Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Adam Rogers and David Binney - R and B (Criss Cross, 2015)

Kindred spirits guitarist Adam Rogers and alto saxophonist David Binney are joined on this album by bassist Ruben Rogers and drummer Gerald Cleaver. They create an excellent album of modern mainstream jazz, which is brimming with confidence and self-assurance. Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” leads off the album with a fast introduction and ripe drumming with guitar and bass joining in for a delightful melody. Binney’s solo is forceful and strong and you can imagine him planting his feet and letting the music flow through him. “Introspection” takes a more medium paced approach with the guitar and saxophone harmonizing together, before Binney’s saxophone breaks free, just a touch slower than the previous piece but brimming with ideas before gracefully passing the baton to his partner who takes a nimble guitar solo, spiraling over solid bass and drums, especially Gerald Cleaver whose rattling drums keep everybody on their toes. The ballad “In Love In Vain” has lush saxophone and soft guitar and very nice softly brushed percussion shading the music nicely. They move forward gradually, Cleaver tapping on cymbals, faster guitar and Binney coming in strong and supple and the full band concludes the performance with a mid-tempo swing. “Africaine” has the band coming bang! Right out of the gate. There is a hard melodic opening and a jagged, craggy saxophone solo moving into a harrowing flight, with everybody along for the ride. Ruben Rogers provides wonderful support throughout, but especially here with a direct, luxuriant tone. The early Miles Davis composition “Sippin’ at Bells” is another wonderfully storming performance from this band which is like a well tuned engine. David Binney in particular is thrilled with the bebop vernacular and expels waves of music, rippling along in a very exciting fashion. The album finishes with “I Feel a Song Coming On” as they began, with a boot firmly on the accelerator. There is a super fast spot for the guitar bass and drums unit before Binney passes them on the shoulder playing a touch lighter and faster and ending the session by trading witty asides with Gerald Cleaver. While it might be passed off as a “blowing session” is clearly one of the highest order. Using bebop classics as a starting base, this quartet takes the jam session aesthetic and uses it to develop their own methodology for in the moment musical interplay. R and B / Rogers and Binney - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Streaming Movie Review: The Punk Singer directed by Sini Anderson, 2013

The Punk Singer is a well done documentary film about Kathleen Hanna: singer, songwriter, musician and activist for the rock bands Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. The film is quite an intimate profile of her life, following her from an unhappy childhood (abuse is hinted at, but never explored) to college where she tried to spread a feminist message through spoken word and poetry. After a professor sits her down and says the only way people are going to listen to you is in a band she finds three fellow travellers and Bikini Kill is born. There is some great footage of this legendary band on stage with Hanna’s explosive energy and fearlessness standing up for women in the audience as a singer and also as a behind the scenes activist developing ‘zines and working ferociously for women’s rights. After Bikini Kill broke up, she moved into electronic music much like John Lydon did when he formed Public Image Limited after the Sex Pistols imploded. The band she formed, Le Tigre was still a high energy outfit, they released three albums and toured widely before Hanna became very sick and had to leave the band. This is the most poignant part of the movie where Hanna and her friends and family (there are great interviews with critics and musicians through the film) discuss the hardest part  of that period, Hanna had taken a “leave of absence” from music and nobody, let alone her knew what was wrong. Doctors mis-diagnose several times before finally discovering the truth: late stage lyme disease. And the cure is almost worse than the disease, leaving her housebound, weak and depressed. But the movie ends on a high note, with her disease is in remission she and her latest band, The Julie Ruin, were able to play a set a nightlong celebration of her music and the multi-generational positive effect she has had in empowering women worldwide. The Punk Singer - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Brian Charette - Alphabet City (Posi-Tone, 2015)

