Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ken Vandermark has a new edition of his column Notes from the Field available:

"The odds of getting a chance to do a series of solo concerts night after night in the same city for one week are unbelievably small, and I wanted to try and learn as much about this discipline as possible about the process during the time I had. Basically, I tried to approach the music each night with a different strategy: one show would be completely improvised, another would be comprised of other composers work ("The Thing," by Don Cherry, "Love Cry," by Albert Ayler...), another would contain homages inspired by the conceptions of players I revere (John Carter, Joe McPhee, Anthony Braxton...)"

There's an interesting interview in Exclaim about the reissue of Peter Brotzmann's landmark free jazz LP Machine Gun. (via Avant Music News):

"I grew up with jazz, I love the music very much, and when people ask me what kind of music I play I say, “I play jazz music,” but my for example, my English friends and colleagues, they at that time they didn’t want to know too much about American music. But my first big impressions besides Sidney Bechet [clarinet star of early jazz[ and Coleman Hawkins is when I met Steve Lacy [soprano sax innovator who reportedly taught Coltrane[ and [ex-Ornette Coleman trumpeter] Don Cherry and very early Cecil Taylor in Paris or then a bit later I had a chance to work with Carla Bley, a person I admire very much and so on, so my connection to American music was always very strong."

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

I have a new podcast available. It contains examples of music I have been enjoying over the past few weeks. Here is the playlist:

Artist/Group - Title - Album

Joe Henry - Scare Me To Death - Civilians
George Russell - Round Midnight - Ezz-thetics
Fillmore Slim - Watch Yo'self - The Legend of Fillmore Slim
Clark Terry - Donna Lee - Serenade to a Bus Seat
Black Francis - Threshhold Apprension - Bluefinger
Tineke Postma - Short Conversations - A Journey That Matters
Happy Apple - The New Bison - Back on Top
Deltahead - My Mama Was Too Lazy To Pray - Deltahead
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen - Lines - The Unforgettable NHOP Trio Live
Trio M - Modern Pine - The Big Picture

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Joe Henry - Civilians (Anti, 2007)

In light of his recent successes behind the board, Singer-songwriter Joe Henry is as well known as a producer as he is a performer. His new album (first in four years) is an idiosyncratic tour through Americana, and to that end he makes an inspired move by having the master of improvised roots music, Bill Frisell, sit in on a few tracks. Henry's music moves slowly like a thick rolling river, so the intensity comes more from the urgency of his lyrics than the energy of his beat. Standout tracks include the glorious "Scare Me to Death" which allow his Dylanesque songwriting to simmer slowly and come to a very emotional conclusion. "Our Song" uses baseball legend Willie Mays as a metaphor for America and is a wonderful piece of work. "Time is a Lion" boosts the tempo from meditative with interesting philosophical underpinnings. Spirituality is another anchor in Henry's work, his characters are looking for answers, and will take inspiration anywhere that they can fins it. The only drawback to Henry's style is that he can recede a little too far into navel gazing introspection, and the album hits a bit of a lull 2/3 of the way through it with the ponderous "Love is Enough" and I"I Will Write My Book." But he rallies quickly and the album ends on an upbeat note. Henry echoes the best American songwriters like Dylan, Springsteen and Tom Waits in composing vignettes about modern life that speak volumes in a few choruses. This is a disc worthy of repeated spins by anyone interested in thoughtful songs.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

George Russell - Ezz-thetics (Riverside, 1961, Concord, 2007)

