Monday, October 31, 2011

Books: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Madison Spencer is the chubby, precocious daughter of a pair of wildly narcissistic movie stars condemned to Hell for "overdosing on marijuana." In this wicked satire of Christian mythology, adult greed and teen drama, Madison finds out that Hell is often like the infamous teenage movie The Breakfast Club, as she joins forces with teen stereotypes: the jock, the stoner, the diva, in order to make her way through the afterlife. Starting every chapter with a snarky jab at the teen fiction nugget "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret," Madison describes her time in Hell, working in the Satanic call center where calls are placed to the living during the dinner hour asking inane questions about consumer products. Madison also recounts her brief life with her super wealthy and self-absorbed parents, a brutal send-up of the celebrity worship culture we live in in America today. As Madison travels through hell, she meets historical figures of the past, from the expected like Adolf Hitler to the unusual like Charles Darwin. Slowly Madison begins to change, and the obsequious and servile child grows more brazen and literally discovers her true self... in Hell. This was a pretty well done satire, and one of Palahniuk's more successful books (he tends to be wildly great or spectacularly awful.) The narrative is a little choppy and underdeveloped at times (possibly over-edited do to the subject matter?) but he makes his characters convincing and believable, and the satire and in-jokes are quite amusing. While certainly not for the Christian Conservative crowd, any open minded reader looking for a sharply worded satire should enjoy this book. Damned -

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News and Notes

Pianist and composer Sunna Gunnlaugs is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to finance her new album.

Tom Hull posts his core list of the best jazz from 1960-1969.

Destination: Out posts some classic Ornette Coleman.

Decanting (cerebral) continues their series re-evaluating great jazz albums from the 1980's.

Weasel Walter asks the thought provoking question: Why listen to complex music?

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Joe Cohn - Fuego (Criss Cross, 2011)

Mainstream jazz guitarist Joe Cohn recorded this album on November 16, 2010 in Brooklyn, accompanied by a hard hitting crew consisting of Peter Beets on piano, John Webber on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. You would expect a deeply swinging session from the son of famous saxophonist Joe Cohn, and that is exactly what is delivered here with a setlist that leans heavily on the compositions of the bebop and hard bop masters. The band plays together very well, supporting each other nicely during round-robin cycles of soloing in each tune. Beginning with Jackie McLean’s classic composition “Little Melonae” the group sets an up-tempo pace, developing rippling solos for piano and bass wrapped around a nice shell of guitar and drums. George Shearing’s “She” keeps the action bubbling with some uptempo swing buoyed by a fine piano, bass and a nimble guitar feature. On “Dewey Square” by Charlie Parker, the group releases their inner bebop, Washington's fast cymbal work leads the way into hard guitar based swing, nimble and dexterous, with a happy sounding piano interlude before drums, piano and guitar trade phases to conclude the performance. The group swings in a strong and thoughtful manner on Cole Porter’s standard “Love for Sale” with a well developed guitar solo as its centerpiece. An excellent and lengthy piano solo and bass interlude wrap things up. “Call it Wachawana” by the saxophonist Johnny Griffin is a fun swinger with a strong backbeat Cohn solos over a loping beat, making way for an elastic bass solo. This was a consistently excellent and very well played mainstream jazz album. The music is very accessible, yet exciting and the group makes use of some of the lesser known songs in the jazz canon to keep things fresh and interesting. Fuego -

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning / Complete Chess Masters (1951 to 1960) (Hip-O Select, 2011)

Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf was one of the most primordial and influential figures on the blues scene from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. His protean voice and harmonica, and rudimentary guitar were a force of nature. Born in Mississippi, Wolf was in a sense a transitional figure who straddled the gap between the great pre-war musicians like Charley Patton and Son House and the later blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll musicians like The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones. He emigrated to Memphis in the early 1950’s where he cut some incendiary singles for Sun Records, before finally moving to the blues Mecca, Chicago, where he spent the remainder of his career. This four disc compilation tracks the master takes and a few alternates from from the first half of Wolf's nearly twenty year run at Chess Records. With bassist and composer Willie Dixon brought in as studio straw-boss and contributing songwriter, Howlin Wolf really hit his stride. Developing a stellar songbook that ranged from his first Chess single, the epochal "Moanin' At Midnight" backed with "How Many More Years," through classic Willie Dixon tunes: "Wang Dang Doodle," "Back Door Man" and "Spoonful." Wolf favorites "Evil," "Smokestack Lightnin'," "I Asked For Water," "Sittin' On Top Of The World" are also included. Accompanying this music is a 45-page booklet filled with photographs and liner essays from Peter Guralnick, and Dick Shurman. Much of the Wolf material was originally released as singles, and thusly has been packaged and re-packaged as music moved into the LP then CD mow MP3 era. While those new to Wolf’s music might be better served with a one disc overview, hardcore fans of the blues will be pleased with this well designed and comprehensive collection. Smokestack Lightning: Complete Chess Masters -

