Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review: Neil Young's Greendale

I've always felt that Neil Young's Greendale was one of his most overlooked LP's and I must not be the only one because that disc has gone on to spawn a feature length film and now a graphic novel. A young woman named Sun Green is a teenager who is coming of age in the small fictional town of Greendale, California in 2003 during the time leading up to the Iraq War. She has growing feelings of anxiety about the futility of war and the environmental degradations she sees on television. As her political consciousness grows, she begins to have vivid dreams and visions about women of her family that have gone missing under mysterious circumstances. She also sees an unnamed trickster figure that lurks around the edges when things are going bad. Working through the visions and learning the background of her unusual family leads her to some startling revelations and leads her to become a bold environmental activist. This works pretty well in the comic format, the artwork has a slightly washed out look to it, which is appropriate since the story has a lot of dream elements to it. The dialogue follows the basic narrative of the album, but takes some liberties in adding some supernatural elements to the story. Overall, an interesting and thoughtfully done story with a powerful anti-war and pro environment message. Neil Young's Greendale -

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Ideal Bread - Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform, 2010)

A collective group that plays the music of the late saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy, Ideal Bread consists of Josh Sinton on baritone saxophone, Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, Reuben Radding on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. The music is quite melodic and accessible, and the performances are at a very high level. "As Usual" develops from a low medium tempo into a multi-horn exercise, building the melody before venturing into open space. Fujiwara's drums roll like the tide, ebbing and flowing around the deep saxophone and trumpet. Gently riffing horns open "Flakes" before giving way to a sputtering trumpet solo. Stinton's saxophone is mellow and probing, developing intensity in a patient and thoughtful manner, before reaching a fast and free section abetted by potent drum work. "The Dumps" features some tongue in cheek scatting with the horns smearing the sound like abstract painters working on canvas. "Longing" continues the abstract vibe, developing a low and slow opening, and containing a trumpet feature that is fractured and subtle. Radding opens "Cliches" with deep and elastic solo bass before swirling crunchy horn riffs pick up the pace. Stinson develops one of his strongest solos on the album, creating a deep and strong voice that is free and exciting. Not to be outdone, Knuffke bobs and weaves like a boxer on trumpet, and the cool rhythmic drumming of Fujiwara keeps everyone on their toes. This was an excellent performance and the highlight of the album. Light horns slowly developing with subtle bass and brushes are the centerpiece of "The Breath" with spare and spacious improvisation at the forefront. "Papa's Midnight Hop" has nice strong riffing from the horns, weaving in and out and creating a musical fabric. Strong saxophone and trumpet solos are followed by nice full band collective improvisation. Steve Lacy's compositional legacy was a very strong one and is ripe for rediscovery in a modern jazz scene that is casting about for inspiration. Ideal Bread moves well beyond the notion of a tribute band and develops the ideas and compositions of Lacy in their own way, creating a powerful musical statement in the process. Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy -

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Recent reads

The Green Eagle Score by Richard Stark: Master thief and anti-hero Parker is lounging on the beach in Puerto Rico, when a man comes to him with an interesting proposition. The heist would be one of Parker's most audacious - stealing the entire cash payroll from a large military base in upstate New York. They've got an inside man who can give them the layout and the lowdown, so Parker goes to work crafting an ingenious plan to get them onto the base and into the money. But all the while, the ex-wife of one of the thieves has been leaking information to her psychiatrist... what could possibly go wrong? This was an excellent Parker thriller, Stark clinically lays out the caper, and they characters are well drawn and believable. Paker, of course, is ten feet tall and bulletproof, but that is part of what makes the series so much fun to read. After reading about the meticulous planning for the theft, the narrative rockets into the heist and then inevitably, the moment it all goes wrong. Parker's idea of damage control takes the story to a rollicking conclusion. The Green Eagle Score: A Parker Novel -

The Guards by Ken Bruen: Kicked out of The Guards (the Irish Police force) for habitual drunkenness, Jack Taylor has blundered into becoming an unlicensed private investigator in Galway, in the west of Ireland. Contacted by the mother of a young girl who supposedly killed herself, Jack blunders into a web of danger and intrigue that he is totally unprepared for, as he tries to understand the true nature of the girl's death. This is the first in the Jack Taylor series, one of my favorites, and I am re-reading it in preparation for the new installment being released in the USA next month. Although there is a "mystery" in this and all of the other Taylor novels, the real focus of the book and the series is Jack Taylor himself. An extraordinary creation, plagued by demons and addictions, you can't help but root for him. It's also a very savvy commentary on changing times. When this novel was originally published, Ireland was still in the grip of a booming economy, the "Celtic Tiger." Jack exists in the the netherworld between the ancient traditions of the past and the unknown future. This is one of the best and most unusual private eye novels you will read - sad, funny, scary, it is all of these things and more. The Guards -

