Monday, November 30, 2009

Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio - Reflections (Word of Mouth Records, 2009)

After working in a highly regarded quartet setting for a number of years, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel tried a different approach on his latest recording, releasing a collection of ballads from the standard repertoire. This album was recorded during late June, 2009 in Brooklyn featuring Eric Revis on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" opens the album with a lengthy exploration of the tune, takes at a nice gentle mid-tempo, with patient bass and brushes. Rosenwinkel has a beautiful, full round guitar tone and uses it like a painter adding just the right amount of pigment that the situation calls for. After a thick bass solo, the full band comes back in nice and easy to take things out. "You Go To My Head" is gentle with guitar accents and ornaments filling things out. Wayne Shorter's “Fall” has softly funky drums and bass, liquid toned guitar, grounded by solid bass for a glistening performance that is one of the highlights of the album. He sneaks in one of his own compositions, "East Coast Love Affair" which has an unaccompanied solo guitar opening, and a dexterous bass solo. "Ask Me Now" returns to Monk gentle and calm guitar, nice loping bass and drums for a mildly swinging trio performance. "Anna Maria" is another highlight, where the band picks up the pace with an insistent and propulsive groove, and has nice soulful execution. "More Than You Know" has a darker hued opening, with wistful and calm improvisation followed by a supple bass solo. "You’ve Changed" wraps up with a short mellow full band performance. Rosenwinkel takes things out with a patient round toned solo. The standard repertoire still offers challenges and opportunities for musicians who are willing to look at the material in a new way. This was a successful project that yielded enjoyable and thoughtful music. Hopefully they will follow up with a second volume shortly, an all - Monk program would be a joy to hear, considering their affinity with the material.
Reflections - Wommusic Records

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Big Joe Turner and Roomful of Blues – Blues Train (Muse Records, 1983)

Legendary blues singer Big Joe Turner had an amazing career that stretched from the speakeasies of depression era Kansas City to early rock 'n' roll and an autumnal comeback. For this album, he hooks up with the retro jump blues and Roomful of Blues for a nice album of standards and originals. Turner had lost a little bit of range by this point (he was 72 years of age) but he could still bring it, belting out the opening “Crawdad Hole” with gruff authority. The highlight of the album was the two instrumental performances, where Big Joe takes a breather and the band steps up to wail. “Jumpin' for Joe” finds the group energized by Turner and Pomus and they roll out a blasting performance led by high energy horn riffing. The interesting liner notes by producer Joel Dorn describe the deep friendship between Turner and the songwriter Doc Pomus, who helped to straw-boss this session. The combination of an experienced singer and a hot and hungry band works out pretty well here. Turner sounds a little tired at times, but that just adds to the aura of world-weariness of his blues. Blues Train -

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bobby Bradford, Tom Heasley and Ken Rosser - Varistar (Full Bleed Music, 2009)

This is another album that has been in storage for a while before being released. A collective group with Bobby Bradford on cornet, Ken Rosser on guitar and electronics and Tom Heasley on tuba, this music is very spacious and abstract. Spaciousness and subtlety are the key here, where the musicians act in consort and listen very hard with each other, creating in real time. "Delicious Red" opens the album with the instruments conversing freely. Bradford's cornet runs over tuba and guitar which then takes it's own turn to lead the trio for a short interlude. "Ohio" has interesting tuba and cornet with abstract guitar sounding like a harpsichord. The group improvises collectively at an open mid-tempo. Rosser's guitar probes like a coiling snake getting ready to strike. "Crooked March" has a short accessible sound, and "Not Forgotten" has some nice folk-like acoustic guitar and open and spontaneous snatches of melody on cornet. "Practically Sensible" features intuitive and fluid cornet and guitar and subtle collective improvisation. "Varistar" and "Elegy For John Carter" are slow and spacey with a spooky and haunted science fiction feel to it. The music unfolds in a cinematic manner with long cornet and tuba tones and accents of guitar. If you have the patience to listen attentively, the music here is very attractive. The music is transcendent of jazz, moving into a realm of pure improvisation where the musicians make their own concept and move from there.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dr. Lonnie Smith - The Art of Organizing (Criss Cross, 2009)

Recorded in New York City in 1993, it is surprising that this fine set of burners and blues had to wait so long to be released. The group, consisting of Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Ray Drummond on drums was performing together regularly at the time and that experience certainly paid off. Lonnie Smith is not a flashy musician, he never tries to dominate the instrument or the performance. He has an amazing level of dexterity at the keyboard and bass pedals. Strong slabs of organ on "This Ain't Right" build a massive groove and a deep bluesy pocket. Bernstein is an ideal partner with crisp complementing and fluid soloing. "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" is a subtle ballad with nice brushwork from Drummond. Patient guitar playing and funeral parlor organ keep the mood blue. "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" has a fast fluid guitar feature and locomotive yet subtle drumming keeps it and Smith's organ moving inexorably forward. There is nice rhythmic percussion and strong Grant Green like guitar supported by swells of organ on "Turning Point" before moving into deeply grooving organ led trio section. Drummond is the key to this album, the pivot point which the others turn around. "Night Song" is a mid-tempo spacious blues stretching out to allow generous soloing. "Too Damn Hot" wraps things up with a nice swinging trio performance groove. This was a very enjoyable album, I'm partial to organ trio music, but there's nothing generic here, these musicians have developed their own sound and it should appeal to fans of modern mainstream jazz. The Art Of Organizing -

