Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blues: Buddy Guy - Living Proof; Dave Specter - Spectified

Buddy Guy - Living Proof (Jive, 2010) Legendary blues guitarist and singer Buddy Guy may proclaim that he is "74 Years Young" on the opening track of this album, but he plays and sings with the energy and verve of a man half his age. Guy can occasionally go overboard with the guitar pyrotechnics, but he harnesses all of the energy very well here, moving between slash and burn guitar blowouts like the coming of age tale "You'll Thank Me Someday" to the down and dirty concluding instrumental "Skanky." He solos with wild abandon, but also with the strength and restraint to keep things from getting out of control. There is a touching duet with fellow legend B.B. King on "Stay Around a Little Longer" where they sing and trade licks in a respectful manner. The band breaks out the funk on "Let the Door Knob Hit Ya" with some of Guy's finest singing on the album. His vocals her are focused and amazingly strong, drawing on a deep well of inner strength that helps to make this one of his finest albums of recent years.

Dave Specter - Spectified (Fret12 Productions, 2010) Blues guitarist Dave Specter dispenses with vocals entirely and produces a tasteful album of instrumentals that explore several facets of the blues. Some tracks have nice full backing from swirling organ and subtle horn shadings. "Stuck to the Hip" and "Soul Serenade" show this side of Specter's musicality quite well, with the organ providing a great foundation for the music, and subtle horns framing the guitar soloing. Grinding roadhouse blues is another aspect of the music, especially on "Octivate'n" and "Wash Out" that mine a dirtier and sweaty vibe, and the keyboards move back and forth between rippling barrellhouse piano, and groove organ. They make nice jazzy flourishes on the original "Blues Call" with some added percussion and nice atmospheric organ. Specter wraps things up with a raw acoustic solo, "Alley Walk Acoustic" taking the music out with a nice back porch feel. This album works really well, Specter shows off the many parts that make up his musical whole, and the band is first rate, making for a classy and dignified album.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Mike Reed's Loose Assembly - Empathetic Parts (482 Music, 2010)

Drummer and composer Mike Reed has been quietly carving a very distinctive niche for himself in the creative and competitive Chicago jazz scene. On this album he was trying to find an ensemble that could perform what he calls "collective arranging" where the whole group would be responsible for the development of the music. Bringing in his Loose Assembly group with Josh Abrams on bass, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, Tomeka Reid on cello and Greg Ward on alto saxophone, he then added a ringer in the form of jazz legend Roscoe Mitchell on alto and soprano saxophone and flute. After a single rehearsal, the group recorded live at the 2009 Umbrella Music Festival.The first lengthy selection, "Empathetic Parts" evolves dynamically like a suite, moving from faster deeper sections to spacier slow ones. It's the colors that the musicians are able to call forth that is the key to the success of the music. With vibes and cello shimmering along the edges and then diving into the thick of it, the music has a lot of possibility that is explored in a thirty plus minute performance. Reed's collective arranging structure works very well, allowing musicians to interpret the music in whatever structure they see fit, and to break out into smaller groups and solo configurations that offer the performers the maximum amount of freedom within the musical structure. It's a very impressive performance that plays to the strengths of all involved. Steve McCall's "I'll Be Right Here Waiting" is played as an encore, slowly developing a great emotional resonance that is patiently brought to the music and underscored by the passionate lengths the musicians go to collaborate. This is very exciting spontaneous art of a very high order, and as it has done since jazz began, it shows that Chicago based and associated musicians remain at the forefront of progressive jazz. Empathetic Parts - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movie: It Might Get Loud (Sony Pictures, 2009)

This interesting documentary is about three prominent rock 'n' roll electric guitarists, The Edge of U2, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jack White of the White Stripes. The movie follows them all individually, and them brings them together in a discussion and jam session. It's interesting to see how the musicians approach the instrument in different ways: White take a combative roll, looking for challenges that he can give himself to overcome on the instrument, while Page takes a more mystical approach, at one time comparing one of his guitars to a beautiful woman that must be caressed. The Edge seems to take a workman like approach, employing effects and technology and working diligently to craft his sound. There are some very nice concert clips of their various bands in action, and also some candid interludes where each man is taken to places that was formative in his development. Concluding with a spontaneous jam on the song "The Weight" by The Band, it's fun to hear these great guitarists jam together. For a rather off the cuff film, you learn a lot about the man behind the music, whether it's The Edge's pacifist rage against the Irish Troubles that led to the song "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" or Jimmy Page's grind as a session guitarist in England in the early 1960's. Jack White's formative years were interesting too, working as an upholsterer while playing blues music and punk rock. Guitar fans will love it, but this movie should have a broad appeal across music fans. It Might Get Loud - amazon.com

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Life: Keith RichardsLife: Keith Richards by Keith Richards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone knows Keith Richards as the guitarist for The Rolling Stones, but who knew what a witty and thoughtful storyteller he was? This lengthy book takes us on a tour of his life, hooking readers fast with a hilarious story about being arrested and put on trial in a backwater Arkansas town, and then moving to a chronological autobiographical format that takes us from his childhood in Dartford, England all the way through to his latest adventures. And quite a wild ride it is, after describing growing up in post-war England, Richards falls under the spell of American blues and R&B music, devouring the records of Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters and looking for like-minded souls who shared his passions. Forming a group of fellow enthusiasts that would become The Rolling Stones, the group finds success fast as the dirty and dangerous mirror image of the squeaky clean Beatles. Richards splits the narrative pretty cleanly between his musical exploits with the Stones and his side project the X-Pensive Winos and his personal life. One the personal side he is quite candid about his drug use, brushes with the law and relationships with women. I found this to be a very enjoyable book, Richards is a first class rogue, and tells great stories with a nod and a wink. A must read for rock ‘n’ roll fans.

