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Ronnie Gardiner on drums really has no idea what is going on and insists in plodding on with mainstream hard-bop accompaniment while Ayler strains at the leash throughout. Hearing Alyer interpret standards is fascinating. His tenor saxophone has a truly massive sound and hits you in the gut with a nearly physical presence, but there is still some deeply melodic playing. The bebop chestnut "Billie's Bounce" gets a pretty straightforward reading - Ayler knew his bebop well, it's hard to believe but this was the man who was called "Little Bird" as a young man in Cleveland. Where you really get the sense of the Ayler to come is on the Gershwin standard "Summertime" where the band doggedly sticks to the straight ahead feel and Ayler leaves the world behind for a plethora of screams, shrieks and honks. Like an experiment in sound collage that is way ahead of its time, the juxtaposition between the soloist and the band is head-spinning. Finally the original "C.T." taken as a trio piece with piano laying out allows Ayler to work on some of the things he learned while sitting in with the tunes dedicatee, Cecil Taylor. Another interesting curio on this record is the spoken introduction by Alyer. His soft and gentle tone of voice still conveys great yearning and purpose and adds a fascinating touch. Ayler would have to go to New York before he was able to locate truly sympathetic collaborators, and while the music on this album isn't always successful it is always interesting and provides insight into Alyer's rapid growth as a musician.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sonny Phillips - Black on Black (Prestige, 1970)

Black on Black is a solid mellow mix of blues, ballads and rhythm and blues flavored jams heavy on the riffs and soul flourishes. Organist Phillips performs with Rusty Bryant on tenor saxophone, Melvin Sparks on guitar, Jimmy Lewis on bass, and Bernard Purdie on drums. Standout tracks include a nine-minute exploration of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," not a song normally associated with jazz, but one that works well as an organ grinding feature for Phillips who bubbles happily along assisted by Bryant's rough-hewn tenor providing some more power. Grant Green's "Blues in Maude's Flat" is a fine feature for Melvin Sparks as can be expected, and he takes a couple of clean, smooth swinging solos with the underrated Bryant chipping in as well. "Black on Black" has a slinky bass groove with tenor saxophone accompaniment. Phillips grooves away while the bass, drums and saxophone set up a repetitive but enjoyable pocket before Bryant breaks free to peel off a deep R&B tinged solo. The unsung hero of this date however, is Jimmy Lewis who plays rock solid electric bass that locks in with Purdie's drums to propel the music forward. While there's nothing particularly new or progressive about this album, it is an enjoyable slice of groove based music and fans of the Hammond organ or of R&B influenced jazz with find this record worthwhile.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007 has an interesting interview with flautist and composer Nicole Mitchell: "Best known for her shifting-personnel large ensemble Black Earth Ensemble, Mitchell’s sprawling but deeply melodic compositions make the most of Black Earth collaborators like percussionists Hamid Drake and Avreeayl Ra, saxophonist David Boykin, violinist Savoir Faire, trumpeter Corey Wilkes and many other mainstays of Chicago’s South Side jazz community."

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sonny Rollins has made some historic live recordings available for sale through his web site: "The London Sessions: These tracks were recorded, unbeknown to Sonny, at Ronnie Scott's in London during January of 1965. The audio quality varies from good to merely adequate, because Sonny does go off mike occasionally. To sample the audio quality, please listen to and download the MP3 promo, which includes sample music and a fascinating interview with Sonny."

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe - Above and Beyond (Justin Time, 2007)

Grand Rapids, Michigan isn't really the spot where you'd expect to hear progressive improvised music, but that is where violinist and composer Billy Bang's group was recorded for this release in 2003. He is joined by front line partner, tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe, Andrew Bemkey on piano, Todd Nicholson on bass and Tatsuya Nakatani on drums. The music on this disc is made up of four very lengthy improvisations all of which feature memorable melodies, but have freer sections that allow the soloists (particularly Bang and Lowe) to pontificate at length. Lowe was very ill at this time, soon to pass on, but you wouldn't know by listening to him blowing billowing passages of deep saxophone on the opener "Silent Observation" which finds him entwining in collective improvisation with Bang and then striking out into his own improvisations. "Dark Silhouette" is the albums most epic performance, a twenty-three minute marathon of slowly building music that culminates with an impressive tension and release feel. "Nothing But Love" is a very playful composition, with Bang adding some of his most swinging, joyful violin of the session. This is a well done historical release, with interesting music presented well. The sound quality is very good and the liner notes offer adequate information.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Marc Ribot talks to about his efforts to save New York City's experimental music scene: "This is an industry, and the industry benefits the city. The city should protect it. It benefits the city enormously, not only in terms of tourism, but in terms of cultural productivity itself. These various avant-gardes have a relation to a much larger culture industry."

