Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geof Bradfield - African Flowers (Origin, 2010)

It is an oft-held maxim that travel broadens the mind. In the case of Chicago based saxophonist Geof Bradfield, that notion is certainly true. Part of a government sponsored music group that visited Africa, Bradfield let the sights and sounds of that distant land percolate in his mind before developing a set of compositions to mark the occasion. Bradfield plays tenor and soprano saxophone in addition to spots for bass clarinet and flute, accompanied by Jeff Parker on guitar, Victor Garcia on trumpet, fugelhorn and percussion, Ryan Cohan on piano, Clark Sommers on bass and George Fludas on drums and percussion. Opening with a joyful and exotic bass and drum groove, "Butare" allows the horns to weave a variety of textures. Bradfield takes a swirling, light toned solo that accentuates the mood. The music takes a darker turn with "The Children's Room," inspired by touring post genocide Rwanda. This is a sad and tender ballad featuring open piano and thick spacious bass. The horns glide overhead, suspended like memory, as the musical landscape passes beneath. "Lubumbashi" lifts the spirits with some fine modern post-bop. Strong tenor saxophone is driven by string pulsing piano, bass and drums. Garcia takes a punchy trumpet solo before Parker glides in for a subtle, understated guitar interlude. "Mama Yemo" is a slow and subtly shaded ballad featuring nice patient saxophone and dark toned and nimble guitar. "Nairobi Transit" is an uptempo performance that benefits from Sommers' excellent thick toned bass, laying the foundation for strong trumpet and saxophone solos. Trading agile phrases over a fast beat, the two horn men come together with deep powerful swirls of music. Spritely sounding piano and percussion give "Kampala" a lightly dancing groove. Big band like horn accents punctuate and drive the music to a full bodied conclusion. Jeff Parker is featured on "The Nurse from Nairobi" where his neon toned guitar explores over a solid beat. Parker and Fludras are locked in and slowly build pace adding drum fills and stinging guitar. The suite "Harare/Leaving Africa" ends the album with slow and subtle saxophone building a fine toned solo. Garcia swings in fast and nimble with a punchy solo. A drum solo links the two pieces together nicely as the whole band returns to take things out. Hopefully many more musicians will have the opportunity to travel widely and report back musically on their travels. This album is in the tradition of legendary predecessors like Duke Ellington's Far East Suite and Dave Brubeck's Jazz Impressions of Japan. Like those albums, Bradfield doesn't try to imitate the music he found in Africa, but allows the experience to be filtered through his jazz sensibility with excellent results. African Flowers - amazon.com

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Julian Arguelles - Ground Rush (Clean Feed, 2010)

Tenor saxophonist Julian Arguelles leads a tight modern trio, playing state of the art in post-bop jazz on this very well done album also featuring Michael Formanek on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. The trio embarks from the area that Sonny Rollins explored in his great trio albums Live at the Village Vanguard, Way Out West and Freedom Suite. They take this vibe and push it further into the realm where post-bop and avant-garde meet and mingle, yet the music remains quite accessible and exciting throughout. "Mr. MC" opens with a nod to the Coltrane classic "Mr. P.C." playing fast and well integrated free-bop, collectivism at work as the band plays very well together. Thick bass and a medium tempo usher in "Fife" before Argulles saxophone picks up the pace in a strong yet controlled manner. He uses some well placed honks and squeals to accentuate "Filthy Rich" building a raw saxophone solo over complex drumming. A touch of funk and blues enlivens "Blood Eagle" which is a medium tempoed spacious performance, featuring nice teamwork in its collective improvisation. They slow down to a spare and haunted ballad tempo for "From One JC to Another" which has a yearning and emotional feel with long low sax tones and probing bass. "Buleria" is one of the highlights of the album building nicely from a slow opening to a section of growling saxophone over loping bass and drums. The subtle dynamics that are built by Formanek and Rainey keep the music continually fresh and playful, they build to a fast paced collective improvisation and then out. "Redman" wraps up the album nicely with strong deep saxophone and drums, free and exciting with a deft bass and drums section. This well integrated trio sounds like the have been playing for a long time, but I think they just came together for this session. Hopefully they can become a regular unit since the empathy they have for each other and the music is very impressive.Ground Rush - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Interesting Articles

Allaboutjazz profiles improviser and keyboardist Nobu Stowe:

"Stowe has not only mastered the art of total improvisation--a method of fully improvised music that embraces song-like melody, tonal harmony and rhythmic propulsion as well as more commonly improvised free elements--but also unique sets of fully improvised music, incorporating his own vast musical influences, from Baroque and progressive rock to soundtracks, ethnic elements and many more, with loose-yet-comprehensive structures."

George Colligan interviews drummer Mike Clark:

"One time, we played poorly at a big show. The critic went to dinner with us after the show and was telling Hancock that he didn't think the band sounded very good that night. Herbie knew we were sounding pretty sad- but said to the critic, "You mean you didn't hear it?" The guy had a strange look on his face, and Herbie went on to tell him how we had worked very hard to get it to sound that way and it was a brand new way of looking at things musically. The next day we got a great review saying how we had found some new stuff. I learned a great lesson from that!"