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Life - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Scorch Trio - Melaza (Rune Grammofon, 2010)

As can be inferred by their name, The Scorch Trio is a high energy improvisational jazz band that touches of fusion, rock ‘n’ roll and free jazz. Consisting of Raoul Bjorkenheim on guitar, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and new member Frank Rosaly on drums and percussion, the group mixes high energy blowouts with abstract soundscapes to create a compelling blend of music. Taking their titles on this album from Puerto Rican slang terms, the music is equally spicy, leading off with “Relajo” and “Bambalan” which kick things into high gear with lean trio playing, sounding something like a post-modern update of the Tonly Williams Lifetime with strong and fierce intricate playing for all three members. “Orita” and “Raitru” slow the pace down considerably, taking long tones of guitar and bowed bass over skittering percussion. It all comes together on the final performance, “Iesnu!” which develops patiently like a slow building fire and then goes into overdrive with a storming collective improvisation. Fans of electric jazz like Nels Cline's recent work will find a lot to enjoy here as the band is tight as a whip throughout. Rosalay is an excellent addition and he heaps many rhythms upon the proceedings. Melaza - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grant Green - Retrospective (Blue Note, 2002)

Guitarist Grant Green was a workhorse for Blue Note records during a couple of tenures on the label. Introduced to the Blue Note scene through Lou Donaldson, Green quickly became a valued sideman and leader on many records, according to Wikipedia, From 1961 to 1965, he made more appearances on Blue Note albums, as leader or sideman, than any other musician. He left the label for a four year sabbatical, during which he recorded for other labels and battled addiction, he returned to Blue Note with a soul based funk sound from 1969 - 1972. The music on this collection is skewed toward Green's first tenure on the label, when he is considered to have made his best music. One disc of the collection presents Green in the company of organists which places him in a fine light. Whether playing with the likes of a progressive organist like Larry Young or a grits and gravy groover like Bother Jack McDuff, Green reveled in the sound of the Hammond B3. He was far from a one dimensional soul jazz musician, as showed by the intricate playing on "Django" with the vibes of Bobby Hutcherson and tenor saxophone of Joe Henderson. Fascinating musical explorations like "Talkin' About J.C." with Larry Young and Elvin Jones are faultless in their subtlety. The set is anchored by some great playing on blues and standards, and to hear Green and Art Blakey lock in and stretch out on George Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" is a joy to hear. This is a well rounded look at Grant Green's early career on Blue Note. Whether playing blues, bop or ballads he was an unflappable addition to any band and an inspiration to guitarists everywhere. Retrospective - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The Bootleg Series Vol. 9) (Columbia, 2010)

A feast for the fans of the young Dylan, this is a collection of demo recordings that Bob Dylan made to try to pitch his songs to other artists. The music has a nice off the cuff feeling, with Dylan on acoustic guitar and harmonica and occasional piano. With the music stark and unadorned, the lyrical content really comes through, especially the harrowing anti-war anthems "Masters of War," "John Brown" and "A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall" which are as resonant now as they were almost forty years ago. The plight of society's less fortunate was a subject of the songs as well with a brutal version of the murder ballad "Hollis Brown" along this the journalistic "Man on the Street" and "Only a Hobo." There are some flubs and studio chatter which gives one the impression of being a fly on the wall at the sessions. It's interesting that Dylan's managers felt that his music, often rife with social commentary and scathing criticism had popular appeal. Turns out that in the right hands (like The Byrds) they were exactly right, and Dylan's music became successful not only for its own intrinsic value, but as for a launching pad for many other artists and bands. The Witmark Demos - amazon.com

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Rolling Stones - Singles Collection: The London Years (Abkco, 1991)

I have been reading the Keith Richards biography Life so I thought it would be a good idea to go back and listen to some of the Rolling Stones formative early music. This three disc set covers the singles and B-Sides that the group released from their formation in 1962 until 1971. In Richards' book (which I'll cover in depth after I finish it) the Stones really wanted to be a blues band, and like many of the British Invasion bands of the period they were smitten by American blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll. This era in the band's evolution shows them moving out of their purist roots and becoming a full fledged pop band, albeit on that was heavily influenced by American music. The album opens with several early rock 'n' roll and R&B covers like "Not Fade Away" and "Little Red Rooster" before Richards and Keith Jagger developed their songwriting legs and formed a dynamic powerhouse of original music. Then the hits really began to flow as the band hit its stride, with Charlie Watts' jazz influenced drumming locking in with Bill Wyman's bass to give the group a rhythmic punch that few bands could match, while Jagger and Richards continually experimented with form. Brian Jones is painted somewhat darkly in Richards' book and despite flashes of brilliance it's hard to determine his true value to the emerging band. Discs two and three cover some of the band's most well known hits like "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" which are amazing prices of popcraft. The final tracks of disc two and some of disc three show the band subverting formula with tracks from the not-quite successful psychedelic experiment Their Satanic Majesties Request as well as experimenting with longer for narrative songs tinged with country and folk music. This is a really nice collection that encapsulates the bands formative years well, and taken with the Richards' biography provides fresh insight into the development of one of the most popular and innovative rock 'n' roll bands. Singles Collection: The London Years

