Monday, August 31, 2009

Donald Bailey - Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3 (Talking House, 2008)

Drummer Donald Bailey is well overdue for some attention. During the 1950’s and 60’s he was a rock solid percussionist for the likes of organist Jimmy Smith and other jazz legends, but for one reason or another, he fell through the cracks and never got to lead any sessions of his own. This record rectifies that situation, with Bailey leading a cracking modern jazz ensemble featuring Odean Pope on tenor sax, Tyrone Brown on bass, George Burton on piano and Charles Tolliver on trumpet. All except Tolliver grew up in the jazz hotbed of Philadelphia, PA and the musicians all sound familiar with each other and happy to be playing together again. For those used to hearing Bailey as an unobtrusive timekeeper for organists, this album will be a most pleasant surprise. Pope’s original “Plant Life” comes bursting out of the gate, with a storming tenor solo, backed by Bailey and Brown’s impeccable swinging and big bright piano chords from Burton. “Blues It” gets a deep groove established with with fine piano accents and deeply soulful tenor playing. Bailey rides the groove for all it is worth, while constantly keeping the music moving forward. Brown gets a couple of excellent features, taking a nice opening bass solo on the lengthy “Trilogy” and engaging brilliantly with Pope on the intimate tenor and bass duet “For All We Know.” Trumpeter Tolliver sits in on the latter, pushing the proceedings out into an exploratory modal jazz concept. This was an excellent album, and Talking House deserves praise for shining a much needed light on an unjustly overlooked musician. Bailey is masterful here, playing great jazz in a soulful and thoughtful manner. The band as a whole is excellent and this is highly recommended for fans of modern acoustic jazz.
Blueprints Of Jazz Vol. 3 -

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mississippi Fred McDowell - (self titled) (Rounder, 1995)

Fred McDowell of Como, Missisippi was one of the great originals of modern blues music. After playing guitar and singing the blues and gospel music for friends and family for many years and developing a completely unique style, he was “discovered” in the late 1950’s and went on to have a successful late life recording career. He toured and influenced many young rock and blues musicians, notably Bonnie Raitt, whom he developed a close friendship with. This album is particularly interesting, as it is almost like a field recording, featuring McDowell playing for friends and neighbors in his house in Mississippi during the early 1960's. The informal nature of the setting brings out some wonderful music, with McDowell playing some slashing guitar and beautiful slide work and his vocals are deep and intimate. He plays some of the standards that would come to define his music, like the torrid version of “Shake ‘em on Down” and the deeply rhythmic “I Rolled and I Tumbled,” which was his own take on the blues classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Also of particular interest is the retelling of the great African-American story “John Henry” and McDowell brings that great steel driving man to life like few before him. The song that would be most identified with McDowell, “Kokomo Blues” gets a fine and infectious treatment as well. Slower blues are also represented as well, with the beautiful and haunting “61 Highway” painting a picture of rural life and the lure of the leaving trunk. “Red Cross Store” was a topical blues about the poor treatment of African-Americans at the hands of those who claimed to be helping them. This is a wonderfully intimate and enjoyable disc, almost like being a fly on the wall during a small get together of friends and family. All of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s music is well worth hearing, but if you are coming to him for the first time this is an excellent place to make his acquaintance.
Mississippi Fred McDowell -

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Scott Fields - Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007)

Guitarist and composer Scott Fields is greatly inspired by the work of other artists, particularly writers and playwrights. The Irish writer Samuel Beckett seems to be a particular inspiration, as this was the first of two homages to his work. Accompanying Fields on this journey are Matthias Schubert on tenor saxophone, Scott Roller on cello and John Hollenbeck on drums and percussion. "Play" is a quicksilver collective improvisation, with cello and saxophone trade sections with a warm but crisp sounding guitar. The music is fast and exciting, propelling bu great drumming and a nervous yet fast and surefooted energy. "Come and Go" slows things down a bit with a performance that is much more abstract and probing. Mournful cello gives things a melancholy air. "What Where" opens with stark saxophone and guitar moving into a wild and free improvisation that moves way out into sections of pure sound. There is a more open section of pointillist guitar and cello moving finally into a nice free section where drums and saxophone are first amongst equals. "Rockaby" finishes things up beginning with guitar focused mid-tempo improvisation and a nice intricate section before they break into a near funk groove with strutting tenor saxophone. I'm not quite sure how Fields used Beckett as an inspiration for this album, perhaps he used the settings or some other aspect from the plays to develop a structure for the improvisations that are conducted here. They evolve in a suite like manner as if there are cues that the musicians are following as keys to their improvisations. Regardless, the music is very interesting and exciting and one needs no knowledge of the literature to enjoy it.
Beckett -

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lester Young Revisited

Don't miss Ethan Iverson's epic investigation into the life and music of Lester Young at the blog of The Bad Plus, Do the Math.

