Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jacam Manricks - Trigonometry (Posi-Tone, 2010)

The California based Posi-Tone Records label is acquiring for itself a reputation for incubating young mainstream jazz talent. Jacam Manricks is a new addition to their lineup, he has a has a nice and individual tone on the alto saxophone, a light and floating texture that makes a marked contrast to the more pinched and citrus feel favored my many other alto players. On this album he is performing with Gary Versace on piano, Joe Martin on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums with Alan Ferber on trombone and Scott Wendholt on trumpet sitting in on a few tracks. Most of the tracks on this album are original compositions with the exception of a very nice reading of Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann" that places Manricks' light an nimble saxophone in open space, supported by just bass and drums. His tone and attack as an instrumentalist is far removed from Dolphy's, and his milder texture brings a new perspective to a familiar song. There's space for a lengthy bass solo and Martin responds with a thick, strong turn soloing deftly supported by light percussion. "Sketch" is a successful quartet track, with Manricks taking on a more urgent tone, and supported by nicely textured piano and drums. "Mood Swing" slows the pace down, taking on a moody and atmospheric air. Piano probes gently up to a break, until the saxophone takes over picking up the pace slightly to a dynamic finish. The band's patient and subtle style of music works quite well, and should make their music accessible to mainstream jazz fans. That's not to say they lack verility, the Dolphy cover shows that they can play in a gutsy and progressive fashion as well. But it is the slow burn that appeals to them, and fans of subtle saxophone by the likes of Mark Turner or Chris Cheek will find a lot to enjoy here. Trigonometry -

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hilario Duran Trio - Motion (Alma Records, 2010)

Pianist and composer Hilario Duran is originally from Havana, Cuba and emigrated to Canada in 1998. His music melds the traditional Cuban music he learned in his youth with modern jazz. Joining him on this album are hist trio mates Roberto Occhipinti on bass Mark Kelso on drums. The trio makes very exciting and high energy music, with all three instruments taking a deeply percussive and rhythmic role. "It's Only Seven" opens the album with fast and percussive trio interplay, dynamically shifting from fast to medium in tempo. A bass solo with soft piano and percussion accompaniment is featured before a strong trio finish that has a drum solo woven in. "Conversation With a Lunatic" has fast spritely trio playing in a nimble fashion. This song is a high wire act for piano, bass and drums will all of the instruments interacting well. "Havana City" changes pace with moody strings opening the performance with vocal and percussion accents added as well. Piano and percussion take over at a medium tempo, making room for a thick bass solo. The full trio returns with extra percussion, integrating well with the added strings. Rippling solo piano opens "For Emiliano" before the trio comes in fully, mining a deep Cuban influenced sound. The performance builds to a rumbling and complex conclusion. "Tango Moruno" is a medium paced lyrical improvisation, with the trio shifting in a subtle manner, and speeding up after a bass solo to conclude the song at a fast pace. Occhipinti's thick and deep bass is the centerpiece of "Danza Negro" providing the pivit point which the piano and drums revolve around. He and the rest of the trio are fast, rhythmic and powerful throughout this disc, which melds strains of American jazz and Cuban music in a deft and exciting manner.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Bryan and the Haggards - Pretend It's the End of the World (Hot Cup, 2010)

Instrumental avant-garde jazz/country bands are pretty thin on the ground, so chances are Bryan and the Haggards will have a chance to carve out a nice niche for themselves. Considering the band has some of the same musicians from the wonderful and irreverent group Mostly Other People Do the Killng, you can be assured that the music will be interesting. Consisting of Bryan Murray on tenor saxophone, Jon lrabagon on alto saxophone, Jon Lundbom on guitar, Moppa Elliott on bass and Danny Flscher on drums, the band develops a playful and exciting mashup of divergent genres. "Silver Wings" opens the album with grinding guitar and yearning emotional saxophone taken at a medium tempo. The two saxophones then build to a potent rousing climax. An easy going loping swing introduces "Swinging Doors" with the two saxophones improvising together before one steps out with a raw boned solo over shuffling drums. "Working Man Blues" is a highlight of the set with fast paced guitar and drums, with strong saxophone developing an Ornette-ish free-bop feel supported by rapid drumming. Lundbom gets into the act too, developing a thrilling guitar interlude reminiscent of Sonny Sharrock. "Miss the Mississippi and You" cools things out a little bit with a sweet ballad featuring harmonizing horns that swirl and probe. This track builds to a wonderful swirling trade of ideas. "All of Me Belongs to You" takes the groups irreverence to a peak with a loping, goofy western swing groove and fun upbeat vocal scatting. The blues standard "Trouble in Mind" ends the album on a very high note, featuring a majestic opening with the horns and guitar building to an emotional peak, before moving to a wild and exciting full band improvisation. This bands cheeky brand of fun masks serious intent. Much like the aforementioned MOPDTK and The Band Plus, the musicians are having a blast while playing exciting music at a very high level. Pretend It's The End Of The World -