Best known as a composer and musical theorist, pianist George Russell was singed to Riverside on the recommendation of Cannonball Adderley. On this album he has a sextet with Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet, Don Ellis on trumpet, Dave Baker on trombone, Steve Swallow on bass, and Joe Hunt on drums. Despite Russell's reputation as an intellectual, the music is quite accessible and enjoyable. The title track, "Ezz-thetic" begins the program on a swinging up-tempo note, Ellis taking a smooth and fleet solo before giving way to Eric Dolphy who imparts an extraordinary alto saxophone improvisation that is so unique that it just jumps out of the speakers. The twisting and turning theme returns to close out a great performance. Miles Davis' Birth of Cool era composition "Nardis" slows the speed of the music as brass dominates, and trumpet and trombone are in the spotlight. "Lydiot" is introduced by walking bass and then another Dolphy feature lifts things to immensely high levels before trumpet, 'bone and bass alternate short solos and the whole group comes back together for a swinging conclusion. "Honesty" picks the pace back up with some fine trumpet and alto, but the real clincher is the group's performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" which ended the original LP. Russell opens slowly, altering the piano to mimic early electronic music, before Dolphy comes in playing the familiar melody and using it as a springboard for an extraordinary solo. This new CD version is rounded out by two previously unreleased takes of "Kige's Tune." The first an excellent performance with great solos from Ellis and Dolphy and the second a little more ragged. I had previously avoided exploring Russell's music because of his reputation as a theoretical musician and I thought he would be beyond me, but the music is quite enjoyable even for a non-musician listener with no knowledge of Russell's concepts. I am a huge Eric Dolphy admirer, and his performances here are just out of this world. The liner notes are solid, featuring the original essay and Orrin Keepnews interesting although rambling and self-reverential update.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Clark Terry - Serenade to a Bus Seat (Riverside 1957, Concord 2007)

Trumpeter Clark Terry was a well regarded if relatively unknown big band musician when he made this recording with saxophonist Johnny Griffin, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones.The album starts out with a storming version of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" played with flair and some great drum breaks from Philly Joe. Terry was playing in the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the time, but had no problem moving from swing music to the speed and intricacy of bebop. The Terry original "Boardwalk" has a soulful and swinging melody at medium tempo, and the strut of the tune gives a nod to the music Horace Silver was composing at this time. There is a confident exchange of ideas between trumpet and saxophone here as well. "Boomerang" moves back into upbeat territory, trading boppish solo sports crisply like a well practiced basketball team moving the ball. "Digits" and the title track add fine solos from Griffin who really puts the hammer down on "Serenade" playing scalding Parker influenced bebop. The standard "Stardust" slows things down from the breakneck pace to a ballad tempo. Terry is featured playing slow and tart, and making the most of every note.The upbeat and aptly titled "Cruising" and the brief coda of a Latin-flavored version of "That Old Black Magic" finish up a very fine album of bebop jazz. The liner notes are good, offering the original notes to the album as well as Orrin Keepnews' reflections about both Terry and the sessions that produced this album.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

The New York Times revisits a fascinating and unforgettable story about Louis Armstrong:

"Mr. Armstrong bitterly recounted some of his experiences touring in the Jim Crow South. He then sang the opening bar of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” inserting obscenities into the lyrics and prompting Velma Middleton, the vocalist who toured with Mr. Armstrong and who had joined them in the room, to hush him up."

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

I have been revisiting some classics lately, and today's selection was Jazz at Massey Hall. This is one of the first jazz records I ever bought, how could you go wrong as a neophyte jazz fan with Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Bud Powell? I used to have a disagreement with a friend, claiming that Bud dominated the record, but now I'm coming around to his view that Max really runs the show, maybe because he's been on everybody's mind lately... I've become a slave to the hive-mind. Some of the criticism of the album, that it is less than the sum of it's parts, is true, but what parts they are. Parker snidely referring to Gillespie as "my worthy constituent" in his spoken introduction to "Salt Peanuts" always brings a smile, and the band really brings it here, especially Bird who backs up his comments with some torrid soloing. Roach is great on this selection and on the equally powerful "Hot House" and "Wee" where the whole group just kicks things into overdrive. The impact of the album would be even greater if the sound quality was better. Mingus sounds good, because he went back and re-recorded himself to make up for being inaudible on the original recordings. Instruments drift on and off mic and there are some strange cuts and transitions, but in a way this just adds to the idiosyncratic nature of this classic album - one that's well worth revisiting by any jazz fan.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Tineke Postma - A Journey That Matters (Foreign Media Music, 2007)

