Sunday, July 31, 2011

Books: Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Rule 34Rule 34 by Charles Stross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's near future Edinburgh, Scotland and DI Liz Cavanaugh is in charge of a special computer-crimes unit that tries to sniff out illegal Internet crime before it can get a foothold. Meanwhile, Anwar Hussein, recently out of prison for computer related crime, is recruited to run the Scottish embassy of a previously unknown central Asian republic. Charles Stross, one of the premier science fiction authors in the genre ties all of these threads and many more involving rouge artificial intelligence, international criminal syndicates, smuggling, human greed, culpability, and the unceasing march of technological progress. Switching back and forth between characters is a Stross trademark and it can can give whiplash at times, as does his use of Scottish dialect and bleeding edge computer terminology, but it all comes together in the end, wrapped up neatly in a bow of extraordinary imagination. It can be a bit tough at times, Stross demands a lot from his readers, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Rule 34 -

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Jackie McLean - One Step Beyond (Blue Note, 1963)

During the mid-to-late 1960's, alto saxophonist and composer Jackie McLean cut a number of recordings with a rotating cast of fellow instrumentalists that had one foot squarely in the bebop and hard-bop camp, and and the other foot searching and probing for what lay with the freedom expressed by the likes of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. What is so fascinating about this music, and McLean's music to follow during the next few years is that he is pioneering "Free-Bop" an open ended form of music that keeps form and function, but allows greater opportunity for the musicians to express themselves. He was not alone in this quest; at the same time Miles Davis was investigating greater freedom with the likes of George Coleman and Sam Rivers, and John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy were making waves that scandalized the jazz press of the time. Recorded in 1963, the band on this album consists of Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Jackie McLean on alto saxophone, Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, Eddie Khan on bass and Tony Williams on drums. The music is very compelling and exciting, with two versions of "Saturday and Sunday" bookending the album, with a joyous theme making way for savvy improvisation. Tony Williams was barely eighteen years old at this time, but with the maturity and unpredictability of his playing foreshadows his great work with Miles Davis and as a solo artist. "Frankenstein," with its theme lurching and lunging like the Doctor of lore uses trombone (Moncur is notable as a composer as well as an instrumentalist) and vibraphone to give the music a much different feel than standard hard-bop. McLean revels in this open atmosphere, swirling his tart, citrus flavored alto saxophone throughout the music. "Ghost Town" takes this openness and move it into a slower tempo, giving the music a haunted and lonely feel that borders on the desolation of the title. This was a very exciting and continually fresh sounding recording. All of the musicians on this album were looking for new ways of musical expression and to hear them all come together is a joyful experience. One Step Beyond -

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Friday, July 29, 2011

BANN - As You Like (Indie Europe/Zoom, 2011)

This is a collaborative unit consisting of Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone, Oz Noy on guitar, Jay Anderson on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. The combine to make an interesting mix of electric and acoustic sounds, clearly based in post-bop jazz, but incorporating elements of fusion and electronic music as well. Opening with the standard “All the Things You Are,” the performance features up-tempo saxophone with electronic flourishes. Blake’s tenor has a potent force and is accompanied by lengthy, loping bass. Noy is a fascinating guitarist and on this track he is probing and poking into musical corners sharply with nice bass and drums along for the ride. “Played Twice” also begins with strong saxophone, giving way to jagged pointy guitar and deep bass. A cool section of drums and harmonizing saxophone and guitar rounds out the performance. A very exciting short track, “Will Call” has a fast, speedy collective melody with powerful saxophone and sparks of guitar and rock solid bass. The band all comes back together with a fast run through the melody to round out a very well played performance. Drums and nicely funky guitar open “As You Like” into a medium tempo groove. Blake’s saxophone is fast, weaving around the other instruments, then dropping off to make room for a distorted guitar section that shimmers and simmers in a snarling solo backed by ever-shifting drums. The specter of Bill Frisell floats over “At Sundown” with Noy’s guitar sparking and fizzing against a backbeat. The cover of Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” wraps things up nicely beginning with distorted guitar and heavy drumming, then dynamically switching to long tones of saxophone. A long, deep saxophone feature supported by sharp guitar accents is featured before a return to the melody. This was a really well done and enjoyable album. Noy, whom I was previously unfamiliar with, is an excellent and unique guitarist, and Blake as always is rock solid. As You Like -

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Archie Shepp - For Losers/Kwanza (Impulse! 2011)