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Decoy and Joe McPhee - Oto (Bo' Weevil, 2010)

Saxophonist and sometime trumpeter Joe McPhee has been on quite a roll lately playing around the world in many contexts. The is one of the most unusual and interesting, a freely improvising group anchored by the Hammond B3 organ of Alexander Hawkins along with John Edwards on bass and Steve Noble on drums and percussion. Pioneers like Larry Young and Alice Coltrane brought the organ into free jazz from its "grits 'n' gravy" roots and Hawkins continues their experiments, getting bold swaths of sound from the instrument that are fascinating to hear. The music is broken into three improvisations, two very long ones, "Opening Might" and "Breakout" develop dynamically building sections of swirling and swarming organ, bass and drums and then making openings for McPhee to muscle in and contribute. Each member of the group gets solo time and they use it wall, adding to an overall group aesthetic that is very pleasing to hear as the group moves from soft abstract improvisation to full on blowouts. The finale, "Dancing on the Wolf Road" is a collective instrumentation that takes the music to a new level with deft playing from all concerned. This was a very good and consistently interesting disc, adding organ to a free jazz ensemble offered a lot of new opportunities for improvisation and texture to develop within the music and made for exciting listening. Oto - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Around the web...

Destination Out's Bandcamp storefront is offering high quality digital downloads of rare jazz LP's. This week they have new offerings from the great saxophonist Noah Howard, Berlin Concert and Schizophrenic Blues. Here's their description of The Berlin Concert: "Never on CD! We're thrilled to present one of Noah Howard's rarest albums and an important missing link in his discography. This exceptional live effort showcases the many facets of his music, including muscular Coltrane-inspired workouts, maniacally energetic stomps, and Latin-inflected celebrations."

Bassist and bandleader Mario Pavone was featured on a recent episode of JazzSet. "Pavone's approach to composing is personal, as well. He writes from the bass up. His creations, some say, come out like upside-down cake: The pudding is on the bottom. The rhythm section is the core, the horns wrapping around it. He composed Arc Suite for his longtime group, Orange Double Tenor. The suite is a summation of four and a half decades in jazz, an expression of gratitude with references to his roots in the 1960s."

The British experimental journal The Wire re-prints a fascinating interview with composer saxophonist and flautist Henry Threadgill: "This is a result of that technology: the computer, the cell phone, the iPhone, people with stuff stuck in their ears. This is the result of people being totally unaware of dynamics now. And you know, you can't really be an artist and not be aware of humanity, I don't think. I don't think there have been any examples historically of any great artists that were not aware of humanity, of life on the planet. Right now, this is the most different period I've ever lived in, in my life, in terms of watching human behavior."

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Joe Morris and Luther Gray - Creatures (NotTwo, 2010)

Guitarist (and occasional bassist) Joe Morris and drummer Luther Gray have collaborated in a number of settings before, notably in the company of Petr Cancura on saxophone, with whom they made a couple of excellent albums last year. On this occasion they are a duo, creating music which develops in slowly and with nimble interaction building in the duet setting. They are like minded colleagues who share a sense of musical adventure, probing an exploring the sonic thicket they develop. "Creature Emotion" develops the improvisation, picking up the pace. building a nimble faster probing swirl, with Morris' guitar developing a cool almost African sounding tone. Sharps shards of guitar introduce "Creature Adventure" which is intricate and has kaleidoscopic twists and turns and rumbling percussion giving way to a lengthy and dexterous drum solo. "Creature Proportion" is a wonderful performance, fast and strong and free-wheeling, it captures the duo at their most inventing and exciting, a musical funhouse mirror of notes and beats. "Creature Influence" slows things down to an unsettled abstract pace, that is softer, muted and intricate. The music probes the darker regions of the spectrum, searching in a slow and spare manner. The lengthy "Creature Outlook" builds to a stronger feel with dexterous drums and bubbling guitar. Morris and Gray patiently build the tension, enveloping a nimble drum solo before coming back together to conclude the album. Guitar and drums duos are pretty rare, but in this situation the format works quite well. Morris and Gray eschew any flashy pyrotechnics, and dig deep into their collective music to create a fine and enjoyable album.Creatures - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book review: Heart Transplant by Andrew Vachss

Heart TransplantHeart Transplant by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author and attorney Andrew Vachss has been a passionate advocate for children both as an author and lawyer. This is a new approach for him, collaborating on a graphic novel aimed primarily at teenagers (but anybody could benefit from its message.) Working with illustrator Frank Caruso, Vachss tells the story of a young man who is beaten and bullied by his step-father and other children. After his mother and step-father are murdered, he is taken in by the man's father, a hard man with a heart of gold. Both the old man and the young man learn from each other and develop a deep and unexpected bond. The hard man is a stand-up guy who places himself in danger as part of a plot to make the younger man break out of his shell and stop the bullying once and for all. This is a very touching coming of age story that deals with loyalty, dignity and heart in a way that people of all ages can understand. The artwork and the text blend perfectly and this is a very thoughtful and well written story. There is a lengthy essay at the end of the graphic novel portion of the book by caseworker Zak Mucha that speaks candidly about the nature of bullying and the trauma it causes for children. With this topic very much in the news it is a timely reminder that we all must be vigilant about making sure no one is marginalized and left out.