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dave Douglas - A Single Sky (Greenleaf, 2009)

Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas works in a variety of contexts, but rarely in the big band format. He fills in this gap in his discography with an interesting album, collaborating with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and conductor and arranger Jim McNeely. Douglas is fascinated with American politics and social injustice, and much of this music was written during the tumultuous 2008 presidential campaign, giving it an urgent and unsettled air. "The Presidents," "Campaign Trail" and "Blockbuster" were written as a part of a large scale suite about America called "Delighted States,"and are included here along with some older Douglas compositions. "The Presidents" has a majestic slow building feel to it, as if the weight of the office is being channeled through the music. "Bury Me Standing" is a moody and deeply emotional performance, where the big band plays with great subtlety in a thoughtful and reflective performance. The highlight of the album was the title track "A Single Sky" which uses some electric piano shadings along with the extra heft of the big band to set the table for Douglas and he responds with a superb solo that is brash, exciting and full of passion. This was a consistently interesting and well done album. In an earlier day, Douglas would be able to lead a big band full time and allow his compositions and arrangements to develop over time. The heyday of the large ensemble may be gone, but projects like this indicate that this format is still fertile ground for creativity.
A Single Sky - amazon

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eric Muhler Quartet - The Jury is Out (Slow Turn Records, 2009)

This album features pianist and composer Eric Muhler leading a band with Michael Wilcox on bass, Sheldon Brown on saxophones and Brian Andres on drums. The music has a modern mainstream feel to it, reminding me of the likes Don Grolnick, Bob Berg and Michael Brecker who began their careers as musicians in the 1970's. "Plunky" opens the set with a bouncy melody, then a swinging tenor solo spools out at length sounding confident and strong. After a gentler piano, bass and drums interlude, an electric bass solo leads to a full band conclusion, grounded in solid solid hard bop. "Sand Castles" is strong and potent modal sounding jazz, reminiscent of the music McCoy Tyner made for Milestone in the early 70's. Saxophone steps out over the piano led trio, staring low and then building to a potent statement, with echoes of Brecker and Coltrane. After a rippling piano solo, the full band comes together for a strong finish. "Alexandra Christina Am" has a gentle opening, melodic and mid-tempo. There is a lush piano led trio interlude, before the saxophone enters and builds dramatically before giving way to a probing electric bass solo. "The Jury is Out" has a fast paced tricky melody, giving way to a hot tenor saxophone solo backed by churning electric bass and drums. A rapid piano, bass and drums interlude follows, with further echoes of Tyner. "Sun and Clouds" has milder melody, gentle swirling saxophone solo. A nice bass solo follows, sounding like a guitar than a bass. "1990 for Jane" and "Jane at Home" conclude the album with mid tempo performances, each of which feature dexterous and finely wrought electric bass solos. This was a solid album of modern mainstream jazz, the performers are all talented (especially Wilcox, who's fluid and graceful electric bass with a joy to hear) and Muhler's compositions were consistently interesting.
The Jury Is Out -

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Seamus Blake - Bellwether (Criss Cross, 2009)

Saxophonist and composer Seamus Blake has become an established bandleader and a first call sideman for the likes of John Scofield and the Mingus Big Band. On this album, he is joined by David Kikoski on piano, Lage Lund on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass, drummer Bill Stewart on drums. "Dance Me Home" is an uptempo performance with creamy saxophone improvisation that is fast and intricate with guitar shadowing. Fleet piano with solid bass and drum accompaniment follow then complex collective improvisation and then melody conclude the song. "Beleza Que Vem" has mild saxophone and mid tempo piano supple and light playing off of Blake's pastel flavored soprano. Lund takes a light and floating solo. "Subterfuge" begins in mid-tepmo, coiling energy before Blake confidently steps out on tenor saxophone for a strong and fast solo. Lund is a little more cautious in his approach, backed by the piano trio. Blake's tenor comes back and wraps things up leading a melodic full band improvisation. "Song That Lives Inside" is a gentle ballad opening with acoustic guitar and subtle tenor saxophone. Patient brushed percussion and persistent bass anchor a solid performance. "Bellwether" is taken at an intermediate tempo, anchored by a swinging saxophone solo. Pinpoint guitar builds slowly and patiently before being reeled in for a nice group conclusion. "Minor Celebrity" was the highlight of the album for me starting with a fast paced boppish theme building to an accelerated tenor saxophone that is agile and filled with ideas. "String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10" wraps up the album with an intricate and emotional performance. This was a very well done album, the musicians had a clear goal in mind and they executed very well. The music here is representative of the music of the modern mainstream in jazz and it is stimulating music played by talented musicians.
Bellwether -

