Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fred Anderson - Staying in the Game (Engine Records, 2009)

Veteran saxophonist Fred Anderson sets at the nexus of jazz history, growing up during the swing era, playing bop, helping to found the AACM and developing a unique approach to free jazz in addition to founding one of the most famous jazz clubs in Chicago, The Velvet Lounge. This is a spare trio recording where everything is pared back to the minimum, including a recycled cardboard cover with sparse information. Anderson is paired with frequent collaborator Harrison Bankhead on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. But the music truly speaks for itself, beginning with the lengthy track "Sunday Afternoon" which builds slowly to a free flowing peak of intensity before drifting into a slower section with prominent bowed bass. "The Elephant and the Bee" focuses on tenor saxophone and bass, with Bankhead switching back and forth between bowed and plucked bass. Two of the best performances on the album were inspired by some unusually warm weather in Chicago at the time of the recording. "60 Degrees in November" has rolling drums and piercing tenor saxophone with Coltrane overtones in a concentrated and exciting trio performance. "Springing Winter" pushes the intensity level even higher, with Daisy keeping the intensity high from the drum chair and Anderson responding with deep, pungent tenor saxophone, this tracks calls to mind the extemporaneous and freewheeling interaction of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali in Interstellar Space. "Wandering" calms things down a little bit, with the addition of the addition of thumb piano giving the music an exotic and wistful feel. This was a fine and collaborative album that made me think of statements made by the likes of Jackie McLean and Duke Ellington about the inclusiveness of jazz. Anderson has nearly the entire history of the music in his memory and he draws upon that knowledge to make heartfelt and thoughtful music.
Staying in the Game - amazon.com

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Soapbox Commentary

I finally broke down and bought the new album from Jim Black's Alasnoaxis band called Houseplant. It had been on my want list for a while, but I was dismayed at how much it cost - $19.99 + shipping on amazon.com, which seemed exorbitantly high for a single compact disc. I know that the Winter & Winter label prides itself on its artistic packaging, and rightly so, they are quite distinctive, if occasionally annoying (how do I get the disc out without scratching it?) It marks an interesting line in the sand between art and commerce. One of the longstanding complaints about the transition from LP records to compact disc and eventually downloads was the loss of art, liner notes and the whole tactile and aesthetic experience of a record album. To their credit, W&W have tried to strike a balance with their characteristic parcel featuring fold-out artwork. But I wonder if the high prices charged for their music makes them run the risk of becoming a boutique label rather than a label that is on the cutting edge of new music. How much is too much to ask for a compact disc? Especially with the physical disc on the wane, twenty dollars seems like a steep price to ask. Perhaps if W&W adopted the subscription model of Artist Share or Greenleaf Records they would be a little bit more palatable? With both of those labels you can buy in on a sliding scale, choosing to purchase just the mp3, mp3 & disc, or more exclusive packages that add things like DVD's, extra downloadable content and other perks. I have no direct evidence to back this up, but I also think that charging so much for a compact disc would increase the incidences of music piracy, at least in pop music, where the sliding scales of involvement could on the other hand foster a sense of community between the artist, labels and fans. Publicist Matt Merewitz has talked about musicians needing to get involved in social networking and I think that labels reaching out to fans in this way would be a wise idea also. The traditional music labels are continuing their unabated slide into irrelevancy, and a label will really need to show some forward thinking in their relationship not only to fans but musicians and the media as well to survive. What are your thoughts?

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Masada Quintet feat. Joe Lovano - Stolas (Tzadik, 2009)

The idea of combining the music of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet and middle eastern melodies was the guiding light behind the formation of John Zorn's long running Masada band in the early 1990's. After more than a dozen releases by the original band, Zorn went in a different direction, inviting other musicians to present their own interpretations of the voluminous Masada songbook. The core group on this album are all frequent collaborators on Zorn and Masada projects: Dave Douglas on trumpet, Uri Caine on piano, Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The ringer is Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, whose grounding in traditional bebop takes the music in an interesting direction. With Lovano and Caine, the group functions like a conventional modern jazz band. The compositions still have a middle eastern inflection which makes them alluring, like the opening tracks "Haamiah" and "Rikbiel" which are short and pithy performances and my favorite track on the album, "Tashriel," where the band throws caution into the wind and takes off into free jazz territory with an explosive presentation. Some of the longer improvisations like "Rahtiel" and "Tagriel" tend to drift a little bit as if the band is trying to find out how to embrace the slower tempo compositions, but they do feature fine bass solos from Cohen. Lovano also solos well throughout the album, he doesn't sound uncomfortable or out of his element in the slightest. The front line of Lovano and Douglass is excellent, and it makes you hope they have the opportunity to collaborate again in the future. This was one of the most melodic albums in the long running Masada series and it marks a good entry point for people curious about the series. The addition of the piano and Lovano's bop based saxophone push the music in a different direction without making it any less unique.
Stolas - amazon.com

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Joey DeFrancesco - Finger Poppin' (Doodlin' Records, 2009)

