Friday, December 30, 2011

Words about music

Burning Ambulance #5 Edited by Philip Freeman, BA is a quarterly magazine available as either print or e-book download. Their coverage is very diverse from interviewing straight-ahead jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt to the cover story on the great jazz/funk/call-it-anything ensemble Burn Sugar. The eclecticism is part of the fun, they investigate North American Black Metal in depth, then shift into an exposition by Freeman about Cecil Taylor’s recordings and concerts in the pivotal year of 1978, a turning point for the great pianist.

Innerviews: Music Without Borders by Anil Prasad is a book of interviews with musicians. What makes the book so interesting is that Prasad is a very intuitive interviewer, one that is able to go beyond superficial questions and get his subject to open up not only about music, but about life, spirituality and the state of the world. Prasad is particularly interested in “fusion” musicians, not necessarily jazz fusion, although several interview subjects could fall into that broad category. His focus is musicians that look beyond genre or as Duke Ellington would say, beyond category. From prog rock stalwarts like Bill Bruford and Jon Anderson to musicians like the the producer and bassist Bill Laswell and the Israeli/American singer Noa, Prasad is looking for musicians who cross borders, or ignore them entirely. His interviewing style makes even musicians who normally wouldn’t interest you seem compelling.

Point of Departure - Issue 37 of the venerable online music journal was posted in December of 2011 with a number of interesting articles. Publisher Bill Shoemaker’s Page One article about the great Jamaican/British saxophonist Joe Harriottt was what led me to but the Proper Box I wrote about yesterday. Kevin Whitehead updates a presentation he gave that places Anthony Braxton within the jazz tradition, while Brian Morton eulogizes composer and arranger Graham Collier. The issue also contains many reviews of recent releases of recorded music and excerpts from books recently published about music.

Paris Transatlantic The winter issue of this longstanding webzine covers jazz and various avant-garde musics. Reviews of new and reissued recordings are included along with editorials and book reviews.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Joe Harriott Story (Proper Records, 2011)

I first became aware of saxophonist and composer Joe Harriott from a tribute album Ken Vandermark dedicated to him called Straight Lines. Harriott is something of a lesser-known figure in the USA and that is a shame because he was quite a talented and ground breaking musician. Born and raised in Jamaica, Hariott moved to England in the 1950’s (along with the likes of Dizzy Reece, another excellent Jamaican musician.) He first gained rebound as a Charlie Parker disciple and was an excellent bebop player as the first two discs on this collection show. As a featured sideman on alto saxophone in the Tony Kinsey Quartet during 1954-1955. The band played strongly swinging bebop and hard-bop with Harriott and the excellent vibraphonist Bill LeSage soloing on chestnuts like “Cherokee,” “Get Happy,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Disc two also shows him beginning to experiment with a syrupy Bird With Strings like ensemble and cutting a few songs with Ronnie Scott’s Little Big Band. Harriott is most well known for his early experiments with free jazz and that makes up the bulk of disc three. Though a contemporary of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane; Harriott developed his own method of playing what he called “abstract” or free jazz. Unlike Coleman, he kept a pianist in his group, and unlike Coltrane he really stressed complex interaction and collective improvisation amongst all band members, particularly on the justly lauded album Free Form which is included in this collection. Finally, disc four covers some more quartet and quintet sessions that Harriott did after a period of scuffling and ill health that followed his poorly received but historically significant free jazz recordings. The music returns to the swinging hard-bop of the first couple of discs and shows Harriot playing with a sharper, tart tone reminiscent of Jackie McLean or Eric Dolphy. Left missing as the final breakthrough of his career, the Indo-Jazz fusion albums he co-led with John Mayer which were some of the first albums to wed Eastern classical music to Western jazz and were pioneering in their time. Still, this is a fine retrospective of an unjustly ignored figure in modern jazz. Joe Harriott Story -

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books: Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

Two-Way SplitTwo-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pearce is just out of prison after doing a ten year stint for murdering the drug dealer responsible for the heroin overdose of his sister. Moving in with his mother and trying to stay on the straight and narrow, he meets a woman, falls in love and borrows money from the local mob boss to buy her a huge wedding ring. She immediately dumps him, taking the ring and leaving him a big debt to the boss that he must pay by becoming an enforcer and collector. Meanwhile a most unusual gang prepares for a post office robbery: a sadistic woman, her schizophrenic former husband and the group's ringleader steal a significant amount of money. But in the process, the schizophrenic robber kills Pearce's mother, a clerk at the post office. Now things get really wild: Pearce and a bumbling private investigator are after the thieves, the PI for the money and Pearce for revenge. The schizophrenic robber begins flipping between two different personalities, neither is sure that they are responsible for. They all meet for a climatic showdown with the money and revenge at stake. This was a really well done crime novel, with Guthrie creating compelling characters and setting them in motion on a wild ride. He writes about the mentally ill character quite thoughtfully, with each persona denying they committed crimes and stole money, it adds another dimension to a fascinating story. Two-Way Split -

