Sunday, May 31, 2009

Blind Boy Fuller - Truckin My Blues Away

The Piedmont area of North Carolina and Virginia may not be as famous as Texas or the Mississippi Delta when it comes to blues musicians, but it produced more than a few great ones and few were more influential or popular in their time than Fulton Allen, aka Blind Boy Fuller. This nice collection is an introduction to the recorded music he made during his short 1935 - 1941 career. Fuller's music was full of life, featuring spritely guitar and knowing vocals on his own compositions and adaptations of standards and covers. His guitar playing is quite advanced, sometimes sounding like he is playing a bass beat and lead guitar simultaneously. He also adds some very nice slide guitar accents on "Homesick and Lonesome Blues." The dazzling guitar playing adds an extra dimension to the music when he steps away from the strict blues idiom on poppier dance tunes like "Jivin' Woman Blues" and small band hokum like "I Crave My Pigmeat." Tracks like this show that Fuller was a well rounded musician, able to adapt both his music and his lyrics to whatever type of music his audiences were asking for. Illness shortened his life and career, but it is interesting to speculate on the impact he would had if he had lived to participate in the blues revival of the 1960's. His pre-war work shows him to have been a thoughtful and innovative musician, and his music is definitely worth checking out by those interested in the roots of today's sounds.
Truckin' My Blues Away -

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

The City Champs - The Safecracker (Electraphonic, 2009)

Memphis organ trio The City Champs are steeped in the bluesy soul of their city's music, coming from the great Hammond B3 tradition of Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff and throwing in dollops of soul from the likes of Booker T. and the MG's. The group is made up of Al Gamble on organ, Joe Restivo on guitar and George Sluppick on drums. They get a really tight and groove based sound. "Poppin'" was my favorite track on the album, with a stomping guitar solo from Restivo sounding like Grant Green on steroids and dirty, filthy organ and drums that recall the R&B/jazz mashup that Jimmy Smith performed so memorably on his classic Root Down LP. The rest of the album is quite tasty as well, and the DJ's who are hip enough to check it out must be salivating at the chance to get it on vinyl and work it into their dancefloor sets. The title song "The Safecracker" builds a very cool organ groove, with Gamble's bubbling bass pedal work locking in with Sluppick's drums to build a formidable foundation for the rich organ line and Restivo's slinky guitar work. The are a couple of slow jams like "Love is a Losing Game" which keep the music varied, but the groove is constant throughout, and fans of organ grooves or instrumental R&B should find quite a bit to enjoy here. The album is at LP length, so it hits home and never overstays its welcome.
The Safecracker -

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Brötzmann/Kondo/Pupillo/Nilssen-Love - Hairy Bones (Okka Disk, 2009)

Recorded live last year at the Bimhaus in Amsterdam, this is a scalding free encounter between longtime compatriots Peter Brotzmann on saxophones and clarinet, Toshinori Kondo on electric trumpet, Massimo Pupillo on electric Bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Kondo and Brotzmann had performed together before in the epic Albert Ayler tribute band Die Like a Dog, so you know there's going to be plenty of energy on display. There are two lengthy tracks here, each approximately a half an hour long which allow the musicians to stretch out and explore improvisational ideas at length. On the opening performance “Hairy Bones” it was the amplified trumpet sound that hit me first, sounding a little like the wild-eyed amplified wah-wah trumpet that Miles Davis would play in his 1970's electric bands. But there is an edge of sci-fi in Kondo's playing as if he is a time traveler coming back to play for us the music of future jazz. The sound is fascinating if a little unnerving. Pupillo has an interesting role, freed from the traditional role of timekeeper, he skitters around the action, offering support and wry commentary on the proceedings. Nilssen-Love gets a fairly conventional drum solo near the end of the track before Brotzmann returns with Kondo to take things out. “Chain Dogs” begins with Brotzmann alone playing a bluesy, plaintive improvisation. Kondo slowly begins to add electrified accents and then takes over, gradually ramping up the intensity prodded from the rear by bass and drums. Brotzmann comes back in rallying with an intensifying war cry, the the full band comes together for a collective improvisation. What follows is a lengthy collective improvisation, waxing and waning through different tempos and colors. It is pretty exciting stuff, four musicians letting it all hang out and improvising in an extemporaneous manner and succeeding in making a couple of fine statements in the process.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Joe Lovano Us Five - Folk Art (Blue Note, 2009)

Saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano returns to the small band format with a group of younger musicians on this album, calling themselves Us Five. Lovano plays a wide range of reed instruments and joining him are James Weidman on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass and Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela on drums and percussion. The album was recorded after a week long residency at the Village Vanguard in New York City and has a spontaneous and free-wheeling feel. My favorite tracks on the album were the the more uptempo ones like the opener, "Powerhouse" which was a short but potent performance featuring a strong tenor saxophone improvisation and solid support from the band. "Dibango" has Lovano playing a double saxophone instrument called a aulochrome, which is sort of like two soprano saxophones mixed together with a little keypad in the middle. It makes some cool sounds, harmonizing with itself and soloing, getting a flavor much like Rahsaan Roland Kirk when he played multiple saxophones simultaneously. This track was the highlight of the album for me - the music is bright and energetic, and Lovano sounds as excited as a child with a new toy. "Eterno" is a wide open tune that recalls the loft jazz of the 1970's where the orthodoxy of hard bop met up with the energy of the avant garde in interesting communal improvisation. Much of the rest of the album is given to spacious and at times tentative performances. This is still a fairly new group, and I got the sense that the musicians were still feeling the need to tip-toe around each other so not to invade anyone else's space.
Folk Art -

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Interesting commentary

There was an interesting post on NPR's jazz blog about the hesitancy of jazz bloggers and critics to post negative reviews: "...widespread phenomenon among jazz critics and publishers. Very few, if any, are willing to go on record saying that a record outright fails. (For the record, I have never written a bad review either, and certainly have no plans to.) So why the hesitancy to call a spade a spade?"

It is a worthwhile thing to discuss - some critics like Downbeat's John McDonough have no problems calling musicians out for what they feel is a dog. On the other hand, it seems like certain reviewers for the Allmusic Guide or Allaboutjazz never post anything that is not sunshine and rainbows. In my case, I'm a fan, not a musician, and I lack the musical training to really criticize the music on anything more than an emotional level. So I tend to focus on the visceral impact of the music, while possibly (or probably) missing deeper musical truths that a more well trained ear could pick up.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Billy Harper - Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (Talking House Records, 2008)

One of the finest tenor saxophonists to emerge in the wake of John Coltrane, Billy Harper took Coltrane's deep spiritual sound and used it as a blueprint to make his own original and potent musical voice. The Blueprints of Jazz Series is designed to raise awareness on under-recorded musicians, and they certainly succeed here since it has been nine years since Harper last recorded as a leader. This album deviates a little from his previous recordings by adding the poetry of Amiri Baraka on several tracks to a band consisting of Keyon Harrold on trumpet and french horn, Charles McNeal on alto saxophone, Francesca Tanksley on piano, Clarence Seay and Louis Spears on bass and Aaron Scott on drums and percussion. Baraka's poetry can be a bit of an acquired taste, but in this case he avoids his most controversial topics and sticks to reciting verse about race relations and the history of African-American music, subjects he knows very well. "Africa Revisited" and "Knowledge of Self" both feature high energy post bop improvisations by the band with Baraka's poetry overdubbed on top of them. The music is typically excellent with the dual bassists and drummer providing a massive rhythmic bottom, and longtime Harper confederate Tanksley contributing McCoy Tyner like piano accents. Harper's playing is as strong as ever with great deep gales of saxophone reverberating throughout the music, while Baraka expounds on race and discrimination in the first song and the history of jazz in the second. "Another Kind Of Thoroughbred" is an instrumental performance featuring stomping tenor saxophone full of grace and power, and a rippling piano solo. Both the original "Thoughts And Slow Actions" and the spiritual "Amazing Grace" (with some vocals and soulful harmonizing by Harper) are taken at a ballad pace, recalling the majesty of John Coltrane's great ballad performances like "After the Rain" and "Alabama." Billy Harper is one of my favorite saxophonists so it is hard to be objective about his albums. I liked this quite a bit although I'm not a real big fan of the poetry and jazz experiments. His playing and the playing of the band as a whole is very exciting and inspiring on this music, and the poetry does nothing to diminish that effect.
Blueprints Of Jazz Vol. 2 -

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch, 2009)

Pianist and arranger Allen Toussaint make his mark playing funk and R&B, but his roots run deep in the Gulf Coast of the United States, especially in his hometown of New Orleans. This album was organized as a return to his musical roots, playing standards and songs that had influenced him during his formative years. Producer Joe Henry put together an impressive band with Don Byron on clarinet, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Marc Ribot on guitar, David Piltch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums. The New Orleans feel resonates on the opener "Egyptian Fantasy", where clarinet bubbles up from the mid tempo parlor piano like mist on a hot and humid day. The sleepy and sultry "Dear Old Southland" continues in this vein. Things really don't really start to develop fully until the standard "St. James Infirmary" brings a nice sounding guitar interlude, with piano and drums marching along. Toussaint's piano is the centerpiece of "Singin' the Blues" and "Whin' Boy Blues" sounding at times like the old New Orleans "professors" of history, but the music is so respectful that it seems to be missing some of the emotion. Nicholas Payton takes lead on "West End Blues" and lives up to the tradition of Armstrong and Oliver with a nice performance over a slow march feel and sweet acoustic guitar accents. The highpoint of the album is the title song, Thelonious Monk's wonderful "Bright Mississippi" which wakes everybody up and inspires the musicians to a strutting and joyous performance. The music on this ablum is certainly respectful to the tradition of early jazz, and that indeed might be its greatest drawback - the music is too reverential. At times things seem so dusty and sepia toned that they begin to sound like museum pieces rather than dynamic compositions that are as meaningful today as they were when they were originally recorded. What left is pleasant and safe music that is just missing that little spark which is needed to make it truly come alive.
The Bright Mississippi -

