Monday, December 31, 2007

Big Joe Williams – These are My Blues (Testament, 1998)

Ramblin' bluesman Williams hit the college circuit for this recording, cut in 1965 but held for more than 30 years before release. It's a very interesting discovery, as it finds Williams playing a homemade nine string electric guitar, and singing in his deep field holler like voice. Williams was unique amongst bluesmen, idiosyncratic with his unusual guitar and lyrics that switch and swap blues themes and topics to keep the music fresh. He can make anything into a song from the death of a president in the JFK memorial “Man Amongst Men” to a broken down car in the introduction and lyrics of “56 Plymouth.” Williams also mixes classics like his own canonical original “Baby Please Don't Go” with other legendary blues tunes like “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Bottle Up and Go.” His originality really shines through in a brief take on John Lee Hooker's “Boogie Chillen” where he takes the familiar Hooker riff and bends it to his will. Like his contemporary Lightnin' Hopkins, Williams was a wily and resourceful performer who never passed up a chance to record, and never played anything the same way twice. This is a fine example of him at the height of his powers.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Matthew Shipp - Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007)

Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp has led a fascinating dual career recently, performing in both electric and acoustic contexts, as a leader and as a sideman. On this occasion he is the leader of an acoustic trio, joined by Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The music presented here shows the dualism as well, with an almost even split between freer more abstract improvisations, and material that focuses on melody and lyricism. On the freer side, "Piano Vortex" is slow developing and moody, a long probing improvisation that shifts like the tide. "The New Circumstance" has a bowed bass opening with spare, dark flavored piano that evolves into a repeating percussive figure. "Slips Through the Fingers" is a feature for crystalline solo piano. "Keyswing" and "Nooks and Corners" shows the band's more melodic side with a definite Thelonious Monk influence, sounding playful and providing short and concise performances. "Quivering With Speed" combines pounding squalls of low register piano with rippling runs on the upper register to great effect. Throughout the disc there is excellent interplay between the three musicians, and the disc's LP length makes sure that it never overstays its welcome. This is a very good album, and shows that Matthew Shipp remains at the forefront of modern jazz improvisation.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Ken Vandermark and Paul Nilsson-Love - Seven (Smalltown Superjazz, 2007)

Multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and drummer Paul Nilsson-Love have performed in a number of groups and contexts over the past decade. In this case, they are all by themselves performing a spontaneous three part improvisation, much like a high-wire act in tandem before a live audience. The first piece is a very long, slow building exploration entitled "First Hit, Second Fall" where the emphasis in the music is on texture. Love uses the entirety of his drum ensemble to develop a great many percussive sounds, and Vandermark responds with slurs, squeaks and squeals, sounding at times like another Chicago legend, Roscoe Mitchell. "Open Too Close" was the highlight of the disc for me, fifteen minutes of unfettered blowing, with each man taking his instrument to the limit. This is "free jazz" for certain, but the two never lose a sense of control over the proceedings and there is a great sense of mutual respect and collaboration throughout. The disc ends with the very brief coda of "Universal Funeral" and rapturous applause of the gathered crowd. This was a solid album of spontaneous creative jazz which ranges from lively, straight from the gut free music to pointillistic and dry abstraction.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Saxophonist Brian Patneaude has posted his Top Ten for 2007: "1) Sam Yahel Trio - Truth And Beauty (Origin) Previously known as Yaya3 and the Joshua Redman Elastic Band, the trio of organist Sam Yahel, saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade eschews their usual electronics in favor of a stripped down organ combo sound on a collection of memorable compositions by the leader and covers of Ornette Coleman and Paul Simon."

Tom Hull has posted his Top Ten and more: "If there's a theme to this year's list it's that world beats are coming to America. Two of five (Youssou N'Dour, Papa Noel) are Africans doing African things, but three more are first world integrators (Manu Chao, Gogol Bordello, MIA), as much at home here as wherever there is."

