Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Books: Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book takes a look a how we deal with our uncertain lives and times. Chodron is a Buddhist nun and she uses the teachings of Buddhism to illustrate her points throughout the book, which is actually excerpts of lectures she has given around the world. This is far from doctrinaire religion or self-help as possible, in fact she gently chides religious thinking as just another way for a person to escape from what is truly real and look for a "hand to hold" which isn't really there. The idea of waking up to the real world and truly understanding what is around you is her primary message. She also deals with self respect, compassion and the ability to develop patience and calm. I have some problems with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorder (the things that explain the occasional lapses in blogging and my absence from the live music scene) and I thought if I could calm my mind, perhaps I could enjoy and reflect on the music even better and hopefully aid some of my symptoms in the process. One book cannon fix all ills, but I thought this book provided helpful and straightforward suggestions on ways to lessen the stress of everyday life without making any grand promises that cannot be fulfilled. Comfortable with Uncertainty - amazon.com

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Muhal Richard Abrams - Sounddance (Pi Recordings, 2011)

Honored as a jazz master by generations of musicians, and co-founder of the influential AACM, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams met two distinguished yet completely unique colleagues for an improvised performance where they were truly walking the high-wire without a net, performing the improvisations live. The first disc is with George Lewis, trombonist and laptop experimenter. It is fascinating to hear how these two men meet and find common ground, making music based on the manipulation of pure sound. Abrams is at times percussive, pensive or lyrical, and Lewis responds with electronic noise and slurred trombone that is at time hard to distinguished from each other. But idioms are put aside as both men come together to create a spontaneous improvisation in sound, tone and color that is unique in its time and place. This is pure music, out of space and time and existing in its own moment completely. The second disc in this collection is perhaps even more valuable as it captures on of the final performances of the great saxophonist Fred Anderson. Both men were around the age of eighty at the time of the recording, but hat in no way impaired them, in fact it was an enabler that allowed two musicians who had literally seen most of the history of jazz first hand to come together for a purely improvised performance that soared beautifully. Abrams is an institution in his own right and is finally getting the attention he deserves from the likes of the NEA and the Vision Festival. But as Pi generously proves on this double CD, his ability as a musician remains as fecund as ever and he remains a vital source on the jazz and improvised music scene. Sounddance - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Christine Jensen - Treelines (Justin Time Records, 2011)

Composer and arranger Christine Jensen (Jazz Session interview) has assembled an eighteen musician big band to realize her musical ideas on this well done large ensemble album. The music is deeply textured and exists in a multi-layered state emphasizing certain characters in the music especially trumpeter Ingrid Jensen while keeping the music focused on the ensemble as a whole. "Arbutus" has the group together as a unit with their shine building to an interior crescendo, before throttling back to a light nimble section. Using a lush palette of sounds and instruments available, Jensen is able to produce admirable dynamism and coherence to the combinations she chooses. "Red Cedar" opens with a bass solo and brushes, gradually adding space for the music to breathe organically and free the horns, especially the trumpet, which solos framed by the arrangement. "Western View" has a medium tempo developing a slower texture. The sound is slow and patient, almost reverent, before developing an anthemic frame, like a fanfare for nature. "Dropoff" evokes a feeling of wonder, like a young bird being released from the next to fly for the first time. The ensemble playing offers a sense of continual movement with majestic writing and playing. A fragile trumpet interlude develops into a full fledged statement as the centerpiece. "Dark and Stormy Blues" features horns weaving in and out at a medium tempo, them a lightning fast shift to electric bass and trumpet. Not to be outdone, another shift brings in electric guitar and horns, keeping things nice and tight for a fine payoff. This was a well done large ensemble jazz album. The writing and arranging were continually interesting and the ensemble and solo playing were admirable throughout. Treelines - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Louie Belogenis Trio - Tiresias (Porter Records, 2011)