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Ed Palermo Big Band - Eddy Loves Frank (Cuneiform, 2009)

Saxophonist and bandleader Ed Palermo has made a little cottage industry of arranging the music of iconoclastic guitarist and composer Frank Zappa. This is the third album in the series and it shows no signs of fatigue. Palermo's band is quite talented and they have to be to play this complex music. The exhausting thing about this music from the listener's (or at least my) perspective is that the music is so complicated and ever shifting that it is really hard to get a bead on what is going on. I eventually gave up on trying to track the solos and all of the complexities of what was happening and just allowed the music as a whole to carry me, going with a flow as it were, and it was an enjoyable way to appreciate this album. "Echidna's Arf" starts off as a grinding blues before moving into an intricate choppier section incorporating a tenor saxophone solo and some almost symphonic motifs. The music is labyrinthine and complex, constantly shifting and mutating like an evolving organism. "Dupree's Paradise" also has a fast tempo that is ever changing as the music recalibrates itself. The music at times seems to be interconnected cells that can be shifted or rearranged as the arrangement dictates. The only thing that seems a little out of place on this album is the arrangement of "America The Beautiful" which, although no doubt sincere, does not really fit in well with the madcap sensibility of the rest of the album. Far from the history of riff based big band music, this album draws on Zappa's fascination with avant garde classical as well as jazz, making for kaleidoscopic music that is like walking through a funhouse where everything is not as it seems. It can be daunting stuff at times, but still, you have to give credit to Palermo, not only for keeping a big band going during these tough economic times, but for finding a niche in the music of Zappa that inspires him to make creative music.
Eddy Loves Frank -

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Around the blogs

National Public Radio has a new jazz blog, called A Blog Supreme: "A Blog Supreme is a running journal -- a Weblog, if you will -- about jazz music and culture, curated by NPR Music staff and its partner station allies. We like almost all kinds of jazz, except the bad kinds, and we like most everything about jazz, except when it stinks. And we aspire to write about this music we love in fun ways that make sense to both the casual listener and the life-long buff."

WBGO has another episode of The Checkout for streaming or downloading: "Saxophonist Joe Lovano talks about his newest recording, and drummer E.J. Strickland makes his recorded debut. Ben Ratliff reviews the new Allen Toussaint recording. Hear a playlist of five songs recorded under pseudonyms."

The Princeton Record Exchange's blog gives a not so fond farewell to New York City's jazz festival: "It’s been clear for a while now that these festivals have everything to do with commerce, and not much to do with art, or the advancement of the music. I know, I know; in this day and age, this sounds Pollyanna-ish, but I believe it is the only criterion worth caring about, worth aspiring to."

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gary Burton - Quartet Live (Concord, 2009)

Originally getting back together for a festival gig in Montreal, vibraphonist Gary Burton and longtime colleagues guitarist Pat Metheny, electric bassist Steve Swallow were joined by drummer Antonio Sanchez. The musicians discovered that they were so inspired by the music that they decided to take it on the road for a tour. The selections included on this album were recorded at Yoshi's in Oakland, California in June of 2007. "Sea Journey" opens the album with a mysterious melody, and Metheny's guitar starts out with a gauzy sound, becoming more defined as his solo develops, then gives way to a melodic bass solo. "Olhos de Gato" has a milder and slower feel. Burton takes a patient solo, before Metheny plays some pointillistic guitar on this ballad. "Falling Grace" was one of the highlights of the album for me, opening with a stronger pace from the trio sans guitar, featuring Burton taking a nice, spritely solo. Metheny enters afterwards and keeps the spirits high with a pulsing solo backed by Sanchez's drums. Another highlight was "Walter L" also a fast paced song, featuring the full band playing with an energetic pop feel, Metheny developing a snarling guitar over Sanchez's rocking drums. "Missouri Uncompromised" opens rapidly with guitar and vibes harmonizing over fast drumming, before Metheny comes in fast and strong. But this track really belongs to Snachez who is killing throughout. Duke Ellington's beautiful ballad "Fleurette Africaine" slows the pace down with mellow vibraphone solos sandwiching a more intense guitar interlude. Metheny's composition "Question and Answer" ends the album with a lengthy performance starting with the understated theme, and a short round of solos before Metheny takes an intense solo which adds some subtle guitar synth to the mix, getting a little wild, before bringing the rest of the group back in and taking it out. One of the most enjoyable aspect of this music was the easygoing familiarity the musicians have with each other, they know that the support will be there so they can be creative and take chances. This keeps things fresh and the music is able to avoid the pitfalls of other "supergroup" recordings, as the egos are kept in check and the music flows freely.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

