Saturday, October 31, 2009

Joey DeFrancesco - Snapshot (HighNote, 2009)

Organist Joey DeFrancesco reunites his original trio with Paul Bollenback on guitar and Byron Landham on drums for a nice off the cuff live album, recorded earlier this year in Arizona. The music is shorn of pretensions and is a vivid representation of a club set by a fine working band. "Eighty-One" opens the album in style, with the band building from a medium tempo and slowly raising the heat. The standard "The End of a Love Affair" also keeps things on a low simmer, with DeFrancesco working the keyboard with patience and restraint. Things kick up a notch at the 3:00 mark settling into a fast groove led by Landham's agile drumming. Bollanback gets a subtly shaded guitar feature, before the group slows things back down and takes it out. "Ode to Angela" has a mild start, bubbling from the organ, building to a section where DeFrancesco piles on heaps of lush chording, before giving way to Bollenback's guitar. "Songline" builds the pace in a fast moving trio improvisation, making space for a clear toned guitar interlude. "You Don't Know Me" slows things down to a ballad pace, with DeFrancesco adding some enormous slabs of organ at times a little over the top, but adding a bit of a gospel air to the proceedings. The band performs "Fly Me Too The Moon," which builds energy with some wailing sustained organ work, and "Whichole" a flat out groover to wrap up the set, and they do in a very strong fashion. It is clear that the band has been playing together for quite a while (on and off for fifteen years) and they are very locked into each other throughout. Fans of the groovin' jazz organ tradition perfected by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Larry Young will find a lot to enjoy with the generous and enjoyable album.
Snapshot -

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Vandermark 5 - Annular Gift (Not Two, 2009)

The latest statement from this long running group was recorded live at the club Alchemia in Krakow during March of 2009. After a change a few years ago, the band has stabilized as Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and Bb clarinet, Dave Rempis on saxophones, Kent Kessler on bass, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Tim Daisy on drums. "Spiel (for Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill)" is a very long performance that opens the album with some cool riffing of the horns and wild electric cello before strong tenor saxophone and swinging Dolphy-ish alto propel the music into the stratosphere. At the 10:45 the music drops off dramatically, with bass and cello providing a drone for Vandermark to quietly improvise over on clarinet. Slow and spacey alto responds before the full band returns with strong collective improvisation to conclude the performance. "Table, Skull, and Bottles (for Bruno Johnson)" Has some medium up riffing and sawing electric cello before Rempis enters with a deep alto solo. A bass interlude heralds the entry of Vandermark with some agile and bluesy tenor. "Early Color (for Saul Leiter)" opens with slow, patient tenor saxophone and percussion. The music gradually increases in intensity and builds to a powerful conclusion. "Second Marker (for Ab Baars)" has a swinging opening over strong cello and bass. Vandermark's tenor solo is extraordinary and ripe with thrilling ideas throughout. "Cement (for Michael Haberz)" opens with subtle percussion before strong riffing horns come in to pick up and propel the music. Lonberg-Holm's electric cello is particularly interesting here, reminiscent of the work John Cale did for the early Velvet Underground. He is reeled back in for a hard and fast round of collective improvisation before Vandermark breaks free from the pack to soar like a majestic eagle with a great caustic tenor saxophone solo. "Cadmium Orange (for Francis Bacon)" wraps up the album with acoustic cello or bowed bass along with lightly blown horns. The music is light and nimble with the horns and bows squeaking and skittering freely. The music gets stronger at the halfway point with full-bodied riffing from the horns and guitar like distorted electric cello with heavy rock-like drumming. The music then builds to a strong and vibrant conclusion.This is one of the finest working groups in jazz and their commitment to musical adventure remains as true today as ever. The dedications of the compositions seem to really inspire Vandermark and his companions to make thrilling and very enjoyable music.
Annular Gift -

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Apocalypse is Nigh

I am known at work for (among other things) having a esoteric taste in music. Sharing an office with four other people in close proximity, I carve out my own little niche in the maelstrom by playing music as much as possible. So when a colleague whose musical interests extend as far as Coldplay came in, handed me a list and asked "Do you have any of these CD's?" I was taken aback, to say the least. The discs in question were:
  • John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
  • Thelonious Monk - Monk's Music
  • Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity
  • Peter Brotzmann - Machine Gun
So being the music nerd I am, I responded, "Yes, I have all of them, they are considered classics." But what I was thinking was: "You're messing with me, right?" In the United States, jazz has a market share of approximately 2% and for the out there stuff like Ayler and Brotzmann it's even less. So for a People Magazine reading, Survivor watching person to ask me about music like this was highly improbable. Apparently she had read the Steve Hamilton novel Night Work and music, especially jazz, plays a big role in the narrative with the protagonist playing tracks from these albums in the course of the plot. This isn't new, many great mystery novels have evoked jazz in the past, but to evoke the freest of the free is a fascinating twist. I'll have to check it out soon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lightnin' Hopkins - The Gold Star Sessions, Vol. 1 (Arhoolie, 1993)