Archie Shepp started his career as a new thing firebrand, an acolyte of John Coltrane and a fierce advocate for civil rights. By the time these sessions were recorded in the late 60’s and early 70’s, Shepp had changed - developing a funky style of R&B tinged jazz that wasn’t exactly fusion, but definitely showed an awareness of what people like James Brown and Sly Stone were up to. The first album on this 2-fer, is the rare disc For Losers, and it surprises you right from the jump with a straight up R&B tune called “Stick ‘em Up,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the AM radio of the time. Some of the other tracks enter the same territory, with massive horn riffs and drums propelling a killer groove. Shepp was evolving into an excellent ballad player and examples of this are apparent on the vocal enhanced piece of Ellingtonia, “I’ve Got It Bad,” and then instrumental “What Would It Be Without You” enhanced by some gentle flute. His tenor playing, especially on the ballads has taken on a Ben Webster like confidence (something he would pass on to fellow traveler David Murray.) Kwanza is an overlooked gem of a recording. This album has a curious history, being recorded during 1968 and 1969 and then only slipping out during the end of the original Impulse tenure in 1974. These recordings have a fairly large group of performers including among others Grachan Moncur III on trombone, James Spaulding on alto saxophone, Charles Davis on baritone saxophone, and Dave Burrell on organ. The music itself is a very interesting blend of funky R&B and spiritual "cosmic-groove" free-jazz that was Impulse's stock and trade during the late 1960's. The opening track "Back Back" is the best example of this with some righteous honking over a slippery organ groove. Moncour's "New Africa" allows the band the opportunity to stretch out on a freer angle, without ever sinking into just perfunctory blowing. The only mis-step "Spoo Pee Doo" featureing vocals from the distinctive Leon Thomas, background singers as well as flute, for something completely different.which really never takes flight. Apart from that though, this is a fine album of modal to free jazz which should give open eared jazz listeners a lot to enjoy. For Losers / Kwanza -

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Odds & Ends

Stef has a nice post on how he listens to music.

Hank Shteamer has a couple of really nice ones about Odean Pope. First, catching Pope's band at the Iridum, second, tracking down his music on Spotify and Amazon.

Destination Out has been on fire, with posts about Albert Ayler, John Carter & Bobby Bradford and Barre Phillips.

There's a nice question and answer session with Vijay Iyer at The Ashcan.

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Albert Ayler - Love Cry/The Last Album (Impulse!, 2011)

Impulse! Is celebrating their 50th anniversary with several re-issues including a collection of “2-fers,” two albums on one compact disc (or mp3 download.) This is one of the most interesting of the bunch, because it contains two relative rarities by the free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. I’ll risk the wrath of the cognoscenti by stating up front that I think Love Cry was one of Ayler’s finest LP’s. Released in 1967 with Ayler on tenor and alto saxophones, Donald Ayler on trumpet, Call Cobbs on piano and harpsichord, Alan Silva on bass and Milford Graves on drums, it features short themes and improvisations that are accessible, yet experimental and stick in the mind like an earworm long afterward. Ayler re-visits some of his well known themes like “Ghosts” and “Bells” re-arranged for lucid short blasts of music. Cobbs' harpsichord is a wildcard, but it works quite well, giving the music an unusual and unique sound. Graves and Silva are an inspired rhythmic team, giving free flow to a wealth of musical ideas and Ayler sounds simply magisterial throughout. “Universal Indians” shows that they didn’t leave their roots behind, it’s a free-jazz blowout with a nice trumpet and tenor dialogue that is ripe and torrid, while Graves is simply extraordinary propelling everyone ever onward, it is also the album’s one epic, clocking in at almost ten minutes. I think it’s amusing that people consider Ayler’s The Last Album, compiled and released in 1971, a year after his death, to be a sellout. I mean it opens with an improvised duet for abstract electric guitar and bagpipes, for goodness sake. Mary Maria Parks’ vocals are an acquired taste, but Ayler sounds fine backing her on “Again Comes The Rising Of The Sun,” especially when breaking out on a caustic solo backed by Muhammad Ali’s strong drumming. “All Love” is quite beautiful, with Ayler playing tenor with great restraint and excellent accompaniment from Bobby Few on piano, and a strong bowed bass solo from Stafford James. "Toiling" is the polar opposite, going into R&B territory with funky guitar and piano setting the stage for Ayler's strong blues drenched saxophone. “Desert Blood” starts strong with ripe saxophone, but then goes off the rails with a overwrought vocal duet for Ayler and Parks before pulling it back together for some fine sax at the end. Ripe potent tenor saxophone opens “The Birth of Mirth” building in strength and power over deep piano comping. “Water Music” has a melancholy feel with bowed bass and poignant piano under Ayler’s plangent saxophone. It’s a haunting reminder of the power of his music. The Impulse! Recordings of Albert Ayler are ripe for re-appraisal. The Greenwich Village recordings at the beginning of his tenure with the label are justly praised, but all of his albums for the label show a man who was always on a quest: for new sounds, new meaning and new ways of connecting. Love Cry/The Last Album -

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Michel Camilo - Mano a Mano (Emarcy, 2011)

Pianist Michel Camilo has developed over the years a remarkably consistent series of musical releases, ranging from solo excursions to trio albums and even large scale classical re-interpretations. This album finds him in the similar format as the excellent Triangulo album from several years ago, returning to the trio format he has been so successful with in the past. The personnel is: Camilo on piano, Charles Flores on bass and Giovanni Hidalgo on Latin percussion. The album opens with a blast, with the groove flavored up-tempo "Yes" setting the pace, and a very interesting re-imagination of Lee Morgan's irresistible classic, "The Sidewinder" that almost begs you to get up and dance. The title composition "Mano a Moano" keeps the music simmering, as does the fun and flavorful (no pun intended) "Red Beans and Rice." "Rumba Pa'Ti" has a fine arrangement featuring some excellent percussion from Hildago. The trio slows down for some thoughtful ballads as well, with "Alfonsina y El Mar" showing some of Camilo's classical influences, and a patient and reverential version of the John Coltrane standard Naima." The album ends on a melancholy note with the haunting solo rumination “About You,” taken at a late-night contemplative pace filled with rumination about the piano, music and life in general. This was a well done and accessible album that should appeal not only to fans of Latin jazz fans, but fans of mainstream jazz in general. Mano A Mano -

