Friday, October 31, 2008

Destination Out continues their Anthony Braxton celebration with a post and mp3: "If one looks at the great diversity of musicians whose careers have been transformed as a direct result of their association with Anthony Braxton, it seems fair to suggest that he has been one of the most significant mentor figures of the past thirty years in creative music."

Howard Mandel has an interesting post about the reach of jazz around the world: "Globalism held its head high at the tenth annual Ponta Delgada Jazz Festival last week. Five nights of concerts performed by an international coterie of improvisers in the superb acoustics of a nicely modernized old center-city theater for a stylish, educated audience didn't seem a cultural far cry, though they were held in the capital of the Azores, the mid-Atlantic archipelago 700 miles from mainland Portugal."

Jeff Gauthier has been guest posting on the Greenleaf Records blog, and he weighs in with information and mp3's from new projects by Nels and Alex Cline: "I've been working with guitarist Nels Cline and drummer/percussionist Alex Cline for about 30 years (and yes we did start out as small children). For about 15 of those years we co-led a new music ensemble called Quartet Music with bassist/composer Eric von Essen. After Eric's untimely death in 1996, Alex and I continued playing in each other's ensembles, and Nels has played and recorded in many of my groups as well."

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vanity Fair's Frank Digiacomo reprises the legend of bluesman Robert Johnson: "In the seven decades since his mysterious death, bluesman Robert Johnson’s legend has grown—the tragically short life, the “crossroads” tale of supernatural talent, the genuine gift that inspired Dylan, Clapton, and other greats—but his image remains elusive: only two photos of Johnson have ever been seen by the public."

Digicomo follows up with a fascinating blog post: "Even if you’re not an avid fan of the blues, you’ve probably heard of the Johnson crossroads myth (where he supposedly sold his soul to devil for supernatural talent) or read that there are only two known photos of Johnson that have ever been seen by the public: a photo-booth self-portrait which depicts the bluesman with a cigarette cantilevered out of his mouth and a portrait of him in a hat and pin-striped suit taken by the Hooks Bros. studio in Memphis."

Big Road Blues asks for a time-out in the Johnsonophilia: "Unfortunately this obsession on every minutiae of Johnson’s life has taken away the focus on his very real talents and perhaps more importantly this lopsided focus on Johnson has obscured the fact that he was very much part of a tradition; his music firmly built on the artists who came before like Lonnie Johnson and Tampa Red who don’t get a shred of the acclaim that Johnson does."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sonny Rollins - The Freelance Years, Disc One (Riverside, 2000)

The Freelance Years tracks tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins' music for Riverside and related labels in the late 1950's. The first disc features a dazzling combination of classics, selections from Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners and Rollins' own Way Out West. The Monk date is notorious as one of his most complex, and the music bares that out, but the inherent melodies and playfulness of the music and the extraordinary performances of of the musicians make the music very enjoyable. Rollins eats up the knotty material and solos beautifully on "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" and "Pannonica." Although there is no pianist at all on the Way Out West, Monk's impish and risk-taking spirit seems to have affected Sonny Rollins and allowed him to turn what could have been a shallow gimmick (the wild west theme) into one of his finest studio albums. Joined by bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Rollins revels in the freedom allowed by the trio format (one that he would investigate on several wonderful records in this period) and plays tune that fit the theme and allow him for unusual vehicles for improvisation. "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm An Old Cowhand" were well known by western movie buff Rollins, but only he would have the chutzpah to improvise on them as jazz performances. Sonny deconstructs these and teases them, but he does it with love and respect, like he plays all of his music.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Son House - Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions (Columbia, 1992)