Taking Horace Silver's funky compositions and bringing them to a groovin' organ group seems like a natural idea (one Shirley Scott did in the '60's) and when you put together a fine group of DeFrancesco on Hammond B3 organ, Tim Warfield on tenor saxophone, Silver band veteran Tom Harrell on trumpet and Byron Landham on drums it makes for a fresh and enjoyable album. I downloaded this album from eMusic and their track names were out of order, so that upped the degree of difficulty a little bit, but didn't diminish my enjoyment of the album. The funky grinders were propulsive and fun, classic Silver compositions like the strutting "Filthy McNasty" and "Strollin" benefited from DeFrancesco's huge sound on the organ and bass pedals locked in with Landham's solid backbeat. Warfield is a saxophonist that flies under the radar a little bit, but he's a very solid player who has several albums under his name that are worthy of being checked out. Harrell sounds great in this scenario, soloing and playing the ensemble passages very well. A couple of ballads including the beautiful "Peace" round out a fun and enjoyable album. Progressive jazz fans may find the melody - solo - solo - melody format a little stale, but for partisans of hard bop and sould jazz, there is a lot of meat on these bones.
Finger Poppin - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Steve Lehman - Travail, Transformation and Flow (Pi Recordings, 2009)

Saxophonist Steve Lehman is at the forefront of exploratory jazz and on this recording he adds a new facet to his expedition to the musical cosmos, "spectral harmony," in which he uses computer aided analysis to examine the physics of the sound they are creating and improvises around the results. To his credit, the music doesn't sound cold and clinical, but rather has the angular excitement of a fresh direction. Accompanying him on this journey are Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Mark Shim on tenor sax, Tim Albright on trombone, Jose Davila on tuba, Chris Dingman on vibraphone; Drew Gress on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. "Echoes" opens with a complex theme featuring ringing vibes and a tart alto break which keeps things upbeat, nervous and exciting. "Rudreshm" is a tribute to another very exciting alto saxophonist and composer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and has slow and mysterious vibes (Dingman really seems to be the key to the spectral harmonics) before rising drums push the tempo and Lehman breaks out for a jaunty solo and trumpet and horns improvise over some bumpin' tuba and drums. "Alloy" is the centerpiece of the album, a fascinating performance that has Lehman soloing strategically, not dominating the music, but employing his pieces like a chess master, flowing a nice quicksilver stream of ideas with Sorey pushing him on. Shim's tenor keeps things hot before the full band reconvenes for a complex conclusion. With the ringing vibes and the tart and acidic alto saxophone soloing it occurred to me that this could be Lehman's Out to Lunch (Eric Dolphy's masterpiece from 1964.) Whether spectral harmony becomes a paradigm shifting evolution like modal or free jazz in the late 1950's remains to be seen, but it certainly works here, creating an exhausting yet exhilarating album of exciting music.
Travail, Transformation, and Flow - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstacy - Spirit Moves (Greenleaf, 2009)

Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas leads a number of bands, each of which explore a different facet of jazz. On this album, the spirit that moves much of the music is that of Lester Bowie - bandleader, trumpeter and iconoclast trickster. Bowie's "big tent" philosophy embraced everything from pop and R&B to classical and even country and Douglas follows that lead here, embracing diverse types of music in search of a creative whole. Joining him on this unique ensemble are Vincent Chancey on french horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas on tuba and Nasheet Waits on drums. "This Love Affair" and "Mr. Pitiful" get a fun and funky New Orleans feel from the group, you can almost imagine the band marching down the streets during a parade and booting out these tunes. "Bowie", "Rava" and "Fats" are a trio of compositions dedicated to great trumpeters, Lester Bowie, the album's polestar, Enrico Rava, the great Italian trumpeter and Fats Navarro, the bebop master of the 1940's and 50's. The arrangements for these compositions are particularly interesting. The brass instruments, especially the tuba have a very alluring sound. Rojas' tuba was remarkably fascinating, playing bass lines and melodies and complementing Douglas and Bonilla's wonderfully gassy tones. There was a half hour long DVD included in the package which has nice grainy black and white footage of the band performing in studio. With this unusual ensemble it is nice to get a visual impression of what it was like to play the music. This was a nice album, and Douglas certainly does the memory of Lester Bowie proud with this group, drawing some very interesting shadings and textures and a wide variety of emotions and making everything compelling.
Spirit Moves - Greenleaf Records

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bobby Broom - Plays for Monk (Origin, 2009)

Tributes to the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk are a little thick on the ground, but they are not often done with a guitar trio. Guitarist Bobby Broom looks to rectify this, performing with Dennis Carroll on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums in a discreet and low key tribute to the jazz icon. Broom has played on and off with the great saxophonist Sonny Rollins over the years as well as his own bands, so it is clear that he has studied both Monk and the history of jazz music and knows it well. It is interesting to hear the familiar Monk melodies taken on guitar. Broom has an appealing tone on his instrument, getting an accessible clear tone coming from the masters like Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. Everything here is certainly well played, but the tracks that I enjoyed the most were the impish take on "In Walked Bud" which features Broom zipping through the timeless melody before embarking on a fine solo. "Rhythm-a-Ning" also crackles with energy as the group takes some spirited round robin solos. The biggest problem for an album like this is that the shadow Thelonious Monk casts is so long that I think it is hard for musicians to grab a toehold and make the songs their own. This is clear with some of the slower performances like "Ask Me Now" or "Reflections" which are certainly pleasant to listen to, but never make you sit up and take notice. I think this is a nice album to have on while you are reading, it makes for enjoyable background listening but never dominates. I guess this seems like faint praise... I enjoyed listening to the music but I wasn't knocked out by it. The excitement and angular rough edges that make Monk's music so compelling have been rounded off a little bit too much to get me really excited about it.
Bobby Broom Plays For Monk - amazon.com

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Ethan Iverson Interviews Tim Berne

There is a fascinating and very long interview with Tim Berne on the blog of The Bad Plus. Check it out if you get a chance.