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Ben Monder and Bill McHenry - Bloom (Blue Music Group, 2009)

This album was an intimate duo consisting of collectively improvised sound sketches between guitarist Ben Monder and saxophonist Bill McHenry. Although these men are at the forefront of the modern mainstream jazz scene in New York City, they leave the familiar world of post-bop jazz behind for the most part on this album as the improvisations found here were experimental, and they were presented as mood pieces rather than discrete songs. "Ice Fields" had a creepy and haunting sound with raw guitar feeding back, and caustic and grating saxophone, in a manner which evokes loneliness or isolation. "Winter" brings insistent guitar playing with saxophone blowing over it like winds shifting over a lonesome arctic plain. "Food Chain" has Monder using overdubbed guitar and loops making for a shape shifting base that is an ever-changing pattern for Mchenry's saxophone to probe. There was a cinematic feel here, like something from a science fiction movie taking place on an unusual alien landscape. The music on this album was meditative and thoughtful, and outside for the realm of my normal listening so I found it hard to describe. The enigmatic nature of the music was unusual and unique and speaks well of the musicians as they try to investigate new sonic territory.
Bloom -

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Break

The House of Lost Souls by C.M. Cottam

Paul Seaton is a broken man. He lost his girlfriend, his job and for a while his sanity after his obsession with a beautiful and enigmatic 1920's flapper photographer leads him to investigate the notoriously haunted Fischer House on the Isle of Wight. Years later, after four students enter the house on a lark, one is dead by suicide and the three others hover near insanity. Joining forces with the brother of one of the stricken students, Paul returns to Fisher House to end the horror once and for all. This is a deeply atmospheric ghost story, evoking rain drenched British landscapes and to my delight many musical references. This was a really captivating tale that is thoughtful and patient in revealing its secrets. The problem with most modern horror stories is they get so hung up on bloodletting and gore that they forget the most profound horror is of the psychological kind. Cottam to his credit never forgets this and tells a deeply spooky ghost story.

The Outfit by Richard Stark

The mob never should have messed with Parker. Before it was business, but when they sent the hit man to his hotel, it became personal. Can the master thief and ultimate anti-hero take down the entire Syndicate? Loners like Parker and his underworld associates had previously honored an uneasy peace with organized crime, but now all deals are off. Parker spreads the word - hit them and hit them hard. Soon, Outfit fronts for gambling and loan sharking are being hit all across the country, but Parke...more The mob never should have messed with Parker. Before it was business, but when they sent the hit man to his hotel, it became personal. Can the master thief and ultimate anti-hero take down the entire Syndicate? Loners like Parker and his underworld associates had previously honored an uneasy peace with organized crime, but now all deals are off. Parker spreads the word - hit them and hit them hard. Soon, Outfit fronts for gambling and loan sharking are being hit all across the country, but Parker has been saving one hit for himself - the big boss The third book in the Parker series is another deliciously dark romp, through the criminal underworld of the early 1960’s. Imagine Mad Men with guns and you get the idea. Parker is one of the greatest creations in crime fiction and Stark takes him from sunny Florida to the grimy streets of Syracuse to the penultimate showdown in a rambling Buffalo mansion. The language and dialog are pared to the bone, perfect for a character who uses few words, but harbors a huge grudge.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Donny McCaslin - Declaration (Sunnyside, 2009)

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin's last album, 2008's Recommended Tools was one of my favorite albums of last year. Stark and lean, it was a very impressive performance. This album takes a different tack, with a larger group and a focus on melody making for a more lush and full bodied sound. Besides McCaslin, the core group consists of Edward Simon on piano and organ, Ben Monder on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Extra brass is also added on several of the tracks. "M" opens the album with some mild guitar and piano. McCaslin's tenor saxophone builds slowly to and exciting feature, and after his extended solo, there is a piano feature before the full band comes in to finish. "Fat Cat" also has a mellow opening, giving way to a majestic tenor saxophone solo that is nicely paced and padded with some nice arrangements underneath. "Declaration" has a yearning feel, ballad saxophone playing measured and sublime. "Rock Me" picks up the tempo very nicely with an exciting tenor saxophone solo and some killing electric guitar playing from Ben Monder. Horns fill back in and take the arrangement to a near symphonic or cinematic conclusion. "Jeanina" and "2nd Hour" return to the mid-tempo sensibility that pervades most of this album, but "Late Night Gospel" ends the proceedings with a beautiful ballad, McCaslin's tenor saxophone getting a deeply sensuous and breathy sound. This album worked well with interesting arrangements and fine soloing, particularly from the leader, whose thoughtful and patient sculpting of his solos was very impressive.
Declaration -

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jazzmob - Flashback (Jazzaway, 2009)

Jazzmob is another one of the group of stellar Scandinavian jazz groups that have sprung up recently, making exciting and challenging music that pays scant attention to boundaries and focuses on making excellent music. Consisting of Kare Nymark on trumpet, Jon Klette on alto saxophone and electronics, Gisle Johansen on tenor saxophone, Anders Aarum on keyboards, Per Zanussi on bass and Andreas Bye on drums, the music on this live album is at a very high level throughout. "Pathfinder" opens with fine trumpet over insistent piano accompaniment. "Don't Mess With Miss T" has some uptempo fanfare riffing giving way to a nice electric piano solo encouraged by rapid and dexterous drumming, and a potent swirling tenor saxophone solo. "Flashback" keeps the pace moving quickly this time accented with alto saxophone and acoustic piano. "Bass Interlude>Major Walk" has a fine solo from Zanussi and then the band re-enters for a cacophonous free interlude. This energy is kept up on the following tune, "Crossbreed," which combines squealing saxophone with electronics, making something like free-fusion. The only performance approaching a ballad on this album is "Segments Of Bird" which is slower but still strong featuring a patient tenor saxophone solo that builds to an exciting climax. "Fifth Horizon" starts the kettle to boil again with a strong and swirling saxophone solo, and a nicely building keyboard feature. "Just Like That" ends the album with some strong riffing and live electronics. This was an exciting and enjoyable album with combined with modern modal and free jazz with electronics giving it postmodern touches of fusion and progressive rock. This band is quite talented and I hope we hear more from them in the future. Another winner from the Jazzaway label which is on quite a roll.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