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sam Rivers

Sam Rivers was one of my favorite musicians since I discovered his work in the 1990's. I was sad to see Peter Hum report of his passing Monday in Florida at the age of 88. Rivers' work appeale to me greatly, he had the energy and drive of the freest jazz, while at the same time the compositional acuity to give his music structure and keep it from dissolving into mayhem. The first records of his I heard of his were Colours with the Winds of Manhattan ensemble and his two-volume series of duets with the bassist Dave Holland. Both of these I found on vinyl in my public library of the time and they showed two different sides of a multi-talented artist. Colours placed him on a large ensemble, heavy on reeds allowing him to play his complex compositions arranged for him to sway and fly through at will. The duet records, Sam Rivers & Dave Holland Vol. 1 & 2 (still OOP as far as I know) allowed him to cycle through all of his instruments: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, piano and flute in a very free and conversational atmosphere. Scrounging the used bins at local record stores, I was able to find a record from his short tenure at Impulse records called Streams. This is an extraordinary stream of consciousness trio album recorded live at a jazz festival, mind-blowing in terms of intensity and musical ideas. Indeed, some wag at the record store had affixed a sticker to the album that said TRIP ON THIS. Eventually some of this music would return during the Impulse reissue period of the 1990's as the excellent Trio Live compact disc, but his extraordinary big band LP of the period, Crystals, and other music of the period remain more or less in limbo. Hopefully Mosaic can make a Complete Sam Rivers on Impulse set, because it would be revelatory. I was hooked at this time, but it was also during a break in his recording career, and the re-issue industry didn't catch up with what he had done in the past until Mosaic's splendid Complete Sam Rivers Blue Note collection, putting his Blue Note albums as a leader: Contrasts, Inventions and Dimensions, Fuscia Swing Song and Coutours on a three disc set with excellent liner notes. These albums (eventually available separately from Blue Note after the Mosaic boxed set went OOP) are really the Rosetta Stone for understanding Rivers' music from a fan's perspective. He had fully assimilated bebop and had listened carefully as the free-jazz revolution of musicians like Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor spun around him. He masterfully combined these two divergent paths of music and demonstrated along with fellow forward-looking Blue Note artists like Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill and Jackie McLean that jazz was a music of endless possibility. Also during the period of these recordings (the mid 1960's) he made some notable sideman appearances with the likes of Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson and Miles Davis. Along with being one of the most important pioneers of the "Loft Scene" of DIY musical venues in the 1970's with his famous Studio Rivbea, Rivers appeared often as a sideman, again weaving the threads of free and bop, playing with both Cecil Taylor and Dizzy Gillespie. In the 1990's came a radical change, as he moved to Orlando, Florida and discovered a thriving musical community that allowed him to realize his big band ambitions in the Riv-Bea orchestra, which was a fixture and very well documented on this year's Mosaic Select, which takes three discs of the Florida based unit of the band from the late 1990's and shows them to be an explosive and dynamic unit. He received some of the most recognition of his career by recording two albums of an all-star version of the orchestra for RCA. Inspiration and Culmination were both ecstatically received with rave reviews and even Grammy nominations. Rolling undaunted into his eighties, Rivers continued to perform with the orchestra in addition to recording free-ish trio records that showed his skilled undiminished. The albums Celebration, Purple Violets, Violet Violets, along with the self-issued Firestorm and Aurora LP's showed a musician still at the hight of his protean powers who remained that way to the end: in inspiration to both musicians and fans alike who leaves a legacy of unlimited courage, dignity and grace. He will be sorely missed.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

The Black Keys - El Camino (Nonesuch, 2011)

The venerable garage rock band from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys finally broke through last year, with a top five album and a brace of Grammy Awards. That album was much different than the work that they had made before and I wondered whether this marked a true sea change for the band and their music. Turns out not to be the case. Scaling back from last years sprawling epic, Brothers, to a taught hard hitting rock 'n' roll album clocking with eleven concise songs in thirty-nine minutes. Slashing guitar riffs and booming percussion return, with some other instruments filling out the spaces, but the focus clearly returns to the two band leaders, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. Tracks like "Lonely Boy" and "Gold on the Ceiling" show a band with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove, after the phony glitz of the Grammy awards and the whirlwind blast through the media machine which will chew bands up and spit them out. The Black Keys remain undaunted, with their heads held high, making the tough gritty music that got them such a strong fan base to begin with. El Camino -

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Something Else by The Kinks {Deluxe Edition} (Pye, 1967; Sanctuary, 2011)

In 1967, amidst the Summer of Love and psychedelia, The Kinks bravely bucked the trend by releasing a beautiful album of thoughtful and immaculately crafted pop music. Their reward for this extraordinary album was almost complete apathy both in England and the United States (where they were banned anyway due to draconian union regulations.) Over time, the album was recognized as one of The Kinks finest, and this deluxe re-issue includes both the mono and stereo mixes of the album as well as period singles and BBC Sessions. It’s quite a well done package, the remastered music sounds excellent with the band exploring everything from a Cockney near sea-shanty “Hairy Rag” to the faux music hall strut “Tin Soldier Man.” Bookending the original album were two of the band’s finest songs, the rocking and propulsive “David Watts,” and the almost unbelievably beautiful ballad “Waterloo Sunset” whos elegiac and nostalgic glow makes it one of the bast songs in pop music history, IMHO. There really isn’t a bad song on the album, but songs about the lives of regular folks of London just didn’t register with music fans looking for more exploratory music, more’s the pity. In addition to a number of alternate takes of album tracks, there is a period session from the BBC with previously unissued versions of Kinks classic singles like “Sunny Afternoon” and “Autumn Almanac.” The short essay of the liner notes has a few typos, but otherwise tells the story of the album in a concise manner. What’s really interesting is the photos of the period of the band (check out those suits!) different singles and other ephemera. This version is a must for hard-core fans of the band, but the curious shouldn’t pass up the original album which is a faultless masterpiece. Something Else by The Kinks (Deluxe Edition) -

