Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Know You Well Miss Clara - Chapter One (MoonJune, 2013)

The band I Know You Well Miss Clara may have an unusual name (named after an acquaintance of one of the band members) but they represent an interesting musical scene of progressive rock and jazz fusion from Indonesia. Citing influences ranging from Canterbury to Weather Report, the band which consists of Reza Ryan on guitar, Adi Wijaya on keyboards, Enriko Gultom on bass and Alfiah Akbar on drums. Nicholas Combe sits in on saxophone for the final two tracks, “Dangerous Kitchen” and “A Dancing Girl From Planet Marsavishnu Named After The Love.” These tracks are among the jazziest and most accessible on the album, conjuring thoughts or Return to Forever and like minded bands that used texture to meld a wide variety of influences into a coherent whole. Other tracks include the slow building “Open the Door, See the Ground” and “Reverie #2” which have King Crimson overtones in their dark and ominous structure of building up to powerful improvisational sections. I know it seems like I am name checking a lot of bands to put this group’s music in context, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I Know You Well Miss Clara covers quite a wide range of musical territory and are quite successful in integrating these strands into a cohesive sound. This bodes well for future chapters in their musical adventure. Chapter One - amazon.com

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Friday, December 27, 2013

DouBt - Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love (MoonJune, 2012)

DouBt is a band that combines jazz fusion and progressive rock in a well designed combination. The band consists of Alex Maguire on keyboards, Michel Delville on guitar and sampling and Tony Bianco on drums and sequencer. They have an interesting mix music along the lines of King Crimson and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The album opens in an interesting fashion as the band samples political diatribe about wealth inequity on "There Is a War Going On" with the music meshing with the oratory. They revisit the theme later, with a short instrumental snippet. The group blasts through Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" very nicely, giving Delville a fine opportunity to display his chops. There are a couple of lengthy tracks, like the title track "Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love" and the finale "Goodbye My Fellow Soldier" build slowly and patiently to really powerful conclusions which brought to mind the epic performance "Starless" by King Crimson. The liner notes say that Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love is a concept album deriving its inspiration as much from William Blake’s visionary poetry and engravings, and you can see that in the work. Moving from calm nearly hypnotic musical fantasies to slashing and hard hitting complex rock and roll, the band presents a wide dynamic range of music that keeps the music consistently interesting. Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Records from the Bargain Bin

Blogging has been a little scarce during the holiday season, so here's a picture of some of the used vinyl I've picked up during various bargain hunting trips over the last few months. Send comments to Tim.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Keith Jarrett - No End (ECM, 2013)

Over the past 20 years or so, the innumerable amount of Keith Jarrett's music that has flowed out ECM as regular as the tide has been either solo piano or in the piano trio format. Not that there's anything wrong with that, Jarrett is an accepted master and a critical favorite. In the light of this deluge it's easy to forget that he was quite the experimenter for a while as well, leading a great quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, and then releasing unrecognizable albums like the underrated Expectations. This set is endlessly interesting as it finds Jarrett as a one man band overdubbing himself on guitar, bass and percussion with not a piano to be seen. Jarrett states that "There was really, to my knowledge, no forethought or composition in the typical sense going on; just a feeling or a rhythmic idea or a bass line concept or melody. None of this was written down." But it works amazingly well. Far from the misanthropic musician he was to become, he is downright giddy on these sketches, setting up rhythmic percussion with guitar accents that are elusive and enigmatic. The music is downright hypnotic at times - the sketches have Roman Numerals I - XX and are most interesting, "V" for example has some chanting and bright guitar as does "XV" which has some of the background mumble/singing that people might be familiar from his solo recordings. "VII" even hints at boogie, while "XI" develops nearly a middle eastern vibe, with scat singing barely audible. It's to Jarrett's credit that despite the overdubbing, he sounds like a real band with guitar, bass and various percussion instruments. I was really happy with this, it goes against type, and is a blast to listen to. Hopefully there are some more surprises in store, like this unexpected gem. No End - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Interesting Links

Tom Hull has done yeoman's work in pulling together all of the information from this year's NPR/Francis Davis jazz poll for 2013.

DFSBP has interesting posts on both Hank's albums of the year and two of his favorite drummers.