David Murray - Home (Black Saint, 1982)

I’m not alone in thinking that the octet configuration is where saxophonist and composer David Murray makes his most powerful statements. On this recording, his octet has a wonderful collection of talent including Henry Threadgill on alto saxophone, Olu Dara on trumpet, Butch Morris on cornet, George Lewis on trombone, Anthony Davis on piano, Wilber Morris on bass and Steve McCall on drums. The themes on this album are some of Murray’s finest and most memorable, and the arrangements are succinct and well done. Instead of starting the album with a swinging flag waver, Murray opts to begin with the title track, taken at mid-tempo and filled with emotion and longing. The sound is lush and poignant, steeped in empathy and compassion. "Santa Barbara and Crenshaw Follies" is one of the band’s highest peaks, a raucous, swinging and joyous blast of energy. Murray’s music had never sounded quite as fun as it does here as he takes a frenetic and very exciting solo over Davis’ percussive accompaniment. “Choctaw Blues” goes deep with Murray’s bass clarinet playing off nicely against Morris’ bowed bass as the other horns riff along. Coming back to tenor saxophone, Murray and the other horns make cacophonous improvisation over some excellent drumming from Steve McCall. “Last of the Hipmen” calms things down a little to a beautiful theme statement from to horns sounding much bigger then they are. They build into a medium tempo swing, making way for a bracing Threadgill solo, and a very nice spotlight for the leader on tenor saxophone. They wrap up the album with “3D Family” which is has an exciting full band intro, throwing storming riffs up against solos that peal like bells throughout the performance. This is a snapshot of David Murray at his most protean, when he was recording at a frantic pace and showing an alternate path to the stale stable of “young lions” that were being introduced at that time. The writing, arranging and performing are spot on here, and it is one of the brightest spots in David Murray’s very large discography.
Home -

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Vote for Change!

You can vote in the 2009 DownBeat readers poll here until August 24th. Not to overly influence you, but these were my choices:

Hall of Fame: Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist: Nels Cline
Jazz Album: Rudresh Mahanthappa - Kinsmen
Historical Album: The Complete Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-40
Jazz Group - Fieldwork
Big Band - Charles Tolliver Big Band
Trumpet - Charles Tolliver
Trombone - Robin Eubanks
Soprano Saxophone - Dave Liebman
Alto Saxophone - Rudresh Mahanthappa
Tenor Saxophone - Tony Malaby
Baritone Saxophone - James Carter
Clarinet - Chris Speed
Flute - Sam Rivers
Piano - Vijay Iyer
Organ - John Medeski
Electric Keyboard - Matthew Shipp
Guitar - Nels Cline
Acoustic Bass - William Parker
Electric Bass - Steve Swallow
Drums - Matt Wilson
Percussion - Hamid Drake
Vibes - Matt Moran
Misc. Instrument - David Murray/Bass Clarinet
Male Vocalist - Mose Allison
Female Vocalist - Luciana Souza
Composer - Ben Allison
Record Label - Pi recordings
Blues Artist - Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album - Joe Louis Walker - Witness to the Blues

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Louis Sclavis - Lost on the Way (ECM, 2009)

Louis Sclavis is a saxophonist, clarinetist and composer who has a unique and interesting conception of jazz, drawing on French folk music and European and American jazz to create an enjoyable mixture. On this album, he is joined by Matthieu Metzger on soprano and alto saxophones, Maxime Delpierre on guitar, Olivier Lété on bass and François Merville on drums. "De Charybde en Scylla" begins the album with a medium up-tempo feel, anchored by cool, swirling clarinet. The music has a Mediterranean or middle eastern sound, which is at the same time exotic and familiar. "La première île" has slow and inquiring tone, getting a slightly ominous sound with rumbling bass and drums and alarm like saxophone accents. This gives way to the title track which has saxophone anchored by some nice think sounding bass, building to an intense improvisation at an exciting pace. "Bain d'or" has a sweet, gentle and folkish melody, with bubbling bass, electric guitar and percussion creating a nice foundation. "Le sommeil des sirènes" has a slow building and dark feel, with probing saxophone and guitar. Things pick up later in the track with the introduction of rockish drumming and snarling electric guitar. "Les doutes du cyclope" has a multi-horn opening that makes way for soprano saxophone backed by grooving electric bass and drums. Delpierre's guitar sparks interesting accents, adding intensity to the music. This was a nice open ended jazz album with attractive use of clarinet, guitar and electric bass. The compositions are fresh and consistently interesting and the improvisation and musicianship are on a very high level.
Lost on the Way -

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Johnny Shines - Standing at the Crossroads (Testament, 1971)