Brian Charette is an up and coming organ player on the modern mainstream jazz scene who occasionally sidesteps the traditional blues and soul based approach in search of his own personal sound on the instrument. On this album he is accompanied by Will Bernard on guitar and Rudy Royston and drums, and they begin with a tune called “East Village” which is fast and in your face, certainly not background music, with bright guitar and swinging drums driving the music forward. “They Left Fred Out” has a bubbling confidence with Will Brenard developing a Grant Green style of guitar playing and everyone working together nicely but seemingly just a split second apart to keep things edgy. Rudy gets sets a fine backbeat with embellishments for more free-range guitar. The group works in a more traditional 1960’s – 70’s soul jazz groove on “West Village” which gives Charette more room to solo than one the previous song. The drums and guitar are restrained and tasteful and restrained. As if to make a mockery of the previous set up straight-man song, “Not a Purist” blows everything out of the water with Charette’s blasting on electronics and Royston pummeling drums melding progressive rock and jazz fusion. Early 1970’s Genesis and Yes are touchstones here and while that may turn some people right off, I think it’s a blast. The trio returns to a swinging integrated groove on “Disco Nap” which despite it’s title doesn’t go too far out, but does allow Bernard to a take a fine guitar solo that ripples across waves of organ and leads the group to a fast ending. “Detours” has an urgent guitar opening followed by full blooded organ with a deep bass sound developed from the pedals. Royston’s nimble use of the cymbals as the organ retreats works well before everybody returns for a choppy conclusion. The group concludes the album with “The Vague Reply” which is a fast and swaggering performance with rapidly moving guitar and drums taking solos against foundational music from the other band members. This was an enjoyable album, I'm partial to organ trio music, but there's nothing generic here, these musicians have developed their own sound and it should appeal to fans of modern mainstream jazz. (Release date: June 9, 2015) Alphabet City - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mike Osbourne - Dawn (Cuneiform Records, 2015)

This album presents the legendary British alto saxophonist Mike Osborne in two unreleased sessions: tracks 1-6 recorded in 1970 with Henry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums and in 1970 with Miller on bass Alan Jackson on drums and John Surman on saxophones. Beginning with the ’66 session, “Scotch Pearl” has a fast and new-thing like quality with burly squalls of saxophone supported by thick bass and nimble percussion. There is an opening in the middle for bass and drums to take the music down just  a hair in intensity before Osborne to take the music up, way up, with the trio collectively engaged and totally locked in. There is a hymn like setup for steely saxophone, bowed bass and shimmering cymbals on “Dawn” thick plucked bass and gently tapped percussion adding to the spiritual air, before the music begins it’s powerful climb into a state of grace and then falling back into the quiet, meditative melody. Herbie Hancock’s “Jack Rabbit” is aptly named as the opening section is a treacherous series of switchbacks that everybody hits at full blast and use as a jumping off point for torrid improvisational sections. There is a riotous section of free improvisation before the trio are able to swoop right back into their finishing statement. There is a lengthy and complex melody on “TBC” where Osborne takes a seemingly vertical improvisation on alto saxophone, whirling into a vortex of sound. The music builds quickly, this is great stuff, very intense yet free - they are just flying unmoored with a sense of joy. The group downshifts briefly to allow Miller a nice spot, before Osborne returns adding a bit of bop to his closing gambit. There is a more open and loose sensibility to “1st” with rattling percussion and plucked/strummed bass providing an air of unease that is enhanced by Osborne’s emotional wails of saxophone as if crying out in emotional or spiritual pain. The final three tracks of Dawn switch things up as we warp back in time to 1966, keeping Miller on bass, but adding Alan Jackson on drums on John Surman on baritone and soprano saxophones for an ambitious program of compositions by Osborne, Pharaoh Sanders, Carla Bley and Booker Little. Osborne was a protean force on the British jazz scene at this time as this recording shows. Sadly, illness would take hold and he would gradually retreat from the music world robbing it of one of its most promising members. Dawn - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book: Waiting for the Man: The Life and Music of Lou Reed by Jeremy Reed (Omnibus 1994, 2015)

This is an updated version of the biography that was published in 1994 of the life and music of rock and roll legend Lou Reed.There is a brief opening of Reed's youth in an upscale Long Island home where all was not as it seemed, as his parents attempted to cure his emerging homosexuality by sending him to psychiatric hospitals where he received brutal treatment including debilitating doses of thorazine, which would eventually lead lead him to write the scalding song "Kill Your Sons" directed at his parents. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in literature he would cement his musical legacy by forming the legendary band The Velvet Underground, and his brief association with Andy Worhol and The Factory. After leaving the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed had a four decade long career as a wildly unpredictable solo musician from his flamboyantly gay amphetamine and alcohol addicted 1970's period which gave him the unexpected hit "Walk on the Wild Side" as well as the wildly exciting and critically panned Metal Machine Music. Ruthless songs like "Street Hassle" and "Dirt" showed that he had lost none of the rage and street commentary that had powered his songwriting in the Velvet Underground. He did an about face in the 1980's, entering into a confusing relationship with Sylvia Morales, eventually marrying her and buying a large plot of land in New Jersey. Author Jeremy Reed believes that the music Reed made in the early to mid 1980's was the weakest of his career, only to be redeemed by a stunning trio of albums at the turn of the decade: his solo albums New York and Magic and Loss and Songs for Drella a collaboration with his former bandmate John Cale. This period is deftly and enthusiastically described in detail, as is Reed's experimental work that followed it, The Raven, a music and poetry examination of the life of Edgar Allan Poe, Berlin Live, a recapitulation of his critically slammed 1973 album, Hudson River Meditation, an ambient album for Tai Chi, and finally Lulu, the unlikely pairing of Lou Reed and Metallica. Jeremy Reed does a fine job in describing the life of a notoriously prickly and difficult character. He balances reporting on the music and Reed's difficult and at times contradictory personal life. This is a well done biography and is recommended to rock and roll fans. Waiting for the Man: The Life and Music of Lou Reed - amazon.com

