Monday, June 30, 2008

Hound Dog Taylor - Release the Hound (Alligator, 2004)

It's hard not to break into a spontaneous grin when listening to slide guitarist and vocalist Hound Dog Taylor. The man had a ready smile, infectious laugh, and even an extra finger! Taylor was also the man who prompted the founding of the Alligator Records label, so it makes sense that they should release this posthumous collection of live and studio recordings. This is not some type of cash-in barrel scraping by any means, but a fine collection of high-wire electric blues. Taylor played a gutsy slide guitar akin to Elmore James and J.B. Hutto, and was backed with rhythm guitar and drums with no bass, giving the music a raw, urban, take no prisoners sound. When the band gets into their all out boogie mode, they practically levitate off the stage. "Send You Back to Georgia" set s up a wicked shuffle beat with Taylor sliding all over the place and threatening to kick his woman out. There are some great covers: Elmore James is a natural, and Taylor's "It Hurts Me Too" mines the same emotional territory as James. The version of Ray Charles "What I'd Say" is wild, with the trio playing with just barely contained excitement. A couple of nice instrumentals are included as well like a version of Freddie King's "Sen-Sa-Shun" and their own exciting "Walking on the Ceiling." This is a fine addition to Taylor's all to small recorded output. There's nothing especially subtle about the music found here, but for good time, shake your butt boogie blues, there's none better.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

David Murray and Mal Waldron - Silence (Justin Time, 2008)

Both saxophonist David Murray and pianist Mal Waldron are masters of inside/outside improvisation, comfortable in avant garde free improvisation, and swing based traditional jazz. Both facets are on display during this duet performance, recorded about one year before Waldron's death in 2002. Both the opening "Free for C.T." and the closing version of the Waldron classic "Soul Eyes" have Murray playing bass clarinet. The deeply hollow and woody sound that Murray gets on the instrument is descended from Eric Dolphy's performances, which is appropriate since Dolphy was featured on Marldon's Where? LP from the early 1960's. Waldron's full and percussive piano backs these performances, and all of the others on the album. "Hurray For Herbie" is an uptempo performance with Murray swirling and sweeping on tenor saxophone, jumping all over the place, while Waldron plays the straight man, feeding him chords and notes. An unexpected performance was "Jean-Pierre" a Miles Davis composition from his 1980's comeback period. Murray really goes for it on tenor, with Waldron taking on his accompaniment at a rolling boil. This was a very good album of two master musicians interacting with each other on common ground. The bass and drums aren't missed at all, Waldron's pianism is able to cover the bass and leaves nothing to be desired. Much like Roland Kirk and Jaki Byard, Murray and Waldron have the whole history of jazz at their fingertips, and all of this knowledge is on display during this excellent disc.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Avishai Cohen Trio - Gently Disturbed (Razdaz/Sunnyside, 2008)

Not to be confused with the trumpeter of the same name, this Avishai Cohen is a bassist and composer originally from Israel, and now a rising presence on the mainstream jazz scene. Cohen is accompanied by Shai Maestro on piano and Mark Guiliana on drums. The tracks are split in an odd/even fashion between faster moving up-tempo songs, and more introspective and meditative performances. The music seems to me to have a distinct classical influence, especially in the solo piano openings that begin many of the performances. After leading off with the slow and ruminative opener "Seattle" the group moves on to a more lively performance on the impressive "Chutzpan" which opens with a neo-classical feel before the bass and drums move in and turn it into a nice fast paced performance. My other favorites from this disc were "Pinzin Kinzin" wich opens with solo bass before the rest of the band comes in and begins a performance that has shifting tempos reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal's recent work, with a nice flowing full band improvisation. "Eleven Wives" is up-tempo and percussive, weaving into a jaunty bounce. The music found here flows gracefully into a sophisticated and worldly performance. Patient jazz partisans fond of piano trios will enjoy the thoughtful music found here.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy (Chess, 1960)