Avram Fefer - Ritual (Clean Feed, 2009)

Saxophonist and composer Fefer leads a scalding trio on this disc, he plays alto, tenor and soprano saxophones as well as bass clarinet, supported by Eric Revis on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. The music is very open and free sounding, both in terms of "free jazz" and the free flow of ideas between musicians that are interconnected and set on a common mission. The opener, "Testament" sets the scene beautifully with an intense improvisation on which Fefer gets a nasal, vaguely Middle Eastern tone from his horn, and Revis and Taylor support him superbly. Starting from a swinging introduction, "Shepp in Wolves Clothing" evolves into an intense trio performance that would not have seemed out of date on one of the dedicatee's Impulse LP's. Fefer plays two horns on this track, either playing two horns simultaneously or multi-tracking. The title track "Ritual" slows the pace of the music down to a more open and probing feel while still remaining raw and immediate. Like a religious rite the title alludes to, Fefer begins speaking ecstatically through his horn before ceding the floor to a fine bass solo. "Feb. 13" has the stark tenderness of a John Coltrane ballad from the Crescent era in its melody and improvisation, lyrical yet unsentimental. "Blinky Palermo" puts the band back on the fast track. Opening freely, the trio works to get its bearings and once those are established, the improvisation proceeds with an unerring sense of purpose. "Club Foot" has some nice swirling tenor and soprano saxophone, and a deft bass solo. "When the Spirit Moves You" wraps up the proceedings nicely with some fine bass clarinet playing. I really liked this album a lot, there was a raw and palpable sense that the musicians were reaching for something special. All three musicians worked together, supporting each other and combing their talents in pursuit of a common goal. This was stark, yet exciting music that has been shorn of all finery and left with the core essence that lies at the heart of the best improvised music.
Ritual (mp3 version) -

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Podcast

I posted a new podcast with examples of some of the music I have been listening to over the past few weeks: Jazz and Blues Podcast


Los Cristeros--John Zorn--Film Works XXIII - El General
Conotocarius--The Fully Celebrated--Drunk On The Blood Of The Holy Ones
Triple Double--Shot X Shot--Let Nature Square
Black And Tan Fantasy--Sex Mob--Sex Mob Meets Medeski, Live In Willisau 2006
Call Centre Labyrinth--Led Bib--Sensible Shoes
The Voice of Pan--Sun Ra Arkestra--Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold
Invisible Cities--NOMO--Invisible Cities
Control This--Michael Blake--Control This
Amish Pintxos--Medeski, Martin & Wood--Radiolarians II

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Radiohead: OK Computer/Collector's Edition (Capitol, 2009)

Radiohead was yet another rock 'n' roll band that I was behind the curve on, originally dismissing them as just another group of disaffected manic-depressives whining endlessly. It was only when jazz musicians started covering their music and they worked some jazzy flourishes of their own into their album Kid A that I knew the time was nigh for a reappraisal of their music. This was the first album I went back to, and I began to realize that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface of the music than I had previously realized. I have always been a fan of science fiction so I was able to relate to the songs of estranged loneliness like "Paranoid Android" and "Subterranean Homesick Alien" with their bleak soundscapes and haunting tone. Emotional disorder and lack of balance are themes that run throughout the entire album on songs like "No Surprises" and the superb "Karma Police." They even remember how to break out the guitars and actually rock on "Airbag" and the pulsing track "Electioneering." Since this is a collector's edition, the barrel is scraped to add singles, b-sides and live tracks, wisely kept to a second disc to leave the original album intact. There are some interesting remixes and rare tracks recorded for the BBC to round things out. This is a solid collection, and the original album has become one of the more influential albums of the past dozen years or so. The Collector's treatment is probably best left for fans of the group looking to delve a little bit deeper - true believers probably have it all already, and the dabblers might be a bit overwhelmed.
OK Computer: Collector's Edition -

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Zorn - Filmworks XXIII (Tzadik, 2009)