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark

Parker, the cold and calculating master thief has a few rules when planning a heist and rule number one is: never work with amateurs. Called to Indianapolis by a fellow crook named Lempke, and allured by a femme fatale named Claire, Parker puts his better judgment aside, and agrees to take part in a planned heist. Nervous coin dealer Billy Lebetard, anxious to win Claire for himself, has cooked up a scheme to rip off a coin convention and to fence the ill-gotten booty. The setup looks bad: Lempke is just out of jail, feeling weak and scared. The two other men who sign on to the work the theft are at each others throats. But Parker comes up with an ingenious plan, entering the convention by breaking in through an adjacent building and tying up the Pinkerton guards that are watching the coins. Then, as in every Parker novel, it all goes wrong. When the double-cross goes down, shots are fired and Parker and Claire are running for their lives, still not knowing if they can trust each other. Parker is cold as ice throughout, weighing the odds and his actions with a complete lack of sentiment. This was a fascinating and transitional Parker novel, whereas he lived an outsider existence for the previous books in the series, he is so smitten by Claire (who would indeed become a recurring character in the remainder of the books) that he takes stock of his life and relationships... but not his life of crime. The Rare Coin Score -

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

David Weiss and Point of Departure - Snuck In (Sunnyside, 2010)

To name your band after one of the defining albums of modern jazz raises the stakes for success quite high. Fortunately trumpeter David Weiss and his band Point of Departure (presumably named after the 1964 Blue Note masterpiece by pianist and composer Andrew Hill) are more than up to the task. Point of Departure is composed of J.D. Allen on tenor sax, Nir Felder on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass and Jamire Williams on drums. The band echoes the wonderful inside/outside albums that Blue Note released in the mid 1960's by the likes of Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson and Sam Rivers, and takes the music into the modern age with class and dignity. Recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York City in 2008, the music is very powerful, with both the ensemble playing and the solos reach for high levels of creativity. The album opens with "I Have a Dream" which features strong saxophone and great drum work, followed by probing guitar over bass and drums. Felder has a interesting tone which flows like a neon stream before giving way to dramatic exchange of ideas between punchy trumpet and strong saxophone. Williams deft drum work is the key, he is constantly pulling and flexing the fabric of the music, and altering the space and time of the performances. "Black Comedy" has a strong and urgent melody with muscular saxophone and drums leading the charge. Weiss enters like a prize-fighter, with jabbing and throbbing and driving the music forward. Clocking in at nearly twenty minutes in length, the epic "Number 4" again features wonderful dialogue between Allen and Williams who really lock in and inspire each other to flights of musical daring. The leader slows the pace a bit in the middle with some smeared trumpet accents, before rebuilding fast and strong. Willams takes a well earned solo and ushers the punchy melody back for the finale. "Erato" slows the pace to a thoughtful medium tempo simmer, and Allen takes advantage by crafting a patient and deep solo. There is a very nice interlude here for guitar and drums with Williams demonstrating deft brushwork, which Felder probes around and through. Spirited full band interplay ushers in "Snuck In," the final track on the album. Weiss takes a fast and powerful solo buoyed by excellent drumming, before Allen takes the mantle with an excellent showpiece of his own. This was a very exciting and continually enjoyable album of modern jazz. The group takes their inspiration from the innovators of the past, but it is clear that their sound is their own and their musical mission is finely crafted and honed to a beautiful edge. Snuck In -

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Friday, June 25, 2010

William Hooker - Earth's Orbit (NoBusiness, 2010)

Free jazz drummer William Hooker has led and participated in some very interesting ensembles during his lengthy career on the free jazz scene, none more so than the fascinating and exciting group assembled for this recording. The first part of this limited edition LP set is a suite entitled "Bliss (east)" with Hooker on drums, Darius Jones on alto sax and Adam Lane on bass. This is a very powerful performance recorded at The Stone in New York City in 2007. The group makes for a lean and powerful trio with Hooker's free ranging drums and Lane's rock solid and dependable bass making a perfect launching pad for Jones's extraordinary saxophone flight. Jones has a raw and thrilling tone on his instrument and the same energy that he brought to his solo album Man'ish Boy and the collective Little Women is on display here. With the immediate and caustic tone of the saxophone combined the elastic bass and ever shifting drums, tracks like the lengthy "Chronofiles" develop a powerful and visceral presence that is continually compelling. The second section entitled "Bliss (west)" has a different band with Hooker on drums, Aaron Bennett on tenor saxophone, Weasel Walter on guitar, and Damon Smith on bass. At nearly 40 minutes in length, the two part "Tensegrity(4d)" is a wild and thrilling ride. The addition of Walter makes for a more vividly textured recording and the live audience at The Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco is deeply engaged and supportive of the band. The performance builds to a very exciting and dramatic conclusion, the all the musicians locked in and driving to the finish. This was a very exciting and enjoyable album, free jazz fans with a functioning turntable are advised to pick up a copy before they disappear. Hopefully there will be a digital version soon, so that the this music can get the wider audience it deserves. Earth's Orbit - NoBusiness Records