Greenleaf Records presents the second installment of Dave Douglas's interview with John Zorn. In case you missed it, here's part one

Matt Lavelle has a very optimistic post about people really listening to his music.

Dangerous Minds marks the anniversary of Captain Beefheart's passing and comments on the furor surrounding the deluxe reissue of Van Morrison's Moondance.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Neil Young - Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise, 2013)

At this point in in his career, singer-songwriter Neil Young’s stock was soaring. After he broke with Buffalo Springfield, he hooked up with Crosby Stills and Nash, rocketing to stardom and beginning a fascinating solo career. Recorded as a solo acoustic show with Young playing guitar and piano and singing, this archival set from late 1970 features songs from the just issued After the Gold Rush LP and the Harvest LP which would be released shortly thereafter. Young is in fine form throughout, friendly to the crowd (perhaps a little too gregarious announcing the final song “Flying on the Ground is Wrong.”) Much of the music is meditative and medium temoped. It is interesting how he adapts his electric rock songs to the acoustic format. “Cinnamon Girl” drops that massive riff the original is built on and “Down By The River” is drastically shortened, focusing the attention on both songs from the electrified music to the lyrics. He takes to the piano quite a bit, playing the soon to be epochal “After the Gold Rush” and singing with a haunted, plaintive cry. “Old Man” which would become a number one hit for him the following year, and it is debuted here, balanced out by some relative obscurities like the beautiful “Expecting to Fly” and “See the Sky About To Rain.” Overall, this is a fine show and well worth a listen for dedicated fans. It took a few listens for me to get into it, but the hushed ambiance of the performance draws you in and the beauty of the songs makes you stay. Live At The Cellar Door - amazon.com

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Don Cherry - Live in Stockholm (Caprice, 2013)

Trumpeter, flautist and composer Don Cherry always maintained a nomadic sensibility, moving all over the world as a musical troubadour. He did make Sweden a base for quite a while and this album comes from that period. There are three lengthy performances, the "ABF Suite" parts One and Two and "Another Dome Session" recorded in an experimental geodesic dome. He was accompanied by a wide ranging cast of musicians, including Maffy Falay, Bernt Rosengren, Okay Temiz, Torbjörn Hultcrantz, Tommy Koverhult, Leif Wennerström, Rolf Olsson. Recorded in 1968 and 1971, many musicians and seekers were drawn to Cherry because of his his open hearted and accessible approach to music. The three tracks are wide open and thoughtful, moving through periods of beautiful melody as well as abstract improvisation. This album could be seen as something of a precursor to the Organic Music Society albums he did in the 1970s, drawing from a wide range of musical ideas (Turkish in this case as well as American and European) and melding them as only Don Cherry could into a cohesive, accessible musical document. This is a very interesting album as it shows Don Cherry shedding the "free jazz" label that he wore while working with Ornette Coleman and other outre musicians and demonstrating the true polymath he was becoming, embracing all forms of music and all people into a truly universal artistic form. Don Cherry Live in Stockholm - amazon.com

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies: Deluxe Edition (Sanctuary, 2013)

At this point in their career, the early seventies, The Kinks were all but forgotten in the midst of the emergence of hard rock and psychedelic rock. This is a shame, because although primary songwriter Ray Davies kept a somewhat conservative view of a long lost England of his imagination, he was nevertheless a sterling storyteller and the band’s musical arrangements fit his songs to a T. Many of the group’s best songs are about being a man out of time in modern post-war England. This album continued that trend with “20th Century Man” and “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues” which both show the powerful whiplash effect in Britain of the early 1970’s between the search for the lost Albion and the fading empire. There are a couple of interesting character portraits as well, “Alcohol” about the ravages of drink and “Skin and Bone” a jaunty number about a woman fading away to anorexia. The flannel suit of the time gave way to a faded conformity of “Here Come the People in Grey” and “Complicated Life” sends a sly wink to the furor of modern life. The second disc of this expanded edition contains alternate takes of the album in addition to instrumental mixes and mono tracks recorded at the BBC studios in 1972. It could be argued that this is the last great Kinks album. After this, their ideas for larger form works began stretch beyond their means during the extended concept pieces like Preservation and Schoolboys in Disgrace showed their ambitions stretching beyond their means. But none of that can sully this album which remains an under-appreciated triumph. Muswell Hillbillies Deluxe Edition - amazon.com
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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat (3CD - 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition) (Polydor, 2013)