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Oliver Lake and William Parker - To Roy (Intakt, 2015)

The loss of the great trumpeter Roy Campbell was a tremendous shock to the progressive jazz scene. Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and bassist William Parker play tribute to their fallen comrade with this duet album recorded in 2014 in Brooklyn. They begin the album with “Theme of Marvin Gaye” which has the sparse avant-grade sense of the material, but still flows with Parker’s sense of soulful pulse to gently drive the music forward. They really push the envelope on “Check” with Lake driving relentlessly forward with a torrid wave of notes and then being able to pirouette on a dime to allow his partner open space. “Is It Alright” has the two musicians collectively improvising in an excellent fashion, Lake with a raw and strident tone juxtaposed very well against Parker’s deep concrete foundation. On “Biscaglia” they both master very quiet sounds, haunting but respectful, with Lake’s short bursts of saxophone having a near trumpet like tone. Plaintive wails of saxophone and bowed bass on “Flight Plan” make for a freely expressive meeting of the minds. There is a wonderful duet section on “Victor Jara” where William Parker ups the speed and Oliver Lake dips into his Eric Dlophy bag and gives chase. They reach for the stars on “Bonu” with Lake angling his saxophone for more power and Parker digging deep in support and conversation.  “Net Down” is even more powerful with Parker’s sawing bowed bass and Lake’s high-pitched circular bellows of saxophone, making for a very exciting performance. The gospel “Light over Still Water Paints a Portrait of God” feature Parker’s expressive bowing bass developing a wonderful array of sounds to contrast the questing saxophone of Lake who at times approaches the music of spiritual seekers like Albert Ayler. The raw and declamatory “For Roy” ends the album with a proper send off, tough and tender it sums up the album and what they have learned from Campbell as a musician. Both Lake and Parker are in top form, putting their egos aside to remember their longtime friend and college. The music is at times somber and difficult but such was the music of the man they honor, who never shrunk form a challenge and left a powerful legacy. To Roy - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - You've Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015)

Alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne has led many bands in the course of his career, and the most recent, Snakeoil, began as something of a chamber jazz group with their first ECM album, but the gloves come off on this record with dynamic music that pulses with energy. In addition to Berne, Snakeoil consists of Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on keyboards, Ryan Ferreira on guitars and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. “Lost In Redding” opens the album with the full band charging out of the gate, storming forward and then deftly dropping off into a section of bass clarinet and guitar, shaded by droplets of heavy piano. They ramp things back up behind Smith’s crushing drums and Berne’s saxophone to a strong conclusion. The epic “Small World In a Small Town” begins patiently with saxophone and piano probing the music before Berne tears into a ripe solo that builds grandly as the rest of the instruments in the band gradually fade in. The music develops a spooky feel, as instruments shift in and drift out before building up to a loud and complex finale. “Embraceable Me” is the heart of the album, leaving a soft opening in the dust and peeling out full blast as Ferreira’s guitar slices through the building tension. The music takes a questing and experimental turn with ominous long bellows of foreboding saxophone against a very heavy backdrop getting more and more powerful like powerhouse jazz meeting early Sabbath and creating a massive brick shithouse of raw sound. Two short palate cleansers follow, a ripe collective improvisation called “Angels” and the title song, a gentle acoustic guitar composition. The album is concluded with “False Impressions” where the band is deeply attuned to the choppy melody and rumbling piano growls over sharp edged electric guitar. Berne’s saxophone enters throwing shadows on the backdrop of the music, his sound yearning and balanced by piano and vibraphone. This album is excellent from start to finish, the compositions and the improvisations by the full band and the individual members are first rate, and this is progressive jazz of the highest order. You've Been Watching Me - amazon.com

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