Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Richard & Linda Thompson - In Concert November 1975 (Universal, 1975)

The husband and wife team of Richard and Linda Thompson came out of the British folk boom of the late 1960's. Combining the intricacies of folk music with the energy of rock and roll, they were a potent combination. This live album catches them on tour in the UK in an intimate small band setting that nicely presents their vision of pop, folk and extended rock 'n' roll. They lead off with a couple of their most popular tunes, one of their most famous, "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" and one of their catchiest, "Hokey Pokey" get the crowd involved immediately and feature Linda's gorgeous vocals. Things take a darker turn with "Night Comes In" along with "Cavalry Cross" which are the two moody epics that feature Richard's signature electric guitar playing and enigmatic songwriting. They swing back to traditional folk music with a medley of Morris dancing songs and the traditional Hank Williams country staple "Why Don't You Love Me." But it is when they mix all of their influences together that the music makes its biggest impact. "Heart Needs a Home" and "Now be Thankful" are powerful ballads that meld the Britich folk tradition with American rock music. This is a fine snapshot of a couple of excellent musicians in full flower. It wasn't to last however. After making amasterpiece in the early 1980's (Shoot Out the Lights) the Thompson's parted ways. Richard went on to a very successful and influential solo career, while Linda was dogged by health problems until a recent comeback.
In Concert November 1975 - amazon.com

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Muddy Waters - Authorized Bootleg (MCA/Chess, 2009)

This is a very exciting find, a disc with parts of three well recorded live sets featuring the great bluesman Muddy Waters and a crack band made up of Francis Clay on drums, Mac Arnold on bass, Sam Lawhorn on guitar, George Smith on harmonica and Luther Johnson on guitar. Muddy is in typically swaggering form and I can only wonder at what the hippies at the Fillmore West thought of this band when they performed this music there in November of 1966. It's interesting to hear Muddy with the two guitar, no piano lineup but it works really well and the the guitarists (including Muddy's awesome slide) stretch out with some excellent workouts on some tracks. But it's his voice that dominates this collection, coming through like a force of nature, filled with strength, emotion and the very essence of masculinity. Waters had just released the soul flavored Muddy, Brass and Blues LP on Chess, but passes most of that material by to focus on chestnuts like "Trouble No More" which has emphatic vocals and swooping harmonica from Smith. "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had" takes the group back to the delta with a spare arrangement, and the Big Joe Williams standard "Baby Please Don't Go" receives a powerfully graceful treatment. Listening to the band bust out on the super uptempo version of "Got My Mojo working" working is very exciting and the band is hitting on all cylinders, as they are on the proud, strutting "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" where the great man proudly declares his manliness. This disc compares favorably with the live Muddy classics like Live at Newport and Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live, and is a must hear for anybody who loves deep down in the alley Chicago blues.
Authorized Bootleg - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Charles Tolliver Big Band – Emperor March (Half Note Records, 2009)

Inspiration is wherever you find it, and for trumpeter, composer and arranger Charles Tolliver it came while watching the nature documentary March of the Penguins, which lent fuel to his creative fire and led to this progressive big band LP. Recorded live at the Blue Note club, this album compares favorably with the extraordinary With Love album he released a few years ago. The music crackles with energy and bravado and features wonderful soloing and ensemble playing. I downloaded the album from iTunes so I don't have a list of the soloists on each particular song, but the work by all concerned is uniformly excellent. They open with “On the Nile” which is a very exciting and exotic performance, making space for some excellent soloing on tenor saxophone and trumpet, and passionate full band passages. The version of “I Want to Talk About You” is inspired by John Coltrane's classic version from the Live at Birdland LP, right down to the solo tag ending for unaccompanied saxophone (is it Billy Harper?) The title track builds on a march feel, evoking the beautiful waddling waterfowl before blasting the flightless birds into a journey they could scarcely imagine! “In the Trenches” and “Toughin'” round out the set in grand style, this is lusty and virile music that is reminiscent of some of the larger ensembles led by the likes of Charles Mingus or Sam Rivers. This is thrilling and life affirming music that grabs you by the collar and demands your attention. Keeping a large ensemble together in this economy is no mean feat, but hopefully Tolliver can do it, because this truly is the sound of joy.
Emperor March: Live at the Blue Note - amazon.com