The Sour Lemon Score by Richard Stark: Parker puts together a string to rob a bank and armored car. Everything goes well and they make a getaway to the safe house after a successful robbery. Then it all goes straight to hell. Upset by the disappointing take, one of the robbers decides to eliminate his colleagues and take all of the money for himself. He makes just one mistake... he leaves Parker alive. Parker, the master thief and consummate anti-hero tracks the thief up and down the eastern seaboard as other crooks start to smell money, and the chase is on to see who comes away with the loot. I had been reading the Parker novels in order when I stumbled across this one (12th in the series) so I'll have to go back and read the previous two (and try to find the associated Grofield novels.) This story had a very exciting beginning as we're dropped right into the robbery without learning about the planning. There are some great action scenes, especially during the double cross. The perspective shifts to the crook on the run and other crooks looking to muscle in and this slows the momentum a little bit, but when we move back to Parker for the big conclusion, the payoff is worth it. The Sour Lemon Score: A Parker Novel -

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rich Corpolongo - Get Happy (Delmark, 2010)

Classy small group jazz that harkens back to the classic trio recordings of Sonny Rollins can be found on this album. Rich Corpolongo is a tenor saxophonist with a large and appealing tone, playing classic bop, blues and ballads in the company of Dan Shapera on bass and Rusty Jones on drums. Sounding like a long club set in a basement jazz club, the trio opens and closes the album with Charlie Parker compositions, setting down their intentions for the music at hand. "Chi Chi" is an medium tempo performance that builds and develops over a lengthy reading. Parker's "Dewey Square" is a faster more standard bebop performance that develops to a fast pace with with trio running like a finely oiled machine. Spinning out the standard "Body And Soul" is a requirement for tenor players, and Corpolongo takes it with patient authority, developing a lengthy solo backed by subtle bass and drums. It's probably not fair to compare Corpolongo to Sonny Rollins, but the format and the thoughtful and melodic improvisation Rollins pioneered is certainly what he is striving for. He and the other members of the group succeed quite well and fans of mainstream jazz that is rooted in the bebop/hard-bop bedrock will find a lot to enjoy here. Get Happy -

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Daniel Carter, et. al. - The Perfect Blue (Not Two, 2010)

Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter is a Renaissance man on the New York free jazz scene, and around the world. He doesn't lead many sessions, preferring to collaborate with like minded musicians in a collective setting. He is nominally the leader on this album, playing trumpet, alto and tenor saxophone, along with Alberto Fiori on piano, Tom Abbs on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. The title of the album gives their intentions away at the top, as they explore the textures and hues of music and all of the shadings that the blues can provide. The album opens slowly with "If You Come This Way" which has spare piano and probing spacious trumpet. Things pick up with the lengthy "Underdog," beginning with an urgent piano trio developing in a dark and ominous setting. Starting with trumpet and then switching to saxophone, Carter is the focus of this performance leading a burning quartet improvisation culminating with screams of encouragement and concluding with a torrid saxophone and drums feature. The short "Brooklyn Basement" moves in another direction entirely as open yearning saxophone and gentle piano combine in a hopeful and concise duet. The group plays in a dynamic fashion on "Zero Summer" led by skittering fast drums developing with strong tenor saxophone into a powerful improvisation before throttling back the power and becoming nimble and swirling. "To Pass O" follows the same path with a slow open ended opening building to strong quartet improvisation led by powerful squeals of saxophone. Carter's tenor is strong and deep, building to a free climax, over rippling piano. Exploring the relative darkness and light of the blue nature of jazz was a great idea for this quartet. They play varying shades of jazz from straight up ballads to way out free improvisation with class and dignity throughout. Using varying amounts of light and heat they are able to create a coherent statement that is at once spontaneous and thoughtful. The Perfect Blue -

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wake Up - Wake Up! (Wake Up, 2010)

Wake Up is an interesting collective band featuring featuring Daniel Carter on saxophone, Demian Richardson on trumpet, David Moss on electric bass and Federico Ughi on drums. According to their web site, they are trying to wake up the jazz scene, and with this album they are certainly off to a good start. There's an exciting brashness to this album, mixing free jazz with touches of funk for an interesting and unusual feel. The album is structured in a way that mixes several short one to three minute tracks amongst a few longer ones giving the music a punk feel that is quite invigorating. Blasting on a riff for a short period of time, having their say and moving on allows the band to keep the music moving at a feverish pace. Ripples of funk and R&B pervade the music, and the electric bass of David Moss is a perfect vehicle for this. Fuzzed out at times and deeply grooving and free at others, tracks like "Disco Days" and "Super Chicken" pulse with an impish humor and thorough commitment to pushing the boundaries of the music. "Love Before the Sacred Dawn" mines a super tight bass and drum pocket with echo altered trumpet and probing saxophone to excellent effect, creating a wild and wholly sound that is completely their own. It's not all on all on the wild side, although much of the music is at a fest pace. "Laid Back" takes things at a sultry medium tempo, like waves of heat rippling up from the pavement on a scorching summer's day. "Resisting Between the Cracks" is a ballad featuring some subtle Miles Davis like trumpet and piano. It almost seems out of place, considering the rest of the album, but the song is very well played and shows that this band is far from a one-trick pony. This album was a very exciting and compelling disc to listen to, reminding me at times of some of the great funky free music that has come out of the Philadelphia area, but the likes of Byard Lancaster. But this is an NYC band through and through, drawing their energy from the city and the musicians that enliven it. Hopefully their mission to kick start the jazz scene and get people involved in all of the excellent music available will be a successful one. Wake Up! -