Although bluesman Johnny Shines is remembered today as a running buddy of the famous Robert Johnson, he was actually much more than a fellow traveler. Shines grew up in Tennessee, soaking up the Beale Street sound in Memphis learning at the foot of Howlin' Wolf. He roamed depression era America for a couple of years in the mid 30's with Johnson, before settling down in Chicago. After leaving the music business to work in the construction trade, Shines began performing and recording again during the so-called "blues revival" of the 1960's. This recording finds him revisiting the Johnson years, playing in an evocative solo acoustic format and revisiting some of the older mans music. Shines music is haunting and provocative, whether he is remaking one of Johnson's most famous tunes as "Standing at the Crossroads" and playing the famous "Kind Hearted Woman." His own haunting "Drunken Man's Prayer" and slide guitar accents used on "It's a Low Down Dirty Shame" are chilling as well. Swinging through the classic blues standard "How Long" Shines sings with a rough dignity and compassion that few could match, accompanied by some nimble guitar playing. While it is doubtful that Shines will receive the kind of posthumous recognition that Johnson received, he was an excellent performer, who's contribution to the blues should not be forgotten.
Standing at the Crossroads -

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

John Hollenbeck - Rainbow Jimmies (GPE Records, 2009)

This is an interesting collection by percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck presenting music that was written for various commissions over the past couple of years. Utilizing a small trio, percussion ensemble and his most famous group, the Claudia Quintet, this presents a well rounded introduction to a fascinating musician. The disc opens with a seven part suite called "Grey Cottage Study" with short vignettes for a trio of Todd Reynolds on violin, Matt Moran on vibraphone and Hollenbeck on drums. While much of the suite is moody and melancholy, during the sixth piece, "Dustish," the music becomes more propulsive with sawing violin and percussive vibraphone accents. "Sinanari (Acoustic Remix)" by The Claudia Quintet was my favorite track on the album, this group has Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Matt Moran on vibraphone and percussion, Drew Gress on bass and Hollenbeck on drums. The track has a cool and soulful sound with clarinet and vibes meshing nicely over a funky backbeat. The other Claudia Quintet track is "Rainbow Jimmies" which sets up an interesting droning feel before giving way to a snarling electric guitar solo from guest Mark Stewart. "Ziggurat" is a composition in two parts, "Interior" featuring The Youngstown Percussion Collective and Saxophone Quartet giving the music a funky and immediate feel with shifting percussion and musicians yelling encouragement. "Exterior" features the Ethos Percussion Group getting a fun and slightly kooky sound adding some ringing bells to the mix. While at first blush this seems like an "odds and sods" collection, there's a lot more here than tying up loose ends. The album gives a nice introduction of Hollenbeck's musical conception that draws from jazz and classical and also gives examples of the breadth of his compositional vision.
Rainbow Jimmies -

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

John Surman - Brewster's Rooster (ECM, 2009)

Saxophonist and composer John Surman has been one of the leading lights of British jazz for more than forty years. Recently, he has been expanding his horizons by recording with brass ensembles and strings, but on this album he returns to his roots, playing thoroughly modern jazz. Surman plays baritone and soprano saxophones, joined by John Abercrombie on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This group sounds wonderfully tight together, moving through the twists and turns of the music with nary a spill. "Slanted Sky" opens the album gently, moving like a morning sunrise and reminding me of the gentle and deep music on the Miles Davis classic In a Silent Way. "Hilltop Dancer" moves at a faster tempo with a nice guitar solo backed by swift and agile drums. Surman steps up with a deep baritone solo, but DeJohnette is the key here as he is throughout the album - he's just killing throughout. "Kickback" is the peak of the album, building to an extraordinary fast paced performance with strong saxophone riffing, serpentine guitar and deeply rhythmic drumming, it's a knockout. They slow things down with a gorgeous version of Billy Strayhorn's classic "Chelsea Bridge," focused on Surman's big lush tone. Spare, patient and thoughtful, this is a very well done ballad performance. This may fly under the radar a little bit, but it shouldn't. There are no gimmicks here, it's straight-up, no-nonsense modern jazz played by a stellar band. Don't miss it.
Brewster's Rooster -

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Ron Horton - It's a Gadget World (Abeat, 2009)

This interesting trans-Atlantic collaboration came about when trumpeter Ron Horton met pianist Antonio Zambrini during an Italian tour in 2005. Coming together with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Tony Moreno, they develop a fine album of modern hard-bop. Opening with his ode to the fast paced, on the go lifestyle that people take part in today "It's a Gadget World" is an edgy fast paced beginning to the album. Horton's rich creamy tone on trumpet and flugelhorn and the pianists lush chording give the music an emotional and at times romantic feel. This is especially true of "Waiting for That" where the pianist gets room for a lengthy and full solo followed by Horton's clarion and brassy tone, coming forth like a call to arms. "Shorter" is presumably dedicated to the great Mr. Wayne, and contains some of the obtuse complexity in the band's improvisation that made his compositions beloved by jazz musicians. Horton takes the lead with a clear and punchy trumpet solo. "9x9" composed by Paul Motian is more emotional and darker composition, with the musicians using deeper musical hues in the development of their improvisations. Dark deep classically inspired soloing by Zambrini propels this moody and enigmatic piece along. "Toeing the Line" is a mid tempo performance with a fine Horton solo. Ben Allison's thick supple bass playing underpins "Old West" providing excellent support to a sharp and bright trumpet solo. Originally written for a group of five trumpets plus rhythm, Horton adapted "Chorale" into a spare an haunting performance with his naked sounding and unadorned trumpet at the center. "Laverne" is a nice Andrew Hill composition, with a fine bass interlude for Allison, and fine trading of phrases between Horton and Moreno. This is a patient and thoughtful album of mainstream jazz which is quite accessible and enjoyable. Trumpet partisans in particular shouldn't sleep on this as Horton's agile playing is a joy to hear.
It's a Gadget World -

