Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's nice to see Dave king's "other" band, Happy Apple, getting some attention:

"The band, which played at Joe’s Pub on Tuesday, comes from Minneapolis. But its members, all in their late 30s, seem to have swallowed a very specific New York style: free jazz from the early 1970s, when most of the traditional elements of the music dropped away or went haywire, yet somehow bits of humor and romance crept in."

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Big Bill Broonzy - Where the Blues Began (Recall, 2000)

Big Bill Broonzy was always ahead of his time, whether it was moving to Chicago from the rural south in search of a musical career, or taking his act on the road in Europe as part of one of the first folk revivals. This two disc set surveys his career from the late twenties to the late forties and manages to capture most of the high points of his long career. It's interesting to hear the development of his career from a solo guitarist and singer to a musician who worked in larger group settings with some of the finest jazz and blues talent of his day. He even found time to mentor the next generation of southern bluesmen to move to Chicago, having a lasting impact on Muddy Waters (who dedicated an album to him) among many others. Some of his earliest blues on disc one focus on him as a solo performer, like "I Can't Be Satisfied" where his warm vocals and deft guitar cut through the rough recording quality. Bill also enjoyed train songs as did many bluesmen (the locomotive played a large part in blues stories and lore) like on "Bull Cow Blues" and "Mr. Conductor Man." As Broonzy became more established in Chicago, his music and arrangement became more elaborate, but never became so urbane that they lost their rootsy feel. "Texas Tornado Blues" and "Ramblin' Woman" feature Bill's guitar and vocals and are instrumental in paving the way for artists like T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown who would soon play the blues with large ensembles. While it's impossible for two discs to cover an artist as expansive as Broonzy in his entirety, this set is an excellent place to make his acquaintance and learn of his unique contributions to the blues.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Over the weekend I spun some vinyl that I hadn't listened to in a while. One of the records was a three LP Impulse Records Collection entitled Energy Essentials that takes a fairly detailed look at some of the more outre music that was recorded for Impulse during the late 60's and early 70's. For all of the collections that were rushed out the door in the wake of Ashley Kahn's book it's a shame they couldn't have revisited this well thought out collection as a mid price two disc sampler. It mixes the fire breathing music that was produced, like John Coltrane's "Ascension" and "Leo" with more lyrical music such as Charles Mingus's "Hora Decubitus" and Michael White's "John Coltrane Was Here." Some of the tracks are edited, but the edits are done tastefully and never detract from the music's message. If you see this is a used record bin, don't hesitate to pick it up, it's a well done primer to Impulse's avant-garde side. I hadn't delved into Elvis Costello's great early albums in a while, so it was like greeting an old friend to hear the headlong rush of the short but impeccably executed songs on his fourth album Get Happy. The misconception that Costello was a punk is finally laid to rest here with twenty nuggets of pure pop and soul music. Some of his wittiest songwriting is found here as well with the tricky wordplay of "New Amsterdam" and "Secondary Moderns" rivaling any of his earlier songs. "5ive Gears in Reverse" and "The Imposter" show that he can still belt out a breathless rocker like the angry young man of yore. Not a bad song on the LP, and it's worth revisiting often.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Steven Bernstein - Diaspora Suite (Tzadik, 2008)

The newest chapter in trumpeter Bernstein's ever evolving Diaspora series adds some electricity to the mix and explores territory opened up by the likes of Miles Davis's 1970's improvisational funk bands and John Zorn's Electric Masada. Joining Bernstein on this disc are a really heavy hitting crew including Peter Apfelbaum on tenor saxophone and flute, Ben Goldberg on clarinet, John Schott, Nels Cline and Will Bernard on guitar, Scott Amandola on drums, Jeff Cressman on trombone, Devin Hoff on bass and Josh Jones on drums and percussion. The music is a consistently exciting and interesting melding of the middle eastern music that Bernstein has mapped out before and rock and funk elements. This comes through clearly on tracks like "Benjamin," where snarling electric guitar leads over thumping drums on a steaming rocker. Ben Goldberg is the key here as he is throughout the disc - whether soloing or playing in the ensemble, his swirling clarinet adds texture and depth, never letting this powerful music become merely an exercise in chest thumping bravado. He also shines on "Ruben" where the clarinet swoops and soars over a bed of horns. The band gets funky on "Simeon" where Hoff's deep Michael Henderson like bass lines set the table for wah-wah guitar and Apfelbaum's strong and deep tenor saxophone. Steven Bernstein had set the bar very high with previous editions in this series, but he has outdone himself here. Merging diverse musical genres with open minded and talented musicians has produced a very powerful and unique musical statement.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