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kurt Knuffke - Chew Your Food (NoBusiness, 2010)

Kirk Knuffke is an up and coming trumpet player (now focusing on cornet according to his web site) who leads a very well focused and classy trio on this live recording taken from The Roulette in 2009. He is joined on this recording by Kenny Wollesen on drums and Lisle Ellis on bass. The music has an open ended and elastic feel, with the music coming in a continuous suite like formation, with themes drifting to the fore and then improvised upon. Beginning at a medium tempo, Wollesen and Ellis create a deep pocket that is rife with musical possibility. Knuffke has a bright and warm sound to his instrument, and they play strong collective improvisation with depth and integrity. He steps out with spare and yearning unaccompanied trumpet at one point, filling with space around him with deeply emotional music. Their final medley on the album begins with a spare, fragile feeling, abstract bowed bass scrapes the open space, sculpting and molding the sound in conjunction with trumpet and subtle percussion. Wollesen develops a drum solo, still muted but quite impressive in its controlled power. The group finishes their journey with some punchy fast trio improvisation. he music on this album is graceful and subtle, with the three musicians completely attuned to their musical mission. This is a thoughtfully done album with rewards close listening. Chew Your Food - NoBusiness Records

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Harris Eisenstadt - Woodblock Prints (No Business, 2010)

Referencing the delicate artistic printing method, this nonet recording presented by Harris Eisenstadt on drums and compositions, Michael McGinnis on clarinet, Jason Mears on alto saxophone, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Mark Taylor on french horn, Brian Drye on trombone, Jay Rozen on tuba, Jonathan Goldberger on electric guitar and Garth Stevenson on acoustic bass (with smaller groups frequently breaking out) is a model of artistic restraint. At times sounding like a post-modern version of the classic Miles Davis Birth of the Cool band, the music is very patient and thoughtful, and one could imagine the past masters of the art of woodblock printing nodding their heads in approval of the craft involved. "Hasui (for brass trio) opens the album with a muted call to arms, playing a beautiful and haunting melody. "The Floating World" has a spacious dreamlike appeal, with the leader's percussion light and agile. Following a meditative beginning, "After Jeff Wall" builds to a fleet and exciting collective improvisation which builds a fascinating sound texture of clarinet and bassoon rubbing up against french horn and trombone. This performance really takes on an artistic bent sounding like a sound collage with all of the artists adding ideas toward a common goal. Riffs and melodies bubble up and then pass on with muted dignity and compassion. "Hiroshige (for woodwind trio)" returns to the meditative sound on the trio, developing a spare motif prepared with gentle forethought developing and emotional and yearning sound. Taylor's french horn is the centerpiece of "Hokusai" developing a unique statement on an instrument rarely used in jazz, over subtle accompaniment, the music develops slowly, evolving an changing as the musicians develop the performance. The final track, "Andrew Hill" is dedicated to the great composer and pianist, beginning by developing a beautifully dignified and delicate melody. Mears gracefully develops an excellent solo against the backdrop of the horns. NoBusiness Records is based in Vlinius, Lithuania and they are becoming one of the most interesting labels on the current jazz scene, issuing progressive jazz from around the world and reissuing forgotten gems of improvisational music from the past. This thoughtful album is clearly a labor of love for all concerned, only 300 LP copies were produced, so if this appeals to you, don't wait. Woodblock Prints - NoBusiness Records

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

John Zorn - The Goddess: Music for the Ancient of Days (Tzadik, 2010)

John Zorn is behind the scenes on this interesting album, having seven of his compositions presented by a band consisting of Rob Burger on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass, Carol Emanue on harp, Ben Perowsky on drums, Kenny Wollesen on vibes and Mark Ribot on guitar. Dedicated to "Women in Myth, Magick and Ritual throughout the Ages" the music has a light and delicate feel with touches of energy throughout. "Enchantress" opens with a lush medium tempo developing into a percussive piano and vibraphone section with harp accents. Guitar sparks are added over the piano before heading back to the lush melody. Vibes shimmer and probe in a pastel fashion on "Ishtar" with Burger's piano joining in with a Keith Jarrett like fullness. Marc Ribot breaks out on "Heptameron" throwing thunderbolts of electric guitar like Zeus, after a mid-tempo melodic opening featuring shimmering harp reminiscent of Alice Coltrane's music. A dreamy feel pervades "White Magick" picking up the pace led by percussive vibes and piano. Ribot beams in some strong guitar, building to a masterful solo, completely owning the music, but not grandstanding in the least. He plays like a panther pacing the cage on "Drawing Down the Moon" which is not quite a ballad, but has an uneasy gentility. He seems to lays out on the final two songs, "Beyond the Infinite" which has the band improvising around pulsating piano and bass. "Ode to Delphi" ends the album in a thoughtful and melodic nature. This was an interesting album, that was played for the most part with great restraint, searching for different ways to use musical colors and textures at the expense of power and brute force. Goddess: Music for the Ancient of Days -

