Sunday, October 31, 2010

Elmore James Jr. - Baby Please Set a Date (Wolf, 2010)

Billing himself as the "undisputed" son of the blues immortal Elmore James, Junior certainly has the skills to keep the family banner waiving high. This album is filled with high energy traditional electric blues, sounds that wouldn't be out of place in the Chicago clubs of yore. James plays guitar and sings, filling out the band with Jake Dawson on guitar and Ed Williams on saxophone along with bass and drums. They start off strongly with the title track building around some rock solid riffing and powerful vocals from James. He turns "Please Send Me Someone To Love" into a medium tempo gospel drenched number, wringing a lot of emotion from the vocals. One of James Sr.'s most well known tunes "Look on Yonder's Wall" is next, taken at a very fast tempo with a nice slide guitar feature. The group plays it safe by adding several more songs originally associated with the older man, but they work well. Junior can't quite reach the level of heartbroken anguish of the original on "The Sky is Crying" but there is some tasty slide, and "Dust My Broom" is some fine rocking blues. "Steppin' With Elmo" is a quick and nimble instrumental, while the other instrumental, a feature for saxophonist Williams called "Dustin'" seems a little out of phase with the rest of the record going for an adult contemporary sound amidst a rootsy album. But overall, this is a solid slice of electric blues and James is a confident singer and guitarist. They have the traditional electric blues sound down and the next step is to build on this foundation. Baby Please Set a Date -

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Around the Blogs

The Burning Ambulance blog has an interesting interview with drummer Barry Altschul:
"I consider myself a jazz musician, and then I also consider myself being able to play free, so how I combine the two into one concept, I suppose, would be that to me, playing free is a matter of choices. The more choices you have, the freer you are."
Destination Out posts an obscure track from Grachan Moncur III's Echoes of a Prayer Album:
"Our key track has been “Angel’s Angel 1.” While the entire album is a balm, weaving a rich tapestry of salty horn charts and percolating percussion, this piece is where everything coalesces into an effortless groove. It’s joyful without sounding corny. It’s transporting and rooted, earthy and spiritual. We picture the angel of the title high-stepping across the sky, weighed down with gifts."
Brilliant Corners published a touching and heartfelt memorial to Boston area music prompter and enthusiast Bill Ruane:
"Another essential thing to understand about Billy. For all of his legendary public flamboyance and adventures, he really didn't like being a public focus. As he aged, he half hated to get credit for anything and really didn't like getting his mug in the paper."
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Eddie Henderson - For All We Know (Furthermore, 2010)

Trumpeter Eddie Henderson first made his mark in jazz playing Miles Davis influenced fusion with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band and then on his own early recordings as a leader. During the last several years he has returned to a more or less mainstream straight ahead jazz format. Joining him on this album are John Scofield on guitar, Doug Weiss on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. Opening with the Fats Waller classic “Jitterbug Waltz” they develop the music in a slow and graceful manner at a medium tempo, letting the tension grow before the band plays the familiar melody. Scofield continues to hint at the melody while improvising off of it in his solo spot. “Be Cool” has a medium-up feel with a nice rhythm set by Drummond. Melodically well controlled trumpet with nice guitar accompaniment, giving way to a cool toned guitar solo. The music swings nicely to a bass and drums feature. Shifting into ballad mode, the title track “For All We Know” has spare and longing trumpet accompanied by gentle brushes. The song develops at a spare, melodic pace with a touch of rainy day melancholy. Subtle drumwork opens “By Myself” with Scofield entering and turning hot in his solo space, followed by Weiss’ feature of a thick, strong bass solo. Henderson’s punchy trumpet pulls the whole group together for the conclusion, buoyed by excellent percussion. Herbie Hancock’s wonderful composition “Cantaloupe Island” is one of the highpoints of the album, with the group swinging into the wonderful melody led by strong and jousting trumpet. Scofield takes a great solo, playing bright and strong with just a hint of funkiness, before the strongly melodic full band returns to take the tune out. Henderson’s guiding star as a trumpet player has always been Miles Davis, and he expresses his admiration on the track “Missing Miles.” That opens slow and spare featuring atmospheric breathy trumpet. Patient, bluesy guitar and haunted brass make for a very atmospheric performance. Things bounce back to an upbeat conclusion with “Popo,” played at a funky uptempo beat with gently swinging trumpet and guitar. The band develops a nice mid-tempo full band improvisation. This was a very solid and continually interesting album of mainstream jazz. The veteran musicians sounded excellent (especially Scofield, who I continue to prefer as a sideman rather than leader.) and the choice of compositions is interesting and show the band is a variety of different settings and speeds. For All We Know -

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scott Amendola Trio - Lift (Sazi Records, 2010)

Drummer and percussionist Scott Amendola is a mainstay on the San Francisco jazz and improvisation scene leading his own bands and collaborating with the likes of Nels Cline and Charlie Hunter. He leads a trio on this album with another exciting guitarist, Jeff Parker, who is active in the Chicago scene, and bassist John Shifflett. The music is multi-faceted, with aspects of groove, jazz and improvised sound-scapes all included. The album begins with “Tudo de Bom” opening with a drum solo before guitar and bass enter to form a mid-tempo groove. A spare, open and almost science fiction like landscape that echoes the music of Sun Ra is featured on “Cascade” developing a spacey, hypnotic groove. “Blues For Istanbul” opens with thick bass and drums, with subtle guitar gliding in, developing a nice cool sounding jazzy collective improvisation. “Death by Flower” (what a title!) has a grinding, rockfish feel approaching fusion and progressive rock with a heavy dynamic. Very strong drums and shedding guitar reminiscent of Nels Cline make this track very exciting. The grooving track “Lima Bean” has Amendola’s drums establishing a funky feel similar to his work with the eight string guitarist Charlie Hunter, and the group develops a nicely swinging up-tempo performance featuring a thick string bass solo. Reverb saturated guitar over a backbeat gives a cop show cinematic flavor to “The Knife.” Strong bass and a propulsive beat mesh with stinging guitar for a powerful performance. This was a well performed wide ranging album that covers a lot of improvisational ground. The trio is a very open minded unit, able to reference many different types of music, while developing a sound all their own. Lift -