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Elliot Sharp's Terraplane – Forgery (Intuition, 2007)

Like many of the musicians on the downtown scene, guitarist Elliot Sharp leads or is a member of several different ensembles. Terraplane is his blues ensemble, where he is accompanied by Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, David Hofstra on bass, Toney Lewis on drums, Eric Mingus and Tracie Morrison vocals. “Smoke and Mirrors” leads off the recording with a broken and shifting beat, before Mingus' deep shouted vocals and the horns enter. “Tell Me Why” and the medley of “Katrina Blues/How The Crescent City Got Bleached” add a political element to the mix, taking the blues down deep to their roots as a rallying cry of oppressed people, while adding some interesting funk elements to the mix. “Dance 4 Lance” is a wonderfully upbeat tribute to a fallen musician and friend of the band, while “War Between the States” and “Badlands” mix electric and acoustic guitar with slide accents and horns to present a progressive alternative to much music passing as the blues today. Musicians like Sharp and James “Blood” Ulmer are using jazz and avant-garde musics to push the traditional music of the blues in new and interesting directions with very positive results. This is a very interesting band that is a welcome breath of fresh air in both the blues and jazz scenes.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Zero Point - Plays Albert Ayler (Ayler, 2007)

Appropriately enough this tribute to the late free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler is released on the label that bears his name. Zero Point is a jazz trio based in Mexico City that plays free improv indebted to the open ended trio concept of Ayler's classic Spiritual Unity LP. German Bringas performs on alto and tenor saxophones, Itzam Cano on bass and Gabriel Lauber drums making up the group and they play in the cohesive manner of a well rehearsed trio that is familiar with their material and with each other. That material is a mix of Ayler composed themes, and sections of original free improvisation. There is a lot to recommend here, this is a live recording that has the band performing enthusiastically before a small but sympathetic audience. The band covers material from Alyer's early career, where open ended free jazz met spirituals and folk music themes. For all of his reputation as a fearsome member of the avant garde, Ayler wrote some very memorable melodies like the simple and folkish “Ghosts” which the group uses as a wonderful springboard for performing, especially Lauber's swirling drum patters which recall free legends like Sunny Murray or Rashied Ali. This is a very enjoyable and thoughtful tribute to Albert Ayler, and I hope this band is able to continue with future releases, it would be fascinating to hear what they would make of Ayler's lat period music where he experimented with rock rhythms and R&B. The music of that period is usually reviled, but I have to confess a fondness for it.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sun Ra – Detroit Jazz Center Residency Discs 1&2 (Transparency, 2007)

Given my Sun Ra fanboy status and my incontrovertible nerditude, it's a given that I would order a 28 CD boxed set chronicling the Man From Saturn's epic stand in Detroit from December 26th, 1980 to January 1st, 1981. I've just begun to scratch the surface on this monster, but it has already been a rewarding experience. The sound quality is surprisingly good, certainly not perfect, but far better than the bootleg quality I was expecting. Ra and the band are on fire as well, mixing his own compositions with free jazz improv and swing era nuggets for an intoxicating mix. On disc one Ra accepts the key to the city of Detroit and then proceeds to lead the band through a blasting set, focusing on riff centered swing era standards like “Queer Notions” and “Yeah Man!” which have the group sounding like a 1930's territory band. They move forward in time to the bebop era, checking a medley of “Lady Bird/Half Nelson” before blasting full bore into modern jazz/free improv with a 23 minute percussion centered “Love in Outer Space.” Disc two is more vocal centered with Ra leading the band through chants and songs, on regular tunes from his book like “Space is the Place” and “We Travel the Spaceways” before blasting off into those spaceways with some unfettered improvisations. Ra has spent most of the first two CDs on organ, and there have been several excellent solo spots for John Gilmore. It's quite a trip and I look forward to checking out the rest of the set. More updates to come.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

B.B. King – The RPM Hits 1951-1957 (Ace, 1999)

Early on in his career, the great bluesman B.B. King established a pattern of music that would serve him well for over fifty years. Fronting a powerful little big band with his own potent guitar and vocals, combined with memorable songs and performances, he established himself as "King of the Blues" by relentless touring and recording. This disc presents the best of King's earliest recordings, where he is at his leanest and most mighty, belting out the original versions of songs he would continue to revisit throughout his career, like the riff laden “You Upset Me Baby” and the violet blues “Three O'Clock in the Morning.” B.B.'s great and resonant voice comes through on the classic recordings of “Every Day I Have the Blues” and the amazingly emotional “Sweet Little Angel.” Some of the more pop and ballad oriented material is a little less successful, but its inclusion shows the range of material that King was recording during this period. The liner notes are extensive and well written, scouring the blues landscape for information about King and his singles during this period. There is some truly wonderful and historic music here, and anyone looking for a one disc summation of B.B. King's early recordings would do well to track down a copy.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ibrahim Electric Meets Ray Anderson Again (Stunt, 2007)