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Heart Transplant - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charles Gayle - Our Souls (NoBusiness, 2009)

Free jazz saxophonist and pianist Charles Gayle has had a fascinating career moving from busking in subways to playing live around the world. This album is a well played trio outing that is very free, but well controlled, with Gayle focusing on alto saxophone and piano improvising with Dominic Duval on bass and Arkadijus Gotesmanas on drums and percussion. The lengthy performance of "Hearts Cry" opens the album with raw saxophone and drums reaching deep. Duval gets a bass interlude that he uses to explore silence and space, before making way for Gotesmanas with brushes, beats and scrapes. Gayle returns strong and leads the three on a raw and exciting collective improvisation, getting a deep and gritty/granular tone from his saxophone. "The Flood" has spare piano with percussion and bass, developing into an ominous performance that rumbles darkly. The music darts and weaves, skittering into a caffeinated trio section as dynamic waves of music attack and recede. Fast bass and dexterous brushes begin "Love Changes" with Gayle adding long tones of yearning saxophone, and developing a three way collective improvisation that becomes a raw and unfettered performance. "Compassion" has probing saxophone and thoughtful, subtle bass that has a thick and elastic tone that stretches and compresses time. Strong, supple and controlled saxophone works within the group, never overwhelming, developing to an interesting section of bowed bass and light saxophone swirls. The album is concluded with "Our Souls," opening with abstract bowed bass and percussion and spare piano notes ringing. Saxophone and percussion sounding raw and distant pick up the pace to a near frantic level abetted by strong drumming and sawing bass and chanting to a wild conclusion. This was a strong and powerful album for freely improvised jazz, and one of the more accessible Gayle led sessions I have heard. Duval was superb throughout acting like a pivot point for the saxophone, piano and drums to revolve. Gotesmanas played a variety of percussion that kept the rhythm constantly shifting and Gayle was lucid and thoughtful on both instruments making for a very solid and powerful set of music. Our Souls - NoBusiness Records

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Destination Out Asks Important Questions

Destination Out strikes again with an excellent post featuring tracks from the obscure Cecil Taylor album Fly Fly Fly! Fly Fly! They contend that this is one of Taylor's albums that could best introduce new listeners to his occasionally daunting work.

"We know countless avant jazz newbies who wanted to explore Cecil Taylor and inevitably picked up Unit Structures. It was on Blue Note, so it had to be fairly tame, right? Cue panic and stricken looks. Unit Structures is a great record but hardly the place to start. We hate to think how many potential Cecil Taylor fans it’s scared the pants off."

The end the post with a couple of questions: "What are some albums you play to interest open-eared friends? Are there any adventurous jazz albums that you wish you’d waited to hear?"

The open-eared friends question is an interesting one for me since I work at a public library and have become the default "music guy" who assists people in looking for music that they might like. I usually start curious newbies off with the basics: Kind of Blue, Mingus Ah-Um, The Far East Suite. These albums have enough melodic content to give the new listener a foothold while offering them a glimpse of the best jazz to offer. For younger people I also encourage them to check out contemporaries like Jason Moran, Ben Allison and Dave Douglas. It's a tough call, you don't want to overwhelm people but at the same time hope to show them that jazz is a diverse and vibrant artform.

For the latter question, When I first started getting into jazz in college I dove in with both feet, making the transition from jam-based rock 'n' roll like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band to jazz fusion beginning with Bitches Brew and then moving on from there. I started moving backwards from there checking out records by Miles Davis and his sidemen and then found in the Library a record called Transition by John Coltrane. I thought "Cool, another record by the guy who did My Favorite Things..." Knowing nothing about free jazz or Coltrane's role in it, I took it home and put it on my turntable. The shock of the music was visceral and overwhelming. First I thought there was something wrong with the stereo or the record, but I began to realize that they were fine, and that there was something wrong with me. I was totally unprepared to be thrown in at the deep end, and this sense still pervades today: I've grown to love Coltrane's free music, but the shock of the sheer power and audacity of albums like Transition, Ascension and Live in Seattle among others still makes me step back.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vandermark 5 Special Edition - The Horse Jumps and the Ship is Gone (Not Two, 2010)

Multi-reedist Ken Vandermark’s great modern jazz ensemble The Vandermark 5 has been one of the top flight working bands in jazz for the past two decades. On this album, the core group of Ken Vandermark and Dave Rempis on saxophones and clarinet, Kent Kessler on bass, Tim Daisy on drums and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello is expanded with the addition of frequent collaborators Magnus Broo on trumpet and Håvard Wiik on piano. The idea succeeds spectacularly as the added punch of Broo’s strong trumpet and Wiik’s thoughtful piano playing give an added dimension to an already potent band. Bringing together Vandermark original compositions along with works from the other band members makes for a varied and interesting setlist, beginning with a couple of early barn-burners like “Friction” and “Some Not All” which barrel right out of the gate and manage to keep their pace and flow of ideas over the ten minute plus lengths. Broo is particularly potent, punching through the weaving saxophone solos to state his case. Lonberg-Holm was a fascinating addition to the band a while back, his electrified cello gives added texture and depth to the music and his solos are wild and fascinating. It’s not all grunting free-jazz, far from it in fact. The compositions and improvisations evolve logically with ensemble and solo sections evolving organically, and the group achieving a dynamic pulse that drives the music at any tempo. The music is well balanced and confident, leading to a great deal of excitement. This was a risky proposition to take, adding other musicians to a stable working band can sometimes have unintended consequences. But here that was clearly not the case, and the band is inspired to excellent performances that maintain both the intensity of the group and the attention of the listener over the course of a long and enjoyable album. The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book review: A Bomb Built in Hell by Andrew Vachss