Coming on the heels of last years 45th anniversary epic six disc extravaganza for the classic Velvet Underground and Nico LP, comes the deluxe edition of their second album, White Light/White Heat. This album is expanded to three CD’s containing the stereo and mono versions of the LP along with bonus tracks and a disc of them performing live in 1967. The group lineup is Lou Reed on guitar and vocals, John Cale on bass, viola, vocals and organ, Sterling Morrison on guitar and Maureen Tucker on drums. The sound of the group is even more chaotic than on the first album, moving through themes of rampant drug use on the title track to violence and sheer madness on the album ending epic “Sister Ray.” For longtime fans, the extra material will fascinate-: early versions of “Stephenie Says” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light” which would appear on their third eponymously titled LP along with some early mixes and alternate takes. The mono disc keeps the original album intact, leading up to the epochal “Sister Ray” which would seem outrageous even in today's jaded climate. They add a couple of mono singles mixes along with vocal and instrumental mixes of “The Gift” which is the only Velvet Underground I routinely skip. Once you’ve heard this short story set to music it starts to drag. The liver performances from New York in 1967 are thrilling. Reed adds alternate lyrics to “Run Run Run” that make the song even more fascinating, while liver versions of “I’m Not A Young Man Any More” and a startling version of “Sister Ray” seals the deal. This isn’t the place for dabblers to begin in exploring the Velvet Underground, but longtime fans will consider money well spent for the curios that lay within.White Light/White Heat (3CD - 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thelonious Monk - Paris 1969 (Blue Note, 2013)

In 1969, Thelonious Monk was nearing the end of his playing career. He would make a couple of tours with The Giants of Jazz super-group, and then retire to spend the rest of days free from music and unwilling to talk about the old days. This album finds Monk at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with his longtime cohort Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, but with some relatively unknown musicians: Nate "Lloyd" Hygelund on bass and 17-year-old drummer Paris Wright. The do not take away from the proceedings, but he music does get a palpable boost when the great drummer Philly Joe Jones sits in on "Nutty" making for some great rhythmic exchanges between the drummer and the leader. Familiar Monk songs like "I Mean You" and "Straight No Chaser" are performed with a great deal of energy. Monk biographer Robin Kelly says in the liner notes that Monk and Rouse had begun to coast during this period, and perhaps it is true. Columbia had tried to market Monk some kind of counter-culter guru particularly with the Monk Underground album cover, but it didn't take and Monk's music began to recede under the onslaught of rock 'n' roll. This took a chunk out of him for sure, but he wasn't going down without a fight as evidenced on the two part "Bright Mississippi" and swinging "Epistroiphy." The DVD is interesting footage from French TV with a few fades because it was shown in two parts. There is an interview section which is a little uncomfortable, because Monk was unhappy in that situation. Any footage of Monk in concert is well worth it, and although his dancing on the stage days were over, you can tell how hard he is playing from the sweat running down his face. So while this isn't the penultimate live Monk recording (Live at the It Club is my favorite) it is well worthwhile and interesting document  of a jazz legend near the end of his career. Paris 1969 (CD/DVD) - amazon.com

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Erik Lamberth - Opportunity (CDBaby, 2013)

Philadelphia based guitarist Erik Lamberth leads a swinging quartet session with Thomas Wyatt on drums, Vince Ryan on piano, and Leif Dunn on bass. The highlight of the album is their version of the Miles Davis classic “So What”which develops with dark flavored piano slowly  hinting at the melody. They band gradually builds in with the guitar leading at a medium tempo, developing a nice swinging performance with solid loping bass and cool guitar accentuating over the top. They develop a meditative and hypnotic vibe on this performance that works very well. Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” shows Lamberth playing in a tone that hints at western swing and working well with the drummer leading up to a nice break for a piano solo. “The Party” has a more filled out arrangement where Lamberth moves into a bluesy tone reminiscent of B.B. King. This a solid and swinging album suitable for late night relaxing and the band plays in a congenial and accessible manner. Opportunity - CDBaby