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Weasel Walter - Ominous Telepathic Mayhem (ugExplode, 2011)

Drummer Weasel Walter brews up a potent free-jazz mixture with rock-ish overtones in a series of duet performances in the company of trumpeter Peter Evans, guitarist Mary Halvorson, alto saxophonist Darius Jones and clarinetist/guitarist Alex Ward. The music is quite heady and powerful, beginning with "Showering With Beer" and "Grannytram" both featuring Walter and Evans. The former begins with a frenetic and powerful open from the two musicians, before snarling and angry tones move into the primal and raw post-rock that Walter often champions on his blog. “Grannytram” has Evans spreading out long smears of trumpet over boiling percussion developing into the sound and fury one might expect from the soundtrack from an apocalyptic video game, before returning to long foghorn trumpet to exit. The next few tracks feature the guitarist Mary Halvorson, with “Free Sometimes Rules” beginning with a mysterious guitar opening before the drums build in and the musicians develop a wall of noise. A probing and open section develops, before being pinched off by rolling drums and guitar. “Let’s Get ‘em” develops a power duo concept with powerful and free avant jazz/noise reaching for the cosmos. As good as these tracks were they are eclipsed with the addition of alto saxophonist Darius Jones who develops a simpatico pairing with the drummer. Wild and punishing saxophone and drums build in on “Clarity,” making for an excellent full-throated improvisation. Sax and drums jab short phrases of music like boxers in a ring. The come in thrashing again on “Oracle” really developing a jazz groove, albeit a free and loud one, wailing at an amazing level. These pairings of musicians worked really well, they were on a high-wire of improvisation throughout, but revelled in the freedom and lack of barriers the music possessed. Ominous Telepathic Mayhem -

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best of 2011, Part III: Top ten new releases for 2011

OK, I know I already did a post on this already, responding to Francis Davis' request for his poll. I screwed that up royally, putting some musicians twice and others not at all. So let me try this again...

10. Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut (Thirsty Ear) Hard hitting trio for sax, bass and drums. This is tough, gritty and strong music that deserves an audience; it's potent stuff.
9. Rudresh Mahanthappa - Samdhi (ACT) Samdhi looks forward to new vistas in Mathanhappa's all-encompassing musical vision. Combining multi-cultural music and looking at jazz in a fresh direction, he has created a unique synergy of music that is fresh and exciting.
8. Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp - Cosmic Lieder (AUM Fidelity) This was a masterful performance from the two musicians - one an established master himself, and another on his way to becoming one. Jones and Shipp's Cosmic Lieder is the aural equivalent to a dark and stormy night. Short, stark ideas collide like in a particle accelerator, and the brief nature of the performances just adds to their pointedness.
7. David S. Ware - Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity) You can chart Ware's lineage in the depth and strength of the music, from a young devotee of Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler, to a loft scene veteran developing his own unique sound to an esteemed elder statesman and master improviser and instrumentalist, Davis S. Ware is one of a kind and every note is a treasure.
6. BB & C - The Veil (Cryptogramophone) BB and C is a cooperative group consisting of alto saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Jim Black and guitarist Nels Cline. This was a very exciting and continuously engaging album to listen to, moving between avant-garde squalls of noise and abstract passages of sound sculpture.
5. Matt Lavelle - Goodbye New York, Hello World (Musicnow) This album was very well planned out and executed, with both the duo and full band tracks succeeding well. Fans of progressive jazz are urged to check this out soon.
4. Steve Reid, Kieran Hebden and Mats Gustafsson - Live at the South Bank (Smalltown Superjazz, 2011) Shifting from dark and brooding textures to exciting, heavy and powerful features, the double album unfolds in a continuous suite waxing and waning like the unstoppable tide. This unique and fascinating performance is highly recommended for progressive jazz and rock fans.
3. Matthew Shipp - Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear) The power of the piece comes from the juxtaposition of heavy with light, much like the recent work of Ahmad Jamal. This was an excellent set that is highly recommended to anyone looking for the state of the art in jazz piano.
2. World Saxophone Quartet – Yes We Can (Jazzwerkstatt) The musicians play with great authority throughout this very exciting album, showing that regardless of the passing of time and the changing of lineups, the WSQ remains a powerful force in jazz.
1. Mostly Other People Do the Killing - The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed) What makes the band so much fun to follow is the impish delight they take in making music, from the delightful spoof covers to wryly quoting famous jazz songs amidst their original compositions. But make no mistake, their music is taken seriously and played with a very high degree of competence.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

William Hooker Trio - Yearn for Certainty (Engine Records, 2010)