A Bomb Built in HellA Bomb Built in Hell by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before Burke there was Wesley (an omnipresent character alive or dead in the subsequent Burke series) and this book, originally written in 1973 and rejected by every publisher Vachss brought it to, was Wesley's story. Finally made available in digital format, it's a dark and brutal tale that shows Vachss' style already finely honed. Parentless child Wesley moves through a series of foster homes before being sent to Korea in the US Army as a plea deal to avoid jail. During the Korean War Wesley begins to develop his skill as a killer, but only after returning home and going to jail and falling under the wing of a former mafia boss does he realize his mission in life as a contract killer. After his release from prison, the novel picks up an incredible speed as Wesley wracks ruthless vengeance against the associates of his mafia mentor that sold him out. Along the way Wesley develops a political conscience and a hatred for the rich and privileged that would lead to the book's grisly conclusion. Even in his early years, Vahcss told a haunting tale that you can't take your eyes away from. The themes that would become his career's work: loyalty, vengeance and revenge are all explored here in a very raw but compelling format. Fans of Vachss' Burke series looking for more backstory about the "Ice Man" Wesley will find this required reading.

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A Bomb Built in Hell (Kindle eBook) - amazon.com

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Dave Burrell Plays His Songs Featuring Leena Conquest (Rai Trade, 2010)

Pianist Dave Burrell and vocalist Leena Conquest have both been associated with the jazz avant-garde, Burrell on the basis of some very influential records as a leader and a sideman since the 1960's, and Conquest for her wonderful singing on various projects by bassist William Parker. On this album they defy any easy pigeon holing or categorization, performing a set of Burrell's original compositions and lyrics. Collaborating with poet and lyricist Monika Larsson, Burrell develops a set of lyrics that explore love, loss and spirituality that are perfect for a singer of Conquest's range. They begin the album with "Teardrops for Jimmy" dedicated to the late bassist Jimmy Garrison, with the lyrics developing like a dream interpretation around Conquest's clear singing and Burrell's supple piano. They build in a hint of gospel music in "So Spiritual" and "Fade to Black" with the lyrics evoking love and wonder and the hope for true peace. Most of the album is played in a very straight-ahead manner, but Burrell drops in a few piano passages that make you turn your head, and Conquest adds come gleeful scatting at points to keep things from getting too serious. It's interesting to hear how truly multi-faceted these musicians can be. Conquest with her clear bell like articulation of the words and lyrics and Burrell's original arrangement of the music keep the music consistently interesting throughout. Plays His Songs Featuring Leena Conquest - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ethan Iverson revisits

Ethan Iverson has updated his original post that listed his favorite jazz albums from the years 1973 - 1990. When his first list came out in 2006, it ignited an excellent conversation about albums in that period that have been overlooked by fans and scholars. His update expands this idea further, focusing on post-bop jazz from the 1970's and 80's. There are some really interesting choices here, definitely food for thought in re-assessing an era that is often overlooked in jazz history.

Some of my favorite musicians made wonderful music in this period, so I'd like to add some more music to the mix:

Arthur Blythe: Alto saxophonist Blythe's early albums for India Navigation like The Grip and Metamorphosis built on free jazz and the loft scene, while his extraordinary run on Columbia Records (!) brought together standards, post-bop, Monk tunes, even strings for a great series of truly creative albums that deserve much more attention.

James "Blood" Ulmer: After playing in Ornette Coleman's electric bands Ulmer took Coleman's harmolodic concept and melded it to blues, funk and soul on the extraordinary Tales of Captain Black (featuring Coleman) and then a couple of albums like Odyssey and Black Rock that took his concept even further. (Could someone please write about post-Miles, pre-Marsalis Columbia Records jazz in the 70's. Blythe and Ulmer on a major label? Amazing!)

Miles Davis: Iverson mentions the dark-funk era Davis records, but admits they aren't his thing. I love them - sprawling live LP's often only originally issued in Japan like Dark Magus, Agharta and Pangaea are thrilling amalgams of funk and jazz that sound like nothing else.

Wildflowers: The Jazz Loft Scene: While Iverson mentions many of the key musicians that made up the vibrant loft jazz scene in the 1970's like Sam Rivers and Julius Hemphill, I think this five LP or three CD set that drifts constantly in and out of print is the best introduction to the fascinating and wide-ranging music that was the hallmark of the lofts.

David Murray: Saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray recorded many albums during the period, and Iverson mentions Murray's Steps, an album in a series of excellent octet recordings that include Ming and Home. I'd also like to point out the lean trio record The Hill with Richard Davis and Joe Chambers. Murray revels in the extra space of the trio without overplaying or using cliches. I think it's one of his best albums.

Black Saint/Soul Note: These wonderful Italian labels took up the slack (along with several other dedicated European labels) releasing wonderfully creative work by Murray, Billy Harper and a wide range of American and European jazz musicians.