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Darius Jones - Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (AUM Fidelity, 2011)

Since alto saxophonist Darius Jones moved north from Virginia to New York City in 2005, he has created quite a splash with his own work as a leader and sideman, and as part of the punk-jazz collective Little Women. Accompanied by his working band which consists of Adam Lane on bass and Jason Nazary on drums, the music has the spaciousness to move from bop-based jazz to free music, using space as a malleable entity. Jones uses his raw saxophone tone to develop texture and density to great effect on “E-Gaz” where ripe saxophone tone wails over thick bass and drums, building from medium up to strong trio, piercing saxophone, honks and squeals pealing, pure excitement. There is a feature for bowed bass and raw saxophone as a duet, very cool in developing an excellent synergy between their instruments. The trio develops as an organic entity, mindfully channelling their own transitory nature on “A Train.” Developing from fast rolling drums and keening saxophone developing an Ornette Coleman like feel of outstanding intensity and raw powerful punk-jazz, accented by a raw scraping bowed bass solo. The group is in the moment, playing with great compassion on “Michelle Heart Willie,” the closest the music comes to a traditional ballad with an almost romantic, longing emotional sax tone from Jones at a medium tempo improvisation and another excellent bass solo from Lane. While the music can be bracing in its intensity like on the set ending “Ol’ Metal Faced Bastard,” there are no theatrics in the music. The grow from the artifacts of music past, the emotional music of Mingus, Coltrane and Dolphy, and building them into a postmodern brew which bodes well for the future of jazz. Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) -

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kris Davis - Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed, 2011)

The profile of pianist and composer Kris Davis has been rapidly rising in the jazz world. Recently the recipient of a glowing write-up in the New York Times and the leader or co-leader of several renowned groups, this is her first solo piano album. Davis has a fascinating and unique piano style which incorporates the entire keyboard and even the interior of the piano, making the most of her available possibilites. This album begins with a fascinating reconstruction of the standard “All the Things You Are” where she barely uses the melody and develops her own very unique take on a well-worn song. “Saturn” features depth charge like low bombs of notes, akin to a technique used by Matthew Shipp, and then plucking inside the piano, making it sound like an African stringed instrument. Alternating playing inside and outside the instrument, making for an extremely interesting and original concept. Going in the other direction, “A Different Kind of Sleep” is made up of spare probing at the keyboard contrasted by a lot of open space. “Good Citizen” and "Stone" have an open rolling feel with the music gaining momentum and freedom as it blossoms, moving gently with accents and touches. “Beam in the Eyes” hits hard with a complex musical Morse code of rattling shifting low notes and figures that is consistently interesting. It is easy to understand why Davis has garnered such attention by listening to this album. She has her own unique piano style and plays with a great sense of adventure and mystery. The colors and textures of her music suggest unlimited possibility. Aeriol Piano -

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Muddy Waters - Electric Mud (Cadet/Chess, 1968)

Released under the direction of the young second generation Chess Records producer Marshall Chess on the Cadet imprint, this album was designed to help the great bluesman Muddy Waters connect with the young, white audiences that were flocking to the psychedelic ballrooms like the Fillmore and Winterland in the late 1960's. Apparently is was a successful venture, purportedly selling in the neighborhood of 150,000 copies. Whom it was not popular with was the blues cognoscenti of the era. They found the psychedelic rock trappings and over-driven guitars as a pandering sell-out. But with fresh ears, it is easy to discover a lot of merit to this album. Muddy Waters plays a setlist of some his best known songs and one pop music cover, and he is singing as well as he ever had, albeit over the loudest group he had ever fronted. The power, braggadocio and sheer vitality of his voice and very presence lends credence to this project. While the musical backdrop was certainly different, Muddy Waters was no stranger to loud guitars and strong drumming, but the wild squalls of guitarist Pete Cosey (soon to become famous in Miles Davis' electric bands) and the busy arrangements do take some of the subtlety out of the music. But overall, it was a successful experiment and showed that Waters' music was adaptable to changing times and musical styles. The 1996 re-issue also has a lengthy liner essay and some fascinating photos of Muddy at the barbershop! Electric Mud -