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jon Crowley Quintet - Connections (Jon Crowley Music, 2009)

Continuing the great track record of jazz musicians from Philadelphia, trumpet and flugelhorn player Jon Crowley has moved on to New York, earning his stripes with a wide variety of musicians. His debut album album has the feel and passion of a Blue Note date from the mid 60’s, but is still modern and fresh, not time worn in any way. Crowley is joined by John Beaty on alto saxophone, Yayoi Ikawa on piano, Peter Schwebs on bass and Nick Anderson on drums. “Connections” opens the album with an uptempo, ear-catching melody then a strong fluid saxophone solo backed by propulsive piano trio. The music becomes very exciting as Ikawa’s piano has a full bodied sound, Tyner-ish in its inflections. Crowley’s trumpet takes things out with strong clarion melodic statement. “Momentum” has a mid tempo yearning melody, then a supple and patient trumpet solo. A spare piano interlude opens like a gentle rain shower. After a spacious bass opening, “Tabula Rasa” has spare haunted trumpet and lonely saxophone intertwining, before the rest of the group falls in. The pace picks up behind some strong trumpet soloing in front of the piano trio. Schwebs’ strong elastic bass keeps everything well grounded. “Vista” has mid tempo trumpet and saxophone trading ideas, then picking up speed like a couple of trapeze artists before proceeding to exciting full band collective improv, and then slowing down with nice piano trio interlude. “Ambrosia” is a ballad with Crowley getting a rich and lush tone from his instrument. “Icarus” has mid tempo trumpet and saxophone collaborating for a nice round patient sound, before making way for a punchy trumpet solo. “Right Now” is a strong fast uptempo performance centering around a wicked hot saxophone solo, spiraling notes a focused beam, and a strong deeply rhythmic drum solo. “City Mood” slows things to a medium tempo, with strong yearning saxophone, Beaty is really pushing hard, occasionally overblown, echoing the most exploratory playing of Kenny Garrett. The musicians come to a strong collective finish. “Decision” opens in a spare and thoughtful fashion, and then picks up to mid tempo with nice searching saxophone solo. Round sounding trumpet, mid fast controlled a supple bass solo finish things off. This was an excellent example of music being made by young musicians on the New York scene. Talented performers drawing for a variety of inspirations making wonderful sounds.
Connections -

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grateful Dead - Three From the Vault (Rhino, 2007)

Taken from the Dead's much loved run at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY in 1971, this dorm room staple was on regular rotation during my college years. Blasting from boom-boxes along with Phish and Blues Traveler while we played hacky sack and frisbee on the lawn. The Adams Family themed pinball machine at the student center was also prime entertainment in those pre-web days. But I digress... Rhino has done an excellent job with the remastering, every bootleg tape of this show I’ve heard always seemed off pitch, but this has a wonderful deep clear sound to it. At this point, Mickey Hart had taken leave from the band, leaving Bill Kreutzmann as the sole percussionist along with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on vocals and guitar, Rob “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards, harmonica and vocals and Phil Lesh on bass. They were a tight, road tested unit at this point, arguably at the peak of their power. Pigpen owns the blues and R&B material with a rough-worn grace, growling out Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” with great authority and adding some thick, wheezy harp to boot. Elmore James’ classic “It Hurts Me Too” is wonderful, with Garcia’s stinging slide guitar and aching yet strong vocal. His final blowout on “Good Lovin” breaks down into his spoken-word rap, then ramps up to a fine rousing conclusion. Other Dead staples of the day are also included, blasting uptempo rockers like “Bertha” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” make the case for Garcia as one of rock's great unsung guitarists, while the moody and haunting “Loser” and “Warf Rat” are fine miniatures of supple storytelling. This is a very fine reissue of a legendary performance. Fans of the band will no doubt have this, but those curious about what the fuss was about will find this an ideal starting point as well.
Three from the Vault -

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day (Clean Feed, 2009)

