Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - Three Kinds of Happiness (NotTwo, 2010)

Locksmith Isidore if bass clarinetist Jason Stein's trio with Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Pride on drums, playing a classy thoughtful blend of free jazz and more mainstream improvisation, music that would fit in well at a jazz club or art-house performance space. Stein has a strong woody tone that permeates the recording, while Roebke and Pride create a shifting and continually moving foundation that simultaneously supports and challenges the leader. They play with a light touch that keeps the music agile throughout. The faster tracks move in a quicksilver fashion with the musicians performing as a unified organism, while the slower and spacier improvisations allow more opportunity for individual expression. "Arch and Shipp" seemingly dedicated to Archie Shepp and Matthew Shipp is a highlight, acknowledging Shepp's earthy growl and Shipp's icy spaciousness and combining them into a lengthy and fascinating exploration of modern jazz, past and present. Wrapping up with the live track "Miss Izzy" the group goes full out with a tasty collective improvisation that draws on inner strength, and projects it outward in a strong and aggressive manner. Stein plays a demanding instrument in a unique and individual way. Eric Dolphy and David Murray have made definitive statements on this instrument and Stein seems well on his way to making truly memorable music as well. Three Kinds of Happiness -

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book review: White Jazz by James Ellroy

The fourth and final installment in James Ellroy's epic L.A. Quartet is one of his bleakest titles (and that is really saying something) but overcomes this with a rollicking and jittery energy that never lets up. Police lieutenant Dave Klein is stuck between a rock and a hard place: he's murdered a suspect, one of many crimes he has committed in the line of duty. The federal prosecutor is bearing down, threatening to prosecute him unless he rolls over on corrupt LAPD colleagues. In the midst of this, Klein becomes obsessed with the break in and animal mutilation at the home of a family colluding with drug dealers and the LAPD, a case that puts him the the cross-hairs of the cops and the crooks. This is one of Ellroy's most complex novels, drawing on characters from past novels and introducing one that would be critical in his following Underworld USA cycle of novels. His version of Los Angeles is unrepentantly dark: everybody is on the take, everyone is a potential killer or victim. In this world of predators and prey, Klein has only one goal - to stay alive. Despite the darkness and complexity of the world he has created, Ellroy remains absolutely fascinating to read. He tells a story that never stops for breath; in clipped sentences that ring out like machine gun fire. Especially fascinating for me was the way jazz was one the periphery of the novel throughout. Ellroy, a classical music snob of some repute, knows his jazz well, setting one scene at a club with Art Pepper on the stage and others where the lonely detective sits on stakeouts listening to bebop on the radio. Simultaneously fascinating and repugnant, it's classic Ellroy. White Jazz -

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Szilard Mezei - February Fadontes (No Business, 2010)

Melding folk music to free jazz in an interesting and intriguing manner, viola player Szilard is joined by Peter Bede on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Erno Hock on bass and Hunor G. Szabo and drums. This is a limited edition vinyl record that really deserves wider recognition especially among fans who enjoy their jazz expanded by different cultural elements. The album begins with "Akkorra/By Then," the lengthy opening medley that takes up side one of the LP. The music is very exciting and memorable, the closest thing I can compare it to is some of the "world jazz" that has come out of the Tzadik label in recent years. Szilar's viola swirls and sways through the lengthy improvisation building gales and eddys of music that are matched and commented on by Bede's saxophone. Hock and Szabo make for an admirable rhythm team keeping the beat wide open and supporting the players throughout. "Pakak/Sedges" takes a different tack, slowing the music to a crawl and opening up the improvisation with plucked viola and gentle shades of clarinet meshing with bass and light percussion to good effect. "Februari Fadöntés/Felling in February" wraps up the album by stepping on the gas and delving into a fast and exciting performance that takes a dynamic route flowing the energy of the music through the ensemble and the individual players. I had been unfamiliar with this band prior to hearing this record and I enjoyed it very much. The ensemble is able to call forth rich textures of music that are continually challenging (in a good way) and consistently interesting. February Fadontes - No Business Records