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Etta James - Heart and Soul: A Retrospective (Hip-O, 2011)

Etta James was American singer who covered many genres, dabbling in jazz and rock 'n' roll while concentrating the bulk of her energies on blues and rhythm and blues. In the 1950s and 1960s, she had quite a bit of success and this four compact disc boxed set covers the majority of her most well known work. Taking songs from several labels including Modern, Argo, Chess, Warner Brothers, Fantasy, Island, Private Music, and RCA Records labels, the compilation covers music James made from made from 1955 until 2008. He most well known songs are prominently featured with tracks like "The Wallflower," "Good Rockin' Daddy," "W-O-M-A-N," and "All I Could Do Was Cry" staking out her spot as one of the most expressive singers of the era. Some interesting collaborative tracks are included as well, with James performing with the likes of B.B. King, Sugar Pie Desanto, Harvey Fuqua, and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. The compilation includes a 60-page booklet with an extensive liner essay, discography and photographs. My favorite tracks from James came in a scalding live album from Chess called "Etta James Rocks the House" so it's nice to hear some of those again and reminded what a potent talent she was. Fans of vocals, be it rhythm and blues or straight up blues and standards would enjoy this set. Heart & Soul / A Retrospective -

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Amir ElSaffar - Inana (Pi Recordings, 2011)

Amir ElSaffar is an Iraqi-American trumpeter and vocalist. He is also a skilled interpreter of Iraqi maqam, which he sings and plays on the santur. Inana builds on those concepts influenced by Middle Eastern music, and improvised jazz music. The first eight tracks of the album make up the Inana Suite, named after and inspired by the ancient Middle Eastern goddess, whom inspired some of the compositions on this album. ElSaffar is joined on this multi-cultural adventure by a group he calls The Two Rivers Ensemble, composed of highly-skilled, creative musicians: Nasheet Waitson drums, Carlo DeRosa on bass, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq and saxophonist Ole Mathisen. The music deftly combines jazz and Middle Eastern music in a unique way, finding common ground in improvisation on the opening tracks, “Damuzi’s Dream” and “Venus, the Evening Star” which evoke desert landscapes with the combination of plucked instruments, trumpet and ricocheting drumwork. This becomes even more passionate in the suite that follows, “Inana’s Dance” which develops in multiple parts, using spaciousness and patience which allow the music to develop organically. This natural development is also clearly stated on the lengthy and episodic “Journey to the Underworld” which reveals its mysteries slowly and evolves into an evocative suite of its own. ElSaffar’s studies in both jazz and ethnic music have placed him in good stead to carve out a unique place in the current improvised music. His music and musicial concept is clearly evolving, and this is a very exciting development. Inana -

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

John Scofield - A Moment's Peace (Emarcy, 2011)

Several years ago, guitarist John Scofield completed an interesting album called Quiet, a ballad based LP with Scofield playing mostly acoustic guitar and featuring guest appearances from Wayne Shorter. This new album moves back into ballad territory, but with Scofield sticking primarily to electric guitar, accompanied by a top notch trio consisting of Larry Goldings on piano and organ, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums. The music consists of pleasant guitar with brushes and piano and light organ swirls with a focus on melody and accessibility. Scofield's sharp tinged yet mellow guitar borders on smooth jazz at times while never quite succumbing. Spaciousness is the key to the music, especially on the standard highlight "I Want to Talk About You" which suits the band well and features and excellent guitar solo, raining like mellow fire amongst the well adapted, yet tasteful backdrop. The gentle sting of the guitar is well played and works well here with an eye turned toward the familiar melody. Scofield even adds a an unaccompanied tag ending to the performance, much like John Coltrane did when he played this song on the Live at Birdland album. "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" takes thing in a bluesy direction, building an atmospheric slow blues featuring melodic late-night guitar with swirling organ accents and tasteful drumming. A Moment's Peace -

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Dead Cat Bounce - Chance Episodes (Cuneiform, 2011)