A patriotic album that doesn't resort to brash jingoism... how refreshing! Drummer and composer Harris Eisenstadt has become a mainstay of the growing Brooklyn scene, while performing as a leader and a sideman around the world. Along with Eisenstadt are: Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone, Chris Dingman on vibraphone and Eivind Opsvik on bass. Opening with "Don't Gild the Lilly," they strike a medium tempo with probing vibes and horns blowing across the musical landscape of vibes, bass and drums. Wolley takes a pinched sounding solo over rolling drum accompaniment that is fascinating in its own right. Bass begins "Halifax" with a mellow feel, adding saxophone and drums to the mix. Vibes enter and shimmer along the edges of the open and spacious music. "After an Outdoor Bath" is one of the finest performances on the album, opening with some strong full band playing, Bauder steps up with a deep, visceral tenor saxophone solo followed by sputtering spitfire trumpet. great shifting drum work anchors this exciting and exploratory performance. "And When To Come Back" slows things down a little bit with light percussion and soft vibes laying the groundwork for the tempered horns floating over the proceedings. After a lengthy bass solo, the full group returns to improvise and then close the song. "Kategeeper" and "Ups and Down" have a more rapid pace and plenty of room for the horns to stretch out and improvise impressively. It's a burden to lay on any group, but the music on this album reminded me of Eric Dolphy's masterpiece Out To Lunch more than anything else. The angular nature of the Eisenstadt's compositions, and the sparkling addition by Dingman's vibes made me think of the great inside/outside music recorded by the likes of Dolphy, Sam River and Bobby Hutcherson for Blue Note in the early to mid 1960's. It's heavy company, but well deserved.
Canada Day -

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls - Seize the Time (Naim, 2009)

Drummer and composer Ted Sirota draws from a wide range of influences to create an interesting spin on post-bop instrumental jazz. Influenced by afro-pop, funk, reggae, ska and hip-hop as well as jazz, the group creates an interesting instrumental soundscape. Sirota is accompanied on this album by Geof Bradfield on tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet, Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Dave Miller on guitar and Jake Vinsel on bass. The mission of this album was to draw attention to the musicians who spoke up for social change. Whether through rock 'n' roll music like "Clampdown" by The Clash which is given a radical makeover by Geof Bradfield, or Brazillian music as displayed by "13 De Maio" which has a sinuous and enticing groove, music has the power to change. Charles Mingus great composition "Free Cell Block F, Tis Nazi USA" oroginally written to commemorate the Attica prison riots meshes perfectly in mindset and music with the band's rebellious nature and is a highlight of the album. The original "Killa Dilla" references reggae with a huge groove and a lurching, loping swing. "Viva Maxi" finds Sirota alone improvising a drum solo in honor of one of his drum heroes, and a tireless advocate for social change, Max Roach. This was a very well done album that drew from a diverse array of sources and then viewed them through the prism of jazz. Bradfield deserves special kudos for his arrangements of several songs, they are logical and well thought out.
Seize the Time -

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

David Murray - The Devil Tried to Kill Me (Justin Time, 2009)

Tenor saxophone and bass clarinet master David Murray's decade plus tenure on the Canadaian Justin Time label has seen him launch many milti-cultural projects. On this album, reunites with two Gwo Ka Master drummers and vocalists, Klod KiavuĂ© and François Ladrezeau, and also employs Sista Kee on vocals and piano, Rasul Siddick on trumpet, Christian Laviso and Herve Samb on guitar, Jaribu Shahid on bass and Renzel Merritt on drums. "Kiama For Obama" starts the album out in a thrilling fashion, honoring the first African-American with a percussion driven ten minute instrumental performance with has thrilling solos from tenor saxophone and trumpet. Despite the their best intentions, the following track "Africa" is pale and tepid. The lyrics aren't strong enough for guest vocalist Taj Mahal to really dig into, and even Murray's bass clarinet can't lift the music. Their concern for the problems of the continent are beyond doubt, and their hearts are in the right place, but this track just never takes off. The pace is upped on "Southern Skies" with a funky blues/hip-hop groove and some nice percussion work and Sista Kee and Taj Mahal trading vocal phrases. This is a little more successful thanks to the great booty shaking bass and drum work, and a testifying tenor solo from Murray. The two "Radio Edits" of "Africa" and "Southern Skies" included as bonus tracks at the end of the album complicate things even further by focusing on the lyrics vocals at the expense of the music. "The Devil Tried to Kill Me" weds modern gospel through Sista Kee’s vocals to a strong African groove a little shakily before Murray drives it home emphatically with a very exciting “speaking in tongues” tenor saxophone solo. Murray has tried to work with vocalists before, and with Fontella Bass quite successfully, but here it is the lyrics that hold them back becaused they seem forced and cliched, and clash with the music instead of working organically with it. The band however is killer and when they get a chance to strut their stuff, the results are excellent. "Congo" and “Canto Oneguine” have joyous call and response and buoyant music, making for an excellent performances mixing African music and African-American music very successfully. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag, the instrumental portions of the album are very well done and the band is very talented, but weak and ineffective lyrics blunt the effectiveness of the vocal tracks.
The Devil Tried to Kill Me -

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Decade's best jazz?