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Steve Turre - Delicious and Delightful (High Note, 2010)

Trombonist Steve Turre (doubling on conch shells) has had a lengthy and busy career playing with many greats including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Woody Shaw and Ray Charles in addition to a busy schedule as a leader. The music on this album has a solid hard bop feel, reminiscent of the swinging and soulful work of Horace Silver and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Joining Turre are Billy Harper on tenor saxophone, Larry Willis on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, Pedro Martinez on percussion, Dion Parson, drums and Russell Malone sitting in on guitar for a few tracks. Billy Harper is one of my favorite musicians, his deep and strong tone on tenor saxophone is a force of nature. I think if there is any complaint that I have about the album it is that he doesn't get quite enough solo space. But it is not his album, and he takes to the supporting role very well, adding excellent solos and ensemble playing to the mix. He solos particularly well on "Blackfoot" adding the modal energy that brings great excitement to the music. The group tackles a couple of funky tracks like the Ray Charles tribute "Ray's Collard Greens" and "Dance of the Gazelles" which benefits from extra percussion helping to push the groove along. Turre plays quite well throughout, taking well measured and patient solos on the Ellington tribute "Duke Rays" and using his conch shells to add an interesting and exotic flavor to the opening track, "Light Within." Fans of soulful mainstream hard bop will probably find a lot to enjoy here, the music is well played and always swings. It may not be the most adventurous music on the scene right now, but in consolidating elements of swing, hard bop and soul it is a modestly successful recording. Delicious & Delightful - amazon.com

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Catalyst - The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (Porter Records 1972, 2010)

Despite a dismal economy, Philadelphia had a vibrant music scene in the early 1970's with active scenes in funk, soul and jazz. What was so interesting about the band Catalyst is that they combined all of these threads into a funky jazzy fusion that was all their own. Consisting of Eddie Green on keyboards, Sherman Ferguson on drums and percussion, Odean Pope on saxophone, flute and oboe and Al Johnson or Tyrone Brown on bass, they developed a style of fusion that drew from the likes of Miles Davis and Weather Report, yet retained a distinctive manner of its own. This album contains their first two LP's, Catalyst and Perception. Hints of their distinctive manner can be found on "East" which features Pope on oboe, getting a mysterious and unusual droning sound that is nicely integrated over electric piano and percussion. After an electric bass and drums interlude, Pope returns developing a pinched and nasal sounding solo that is exotic and alluring. I have been an Odean Pope fan for a while, especially liking his deep tone on the tenor saxophone and his conception of music, so its especially interesting to hear him in his formative years on this collection. He is particularly powerful on "Perception," soloing over electronic accents and funky bass. He builds his tenor solo architecturally in a patient manner to a powerful statement. Green leads a spacey keyboard bass and drums section that is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band. Pope then comes back, first on flute then on saxophone, building urging the band to an intense conclusion. His saxophone is dark and rich on "Celestial Bodies," playing off of the kozmigroov electronics and adding free-ish overblown accents to his solo. A bonus track "Jabali (demo recording)" pulls all of the threads of the band together into a tightly woven fabric: funky bass and electric piano rippling under energetic and vigorous saxophone, making the music simultaneously soulful and exploratory. "Fusion" is still something of a dirty word among jazz fans, but when it was done well as on this collection the music has a lot of spirit and energy. Drawing from the fertile Philly soul scene and adding elements of post-bop and avant-garde jazz, the band was able to stake out their own territory as a vibrant and original ensemble. The Complete Recordings Vol.1 - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Interesting Links (with comments)

Branford Marsalis turns 50 (!) and is profiled by both Nate Chinen and Phil Freeman.
Chinen excerpt: "Thing is, a certain subset of critics fixed their opinion of him at this time, and he had barely gotten started. A year or two ago, I stumbled across a message board on which one such critic showed his hand. Presented with the idea that a younger tenor and soprano player today could emulate Marsalis, he snarked: what’s there to emulate? As if Branford himself didn’t have a recognizable voice on both instruments, and more than 20 years of recorded evidence to show for it."
I've always liked Branford's music, especially his tenor saxophone playing, and I was heavily influenced by his hosting of the NPR program Jazz Set (now hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater.) Although I think highly of most of his albums, but my favorite is the collection that Columbia Records put out shortly after his departure to start his own label. I know it's a bit of a cop out to pick a "best of," but the collection flows really well and cherry picks some of his finest performances recorded for the label. It also includes a burning live version of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" that is worth the price of admission. Marsalis is among my favorite mainstream tenor saxophone players, I think his tone and articulation are reminiscent of the classic jazzmen of the past, notably John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter but he has built his own conception over the years. Ironically, his soprano saxophone really doesn't do it for me. It sounds very limpid and romantic and to my ears lacks the driving energy of his tenor playing. He may not be an innovator, and I think that is the criticism that is most often leveled against him, but honestly, how often does a true innovator come along? I think the he's done a lot to make jazz much more accessible to the mainstream public while maintaining his own integrity as a musician.

NPR's A Blog Supreme has a profile of one of my favorite record labels, Hot Cup, that focuses on the irreverent cover art they often use.
"Mostly Other People Do The Killing has issued four albums on Hot Cup. Three of the four also feature cover art that play on covers of classic jazz albums from Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Ornette Coleman."
Hot Cup is one of the labels that really make me wish that vinyl was still an economically viable format for jazz. The album art and graphic design that they use is a pastiche of great jazz albums of the past, but it is not satire, the musicians genuinely love the music that has come before them, and while they have fun with it, that fun is leveled with a healthy respect. The winking cover art is deceptive too, as the musicians and groups that record for this label are making some wonderfully progressive jazz. The collective Mostly Other People Do the Killing has released an excellent series of albums that crackle with excitement and ingenuity showing that jazz can be both seriously inventive and seriously fun simultaneously. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon's new album cover is gaining most of the attention for it's nod to Sonny Rollins' classic Way Out West and it will be interesting to see how people react to the music. It's a trio album recorded live, and a continuous performance that runs the full length of a compact disc. It's an audacious and exhausting performance, but it typifies the edgy music that Hot Cup releases.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Louis Sclavis, Craig Taborn and Tom Rainey - Eldorado Trio (Clean Feen, 2010)