The era before Chess Records was a vibrant one for blues music in Chicago with the likes of Tampa Red, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, and the great Big Bill Broonzy presiding over a vibrant scene. Broonzy welcomed the influx of musicians from the generation that followed as well, passing the torch to a new group of legends to be. Muddy Waters never forgot the kindness shown to him by the older man, and paid his respects by cutting this classic album of Broonzy related material in his own style of electric Chicago blues. Cut with a killer band including Otis Spann on piano, James Cotton on harmonica and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums, the music cruises through a wonderful selection of music. Muddy absolutely swaggers through Broonzy's "Just a Dream (On My Mind)" and "When I Get to Drinkin'" and his own "Done Got Wise" and simmers the slow blues of contemporary Otis Rush on "Double Trouble." The band is with him every step of the way, Cotton had just replaced Little Walter and was eager to strut his stuff, and Spann's deep and delicate piano added extra depth to all the songs. With these attached to a rock solid foundation of Smith's no nonsense drumming and Muddy's man's man vocals it adds up to one of the classic albums of the blues.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vijay Iyer - Tragicomic (Sunnyside, 2008)

Gracing the cover of this month's Downbeat Magazine (with fellow heavyweights Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp), Vijay Iyer is fast becoming one of the leading composers and pianists on the contemporary jazz scene. Coming hard on the heels of his excellent collaborative album Door with the group Fieldwork, Iyer's new solo album finds him supported by frequent compatriot Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Iyer and Mahanthappa have had a wonderful musical relationship for years and that knowledge of each other's musical worldviews make for some of the many highlights on this disc. "The Weight of Things" open the disc at a ominous pace,
living up to it's title by slowly building atmospheric momentum at a dark and heavy pace. "Macaca Please" kicks things into gear with rumbling piano supporting a pinched and nasal sounding alto saxophone solo taken very rapidly. The band really works well together at this breakneck speed, with everybody clicking on all cylinders. Mahanthappa has a unique voice on the horn and is easily distinguished among the litany of altoists. "Aftermath" follows this with a calmer, but still reaching improvisation, sort of following with a period of calm after the storm. Mahanthappa sits out on "Comin' Up" which is a trio improvisation allowing for all three musicians to shine, particularly Crump whose bass is the bass is the heartbeat of the performance. These are just a few examples from a fine album of far reaching modern jazz. Anyone interested in hearing clues to the future direction of the music would do well to listen to the fine music these men are creating.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Early Zappa

They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. In order to get re-acquainted with my vinyl record collection, I have decided to listen to all of my records in reverse order. Rounding out the Z's of course was a healthy dose of Frank Zappa, particularly his early recordings, released in the late 1960's. While I have my favorite early Zappa albums (We're Only In It For the Money and Hot Rats) on compact disc, I still have several vinyl records from this period. What interests me about this music is that it sounds so different from much of the other rock 'n' roll music being made during this period. While much of the music in this period was blues based, Zappa drew upon classical, jazz and doo-wop among other influences and used a vast variety of instrumentation that was outside of the standard guitar/bass/drums lineup. On the Freak Out LP, the use of different types of compositional techniques with improvisation and tape loops are groundbreaking. The Uncle Meat album is fascinating for the same reasons. It has large swaths of music sprawling over four sides originally means for a movie of the same name, so there are moments where jazz meets rock 'n' roll and cinematic music. His use of satire in his lyrics was also quite unusual, and while sometimes if flops, when it does work, particularly in terms of social mores and generational change in the late 1960's, it is very effective. The song "Ugly Freaks, Daddy" really makes this point of the young going in a different direction from their parents who came up tempered by depression and war.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Fieldwork - Door (Pi, 2008)

Fieldwork is a cooperative band made up of a rotating cast of some of the best players in modern experimental jazz. This edition of the group includes Vijay Iyer on piano, Steve Lehman on alto saxophone and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and the trio produces dense, knotty improvisations that are complex but never overly stuffy or boring. The music retains its excitement despite being dark, ominous and complicated. There is a lot of mystery and pent up emotion in between the notes that keeps the music constantly engaging and interesting. The contrast between the dark, mahogany tones of Iyer's piano, which is studded with bass notes and chords and Lehman's acid tinged and biting alto drives the music into very exciting territory. The swirling performance "Pivot Point" rampages like a musical tiger through a thrilling jungle of drums by Sorey is electrifying as is the finale "Ra" which starts out with a mysterious melody before moving into a startlingly fresh improvised segment. Some of the slower tempoed performances (it's hard to think of them as "ballads") have a feeling akin to improvisational artwork - cubist paintings hung in a house full of mirrors, where nothing is as it seems. This is heady stuff from talented musicians, and the music is very exciting to listen to.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Denny Zeitlin