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Archie Shepp - The New York Contemporary Five (Delmark 1967, 2010)

Recorded in 1963 in Copenhagen as the "new thing" really began to make waves and present a different path from mainstream jazz, The New York Contemporary Five was a collective group (although under Shepp's nominal leadership here) with Don Cherry on cornet, John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, Don Moore on bass and J.C. Moses on drums. This live album has a raw live sound that actually helps the sound of the music which has a rough and ready feel, with the band playing the brand of free-bop that had the music evolving from the bop based music of the past to the free sounding music being spearheaded by their colleagues Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. Cherry's "Cisum" opens the album with the band playing in a very fast and confident manner. Cherry in particular sounds excellent, his tone on the instrument is ripe and pure and and he pushes and pulls the music at will. Just to show that they hadn't completely broken with convention, they give a relatively straight and very respectful version of Thelonious Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" which treats the beautiful melody with gentle respect. The band gets right back into it with "O.C." and Ornette Coleman selection brought by Don Cherry, which gives the band a lot of open ended space to play in the manner of Coleman's blues drenched free jazz. "When Will the Blues Leave" is Coleman's as well, and Shepp in particular digs into the deep soulful music, with a guttural and exciting solo. "The Funeral" is a slow dirge that features some excellent bass work from Moore, providing a brief respite before the group comes back with a fine up-tempo collective improvisation on "Mik." This is a very interesting time capsule that shows the development of "free jazz" was an evolutionary experience as much as a revolutionary one. Drawing on jazz of the past and opening it up to the innovations of the present allowed this group and several other like minded bands to push the boundaries of the music. The New York Contemporary Five -

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blaise Siwula, Nobu Stowe and Ray Sage - Brooklyn Moments (Konnex, 2006)

Subtitled "Total Improvisation Unit," this album presents a five part suite simultaneously composed and improvised by Blaise Siwula on alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet and flute, Nobu Stowe on piano and Ray Sage on drums. The music has a very immediate visceral appeal, as all three musicians are really focused on creating music in the moment. "Part I" starts at a medium and probing tempo, then develops quickly to full bodied and very strong collective improvisation. "Part II" features thoughtful mid-tempo bass clarinet with piano and drums, probing and seeking. The music picks up to a fast skittish piano - drums interlude. Siwula's saxophone enters with free and wildly cacophonous free trio jazz developing to a frantic and exciting pace. Ripe piano and drums open "Part III," before saxophone builds in, deep and strong, gradually becoming more intense, increasing the tempo in a potent fashion, reaching high and searching. The music evolves to a lusty collective improvisation, centered around scalding, paint stripping saxophone. "Part IV" opens with a drum solo, soon joined by piano, probing against flute accents, before switching to switch to low quick witted bass clarinet. Well controlled and quite supple, Siwula glides over a lush and intricate carpet of piano. Back to saxophone, the music turns caustic, and Stowe's piano keeps encouraging the music deeper into the unknown. Free improvisation for trio follows, fast and wild. Drums lay out for fast piano & sax duet section before coming back for the big finish. "Part V" segues in from the previous performance, where pounding piano and drums plum depths while sax soars overhead. Slows to medium tempo to celebrate a hard won victory, sounding melodic with a tough lyricism. This album was very exciting to listen to, all three members of the group were clearly focused on the same goal, even though they were creating their music in real time. Brooklyn Moments -

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Frode Gjerstad and Paal Nilssen-Love - Gromka (Not Two, 2010)

Saxophonist and clarinetist Frode Gjerstad and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love make for a potent duo on this album that was recorded live in Slovenia in 2008. Gjerstad cycles adroitly through his arsenal, including alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, beginning on the opening track, "Svirel." His way of approaching the music is very interesting, he strings together short avian sounding notes that mesh very well with Nilssen-Love's supple and muscular drumming. The bursts of notes from the saxophone and clarinet sometimes come in long wavelengths, but are most effective when he gives gamma ray like bursts of energy, blasting out choppy and staccato waves of notes that combine with the drumming to give thirty minute plus epic real staying power. "Klopotec" takes a different tactic, the music flowing slow and abstract, moving in waves, with a great deal of spaciousness, like they were using space as a third instrument. Gjerstad sticks to clarinet, responding with swirls and smears of sound to the subtle percussion. "Ragija" Is another dynamic epic of free improvisation, with clarinet building slowly to squeaking, swirling solo, before stepping aside for a drum solo that is potent, fast and powerful. Gjerstad picks up his alto like an old west gunfighter and squares off against Nilssen-Love's drums with apocalyptic smears of sax against a rolling ocean of percussion. Short blasts of horn play off rhythmic menagerie of roiling, throbbing drums. After this section of awesome power duo playing, they gradually slow the tempo down to an almost gentle finale. Fans of high energy free jazz should flock to this album, it was a very exciting meeting of two of the leading lights of the European free jazz scene. Nilssen-Love's drumming is hypnotically beautiful throughout, and Gjerstad has a conception of structure and freedom that makes for a continually interesting album. Gromka -