The deep-seated and haunting nature of the music links this album to Albert Ayler’s free-jazz masterpiece Spiritual Unity, not the least because both sessions share the same drummer, the great free percussionist Sunny Murray. Louie Belogenis’ sandpaper raw saxophone tone and sparse use of swirls and slurs make him a natural heir to Ayler, but it is his patience and ability to let the music breathe that really allows this session to thrive. Nowhere is this more evident than their beautiful take on John Coltrane's sombre “Alabama,” where Michael Bisio’s beautiful bowed bass and Murray’s soft and deft percussion underpin Belogenis’ sad and thoughtful saxophone. “Divination” drives the band deeper into free-jazz territory, with the saxophone upping the ante with some torrid runs and bass and drums providing an ever shifting landscape to gallop over. “Seven Lives” pulls deep and strong tenor saxophone with a hint of caustic acidity along with elastic bass and drums to excellent effect. This is a fine session of wide open free-jazz, rooted in the past and reaching for the future. Inspired by the Ayler record they listened to so intently, the musicians cover a wide range of musical territory in an inspiring and thought-provoking manner. Tiresias - amazon.com

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic - Heart’s Reflections (Cuneiform, 2011)

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith has been on a wonderful creative roll of late, playing everything from post-Miles fusion to fragile acoustic projects. On this two compact disc set, he draws from all of that experience and imbues it with his deep spirituality and unique approach to music to develop a very successful project. The band is large, and shifts constantly, allowing for a large palette of musical possibilities to draw from. Opening the album is the extraordinary “Don Cherry Electric Sound Garden” which swaggers in with the electric authority of Smith’s Yo Miles! project. Grinding with a heavy beat and wah trumpet strutting over a pulsing bass and drums, the performance is a dramatic demonstration of the strength and authority of the musicians involved. After an interlude of open space, the twenty minute tracks gains its second wind, resolving itself in an epic slab of funky jazz. “The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts Parts One and Two” bring the music back down to Earth beginning with a stark drum and trumpet duet, and then allowing electronic instruments to probe the soundscape through ominous and cinematic use of space and time. A massive drum beat leads us into “The Majestic Way” building a strong and deep with full band improvisation for Smith to solo over. Swirling guitar in the background trades places with the keyboards, building a definite post-electric Miles vibe. The pace is kept by the massive bass and drumbeat which develops to propel “The Shaykh, As Far As Humaythira” into the cosmos with fast strong swinging before a more frenzied collectively improvised section. Wild guitar bubbles up from this Witches Brew as the featured solo. “Certainty” recalls Davis’ Jack Johnson era with Smith throwing trumpet jabs like a boxer over big slabs of guitar and beat, before casting them all aside with his own personal lightning fast trumpet runs. The two part “Ritual Purity and Love” begin in a slow and spare fashion with guitar and electric piano probing a sci-fi scene, before developing into a deep funk vibe. A three-section suite, “Heart’s Reflections - Splendors of Light and Purification” opens the second disc with a feature for drummer Pheeroan akLaff building into a potent and funk laced blast of fiery trumpet over thumping bass. The suite ends with a starkly beautiful clarion call of trumpet sparely accompanied by acoustic piano. A dedication to Toni Morrison, “The Black Hole - Conscious and Epic Memory” develops a slow and haunting feel with trumpet occasionally splitting the abstract vibe. The album ends with another dedication, this time to Leroy Jenkins called “Air Steps” that ends the epic album on a light and fluid note. This is really an extraordinary piece of work that Smith has released, rivaling anything he has done over the course of his lengthy career. Drawing upon his own vast experience and that of the masters he has followed, he has developed unique insight into the nature of improvised music that is on full display on this triumphant album. Heart's Reflections - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

News and Notes

  • Ethan Iverson from The Bad Plus has an extraordinary interaction with Henry Threadgill.
  • All About Jazz interviews pianist Chick Corea about his new album and his lengthy career in jazz.
  • Burning Ambulance conducts a thoughtful interview with saxophonist JD Allen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Capsule Reviews: Billy Hart, Albert Ayler, JD Allen