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Randy Weston - Mosaic Select 4 (Mosaic, 2004)

Pianist and composer Randy Weston is still going strong, with a new album and biography in 2010. This collection is an interesting selection of early music enveloping trio, quartet and a large ensemble with vocalists. Disc one consists of the sextet and quintet albums Little Niles and Live at the Five Spot, showcasing Weston's Thelonious Monk influenced piano and his arrangements for small group especially on his standards-to-be "Hi-Fly" and "Little Niles." The live album is particularly exciting for the addition of tenor saxophone legend Coleman Hawkins and the agile drumming of Roy Haynes. Disc two focuses on small group studio playing, with Weston on solo and trio settings, sounding strong and agile across standard material and his own compositions. The ambitious music recorded on disc three was influenced by Weston's African travels, and feature intricate arrangements with vocalists and percussion and the leaders own strong and distinctive piano. This was one of the earlier attempts to being "world music" into jazz and it must have seemed really exotic to listeners of the time. It still holds up very well as does the rest of this collection, placing Weston in a number of different settings successfully. The package is up to the usual Mosaic standard with classy liner notes and photography and well remastered music. Anyone interested in Weston's early music or the development of piano jazz in the 1950's will enjoy this set. Mosaic Select 4 -

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Dave Liebman Group - Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010)

Veteran saxophonist and flute player Dave Liebman is most well known for his interpretations of the music of John Coltrane and his former employer Miles Davis. This album covers the music of free jazz saxophone pioneer Ornette Coleman, and Liebman and his group with Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass and Marko Marcinko on drums and percussion take a fresh approach to Coleman's music, one that is quite successful. Most of the songs on this collection come from Coleman's tenure with Atlantic Records during the late 50's and early 60's and "Enfant" and "Turnaround" set the stage with agile playing on the knotty themes Coleman was famous for. "Kathelin Grey" begins with delicate acoustic guitar and evolves into a beautiful and melodic ballad featuring a lot of open space. Liebman moves to soprano saxophone for "Bird Food" meshing his swirling sax with swinging guitar, then giving way to a rumbling fast drum solo. Coleman's famous composition "Lonely Woman" is a highlight of this set, as it is completely re-imagined featuring spare and spacey flute and electric guitar giving the music the feeling of a shamanistic ritual. "Cross Breeding" begins with a guitar and saxophone duet before the rest of the band fold in. The music builds wild and free with unfettered and exciting saxophone and drums. "Una Muy Bonita" has a nice Latin feel with strong percussion and tenor saxophone coming to the front. Liebman saves his strongest tenor playing for the final track, "The Sky," where he really lets go with emotional and free squalls of tenor saxophone sounding raw and anguished, before the rest of the band catches up and moves the music into a fairly conventional improvisation. This was a very successful album, Liebman and the band have a unique conception of the music of Ornette Coleman, and use that to interpret the songs in a fresh and exciting manner. Turnaround -

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra - Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed, 2010)