Recorded at the Roulette Club in New York City during 2007, this is a continuously improvised performance led by drummer and poet William Hooker, accompanied by Sabir Mateen on saxophone, flute and clarinet and David Soldier on mandolin, banjo and violin. “Integrated Beam - Leroy” and “Century’s Soles” speak truth to power with a powerful spoken word recitation with string accompaniment that develops into an instrumental gateway. The music itself lifts off with the extraordinary free jazz blowout “Commonplace Travel.” Wildly swirling collective improvisation, with no holds barred, this is the trio at the peak of the vortex. “Magistrait” builds slowly with shimmering cymbals and violin drone setting up long tones of saxophone. Hooker develops his own solo, with a light touch, moving the music from a spare and lonely feel to a faster pace, gradually ramping feverishly into free territory. Hooker wills the band forward with passionate drums and vocal encouragement. The finale, “Yearn for Certainty” segues directly from the previous improvisation, led by overdriven guitar and drums. Soldier is featured here, moving through his instruments with a variety of sounds and textures. Thrashing drums and peaking saxophone make for a wildly exciting improvisation before rolling back to droning guitar and probing saxophone. Bashing drumbeats change the theme of the music, contrasting thunderous percussion against silence. Mateen switches to flute for a mysterious interlude, while Hooker develops another spoken incantation accompanied by flute and guitar. Loud drumming and saxophones then return to set up the big finale. The three musicians form a tightly coherent unit that allows for a great deal of collective expression and a colorful palette of sounds. Yearn for Certainty -

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Best of 2011, Part II: Historical Releases

Year after year, I think that surely every note must have been wrung from the musical archives and that there are fewer and fewer ways to re-package the old and familiar. And every year I am proved wrong... Here's a look at what I think were the best historical releases of 2011:

10. Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning / Complete Chess Masters (1951 to 1960) (Hip-O Select) 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. This four disc set collects his 45 rpm releases for the legendary Chess label.
9. Patti Smith - Outside Society (Sony Legacy) As much as a one disc compilation can capture the essence of an artist as complicated as Patti Smith, this one does and succeeds quite well. A prime introduction to neophytes coming to her music and a potent reminder of her power to longtime fans.
8. Albert Ayler - Love Cry/The Last Album (Impulse!) 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.
7. William Hooker and Thomas Chapin - Crossing Points (NoBusiness) Hooker and Chapin are a match made in free-jazz heaven and frequently encourage each other during this performance with shouts of joy. Cathartic beauty for the heart and soul at its finest and an absolute must for those who explore the edges of jazz and improvisation.
6. Miles Davis - Bitches Brew Live (Columbia) Evolving faster and faster, the band develops a wilder and much looser feel, playing the music as a continuous suite with Davis giving subtle nods for change in themes and tempos. The music is often daringly intense and they are rewarded with rapturous applause from the huge crowd.
5. Julius Hemphill - Dogon A.D. (International Phonograph) It is great to see this important album, one of the finest 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.
4. John Coltrane - The Impulse! Albums Volume 4 (Hip-O Select) Taking late period Coltrane LP’s restoring them to their original LP format, stripping alternate takes, extra liner material and the like, while returning the music to its originally released format, with the artwork and notes as appeared during their first release in 1965-1968. Although much of the music on these recordings is of an experimental nature, moments of sheer beauty and jaw-dropping power abound.
3. Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra - Trilogy (Mosaic Select) Comprehensive three disc collection of original compositions and arrangements through the specialty label Mosaic Records. Rivers’ large band writing is thoroughly modern and quite frequently explosive with intricate orchestral arrangements making way for powerful instrumental solos.
2. Robert Johnson - The Centennial Collection (Sony) Using the hundredth anniversary of his birth as an excuse for a major sonic upgrade of the Johnson catalog, it casts fresh light on the man, the legend, and most importantly, the music. The re-mastering of the music is wonderful, sounding warm and natural, but still of its time.
1. Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy) 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.

P.S. The "one that got away" for me was the Henry Threadgill and Air compilation on Mosaic. I've heard a lot of the music contained within and it is superb, but I just couldn't get my finances together in time...

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Books: Joe R. Lansdale; Tom Piccrilli

HyenasHyenas by Joe R. Lansdale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe R. Lansdale's "Hap and Leonard" series is one of the finest in contemporary crime fiction, with equal parts bawdy humor and sudden violence propelling the stories along. Set in east Texas, Hap, a white, straight former hippie and Leonard, a black, gay military veteran make an unlikely buddy combo, but as this series has borne out, opposites attract and these characters have made for some wonderful stories. In this novella, Leonard is involved in a bar fight which he wins brutally and easily. In the aftermath, one of the assailants is so impressed that he hires Leonard with Hap in tow to rescue his brother from an armed gang he has taken up with. After getting the brother out, things go pear shaped and Hap's girlfriend is taken hostage. After Hap and Leonard abort a bank robbery the gang had planned, they head for the final violent showdown. This novella has all the hallmarks of the classic Hap & Leonard stories, the bravado, the salacious humor and of course the violence as our knights in tarnished armor promise the kill the kidnappers and "shit on their graves." Also included is a poignant Hap solo story from when he was growing up. A story of bullying gone wrong, this makes for a thoughtful object lesson in the nature of cruelty.

Pentacle - A Self CollectionPentacle - A Self Collection by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An un-named sorcerer and his demonic companion "Self" travel modern America hobo-style, fighting evil both human and supernatural in this collection of linked short stories. Like most of Piccrilli's great characters, the sorcerer carries a lot of baggage: the death of his beloved, and his parents, and his knowledge of the supernatural and his spell-casting power that sets him apart from the rest of society. His "familiar" Self is a great character too, part faithful companion, part rival, the two complement each other like the most unusual crime-fighting duo you have ever encountered. Their adventures include preserving the lives of children in a Hopi village after a demonic invasion and battling modern day sadistic witch hunters that are killing and torturing in the name of the divine. The stories are harrowing, haunting works of horror, but are often punctuated by Piccrilli's trademark wry humor. Fans of modern dark fantasy like American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and the Charlie Parker series of John Connolly will find a lot to enjoy here.