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone (Anti, 2009)

Normally I'm not that into confessional singer-songwriters, but there's something about the dark, torchy voice Neko Case has that is really alluring. She has a touch of the great old time singers like Dinah Washington or Billie Holiday, that livens up and accentuates even her poppiest material. There is quite a bit of pop flavored material here, and some of it works quite well. The opening track "This Tornado Loves You" uses nature as a metaphor for a tumultuous relationship, with some repetition and refrain in her singing that makes the song very effective. "People Got a Lotta Nerve" imagines animals turning the tables on their tormentors and mocks those that would hurt them. This is a theme for much of her songwriting on this album, and her affinity with nature runs through the course of the album, from the title song to ecological concerns on "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" and her own self as a primal beast on "I'm an Animal." “Marais La Nuit” is the final track on the album, running over thirty minutes of crickets or chirping on her Vermont farm. At best, this is filler which shows her love of the natural world and at worst it's nonsensical; but it really does not detract from the meat of the album as a whole, and is easily skipped. While this album doesn't quite reach the lofty hights of her extraordinary previous album, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, it is still a worthwhile amalgam of pop, country and soul that is miles ahead of most of the music on the pop charts these days.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Branford Marsalis - Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music, 2009)

Saxophonist and composer Branford Marsalis has been one of the leading lights of mainstream jazz for the past 20 years. Mixing in the hard driving jazz of greats like John Coltrane and Johnny Griffin with a deep romantic streak, he joins forces with his longtime band members Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. On the upbeat tracks, especially where Marsalis plays tenor, the band is very successful. The opener, "Return of the Jitney Man" was also the opener on Watts latest album, and it is equally effective on this album to as straight ahead burning hard bop. His tenor saxophone is deep toned and agile and Watts drives him to make exciting music. Watts loves to make pulsing, vigorous music and his other contribution, "Samo" finding him locking in with Revis to propel the music relentlessly forward. The highlight of the album for me was a two part tribute to Thelonious Monk, beginning with an excellent performance of the great man's own "Rhythm-a-Ning" and then moving into the original tribute composition "Sphere." The musicians really identify with the the joyful angular swing of Monk's music and use it to their advantage with a couple of powerful performances. I have never been a fan of Branford's ballad playing, particularly with the soprano saxophone, and I think the two ballads composed by Coldarazzo, “The Blossom of Parting” and “The Last Goodbye" are the weakest tracks on the album. The music strikes me as overly romantic, limpid and ponderous; sort of like a heavy velvet curtain has been thrown over an agile and nimble group. This is a solid album, but I can't escape the feeling that it finds Marsalis in a holding pattern. Playing with his regular compatriots and with the usual repertoire, the band just seems to lack a spark at times, and seems to fall into familiarity. But the rush of excitement found on the tenor saxophone led burners and the delightful Monk tunes still make for some worthwhile and enjoyable music.
Metamorphosen - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blog roundup

Destination Out takes a fascinating look at the most controversial Pat Metheny album, Zero Tolerance for Silence: The curious case of Pat Metheny, noise artist. Yeah, you read that right. Although best known for his glass-smooth popular jazz fusion with the Pat Metheny Group, he has another side that surfaces from time-to-time in collaborations with musicians like Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey. But this 1994 solo guitar joint is where Metheny really lets his experimental jones rip. It makes Song X sound like New Chautauqua.
Pat Metheny - amazon.com

The latest essay on Big Road Blues is a mix of things, including tributes to John Cephas and Snooks Eaglin: Snooks Eaglin passed away on February 18th. In true New Orleans fashion he was given a full jazz funeral send off. I first encountered Snooks via his terrific Black Top Records of the late 1980’s and 90’s. After the label’s demise Snooks only recorded one more album, The Way It Is, in 2001 which happens to be one of my favorites. Fans of Snooks’ later electric records may be surprised that his earliest records (1958-1959) which are all acoustic. From that period we spin the charming “Country Boy Down In New Orleans” from the wonderful Snooks Eaglin: The Sonet Blues Story album of the same name on Arhoolie.
Snooks Eaglin - amazon.com
Cephas and Wiggins - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Still reading