Billy Hart - Sixty Eight (Steeplechase, 2011) Drummer Billy Hart leads a fine group consisting of Jason Palmer on trumpet, Logan Richardson on alto saxophone, Michael Pinto on vibraphone, Dan Tepfer on piano and Chris Tordini on bass. They play fine mix of adventurous mid-60's centered hard bop and thoughtful ballads. The focus on ensemble play, with fine group playing, and no heroes trying to dominate the music. There’s a great setlist, playing songs from the likes of Eric Dolphy, "Number Eight" and "Out There," Sam Rivers, "Beatrice" and "Cyclic Episode," Ornette Coleman and others. Sixty-Eight - amazon.com

Albert Ayler - Spirits (Debut, 1964, re-released by 1201 Music) Fine free jazz from an early (his first I believe) New York City Ayler session. Haunting themes, stark saxophone pervade the music, as only he could. Accompanied by Norman Howard on trumpet, Henry Grimes or Earle Henderson on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, the music is wide open with Ayler and Murray dominating on the themes “Spirits” and “Holy Holy.” Even at this early stage, Ayler was using folk and spiritual themes as jumping of points for improvisation, setting the stage for his classic Spiritual Unity, recorded later that year. The combination of Ayler and Murray is particularly potent, driving each other to greater heights of rhythm. Spirits - amazon.com

JD Allen - Victory! (Sunnyside, 2011) Cutting to the core of the modern mainstream in jazz with short tracks on an LP length album featuring music akin to middle period Coltrane in their solemnity and power. Allen plays tenor saxophone in the company of Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. He has been working in the trio format over the past several years and it suits his music very well. Hints of freedom like the Sonny Rollins trios of the 50’s and the Ornette Coleman trios of the 60’s are here along with a strong melodic sense and a stern self-discipline. They are particularly compelling on the strongly articulated “The Pilot’s Compass” and “Motif” with potent saxophone and deep bass and drum support developing a cohesive whole. Victory! - amazon.com

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Matt Lavelle - Goodbye New York, Hello World (Musicnow, 2011)

Trumpeter and bass clarinetist Matt Lavelle was once a prolific and thoughtful contributor to the Brilliant Corners jazz blog, along with the man who helped bring the nearly forgotten free jazz legend Giuseppi Logan back into the limelight. He has been quiet of late, but whatever he has been doing, it’s done wonders and allowed him to produce an excellent album. Lavelle plays quite an arsenal of instruments: bass and alto clarinets, cornet, trumpet, flugelhorn and is joined by Francois Grillot on bass, Ras Moshe on tenor saxophone, and Rob Hubbard on drums and percussion. The music is split into two inter-woven parts, with four tracks featuring Lavelle in a duet context with the remaining three performances are intense full band improvisations. “Endings and Beginnings” is indicative of the duet tracks, with Lavelle playing spare and open trumpet accompanied by bass in an open and spacious duet. He switches to bass clarinet on “Goodbye New York, Hello World,” with light pulses of clarinet playing off haunting and probing cymbals. The full band tracks are another matter entirely. “You're the Tonic” is a nineteen minute jaw-dropping stunner of intensity and composure. Horns lead the band into a full-blooded free-bop improvisation, building to massive intensity on the back of solo reed features. Developing deeply intuitive free-jazz, the band delves deeper into the musical cosmos, screeching and caterwauling at times, but always with a purpose, never in a nihilistic manner. Another impressive full band improvisation is “Wayne” where the group develops a deep theme statement before strutting trumpet and saxophone and a massive drum beat keep things moving inexorably forward. Spare solo bass clarinet opens “Choices” before everyone joins in and the horns harmonize beautifully with bowed bass and percussion. A strong and deep bowed bass solo joined by the hollow sounding bass clarinet make for a foreboding yet alluring sound. This album was very well planned out and executed, with both the duo and full band tracks succeeding well. Fans of progressive jazz are urged to check this out soon. Now if we can just get him blogging again... Goodbye New York, Hello World - amazon.com