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

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

 Musician of the year: Ivo Perelman
Newcomer Musician: Matt Mitchell
Group of the year: The Thing
Newcomer group: Mary Halvorson Septet
Album of the year: Bill Frisell - Silent Movies
Composer: John Hollenbeck
Drums: Ches Smith
Acoustic Bass: Adam Lane
Electric Bass: Bill Laswell
Guitar: Mary Halvorson
Piano: Matthew Shipp
Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Herbie Hancock
Tenor Saxophone: Odean Pope
Alto Saxophone: Darius Jones
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson
Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker
Trumpet/Cornet: Peter Evans
Clarinet/bass clarinet: Ben Goldberg
Trombone: Jacob Garchik
Violin/Viola: Jeff Gauthier
Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm
Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz
Electronics: Rob Mazurek
Others instruments: David Murray, bass clarinet
Female Vocals: Leena Conquest
Male Vocals: Theo Bleckmann
Best Live Band: The Bad Plus 
Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Rory Gallagher - Kickback City (Eagle Rock, 2013)

Being a big crime fiction fan myself (check out Ethan Iverson's epic list Crimes of the Century) is was very excited to learn that the great Irish blues-rock guitarist and singer Rory Gallagher was an avid fan as well, and in fact wrote several songs based on the books that he has read. This album takes a really interesting idea, it collects Gallagher's crime songs into a two disc collection and then puts it in a package with a print and audio novella from Ian Rankin, the author of the wonderful John Rebus series of police procedurals. The songs themselves are mini-stories, with two versions on the rocking title track about crime and greed and the big city and "Continental Op" based on Dashiell Hammett's fictional private detective of the same name. "Loanshark Blues" growls like a creature from a blues drenched city would birth, while some acoustic tracks even out the heavy blues rock. Disc two is particularly exciting because it gives you the songs from a live setting. Gallagher was always a dynamic live performer (check out Irish Tour 74) and this disc is no exception. He blasts through his own "Continental Op" and "Loanshark Blues" and even provides an excellent cover of Junior Wells' "Messin' With the Kid." Both blues fans and crime fiction fans will find a lot to enjoy on this package. Perhaps it can introduce fans of either genre to new books and music. Kickback City - amazon.com.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Joe Henderson - Barcelona (Enja, 1979)

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson had the benefit of recording for several major labels like Blue Note, Milestone and Verve. In between those tenures, he was a journeyman, recording for a number of labels, like this live album for Enja with Wayne Darling on bass and Ed Soph on drums. This album may have fallen through the cracks but it seems to be unique in Henderson’s catalog and definitely deserves to be heard. The high point of the album is “Barcelona” which was split into two parts on vinyl and equally split here on the compact disc version. Henderson’s tenor saxophone is caustic and rew, reminiscent of Sam Rivers. While the music may not be free in the strictly musical sense, it is certainly unfettered and many liberties are taken. Henderson uses raw swirls of rough sandpaper toned sound and runs it up against bowed bass and unpredictable drumming. In total, “Barcelona” is a towering 27 minute improvisation and a very arresting one at that. The shorter songs that round out the album mine the Mediterranean theme further with tracks like “Mediterranean Sun” and “Y Yo La Quiero (And I Love Her)” sounding like encores after the conclusion of the main event. The liner notes are very brief, offering little information about the recording itself, but presenting an interesting “blindfold test” with Henderson. Interestingly, he is asked about Sam Rivers, and he responds that he believes that Rivers’ biggest impact is as an enabler or catalyst for other musicians rather than a player himself. This album is a fine thing and well worth checking out, if nothing else for the showstopping title track. BTW, if you don't mind downloading an mp3 version, it can be had for the princely sum of $2.76! Barcelona - amazon.com

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Friday, November 29, 2013

The Thing - Boot! (The Thing Music, 2013)