Tineke Postma is a young saxophonist from The Netherlands, who studied music in Amsterdam and New York and hews to a traditional post bop version of jazz. On this disc, she is joined by Frans van der Hoven on bass, Terri Lynn Carrington on drums and a host of others on various and sundry instruments. There is a nice arrangement of Duke Ellington's beautiful "Flurette Africanne" featuring flute and acoustic guitar that works well, as does the up-tempo "Short Conversations" with some standout work by Randal Corsen, percussively comping and soloing. She loves her Ellington (doesn't everyone?) adding versions of "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" and "Prelude to a Kiss" to the program. Ms. Postma and her band are clearly gifted musicians, so my only real complaint is subjective. The music is so highly polished and produced that it seems devoid of effort, grit and dirt-under-the-fingernails energy. It seems like the band isn't even breaking a sweat as they breeze through the music. This dulls the visceral impact of the music and makes things slightly bland. The group does have potential, and as they gain experience they will hopefully grow into their own unique sound.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Here's a couple of articles about Sonny Rollins' highly anticipated trio concert with Christian McBride and Roy Haynes at Carnegie Hall. First, Ben Ratliff from the New York Times puts the concert in context with the article provocatively titled Sonny Rollins Strips for Action:

"Most of the tenor saxophonists who have followed Mr. Rollins in leading trios — that list would include Mr. Tabackin, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, David Murray and David S. Ware — have had to think long and hard about his example."

Then, Fred Kaplan reviews the concert itself:

"It felt like an ambling, elegant conversation between old friends, which in fact it was. It set off a goose-bump sensation, a shared intimacy one rarely encounters in a jazz concert. And the full house gave it the night’s lustiest applause."

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happy Apple – Back on Top (Sunnyside, 2007)

The Minneapolis based jazz trio Happy Apple is made up of bassist Erik Fratzke, saxophonist Michael Lewis, and drummer David King. Their music follows in the path of their previous releases, looking at jazz and pop music in an iconoclastic way. The first three tracks start the album off nicely with angular up-tempo melodies and improvisations fueled by propulsive bass lines. Much like their sister band The Bad Plus, Happy Apple draws on pop and rock for some inspiration, but they are too multi-dimensional to fall into a pure "fusion" camp. The band always finds interesting and cheeky titles for their composition, like the pulsing opening tune "The New Bison". Dynamics are a part of the band's motif as well, going from loud to soft like the Ahmad Jamal Trio (or Nirvana for that matter) the band is able to meld their source material into complex improvisations. The album also has provocative performances of Latin grooves on “Lefse Los Cubanos” and a nice ballad on "Hence the Turtleneck" (another great title). This is a strong album overall, Happy Apple may not have gained the notice or inspired the controversy of The Bad Plus, but they are an equal, also taking diverse influences and weaving them into an original music.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Bad Plus take on their critics with an excellent blog post about how some of their music and philosophies are misconstrued:

"But just like with those artists, irony is just a small part of the story in The Bad Plus. Here's our real story: We love songs. We believe in the power of song. We write songs as well as we can. There is not anything in TBP's repertory that is not based on melody, originals included. Thinking that we are not serious about the melodies we play is incorrect."

There is also an interesting interview with TBP's drummer David King at AAJ:

"One rule we have is that we’re just making the music we want to make. We don’t have discussions like, “We need this ratio of this.” We try to just let things happen the way they always have. The way this band started was very relaxed, without any manifesto. It was more like a refugee camp, a sideman world. So we decided to not mess with that at all by being analytical, or messing with things much. We go with what we play at the time, and what we were touring with at the time were those tunes."