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Book Review: Worth Dying For by Lee Child

Worth Dying For: A Reacher NovelWorth Dying For: A Reacher Novel by Lee Child

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jack Reacher is back... surviving the cliffhanger ending of the previous novel, 61 Hours, Reacher is dropped off in a small rural Nebraska territory like a modern day Ronin (a warrior that has no master save himself.) Drifting through the local hotel and running into a series of cowed residents, Reacher quickly determines that something is not right, and when repeated attempts to run him out of town fail, the reception of the local bullies only make him even more determined to get to the bottom of the town's terrible secret. OK, there's really nothing new here, it follows the template of almost every other Reacher novel, but the formula just works. Reacher drifts into town, spots trouble, kicks ass, takes names and moves on. But the way that Child manages the details of the story and the characters within it makes the story compelling. This one is particularly brutal and violent with a disturbing conclusion, but for fans of thrillers and suspense it is a worthwhile read.

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Worth Dying For -

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Henry Threadgill - This Brings Us To, Volume 2 (Pi Recordings, 2010)

Coming one year after the highly regarded first volume of this collection, saxophonist, flautist and musical conceptualist Henry Threadgill returns with his band Zooid for another fascinating album of progressive jazz. Along with Threadgill on alto saxophone and flute, Zooid consists of Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums The band's music is knotty and complicated at times, but flows very well with a unique vision. The bass and drums develop an ever shifting and evolving beat, and Ellman's guitar playing is a driving force in the music, sometimes soloing, sometimes providing musical color, it is a key component in this bands work. It's fun to hear the level of intricacy that the group is able to build up on tracks like "Absolutely Sweet William" where the music develops organically in a natural manner that is never forced. Threadgill is a generous leader offering a lot of space for his bandmates, but he is quite unmistakable in terms of his flute and alto saxophone playing. His swirling flute and tart saxophone are the heart and soul of the recording. This is an excellent follow up to one of the finest album of 2009. Kudos to Pi Recordings for allowing to one of America's most unique musicians to make an excellent album. Anyone interested in progressive jazz will find a lot of music to enjoy here, the music is first rate and the band is to notch. This Brings Us To Volume 2 -

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Marion Brown Remembered

There have been some very classy tributes to the late influential saxophonist Marion Brown on the jazz blogosphere lately. Peter Hum posted excerpts of a short interview with Brown and a Youtube clip, while NPR has a couple of excellent postings, first from Lars Gotrich and then a deeply emotional and affecting post from John Rogers.

Destination Out is first class all the way with a wonderful tribute post to Brown including mp3 downloads of rare performances. Finally, Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches delves deeply into Brown's unique musical philosophy.

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The Black Keys - iTunes Sessions (Nonesuch, 2010)

The Black Keys have been plugging away in the trenches of rock 'n' roll for many years now and their perseverance has paid off handsomely with a nice record contract, a top five album called Brothers and appearances on TV. Amazingly, their core sound remains the same, true to the rock and soul music that originally inspired them, but perhaps a little more fleshed out with the addition of other instruments to the core duo. This was an LP length download only album cut live in the studio to capitalize on the group's success and it works quite well, capturing the raw power of their live show and early material with the added subtlety of their newer work. The opening song, "Chop and Change" melds these two ideas perfectly, bathing the duo's garage band muscle with ominous swirling organ, framing Dan Auerbach's vocals about a strong woman on the move perfectly. "Everlasting Light" showcases the band's familiarity with soul music and R&B, giving the music a gentle almost gospelish tinge. Dark noirish songwriting has been a hallmark of The Black Keys original music and a couple of tunes included here from the Brothers LP bear this out. "Sinister Kid" is the story of a man on the run from his past that he can never escape, like some anti-hero from a Black Mask short story, while "Next Girl" takes a pile driving groove and weds it to a tale of guilt and remorse. This was a really well done selection of songs, taking what could have been a quickie cash-in opportunity and building it into a fine addition to the band's growing list of impressive musical statements. The Black Keys - iTunes Session

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Joelle Leandre and India Cooke - Journey (NoBusiness Records, 2010)

It is always exciting when two musicians get together to improvise in real time. Violinist India Cooke and bassist Joelle Leandre performed live in Denver during an academic conference called "Improvisation and Identity: Discovering Self and Community in a Trans-Cultural Age," and their duet was the perfect choice to reflect the nature of the proceedings musically. Spontaneously composed and improvised, their performance is suite called Journey, broken for the sake of programming into six sections. The music develops like the blooming of a flower, beginning slowly and tentatively, with the performers trading ideas with swirls of bowed and plucked music moving forward in a dexterous and very free nature. The music draws upon free jazz, modern classical and other genres and Leander and Cooke meld their own unique musical visions into one as they develop a musical conversation that involves quick give and take, gentle pauses and the occasional argument. This was a fascinating and unusual performance that sounds like little else as the musicians stake out common ground and their own musical identity. Journey - NoBusiness Records.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Nu Band - Live in Paris (No Business, 2010)

