Monday, September 30, 2013

Kneebody - The Line (Concord, 2013)

Kneebody is an interesting band that skirts the borders of jazz and indie rock, somewhat akin to the Chicago band Tortoise. The band consists of Adam Benjamin on keyboards, Shane Endsley on trumpet, Kaveh Rastegar on bass, Ben Wendel on tenor saxophone and Nate Wood drums. The music is textured and finely nuanced, like on "Trite" which makes a good impression with buzzing fender rhodes piano and bubbling bass and drums providing ample support for the horns. Endsley and Wendel harmonize together and then leave the field for a potent fusion-esque keyboard, bass and drums section. The group is very tight and works well together, putting egos to the side in service to the greater whole. A circular pattern of music opens "Still Play" developing a jaunty uptempo feel. Benjamin drives waves of electronics forward as both horn players take brief solos. "The Line" opens with a rockish shimmering sound that the horns build, to a grinding propulsion. The sound can be thick and punishing at times, but also shifts dynamically to a more open section about 2/3 of the way through, before building back up to end with a flourish. "Work Hard, Play Hard, Towel Hard" opens with strong trumpet and drums with Endsley playing with muscular vigor. There is a saxophone solo over funky bass which moves the song in a different direction, and leads to return to the original melody. "Ready Set Go" ends the album in potent fashion with the full band developing a thick musical sludge oozing outward, and gaining pace with a deep rhythmic tenacity. This album as a whole works quite well, developing a unique sound that is easily recognizable. This would make a fine gateway for indie rock fans to jazz, and their sound should be appealing to a wide audience. The Line -

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Albert "Tootie" Heath, Ethan Iverson and Ben Street - Tootie's Tempo (Sunnyside, 2013)

Despite spending decades as a master drummer, Albert "Tootie" Heath hasn't quite garnered the attention that many drummers have, despite playing with Art Farmer, Yusef Lateef and leading a few LP's of his own. This album looks to give him some much needed adulation and places him in the fine company of Ethan Iverson on piano and Ben Street on bass. The music for the most part is quiet and nuanced, tailor made for Heath's gentle swing. "The Charlston" opens the album with some appropriately bright and danceable music. Heath is featured right off the bat with a solo drum spot. "Charade" and "Danube" are slow and haunting pieces, the latter in particular has an interesting keyboard sound akin to a harpsichord or prepared piano and develops a nice waltz-like feel. "Stompin' at the Savoy" has a firm strutting feel, a bass solo, and Heath keeping classy time on cymbals and drum accents. "Violets for Your Furs" is a spare ballad with very gentle touches all around. Tootie's very restrained brushes are patient and thoughtful keeping the feeling lilting and melodic. "Intimacy of the Blues" has subtle bass and cymbals locked in, providing excellent support for Iverson's gently cascading piano. They develop "How Insensitive" in a slow and moody fashion, moving the music into a cinematic feeling of longing and late night sadness, buoyed by barely perceptible percussion. The great Eric Dolphy/Booker Little song "Fire Waltz" (originally written by Mal Waldron?)  is given a nicely swinging treatment before the bass and drums interlude "Cute" moves into "It Should have Happened a Long Time Ago" which is played softy with gently insistent percussion, yearning piano and well developed bass. "Tootie's Tempo" rounds out the album as a solo drum feature. He builds swinging cymbals, adding drums and slowly building rhythm.Tootie's Tempo -

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Grateful Dead - Sunshine Daydream (Grateful Dead/WEA/Rhino, 2013)