Building organically out of the collective improvisational consciousness of the three musicians here, this live album has a very natural flow to it, moving between jagged freebop rooted in the great music of Eric Dolphy and a selection of lonely and moody ballads that develop like abstract art. The collective trio consists of Louis Sclavis on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Tom Rainey on drums. "Let It Drop" opens the album with a choppy melody featuring rippling fast piano and drums. Sclavis comes in with fast exciting bass clarinet, building to a high intensity peak. I heard the Dolphy influence come through especially strong on "Up Down Up" which develops a vertical improvisation, making way for a cool section where the bass clarinet bubbles underneath piano and drums. The group gets really jazzy on the bopping head-nodding "Possibilities" which is fresh and lively and very accessible. Some of the slower performances are very evocative as well. Dedicated to the late saxophonist, "Steve Lacy" has a slow and mysterious feel, sounding elegiac and melancholy. Sclavis uses honks and squeals to accentuate the swirling saxophone that was Lacy's stock and trade. Sadness and loneliness are the emotions that inhabit "La Viste" beginning with spare and open piano and then building to an emotional clarinet solo. The music is stark and naked in its emotional resonance. The disc ends on a somber yet stoic note with "Eldorado," an improvisation that uses slow hollow clarinet and light brushes to probe an emotional soundscape. This was a consistently interesting album, that show three talented musicians working together as one unit. There are spaces for solo expression in this album, but the most effective and impressive statements came from the group playing as a cohesive unit, making collective performances that were very impressive. Eldorado Trio - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

William Parker Organ Quartet - Uncle Joe's Spirit House (Centering/AUM Fidelity, 2010)

Bassist William Parker has led many remarkable ensembles throughout his career, but this is a new one, a deceptively mellow sounding organ based group featuring Darryl Foster on tenor saxophone, Cooper-Moore on organ and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The music is deep and thick and is reminiscent of the progressive organ jazz made by Larry Young for Blue Note in the mid to late 1960's. Dedicated to Parker's aunt and uncle, the album opens with the title song "Uncle Joe's Spirit House" featuring swirling organ and saxophone probing over a broad bass and drum groove. Foster keeps his playing subtle and discreet, even as he swings the music to a faster pace for the conclusion. "Jacques' Groove" would sound great as a 45 RPM single if there were such a thing anymore, as the fast and groove heavy performance zips by in under three minutes. Subtle medium tempo organ and saxophone lead "Ennio's Tag" into a haunting organ theme. The groove gets a little choppier and Foster takes command, improvising over the swirling backdrop. "Document for LJ" is an excellent lengthy performance beginning with wheezy organ and saxophone over an understated drum rhythm. Cooper-Moore lays down swaths of organ, that Parker backs beautifully with think loping bass. Cleaver and Parker both get solo spots on this song before the full band returns top the sly and patient melody. A gospel felling pervades "Let's Go Down to the River" digging deep into a soulful groove with a patient full band improvisation. The spiritual nature of the music continues on "Buddha's Joy" where Cooper-Moore's organ becomes particularly hypnotic and fascinating, developing a droning feel reminiscent of the distinctive electric organ work of Alice Coltrane. "The Struggle" is a showcase for Foster, letting loose with some very urgent saxophone playing, punctuated with high pitched squeals. "Oasis" brings the album to a gentle conclusion, with the music music moving into a slowly developing deeply melodic healing balm. This was clearly a very personally resonant project for William Parker and it works quite well, developing into one his most accessible albums. It was very interesting to hear Parker and Cooper-Moore, normally associated with the avant-garde, playing groove based soul-jazz. But it works very well, the musicians are all committed to the music and there are no egos at play here. The music flows like a deep and powerful river, filled with eddys and currents of melody and rhythm. Uncle Joe's Spirit House - Centering/AUM Fidelity, 2010

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Monday, August 23, 2010


George Colligan blogs about one of the unsung legends of modern jazz, saxophonist Gary Bartz:
"I think Gary Bartz is one of those artists like trumpeter Woody Shaw, or tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, who are overlooked by writers and historians simply because, during the 1970's, they didn't do the extreme fusion of bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return To Forever."
Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin writes a fascinating post on his blog, talking about his practice regimen:
"The goal is to be able to play anything you can hear in your head. That's true freedom. And acquiring that type of freedom is a life long process. The entire time you are doing this stay completely committed to your sound and delivery."
Destination Out is re-posting some of their greatest hits, including this entry about guitarist Pat Martino:
"This album was subtitled “a psychedelic excursion through the magical mysteries of the Koran.” Ahem. Times are strange; 1968 was stranger. You can almost hear it all here: the possibility and paranoia, and the pleasure of a summer’s afternoon."
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Re-connecting with Miles Davis