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review: Rogue Males by Craig McDonald

Rogue Males by Craig McDonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series of literary noirs, and this is his second volume collecting interviews with famous mystery and crime fiction authors. Much of the discussion in this book covered the craft of writing: how and where the authors write, their sources of inspiration and their plans for the future. Some of my favorite authors were included in this volume, so is was interesting to go "under the hood" so to speak and learn what made these writers tick. Andrew Vachss, author of the long-running series of "Burke" novels spoke at length about his work as an attorney representing abused children and how that work informed his famous series. He also spoke about his then new non-series novel Two Trains Running, and the research he did in order to write it. James Ellroy is notoriously upfront and always makes for a very compelling interview. He talks about the short pieces he had been writing for GQ and about the film adaptations of The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential. But Ellroy's most interesting subject is always himself and he talks candidly about his near breakdown and the effect on his marriage and writing. Lee Child and Max Allan Collins are like well oiled machines cranking out work, Collins' works to order for television series and tie-ins, and Child trying to keep his long running Jack Reacher series compelling for both himself and his fans. Two of the most interesting interviews come at the end of the book with noir writers James Sallis and Ken Bruen. Sallis discusses how other musicians and writers and a deep sense of place and time have informed his Lew Griffin and Turner series. Bruen's interview was compelling to hear him talk about the sudden success of his extraordinary Jack Taylor novels (calling himself "an overnight success after thirty years") and the subsequent effect book promotional tours have had on him. The book ends in a cool way with long-time mutual admirers Sallis and Bruen meeting for the first time at a bookstore in Arizona. This was a very interesting book especially for writers or crime fiction fans to go beyond the character and learn something about their favorite authors. Rogue Males -

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Before CSI and the current vogue of cops vs. serial killers books and movies, this Harris book set the template for what was to come. No less an authority than James Ellroy praised is as the best suspense novel he had ever read in the preface to one of his books. It still holds up pretty well after nearly twenty years and two film adaptations. Ex-FBI agent Will Graham has left the bureau and is living a quiet life in Florida when his former boss comes calling. Two entire families in the southern US have been brutally murdered and the evidence points to a serial murderer. Graham is recruited back into the fold and goes to work trying to gather evidence and form a profile of the killer. Graham has a unique ability to establish empathy to both the victims and the killer, and his unique skills are valued and feared by colleagues. Harris shifts focus and we follow the killer, a man deformed at birth and abused in childhood, and now developing film at a processing plant in St. Louis. The killer, Francis Dolarhyde, has become obsessed by the William Blake painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun. He believes the dragon is speaking to him and directing him to commit his crimes as part of his "becoming." The narrative develops into a race against time: can Graham beat the dragon and stop the next killing? Its easy to see how this book got its reputation, Harris did a tremendous amount of research and it shows in is deeply drawn and well written characters. The action is fast and furious throughout and the deceptions of Dolarhyde's crimes and battles with his own inner demons are truly terrifying. Only an unnecessary plot twist at the end keeps this from being a five star book. This is a taught and continually interesting thriller and should appeal to anyone who is interested in crime fiction. Red Dragon -

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sarah Manning - Dandelion Clock (Posi-Tone, 2010)

Studying with jazz iconoclasts like Jackie McLean and Yusef Lateef has given Sarah Manning the confidence to develop her own conception of jazz music. Employing a tart and immediate tone on alto saxophone and supported by pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Kyle Struve, she explores eleven compositions, both standards and originals. "The Peacocks" opens the album with pinched acerbic alto saxophone and lush piano. Manning's dark toned alto floats over an atmospheric, rippling backdrop to good effect. She is very successful with the ballad "Habersham Street," employing a yearning tone over emotional, nearly romantic piano support. An impressive unaccompanied alto section allows her to fly solo with dramatic and effective results. "I Tell Time by the Dandelion Clock" broods moodily before picking up to an insistent trio section and pinched alto saxophone solo. "The Owls (Are on the March)" is the centerpiece of the album, opening spare and spacious and then building suite-like through sections of march drumming with saxophone and an expansive piano - saxophone duet. "Phoenix Song" builds the pace to a sing-song feel and solid medium tempo quartet swing. After a rippling piano trio feature, Manning's strong saxophone returns in a dialogue trading nimble phrases with the drummer Struve. This was a very solid album of modern mainstream jazz. The most impressive thing for me was the strong and piercing tone that Sarah Manning has developed on her instrument, she is well on her way to the holy grail that musicians strive for, "finding their own voice." Linda Oh (who released a great album of her own last year) is excellent as well with rock solid accompaniment and inventive soloing. Dandelion Clock -

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Nobu Stowe - Confusion Bleue (Soul Note, 2010)