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen - The Unforgettable NHOP Trio Live (ACT, 2007)

Best known by the easier (for Americans anyway) acronym NHOP, bassist Pedersen was omnipresent on the European jazz scene from his fifteenth birthday up to his sad early passage. He played with nearly every jazz musician of note when they came to Copenhagen during the 1960's and 70's before concentrating on his own bands in the 1990's and 2000's. This album is a recording of his regular trio, where he is joined byUlf Wakenius on guitar, and Jonas Johansen on drums. They produce enjoyable straight-ahead jazz that will be appreciated by fans of mainstream guitar oriented groups. There is a solid record beginning with Pedersen showing off his chops solo on "The Bach Piece" segueing into a mid-tempo trio performance of "Memories." Wakenius really tears it up on "Lines" finding a unique tone that checks Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass but remains original and interesting. Standards are a focal point of the music, several were chosen for inclusion because of the leader's soloing, particularly “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” which has a fine feature for Pedersen. A couple of Danish folk tunes round out this disc, adding an unique feel to the music. It will be interesting to see if Pedersen will be seen as one of the forefathers of the current Nordic Jazz boom. Regardless, he will be seen as one of the finest bassists of the post-war era, and this disc provides more grist for that mill.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Black Francis - Bluefinger (Cooking Vinyl, 2007)

Black Francis, aka Frank Black, leader of the legendary alternative rock band The Pixies up-dishes another solid helping of solo tunes, not straying far from the template that made his former band so successful with cryptic lyrics apparently influenced by the late Dutch rocker Herman Brood, and dynamic guitar and drums based music. The music is tight and focused, beginning with the blasting lead off "Captain Patsy" and the following lengthy "Threshold Apprehension" which is one of the finest songs in Black's solo catalog. Of course, it wouldn't be a Frank Black record without a side trip into the seedier side of life as is provided by the tracks "Lolita" and the stomping "Tight Black Rubber". When he lays off the accelerator, things slack a little but, "Test Pilot Blues" and "Angels Come to Comfort You" sound a little uncomfortable as if some round lyrics were being pushed into square musical holes. But overall, the music is successful and this is probably the most consistent solo album Black has recorded in some time.

Fillmore Slim - The Legend of Fillmore Slim (Mountain Top, 2007)

In a music world filled with characters, former convict, pimp and hustler Fliimore Slim certainly holds his own. A fine guitarist with a soulful voice, Slim leads a group through a nice update of traditional electric blues. In "Blues from the Heart", Slim sings about being influenced by Albert King and T-Bone Walker, and you can hear that influence in his music. Slim keeps a straight-ahead blues groove of guitar, bass and drums with some harmonica work added to spice things up. Slim takes on the usual blues themes of infidelity, poverty and violence with some well written songs. "Hey Little Brother" criticizes gun violence in the inner cities with the help of a younger rapper, while "Nosey Woman" and "Tired of My Old Lady" pretty much speak for themselves. "My Friend Blue" is a charming and soulful song about a friend in need, while "Vegetable Man" pretty much runs down every culinary delight Slim has ever tasted. This is a solid and enjoyable blues album. Slim is a good singer and guitarist, and although some of the songs run a little overlong, this is a worthy record for fans of soul inspired blues.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Trio M - Big Picture (Cryptogramophone, 2007)