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mikrokolektyw - Revisit (Delmark, 2010)

Mikrokolektyw is an interesting and unusual band consisting of trumpeter Artur Majewski and drummer Kuba Suchar, that get a vibe that is not unlike Don Cherry's experimental recordings made in the 1970's. They mix acoustic sounds from their instruments with electronics like mini-moog and sampler that are sequenced in the background. Opening with "Revisit," the music features electronics and medium uptempo riffing and twisting over fast and rhythmic percussion developing a cool rhythm. Spare and haunting trumpet and electronics that sound almost like video game noises mark "Rocket Street." Mid-tempo choppy trumpet and drumming introduce "Running Without Effort" which has a spacious and open feel featuring well controlled mid-tempo trumpet. "Tiring Holiday" has rumbling fast percussion and slurred trumpet, the music moves fast in a hypnotic locomotive fashion. The duo uses their electronic backdrops in different ways, such as on "Casio" where they develop a percussive, marimba like effect to improvise against. Funky dark electronics set the stage for "Tar Man" with the duo exploring with spare trumpet and light percussion. The soundscapes developed by the musicians are interesting, and should have a broad appeal to not only open minded jazz fans but fans of electronic music looking to expand their horizions. Fans of Don Cherry's 70's music like the haunting Brown Rice LP will feel right at home here. Revisit -

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Atomic - Theatre Tilters, Vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2010)

Atomic is a veritable Scandinavian jazz supergroup, consisting of Fredrik Ljungkvist on saxophones, and clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Havard Wilk on piano, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The make music that blurs the intersection of hard bop and free jazz, staking out exciting territory for their sonic explorations. Taken from live recordings made at Teater Lederman in Stockholm in October 2009, the album opens with "Green Mill Tilter" which has a fast collective beginning, giving way to strong tenor saxophone over insistent percussion. Strong, fast free improvisation is the name of the game, with the horns riffing hard over deep piano, bass and drums. Great sax and drums drive the music to a fine conclusion. Spacey percussion develops "Andersonville" with the horns and piano swirling about in open space. Clarinet and piano play off against Broo's horn and brushed percussion. After a quirky interlude Broo steps out with a medium tempo strut and then leads the full band to a strong finale. Nilssen-Love's great drum work is the centerpiece of "Fissures" with killing percussion and torrid trumpet leading the free-bop charge. The music downshifts dramatically to an open and deft bass solo. After this passes they come back together to ramp things back up to a big cacophonous finish. "Murmansk" opens with spacey solo clarinet, abstract and probing. The horns develop a complex riffing, with drums and piano slowly rising. Nilssen-Love takes an intricate solo, building conceptual ideas throughout. The group ends the set with a bang on "Bop About," a thrilling free-bop blowout. Fast and wild, it shows the band at their most impish and free developing a playful and exciting collective improvisation. Atomic is one of the leading lights of the European jazz scene, and this is another fine album to add to their discography. Navigating both structured and free/abstract material, with aplomb, they keep their music continually interesting and exciting.Theater Tilters, Vol. 1 -

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dave Douglas and Keystone - Spark of Being: Soundtrack (Greenleaf, 2010)

This is a soundtrack to an interesting collaboration between trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas and filmmaker Bill Morrison composed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first filming of the Frankenstein story. Douglas penned the film score for a remixed film that used original footage with his band Keystone: Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone, Adam Benjamin on electric piano, Brad Jones on bass, Gene Lake on drums and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. What results is a moody and experimental album, varied with the use of many different shadings and structures. Highlights of the album include the opening track, "Creature Theme" which builds slowly with electric piano and pinched trumpet building in a mysterious fashion. "Travelogue" starts with a slow and creepy feel, before the drums pick up a fast pace with keyboard accents. The leader's strong and controlled trumpet is featured, before the music drifts into an atmospheric slide. A cool funk groove, coming in hard and thick ushers in "Tree Ring Circus" which has strong full band improvisation. Lake, who is excellent throughout gets a solo accented by electronics. "Split Personality" lives up to its title by beginning in a slow and probing fashion before the horns and drums join in, increasing the pace. Douglas takes a fast and clearly articulated solo, before giving way to deep and strong tenor saxophone. The music was interesting throughout, sometimes referencing some of the early electronic experiments of Miles Davis with the use of Fender Rhodes piano, creating shimmering musical images. But the performance was the bands own, inspired by the images of the film and the compositions. Spark of Being Soundtrack - Greenleaf Records