Trumpeter Miles Davis was the first jazz musician that I became interested in, making the leap from jam-band rock 'n' roll to electric masterpieces like Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson. Along the way to becoming a fully fledged jazz fan, I worked my way backwards, listening to the whole Davis canon and was fascinated and enraptured throughout. Eventually I amassed almost all of his albums on vinyl or compact disc, but like a lot of other famous musicians I had grown up listening to, I began to re-visit their music less and less as I focused on new music from living musicians. This is not a bad thing, the musicians who are creating in the moment need our ears and our attention, not to mention our money as well. After I sold my vinyl I picked up a used copy of the Miles Davis compact disc boxed set The Complete Columbia Studio Sessions 1965-68, that covers the era of the so-called second great quintet: Davis along with a core group consisting of Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. This group would come to be recognized as one of the most influential in jazz history, providing the template for the hard-bop resurgence of the 1980's and 90's. Listening to these discs and experiencing how the music and musicians evolved over the short period of time is extraordinary. I used to have all of these albums as vinyl records, and listened to them as discrete units of music. Listening to the music in the boxed set format takes away those units and places the music in a strict chronological order. This was a little unusual for me at first, because it broke up the way the music was originally presented, but the chronological format allows listeners to follow the bands progress. The first couple of discs cover the E.S.P. and Miles Smiles albums, starting with beautifully played though conventional hard bop. As the music evolves, and the musicians start to expand their frame of reference, the music becomes progressively more open and exciting. Discs three and four take the quintet to the peak of their acoustic performances covering the albums Nefertiti and Sorcerer. Davis took advantage of all of the raw materials he had, including the compositional prowess of his band mates (particularly Wayne Shorter) and he had the wisdom to allow these musicians the freedom to push the boundaries of jazz. Ron Carter is the rock around which the music evolves, acting as an anchor and ballast for the group, while Hancock paints musical colors that are especially vivid at the edges of the music, a few notes here and there that make all of the difference. Shorter is deep and enigmatic, never playing what you would expect, but continually probing and speculating that the nature of music and improvisation. But the most extraordinary connection comes between Davis and Tony Williams. Williams was barely twenty years old at the beginning of this collection, but his concept of rhythm is so unique and fresh that he dominates the music by pushing and pulling it, tugging one way and then working against it. He's playing very complex music, but it sounds so natural, like water flowing and cutting a channel through the bedrock of music. Like water through rock and stone, he was changing the landscape of music for generations to come. The final two discs of the collection show Davis, the relentless explorer, adding musicians and instruments to the core quintet to change and evolve the music toward the beginning of fusion. But evolution is the key, the group's first steps in this direction were tentative, adding George Benson or Joe Beck for some subtle guitar interplay, or placing Hancock on electric piano for subtle shadings of keyboards. Listening to these halting steps in this direction is like sitting in on the genesis of an idea that would eventually become revolutionary. The music on this part of the collection was originally scattered through albums like Directions, Circle in the Round and Filles de Kilimanjaro, and to hear it chronologically is a revelation. The evolutionary process is fascinating, and it seems quite logical considering the vast changes in the contemporary music scene of that time. It doesn't always work, and that is part of what makes it so interesting: the trying and then accepting or discarding of ideas and notions, that allow the music to move forward. It was a wonderful experience to return to this music that I had not listened to in quite a while and hear it again with fresh ears. It also helped to put into context that way that modern jazz has developed in the forty plus year since this music was recorded. I think that as listeners we need to strike a balance between the music of the past and the music of the present, because both are extraordinary rich and rewarding and both have much to teach us about the other. The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings 1965-1968

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Billy Bang - Prayer for Peace (TUM Records, 2010)

Violinist Billy Bang's own road to peace has been particularly hard fought, first as a soldier in Vietnam and then on the progressive jazz scene, his music has charted an original path as both a musician and a seeker for calm and truth. This album was cut in 2005, not long after recording a successful series of albums that he made to help come to terms with his memories of war. On this album he takes the next logical step, turning from confronting war to seeking peace. Joining him on this album are James Zollar on trumpet and flugelhorn, Andrew Bemkey on piano, Todd Nicholson on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums. The music begins with a nod to one of Bang's predecessors, swing violinist Stuff Smith with a gently swinging version of Smith's "Only Time Will Tell." Bang's gently swirling violin and Zollar's growling trumpet are used to good effect, and the music has a sweet and joyful feel. "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" and "Chan Chan" have a Latin groove with the addition of extra percussion, and they use this added rhythm wisely to create colorful improvisations. "Dance of the Manakin" and the Sun Ra tribute "Jupiter's Future" are exciting uptempo performances with the former drawing on some of the east Asian flavor of his previous LP's and the latter coming close to free jazz in its intensity. The centerpiece of the album is the title track, "Prayer for Peace" which evolves slowly like a meditative suite over the course of nearly twenty minutes. The music is slow and ruminative, patiently pulling together a number of musical threads into a cohesive whole. Billy Bang's journey is a fascinating one, a very personal path that has allowed him to confront the issues of his past and use them in his chosen art to find a peaceful center. This album is thoughtful and well played with melodies and improvisations that are quite memorable. Destination Out has reported that Bang has recently fallen ill, and hopefully this is a short setback for a musician who has given so much. Prayer For Peace - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sun Ra - College Tour Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is (ESP 1966, 2010)

In 1966, avant-garde jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra took his Arkestra on a tour of North Country colleges and upon returning released the ESP live album Nothing Is. Archivist Michael D. Anderson has added over an hour of previously un-released material for this expanded reissue. This gives a fascinating glimpse of the Arkestra live in concert in the mid '60's with a fine mix of space chants, extended improvisation and fine solos. Ra sticks to piano throughout and he takes a number of solo spots that display a complex Monkish sensibility, especially on "It Is Eternal" and "State Street." He builds the opening "Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space" from a hokey lounge sing along to a torrid full band improvisation, adding pieces and deploying his musicians strategically for maximum impact. Two versions of "The Exotic Forest" show band members doubling on percussion and developing a complex fascinating rhythm. Ra's unbeatable saxophone trio of John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen on alto and Pat Patrick on baritone is on display throughout the album taking excellent solos and riffing enthusiastically. Everybody chips in singing along on Ra space standards like "The Satellites are Spinning" and "Second Stop is Jupiter." It is a very good concert, with the band playing like a well oiled machine throughout. There are a few hiccups in the sound, but they don't disrupt from the flow of the music to any great extent. It would be interesting to know the response of the students to this singing, dancing and playing juggernaut that was the Sun Ra Arkestra. The applause ranges from the polite to the enthusiastic, but the the quality of the music never lags, making this a great addition to the already massive Sun Ra discography. College Tour Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Magic Slim and the Teardrops - Raising the Bar (Blind Pig, 2010)

Magic Slim and the Teardrops are one of the great traditional electric blues bands in Chicago, performing the music that is the legacy of Magic Sam, Otis Rush and all of the artists that came through the Chess stable. Playing meat and potatoes working man's blues, the band is unpretentious, tough and strong as steel consisting of Magic Slim on vocals and guitar, Jon McDonald on guitar, Andre Howard on bass and B.J. Jones on drums. The musical selections are gritty and spirited like the tale of infidelity "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" that reaches a fast muscular groove with powerful drums pushing the music forward. Slim's guitar strikes sparks over a shuffling groove. "Cummins Prison Farm" moderates the groove to medium for a tough tale of prison life and violence, proceeding at a dark and haunting pace. The old J.B. Lenoir standard "Mama Talk To Your Daughter" lightens the mood and takes off at a blasting pace with strong guitar and backbeat along with call and response vocals. Another nice cover, this time of Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out" keeps the groove hot with Slim's expressive, swaggering vocals and no nonsense guitar playing. This is a very well done album of solid no frills electric blues. Slim and his band has been battling it out nightly in blues clubs around the world for decades and the experience pays off with tight arrangements and fine performances all around. Raising the Bar - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recent Reads