These are the books I have read over the past couple of weeks:

The Black Ice by Michael Connelly: The second Harry Bosch novel finds the detective looking into the apparent suicide of a fellow officer who had been investigating the appearance of a new drug on the street scene called "black ice." Superiors want the investigation wrapped up as soon as possible, but the more Bosch digs, the more mysteries he finds that lead him south of the border for the final confrontation. This was an excellent and multi-layered story, unpeeling like layers of an onion. Connelly is an excellent storyteller, and he is patient enough to let the story develop at its own pace, with believable characters and a well designed plot. (amazon.com link)

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain: This sequel to Heartsick finds painkiller addicted homicide detective Archie Sheridan trying to reconcile with his ex-wife and staying away from Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who nearly killed him. Enthralled with another case, Sheridan is shocked when Lowell escapes from prison, and he knows that he can be the only one to bring her back to justice. While the plot of this novel was pretty convoluted and a little too diffuse to pack a true wallop, Cain still shows her talent for characterization and that saves this book from becoming a melodramatic thriller by the numbers. Lowell is a Hannibal Lecter type, brilliant but twisted, and Sheridan is the drug addled, broken marriage cop from central casting, but the uneasy energy that Cain supplies between the two of them overcomes the conceits of the narrative and make it enjoyable. (amazon.com link)

Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale: When I saw that Lansdale had dedicated this book to one of my favorite authors, Andrew Vachss, I knew it was going to be a good one. This is another book in the fascinating Hap and Leonard series, where the two friends stumble into a series of misadventures. In this case, Leonard's heartsickness leads him to breakup a biker bar with a baseball bat and shotgun, and in the aftermath the boys find themselves on the up to their eyeballs in black market smut and oil which the bikers were scheming. The key to the Hap and Leonard series is the vulgar humor and it is on display here, with the boys busting each others and the crooks chops with every opportunity. There characters and their frank dialogue make this a very memorable story. (amazon.com link)

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Hank Mobley - Hi Voltage (Blue Note, 1967)

During the label's heyday, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was one of Blue Note Records most consistent musicians, making excellent music both as a leader and as a sideman. This album comes from near the end of his Blue Note tenure, recorded at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ on October 9, 1967. He is teamed with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Jackie McLean on alto saxophone, John Hicks on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Billy Higgins on drums on a program of all original compositions. This is a typically swinging Mobley session, and the addition of the pungent trumpet of Mitchell and the tart alto of McLean give the front line a full, meaty feel, perfect for the menu of straight ahead jazz they had before them. They open the album in grand fashion with the title track "Hi Voltage" which is a wonderful groove based swinger in the tradition of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." The rhythm section lays down a great base for the horn players to improvise on, and the whole performance is excellent and very inspiring. Groove also makes its presence felt on "Flirty Girty" and the Brazilian flavored "Bossa Deluxe," where the musicians lock into a nice medium-up tempo pocket, and ride it well. There's nothing particularly progressive here, just solid meat and potatoes jazz that was the heart and soul of the hard bop movement. The only soft spot is the album's sole ballad, reserved as a feature for Mobley as the only horn. "No More Goodbyes" comes off as a little flat and uninspired, which is surprising because Mobley is usually an excellent ballad player. But that said, it is hard to imagine a fan of hard bop or mainstream jazz not liking this album, which is a fine and unpretentious selection of bop and blues, played with a steady hand.
Hi Voltage - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Herbie Hancock – The Complete 60's Recordings (Blue Note, 1998)

