Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keith Jarrett - Hamburg '72 (ECM, 2014)

While for the past few decades pianist Keith Jarrett has devoted himself to solo piano and trio performances (in fact, he's just up the road tonight) there was a time that he was avery adventurous and thrill seeking musician. This album finds him in the company of Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motion on drums, only lacking Dewey Redman from Jarrett's great american quartet. This is a very exciting concert, especially for Jarrett who adds flute and soprano saxophone to his piano playing. But it was the keyboard that he opens the concert in a solo configuration on "Rainbow" and he takes a lush and melodic journey before Haden and Motian come in to move the music into a more muscular trio improvisation. The first surprise of the album comes with "Everything that Lives Laments" where Jarrett takes up the flute for an elegiac and haunted performance. Haden's bass is elastic and grounding while Motian frames Jarrett with chimes and ringing percussion. "Piece for Ornette" is a wonder, with Jarrett switching to soprano saxophone and playing it with raw and passionate fervor. Again, Haden acts as the anchor and as fascinating as Jarrett is on this track, Motian is a whirlwind of epic drumming: loud, fast and angular. It was surprising to hear, as he is often thought of as an enigmatic presence using shading of light and shadow in his percussion. Not here, on this track his driving drumming and Jarrett's raw almost reckless soprano will certainly raise an eyebrow or two. They end the performance with a powerful version of Haden's "Song For Che." Everybody takes stock and then lays into the fifteen minute episodic performance that makes for a fine capstone to this recording. ECM has been releasing one historical Jarrett album per year and they have been champs. Like last years vastly underrated No End, this album shows another facet of Jarrett's earlier work and gives the listener a different perspective to his music. Hamburg '72 -

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Michael Musillami - Pride (Playscape, 2014)

Guitarist Michael Musillami stays quite busy with his duties as a label head and producer in addition to recording about one album per year of predominately original music. This album may be one of his most expansive projects: two CD's, one studio and one live both with his crack trio mates Joe Fonda on bass and Gunther Schuller on drums, and high profile guests in both sessions. Disc one is the studio album where the core trio is joined by Kris Davis on piano and Jimmy Greene on tenor saxophone. Greene sits in admirably on the tracks "Bald Yet Hip" and "Courageous David B." playing in a bright and swinging fashion. Not to make light of either his or the trio's contributions, but Kris Davis is simply stellar throughout this whole disc. Whether providing insightful accompaniment or endlessly inventive soloing, she just steals the show. Musillami is a magnanimous and generous leader, allowing Davis the space she needs to truly spread her wings. She is continually thought of as an up-and-coming musical powerhouse but with this excellent performance and her recent albums as a leader, her time has truly come to stand with the best contemporary jazz pianists. Disc two is a freewheeling live date where the Musillami/Fonda/Schuller trio is joined by violinist Mark Feldman. This is a much more even handed date, as the musicians are stretching out into only four lengthy tracks that allow plenty of solo opportunities for all involved. Feldman is a fine addition to the group, swooping and sawing through the band, adding swathes of color that allude to classical music and Americana as well as modern jazz. The familiarity of the core trio leads for a cohesiveness that allows even the freest improvisation to maintain balance. This was a long collection of music, over two hours, but it never felt over indulgent. Musillami knows how to pick some of the finest players on the contemporary jazz scene and place them in situations where both he and they shine brightly. Pride -

Send comments to Tim.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Francis Davis 8th Annual Jazz Critics Poll

Well, my status as a "critic" will be met with snickers and rightly so, but when one of the leading jazz writers asks for my input on a list for NPR Music, how can I say no? Just to be clear, I'm really terrible at these things, invariably forgetting albums, and the rankings here were part of the conditions of the poll, I'd rather have these LP's seen as some of the best records of the year in an unranked format. Davis also asked for best vocal and best Latin recordings, but since I rarely listen to either of those genres I had to take a pass. Here goes...

•Your choices for this year’s ten best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.

  1. John Zorn - Valentine’s Day
  2. Audio One - The Midwest School
  3. Steve Lehman - Mise en Abime
  4. Lean Left - Live at the Area Sismica
  5. Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Unseen
  6. Brandon Seabrook - Sylphid Vitalizers
  7. Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
  8. Nels Cline Singers - Macroscope
  9. Chicago Underground Duo - Locus
  10. Raoul Björkenheim - Ecstasy

•Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order

  1. John Coltrane - Live at Temple University
  2. Miles Davis - Miles at the Fillmore 1970
  3. Sonny Simmons - Leaving Knowledge Wisdom and Brilliance

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

This Week in Music - November 22

A confluence of issues have led to me not being able to blog more regularly. I really want to keep slogging on so I'd like to use the weekly format that Tom Hull uses so effectively and recap the music that I have been listening to during the week. So, with no further ado....

Wilco - What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (Nonesuch, 2014) After the "alt-country" powerhouse Uncle Tupelo imploded in the early 1990's, vocalist and guitarist Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco, discarding any pigeonholes and developing into a powerful rock 'n' roll band. Their earlier years are captured on the first disc leading with the poppy "Box Full of Letters" and the grinding rock of "I Got You (at the end of the Century)" and "Monday." They also write some moody and enigmatic music on "Misunderstood" and "Via Chicago." When Nels Cline joined the group they now had a genuine guitar hero which power the witty "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Handshake Drugs." While fans will always quibble (where is "Bull Black Nova"!?!) the selection is really well chosen, featuring the band's most familiar songs and including excellent album tracks as well.