Legendary blues guitarist and singer Son House was one of the delta originals, recording some of the most influential music is blues history during his early career. Like many of his contemporaries, House disappeared from public view during the late 40's and 50's before being "re-discovered" by white folk and blues fans in the early 1960's. Despite some initial rustiness, House was soon playing and singing with the blasting intensity that marked his early recordings. Son House must have shocked the folkies when they came to see him in the 60's, his music was raw, unfettered and absolutely brilliant. The first disc of this set is the master recordings, powered by House's protean slide guitar and powerful vocals. Some of his most well known songs are here, and like many musicians who came up during that period, House battled the church and the blues during his career, so many of his blues had a gospel tinge like the opening "John the Revelator" and the sarcastic "Preachin' the Blues." House is at his most haunting on the very powerful "Death Letter Blues" and the acapella "Grinnin' in Your Face." The second disc has alternate takes of some of the songs featured above as well as masterful performances of jumping blues "Shake It and Break It" and "Pony Blues." This is some really authoritative and masterful music. Of all the great blues singers of the 20's and 30's that resumed their careers in the 1960's few showed as much fire and passion as Son House.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Big Road Blues reviews their latest broadcast:
"Today’s show revolves around the six CD’s in the Ace records series Modern Downhome Blues Sessions. The recordings span from 1948 through 1955 with a good chunk stemming from trips Joe Bihari Modern Records co-owner made with talent scout Ike Turner in the Deep South."
Illasounds has a new podcast available:
"From The Vault 2: Underground Contemporary jazz taken from rare and unreleased recordings including Chris Potter, E.S.T., Dave Douglas, Jason Moran, Nils Petter Molvaer, and more"
Bill Shoemaker has published another fine issue of the webzine Point of Departure.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

William Parker Quartet -Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity, 2008)

Working bands with stable personnel are difficult to maintain in today's jazz world, but bassist William Parker's Quartet with drummer Hamid Drake, alto saxophonist Rob Brown and trumpeter Lewis Barnes has been a stable and relentlessly creative unit for several years now. This album begins with the lengthy suite "Groove Sweet" during which Drake and Parker consistently shift and morph the rhythm, while Brown and Byrnes improvise on top of it. "Talap's Theme" finds Brown and Barnes riffing together in strong collective improvisation. Parker and Drake take part in a nimble bass and drum duet. "Petit Oiseau" has trumpet over bass and drums, Barnes sounds really hot, and then Brown rises to the challenge with a tart, citrus flavored solo. Parker underpins it all with strong elastic bass. Bass and drums open "The Golden Bell" with a slight Middle Eastern feel. There is a strong and thoughtful alto sax solo. Rob Brown also takes center stage on "Four for Tommy", the highpoint of the album, with a strong, fast solo that is just stunning in its power and grace. "Malachai's Mode" is a smooth and swinging hard-bop performance that wouldn't sound out of place on a mid 60's Blue Note record. "Dust From a Mountain" is the most exotic song on the album, where Parker trades in his bass for a cedar flute, and Drake plays intimate percussion. "Shorter For Alan" wraps up the album with an abstract improvisation. This is an excellent album, with superb soloing and wonderful collective playing as a unit. The William Parker Quartet is one of the finest working bands in modern jazz and this album is another example of that fact.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

I have a new podcast available, stream or download it here. Included are examples of the music I have been listening over the past few weeks. Here's the playlist:

Artist - Song - Album
Paul Motian - Rebica - Conception Vessel
Chris McGregor - Spike Nord - Our Prayer
Bob Dylan - High Water (For Charley Patton) - Tell Tale Signs
Rudresh Mahanthappa - Snake! - Kinsmen
John Zorn - Anulikwutsayl - The Dreamers
Taj Mahal - TV Mama - Maestro
Bill Frisell - When We Go - Rambler
Dave Holland - Fast Track - Pass It On

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Paul Motian - Conception Vessel (ECM 1973, 2008)