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke: Burke's great knight-errant of southern Louisiana, Detective Dave Robicheaux of the New Iberia Sheriff's Department is trying to figure out the murder of two young women found dead in the swampland. Compounding this are personal problems involving his friends and family, pulling him in different directions. By the time he realizes that all of these threads tie together, he is facing more danger than ever. This remains one of my favorite series in all of fiction, but there seemed to be an element missing this time around. Almost like Robicheaux-by-numbers, this book plugged in all of the expected elements of the series: friendship and family love, the beauty of the Louisiana environment, and the oppression of the weak and scared by the powerful and wealthy, and of course, violence and its repercussions. The thing is we've been down this road so many times before in this series that no matter how beautifully written the prose and how evocative the setting and dialogue, it seemed that we were treading over very familiar ground. But despite that, the book does build to a harrowing if unresolved conclusion, and Dave Robicheaux remains one of the most compelling and conflicted heroes in American fiction. I have a hard time believing that this is the end of the series, it would be fascinating for Burke to write a novel about the wake of the Deepwater-Horizon disaster especially since Robicheaux's fictional father was killed in an oil rig blowout. The Glass Rainbow - amazon.com

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen: The superstar and rehab industry is low-hanging fruit for satirists and Hiaasen crafts a nice send-up of the whole culture of fame with his latest novel. Cherry Pye is a narcissistic pop star on the way down, addicted to never ending partying and self-destruction. Managed by her money grubbing philandering parents, she's down to her last chance at stardom, as she prepares to release her new CD and go on tour. Dogging her is sleazy photographer Claude, who wants to cash in by taking photographs of Cherry in embarrassing positions. What Claude doesn't know is that Cherry's parents employ a body double to impersonate Cherry when she is in rehab. So when Claude moves into a little kidnapping, he has no idea what he is getting into. This was a funny and breezy book that nevertheless says a lot about the star obsessed culture we live in today. From the greedy, manipulative and shallow agents, parents and media to the star struck fans, no one is left unscathed. It's great to see one of Hiaasen's greatest characters, former governor Clint Tyree make a return appearance, because that means that mayhem with an ecological message in on the way. This was a well written and funny satire and makes perfect beach reading for thoughtful people with a sense of humor. Star Island - amazon.com

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Christian Howes - Out of the Blue (Resonance Records, 2010)

The violin has a rich although somewhat neglected history in both blues and jazz, and on this album violinist Christian Howes aims to blend those historical elements together with a more modern sensibility to produce a musical hybrid that straddles both jazz and blues. The featured guest on this album is guitarist Robben Ford who contributes some nice bluesy solos and the band is rounded out with Bobby Floyd and Tamir Hendelman on keyboards, Kevin Axt on bass and Joel Rosenblatt and drums. Opening with Chick Corea's "Fingerprints" the band sets a fast pace led by sawing and swirling violin over percussive piano with bass and drums, before Ford's guitar enters and downshifts the tempo. Swinging mid-tempo violin opens "I'm Walkin'" before giving way to a rippling piano solo and a calm and easy guitar interlude. Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues" has a slow violin intro building to the swaying melody sounding confident and patient. Howes' original "Gumbo Klomp" alters the formula with the addition of bubbling organ and bass, with guitar cutting a fine groove. "Out of the Blue" is a slowly building ballad that uses thick organ and bass as a foundation. Ford picks up the pace with a well considered bluesy solo. Sharon Hendrix sits in on vocals for the gospel tinged "Seek and Ye Shall Find" wrapping her subtle vocals around guitar and violin interludes. "Bobby's Bad" picks the pace back up with guitar and organ building a strong soul jazz groove. Ford crafts a patient solo over the bubbling organ, before making way to swirling violin. "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" has a mix of churchy organ and piano in a open ended ballad format. Dreamy violin drifts along with the organ, making for an interesting combination of sounds that work well together. The group gets adventurous with a version of Ornette Coleman's "When Will the Blues Leave" which develops a fast and free-bopping feel with fast violin features over the piano trio, leading into a drum solo. A gentle version of the standard "Sweet Lorraine" concludes the album for just the acoustic duet of violin and piano, building to a softly swinging finish. This was a solid album that should please both mainstream jazz fans and violin aficionados. The band plays in a soulful and confident manner that shows the many shades of music that blues and jazz share in common. Out of the Blue - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Around the Web

The New York Times looks at some specialty vinyl reissues of Blue Note jazz classics:
"In the jazz world one record label has attained near-mystical status among the antiquarians and the audiophiles: Blue Note, especially the albums released in its heyday, from 1955 to ’67. "
CNN gets into the act too by asking Who's still listening to vinyl?
"Most agreed that digital music is convenient, but it's not they way the song was made to be heard. Most music was and still is recorded with analog technology and does not transfer perfectly to a digital format. And since vinyl is not instantaneous -- it takes extra time and effort to play a song -- it makes you appreciate the music more than listening on an iPod does."
Thanks a lot to Ethan Iverson for including me in some pretty illustrious company during his Brief History of (jazz) Blogging.