Ibrahim Electric is a Danish organ trio that prides itself on "exploring the borders between jazz, rock, afro, funk" according to their myspace site. On this album, the band recorded live at the Copenhagen JazzHouse in February 2007. The group is composed of Niclas Knudsen on guitar, Jeppe Tuxen on Hammond B3 organ, Stefan Pasborg on drums, and as the title indicates, special guest Ray Anderson on trombone. The disc comes across as something like a European version of the New Orleans party funk group Galactic, with the band keeping the grooves bubbling, the guitar lines choppy, and and Anderson slurring on the trombone like someone who has indulged in a few too many pints of lager. The highlight is the alarmingly titled "Blue Balls" which panders to the hometown crowd in the best way with some ravishing up-tempo boogie while "Funkorific" and "Absinthe" leave no doubt that the group wanted to keep the crowd riled up. For the most part, they are quite successful, the core group is a very tight trio and Anderson's addition extends the band's range, and adds an almost vocal accompaniment with the smears and slurs he produces. Fans of funky jazz or organ music in general should find this disc enjoyable.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Michael Blake Sextet - Amor de Cosmos (Clean Feed, 2007)

The new album by saxophonist and composer Michael Blake is filled with thoughtful and complex improvisation. This is music that does not immediately grab your attention, but seeps into your subconsciousness after several listening sessions. Joining Blake on this disc are: Brad Turner on trumpet, Sal Ferreras on marimba and percussion, Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Andre Lachance on bass and Dylan van der Schyff drums. Over the course of his musical career both as a leader and as a sideman (notably with the Lounge Lizards) Blake has explored many facets of jazz and world music. On this disc he takes inspiration from Canadian journalist William Alexander Smith (who renamed himself Amor de Cosmos) and uses his writings as inspiration for a new set of compositions. Several of the compositions are lengthy, approaching ten minutes, and take their time exploring the musical terrain. The title track builds a thoughtful tenor saxophone solo over an insistent drumbeat to good effect, and then the track moves to truly cosmic territory with keyboards and shimmering cymbals. "So Long Seymour" adds marimba and fast moving drums to a fleet soprano saxophone solo for a memorable improvisation. The Clean Feed label has carved out a niche for itself in modern jazz as a label that encourages thoughtful improvisatory music, and Blake's newest disc is a solid example of that. The music is rick taking but never reckless and is a good addition to Blake's diverse discography.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jimmy Smith – Straight Life (Blue Note 1961, 2007)

This historical release puts out some of the final recordings that the great organist cut for Blue Note before moving to the Verve label where he found great commercial success. While many of the Verve recordings found Smith in big band settings, this disc features him with his bread and butter trio with Quentin Warren on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums. There's nothing fancy here, this is probably representative of what you would have heard if you saw his trio in a live performance at this time. Smith's repertoire of blues, ballads and up-tempo cookers is well represented here, and while this isn't Smith's most exciting session (probably why it wound up in the vaults for so many years) there is some solid music to be found here.

Dave Leibman, et. al. - Dream of Nite (Verve, 2007)

Saxophonist Leibman documents is regular European touring group on this live recording from 2005. Backing him on this disc are Roberto Tarenzi on piano, Paolo Benedettini on bass, and Tony Arco on drums. The group is very comfortable with each other, and while Leibman can sometimes be quite exploratory in his musical flights, this disc is a rather restrained examination of melody and harmony, using compositions of his sidemen as jumping off points. The most upbeat piece of music is the opening “Unsteady” which is a pithy and smart piece of modern jazz. “Feel” stretches this way out over the course of a fifteen minute improvisation and is aptly named as the texture and patience of the composition is paramount. Miles Davis' rarely performed “Fran-Dance” from Kind of Blue receives a nice reading, with a wide open fee that pervades the entire disc.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Big Road Blues had a very interesting post about Robert Nighthawk: "Nighthawk stayed in Chicago periodically but he related the following to writer Don Kent: “He told me he frankly preferred the South. It was cheaper, apt to be less violent than the City, and he was better known. When he was in Chicago he was a regular on Maxwell Street, Chicago’s bustling open-air market. The market was a magnet for musicians just arriving to Chicago as well as those already established on the local blues scene."

Boogie Woogie Flu marks the passing of Ike Turner by posting several of his 45's in mp3 format: "Ike Turner's dead. He was a lot of things. Among them, he was a badass guitar player, piano player, producer, arranger, bandleader, songwriter, and a talent scout for Sam Phillips at Sun. He was also a bad motherf*****. Unfortunately, he'll probably be best remembered as a wife beating substance abuser. He probably wasn't a "nice guy," but his contributions are vast and deep."