Drummer and composer Paul Motian first came to the public's attention as a member of the great Bill Evans trio in the late 1950's. By the time he began to record as a leader with this disc, he had developed a unique idea of what the role of a drummer would be. On this album, he is joined on various performances by Charlie Haden on bass, Keith Jarrett on piano, Sam Brown on guitar, and on the final track, Leroy Jenkins on violin and Becky Friend on flute. The music is consistently subtle and interesting. Two tracks are with the trio of Motian, Haden and Brown, "Georgian Bay" is a very intricate acoustic performance, and "Rebica" is a more expansive electric performance bordering on abstract jazz fusion. Two duets between Motian and Jarrett are included, "American Indian: Song of Sitting Bull" is a brief interlude with Jarrett playing flute, while "Conception Vessel" has him on piano playing very well on a song reminiscent of the music the two of them made as part of Jarrett's "American" quartet. The final track, "Inspiration from a Vietnamese Lullaby" is an extraordinary performance with Jenkins and Friend swirling around each other over an ever shifting backdrop of bass and drums. This was a well balanced and refined album of mostly understated jazz. It rewards concentration and thoughtful listening.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The New York Times has an interesting article about tapes from the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock that have recently surfaced:
"The constant musical activity at the studio, in workshops and concerts, yielded about 400 hours of tapes: startling performances by Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Lee Konitz, Frederic Rzewski, Jimmy Giuffre, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Lacy, Abdullah Ibrahim, Carla Bley, Ed Blackwell and many others."
Allaboutjazz has an interesting article and interview with Dave Holland:
"He's had a critically acclaimed quintet for over a decade that's still alive, even as individual members are making their own musical statements. He has more plans for his big band, similarly lauded in recent years. Holland might record the group that just played at Newport—pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland. And he's planning a project with Spanish flamenco players."
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Chris McGregor Trio - Our Prayer (Fledg'ling, 2008)

When South African expat pianist and composer Chris McGregor emigrated to England in the mid-1960's it was with high hopes that his integrated band would find acceptance and performance opportunities. As Maxine McGregor's detailed liner notes reveal, that was far from the case. While McGregor's big band, The Brotherhood of Breath, slowly gained acceptance in Europe, his small groups, including the lamented Blue Notes, were a tough sell. That was probably the reason this wonderful trio set with Barre Phillips on bass and Louis Maholo on drums and percussion sat unreleased for nearly forty years. We are fortunate to have it because it sheds light on McGregor's under appreciated skill as a pianist. Leading off with the brief "Church Mouse," the group plays a gospelish blues with something like a 70's era Keith Jarrett feel. "Moonlight Aloe" has a freer nature, with some wonderful bowed bass work from Phillips. But it is the final two tracks that are the real revelation, "Spike Nord" has a rapid open trio feel, anchored by rumbling drums and skittish piano. Phillips interjects bow scrapes as the music intensifies with sawing bass and strong drums with mysterious piano accents. The title track "Our Prayer" is an epic of trio improvisation, clocking in a nearly twenty six minutes and never flagging in its intensity at all. Opening with bowed bass, cymbals and probing piano, the music evolves to tight, focused and intense free improvisation which moves into Cecil Taylor territory at times. After a relatively calm middle section, McGregor and Maholo enter into a percussive duet that it very powerful and free with percussive whistles and bells adding effects. After Phillips interjects a bowed bass interlude, the three come together in collective improvisation to conclude this extraordinary performance. This was a wonderful discovery, I had become a fan of the Brotherhood of Breath due to the great concert reissues on the Cuneiform label, and it was fascinating to hear this disc, with the wide open trio. Very highly recommended.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rudresh Mahanthappa - Kinsmen (Pi Recordings, 2008)

Alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa has become one of the freshest players on the modern jazz scene, combining the tart and exploratory alto saxophone grounded in Ornette Coleman and musical conception based on his east Indian heritage. This album melds jazz and Indian classical music as Mahanthappa collaborates with Kadri Gopalnath on alto saxophone, A. Kanyakumari on violin, Rez Abassi on guitar, Carlo de Rosa on bass, Royal Hartigan on drums and Poovalur Sriji on percussion. I found the music on this album to be very exciting and unpredictable. The sound of twin alto saxophones with strings and percussion is an unusual one and has a vital and bracing energy. The performances I enjoyed the most were "Ganesha" named for the Hindu god of wisdom and "Snake!" both of which were very high energy improvisations, with the instruments swirling around each other like birds in flight. The album concludes with "Convergence (Kinsmen)" which consolidates all of the musical exploration found in the album in an epic, multi-layered improvisation. This album is quite an accomplishment. Compiling music from across multiple cultures and melding them in the all encompassing crucible that is modern jazz, Mahanthappa and his comrades have created thoughtful and memorable music that is very well executed.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

John Zorn - The Dreamers (Tzadik, 2008)