Patrick Jarenwattananon at A Blog Supreme has thrown down the gauntlet once again, this time asking which jazz albums should be included in a list of the decade's finest. Jazz has always been a great musical sponge, from Jelly Roll Morton's idea of the "Spanish tinge" to today's multi-culti improvisational stew. But the jazz that meets different music on it's own terms and maintains it's identity, is what I find fascinating. With that in mind, I submit the following.
  • Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals: Frisell takes the music of Mali, Brazil and elsewhere and crafts it to his own unique blend of improvised Americana.
  • William Parker - Raining on the Moon: This R&B inspired album is pure joy, featuring the beautiful singing of Leena Conquest and Parker's great band anchored by the awesome percussion of Hamid Drake.
  • Susie Ibarra - Folkloriko: A beautifully delicate and thoughtful exploration of Filipino migrant culture as seen through improvised jazz.
  • The Bad Plus - Prog: Media always seems to focus on the groups witty covers, but here it's the thoughtful compositions and improvisations that take center stage.
  • Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar: The music is classic Coleman with sweeping joyful arcs of alto on some reinterpretations of classics and a few new compositions.
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Albert Ayler - Vibrations (Freedom, 1964)

Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler performed his greatest music in a state of spiritual ecstasy. Like fellow seekers John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, he looked to use music as a Buddhist might use meditation or a Baptist might speak in tongues: to make contact with something greater than himself. Recorded in Copenhagen on September 14th, 1964, this may be the finest group Ayler ever led. Featuring the trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, they were playing collective music at an extraordinarily high level. Ayler would compose a fragment of melody, usually taken from a folk song or spiritual and then transform it into an near human sculpture, with long, raw saxophone lines speaking the grief of the modern world. On this album, the most explosive composition is "Children" with an abrasive saxophone interlude of potent emotion, echoing the pain of growing up in the modern world. "Ghosts," one of Ayler's most well known compositions appears here twice. The first version leads off the album with a short mournful melody, almost as a statement of purpose for what will follow. The second longer version takes the (literally) haunting theme into the netherworld for a long exploration. Ayler may not have the immediate familial connection with Cherry as he did with his trumpeter brother Donald, but Cherry was a kindred spirit, tested and tempered by many performances and recordings with Ornette Coleman and he is in many ways Ayler's ideal front line partner. Peacock and Murray are glorious, providing and every shifting bottom to the music but also collaborating and creating in real time as a fully realized unit. This is a very special album and should be heard by all listeners with open ears, hearts and minds.

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Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes - The Heartbroken Man (Rooster Blues, 1990)

Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes was a triple threat as a singer, guitarist and harmonica player. A legend on the stages of juke joints of Mississippi, Chicago and St. Louis, he was mentored by the great Howlin' Wolf and picked up on some of Wolf's stage mannerisms and presence. Barnes only got the opportunity to make one album during his lifetime, but it was a good one, and the rough and ready energy he brought to his live concerts transferred well to a studio recording. The music is excellent throughout, especially on the Wolf covers, where he sounds uncannily like he's channeling the big man. Tearing through "Rockin' Daddy" and the Wolf standard "Louise" his deep throaty growl and wheezy harmonica recall the heyday of Chicago blues. The medley of "Blind Man/I Pity the Fool" demonstrates Barnes patience with slower material, both his guitar and voice are low down and soulful, echoing deep despair and a survivor's defiance simultaneously. With this album and his appearance on in the film and the soundtrack to Robert Palmer's Deep Blues, Barnes hard work had paid off and he reached the pinnacle of his career. Sadly, it wasn't to last. he passed away not long after. But his energy and commitment to the blues are captured in this excellent album for all to hear.
The Heartbroken Man -

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Charles Evans - King of All Instruments (Hot Cup, 2009)

Baritone saxophonist Charles Evans is a native of the great jazz city of Philadelphia where he grew up before moving to New York influenced by his mentor, saxophonist and composer Dave Liebman. After gigging around Manhattan and Brooklyn for several years and forming his own label, he has taken the rather audacious step of recording a solo album of overdubbed baritone saxophone. When I read about this album in Downbeat, I was intrigued, especially after I saw the rare five star review this album was given. It reminds me a little bit of the Rahsaan Roland Kirk album Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata which was also mostly solo and overdubbed. Evans extensive use of overdubbing to achieve a new orchestral effect is fascinating, he can lay down tuba like bass lines or drones and then after setting those down, go back and improvise melodic statement and then go back again and improvise upon them. If your knowledge of the baritone saxophone in jazz is based on the (admittedly wonderful) swing and bop based music of Gerry Mulligan and Nick Brignola, you may be in for quite a surprise with this album. Evans gets a wide range of sounds, drawing not just upon jazz but on classical and avant garde musics to develop a unique soundscape. The way I found most enjoyable to listen to this album, was not to try to analyze it too deeply but, to drift along with the waves of sounds and melodies created by the multi-overdubbed baritone onslaught. Riding the wave of multi layered music was a very interesting experience, as Evans explores the length and breadth of his instrument and the possibilities of what it can do.
The King of All Instruments -