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Derek Trucks Band - Roadsongs (Sony Legacy, 2010)

After earning his stripes as a member of the Allman Brothers Band, guitarist Derek Trucks has moved beyond the usual jam band expectations, branching out to incorporate blues, world music and jazz into the repertoire of his band. High profile guest spots on recent albums by Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner go a long way toward proving his bona fides as well. This live album was recorded during a recent tour and shows the band in great road-tested form, comfortable with a multitude of genres. Trucks does not sing for the band, that task is handled by vocalist Mike Mattison, who has an appealingly smoky and soulful voice that suits the music very well, lending his gravelly sound to a nice cover of Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood." The band is able to demonstrate their jazz chops at the end of disc one with a lengthy version of the standard "Afro-Blue" with some fine flute and percussion featured in addition to guitar. Disc two keeps going strong with a very nice version of Big Bill Broonzy's blues standard "Key to the Highway" that features some excellent slide guitar and deep vocals. They dip into a soul and world music bag with "Get Out of My Life Woman" and "Rastaman Chant" which stretch out and get in touch with their jam band roots. Derek and the Domino's blues-rock classic "Anyday" is an excellent finale for the program, with the band locked into a tight groove behind excellent guitar and passionate singing. Even though the "double live" album has become something of a cliche in rock music, this one works quite well. The jamming is focused and the band never seems to drift into pointless showboating. While it is clearly the leaders show, he is generous with solo space and opportunities for input from other band members. They make a solid collective group that covers a lot of musical ground with passion and dignity. Roadsongs -

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book review - The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

The Fuller Memorandum (A Laundry Files Novel)The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to protecting humanity from "gibbering monstrosities from beyond space-time," Bob Howard is your man. Mild mannered civil servant, Howard works for The Laundry, a super secret branch of the British government tasked with protecting England from extra-terrestrial entities. Things are going along swimmingly for Bob until a run of the mill exorcism in an RAF museum goes wrong and results in the accidental death of a civilian. Worse yet, Bob's mysterious boss Angleton and a super secret document have gone missing. Bob and his wife (also an agent) find themselves on the run from Russian spies and doomsday cultists bent on bringing on the end of the world. This in the most recent story in the "Laundry" series, combining elements of science fiction, horror, and spy fiction. There's also a wonderful does of dry nerd humor, skewering everything from Apple computers to office life and government. This is great summer reading for geeks - presenting magic as "a branch of applied mathematics" this takes the standard fantasy novel and moves it in a unique and fun new direction. The Fuller Memorandum -

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Fred Hersch Trio - Whirl (Palmetto, 2010)

On his first recording since recovering from serious medical complications, pianist Fred Hersch sounds as vibrant and strong as ever, playing original compositions and standards with great authority on this album, supported by John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. The music on this album is deftly played and lyrical, with the trio improvising like an organic unit with nary a mis-step. Highlights of the album were the title track, "Whirl," which begins at a rounded medium tempo before building the music's pace in a dexterous fashion and culminating in a fast and swirling trio improvisation. "Sad Poet" features a light touch, setting a dark toned and spacious groove supported by almost imperceptibly subtle bass and drums. Jaki Brayd's "Mrs. Parker of K.C. (Bird's Mother)" was featured on Eric Dolphy's wonderful Far Cry LP, and here gets a brisk and agile reading that hints at both the bop of Charlie Parker and the burgeoning freedom of Dolphy. The final track "Still Here" is dedicated to Wayne Shorter, but could just as easily be a defiant statement of purpose for Hersch. Beginning with a mid-tempo and spacious beginning, this track also features an excellent bass solo from Hebert, building a slow and patient solo. Hersch is a master ballad player, and on this album there are a few very nice examples of this aspect of his craft. "Mandevilla" has a slow vamp that it built upon and developed with the help of light percussion and skillful bass solo. "When You Lover Has Gone" has a spare tempo, with graceful solo piano building as subtle bass and drums accentuate the music. This album was elegant and thoughtful in its presentation, the trio was never flashy, but developed the melodic nature of the music in a way that was very pleasing. The music was lyrical, patient and very well performed. Whirl -

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Jason Moran - Ten (Blue Note, 2010)