Keyboardist Nobu Stowe leads and interesting and exploratory blend on instruments on this album. He plays both acoustic and electric piano (and bells) leading a group of open-eared musicians through several interesting original compositions. Joining him are: Ross Bonadonna on guitar and alto saxophone, Tyler Goodwin on bass, Ray Sage on drums and percussion, and Lee Pembleton on sound (producer?) After a brief introduction setting the soundscape we are to hear, the group jumps right into the longest track on the album, "Premier Mouvement." Blasting off with thick bass and strong drumming, the music increases its pace with free and exciting ease. Electric guitar throbs underneath deep piano and stretches out at length employing a fascinating neon tone. The full band returns with great tumbling swaths of sound blending together to an awesome climax. "Duexieme Mouvement" opens with a funky beat and Stowe employing some gritty mid-70's electric Miles electronics and guitar accents. Strong collective improvisation ensues, with Stowe switching to acoustic piano and fighting to be heard over the heavy cacophony of bass and drums. Bonadonna's guitar then breaks out, wild and free, wailing like a banshee. "Intermede 2" is an eerie, spacious abstraction featuring bells, percussion and dusty acoustic guitar. It sets up like a soundtrack from a long forgotten western film before shifting to an electric piano and percussion feature. Raw fusion moves us back into the "Movement" series with fast and heavy electric piano and drums with rockish guitar providing the foundation of "Troisieme Mouvement." Bonadonna switch-hits on alto saxophone for "Quatrieme Mouvement," which builds to a frantic pace like a chase scence from a thrilling movie. Strong, fast and very exciting, saxophone flies over a rumbling foundation of low piano notes, throbbing bass and rapid drums. I've compared the music to film on a couple of occasions and I hope that Stowe and his band get a chance to do some film scoring. There is a visceral excitement to the songs on this album, whether they are working in post-Miles fusion or in open ended acoustic settings the music is continually interesting and deserves a wide audience. Confusion Bleue -

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Friday, June 18, 2010

The Convergence Quartet - Song/Dance (Clean Feed, 2010)

The Convergence Quartet lives up to its name by bringing together aspects of different types of jazz music, and combining them into a cohesive whole. They investigate the coming together or convergence of open ended free improvisation and melodic improvisation as a opportunity to express themselves creatively. The band consists of Alexander Hawkins on piano, Dominic Lash on bass, Harris Eisenstadt on drums and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. On some of the tracks, the music is abstract and the musicians use the very space and silence around them as an instrument and a way to sculpt and carve their performance. "Baobabs" has a very spacious and quiet opening, featuring spare and mournful cornet. It's impressive that the band is still able to make emotionally expressive music even in such a quiet and Zen-like setting. The music is slow, probing and atmospheric. Haunting sadness is the key to "Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short)" which takes a meditative approach to recognizing the life and music of the free jazz icon. Open smears of sound and puckered cornet alternate "plink and squeak" with free shape-shifting improvisation on "Representation 17." The opening track "Second" has a more standard jazz format with medium tempo trumpet improvising over an nimble piano, bass and drum accompaniment. Lash and Eisenstadt even approach funk with a cool bass and drum interlude. "The Pitts" is a beautiful melodic ballad floating over full bodied piano. Bynum adds some very subtle long toned cornet that is very lyrical and enhances the "storytelling" aspect of the song. "Kudala (Long Ago)" completes the album on an upbeat and spritely note with uptempo full band improvisation, featuring cool sounding brass sputtering over strong piano and propulsive drumming. This was an interesting album of patient and thoughtful music. It is clear that the musicians involved have spent much time honing their craft and considering the philosophy of their music. By taking a holistic approach that allows for the organic inclusion of many parts, the band is able to create a satisfying and original statement. Song/Dance -

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Louis Armstrong - The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia, 2000)

There had been jazz on record before cornetist then trumpeter Louis Armstrong convened his studio only bands the Hot Five and Hot Seven, but these records captured the imagination of both the record buying public and contemporary musicians (along with generations of musicians to come) with their audacious mix of technical brilliance and sheer emotional joy. The ultimate American rags-to-riches story, Armstrong grew up on the streets of New Orleans, learning to play the cornet in the Colored Waifs Home before coming under the wing of the legendary bandleader "King" Joe Oliver. Oliver called the young musician to Chicago and a legend was born, first in Oliver's band and then at his wife Lil's urging leading his own bands. The music on this collection was originally recorded for the Okeh label and has been reissued many times since its original recording. In this collection there are four compact discs, containing the recordings by the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens along with attendant recordings done under Lil Armstrong's name, and some early big band and duet recordings. Although there has been some squabbling by collectors over which version of this material sounds better, everything here sounds as good as can be imagined to my untrained ear, considering the age of the material. The music is just pure joy to listen to. I'm not much of an aficionado of early or "hot" jazz, but the rough and ready nature of the music and the clarion call of Armstrong's trumpet and cornet are amazing to listen to. It is really possible to hear history being made and the template for jazz being pressed in tracks like "Cornet Chop Suey" and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." His incredible technique comes through listening to the extraordinary duet with pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines on "Weatherbird" and Armstrong's rough and raw singing voice is a riot to hear on the likes of "Heebie Jeebies." Columbia pulled out all the stops on this package housing the four discs in a hard bound book, which puts the music into historical context with some excellent essays and historical photographs. The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings -