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Books: Frayed by Tom Piccrilli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Frayed is one of a number of digital-only releases crime and horror fiction author Tom Piccrilli has released recently. For a modest price it is a fine novella featuring Piccrilli’s usual themes of crime, the supernatural and dark humor. The two protagonists of the story are best friends and mortal enemies since childhood, both authors, who believe they killed an an angel in a deserted park in Long Island. When Gray, the writer confined to a mental institution, invites his friend/nemesis Eddie to the institution for a cabana party, Eddie can’t believe what he sees, some sort of alternative therapy clinic compete with luscious food and beautiful women. But not all is as it seems at this paradise as Eddie finds out when after a brutal fight with Gray and he leaves with more questions than answers. Two women claiming to be psychiatrists from the institute follow him with wildly different stories, leading up to the dramatic showdown between the frenimies at the abandoned park where they supposedly buried the angel. Piccrilli writes very well and compassionately about mental illness, you really never know throughout the story who the “ill” one really is. He also keeps the action and dark humor rocketing along. Well worth a few dollars if you have a Kindle or some such device. Frayed - amazon.com

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Jason Parker Quartet - Five Leaves Left

The late British singer-songwriter Nick Drake is having something of a resurgence in jazz recently, kicked off by pianist Brad Mehldau’s cover of “River Man” and now extending to this well executed album by trumpeter Jason Parker. Performing with Parker on this album are Josh Rawlings on piano, Evan Flory-Barnes on bass, D'Vonne Lewis on drums and special guests Michele Khazak on vocals and Cynthia Mullis on tenor saxophone and flute. Five Leaves is a solid if slightly melancholy disc, and vocals are well done, along with the touches of saxophone and flute, giving the proceedings an Astral Weeks air to it. The ensemble play is consistently excellent, and although Parker is clearly the leader, he doesn’t overplay, keeping his solos concise and allowing the band to interpret the songs in their own way. Michele Khazak’s haunting and slightly world-weary vocals are a key to the album’s success, especially on the early tracks, “Time Has Told Me” and “River Man.” The latter is really the centerpiece, with the languorous vocals weaving in and out of the music which is developed into a fine improvisation. The instrumental tracks toward the end of the album are very tight and show how applicable Drake’s work is to the jazz setting. Five Leaves Left took a while to get into, but when it clicked for me, the music hit hard with the realization that I was listening to great songs being well interpreted by excellent playing. I Need to investigate Nick Drake, whom I was unfamiliar with accept as a fringe figure in the Joe Boyd book. Five Leaves Left - Bandcamp

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Books: Gardens of Night by Greg F. Gifune


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gardens of the Night is a haunting and melancholy work of psychological horror that strikes a deep nerve in the reader's psyche. Marc and Brooke, a married couple are survivors of a brutal home invasion and sexual assault that has left Marc particularly damaged. Drifting out of hospitals and mental institutions, he hears sounds and voices that haunt his dreams and lead him to believe that the world is far more complex and dangerous than we imagine. At the urging of his wife and friend, the three decamp to an isolated house in upstate New York, that quickly evolves from a vacation to an exercise in Gothic horror. Marc is separated from his companions after a car accident and wanders in a deep wood until he confronts his true fate and fights to separates dream from illusion and reality. This book came highly recommended by Tom Piccrilli on his blog, and in fact bears much in common with Piccrilli’s writing (except for the lack of humor.) Gifune writes very well, and continually ratchets up the intensity, weaving elements of crime, fantasy and horror like a craftsman. There is a deep sadness that runs through the story, but that should not keep perspective readers away from a unique and well told tale. Gardens of Night - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

MSG - Tasty! (Lion Music, 2011)