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Wadada Leo Smith and Jack DeJohnette - America (Tzadik, 2009)

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and drummer Jack DeJohnette originally proposed a duet record to ECM in the late 1970's but it didn't come to pass. They have played together in other settings for many years including Smith's excellent Golden Quartet, before finally recording this duet. Stark but beautiful, the music is very interesting and the musicians are really locked into each other throughout. The album opens with the suite "America Parts 1, 2 and 3" starting fast with rolling drums and darting trumpet, before moving into spacier long tones and strong modular playing and an robust, sharp drum solo. "Red Trumpet" has fast trumpet with Smith getting a plump, clear sound. DeJohnette increases the pace and Smith's trumpet purrs a pure golden sound which is moving and beautiful. "John Brown's Fort" has some nimble drumming, with long trumpet lines moving in and around the shifting percussion. DeJohnette sounds like a percussion quartet playing amazing rhythms against the strong clarion call of the trumpet. "Ed Blackwell, the Blue Mountain Sun Drummer" and "Rabi'a's Unconditional Love, a Spiritual Mystery of the Heart" have stark but beautiful playing featuring muted and melancholy trumpet and brushes. "Masnavi: The Falcon and the Owls" (interesting titles!) wraps up the album with rolling drums and tart slurred trumpet racing each other daringly through to the finish line. This was an austere but fascinating record with the music built architecturally to logical conclusions. Both Smith and DeJohnette are clearly masters of their respective instruments, but neither tries to overwhelm the other on sheer skill. Rather it is a true collaboration that at times reaches a near zen level of enchantent like meditation like a deep, clear pool of music.
America - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rempis Percussion Quartet - Rip Tear Crunch (482 Music, 2006)

Several years ago, I became a big fan of saxophonist Ken Vandermark's great jazz group The Vandermark Five, and was introduced to a vibrant and thrilling modern jazz scene in Chicago. Dave Rempis is part of the V5 and the Chicago scene, and he also leads this very exciting group, playing alto, tenor and baritone saxophone with Anton Hatwich on bass and Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly on drums and percussion. The double drum lineup with no melody instrument makes for a very open sound, as evidenced by the opener "Shreds" which has a friendly and engaging free-bop sound. Rempis plays alto with a tart citrus feel and a hint of Eric Dolphy over ever shifting percussion and bass. Saxophone softens about halfway through the performance as the drums move to the front. "Flank" has an abstract, slow and exploratory feel. Quantum fluctuations of sax, drums and bass bubble up and fade. An epic at nearly a half hour in length, "Rip Tear Crunch" opens with some brawny baritone saxophone over strutting percussion, getting pretty wild before Rempis lays out and the bass and drums slow to a quiet throb. Rempis returns on alto slow and probing before leading the group on a series of dynamic improvisatory cells. "Dirty Work Can Be Clean Fun" is as brief as the previous song was long, roaring out of the gate with full throttle collective improv. High pitched saxophone squeals punctuate the the performance. Short and sweet, this is what a 45 RPM free jazz single would sound like if such a thing existed. "The Rub" rounds out the music with probing saxophone skittering around bowed bass. The percussionists come in and increase the pace to a fast and nervous feel. Rempis lays out for a percussion duet with bowed bass commentary before coming back and leading the group to a storming free conclusion. I enjoyed this disc quite a bit, the energy and excitement of the music made for very compelling listening. The extra percussion makes for some interesting textures and the music benefits from it and the talent of all four band members.
Rip Tear Crunch - amazon.com

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gutbucket - A Modest Proposal (Cuneiform, 2009)

Located at the intersection of free jazz and indie rock, Gurbucket makes exciting and pithy instrumental music which draws energy and inspiration from both of those camps. Consisting of Eric Rockwin on bass, Ken Thomson on saxophones, Ty Citerman on guitar and Adam D. Gold on drums, the band performs all original compositions on this disc. Rockwin and Gold are locked in tight throughout the album, laying down a massive bottom end for the guitar and saxophone to run wild over, whether on is the slurring proto-metal of the opening "Head Goes Thud" which stomps around like a dinosaur or the ripping free jazz of "Brain Born Outside of Its Head." The music is not just flat out blasting, there is actually quite a bit of subtlety if you listen for it. The performances are consise without being clipped and never overstay their welcome. The interaction between the musicians is quite tight, and the performances (many of which apparently were through composed) are intricate with the musicians working very well together. For music fans who enjoy either progressive rock or exploratory jazz, I think there is a lot to like here. This is another winner from Cuneiform, they seem to revel in blurring the lines between different musical genres, not getting caught up in dogmatic views of music, but merely releasing music determined on merit. Long may they do so.
A Modest Proposal - amazon.com

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Steve Kuhn Trio w/ Joe Lovano - Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009)