Dead Cat Bounce is a stock market term, unusual for a jazz band, but no threat to our four legged felines. But nonetheless, their music is a wonderfully upbeat mixture of hard-bop and modern jazz with a four horn front line. Their music is exciting, full of exhilaration and humor which recalls if nothing else, the high energy splendor of Charles Mingus' classic recordings, or the great David Murray Octets. Dead Cat Bounce consists of Matt Steckler on saxophones and flute, Jared Sims on saxophones and clarinet, Terry Goss on saxophones, Charlie Kohlhase on saxophones, Dave Ambrosio on bass and Bill Carbone on drums. Opening with “Food Blogger,” the music, composed by Stecker, sets and upbeat and infectious tone. A raw, ripe saxophone solo and riffing horns give “Tourvan Confessin’” its power, while “Far From the Matty Crowd” features strong and powerful drumming that rattles and clanks cheerfully underneath the swirling horns. On “Salon Sound Journal,” soprano saxophone leads all the horns in the beginning, developing a World Saxophone Quartet type feel. Thick and muscular bass and drums enter to drive the punching horns that have accreted around a central soloing horn. A lighter sounding horn texture also develops the unusual and interesting structure of “Silent Movie, Russia 1995.” The music breaks out from the atmospheric medium tempo, building over bass and drums to a vigorous pace. “Salvation and Doubt” has flute enter the fray, developing a complex dynamic with saxophone. After a bass and drum interlude the horns are re-introduced, getting a fine little big band sound. “Township Jive Revisited” takes a different track entirely, with the funky bass and drums laying a deep foundation for the success of this track. This song and “Living the Dream” develop a funky strut featuring rolling drumwork and great collective teamwork. That Dead Cat Bounce is able to keep their sense of humor while being strong and supple musicians goes a long way toward explaining their success.This is an excellent disc by a band that deserves more attention. Chance Episodes -

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ornette Coleman - Something Else!!! (Contomporary, 1958, OJC 2011)

Listening with today's ears it is sometimes hard to understand how controversial alto saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman's music was during the first few years of his career. It's a testament to his perseverance and vision that was once radical has by now been so thoroughly absorbed into the jazz mainstream that it hardly raises an eyebrow. To say that Coleman scuffled before his break is an understatement: a brutal baptism by fire in Texas Rhythm and Blues bands and then slowly gathering like minded musicians in Los Angeles. But gather them he did, and attracted enough notoriety to be offered an album deal by the small Los Angels based label Contemporary Records. This is Ornette Coleman's first album, and he is accompanied by a couple of musicians that would play with him for much of his career, Don Cherry on trumpet and Billy Higgins on drums. Joining them are Don Payne on bass and Walter Norris on piano, one of the few times in Coleman's career that he would play with a pianist. The music definitely comes out of the bebop/hard bop mold with Coleman's beautifully tart and organic saxophone tone sounding like the direct descendant of Charlie Parker. "When Will The Blues Leave" is classic Coleman with deeply yearning feel that is haunting and very memorable. "Invisible" and "The Sphinx" are fascinating clues to the future direction Coleman's music would take, with extrapolations of raw saxophone and punches of sharp trumpet rotating around ever shifting drums. The only person who seems out of place is Norris, but he keeps his cool through the album, comping unobtrusively and occasionally soloing. This is a transitional album, but a very enjoyable one. All of the pieces that Coleman would fit together for his classic Atlantic Records recordings are begging to fall into place, and the music even at this early date sounds fresh and exploratory. Something Else!!! the Music of Ornette Coleman -

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Magic Band - 1: Oxford, UK - June 6, 2005 (Sundazed, 2011)

Musical polymath Captain Beefheart my have left this mortal coil, but his music is more influential than ever. The Magic Band was the name of Beefheart's backing group and some members of that shifting group of musicians have reunited to play Beefheart's music, first on a studio album called Back to the Front and then a tour of Europe that resulted in this live album from the UK, recorded in 2005. Beefheart gave nicknames to most of his musicians and they are kept here, with the band being John "Drumbo" French on vocals, drums and harmonica, Denny "Feelers Reebo" Walley and Gary "Mantis" Lucas on guitars, Mark "Rockette Morton" Boston on bass and Michael Taylor on drums. French was an originally a drummer, but he is an extraordinary and charismatic front man and his Beefheart like growl is uncanny, like he is channeling the man himself. His deep powerful vocals dominate the first half of the concert, wailing through Beefheart classics like "Dropout Boogie," "Diddy Wah Diddy" and the ominous "When it Blows Its Stacks." The guitarists take charge on the second half of the concert, throwing off sparks and shards of music, with a couple of purely instrumental tracks, and providing the energy for early favorites like "Electricity." Everything comes together in the encore performance of "Mirror Man," where the band swirls and sways through some of the wildest music imaginable while French gasps and moans the lyrics. A fascinating ending to a potent and enjoyable album. Oxford UK June 6 2005 -