Celebrating ten years together, The Nu Band: Roy Campbell, on trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn and flute, Mark Whitecage on alto saxophone and clarinet, Joe Fonda on bass and Lou Grassi on drums and percussion remain committed to spontaneous composition and improvisation and creating music in the moment. This live album from Paris is an excellent example of their art, opening with the lengthy "Somewhere over the Seine" has strong swirling saxophone over a deep bass and drum pocket. Strong exciting collective improvisation takes hold, with each instrument bubbling to the forefront and then slipping beneath the waves. Awesome fast trumpet from Campbell early in the performance gives way to sawing bowed bass and nimble percussion. A section of trumpet and saxophone duet precedes a subtle trio section of saxophone, bass and brushed drums. "Bolero Francaise" is another extended improvisation, that opens is a very cool fashion with Campbell moving to flute and improvising gently with saxophone and shaken percussion and thick bass. An open and intimate bass and drums section slowly evolves, building to faster collective improvisation. After a storming drum solo, the music builds to a very exciting saxophone trio free and fast, and Campbell returns to trumpet and joins in to finish things up. "Avant Galoppi" is a shorter fast paced improvisation that shows the band moving very quickly and responding to each other and the music as it develops. "The Angle of Repose" develops through an obtuse improvisation section to a rousing conclusion. This was a very exciting and enjoyable album which is also quite accessible making this a good entry point for people who are curious about free improvisation. The Nu Band - Live in Paris - No Business Records.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one caught my eye while I was weeding the new bookshelves at the Library... who hasn't at one time or another thought that it might be great thing to just take a powder and go off the radar completely? Whether to avoid bill collectors or to get away from a stalker, it remains a great temptation for many. Ahearn started his career as a bounty hunter or as he puts it a "skip tracer" but he's far removed from Stephanie Plum, and used every tool in his book, legal and illegal to track people down. After a scary run-in with federal authorities put him on the straight and narrow, Ahearn changed his business from finding people to helping people disappear. It's a lot harder than you would think, involving convoluted counter-intelligence and misdirection often using pre-paid credit cards and mobile phones to multiple mail drops and phony addresses. I don't think I have the chutzpah to try this as alluring as it might be. Ahearn himself says that it is not for the faint of heart. But as entertainment it makes for fascinating reading and he's a great vernacular storyteller with plenty of anecdotes that make the book very interesting and provide great insight into the crime novels and news stories that I find interesting.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - The Complete Cookbook Sessions (Solar, 2010)

During the late 1950's and early 1960's tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis was a very busy man, playing in well regarded groups with Johnny Griffin and this group with the organist Shirley Scott. The organ and tenor format was very popular in the clubs of the northeast US during this time period with fertile scenes in New York, Newark, Philadelphia and other places. This set collects the three "Cookbook" albums Davis and Scott made with Jerome Richardson on flute and tenor saxophone, George Duvivier on bass and Arthur Edgehill on drums, and also includes some odds and ends from other sessions. The music on these discs shows that the band's repertoire was grounded in blues and ballads with swinging uptempo tunes also making their presence felt. Davis had a deep and rough tone on the tenor saxophone that was immediately recognizable and served him well on both riff based burners (he was featured in the Count Basie band in the mid '60's) and lyrical ballads. Scott had developed a swirling, gospel tinged style of organ playing that ceded the bass work to Duvivier and concentrated on creating swirls of driving sound on the uptempo pieces and lush backdrops for the ballads. Richardson was the wildcard, adding swooping flute and extra saxophone heft that took these albums away from the standard "grits 'n' gravy" organ and tenor sessions. Discs one and two collect the band's cooking at full boil with strong uptempo performances in "The Chef" and the tenor feature "Have Horn Will Blow." A heartfelt and longing version of the standard "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" features biting and lyrical tenor and lavish organ accompaniment. "Blue Lou" takes them deep down in the alley for a storming performance of gritty saxophone and brisk organ. Disc three warps up the collaboration with songs that appeared on other LP's like well known Davis performances "The Rev" and "Jaws." A bonus session has Scott switching to piano for a selection of standards and ballads. Fans of the organ and tenor sound will certainly gravitate toward this collection if they don't already own the records. The liner notes are well done with photographs and clear re-prints of the essays from the original albums. Complete Cookbook Sessions -

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book review: Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

DjiboutiDjibouti by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dara is a documentary film-maker based in New Orleans, after doing films on Hurricane Katrina and the war in Bosnia. When she turns her attention to the pirates hijacking ships off the coast of Africa she finds more than she bargained for. She and her partner Xavier head to Djibouti where they are quickly ensconced in a web of intrigue that involves hijackers, terrorists, wheelers, dealers and scam artists of all kinds. When making their movie turns into a collaboration with a wealthy man who may or may not be a CIA agent to foil a terrorist attack, things get really interesting. Leonard is the master of dialogue and characterization and this book fairly sparkles with interaction between the well drawn and fully realized characters. The plot gets a little convoluted at times but the characters are so consistently interesting and the dialogue so witty and compelling that that conceit is hardly noticed.