Saxophonist and composer John Zorn seems to take perverse enjoyment in confounding the critics that want to peg him as just a screaming avant-gardist. On this album, for instance, melody is the key and it has some of Zorn's most accessible compositions yet. Joined by guitarist Marc Ribot, the keyboardist Jamie Saft, the bassist Trevor Dunn and the percussionists Kenny Wollesen, Cyro Baptista and Joey Baron, the album has a fascinating cinematic feel, with its shifting rhythm provided by drums, hand percussion and vibraphone, this sounds like a more upbeat version of Zorn's Filmworks series. All of the musicians play well, but it is Ribot who dominates the proceedings, shredding at a level that seems to summon the spirit of Sonny Sharrock on the epic "Anulikwutsayl." People who have been looking to check out John Zorn's music, but who have been scared off by his fearsome reputation would do well to check this disc out, because it is thoughtful and creative without being off-putting.

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Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8 (Columbia, 2008)

Bob Dylan's career had taken many twists and turns, leading up to a low point in the late 1980's. A series of poorly conceived and received albums left him feeling lowdown and washed up. But like a boxer rising from the mat for one final round, Dylan surprised everyone by releasing a series of albums in the 1990's and 2000's that rivaled anything he had done before. The music here is of very high quality, and these are the outtakes from those albums, that should give you an idea of what kind of rarefied plane he was operating. These discs show the many aspects of Dylan's music, from the roadhouse blues of "High Water (For Charley Patton)" and "Lonesome Day Blues" both raucous live performances recorded with his crack touring band, to the acoustic balladeer spinning the beautiful narratives of "Red River Shore" and "Mississippi." There are a couple of fascinating covers, "32-20" is Robert Johnson's epic and evil tale of violent revenge, and "Cocaine Blues" sung in a distinctly nasal Midwestern drawl. Multiple versions of "Dignity" and "Mississippi" show fascinating glimpses of how Dylan's visions of these songs morphed and changed over time. The liner notes are well written and extensive, breaking the music down song by song, and providing the provenance for each. The liner essay makes an excellent point about Dylan's turn to "archaic" music. By returning to the folk and blues that originally nurtured him, he reconnected with his muse, and made some of the finest music of his career.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Primary Colors (Arrght, 2008)

ECSR play angular driving rock 'n' roll along the line of Gang of Four - they are what The Strokes would sound like if they weren't poseurs. Pulsing guitar, bass and drums, pithy performances and intelligent lyrics make them a band to watch. From the riotous organ pop of "We'll Be Turned On" to the cubist rock of "Sunday's Coming", they play fresh and exciting music. There isn't a bad cut on the album.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Clash – Live at Shea Stadium (Sony, 2008)

Punk rockers The Clash were at the height of their popularity and also near the end when they opened for The Who before 70,000 at Shea Stadium in Queens, NY. Having outlasted nearly all other punk bands and gaining mainstream respect with top-ten records, the band was falling apart due to personality conflicts and substance abuse, leading to the sacking of original drummer Topper Headon. So this amounts to a live recording of their Custer-ian last stand, and it certainly does nothing to blemish the band's potent reputation. Songs from the group's entire output are played with force and power, with highlights being Mick Jones very emotional vocal on the driving rocker "Police On My Back" and Paul Simonon's ominous gangster opus "The Guns of Brixton." But the focus of the recording is on Joe Strummer, who is truly in his element as front man, foil and master of ceremonies. Counting off a ferocious "London Calling" Strummer leads the band through their paces, stopping to play some of their beloved reggae on a medley of "Magnificent Seven" and "Armageddon Time." They make full use of their 50 minute opening slot, finishing up with a bruising version of Bobby Fuller's "I Fought the Law", a song that belongs as much to them as it does to its creator. This is a fine recording of The Clash at their most popular. It's hard to imagine a band going from squatting in an abandoned London flat to playing stadiums in the course of six years, but that was the power of The Clash.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bill Frisell - All Hat Soundtrack (Emarcy, 2008)