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pendulum - Mosaic Select 32 (Mosaic, 2008)

This band had an interesting history. An ad hoc group of players that had played together in various other groups, they came together for a one week run at the Village Vanguard in New York City, two nights of which were taped for an album on the Artists House that while widely praised, quickly fell out of print. Re-issue label Mosaic acquired the master tapes from both nights, re-mastered them and produced this excellent three disc set. Consisting of Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano saxophones, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Richie Beirach on piano, Frank Tusa on bass and Al Foster on drums, this band was near the state of the art of modern hard bop for 1978, when this music was recorded. This set is a mix of jazz standards and originals, taken at great length with excellent ensemble playing and soloing. Brecker (whom I had mistakenly considered a lightweight for some reason) lifts the music off explosively on "Pendulum." The highlight of the entire set for me was an incredible and long take on Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't" which has wave after wave of extraordinary solos spinning off of Monk's familiar melody. John Coltrane's "Impressions," taken on tenor, and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," taken on soprano, are features for Leibman, who proves himself to be a worthy successor to those two men with excellent and logically developed solos. This was a great save on Mosaic's part, rescuing some extraordinary music from obscurity and making it available in an excellent package with a nice liner essay.
Mosaic Select 32 -

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Joe Morris - Wildlife (AUM Fidelity, 2009)

Prolific guitarist and bassist Joe Morris has kept a high profile in 2009, recording as a leader and a co-leader in several interesting settings. On this open ended trio performance, he sticks to acoustic bass, joined by Petr Cancura on tenor and alto saxophones and Luther Gray on drums. The music on this album has a very exciting and organic go for broke feel, reminiscent of the famous loft jazz sessions which took place in New York City during the 1970’s. Morris is a very democratic bandleader, giving space to fellow band members, like Gray’s opening percussion solo on the first track, “Geomantic.” Bass and saxophone join after a few minutes, and the group is off and running on a frenetic collective improvisation. Gray gets another solo turn toward the end of the track and makes the most of it, soloing in a deeply rhythmic and dexterous fashion. “Thicket” takes it’s time developing, like a tiger stalking its prey through the tall grasses of the African savanna, it slowly builds before springing into a ferocious saxophone led cacophony at around the ten minute mark. “Crow” slows things down to a simmering boil, with Cancura developing a deep and luscious tenor tone which melds the breathy passion of Ben Webster with the modern sensibility of David Murray. He (and the trio as a whole) are very patient here, letting the music develop under its own terns, and not rushing to force the action. “Nettle” kicks things back up into gear for the final performance of the album, with Gray and Morris locking into a tight and propulsive groove and Cancura taking his cue to reel off a thoughtful and inspired solo. Morris treats himself to a well deserved solo spot in the middle before everybody comes back to take things out. This was a spirited and exciting album which offered a wide open structure allowing the musicians to show off their creativity in a fun and often thrilling manner. Morris and Gray are typically excellent, but Cancura is a real find, I like his approach to the saxophone, deep and immediate, knowledgeable about the past but driving hard to develop his own conception and tell his own musical story. Hopefully we will hear more from him soon.
Wildlife -

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Jim Black's Alasnoaxis - Houseplant (Winter and Winter, 2009)

Jim Black leads from the drum kit on this album, joined by Hilmar Jensson on guitar, Skuli Sverrisson on bass and Chris Speed on saxophones. The group takes a very democratic and collective approach to music, working together and blending their sounds in the search for unique texture and feeling. The music itself is built in layers, stratified one atop the next making for an unusual and accessible sound-scape. Although there are solo sections, selfless collective playing and improvising are the key to the music's success. With all the discussion in the jazz blogosphere recently about attracting younger listeners to jazz and improvised music, this is a group that should be taken seriously as an example of how to do it. Blending the improvisation of jazz with the energy and passion of indie rock, they move beyond genre and have the ability to appeal to all types of music fans.
Houseplant -

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Flow Trio - Rejuvenation (ESP, 2009)