A Blog Supreme catches up with the Father Figures, a "zombie jazz band" on tour:
"Why don't more jazz groups tour the U.S.? The simple answer is that it's hard to be paid adequately to do so; the complicated one details just how hard it is. But in the rock world, artists more frequently hit the road in the face of financial uncertainty, even along the do-it-yourself/house show/tiny venue "circuit" if necessary. Sometimes, you see jazz or jazz-influenced groups doing the same thing; sometimes, they even come out ahead."
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lou Donaldson - Blues Walk (Blue Note, 1958)

Lou Donaldson is a overlooked yet valuable figure in the history of jazz. As an alto saxophonist coming up in the crucible of the bebop movement in the 1940's and 50's he honed his chops in emulation of his hero Charlie Parker. In the 1950's he made seminal recordings with the likes of Clifford Brown and Art Blakey before launching his own career as a leader that saw him mixing his beloved bebop with blues and R&B flavored jazz to create a very popular style. He is still semi-active today and is a treat to hear as much for the stories and stage banter as his strong bop and ballads. This album is one of the many that Donaldson cut for Blue Note during the 1950's and 60's and shows some of his strongest playing. He is accompanied by Herman Foster on piano, Peck Morrison on bass, Dave Bailey on drums and Ray Barretto on congas. The album opens with the title track "Blues Walk" which uses Barretto's congas to set a nice medium groove, with the whole group eventually filling in this big pocket and Donaldson building a smoky and solid solo on top of it. The bebop anthem "Move" and "Callin' All Cats" raise the tempo to full boil and show that while Donaldson was certainly in thrall to Parker as a saxophone idol, he could build confident and scalding solo statements of his own. The saxophone solos are complex and rapid but clearly articulated and very exciting, and the accompaniment of the group is full bodied and confident. If there's one facet of Donaldson's work that hasn't gotten the respect it deserves it is his ability as a ballad player. He was featured to excellent effect on slow tempoed pieces with Jimmy Smith and Clifford Brown and on this album, "Autumn Nocturne" allows him to solo at length and build a statement that is emotional and poignant, yet never mawkish or overly saccharine. This is a very solid and consistent album of hard bop jazz, and indeed can be considered one of the classics of the era. By melding blues and soul into the tempest of bebop, Donaldson was one of the leading lights of the hard bop movement, the style which would become the de facto mainstream of jazz for decades to come. Blues Walk - amazon.com

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Either/Orchestra - Mood Music For Time Travellers (Accurate Records, 2010)

It is difficult keeping a large jazz ensemble going in these tough economic times, but the Either/Orchestra has been been keeping the progressive big band flame burning for nearly twenty five years. They have also drawn on a wide range of influences and ideas over that time from the jazz big bands of the past to music from different parts of the world. On this new album, they take a different path, exploring Latin rhythms along with elements of lounge music and exotica, that gives the music an interesting and unusual feel. "The (One of a Kind) Shimmy)" opens the album with a medium tempo strut, the horns swirling along. Lithe and light saxophone and trumpet are featured before moving back to a call and response section. Thick bass and piano pave the way for "Beaucoups Kookoo" giving the music a slinky Latin groove. Deep saxophone builds a patient solo over a nice percussion groove as horns riff seductively underneath. Trumpet sneaks in for a spare and patient solo before the piano and bass return for a wrap up. "Coolocity" features subtle percussion and horns riffing at a medium pace. The horns and the hand percussion give the music a cinematic quality, reminiscent of something that would have been used in a 1970's crime drama. "Portrait Of Lindsey Schust" is a lengthy performance that builds gently with probing horns developing a colorful textured setting. Tenor saxophone and organ build to a subtle and thoughtful solo, even including a brief nod to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Swirling lightly toned horns open "Rapa Loca" and build to a performance that uses dynamics well to develop swells of music. "Thirty Five" has a slow and mysterious feel with yearning piano and drums. The horns build majestically as the saxophones probe slyly. Piano develops darkly moving soundscapes as well. The 70's live again in "The Petrograd Revision" which has funky organ and bass setting a swinging groove. A nice alto saxophone interlude cuts through, before trumpet takes over, backed by the full weight of the band playing an interesting arrangement. Things slow back down with "Suriname" with gentle piano and percussion. The subtle and quiet music builds melodically culminating in a tenor saxophone solo over strutting horns. "History Lesson" ends the album with piano setting ripples of music that the horns react to and accent. Tenor saxophone is again featured in a thoughtful and well paced solo that is encouraged and framed by the dynamic riffing of the other horns. The band has hit on a winning formula that explains their longevity. They continually make their music fresh and interesting by finding new challenges to explore. The use of the disparate elements that the band draws on allows them to expand their palate and offers different textures and hues that a large ensemble can develop and explore. Mood Music for Time Travellers - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recent Reads

Savages by Don Winslow: Ben and Chon are partners in a drug growing operation in Southern California and couldn't be further apart philosophically: Ben is a peace and love pseudo Buddhist while Chon is a lock 'n' load ex Navy Seal. Tying them together and sealing their friendship is O, a wild and voracious young woman who loves them both. When a Mexican drug cartel tries to take over their growing operation by hostile means and show them they mean business by kidnapping O, the men have to do whatever it takes to get her back. To say this story was a wild ride is an understatement: fueled by sex, drugs and violence it is a real page turner. Starting out very funny and then turning progressively darker as the story builds to an explosive conclusion, Winslow really keeps the narrative pedal to the metal throughout. It works really well, almost reminding me of Ken Bruen's fast past story telling style in the way the plot rockets along. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue is excellent, reminiscent of the witty banter of Elmore Leonard. Brutal, yet funny, this is a fine fast paced thriller. Savages - amazon.com

High Life by Matthew Stokoe: In Ken Bruen's book The Dramatist, he has his great anti-hero character Jack Taylor raving about this book, calling Stokoe the heir to James Ellroy in noir fiction. There are certainly some hints of Ellroy in this book, but if you read Ellroy close enough, you begin to understand that he is at heart a romantic. Stokoe, on the other hand, is anything but, and his prose is as dark as the grave and twice as cold. Jack is living in Hollywood and is obsessed with the rich and famous. When his prostitute wife is murdered, he feels he has nothing left to lose and will do whatever it takes to make himself a star. When he meets the beautiful and mysterious Bella while working as a male escort, things take a turn for the strange. Bella can give him everything he has ever wanted, but at a terrible price, and all the while Jack is hounded by a rogue cop who suspects him of murder. It must be said that Stokoe writes well and crafts a dark, dark tale, but I think what kept me from truly embracing the story was the characters. Everyone from Jack on down is a complete self-obsessed narcissist with no redeeming quality. Shocking scenes of violence and debauchery are common, but often seem like set pieces that while they catalog Jack's plummet to the lowest depths, start to seem a little gratuitous after a while. So, while it was interesting on the level of a character study, about how far a man will go to make himself famous in the glitter and glamor Hollywood, the book lacked an emotional connection to make it a really compelling story. High Life - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mitch Kashmar and the Pontiax - 100 Miles to Go (Delta Groove, 2010)