Trio M is a collective all-star trio made up of pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson. The group began playing together in early 2006 and worked several more gigs before coming together once more to record at the end of that year. They play a complex and progressive brand of modern jazz, improvising collectively on a wide range of material. The music if often quite percussive and aggressive, particularly on the title song "Big Picture" where very fast piano and drums are rooted by strong plucked bass. Melford adds some rippling Don Pullen like piano, leading to some exhilaratingly strong playing from all three musicians and culminating with percussive piano of Cecil Talyor like power. A slower spacier passage leads to the song's conclusion with bowed bass and cascading piano and percussion. "Modern Pine" is a little slower, taking a melodic mid-tempo approach. This is an enjoyable performance with subtle gear shifting to adjust tempo and pace. There is a traditional modern jazz sound here with the piano leading and bass and drums in support. Imagine the Mulgrew Miller trio jacked up on 20 oz. strong coffees and you get the idea. High pitched bowed bass introduces "Secrets to Tell You". Dresser's eerie sounding bowed bass is at the center of this song, taking the lead while piano and percussion ebb and flow around it, creating a haunting and evocative sound. "FreeKonomics" opens with fractured drums with plucked bass and probing piano. The pace increases to an abrupt conclusion with dark sounding piano. This is a powerful trio with the musicians deeply in sync with each other. While different instruments will occasionally take a lead role in particular improvisations, it is the collective integrity of the music that impresses the most. This is thoughtful and forward thinking jazz music which deserves widespread respect. (Release date: October 23, 2007)

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Book Review: White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s by Joe Boyd

Veteran music producer Joe Boyd wrote this thoughtful memoir about his early career organizing concerts and producing albums by some of the biggest names in the music business. As a young man at Harvard in the early 1960's, Boyd was fascinated by jazz and blues and this led him to get involved booking concerts by legendary musicians like Lonnie Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt in the Boston area. From there he moved on to work the Newport Jazz and Blues festivals where he writes interesting accounts of musicians like Coleman Hawkins and Muddy Waters. Boyd moved to London in the mid-60's founding the legendary UFO nightclub and producing concerts and records by Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake. This is an engaging and thoroughly entertaining account of the music industry during a time of great changes and great artistry.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Briefly Noted: Rock 'n' Roll

Kid Kongo & The Pink Monkey Birds - Philosophy & Underwear (Trans Solar, 2005) Former founding member of The Gun Club guitarist and singer "Kid Kongo" Powers steps out on his own with a mix of raunchy garage rock with some glam and no-wave influences thrown in to boot. Supported by a rotating cast of musicians making up the Pink Monkey Birds, Powers is most successful when he sticks to straightforward raw punk like of the guitar fueled "Black Bag." When he tries to step out into more narrative songwriting, the results often seem forced, as on his duet with Little Annie on the dragging "The Weather The War." The cheekiness of the lyrics can go either way: the snarky "Although Your Leather is Cliche" Is New York sneer like something Lou Reed would sing, while "Why Hurt Flesh" tries for a Velvet Underground feel and doesn't quite make it. What you end up with is a mixed bag of songs work well when their pretensions are laid aside, but fail to impact when things get a little too elaborate. Less is more.

Deltahead - Deltahead (Phantom, 2006) Deltahead are a Swedish punk-blues hybrid duo that mines the same fertile ground that birthed The Black Keys and The John Spencer Blues Explosion. They make quite a racket, playing guitar and bass while simultaneously banging on bass drums and singing. There's a fun DIY feel when they are at their best like the driving faux-gospel stomp "My Mama Was Too Lazy To Pray" where they recall the enthusiasm of early punk rock. These guys are probably a hoot live, but on record they quickly run out of interesting things to say, moving into comedy "Don't Move to Finland!" and satire "Love Me, Follow Me" but losing the visceral energy of the opening tune. If they can come up with some good songs to match the fascinating cacophony they make on their instruments, they could be a band to keep an eye on.