There was a fascinating article about Donald Ayler in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"Troubled and destitute, he was long unheard and out of the spotlight, except for a halting interview in the recent documentary, "My Name Is Albert Ayler," which was screened by Cleveland Cinematheque in November. When a short preview ran in The Plain Dealer, few people noticed it was the same day Donald's obituary ran in Britain's Guardian newspaper. It was the only mainstream news outlet to carry it."

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Popmatters has a very interesting article about pianist Ahmad Jamal: "Jamal, not exactly retired, is a very busy person these days. He’s just back from France, where he was made an officer in the Order of Arts and Letters. He just finished recording a new CD. And he’s starting a tour."

Allmusic's blog has had a couple of good posts about drummer Steve Reid ""Reid knows of what he speaks. In the mid-’70s, he founded his own Mustevic Sound label and issued his own albums. His records were distributed in the U.S. via the New Music Distribution Service; it was a clearing-house for self-released, private- and independently-released recordings from artists as diverse as Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley, from Ned Sublette to Reid. Reid’s albums were also distributed widely in Europe through similar channels. On vinyl they fetch plenty of money on the auction market. Nova and Rhythmnatism were re-released on CD by Great Britain’s Soul Jazz/Universal Sound imprint, as was Steve Reid Ensemble’s Spirit Walk."" Part One Part Two

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ben Allison - Little Things Rule the World (Palmetto, 2008)

Bassist and composer Ben Allison returns with another CD for the small but savvy Palmetto label, where he's joined by a familiar cast of characters, dubbed Man Sized Safe for this album - Steve Cardenas on guitar, Ron Horton on trumpet, Michael Blake on saxophones and Michael Sarin on drums. This is an interesting mix of original compositions and covers. The most interesting track on the disc for me was one of the covers in fact, a beautiful instrumental arrangement of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" featuring some very warm and lyrical trumpet from Horton. Allison gets a fine feature here also with his solid bass backing and soloing. The Allison original "Four Folk Songs" has an intricate melody that resolves into a strutting riff and then quiet interlude for guitar and bass. Fine ensemble playing is a hallmarks of the original compositions, "Respiration" and "Little Things Rule the World" feature well integrated group playing. These men have been playing in each other's groups for years, and the camaraderie shows in the selfless playing. This is another very fine addition to Allison's consistently excellent discography. Thoughtfully and intelligent writing combined with excellent musicianship makes for a wonderful listening experience.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Leroy Foster - 1948-1952 (Classics R&B, 2005)

Moving to Chicago from rural Mississippi in 1945, guitarist and singer "Baby Face" Leroy Foster was one of the architects of post-war electric blues in Chicago. This very valuable collections traces Foster's sides for a number of labels including Aristocrat, which would soon morph into the legendary Chess outfit. Also legendary are some of Foster's accompanists including Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim and Jimmy Rogers. Highlights abound, but the two part "Rollin' and Tumblin'" ratchets up the ominous intensity to extraordinary levels. You know he's going to get a few shots in at those cheatin' females like in the great "Bad Actin' Woman" and the oft-covered "Loudella." But there isn't a bad cut to be found on this disc. Along with the early recordings of Muddy Waters, this is one of the Ur Texts of modern Chicago blues. The recording quality is a little rough around the edges, but this does nothing to to distract from this raw and potent music which is highly recommended to all blues fans. This is the birth of electric Chicago blues and would influence all whom came after.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Monterey Jazz Festival - 50th Anniversary All-Stars (Concord, 2008)