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Link Dump

Don't miss the wonderful interview with Albert "Tootie" Heath conducted by Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus:
"But when I was young, I followed my ear and heart. There’s a kind of divine intervention that helps. Alan Dawson always said that it was 90% rudiments and 10% divine intervention! That was his philosophy, and it makes a lot of sense. That divine intervention is what I always relied on, and how I was able to create a unique conglomerate of everything, rudiments included. Whenever I sit down to play, I’m quiet for a couple of seconds. Then I ask permission from the ancestors to allow me to do these things that have already been done."
Writer and saxophonist Chris Kelsey blogs about the importance of a practice regimen:
"My sound cer­tainly suf­fered in my early years in the city, mostly because I felt inhib­ited from play­ing as strong as I would’ve liked. I recorded every note I played back then. Today I can’t lis­ten to those tapes. My play­ing suf­fered from a paucity of sound that dri­ves me crazy today. You per­form the way you prac­tice. I prac­ticed wimpy. I was a wimp. I prob­a­bly should’ve been flip­pin’ the bird to my neigh­bors all those years and prac­ticed as loud and as often as I liked. Unfor­tu­nately for my sax play­ing, I never could shake my, um … excessively-considerate nature."
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Friday, November 13, 2009

Daniel Smith - Blue Bassoon (Summit, 2009)

Bassoonist Smith takes a clutch of bebop, post-bop and blues standards and play them in a solid and accomplished nature. The unusual tone of the bassoon (for jazz anyway) makes for an interesting spin on this familiar material, holding listeners attention on what might otherwise run the risk of being a routine run through of well known songs. The buzzing sound of the instrument adds a different ambiance to the music, but to Smith's credit, he is still able to improvise with agility on this demanding material. He is accompanied on this album by Martin Bejerano on piano, Edward Perez on bass, and Ludwig Afonso on drums, with two guest spots by guitarist Larry Campbell. Classic hard bop compositions make up the backbone of the material, the funky nature of this material really seems to appeal to the group. Horace Silver's "The Jody Grind" and Cannonball Adderley's "Sack 'o Woe" use aggressive piano comping and locked in bass and drums to create a nice pocket for Smith to fill with a solid meaty solo. Campbell's guitar adds a very nice touch when the band plays the blues, deep down in the alley stuff like B.B. King's "My Baby's Gone" and Robert Johnson's "From Four 'Til Late." Slower material works pretty well too, Wayne Shorter's moody "Footprints" tends to drift a bit, but Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square" develops nicely. I think that this album worked well, and will surprise listeners are willing to give it a chance. It takes a little while to adjust to the tone of the bassoon, but applying it to this selection of classic jazz material was successful. Hopefully Smith will get a chance to produce a sequel that focuses on original compositions.
Blue Bassoon -

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zevious - After the Air Raid (Cuneiform, 2009)

Zevious is a strong guitar, bass and drums trio that takes the hard edged fusion on seventies stalwarts like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Tony Williams Lifetime and combines it with the post-modern aesthetic of progressive rock and modern jazz. Consisting of Mike Eber on guitar, Johnny DeBlase on bass and Jeff Eber on drums, the band is very tight and turns on a dime, using intricate arrangements and improvisatory exploration to make their point. The band makes a high impact at speed, and tracks in the beginning of the album set a frenetic pace with "Where's the Captain" and "Coma Cluster" bringing stinging interplay between the three interplay to the fast paced material. They end the album nicely, with a punk-jazz song called "Glass Tables" that should appeal to open eared music fans on the pop and jazz sides of the listening spectrum. It is not all modern fusion however, the band also uses some moody soundscapes to good effect on the title song and the ominous composition "The Ticket That Exploded," presumably named after the William Burroughs novel of the same name. I liked this album, it felt like the musicians worked really hard gigging and woodshedding to carve a unique space in the crowded musical firmament.
After The Air Raid -

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Keith Jarrett - Paris / London: Testament (ECM, 2009)

For the past twenty or so years, pianist Keith Jarrett has alternated between extemporaneous solo performances and trio recordings with his longtime bandmates Gary Peacock and Jack JeJohnette. This three disc collection is a recording of two long solo performances recorded live in Europe. It is a fascinating, if exhausting listening experience with Jarrett moving from gentle melodic improvisations to abstract, at times dissonant sections. He has stated in the past the he is merely the conduit for the music and that sense is continued here with the music flowing onward like a river, broken only by lengthy stretches of buoyant applause. It must be said that Jarrett never takes the easy way out as a solo performer, he demands a lot from himself and the audience. Using the length and breadth of the keyboard he crafts elaborate stories with the piano. If you are a fan of the Jarrett solo canon, you will most certainly like this album, but newcomers are probably better served with The Koln Concert album as a starting point. Also, don't miss the special guest post from Ethan Iverson on Destination Out where he compares Jarrett's spontaneous recordings to Paul Bley's records of the mid-1960's. Paris / London: Testament -

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paul Motian - On Broadway, Volume 5 (Winter and Winter, 2009)