Many, if not all of my selections were discussed during the first round of this conversation a few years ago, but it's good to reiterate the quality of these records, and state that most of these musicians are alive and still playing vibrant jazz. They should be celebrated for their accomplishments and given chances not only to have their past glories easily available for purchase, but given new recording and performing opportunities. It is through these measures that the continuum of jazz remains exciting and continually evolving.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book review: Futile Efforts by Tom Piccirilli

Futile EffortsFutile Efforts by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tom Piccirilli is an author that started out writing in the horror genre and then gradually crossed into noir-ish crime fiction. This collection of short stories and poems shows him on the cusp of both genres, making the transition and mining the best of both worlds with a tremendous amount of wit and emotional resonance. When his stories are labeled "horror" it's not the blood and gore type of horror (although there is considerable violence) but the type of emotional horror that gets under your skin and stays with you. It's easy to dismiss the horror of monsters and goblins, but not so easy to forget the shock and trauma of losing a loved one. Another thing that makes Piccirilli stand out is his humor: sly, subversive and deeply enjoyable, such as in the story "With an Ear for My Father's Weeping" where the main character (a predecessor of his great character Chase from his novels The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile) drives around New York with his dead father in the passenger seat and a dementia suffering, opera singing mafia don in the back seat. When they pull up to a burger joint drive through, it all goes to hell in the most amusing way. Cars, family and regrets are paramount in the collection, but never in a way that depresses you. The opening selection, a novella entitled "F---in' Lie Down Already" is an awesome tale of a mortally wounded cop who will not die until he receives vengeance for his murdered family. Like the American muscle cars Piccirilli loves, it stomps the gas from the first sentence, and doesn't let up. Just like this excellent collection, which is highly recommended.

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Futile Efforts - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Joe McPhee and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten - Blue Chicago Blues (Not Two, 2010)

Joe McPhee has played with a number of European improvisers during his long and distinguished career, and the rapport he strikes with bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten is immediate and compelling. McPhee plays alto saxophone while Haker-Flaten plays both bowed and plucked bass. The range of sounds and textures that that are able to get some such few raw materials is very impressive, such as on "Cerulean Mood Swing" where McPhee's anguished Albert Ayler inspired saxophone cries out against the solidity of the strongly rooted bass, both intertwined in the depths of the improvisation. "Requiem for an Empty Heart" explores darker terrain, opening with a careful bass statement, setting a mood of deft awareness in the moment. Raw and distressed saxophone builds in with a vocal like cry of someone wailing in loss and pain. The music moves into a slow and subtle arena hinting at the depth of emotion that is the blues while retaining their own individual voices. "I Love You Too Little Baby" opens with probing saxophone, gently caressing an idea and slowly building it block by block. When Haker-Flaten enters, they lick up the pace, driving the music forward with thick slabs of sound carrying through the open space. "The Shape of Blues to Come" has a nod to Ornette Coleman in the title, and retains some of his questing spirit developing swirling bowed bass and open-hearted saxophone figures. The music gets progressively more exciting, building tension from the interaction of the instruments and the personalities of the performers. They move dynamically through a slower and more open section with bass slithering along the ground in a fast and unpredictable manner, before McPhee's saxophone comes back in and they move to the conclusion. Two musicians finding common ground in the blues is nothing new, but this was a unique and well played album by two experienced musicians who move the blues into the realm of free improvisation without losing any of the emotional resonance that the music contains. Blue Chicago Blues - amazon.com

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Ches Smith and These Arches - Finally Out of My Hands (Skirl, 2010)

Drummer Ches Smith leads a very exciting and diverse band on this short but frequently thrilling album. Based on the idea of building bridges and connections between musicians and between composition and improvisation, the group consisting of Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Andrea Parkins on accordion, organ and electronics and Smith on drums develops a very exciting and dynamic conception of music. "Anxiety Disorder" opens the album in a strong and fast fashion with guitar, bass and drums lending foundation for long tones of saxophone. The music develops organically with horn and drums driving hard and fast. "Finally Out of My Hands" has deep dark saxophone coming in waves while swirling accordion and drums push the music onward, and guitar probes with eccentricity. A deep and powerful beat focuses "Sixteen Bars For Jail" proving a confident and fast base for the music. Fast collective improvisation is unleashed as a storm of music featuring scalding guitar. "Conclusion" uses slow building rhythm with nice drumming and guitar work building tension, while raw saxophone and drums spar in "It Rained and the Tent Fell Down," developing a wild and exciting improvisation of saxophone and sparks of guitar. Dynamic shifts of tempo keep the performance consistently unpredictable and compelling. "Disgust for a Pathetic Chorale" develops from guitar and drums to a section of saxophone and spitfire guitar, and "Civilization" wraps up the album with strong and deep saxophone with raw pounding drums over swirling organ, developing a free and wild performance. This was a very well played and exciting album featuring some of the most interesting musicians on the scene today. The instrumentation made for an unusual and unique sound and offered a lot of possibilities for the band to explore. Finally out of my hands - amazon.com

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Book review: ECM 40th Anniversary Catalog by Kenny Inaoka, et. al. ed.

ECM catalogECM catalog by 稲岡 邦彌

A labor of love for all concerned, especially editor Kenny Inaoka and contributor Nobu Stowe, this lavishly illustrated catalog traces all of the albums released by the ECM label both in Europe and Japan and also provides complete discographical information for each album in English and commentary in Japanese. The catalog portion of the book is particularly interesting because it has full color reproductions of all of the album covers. ECM is well known now for using austere stark photography on their releases, but it was interesting to see how this particular aesthetic choice evolved over time. Earlier albums experimented with a number of different layouts and designs (my favorite: Wolfgang Dauner's Output) before moving into the iconic imagery and design specifications that we see today. Beyond issues of art and design, the ECM label has always been committed to the exploration of progressive music in both the jazz and classical arenas. Opening with their first release, Mal Waldron’s Free at Last, the catalog demonstrates the label's commitment to recording the best of European and American jazz. Longstanding contracts with jazz luminaries like Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett gave these musicians freedom to chase their individual sounds in a supportive atmosphere. ECM did not shy away from free or progressive music either, recording the likes of Circle, Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds LP and albums by The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Don Cherry. This is a wonderful book to flip through, especially for fans of the label. Learning facts and nuggets of information about the records and discovering forgotten classics to search for is just half the fun. ECM 40th Anniversary Catalog - ECM Records