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Thelonious Monk - The Definitive Thelonious Monk On Prestige and Riverside (Concord, 2011)

In 1951, pianist and composer Thelonious Monk was pinched in a bogus arrest that resulted in him losing his Cabaret Card, necessary for performing in New York City clubs. While he scrambled for out of town gigs, Riverside Records stepped up to record Monk in a wide ranging series of contexts, resulting in some of the finest records of his career. While all of the original albums are (I assume) still in print, and a fifteen CD boxed set is floating around for those who need to have it all, this two CD set makes for a very accessible starting point for the neophyte Monk fan. Cherry picking some of the most well know recordings from the artists 1952-1960 tenure with the label, Monk is heard playing in solo, trio, small group and large ensemble formats. While Monk was primarily known as a composer, there are two very interesting standard interpretations on this collection, Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and the evergreen “Tea For Two.” Monk’s percussive piano playing breathes new life into these songs and makes a strong case for his instrumental prowess. Some of Monk’s finest small band writing and recording is featured as well with soloists like John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins contributing to an extraordinary rendition of the Monk original “Well You Needn’t.” Sonny Rollins was among the legendary musicians assembled to try and record one of Monk’s most difficult compositions, “Brilliant Corners,” a song so daunting that one complete take was never completed – the finished take was cobbled together from all the attempts. Thelonious Monk would have his picture on the cover of Time Magazine during his fine run at Columbia Records, but the seeds of that success were planted here, where the maestro, abetted by some of jazz’s finest talent, created enduring classics. This is a fine way for someone to dip their toe into the deep waters of Monk’s music, and once they hear it, they will undoubtedly be back for more. The Definitive Thelonious Monk On Prestige and Riverside -

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tarfala Trio - Syzygy (NoBusiness Records, 2011)

Drawing on the legacy of Albert Ayler's extraordinary trio LP Spiritual Unity, The Tarfala Trio, consisting of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Barry Guy on bass and Raymond Strid on drums and percussion take the notion of open-ended free jazz and make an impassioned statement that would certainly have made Ayler proud. Opening with “Broken by Fire,” the band sets the stage for their opening improvisation by probing at the edges of the music, before Gustafsson finds a path with ecstatic tenor saxophone supported by elastic bass and drums. Strong peals of saxophone run deep establishing the late-period Coltrane/Ayler influence as the music develops into a strong and potent force. Throttling back to a skittering bass and drums section, they develop a quiet form of improvisation, which begins to re-build gradually, before saxophone again develops gales of sound before slowing down to a quiet, spare finale. “Lapilli Fragments” sounds like quantum flux in musical space with notes and sounds popping in and out of existence. The seemingly random sounds coalesce into the (well named) fragments of melody and harmony as the music further develops. Bowed bass and light saxophone play with an against each other in open space, with scattered blasts to saxophone echoing against the interplay. “Cool in Flight” begins with open and exploratory quiet wisps of sound as bowed bass and saxophone swirl and sway. A quiet borderless atmosphere pervades the music here, before Gustafsson leads a charge with strong and emotional bursts of sound, urgently moving the music forward. The end the piece by gradually pulling back to the opening spacey feel. Light and agile percussion ushers in “Tephra” with the bells and raw saxophone developing a distinctive atmosphere. Raw and exciting saxophone and drums revolve around a rock solid bass pivot point, building into a deeper and stronger collective improvisation. Anxious sounding bowed bass and percussion open “Syzygy” before saxophone contributes reeling blasts and then lays out, creating nervous, uncomfortable silences and extraordinary dynamic tension. They resolve the tension by blasting into overdrive for a rousing conclusion. This band may dwell at the other end of the spectrum from mainstream jazz, but it suits them well. Developing a cascade of responses to the musical opportunities their creativity allows, they spin extraordinary improvisations out of the raw materials of heart, soul and spirit. Syzygy - NoBusiness Records

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

John Coltrane - Kulu Se Mama (Impulse, 1965, 2000)

The sessions that make up this album show a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of saxophonist and composer John Coltrane’s music. Four of the six tracks are with the well known “classic quartet” of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. The other two performances on this album, from a session recorded a few months later, show the quartet augmented by a number of extra musicians. The album begins with one of the augmented performances, the title track “Kulu se Mama,” which is a lengthy spiritual excursion with a vocalist chanting and singing, Pharoah Sanders joining on tenor saxophone along with an extra bassist and drummer. Everyone plays “little instruments” like bells and hand percussion as well. It all adds up to a strange, but compelling performance, perhaps the gentler flipside to the overwhelming “Om” that would be recorded around the same time. The other track with extra musicians is “Selflessness” morphing into a full-throttle Pharoah Sanders blowout. Sanders wasn’t fully developed as a saxophonist at this time, but his energy and commitment to the music are inestimable. MyCoy Tyner has a spot to shine in the middle, like the eye of a hurricane, pulling the music back from the brink with the help of strong bass and drums. There is an interesting section for piano and hand percussion as well that has an unusual sound, yet works quite well. The saxophonists renter and head for the cosmos with a torrid free-jazz climax. From the session featuring the quartet, comes an amazing duo performance with Coltrane and Jones collaborating on the awe-inspiring “Vigil.” The music burns with an extraordinary white hot flame, recalling the epic beauty of the track “Chasin’ the Trane” from the Village Vanguard Recordings of 1961. The full band plays on “Welcome,” the polar opposite of “Vigil” as it is a haunting ballad with patient saxophone and lush piano accompaniment. Finally, the album closes with two takes of “”Dusk Dawn” which follow a similar format, with the focus on extended solos from Tyner and Garrison, and strong saxophone and drums joining them for compeling final statements. The evolution of John Coltrane’s musical vision from the modality of the “classic quartet,” to the ecstatic spirituality of his final free jazz period is the focus of this split disc, and it makes for fascinating listening. Kulu Se Mama -