Avishai Cohen's Triveni - Dark Nights (Anzic Records, 2014) Avishai Cohen is a trumpeter (not to be confused with the bassist of the same name) originally from Israel but now living in the United States after attending the Berklee School of music.  On this album he is joined by Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums and guests like his clarinetist sister Anat on "Betray" which also uses electronic effects to excellent effect. There are two jazz standards, a subtle and mournful bass and trumpet duet on "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and the quieter nature of their music is also explored on Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." The album concludes with a swinging version of "I Fall In Love Too Easily" with guests Gerald Clayton on piano and Keren Ann on vocals.

The Rolling Stones - From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Eagle Rock, 2014) The Rolling Stones join the ranks of The Grateful Dead and King Crimson in regularly releasing concerts and rare recordings from their archives. This concert was originally a pay-per-view event from Virginia, and is presented here as two audio CD's and a DVD of the original broadcast. It's quite a value for Stones fans as well, clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours both in audio and video. They were at the end of a 50 concert grind following the Tattoo You LP and mix some of the new material with older classics. Right from the start they juxtapose a tentative "Under My Thumb" and piano driven "Let's Spend the Night Together" with funkier tracks like "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down." There are a few gaffs and Mick Jagger desperately tries to keep both the live and TV audience engaged, but overall when the group hits its stride this is a worthy addition to the canon.

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, November 17, 2014

John Zorn - Valentines Day (Tzadik, 2014)

We truly live in interesting times when the best rock 'n' roll album of the year (IMHO) is made by a group of open minded jazz musicians. The trio on this particular album is Trevor Dunn on bass and bass guitar, Marc Ribot on electric guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. They are playing a series of John Zorn compositions, which are given individual names but also fall into a larger "Enigma" suite. With Zorn's bottomless imagination and the facility of these these first rate players, there comes music that truly defines genre, except for that which goes for the throat whether as a take no prisoner's free jazz outfit, or as a hell for leather rock band that could eat alive, bones and all, any of the poseurs on the current rock and pop scene. Zorn's name is front and center on the label, because he picked the players and wrote the material. Like Duke Ellington, Zorn will write for individual musicians and play to their strengths, like on this album of caustic and thrilling music. The sounds are somewhat akin to what you may hear on an album by Ribot's Ceramic Dog band, and like that group, the music here is filled with wit and fun. Valentine's Day -

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Aki Takase/Alexander Von Schlippenbach - So Long Eric! Homage to Eric Dolphy (Intakt Records, 2014)

The fiftieth anniversary of the release of Eric Dolphy's ultimate masterpiece Out to Lunch and his tragic death in Berlin have spurred a wave of attention to his work and a number of tribute albums including this one. Pianists Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach lead a large band in providing fresh arrangements of some of Dolphy's most well known pieces. They open with one of his early compositions, "Les" which features a spritely saxophone solo with horns riffing happily in the background. There is an interlude of bass clarinet, one of the instruments that Dolphy was a master of, and then fine sections of horns and brass and then piano, bass and drums. Eric Dolphy's tribute to Thelonious Monk, "Hat and Beard" follows with some fascinating piano work, percussive and deeply ingrained with the lowest notes of the instrument. The tune is taken at length, developing a suite like structure with the soloists and full ensemble hinting at the melody throughout. The music loses a little bit of 0it's edge during the middle of album (a live recording) but builds back up to speed with "Miss Ann". Horns swirl playfully with the melody, backed with urgent drumming by Han Bennink, who played a session with Dolphy as young man in 1964. Saxophones whoop as the fire is further stoked by a swinging piano solo and a hot duet of saxophone and drums. Finally, "Out to Lunch" brings the proceedings to a rousing conclusion, featuring a righteous Bennink drum solo developing into the rattling march that Tony Williams used on the original recording. The wonderful melody is finally stated and then the horns take the music to the heavens. This is a fitting tribute to Eric Dolphy's memory, he was one of the most unique and talented musicians in jazz history and his compositions sound as fresh as anything being written today. So Long, Eric! - Homage to Eric Dolphy -

Send comments to Tim.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sun Ra - My Brother the Wind, Volume 1 (Saturn, 1970)

This is another relatively rare Sun Ra LP that focuses on Ra's investigation into many of the new types of electronic keyboards coming into existence during the late 1960's. Sun Ra's love of science and technology extended far beyond his Afro-Futurist worldview into the use of the most up to date musical technology. There is a smaller band on this recording than many of his other Arkestra recordings, but the usual suspects like Marshall Allen and John Gilmore on saxophone make their presence felt. Moog synthesizers were all the rage in progressive rock circles at this time, but no one developed them to their full potential quite like Sun Ra. Using a bank of keyboards he was able to conjure the eerie texture of the title track, and "Intergalactic 2" where the two saxophones are panned to the far edge of the soundstage, while Ra works like mad the rest of the way. It is on the two final lengthy pieces "Code of Interdependence" and "Space Probe" that things get truly and delightfully unhinged. Sun Ra takes the bleeps and bloops you might have heard from a satellite of the early years of the space program and stretches and pulls them though his keyboard until he makes music that sounds like a lava lamp crossed with a theremin. He is taking this technology that seems primitive to us today and uses it to create music that is otherworldly and stands with his finest work. My Brother the Wind Vol. 1 - iTunes.