Celebrating their tenth anniversary as a unit called The Bandwagon, the trio led by Jason Moran on piano, with Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums has covered a lot of ground. This album is a fine collection of music, drawing on some of the work Moran has done for special projects like writing for dance and his Monk at Town Hall revival, but the focus is on his knotty trio improvisation with overtones of masters like Andrew Hill and Jaki Byard. The trio moves gracefully through a generous selection of music spotlighting their trio interplay but also containing solo space for Moran to break out on his own. Highlights of the album include the opening track, "Blue Blocks" which begins slowly, developing a cascading melody before settling into subtle cooperative trio improvisation. The band then builds to a faster, more full-bodied and robust feel. Moran has studied Thelonious Monk considerably and the performance of Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" is a highlight of this album. The begin slowly and almost reverently, building an improvisation off of the familiar Monk melody centered around Moran's rich and slightly melancholy piano tone. The trio drifts away, dream-like, into a slow and spacious ending. One consistency over Jason Moran's recording career is the idea of gangsterism, especially with regards to art. "Gangsterism Over 10 Years" celebrates the trio's decade together, and is the centerpiece of the album. Beginning with a fast, nimble fade-in, the group embarks on athletic up tempo jazz improvisation. Building to a potent and inventive climax, they then ratchet down the dynamic to a subtle section, echoing the work of Ahmad Jamal. "Feedback, Part 2" features Moran improvising against abstract electronics, giving the music a vast and open feeling. Elements of stride piano and swing predominate "To Bob Vatel of Paris" which juxtaposes strutting trio swing with driving and complex modern jazz improvisation. The appropriately titled "The Subtle One" and "Play to Live" are delicate and lush ballads featuring deft bass and drum work supporting Moran's finespun sense of timing and melody. This was a well crafted album of modern piano trio jazz. Drawing inspiration from the past masters and their own innate sense of musical development, the group has developed their own unique sound that is dexterous yet forthright and honest. Ten -

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

2010 Downbeat Readers Poll Selections

The latest issue of Downbeat Magazine announced the winners of the annual critics poll and also announced that selections are being taken via the Internet for the Readers Poll. I know these polls are controversial, and often seem to be nothing more than a popularity contest, but they can also allow fans to pay their respects to their favorite musicians, and make an fun jumping off point for discussion on the state of the music and musicians. These are the musicians that I chose, in many cases it was a difficult decision, but in the end I whittled my selections down to the following:

Hall of Fame - Fred Anderson
Jazz Artist - Vijay Iyer
Jazz Album - Henry Threadgill - This Brings Us To, Vol. 1
Historical Album - John Coltrane - Side Steps
Jazz Group - Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Big Band - Charles Tolliver Big Band
Trumpet - Charles Tolliver
Trombone - Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone - Chris Potter
Alto Saxophone - Steve Coleman
Tenor Saxophone - Billy Harper
Baritone Saxophone - Ken Vandermark
Clarinet - Anat Cohen
Flute - Sam Rivers
Piano - Vijay Iyer
Organ - Dr. Lonnie Smith
Electric Keyboard - Craig Taborn
Guitar - Nels Cline
Acoustic Bass - Dave Holland
Electric Bass - Christian McBride
Drums - Hamid Drake
Percussion - Susie Ibarra
Vibes - Jason Adasiewicz
Misc. Instrument - David Murray - bass clarinet
Male Vocalist - Mose Allison
Female Vocalist - Jen Shyu
Composer - Dave Douglas
Record Label - Hot Cup Records
Blues Artist - Magic Slim & The Teardrops
Blues Album - Nick Moss - Live At Chan's – Combo Platter No. 2
Violin - Billy Bang
Arranger - John Hollenbeck
Beyond Group - The Black Keys
Beyond Album - The Black Keys - Brothers

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Monday, July 05, 2010

Alex Sipiagin - Generations: Dedicated to Woody Shaw (Criss Cross, 2010)

As a young trumpeter growing up in Russia, Alex Sipiagin grew entranced by tapes of the music of the great American trumpeter Woody Shaw that were smuggled in from the west. After emigrating to the United States in the early 1990's, Sipiagin's profile grew, as a leader and a featured sideman for the likes of Dave Holland and others. This album is dedicated to Shaw's influence on his trumpet playing and musical style and also features Adam Rogers on guitar, Boris Koslov on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. The album is bookended by a pair of linked originals, "Greenwood I" and "Greenwood II" and features well played versions of Shaw originals and performances associated with him. "Obsequious" by Larry Young has an urgent melody and a medium-up feel, with well controlled trumpet building in a subtle fashion. Rogers' guitar has a classy and dignified tone, soloing with facility over solid bass and drums in a nice trio interlude. Shaw's own "Cassandranite" also begins at a medium tempo with Sipiagin's trumpet bobbing and punching like a boxer, framed by subtle guitar, bass and drums. The trio takes a nimble section and then Koslov steps out for a fine bass solo. Another Shaw composition, "Beyond All Limits" is a highlight of the disc, opening with a duet for trumpet and guitar paced in an elegant and thoughtful manner. Bass and drums enter and the tempo of the music increases and sets the scale for a powerful yet restrained trumpet solo. The guitar led trio builds its own section in a fast and lithe fashion, and their playing is graceful and flexible whether supporting the trumpet or on their own. After a supple bass solo, the whole group returns to the melody and conclusion. This is a nicely done nod to one of the more under-appreciated giants of jazz. Shaw's tragic early death robbed him of some of the acclaim and influence he was certainly due. 32 Jazz re-released a clutch of Shaw albums during the 1990's, many of which have fallen out of print. Hopefully Sipiagin's well played album will help reflect some light back on Woody Shaw's jazz legacy. Generations: Dedicated to Woody Shaw -