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Point of Departure: Issue 36 - September 2011

There is a new issue of the webzine Point of Departure available, with plentiful interviews, commentary and reviews.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog link

Don't miss Ethan Iverson's fascinating essay "From the Ground Up" on Do the Math. Excerpt:
The greatest jazz was created and nourished by locally-based African-American folklore. Some of the many musicians involved in that community were also possessed with the desire to innovate. Since it is easier to write about, many jazz critics -- especially white jazz critics -- have made more of the innovation than the folklore.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Julius Hemphill - Dogon A.D. (Arista/Freedom 1972, 1977; International Phonograph, 2011)

The Dogon tribe of Mali made an amazing discovery: they somehow knew without the aid of a telescope that the Dog Star Sirius had a small companion star, invisible to the human eye, a fact that wasn't verified by astronomers until the 1970's. Much like that mystery is this extraordinary album by saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill, accompanied by Baikida E.J. Carroll on trumpet, Abdul Wadud on cello and Philip Wilson on drums. This beautifally enigmatic album has drifted in and out of print since its release. Given new life by this beautiful gatefold CD re-issue by International Phonograph. There are four lengthy performances on this album, the last one, "The Hard Blues" wasn't part of the original album, but was recorded at the same session, and fits in very well with the aestetic of the other tracks with Wadud's alternatingly droning and propulsive cello and Wilson's drums providing the ideal launching pad for Hemphill's vividly tart saxophone and Carrol's punchy rejoinders and Hamiet Bluiett sitting in on baritone saxophone. Hemphill switches to flute on "The Painter" playing with a lithe beauty the brings the title to life. The first two tracks, the extraordinary "Dogon A.D." and "Rites" are classics of the loft jazz era, with the otherworldly bowing of Wadud making for a mystical and hypnotic setting that sets the musicians in motion for very creative flights of fancy. It is great to see this important album, one of the great jazz albums of the 1970's, back in print again. Anyone interested in adventurous and exciting jazz music will be thrilled. This is truly a model re-release, with great care taken to the music and the presentation and it is a first rate and classy job all around. Dogon A.D. -

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Possible break

Might try to take a little break from blogging for a while. Things are not going well. I deeply regret and apologize to anyone I have let down because of my failure.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Side A - A New Margin (Clean Feed, 2011)

One needs a continuous RSS feel all its own to keep up with the number of projects saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Ken Vandermark is involved in these days. This is a comparatively new project, a collaborative one featuring Vandermark with Havard Wiik on piano and Chad Taylor on drums. It is interesting to hear Vandermark playing in a group with a pianist, and a bassless one no less. But it works really well, and the music is consistently fresh and interesting, drawing its inspiration from the "free-bop" of the late 1960's and adding thoroughly modern touches and flourishes. They come out of the gate hard with the pugilistic "Boxer" and "What Is Is." Vandermark cycles through a variety of horns throughout the album, creating a variety which is attuned to the nature of the music whether the uptempo tunes mentioned above or the slower and more abstract "Arborization" or "Permanent Sleeve (Walking Hand)." On these performances, the trio slows the pace, and allows the music to develop in an abstract, organic manner. The finish strong with the pulsing "Giacometti" bringing them full circle to the hot blooded fast and nimble jazz they began with. Vandermark is his usual excellent self through the album, giving his all whatever the instrument or the setting. Wiik, a member of the excellent Scandinavian jazz band Atomic, and Chad Taylor who is ubiquitous on the Chicago jazz scene are with him step for step, turning what could have been a soloist with accompaniment record into a true trio conversation. This was a consistently enjoyable and interesting album. The group plays with considerable passion and brings an air of freshness and joy to the proceedings. A New Margin -

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Bill Laswell, Raoul Bjorkenheim and Morgan Agren - Blixt (Cuneiform, 2011)