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Djibouti -

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys - Betweenwhile (AUM Fidelity, 2010)

I had grown to enjoy drummer Mike Pride's playing in hell-for-leather duet settings with saxophonist Jon Irabagon like the wonderful I Don't Hear Nothin' But the Blues, but I wasn't prepared for the subtle nature of his approach to this album with his new group From Bacteria to Boys. The band on Betweenwhile is: Mike Pride: drums and compositions, Darius Jones: alto sax, Peter Bitenc: bass and Alexis Marcelo: piano. Pride plays drums, often quiet brushes and a number of smaller percussive instruments and leads the group in search of a combination of avant-jazz and soul music, much like William Parker's work with the music of Curtis Mayfield. They open with the horn players sitting out and the piano trio playing "Kancamagus I" a melodic mid tempo performance of gentle piano with probing bass and brushes. The horns enter the fray on the strong "Reese Witherspoon" where Pride provides a deep and shifting backbeat for the music to evolve over. Saxophone builds and explores over the choppy beat in an evocative manner. Strongly comped piano keeps the pace moving, and a thick bass solo develops before tart saxophone returns in a patient performance ending feature. "Rose" is a brightly swinging brief improvisation built around an interlude for solo bass. "It Doesn't Stop" has a choppy repetitive theme that builds tension and energy before releasing into a quieter section. The song develops dynamically between loud and soft sections with tension and release, and features a nimble drum solo. "Emo Hope" (great title!) builds to a majestically swinging performance with rippling piano over rock solid bass and drums, and another drum solo (lighter and more subtle.) "Bole (The Mouth or What)" develops from choppy saxophone to a full band improvisation that is quirky and interesting, with a rough and tough piano trio passage in the middle. The music then shifts pace to a lush piano led interlude that builds slowly and patiently with gently swaying rhythm. Strong pinched sounding saxophone returns to conclude the performance. "Inbetweenwhile" is a brief and snappy uptempo quartet improvisation buoyed by agile and insistent bass building to a fast and raw toned saxophone feature. Strong, biting saxophone is also present on "Surcharge" laying down great swaths of raw potent music, a storming highlight of the disc. Sad an lonely improvised saxophone opening to "12 Lines For Build" develops a powerful emotional presence in the music. The bonus track "I'll See You In Your Dreams" (available via download or through AUM Fidelity only) features Mike Pride: drums, percussion, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, synth bass, mbira & clavinet with Alexis Marcelo: hammond C3 organ, Peter Bitenc: electric bass, Darius Jones: alto sax, Ben Gerstein: trombone, Jon Irabagon: alto & sopranino sax and Jonathan Moritz: tenor sax and takes things in a fascinating different direction with organ and drums creating a dub like atmosphere for the saxophone to improvise over. It's a memorable and hypnotic track, and shows that this interesting group has ample room to grow with future releases. Betweenwhile -

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Steve Lacy and Evan Parker - Chirps (FMP, 1991, 2010)

Records and compact discs (or downloads for that matter) by the German FMP label have been somewhat scarce (in the USA at least) so Destination Out's agreement with the label to set up a downloading storefront is a big break for fans of progressive jazz. This album features a live meeting between soprano saxophone masters Steve Lacy and Evan Parker, in an unaccompanied duet that is complex and abstract, but continually exciting and accessible. The title of the album references bird calls, and the music follows suit with both men focusing on short bursts of notes and passages that flitter and fly through the music giving the music a light and nimble feeling. The album opens with two very lengthy performances, "Full Scale" and "Relations" that allow both men to stretch their ideas out at length, feeling each other out and then offering up complementary ideas that turn these improvisations into hypnotically beautiful performances. The rest of the album is made up of shorter more compact pieces. "Twittering" was made long before micro-blogging service of the same name cam into being, but the idea is quite the same as Lacy and Parker trade short musical messages that build in free space. "Nocturnal Chirps" is a three part series of brief improvised pieces that meld the two musicians visions together like a strand of DNA that has the imprint of modern jazz woven through it. Fans of openly improvised music and free jazz will really enjoy this album, there was no show-boating or egos at play, just a meeting of the minds that created a very successful album. Chirps - Destination Out

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nels Cline - Dirty Baby (Cryptogramophone, 2010)

Guitarist Nels Cline is a fearless sonic explorer spanning genres from jazz to rock 'n' roll and beyond. His latest project has a fascinating concept: he was asked to create music to accompany the artwork of Los Angeles based artist Ed Ruscha. This is not a completely new idea for Cline who released a fascinating DVD earlier this year called Stained Radiance where he improvised in real time with painter Norton Wisdom. This musical interpretation of Rusha's work is divided over two CD's, the first being a long form composition split up into individual songs. Cline gives the composition an atmospheric and cinematic flair, developing from wistful and haunting strummed guitar and wheezy harmonica to a fascinating conclusion of guitar with electronics and drums that moves into a grinding, dirty funk feel using effects and feedback to move to a powerful conclusion. The second disc is a series of short vignettes that develop along the lines of the aesthetic that John Zorn used in his Naked City project: short, powerful blasts of music developing a noir/crime storyline based on Ruscha's unique artwork. Highlights from this disc include "No Mercy" which has great bluesy guitar over mid-tempo drums. "You Are a Dead Man" develops abstract guitar skronk for a genuinely unsettling effect and "Be Cautious Else We Be Bangin' On You" develops free jazz horns and pounding drums before switching dynamically to spacious marimba and bass. "I Heard You Moved to Pahrump, Nevada - You Cannot Escape" builds on acoustic guitar and fiddle to a dusty western feel, while "You Talk, You Get Killed" incorporates wah-wah trumpet and a wicked beat to move the story along. This was a fascinating combination of music and artwork that is unique in the way that the music interprets and reflects the physical art, while enhancing its meaning. Fans of forward leaning music should definitely check this out it is a daring and successful undertaking. Dirty Baby -