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Neil Young and the International Harvesters - A Treasure (Reprise, 2011)

Rock and roll legend Neil Young was a bit of a journeyman in the 1980’s, investigating several forms of music from proto-techno to sad-eyed balladry. This previously unreleased live album from 1985 with a group he called The International Harvesters was one of his most successful groups of the period. Country music had always played a part in Young’s music from his early days in Buffalo Springfield through country tinged folk projects like Comes a Time. This album shows his most overt embrace of country music, but his roots in rock ‘n’ roll and folk music are never far away. Adding instruments like steel guitar and fiddle countrify the proceedings, and Young lets his voice go to a nasaly everyman twang. Embracing the core values of the working man is one of the themes of this album, with songs like “Motor City” proclaiming the value of American built autos and the vapid ballad “Nothing Is Perfect” extolling the virtues of family life. But he never forgot how to rock as seen by the excellent set ender, “Grey Riders” which sounds like Young and Crazy Horse at full throttle. “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” a relic from his Springfield days (they’re touring again, you know) is a fine melancholy inclusion as are the two fine album openers, country rockers “Amber Jean” and “Are You Ready For the Country.” This is a fine document of a fascinating detour from a musician who refuses to rest on his laurels. It works more often than not and may surprise some of the detractors of Young’s digressions in the 1980’s. A Treasure -

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

John Coltrane - The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (Impulse, 1998)

The music on this large boxed set contains the studio recordings of one of the great jazz bands of the post-war era, John Coltrane’s “Classic Quartet.” Featuring Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums the group's towering influence continues to be felt to this day. The seven disc set covers the band’s music from 1961-1965, and dramatically demonstrates how the their music evolved during the period. The collection opens with the bands first couple of sessions, which would go into the albums Ballads and Coltrane. The album of slow songs played against the prevailing wisdom of Coltrane as the “angry tenor” with an record of short, melody rich love songs like “Too Young to Go Steady” and “Nancy (With the Laughing Face)” where the group plays with beautiful patience. The Coltrane album shows the band picking up the pace with beautiful versions of Mal Waldron’s classic “Soul Eyes” and the melodic version of “The Inch Worm.” The politically potent scalding improvisation “Up ‘Gainst the Wall” is also included. Some beautiful ballads are featured on the next disc, “After the Rain” and a couple of studio takes of “Alabama,” haunting melodies of hope and sadness that linger in the mind long after they are heard. Next they move onto selections from two of Coltrane’s most famous LP’s, Crescent and A Love Supreme. The former is a somber record with compositions like “Lonnie’s Lament” and “Wise One” which take on a melancholy air. The suite A Love Supreme, long regarded as one of the finest records in jazz history, is a four part suite detailing Coltrane’s spiritual awakening in musical form. As the quartet neared the end of its special run, they recorded the album The John Coltrane Quartet Plays with another Disney associated song “Chim Chim Cheree.” The heart of the album is a beautiful version of “Nature Boy,” and from another session the absolutely scalding “One Down, One Up” captures the band at their most fiery. Selections from the the album Sun Ship show the band moving into free-jazz, a move that would lead Tyner and Jones to depart the band. But the push and pull between tonality and atonality gives the music an edgy power that is fascinating to hear. Also included are previously unreleased songs that would turn up again on future reissues. The quartet recorded a version of the Meditations suite called First Meditations, which like A Love Supreme, showed how Coltrane’s deepening spiritual seeking was informing his musical quest. The collection is wrapped up with a disc of previously unreleased takes, unfinished works in progress and alternate takes that show how the band’s music progressed over time. This is a fascinating set that justifies its expense by allowing the listener to track the growth of one of jazz’s finest bands over time as they bond, develop and eventually fragment. Essential for Coltrane fans, just remember that this set includes the quartet recordings only, so the albums with guests like Johnny Hartman and Duke Ellington are not included. The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings -

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Books: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kurt Vonnegut's satire about runaway science and the futility of religion and greed is the subject of this masterful satire. A man sets out to write a historical book about the events that transpired around the world the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He meets the children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, co-inventor of the bomb, Nobel Laureate and inventor of Ice-Nine, which would unwittingly be used to destroy the world. After his book is shelved, the narrator receives an assignment to investigate the banana republic of San Lorenzo. On the plane, he is surprised find two of the Hoenikker children along with the would be ambassador to San Lorenzo and a hard-core capitalist looking to open a bicycle factory. When he arrives on the island, he discovers a desperately poor nation in the thrall to a holy man named Bokanon and a failing military dictatorship. After a series of slapstick mishaps the narrator is named the country's President, and a sliver of the Ice-Nine is released into the world, wrecking more havoc than man has ever known. Vonnegut's piercing apocalyptic satire is (like Dr. Strangelove) perfectly suited to a story like this skewering religion and government, the cold war and the arms race of world domination. That he does so by embracing science fiction, satire and the absurd in just the right doses make this an extraordinary and the deeply thoughtful story. Cat's Cradle: A Novel -