Blixt, the jazz fusion/progressive rock trio of Bill Laswell on bass, Raoul Bjorkenheim on guitar and Morgan Agren is a powerful one filled with tricky lead statements and intricate improvisational sections. Laswell is famous as a legendary producer and musician on the “downtown” improvisational scene in New York city, while Bjorkenheim, late of Finland (an improvisational hotbed all its own filled with great composers and musicians) has had his profile rise with tenures in the fusionesque band Krakatau and The Scorch Trio as well as an excellent disc he cut in the company of the great rhythm team of William Parker and Hamid Drake. The trio jumps right out of the gate, going for the throat with “Black Whole” developing a fast and torrid cosmological groove that threatens to engulf the musicians in energy. They shift gears into the percussion centered interlude “Moon Tune” speaking of a lunar influence that casts a diffuse blue light over the proceedings. “Shifting Sands Closing Hour “ and “Ghost Strokes” take the musicians to a more abstract direction, developing spooky landscapes of smeared guitar and drums with rumbling, ominous bass underneath. The group drops it back into overdrive with “Drill Beats” “Storm” and “4-4-4-4-2-2-2-5-2.” These are short tracks of great intensity, where the group is able to stop and turn on a dime almost telepathically, The Ramones of intricate jazz fusion, hit hard and fast and take no prisoners. Despite the complexity of the music, it remains quite listenable and enjoyable for a wide range of music fans. Whether a fan of punk rock, jazz fusion or progressive rock, there is something for everyone here. Blixt -

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Jeff Gauthier Goatette - Open Source (Cryptogramophone, 2011)

Violinist and composer Jeff Gauthier wears a diverse array of hats in the jazz and improvised music world. Founder of the well-regarded Cryptogrampohone record label, and an in demand producer, he still finds time to record his own music. Gauthier states that his vision of Open Source means drawing from a diverse well of creativity, and he has assembled a fine crew for the achievement of this mission. He is joined by John Fumo on trumpet, Nels Cline on guitar, David Witham on keyboards, piano, and accordion, Joel Hamilton on bass, and Alex Cline on drums and percussion. The music is a diverse mix of electric and acoustic performances, with sketches that develop into flavorful improvisations. They can be fast and wild, and also develop abstract and spooky vibes as well. “40 Lashes (With Mascara)” is a fascinating opener, coming on strong as contemporary classical music meeting jazz fusion and progressive rock. They come together like chocolate and peanut butter with a smoky trumpet interlude and strong drumming jumping to inspired progressive fusion. Nels Cline throws some snarling wicked guitar into the mix combining nastily with electronics and drums. “From a Rainy Night” and “Things Past” show the group’s gentle side with fine ballad playing featuring acoustic guitar, violin and delicate brushes. Guitarist Nels Cline blasts off for the stratosphere on “Prelude to a Bite,” channeling his whiplash musical sensibility into the groups identity. The album’s final track “Open Source” blends all of the group’s diverse components into an extraordinary fourteen plus minute suite. This was a very well done album, which brings together a like minded group of open-eared musicians to create an album that is exploratory, yet accessible. Open Source -

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris - Broken Partials (Not Two, 2011)

Pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist and guitarist Joe Morris have been long time compatriots on the improvised music scene, but I believe that may be the first time they have recorded in the duet configuration ( at least with Morris sticking strictly to bass.) It works very well, with Morris adhering to acoustic bass and Shipp’s wonderful keyboard technique that makes use of the entire instrument. The music develops in a an eight part suite of improvised music, occasionally developing a chamber quality, but most often like being a fly on the wall as two talented musicians have a deep and thoughtful conversation. Joe Morris alternates between bowed and plucked bass adroitly allowing the music to become deeply textured as Shipp alternately drops bombs from the lower end of the keyboard as the music ebbs and flows like the tide. This album worked very well as both musicians were locked into each other and performing at a very high level. Highly recommended for fans of spontaneous (and near telepathic) improvised music. Broken Partials -

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Books: Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke (Simon and Schuster, 2011)

Feast Day Of Fools (Hackberry Holland, #3)Feast Day Of Fools by James Lee Burke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

James Lee Burke returns to the saga of small town sheriff Hackberry Holland and the windswept plains of southwest Texas in this evocative and beautifully written work of crime fiction. A man is tortured to death in the desert while the person he was chained to escapes. Wanted by the law, terrorists and criminals this man runs into the desert where he hooks up with Holland's nemesis, the psychopathic killer "Preacher" Jack Collins. Meanwhile, an enigmatic woman is helping Mexican workers cross the border as part of a modern-day underground railroad while being harassed by a xenophobic pretend reverend and other criminal elements. Burke weaves these seemingly diverse threads into a coherent story that slowly comes together for a dramatic showdown at the hideout of an international criminal. Mortal enemies Holland and Collins must make an uneasy compromise to take on a common enemy. This is another excellent story from James Lee Burke, who seems incapable of writing a bad novel. All of his classic attributes are here: a morally torn hero who despises war and violence despite being a decorated war veteran and quick draw sheriff. The development of fellow characters is fascinating as well, with the sociopath Collins drawn between acts of unbridled mayhem and the thoughts and memories that continually torture him from the inside. Burke makes beautiful observations about the folly and stupidity of warfare, and the fallible nature of human beings in this excellent story. Feast Day of Fools: A Novel -