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Angles - Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed, 2010)

Making improvised art that is personal and musical as well as political, the members of the group Angels, Johan Berthling on bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Martin Kuchen on tenor saxophone, Mats Aleklint on trombone and Mattias Stahl on vibraphone, recorded this very exciting live album in Coimbra, Portugal, during the Jazz ao Centro festival. Mixing different types of music from around the world, particularly African influenced percussion and rhythm and open-ended jazz improvisation, the music is fast, free and continually exciting. Kunchen's dark and caustic saxophone, which provides the raw and emotional core of the music, and Broo's punchy and taught trumpet lines make for an ideal front line aided and abetted by the trombone accents of Alekint. Highlights of the album include "Every Woman Is A Tree," which was the title performance of one of their earlier albums is a is a very impressive performance with strong and rollicking free jazz interplay that builds to a potent collective improvisation as all of the band members work toward a common goal. "Let's Tear the Threads of Trust" pivots around a lengthy and melancholy bowed bass feature before the remainder of the band returns and the music builds to an emotional conclusion. Waves of sadness then the a stoic restatement of purpose end the album on a very positive note. This is an example of the global reach of jazz and another feather in the cap of Clean Feed's excellent roster of music. Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra -

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Monday, June 14, 2010

The Essential Sonny Rollins: The RCA Years (RCA, 2005)

The great saxophonist Sonny Rollins only spent a few years on the RCA label, but they were very interesting and productive ones. After a hyper-productive spasm of creating some of the finest music in the music's history during the 1950's, Rollins took a sabbatical that lasted a few years, re-evaluating his sound in the wake of the seismic changes that were happening on the jazz scene. Rollins famously practiced late at night under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, and that led to his resulting "comeback album" The Bridge, which is well represented on the first disc of this collection. Disc one leads off with the urgent title track, and the beautiful ballad version of "God Bless the Child" with Rollins intimately and patiently caressing the melody, aided by Jim Hall's light and buoyant guitar tone. Employing extra percussion and vocals, the calypso "Don't Stop the Carnival" is a riot of energy and experimentation, melding the island music with improvisational jazz. Coming to terms with the nascent free jazz movement leads to some fascinating music on this collection as well. Partnering with Don Cherry, the live version of "Doxy" stretches out at length, with Rollins and Cherry probing the new found freedom to great effect. Although he opted not to follow that road, Rollins had a lot of respect for the free jazz practitioners, and would become a mentor to one of the best modern free jazz musicians, David S. Ware. One of his own heroes, the legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins joined Rollins for one of the most fascinating albums of his RCA tenure and that album, Sonny Meets Hawk, is represented by their exciting version of "Lover Man" where they trade fascinating solos of an increasingly intense and abstract nature. Disc Two is rounded out by some very enjoyable bebop, ballads and standards, and re-makes of Rollins originals from earlier years, material that Rollins would continue to re-invent with endless facility over the course of his lengthy career. This is a well done and consistently interesting collection, that shows how willing Sonny Rollins was to try different settings and musical challenges. These experiments helped him further refine his sound and went a long way toward making the legendary musician we revere today. The Essential Sonny Rollins: The RCA Years -

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Travelling tunes

This weekend I was traveling with my father, driving all around upstate and central New York, visiting family and old colleges. Dad isn't much of a jazz fan but he was a sport about the music I was playing throughout the trip, and it kept me from going insane listening to the non-stop sports talk radio he prefers. Here are some of the selections we listened to over the course of the trip:

The Complete Recordings of Stan Getz Quintet w/ Jimmy Raney (Mosaic, 1990) I thought this would be a good way to start off the trip, since Getz is one of the few jazz musicians Dad knows due to his popularity in the 1950's and 60's. His group with Raney is wonderfully melodic and easy to listen to. The early Stan Getz album entitled Play was one of the first albums to entrance me when I was young and I continue to enjoy the music. The Mosaic set is well out of print, but the music is available in several other collections. Some of the music recorded live at the Storyville jazz club in Boston is quite exciting and the band runs through a variety of tempos from flat out bop to breathy ballads. It's a joy to listen to Getz play with the melody to "Pennies from Heaven" and the rest of the set is just as fine. Dad seemed to like it but the music did get a little sleepy after a while of driving for three hours in the pouring rain.

Horace Silver - Song for My Father (Blue Note, 1964) This is certainly a classic and a good choice when driving around with one's father. Silver's aggressively percussive piano, and the punchy front line of Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Carmell Jones on trumpet woke us up and got the energy level back up. Highlights were the title track with the famous piano opening that was poached by Steely Dan and Joe Henderson's excellent composition "The Kicker." Silver uses a variety of rhythms and tempos here which makes the music continually interesting. This one was a big hit with Dad commenting on how much he liked it and patting along on his knee in time. I think I'll send him a CD of the album for Father's Day.