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Richard Thompson - Dream Attic (Shout Factory, 2010)

Recording an album full of new material in front of a live audience is something of a gamble, but it has paid off handsomely for veteran guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson, his new album captures the energy of his always potent live performance and combines it was an excellent set of new songs to very good effect. He has a tight backing band consisting of Pete Zorn on guitars, flute, saxophone and mandolin, Michael Jerome on drums, Taras Prodaniuk bass, and Joel Zifkin on violin and mandolin. The multi-instrumentalists give him a lot of opportunity to create dynamic sounding music and he uses it well, making both blasting guitar rock and gentle folkish ballads. Kicking off with an extraordinary bile-spitting rocker, "The Money Shuffle," Thompson, who was always one of music most insightful lyricists, absolutely lacerates the bankers and hedge fund managers that were responsible for the recent financial meltdown. With vivid imagery and torrid guitar, it's one of his finest recent songs. The focus is also on electric guitar in the noirish "Crimescene" and "Sidney Wells" both of which draw on elements of crime fiction for their lyrics, and leave ample space for scalding guitar solos. Narrative songs have also been Thompson's trademark throughout his lengthy career, and on this album "Haul Me Up" and "Here Comes Gordie" are interesting slice of life songs that operate like little observational vignettes or short stories over a bouncing beat. The set also features some beautiful ballads, like the haunting "Among the Gorse, Among the Grey" with a beautiful vocal performance. This is another excellent album from Richard Thompson, who is one of the most consistently successful musicians in both rock and folk music. Filled with fascinating lyrics and awe inspiring guitar playing it is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful records of the year. Dream Attic -

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kablys - Live at 11:20 (NoBusiness, 2010)

This free jazz group consisting of Liudas Mockunas on tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones, Eugenijus Kanevicius on bass and electronics and Dalius Naujokaitis drums was recorded live at the punk rock club 11:20 in Vlinius, Lithuania for this limited edition LP. The music is very fresh and exciting and the trio is locked and loaded, providing high energy music for an appreciative audience. "Hooked" opens the album with swirling saxophone moving in circular patterns and percussion moving very quickly in support. The saxophone grows caustic and raw, developing over strong bass and drum support, making for a very powerful performance. Open and spare percussion begins "Broke" sounding very free with bowed bass chiming in. Mockunas' choppy saxophone becomes quite raw, urged in by vocal exhortations, becoming a strutting honk, with percussion sliding into the action to complete a sly performance that winks at funk but stays true to avant aesthetic. "Triumph of Pagans (In Memory of The Great Zalgiris Battle 1410)" features saxophone probing against elastic bass developing into a quick and nimble improvisation with strong saxophone sailing around the bass and drums. Kanevicius' thick, loping bass provides a firm foundation for the exploratory music, which builds from a quieter section to an emotional mid-tempo conclusion. Spare probing saxophone appropriately opens "Emphasiastic (Dedicated to Jimmy Giuffre)" morphing into a light and open trio improvisation that builds an interesting musical soundscape. After an impressive open ended bass solo, the group builds an increasingly fast collective improvisation. The development is well paced and dramatic, culminating in an explosive conclusion of driving saxophone, bass and drums. "Back Door" wraps up the album with a patiently developing improvisation that has some electronically altered bass and saxophone playing long tones. The music develops nicely, gaining speed and intensity with excellent drum work. This short but exciting album was very good and filled with exciting music.I was not familiar with any of the members of the trio before hearing this, but I was quite impressed by all three. Hopefully this album will raise their profile and give them a chance to record and tour and spread their music around. Live at 11:20 - NoBusiness Records

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Microscopic Septet - Friday the 13th (Cuneiform, 2010)

The Microscopic Septet were a popular band on the downtown New York jazz scene in the 1980's and early 90's before going an extended hiatus. After Cuneiform Records put out some very nice re-issues of their earlier LP's in 2006, the group reunited and cut a comeback album called Lobster Leaps In, and now issue their second post comeback album, a collection of songs by the great composer and pianist Thelonious Monk. The group consists of Phillip Johnston on soprano saxophone, Don Davis on alto saxophone, Mike Hashim on tenor saxophone, Dave Sewelson on baritone saxophone, Joel Forrester on piano, Richard Dworkin on drums and David Hofstra on bass. Melody is the key to the group's interpretation of the Monk repertoire, they arrange the songs beautifully and take great joy in playing them. Bravely, they open with what is considered to be Monk's most difficult composition, "Brilliant Corners," with the piano and horns swinging the melody as the saxophones trade ideas and flutter. "Teo" swings hard with strong and wild saxophone surging to the front in a muscular fashion, aided and abetted by propulsive drumming. Forrester's piano ushers in a gentle swing feel for "We See" developing into a fractured and fun swing feel for the whole band. A joyous alto saxophone solo and some thick deep bass make this one of the highlights of the session. "Off Minor" has a wonderfully infectious set up of the melody, then punchy sax builds against its fellow horns and agile drumming. Hofstra's insistent bass opens "Worry Later" building to a section of nimble horns and piano before reverting to the bass for a subtle and nimble solo. "Misterioso" is a fascinating performance, beginning with an ascending melody on the piano and developing into a choppy feel from the horns, the music shifts abruptly to lush horns and tinkling piano. Hashim develops a deep and dark tenor saxophone over subtle bass and drum accompaniment. This album works quite well, the arrangements that the band has developed keep the uniqueness of Monk's vision while allowing for ample opportunities for the soloists to interpret the music with fine solos and ensemble passages. Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk -

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Jason Adasiewicz - Sun Rooms (Delmark, 2010)

A mainstay on the Chicago jazz scene as both a leader and valued member of collective ensembles, Jason Adasiewicz is continuing the progressive jazz tradition on the vibraphone begun by the likes of Bobby Hutcherson and Khan Jamal. Where the previous albums with his group Rolldown have included horn players, this is a lean and tight ensemble with Adasiewicz on vibes, Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed on drums. They develop a light and nimble sound beginning with "Get In There," which is uptempo with metallic sounding vibes giving the music a mysterious air, as strong propulsive bass moves the music along. "Life" and "Stake" both have a Monkian flavor to them, probing their cool melodies at a medium tempo. The former has a dark toned and patient bass solo making way for shimmering vibes, while the latter moves into a fast ringing improvisation. "Rose Garden" and Duke Ellington's composition "Warm Valley" are ballad performances the allow the group to investigate spare open space. The ballads are slow and stately with a probing sense of swing. "Off My Back Jack" is also taken at a slower pace, but in a more abstract vein. Bowed bass and skittering drums make for a jittery caffeinated feel, before the music moves into a more lyrical section. Sun Ra's "Overtones of China" is a fascinating performance, with vibes and drums locking into a fast paced conversation that builds to a simmering improvisation. Nice drum work by Mike Reed keeps things consistently interesting. This was a well done and engaging album but three of the busier improvisers on the modern Chicago scene. Adasiewicz has developed his own voice and improvisational style and fits in very well with the open ended pocket constructed by Reed and McBride, making for compelling and progressive music. Sun Rooms -

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Floyd McDaniel - West Side Baby (Delmark, 1994, 2010)

Guitarist and singer Floyd McDaniel had a lengthy and successful career in the Chicago blues scene playing a subtle, jazz influenced music that was very accessible yet remained compelling and exciting. On this live recording from Europe, he is backed by Dave Specter and the Bluebirds, a tight ensemble that gives McDaniel the support he needs while not getting in his way. T-Bone Walker appears to be McDaniel's guiding star, and one of the highlights of the recording is Walker's "Mean Old World" and with Specter's group backing, he wrings a lot of emotion from the dark and haunting song. He sings the classic "Route 66" as he feels Nat "King" Cole would, and gives the music a buoyant swing feel. Swing and jazz also infuse their cover of another great Chicago musician, the saxophonist Gene Ammons' "Red Top" which gives Specter a chance to stretch out with some nice jazzy guitar licks and McDaniel to compose some spontaneous lyrics that meld jazz and blues. He covers a wide range of music including the dark "Blackwater Blues" by Bessie Smith and an upbeat version of the standard "Sweet Home Chicago" that gets the audience involved, singing and clapping along. This was a very classy and well performed album. McDaniel was well into his 70's when this was recorded, but has the exuberance and stamina of a much younger man. Specter's group provides excellent support, and anyone interested in hearing a fine set of Chicago blues would be satisfied with this album. West Side Baby -

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Books: Coltrane on Coltrane

Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane InterviewsColtrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews by Chris DeVito

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fascinating book gathers together all known and available interviews with the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. The volume is arranged chronologically, beginning with a few newspaper articles during his career as a sideman with the likes of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, and then moving on to his meteoric rise as a bandleader and progressive force in jazz. The most interesting aspect of the book is the difficulty in which the critics and writers of the time had in understanding Coltrane's music and reconciling his gentle personal nature and his forceful music. At times it feels like the interviewers were disappointed that he wasn't more radical and politically oriented, but instead was a deeply thoughtful man. The picture that emerges of Coltrane is a fascinating one, a man who was continually seeking and questioning not only the music he was making but but philosophy, religion and the nature of mankind. A couple of the more well known interviews included in this book are "John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Answer the Jazz Critics" conducted by Downbeat's Don DeMichael. This came at a time when the two men were under attack from critics who called their music "anti-jazz" and accused them of a radical non-swinging agenda. Both Coltrane and Dolphy sound genuinely confused by the criticism, and do their best to explain their music in a congenial and thoughtful way. Another interesting exchange takes place between the scholar Frank Kofsky and Coltrane in 1966, after Coltrane's music had grown quite free. Kofsky gets him to open up a little on his political feelings, discussing Malcolm X, the Vietnam War and race relations. It's a fascinating lengthy interview where they cover a variety of subjects both musical and non-musical subjects, and it reveals just how thoughtful Coltrane was as both a man and a musician. Coltrane fans will definitely enjoy this book, it is a little repetitive at times when the interviewers are asking him the same questions over and over, but there is a lot of wonderful information and dialogue here.