The spirit of the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus looms large over these recordings, no small feat for a scrappy band of musicians trying to record large scale music in a difficult economic environment. The powerful and well integrated group consists of Lane on bass, Avram Fefer on alto saxophone, David Bindman and Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone, Igal Foni on drums, Reut Regev and Tim Vaughn on trombone and Taylor Ho Bynun on trumpet. It's a compact and powerful unit that attacks the music with great verve, getting a wide variety of musical color in their palette. The artistic analogy comes through nicely in the opener, "Imaginary Portrait" where lush horns open over bass and drums, before strong trumpet comes to the fore over propulsive riffing. Bass and trumpet have their own section, exploring the dynamics of the music. "Marshal" slows things down with a spare and longing feel to the music. Lane's elastic bass centers the ebb and flow of the subtle atmosphere. The free-ish and raw "Nine Man Morris" is very exciting, with the group playing the music fast and loose, and the bass providing a pivot point for the swirling horns, notably a killer tenor saxophone solo. As good as that performance is, "House of Elegant" catches them at their peak, with the full band coming out strong on the theme, and then sparking superb sax and trumpet interludes. Lane takes center stage on "Ashcan Rantings" with an excellent bowed bass solo (he takes another on "Sienna's Slip Jig") leading the group into a mid-tempo performance on an ominous riff. Grinding electronics distort the music as they delve into a wild and unfettered improvisation. This is a lengthy album, but it never dulls and becomes akin to a fascinating story, unfolding its narrative over time. The octet configuration suits the music perfectly and the band members all go above and beyond in the creation of a wonderful and creative album. Ashcan Rantings -

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Morlocks - Play Chess (Popantipop, 2010)

Longstanding west coast garage rockers who are named after the underground race in H.G. Wells' classic novel The Time Machine go into a time machine of their own, harking back to the roots of rock 'n' roll which were sown in the blues and R&B classics of the Chess Records catalog. Mining these great tunes and updating them for the modern rock scene, the group makes a very exciting record that starts fast and hits hard and is over before you know it. They seem particularly inspired by Chuck Berry with three of his legendary hits covered: "Promised Land," "You Never Can Tell" and "Back in the U.S.A." Much like the originals, they feature tight instrumental arrangements and very exciting and propulsive drums and vocals. Bo Diddley is represented well too, with the band well suited for the braggadocio implied by his songs "I'm a Man" and "Who Do You Love." They deeply mine Diddley's signature guitar style and unique beat to excellent effect. Going deep down in the alley to the Chess blues sides, the group covers Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me" which is a perennial among garage rockers covering the blues, along with Howlin' Wolf's epic "Smokestack Lightnin'." Overall, this album was a tremendous amount of fun, showcasing the band's power and the everlasting impact of electric blues and R&B. Play Chess -

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Walter Smith III - III (Criss Cross, 2010)

Walter Smith III is a rock solid tenor saxophone player with a nice modern-mainstream conception of the music, making him a fine fit for the Dutch label Criss-Cross and their hard bop centered aesthetic. He is supported on this album by a nice cross section of hard-hitting talent: Jason Moran on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire sits on on several tunes as well. "Working Title" and "Highschoolish" come out swinging with the band establishing an uptempo groove and riding it well. Sanders and Harland develop a nice rapport on the bottom, and Moran is just wonderful in any situation, whether as a leader or a sideman. Smith himself has a strong and deeply ingrained tone, soloing with authority on the faster performances. The group moves into milder terrain with an album ending trio of songs, "Henya" by Akinmusire, "Moranish" which features some nicely subtle and direct work from the man himself and another Smith original, "Goodnight Now," which ends the album in a peaceful and gentle fashion. This was a well played modern mainstream jazz album, that draws on elements of the music's history while allowing the unique personalities of the individual musicians to shine through. III -

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Various Artists - Andrew Vachss' Safe House (Relativity, 1998)

Author and attorney Andrew Vachss has spent years fighting the good fight against child abuse and neglect, both in the courtroom (representing only minors) and writing his famous Burke series of dark crime novels. Reading the books, you learn that Burke (and Vachss himself) are deep fans of the blues. This compilation CD, with all of the tracks picked by the author is something of a soundtrack to the books, the music that Burke would listen to while cruising the mean streets of New York City. It's a fine collection of deep blues, with some classic Chicago blues providing the anchor in Howlin' Wolf's classic "I Asked for Water (and She Gave Me Gasoline)" with Wolf's trademark growl relaying the story of a man done wrong. Contrast to that the braggadocio of Muddy Waters' "She's 19 Years Old" with the old man gleefully belting out the lyrics about his young woman. Female singers are well represented as well, with tracks from Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball and Vachss (and Burke's) own favorite, blues chanteuse Judy Henske. The music gets way down in the alley as B.B. King would say with tracks from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band "I Got a Mind To Give Up Livin'" and Buddy Guy's "One Room Country Shack" that demonstrate the deep sadness at the core of the blues. Overall it is a fine collection, one which will hopefully introduce fans of the blues to Vachss stories (there is a short story included in the liner notes) or his own fans to the blues. Either way, it's a win-win. Safe House - The Zero