It is quite appropriate that this open ended trio is recording for ESP Records, as the sound of the group is reminiscent of perhaps ESP's most famous record, saxophonist Alber Ayler's Spiritual Unity recorded in 1964. This open ended group is grounded in the past of this famous recording and the thoroughly modern present and consists of Louie Belogenis on tenor saxophone, Joe Morris on bass and Charles Downs on drums. The album opens with "Reflection" with slow and spare saxophone at its center. The music is probing and mournful like an open wound. "Slow Cab" begins with bass and the trio slowly fills in building an intimate vibe like a conversation amongst close friends or relations. "Pick Up Sticks" gets things moving a little more quickly with a fast and raw improvisation. It's heady stuff, nervous and unadorned free jazz which works in a bass interlude and a fractured drum solo. "Two Acts" opens with the trio improvising collectively in a fast, strong and dexterous manner. Nice deep and wild playing, hinting at Ayler and featuring Morris stepping up with a deep thick tone on bass. "Unfolding" keeps the pace strong with corrosive saxophone and elastic bass playing off of Downs' nimble drumming. This was an enjoyable and exciting album, the group plays very well together bringing their diverse energies and musical conceptions together and working toward a common goal.
Rejuvenation -

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Medeski, Martin and Wood - Radiolarians III (Indirecto, 2009)

Conceived and written during recent tours and recorded while still fresh, this third and presumably final album in the series finds the group expanding their comfortable funky jazz niche to include elements of gospel and avant-classical. Consisting of keyboard player John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood, the group opens the album with "Chantes Des Femmes" which begins in a mid-tempo organic groove before shifting easily through sections of piano/bass duet and ruminative and dark solo piano. Their arrangement of the ancient gospel standard "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" was quite interesting, opening with Medeski on acoustic piano, plumbing the low end of the keyboard, before Wood's bass kicks in heavy and distorted speaking in tongues over a nasty backbeat. "Kota" has some gently tinkling piano and plucked string instrument building slow and trance like with bursts of free improvisation built in like summer showers rolling over the landscape. "Undone" and "Wonton" reel the experimentation back in, with the former using a pop music construction with the organ and deep, thick bass featuring wah-wah moving the music in a decidedly psychedelic rock feel. "Wonton" is a blast of straight old-school organ trio groove, a nice nod to Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff, and other pioneers of the format. "Walk Back" keeps the groove hot, like a heavy, thick stew propelled by hot percussion. "Jean's Scene" changes things up a little bit, with Medeski moving back to the piano and using a Latin/salsa motif to spin out a mellow improvisation. "Broken Mirror" takes a turn moving into an ominous mid-tempo with probing organ. The music has a cinematic movie music feel to it. Finally the group end the album with a massive funk hit, "Gwyra Mi" with splashes of reggae in the beat, it's a medium-up organ swinger with an infectious beat, and featuring a dexterous drum solo. This album and the Radiolarians series as a whole have been quiet successful for MMW with the conception allowing for more organic and natural development of the music which seems quite inspirational for the group. This is a nice solid album of varied and enjoyable music.
Radiolarians III -

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book review

Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice (Five Star Paperback) Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice by Ken Bruen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cooper is an ex-con in London who is part owner of a repossession business called Righteous Repo with a fella named Doc (because he wears Doc Martens, not because of any medical talent) whom he met in prison. Cooper and Doc also have a profitable side business, namely in bank robbery. When Cooper meets Cassie, a sexy American tourist, the wheels start to come off. Cassie is clearly mentally ill, obsessed with the poet of the title and soon becomes obsessed with Cooper and becomes the bane of his existence. When the cops come sniffing around, things go from bad to worse as Cooper and Doc plan the big bank score and Cassie's brother makes the scene. This is a short and quick blast of noir from Bruen, novella length really and the narrative hits fast and hard. Cassie is the femme fatale writ large and everybody from the cops to the crooks is on the take and looking to grab whatever he or she can get their hands on. This is a good solid crime story, Bruen as always keeps the kettle at full boil and the action is fast and furious. Recommended for fans of the hard boiled genre.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

News and Notes

NPR has a nice web site set up with lots of photographs and archived concerts from this weekends Newport Jazz Festival.
One of the most diverse and intriguing lineups in recent memory comes to the annual jazz festival in Newport, R.I., celebrating its 55th year this August. NPR Music, with partners WBGO and WGBH, will present live coverage and recording archives of George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55.
NPR's A Blog Supreme also weighs in on the important conversation initiated by Terry Teachout about the audience for jazz:
But furthermore: has Teachout recently talked to or seen in concert any jazz musician under the age of 35? I'm fairly certain that jazz musicians, and especially young jazz musicians, don't exist in hermetic bubbles. They listen to the popular music of their peers and their generation, and often themselves make it for fun and/or for a living. And so they don't think jazz is anything intrinsically different than good rock, or hip-hop, or whatever it is. If there's one thing I can say about young jazz musicians, it's that their first favorite records were probably not jazz albums. Their musical outlooks probably reflect that.
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Sunday, August 09, 2009

John Zorn - O'o (Tzadik, 2009)