Pianist Steve Kuhn certainly has the pedigree for a John Coltrane tribute album. During a short period in 1960, when the saxophonist was completing his tenure with Miles Davis, Coltrane led a band of his own on the side at The Jazz Gallery in New York City with Kuhn as the pianist. Fifty years on and Kuhn returns the favor with a thoughtful if somewhat reverential album of songs written by or composed in honor of the great saxophonist. On the hot seat is Joe Lovano playing tenor saxophone (and torogato on "Spiritual") and rounding out the group are David Finke on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The songs that I enjoyed the most were the fast paced bebop of "Like Sonny" where Lovano is truly in his element, moving quickly through the shifting composition and playing with quick facility. "Configuration" takes the band into freer territory and is a very exciting performance with Lovano digging deep and recalling his early days in the loft jazz scene. "Welcome" and "Crescent" have a slower pace and are taken with an air of great humility, the group seems to be using the music to venerate and cherish the compositions and they perform them and a manner of utmost respect. Staying close to the melodies, they bow in homage to the legacy of the music. If there is anything negative to say about the recording, it can only be that the group seems deferential and a little hesitant to take things too far afield. But that is really a minor quibble and overall this is a well done and sincere appreciation of the music of John Coltrane, which moves through examples from each phase of his career with grace and humility.
Mostly Coltrane - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Core and More - The Art of No Return (Moserobie, 2009)

The Core is a talented Norwegian jazz band consisting of Jørgen Mathisen on saxophones, Erlend Slettevold on piano, Steinar Raknes on bass and Espen Aalberg on drums. On this album they are augmented by some extra members from the exciting Scandinavian jazz scene: Magnus Broo on trumpet, Jonas Kullhammar on saxophones and Vidar Johansen on saxophones and bass clarinet. This boosts their sound to the level of a little big band, giving some of the octet and nonet textures Charles Mingus and Miles Davis used so effectively in the past. The music is a four part suite called "The Art of No Return" composed by Johansen and it begins with "Part 1" which opens with light clarinet offering a near swing feel before getting more modern and snaking and swirling in the music, getting into wilder and more free territory before the other horns reign it in. Piano, bass and drums play percussively and the horns retaliate by riffing before Broo breaks free with a solo that slows the pace. "Part 2" begins at a ballad pace with trumpet over the piano trio in a mellow fashion. The pace picks up around the 8:30 mark with a fast paced saxophone feature and then a cacophonous full band finale. "Part 3" also has a mellow opening, with a sax quartet backed by riffing horns getting a modern big band feel. Saxophones trade phrases back and forth building up heat before giving way to piano, bass and drums. Horns come back and push the McCoyTyner-ish sounding piano trio to a wild ending. Slow and reverent tenor saxophone that recalls mid-period John Coltrane begins "Part 4." The pace picks up to a killing tenor solo backed with horn riffs like a modern updating of the Africa/Brass session. Broo takes a nice solo before the whole group comes in with an interesting melody and conclusion. This album is another example of the fine jazz that is being made in the Scandinavian countries. The music draws on the textures and colors of large ensemble jazz and combines it with the fiery heat of small group post bop improvisation.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Brilliant Corners

After catching a link on another blog, I have been reading the Brilliant Corners jazz blog by Chris Rich out of Boston. While I certainly admire the passion he shows for the music and musicians in the free jazz community, I have to wonder if his extremely caustic tone and confrontational attitude really help the musicians he supports. I just don't think the best way to promote the music is be denigrating people of the baby boom generation, NPR and other easy targets.

When he writes with a positive approach, he does quite well:
"To me, one thing that makes 'Free Jazz' so fascinating is the astonishing differentiation of style and method within the big tent of the idiom. The AACM and its colleague entities from the Midwest opted for a significantly different array of elements from the emerging New York community and the large LA Community had yet another array of approaches."
But the problem is that fine prose is offset by cringe inducing screeds like this: (writing about impresario George Wein)
"Now the rotten old bastard plans to trot out yet another crappy Newport show. I bet that stupid bimbo Diana Krall will be there or someone like her. Boycott this shit. Make the disgusting old bastard retire with his millions sucked from people like Duke Ellington. Get rid of the bitch and force him to know the ignominy he justly deserves."
He certainly grabs your attention, but at what cost? Does the jazz blogosphere really need the equivalent of a Sean Hannity or a Glenn Beck? I think this kind of venomous language actually works against him, because it makes it all the more easy to ignore his comments even when there is a substantive argument at its core. Better to temper the language and focus the argument on the root cause of the problem rather than wasting valuable energy on vitriol.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ellery Eskelin w/ Andrea Parkins and Jim Black - One Great Night... Live (HatHut, 2009)

The difficulties of playing progressive jazz in the modern economy keeps most working groups from sticking together for more than a few years. That is one of the reasons it is so impressive that this trio is celebrating their fifteen year anniversary with their first live album, recorded in Baltimore in late 2007. Ellery Eskelin solos with wonderful imagination on tenor saxophone throughout. Andrea Parkins has a very exciting role in the group by supporting, commenting, adding texture with keyboards and accordion and the plethora of sounds she can use through the sampler. Jim Black keeps the pace, sometimes with a rock like back beat, sometimes as broken pulse of free improvisation. This is an excellent album, "The Decider" opens it shifting between tempos and dynamics so it is never predictable. "For No Good Reason" breaks out into freer, more abstract territory with Parkins bouncing back and forth between repetitive piano chords and sampler squiggles around start - stop drumming and stirring tenor saxophone playing. "Coordinated Standard Time" has a fun and slightly bent take on the organ/tenor sax/drums soul jazz tradition."Split the Difference" is a highlight, with storming tenor sax around sweeping accordion and a nice drum solo. "Instant Counterpoint" shifts dynamically between loud and soft areas and moving into some very exciting free sections. "Half a Chance" builds to the conclusion with some tough and soulful playing in the sax/organ/drums configuration. The music on this album is never stale but constantly evolving, much like the group itself. Each of the three musicians also has a number of musical projects they do outside the group, so they are continually bringing new information and sounds to the table. Is fifteen more years of great music too much to ask?
OGNL Liner Notes