Send comments to: Tim

Now playing: Sam Rivers - 03 Sketches Part Three and Four
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I have a new podcast available with examples of the music I have been enjoying over the past few weeks. The playlist is: (Artist/Song/Album)
  1. Horace Silver/You Gotta Take a Little Love/You Gotta Take a Little Love
  2. Tom Harrell/VA/Light On
  3. Koko Taylor/Black Rat/Old School
  4. Marc Ribot/Ghosts/Don't Blame Me
  5. Rusty Bryant/Wildfire/Legends of Acid Jazz Vol.2
  6. Bobby Hutcherson/Jitterbug Waltz/For Sentimental Reasons
  7. Champion Jack Dupree/Junker's Blues/Junker's Blues
  8. Jason Linder Big Band/Rumors/Live at the Jazz Gallery
  9. Milt Jackson/Bag's Groove/Bags of Soul
  10. Len Price 3/Cold 500/Rentacrowd
  11. John Zorn/Mob Job/Spy vs. Spy
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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Koko Taylor's latest album, Old School, is a very good disc that should appeal to people who like their blues firmly in the Chicago style - sweaty, tough and potent as a baseball bat upside the head. It's hard to believe that Taylor suffered a major health crisis recently that nearly ended her career (and life) because she sounds strong as a rock, strutting her stuff and slapping her cheatin' men back into line. She swaggers out of the gate with the tough and funky "Piece of Man" and follows it up walking the walk, comparing her man to animals with the storming "Black Rat" along with "Bad Rooster" and "Gonna Buy Me A Mule" and laying down the rules with "You Ain't Worth a Good Woman" and "Money is the Name of the Game." Throughout she gets stellar support from a sympathetic backing band that carves out a huge pocket for her to fill with her massive voice. This is a truly fine no-frills blues album from a master of the medium. Anyone who loves raw, nasty blues will really enjoy the music herein.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Just a note that I am on vacation in The Land of No Wi-Fi, so blogging may be sporadic over the next few days. Heavy spins over the downtime have included Milt Jackson's Bags of Soul boxed set on Proper Records. This is a fine four disc set in Proper's budget line of boxes, I found it for $14 and it's worth every penny. The set focuses on Jackson's early solo recordings away from the Modern Jazz Quartet, and there is a lot of great music in Jackson's standard milieu of bebop, ballads and blues. Mallet fans are sure to enjoy, but those who are vibraphobic may consider four discs a little too much.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Pharoah Sanders - Africa (Timeless, 1987)

After tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders well known albums made with Impulse Records in the 1960's and 70's, he became a bit of a journeyman, recording for several labels before hooking up with Timeless in the mid 1980's. This record appeals for showing different aspect ofPharoah Sanders' musical personae, the beginning and ending tracks, "You've Got to Have Freedom" and "Duo" show him bringing the heat like he did in his early years. "Niama " and "Speak Low" demonstrate his ability on standard and ballad material, playing with grace and patience. Finally the title track "Africa" shows his continued commitment to meditational and spiritual music using chants and percussion. This is a good album that belies the notion that Pharoah Sanders is nothing but a one-dimensional firebrand. Taking on originals and standards at all tempos, Pharoah Sanders proves that he is a complete musician.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mwanji has a cool post about building a rack to hold his CDs. Since I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, a project like this was well beyond me. However, a few weeks ago, I was able to partake in a fine spot of dumpster diving and came up with this wonderful vinyl record holding apparatus.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Graham Haynes - Full Circle (RKM Music, 2007)

Cornetist Graham Haynes works in a post-modern fusion of jazz and electronics, indebted to the Miles Davis LPs In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, but not slavishly emulative. Synthesizers, electric guitars and percussion create a progressive rock groove that Haynes solos over. Tracks that demonstrate this best include "Quarter Circle" which has a slow spacey beginning before a Davis like cornet floats over a plucked stringed instrument. Sounding like Davis' "Shhh... Peaceful" remade for new technology, Haynes smears long notes of horn over the meditative backdrop. It's effective in small doses, but over the course of fourteen minutes it does tend to drag. "Standing Before Time" has distorted electronics floating above drums before an acoustic piano moves in giving the proceedings an electro-acoustic feel. This is an admirable if not entirely successful experiment. It would have been nice to hear Haynes play a little more rather than letting the electronics handle the bulk of the groove. Fans of Nils Petter Molvaer or Thievery Corporation, may find the music here interesting, but devotees on more traditional jazz will feel a little out of place.

Send comments to: Tim