Cathexis (Columbia, 1963) Balancing a medical residency with a budding jazz career, pianist Denny Zeitlin made his debut as a leader with a trio record that placed equal focus on jazz standards and original performances. He is accompanied by Cecil McBee on bass and Fredrick Waits on drums. Zeitlin's approach is refreshing and unique, and while he's obviously absorbed much of the driving bop and hard-bop technique of Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk and others, as well as classical training, he has his own conception that he brings to the music, which is a percussive and muscular technique the occasionally hints at dissonance, but never strays too far from melodic ideas. The covers he performs on this record include an impressionistic meditation on Monk's “'Round Midnight”, backed but just bass, and also a swinging version of Gershwin's “Soon” and a an interesting version of “Nica's Tempo” originally by Gigi Grice. Of the originals, the hard driving and frenetic “Stonehenge” and the lengthy suite “Blue Phoenix” which charts the trajectory of the mythical bird through music are the most interesting.

Trio (Windam Hill, 1988) Finds Dr. Zeitlin almost twenty five years down the road, still sounding remarkably similar, but having refined his sound in the intervening years. Equally split once again between originals and covers, he his joined on this record by Joel DeBartolo on bass and Peter Donald on drums. Jazz standards this time out include moody versions of Charles Mingus' elegy for Lester Young “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” and J.J. Johnson's beautiful “Lament.” A buoyant performance of “All The Things You Are” and and adventurous exploration of Ornette Coleman's “Turnaround” round out the cover tunes. Originals include the bouncy and infectious “ Brazilian Street Dance” and the thoughtful and meditative “Rolling Hills.”

These were both good solid records, mixing the traditional and the exploratory in equal amounts. Zeitlin has recorded infrequently since, balancing the demands of his medical and musical practice, he has most recently recorded a series of albums for the MaxJazz label.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Don Cherry - Live at the Cafe Montmartre, Vol. 2 (ESP, 2008)

After leaving the employ of Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry had a brief three album contract with Blue Note Records, during which he combined free-form jazz with his interest in music of different cultures. It was during this period that he toured Europe, and the resulting radio broadcasts were heavily bootlegged before emerging officially on the ESP label. The lineup for this album includes Cherry, Gato Barbieri on tenor saxophone, Karl Berger on vibes, Bo Steif on bass and Aldo Romano on drums. The entire concert was consistently interesting, but I found the two long form performances to be the most revelatory. "Suite for Albert Ayler" brings together a couple of Ayler's folk-like themes as blowing vehicles for Barbieri, who revels in the space, with Cherry along side, making for a powerful front line. "Complete Communion" was a side-long suite that Cherry had recorded for Blue Note, and this complex performance is the culmination of the disc, an extraordinary group effort that never flags even over a twenty minute long performance. Also included here are the standards "Spring is Here" and "Remembrance", which are given free and frequently ferocious readings, and one of Cherry's earliest attempts at world music, Orfeu Negro." I enjoyed this music very much, is was very exciting and adventurous music, played by a band that was well attuned to one another.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

News and Notes

Sad news yesterday about the death of pianist Esbjorn Svensson:
"Esbjörn Svensson, the genre-defying Swedish jazz pianist and composer, has died in a scuba diving accident, his manager said yesterday. Burkhard Hopper, manager of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.), said that Svensson died on Saturday in Sweden's Stockholm archipelago. He was 44."
Big Road Blues has another insightful mix of music and commentary in the show notes to their recent radio broadcast:
"There’s plenty of other early country blues including “Cross Cut Saw” by the above mentioned Tommy McClennan. McClennan was part of the last wave of down-home blues guitarists to record for the major labels in Chicago, recording prolifically for Bluebird between 1939-1942. He left a powerful legacy that included “Bottle It up and Go,” “Cross Cut Saw Blues,” “Deep Blue Sea Blues” (aka “Catfish Blues”), songsJ.T. Funny Papa Smith covered by numerous artists."
Wall of Sound offers a timely reminder of an early David Murray collection:
"This is an early David Murray recording that you can find on vinyl in two parts, or amended for the CD re-issue. The music performed by a Murray-led quartet at a Manhattan club on New Year’s eve in 1977. What a party that must have been: you can almost smell the seafood in the club’s name!"
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