Composer and saxophonist John Zorn's latest soundtrack projects was for the docummentary of Mexican dictator Elias Calles, who ruled Mexico during the 1920's. Zorn doesn't play on this album, but provides the compositions and general direction of the music. Performing on this album are Marc Ribot on acoustic and electric guitar, Rob Burger on piano and accordion, Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on marimba, vibraphone and drums. The music is very subdued for the most part and cinematic, naturally, very much in the range of sketches or sound painting. "Los Cristeros" is the opener, and my favorite track on the album. It's subversive setting a mellow and atmospheric scene, for Ribot to come in with a stinging guitar solo. He really is white hot here, but within the context of the project and the setting. From here, things are a little subdued, "El General" has mellow marimba and whistful accordion and the addition of guitar, and "Besos de Sangre" has some gentle acoustic guitar. "Maximato" has a jaunty feel, with Ribo creeping back in with slightly spicy guitar. "Soviet Mexico" has a dusty, desert feel with atmospheric piano chords. Just when it seems that we are getting ready to nod off to sleep, Marc Ribot saves the day (and really dominates the album) building to a snarling solo over the unique sound of piano, guitar and marimba. According to the liner notes, Zorn was wary of the project and had to be prodded by Ribot, who realized that the setting offered him some excellent improvisation opportunities. His weariness was borne out as apparently only a few songs were used in the final film. There is some good music here, especially for Ribot fans as he is really the MVP of this session.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Fully Celebrated - Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity, 2009)

Despite the grandiose name, the group is but a trio, consisting of Jim Hobbs on alto saxophone, Timo Shanko on bass and Django Carranza on drums. With the title of the album and the artwork looking like a long lost Pogues LP, you know that the music will be a little irreverent. But to the group's credit, they never let their fun turn into flippancy and make good and consistently interesting music falling somewhere along the cusp of composed and free improvisation. "Moose and Grizzly Bear's Ville" kicks off the album with a mellow and swinging mid-tempo employing a jauntry melody, and featuring a nice bass solo backed by drums. "Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones" continues with subdued percussion and slightly overblown saxophone which creates an ominous soundsacpe. The music matches its title well, lurching along like pirates dancing a late night debauched reverie. "Brothers of Heliopolis" has a longing feel which slowly develops, with a middle/far eastern melody building in via saxophone. "Enemy of Both Sides" is a groovy improvisation with bounding bass and a cool saxophone solo popping up and around the bass and drums like a game of whack-a-mole. "Pearl's Blues" has a bass solo to open, then drums join in and build to a subtle groove. Squeaky vocalized saxophone accents build the music to a nice earthy feel. The band really blasts off with "Conotocarius" with a roaring, rattling feel which moves into raucous and exciting free jazz trio improvisation. "Dew of May" calms things back down to finish up with long and yearning saxophone tones developing into a mellow trio groove anchored by elastic bass. This band has a very interesting and appealing sound. They draw on the energy of rock and indie music as well as jazz and make it their own by developing their own compositions and conceptions to bring to the music.
Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones -
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shot x Shot - Let Nature Square (High Two, 2008)

Philadelphia has always had an interesting jazz scene, boasting at one time or another the likes of John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Jimmy Smith and a host of other legends. While today's scene is a little more underground, there are still plenty of talented groups out there like the wonderful Mostly Other People Do the Killing featuring Monk Prize winner Jon Irabagon, and this fascinating group, Shot X Shot. Consisting of Dan Scofield on alto saxophone, Bryan Rogers on tenor saxophone, Matt Engle on bass and Dan Capecchi on drums, the group plays an open ended and energetic but still quite accessible brand of improvised music. The music rarely delves into squealing energy music, but often finds the saxophonists weaving around each other, creating a DNA-like double helix of interconnected musical chromosomes. The opening track, "Scans" begins with some bowed bass and tooting saxophones improvising together. Moving into a tenor led trio section, the music takes on a shapeshifting feel. Plucked bass supports the saxes that weave into a nice free-bopping feel. "Triple Double" was one of the highlights of the album for me, with elastic bass and drums providing a foundation for saxophones growing in potency. Saxophones riff in collective improv backed by strong bass and drums. "Overlay" has a spaceous sound, scattering quantum foam, bubbling around the music universe. Bowed bass and mild weaving saxophones improvise in a painterly fashion. "Oh No" and "Autobahnsai" wrap up the album with weaving saxophones and elastic bass. This was an interesting album that I liked, the musicians worked together very well on interesting compositions and improvisations that were enjoyable and exciting to listen to.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kurt Rosenwinkel

Best wishes for a fast recovery to guitarist and composer Kurt Rosenwinkel who noted on his Facebook page: "i've been in the hospital for the past 8 days cause i burned my right hand pretty badly. i'm gonna be fine, just takes some time..."