For a movie about an ex-con trying to reconnect with with rural roots, it's hard to think of a better musician to compose a soundtrack than guitarist Bill Frisell whose soundscapes cover all areas of roots music and sound cinematic even when they are not attached to a film. Accompanying him on this project are Mark Graham: harmonica, Greg Leisz on steel guitars and mandolin, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Viktor Krauss on bass, and Scott Amendola on drums. It's a shame that this album is difficult to track down, because it is one of Frisell's most enjoyable of recent years with the band evoking every possible aspect of americana from the deep blues, to country, jazz, folk and everything inbetween. The driving "John Hardy" and "Hardy Race" are highlights, but it is really the entire album as a whole that makes the biggest impact. The short, pithy performances blend into one another like an ever changing landscapre during a long country drive, shifting moods and tempos throughout. It is a sharp and compelling performance, and along with the excellent double album History/Mystery released earlier this year, this shows that Bill Frisell is at the peak of his powers.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Taj Mahal - Maestro (Telarc, 2008)

There is a lot more than the blues to the music of guitarist, singer and songster Taj Mahal. he explores all aspects of roots music from blues to jazz, reggae and beyond. He does a little bit of everything on his most recent disc, aided and abetted by a raft of guest stars, but it is the basic gutbucket blues that garners the most success. Taj and Los Lobos reinvent the Elmore James/ Joe Turner classic "TV Mama" for the digital age, with a stomping feel and some stinging guitar. Ben Harper and Big Jack Johnson are in their element sitting in on "Dust Me Down" and "Further on Down the Road" respectively. Mahal doesn't need any guests to shine just as brightly on his own either. With his Phantom Blues Band in tow, he jumps through "Scratch My Back" and grinds hard on the slow groove of "Strong Man Holler." Some of the reggae and Caribbean music doesn't quite reach such lofty heights, with the collaboration with Ziggy Marley "Black Man, Brown Man" sounding a little flat, the ethnic stew of "Zanzibar" never quite takes flight. But these are minor quibbles and overall, the album is quite successful.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Destination Out continues their fine run of Anthony Braxton posts: "Some may be surprised about Braxton's influences — Coltrane, well sure. And Warne Marsh is a bit of a curveball, though Braxton has dedicated various compositions to him. But Paul Desmond? The West Coast cool jazz dude who played with Dave Brubeck? Really?"

Big Road has posted an excellent read in the form of the show notes for their most recent broadcast: "We cut a wide swath today, tackling blues spanning from 1925 through 1980. The half-dozen tracks from 1980 come from the series Living Country Blues USA. In 1980 two young German blues enthusiasts, Axel Kuestner and Siegfried A. Christmann, came to America with the idea to document the remaining country blues tradition."

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bill Frisell - Rambler (ECM 1985, 2008)

Guitarist Bill Frisell made his breakthrough with this airy and atmospheric album, re-released recently as a budget-priced cardboard sleeve in ECM's Touchtones series. It's good to have it back in regular circulation as it is one of the guitarist's most interesting and unique early albums. Accompanied by an unusual group with Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Bob Stewart on tuba, Jerome Harris on bass and Paul Motian on drums, the music maintains an eerie and atmospheric sound throughout while still foreshadowing the rootsy Americana that Frisell would explore to great effect later in his career. The music has a hazy and "seen through the veil" type of feel, with the instrumentation giving the music a individual texture. Bumping tuba and shimmering trumpet turn "Where We Go" into a Sousa march from an alternate universe, while the subtle and subversive melody of "Rambler" is not easily forgotten. Sneaking, sizzling guitar powers "Resistor" over insistent piston like tuba. "Strange Meeting" has a slithering and slinky guitar solo, followed by breezy trumpet to good effect. This is a unique and unusual sounding jazz album. Frisell's conception of instrumental colors, and his compositions come together well to create interesting and memorable music.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dave Holland Sextet - Pass It On (Emarcy, 2008)

Bassist and composer Dave Holland has been on an amazing run over the past ten years leading one of the finest small groups (and big bands) in jazz through a series of excellent recordings and worldwide performances. There are a few changes afoot with this latest release, but the quality of the music remains very high. Holland has a new band, made up of Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Antonio Hart on alto saxophone, Mulgrew Miller on piano, and Eric Harland on drums and the only holdover from the previous group, Robin Eubanks on trombone. The music remains intricate and thoughtful, with very strong ensemble playing and soloing. This album has some new compositions and compositions from the breadth of Holland's career. My favorite performances on the album were "Fast Track" with it's rapid pace and nimble interaction between the players. "Rivers Run" is a tribute to Holland's frequent collaborator and one of my favorite musician Sam Rivers. The music here is at it's most abrasive, slipping inside and outside like Rivers at his finest. While the names of the players may have changed, the music here is very much a continuation of the fine albums Holland has been producing for quite a long time. There's nothing flashy about the sound here, just a testament to a true collective group working toward a common goal.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Magnus Broo - Painbody (Moserobie, 2008)