AALY Trio + Ken Vandermark - Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe (Wobbly Rail, 1999)

The Scandinavian avant garde jazz trio AALY, composed of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Peter Janson on bass, and Kjell Nordeson on drums invited multi-reed player Ken Vandermark for an exciting concert recorded live at the Glenn Miller Cafe in Stockholm in March of 1999. The music is very wide open and free, with the saxophonists weaving back and forth, and taking turns fronting the powerful rhythm section. The first track, "Unit Character (for Jimmy Lyons)" leads off with high-pitched saxes that have overtones of Albert Ayler, and a gleefulness in the freedom of the improvisation. This is ferociously exciting collective improvisation. A lengthy version of Ayler's own "Ghosts" is next, building slowly from spare percussion and saxophone drones before the familiar melody emerges and gives way to full band free improvisation. Sections of solo saxophone and a strong sax and drums interlude becomes very fierce. A lengthy bass solo bridges the end of this track into Gustafsson's "Alva Jo" which starts in a rather tame manner with tandem saxophone. Things get wilder in a hurry with some rough tenor over a rampaging rhythm section, almost getting a roadhouse feel with gutbucket tenor saxophone and pummeling drums. British saxophonist Joe Harriott's "Idioms" finishes the disc with strong full group improvisation giving way to a very cool twin sax attack of light soprano and dark tenor. This was a very good album of free jazz, with the group interacting well together and creating very exciting and fresh music.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saxophone Summit - Seraphic Light (Telarc, 2008)

Boasting a heavy hitting front line of saxophonists Ravi Coltrane, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano and backed by Phil Markowitz on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums (with support from trumpeter Randy Brecker on a few tracks) this collective group pays tribute to John Coltrane's spiritual music and their lost comrade, saxophonist Michael Brecker. Those who fear being scared away by the idea of the band playing music from John Coltrane's free period can rest assured that while the music found here is quite open it is not as caustic or demanding as the originals. Three of these songs are heard at the end of the album, which ends with a trilogy of Coltrane compositions: "Cosmos", "Seraphic Light", and "Expression." These were the most impressive and interesting performances on the album for me as the band really digs into the music with a spirit of reverence and exploration. "Message to Mike" is a very well done tribute with some excellent flute leavening the vivid saxophone playing. Some of the original tunes by the band members pale in comparison a little bit. While the craggy and well though out composition "The Thirteenth Floor" is quite successful, the ballad "All About You" and the opening "Transitions" find the group casting about for a coherency that seems to be missing. So, this album is not a complete success, there is some good music to be found here and hopefully it will shed some much needed light on the "difficult" music of John Coltrane's final period. This music is ripe for rediscovery and reinterpretation, and led by these influential musicians, hopefully it will see a renaissance.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mississippi Fred McDowell - I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll (Capitol, 1969, 1995)

In his spoken introduction to this album, McDowell recounts the history of his blues, before making his famous pronouncement, and stating that the only way to rock him is in a rocking chair. He them proceeds to play some torrid electric blues, backed by some swinging bass and drums. Not exactly rock 'n' roll mind you, but pretty intense just the same. Fred's unique slide guitar technique is on display throughout this set which is an expanded version of the original album. McDowell tells a great story during the album about how he started off playing slide with a beef bone before switching to a bottleneck. McDowell plays some excellent versions of classic blues from Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" to a stellar and raucous version of his own "Kokomo Me Baby." His version of "Red Cross Store" intrigued me because this is the third different version I've heard in the past couple of weeks and I was wondering how bad the treatment of blacks was in the south by the Red Cross. I'll have to check and see if I can find any articles or research documenting this. Gospel was an important part of McDowell's repertoire and this is well represented in this collection with "Glory Hallelujah" and "Jesus is on the Mainline." Disc two has some extra tracks from the session and alternate takes, with the highlights being the infectious "Write Me a Few of Your Lines" and "Louise" including another of McDowell's witty spoken introductions. This is an excellent collection by a unique musician who left a wonderful legacy of great blues recordings.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Return of the New Thing - Alchemy (Not Two, 2008)