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Various Artists - When the Levee Breaks: Mississippi Delta Blues 1929-1941 [Discs 1&2] (JSP, 2007)

This four disc budget boxed set from the English JSP label collects mostly rare pre-war blues sides. One of the interesting aspects of this collection is the diversity of the delta blues in this period. People often speak of the delta blues as if it is just one homogeneous genre, but this collection shows that it encompassed proto juke bands, solo singers, piano stompers and slide guitarists. Some of the big historical names are represented on the first couple of discs with songs from Son House and Robert Johnson standing out amongst the rare and obscure 78's. Considering the age and the rarity of the material, the sound quality is surprisingly good. I'm not sure if JSP did their own re-masters or relied on the work of others, but either way the music sounds good, all things considered. I wish that the liner notes could have been beefed up a little bit, with just a scant few pages in each CD, there was room for improvement, but for a budget title, it is certainly acceptable. Apart from Johnson and House, the most interesting tracks on the first couple of discs include some excellent slide guitar and vocals from Charlie McCoy on "Last Time Blues" and the title track "When the Levee Breaks." Another legend-to-be, Robert Lockwood checks in with a fine "Take a Little Walk With Me" and the Mississippi Jook Band plays a fascinating mix of piano blues and hokum. So far this is a fine collection, and fans of pre-war blues will no doubt find a lot to enjoy.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Bad Plus - Prog (Heads Up, 2007)

Now on their own Heads Up imprint, The Bad Plus - pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King continue their dynamic exploration of jazz, rock and roll and everything in between. The album's title alludes to the love of progressive rock by King and Anderson and that love comes through on the rock and roll songs the group chose to cover for this session. Rush's AOR staple "Tom Sawyer" is tailor made for Dave King's huge drum sound and the bombast of the original tune actually works in the groups favor, allowing them to blast through the tune with joyful abandon. The eighties radio hit "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" is slowed down considerably and is given a thoughtful, almost sad reading as the album's lead off track. The rock covers are so interesting that the lone jazz standard "This Guy's In Love With You" comes across as a little stuffy. The band doesn't get enough credit for their original songs, with much of the attention being focused on their covers, but there are some good ones here, especially Reid Anderson's wonderful "Physical Cities" which exploits the bands strength and dynamism over a nine minute, constantly shifting landscape. "1980 World Champion" is the latest installment in a little story thread that has been running through previous TBP albums and ends the record on a breathlessly upbeat note. This is another very fun and enjoyable album from The Bad Plus. I think he key to the bands success lies in it's humor and willingness not to take itself quite so seriously. This streak of Midwest-born populism that runs through the bands music, whether original or cover is a refreshing change from the often "Serious as Your Life" jazz scene.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Torrent Notes

Joe Louis Walker - Tacoma, WA 4/20/07: This was a real treat as JLW concerts are pretty rare on the torrent sites, so finding a two hour plus concert with very fine sound was a joy to hear. Walker and his backing band The Bosstalkers are in crackling form throughout, playing songs from the length and bredth of his career. Highlights are many, but especially the cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Ready, Willing and Able" which they take at warp speed with Walker and his supporting guitarist trading stinging leads. They also cut loose with some great slide playing on "Slow Down GTO ." Walker's gospel and soul background allow him to dig deep vocally into the slower numbers and "I've Got a Mind To Give Up Living" takes on an almost painful intensity. Joe Louis Walker is one of the most consistently excellent blues musicians in the land, and this is another example of that fact. If he comes to your town, don't miss him!

Gateway Trio - Umea, Sweden 10/27/96: Normally, I find Jack DeJohnette's piano excursions to be the weak point of any Gateway album or performance, but the one on this concert recording is exceptional, as he plays in a haunting Jarrett influenced way and John Abercrombie contributes some sympathetic accompaniment, but Dave Holland nearly steals the show with some simply stunning bowed bass. They rock out (relatively speaking) on Holland's energetic "How's Never" with Abercrombie really digging deep into the guitar. The Herbie Hancock tribute track, "Herbaceous" is appropriately complex and the finale "May Dance" gets a very extended performance, with excellent soloing from each member of the trio. The recording quality on this torrent is one of the best I've heard, a crystal clear radio broadcast, that lets the superb musicianship of this band really shine through.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Brotherhood of Breath - Live at Willisau (Ogun, 1973)