MSG is a collective modern jazz group consisting of Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Ronan Guilfoyle on bass and Chander Sardjoe on drums. The music they perform this album is very fresh and innovative, taking advantage of the trio setting that has inspired the likes of Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman to great improvisational flights in the past. Mahanthappa’s snake charmer toned alto saxophone is particularly enthralling, weaving through the excellent rhythm work like an artisan developing an intricate tapestry. The up-tempo pieces are especially interesting, with great titles like “Groove Band Rebellion” and “Waltz for the Automatically Correct” you can tell that the group has a sense of humor and does not take itself too seriously. However, they do take the music quite seriously and their performances on these fast paced tracks is an indication of how inspired they were at the time of the recording. “Chant” switches gears to a haunting and alluring feel, where the musicians are allowed to stretch out with a different musical conception in mind. Overall, this was a exciting and rewarding album that pays dividends for repeated listening. Rudresh Mathanthappa has performed in a number of settings over the course of the past couple of years, from duets with pianist Vijay Iyer in the duo Raw Materials to his highly lauded collaboration with fellow saxophonist Bunky Green. Hopefully despite a very busy schedule, he can return to the trio format soon, as it suits him in a very rewarding manner. Tasty! - amazon.com

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Friday, May 20, 2011

James Carter – Caribbean Rhapsody (Emarcy, 2011)

Saxophonist James Carter is a master improviser on several instruments and this album places him in a concert setting with Giancarlo Guerrara and the Sinfonia Varsovia and the Akua Dixon string quintet playing two compositions by Roberto Sierra along with two extended Carter improvisations. Carter and Sierra worked together for a lengthy period of time and the results were a well integrated suite of music where Carter is featured but doesn’t overwhelm the music. “Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra” and the title piece “Caribbean Rhapsody” are the featured pieces, and the latter is particularly impressive with the addition of Regina Carter on violin. In between the two larger pieces are solo features for Carter on two of his main horns “Tenor Interlude” and “Soprano Interlude.” It would be very interesting to hear Carter perform an all solo project sometime in the future, he certainly has the talent to pull it off. I have never been a big fan of the third stream jazz/classical crossover genre, but Carter plays very well throughout, and the music is classy and thoughtful. Caribbean Rhapsody - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libre (Constellation, 2011)

Saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts has been involved in a lengthy genealogical exploration of her family’s rich history, and in doing so has conceived of an ambitious twelve part experience of music, narrative and sound. Part one is this album, subtitled Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres which is a fascinating mix of genres, ideas and song. There is the raw toned tenor saxophone that she has developed a unique tone on in instrumental pieces like the opening "Rise," which move through free and intense areas of exploration providing an opening into the story. Roberts also sings quite well on the album, but the centerpiece is her haunting narration of a slave auction on “Libation For Mr. Brown: Bid ‘em In” where she throws her heart and soul into the scorn and shame of American slavery. It’s an unforgettable narrative, akin to Abbey Lincoln’s work with Max Roach on songs like “Driva’ Man.” This is one of the most unique musical experiences to be released in 2011, and really succeeds where well meaning but overly bloated efforts like Wynton Marsalis’ epic Blood on the Fields have faltered. By breaking her narrative down into discreet parts, she is developing a project akin to the late clarinetist John Carter’s Roots and Folklore series of albums, which examined the African-American experience through music. Part history lesson, part protest album, and all jazz in its soul and conception, this is a thoughtful and valuable project that deserves much attention. Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libre - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Kinks – Kinda Kinks (Deluxe Edition) (Sanctuary, 2011)

This deluxe edition of an early (1965) album by The Kinks includes the original album on Disc One and a collection of mono tracks, EP’s and BBC sessions on the second disc. The title album was recorded just after a big tour when the band was having little time to rest and leader Ray Davies under a lot of pressure to write new material. Despite the pressure, the band responded with some of their finest early tracks including “Tired of Waiting for You” and “Come On Now.” Some of the tracks have a more generic feel, which displays the pressure Davies and the band were under. “Nothin' In the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl” and “Nagging Woman” are garden variety R&B, but the cover of “Dancing in the Streets” is very impressive. Disc two begins with some really exciting collectibles, mono versions of some of their most well known early songs like “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy,” “Set Me Free,” and “See My Friends.” The second disc and the re-issue in general is really aimed toward the die hard Kinks fan with a plethora of alternate takes and a nicely done liner booklet with plenty of period photographs. Kinda Kinks - amazon.com

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Books: Comeback by Richard Stark