Sunshine Daydream chronicles a Grateful Dead benefit concert held on August 27, 1972 at the Old Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, Oregon. This concert was filmed and recorded and is something of a legend among the cognoscenti. Finally seeing the light of day, released as a three CD + one DVD set. The audio disc present the whole concert in excellent clarity and the video features excerpts of the concert, along with some documentary elements. The band was at a crossroads at this time, having just returned from a very successful spring tour, chronicled on the Europe '72 album and then in a massive boxed set. The bluesy authority of Pigpen was lost with his death earlier in the year, and the group had replaced him with the husband and wife team of Keith Godchaux on keyboards and Donna Jean Godchaux on background vocals. The core group remained Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Second drummer Mickey Hart was on sabbatical during this period. The majority of the concert is very well played considering it was an outdoor afternoon performance in the blistering heat of over 100 degrees. Disc one contains very concise versions of their more well known material, easing into the concert with a nice cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” after that they trade off alternating material by both Garcia and Weir sounding particularly good on Garcia’s patient and laconic “Sugaree” and the medley of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider.” Disc one ends with an exciting uptempo version of the Dead concert staple “Bertha.” They begin to stretch out into more free-form structures on the second disc, beginning with a nearly twenty minute version of “Playing in the Band.” To the group’s credit they keep the performance under control, playing tightly and never resorting to mere noodling. Garcia’s stripped down “He’s Gone” follows, his softer, slower delivery bringing out the emotional context of the lyrics and music. The group truly breaks out on the final disc with a thirty minute plus version of their famous song “Dark Star” which weaves a hypnotic texture of music, interjected by subtle, haunting lyrics. The remainder of the final disc features in interesting version of Merle Haggards gospel gong “Sing Me Back Home” and then the concert concludes with upbeat version of Dead staples “Sugar Magnolia,” “Casey Jones” and “One More Saturday Night.” It is an exhausting amount of music to listen too, but both the concert and the film retain interest throughout making this a must-have for fans of this venerable band. Sunshine Daydream -

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Monday, September 23, 2013

John Coltrane's Birth Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of John Coltrane's birth. Here is a playlist of some of my favorite Coltrane performances.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mary Halvorson Septet - Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12, 2013)

Guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson has been become one of the most interesting musicians on the contemporary jazz scene. Whether lading a trio or larger group, or making a unique contribution to music by other vanguard artists, she plays in a manner that is all her own. This is another excellent album, where she is supported by Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto saxophone, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Jacob Garchik on trombone, John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums. She really thrives with the extra musicians, her writing and arranging for horns is very interesting, as evidenced right away by the golden toned harmonizing horns on the opening track "Illusionary Sea (no. 33)" where she is very patient in letting them shape the pace and color of the performance before the ensemble opens up like a pair of welcoming hands for an strong pocket of improvisation. "Smiles of Great Men (no. 34)" shows her taking the lead with taught and angular guitar playing driving the horns forward with the help of stalwart bass and drums. Halvorson's playing is urgent and nearly alarming at times. Her wit and bravado shines through on the wonderfully titled "Four Pages of Robots (no. 30)" where she nimbly underpins the brass and reeds as the song develops. There is an opening for a nice saxophone solo, framed by the brass while guitar, bass and drums bubble underneath like a simmering pot. This entire album works really well, demonstrating Mary Halvorson's excellent guitar playing as well as burgeoning skill as a writer and arranger. Illusionary Sea -

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Clash - Sound System (Sony Legacy, 2013)

I fell hard for the Clash in college, attracted by their by their blistering pace and thought-provoking lyrics. This enormous boxed set collects most of their music (except for the post Joe Strummer misstep Cut the Crap) in remastered form. Some of the packaging is a little strange: the classic London Calling album was originally released as a two LP set, but fit quite nicely onto one disc when brought into the digital realm. Here it is returned to the 2 disc form, ditto the three LP Sandinista! album stretched to three CDs on this set. I guess they figured of you were going to drop $175 dollars on a self-indulgent boxed set, then you can take it as they dish it. It’s interesting that punk was supposed to destroy the so-called pretensions of 70’s progressive rock and hard rock like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Led Zeppelin, yet then the band itself would start turning double and then triple LP sets. So in this set you get their studio albums: The Clash, Give ‘em Enough Rope, London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat Rock along with three discs of b-sides, rarities and live takes. The included DVD has some excellent footage including a university convert from 1977 which despite poor sound quality, shows just how incendiary they were during the beginning of their career. Also included is the short film The Clash On Broadway, which was drawn from their epic 1981 stand at Bond’s Casino in New York City. Also included is a book full of liner notes and various trinkets and collectibles. While certainly not for the casual fan, if you are a die-hard Clash fan with plenty of disposable income on hand, by all means, take the plunge. Sound System -