Wayne Shorter - Juju (Blue Note, 1964) This one was for me because it is my favorite Shorter LP, and I think it was about as outre as I could get music wise without annoying my passenger. With Shorter playing just tenor saxophone with a killer John Coltrane associated rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, it is some of Shorter's most forthright work on record. I know the critique of this album is that it is a Coltrane Quartet knock-off, but there are enough differences in Shorter's saxophone styling and his compositions so that it stands very well on his own. This album and Adam's Apple are my favorite Shorter albums because he is alone on the front line, and briefly abandons the enigmatic nature that is his default musical persona to be more gregarious and direct with his approach. He nears the avant garde on the title track with a very exciting sharp edged attack, and presents one of his most interesting and overlooked compositions with "House of Jade." This one only got a non-committal grunt from my father, as expected. He's loves a good melody, and while there are fine melodic statements to be found here, they are sometimes lost amid the very stringent improvisation.

Stanley Turrentine - That's Where It's At (Blue Note, 1962) This soulful slab of music got things back on track. The two of us actually saw Turrentine at the Van Dyck jazz club in Schenectady many years ago. Blues and soul is the nature of the music here, it is very sunny and friendly music, with Les McCann's percussive piano comping and melodies, and Turrentine contributing gales of accessible blues based saxophone. My father seems to like music with defined melodies and accessible improvisations that he can tap his toe to and follow along. Music that tells a story, if you will. Turrentine's tenor saxophone and McCann's soulful, gospel drenched piano were a perfect match, and it is surprising this album has fallen under the radar somewhat, because it is quite good. This bluesy and soulful hard-bop was a big hit and was well received.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Frank Gratkowski and Hamid Drake - Untitled (Valid, 2010)

American drummer and percussionist Hamid Drake is the great griot of modern jazz, telling wonderful stories with his instruments and acting as a catalyst for many great musicians like William Parker, Peter Brotzmann and Sabir Mateen. On this album he meets the German reeds player Frank Gratkowski in an amicable free form setting, with the music ranging widely from slow abstraction to all out free jazz. The twenty minute epic "Brother G's Walk" begins slowly with the musicians feeling each other out with low tones of saxophone and light percussive sweeps. The music builds to a fast paced duet section featuring raw toned saxophone, and nimble drums that deftly employ touches of funk to keep the music moving forward. Employing a loud-soft dynamic, the music moves inexorably forward, rising and falling like the tide. "Square Root of Distraction" is a spare and abstract performance with long, low arcs of bass clarinet and skittish percussion. Slow and probing, the music explores the interface of silence and music. "Varm Somehow" increases the pace with Drake holding a steady beat for Gratkowski's bleating horn to revolve around. Both men are super tight and well attuned to each other at the high tempo, making music that is very exciting and inventive. "Well, It's Complicated" opens slowly with open bass clarinet swirling over spacious drumwork. The music picks up speed and develops into a fast paced and exciting free jazz dialog, where a range of ideas, thoughts and expositions are explored. This was a fine meeting of the musical minds, where two like minded explorers strike out for the hinterlands of improvised music, and find much to be enthused about. Frank Gratkowski and Hamid Drake -

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: Clandestine by James Ellroy

Clandestine Clandestine by James Ellroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fred Underhill is a young policeman in Los Angeles on his way up. By day he keeps the city safe from crime and at night he prowls for loose women and goes looking for "the wonder," a sense of awe that he feels from anything that is new an unusual: from people, nature or crime. Things change dramatically when one of his romantic conquests is later found murdered in the manner that makes Underhill suspect a serial killer may be at work. Underhill has a suspect, and working under a black flag with rogue police lieutenant Dudley Smith, they coerce the man's confession only to have him take his own life in prison and then be exonerated as innocent posthumously. Forced out of the police department in disgrace, Underhill drifts for several years until reading of the killing of another woman in the same manner as the others inspires him to re-start his own investigation and to supply his own justice. This is Ellroy's second novel, and something of a transitional work. What is surprising is the amount of sentimentality bordering on the maudlin at times that the narrative contains. The novel has something of a split personality between the hard boiled sections of Underhill's police work and private investigation and the sections of near romanticism where he searches for the miraculous in life and romance. Still, Ellroy is a smart enough storyteller even at this early stage not to let the narrative get too bogged down and builds the final third of the novel to a fast paced conclusion. Clandestine -

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

TGB - Evil Things (Clean Feed, 2010)