These rare early recordings of the great blues guitarist and singer Lightnin' Hopkins were recorded in Houston between 1947 - 1950 and remastered from acetates and 78 rpm records in the early 1990's. Capturing Hopkins in his purest form, mostly unaccompanied with just his wry voice and guitar, this makes for a fascinating listen. Hopkins was a songster who took material from wherever he could find it, be that a blues standard like Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go" or his own topical (and risky) blues "Tim Moore's Farm." In this amazing song, Hopkins lays bare the facts of plantation life. Told that his wife has died, the protagonist asks the bossman for permission to attend the burial and is denied with a vicious racial slur. This song and the haunting "Death Bells" are among the deepest of the deep blues, but it is not all heartbreak and desperation. "Lightnin' Boogie" shows Hopkins' idiosyncratic guitar style in full bloom, while "Bid Mama Jump" and "Treat Me Kind" would have been popular in the taverns and juke joints of the Gulf Coast where Hopkins plied his trade. Overall, this was a very good album and the performances are first rate throughout. The sound quality is a little rough in spots, but nothing that blues fans haven't heard before.
Gold Star Sessions, Vol. 1 -

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Eric Alexander - Revival of the Fittest (High Note, 2009)

Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is one of the busiest musicians on the mainstream scene, recording many albums as a leader and a sideman. On this album he confidently charges into the fray again, aided by Harold Mabern on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. His strong and agile tone recalls Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons and is well suited to this collection of standards and bluesy originals, and it makes for a pleasant listening experience. The album opens briskly with "Revival" where Alexander solos strongly over nice melodic accompaniment by his frequent collaborator Mabern. "Too Late Fall Back Baby" is one of the album's highlights, with the nice relaxed blues feeling creating the prefect setting for a string of well constructed solos. "Blues For Phineas" is an admirable tribute to the often overlooked pianist, Phineas Newborn. After Mabern sets the mood with a genial opening, Alexander comes in and delivers a patient and powerful solo steeped in the Memphis tradition that Newborn came from. The standard "You Must Believe In Spring" gets a slight Latin makeover that emphasizes the rhythmic aspects of the song and makes for an interesting performance. The bonus track "Yasashiku (Gently)" is a mid-tempo improvised collaboration between Alexander and pianist Mike LeDonne. I liked the relaxed atmosphere of this album, the musicians were familiar with the material and with each other. Fans of modern mainstream hard bop will find a lot to enjoy in this record.
Revival of the Fittest -

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Darius Jones - Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity, 2009)

Darius Jones has built quite a reputation as an instrumentalist and composer since moving to New York City a few years ago. Playing with open minded groups led by downtown luminaries like Mike Pride and William Hooker have prepared him well for this impressive debut album. Jones leads on alto saxophone, along with Cooper-Moore on piano and diddley-bow, Rakalam Bob Moses on drums with Adam Lane on bass and Jason Nazary on drums sitting in on the final track. After opening the album with the slow and raw invocation "Roosevelt," the trio moves into a strong performance with "Cry Out" which features raw and deep saxophone playing building to a fast pace, and featuring some fine piano as well. "We Are Unicorns" has some blistering saxophone developing long tones along with the unique sound of Cooper-Moore's diddly-bow. "Meekness" mellows things out a bit, with Jones' saxophone rising like the morning sun backed by lush piano cording. "Salty" moves into a more abstract realm with alto and diddley-bow and percussion creating a wide open soundscape. "Chasing the Ghost" has an uptempo and strong diddley-bow building to fast collective improvisation. An urgent conclusion makes this one of the most exciting tracks on the album. "Big Train Rollin" and "Forgive Me" slow down the pace a little bit, moving some deeply controlled saxophone over light and probing percussion. The disc closes on a very high not with the bonus track "Chaych" with Lane and Nazary backing Jones, who gets a brawny tone on sax and builds a Mingus like aura of emotion and power. The group then takes things out deep with raw free epic blowing in a powerful performance. I liked this album a lot, it had a searching, seeking tone that was emotionally resonant and very impressive.
Man'ish Boy -

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Linda Oh Trio - Entry (Linda Oh Music, 2009)

There is something really satisfying about discovering a young musician who is filled with energy and ideas. Bassist Linda Oh is one such musician, who plays her instrument with audacious power and open mindedness. Joining her on her debut album are Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Obed Calvaire on drums. A trio setting like this makes heavy demands on each of the members to keep the music flowing, and in this case they are very successful. The opening tracks "Morning Sunset" and "Patterns" show the importance of rhythm to the music on this album. The flow of sound created by the arrangement of the compositions keeps the improvisations consistently interesting and surprising. "Numero Uno" was the highlight of the album for me, opening with a strong and deep bass solo, before Calvaire ups the ante with some very fast paced drums and incites some spitfire trumpet from Akinmusire. The end the disc with the album's only cover, a ruminative version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Soul to Squeeze." I really liked this album a lot, the music was consistently fresh, youthful and healthy. If anyone doubts that jazz crosses all genders and cultures, check out this great album led by a woman born in Malaysia, raised in Australia and now living in New York.
Entry -