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Books: Headstone by Ken Bruen (Mysterious Press, 2011)

Headstone: A Jack Taylor NovelHeadstone: A Jack Taylor Novel by Ken Bruen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jack Taylor is back! I am thrilled to no end to see one of my favorite crime fiction series continue, because with the amount of abuse and torment Jack receives in each book, I expect it to be his last. This time the drug addicted, demon haunted, alcoholic unlicensed private eye faces one of his toughest foes. A group called Headstone, inspired by the Columbine massacre, decides to rid Galway of what they consider undesirables: priests, homosexuals, the developmentally disabled and alcoholics. After Jack is kidnapped and mutilated by this group, he vows revenge... the only way he knows how. Jack also gets a side gig, helping the church, whom he has a love/hate relationship with, and that eventually results in him losing another friend. The conclusion, where Jack and his friends Ridge and Stewart meet Headstone for the final climactic scene is apocalyptic and harrowing. This was a fantastic novel in one of the best series going in contemporary crime fiction. Jack Taylor is such a compelling character, that whatever happens, you can't stop rooting for him and be simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by his deeds. As always, Bruen makes the city of Galway, Ireland a major character in the story. The landmarks, the people and the financial disaster that came in the wake of the Celtic Tiger are the backdrop for this extraordinary story. Headstone -

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Interesting articles

  • Ethan Iverson interviews Mickey Roker for the Do the Math blog.
  • Hank Shteamer has a lengthy review of the new Miles Davis Live in 1967 set for Pitchfork.
  • Decanting (cerebral) looks back at some fine jazz recordings from the 1980's.
  • Destination-Out welcomes in the Jewish new year with a selection of Masada recordings.
  • Adventure-Equation points to some Sun Ra mixtapes available for download.
  • George Colligan reminisces about touring with jazz singer Cassandra Wilson.
  • The New York Times Ben Ratliff sheds light on up and coming jazz pianists.
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Saturday, October 08, 2011

John Zorn - At the Gates of Paradise (Tzadik, 2011)

When I was in college I had to take one humanities class to fulfill a requirement for graduation. I took a class on the visionary poet and engraver William Blake. I found it fascinating, although I admit that some of his more complex later works were a bit beyond me. Blake's work has had an effect on composer John Zorn as well, and he put together this suite performed by John Medeski on piano and organ, Kenny Wollesen on vibes, Trevor Dunn on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The music takes on a mystical and hypnotic feel, perfect for someone like Blake who claimed to see visions throughout his life. The most evocative pieces on the album for me were "A Dream of Nine Nights" and "Dance of Albion." The first opens with delicate piano, developing a spritely air with vibes probing and the whole improvisation anchored by strong loping and elastic bass and deeply rippling piano. The latter has a feel akin to Zorn's The Dreamers project with Medeski developing a repetitive piano riff, working dexterously, before cycling into a strong and ominous section, like dark clouds gathering on the horizon. "Liber XV" is evocative as well, with Medeski shifting to organ, and Wollesen playing dampened sounding vibes. Rattling drumwork adds to the eerie feel of the music. This music sheds light on Zorn as a composer, and it is interesting how he takes inspiration from different and diverse sources and communicates them to his fellow musicians. At the Gates of Paradise -

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Friday, October 07, 2011

James Carter Organ Trio - At the Crossroads (Emarcy, 2011)