The progressive big band Brotherhood of Breath evolved from a core of musicians that left South Arfica to escape the brutal apartheid regime in power. After settling in London, this group began to attract the cream of the crop of British improvisers for a workshop big band that eventually became a touring ensemble with shifting and changing personnel. This particular edition contained the nominal leader Chris MacGregor on piano, Evan Parker on saxophone and Louis Moholo on drums amongst others. With a cacophonous opening, the music is arranged, but in a quasi-free way that allows the players a lot of freedom of movement and keeps the energy level very high. Smaller sub-groupings will emerge from time to time, like the piano and bass interlude, or the fine trumpet feature that begins at around the 26 minute mark. Mololo's drums are featured throughout the recording and he really drives the music by doing things like slipping in a march feel and prodding a soloist to reach ever higher. A strong collective improvisation section near an hour into the concert gives everybody a chance to stretch out and blow, and as the concert winds to a close, the band makes a joyful noise riffing a jaunty theme as Moholo knocks out a funky back-beat. This is a very good record and a fine example progressive big band jazz and the fine quality of European jazz musicians at the time.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Caution: rant ahead....

I love Elvis Costello's music, I've followed him and fellow travelers like Neil Young, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan through thick and thin. Through god-awful albums with string quartets and opera singers to hard-rocking country tinged comebacks. But when I read that Elvis' early albums are going to be re-released *again* I nearly gagged on my cheap vinyl copy of Armed Forces (which sounds just fine despite coming from the dollar bin at Last Vestige.) This is what, the tenth re-issue of Elvis' back catalog? Including the original CBS straight ports of the original LPs, the boxed set of the first three with a bonus live LP, the Ryko re-issues with bonus material, the Rhino double disc reissues with even more bonus material... how long can this shit go on? What more bonus material can they possibly dredge up this time? Elvis sings Sam Cooke in the shower? How many times can you slice this particular salami? How much more can you milk this scared cow before it starts moo-ing for a mercy killing? Believe it or not, at one time Elvis Costello was actually considered a punk. That is someone who was foolish or idealistic enough to consider artistic concerns over profit. But now with these continuing masturbatory re-releases of what was considered classic music, how can it be listened to with the same enjoyment? What was once punk is now product. What was once the breathless joy of creative music has become the breathless rush for the same old shit in a new package. And they'll probably sell it to you at $18.99 and tell you you are lucky to have it! And the record labels and the RIAA can't understand why people pirate music...

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau - Quartet (Nonesuch, 2007)

Guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau continue their fruitful collaboration, this time adding the bass and drums of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. Both of the principals seem to work best when they have talented peers to challenge them, so the energy level is pretty well sustained throughout. The musicians play at a very high level, and an encouraging sign is that all four are well integrated together, so this is not just a "superstars with rhythm" showcase. The upbeat numbers seem to work the best, with songs like "Fear and Trembling" using the rhythm team of Ballard and Grenadier as the engine to propel the guitar and piano to improvisatory flights. "Towards the Light" also keeps things moving briskly with some strong collective improvisation. The downside of the music is that things occasionally get so atmospheric, with the music becoming sort of aural wallpaper like on the new-agey "Sound of Water"which comes across as hip background music for the NPR crowd. This is a fairly good if mannered album of contemporary jazz, sure to please the fans of the two headliners, I'd love to hear this group just rear back on their haunches and jam, and maybe that's what will happen on the rumored live LP.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake - From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey, 2007)

Tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake have long explored the intersection there the constraints of hard bop meet the openness of free jazz. On this disc, they are joined by Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison Bankhead on cello, piano and bass and Josh Abrams on bass and guimbri. The first two tracks on the album are quite lengthy, and they never build up quite enough steam to make a definitive statement. There is some probing saxophone from Anderson and guitar from Parker, and Drake simmers as usual, but the tracks take a very long time exploring some relatively pedestrian terrain. Things pick up considerably on the second half of the disc. A tribute to the recently deceased Malachai Thompson "For Brother Thompson" establishes a strong spiritual groove and Anderson solos deeply and profoundly. The track comes in at a more nimble seven minutes and this pithy performance is the highlight of the album. The final tracks "Sakti/Shiva" and "From the River to the Ocean" keep the spiritual groove present with an exotic flavor from Abrams' guimbri (a light sounding three string lute) and Drake's constantly shifting rhythms. This long disc does take some time to pick up speed, but eventually it does bring some very interesting music to the table. Fans of the Chicago music scene will want to check this out.

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