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

John Coltrane - Side Steps, Disc Five (Concord, 2009)

Disc Five of this collection of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane's recordings as a sideman for the Prestige label is the final one in this package, beginning with a very interesting album under the leadership of the tuba player Ray Draper. During the days of early jazz, tuba was a common instrument until it was displaced by the upright bass in the 1930's. Draper was far from a dusty relic, he was a modernist and the sound that is achieved by combining tenor saxophone and tuba is unique and beguiling. The liner notes compare it to the sound of a tenor improvising over a droning organ, and they are not far off the mark with that assessment. “Clifford’s Kappa,” is a fast paced standout from that session, with Coltrane sounding confident and Draper bumping along nicely. SonnyRollins’s “Paul’s Pal,” and the Latin influenced “Under Paris Skies” find Coltrane taking risks and confidently driving his solos. The set wraps up with an albums nominally led by tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, The Big Sound and His All-Stars. These loose studio jams are enjoyable, with Jerome Richardson on flute, Paul Quinichette on tenor saxophone, Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone, Mal Waldron on piano, George Joyner (Jamil Nasser) on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Coltrane plays alto on The Big Sound, which is a bit of a curio, but his overall musical doesn't change noticeably. These are groove based performances, with a soulful mid-tempo feel for the most part and with a touch of ballads and bop. Newly clean and sober and tempered by his apprenticeship withThelonious Monk, Coltrane was now primed to return to the Miles Davis Quintet for his great comeback, to begin his ascendancy toward becoming one of the most revered musicians in American History. Overall this was a very interesting set which shed some light on an often neglected corner of Coltrane's musical development. The liner booklet is well done with essays and a discography, it can be downloaded in pdf format here. When he entered into this brief period he was scuffling both musically and personally, but due to hard work and perseverance, less than three years leader as a bold, confident man and musician poised to make his mark.
Side Steps -

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vijay Iyer Trio - Historicity (ACT Music, 2009)

Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer has been getting much well deserved publicity for this new trio album, where he explores a wide range of compositions by various musicians and a few originals as well. He is joined on this album by Stephen Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. With everyone contributing structural information, the group acts much more as an organic unit than soloist with accompaniment. This is an excellent album with wonderful interplay amongst the full trio, everybody plays with a very percussive nature that keeps the music moving swiftly, and gives it a wonderfully dynamic feel. Iyer was quoted in the New York Times talking about the about the "disruptive" quality of the music, but it is more questing than subversive. They simply refuse to play it safe, even in a popular standard like "Somewhere" where the Crump gets an excellent solo interlude. "Historicity" opens fast and percussive, with a deep full bodied piano sound. Other highlights are the astonishing MIA cover "Galang (Trio Riot Version)" which is a breathless wash of layered piano, bass and drums. Very nice versions of Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" and Julius Hemphill's "Dogon AD" are complex yet fascinating. Science and mathematics are concurrent interests of his and these interpretations can be knotty, but it never overwhelms the music. The moody quasi-ballad "Segment for Sentiment" is spare and brings the music to a pointed finish. Like Heraclitus famous quote "You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you," Iyer writes in the liner notes (scroll down to the comments to read them) about "being placed in the stream of history" and it is interesting to see the breadth of stream the trio has chosen to place itself in. The stream of music is ever flowing, and this trio has made a wonderful contribution to the current with this album.
Historicity -

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Monday, October 19, 2009

John Coltrane - Side Steps (Concord, 2009)

Disc Four of this collection of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane's recordings as a sideman for the Prestige label finds him continuing to serve under the leadership of pianist Red Garland, taking selections from several Garland LP's of the period (1957.) Joining Garland and Coltrane are Donald Byrd on trumpet, George Joyner (Jamil Nasser) on bass and Art Taylor on drums. "All Mornin' Long" opens the disc and is an apt description, with this twenty minute mid-tempo marathon lasting the length of an entire LP side. The bebop anthems "Billie's Bounce" and "Two Bass Hit" pick up the pace considerably, with excellent solos from Coltrane and Byrd taken at lightning speed. Duke Ellington's "Solitude" is a well paced ballad with a thoughtful yearning sound. "Soft Winds" is interesting because after it establishes a comfortable medium tempo, Coltrane enters with a strong solo swirling torrent of notes followed by a rolling piano interlude. The final selection, "Lazy Mae," also filled an entire side of an original vinyl LP, clocking in at over sixteen minutes. Garland opens solo before adding bass and drums and developing a gentle bluesy swing trio: loping bass, steady pulse drums and rippling piano. At the 7:45 mark, Coltrane enters digging in with a deep blues feel, but clearly holding back a little so not to overwhelm the mood. The trio comes back and takes the performance out with brief solo spots for Bryd and Joyner. It's to the band's credit that the long bluesy jams that open and close this disc never get boring or stale, and they are able to maintain interest throughout. This disc is an nice example of the music being recorded for Prestige during this period. Well played studio jams of bop, ballads and blues. Nothing to challenging, but certainly enjoyable music.
Side Steps -

