Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ballister - The Ballister Monologues (Astral Spirits, 2014)

Ballister is a wonderful post-bop/free jazz unit with the awesome lineup of Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. They will play take no prisoners squalling free improvisation which is thrilling to hear, but are also capable of throttling back the actions to sections of spacier, haunting quiet. This album came on cassette tape! How cool is that? Thankfully with a download code since my last tape player went the way of all things a few years ago. The music was recorded live in Austin earlier this year and consists of two side long performances. "The Woman Who Loved to Make Ballisters Happy" is the opening performance and it comes right out of the gate playing hard and fast and very exciting with the raw and ready sound of Rempis' saxophone and withering electronics and jackhammering drums - this kind of intensity would put most rock groups to shame. Listen to an excerpt here. The trio is able to shift through different gears of interplay with Nillsen-Love's drums particularly epic. The music very slowly shifts its course to sections of more space where each member is given a chance to make their statement before falling into a quieter spacious impressionistic phase to end side/track one. "My Angry Ballister" doesn't start out angry at all, but takes up the mantle from the previous track beginning with Rempis exploring empty space with his horn, peeling off waves of raw emotion before the other two members enter the fray. Like the previous track in reverse, the power and majesty of the band's and its music builds back up to a scalding collective free improvisation. The three men work very well together, with Rempis' naked and vulnerable saxophone going from a whisper to a full throated scream at will, and Nilssen-Love, who has seemingly played on 1,000 LP's this year, has pummeling rhythm. Lonberg-Holm is the wild card, almost the trickster as compared to the other more instruments. whether sawing away at his cello or blasting jolts of pure electricity into the proceedings, he has a pivotal role. This was an excellent album, and is well worth picking up for free jazz fans, whether you have a cassette deck handy or not. The Ballister Monologues (mp3)

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

End of the year links

There's a new issue of Point of Departure.
Perfect Sound Forever has articles on Art Pepper and Sun Ra.
The votes are in at the NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Francis Davis breaks it down and offers his own ballot. Tom Hull collates the data, and my ballot is here.
Burning Ambulance counts down their top jazz releases, staring with numbers 25-21.
Hank Shteamer offers his top ten plus.
The NYT's Nate Chinen chimes in with his best of the year list. Ben Ratliff too.
Bomb Magazine has an archival interview with Julius Hemphill.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Books: Van Morrison and William Parker

Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics by Van Morrison - Morrison is certainly an inscrutable figure, unique in whatever genre he belongs in, drifting from rhythm and blues to soul, jazz and gospel, sometimes within the same song. This book tracks a roughly linear path through Morrison's career with a few cuts from his first band, Them, and singles like the immortal "Brown Eyed Girl" and the absolutely devastating "T.B. Sheets" are covered before exploring his revelatory early work. The lyrics on his masterpiece Astral Weeks have been studied and debated ever sine the album was released, so it is very interesting to get the official lyrics which are just as enigmatic as you can imagine. He is working from a state of grace at this point and the lyrics are really for each listener to decide their own meaning. His early '70's work: Moondance, Tupelo Honey and His Band and the Street Choir are quite upbeat, covering issues of love and spirituality. The quest for the spirit would begin to be much more prevalent as his career evolved, sometimes as a sense of the worship of nature and sometimes exploring traditional Christian themes. Juxtaposed against this are quite a few songs that explore the negativity of the music business and travails of life in general. It is made quite clear that Morrison is not happy being a public figure, preferring the silence of contemplation rather than the adulation of the crowd. All in all, though, this is a fascinating look into Morrison's music, perhaps as close as we can really get to a true biography. Amazon

The William Parker Sessionography by Rick Lopez - This is a mind boggling effort of research by Lopez, a jazz discographer and researcher to reflect the date, location and band members for every gig and recording session played by the great bassist and composer William Parker. The results are extraordinary, an epic telephone book sized tome arranged in chronological order compiling all of the information Lopez and fellow traveller Ed Hazell have been able to dig up. Flipping through this book you get the sense that Parker was the hardest working man in the jazz business, playing with anyone and everyone beginning in earnest with his appearance on Frank Lowe's 1973 free-jazz monster Black Beings, before delving headlong into the New York City jazz loft scene of the mid-1970's. His involvement in the cooperative Ensemble Muntu and many other groups kept him quite, busy, but he took the time to record his own music even though he couldn't afford to release it (it was ultimately released in the 2010's by the NoBuniness Label.) As the eighties dawned, Parker really came into his own recording with the likes of Cecil Taylor and becoming a member of one of the greatest jazz groups in recent memory, the incendiary David S. Ware Quartet. Parker's own work began to receive the attention that he deserved during this period, and he was recording voraciously in every context from solo bass to big band. Parker's triumph as a musician and humanitarian is beautifully chronicled with many quotes from musicians and magazine articles included as well as reproductions of flyers and album covers. AUM Fidelity

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Schlippenbach Trio - First Recordings (Trost, 2014)

Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach along with Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxophone and Paul Lovens on drums are one of the longest lasting and most well respected groups in free jazz improvisation. Apparently it all began here on April 2, 1972 during the Workshop Freie Musik at the Acadamy of the Arts, Berlin. It hardly sounds like a first recording, because they come out of the gate with almost telepathic unity on "Deals" which is a continuous collective improvisation lasting over thirty eight minutes. The musicians show an amazing degree of stamina considering that the music is played with a very exciting degree of high energy. While each of these musicians were well on their way to developing their own unique original sounds, Schlippenbach displays a fascinating degree of classical technique filtered through the funhouse fractals of Thelonious Monk's music and Evan Parker's love of John Coltrane is evident. A comparison for Paul Lovens escapes me, but perhaps the fast fleet form of Andrew Cryille or Sunny Murray would be apt. "Deals" is a wonderful roller coaster, most exciting for me when they are barreling ahead full blast with Parker's caustic tone leading the charge over percussive piano and drums. There is quite a bit of dynamism at play as well, the musicians throttle through different speeds and dissolve into solos and duos as the joyride plows onward. Far from exhausted, there are three more shorter improvisations: "Village", "With Forks and Hopes" and then appropriately "Then, Silence." These shorter tracks point to a sharper juxtaposition than the lengthy leading track and show that the group has a wide range and diverse manner of approaches at their command. This was a very enjoyable album, quite exiting in the rough and tumble way that I enjoy, since I often lose my way listening to very quiet and abstract music. This is a must for fans of European free improvisation and is quite interesting in that it shows where the heralded trio got its start. First Recordings -

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P.S. the mp3 album on is $3.96 (cheap!)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression Part 2: The Music

It is a testament to the power of the Blue Note label that a five disc set can barely scratch the surface with the depth of music and talent running so deep. But rather than trying to tell the entire Blue Note story (that would take one hundred discs plus) the selectors follow the format of the book, breaking the music into the following sections - Disc One: From Boogie to Bop, 1939-1953; Disc Two: Messengers, Preachers and Hard Bop, 1953-1958; Disc Three: Struttin', Moaning', and Somethin' Else, 1958-1960; Disc Four: Bossa, Blues and Hits 1961-1965; and Disc Five: Can You Dig It? 1953-2014. The disc breaks are somewhat arbitrary, but they work well enough to move the story along and highlight major stylistic changes in the music. Disc One is quite interesting from a historical perspective as it shows the label moving from the "hot jazz" of Sidney Bechet, and sticking a tentative toe into bebop as the nature of jazz as a whole moved relentlessly forward in the post-war era. Disc Two covers the first part of the hard-bop era and the label's glory years, featuring prime cuts from Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith and Art Blakey, musicians who really put Blue Note on the map, along with progressive seekers like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Disc Three digs more deeply into the soulful, testifying jazz of this legendary era featuring deep, soulful tracks like Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers "Moaning'" and "True Blue" by the underrated saxophonist Tina Brooks. Looking for a popular record that could help keep them afloat, Blue Note tried some subtle experiments that are showcased on Disc Four. They didn't stray too far from their bread and butter as can be seen by the inclusion of three songs by the great organist Jimmy Smith along with bluesy tracks from guitarists Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. They were still pumping out high quality hard/post bop from the likes of Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, but it was in the groove that they found what they were seeking. Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" climbed the jazz and even pop charts, sustaining the label for a few more years. Finally on Disc Five, the Blue Note label (the brand) began its free-fall through corporate America, first to Liberty Records, then to Capitol and then finally to Universal. The music suffers through this period with very dated attempts at funk-jazz, vocals and other doomed projects. So it's a deal with the devil that keeps Blue Note afloat today, they must have enough money makers like singer Gregory Porter to subsidize the forward thinking jazz of musicians like trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. But all in all it is a good set and takes you on a good (if nostalgic) ride through the label's amazing history. Uncompromising Expression: Singles Collection -

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression Part 1: The Book

This lavish doorstop is a beautiful testament to the everlasting impact that Blue Note Records have had on American (and world) culture. It begins as a rags to riches story of two men, Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion, who fled Germany to escape the Holocaust and fascism and moved to America to found one of the most iconic of all record labels. They started out on a shoestring, recording the "hot jazz" they loved, like the boogie-woogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. The book follows the company as they make their tentative steps into bebop, recording Thelonious Monk and Fats Novarro. The meat of the book covers the company's glory years, roughly 1950 - 1970. The book is filled with rampant boosterism, but rightly so, during this period the titans of modern jazz and modern American music as a whole recorded for them. It's a who's who of greats: Monk, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Art Blakey, Grant Green and so many more. The distinctive nature of Blue Note is examined further, looking into the simpatico relationship of Wolff's photography and Reid Miles design techniques which created genuine works of art above and beyond the music. But it couldn't last, as times change and the record buying public turned to rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues, Blue Note was sold to Liberty Records and finally Capitol. There were some good records made in the mid-1970's but they became fewer and farther between before the label lay dormant. There have been sporadic attempts to revive the label with massive reissue campaigns of classic LP's on CD and infusions of new talent. Today the label's roster is a precarious mix of accessible singers and modern instrumental jazz musicians. So the story of Blue Note is told in a continuous narrative, broken into sections that are followed by spotlights on the key albums from that period. It is here that the book really shines with crisp and clear reproductions of Wolff's photographs and contact sheets and gorgeous reproductions of the album covers. This is a very classy book and is highly recommended for fans of the Blue Note label. Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression -

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Monday, December 08, 2014

El Intruso -The 8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2014

El Intruso is a website in Spanish founded in 2005 for people who care about music. Our focuses are creative music, jazz and beyond, free improvisation, art-rock and all kind of experimental music. Let us to know your opinion about your favorites in these categories (no more than three choices in each category) Here Goes...