Trumpeter and composer Magnus Broo is a member of the group Atomic, and heavily involved with the wonderfully talented Scandinavian jazz scene. Some of the tracks on this disc also appear on Atomic's latest opus, Retrograde, but here they have a slightly different feel as Broo joins forces with Torbjorn Gulz on piano, Mattias Welin on bass and Jonas Holgersson on drums. The music is fresh and open, and with no saxophone player sharing the front line, Broo is left to command center stage. "Africa" opens the album with a mid-tempo groove, which slowly grows more intense throughout the performance with strong drums and trumpet. "Painbody" is strong, fast and exciting, with vigorous bass providing propulsion and Broo's trumpet spitting fire. "Das Boot" is equally strong, blasting through a short and pity song with garage rock intensity, again buoyed by Welin's agile bass. "Koba" begins with a milder and controlled setting before Broo pushes to an exalted solo, filled with exciting smeared notes. I found this album to be stimulating and very well played. The music often reaches a fever pitch, but the musicians remain in control throughout.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The New York Times reviews an interesting double bill featuring Henry Threadgill: "Mr. Threadgill, 64, has ages of experience in the jazz avant-garde, with a career stretching to the origins of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. His half of the concert featured Zooid, a working group with Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, Jose Davila on tuba and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums." (via downbeast)

Big Road Blues continues their wonderful series on the Living Country Blues series with a post and mp3's: "The fact is that the bulk of these artists were older, the remaining holdouts of a fading tradition and the music often sounds like it was trapped in amber, virtually unchanged from the blues of fifty years ago."

Destination Out continues their examination of Anthony Braxton's early career with information and mp3's about the Creative Construction Company and Circle: "One night he sat in with Chick Corea’s trio with Holland and Atschul. The chemistry was immediately apparent and soon they were a group: Circle. One of the most underrated ensembles of the decade. “They changed my life and gave me a new start and new hope for my life,” Braxton recalls. “I’ll always be grateful.”"

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane (Jazzland, 1957)

One of the most important collaborations in saxophonist John Coltrane's career was his nearly year long association with the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. During this time period, Coltrane gave up narcotics and had a religious epiphany that would be documented in his album A Love Supreme and he had a musical epiphany by playing a multi-month gig at the Five Spot in New York and recording with Monk. This album features Monk's unique piano and compositions, Coltrane's tenor saxophone, and Colman Hawkins on tenor. So this is one of Monk's finest groups playing some of his finest compositions, little wonder the album is justly regarded as a classic. "Off Minor" has a mini big band feel with Coltrane and Hawkins together (!) with Gigi Grice on alto playing a wonderful fanfare melody before splitting off for solos. "Trinkle Trinkle" and "Nutty" have Monk and Coltrane backed by bass and drums, and wonderful solos from both men. "Functional" ends the album with a lengthy and angular piano solo. This is one of the high water marks of jazz with Monk completely in his totally unique element, and Coltrane beginning to make the string of breakthroughs that would lead him to super stardom.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Joe Louis Walker - Witness to the Blues (Stony Plain, 2008)

Guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker is one of the most consistently brilliant blues musicians of the past twenty years. Combining old school gut bucket blues with Walker's own roots in gospel and soul, he creates music that is both traditional and unique. This album shows several different facets of Walker's musical makeup, like the hard core blues of the standards "Sugar Mama" and "Rollin' and Tumblin" and the wonderful slide guitar workout "100% More Man." His soul and gospel roots come through on the tracks "Witness" and the duet with Shemekia Copeland, "Lover's Holiday." Joe Louis Walker really is the complete package as both an instrumentalist and a singer and that is on display here. It's hard to be impartial on this one, as JLW is one of my favorite musicians, but this is a fine album that deserves a wide audience.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Big Road Blues has an excellent post with a number of mp3's attached about the release of a new boxed set devoted to field recordings: "In 1980 two young German blues enthusiasts, Axel K├╝stner and Siegfried Christmann, came to America with the idea to document the remaining country blues tradition. With their station wagon and portable recording equipment they hit the dusty road spending a couple of months documenting blues, gospel, field hollers and work songs throughout the South."