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

David Murray - Live in Berlin: Black Saint Quartet (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010)

Tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray has led and recorded several bands during his career, and this group, dubbed the Black Saint Quartet is one of his most stable and long running. Supported by Lafayette Gilchrist on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass and Hamid Drake on drums, the group achieves a rock solid modern jazz sound. Murray’s swooping and swaying saxophone is center stage on this live recording, his penchant for long kaleidoscopic solos is an acquired taste for some, but I find it very exciting. A fine example of this is the opening track, “Dirty Laundry,” which allows Murray to stretch out at length over fine accompaniment. Drake is one of the most sought after percussionists on the modern jazz scene, and it is easy to see why here as he and Shahid lock into a wonderful groove that supported by colorful piano accents and provides an excellent spring board for a long and powerful Murray solo. They offer some slower material next, with “Banished” establishing a slow and mournful groove anchored by bowed bass. Murray bubbles up on bass clarinet, keeping the mood somber and reflective. They segue smoothly into “Sacred Ground” a stately ballad with gospel overtones. Gilchrist is fine here, playing lush accompaniment and full bodied solos. They wrap up the set with examples of a few other aspects of their repertoire. “Murray’s Steps” is a classic from the great octet records he made in the early ‘80s and adapts well to the quartet setting, with Drake’s massive groove filling the holes. Finally, “Waltz Again” takes them out over a lengthy and patient mid-tempo performance. This was a solid and enjoyable performance; the band is clearly locked in together and capable of performing as a unit or developing thoughtful improvised solos. Part of the fun of following Murray’s career is seeing what comes next and a live album from this quartet was most welcome. Live In Berlin -

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Buddy Guy - The Definitive Buddy Guy (Shout Factory, 2009)

Blues guitarist and vocalist Buddy Guy has become an iconic figure on the modern blues scene, after many years in the trenches, he has received a level of success few blues musicians have achieved. While it is impossible for a one disc compilation to encapsulate a career that has lasted for over fifty years, this collection does a fine job of demonstrating the facets that make up Guy the musician. There are selections from his lengthy partnership with the harmonica player and singer Junior Wells that lasted for many years including the classic "Hoodoo Man Blues" which became an legendary and often covered song on the blues scene. Guy's high-wire live performances are captured on a couple of tracks with a blistering version of "I've Got My Eyes on You" and a haunting version of "The Things That I Used to Do." Buddy Guy became part of the Chess Records stable when he came to Chicago from Louisiana in the 1950's, supporting musicians like Muddy Waters and cutting his own singles for the label like "Stone Crazy" and "The First Time I Met the Blues" which are included here. This record makes for a fine sample for a younger person interested in the blues, Guy's work crosses over easily to the world of rock 'n' roll, and in fact he is the idol of quite a few rock guitarists. Like most good collections, it makes you interested in the artist and eager to hear more. Definitive Buddy Guy -

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Favorite books of 2010

2010 was an excellent year for books and the list of my favorites is more wide ranging than usual. Books are in no particular order:

Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark. This was a a wonderful graphic adaptation of one of the best books in the Parker series. Cooke really catches the zeitgeist of America in the early 1960's and the underworld that Parker was a part of. Link

Heart Transplant by Andrew Vachss and Frank Caruso. 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. Link

Futile Efforts by Tom Piccirilli. This collection of short stories and poems shows him on the cusp of both genres (crime and horror,) making the transition and mining the best of both worlds with a tremendous amount of wit and emotional resonance. Link

Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews by Chris DeVito. 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. Link

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women. by James Ellroy. Ellroy lays it all on the table: love, sex, spirituality and the need for companionship are examined in excruciating detail. What makes this palatable and even enjoyable is his absolutely unique command of language and writing style, born of hard-boiled crime fiction, but evolved as something all his own. Link

The Devil by Ken Bruen. This is the most over the top book in the series, with Jack Taylor confronting a man he believes to be Satan, but in a way it gets back to its noir roots, with flashes of David Goodis prevalent in Bruen's writing. Link

Savages by Don Winslow. To say this story was a wild ride is an understatement: fueled by sex, drugs and violence it is a real page turner. Starting out very funny and then turning progressively darker as the story builds to an explosive conclusion, Winslow really keeps the narrative pedal to the metal Link

The Whisperers by John Connolly. Detective Charlie Parker is hired by the father of one of the group of soldiers who has taken his own life, one of several in the group to do so. Parker slowly unravels the mystery by tracking stolen goods and smuggling from Maine to Canada, and the learning about the debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder the former soldiers are suffering from. Link

I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry. Collecting the short pieces he has written since leaving the Miami Herald, he is in top form skewering everything from male-female relations to the "wedding-industrial complex." Every story in this book has laugh-out-loud moments (don't read it at a coffee shop like I did if you don't want people giving you dirty looks for giggling and snickering convulsively.) Link

The Killer by Tom Hinshelwood. This was a very exciting and action packed novel, Hinshelwood keeps the pace breathless throughout as we switch locations from the intelligence offices of the United States and Russia to the brutal killers that track Victor the assassin across Europe. Link

Sleepless by Charlie Huston. Charlie Huston is one of my favorite storytellers, and this is another feather in his cap. Splitting the narrative between two characters was a masterstroke and the story involving drug smuggling, computer game barter economies spilling over into the real world was engrossing.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

El Intruso Poll

The Argentinian jazz website El Intruso asked me to participate in their year end poll. Much like the polls in Downbeat or Jazz Times, the poll was broken down by instrument. Here were my submissions with a few comments:

Musician of the year - Mary Halvorson (MH has seemingly been everywhere this year, releasing a great album as a leader, and participating in a number of forward thinking groups.)
Newcomer Musician - Darius Jones (He's actually been on the scene for a while, but his playing in the collective Little Women and his solo performances have been thrilling.)
Group of the year - Vandermark 5 (Saxophonist and Clarinetist Ken Vandermark's signature ensemble just keeps getting better and better)
Newcomer group - Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet (Wonderful use of vibes and acoustic guitar made their album a winner. Download a free set from NPR.)
Album of the Year - Vandermark 5 - The Horse Jumps and the Ship is Gone (Great two-CD set of thrilling music.)
Composer - Henry Threadgill (His knotty and fascinating tunes were on display with a new CD and epic Mosaic reissue.)
Drums - Hamid Drake
Bass - William Parker (Parker and Drake make up one of the most fascinating rhythm teams in jazzz.)
Guitar - Nels Cline (Cline had a fantastic year, releasing two double disc sets and a fascinating live DVD.)
Piano - Vijay Iyer
Keyboards/synthesizer/organ - Craig Taborn (Taborn had a couple of excellent performances as a sideman for ECM, perhaps they will give him his own date soon.)
Saxophone - Rudresh Mahanthappa (Wonderful albums this year, sharing the limelight with colleagues Steve Lehman and Bunky Green)
Trumpet/Cornet - Charles Tolliver
Clarinet - Anat Cohen (Breathing new life into the swing clarinet tradition, as proved by an infectious live album.)
Trombone - Steve Swell
Violin/Viola - Billy Bang
Cello - Fred Lonberg-Holm
Others instruments - Vibes - Jason Adasiewicz
Female vocals - Leena Conquest (She reminds me of the late June Tyson, whether singing R&B influenced material or more traditional jazz.)
Male Vocals - Mose Allison
Best live band - Dave Holland Quintet (The most consistently excellent live band of the past decade just gets beetter with time.
Record Label - Hot Cup Records (Released a wide rage of exciting and progressive jazz albums this year.)