(Part One, Discs 1-3) Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock came to Blue Note courtesy of trumpeter Donald Byrd, who discovered him while playing in Chicago. It didn't take Hancock long after moving to New York in 1961 to make a splash. Disc one leads off with an outtake from Donald Byrd's LP Chant, an auspicious beginning to his recording career in the performance “Three Wishes” which introduces him to his lifelong friend and musical partner Wayne Shorter, who dazzles on tenor saxophone. Things then move on to his debut recording as a leader, Takin' Off, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. This is an amazingly talented group and they provide a very confident performance, highlighted by the first appearance of what would become a Hancock staple, Mongo Santamaria's funky classic “Watermelon Man.” Disc two (most of which is the Hancock led album My Point of View) has a slightly different feel, with a frontline of Byrd on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone and Grachan Moncur III on trombone. Adding additional texture is one of my favorites, Grant Green on guitar, along with Chuck Israels on bass and Tony Williams on drums. The arrangements for the larger group are interesting, but it is another funky track that carries the day. “Blind Man, Blind Man” is superficially similar to “Watermelon Man” but the band takes the funky feel into a different direction here, adding Tony Williams ever evolving percussion and Green's perfectly timed accents. Disc three begins with a bit of a detour, the album Inventions and Dimensions where Hancock and bassist Paul Chambers collaborate with percussionists Willie Bobo and Oswaldo Martinez. The sound of the hand percussion is pretty cool, and gives the songs a Latin feel that is never gimmicky expecially on the tracks “Mimosa” and “Jack Rabbitt” which are highlights. As good as this music is however, it is over shadowed by the inclusion on disc three of my all time favorite Hancock album, Empyrean Isles. Hubbard returns, this time on cornet, in one of the most massive performances of his career, and Ron Carter and Tony Williams hold down the bass and drum slots. This is the perfect band for this wide open but not quite free music. Hubbard is the sole horn, and is simply awesome throughout as is Williams, a 19 year old dynamo who locks in with Carter to propel the music forward. Funk is here in the form of “Cantaloupe Island” where Hancock's almost static vamp provides the scaffolding for the rest of the band to improvise on. The fourteen minute epic “The Egg” moves through several different sections from taught group improvisation to open soloing. The entire album is perfect, and if Hancock never recorded another note, this would have immortalized him.
The Complete Blue Note 60's Sessions - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Five Albums That Shaped My Listening

Over on Facebook there has been an application introduced that allows people to list the five albums that have shaped their listening. These are the five that I picked:

John Coltrane - Giant Steps: I could have put "insert any Coltrane album here" but I went with this one because the first time I heard it (and each time afterward) I was amazed by the speed and control of the music. It's just blazing fast, but yet he is playing just perfectly, and the songs are wonderful as well. (amazon link)

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks: A college roomate was a big Van Morrison fan and he introduced me to this masterpiece. It is an album that seems to defy both genre and timeframe, existing in a Universe all its own. Morrison's live reprise of the album released earlier this year was fine, but it is the original that is a bottomless well of inspiration and beauty. (amazon link)

Elmore James - Shake Your Money Maker: James was a genuine musical epiphany for me, making me literally jump out of my seat when I heard his blasting version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" on WRPI in my youth. James recorded before the LP format became popular in the blues and this album is one of the finest one disc introductions to his incendiary music. (amazon link)

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew: Like Coltrane, there are any number of Miles albums that could be here, but when I was young and impressionable, and slowly making the transition from listening to jam rock like The Grateful Dead and Traffic to jazz and blues, this was the bridge that made it all possible. (amazon link)

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska: Growing up like I did in the suburbs, Springsteen was omnipresent, with anthems like "Born to Run" hurtling out of thousands of car radios. But it was this, a stark haunting meditation on American folk music that hit home for me. (amazon link)

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Jef Neve - Nobody Is Illegal (Emarcy, 2007)