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Book review: The Whisperers by John Connolly

The Whisperers The Whisperers by John Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A group of disaffected soldiers in Iraq plans a theft of ancient relics in the chaos that follows the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. When they muster out of the military and ship the material back home to Maine, they begin to realize that they have much more than they bargained for. Detective Charlie Parker is hired by the father of one of the group of soldiers who has taken his own life, one of several in the group to do so. Parker slowly unravels the mystery by tracking stolen goods and smuggling from Maine to Canada, and the learning about the debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder the former soldiers are suffering from. But there is much more than the standard crime novel here, Connolly weaves subtle elements of the supernatural into the story, as the antiques are purportedly haunted, and those that hide them are chased by individuals who might not in fact be mortal men. This was a well written story - Connolly switches characters and perspective often, but it is never confusing and adds to the tension and foreboding of the story. This is the ninth novel in an ongoing series, but it's OK to jump in here, the story stands up well on its own, and Connolly also writes with great empathy and compassion about the injured soldiers who have been forgotten by the government and military who sent them there. Recommended for fans of private eye and paranormal stories. The Whisperers -

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Commitment - Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (NoBusiness, 2010)

Commitment was a short lived but very interesting and unique jazz ensemble consisting of Will Connell on clarinet, flute and alto saxophone, William Parker on bass, Jason Kao Hwang on violin and viola and Zen Matsuura on drums. The group fused free-jazz with elements of music from the far east and in so doing investigated different textures of improvised music. This collection consists of their only studio album, released in 1981, and an hour and a half of previously unreleased live music recorded in Germany in 1983. "The Web of Forces" from the studio album features very strong and fast collective improvisation, with Connell taking the lead on alto saxophone and then developing a very exciting and powerful statement. Parker's thick bass work is evident as is Matsuura's rhythmic sense in developing a deft and strong drum solo. The haunting "Famine" echoes the dark sadness of the title with crawling violin, bowed bass and percussion and droning horn bleats. The music is a cry of pain, lost dignity and sadness, developing deep compassion and empathy for those who do without the most basic of necessities. "No Name" develops a free improvisational sensibility that is inspiring and powerful. Connell's saxophone and Matsuura's drums lock in and push and pull each other to greater and greater improvisational flights while Parker's bass acts as the glue keeping the music from flying apart and plunging into the sun. A section of violin, bass and rolling drums follows, swooping fast, free and nimble and concluding with a powerful drum solo. "Ocean" slows the tempo down, featuring violin and flute with bass and light percussion in a slow and stately dance. Connell's flute takes flight over a foundation of bass and drums before Hwang joins in with sawing and swooping stringed accents. "Continuous" is a very lengthy performance that allows the band in investigate some of the more abstract aspects of their music, using their instruments to probe space and time and the silence that surrounds them. "Grassy Hills, The Sun" goes even further into the investigation of sound, culminating in a section where bowed bass and violin conjure up an eerie and haunting motif that wouldn't sound out of place in a Hitchcock film. "Whole Grain" brings the live performance to a close with some very exciting alto saxophone, soloing free and soaring against the rest of the band, before rejoining the group for some thrilling collective improvisation. This was a very enjoyable and interesting collection from a band that clearly did not receive their due. The lengthy and well written liner notes lay out the history of the band and the biographies of the members. This is a model re-issue, and will be of great enjoyment to fans of free and cross-cultural jazz. Complete Recordings 1981/1983 - NoBusiness Records

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Book Review: The Deputy by Victor Gischler

The Deputy The Deputy by Victor Gischler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ex-musician Toby Sawyer wound up in Coyote Crossing, Oklahoma with a dilapidated trailer, an ungrateful wife and an infant son in need of diapers and formula. He took a part time town deputy job hoping to work his way up to full time employment, but he didn't think that he would be would be spending time babysitting the dead body of a former high school rival who had been murdered in a bar fight. But when the body disappears from under Toby's nose, things go from bad to worse in a hurry. Stumbling across a criminal syndicate that is smuggling illegal aliens across the border and uncovering corruption within the police department sends Toby on the run. Ducking from a gun-toting gang in a hopped up Mustang and crooked cops looking to silence him at any cost, Toby needs to solve the mystery of the smuggling and corruption. Sawyer is an appealing hero because he is an everyman character, just looking to met by, while being pulled into extraordinary and dangerous circumstances. Gischer keeps the narrative moving along quickly and adds elements of dark, dry humor to the benefit of the story. The Deputy -

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