One of my father's favorite films was the b-movie science fiction classic The Thing. Like the blood-thirsty creature from the movie, this particular Thing takes no prisoners in its amalgam of free jazz, punk rock and more. The band The Thing, who took their name from a Don Cherry composition, not the movie, consists of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. This album is the inaugural release of their new label, appropriately titled The Thing Records. After starting their tenure as a Cherry tribute band, they have evolved their sound through original compositions and interesting covers ranging from PJ Harvey to The White Stripes. On this album, they honor their jazz heritage by covering “India” by John Coltrane and “Heaven” by Duke Ellington. The Coltrane piece opens the album and works really well, providing a intoxicating drone, and allows Gustafsson to play some brawny but respectful tone, befitting a song by one of his great heroes. “Heaven” is equally interesting, demonstrating the group’s use of dynamics and drama as they build the performance from a quiet opening through a powerful conclusion. This is also the case on the burly “Re-Boot” which comes hard out of the gate, before waxing and waning like a strong muscle being flexed. The 14 minute “Epilog” ends the album in grand fashion, letting the band loose on a frenetic free improvisation that is both thrilling and terrifying. The Thing are one of the most exciting units in jazz and improvisational music. Whether playing with guests like Neneh Cherry or Joe McPhee, of developing their core sound, they are a band like no other and this is another fine entry to their growing body of work. Boot - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Rolling Stones - Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (Eagle Rock, 2013)

I recently read a compilation of work by the great rock critic Lester Bangs called Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste. A couple of pieces he wrote about the Rolling Stones were from the early 1970’s and he thought that they were over the hill and nearly washed up. If he only knew… As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, the Stones reprised one of their most famous concerts, playing in Hyde Park, London to overflowing crowds. This 2CD/1DVD release commemorates these concerts, and shows the band is surprisingly good form. Much of the power and excitement of the band is retained and they are spurred on by the enormous crowd. The concert has the band strolling through anthems like “Start Me Up” “It’s Only Rock and Roll” and “Tumbling Dice.” The group has fully assimilated its influences whether it is country music, on “Honky Tonk Women” and the deep blues on “Midnight Rambler.” Keith Richards is featured throughout playing excellent guitar alongside Ronnie Wood and guest Mick Taylor. He also sings a couple of songs, the acoustic “You Got the Silver” and the uptempo “Before they Make Me Run.” So the audio CDs are excellent and the band plays splendidly throughout, but the real shock comes through on the DVD. The main players in the group are nearing 70 years old, and they still play like dynamos but it’s quite a shock to see them in hi-def. Mick Jagger still runs around like a maniac but his face is a pale gaunt rictus mask. Keith Richards as you can imagine looks like the life he’s led, and Ronnie Wood looks like he has a foot in the grave. But regardless, the music is what matters, and for the most part they can still deliver. Sweet Summer Sun - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

King Crimson - The Road to Red (Panegyric, 2013)

This has been a banner year for the legendary progressive rock band King Crimson. With the settling of guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp’s lawsuit against Universal he was able to announce that a new iteration of the band would be forming in 2014. Their re-issue campaign continues apace with 40th anniversary re-issues of the albums Red and USA. Then there is this epic present to the fans: The Road to Red features 20 CD’s of live music, chronicling the band’s 1973-1974 tour of the United States along with a DVD and two blu-ray DVD’s of concerts in high definition. This version of King Crimson was one of the most powerful, with Fripp on guitar and keyboards, John Wetton on bass and vocals, David Cross on violin and keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. The booklet accompanying the set features Fripp’s tour diaries and recalls how tenuous the bonds were holding the group and the music together. The group would disband shortly after the tour ended and King Crimson would then go on hiatus until 1981. The music is uniformly excellent, focusing on the staples of the band’s repertoire at the time like the scalding rockers “Easy Money” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II” and dynamic pieces like ”Starless” and “Lament.” Each concert would contain one or two sections of pure improvisation used to link two songs together or to simply explore in their own right. It’s hard to pick concerts that stand above the normally high quality, but discs 2 and 3 from the Stanley Warner Theatre in Pittsburgh on April 29, 1974, is an amazingly torrid performance, incredibly powerful and deeply locked in together. Wetton has comparatively few vocals but he makes the most of them singing powerfully on the majestic “Starless” and the stomping Crimson classic “21st Century Schizoid Man.” There is an extended version in blu-ray that throws this concert into even more vivid relief. Few groups have gone out with such extraordinary thunder as this one. Their final concert recorded on a bootleg cassette from Central Park in New York City on July 1, 1974, distills all that make this group so important. Opening with their usual set closer “Schizoid Man” they throw all caution into the wind and channel an almost supernatural level of energy. Fripp’s guitar solo on this track is like Thor hurling thunderbolts from on high. They continue in epic fashion before ending their reign with superb performances of “Starless” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II.” The official live album from this tour, USA, and the subsequent studio album, Red, are included in several different mixes and format, bringing this exhaustive collection to its logical conclusion. For fans of the band this is the mother lode, providing the ability to follow this excellent band in great detail as they change the landscape of rock music forever. Road to Red - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yes - Close to the Edge CD/DVD (Atlantic 1972, Panegyric 2013)