sings This CD was recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 23, 2007 by a special group put together for the occasion, with Terence Blanchard on trumpet, James Moody on alto sax, flute and vocals, Benny Green on piano, Derrick Hodge on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Neena Freelon on vocals. It turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag, with the music split almost evenly between vocal and instrumental selections. With the caveat in place that traditional vocal jazz isn't my favorite, Neena Freelonadequately on her features, especially on the up-tempo "Time After Time" which ends the disc with a JATP type jam session feel. Disappointing is her duet with Moody, whom I normally enjoy very much, but their version of "Just Squeeze Me" is too cutesy and saccharine sweet to be effective. The instrumental passages are much better, especially the lead off track "Be-Bop" which is taken at a furious pace with terrific solos and ensemble playing. A moody version of Gerald Wilson's "Monterey Mist" is a fine spotlight for Blanchard's fluid trumpet playing, and he also solos well in the long "Benny's Tune." Overall, it's a solid disc, but recommending it really hinges on whether you enjoy singing. If so, have at it. If not, this can probably be passed by, unless you want to use amazon or itunes to cherry pick some of the fine instrumental passages.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tom Scott and Special Guests - Cannon Re-Loaded: An All-Star Celebration Of Cannonball Adderley (Concord, 2007)

An ad-hoc gathering of musicians come together to pay tribute to the great saxophonist and composer Julian "Cannonball" Adderley in a disc that never reaches its full potential. The music presented here is split between radio friendly shiny and heavily produced R&B, and smooth jazz ballads aimed more for what remains of the jazz radio and adult contemporary market rather than a heartfelt re-examination of Cannonball's music. There is nothing egregiously "wrong" with the music here, it is in fact played with complete professionalism, but it is a triumph of craft over spirit and product over art. The music is played well but is shorn of any emotional commitment. The instrumental passages are pleasant, but never develop the music much more than a cursory examination of the melody. Cannonball's most R&B oriented compositions seem to inspire the group the most with "Sack of Woe" and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" Nancy Wilson is in fine voice, but her two features, "The Masquerade is Over" and "Save Your Love for Me" are wasted with too smooth accompaniment that quickly becomes maudlin. Overall, this is a missed opportunity. Adderley's music was an inspiration to musicians and fans alike over the years, and a thoughtful re-examination of his work would be welcome. Unfortunately, that is not to be found here, and unless you are a fan of "mild" jazz, this is one to safely pass by.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

William Parker – The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (Rai Trade, 2007)

For the first of his albums to ever be dedicated solely to another musician, bassist William Parker chose R&B legend and personal inspiration Curtis Mayfield. This album was recorded live in Rome with an illustrious cast including Dave Burrell on piano, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Darryl Foster on tenor saxophone, Sabir Mateen on tenor saxophone, Hamid Drake on drums, Leena Conquest on vocals and Amiri Baraka reciting spoken word and poetry. Conquest and Baraka make for an interesting pairing, her soaring, gospelish vocals are contrasted by his rapid fire staccato recitations. Baraka has also written original poetry that responds and extends the sentiment of the original lyrics. Where the two work the finest is in the Mayfield classic “People Get Ready” where Conquest sings the original lyrics in a beautifully clear voice and Baraka interjects comments in a very effective call and response manner. The contrast between the two is a little more jarring in "We the People Who are Darker than Blue" a racially charged song that brings out the radical in Baraka whose poetic interjections become increasingly caustic. He gets a feature all to himself with the fascinating “Freddie's Dead” whose stark lyrics examine drugs, race and crime. With the focus on the lyrics, poetry and vocals, it's a shame that this crack band couldn't have been given a few more features. But there are some moments when they shine, Drake in particular, who revels in the challenge of combining R&B, gospel and jazz. This is one of William Parker's most ambitious projects and it is pretty successful. Baraka's stinging wordplay is a matter of taste but the remainder of the band is excellent and provides a fitting tribute to one America's finest songwriters.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There was an interesting article in Tuesday's Newark Star-Ledger about the therapeutic uses of jazz: "The lobby Of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center has to be one of the places you'd least expect to find top-drawer jazz. But last Tuesday, as part of a continuing series at the hospital, there were the estimable guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and bassist Rufus Reid. The two jazz masters played such favorites as "Love Walked In," "Blues in the Night" and "Con Alma" to a variety of early-afternoon listeners in the lobby."