This is an interesting band that uses the free jazz of the 1960's (the new thing) as a jumping off point for their modern improvisational flights. Comprised of Jean-Luc Guionnet on alto and soprano saxophones, Dan Warburton on violin and piano, Francois Fuchs on bass and Edward Perraud on percussion, the group recorded this album in Crackow, Poland in the spring of 2007. The three long performances here are completely improvised, I believe, and they are very exciting. The group performs very well together either soloing and supporting each other, or playing together in excellent stretches of collective improvisation. Track one, "29:09" begins in a calm and exploratory manner, but with intensity slowly building like storm clouds gathering on the horizon. When the storm hits at around the 8:00 mark it is led by a stirring saxophone solo over rolling accompaniment. At 12:00, there's a period of calm improvisation led by bass and drums with some gentler saxophone and violin squiggle and wiggle. Intensity slowly ramps up again with some strong and verile saxophone over introspective and probing piano. The juxtaposition of the two sounds makes for an interesting combination. Very intense full band collective improvisation returns for the finale of the piece. The second performance, "24:41" is introduced by a lengthy period of slow and probing interplay between the instruments, with an eerie spacious feel. At the 9:00 mark there is an interesting interlude of saxophone, violin and drums, and then intensity of the music begins to strengthen, with the collective improvisation peaking at the 15:00 mark with some exceptional take-no-prisoners playing. A strong saxophone and drum led improvisation heralds the final performance, "17:20" taking its inspiration from the deeply spiritual music of John Coltrane's final albums. Guionnet is an absolute monster here, tearing up the music with abandon, and the rest of the band supports him with gleeful energy. This is energy music at its finest and is tremendously exciting. I enjoyed this album very music, the players are excellent and the music was consistently engaging and very stimulating. Highly recommended to fans of free improvisation.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Cosmosomatics - Free Within the Law (Not Two, 2008)

I have loved the tart and citrus tone of alto saxophonist and occasional English Horn player Sonny Simmons since I discovered his music during his short tenure on Warner Brothers Records during the mid-1990's. Simmons' style of saxophone playing is bright, sharp and risk-taking, reminiscent of the great Eric Dolphy. He has been a journeyman throughout his lengthy career, but lately he has been well served by several European labels for his solo work and collaborations like this group which includes Michael Marcus on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Peter Herbert on bass and Art Lewis on drums. This album is split between tracks recorded in the studio and live in concert in Poland. The open with the title track "Free Within the Law" which is a very intense piece of free-bop and I think that the title alludes to the music which is very free and open, but yet never gets so wild as to betray form and function. "Afro Funk" comes down from the stratosphere a little bit, using a great bass and drums pocket as a basis for the improvisation. "Janet's Moods" has some nearly telepathic intertwining of the saxophones. The live tracks include the beautiful ballad "Morning Daffodil" and the headlong Ornette-ish rush of "The Polish Rally" bring the disc to a very exciting conclusion. I liked this disc a lot and thought it was a fine continuation of the bop into free music begun with musicians like Ornette Coleman, Jackie McLean and Eric Dolphy.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Chris McGregor Group - Very Urgent (Polydor 1968, Fledg'ling, 2008)

Leading an integrated group in 1960's South Africa was a dicey situation to say the least. Pianist, composer and bandleader Chris McGregor emigrated to the UK with his group The Blue Notes which would eventually morph into the influential big band The Brotherhood of Breath. This album was a transition between the two groups, with McGregor on piano, Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Dudu Pukwana on alto saxophone, Ronnie Beer on tenor saxophone, Johnny Dyani on bass and Louis Moholo on drums. The music drifts between thoroughly composed and tightly arranged band arrangements and cacophonous free form improvisations. McGregor's Monkish percussive piano grounds the music and anchors the lengthy opening medley "Marie My Dear/Traveling Somewhere," while "Heart's Vibrations" and "The Sounds Begin Again/White Lies" allow the saxophonists to strut their stuff in an unrestrained manner. This is a very good album by an underrated group of musicians who are just now getting their due with this reissue program, and the concert albums being released by the Cuneiform label. This is wide open and exploratory music and I found it very enjoyable to listen to.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bobby Previte and New Bump - Set the Alarm for Monday (Palmetto, 2008)