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Cecil Taylor - Conquistador (Blue Note 1966, 2003)

As Nat Hentoff notes in the original liner notes to this album, pianist Cecil Taylor had scant few chances to record or even perform live during his formative years in the late 1950’s and early ’60’s. So he had quite an opportunity in the mid ’60’s to record a few albums for Blue Note Records, including this influential LP where he improvises with Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Bill Dixon on trumpet, Alan Silva and Henry Grimes on bass and Andrew Cryille on drums. It is interesting to hear the percussive nature of Taylor's piano paired with Cyrille's drums, which move and shift like the tide bringing in wave upon wave of different rhythm. On the two takes of "What Exit" there is ample solo space for both Lyons and Dixon and they use it in different ways. Lyons seems to be moving along a continuum begun by Charlie Parker and then expanded upon by Eric Dolphy of fast and sharp alto playing. There is a definite hint of the bebop legacy in his playing. Dixon takes a different track, using smears and blasts of sound like an abstract painter commenting on the proceedings around him. He picks his spots and then makes the most of them. The two bassists share ground well with Silva playing higher notes and often employing a bow while Grimes anchors the group with a solid but ever changing pulse. Although Taylor has something of a fearsome reputation, there is quite a bit of organization and subtlety to the music here. Although it can be a bit overwhelming on first listen, subsequent listens reveal layers of music and improvisation and that makes the music continually fresh and exciting.
Conquistador -

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

E.S.T. - Retrospective (ACT Music, 2009)

When the leader of this much loved piano trio, Esbjorn Svensson, passed away in a tragic accident it left a gaping hole in the burgeoning European jazz scene. E.S.T. was able to cross over and gain fans in the pop world without ever losing sight of their jazz roots. Joined by drummer Magnus Ostrom and bass player Dan Berglund they made for a formidable group, adding subtle electronics and studio touches to their unique compositions. This disc samples the band's output for the ACT label, under which they went from respected jazz trio to legitimate cultural phenomenon. Their performances ran the gamut from the spare and introspective like the opener of this collection "From Gagarin's Point of View" which matches the awe that a space traveler must feel to the upbeat and bouncy "Dodge the Dodo" which winds the group moving at a breakneck pace. As the disc tracks the bands evolution into the mid and late 2000's subtle touches of pop music begin to enter the bands repertoire. The title tracks to the bands Viaticum and A Strange Place for Snow LPs appear here and the addition of brush strokes of electronics give the band a wider palette to expand their compositions and improvisations. Looking for a way to expand their audience and challenge themselves, the music moves and evolves in gradual shifts, sometimes evoking progressive rock or classical music. Like the best work of Americans Ben Allison and The Bad Plus, the music of E.S.T. marked a great point of entry of fans who were curious about jazz, but unsure where to begin listening. Their pithy compositions and thoughtful and exciting improvising made a definite mark during their brief time together.
Retrospective -

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

John Coltrane - Side Steps, Disc Three (Concord, 2009)

Disc three of this collection of John Coltrane’s recordings for Prestige as a sideman find him in familiar territory, recording with the pianist Red Garland, whom Coltrane would perform with on several occasions during his tenures with the Miles Davis Quintet. This was a very important period of time for Coltrane, he had recently given up narcotics after being dismissed from the Davis band and was in an intense period of development, playing and recording with the pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. All of disc three was recorded on November 15, 1957 with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Donald Byrd on trumpet, Red Garland on piano, George Joyner (Jamil Nasser) on bass and Art Taylor drums. The group was in full Prestige mode, recording standards and blowing pieces that didn’t require much preparation. The jazz standards from the bebop era are quite effective with Coltrane soloing with great facility on the likes of “Birk’s Works” and “Woody ‘n’ You.” When the tempos flag, so do the spirits of the group, as the ballad “I Got It Bad” is surprisingly listless and tired. The lengthy jam “Soul Junction” flags a bit as well, as they stretch a simple riff for over fifteen minutes. But when the group keeps things tight, they are impressive, as the tracks “Undecided” and “Hallelujah” show. So, under Garland’s direction, the results are a bit of a mixed bag. But you can hear Coltrane really bursting at the seams of this material and you get the sense that he was beginning to come into his own and was eager to look beyond simple blowing sessions as a way to express himself.
Side Steps -

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Jon Irabagon - The Observer (Concord, 2009)