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Khan Jamal - Impressions of Coltrane (SteepleChase, 2009)

Rather than a strict tribute album, vibraphonist Khan Jamal instead presents an album detailing his perception of saxophonist and composer John Coltrane's music and the imprint that it made upon him as an artist. Accompanying him on this album are Odean Pope on tenor saxophone, Byard Lancaster on alto saxophone, Farid Barron on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass and Edgar Bateman on drums. Only Jamal plays on all tracks, with the others stepping up and laying out during the course of the album. Most of the tracks are from the early 1960's, they were written and recorded during Coltrane's successful and brief tenure at Atlantic Records where he took bebop based music to the breaking point while at the same time developing beautiful melodies, many of which have become standards in the succeeding years. Hearing the familiar Coltrane melodies with a vibraphone in the leads makes for an interesting and enticing sound with Jamal's percussive vibes ringing and sustaining over and around Barron's McCoy Tyner influenced piano. The saxophonists liven up the two tracks dedicated to Paul Chambers, Odean Pope soloing on "Blues for P.C." and Lancaster's blistering free-bop on "Mr. P.C." Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" was in Coltrane's sets for the majority of his career and it is present here as well, with the band making a fine example of it. A nicely lyrical version of the ballad "Naima" and a go for broke take on "Impressions" ends the album on a solid note. This was an enjoyable and relaxed album and takes an interesting view of familiar John Coltrane compositions and those associated with him. Vibraphone as the primary instrument may seem an odd choice for a set of music devoted to one of the greatest saxophonists, but it works well, proving how enduring and durable they are and how talented and tasteful the musicians are.
Impressions of Coltrane - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Around the Blogs

Ethan Iverson from The Bad Plus blogs about the recent demise of Jazz Times and the media outlets that might come along to replace it:

"I strongly believe that if JazzTimes had just been about jazz, not about the machine, it could have struggled on, just like jazz always has.

Destination Out blogs with mp3's about the great jazz drummer and bandleader Roland Shannon Jackson:

"This work is ripe for rediscovery - by jazz musicians and beyond. For anyone seeking new ways to meld divergent rhythms and electric instruments, to balance solos and ensemble firepower, to fashion compositions whose complexity is masked by their immediacy, Ronald Shannon Jackson’s music serves as a wellspring."

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Corey Wilkes and Abstract Pulse - Cries from tha Ghetto (Pi Recordings, 2009)

Trumpeter Corey Wilkes raised eyebrows a few years ago when he was tapped as a very young man to take the vacant trumpet chair in The Art Ensemble of Chicago for a series of live gigs and a live album. Pretty heavy stuff, but he acquitted himself well and made a name for himself as one to watch. After a tentative solo debut on Delmark, he brings a free funk ensemble to Pi on his second album for impressive results. Joining him for this album are Kevin Nabors on tenor saxophone, Scott Hesse on guitar, Junius Paul on bass and Isaiah Spencer on drums. Jumaane Taylor's tap dancing adds some extra percussion. "First Mind" and "Levitation" are very nice examples of modern post bop, with the band cracking on all cylinders and playing with an impressive but controlled uptempo. "Sick JJ" takes the band into freer territory with Wilkes slurring is lines and the the band coloring outside the lines. It's the stark, heartbroken ballad "Rain" that I found most impressive. I mean, we know he can wail like a banshee, but to hear Wilkes put that prodigious talent behind a mournful, moody ballad and pull it off is a wonderful example of his growth as a musician, and a marvel of restrained lyricism. As a prodigious talent in search of an outlet, Wilkes reminds me of James Carter (whom he has performed with.) Hopefully Wilkes will find a productive and nurturing home with Pi Records and avoid Carter's mercurial hopping from label to label, and from project to project. Economics of jazz make hard for everyone, but with Wilkes talent in modern jazz, funk and free makes him someone to watch and root for.
Cries from tha Ghetto - amazon.com

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Rob Brown Trio - Live at Firehouse 12 (Not Two, 2009)

Alto saxophonist and composer Rob Brown moved the New York City in the mid 1980's and slowly began developing an impressive reputation in progressive jazz circles, playing with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Butch Morris and a long stretch in William Parker's extraordinary quartet. Brown's music is a very nice modernizing of the progressive alto saxophone tradition of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean, building a deep, original and thoroughly modern view of jazz. On this album (I guess it's recorded live, but I don't hear any applause) he is joined by Daniel Levin on cello, Satoshi Takeishi on drums and percussion. Brown's pinched and citrus saxophone tone and Levin's sawing cello make for an alluring sound. "Quick Be Nimble" is a medium tempo opener, getting a wide open Ornette-ish feel with the musicians probing and exploring. "Walkabout" has a plucked cello opening around slow percussion with metallic gongs and when the alto enters, it makes for an interesting and mysterious sound. The pace increases when Brown steps up with a deep free-bopping sound, making for intense jazz improvisation with a virile and potent sound featuring deep pulsing cello and metallic percussion. "On a Lark" has the trio improvising freely with bowed cello and rattling percussion. Spontaneously creating music like walking on a high wire, Brown's alto steps out far a piercing solo which has window shattering tartness before returning to the melodic statement. "Stray(horn)" finishes the album with a slowly developing spacious bowed bass. Brown gets nice bluesy feel on his solo, and there is a lonely unaccompanied bowed cello feature. This was a very good album of progressive and exploratory jazz. Listening to this album, it is easy to understand why he is playing so often at the Vision Festival both as a leader and as a sideman. He has a original and exciting conception of jazz and his music makes for compelling listening.
Live at Firehouse 12 - amazon.com
BTW, like planets coming into alignment, Stef and I reviewed the same album on the same day.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Michael Musillami - From Seeds (Playscape, 2009)