Comeback: A Parker NovelComeback: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1974 after the epic Butcher's Moon, Richard Stark's great anti-hero Parker went quiet. Twenty-three years later, Stark (aka crime writing legend Donald Westlake) revived the character with one of the best entries in the entire series. Parker and his fellow criminals have a line on an all-cash traveling religious crusade. They find an inside man who is sick of the hypocrisy of the pseudo preacher and wants to get even. With the inside man growing increasingly nervous, Parker knocks him out, and they make it away with $400,000 in cash. Then one of the crooks pulls a double cross and the whole plan goes to hell. With the criminal string split up and Parker chasing the cash, things get really interesting. The narrative leads to an all-or-nothing showdown in an abandoned hotel between Parker and his former colleague turned nemesis that is one Stark's finest set pieces. Twenty-three years must have been tough for hard-core Parker fans in the 70's and 80's but when Parker came back it was with a vengeance. Stark keeps the prose lean and mean, and this book is basically a template for noir writing. It's a classic and not to be missed on any account by crime fiction fans. Comeback: A Parker Novel (Parker Novels) - amazon.com

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Interesting Links

Saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts is interviewed about her career, focusing on the fascinating project Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libre.

All About Jazz interviews free jazz bassist Michael Bisio.

While they're at it, AAJ interviews Matt Penman, best known as a member of the collective James Farm and SF Jazz Collective.

Peter Hum sparks a fine debate about the nature of reviewing jazz.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Starlicker - Double Demon (Delmark, 2011)

Cornetist Rob Mazurek may live in Brazil now, but he retains deep ties to the Chicago jazz scene. Joining up with John Herndon on percussion and Jason Adasiewicz vibraphone they take us on a beautiful cosmic voyage, something akin to an updated Sun Ra small ensemble if there were such a thing. The combine their sounds very well, sounding much bigger than three pieces, and supporting each other beautifully. "Double Demon" begins at a fast tempo with complex and dynamic vibes and trumpet circling fast and strong. The vibes shimmer and seem to glow as Mazurek's cornet grows strong, fast, fluid and very powerful. Hard to believe that it is vibes, drums and cornet accounting for all of this power. Spacious and mysterious vibraphone launches "Voudo Cinque" into inner and outer space, while building to a deeper and more resonant medium tempo. The music features thick and deep rhythm with piercing cornet ripping through with shimmering vibe accents. "Orange Blossom" also features crystalline vibes and Herndon rising up with his own special brand of fast, complex and heavy drumming. Fast and strong cornet declares over the deep percussion of drums and vibes. "Triple Hex" begins very slowly like a voodoo ritual with minimalist vibes and drumming and smears of brass. Slowly the musicians develop the improvisation, almost imperceptibly upping the ante until the music becomes a reaching, searching three way ritual dance. This was very exciting progressive jazz, full of deep beauty and powerful and potent musical statements and portents. Double Demon - amazon.com

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Missing posts

Blogger apparently swallowed a couple of my posts into an impenetrable black hole where neither time, space or computer bits can escape. If I was smart I would have saved the post for re-posting, but instead, I'm going to break into Tom Hull mode for some brief reviews:

Robert Johnson - The Centennial Collection Hard to believe it has been twenty years since the original issue of The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson captured the imagination of the music world. This re-issue, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Johnson's birth has a major sonic revision of the music, and it sounds phenomenal. As great as Johnson's guitar playing was, I've always been captivated by his voice whether playing hokum like "They're Red Hot" or back alley stuff like "Me and the Devil Blues."

Anthony Wilson - Campo Belo Wilson leads an atmospheric sounding quartet (on a few occasions they have added accordion for texture) on this ballad heavy set. The quartet investigates a variety of textures from acoustic guitar and brushes to swinging electric guitar with a full drum kit. A. Wilson Campo Belo ballad and mid temp oriented around solid guitar and lush piano. Break loose a few times for good post-bop.