I was really looking forward to hearing this release as I’m a big fan of Irabagon’s no holds barred playing with the collective group Mostly Other People Do the Killing and his freewheeling duet with drummer Mike Pride. After winning the Thelonious Monk competition for saxophone, he was given a chance to record for the mainstream major label Concord and this album is the result. They didn’t skimp on the supporting cast with Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Victor Lewis on drums and Nicholas Payton sitting in on trumpet for a couple of tracks. "January Dream" is a gentle mid-tempo opener, strong but nonthreatening, where Irabagon spools out a confident solo. "Joy’s Secret" has a bright uptempo feel with strong percussive piano and a punchy trumpet interlude along with deep saxophone soloing. "Infant's Song" is a subtle ballad with sections of sax alone and just sax and bass. "Cup Bearers" is a highlight, an uptempo quartet improvisation featuring torrid bop based sax soloing. “Big Jim’s Twins” is another standout, taken at an upbeat and fast tempo, there’s a nimble trumpet solo before a fast and loose saxophone feature. While the rough and ready edges of his playing may have been sanded off a little bit, but this is hardly a sell out and what we are left with is a fine mainstream jazz album, rooted in bop and ballads that should appeal to a wide swath of jazz fans. Jon Irabagon shows that he has a wonderful talent, to be comfortable in the hard swinging world of mainstream jazz and the abstract and ever inquiring world of the avant-garde.
The Observer -

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coleman Hawkins - The Stanley Dance Sessions (Lonehill Jazz, 2005)

I had been curious about this disc for a while, since I read that this was the only Hawkins disc that had been rated “core collection” by the latest edition of the Penguin Guide to Jazz. Dance was a British jazz writer and in the late 1950’s he came to the United States to make a series of jazz LP’s one of which, The High and Mighty Hawk, is the cornerstone of this disc. The session for that album features Hawkins on tenor saxophone, Buck Clayton on trumpet, Hank Jones on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Mickey Sheen on drums. Opening with “Bird of Prey Blues” the band sets a medium-up feel, with Hawkins spooling out a strong and swinging solo. Jones contributes a light touch during his solo spot, and then yields to Brown whose steady pace in the spotlight brings them back to re-stating the melody and taking the tune out. Ballads were always a Hawkins specialty, he had great patience and fortitude at slower tempos, and “My One and Only Love” shows his deep, breathy saxophone coupled with a lovely piano solo. “Vignette” is an excellent performance as well, the band glides back into a comfortable medium-up tempo, with fine trumpet and deep elastic bass setting the table for Hawkins who responds with a deep and vibrant solo which radiates well controlled strength. The deep masculinity of his tone also pervades the Hawkins original “Ooh-Wee, Miss GP!” where he bursts through the musical setting laid by Clayton’s pinched trumpet. The standard ballad “You’ve Changed” has the band simmering down into the patience and endurance that was indicative of their playing at slower tempos. Wrapping up the original album is the blowing piece “Get Set” that features Hawkins contributing a fast and smoothly swinging solo. Also included on this album is a three song session Hawkins led in 1958, but more notably are a couple of live recordings from 1955 that wrap up the disc. After prompting by the MC, Hawkins plays a short unaccompanied solo, which is fascinating to listen to, and then takes the band into a very strong recording of “The Man I Love.” This was an interesting album, particularly for swing era fans. Hawkins is in unflappable form throughout, and the album puts him a sympathetic setting with ample opportunity to solo at length. It marks a good place to start investigating this legendary jazz figure.
The Stanley Dance Sessions -

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

John Coltrane - Side Steps, Disc Two (Concord, 2009)

Disc Two of this collection of tenor saxophone great John Coltrane’s appearances as a sideman for the Prestige label in the late 1950’s begins with the famous “Tenor Madness” collaboration with another great of the tenor, Sonny Rollins. While this may have been billed as a showdown, it is really a good natured conversation between friends and mutual admirers. Stretching out over eleven minutes, the two trade phrases and weave and elaborate a continually interesting improvisation. The remaining tracks on this disc were recorded under the leadership of pianist and composer Mal Waldron, who was an influential but neglected figure in jazz. Coltrane plays on the entire album Mal-2 and two tracks from the LP The Dealers. “Potpourri” is a very nice uptempo swinger with nice sharp sounding solos from Jackie McLean and Coltrane. “J.M.’s Dream Doll” was dedicated to McLean and is taken at a gentle ballad tempo. “Don’t Explain” starts in a slow probing fashion with an air of sadness to it. Bill Hardman’s trumpet slowly increases the pace, before giving way to Coltrane’s lush and well controlled solo. “Blue Calypso” is a fun performance that takes a page from the Sonny Rollins playbook to excellent effect. Art Taylor is very good here on drums and percussion setting the subtle island groove. Bill Hardman’s trumpet launches “Falling in Love With Love” nicely and the rest of the group follows suit with a fine round of solos. Idrees Sulieman on trumpet and Coltrane contribute hard edged solos to a taught version of the standard “The Way You Look Tonight” and “From This Moment On” comes hard out of the gate with Coltrane then taking the mantle on a furious solo. “One By One” wraps up the disc with a nice mid-tempo bluesy feel. Although this collection focuses on Coltrane it serves another function as well, Mal Waldron deserves more attention than he received during his lifetime. Hopefully the tracks featured here with Coltrane will draw some attention and a much needed re assessment of his work.
Side Steps -

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fred Anderson - 21st Century Chase CD/DVD (Delmark, 2009)