Belgian jazz pianist and composer Jef Neve leads a very interesting ensemble on this disc. While technically a nonet, the music is really trio plus horns, where the piano, bass and drums are up front in the musical foreground and then the horns well arranged and integrated into the background so they do not overwhelm the music. It is an interesting setup and worked well for the music which is consistently interesting throughout. One of the tracks that stood out for me the most was the nine plus minute "Nothing But a Casablanca Turtle" which evolves like a suite with sections for percussive piano and drums reaching crescendos and then subtle horn shadings that enter and drift out at different times. This is a very exciting and dynamic performance and it is the highlight of the disc. "Second Love" is another long shimmering track, led by piano improvising over bass and drums and horn accents in the background. Some of the other tracks on the disc focus on Neve's piano, like the opening "Airplane" which is a short, full bodied trio performance, and the title track, a sensitive medium-up trio performance. "Astra" is an interesting short performance including Indian overtones and sounding like an Alice Coltrane influenced piece. Overall, this was a good album. The way in which the horns were arranged to support the music was unique and added much to the overall flavor of the music. This is thoughtfully done modern jazz with some classical flourishes.
Nobody Is Illegal - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jackie McLean - Demon's Dance (Blue Note. 1967)

This was alto saxophonist and composer Jackie McLean's last album for the Blue Note label for almost 30 years. In some way it was a retrenchment of his past - McLean was at his core a bebop musician and while he had taken advantage of the progressive jazz moment and introduced modal and free elements into his playing, they were never the focus, just aspects of a wonderfully wide ranging talent. The music here is open minded hard bop, performed with Woody Shaw on trumpet, Lamont Johnson on piano, Scott Holt on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Most of the music here is taken at a brisk tempo, as if the band wanted to go out swinging. "Floogeh" brings the angular bebop at it's best with McLean's alto sounding tart and citrus and Shaw is the perfect foil, primed after working with the late Eric Dolphy, and in the midst of his own period of making classic Blue Note records like Into Something and Unity. The beautiful "Message From Trane" is a heartfelt tribute to the passing of John Coltrane, played with deep spirit and fire. Balancing these intense tunes is the sweet ballad "Toyland" which has the band throttling back and caressing the gentle song. This was a good album which combines the progressive jazz McLean made on LP's like Destination Out and Let Freedom Ring with the traditional bebop of one of his early Blue Note records, Tippin' the Scales. It shows Jackie McLean as a multi-faceted musician, comfortable in any situation and playing heartily and thoughtfully throughout.
Demon's Dance - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Robert Nighthawk

Jeff from Big Road Blues has updated and relocated his comprehensive website on the famous blues guitarist and singer Robert Nighthawk. "Robert Nighthawk was one of the blues premier slide guitarists playing with a subtle elegance and a fluid, crystal clear style that was instantly recognizable. Nighthawk influenced a generation of artists including Elmore James, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and particularly Earl Hooker."

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bloodkin - Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again (Sci Fidelity, 2009)

Coming from the Gothic southern rock tradition that produced The Gun Club and the Drive By Truckers, the Georgia based band Bloodkin combines narrative songwriting with traditional guitar based rock and roll. Bloodkin presents this album as a journey from despair and addiction to redemption and survival, with songs flowing like chapters in a novel. The cautionary tale "The Viper" opens the album with a dark tale of drug addiction and depression over soaring guitar accompaniment. "Ghost Runner" reflects growing up with images of baseball games and the innocence of youth as does "Rhododendron," which is like flipping the pages of someone's family album as a child grows up in song. The band jacks things up a little bit with solid rockers "Heavy With Child and "Little Margarita," songs that mix in some Rolling Stones type swagger and honky-tonk good times. The finale "Summer in Georgia" ends the album on a hopeful note, using nature's renewal as a metaphor for hope in the time of despair. It took me a little time to get into this album, but once I did, I realized that is was a very deep and almost profound meditation on loss and recovery, pain and redemption. Heavy stuff to be sure, but well worth listening to.
Baby They Told Us We Would Rise Again - amazon.com

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Blog roundup

Pi-Recordings has a very interesting interview with saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman: (excerpt) "In terms of the connections to experimental hip-hop, I think this intense preoccupation with timbre and the “fusion” of sounds could be viewed as a pretty strong connection between these two very different areas of composition. After that, it goes without saying that the individual techniques, and, of course, the social milieu are going to be very different, for the most part. And as a consequence, the resulting musics sound very different and evidence very different aesthetic affinities."
Steve Lehman - amazon.com