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Atlantis Octet - Unto the Sun (NotTwo, 2013)

The New Atlantis Octet is a very exciting free-jazz mini big band that takes the precedents of the Sun Ra Arkestra and the David Murray Octets of the 1980's and blows them into orbit. Formed by Edward Rickhart on guitar and Stan Lohman on drums, the ensemble grew to employ such powerhouses as Steve Swell on trombone, Roy Campbell on trumpet, Aaron Martin on alto saxophone, Jason Ajemian and Vattel Cherry on bass and Andrew Barker on drums. On the opening track "Sekhmet" they come out of the blocks with feverish intent, featuring focused thundering drums along with snaking and snarling guitar. Powerful brass and reeds come crashing in with squalls of collective improvisation, as the band reaches for ecstatic heights. No one player dominates the band, but it is the group as a whole that makes for a roaring and riveting cacophony. The second and last piece, "Amaterasu" develops from the brass section outward with strong trumpet and trombone cutting a path though the music with Rickhart's electric guitar keeping pace. The two drummer lineup is harrowing but spectacular, driving the music relentlessly forward. Just when you think the music cannot get any more intense, the group opens up a spot for a bass solo, and the music develops a respite of relative calm before the band dynamically rebuilds for the final flourish. This was a very intense and exciting album. They build a massive edifice of sound that is punishing but also exhilarating. Within the music though, exists a very intricate web of sound that ties all of the very talented musicians together. Unto the Sun -

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Brussels Jazz Orchestra Featuring Joe Lovano - Wild Beauty (Half Note, 2013)

This album is a well done collaboration between the Brussels Jazz Orchestra and the prominent American saxophonist Joe Lovano. The disc presents eight Lovano compositions arranged for the big band by Gil Goldstein with Lovano featured as the primary soloist. The song "Powerhouse” is a perfect Lovano vehicle, showing his strong bebop roots which are propelled forward by aggressive drumming. “Streets of Naples” features the saxophones lightly harmonizing together with an uptempo bubbling feel. Lovano breaks out with a classy solo over piano, bass and drums. There is also an extended saxophone solo, underpinned by electric guitar. “Big Ben,” presumably written for Ben Webster is the heart and soul of the album. This is a place where saxophones and brass and swirl and sway in a kaleidoscope of sound. There is a wonderful section of saxophones playing together, developing waterfalls of cascading notes. This was a very solid album, showing the different and varied aspects of Joe Lovano both as a soloist and as a composer. The arrangements are bright and compelling and the big band plays them with verve and enthusiasm. Aficionados of large ensemble jazz will find this worth their while. Wild Beauty -

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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Warren Wolf - Wolfgang (Mack Avenue, 2013)

Warren Wolf is a vibraphone player from Baltimore, and he has made quite a splash on the mainstream jazz scene lately playing with the likes of Christian McBride and Aaron Diehl. His is at the forefront of two different trios on this recording, backed by either a veteran unit of Benny Green on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Lewis Nash on drums or an up and coming group consisting of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Kris Funn on bass and Billy Williams, Jr. on drums. Aaron Diehl also sits in on a couple of duets. The play admirable modern hard bop, and without a horn in the group, the lions share of the attention is on the leader. He responds quite well, playing with drive and passion throughout. “Wolfgang” the title track is calm and placid as a ballad, with Wolf’s vibes drifting across the musical landscape. I found “Grand Central” to be at the heart of the album, swinging hard and finding the group playing with a confident sense of joy and vigor. “Lake Nerraw Flow” is another uptempo performance and the band really revels in the speed and authority at which they can play. “Sunrise,” the leadoff track of the album is fine as well, with the band taking the long road, beginning with a stately mid-tempo and developing the music patiently and thoughtfully faster and faster until concluding with a dynamic flourish. They play some other tracks that I didn’t like quite as much like the waltz “Le Carnaval de Venise,” and the song “Annoyance” which has wordless vocals. But on the whole, this was a very solid album which should appeal to mainstream jazz fans. Wolfgang -