All You DespiseAll You Despise by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sibling rivalry of the highest order drives this stark and depressing tale of murder and deceit. Two brothers: one wealthy with all the trappings of success - the house, the car, the wife/kids, etc. is throwing it all away with booze, drugs and sexual liaisons. The other brother, haunted by the early death of his beloved wife lives an honest existence in a trailer park on the outskirts of town. When he sees evidence that his wealthy brother had killed a man during one of his alcohol and drug induced blackouts, he begins his own investigation into his brother's dark world and develops a shocking retaliation. This is about as grim as Tom Piccrilli can get, a novella filled with loss, mourning and tragedy. The brothers family ties and shared baggage ties them together at the hip, but their differences with be exploited at a shattering conclusion. Despite the depressing nature of this novella, it remains compelling as the dynamic between the brother and their crimes drives the narrative forward. Hatred, passion, seething rage and un-requited love fuel this all to possible story.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tony Malaby - Novela - arr. by Kris Davis (Clean Feed, 2011)

Looking both forward and backward, saxophonist and composer Tony Malaby revisits some of his earlier compositions in a new setting, a nonet arranged by up and coming pianist and arranger Kris Davis. The larger band allows for a much wider palette of colors, and Davis uses them very well from tuba and bass clarinet at the low end to soprano saxophone at the high end. This cornucopia of shading and texture brings a new level of detail to the compositions, and there is a palpable sense of discovery in the musicians playing. Besides Malaby and Davis, the band consists of Andrew Hadro on baritone saxophone, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, Joachim Badenhorst on bass clarinet, John Hollenbeck on drums, Michael Attias on alto saxophone and Ralph Alessi on trumpet. Highlights are the music are many but the leadoff track “Floating Head” (one of my favorites from the Tamarindo LP) begins with ominous low-sounding horns. Developing into a theme filled with musical color, strong full band make way for a ripe saxophone solo accompanied by bright sounding piano. Soprano saxophone, and a strong rhythm section juxtapose low tones against strong trumpet. “Floral and Herbaceous” has a slower and question feel, looking for musical answers amongst the silence. Building a raw, guttural saxophone feature and playing if off against percussion and other horns gives the music great texture and context. A slower movement builds to an intense section that leads to an unsettling conclusion. Saxophone and percussion flutter at the beginning of “Warblepeck” contrasted by a cartoon-ish percussion or electronics (hard to tell which.) The horns and reeds develop a near march like feel that is worldly, colorful and a lot of fun. Slow and spacious, “Mother’s Love” is the ballad of the set with horns and saxes set afloat in spacetime. Haunted, rolling bass clarinet and bells keep the music subtle. This was a very interesting work, allowing the listener to not only hear the talents of this excellent group of musicians, but learn about Malaby as a composer and especially Davis as an arranger of considerable talent. Hopefully someday soon she will get a grant to allow her to develop a big band project all her own. Novela - arr. by Kris Davis -

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Best of 2011, Part 1: Books

10. Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke - Burke makes beautiful observations about the folly and stupidity of warfare, and the fallible nature of human beings in this excellent story.
9. Wyatt by Garry Discher - Like Richard Stark's great American anti-hero, Parker, Wyatt is a cold and calculating thief, looking for ways to ply his trade in an increasingly digital world.
8. The Sentry by Robert Crais - Crais keeps the action moving briskly and the complex storyline is logical and compelling. This longstanding series continues to produce interesting stories, flipping the perspective between Pike and Cole keeps things fresh and the Southern California setting is always alluring.
7. Devil Red Joe R. Lansdale - In this story, Hap and Leonard are helping a former cop friend of theirs who has recently started a detective agency. When a series of murders is committed that appears to be attributed to a vampire cult, Hap and Leonard investigate and stumble into much more than they bargain for.
6. Headstone by Ken Bruen - 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.
5. Rule 34 by Charles Stross - 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.
4. The Gentlemen's Hour by Don Winslow - This is another excellent Winslow adventure, a sequel to The Dawn Patrol (although reading that book first is not necessary.) The protagonist is a very appealing character, someone we really we really want to root for to win against all odds.
3. You'd Better Watch Out by Tom Piccrilli - When a nameless young man witnesses his mother being murdered on Christmas Day by his crooked cop father, he vows one day to have revenge.
2. The Killer Is Dying by James Sallis - While James Sallis ostensibly writes crime novels, the crime itself becomes almost incidental to the haunted and melancholy lives of the characters he composes.
1. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran - Claire is about as far from Nancy Drew and Stephanie Plum as you can get, but if you are looking for a gritty and well written crime novel, this is one of the year's finest.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bryan and the Haggards - Still Alive and Kicking Down the Walls (Hot Cup, 2011)