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Magic Sam - West Side Soul (Delmark, 1967)

Guitarist and singer "Magic Sam" Maghett was one of the leading lights of the third generation of Chicago blues musicians. Where the Bluebird artists like the original Sonny Boy Williamson brought the blues to Chicago in the 1930's and Muddy Waters and the Chess gang expanded and amplified them in the 1950's, Magic Sam and fellow travelers like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy added a healthy dollop of soul music to their electric blues with explosive results. Sam only made one full album (along with a number of singles) during his short lifetime, but it was a monster, every note is played and sung with no holding back, as if he knew the end was near. "I Don't Want No Woman" is a massive highlight with an outstanding vocal that is filled with energy and defiance, and a wonderfully choppy guitar solo. "Sweet Home Chicago" is a joyful exploration of the standard, full of swagger and swing, as does the ebullient version of "Talk to Your Daughter" which jumps hard. The harrowing slow blues "Our Love Will Never Die" wrings every drop of emotion from an extraordinary vocal. Magic Sam was like a brilliant comet that only flashed across the musical sky for a very brief time, but he left recordings to be cherished. This was his crowning achievement and it was a polestar for the music that followed.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

John Lee Hooker - The Ultimate Collection (Rhino, 1991)

Legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker left a massive catalog of recordings during his long and productive career. So many recordings under so many pseudonyms that it is difficult for a new listener to know where to start. Thankfully Rhino cut through the clutter with a two-disc set that covers nearly the entirety for Hooker's career, and hits most of the high points. Disc one begins with his rawest and most potent recordings, performing solo, percussively strumming an over-amped guitar and keeping time with blasting foot stomps, Hooker's earliest and most influential hits like "Boogie Chillen" and "Crawling King Snake" are like a blast of raw energy straight to the ears. As his music developed, he moved into a full band sound with key collaborators like the guitarist Eddie Kirkland and a variety of different musical settings from the deeply soulful "I'm In the Mood" to the female background singers on "Frisco Blues." Disc Two tackles the latter half of his epic run, including songs the endeared him to the growing legion of rock 'n' rollers like the blasting "Boom Boom" and "Big Legs, Tight Skirt." The final years of Hooker's career were mostly spent on collaborative projects, represented here with a wonderful remake of "I'm In the Mood" featuring Bonnie Raitt. There is a well written and extensive booklet included in this collection which provides a basic overview of his career and some excellent photographs. This is an excellent starting place for a curious blues fan to begin an investigation of one of the twentieth centuries finest blues musicians.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

McCoy Tyner - Guitars (McCoy Tyner Music, 2008)

One of the great things about musicians having their own record labels is that they have a chance to record projects that really interest them. Legendary pianist and composer McCoy Tyner had wanted to record with guitarists, and now he had a chance by inviting some of the best in modern music to sit in with a world class trio of him, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette and recording the proceedings for a CD and DVD combo. Who would have thought we would ever hear freely improvised duets between Tyner and downtown guitar ace Marc Ribot? They work quite well as does their extraordinary version of the classic Tyner composition "Passion Dance" which is extremely intense with rumbling thunderous piano and stinging electric guitar and completely successful. Another highlight of the album is the rapport the core trio has with John Scofield on "Mr. P.C." which inspires everyone to wonderful and lengthy improvisatory flights. Derek Trucks steps up well, playing a fine melodic version of the standard "Greensleves" and banjoist Bela Fleck adds a different feel on "Trade Winds" and a surprising exploration of "My Favorite Things." Tyner meets Bill Frisell on his own turf, collaborating on the deeply exotic and patient "Boubacar" and "Baba Drame." The DVD is quite fascinating as well, it was recorded from multiple camera angles which allow you to focus on any of the individual players or the group as a whole. You also get a "fly on the wall" perspective as the musicians talk about structure and paths to use on each tune. The liner notes are well written and thoughtful, as is the entire project as a whole, classy and exploratory and filled with fine music.

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