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (25th Anniversary Edition) (IRS 1986; Capitol, 2011)

In 1986, when this album was originally released on the IRS label, Athens, Georgia based rock ’n’ roll band R.E.M. was on the cusp of the major label popularity that would vault them from college rock favorites to international superstars. On this album, the mysterious, murky sound of their earlier albums was replaced with clearly enunciated vocals and crisp electric guitar. It suited the band well and paved the way for future success. The enigmatic nature of their music, one of their hallmarks, remained true despite the clarity on ominous songs like “Underneath the Bunker” where slightly distorted vocals and shimmering guitar make for an atmospheric success. Contrasted to that, “Begin the Begin” is simply blasting rock ‘n’ roll, an attention grabber that sets the pace for the remainder of the album, and would continue on strong up-tempo songs like “Hyena” and “Fall On Me.” The group shows its dynamic range with a flourish on the haunting song “The Flowers of Guatemala” as well as the spectral “Swan Swan H” and the mid-tempo “What If We Give It Away.” They end like they began with the riotous blast of rock ‘n’ roll fun called “Superman.” Disc two is given over to 19 previously unreleased demo tracks recorded by the band before the final studio sessions. While they are certainly interesting, especially illuminating the way the band developed their music over time, the rough takes include offer little for the general fan, although the die-hard fan will undoubtedly thrilled. This album has been a personal favorite of mine for years, so it was great to hear a crisp re-mastered version of one of the great albums of my youth. Lifes Rich Pageant (25th Anniversary Edition) -

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Gutbucket - Flock (Cuneiform, 2011)

Another band that skirts the divide between jazz and rock ‘n’ roll is the Brooklyn based outfit Gutbucket, whose intricate jazz based arrangements are infused with punk rock energy. Gutbucket consists of Ty Citerman on guitar, Eric Rockwin on bass, Ken Thomson on saxophones and Adam Gold on drums. Gutbucket’s music isn’t as much based around the traditional improvisational nature of jazz as tightly wound arrangements and strong powerful music that hits with a visceral wallop. In a sense this makes them the kin or antecedents of genre-bending bands like The Lounge Lizards or the Microscopic Septet, and they would have fit very well into the heady “no-wave” scene that flourished in New York City in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The start off strong from the first track, and perhaps my new favorite song title, “F*** You and Your Hipster Tie,” which mixes the band’s irreverent humor with serious instrumental mastery and turn on a dime musical empathy. “Set the Trapeze to Gravity” also catches the band amidst their high wire act (as the title would lead you to believe) the rhythm team is locked in very well together and provides a tight foundation for Citerman and Thompson to draw on anything from free-jazz to punk and soul in building their performances. “Sacrificial Vegan” and “Zero Is Short For Idiot" show off the bands dynamic side, allowing the music to go from slow and atmospheric to loud and raucous within the same performance. Gutbuck is a very hard band to classify and that is a good thing. Developing their unique sensibility from progressive rock, jazz, fusion and a myriad of other sources they have an identifiable sound that stands out from the crowded music scene. Flock -

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Steve Coleman - The Mancy of Sound (Pi Recordings, 2011)

Mancy is defined as "Divination by a specified means: ex. "geomancy". This suits saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman perfectly, as he has long been interested in numbers, symbols and their relationship to music. This wide ranging album features Jen Shyu on vocals, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tim Albright on trombone, Marcus Gilmore and Tyshawn Sorey on drums and Ramon Garcia Perez on percussion.With a lineup like that, you can imagine how deeply rhythmic the music is, and there is a multi-layered complexity present on this album that pervades most of Coleman's work. Yet, the music remains quite accessible, with Jen Shyu's remarkable vocalizations making an excellent pivot point for the instrumentalists to revolve. The brass also helps to frame Coleman's tart alto saxophone, which plays less of a dominant role on this recording than in the past. This is an ensemble work, with the musicians gathered together to investigate the mystery of music. The whole group gets a boiling and bubbling sound on the up-tempo opener, "Jan 18" in which the entire ensemble is involved in enriching the sound and contributing to the music, with Shyu using her voice as an instrument on par with any of the others. On one memorable track of the album the percussion drops out allowing her voice to become horn like and improvise tandem with the remaining brass instruments. The focal point of the album is the four part "Ifa Suite" where the band integrates island and African music into a deep rhythm and focus on uniting the forces of music like scientists trying to unite the four forces of nature. It's easy to see this album as a status report from musical scientists out on the edge of research, splitting the atomic structure of music scanning the skies for patterns, and finding harmony and beauty where one might least expect it. Mancy of Sound -

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Retail Therapy (last time for a while...)

I was a hot but nicely sunny day to visit the Princeton Record Exchange and Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ, USA. From the Bargain Bin at the PRE I picked up:

Elmore James - King of the Slide Guitar (Capricorn, 1992) A two-disc compilation of some of James latter-day recordings. He still sounded great at this period, full of fire and vigor with that extraordinarily emotive voice and legendary slide guitar.