James Carter is a wonderfully talented saxophonist, and someone who has evolved into something of a journeyman over the past several years. Coming on the heels of an interesting orchestral album, he comes through with an thoughtful grits 'n' gravy organ fueled album. This is almost something of a James Carter sampler album: with elements of groove, ballads and rhythm and blues making up the music. Accompanied by Gerard Gibbs on organ and Leonard King on drums, the core group also adroitly adds guests to vary the program. The blues factors deeply in the music with Miche Braden singing on "The Walking Blues" and "Ramblin' Blues" while Carter alternates between baritone and tenor saxophone. He adds Brandon Ross on guitar to the core trio for a very powerful set ending performance of Julius Hemphill's "The Hard Blues." The group moves through a couple of gospel performances on an instrumental version of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" and Braden sitting in again singing on the traditional "Tis the Old Ship of Zion." The group drops into a deep rhythm and blues groove with Jack McDuff's "Walking the Dog" as a nice feature for Gibbs and "Lettuce Toss Yo' Salad" which is a blasting, bar walking bit of fun. James Carter takes the the organ group in a different direction by adding musicians and developing a setlist based on the musicians talents. Carter moves through a number of different saxophones and modes and moods to create an interesting album. There is an interesting liner essay and some nice photography included with the liner notes. At the Crossroads -

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Mike LeDonne - Keep the Faith (Savant Records, 2011)

Organist and pianist Mike LeDonne (excellent interview here) has proven himself in a number of mainstream jazz situations, both as a leader and as a sideman. On this occasion he sticks to the Hammond B-3 Organ, accompanied by a fine coterie of musicians: Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Subtitled "The Groover Quartet" on the album cover, this certainly lays down the path that these musicians chose for this album. The chose quite wisely too, LeDonne's swirling organ and nimble bass pedals are matched by Bernstein's tasteful accents, Farnsworth's subtle timekeeping and Alexander's lustful, brawny saxophone. Drawing inspiration from the great organ units of the past like those led by Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Brother Jack McDuff, the group gets off to a flying start on the fast paced performances, "The Backstabbers" and "Keep the Faith" before throttling back a bit for the medium boil "Big John," presumably a tribute to the great organist Big John Patton. Drifting off into the pop-jazz crossover medium, they cover the Michael Jackson RandB song "The Way You Make Me Feel" and the haunting ballad "Someday We'll be Free." Moving back into their grooving state, they make their most emphatic statement of the album, a blasting piece of uptempo fun called "Scratchin'" which features excellent organ and tenor saxophone. The whole album is played quite well and will be a treat for fans of organ based jazz. There are excellent solos throughout the music, but it is the groups compatibility and their ability to work together toward and ego-less common ground that is most noticeable. Keep the Faith -

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy, 2011)

When I was younger, I was deeply involved in the hobby of tape-trading, the exchanging bootleged concerts through the medium of the legendary Maxell XL-90 cassette tape. One of my most prized possessions at the time was 45 minutes of a concert from Paris recorded on November 6, 1967 by the Miles Davis Quintet with Davis in trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano and Tony Williams on drums. The music was captivating, awe-inspiring and nearly extra-sensory in its execution (is it any wonder this group names on of their studio albums ESP?) After the success of "Bootleg Series" releases by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Columbia/Legacy has turned its attention to the trove of well recorded radio broadcasts of the various Davis bands that have been in collectors circles for decades. Included in this package are three compact discs containing the entire legendary Paris concert as well as proceeding concerts from Copenhagen and Antwerp in addition to a DVD with video from the same tour filmed in Stockholm and Germany. The music itself is simply extraordinary and exhilarating, with the group playing a similar setlist each night, but with drastically different results. "Agitation," as you can expect is all about controlled aggression with the band coiling energy like a snake before releasing explosively. Davis in particular is fascinating to hear, laying out quite a bit and giving his bandmates a large degree of freedom before launching into punchy pointed commentary. Wayne Shorter's enigmatic "Footprints" is played repeatedly, but they way that Shorter caresses the haunting theme and then springboards into extraordinary improvisational flights is a wonder to behold. "No Blues" from the Copenhagen concert may be the finest example of the groups mission. Developing similar setlists concert after concert (much like the music recorded in 1965 on the Live at the Plugged Nickel boxed set) the band uses the themes to develop exploratory improvisational music that is never repeated, and always leads to a thrilling climax. The music moves in a suite like formation, with each improvisation and theme building into the next one in a flawless fashion. The music is hypnotic and flows like water over rock with Zen patience and passion. The DVD is recorded crisply for television gives keen insight into the how the band interacted in real time, cool and brilliant, they mix standards and Monk with originals and jazz standards. The liner notes are well written, and place the music and the band in historical context and include some fine photography. This is a really extraordinary package by one of the finest working bands jazz has ever produced. The music developed on this tour and the bands studio recordings continues to resonate and provide inspiration today. One can only hope that Columbia/Legacy can keep this series going. There are several radio recordings of the so-called "lost quintet" from 1969 floating around out there, and they would make a wonderful Volume 2. LIVE in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 -

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