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DVD Review: Chasin' Gus' Ghost

This is an independently produced documentary film about the life and legacy of early 20th century bluesman and jug band leader Gus Cannon. The film is a labor of love and that affection for the subject comes through quite clearly. The few known facts of Cannon's life are presented, and his music is covered, and then the majority of the film is the legacy of Cannon's jug bands. Extensive interviews with famous musicians like Charlie Musslewhite and Bob Wier provide a link with the past, and interviews with Cannon's musical descendants like Jim Kweskin and Maria Muldaur show the influence of his music in the 1960's and beyond. Ranging in their research as far as Sweden and Japan the filmmakers have done an admirable amount of research into their subject and present in a clear and concise manner. The film has been touring around to various film festivals and will hopefully be released commercially on DVD shortly. It's a fine piece of history, preserving music that deserves to be remembered.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

John Lee Hooker - On Vee-Jay 1955-58 (Vee-Jay, 1993)

For the mercurial and ever evolving bluesman John Lee Hooker, moving to Chicago from his previous home base of Detroit was a a big step in the evolution of his music. He had scored hits in the Motor City, but had also drifted through a series of fly by night labels that couldn't match the marketing prowess of their Chicago counterparts. On this Vee-Jay compilation and later with Chess records, Hooker began to break from his one man band approach, and include backing musicians. The addition of bass and drums (plus some occasional harmonica) smooths out Hooker's "original" sense of rhythm and may be a little easier for new listeners to get a handle on than his extraordinary albeit quite rough early work. On this disc, Hooker updates some of his previous recordings, morphing them into "Mombo Chillen," "The Road Is So Rough (When I Started Hoboing)" and "Crawlin' Black Spider (Mean Old Snake)." He would continue to re-make and re-record songs throughout his career. Hooker hits hard with a small group performance of one his most enduring tracks "Dimples" which proved to be a lasting hit. Overall, this is a consistently fine slice of Hooker's recorded output for Vee-Jay. The original albums are also available, but this makes for a fine summation for all but completists.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Arkana Music - Hyprovisation (n/a, 2007)

Arkana Music is a Canadian modern jazz outfit playing acoustic music that nicely bridges the gap between form and freedom. Comprised of pianist and composer Ali Berkok, bassist Mark Laver on saxophones, Jake Oelrichs on drums and Gord Mowat bass. The band uses their knotty compositions as springboards for broad based improvisational flights. "Our Man in Cleveland" is a spaceous ballad for piano, bass and drums which evolves into a calm Bill Evans-ish melancholy. Tracks like "Drive" and Monkey groove show that the band can improvise at high tempos with flash, bringing a Monk-ian angularity to their performances. This is a solid album from a promising group. Their use of space leaves the music with a wide open and expansive feel. One senses that the group enjoys musical exploration and yearns for yet more vistas to enjoy.

Brad Goode - Nature Boy (Delmark, 2008)

Trumpeter Brad Goode leads a classy ensemble on this well rounded program of standards and originals. Accompanying him on this disc are Jeff Jenkins on piano; Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Todd Reid on drums. The band plays well throughout the disc with the focus on the leader and the lack of another frontline instrument giving him plenty of opportunity to show off his chops. The uptempo version of the familiar title track and the fun "Nightmare of the Mechanized World" are the standout tracks. "Nature Boy" gets a nice lyrical version with the trumpet seeming almost vocal, while Mechanized is a groover that gets everybody involved. This was a consistently fine quartet album, and fans of thoughtful hard bop should find it enjoyable.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

There is a lot of interesting stuff in the newest issue (February 2008) of Downbeat Magazine. Saxophonist Chris Potter is on the cover with a lengthy interview inside about the development of his sound and improvisational ideas. Ethan Iverson, pianist for The Bad Plus interviews bassist and composer Charlie Haden about his own musical conception as well as that of Ornette Coleman whom he has played with off and on throughout his career. There is a very interesting feature in this issue called "The Downbeat Digital Music Guide." This is the first time to my knowledge that they have made an examination of the digital music landscape for both downloading and streaming. The examine the pros and cons of a number of different sites in a very well done piece.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Dan Treanor and Jack Hadley - Brothers Blood and Bone (n/a, 2007)

This is a blues album with harmonica player and guitarist Treanor and guitarist and vocalist Hadley joining forces. The album starts out in a promising way with a rootsy back porch feel, and the musicians enthusiastically performing time honored blues themes on "Hard Luck Child" and "I Wish You Would," culminating in a fine harmonica fueled version of the old standard "Help Me." Things begin to break down a little bit towards the middle of this disc, where some of the original material lacks the punch of the more traditional works, such as the title track "Brothers, Blood and Bone" which preaches a noble sentiment of brotherhood and unity but fails to back it up with the music, relying on pale pop oriented accompaniment . Similarly, "It's a Blues Thing" falls back on tired lyrical cliches which slow the momentum the group had built in the beginning. Things are buoyed a little bit at the end with the addition of some thoughtful pacifist lyrics in "The War" and the tag ending to the traditional "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Overall, this is a mixed effort. WhileTreanor and Hadley have the best intentions and enormous respect for the music, it is their versions of standard material that provide the highlights of this effort. Stronger songwriting may provide the key to a more consistent next effort for this duo.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Healing Force - The Songs of Albert Ayler (Cuneiform, 2007)