Instrumental jazz /country/western swing bands are pretty rare, and this second album Bryan and the Haggards the further the niche they are trying to carve. Considering the band has some of the same musicians from the wonderful and irreverent label, Hot Cup you can be assured that the music will be interesting. Consisting of Bryan Murray on tenor saxophone, Jon lrabagon on alto saxophone, Jon Lundbom on guitar, Moppa Elliott on bass and Danny Flscher on drums, the band develops a playful and exciting mashup of divergent genres. Byran and the Haggards make a valiant attempt at fusing country music, western swing and jazz in a busman's holiday for the Hot Cup Label crew. What results is a fun if not necessarily ground breaking mix of fun twangy rave ups recalling he days of sawdust floor saloons juxtaposed by cry-in-your-beer ballads. "Ramblin' Fever" opens with some shit-kickin' electric guitar and melodic upbeat saxophones bringing the honky-tonk fun with a dash of R&B, and a solid backbeat throughout. A chugging rhythm keeps "Seeing Eye Dog" moving with a western swing feel as a honking tenor saxophone probes and swirls. The saxes take turn honkin', bleatin' and walking the bar, before shards of guitar take over. "Twinkle Twinkle Luck Star" has strong guitar and saxophone with a midtempo yearning feel. Lundbom launches to a guitar solo with a slight but of raunchiness added in, before one of the saxophonists barrels in like a loud patron swinging into a western saloon. "Sing a Sad Song" slows things back down to a ballad tempo with melodic spare guitar adding a short solo. "Turnin' Off a Memory" has spoken introduction and a definite down on his luck feel exploratory saxophone squeaks over a mournful backbeat with guitar strums. The standard "San Antonio Rose" is the real odd-ball of the group, with some-honk-tonk western swing and the guitar swinging happily then a bowed bass solo with some vocalizing. Some of novelty has started to wear off from the group, but the album still provides quite a bit of enjoyment, and the musicians sound like they're having a ball. Still Alive and Kicking Down the Walls -

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nils Petter Molvaer - Baboon Moon (Thirsty Ear, 2011)

Trumpeter and composer Nils Petter Molvaer made a name for himself in the late 1990's combining improvisatory jazz with contemporary electronic music. After the global success of his Khmer LP, Molvaer traveled the world both as a leader and a sideman, now securing another album for the adventurous Thirsty Ear label. This album combines his two diverse streams of music, jazz and electronics and builds them into an atmospheric combination. "Mercury Heart" opens the album sounding dark and mysterious like a mystic rite reverberating against the walls of a secret rock cavern. haunting and elegiac soundscapes are the centerpiece of "A Small Realm" and "Blue Fandango" with have spacey textures, reminiscent of the Miles Davis classic In a Silent Way or his epic track "They Loved Him Madly" but adding a spooky and elegiac feeling to the music, especially the latter which sounds like something related to a haunted house. One of the highlights of the album, "Recoil," goes against the grain with throbbing bass and drums laying the foundation for pungent blasts of fast trumpet with a prog-rock, jazz fusion sensibility. "Sleep With the Echoes" develops a sparse opening that guitar and drums build in an ominous fashion. Electric guitar and percussion keep the heat on, snarling and taking charge. "Coded" slows the pace back down evoking images of large icebergs floating languorously through an icy sea over a slow almost funeral beat. The title composition "Baboon Moon" concludes the album with a gently and lovely trumpet tone. Sounding like a night-hushed Scandinavian mystery, awed under the great wash of stars, there is a synth arrangement with light trumpet and clanks of percussion. The pace pick up with strong tribal drumming and sampled female voices with urgent guitar and drums developing contrasting motifs of fire and ice. Baboon Moon -

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Full Blast and Friends - Sketches and Ballads (Trost Records, 2011)

Full Blast is a potent free jazz aggregation featuring Peter Brotzman on tenor saxophone and tarogato, Ken Vandermark on baritone saxophone and clarinet, Thomas Heberer on trumpet, Marino Pliakas on electric bass, Dirk Rothbrust on percussion and timpani, and Michael Wertmuller on drums. Nice friends to have! This concert was recorded live at Donaueschinger Musiktage, 2010. The music is played in one continuous performance, with dymamic shifts of music forging full out blasting sound and ebbing to moments of near-lyrical telepathy (the aforementioned sketches apparently) Ken Vandermark builds rapid swirling clarinet over bubbling bass and drums in a nice duet feature. Spare brass and bass build around bounding timpani with the percussion developing a nervous, urgent feel. Heberer is rumbling, probing and kneading the scilence featuring his spare unaccompanied trumpet blazing trails across the skies. Pinched tarogato rampages back in with strong drumming moving into overpowering force, then throttling back to a near ballad tenor feature. Brotzmann's tenor saxophone gains very harsh raw strength and subtle backbeat supports. The full group storms back out into full band confligration for a final blast off into the cosmos. Definitely a bracing jolt for torrid improvisation with some surprisingly gentle and melodic touches. Full Blast - Sketches and Ballads

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Tim Ries Quintet - Live at Smalls (Smalls Live, 2011)