Eight days in the hospital is an awfully long time to be in the hospital, I hope he's going to be OK.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sex Mob Meets Medeski - Live in Willisau (Thirsty Ear, 2009)

The provocative name Sex Mob is applied to the band consisting of Steven Bernstein on trumpet and slide trumpet, Briggan Grauss on saxophone, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums, joined on this recording by keyboardist John Medeski. With influences ranging from the bordello music of New Orleans to the soundtracks of James Bond films, their gigs and recordings are always interesting and unpredictable. This live recording was split into three suites which meld themes from pop, jazz and blues together as vehicles for improvisation. Their sense of fun and impishness never overwhelms the source material they draw from, particularly on "Black and Tan Fantasy" the beautiful Duke Ellington composition that was the highlight of the album for me. The group plays the melody with delicacy and respect, especially Bernstein, whose evocative slide trumpet was made for this, but then use it as a jumping off point for a wild and wholly improvisation that has the crowd excited. Another cover that is crowd pleasing is "Sign 'O the Times" by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. The performance starts off slowly, but then moves into some grinding R&B that plays to the bands nature well. The brief snippet of the New Orleans standard "Little Liza Jane" is a fun burst of second line nostalgia as well. Some of the music from their Sex Mob Does Bond album is included as the band mines the soundtracks of the classic spy films for the themes "Odd Job" and "You Only Live Twice." Some original compositions are also included like the four short improvisations entitled "Mob Rule" which are used to like the different suites together and cue segues to different compositions. This is a solid freewheeling album of improvised music. Sex Mob has a "big tent" philosophy, drawing from many different types in their search for inspiring music.
Live in Willisau -

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Odds and Ends

WBGO has launched a new web site for their new program The Checkout with podcasts and RSS feeds: The Checkout is an hour-long music magazine hosted by WBGO Special Projects Producer Josh Jackson. The program is also available as a podcast. The multimedia show features what’s new in the New York jazz scene. The Checkout includes a dedicated website with on-demand content, including featured new music selections, sessions from the WBGO performance studio, as well as interviews and experiences recorded in the studio or on location throughout the New York area. New York Times music critic, Ben Ratliff, will also join Josh to discuss new releases, reissues, and newly discovered or unearthed music.

Destination Out has an interesting post with mp3's about Carla Bley and the Jazz Composers Orchestra: So this is what, exactly? Too knotty for post-bop. Too compositional for free improv. Not harmolodic enough to be mistaken for Ornette. Not skronky enough to have been released on ESP. Not aggressively avant, but slyly off-kilter. It’s achingly lovely one moment, and heedlessly unsettled the next. In short, too weird for most traditionalists and too seemly for most noiseniks.

Big Road Blues shines a light on some lost figues of the blues in their show notes to a program called Forgotten Blues Heroes - Country Blues: As the blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: “Throughout the Sixties, it seemed there was one ‘discovery’ or ‘rediscovery’ of a blues singer after another; a succession of methodical searches, happy accidents and dramatic events which brought not only a number of legendary figures to life, but also revealed that the wealth of talent in the black traditions had been even greater than might have been supposed.”

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Led Bib - Sensible Shoes (Cuneiform, 2009)

Led Bib is a British jazz (and fusion for the lack of a better term) band that combines the energy of rock 'n' roll with the exploratory improvisation of jazz. A popular club and concert attraction in the UK, this is there first album released widely in the United States. The group consists of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan on saxophones, Toby McClaren on keyboards, Liran Donin on bass and Mark Holub on drums. The group gets an interesting sound that incorporates hard driving post bop jazz with some of the spacier elements or progressive rock and fringe explorers like Sun Ra and Captain Beefheart. "Call Center Labyrinth" was my favorite track on the album, it taps into the enormous energy of the band with the propulsive drumming of Holub driving the twin saxophone front line forward in a very intense and rewarding structure which is as complicated as the title of the piece suggests. The interestingly named "Squirrel Carnage" and "Sweet Chili" were also compelling performances with aggressive solos and ensemble playing and interesting melodic elements. It's not all high energy music though, there are a few songs where they explore more distant sonic terrain, "Early Morning," "Water Shortage" and "2.4.1. (Still Equals None)" take a more abstract view of improvisation, spacey and drawn out, representing a different side of the bands personality. While these were interesting performances, I don't think they were as compelling as their full throttle pieces, and served more as places to catch your breath before the fun began again. They reminded me a little bit of some of the more dreamy interludes by earlier fusion bands like Weather Report or Return to Forever. This band's forward looking mix of jazz and rock 'n' roll makes it a natural fit for the Cuneiform label, and the wrok well in the outsider fusion vein with fellow label mates Fast 'n' Bulbous and The Ed Polermo Big Band, who are also exploring for innovative ways to integrate the energy of rock 'n' roll with the intricacies of jazz.
Sensible Shoes -

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sun Ra - Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (ESP, 2009)

Keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra moved his troupe, The Arkestra, to New York in the early 1960’s to look for recording and performance opportunities. While things began slowly and the band scuffled for a while, by the time this concert was recorded on New Years Eve 1964, things were looking up. What makes this interesting among the legion of Ra recordings being reissued, is the absence of Arkestra mainstay John Gilmore who was temporarily working for some more mainstream bandleaders like Art Blakey to make a little extra money. In his place was the very young (and temporarily homeless) saxophonist Farrell (Pharoah) Sanders, just shy of his breakthrough with John Coltrane, and the enigmatic flautist Black Howard. The title of this album is really something of a misnomer, as both Sanders and Howard get very little solo space on the record. What is interesting, however, is hearing the Arkestra in a live setting, playing some of their most angular and free music. Highlights of the album are the massive track “The Other World” which includes a fiery overblown Sanders solo and a lengthy interlude for several band members in percussion. The medley of “The Voice of Pan” and “Dawn Over Israel” gives Howard his moment in the spotlight with a breathy and ethereal flute interlude. A few of Ra’s “space chants make an appearance, with “Second Stop is Jupiter” and “Rocket Number Nine” losing a little of their punch due to muddy recording. The sound quality can be a little rough at times, with a section of the concert in mono and another in stereo, but it is nothing veteran Ra listeners can’t handle. This historical recording will probably best be appreciated by fans of the band, and newcomers may be better off with the Evidence sampler Greatest Hits for Intergalactic Travel or the incomparable Jazz in Silhouette. Regardless, it’s a very interesting peek into a corner of Sun Ra’s universe.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

NOMO - Invisible Cities (Ubiquity, 2009)

What would you get if you mashed up Sun Ra, Fela Kuti and a really hip club DJ? Probably something like NOMO, which plays music that draws on jazz, afrobeat and a host of other influences and combines them in an intricate stew of hypnotic and polyryhthmic music. Nomo combines traditional percussion and horn instruments with devices of their own making, akin to bands like The Art Ensemble of Chicago or Konono No. 1 who also used self made percussion as part of their sound. "Invisible Cities" opens the album with some powerful riffs from the horns and mesmerizing percussion. "Patters" adds psychedelia to the group's sound, certainly not a stretch and a good fit, much like the trippy "Nocturne" which has percussion and instruments that sound like a kalimba or thumb piano interleaved with understated moaning and chanting vocals. The whole sound takes on the air of a religious rite or a snippet from a larger ceremony. "Crescent" has some sweet and mellow flute and a great groove, and "Elijah" is a straight up free jazz freak out with the horns barrelling flat out for parts unknown. Although it is a little tough to describe adequately, I enjoyed the music here quite a bit. The music has a spell that is fascinating and stimulating, and the short LP length of the album keeps the music from overstaying its welcome and becoming monotonous.
Invisible Cities -

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bela Fleck - Throw Down Your Heart (Rounder, 2009)

The banjo developed out of a rich African heritage, and American bluegrass and jazz musician Bela Fleck is acutely aware of this and long planned to investigate his instrument's origin. That chance came in 2005 when he traveled to Africa to play with musicians from that continent and to explore the roots and legacies of the banjo. Presented on this album (and a documentary film) are Fleck's collaborations, most of which work quite well, with the banjo sounding right at home with the djembe, kora and other traditional African instruments. The tracks that I found most enjoyable were "Ah Ndiya" recorded in Mali with beautiful accompaniment from Toumani Diabate on kora and the vocals of Oumou Sangare. "D'Gary Jam" benefits from the pulsing electric bass of Richard Bona, and was apparently was a jam recorded by Fleck in the States and then embellished by African musicians overdubbing during the trip. Regardless, it works well as an open ended experiment. The title song "Throw Down Your Heart" and "Buribalal" which were also recorded in Mali are also well done collaborations, melding the stringed and percussive instruments very well for a nice overall feel. I have always loved West African music, so I am partial to the tracks that were recorded in Mali, but all of the other collaborations on this album are solid as well. This was a well done cross-cultural collaboration, and I think that anyone interested in looking for the intersection between traditional music from America and Africa would find this album enjoyable.
Throw Down Your Heart -

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Book reviews

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

With Chuck Palahnuik, you know that shocks are going to come fast and furious and that the conventions of most literature are going to be cast aside. But it the success of his satire that ultimately determines the success of his narratives, and unlike his last couple of novels, this unrepentant send up of both modern suburban America and totalitarian states is spot-on. Pygmy is the title character, born in an unnamed country consumed with hatred and fear of America, he and other students are trained from age four to infiltrate the United States and perpetuate a terrorist attack. He is sent to middle America as an exchange student and the descriptions Palahnuik writes as his "reports" are a stinging mockery of the hypocrisy of modern suburban life. Funny, shocking and terrifying, he holds up a mirror to America and the reflection is vain, shallow and gluttonous. While certainly not for the faint of heart, those with the wherewithal to finish it with find it a remarkably thoughtful and challenging story.
Pygmy -