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Roscoe Mitchell/The Note Factory - Far Side (ECM 2010)

Saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell has had a long and productive career with has included long stints in the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, along with an ambitious schedule of solo works. This album reunites him with his octet The Note Factory consisting Mitchell on saxophones and flutes, Corey Wilkes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass, Harrison Bankhead on bass and cello and Tani Tabbal and Vincent Davis on drums. Recorded live in Germany in 2007, the music the group creates is impressionistic and slow building and the open ended structure allows for maximum opportunity for creativity on behalf of the musicians. The open up with the lengthy suite "Far Side/Cards/Far Side" which builds from silence to cacophony over a thirty minute exploratory time period. Mitchell plays some beautifully passionate and caustic saxophone, giving the music a loud-soft dynamic. "Quintet 2007 A For Eight" has a moody and spare feel featuring bass and cello with swirling saxophone commentary. The music is patient and slow moving, with a haunted and blue feeling pervading. "Trio Four For Eight" has flute and basses prodding the music, looking for an opening before horns, bass and accenting flute develop a near classical sounding improvisation. The drummers are featured on a slow, open ended percussion solo. "Ex Lover Five" heats things up with strong saxophone producing yearning, keening wails of sound over an abstract backdrop. A strong free piano solo bubbles up, propelled by buoyant bass, before the full band returns for a fast collective conclusion. Mitchell's music is unique, drawing on jazz and classical forms along with free improvisation and melding them into a unique soundscape all his own. Patience is needed for this music, but if you meet it on its own terms it is quite rewarding. Far Side -

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Studebaker John and the Maxwell Street Kings - That's the Way You Do (Delmark, 2010)

Veteran bluesman "Studebaker" John Grimaldi assembled this band to honor the legacy of Maxwell Street, the location of the open air market in Chicago that played host to some of the city's finest blues musicians and created an enduring legacy of music. Composing all original material in the Maxwell Street tradition, Grimaldi plays guitar, harmonica and sings, supported by Rick Kreher on guitar and background vocals and Steve Cushing on drums. They play a gutsy brand of no-nonsense blues that wouldn't sound out of place on the street itself. Highlights of the album include the excellent harmonica led instrumental "B-Line" with rhythm guitar and drums locking into a deep pocket to support the swooping and sliding harmonica. "Taylor Street Boogie" mines the same vein, paying tribute to the legendary Chicago bluesman Hound Dog Taylor, with some superb slide guitar and a sense of fun that made Taylor's music so infectious. Studebaker John was deeply influenced by the music he heard as a young man growing up near Maxwell Street and he has crafted a solid and well thought out album that echoes the music of his youth. Fans of straight ahead Chicago blues will enjoy the music that the band creates. That's the Way You Do -

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Anat Fort - And If (ECM, 2010)

Pianist and composer Anat Fort made a big splash in 2007 with her previous album for ECM, A Long Story, and this follow up shows that she has continued to make progress in forging her own unique musical path. Supported by her core trio mates Gary Wang on bass and Roland Schneider on drums, the group develops a dreamy, lyrical sound that is layered with ideas and concepts. The album is book-ended by two compositions dedicated to the great drummer Paul Motian whom she played with on her previous album. Motian's subtle, ever shifting dynamic has had a big impact on Fort's musical conception, and that shines through in the subtle shading in the music of these two performances and indeed the album as a whole. There is a full-bodied lyricism that recalls the emotionally resonant playing of Keith Jarrett and Fred Hersch to some of the pieces, notably the beautiful "Clouds Moving." The lengthy "Something 'bout Camels" anchors the developing slowly and dynamically from a spare, almost silent opening to a dynamic trio improvisation that draws on the strengths of the entire unit. This was a patient and thoughtfully played album by a working trio that is comfortable performing together and taking risks. They develop a wide ranging group of performances that cover many moods and reward patient listening. And If -