The idea of the tenor battle, two saxophonists squared off in mock combat against each other, has had a long tradition in jazz, be it Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Grey or Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Most of these “battles” are tongue in cheek affairs, as is the case here, where old friends Kidd Jordan and Fred Anderson take up the tenor saxophone chase, fronting a fine trio of Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. This group came together to celebrate Anderson’s 80th birthday at his famous club, The Velvet Lounge and update the grand tradition with a fresh and free tenor duet. On the compact disc, there are three long freely improvised tracks where the two principals bob and weave around each other, not so much like heavyweight boxers, but lithe and nimble dancers. The differences in tone and they way each man approaches improvisation makes for an interesting contrast and keeps the music fresh throughout. “21st Century Chase Part I” is an epic of endurance at well over a half an hour. Jordan and Anderson trade ideas, collaborate, contrast and use all manner of shading and subtlety in an extraordinary performance. “Part II” starts off a little ragged, but when Jordan starts quoting snippets of John Coltrane, it seems to inspire everyone, and soon everybody is back on track. “Ode To Alvin Fielder” honors an under-appreciated musician with a grounded performance that allows each saxophonist to take subtle and thoughtful solos. The compact disc ends there, but the DVD version of the album has a special bonus track with the legendary bassist Henry Grimes sitting in on the freewheeling “Gone But Not Forgotten.” The band gets an excellent free groove going with rock solid foundation of Grimes on bass and Bankhead (in a killer red and black top hat and tails getup) moving to cello. The DVD is filmed from a few different angles, and there are some trippy special effects thrown in at times, but the do not cause a fuss as the focus is squarely on the music. There's also a commentary track from Anderson on the DVD, so it is well worth investing a few extra dollars in the video if you are so inclined. This was an interesting and at times exhilarating album to listen to (or watch.) Anderson and Jordan are in excellent form and they draw on the entire history of the tenor saxophone in jazz, at times referencing swing, bop and free in the pursuit of their music.
21st Century Chase -

Friday, October 09, 2009

John Coltrane - Side Steps, Disc One (Concord, 2009)

Concord Records is wrapping up its epic reissue program of saxophonist John Coltrane’s music recorded for the Prestige label in the late 1950’s. As the name implies, this set tracks Coltrane’s appearances as a sideman for the label. His most notable sideman appearances during this period are outside the scope of this set, and those performances with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis have been exhaustively chronicled elsewhere. So this is something of a wrapping up of his music for the label. Prestige was well known for it’s off the cuff jam sessions, so much of the music here has a mix of bop, ballads and blues, music that the principals could come into without much rehearsal and still find enough common ground to record meaningful music. Disc one tracks an album led by the pianist Elmo Hope called Informal Jazz, a session that included Coltrane and Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, Donald Byrd on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Joe Jones on drums. The four long performances on this album give the impression of an after hours jam session where the heads are short and the solos are long. The is an appealing contrast between the taught, searching (and occasionally squeaking) tone of Coltrane and the lighter, swinging playing of Mobley. Chambers and Jones lock into each other well and Hope keeps things moving briskly with swift comping and soloing. The other album featured on the first disc is one of Coltrane’s finest sideman appearances, the Tadd Dameron LP Mating Call. Coltrane is the sole horn on this album, so it’s a nice opportunity to hear him in the role of featured soloist. Dameron is most remembered as a composer and arranger, and on this album he is the composer of all the material with Coltrane on tenor saxophone, John Simmons on bass and Philly Joe Jones returning on drums. Dameron’s compositions are bright and enjoyable hard bop, giving Coltrane much space to solo with a cooking rhythm section underneath him. Highlights of this consistently interesting album include the well paced mid-tempo “Soultrane” and the blasting cooker “Super Jet.” These two albums were recorded in 1956, during Coltrane’s first tenure with the Miles Davis band, also recording for Prestige at this time. What we hear on this disc is a young, talented musician searching for a way to make his mark and separate himself from the pack.
Side Steps -

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Miles Davis - The Birth of the Cool (Capitol 1948-50, 1998)

Miles Davis’s first great record as a leader came when he was very young, just 23 years of age. Tempered by the fast paced bebop he was playing with Charlie Parker, Davis make a conscious decision to move in another direction. Experimenting with like minded musicians at the apartment of arranger Gil Evans, they moved from the feverish pitch of bebop to a more impressionistic form of improvised music. On this disc is all of the music of this band currently available, nonet recordings for Capitol Records and live radio recordings made at the Royal Roost jazz club in New York City. What makes the music so interesting is that while it draws on both swing and bebop (and classical music as well) it is in thrall to nothing, creating a new path for the musicians to explore. Evans, Davis and Gerry Mulligan were the architects of the sound, but the performances draw on several different composers. The opener and the band’s theme, Denzil Best’s “Move” moves at a very fast pace that belies the group’s “cool” nature. If music like this along with the brisk Bud Powell homage “Budo” and the tight and spindly “Rocker” show the move from bop was gradual, then there are other clues like the brash and adventurous “Boplicity” and John Lewis’s nice blues “S’il Vous Plait” from the live section. So while the music recorded here wasn’t the distinct break that it is often touted to be, it was still influential and important. It signaled that Miles Davis was going to be a leader and a pace setter who we be at the forefront of jazz, and it also laid a path for Gerry Mulligan to take back to California where it would become the template for an entire sub-genre: West Coast Jazz. This music has been released many times, but this package is quite nice, containing the live and studio sides on one disc and adding some interesting liner essays to boot.
The Complete Birth of the Cool -