Guitarist Michael Musillami wears many hats as bandleader, composer, musician and label executive, leading the excellent Playscape label into it's tenth year. This album has him leading an interesting group which includes Joe Fonda on bass, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Marty Ehrlich on saxophones, and George Schuller on drums and Matt Moran on vibes. The vibraphone and guitar give the group an interesting unique sound and texture. The opening track, "Splayed Fingers" is an uptempo and complex composition, shimmering as vibes probe, and then giving way to a piercing saxophone solo before the group returns to the complex melody. This song has lengthy complex suite like movements, and trumpet solos. "Ga Ga Goosebumps" is mostly uptempo where driving guitar pushes and pulls then changes its solo to cool and understated. A strong sax solo follows, and trumpet opens light then picking up speed, back to driving guitar and then out. "From Seeds" has a complex modern full band, abstract with snarling guitar over shifting drums, gaining strength and intensity. Peaking with some really wild stuff, this is the highlight of the album with awesome guitar and a wild and wholly saxophone solo. "Wysteria Hysteria Blues" slower opening and a nice probing guitar solo. "Bill Barron" wraps things up in a cool and very jazzy way with a nice sounding guitar solo, a touching tribute to an underrated musician. This was a complex and enjoyable album of modern jazz. Playscape flies a little bit under the radar because their releases are neither way out avant garde or slavishly retro, but as far as thoughtful completely modern jazz is concerned, they are one of the finest and most consistent labels and this is another excellent example of their work.
From Seeds - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Junior Kimbrough - First Recordings (Fat Possum, 2009)

Guitarist and singer Junior Kimbrough was one of the deepest of the deep bluesmen, like his colleague R.L. Burnside he came from the hill country of Mississippi. Stark music with deep primal rhythms and drones, his music is very powerful and hypnotic. Kimbrough ran a juke joint that was the focal point of the local blues scene and was prominently featured in Robert Palmer's documentary Deep Blues and in the founding of the influential Fat Possum record label. This is a short EP featuring the earlies tracks he recorded for the label. Some of the standard Kimbrough tunes that he would play for the west of his career are here like the very potent "Done Got Old" which is an unflinching look at age over a primal beat and slashing guitar. "Meet Me In the City" is emotional and stark in nature, but at the same time quite beautiful. This makes for a fine introduction to Kimbrough's unique blend of blues and the music that made the hill country of Mississippi so unique in American music.
First Recordings - amazon.com

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Freddie Hubbard - Without a Song (Blue Note, 2009)

Apparently this archival release was in the works before the trumpeter's untimely demise in December of 2008, which takes the air of ghoulish opportunism away from this project. What we are left with is a moderately interesting snapshot of Hubbard touring Europe as part of a jazz concert package with an ad-hoc, if talented, band consisting of Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The lack of a saxophonist in the group puts the focus clearly on Hubbard and he responds well, playing with strength and integrity if not complete clarity. He is really locked in with the drummer Hayes throughout the album, the two clearly inspire each other, and drive each other like whirling dervishes. The highlight of the album for me was a stirring performance of "A Night In Tunisia" which opens with an upbeat piano trio setting the scene for Hubbard to rip into with a scalding solo filled with electricity and prodded ever onward by Hayes powerful drumming. The title track "Without a Song" has some strong and supple swing and features some effortless interplay between trumpet and drums. "Body and Soul" usually a feature for saxophonists and it seems a little stale in this context, as Hubbard pokes and prods at the melody like an unappetizing entree before finally picking up the pace. "Space Track" makes up for any lack of enthusiasm as Hubbard, veteran of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz and John Coltrane's Ascension rips hard into his own version of free playing, grounded in bop and the blues, he's really going for it here, straining for the peak and sounding tough and invincible. Hubbard fans will rejoice for this example of their man in fine form in a live session, but I found it to be something of a mixed bag. I think the nature of the package tour really didn't suit this group well, hustled on and off the stage after thirty minutes robbed them of the ability to develop enough chemistry to create truly excellent music.
Without A Song - amazon.com

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Chris Potter - Ultrahang (ArtistShare, 2009)