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Sun Ra - Continuation (El Saturn 1963; Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2013)

Continuation comes from a very interesting period in the development of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The band had recently moved to New York City, and recorded this album; one of the rarest El Saturn LPs. It is reissued here with a second disc of associated material recorded in March of 1963. Many of Sun Ra’s regulars are here, including John Gilmore and Pat Patrick on saxophones and Ronnie Boykins on bass. The sound of the group is more open ended and harsher than on previous LP’s seemingly leading up to the Heliocentric Worlds albums they cut for ESP in 1965 which resulted in some of their most avant-garde work. Many of the performances are uncharacteristically short, with sharp blasts of percussion and ringing piano playing across guttural saxophone and haunting flute. “Continuation to Jupiter Festival” continues Ra’s penchant for making long LP length improvisations to close albums. Like on the albums Atlantis and The Magic City, the band ebbs and flows in furious fashion. Along with those Ra albums, the liner notes mention Angels Speak of Love as a contemporaneous album, and that makes sense because both of the sessions really bring rhythm to the forefront. The second disc continues the theme, drawing from the starkly edged and transitional nature of the music. Continuation - Corbett Vs. Dempsey

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Peter Brotzmann and Steve Noble - I Am Here Where Are You (Trost, 2013)

Peter Brotzmann makes many albums throughout any given year, but this is one that really stands out. For one the album cover which makes quite an impression and begs for an LP version, but the real impact is made by the musicians. Saxophonist Brotzmann and drummer Steve Noble make an almighty racket and they throttle this energy to create a powerful and consistently interesting album. The title performance "I Am Here Where Are You" opens that album in explosive fashion, developing a blistering tenor saxophone and drums collective improvisation, materializing out thin air like a conjured demon. Brotzmann switches from saxophone to torogato, which allows him o develop a pinched, nasal sound that is exotic and makes a fine foil for Noble's imaginative percussion. Brotzmann steps out unaccompanied on "Mouth On Moth" playing a heartbroken bluesy wail on tenor saxophone. The raw emotional quality that he is able to wring from the instrument is amazing in it's texture, stretching way back to the likes of Ben Webster and Albert Ayler. Noble slowly enters, low key at first, then the two meld together and raise the stakes to a towering conclusion. Raw cries of emotion also echo through "No Basis" where Brotzmann's peals of air combine with Noble's towering drumming to create a wild and manic improvisation. They close out this uniformly excellent album with "A Skin Falls Off" which is just a torrid, hell-for-leather improvisation of howling saxophone and punishing drums. Certainly not something you are likely to hear at Lincoln Center, but if you are a fan of the fire-music sub-genre of free jazz, this is a must hear. I Am Here Where Are You -

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Capsule Notes: Ralph Alessi, Matt Mitchell

Ralph Alessi - Baida (ECM, 2013) Ralph Alessi is a very talented trumpet player who has had prominent spots both as a leader and a sideman. For his ECM debut, he has the support of a fine crew: Jason Moran on piano, Drew Gress on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The album has a crystalline beauty, where ECM's famous production techniques presents the music in great clarity. Without the presence of a saxophonist, Alessi has a lot of ground to cover and he does it very well, never rushing or forcing, but playing with grace and power. "Chuck Harris" and "Gobble Goblins" were highlights, played with wit and bravado by a fascinating band. Baida -

Matt Mitchell - Fiction (Pi Recordings, 2013) Pianist Matt Mitchell waited patiently to make his debut recording as a leader, working as a sideman with the likes of Dave Douglas and Tim Berne. His duet partner on this album is the omnipresent percussionist Ches Smith. They make an excellent combination, both taking a highly rhythmic nature, powering through a series of taught and and powerful improvisation. Mitchell has a ripe and powerfully focused sound on this piano, driving throughout this potent album to the finish line in a very impressive fashion. Fiction -

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