This unusually titled album (named for an extinct Hawaiian bird) is a sequel of sorts to John Zorn’s album The Dreamers, which was released in 2008. Both have short compositions of cinematic texture which use the varied colors in the palate of available instrumentation to create accessible music that hints at exotica, lounge music and film scores. Zorn does not play saxophone on this recording, but his compositions make an indelible imprint on the nature of the music. The performers on this album are: Cyro Baptista on percussion, Joey Baron on drums, Trevor Dunn on bass, Marc Ribot on guitar, Jamie Saft on piano and organ and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone. Ribot’s stinging electric guitar takes center stage on “Little Bittern” backed by fender rhodes electric piano and a solid backbeat. Acoustic piano is the centerpiece of “Mysterious Starling” moving through an enigmatic soundscape of shimmering electric guitar and vibes. “Laughing Owl” is a spritely and upbeat song that gets a “space age bachelor pad” feel by putting the vibraphone front and center. “Piopio” uses the similarly hued fender rhodes and vibraphone to create a unique light and airy feel to the music, while “Archaeopteryx” moves in another direction entirely, evoking the haunted landscapes of Cormac McCarthy or James Lee Burke in its quiet melancholic longing, it would be ideal movie music. “Zapata Rail” builds to an explosive Ribot solo, in many ways he is the hero of this album, playing beautifully regardless of tempo or texture. This is a unique and interesting album. Using a wide variety of musical colors and music inspired by nature, John Zorn has crafted a intriguing suite of music. It is fascinating to see how Zorn’s music has evolved in this year alone. He has been de-emphasizing the saxophone to focus on composition with this band, a Masada unit with Joe Lovano in the saxophone chair and soundtrack music based around Ribot’s guitar. Much fascinating music from an ever evolving musical polymath.
O'o -

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Jazz Isn't Dead, It Just Smells Funny

Terry Teachout's article in The Wall Street Journal has been spreading waves through the jazz community. He thinks that the audience for jazz is getting older (he supplies some nice quantitative data for this) and that getting young people interested in the music is critical. He writes:
Any symphony orchestra that thinks it can appeal to under-30 listeners by suggesting that they should like Schubert and Stravinsky has already lost the battle. If you’re marketing Schubert and Stravinsky to those listeners, you have no choice but to start from scratch and make the case for the beauty of their music to otherwise intelligent people who simply don’t take it for granted. By the same token, jazz musicians who want to keep their own equally beautiful music alive and well have got to start thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners—not next month, not next week, but right now.
He's right about this, of course, but I wonder if he isn't a little bit out of touch with the younger musicians and fans that are out there. Publicist Matt Merewitz is out there, representing progressive jazz musicians and interacting with their fans, and he believes that that scene isn't nearly so dire:
I do not intend to attack Mr. Teachout, whom I have the utmost respect for. But I am saying that a corollary must be written to offer the other side of the story; that jazz is alive among many younger folks and that it's thriving - not just in NY but in LA, Philly, Richmond, VA, Detroit, Seattle, SF, Denver-Boulder, Chicago, etc. We must emphasize the things going on that are positive factors in the continuation of the music. (via e-mail)
I think I have to side with Matt on this issue. Sure, the number of younger people frequenting the Village Vanguard or The Blue Note may be down (who under 30 can afford a night out there anyway!) but how about Smalls, The Stone or any other performance space that features young musicians at a reasonable price? I see high school age students at my library every day checking out CDs by Dave Douglas and Medeski, Martin and Wood, they might not recognize it as "jazz" but they know good music when they hear it. What I would love to see is poeple like Terry Teachout put their money where their mouths are by interacting with young with young people on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and the plethora of social networking sites young people use. Teachout and company have a lifetime of experience in the music and have wonderful stories and memories to share. Not only that, but talented young musicians like Rudresh Mahantahppa, Steve Lehman, Jason Moran and many others are making new and vital music today. We need to get away from the idea of jazz as a museum piece and realize that the music we call jazz is an ever evolving artform, that will never really die.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Crimetime Orchestra w/ Sonny Simmons (Jazzaway, 2009)

Recorded live at an Oslo jazz festival in 2007, progressive big band Crimetime Orchestra pulled out all the stops, inviting legendary alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons as a guest soloist, and adding a string section as well. What results is a riot of color and texture that combines free jazz with progressive classical music in a fascinating way that blows away previous "third stream" musical experiments. Presented as an eight part suite, "Atomic Symphony 1" begins in a deceptively mild fashion with the string section opening, before the horns come in and turn the music into an exciting free jazz improvisation. The music is driven to thunderous cacophony at a blast furnace tempo. "AS - 2" sets an atmospheric tone with slow probing horns sounding creepy and haunting, accented by electronics and feedback that make the music sound cinematic and foreboding. Clocking in at over a half hour, "AS - 3" is the centerpiece of the album. Picking up the pace to a strong tempo, Simmons enters with some smart energetic soloing over supple and tight drumming. With darting phrases that recall Eric Dolphy, he weaves around some electronic texture and takes an unaccompanied solo. Tenor sax and drums return to usher in a wild free section, one of many in this suite within a suite. It's an excellent feature for Simmons' unique musical conception, and then music ends with an awesome free for all, sounding like the coming of a musical Armageddon. "AS - 4" brings things back down to earth with a slow movement for horns, making for textural soundscapes. Simmons breaks out buoyed by riffing horns and strong percussion. The band shows its sense of humor by jumping into a crazy swing section, sounding like the Count Basie Orchestra on massive doses of amphetamines. "AS - 5" builds well also, starting with a slow string introduction, with probing piano; the pace gradually builds to music that is wild and woolly. Following a section of much deserved applause, "AS - 7" and "AS - 8" are encores and codas featuring nicely thought out musical statements that bring this concert to a fine conclusion. This was a fascinating performance, with the sprawling band and string section there was a possibility that it could have been a muddy sounding mess, but the the musicians succeed triumphantly. Absorbing the strings into the full sound of the band, they never sound tacked on as an afterthought. The masterstroke was the addition of Sonny Simmons, one of the most under-rated musicians of the post war era, he brings the power and passion of a true iconoclast and rockets this music into the stratosphere.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Books: Parker and Parker