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Steve Davis - Eloquence (JLC, 2009)

Trombonist Steve Davis is a natural choice for a new mainstream jazz label, as he is a veteran of many hard-bop bands as either a leader or a sideman, and is known for classy and thoughtful traditional jazz. Alongside Davis are a heavy hitting ensemble of legendary pianist Hank Jones, Nat Reeves on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Sitting in on several tracks are Steve Nelson on vibes, Roy Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn and John Lee on bass. The album opens strongly with the bebop anthem "Yardbird Suite" which is taken at a fast clip. With no saxophone on the front line with him, Davis has plenty for room to stretch out in his solo, and does so quite well. Jones supplies a fast an moving solo as well. Steve Nelson, best known for his work in the Dave Holland Quintet, supplies some excellent vibes to several of the tracks, beginning with the standard "Minor Contention" where he and Davis trade improvised segments. Other highlights of the album include a nicely paced version of the famous John Lewis composition "Django" with Nelson tipping his hat to Milt Jackson along the way, and a fun romp through the ancient New Orleans standard "When the Saints Go Marching In" with trombone leading the group through a uptempo parade ground strut. Mainstream jazz fans should get a kick out of this album, with familiar songs played in a thoughtful and classy manner. The music has an easygoing vibe of old friends who got together to play some of their favorite songs, and the enthusiasm is infectious.
Eloquence -

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Book Break - Blood's a Rover by James Ellroy

Blood's A Rover Blood's A Rover by James Ellroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The concluding volume of Ellroy's "Underground USA" trilogy is nothing less than an alternative history of the United States from the years 1968-1972. In Ellroy's novel, the conspiracy theorists were right - JFK, RFK and MLK were all assassinated through the machinations of an uneasy coalition of rogue CIA/FBI, mafia and patsies. Big plans are still afoot: J. Edgar Hoover, obsessed with black militants, orders his "pet thug" agent Dwight Holly to design a counter-intelligence program to discredit them. The mafia looks to reclaim what it lost in Cuba by setting up a gambling empire in the Dominican Republic, spearheaded by ex-cop Wayne Tedrow and mercenary (and grassy knoll JFK shooter) Jean-Fillipe Mesplede. Bumbling young private-eye Don Chrutchfield (nicknamed "Dipshit" by the more seasoned killers) stumbles into an unsolved armored car heist, with a missing robber and millions of dollars in cash and gems still unaccounted for. As all these men focus on their own projects, it becomes clear that one person ties all of the threads of the story together: the enigmatic, beautiful and dangerous radical mastermind Joan Rosen Klein aka The Red Goddess Joan. The men realize that she is the pivot point for the whole story and obsess: who is she? what is her connection to the robbery, a socialist uprising in the Dominican Republic and the rising tide of black nationalism in Los Angeles? Ellroy is in top form throughout this 650 page doorstop, the story hurtles forward with a manic energy and staccato dialogue this is hypnotic and narcotic. Not for nothing is he called the "Demon Dog" of crime fiction - the language and violence of this novel will set your teeth on edge. Like most Ellroy stories (notably L.A. Confidential) this story has its root in loneliness - desperately lonely men haunted by the violence of their past willing to risk it all for love and that one final chance at redemption that has eluded them. By turns fascinating, infuriating and downright scary, this is the most ambitious story I have read this year.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sharel Cassity - Relentless (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2009)

Saxophonist Sharel Cassity began to play jazz as a teenager growing up in Iowa City, before moving to New York to further her education and take a shot at the big time. She sounds remarkably composed on her first recording recording for the new label JLC, playing up-tempo post bop with a quicksilver flair and ballads with a gentle and confident poise. On this album she plays alto and soprano saxophones with a little flute, accompanied by Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, Orrin Evans on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums and a few guests sitting in on certain tracks to fill out the arrangements. “Call To Order” is piping hot modern jazz with a nicely fluid solo, as is “No Turning Back” which features swirling saxophone against a fast paced groove and a nice piano interlude. “Love’s Lament” is a patient and thoughtful ballad with a nice hint of Johnny Hodges sweet lyricism in the solo. The other horns frame her nicely, giving a fine velvety backdrop to explore with a languorous yet thoughtful solo. The most remarkable track comes at the end of the album where Cassity to takes to soprano saxophone for a wonderfully exploratory rendition of the vastly under-rated trumpeter Charles Tolliver’s composition “On the Nile.” She builds an exotic Middle Eastern tinged sound and the wide open nature of the composition clearly appeals to her. Sharel Cassity is a young musician to keep an eye on. Her music and temperament is confident without being smug, and she’s open to all the possibilities that improvised jazz offer. Hopefully we will hear more from her soon.
Relentless -