In the short and controversial career of saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler, none of his music stirred more bile than his late 1960's attempt to meld free jazz with gospel and rhythm and blues. Even his supporters began to abandon him, and shortly afterwards his lifeless body would be found in the East River. Forty years later, the music Ayler made at that time sounds as fresh and fascinating as any of his other music and is ripe for rediscovery. Healing Force is a collective band made up of Vinny Golia on saxophone, Aurora Josephson on vocals, Henry Kaiser on guitar, Mike Keneally on piano, guitar and vocals, Joe Morris on guitar and bass, Damon Smith on bass and Weasel Walter on drums. They examine Ayler's late period music with no preconceived notions and make some admirable music in the process. The group revives the incantation "Message From Albert" before moving into a lengthy exploration of "Music is the Healing Force of the Universe," one of the key themes of Ayler's late music. With Josephson's haunting vocals laying the groundwork, the group makes a nuanced exploration of this song. The medley of "Japan/Universal Indians" builds in some world music themes, before moving on to the centerpiece of the album, the blistering "Oh! Love of Life." Vocals echoing dreams of universal love are led by a phalanx of electric guitars and wailing saxophone in an astounding performance. Perversely, this triumph is followed by the inexplicable "Thank God For Women," a cringe inducing gospel R&B song which made no sense on the original LP, and fares little better here. The ship is righted by a stomping "Heart/Love" which alternates gentle vocals and fierce instrumental passages. This album succeeds in redirecting attention to some of Alyer's unjustly ignored work. The performances are quite good and take an admirable open minded view to music that stretched boundaries and defied genres.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Noah Howard – Black Ark (Freedom/Bo Weavil 1969, 2007)

Tenor saxophonist Howard's ferocious album had been lost to the mists of time for many years before making an unexpected re-appearance in the fall of 2007. Joining him here are Arthur Doyle on tenor saxophone, Earl Cross on trumpet, Leslie Waldron on piano, Norris Jones on bass, and Mohammed Ali on drums. This album mixed the cacophony of unfettered late '60's free jazz with moments of melody and lyricism. “Domiabra” and “Ole Negro” make up the first half of this album, clocking in at about 10 minutes each, they establish a fine pattern of melody statement followed by free ranging solos and ensemble passages. Bass solos by Jones (aka Sirone) provide respites of calm like the eye of a hurricane before the group reconvenes a whole to take the pieces out. The solos are very high energy and exciting with nothing being held back. “Mount Fuji” deviates from the mold with a gentle, vaguely eastern sounding melody which the band uses as a springboard to slowly build into an ecstatic series of improvisations. “Queen Anne” ends the record with a short performance of controlled intensity. This was a wonderful discovery as the playing by the band is top notch. Anyone interested in intense free form jazz should make an attempt to track this down.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Book Review - Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka (Broadway Books, 2007)

This is a biographical account of Jim Osterberg, better known as rock 'n' roll singer Iggy Pop. This very detailed book follows its subject from growing up in a trailer park in Michigan as a suburb student to falling in love with blues music and eventually becoming a drummer in various blues and rock bands. The formation of The Stooges is covered in great depth, and Osterberg's development of the Iggy Pop persona is presented as an example of a split personality that would have repercussions in the future. The rise and fall of The Stooges, one of rock 'n' roll's most influential bands is a highlight of the book, as is the coverage of the complex relationship Pop has with David Bowie during the 1970's and 80's. The book drifts a bit when covering its subject's mercurial solo career, into a haze of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Band members, girlfriends and producers come and go at such an alarming rate that it's impossible to keep track of all of the characters. Despite the book's drawbacks, it is an intriguing portrait of one of rock music's most fascinating personalities and foremost survivors. Trynka's dept of research is commendable, he literally left no stone unturned. If that level of detail leaves us focused more on the trees than the forest, it still presents a memorable narrative.

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