Tim Ries is most well known for playing saxophone with the Rolling Stones, but as this live set from the New York City jazz club Smalls shows, he’s an accomplished jazz musician as well. On this album he plays soprano and saxophone joined by Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Kalman Olah on piano and Billy Drummond on drums. “Last Kabbalist of Lisbon” opens with a bass solo, with the band slowly building in and ramping up the pace. Ries builds a hot soprano solo building well under the firm push of drums and bass. Potter sweeps in on tenor saxophone, developing a powerful lusty solo. Piano and bass take solo turns before the full band returns for the conclusion. “Summer To Remember” has a swinging medium-up tempo, developing strong, tough mainstream jazz over tenor saxophone and excellent drumming. After a piano, bass and drums interlude, saxophone solo number two builds hard really going for it in a hard-swinging yet well controlled manner. After a solid bass solo, the band return to take things out. A shorter ballad interlude breaks up the cookers with “Nice View” featuring a Ben Webster type brawny heart-on-sleeve tenor saxophone solo. They move into the highlight of the evening, a twenty-five minute blow-out of “Death and the Maiden” beginning with a mellow start and building deeply over saxophone and swinging rhythm. Rolling hard, the uptempo tenor saxophone engages with bass and drums with Ries’ soprano pokes and probes at the edges. The group dynamically shifts between medium tempo sections anchored by the piano, bass and drum team while heating up with the horns enter, keeping the music interesting over its epic length. There is a short coda/encore feature for Kalman Olah on piano, playing “Prelude to Bach Cello Suite” unaccompanied to wrap things up. Live at Smalls -

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crate Diggin' Box Me Up Part 2

Jumped the gun with the last post, that's what surreptitiously blogging at work will do for you. These are a couple of other boxes that I have been working my way through over the past couple of months.

Charlie Parker - Bird: Complete Charlie Parker on Verve (Verve, 1988) I used to borrow parts of this box in high school, that's how old it is. How my old Library got enough money to buy this monster new is another mystery. In my case, I got really lucky, finding the discs, though without box or liner booklet for under $20. But the music is the most important thing, and there is a ton of it here. Parker recorded in many different settings for Norman Granz's label, everything from fronting schmaltzy string sections (my least favorite) to big band sessions, "south of the border" Latin bands, familiar bebop quartet performances, and Jazz at the Philharmonic live blowouts. Parker still had quite of fire left in his playing, but it stretched out over the course of ten CDs. While the alternates and false starts can be a little disconcerting, the overall arc of the music is fascinating, and definitely worth consideration for bebop aficionados. Bird: Complete Charlie Parker on Verve -

Cecil Taylor - The Complete Remastered Recordings (Black Saint/Soul Note, 2011) The great Italian jazz record labels Black Saint and Soul Note have been re-issuing some of their most well known musicians (I'm coveting the David Murray set, but torn about re-buying music I already own.) On this set, included are the very nice solo recital Olu Iwa, with its mix of lengthy explorations, and short bursts of creativity. Winged Serpent finds Taylor in full large band mode, with torrid big band passages, with a mix of American and European musicians. Even more impressive are the two discs that make up Taylor's historic meeting with drummer Max Roach. Both are fearless in this improvised duet, neither intimidated by the fearsome reputation of the other, but rather meeting on common ground to develop music in the moment. Finally Olu Iwa allows Taylor's small bands Unit and Quartet to range free and furiously over lengthy slabs of intensely beautiful music. The Complete Remastered Recordings -

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Crate diggin: box me up

I've been slowly working thru several boxed sets that I have found new or more likely scrounged out of the used bin at places like Vintage Vinyl or The Princeton Record Exchange.

Charley Patton - Complete Recordings 1929-34 (JSP, 2002) I am a big blues fan although I don't post as often about that genre of music as I should. Patton was a true innovator for his time, one of the first true delta bluesmen to be recorded (by Paramount in Grafton, Wisconsin of all places.) Patton is an extraordinarily powerful presence, even coming through the hail of surface noise from the old 78 rpm records from which these performances were transferred. His voice was gravelly, deep and epic while his slashing guitar and bottleneck slide kept the beat as he played gin-joints, barbecues and back alley shacks. His most powerful work and much more is included here, classics like "Pony Blues," the topical "High Water Everwhere" about the great Mississippi flood of 1927. Also included are very important performances from Patton's contemporaries like Son House, who's epochal "Preachin' the Blues" and "My Black Mama" are included. This is a five compact disc set, which I think might have been a bit much for me, but for the used price of $9.99 it was a good deal and a fine primer of the delta blues during their formative years. Charley Patton Complete Recordings 1929-34 -

Books: Tom Piccirilli

ThrustThrust by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chase and his partner are well known poets and performance artists in New York City. But part of what drives their work is what haunts them, as they are both clinical schizophrenics, subject to delusion and paranoia, but which also infuses their work with edgy passion. They met at a psychiatric facility that Chase was sentenced to after being party to the hit and run death of a young girl while intoxicated and hallucinating. The girl's father also goes away to prison, because he had kidnapped the girl and severely beaten the mother. He vows to kill Chase upon his release from prison. The story follows Chase with flashbacks to his time in the sadistic mental health facility, his affair with a nurse who may or may not be a figment of his imagination and his development in the precarious crucible of the New York arts scene. The story picks up speed and edginess until Chase and the man who vowed to kill him meet for the final time, literally in a dark alley. This was a fascinating story, given the illness of the protagonist the reader is always kept on edge about what is true or illusion, real or false hope. Piccrilli writes about mental illness with a great deal of compassion and dignity, completely avoiding the tropes and cliches that could make the story stumble. A fast paced crime story, with tinges of haunting loss and madness, this is a truly fine achievement.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Saxophones: Greg Ward, David Murray

Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut (Thirsty Ear, 2011) Fresh as paint modern jazz with Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Joe Sanders on bass and Damion Reid on drums, the musicians reveling in the open space the the powerful dynamism that the saxophone trio format can offer. Coming on like a hypersonic update of the great Sonny Rollins trios of the 1950's and Kenny Garrett trios of the 1990's, the music is fast and furious and at times infused with a rock or fusion energy despite being straight up acoustic jazz. The opening track "Above Ground" sets the pace with a no holds barred rhythmic assault, that remains impressively controlled regardless of the speed. That they are able to keep the pace and stamina up for long performances is impressive, and even better is that these tunes like the eleven-minute "Velvet Lounge Shut-In" never flag in their ideas, as the improvisatory volley of ideas continues unabated. This is tough, gritty and strong music that deserves an audience; it's potent stuff. Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut -

David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole en Espanol (Emarcy, 2011) Saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray has become increasingly interested in investigating the music of Caribbean cultures, particularly Cuba during recent years. This new album makes an interesting conceit, taking the music of pianist and crooner Nat King Cole, and melding it with a Cuban groove. Te result is something of a mixed bag. Murray takes a step back, rarely bleating the high squeals of saxophone that have become his trademark since breaking into the loft scene in the 1970's. The percussion and feel of the Cuban musicians is excellent, lending an exotic, yet familiar groove to the proceedings like a lilting island breeze. On thing that tends to hold things back a little bit is that string arrangements are added to many of the performances and that combined with a couple of slippery, slinky vocals sometimes give the music a retro lounge groove. Murray actually plays quite well throughout this album, the arrangements keep his occasional self-aggrandizing moments in check, but they are also the album's greatest drawback, keeping the band from breaking free and explore; chaining the music to a very polite, mannered feel. David Murray -

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Kidd Jordan - On Fire (Engine, 2011)

New Orleans music isn't totally about the neo-traditionalism of the Marsalis clan and Donald Harrison, although no disrespect is meant to those musicians. Saxophonist Kidd Jordan takes the lessons of growing up as a musician in the south and New Orleans in general and combines with the open ended nature of free jazz to develop music bringing strong images, memories, and feelings to mind. He is aided and abetted by Warren Smith on percussion and vibraphone and Harrison Bankhead on bass. Beginning with the evocatively defiant title "Officer, That Big Knife Cuts My Sax Reeds" the group comes blasting out of the gates with a strong performance; Jordan's saxophone has the pained tone reminiscent of one that Albert Ayler used in his classic recordings, stretching out the spaciousness of the music between long tones of burly sound. "The Evil Eye" takes the music in an even more mysterious direction, with probing saxophone evoking mysterious rites one might find in the Louisiana bayous, anchored by bowed bass droning and ominous percussion. "We Are All Indebted to Each Other" and "Harrison Carries Out the Coffin" add shimmering vibraphone to the picture performances that have atmospheres of strangeness or secrecy in their performance. The music develops slowly with plaintive haunting saxophone on the former, giving way to a lengthy spacious section for solo bass, before Jordan lays the music to rest with mournful long tones of saxophone. This is a fascinating performance by some still under-recognized masters of the music. They make music that is beholden to nobody's creed save their own. On Fire -

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Andrew Cyrille with Haitian Fascination - Route De Freres (TUM Records, 2011)

Recorded in 2005 in New York City and finally seeing the light of day, this impressive album by drummer Andrew Cryille was inspired by by visits to his ancestral homeland of Haiti. Cyrille is considered one of the most creative and versatile percussionists in modern jazz, equally at home in a modern mainstream setting as with avant-garde music, and perhaps best known for his membership in the Cecil Taylor’s band during which he established his position as one of the leading percussionists in freely improvised jazz. Since the 1970s, Cyrille has led or co-led a number of ensembles, and on this album he is accompanied by Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone, Alix Pascal on acoustic guitar, Lisle Atkinson on bass and Frisner Augustin percussion and vocals. Far from a free-jazz blowout, this album features nimble percussion & brushes; acoustic guitar and bass with accents of saxophone. Respect for heritage and search for peace in Haiti drives the musical message on this album. “Hope Springs Eternal” makes the message clear, that despite natural disasters and crippling poverty the Haitian culture is vibrant and undaunted. Detailed and patient percussion from the leader and with subtle guitar and Bluiett playing the edges of the music, circling and picking his solo opportunities well as he does on “Isaura.” Three part suite “Route de Frères” builds off the gestalt of Haitian tradition combined with jazz, making for a heady mix of multi-ethnic music. “C’mon Baby” is an upbeat and danceable tune anchored by a very nice percussion solo as is “Mais” a percussion duet based on a Haitian folk melody. The music is light and breezy and quite accessible, Cyrille leads with a light touch and the melding of island rhythms and jazz improvisation makes for an intoxicating mixture. Route De Freres -

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

More Interesting Links

Destination Out has a wonderful tribute to the recently departed drummer Paul Motian, complete with mp3 examples of his music:
(excerpt) It was as if the very ineffable qualities of his time-keeping forced attempts at coming to terms with just what he had wrought as a player and composer. Of course, “keeping time” was really the last thing he did. Instead, he limned time; he pushed it around; he avoided the subject altogether.
Jon Wertheim turns the tables and interviews jazz blogger and pianist Peter Hum:
(excerpt) Yes, the reporting has in many instances become more informal, thanks to the use of social media. And yes, that informality can be reflected in the resulting blogging.It's not necessarily a bad thing, provided that it's a tonal thing, and not an indicator of journalistic laziness, in my opinion.
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