Sanctuary by Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor still hasn't made it to America. Still in Galway, Ireland and trying to care for an ill and despondent friend, Jack is taunted by a letter claiming that the writer will kill a policeman, a nun and then finally a child unless Taylor can put a stop to it. Jack is ignored by the police and the church and struggles to track down the killer after bodies start turning up. Following Jack around Galway as he attempts to solve the crime and battles his considerable personal demons is by turns...more Jack Taylor still hasn't made it to America. Still in Galway, Ireland and trying to care for an ill and despondent friend, Jack is taunted by a letter claiming that the writer will kill a policeman, a nun and then finally a child unless Taylor can put a stop to it. Jack is ignored by the police and the church and struggles to track down the killer after bodies start turning up. Following Jack around Galway as he attempts to solve the crime and battles his considerable personal demons is by turns amusing and haunting. The city itself is one of the most important characters in the story, and the changing face of that city continually vexes Jack. This is one of the shortest Jack Taylor novels and Bruen keeps the pace breathless throughout. The one drawback is that this particular installment does draw on considerable backstory from previous novels, so interested readers should begin with the opening novel The Guards. That's hardly a burden as I think it is one of the finest series in contemporary crime fiction.
Sanctuary -

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Ellery Eskelin and Sylvie Courvoisier - Every So Often (Prime Source, 2008)

Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier have similar conceptions in jazz and improvised music. They both play wide open improvisations drawing from many traditions and streams of music.This is a disc of nine spontaneously improvised pieces where the two musicians prove that they have much common ground and each proves to be a catalyst for the other, encouraging experimentation, exploration and collaboration in a way that makes for very appealing music. Both musicians have developed unique, individual approaches to improvised music, Courvoisier most fascinatingly, as she strums on the strings of the piano and taps percussively upon it, in addition to her traditional technique which expands the range of the music she is able to produce. Eskelin frequently uses short, clipped notes and bursts of notes the propel his ideas forward. This is a very interesting free jazz album, not free in the sense of squalling intensity, but free in the sense of wide open music that is able to move without constraint in musical space-time according to the wishes of the artists.
Every So Often - Prime Source Recordings

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Arild Andersen - Live at Belleville (ECM, 2009)

Bassist Arild Andersen has been a presence on the European jazz scene since the late 1960's leading his own bands and performing with the likes of Jan Garbarek. Long associated with the ECM label, he pushes against the notion of music on that label having a particular airy and light "sound" with a burning live album of post-bop jazz. Along with Andersen (who also adds some electronics) are Tommy Smith on tenor saxophone and Paolo Vinaccia on drums. The album has a four part suite called "Interdependency," part one of which opens with percussive bass and probing sax looking for an opening into the music, saxophone building and the bass getting an appealing elastic tone. Part two was the highlight of the album for me, an awesome performance featuring Smith on an emotional overblown saxophone solo. His strong burning post-bop exploration is complemented by an excellent bass and drums interlude. Part three slows things back down and makes the music spacier, with some long form sax lines and bass augmented by electronics which provide a framework for the music. Part four ends the lengthy suite with swinging saxophone, dynamically adding some overblowing before moving back to swing. Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" follows with Smith exploring the song and improvising at a nice mellow pace before slowly increasing the tempo. "Outhouse" opens with percussion, before the bass and saxophone build in. Sax bursts forth like blinding sun through clouds, strong and fast with an awesome solo. Smith is just on fire throughout this album, he is someone I would really like to investigate more, he has a very exciting tone and the dramatic and dynamic way in which he organizes his solos is very appealing. "Dreamhorse" concludes the album with a melodic and folk-like performance featuring mellow bass and melodic and elegiac saxophone. I liked this album a lot, the music was very exciting and fresh, and the variety was quite compelling. The openness of the trio setting allowed all three musicians adequate space for soloing and for collective playing. But it was Mr. Smith that was the revelation for me, hopefully this will be a springboard for him getting some recognition and recording opportunities.
Live at Belleville -

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Julian Lage - Sounding Point (Emarcy, 2009)

Guitarist Julian Lage is the young mainstream musician of the moment, generating quite a bit of buzz. After taking gigs with the likes of Gary Burton, he has cut his debut album with Ben Roseth on saxophone, Aristides Rivas on cello, Jorge Roeder on bass, Tupac Mantilla on percussion and Chris Thile on mandolin, Béla Fleck on banjo and Taylor Eigsti on piano sitting in on a few tracks. Melody is the focus of the album with mild arrangements and light musical colors. "Clarity" opens with polite guitar and cello, while "All Purpose Beginning" has benign acoustic guitar and cello framed by floating saxophone. A couple of tracks with Thile and Fleck get an interesting string band sound, "The Informant" features alternating guitar and banjo while "Alameda" builds to an old timey feel. "Familiar Posture" and "Long Day, Short Night" are features for Lage, well played certainly, but emotionally vacant. I just get the sense that although Lage can pretty much play anything at any speed, but that he just doesn't have anything compelling to say yet. Although there is no doubt that the music here is very well played, it just did not move me. I found the music the music to be for the most part tepid, polite and lacking in emotional resonance. The music doesn't challenge the listener and while I suppose that may be the point, it's just not my thing and leaves me wanting to listen to something a little stronger. Your mileage may vary.
Sounding Point -

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