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Curtis Clark Trio - Taagi (No Business, 2010)

Pianist Curtis Clark has been under the radar a bit despite a distinguished pedigree, having studied with the great pianist and composer Horace Tapscott and played with eclectic saxophonist David Murray. After living in Europe for a number of years, Clark returned to the U.S. and cut this dynamic trio set with Aaron Gonzalez on bass and Stephan Gonzalez on drums. These men have a fine pedigree of their own, being the sons of the great Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. The music on this album is quite beautiful and lyrical, flowing like water in a mountain stream through solo and ensemble passages. Two lengthy suites open the album, "Joy/Blessings" and "Water Colors/New York City Wildlife." These demonstrate the trio as a very coherent unit able to move from more abstract spacier sections, to full driving trio improvisation. The title track "Taagi" is the centerpiece of the album, developing patiently over the course of a quarter hour and featuring some dynamic trio and solo sections. The remaining selections, "Joy," "Blessings" and "Beautiful Love" demonstrate the lyrical nature of the music and the bands commitment to improvisational rigor. This was a classy and well done performance, and fans of exploratory piano trios should definitely take note. Hopefully it will raise the profile of both Clark and the Gonzalez brothers to the level they clearly deserve. Taagi - No Business Records

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James Kinds - Love You From the Top (Delmark, 2010)

Journeyman blues guitarist and singer James Kinds has played all over the upper Midwest USA, cutting a few sides for small labels over the years. Getting a chance to record for the venerable Chicago label Delmark, he makes the best of it by producing a fine album filled with strong singing and excellent musicianship. Kinds has a fleet fingered guitar style that is exciting to listen to along with a deep and passionate voice steeped in gospel and soul. He has a fine group backing him as well featuring saxophone legend Eddie Shaw on a few tracks. This is a lengthy CD that covers a number of styles from rockin' blues to slow down in the alley blues and soulful songs. Highlights of the album were the blasting song "Crack Headed Woman" whose wicked beat and uptempo nature belies the dark subject matter contained within. "Peggy Sue" and "Body Slam" keep the groove moving and prove why Kinds is a popular live attraction in Chicago and his adopted home of Iowa. "Mason Dixon Line Blues" slows things down for a story song about Kinds emigration to Chicago from Mississippi in the late 1950's. James Kinds is a real find, he is a very talented musician who is getting a long overdue chance at the limelight. Hopefully this excellent album will lead to more touring and recording opportunities. Love You From The Top -

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Movie: I Need That Record! (MVD Visual, 2010)

The independent record store holds a special place in my heart. For a while I was a regular at a couple of great ones, The Last Vestige (my home away from home during grad school) and the long lamented Izzy's Records (one of the few bastions of culture in urban New Jersey) where I met my friend John. These were not just places of commerce, but gathering places for all of the local music fans, a place to share gossip, talk about upcoming concerts and take part in a shared passion. With the homogenization of the music industry and the rise of music downloading, independent record stores became a vanishing breed. That is the crux of this film, where the director looks at the vanishing indie store, and talks to several people involved in the industry. Particularly pointed is the film crew documenting the closing of one beloved store, capturing the emotional reactions of the staff and patrons. Also interesting were interviews with musicians like Lenny Kaye, Thurston Moore and Mike Watt, who talked about the changing landscape of the music industry. There's a short clip of one of my favorite rock and roll bands, The Black Keys, playing an in store performance at a local music shop followed by a brief interview. This interesting movie was clearly a labor of love and has a DIY vibe to it much like the record stores that they champion. Combining a bit of nostalgia and an angry fist against the changing of the guard, this is a fascinating pean to a vanishing breed. I Need That Record! -