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Book review: The Weight by Andrew Vachss

The Weight: A NovelThe Weight: A Novel by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A professional thief with a strict code of honor, Sugar returns home from a jewel heist set up by his mentor Solly and finds his apartment filled with cops. But they aren't there for the robbery, the have mistaken Sugar for a rapist who has brutally attacked a woman. The cops know something is fishy, Sugar isn't a rapist, so they offer him a choice - if he rats out the people on the robbery, the cops will let him slide on the bogus rape charge. But Sugar has a strict moral code: he will not rat under any circumstances, so he goes to jail for five years for a crime he didn't commit. When he gets out of jail and receives his share of the money from Solly he is also told that one of the other members of the robbery team can't be trusted and has gone missing in Florida. Solly wants Sugar to take care of the problem. But Sugar's not just muscle, he's got brains, and he knows that something's just not right... Vachss is one of my favorite writers because he never takes the easy way out and he avoids the cliches of crime fiction. Even when his great Burke series was at its bleakest there was always much more going on the violence and crime. The same thing applies here too, as this book is really a story about honor and trust than the actual crimes themselves. Sugar behaves by a strict code, but he learns that some of his colleagues don't feel the same way, and that the idea of honor among thieves means different things to different people. This book develops slowly, but it is worth the wait, Vachss develops his characters really well, and this book is no exception.

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The Weight - amazon.com

One of my favorite authors talks to another favorite: Ken Bruen interviews Andrew Vachss.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mary Halvorson Quintet - Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12, 2010)

Adventurous guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson has been garnering much attention for her work as a collaborator and side person on several notable albums. After taking time to compose new material for quintet, she is back in the leader position, working with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto saxophone, John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums. The album is an interesting and angular proposition that takes its inspiration from avant-garde jazz, rock music and other sources but remains true to the muse of Halvorson and her colleagues. "Leak Over Six Five (No. 14)" opens the album with horns gliding in over guitar, bass and drums in an agreeable fashion. Irabagon steps out over deep bass and builds to a nice fast paced solo. Free-ish guitar accents the music making for a cool sounding improvisation. Bass and drums open "Sequential Tears In It (No. 20)" with guitar slowly developing, probing quietly and gracefully in a complex and thoughtful manner. The full band plays uptempo on "Mile High Like (No. 16)" with fast and frenetic guitar and horns over drums giving way dynamically to open sounding trumpet that develops some really exciting interplay amongst the other instruments. "Moon Traps In Seven Rings (No. 17)" has a solo bass introduction, developing into wild cells of improvisation. After a dexterous drum solo there is a dramatic shift in tempo as saxophone and guitar intertwine, then trumpet and guitar with a wild guitar shredding building to a wonderful conclusion. "Sea Seizure (No. 19)"is a compelling trio performance focusing on aggressive scorching guitar in spots, shifting from loud to medium in a very compelling manner. A lush mid-tempo opening begins "Crack In Sky (No. 11)" with horns and subtle guitar weaving spacious sound textures. The group takes their time exploring the music in a patient and dignified manner, with the horns nicely framing the conclusion. "Right Size Too Little (No. 12)" has a choppy medium-up feel, moving into a heavy - light dichotomy. Swinging dark flavored guitar gets progressively wilder with a sense of impish humor that enlivens the music. Funk-ish horns open "Crescent White Singe (No. 13)" before allowing horns and guitar to improvise a theme. Swirling trumpet and snarling guitar spar in an exciting fashion before shifting back to the nimble full band theme. Irabagon then develops a potent saxophone solo, accented with guitar. Slowly developing and spacey, "Cold Mirrors (No. 15)" switches back to the trio format with Halvorson improvising along with understated brushes and bass in a slow and probing manner. "Saturn Sings (No. 18)" concludes the album with a fast full band theme, building to a complex improvisation and finale. This was a very well played and consistently unpredictable album. Reminiscent of the complex yet accessible music of Henry Threadgill, Halvorson has developed her own unique conception of jazz, and it is very exciting to hear. Saturn Sings - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Liudas Mockunas & Ryoji Hojito - Vacation Music (NoBusiness Records, 2010)