Saxophonist and composer Chris Potter takes matters into his own hands on this project for the musician supported Artists Share label, allowing fans to become a part of the process and making available videos and exclusive content to those that support his endeavor. Potter plays tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, with Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig Taborn on keyboards and Nate Smith on drums. The music they make has a hard edged streetwise feel to it as if they are trying to channel some of the gritty energy of a 70’s New York City crime drama into their ultra modern jazz. This approach is not retro at all, and works very well, allowing the band to make exciting and viscerally compelling music. “Ultrahang” opens the album in an up-tempo fashion with a muscular, strutting melody. A deep and gutsy tenor saxophone and the funky Fender Rhodes, guitar and drums set the pace for the album. “Facing East” has Potter juggling bass clarinet and tenor saxophone and Rogers guitar aiming for a Pete Cosey funky snarl. “Rumples” is one of the highlights of the album, beginning at a grinding tempo with the guitar in complex harmony, before the guitar breaks out in a hot solo over a hard and uncompromising backbeat. Potter’s tenor sax muscles in deep and strong, and gets progressively funkier and takes nice unaccompanied interludes. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” slows things down to a nice melodic mid-tempo, reverent and slowing building in emotion. “Small Wonder” builds to a strong and almost effortless sounding tenor solo before giving way to some edgy guitar. “Boots” is another great highlight from this album, taking its time and slowly building some slithering guitar backed by an ever shifting beat, and then after a drum solo Potter absolutely kills with a deep digging bluesy wail that would strip paint at twenty paces, gritty and dark, swinging his saxophone like the knife of a hardened street tough. After that summit, things slow down with “Interstellar Signals” exploring abstract soundscapes and Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon” bringing out the lyrical side of the band. This was a really impressive project, possibly Potter’s best album yet. The dark and dirty landscape created by the electric piano, distorted guitar and drums is beautifully illuminated the stellar saxophone playing throughout.
Ultrahang - artistshare.com

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Pi Records Blog

Rafiq writes a very interesting post on the Pi Recordings blog about the nature and purpose of tradition on jazz:

"What are the defining elements of “the tradition”? Specifically, what information is being passed down, and what can be left by the wayside? What work qualifies for inclusion in the
continuum? For the sake of many a young musician/interested observer, can we leave the tautologies aside?"

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Adam Caine Trio - Thousandfold (NoBusiness, 2009)

When I read about this album a while back on Stef's blog I knew I wanted to check it out. It is an interesting update of the Tony Williams Lifetime power trio sound, in this case substituting bubbling, pulsing bass for Larry Young's surging organ. Guitarist and composer Adam Caine, joined by Tom Blancarte on bass and John Wagner on drums make very exciting and high energy music that draws from the intricate nature of jazz and go-for-broke energy of rock 'n' roll and free improvisation. Show-offy wanking fusion is the furthest thing from their mind, this is a tough unit working with a common goal of making creative music in the moment. "Ride The Tiger" is a scorching highlight exploring and creating the common ground between Sonny Sharrock and Sonic Youth. "Thousandfold" and "The Howl" take the music into freer more abstract realms, away from a regular pulse of the traditional song form to a feel of a surrealist musical landscape. Caine solos with great facility throughout the album and he is supported well by Blancarte and Wagner, they have played together long enough to work up a near telepathic energy that allows them to weave through complicated fast paced improvisations and abstract free interludes with success. I think that both fans of modern jazz and inquisitive fans of indie and progressive rock would find a lot to enjoy here. The music is exciting and alluring and deserves wider exposure.
Thousandfold (mp3 version) - amazon.com

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Around the Blogs

National Public Radio's A Blog Supreme interviews Hal Miller (whose jazz video presentations I used to attend in Albany) about the Jazz Icons series of DVD's:

"For me, my favorites come from the group of videos that I-myself had no prior experience with or knowledge of. I'd have to single out the Art Blakey in Belgium 1958, largely because it includes trumpeter Lee Morgan, a personal favorite of mine beginning with my high school days when I began to see him with Art Blakey.

WBGO has another episode of The Checkout available for downloading or streaming:

"Saxophonist Steve Lehman talks about creating spectral music for jazz improvisation, Wayne Escoffery shares some music from his iPod, Bobby Sanabria revisits Kenya, an Afro-Cuban classic from the Machito Orchestra, and Chris Potter Underground releases Ultrahang in digital.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

E-Mail Interview With Chris Potter

Saxophonist and composer Chris Potter is in the final stages of finishing a new album called Ultrahang, produced in a unique fashion through the ArtistShare label. He has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for this blog. Thanks a lot to Chris for taking the time, to Matt Merewitz for setting this up and to Brian Patneaude for helping with questions.

M&M: How do you approach composing for this particular ensemble?

CP: I try to keep in mind the textural possibilities of the instrumentation and the individual personalities of the guys in the band. There are things that might work for a more conventional group that don't work as well for this situation , but on the other hand, there are directions this band can go that a more traditional band can't. It forces me to write in a specific way, emphasizing aspects like groove and texture over formal complexity, for example.

M&M: Do you find that you approach improvisation with this instrumentation differently than you would with a traditional quartet consisting of piano/guitar, bass and drums?

CP: Yes, I think I do play a little differently with this band. Some of that is a result of the instrumentation, it's louder than a traditional acoustic jazz group, and certain frequencies in the saxophone speak differently in this context (it's also much different than if there were an electric bass player, it's a little lighter and more spacious than that usually is). Most importantly, the content of the music is different than other groups I've worked with, so of course that brings out different aspects of my musical personality. It's been a great challenge for me to figure out how to make it work , since it feels a little like uncharted territory.

M&M: Why did you choose to go with ArtistShare for this project?

CP:It's no secret that the music business is changing rapidly. There are many negative sides to it, but one positive side from my perspective is, with a system like Artistshare, artists can now have more direct control over their work, not have to give up the rights to their own music, and see more of the profit. It's a bit scarier because the initial investment is higher, but for me the things that traditional record companies are willing to offer in terms of promotion and support are not worth giving up that freedom and control over my work.

M&M: How do you compose - at the piano, at the sax, a combination of both?

CP: Often at the piano, sometimes on the horn, sometimes a combination of both, sometimes neither. The other day I had an experience that was a little inconvenient- I found I had an entire new tune in my head, but we had just arrived at the airport, so I had to try and write it down before I forgot it, while at the same time checking in and going through security!