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

2007 has been a wonderful year for music, and in an exciting change of pace, the number of great new releases far outstretched the number of great historical releases.

Top Ten New Releases (no particular order):

Dave Douglas - Live at the Jazz Standard: Douglas has had a stable band for several years now and the growth and camaraderie really shows here. All of the sets from their Jazz Standard run are available for downloading, but this two disc set cherry picks the highlights for a concentrated dose of great live jazz.

Marc Ribot - Asmodeus: Book Of Angels: Vol.7: One of Ribot's most audacious projects (and that's saying a lot!) this howling power trio blurs the line between punk rock and jazz, taking compositions from John Zorn's Masada songbook and reworking them for a rampaging power trio

The Bad Plus - Prog: Media always seems to focus on the groups witty covers, but here it's the thoughtful compositions and improvisations that take center stage. The compositions "Physical Cities" and "1980 World Champion" show that the group is far from a one trick pony.

Charles Tolliver - With Love: Bursting back on to the scene with his first album in many years, trumpeter Tolliver leads an outstanding big band filled to the brim with both great ensemble playing and stellar soloing.

Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior: Songwriter and guitarist Thompson is in a class by himself when it comes to writing witty and thoughtful lyrics. Whether it's skewering domestic relationships in "Mr. Stupid" or writing about the terror of the Iraq war in "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" this is another stellar entry in a long and distinguished catalog.

The White Stripes - Icky Thump: Refreshed after a year off and on a new label, Jack and Meg White continued to expand their bluesy garage rock, branching out so far as to include Scottish and flamenco influences. But the core of their music remains the minimalist, guitar driven rockers.

Joshua Redman - Back East: Redman's acoustic trio record is a crackling winner indebted to classic Sonny Rollins LPs. The group plays superbly, improvising vigorously on both well known standards and originals.

Bettye Lavette - Scene of the Crime: It took soul diva Betty LaVette nearly 40 years to make her mark, but her potent blend of blues, R&B and funk are like a force of nature.

James "Blood" Ulmer - Bad Blood In the City: Ulmer continues to remake himself as a bluesman, taking his complex Ornette Coleman influenced guitar and adapting it to songs of hardship and freedom.

William Parker - Corn Meal Dance: Bassist and composer Parker put out several albums in 2007, all of them excellent, but this one with his "Raining on the Moon Band" was perhaps the finest of them all. Parker also emerges as a lyricist of great thoughtfulness.

Honorable Mention:

David Murray - Sacred Ground
The Claudia Quintet - For

Nels Cline Singers– Draw Breath

Sam Rivers - Aurora

William Parker's Little Huey Big Band - For Percy Heath

William Parker - Alphaville Suite
Dave Douglas - Moonshine

Chris Potter - Follow the Red Line

Watermelon Slim - The Wheel Man

Best Historical Release:

Miles Davis - The Complete On the Corner Sessions: Sony manages to turn each of its Miles boxes into a drama, and this one was no different with missed shipping dates, outrageous price and all of the other fun and frolic of the reissue game. Fortunately it was all worth it, and this package may be the most surprising of all of the boxes so far. When Davis released the original On the Corner LP in the early 1970's, it was almost universally reviled. But now, in the intervening years, the music world has caught up to the experimentalism that Davis was up to, and far from being a sell-out as was claimed, the mix of jazz, funk and avant classical was prescient and well ahead of its time.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Chris Potter - Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside, 2007)

Saxophonist and composer Chris Potter's second live album in a few years further charts his development as both a player and improviser. This full length CD has five very long improvisations, often employing knotty twists and turns that keeps the music fresh and invigorating. Joining him here are Adam Rogers on guitar; Craig Taborn on electric piano and Nate Smith on drums. Potter shows a great deal of confidence by allowing the music to stretch out into abstract territory, he gives the music a lot of room to evolve but it never escapes the group's control. “Train” opens the set, and much like a locomotive, it does take a little while to build up a head of steam, but then things really take off with Potter billowing out lengthy lines of tenor over Taborn's bubbling rhodes and Rogers' probing and angular guitar while Nate Smith keeps the engine room cooking. An exploratory feel pervades the other up-tempo cuts on the album as well. Much like the Dave Holland Quintet (which both Potter and Smith are a part of) the lengthy improvisations become journeys into the heart of jazz where nothing is taken for granted, and teamwork takes precedence over individual glory. That said, it must be noted that Potter's tone on tenor saxophone have developed into a deep mahogany color, that can be traced back through Coltrane and Rollins to the musical father of them all, Coleman Hawkins. There's a stentorian depth to his tenor that while never ponderous still speaks with a great deal of gravity. This is a very enjoyable and thoughtful set of modern jazz. It demands close, repeated listening, and rewards it immensely.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