For a band thas is closing in on their 45th anniversary, there has been a significant amount of Yes product moving through the bins. Earlier this year was the High Vibration boxed set, a very pricey SACD remastering of their recordings from 1969-1987 and later this year (just in time for the holidays) will come the comparatively inexpensive (!) Studio Albums 1969-1987 in “regular” CD format. Considering the breadth and depth of these particular doorstops, this package might be just what the doctor ordered. Steven Wilson, the go-to man on progressive rock releases lends his particular re-mixing/mastering mojo to Yes’s most complete statement as a band and one that would continue to loom large in their live performances even this year as they toured casinos and other venues playing a note perfect versions of this album and a few others. Close to the Edge is an interesting album for both the band and for progressive rock as a whole. Recorded long before the era of digital manipulation the music was recorded to tape and then carefully spliced into its finished form. The herculean effort was worth it, drummer Bill Bruford even decamped for King Crimson as the album was released, believing that the it was their ultimate statement and could not be bettered. Consisting of only three lengthy tracks, the music packs quite a punch on the (LP) side long title track, moving through a suite of sub passages of dynamic beauty and powerful rocking. “And You And I” was the second suite of the album, also dealing with cosmic themes before giving way to the rollicking “Siberian Khatru” as the finale. The group also issued a single cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” which works surprisingly well with excellent vocal harmonies. So, this set is broken down into two discs, first the stereo remaster of the original album while the DVD contains a plethora of material including 96kHz/24bit mixes, surround sound 5.1 mixes, the new stereo mix, the original stereo mix, singles and studio outtakes. And if that isn’t overwhelming enough for you, there is also a blu-ray dvd version that includes *even more* including a “needle drop” of the original LP. There is a nicely done booklet with an essay, photos and discography. If you are into prog rock, it is definitely worth the investment. Close to the Edge - amazon.com

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Miles Davis - The Original Mono Recordings (Legacy, 2013)

This is a nine disc boxed set that covers the early acoustic jazz albums that Miles Davis recorded for Columbia, along with a booklet containing a short essay and comments from the engineer involved in remastering the music and some period photographs. Apparently mono is where all music is produced through a single audio channel and this was the default way this music was originally recorded before being remixed into stereo for subsequent reissues. The producers and engineers interviewed for this project claim that this will produce a clearer, more lifelike sound. The certainly seem to sound very good to my untrained ears and would probably pack even more punch if played on a nice audio system. The larger group recordings, collaborations between Davis and arranger Gil Evans like Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain seem to have a fine texture to them, providing greater detail in the ensemble and more presence for Davis’ solos whether on flugelhorn or trumpet. Small band recordings like the epochal Kind of Blue along with Round Midnight, Someday My Prince Will Come and Milestones receive the right amount of punch and clarity. Two additional recordings are included, Jazz Track which features the Davis improvised score for the French film Lift to the Scaffold, along with three small group recordings circa 1958. Miles and Monk live at Newport is a split LP of live performances by the groups of Davis and Thelonious Monk. It should be noted that these albums are presented as they were originally released at the time, with cover art restored on replica LP card stock, including original liner notes in case you happen to be in possession of a research-grade microscope since the font size is approximately 0.1. Also be aware that there are no “bonus cuts” as there may have been on previous reissues of this material. The idea of this boxed set seems to be a glimpse back in time replicating the original recordings as they were released in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s with original art, running order and monaural sound mix. The Original Mono Recordings - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Francis Davis - 8th Annual Critics Poll