This is an interesting album, two musicians from different cultures who find common ground in improvisation and make an exciting and thought provoking album in the process. Japanese pianist (also using percussion and voice) Ryoji Hojito met saxophonist and bass clarinetist Liudas Mockunas for an compelling musical dialogue. Recorded half in the studio and half in concert the performance begins with "Sunday" which is a short prelude for saxophone or bass clarinet and piano, with the music developing in a probing and swirling manner. "Monday" opens with spare piano and chimes, soon joined by long and longing tones of saxophone, patiently spinning a tale. The music has echoes of regret and opportunities lost, but the melancholy mood is broken when the pace picks up dramatically toward the end of the performance, becoming loud and free. "Tuesday" has brief deep honks of baritone plumbing the musical depths like sonar around shaken light percussion. They develop a probing improvisation using open space to frame the music. Spare, searching saxophone begins "Wednesday" developing spontaneously with light percussion and responding in real time as the music develops. Mockunas digs deeper with his horn and soon raw and lengthy peals of saxophone are ripping the air, building to an ecstatic conclusion. "Thursday" is the longest piece on the album, developing several sections over the course of sixteen minutes. Beginning quietly with squeaks and grunts, the music moves into an abstract dialogue for dark toned piano and saxophone, building and responding to each other. There is a lengthy free exposition for saxophone and piano, before downshifting to a quiet spacious setting. Deep emotional horn builds in at the end over what sounds like either accordion or organ (unlisted in the notes) before Ryoji Hojito returns to piano for the final dialogue. "Friday" sneaks in and probes slowly with saxophone and shaken percussion, haunting like an incantation or ceremony, open and spacious, developing with great patience and concentration. Rippling light piano is featured, saxophone enters majestically and builds to a strong duet conclusion. "Saturday" is the finale that begins in a slow and quiet fashion, with raw sounding saxophone building up against light percussion. Abstract and challenging, the music encapsulates much of what makes this performance so interesting. Musicians coming together with no preconceived notions and creating singular and unique art in the moment. Vacation Music - NoBusiness Records

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Khan Jamal - Gives the Vibes Some (Palm, 1974)

Khan Jamal is one of the unsung heroes of the vibraphone, developing his own unique personality on the instrument apart from the blues drenched soul of Milt Jackson and the hard-bop pyrotechnics of Bubby Hutcherson. This obscure album was released on the French Palm label, and feature Jamal in some really interesting duet and solo settings. Starting off with "Pure Energy" with track lives up to its name as Jamal and drummer Hassan Rashid build a rippling and rolling improvisation that develops into a very exciting dialogue. Ringing vibes and rolling drums develop an unstoppable momentum, and the percussion duet is fascinating to hear. "Clint" swaps things up as Jamal switches to marimba and Clint Jackson III sits in on trumpet. The music that produce is very free and open, probing the minimalist setting in a quiet fashion. "35,007 Feet Up" is the centerpiece of the LP and just an awesome performance with Jamal back on vibes and Rashied returning to the drum seat. After vibes open with an Asian sounding motif, shimmering vibes and then strong supple drumming move together for a collaborative free improvisation. The music is exciting and courageous, fast and strong and loaded with nimble and dexterous playing. Spinning out into an awesome epic, the music is hypnotic and memorable. "Give The Vibes Some" ends the album with a very impressive solo vibraphone recital. Opening with a shimmering metallic feel evoking sunrise Jamal develops an optimistic and very pleasing sound. It is the sound of crystalline haunting beauty and mystery and is the perfect summation for this excellent album that deserves much wider recognition. Give the Vibes Some - discogs

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Benito Gonzalez - Circles (Furthermore Recordings, 2010)

In the early and mid 1970’s, pianist McCoy Tyner released a series of powerful modal jazz LP’s that melded the fire of the “new thing” and the intricacy of traditional jazz. Pianist Benito Gonzalez explores similar terrain on his most recent album, supported by a potent group consisting of Myron Walden on alto and soprano saxophone, Ron Blake on tenor saxophone, Azar Lawrence on tenor saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. They come out firing on the opening track “Circles” which has the leader’s piano building the pace quickly developing a percussive carpet with the bass and drums for the horns to explore. Downshifting to a slightly less frenetic tempo, the group explores rhythm and dynamism. Strong yearning saxophone and percussive piano lead the band to a powerful conclusion. “Taurus” has an uptempo fast swing, with strong and pinched sounding alto saxophone reaching forth and pushing hard. Alto and tenor trade fast paced solos propelled mightily by percussive piano and dexterous drums. Probing bass and bubbling groove introduce “Elvin's Sight (dedicated to Elvin Jones)” developing a nice well paced melody. Sections for majestic sounding tenor saxophone and fast, rippling piano trio are featured. “Let's Talk About You And Me” slows the pace down a little bit, introducing a medium pace with melodic saxophones nipping around the edges of the piano trio. Tyner’s “Blues On The Corner” has a rumbling drum setup setting the stage for medium tempoed alto saxophone taking a nicely paced solo. A solid, earthy sounding piano solo and bass feature wrap things up. Gonzalez takes the solo route for the lush ballad “Elise” playing patiently and developing the song gracefully. Everyone comes back together for the finale “Journey's End” with the strongly rhythmic full band developing a fast tenor saxophone solo over churning piano, bass and drums at a aggressive pace. If you like full throated and powerful mainstream jazz, this disc should appeal to you. The band is capable of some tender and graceful playing, but they are their best when rolling along at full boil. Circles - amazon.com

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Book Review: Innocent Monster by Reed Farrel Coleman

Innocent MonsterInnocent Monster by Reed Farrel Coleman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a series of personal setbacks, Moe Prager thought he was finally out of the PI trade. A successful wine merchant in Brooklyn, the former cop and private investigator is contacted by his estranged daughter, who is concerned about the missing child of a close friend of hers. Seeing a chance to re-connect with his daughter, Prager reluctantly takes the case of a missing child prodigy whose artwork is worth thousands of dollars. Coleman really writes well and with great compassion for his creation - Prager is a genuine flesh and blood character, with all of the strengths and weaknesses of the standard PI, along with a streak of lyrical melancholy (making something of a Brooklynite version of Dave Robicheaux, hero of James Lee Burke's great series of detective novels set in Louisiana.) Coleman's story of how the talented child is being used by all of the adults gathered around her is compelling, and despite a slightly implausible ending, this book was an enjoyable detective story.

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Innocent Monster - amazon.com

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