OK, I think I might have passed some sort of Geek threshold here. But I couldn't resist using a Cyber Monday coupon I received to order the Ion USB Turntable. It's not a bad record player and has the wonderful benefit of having a built in pre-amp, and a USB output to your computer for converting to mp3 then to your iPod. Last night I coverted The MC5's Back in the USA, and Wayne Shorter's The All Seeing Eye to mp3 and listened to them in the car today. I'm having a little bit too much fun with this...

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Various Artists - Coolest Songs in the World, Vol. 1 (Wicked Cool, 2007)

When I used to subscribe to Sirius Satellite Radio, I was an avid listener to Little Steven's Underground Garage, which played a wonderful selection of straight ahead unadorned rock and roll. Each week the DJ's would highlight one particular song, and this disc is the first in a (hopefully long running) series collecting these selections. The songs actually cover a pretty wide range of "Nuggets" style rock from the sing-a-long power pop of the opening "On the Airwaves" by The Shazam, to the no-frills garage rock of "I Can't Stand It" by The Greenhorns and "I Woke Up This Mornin" by The Mooney Suzuki. Think of this as a modern day equivalent of the Back From the Grave series of garage rock samplers from the 1960's. While most of these bands received little traditional radio airplay, that's more of an indictment against corporate rock radio than the level of the music. These samplers are at a budget price and are well worth checking out for fans of old-school rock and roll.

Frank Frost and Sam Carr - Last of the Jelly Roll Kings (Blue Label, 2007)

Guitarist, harmonicist and singer Frost and drummer Carr were stalwarts in the legendary Delta Blues band The Jelly Roll Kings. Frost has since passed on while Carr still gigs occasionally. This disc releases the remainder of the recordings the two made together both in the studio and live in concert. The joy of this recording comes from the deep roots that they both have in the music. Things get a little sloppy and out of tune at times, but that is part of the charm. Many of these songs have been heard before and are considered standards, but the group plays them with panache and complete authority, and even chestnuts like "Black Cat Bone" and "Rock Me Baby" sound fresh and current in their hands. This is a fine and enjoyable disc, and with traditional delta blues fading away as the masters of the idiom pass on, it's another chance to relive a sweaty night in the juke joint of the mind.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Joshua Redman - Back East (Nonesuch, 2007)

After fulfilling his obligation as nominal leader of the SF Jazz Collective and disbanding his own electric jazz band, tenor saxophonist and composer Joshua Redman returns with an album of acoustic trio music, backed by a rotating cadre of bassist and drummers and joined by the occasional guest saxophonist. Much indebted to Sonny Rollins' wonderful trio albums during the 1950's, Redman is still able to use the many possibilities of the format to craft his own style. Taking on Rollins in the format he pioneered is a daunting task, but Redman acquits himself well, performing excellent versions of "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm An Old Cowhand," both of which were staples of the classic Rollins LP Way Out West. As impressive as these are, the finest track on the album may be the extraordinary version of John Coltrane's exotic modal composition "India." Joined by his father Dewey Redman, who would pass on not long after this recording, they craft an otherworldly performance which is the highlight of the album. Redman's own compositions may be a little overshadowed by the illustrious company they are keeping on this disc, but they also work well. Eric Harland adds some fine drumming that adds propulsion to "Mantra #5," and the title track "Back East" is one of his most ebullient performances to date. This is a very fine album, the wide open vistas of the trio setting clearly appeal to Joshua Redman and he responds with some very inspired playing. The group simmers with energy, creating enjoyable and creative music throughout.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Various Artists - American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1969, Vol. 2 (Hip – O, 2004)