Drummer Paul Motian has been mining a unique version of patient and subtle jazz since his emergence as a member of the famous Bill Evans trio in the 1950's. Recently he has been leading several bands, including this one that plumbs the depths of Broadway show tunes for their material. Joining him on this album are Loren Stillman and Michael Attias on saxophones, Thomas Morgan on bass and Masabumi Kikuchi on piano. "Morrock" opens with some mid-tempo lush piano chording and subtle percussion probing the song. Yearning and mournful horns accentuate the emotional impact. "Something I Dreamed Last Night" has slow, subtle baritone saxophone and longing alto playing in a melodic slow ballad form. Subtle brushwork from the leader underpins it all. Enigmatic piano is the hallmark of "Just a Gigolo" with strong yet flexible alto hinting at the melody over rumbling bass. "I See Your Face Before Me" has slow piano touching the melody in an oblique manner and low bluesy baritone sax which gains a Ben Webster like growl. Subtle and breathy alto alto makes its case along with a quiet interlude of bass and brushed percussion. "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening" keeps the pace slow, but the gentle and melodic nature of the group's improvisation is interrupted by some groaning vocalizing by one of the band members that is quite distracting. "Midnight Sun" and "Sue Me" round out the album with gentle and probing performances marked by light and airy interjections from the horns. With the spacious nature of the music and the preponderance of slow tempos, the music here has a definite late-night vibe to it. Quiet and subtle reflections are the order of the day here, as the musicians take the source material and shape it to their will like clay. (Edit: corrections 11/13/09)
On Broadway, Vol. 5 -

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Cedar Walton - Voices Deep Within (HighNote, 2009)

It is hard to think of a classier musician in jazz than Cedar Walton. The pianist has a wonderful knowledge of the piano and compositional technique, and the music he makes is both thoughtful and accessible. Joining him on this album are Vincent Herring on tenor saxophone, Buster Williams on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. These musicians have played together for years in one context or another and the experience shows as the music is deeply in the pocked and swinging from the first note. It is interesting to listen to Herring switch to tenor from his usual alto saxophone, and he sounds good, with a deep vibrant tone and fluid improvising. He gets extended solos on Stevie Wonder's "Another Star" and Sonny Rollins' hard bop standard "No Moe" and makes the best of them. Wlaton's lyricism and respect for the melodic nature of jazz comes through very well on this recording especially on his original "Dear Ruth" and a slow and pointed version of John Coltrane's "Naima." The only soft spot for me was their version of “Over the Rainbow,” a song I’ve never really cared for and the arrangement seemed unnecessarily florid. But that is just the nature of the song and a minor quibble. Williams and Jones are integral to the success of this album; they are locked in throughout and provide an excellent foundation for the music. It is hard to imagine any fan of mainstream jazz not enjoying this album, the music is swinging, subtle and characterized by careful thought and consideration.
Voices Deep Within -

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fred and Annie Mae McDowell - My Home is in the Delta (Testament, 1995)

Like many bluesmen, Mississippi Fred McDowell was as familiar with spirituals and gospel music as he was with the deep blues. It wasn’t unusual for bluesmen to play the gutbucket music on Saturday night and the sanctified music on Sunday morning. This collection finds the great guitarist and singer playing several selections of blues accompanied by only his percussive slide guitar playing before his wife joins him for a short set of traditional spirituals. The blues tracks cover the depth of life in the south in the 1950’s and 60’s with topics like running afoul with the law on “I’m in Jail Again” and some juke joint blues on “Diving Duck Blues” and “Big Road Blues.” Fred’s guitar is extraordinary - slashing out the riveting slide playing that made him a legend. His wife Annie Mae joins him to help sing classic spirituals like “Amazing Grace” and the effect is quite good. Annie Mae really feels these songs and sings them with great enthusiasm. They also have a kicking version of the ancient standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This was a very good album that showed the different facets of Fred McDowell’s music and the ways in which he used his unique talents for guitar playing and singing to create potent and powerful music whatever the genre.
My Home Is in the Delta -

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ben Perowsky - Esopus Opus (Skirl Records, 2009)

Coming in an oversized package that is as colorful as the music itself, drummer and composer Ben Perowsky’s latest disc draws on a wide variety of source material: rock and pop, Indian music, jazz and modern classical to create a very exciting and vibrant statement. On this album, he is joined by Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Ted Reichman on accordion and Drew Gress and bass. You might think with just a quartet that their sound palette might be limited, but this is not the case at all due to Reichman’s facility on his instrument. He is able to get sounds and tones running the gamut from a Hammond B3 to a wheezy bagpipe and this greatly enhances the arrangements of this album. Among the most interesting performances are a couple of jazzified rock ‘n’ roll covers, notably the group’s hell-for-leather take on Jimi Hendrix’s anthem “Manic Depression.” The energy is pure rock ‘n’ roll, but the arrangement is ingenious and all jazz with Perowsky’s powerful drumming driving the performance home and Reichman pumping his bellows for all he is worth. Two Beatles songs illustrate how much depth the band has. “Within You Without You” was one of their first experiments with Indian music and instead of the sitar George Harrison used on the original, long lines of accordion and clarinet make for an alluring soundscape. “Flying” is taken at a patient gentle tempo. It’s not all covers, though, "Esopus Opus" is a short blast of original, organic fun that deserves a chance to be a 45 RPM single if such things existed any longer. This is a wildly imaginative and well played album. In retrospect, I am surprised that this album did not get more attention during Patrick Jarenwattananon’s Jazz Now project, as it seems like the ideal album to introduce an audience raised on rock ‘n’ roll to the joys of jazz.
Esopus Opus -