Musician of the year: Sonny Simmons
Newcomer Musician: James Brandon Lewis
Group of the year: Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Nels Cline Singers, Audio One
Newcomer Group: Audio One
Album of the year: John Zorn - Valentine’s Day
Composer: John Zorn, Henry Threadgill
Drums: Dylan Ryan, Paal Nilssen-Love, Chad Taylor
Acoustic Bass: Reid Anderson, Eric Revis, William Parker
Electric Bass: Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten
Guitar: Marc Ribot, Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson
Piano: Kris Davis, Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer
Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Jamie Saft, Larry Goldings, Jared Gold
Tenor Saxophone: Ken Vandermark, Peter Brotzmann, Brian Patneaude
Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake, Steve Lehman, Sonny Simmons
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson, Gary Smulyan
Soprano Saxophone: Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis, Sam Newsome
Trumpet/Cornet: Rob Mazurek, Dave Douglas
Clarinet/bass clarinet: Jeremiah Cymerman, David Murray
Trombone: Steve Swell, Steve Davis
Flute: Henry Threadgill, Nicole Mitchell
Violin/Viola: Jessica Pavone, Eyvind Kang, Jenny Scheinman
Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm
Vibraphone - Jason Adasiewicz, Bobby Hutcherson
Electronics: Rob MazurekOthers instruments: Brandon Seabrook (banjo), Sonny Simmon (Cor anglais)
Female Vocals: Linda Sharrock, Leena Conquest
Male Vocals: Theo Bleckman
Best Live Band: The Thing, Jon Irabagon Trio, The Bad Plus
Record Label: Cuneiform, Improvising Beings, Clean Feed

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Miles Davis - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (Columbia, 2009)

So, Miles Davis, relatively healthy and in the midst in leading on of his many revolutionary movements in jazz, turning to electric musical instruments and cut-up techniques in the studio. Bitches Brew was released to flummoxed masses in 1970, and the backlash from mouldy figs came hard without subtlety. Ignored by Davis who was (arguably) to strongest he has ever been, a necessity to cut through the tumult breaking loose around him. Along for the ride are Gary Bartz on soprano saxophone, Chick Corea on electric piano, Keith Jarrett on organ, Dave Holland on electric bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. Miles performed on Saturday afternoon of the 29th (following Tiny Tim!) Of the up to 700,000 attendees, I wonder how many would understand what was going on. Miles muscular blasts, he then turning his back on the audience (something he had done for many years (no announcement of song titles while spilled out it a thirty-five minute performance (split up?) moving from suite to suite in a fashion that connects all of the music together. His set opener "Directions" showed people what they were with Jarrett and Corea vying to provide texture and structure to the freest music Davis had ever recorded. Miles Davis was a great boxing fan working out at gums and studying the "sweet science." This agility served in well in interacting with many years younger, darting and weaving on "Spanish Key" and "About That Time" where the soft mute Miles of the 1950's gave way the scalding runs that tear the very fabric of the music they are performing. The music ends as Davis usually did in the 1960's and 70' tipping his hat to the past by playing "The Theme." Hard to make of this record, which is also available on DVD or YouTube if you are short of funds. Regardless, don't miss it, it is another piece of the enigmatic puzzle that is Miles DavisIsle of Wight -

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Miles Davis-Live at The Isle of Wight Festival (29-08-1970)

Friday, December 05, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Sonny Simmons - Nomadic (Improvising Beings, 2014)

After a career of being under the radar, saxophonist and exotic instrument player Sonny Simmons is getting some well deserved attention with a boxed set released earlier this year, and then this unusual and beguiling album. On this album he is accompanied Thomas Bellier on electric bass, Michel Kristof on sitar and Sebastien Bismuth on drums and electronics. This is a very interesting and risk taking endeavor with the music developing very slowly and demanding extreme patience and discretion on behalf of the musicians and the listener. The music here is drenched in reverberation, giving it the air of an enchanting ceremony being held deep underground or in an ancient cathedral. The sororities of Simmons alto saxophone and English horn echo through "Help Them Through This World" where he develops his improvisation in conjunction with sitar and percussion, moving through a processional exclamation of spiritual inquiry. The idea of seeking develops further on "We Are Entering The Place Of That" and "I Put It In A Dark Area Where I Don't Remember No More" are an investigations into the nature of humanity by musical means with an interesting payoff. This album works quite well and has an unusual vibe that separates it from much of the other jazz release this year. Enigmatic and soulful it is emblematic of Sonny Simmons personal and universal quest. Nomadic -

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