Sonny Boy Williamson - King Biscuit Time (Arhoolie, 1989) This is Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II, and the music within is his early recordings for the Trumpet label made in the early 1950's. He had a program on KFFA in Arkansas that showcased his music whilst hawking King Biscuit Flour, hence the name. Elmore James turns up on this disc too.

Arne Domnerus - Jazz at the Pawnshop (Prophone, 1986) According to the Penguin Guide this album or some form of it is supposed to be an audiophile's delight - not that my crappy system can do it justice. Mainstream swing-to-bop with a lot of well worn standards.

John Coltrane - Kulu Se Mama (Impulse, 1965, 2000) I probably have a lot of the music here already on other compilations, but I didn't own the album until now. Seems like the group is a transitional phase, moving from the modal jazz of the Classic Quartet to the free-jazz of his final, overtly spiritual music.

Love - Love Story (Rhino, 1995) A two-disc compilation of Arthur Lee's great west coast rock 'n' roll band of the late 60's and early 70's. Personnel changed quite a bit over time, but Lee was the focal point and the band recorded an all time classic in the album Forever Changes.

I also picked up the new issue of Signal to Noise magazine, looking forward to reading their recommendations for free-jazz and "outsider" music and I couldn't resist picking up a new Library of America Volume, Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973, which contains the seminal novels Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Sirens of Titan, Breakfast of Champions and a few related short stories. These books literally changed my life when I was a young man, so I look forward to revisiting them.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Books: When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (Matt Scudder Mystery)When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is the sixth in the series about Matthew Scudder, an alcoholic ex-policeman turned unlicensed private eye. And like the other great loners of crime fiction (Andrew Vachss’ Burke, Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor, and James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux to name a few) Scudder exists in a world of lost and lonely melancholy on the rain swept streets of New York City. Sitting in an after-hours bar with some acquaintances, Scudder is witness to a robbery. He thinks little of it until the wife of one his acquaintances is murdered and he is retained to clear the man's name. It is only then that Scudder finds the link between the two cases, and much more than he bargained for. Block himself and several others have pointed to this novel as one of his finest, and its easy to see why. His main character is fully drawn, faults and all, and his deeply introspective nature is very thoughtfully and compellingly written. Scudder is haunted by the pain of his past and the alcoholism of his present, but his old cop instincts are still there, and with a mix of luck and guile, he is able to make a difference. This compelling character study is not to be missed. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes -

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Orrin Evans – Freedom (Posi-Tone, 2011)

Pianist and composer Orrin Evans has been on quite a roll lately, leading his own groups and then co-leading progressive groups like The Captain Black Big Band and Tarbaby, both of which were featured at recent jazz festivals and received acclaim by both fans and press alike. Riding this increasing crest of fame, he releases a very accessible album featuring his trio of Dwayne Burno on bass and Byron Landham and Anwar Marshall splitting drumming duties. Larry McKenna sits in on tenor saxophone for a few tracks. After opening with a classy trio piece called “One for Honor,” McKenna joins the group for “Gray's Ferry” with his saxophone entering in a mellow and patient fashion, building the music to medium tempo hard bop jazz with a well constructed solo. There is a spacious trio interlude on “Shades of Green” where the light music accommodates a drum feature over soft piano accompaniment. McKenna returns on “Time After Time,” crafting a nice swinging tenor solo, which builds pace with good solid accompaniment especially from the rock-like bass. A strong trio is interlude in included with agile bass and drums trading off ideas. Dark, urgent piano opens “Hodge Podge” building to a fast dynamic trio section before Evans’ piano trades thoughts with the drummer, leading to a spacious drum solo. A light touch on piano leads the group into “Oasis” which has warm and accessible playing. The music builds deeply to a strong rhythmic pulse led by great drumming, which bookends a mellower section at the beginning and end. The album concludes with two strong performances, “As Is,” which moves from spritely piano to strong robust trio improvisation, and “Just Enough” which features Evans solo, playing spare and open reveling in the open and spacious feel. Freedom -

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Freddie Hubbard - Pinnacle; Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner (Resonance, 2011)

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was one of the leading lights of the hard-bop movement in the sixties, leading several albums of his own for Blue Note Records, while participating in sessions as wide ranging as Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and John Coltrane’s Ascension. Hubbard had become something of a journeyman by 1980 when this concert was recorded; he had recorded some pop-jazz for Atlantic in the 70’s and would soon develop severe lip problems that would curtail the remainder of his career. This album features Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn, Billy Childs on acoustic and electric piano and Larry Klein on bass. Hadley Caliman and David Schnitter split tenor saxophone duties, as do Eddie Marshall and Sinclair Lott on drums, while Phil Ranelin sits in on trombone for several tracks. Opening with “The Intrepid Fox” the music is fast hard-bop with strong trumpet and saxophone combining for the urgent melody. Hubbard steps forward with a strong trumpet solo, making for snappy fresh hard-bop over strong piano accompaniment. “First Light” starts with a medium tempo, before developing an unexpected free-form squall before morphing into a yearning melody. Uptempo strong trumpet soloing lead into an electric piano interlude backed by bass and drums before they wind down to a quiet conclusion. The group comes back strong with “One of Another Kind” with piano opening the performance in the company of medium tempo bass and drums. This is followed by one of Hubbard’s strongest statements on the album, a solo of protean power, followed by a strong tenor saxophone interlude. They change things up on the next couple of tunes; “Happiness is Now” which develops a funky feel around electric piano and riffing horns and the spare ballad “The Summer Knows” where Hubbard develops a light patient solo with lush piano in support. They wrap up the album with a strong version of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” with the band storming with the complex song with exciting virtuosity. This is a solid archival issue, I downloaded the mp3 through Amazon, but apparently the CD version adds interesting liner notes and period photographs to round out the package. Pinnacle Live & Unreleased: From Keystone Korner -