Charlie Parr - When The Devil Goes Blind Charlie Parr does some mean pickin' and singin' on When the Devil Goes Blind. Deep dark blues akin to Otis Taylor: hard blues for hard times. Singing about love and loss, the downturn of the economy and the potential lift of spirituality, Parr is the real deal.

P.S. How does Tom Hull do it? He must be the most organized person on the planet. The Doctor says I have OCD and even I can't even begin to keep the music in order.

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Travis Sullivan - New Directions (Posi-Tone, 2011)

Saxophonist, composer and educator Travis Sullivan has an appealing sound and develops strong melodic mainstream jazz here, with an intelligently mixed program cookers, mid-tempo numbers and ballads anchored by his strong playing on saxophone. He is accompanied by Mike Eckroth on piano, Marco Panascia bass, and Brian Fishleron drums. While "Jamia's Dance" is a medium tempo opener with a fine flowing saxophone solo, "Autumn in new Hampshire" is a particularly poignant ballad, more dark toned and elegiac, reflecting the autumn of leaf less trees and melancholic moonlight than that of colorful foliage. "Spring" carries on the seasonal theme, also a ballad featuring lush and patient saxophone. "Hidden Agenda" ups the ante to a swinging fast tempo and their exploration of the light-speed realms concludes with "Tuneology," a performance that recalls Atlantic-period John Coltrane in its speed and texture, both on the cascading saxophone solo and the rippling piano interlude. "Georgie" and the pop cover "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" slow things back down to a medium boil with the former developing quartet dynamics, with Sullivan picking up the pace to a boppish feel, building to a peak of emotion before relinquishing the spotlight to the piano, bass and drums rhythm section. The Tears for Fears cover uses bass as the pivot point around which the music revolves. The saxophone teases at the melody before the bass and drums shift into a funk feel with light saxophone improvising across them. Sullivan develops his performances thoughtfully and thematically, and examples can be found on the album ending tracks, "Magic Monday" and "New Directions" where he builds his solos sounding fast and confident over a strong backbeat. New Directions - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Robert Johnson - The Centennial Collection (Sony, 2011)

It is hard to believe that it has been twenty years since the release of The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson rocked the music world. Amazingly the recordings of a long dead acoustic bluesman who was not particularly popular or well known in his own time (see Elijah Wald) managed to score a gold record some fifty plus years after his death. Using the hundredth anniversary of his birth as an excuse for a major sonic upgrade of the Johnson catalog, it casts fresh light on the man, the legend, and most importantly, the music. The re-mastering of the music is wonderful, sounding warm and natural, but still of its time. Now broken down in a more reasonable fashion with the San Antonio session on disc one (with the alternates at the end of the disc) and the Dallas session on disc two. The music continues to astonish after all of these years and the all of the testimonials from rock ‘n’ roll musicians are hardly necessary. To hear the malice and weariness in Johnson’s voice as he sings “Hell Hound on My Trail” or “32-20 Blues” will raise the hairs on the neck of even the most jaded music aficionado. Many musicians talk about Johnson’s unique guitar style, and while it’s undeniably amazing, it’s his voice that really gets to me, Whether the joyful hokum of “They’re Red Hot” or the down in the alley singing on “Me and the Devil Blues” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day,” that voice is what truly makes the performances, it is unique in all of music. Overall, this is a very well done compilation, priced well to attract those like me who own the earlier set too. The liners are well done too, featuring a fine essay along with the few remaining photographs and images. The Centennial Collection - amazon.com

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Orchestre National De Jazz - Shut Up And Dance: Music of John Hollenbeck (Bee Jazz, 2010)