Originally issued on a small Belgian label in the mid 1980's this reissued album is a nicely swinging disc of harmonica led blues that deserves a second life. Kashmar sings and plays harmonica, backed by Jon Lawton and Bill Flores on guitars, Jim Calire on piano and organ, Jack Kennedy on bass, and Tom Lackner on drums. After coming out of the west coast blues scene, this album broke Kashmar through and allowed for touring and recording opportunities to follow. Kasmar has a big sweeping harmonica sound and smoky full bodied voice that brings the music a certain emotional depth. "As Long As I Have You" is taken at a nice mid-tempo with the band setting a invigorating shuffle pace and Kashmar wringing a lot of emotional mileage from his singing. Harmonica interludes are patient and thoughtfully done, integrated well into the music and are classy, not flashy. "100 Miles To Go" is a nice uptempo shuffle that explores standard blues themes of love and life on the road. Lawton and Flores trade guitar sparks that keep the pace moving along nicely. The late harmonica wizard William Clarke sat in on the instrumental “Horn of Plenty,” trading solo spots with Kashmar and making for nice laid back jazzy feel. "Lip Service" is another harmonica based instrumental, taken at a very fast pace, it is a fine display of Kashmar's ability on the instrument. Horns are added to fill out the sound on "Gonna Find Somebody New" and their riffing behind the music adds a nice dimension to the song. A couple of bonus tracks are added on to the original album, notably "The Petroleum Blues," a recent "blues and the news" song that deals nicely with the environmental degradation caused by humanity's insatiable desire for oil and gas. This is a very solid and well done blues album. The musicians are patient and let the grooves come to them and play with a great deal of class. Kashmar is a fine singer and harp player and deserves wider attention. 100 Miles To Go - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Links of note

National Public Radio did an excellent job covering the recent Newport Jazz Festival. They have concerts for downloading and streaming, a flickr photo gallery, and reaction and commentary from A Blog Supreme.

The new issue of the webzine Point of Departure is available, including a fascinating article by editor Bill Shoemaker on how Americans view European jazz:
(excerpt) "Americans have been vigorously critiquing European Improvised Music for more than thirty years, and have authored some of the most authoritative books on the subject. While there was consensus from the outset among US critics on broad issues about the legitimacy of the music, its major figures, and its European narrative, there was always a diversity of opinion about how to weigh the accomplishments of artists within their respective communities and within a continental context."
Matt Lavelle wrote an interesting essay on the impact that Alice Coltrane's music has made on him. While the essay itself makes for an excellent read, check out the comments and the debate about not only (Alice) Coltrane's value as a musician, but the whole notion of spirituality in music.
(excerpt from Lavelle's essay, caps in original) "Coming through the house that Trane built,.she would go on to build her own house,.and then even a church in a sense.(A literal Ashram) Sometimes Blues just POURED out of her,.and that ORGAN!! She sounded like Trane sometimes with that.Then the HARP!! Alice really just opened everything up with the harp,.just WEAVING INTRICATE INFINITE tapestries of sound. Her Harp music might be from the year 5555."
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Monday, August 09, 2010

Michael Attias - Twines of Colesion (Clean Feed, 2010)

Recorded live during a jazz festival in Portugal, this album develops in a slow and thoughtful manner as the musicians expand themes and improvisations in a deeply artistic manner. Attias plays alto saxophone, joined by Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone, John Hebert on bass, Russ Lossing on piano and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. "(New) Loom" opens the album with the instruments widely spaced, building slowly as the tension of the horns increases. The lengthy performance builds to a section of strong free-ish horn playing before Malaby steps out with a powerful solo statement. Hebert leads into "Lisbon" with a extensive and subtle bass solo, joined after a while by subtle smeared horns and spare piano, creating a poignant sound-scape. "Fenix Cluprit" begins with light saxophone and spare piano, developing a faster rolling pace, spurring saxophones to a flight of nimble fancy. "Hunter" finds the saxophones making inquiries over dark toned piano, slowly developing the spacious atmosphere in gentle waves of sound. "Le Puits Noir" has a light and spacious percussion foundation, with Takeishi sounding nimble and dexterous. Strong, swirling saxophone, fast tenor with the drums rising to the challenge build to a deep and powerful conclusion. Quiet and atmospheric development mark "The Very Thing" with breathy saxophone joining gentle piano, bass and drums. The music develops to a faster and more vibrant conclusion. "Vitesse De Laumiere" features percussive piano and strong twin saxophones with thick bass providing a strong foundation for a sweeping alto solo, before Attias bows out and Malaby takes the music into strong and vibrant territory. "The Maze And The Loom" ends the album on a quiet note, with gentle swirling horns that swirl and twist like a strand of musical DNA. The musicians play throughout this album in a very thoughtful and patient manner, allowing the music to develop organically. The breadth of their musical vision is inspiring, as they work to widen and expand the nature of the music. Twines Of Colesion - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Puttin On the Ritz - White Light/White Heat (Hot Cup, 2010)