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ralph Bowen - Dedicated (Positone, 2009)

I can't help but be a homer and root for saxophonist Ralph Bowen who teaches at Rutgers and gigs quite a bit in my area (I actually booked him to play in my Library a few years ago.) This is a nice straight ahead album of confident modern jazz, with Sean Jones on trumpet, Adam Rogers on guitar, John Patitucci on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. "Canary Drums" opens the album with a mid-tempo groove. A flowing saxophone solo follows the melody building nicely to a cascading solo. "Qaiyam" burns hard with Bowen digging deep on tenor saxophone, splashy guitar accents and the bass and drums engine driving the music along in a muscular manner. It's a textbook perfect piece of modern bebop. "Mr. Bebop" keeps that same groove going with some impressive ensemble playing, and a nice deep confident (but not smug) sounding tenor saxophone solo. Jones chimes in and stretches out on a blustery solo, and Rogers adds a tasteful solo of his own. The group comes back to improvise together nicely and take the tune out. It's easy to imagine this tune being a favorite of the band when playing live, there's a lot of room for everyone to blow and add their ideas to the common good. "Prof." is a pleasant mid-tempo tune with a lyrical saxophone melody that evolves into a biting solo with some over blowing for emphasis. Rogers takes a fast paced and complex, yet understated solo, with the tone of his guitar seeming subdued. "E.R." solo saxophone plaintive and bluesy, acting like a solo coda or encore to the album. This was an enjoyable album of modern based bebop jazz. The group keeps the energy level high and both the solos and the ensemble playing is at a very high level.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Emusic Muddies the Water

I have been a fan and subscriber of the music downloading site Emuisc for many years now. Their support of independently produced music and their decision not to cripple their music with restrictions and DRM has been an oasis in the acrimonious struggle for the music business to enter the 21st century (kicking and screaming the whole way.) But now comes the news that the major lebel Sony has come to its senses and will offer large chunks of its considerable back catalog of music though Emusic. Good news, right? Well, not exactly. In order to get the content of a major label, Emusic has had to completely restructure its pricing plans, in some cases, raising prices over %200. While you can't blame Emusic for trying to make money, it seems like a poke in the eye to long term subscribers like myself who are not particularly interested in major label content. Through Emusic I have discovered tremendous music on independent labels like Clean Feed, Palmetto and AUM Fidelity and it disturbs me that Emusic may be turning its back on loyal users to court a major labels who have shown themselves to be at best a fickle friend. When they are not wasting their time suing grandmothers and college students, that is. As Emusic raises the per track price and cuts the allotment of downloads per month, they may come to rue the day that they tossed their friends aside for a quick spin on the dance floor with a notorious tease.

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Dennis Gonzalez and Joao Paulo - Scapegrace (Clean Feed, 2009)

This was a very interesting duet collaboration between American trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and Portuguese pianist Joao Paulo Esteves da Silva. These two men were not that well versed in the others improvisational styles before they met in 2007 for a couple of warm up concerts and then this recording session. What resulted, however, is a wonderful example of what makes jazz so great - the men were able to find common ground in the music they shared and developed a classy and thoughtful musical conversation touching on modern jazz and free improvisation. The music on this album is nuanced and lyrical, building in a relaxed and subtle manner. "First Song" opens the album with music that is slowly emotional and probing with Gonzalez having a clear tone on the trumpet. "Anthem for the Moment" has the trumpet opening with a clarion call before the piano enters, first supporting and then engaging in conversation. Joao Paulo gets an appealing Keith Jarrett like feel to his piano playing. "Tolleymor" features a rapid piano introduction and strong punching trumpet in a medium up-tempo performance. "Broken Bop" is along the same lines with some string but still controlled free-er playing. "Scapegrace" is the centerpiece of the album, with percussive piano playing and strong trumpet evolving into a gentler almost elegiac section. "Duas Danças Arcaicas" is a ballad, with an elegant and observant texture, gentle like a tone painting of a peaceful sunrise. "Seixal Township" and "Última Canção" move into more abstract areas where the musicians focus on keeping the music spacious and spare and give things plenty of room to breathe. This was a very impressive album, the two musicians came in with open minds and no preconceived notions and worked together in a true collaboration to make music that was cooperative and profound.
Scapegrace (mp3 version) - amazon.com

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Around the blogs

Big Road Blues has posted an interesting essay called "The Blues Ain't No Monkey Junk," part of their annual tribute to the legendary Son House: "Patton told Laibley about House and about two other musicians Willie Brown and Louise Johnson, setting the stage for one of the blues most legendary recording sessions. The group headed to the Paramount studios in Grafton, WI, where House recorded six songs at the session, three of which were long enough to fill both sides of a 78: “Dry Spell Blues,” “Preachin’ The Blues,” and “My Black Mama.”
Son House - amazon.com

The Blues Blogger shines a light on another famous performer from the blues world, guitarist and vocalist Otis Rush: “I Can’t Quit You Baby” was originally released in 1956 and reached number 6 on the Billboard R&B charts… In Willie Dixon’s biography he explains that the song was written about a relationship that Otis was in at the time. Dixon drew from Rush’s experience and captured an emotional performance. The version of the song on 1966’s Chicago The Blues Today! was a little different than the original. However it ended up being the most covered version of the song…"
Otis Rush - amazon.com

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