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

DVD: Mikrokolektyw - Dew Point (Delmark, 2010)

Mikrokolektyw is a very interesting duet consisting of Kuba Suchar on drums and Artur Majewski on trumpet with both contributing to electronic soundscapes. For this DVD they were filmed by Raymond Salvatore Harmon, who placed the band in a position to improvise a spontaneous soundtrack to his film Sound in Motion. It turns out to be a fine combination, the duo's deeply rhythmic performances work well with the film that was shot in Chicago, and features gritty images of elevated trains and row-houses. Majewski plays some excellent trumpet throughout, with a golden tone that he will juxtapose against himself and the percussion by multi-tracking and altering the sound of the instrument. Suchar is a percussive powerhouse, moving from the traditional drum kit to hand percussion at will. Overall, this was a very interesting experimental project. The music and the images complemented each other well, and made for a compelling presentation both visually and aurally. Dew Point -

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Recent reads

Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark Master thief and ultimate anti-hero Parker is back, this time in graphic novel form. An old colleague of Parker's sells him out to the The Outfit (a nationwide organized crime syndicate) who sends an assassin to kill Parker at a hotel. When the hit doesn't come off and Parker subdues the would-be killer, he vows vengeance. Can one man really take down the mob? Well, if his name is Parker, odds are he can. This was a a wonderful graphic adaptation of one of the best books in the Parker series. Cooke really catches the zeitgeist of America in the early 1960's and the underworld that Parker was a part of. The artwork has a stylishly retro feel that is perfect for the period, and Parker is drawn as I've always imagined him: ten feet tall and bulletproof. By faithfully retaining the characteristics that made Richard Stark's novels so powerful and adding a beautiful graphic representation of the time and place, Cooke has created a wonderful work of storytelling.

Slayground by Richard Stark Master thief and epic bad-ass Parker and a couple of associates knock over an armored car, getting away with $75,000 dollars. During the getaway, the rookie wheelman flips the car and the only place for Parker to escape on foot is an amusement park called Fun Land that is shuttered for the winter. He soon finds himself trapped in the carnival, hunted by a small army of mobsters and crooked cops. But in Parker's case, twenty versus one is almost a fair fight. Stark (a pen name for Donald E. Westlake) sets this one up really well. It follows the usual Parker formula of a robbery gone bad, but the amusement park setting adds an extra dimension. Parker goes guerrilla, setting up traps and ploys that ingeniously begin to pick off his pursuers one by one, until its just a matter of time before Parker makes his break for freedom. The only thing that could have helped was a map of the amusement park, with Parker running around to different parts, it gets a little confusing at times. Stark's lean style is perfect for the story, with all extraneous prose and sentimentality cut from the story, as Parker cold as ice, dispatches his adversaries and plots his escape.

The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth Not lacking in ambition is Forsyth's thriller which takes the "war on drugs" to the farthest possible conclusion. The president becomes so angry with the influx of cocaine into the US and Europe that he looks for the only man who can stop it. A retired CIA agent code named Cobra is given carte blanche in terms of the military and intelligence apparatus of the United States and is ordered to crush the cocaine cartels. So basically the deal is that cocaine production and smuggling is declared a terrorist act, and Cobra comes out all guns blazing, with unmanned aerial drones, special forces, fighter aircraft, the whole nine yards. While the story is an interesting conceit, it starts to crack under the sheer implausibility after a while. Forsyth's research is well done, but the characters are quite wooden and the action becomes repetitive after a the first few missions. This pretty much becomes a right wing fantasy after a while with the military and force seen as the only answer for any problem. It's not a bad book, in fact there are some portions that are quite interesting. But it just can't sustain the energy developed in the first half on the book and the story begins to lurch, and eventually peters out to a predictable conclusion.

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