The Blues Blogger has an article about the great harmonica player and singer Little Walter Jacobs: (excerpt) "In 1948 Little Walter hooked up with Muddy Waters, and while playing in the Chicago clubs, helped define electric blues. Walter played the amplified harmonica by holding a small microphone in his cupped hands, and achieved a saxophone like sound that expressed his highly creative improvisations. Walter’s ground-breaking playing and distinguishing sound contributed deeply to Muddy’s recordings of the early 1950’s."
Little Walter - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sun Ra - Space Is the Place Soundtrack (Evidence, 1993)

Not to be confused with the Impulse! Sun Ra LP Space Is The Place, this is the soundtrack to the wonderful blaxploitation film of the same name. During their travels on the west coast in the late '60's and early '70's, Ra and his Arkestra made contacts with some filmmakers. What was originally planned as a documentary film morphed into a campy treasure as Sun Ra battled "The Overseer" in a story that mixed racial pride, science fiction and spiritualism. Music is, of course, the the key to the whole thing. This is a fine edition of the Arkestra with Ra armed with a battery of electronic keyboards, and flanked by lifers Marshall Allen on alto saxophone, John Gilmore on tenor saxophone and June Tyson on vocals. Tyson is really the linchpin here acting not only as a foil to the instrumentalists, but leading the band on their "space age chants" like "Outer Spaceways Incorporated," "Satellites are Spinning," and "Space is the Place." There are a couple of excellent blowouts for the instrumentalists as well, "Blackman/Love In Outer Space" opens with Tyson singing a call to arms followed by an intense interlude of free jazz and percussion. A battery of percussion also fuels the exciting "Watusa" before opening into a fine Gilmore solo. This is a fascinating album, and one of the key records Sun Ra made in the seventies, touching on all of his high points, lyrical melodies, science fiction chants, and exploratory free jazz.
Space Is the Place - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

David S. Ware Update

Good news - saxophonist David S. Ware has received news that a kidney donor has been found: "It is with much happiness to report some great news on David’s journey. The first of the beautiful people who came forward in response to the call for help – this particular beautiful person being Laura Mehr – has passed the screening process with flying colors, and a date – May 5th – has been scheduled for the kidney transplant operation."
David S. Ware - amazon.com

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Jeff "Tain" Watts - Watts (Dark Key, 2009)

Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and colleagues Branford Marsalis on tenor and soprano saxophones, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and Christian McBride on bass make some righteous full bodied hard bop on this album that at times seems to recall the spirit of Charles Mingus with the strong blues and gospel based uptempo playing, and acerbic social commentary. Watts and company are at their best on the highest tempos, showing incredible skill on the high wire acts called "Return of the Jitney Man" and "Dancin' 4 Chicken." After the false start intro on "Chicken", the band really takes flight with Marsalis achieving a full rich and deep tenor sound and Blanchard's trumpet accents are pungent and thoughtful. Branford's soprano sax still does not appeal to me, to me his sound is limpid and arty, and sucks the life out of the lone ballad called "Owed..." But on the Michael Brecker tribute "Brecky With Drecky" and on the other performances throughout this disc, his tenor saxophone simply shines. The group experiments with social commentary on "Devil's Ringtone: The Movie" but while their anger is understandable, the spoken word overwhelms an excellent musical performance, and the version of the song without the dialogue, "The Devil's Ringtone" included as a bonus track at the end of the disc is much more effective. Despite a few stumbles, this was an enjoyable album from a very strong group. Playing without a pianist or guitarist to add texture asks a lot from the members of the quartet, and for the most part they respond very well, making exciting music.
Watts - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Charlie Pickett - Bar Band Americanus (Bloodshot, 2008)