Jazz musicians have been incorporating elements of rock and roll for many decades now, but this must stand as one of the more audacious meetings of the two musics. Puttin' on the Ritz was originally a duet project with vocalist B.J. Rubin and drummer Kevin Shea which in this case has been expanded with some Hot Cup records regulars and friends: Moppa Elliott on bass, Jon Irabagon on saxophone, Sam Kulik on trombone, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Matt Mottel on keyboards. Covering the entirety of the Velvet Underground's famous White Light/White Heat album and converting it from avant-garde rock to avant-garde jazz is a tall order and the results are mixed, but they sure have a blast trying. Opening with the title track, things start off well as the structure of the song lends itself well to the instrumentalists turbo-charged riffing and Rubin chants out the lyrics with admirable gusto. The deadpan spoken word piece "The Gift" loses a little bit in the translation. Basically an tale of obsession set to music, Rubin drones the story in a monotone with with horns smearing and sprawling around him. "Lady Godiva's Operation" has Rubin crooning in a falsetto like John Cale on the original LP with quick interjections from other members of the group. "I Heard Her Call My Name" eschews the blistering guitar solo of the original version for an interesting arrangement with call and response vocals. It all culminates in the infamous side-long track "Sister Ray," the tale of drugs and debauchery that shocked listeners upon the original albums release. If it doesn't carry the same shock value forty plus years later, its still very edgy stuff, and works pretty well in this setting. The long running time allows the instrumentalists to be let off of the leash a little bit, with the horns growling and swaying and Mottel adding nice swaths of organ. Even though this album wasn't a complete success, you certainly have to give the group points for their fearlessness. Hot Cup may be the most interesting label in jazz right now, and the main reason is the risk taking that allows projects like this to flourish. White Light/White Heat - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book review: The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

Godwulf Manuscript (Spenser Series #1)Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a little late to the game with regards to Parker and his great detective Spencer, but after hearing from many people about the series I decided to start at the beginning with this book. Spencer is a snarky, wise-cracking private detective in Boston who is called by the security department of a large university to investigate the theft of an illuminated manuscript from the university library. While investigating a possible suspect, Spencer becomes involved with a young woman who is accused of murder. Convinced the two cases are linked, Spencer peruses leads to clear the woman and the bodies start to pile up... The plot of the story was a little weak at times, but the character of Spencer was so well drawn that it made up for any weaknesses, he's definitely the template for many of today's detective heroes like Robert Crais PI Elvis Cole. Since this book was written in the early seventies so the descriptions of the student unrest and the clothes and slang of the time are quite interesting. Despite a few plot holes this was a consistently interesting story with a very compelling hero and I look forwards to reading other entries in this series.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet + 1 - 3 Nights in Oslo (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010)

Legendary German free-jazz tenor saxophonist Peter Brotzmann gets head billing on this five disc compilation, but he is very generous with the solo space, presenting some the cream of the crop of the European and American free jazz scene. Recorded in February of 2009 at a Norwegian jazz club, the music is spontaneous and quite exciting throughout. Discs one and five are recordings of the feature unit, The Peter Brotzmann Tentet + 1, a free jazz big band. If the notion of a big band playing free jazz seems a little alien, in practice, it works quite well. All of the musicians are extremely well disciplined and have been playing together in various groups for years, so the subtle shifting between brawny riffing, full band collective improvisation and solo spotlights is handled flawlessly. The music is tough, smart and very exciting and also contains moments of deep subtlety as well. In between these two discs, come three discs of breakout groups and musical pairings. Disc two opens with a couple of collective improvisations by the well established group Sonore, a saxophone trio consisting of Brotzmann, Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson. Swirling swaths of saxophone are key here, whether improvising together or breaking out for an individual solo. Then, drummers Michael Zerang and Paal Nilssen-Love develop a lengthy percussion duet that envelops many rhythms and complex developments over the course of twenty minutes. Disc three focuses on duets, featuring two potent encounters between Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, and lengthy abstract improvisations from trombonist Jeb Bishop and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Trumpeter and saxophonist Joe McPhee leads a group called Survival Unit III on disc four developing a very interesting sound-scape with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Michael Zerang. He sticks around to add a little more brassy muscle to three tracks from a group called Trombone Chior, that takes the brass instrument and uses it beautifully, creating smears and strokes of musical art. So there's quite a bit of music to be heard on this set, and the diversity of the music is part of the enjoyment. The free jazz scene documented in this collection is a vibrant and exciting one, filled with possibility that the groups explore joyfully. 3 Nights in Oslo - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Lightnin' Hopkins - His Blues (Ace, 2010)

The great Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins had an amazing life and career, recently chronicled in the new book Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues by Alan Govenar. This well thought out two-disc collection is a soundtrack and tie-in product to that book, tracking songs of Hopkins' career during the prime of his life, 1947-1969. This is an excellent place for those new to or curious about Hopkins to begin their exploration of his music. He had one of the largest discographies among blues musicians and was supposedly willing to record anytime for cash money up front. Listing to this collection we follow Hopkins' music in chronological order, and it is fascinating to see how he would adjust his music to the time and place, yet still remain true to his own unique style. Hopkins early sides for the Aladdin label paired him with pianist "Thunder" Smith and also featured him solo, recording some of his famous early songs like the slow and moody "Katie Mae Blues" and the jumping "Let Me Play With Your Poodle." As the times changes, Hopkins changed with them, developing a unique electric guitar style for some excellent small combo recordings in the mid-1950's for the Herald label, culminating in the blistering instrumental "Hopkins Sky Hop." As the 1960's dawned, Hopkins evolved with time times yet again, setting aside the electric guitar and playing in a solo acoustic format for the coffee houses and festivals of the blues revival. With his quick mind and nimble fingers, Hopkins was the master of spontaneous songwriting - spinning out songs and tales at will. He could compose songs as haunting "Tim Moore's Farm" which describes the terrible conditions black sharecroppers had to endure, to the flighty and fun "Up On Telegraph Avenue" where he talks about checking out hippie women in San Francisco. This was a well done collection and great addition to the book, which does its best to flesh out the Hopkins story. The liner notes present a detailed timeline of Hopkins' life and career as well as some nice photos. Fans of classic blues and those curious about the blues will find a nice place to start with this excellent career spanning package. amazon.com

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