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Kinks - The Essential Kinks (Legacy, 2014)

Like any other band who's career has lasted this long, The Kinks have been anthologized in many ways, but surprisingly none seem quite as pithy and succinct as this one. While Legacy may pump these "Essentials" collections out as a cash grab for any band they have rights to, this one was really handled with care, by people who know and love the band. Of course, there are the early hits like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" are here but just as importantly are the inclusion of the beautifully composed and arranged tracks from their extraordinary late '60's and early '70's albums, which flew under the psychedelic radar of the time, but stand as some of the most beautiful music of the period. Songs like the extraordinary "Waterloo Sunset", "David Watts" and "Village Green Preservation Society" present beautiful vignettes of English life, and were sadly all but ignored at the time. There would be one more hit, the winking "Lola" but it is the evocative and heartbreaking track "Strangers" that most poignantly closes out the first phase of The Kinks story. For the remainder of the bands career, they would suffer a series of ups and downs marked by squabbles the usual record industry folderol. Principal songwriter Ray Davies became a little overambitious during the mid 1970's, developing grand notions of rock opera and theatre which were neither musical nor financial successes. They persevered however and found success as an arena rock band, plying the heavy riffs of the earlier material to a new audience, along with some pithy songs that co-opted hard rock sound. Ironically, they found their hit not with a crunching riff but with a swirling organ sound that allowed "Come Dancing" to move past the nostalgia of it's lyrics and capture a wider audience. Though the continued to soldier on into the following decade, until Ray Davies successful solo album "Other Peoples Lives" and Dave Davies health challenges seem to have finally put paid to The Kinks long and fascinating journey. This collection is rounded out with a fine liner note essay including quotes from musicians the band has influenced. For a budget compilation you really can't hope for anything better than this. The music is expertly chosen and logically presented, making for an ideal addition to the collections of both newbies and long term fans alike. The Essential Kinks -

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Linda Sharrock - No is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women (Improvising Beings, 2014)

Unjustly remembered solely as the wife of the late extraordinary guitarist Sonny Sharrock, Linda Sharrock carves out a unique niche of her own on this album with a vocalizing style born of the free jazz movement of the 1960’s along with aspects of rhythm and blues and gospel music. in 1969, she participated in Sonny’s Black Woman LP, which was a milestone, as her screams, wails and soaring vocalizations brought to the human voice the cries of freedom akin to saxophonists Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders. She has recorded sporadically since then, but generally maintaining a low profile until the release of this fascinating package. The two discs contained within consist of studio and live recordings of collective improvisations, 50 minutes each, with Sharrock vocalizing in the company of Itaru Oki on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mario Rechtern on saxophones, Eric Zinman on piano, Makoto Sato on drums and Yoram Rosilio on bass. The music on both takes is wide open and free, the musicians are respectful to each other but also not afraid to take to the challenge of making things let go and fly. While Linda Sharrock’s vocal power may not be what it once was, it is fascinating to hear her pick her spots, and the use her instrument to the fullest to duck and weave through the assembled instruments and then take command for solo flights of her own. This is true outsider music with perceived boundaries being crossed with ease and then discarded altogether. While she may have been in the background for quite some time, this album and it’s title throw down the gauntlet for women in improvised music and women in general: their time has come. No is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women - Improvising Beings

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Russ Johnson - Still Out to Lunch (Enja, 2014)

The great jazz musician Eric Dolphy is justly remembered as an extraordinary instrumentalist, playing alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute in a unique and unprecedented manner. But he was also an excellent composer of knotty and memorable melodies, especially on his universally acknowledged masterpiece Out To Lunch. It is the melodic content of this great album that is the inspiration for the interpretations by Russ Johnson on trumpet, Myra Melford on piano, Roy Nathanson on saxophone, Brad Jones on bass, and George Schuller on drums. It is interesting to hear Myra Melford trying to take on the roll that vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson held on the original LP. On the Thelonious Monk tribute "Hat and Beard" she brings a very interesting viewpoint, using her own considerable skill to make for an arresting performance. Johnson takes the lead on melodic "Something Sweet, Something Tender" playing in both a punchy and thoughtful manner. The complex Dolphy composition "Out To Lunch" is one of the highlights of the album, making space for Jones to anchor the music while Schuller makes the most of the march rhythm of the original recording. Dolphy's flute feature "Gazzeloni" is moved into a different direction with swirling trumpet and saxophone and muscular bass powering the performance along. This album worked really well, demonstrating the enduring beauty of Eric Dolphy's music, while allowing these talented musicians to make their own mark. Still Out to Lunch -

Send comments to Tim.