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

David Weiss - Snuck Out (Sunnyside, 2011)

Trumpeter David Weiss and his band Point of Departure (named after a famous Andrew Hill album) look to the inside/outside music of the mid to late 1960’s as an inspiration and bring that aesthetic into the present with the second in a series of live albums. Recorded at the Jazz Standard in New York City, Weiss’ group features JD Allen on tenor saxophone, Nir Felder on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass and Jamire Williams on drums. This album features five lengthy performances that allow plenty of soloing opportunities for members of the group, sometimes sounding like a relay race of solo statements. “Revillot” has a fast hard bop head, with Allen’s saxophone interacting with powerful drumming to build energy. Weiss enters with a punching and weaving solo, supported by dark tones of guitar accompaniment underneath. They build to a fast and potent climax with prodding from Williams, before the full band returns to take things out. Most of the music is played as an uninterrupted medley, so the group moves directly into “Gravity Point” where Felder’s nimble guitar weaves fast and strong. Weiss builds his trumpet solo architecturally, stronger and faster as the accompaniment increases. Tenor saxophone builds in, deep and dark, drawing energy from insistently strong drumming. Wayne Shorter’s “Paraphernalia” was a mainstay of Miles Davis’ repertoire for a long time in the late 60’s and it is the centerpiece of this album as the band embarks on a twenty minute exploration of the mysterious tune. Guitar builds in with an edgy feel, before trumpet and sax weave and joust overhead. Punchy trumpet and sly guitar probe while Allen brings his solo statement to a rolling boil. Felder gets an unaccompanied feature building up to the bands re-entry and conclusion. “Hidden Meanings” dials the tempo back to a medium level, with patient saxophone and guitar working well together, before building up to a dexterous series of solos. “Snuck In” wraps things up with a punchy melody played fast and strong, and then everybody gets a chance to blow and finish strong. This was a well done an exploratory recording where the group pushes the limits of the hard-bop idiom, working very well as an ensemble and allowing each member of the group to demonstrate their skills in solo statements. Snuck Out -

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Fire with Jim O'Rourke - Unreleased (Rune Grammofon, 2011)

When I read about this interesting collaboration on Stef’s blog, it seemed like something different to check out. And different it is, with an interesting combination of free-form jazz and progressive rock that makes for a heady mixture. Fire! Is a collective consisting of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Fender Rhodes electric piano and electronics, Johan Berthling on electric bass and Andreas Werliin on drums. Joining them is the iconoclastic musician and producer Jim O’Rourke, who has worked with everyone from Sonic Youth to Wilco and beyond. He plays electric guitar and electronic synthesizers, which add textures and contrast to what might otherwise become a free-jazz blowout. They show their impish humor in the titles they give to their improvisations like the opening “Are You Both Still Unreleased?” and “Please, I am Released” which use the electronics and guitar to create a weaving texture that Gustafsson can punch through and spiral around. He doesn’t try to dominate proceedings with leather-lunged blowing, but picks his spots for maximum effectiveness. “By Whom And Why Am I Previously Unreleased?” shows the group at their most abstract, playing slowly and quietly like the calm before the storm that is the epic finale “Happy Ending Borrowing Yours.” This massive improvisation builds slowly from guitar and electronic drone through frenetic free improvisation through to a drawn out conclusion. This album was enjoyable and shows what happens when you tear down barriers between genres and allow people to interact in a free and democratic manner, allowing their creativity to flow unfettered and without boundaries. Unreleased? -

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Books: Pema Chodron, Neil Strauss

It would be hard to find two more diverse books than one by a Buddhist nun and one by a pop culture journalist, but that is where my meanderings have taken me on the book front.

The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron: As someone who deals with anxiety disorder, I'm always on the lookout for authors who have fresh perspectives on how to quiet the mind and ease the life of fear, and shifts from euphoria to deep depression. Chodron is a Buddhist monk, and her teachings are grounded in that philosophy, but she's far from doctrinaire, and many of her teachings can be applied to regular everyday secular agnostic life. Her suggestions like living in the present moment and being able to return to a calm center are ideas that appeal to me quite a bit. She also advocates compassion and empathy for all people of the world and staying away from "isms" that can create division and anger amongst people. The book was well written and presented in short chapters of digestible material. She does tend to repeat herself on occasion as if to try to hammer home a particularly important point, and those sections can be skimmable. There are groaning shelves in Libraries and bookstores filled with self-help books, but this one seemed to have some practical ideas that will help me deal with my condition and also help others working through anxiety or depression issues. The Places That Scare You -

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead by Neil Strauss: This large book compiles interviews Strauss has done with musicians and other famous people over the past twenty years. While it was the music interviews that initially drew me to the book, all of the interviews were actually quite interesting, whether with pop icons or obscure unknown musicians. Strauss is an excellent interviewer, asking provocative and probing questions and his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times and elsewhere. It's interesting to hear the inside story behind musicians like Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson, musicians I have heard of but never listened to as they talk about what drives them to make music and art. Perhaps it is my innate snobbishness, but I found them to be much more articulate that I expected. From pop stars to aging rock legends to movie and TV actors and actresses, Strauss covers a lot of ground, but he never comes across as empty or vapid, but thoughtful and probing no matter whom he in speaking to. Definitely recommended to music and pop culture fans. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead -

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Ari Hoenig - Lines of Opression (Naive/AH-HA, 2011)

Drummer Ari Hoenig has played in a number of jazz bands, especially on the Small’s scene in New York City, as well as released a few albums as a leader. On this album he is accompanied by Tigran Hamayan on piano and beat box, Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Orlando Le Fleming and Chris Tordini on bass. The group pays crisp, clear and accessible modern jazz that occasionally flirts with hip-hop or progressive rock, but stays true to its post-bop heritage. The empathy between Hamayan’s piano and Hoenig’s drums and percussion were particularly impressive, and the key to the album’s success. Tracks like “Ephemeral Eyes” and the standard “How High the Moon” bear this out, where the interplay between the two instruments is nearly at a telepathic level and it lifts the music to a higher plane. The group plays very well at speed, not flashy or show-offy, but confident in their abilities to negotiate any tempo, like they do on their version of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” which emerges from a drum and scat solo from the leader called “Ryhthm.” They band performs the intricate Monk standard at breakneck speed, making for an exhilarating performance. Hoenig takes to the brushes for the albums two slow ballads, “Wedding Song,” which is quiet and gentle and accompanied by wordless vocalizing and “Love's Feathered Nails” which features lush piano, silky brushes and shards of guitar. This was quite an impressive album that drew upon classic post bop jazz as well as more modern influences to create a cohesive whole. Lines of Oppression -

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Saturday, July 09, 2011

Sun Ra - The Paris Tapes, 1971 (Art Yard, 2010)

Since the end of the re-issue series of Sun Ra recordings by Evidence Records, many groups have picked up the mantle and continued to release material, some legally and some a bit less so. The British label Art Yard (along with Atavistic) do a wonderful job releasing material in a fine manner, with excellent sound quality and informative liner notes and photographs. Keyboardist, composer and raconteur Sun Ra and his Arkestra were in excellent form when they performed at the Theatre Du Chatelet in Paris during 1971. The leader in particular sounds very inspired, as he takes to a bank of keyboards and synthesizers, particularly on a couple of untitled solos from the end of the concert that would lead any progressive rock maven with their head spinning. The rest of the band sounds excellent as well with tight ensemble passages and some vicious free form blowing from the likes of saxophonists Marshall Allen and John Gilmore. Under-rated vocalist June Tyson is featured on a couple of tracks, like Ra’s epic chant “Space is the Place” where she is joined by a male band member (Ra himself?) and the hypnotic “Somebody Else’s Idea.” “Discipline 27” and “Discipline Unknown Number” are full band improvisations, tightly structured while at the same time reaching for the stars. There is a plethora of Sun Ra material available, and this makes a fine addition and moves to near the head of the class on the basis of a well recorded performance, excited audience and simply wailing band. Paris Tapes -

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Harrison Bankhead Sextet - Morning Sun Harvest Moon (Engine Records, 2011)

Long a mainstay on the Chicago jazz scene as a sought after sideman, bassist Harrison Bankhead assumes the leadership role on this album which includes Ed Wilkerson on tenor saxophone and clarinets, Mars Williams on saxophones, James Sanders on violin and Avreeayl Ra and Ernie Adams on percussion. The music has a wide ranging experimental flow to it, recalling the likes of Chicago greats such as Fred Anderson and Roscoe Mitchell. The album begins in a slow and specious fashion with "Morning Sun/Harvest Moon" with a vaguely Native-American sounding flute performance joined by bass, violin and lightly blown saxophones. Bankhead's thick and heady bass is linked by strong percussion on "Chicago Senorita" building to an up-tempo mix of instruments. The music here is deeply rhythmic, with the two percussionists flexing their muscles. "East Village" blasts off with pyrotechnic improvisation, before the band throttles back to a slower more melodic dynamic, becoming jaunty and joyful. Thick, loping bass with ripe saxophone introduce "Over Under Inside Out" building to a wild section of free improvisation before switching gears and shifting to an abstract section anchored by violin. "Red Is The Color In Jean-Michel Basquat's Silk Blue" slyly alludes to a famous Charles Mingus composition, and like that great man they cover a lot of ground in this performance. Wilkerson and Williams open with a light and nimble saxophone duet, before building to a fast and frenetic section with saxophones and violin roiling like a late sixties Albert Ayler performance. This epic is the dynamic center of the album, vividly demonstrating the bands openness and willingness to experiment. Wild free improv returns on "22nd Street Hustle (In Memory Of Fred Anderson)" drawing from a deep well of musical free expression. "Flying Through Your Dreams" is spacious, very open and abstract with a moaning deep instrument of unusual sound. Bankhead builds in a lengthy bass solo before drums, percussion and violin enter creating an ominous and memorable performance. The album concludes with the short "A Sketch Of Leroy Jenkins" a nice improvisation justly led by Sanders' violin. This was an excellent album through and through, showing a group and a leader that have really though through thir musical statement, but also leave plenty of space for the unpredictable nature of improvisation. Classy, exciting music played with vigor. Morning Sun Harvest Moon -

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