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Joe Louis Walker - Between a Rock and the Blues (Stony Plain, 2009)

Veteran blues guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker's latest album finds him in excellent form, leading a band straw-bossed by producer and fellow guitarist Duke Robillard, along with Bruce Katz on keyboards, Jesse Williams on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums, Doug James on saxophones, Carl Querfurth on trombone and Sugar Ray Norcia on harmonica and a guest appearance by guitarist Robin Eubanks. Walker melds deep blues with soulful R&B like few others and this album is a fine addition to his catalog. Highlights include the torrid uptempo "Eyes Like a Cat" and the very exciting "If There's a Heaven" where Walker makes good use of his background as a gospel singer in the vocal, but never lets people forget that he's a stone bluesman as well with a righteous guitar solo. He explores some topical blues on the recession themed "Way Too Expensive" that even includes a nice swipe at a former American president and his propensity to waste blood and treasure for no discernible gain. There are a few nice down in the alley slow blues as well, "Blackjack" originally written by Ray Charles is a gambling blues about love and loss that is sung with heart rendering poignancy by Walker. Same for the broken hearted blues "Hallways" which lets the band stretch out into a deep soulful slow groove. Continuing a trend from his last few albums, Walker finishes on acoustic guitar and harmonica on "Send You Back," a nice traditional sounding back porch blues. This is another fine album from Joe Louis Walker, who is one of the most consistently brilliant bluesmen performing right now. With a deep soulful voice and strong supple guitar work, Walker is the complete package, and this album should make blues fans very happy.
Between A Rock And The Blues -

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Heath Brothers - Endurance (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2009)

The Heath Brothers, Jimmy and Tootie (RIP Percy) are one of the most famous families in jazz and the amount of jazz history these men have seen is simply amazing. On this album, the remaining brothers Jimmy on tenor and soprano saxophone and Tootie on drums are joined by Jeb Patton on piano, and David Wong on bass for an album of gently swinging and enjoyable mainstream jazz. "Changes" opens the disc with a pleasant medium tempo. Jimmy's calmly swinging saxophone and and a nicely paced piano solo are featured. "Wall to Wall" has a mid-tempo swaying swing and Jimmy's tenor saxophone is patient and pointed, sheared of all unnecessary ornaments. The pace picks up a bit near the end, with a little heat supplied by some able bodied piano comping. "Ballad From Leadership Suite" is one of the album's highlights, a saxophone led ballad that exudes a breathy and thoughtful patience. Patton chips in a spacious piano interlude. Jimmy Heath then returns to close the performance out, the tone and pacing of his saxophone playing is beautiful throughout. "Dusk in the City" is a medium up melodic performance with majestic saxophone and piano solos, and solid swinging from the whole band throughout. "Two Tees" is another swinging medium tempo performance, bright and happy and featuring Tootie stepping out for a nicely shaded drum solo. Slick piano and saxophone slide back in to conclude this performance. The standard "Autumn in New York" is taken at a thoughtful mid-tempo, with nice melodic saxophone playing. Claudio Roditi sits in with a shaker, giving the closing selection "The Rio Dawn" a nice energetic feel. This was an enjoyable and thoughtful album of jazz anchored by two certifiable legends of the music. There are no egos at play here, everyone focuses their energy toward the music and the songs and this makes for a very successful combination.
Endurance -

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ken Vandermark w/ Barry Guy and Mark Sanders - Fox Fire (Maya, 2009)

Ken Vandermark is one of the great nomads of the jazz world, roaming the Earth in search of music to play and fellow travelers to collaborate with. This album is a double disc set recorded live in Birmingham and Leeds, UK with Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Barry Guy on bass and Mark Sanders on drums. This album consists of two nice long sets of high energy free improvisation and the music is very exciting. The band is locked in tightly and listening to each each other with a great degree of empathy and understanding. Vandermark sounds very inspired by his British companions and blows with great gusto and masculine authority on the fast paced free pieces, while maintaining a bruised and vulnerable humility on the more abstract pieces. At times he really seems to be channeling the painter and physical artists that have influenced him into a painterly technique of broad strokes of music within a particular performance. Bassist Barry Guy is most well know for large ensemble works and compositions, but he thrives here as well, bowing and plucking his bass with great strength and dexterity. Sanders is a drummer that I wasn't familiar with prior to hearing this recording, but I was quite impressed with him as well. There is a fluidity to his playing that meshes perfectly with the other two musicians. Adding it all up, the results are very impressive. It is hard to pull out individual performances out for examination, because the music on both discs flows together as a whole with ebbs and flows like the tide. Fans of open ended free improvisation will find a lot to enjoy on this recording. The music is quite challenging (in the best way possible) and is bracing in its beauty and power.
Fox Fire -

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