Daniel Yvinec, artistic director of the Orchestre National De Jazz writes in his liner notes that he had the music of percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck in his thoughts for a long time, hearing him in his mind's eye and on the pages of his journal. He was finally able to persuade Hollenbeck to write a set of music for the group, and what results is a wildly colorful, dynamic suite of music that covers a lot of ground with echoes of Duke Ellington, but also those of Hollenbeck's own big band and Claudia Quintet. The music as a whole is distinctive, drawing on a variety of styles from jazz to classical, rock and pop. The proceedings are quite textural, infusing electronic instruments like the Fender Rhodes electric piano and electric guitar to alter the density of the performances and offer greater emotional depth. This can be heard particularly well on the electric piano feature "Tongs of Joy." Building to an epic conclusion, the medley "Boom/Bob Walk" is another highlight, an arena where composition, improvisation and instrumentalists become one in a torrid and beautiful dance, like the kind alluded to in the title. The music is beautifully performed and aptly named because it is danceable and accessible for all but the most curmudgeonly jazz fan. Shut Up And Dance - amazon.com

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

William Hooker and Thomas Chapin - Crossing Points (NoBusiness, 2011)

Multi-instrumentalist Thomas Chapin was one of my guiding lights when I started getting into jazz really heavily in the 1990's. His Knitting Factory releases are all stellar, and he could play anything from swing to bop to free, but was possibly at his best when combining all genres or dispensing with the notion of genre entirely. This duet album finds him in the company of master drummer William Hooker for a two man blast off into the cosmos. Make no mistake, this is energy music on an Interstellar Space level. Hooker and Chapin are a match made in free-jazz heaven and frequently encourage each other during this performance with shouts of joy. The opening epic "The Subway" builds to torrid fire music with the saxophone (Chapin sticks to saxophone throughout) right up front and the drums a little distant but no less powerful. Intensely emotional collective improvisation is dominated by scalding saxophone and explosive drumming. Midway through, the music becomes lighter and more ominous as if dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. Sure enough the downpour comes in the form of molten howls of saxophone and cacophonous drumming. "Addiction to Sound" finds Hooker developing a nice rhythm with comparability gentle saxophone that probe the edges of space and time. Spacious saxophone bleats and honks develop through a building rhythm, developing heat and tension. The finale, "The Underground Dead" brings it all together with a mind-meld of duo improvisation that must be heard to be believed, sounding like the most intense yet heartfelt music imaginable. They slow things down to a simmer as a recitation or incantation is read and then it is over. Cathartic beauty for the heart and soul at its finest and an absolute must for those who explore the edges of jazz and improvisation. Crossing Points - NoBusiness Records.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Kenny Werner - Balloons (Half Note, 2011)

Pianist and composer Kenny Werner brings together a fine post-bop unit consisting of David Sanchez on tenor saxophone, Randy Brecker on trumpet, John Pattitucci on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. This album was recorded live at the Blue Note Club and features four long improvisations that allow for excellent ensemble playing and soloing on a variety of moods and textures. They group opens with “Sada,” a slow and probing composition that allows them to get their footing and explore the tactile quality of the music that moves along at a thoughtful and patient clip. “Siena” begins with a strong and vibrant clean sounding trumpet solo, playing a lengthy and confident section. Sanchez’s saxophone enters in a tentative fashion before building with great speed and facility, playing with a beautiful strong deep tone. Werner develops a piano solo with a rich, full bodied approach before the full band returns sounding larger than five pieces as they conclude in a dynamic and powerful fashion. Solo piano opens the title track “Balloons” in a melodic and probing manner with occasional Keith Jarrett like vocalisims. After a ringing and thoughtful piano interlude, the horns enter developing a lilting and floating medium tempo. There’s a fine and buttery sounding mid-tempo trumpet solo from Brecker that slowly builds in intensity to a nice peak, backed by solid and inventive percussion. Strong, potent saxophone takes over with a well controlled, yet intense, interlude. The full band returns to the suspended and airy melody for the conclusion. An uptempo full band introduction begins “Class Dismissed,” with a mellow and creamy trumpet solo that builds to a confident and clean climax. Ringing piano at a medium feel is back by nimble bass and drums, developing a potent trio interlude, running fast and dexterous. (Antonio) Sanchez builds an epic drum solo by starting slowly and quietly and adding rhythm bit by bit until he sounds like a drum choir of several musicians playing simultaneously. The full band returns to take out the set and the album, which was a very fine set of music and should appeal to a broad swath of jazz fans. Balloons - amazon.com

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