Coltrane on Coltrane -

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Blogs and links

The blog Destination Out has some fresh material available: first up, two hard to find FMP albums are newly available in their digital store, Chirps from Evan Parker and Steve Lacy and Rumbling from the Globe Unity Orchestra. D:O also presented a fascinating post from guitarist Mary Halvorson, who chose her favorite tracks by musical polymath Robert Wyatt for downloading and also spoke about Wyatt's influence on her work.
(Halvorson on Wyatt) It was one of those rare moments when you are so completely bowled over by a piece of music that you don’t know what to think. I wasn’t even sure I liked it; I was just completely freaked out. The music was so beautiful, so strange, incredibly dark, and entirely unlike anything I’d heard. That’s what I love about Wyatt’s music. He’s not weird for the sake of being weird. The music is purely his own.
The new edition of the webzine Point of Departure is available, with a number of new articles and reviews.

Congratulations to Jason Moran for being awarded a well-deserved MacArthur fellowship:
(MacArthur Announcement) Through reinterpretation of jazz standards and new compositions of his own, Moran is expanding the boundaries of jazz expression and playing a dynamic role in its evolution in the twenty-first century.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Exploding Star Orchestra - Stars Have Shapes (Delmark, 2010)

Led by cornet player and musical visionary Rob Mazurek, the Exploding Star Orchestra is a post modern big band that draws on great instrumentalists, found sound and electronics to create a soundscape like no other. Echoes of John Coltrane's Ascension and Sun Ra's long form experimental works like Atlantis and The Magic City are here, but the group creates a sound that is unique to their vision. The album opens with the extraordinary "Ascension Ghost Impression #2" with a jaunty whistle, quickly evolving into swirling cosmic music anchored by Josh Abrams strong bass playing. The music builds to a wild dreamscape that is abstract but colorful, billowing like a kaleidoscope. A majestic section of cornet and percussion build through the cacophony, making way for a mysterious section filled with processed sound and percussion. Funky and fast paced bass and drums enliven "ChromoRocker" with horns improvising over tasty vibes and percussion. Nicole Mitchell's light and dancing flute quickly flutters amongst the sounds. An open electronic soundstage is the foundation of "Three Blocks of Light" with cornet and flute featured amidst the electronic processing. A spare, ringing interlude gives a cosmic tinge to the proceedings, with a flute cry piercing the musical space. The music builds to haunting and spacious vibe with long toned horn and the reverent sound of bowed bass. "Impression #1" enters as a mysterious mid-tempo performance with cornet and vibes accenting. Saxophone and bowed bass bubble up but it is the shimmering vibes of Jason Adasiewicz that have the greatest impact. Saxophones echo and vibrate against the pulsing bass while Mazurek's cornet smears pigment across the musical sky. This was a very ambitious and exciting project that worked out quite well. The music is arranged in such a manner that the music is given a vibrant and visceral nature, oriented more toward the group as an organic whole rather than a collection of individuals. Fans of exploratory jazz and progressive rock should find a lot to enjoy on this fascinating album. Stars Have Shapes -

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dominic Duval, Jimmy Halperin and Brian Willson - Music of John Coltrane (NoBusiness, 2010)

There have been many tributes to the great tenor saxophonist John Coltrane since his passing, and the years have done nothing to dull the power of his music. This is a heartfelt nod to Coltrane from a collective group consisting of Dominic Duval on bass, Jimmy Halperin on tenor saxophone and Brian Willson on drums. The group plays music from each phase of Coltrane's influential career, and they make their own personal statements from these well known compositions. Opening with "Giant Steps," the music has a strong trio improvisation. Halperin's tone is deep and dark on the tenor saxophone, yet he is patient and allows the music to come to him, building in hints of melody and developing a strong swing. A nimble bass and drum interlude takes us back to a fast paced trio finale. "Moments Notice" develops strong and free, and moves to a choppy melody with caustic saxophone leading the way. Duval's bass is deep and potent and provides a pivot point for the saxophone meltdown that drives the performance home. The group takes a subtle approach to "Living Space" with probing bass and high pitched tenor saxophone grappling for purchase. They develop an abstract improvisation on the dark theme of the song that gives way to seeking and scalding collective playing. "Syeeda's Song Flute" gets a swirling melodic introduction featuring fast and strong bass playing and sweeping drums. The trio delves deep into the song before splitting off into a bass solo with subtle percussion and a return to the melody. The ballad "Naima" has swirls of saxophone and big hearted bass along with delicate brushwork creating a spacious and patient performance. "Pursuance," one of the movements of Coltrane's classic album A Love Supreme finishes the album with a torrid statement of the theme, and then a series of fascinating abstract improvisations up on the line. This was a well done and heartfelt tribute to a man that continues to inspire generations of musicians. The performances are reverent to the Coltrane legacy, but the musicians inject their own stories into the performances which gives the music added resonance and power. Music of John Coltrane - NoBusiness Records

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Brad Goode - Tight Like This (Delmark, 2010)

Trumpeter Brad Goode began playing music at an early age, and has been at it ever since, whether leading, playing as a sideman or teaching students. This album is a crisp quartet session, with Goode as the only horn in the lineup, supported by Adrean Farrugia on piano, Kelly Sill on bass and Anthony Lee on drums. The music is genuinely accessible and begins with a version of Louis Armstrong's "Tight Like This" that sets the tone for the album, as funky bass and strong trumpet take center stage. Another song from the early days of jazz follows, "Changes," with Goode achieving a buttery and mannered mid-tempo trumpet pace. The piano led trio ups the ante during their interlude and Goode responds with some strong and punchy playing of his own. Lee sets a nice rhythmic feel on "Nightingale" laying a foundation for pinched trumpet and a patient bass solo. "Reaching for the Moon" has a deeply burnished trumpet tone, building classy and clear over the full band, while "Reverse the Charges" grows fast and potent from the strong and insistent trio playing. The Goode original "Midwestern Autumn" has a slow and ruminative feel, featuring solo piano then muted trumpet, while the bass keeps deep thick time. "Climbing Out" changes the nature of the music as Goode sets forth on a fluttering and flying solo that has a boppish feel over light and tight drumming and sparks of piano. "Bob's Bounce," another original, keeps the pace high with confident and muscular playing before the group ends the album with a lyrical version of the standard "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise." This was a solid and enjoyable album of mainstream jazz, Goode and his fellow musicians were quite accomplished and forthright in their performances, never grandstanding or overplaying needlessly. The mix of standards and originals and the accessibility of the music's melodic and lyrical content should make it appeal to fans of mainstream jazz. Tight Like This -