Pickett's band is touted by Peter Buck of R.E.M. as one of the great unknown rock 'n' roll bands on the 1980's. I read about this disc in David Fricke's column in Rolling Stone magazine which is dedicated to albums that are a little under the radar and deserve wider recognition. Pickett played straight ahead rock 'n' roll tinged with punk, country and blues and steeped in the mythology of the south like another underground band of the same ilk, The Gun Club. Drugs, sex and the hardscrabble life of the working man are ever present in Pickett's music, like the blistering "Get Off On Your Porch" with its explicit drug references and blasting punk beat, and "Liked It A Lot" where Pickett sings in an emotionless monotone about the dark breakup of a relationship as he does in "If This Is Love, Can I Have My Money Back." The band were also expert interpreters of songs, like the two excellent covers of one of their great inspirations, The Flamin' Groovies, covering "Slow Death" and including a live version of "Shake Some Action." There's also a very nice version of Son House's "Death Letter" inspired by The Gun Club's raucous version and laying the groundwork for the garage-blues version that The White Stripes would feature later on. Fans of no frills rock 'n' roll will enjoy this disc quite a bit, it's well played high energy music with few pretenses and a lot of soul.
Bar Band Americanus - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book review

The Coldest Mile The Coldest Mile by Tom Piccirilli

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Picking up where The Cold Spot left off, Chase has left the debacle of the Newark disaster behind him, and has taken a job driving for a mob family looking to make a score and then go after his arch-thief grandfather and the young child he may have with him. It's grifts, scams and violence galore as Chase mixes it up with small time hoods, mob hitmen and then finally the man who raised him and introduced him into "the bent life." This was a great and absolutely cracking story, filled with action and barreling through to a cliffhanger conclusion. Piccirilli has a great gift for dialogue and characterization and uses that ability to his fullest in creating a great story that is highly recommended to all fans of crime fiction.

View all my reviews.
The Coldest Mile - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Willie King has passed...

Sad news today that the great bluesman and social activist Willie King has passed away: "'Freedom Creek,' released on the Rooster Blues record label, received universal rave reviews and earned him several awards, including Best Blues Album and Best Contemporary Blues Album from the magazine Living Blues. King put out five more CDs and began to tour extensively in the United States and Europe. Living Blues named him Blues Artist of the Year in 2004."
Willie King - amazon.com

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Monday, March 09, 2009

John Coltrane - The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (Impulse, 1961, 1997)

Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Coltrane had recently signed with the newly formed Impulse! record label and settled on what wold be his greatest band featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones when these epochal recordings were committed to tape in 1961. Coltrane's friend and colleague Eric Dolphy sits in on several performances on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, adding another unique solo voice and added texture in the ensemble passages. Only three performances were released on the original LP, with the remainder trickling out over the years on different albums and compilations. Gathered here on one four-disc set and nicely remastered, it is clear that Coltrane's band was the state of the art at that time, and threw down a gauntlet that few have approached in the intervening years. There are relatively few compositions on this set, and each is given multiple performances, allowing the listener to see how the band developed different improvisations for each composition as the time went on. The headlong rush of the tenor saxophone features "Chasin' the Trane" and "Impressions" still leave me amazed even though I have heard them many times. The sixteen minute version of "Chasin'" that was featured as side two of the original LP is still in my mind one of the most amazing and audacious accomplishments in the history of jazz. Tyner lays out and Garrison is drowned out as Coltrane and Jones break free of structure and reach for the stars. This was one of the things that led tin-eared critics to label Coltrane as a deliberately ugly "anti-jazz" musician, but closer listening reveals this to be an awesome, logical and inherently beautiful piece of music. "Impressions" would become one of the pieces that all future tenor saxophonists would measure themselves against, and the performances here are blistering examples of saxophone mastery. Like many musicians of the period, Coltrane was interested in the sounds produced by people of other countries and this led him to compose the beautiful "India" which receives several exploratory readings allowing Coltrane and Dolphy to continue their search for new sounds unabated, as do the performances of "Spiritual" which review the gospel tradition and the standard "Greensleves" which is a haunting feature for soprano saxophone. The music here is so much larger than life it is hard to believe that it was created by mortal beings in the basement club or a concrete and steel city. One of the high water marks of modern jazz, the music presented here is absolutely life affirming.
The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings - amazon.com

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