This CD is an accompaniment to the amazing series of DVD's that have been being released by Hip-O, chronicling appearances on European TV by legendary American bluesmen and women. Performances on this disc and the preceding Vol. 1 are live recordings from the Folk Blues Festival tour, a more natural setting for the musicians, rather than the sometimes contrived settings the otherwise well meaning TV producers arranged. Superb performances abound, leading off with Big Mama Thornton reclaiming “Hound Dog” from a certain Elvis fellow, followed by a couple of fine performances by the wily Sonny Boy Williamson, “Keep It To Yourself” and “Your Funeral and My Trial.” Great stuff indeed, but the music really goes into overdrive at the end of the CD, with Son House letting loose with a frighteningly potent version of his classic “Death Letter Blues,” followed by Koko Taylor with Little Walter in support belting out a tough as nails version of “Wang Dang Doodle.” Muddy Waters rocks “Long Distance Call” with some absolutely unique slide guitar, and Earl Hooker goes over the top on a medley of instrumental compositions. Finally Magic Sam delivers a superbly emotional “All Your Love” before the disc ends with a finale that brought everyone back to the stage. This is a pretty amazing disc, and it's hard not to be jealous of the European blues fans who got to hear this fantastic assemblage all in one place.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Steve Lehman – On Meaning (Pi Recordings, 2007)

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman has been carving out a unique niche in cutting edge jazz on his own diverse projects and in the collective group Fieldwork. On this album he is joined by Drew Gress on bass, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and Chris Dingman on vibraphone. This disc is a very good updating of the tart alto and vibraphone sound pioneered by Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson and Lehman's mentor Jackie McLean on Blue Note Records during the mid 1960's. “Analog Moment” has a complex and mysterious sounding improvisation, with very urgent sounds coming from the horns, and haunting vibraphone accents. “Open Music” is very much like it says on the tin, with percussive drums and vibes setting the mood before alto sax and trumpet open up and join the fray. This performance has an Out To Lunch vibe to it, bringing the classic Eric Dolphy album into the 21st century. Jagged and pungent alto saxophone are also the hallmarks of the wonderfully titled “Haiku d'etat Transcription” and they short but very dynamic “Curse Fraction.” The music has a wide open and spacious sound which gives everyone a chance to comment on the proceedings and collective improvisation is encouraged, no one is locked into a particular role. Score another one for Pi, a little label run on a shoestring that is making some of the best music in jazz right about now.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

McCoy Tyner - Quartet (McCoy Tyner Music, 2007)

Coming off a health scare last year pianist and composer McCoy Tyner is noticeably gaunt and thin on the cover of his newest release, but that has done nothing to quench the fire of his music. His first release on his new label is one of his most intense in years, and he's joined by a great trio of Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. Recorded live at Yohsi's in Oakland, the group nears the intensity of Tyner's incendiary live albums of the early 1970's Enlightenment and Atlantis. "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" was a staple of that period, and it's the lead off track here, with Joe Lovano bellowing through the wide open spaces of this composition with an almost desperate fury. McBride gets a bass feature on "Sama Layuca" before the group builds to a powerful piano and drums crescendo. "Passion Dance" explodes out of an edgy drum intro, building into a lengthy and fiery Lovano solo. He gets a breather as a strong and intense piano trio interlude builds, before rejoining for a thunderous conclusion. "Search For Peace" has a lush thoughtful tenor saxophone opening taken at ballad speed, it's a wonderful feature for Lovano's thoughtful and patient playing at slow tempos. Tyner ends the disc showing his sensitive side on the elegant solo piano version of "For All We Know." This ruminative performance seems a little out of place considering the muscular brawn that had proceeded it, but it makes for a fine epilogue. This was a very good live album from a masterful band of all stars. There's a sense that they are really laying it on the line on each performance and that nothing is taken for granted. Fans of Tyner's intense early 70's records on Milestone will find a lot to enjoy here.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Various Artists - Putumayo Presents World Hits (Putumayo, 2007)

World Hits is designed for the person who is curious about the music of other cultures, but is afraid to stray too far from the comfortable cocoon of popular music. It features several readily identifiable pop icons, and by presenting these musicians in collaborative contexts, there is enough hand holding to help neophytes get beyond the strangeness factor. Mongo Snatamaria's "Watermelon Man" popularized by Herbie Hancock is always a joy to hear with its mixture of Latin rhythms and jazz. Another hero of Latin fusion, Carlos Santana, is represented with his massively popular version of "Oye Como Va." The reggae contingent is well represented by the leadoff track, a collaboration by Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh, "(If You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" and Jimmy Cliff's swaggering "The Harder They Come." Some of the tracks like Jimmy Clegg's "Scatterlings of Africa" suffer from being a little too polished and produced, but they still serve their purpose. Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" works an interesting horn arrangement and some punchy tenor saxophone soloing to good effect, and they Gypsy Kings make the final stop on the disc with the guitar driven "Bamboleo." Hopefully these familiar pop star led themes will have the desired effect of encouraging listeners to broaden their musical horizons. A world of great music awaits.

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