I am honored to be chosen by the esteemed jazz critic Francis Davis to take part in his 8th annual critics poll, hosted by NPR. Full results will be posted at NPR Music in mid-December and the individual ballots will be posted on Tom Hull's web site. The Poll consists of the ten best new releases, three best re-issues, along with top vocal, debut and Latin recordings. Alas, I don't listen to much Latin Jazz, so I chose to opt out of that category. Here we go:

New Releases
1. Bill Frisell - Silent Comedy (Tzadik)
2. Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Slippery Rock (Hot Cup)
3. Paul Dunmall & Tony Bianco - Tribute to Coltrane (Slam)
4. Harold Mabern - Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
5. Ivo Perelman - Serendipity (Leo)
6. Mary Halvorson Septet - Illusory Sea (Firehouse 12)
7. Kikoski, Carpenter, Novak & Sheppard - From the Hip (BMF)
8. Peter Brotzmann & Steve Noble - I Am Here Where Are You (Trost)
9. Rob Mazurek Octet - Skull Sessions (Cuneiform)
10. Ches Smith and These Arches - Hammered (Clean Feed)

1. Miles Davis - The Original Mono Recordings (Legacy)
2. John Coltrane - Sun Ship: The Complete Sessions (Impulse)
3. Matthew Shipp - Greatest Hits (Thirsty Ear)

Vocal Album 
John Hollenbeck - Songs I Like a Lot (featuring Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry) (Sunnyside)

Debut Album
Matt Mitchell - Fiction (Pi)

Latin Album 

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Claudia Quintet - September (Cuneiform, 2013)

The Claudia Quintet is an always interesting group that combines jazz improvisation with thoughtful composition and a myriad of influences that range from pop music to contemporary classical. The unusual instrumentation of the band is part of their unique appeal. At this time the group consists of straw-boss John Hollenbeck on drums and compositions, Red Wierenga on accordion, Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Matt Moran on vibraphone and Drew Gress or Chris Tordini on bass. “September 20th Soterius Lakshmi” is an excellent opening to the album, developing a great percussive feel that pulls everyone along in its wake. This sensibility continues and is expanded upon during “September 9th Wayne Phases” where the opportunity to stretch out is taken and the texture of group allows for broad based improvisation. The band slows down on some of the more emotional material like “September 25th Somber Blanket” and the 9/11 prayer for peace “September 12th Coping Song.” One of the more interesting performances on the album is “September 29th, 1936 "Me Warn You"” where the sampled voice of Franklin Roosevelt giving a speech about the social programs of the New Deal is juxtaposed against the group’s deeply rhythmic sense of motion. This is multi-faceted music that often deviates from the expected and is filled with the personalities of its creators making for compelling listening. September - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Who - Tommy Deluxe Edition (Geffen, 2013)

Because of the saturation of classic rock radio, it's easy to forget how innovative The Who's "rock opera" Tommy really was. Guitarist an principal songwriter Pete Townshend, emboldened by a spiritual conversion and a desire to move beyond the three minute pop song, developed this 2LP suite which was groundbreaking at the time for both form and content. The story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy Tonmy may seem trite at first, but deeper reading of the lyrics (fully printed in the booklet along with a small essay) shows remarkably thoughtful lyrics about child abuse, spiritual epiphany and much more. Despite its length and age the album still holds together quite well. Also included is a very strong concert performed in Canada in 1969, showing the band developing its fearsome live performance that would culminate in the classic Live in Leeds LP. This us a nicely done package, the sound quality of the principal album is excellent and detailed while the live disc is raw and immediate. This is definitely worth consideration by both Who fans and partisans of rock 'n' roll in general. Tommy (2013 Deluxe Edition)

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Saturday, November 16, 2013


I'm too broke to buy any new music, so I ruthlessly culled my collection & did a big trade the the Princeton Record Exchange. FYI, been a little down lately, so blogging may be sporadic. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait and Switch - Comeuppance (NotTwo, 2013)