The Hunter (Richard Stark's Parker, #1) by Darwyn Cooke (Illustrator) This is the first graphic novel adaptation of the great Parker crime series by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) and it makes for a fascinating comic, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. Shot in the gut and left for dead by his wife after a heist, master criminal Parker struggles with the law and the mob to come to New York City with one rage fueled thought on his mind: revenge. After dealing with the wife, Parker looks to take the mob for everything he can get. One thing is sure - the New York underworld has never met a man quite like Parker. Parker is one of my favorite characters in all of crime fiction, her's the ultimate noir anti-hero, and I was concerned about how well he would translate into graphic form. Very well as it turns out. Cooke illustrates in a retro format that is very appealing and indicative of early 1960's New York City. Parker is drawn as a detached square-jawed figure, cloaked in shadows. Part criminal genius, part brooding thug. Regardless, this is a very successful work, Stark's story is welded perfectly to the Cooke's artwork and isn't altered or compromised in any way. Fans of crime fiction and the Stark/Westlake canon in particular will feel right at home here. This is a fine adaptation and hopefully this series will continue at regular intervals.
The Man With the Getaway Face by Richard Stark After master criminal Parker runs afoul with the New York mob he decamps to Nebraska to have a crooked surgeon give him a new face. He then heads for New Jersey where he plans for an armored car heist. Complications arise as the surgeon is murdered and Parker is implicated as a suspect and one of the crooks planning the heist has plans for the loot that do not involve Parker. The thing I enjoyed most about this book is that all of the action for the armored car heist takes place in the are where I currently live, with Parker driving the roads and visiting the towns I see every day. Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) noir writing style is pared to the bone and a joy to read. Parker is the ultimate tough-guy with brains and an iron will. Things drift strangely toward the end of of the book as perspective shifts to another character for a while, but it doesn't damage the narrative. The Parker series is a joy to read and these re-releases from Chicago University press are quite nice with stylish covers.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wilco - Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch, 2009)

American rock 'n' roll band Wilco has gained a reputation for mixing traditional heartland populist rock music with more experimental tendencies. This album continues that trend, with singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy and a shifting cast of band members taking solace in their contradictory nature. On the one hand there are upbeat radio friendly performances on this disc that seem like their proper place would be on 1970's AM radio, like the infectious opener "Wilco (The Song)" with it's positive up-with-people lyrics and sing along chorus. "You and I" takes the formula a little too far however, veering off into an almost cringe inducing soft rock nadir. Reedeming the album is one of the finest songs Wilco have ever produced, the genuinely disturbing "Bull Black Nova" which is a devastating performance filled with paranoid lyrics and wonderfully passionate guitar textures from Nels Cline. Wilco seems to be at their best (or perhaps I just enjoy them the most) when they up the tempo and remember that they are actually a rock band as displayed on the songs "One Wing" and "Sonny Feeling." In those instances, the pace is quick, the band is tight and the music makes an impact. It is when the tempos slow that the music becomes morose and rather dull. As shown by some of the songs on this album, Wilco is still a band that is well worth following, and hopefully the will get their groove back fully in albums to come, but this offering is somewhat of a mixed bag.
Wilco (The Album) -

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Miroslav Vitous - Remembering Weather Report (ECM, 2009)

Listeners expecting a strict tribute to the seminal fusion band Weather Report are in for quite a surprise. While Vitous was the original bassist for that band, he prefers the subtlety of the acoustic instrument over the volume of the bass guitar. Using his original conception of early Weather Report as a jumping off point, he explores dedicated music and original compositions in the company of Franco Ambrosetti on trumpet, Gary Campbell on tenor saxophone, Michel Portal on bass clarinet and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The first two compositions are dedications and they are two the of the most interesting performances on the album. "Variations on Wayne Shorter" uses the great saxophonist and composer's work (particularly "Nefertiti") as a jumping off point for an enigmatic and mysterious improvisation. "Variations on Lonely Woman" takes the beautiful and haunting theme of the classic Ornette Coleman composition and moves it into an improvisational statement of quiet longing, a plea of desperation that is quite affecting musically. "Semina (In 3 Parts)" is a suite that builds slowly around Viouts' bowed bass and Cleaver's agile drumming, the horns eventually move in to stake their claim during an unpredictable performance. "Surfing with Michel" features Portal's hollow and woody sounding bass clarinet in a duet with the leader. "When Dvorák Meets Miles" was an interesting performance as well, moving from the haunting and eerie vibe that pervades most of the album. Vitous' sawing bow work combining with the punchy trumpet of Abrbosetti was a beguilling sound.I found that this album took a great deal of patience to come to grips with, but I really liked their take on the Ornette and Shorter's music, as the group certainly brought an original conception to it. If you enjoy spare, thoughtful music with classical overtones, this is definitely for you. It is atmospheric in the extreme, like the cloud shrouded sky of its cover.
Remembering Weather Report -

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