It's great to see a band that has enough irreverent humor to cut an album that includes covers of songs by Bill Evans and Black Sabbath, along with tributes to a former Beatle and a notorious sorcerer. Consisting of Mario Delgado on guitar, Alexandre Frazao on drums and Sergio Carolino on tuba, the group has a unique an exciting sound that should appeal to fans of the work that guitarist Bill Frisell produced in the mid 1990's. Mixing grinding and abrading uptempo tracks with abstract smears of music the group covers a wide range of territory. Their song "George Harrison" is a fascinating tribute to the late pop legend, moving dynamically through several sections from dramatic layers of tuba to strong guitar and drum interplay, with music is constantly shifting, and building upon itself. Some of the band's impish humor shines through on "Aleister Crowley" which develops from an ominous acoustic guitar led opening to a wild and wholly electric free jazz performance, complete with slurred and screamed vocalizing to complete the scene of musical mayhem, slashing burning like the old mage himself was involved in casting some musical magic. The mix of instruments may seem an odd pairing, but it works really well, making for emotional and exciting music that falls neither into the traditional power trio or abstract free jazz camps. The musicians bring a wide variety of influences into play from rock and pop to electronic and avant-guard, and it seves them well in making a compelling album. Evil Things -

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Bill Frisell - Live Download Series; Oakland, CA 7/15/89 (Songline/Tonefield, 2010)

The tenth installment in guitarist Bill Frisell's Live Download Series is from Yoshi's in Oakland, CA, recorded on July 15, 1989 with Frisell supported by Hank Roberts on cello, Kermit Driscoll on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The music is an interesting mix of Frisell's nascent Americana leanings along with some rocking, high intensity improvisation tied together with a sense of impish fun. Highlights include the lengthy John Zorn inspired "Hard Plains Drifter" which shifts dynamically from loud crunchy guitars and pile-driving drums to spacey and mellow cinematic interludes. Frisell was a member of Zorn's genre shifting Naked City ensemble at this stage, and this track brings together influences of both men including movie music, country and free jazz in a very impressive performance. Baron is at the heart of "Unscientific Americans" with very strong drumming egged on by Frisell firing sparks or guitar in an excellent dialogue. The music shifts into a lighter free section of cello and nimble percussion. Yearning and emotional music is at the core of "Devil Suit" and "Amarillo Barbados" with Roberts swirling and riffing cello providing ample support for Frisell's guitar acrobatics. This was a well played set of live music, and the sound quality of the recording was very good. Definitely a must for fans of the guitarist. Live Download -

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Mat Lavelle on Daniel Carter

Trumpeter and bass clarinetist Matt Lavelle has written a thoughtful appreciation of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter on the Brilliant Corners jazz blog:
(excerpt) "Daniel has almost Zero JUDGEMENT on all musicians and people and really believes that EVERYONE has something to say. DC searches for the gold in all music and all people wherever he goes, and finds some where most people would never think to look. He has always been this way as far as I can tell, which has garnered him an army of collaborators, and in fact a considerable amount of fans and more than anything... friends. I call all of the people around him in his musical world, "the DC train", which almost never stops."
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Saturday, June 05, 2010

New POD Available

Don't miss the excellent new edition of the web zine Point of Departure:
"Issue 28 also features PoD’s second celebration of Steve Lacy, including Ed Hazell’s 2004 interview with Lacy and Irene Aebi, a What’s New? Roundtable with several of Lacy’s former students at NEC, and Bill Shoemaker’s look back at an unreleased Lacy compilation."
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Friday, June 04, 2010

Odean Pope - Odeans List (In + Out Records, 2010)

Tenor saxophonist Odean Pope grew up as part of the vibrant Philadelphia music scene of the 1950's (vividly described in Archie Shepp's liner notes to this album) playing with the likes of trumpeter Lee Morgan and bassist Reggie Workman. This album presents him with a sterling cast of musicians in settings ranging from duo to trio and octet. The ensemble cast includes James Carter on tenor and baritone saxophone, Walter Blanding on tenor saxophone, David Weiss and Terell Stafford on trumpet, George Burton on piano, Lee Smith on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. Highlights of this excellent album include "Phrygian Love Theme" which opens with a thick, patient bass solo before the horns enter the fray, riffing darkly. James Carter unveils a deep, strong baritone saxophone solo with the other horns in support. Stafford then takes over with a brisk trumpet feature which is rippling with energy. "Say It Over and Over Again" is a beautiful lengthy duet for Pope and bassist Lee Smith. Pope plays the ballad with a spare and longing tone, allowing the music to breathe with much space and making for a very soulful performance. Smith's thick, elastic bass add to the late night vibe. "Blues For Eight" is a trio feature for Pope, Smith and Watts, with thick bass and caustic saxophone building the music to a free-bop simmer. Carter is the star of "Collections" this time playing tenor saxophone. Never a wallflower, he kicks it into overdrive here with a wild freebooting solo. Pope's corrosive tenor and Watts' muscular drums develop a fine dialogue on "Odean's List." "Cis" ends the album with a lush mid-tempo performance, as the full band swings gracefully and Pope steps out for one final solo bow, with Carter's deep baritone bubbling just below the surface. This was a very good and consistently interesting album. Both the ensemble passages and the solos, particularly from Pope and the endlessly energetic James Carter were reliably exciting and made for thoroughly enjoyable listening. Odeans List -

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi Recordings, 2010)