Bait and Switch is an interesting jazz ensemble that produces a very compelling and exciting sound which is based on dynamics that unfold from from fast and loud to quiet and intricate. I have been listening a lot to the 1973-74 version of the rock band King Crimson lately and this band would be right at home covering Crimson staples like “Fracture” and “Starless” which build from relative quiet to ferocious segments of improvisation. The band consists of Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, Aaron Bennett on saxophones, John Finkbeiner on electric guitar and Vijay Anderson on drums. “Le Crab” begins the album with strong drums and muscular saxophone coming out of the gates hard. Bennett is very interesting on this track where he uses a coarse and primal sound to excellent effect. The action drops drastically in the middle of the track with bass and light percussion, before the full band comes back together. “Cruciferous” is one of the high points of the album, with knotty guitar leading a deeply textured improvisation that slowly develops into scalding electricity and pummeling drumming. Again, the group turns on a dime into an open section at the halfway point. Bennett’s saxophone fills in beautifully, with his saxophone growing to a wail in front of a grinding band which moves into a howling collective improvisation. “Las Hormigas Rojas” is also very exciting, opening with angular shards of guitar and bowed bass. There is a hypnotic smearing of of sound color and feel, before some strutting saxophone surges forth with a brawny tone, building tension to the breaking point and then releasing in an ecstatic way, followed by excellent guitar that develops a kaleidoscope of sound. Comeuppance - amazon.com

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin (Legacy, 2013)

The Jimi Hendrix documentary Hear My Train A Comin' does as well as can be reasonably expected in concentrating the great guitarist's life into the space of two hours. It traces his life, quickly moving through his childhood and short hitch in the army into his dues paying years working the "chitlin circuit" as a sideman for a number of rhythm and blues performers. "Discovered" by the Animals bassist Chas Chandler, he is bundled off to England where his meteoric rise begins in full. He began to attend jam sessions in London, picking up momentum as he gained approval of luminaries like Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and other movers and shakers on the rock and roll scene. Developing his most famous band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix would soon reach heights few musicians of any genre would ascend to. There is some really great footage of their American breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival culminating in Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire and then kneeling before it like a shaman. Later important gigs are chronicled like the performance at Woodstock with a larger ad hoc band that produced his extraordinary version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Behind the scenes, the film chronicles his obsession with recording, one which was aided and abetted by the building of his own studio, Electric Lady. Much of the commentary is taken from a black and white interview of Hendrix in repose as well as a revealing conversation from the Dick Cavett show. Friends and fellow musicians round out the profile of a supremely gifted man obsessed with music and always looking over the horizon for new things to come. Hear My Train A Comin' - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

John Coltrane - The Impulse! Albums vol. 1 (Verve, 2007)

After successful stints as a bandleader with the Prestige and Atlantic record labels, John Coltrane's tenure with the Impulse! label began with a very impressive large ensemble ensemble recording entitled Africa/Brass. He added to his quartet a range of horns to play arrangements by Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner. The resulting recording was a dark and powerful statement of the fascinating track "Africa" which was offset by the melodic sensibility of "Greensleves." Live at the Village Vanguard was quite controversial at the time with allegations of "anti-jazz" were levied against both John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. In retrospect, these feelings were clearly misplaced, and Coltrane was simply moving forward at a breathless pace. The exotic "India" was followed by the standard "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" but then the entire second half of the original LP was taken up by "Chasin' The Trane" which was one of the most thrilling Coltrane performances ever recorded. An incredibility powerful statement, it was composed entirely in the moment, and was a map for the music to come. This map took a detour when stung by the criticism, Impulse! placed Coltrane in some more accessible settings on the next few albums. The Ballads LP reels in the length of the individual songs to short statements that left little room for improvisation, but focused on the melodic and lyrical side of Coltrane's work. The decision to pair John Coltrane with Duke Ellington was an inspired one, based of the great mutual respect the musicians has for each other.While Coltrane the perfectionist asked for multiple takes of each performance, Duke insisted for a much looser atmosphere, culminating with the wonderful track "Take the Coltrane." The final LP in this collection is the eponymous Coltrane album, which brings the focus back to the "classic quartet" with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Although a transitional album, you really get the feeling that this album showed the band really coming into their own especially on tracks like "Tunji" and "Soul Eyes." It should be noted that this collection is made up of CD reproductions of the original albums, shorn of any alternate takes or additional music. The music and the accompanying notes reflect the way the music was presented in 1961-62. Impulse Albums Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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