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Neil Young - Le Noise (Reprise, 2010)

Neil Young Has played in many contexts throughout his career, but his most successful projects fall into two camps: playing blasting full band rock 'n' roll, often with the group Crazy Horse or as a bruised troubadour, with high pitched unique voice accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. This album beautifully combines the two styles, keeping the intimacy of the solo setting, but combining it with the power and scope of the electric guitar. He has written some excellent songs as well, lyrics that bite with power and vision, yet haunt long after they're are heard. "Walk With Me" opens the album with echoing feedback, and slightly buried vocals that recall his experimental album Trans. While that album hid his vocals in a synth haze, this album lets them weave in and out of the deft guitar work, developing an intricate textured pattern. "Love and War" echoes the meditations on conflict and reconciliation that have been a driving theme of Young's music since the mid 1960's. Juxtaposing the horror of conflict with the battles within the soul makes for a very potent and powerful statement. "Angry World" is the flipside of the former song's ruminative nature, spitting bile and raging against the shallow conflict and brutality of the modern age. "Hitchhiker" is another highlight, a haunted tale of drug use and consequences that rivals Young classics like "Sedan Delivery" and "Cocaine Eyes." The ballad singing troubadour makes and an appearance on the lengthy "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" a subtle ballad that spins its tale out over seven minutes. That lengthy story song is an anomaly for this album, which is very tight and well woven, clocking in at an LP length 38 minutes. There's hardly a minute wasted though, the songwriting and guitar playing are excellent and memorable. It's a fascinating album to listen to, almost as if Young is casting a wary eye back to the themes that have defined his past while restlessly moving forward toward new vistas. Neil Young - Le Noise

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Anthony Brown's Asian-American Orchestra - India and Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (Water Baby, 2010)

Drummer and percussionist Anthony Brown has led a big band for several years, recording well regarded tributes to the likes of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Turning their sights to the music of John Coltrane, the music on this album is augmented with the addition of traditional Indian and African instruments. "India: Diaspora" is a prelude to the main album with the music entering in a spacious and spare feeling. Flutes and percussion give the band a full sound that evolves into Coltrane's "India" featuring exotic stringed instruments that drone and pluck. Soprano saxophone swirls around the melody high and strong with other horns building in to riff and support. There is a thick bass introduction to "Ole" with dark toned piano and saxophone. Trumpet and swirling flute build on a foundation of strong horns, bass and drums. After a percussion duet and a re-statement of the "India" theme the band moves on to cover a couple of classic Coltrane compositions, "Africa" developing deep, throbbing bass and strong tenor saxophone over supporting horns. Strong tenor takes a very nice and deep solo over a nice bed of rhythm. The potent tenor saxophone continues on "Liberia" morphing the melody into an authoritative solo. Funky bass and drums usher in "Dahomey Dance" for a brief statement before the group turns to a reprise of the "Africa" melody and wraps things up with a nice version of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" which was a favorite of John Coltrane. Starting mellow and percussion heavy, the band builds the pace nicely as the horns sway over heavy fast rhythm. This was a nicely arranged album of John Coltrane's music. The addition of the extra instruments and the exotic arrangements gave the music a fresh and invigorating feel, that addend a new dimension to classic compositions.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Junior Wells and the Aces - Live in Boston 1966 (Delmark, 2010)

Harmonica ace and singer Junior Wells had recently recorded his classic blues LP Hoodoo Man Blues when this live set was recorded (possibly originally a bootleg or radio broadcast) featuring him with the crack band known as The Aces: Louis Myers on guitar, Dave Myers bass, and Fred Below on drums. These musicians were very familiar with each other and it shows throughout the performance, as they are tight as can be. Highlights of the album include "Man Downstairs" where they mash-up blues classics "One Way Out" and "Big Boss Man" to excellent effect. "Junior's Whoop" showcases Wells' excellent harmonica playing swooping and swaying along the beat and playing with the timing of a saxophonist. Blues chestnuts "That's Alright Mama" and "Look On Yonder's Wall" are potent performances, leading up to Wells' signature piece "Messin' With the Kid" which is taken with enough swagger and verve to rival Muddy Waters. Speaking of Waters, the group covers "Hoochie Coochie Man" with the group setting the flavor while Junior lays back and then sidles up for a powerful performance. The full band gets a chance to blow on Freddie King's "Hideaway" featuring excellent guitar playing and a rock solid pocket of bass and drums. This is a nice snapshot of Junior Wells at what was arguably his peak, and with the inclusion of his between song banter, it has the feel of the nightclub atmosphere. The recording quality is a little rough, but still very listenable, and fans of the Chicago style of electric blues will surely enjoy this album. Live In Boston 1966 -

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