A provocative blurb on the cover of the latest Jazz Times magazine asks the question: Is Steve Coleman the most influential jazz musician since John Coltrane? For someone so influential, he's been keeping a pretty low profile recording wise, and Pi claims that this is his first record on an American label in nine years. It is certainly worth the wait, as Coleman, playing alto saxophone and writing most of the compositions on this album has put together an ensemble with a very unique sound that is instantly recognizable and very exciting to listen to. He is joined by a core group featuring Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tim Albright on trombone, Jen Shyu on vocals, Thomas Morgan on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The opening tracks, "Attila 02 (Drawing Ritual)" and "Beba" are fast paced and urgent with complex improvisations. Sorey's strong drumming is the cornerstone to the music, he plays fast and loud but with an unerring sense of rhythm that propels the music along. The lengthy "060706-2319 (Middle of Water)" unfolds like a suite with saxophone and trumpet swirling around each other, giving way to horn like vocal improvisation, and a probing saxophone and drum interlude. Dramatically shifting to a full band collective improvisation, the band increases the tempo in a strong and confident manner to an impressive conclusion. Shyu is the focus of the unusual "Flos Ut Rosa Floruit" which gives a classical and/or operatic sensibility with her yearning vocals matched by fine trumpet. Shyu is really a wonder to listen to on this recording. The music is quite complex and very full, but still she manages to not only hold her own, but to thrive as an improviser equal to any of the other instruments. "Attila 04 (Closing Ritual)" is a fast and energetic short performance featuring quick, short solos taken in an exciting fashion over excellent bass and drum work. "Vernal Equinox 040320-0149 (Initiation)" closes the album with a choppy improvisation with vocals soaring and scatting overhead, and then riffing under a nice bass solo, making for a cool and unusual sound. Everybody comes back together for a fast collectively improvised conclusion. Much of the music on the album as explained by the liner notes is deeply mathematical and draws on astrology for inspiration. But this complexity doesn't detract from the enjoyment from the music in any way. Steve Coleman is forging his own individual path in jazz, and it is understandable why young musicians are so inspired by his sound and philosophy. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities - amazon.con

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Oliver Lake Organ Quartet - Plan (Passin' Thru, 2010)

Veteran alto saxophonist Oliver Lake came out of St. Louis in the 1970's as a mainstay of the Black Artists Group collective. He was very active on the loft scene in New York in the 1970's and was also a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet. Since then he has recorded a number of sessions in a variety of formats, and started his own label called Passin' Thru. Updating the tried and true grits and gravy organ jazz format on this album, Lake is joined by Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Jared Gold on organ and Jonathan Blake on drums. "Plan" gets the album off to a rousing start with a fast and upbeat multi-horn melody along with wild, grinding organ and drums. "Backup" has a yearning feel and a medium tempo, searching, scorching trumpet shining through. "Ta Ta Ta" uses free-ish horn accents and solos to propell the music forward over thick slabs of organ and drums. "In This" slows the tempo to a sweet bluesy crawl, with patient ballad saxophone and stately trumpet. "2 Parts Air" is medium-up in tempo and dynamically shifts from open and spacey to fast and funky. Blake revels in controlling the beat, like he's at the wheel of a fine sports car and is putting it through its paces. Lake breaks out on the fast parts, accenting the music with passionate squeaks and squeals. "Dance Two" concludes the album with strong and sweeping alto saxophone and strong punchy trumpet over a deep pocket of organ and drums. The music is grounded in the music of the early to middle 1960's, with Lake's tart and vinegary alto recalling Eric Dolphy, and Gold's organ reminiscent of Larry Young. But this is far from a nostalgia exercise, the musicians use the past as a jumping off point and make the music their own in a very exciting and constantly compelling album. Plan -

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

James "Blood" Ulmer - In and Out (In+Out, 2009)

Guitarist (and sometimes vocalist) James "Blood" Ulmer has had a lengthy career in creative music, playing harmolodic jazz with Ornette Coleman along with with deep blues and R&B influenced rock 'n' roll. On this album, he combines all of these influences, becoming almost a genre in his own right, playing in a lean trio format with Mark Peterson on bass and Aubrey Doyle on drums. Opening with "No Man's Land" the music recalls some of the protest music that Ulmer recorded in the 1980's, like the excellent "Are You Glad to Be In America." Ulmer has a deep and expressive singing voice, and when he sings about heartbreak and struggle, he really means it. "A Thing For Joe" is one of the finest performances on this disc, with Ulmer improvising strongly on guitar and then switching to flute (!) for a very strong and exciting solo. Ulmer's flute style is blustery and energetic, riding a strong wave of bass and drums in an stirring performance. "My Woman" returns to the bluesy format Ulmer recorded in during his series of well received album for the Hyena label in the previous decade. Deep growling vocals and sharp and agile guitar are the hallmarks of this performance, showing Ulmer's kinship with the great bluesmen of the past but also updating that tradition in a novel way. "High Yellow" is the jazziest presentation on the album, with Ulmer taking on a more fluid tone in his guitar playing and the rhythm section improvising along with him in a nimble and agile manner. The was a very effective album that showcases Ulmer's skills and conception of improvised music very well. In and Out -

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