Drummer Previte's new band is a cinematic group with a niorish sound that is unique and interesting to listen to. He is joined by Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Bill Ware on vibraphone, Brad Jones on bass, and Jim Pugliese on percussion. Sounding like the soundtrack to a film noir set on the rainy streets of Seattle, or some other atmospheric city, the shimmering vibes of Ware are the key element in providing the band's unique sound. The opening track “Set the Alarm For Monday” opens the disc with a moody and mellow performance, before “I'd Advise You To Not Miss Your Train” and “She Has Information” kick the tempos up a notch with some excellent solos from Eskelin and Bernsein who make a very effective front line, with the tenor saxophonist alternating between mellow riffing and potent soloing and the trumpeter adding tart exclamations throughout. Much like Bernstein's own Diaspora Hollywood disc, this one has a unique feel, combining film music and jazz. I enjoyed this disc very much, it has an original sound and feel, and it is a lot of fun to listen to. Hopefully some adventurous film directors or producers will hear this group and sign them up for their next project, this is an intriguing band with a wide sonic palette.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Strega: A Burke Novel Strega: A Burke Novel by Andrew Vachss

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
New York city private detective and con man Burke nearly meets his match in a femme fatale who calls herself Stega, the Italian word for witch. An old jail house acquaintance of Burke's tracks him down and introduces him to this woman, who asks him to find and incriminating photograph. Burke's answer is priceless:

"I don't like the way you smell, lady. You stink of trouble, and I've got enough of my own."

But against his better judgment, he takes on the case, aided by his crew of motley accomplices: Mama, Max the Silent, The Mole, and the transsexual prostitute Michelle. Along the way, we learn a little more about Burke's mysterious past. This wasn't as consistent as the first Burke novel, Flood, but it was still very good if uncomfortable reading. Recommended for fans of of tough-guy detective novels.

View all my reviews.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

The New York Times notes the opening of the Vision Festival in New York City:
"With its devotion to the jazz avant-garde, the Vision Festival serves as a gravitational center, pulling musicians in from the margins. Not surprisingly it has often been cast as an eccentrically gritty rejoinder to the JVC Jazz Festival, which starts on June 15 this year. (In seasons past, David and Goliath have more directly overlapped.) This year the Vision Festival has its own competition, the New Languages Festival, being held a couple of blocks away at the Living Theater."
Big Road Blues has been running an excellent three part series on bluesman Texas Alexander:
"Alexander was a Texan through and through, born in Jewett, Texas in 1900, passing in 1954 in Richards some seventy miles south (both towns lie about halfway between Dallas and Houston) and who was vividly remembered by fellow Texas bluesmen such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Buster Pickens and Frankie Lee Sims."
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Two discs I have been listening to recently are Eyes in the Back of My Head by Cosmologic and Shamokin! by the imaginatively titled Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Cosmologic is a group consisting of Jason Robinson on tenor saxophone, Michael Dessen on trombone, Scott Walton on bass and Nathan Hubbard on drums. They play original compositions that remind me quite a bit of the music performed by saxophonist Ken Vandarmark's various ensembles, mixing up hard blowing free-bop with abstract and spacier interludes. My favorite songs from this album were the leadoff track, "The Rumpus" and the emotional "Code for Darfur." MOPDTK, as can be gathered from their moniker, take themselves a little less seriously, but their music is a very interesting mix of composed themes and hot free blowing. Consisting of Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxophone, Moppa Elliott on bass, and Kevin Shea on drums, the group takes inspiration from bebop and the music of the early Ornette Coleman quartet to make fast paced and fun music.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I have been reading a lot of crime fiction recently:

Flood by Andrew Vachss: Burke is a detective and con-artist working in New York City. A foster child and ex-con, he has a special feeling for cases involving abused children. When a mysterious woman named Flood arrives, Burke is hired to find a child killer so she can take revenge. I read about this series when it was name-checked by the great Irish crime writer Ken Bruen, and I was very impressed. Vachss writes in the hard-boiled American detective story tradition, and Burke walks the mean streets of New York City filled with prostitutes, street corner prophets and runaways. The characters in particular are memorable, Burke coming off as an updated Philip Marlowe, and his colleagues like the technology expert The Mole are drawn with subtlety and care. This was a very well written and consistently engaging story, and I look forward to checking out the rest of the series. Fans of dark crime fiction will find much to enjoy here.

Dirty Money by Richard Stark: When we last saw the master criminal Parker, he and his associates had seen their armored car heist in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts go spectacularly wrong. With one co-conspirator in the clink, and the money too hot to handle, Parker had to stash it in an abandoned church with hopes of going back for it later. When he hears that the jailed robber has busted out, killing a US Marshall in the process, he knows it's now or never to get the money. He hooks back up with the cons from the scam, never knowing who to trust and always watching out for the double cross. Can Parker get the money with every cop in three states on the lookout? Can he launder the money to make a profit when the authorities have all the serial numbers? Richard Stark is the pseudonym crime writer Donald Westlake uses when he wants to write hard boiled crime fiction in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. It's tough guy crime noir at its finest and highly recommended.

Blood Trail by C.J. Box: Wyoming Fish and Wildlife game warden Joe Pickett is on the trail of a killer. Someone is hunting the hunters, and leaving them for dead in the woods. Meanwhile, and anti-hunting protester has come to town, looking to make a statement. Trapped between scheming, manipulative bureaucrats and the clock ticking on more murders, Pickett must solve a multi-layered and complex crime. C.J. Box is a talented and thoughtful storyteller, and his Pickett series is one of the best in contemporary crime fiction. He explores both sides of an issue in his novels (like the morality of hunting) but these philosophical concerns never get in the way of the narrative. While the auxiliary characters can seem a little one-dimensional, particularly the women of the novel who are portrayed as either manipulative b-words or mom and apple pie saints, the meat of the crime story is substantial and memorable.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

After reading about The George Mitchell Collection in Big Road Blues, I was happy to see a copy at Vintage Vinyl. It's seven discs and a thick booklet covering all of Mitchell's field recordings during the 1960's - 80's. Disc one is all I have had a chance to absorb so far, but it is a wide ranging musical journey from the well known like Big Joe Williams and Houston Stackhouse who has some great rockin' small band tracks, to the unknown and totally unique like John Lee Ziegler who plays a gentle slide guitar and sings in a near falsetto while being accompanied by a spoons player! Great stuff so far and I am eager to check out the rest.

On the Jazz front, I have been listening to tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen's I Am I Am which is a nice bare bones date where he is backed by only bass and drums. There's a stark and inventive sound akin to the albums Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson cut in the trio setting at the Village Vanguard, so hopefully that will be Allen's next stop to record. Violinist Jenny Scheinman's Crossing the Field brings her together with some heavy hitters like Jason Moran and Bill Frisell and a string quartet for an album that is equal parts jazz, Americana and classical. She has particular empathy with Moran, especially on the highlight "Hard Sole Shoe" where they dance around a funky bass groove and riffing string section to create hypnotic music.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008


I think I'm going to make some changes to this blog, because it's just not as much fun as it used to be. It's getting to the point where it's just becoming a grind, and "feeding the beast" has been the order of the day rather than talking about music and enjoying it. Please don't send me promos any longer. I'm not a music journalist and really know very little about the nuts and bolts of music. I can't do any real justice to music and would hate to think that I have injured someone's career in some way by saying something foolish. I'm just a listener, and I'm getting uncomfortable. I think what I would like to turn this blog into is just a web log as they were originally intended, writing about what I'm reading or listening to and hopefully have it be fun again, rather than being a second job. So I'm going to keep a music focus, but spread things out into other areas, and try to make it fun again. Thanks a lot for reading, I'm sorry I couldn't do better for you, but it's all just becoming a little too much.

Send comments to: Tim