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Recent reads

Tower by Ken Bruen: Nicky and Todd grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, looking for any way to scrape by. Falling into the thug life, their paths diverge: one becomes a street criminal, the other an undercover cop. But their lives would continue to intertwine. This was a very well done collaboration, both Bruen and co-writer Reed Farrell Coleman take one character and tell their story. Both men have a strong, economical writing style that brings their characters stories into a bright light. Bruen seems to really enjoy thest types of collaborations, he also co-writes a series of novels for Hard Case Crime with Jason Starr. Nothing fancy here, just a solid hard hitting crime novel - it is written without pretense and doesn't overstay its welcome.
Tower -

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett After Terry Pratchett's startling revelation that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, fans have been wondering what would become of his epic creation, the epic series of Discworld fantasy novels. Well, we needn't have worried, the latest installment is one of the funniest yet. The city of Ankh-Morpork has gone mad for the sport of Foot-the-Ball, a mix of soccer and street theater that often leaves players and spectators alike bloody or in some cases dead. Lord Vetanari, the benevolent tyrant of the city, decrees that this much change, and charges the wizards of Unseen University with taming the game and making it respectable. Culminating with a wildly funny winner take all march between the wizards and a gang of street toughs and hooligans, the story also tells a fine tale of understanding and redemption. Mr. Nutt, an orc no less, is smuggled into the city in an attempt to save this race and integrate them into the great melting pot of Ankh-Morpork. So slapstick comedy and puns with a touch of class is the order of the day, and this makes for one of the best Discworld tales in quite a while.
Unseen Academicals -

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

R.E.M. - Live at the Olympia (Warner Bros., 2009)

At first blush, this might appear to be a quickie live album from a veteran band, keeping the fans happy with a little product while they figure out what to do next. But digging a little deeper yields an interesting story. Their output in the 2000's was seen as a series of diminishing returns. So in preparation for their latest studio album, Accelerate, they did five concerts to preview the material and work out the kinks. Having fresh material which was at a very high level and a chip on their shoulder to prove that they were still relevant made for some excellent live performances captured here on a two-cd set. The band sounds more raw and feisty than they had in quite some time, blasting out some of the highlights that would anchor the then forthcoming LP "Living Well's the Best Revenge," "Horse to Water" and "I'm Gonna DJ." Longtime R.E.M. fans will no doubt be excited about the material from their lengthy career that is interspersed amongst the new songs. Long loved songs like "So. Central Rain" and "Disturbance at the Heron House" get dusted off and taken for a spin. There is no radical remaking of the music from their familiar studio versions, but the music is played with such a robust energy that they are revelatory in their own right. Far from a band that was playing out the string, these performances and the ensuing Accelerate LP shows that R.E.M. are not going to go quietly.
Live At The Olympia -

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ornette Coleman - The Complete Science Ficiton Sessions (Columbia 1971, 2000)

This is a fascinating two disc set that collects music that the great saxophonist Ornette Coleman recorded in a concentrated session in September of 1971. The music was eventually released on the albums Science Fiction and Broken Shadows. Coleman brought together former colleagues like bassist Charlie Haden, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, drummers Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell and trumpeters Don Cherry and Bobby Bradford. These musicians and some other special guests explore the length and breadth of Coleman's vision of small group music at that time. Some of the more experimental tracks included here feature vocalists, like the soaringly beautiful voice of Asha Puthil who fits in almost like another reed player as she soars around the music on "What Reason Could I Give" and "All My Life." Poet David Henderson's slow and distorted recitation and an uncredited crying baby lend their talent to "Science Fiction" which is one of the strangest of all Coleman performances. Bluesman Webster Armstrong joins the music to sing "Good Girl Blues" and ground it it the rhythm and blues firmament. But ultimately, the focus of the music is on the instrumentalists, and the approach they take to improvising on Coleman's compositions. The playing of the musicians is truly thrilling and exciting. Much of the music seems rooted in the blues, but has evolved to far as to be almost unrecognizable as such. Performances like "Civilization Day," "Law Years" and "School Work" are some of the most exciting and invigorating music he has ever produced. The way that the musicians are able to improvise collectively is very impressive. The music never sounds forced or lost and remains accessible no matter how far out it goes. For some reason, these sessions seem to be forgotten when people talk about Coleman's finest work, and I think that's a shame. There is a lot of music on these two discs that is of very high quality.
Complete Science Fiction Sessions -

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