Monday, December 31, 2007

Big Joe Williams – These are My Blues (Testament, 1998)

Ramblin' bluesman Williams hit the college circuit for this recording, cut in 1965 but held for more than 30 years before release. It's a very interesting discovery, as it finds Williams playing a homemade nine string electric guitar, and singing in his deep field holler like voice. Williams was unique amongst bluesmen, idiosyncratic with his unusual guitar and lyrics that switch and swap blues themes and topics to keep the music fresh. He can make anything into a song from the death of a president in the JFK memorial “Man Amongst Men” to a broken down car in the introduction and lyrics of “56 Plymouth.” Williams also mixes classics like his own canonical original “Baby Please Don't Go” with other legendary blues tunes like “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Bottle Up and Go.” His originality really shines through in a brief take on John Lee Hooker's “Boogie Chillen” where he takes the familiar Hooker riff and bends it to his will. Like his contemporary Lightnin' Hopkins, Williams was a wily and resourceful performer who never passed up a chance to record, and never played anything the same way twice. This is a fine example of him at the height of his powers.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Matthew Shipp - Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007)

Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp has led a fascinating dual career recently, performing in both electric and acoustic contexts, as a leader and as a sideman. On this occasion he is the leader of an acoustic trio, joined by Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The music presented here shows the dualism as well, with an almost even split between freer more abstract improvisations, and material that focuses on melody and lyricism. On the freer side, "Piano Vortex" is slow developing and moody, a long probing improvisation that shifts like the tide. "The New Circumstance" has a bowed bass opening with spare, dark flavored piano that evolves into a repeating percussive figure. "Slips Through the Fingers" is a feature for crystalline solo piano. "Keyswing" and "Nooks and Corners" shows the band's more melodic side with a definite Thelonious Monk influence, sounding playful and providing short and concise performances. "Quivering With Speed" combines pounding squalls of low register piano with rippling runs on the upper register to great effect. Throughout the disc there is excellent interplay between the three musicians, and the disc's LP length makes sure that it never overstays its welcome. This is a very good album, and shows that Matthew Shipp remains at the forefront of modern jazz improvisation.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Ken Vandermark and Paul Nilsson-Love - Seven (Smalltown Superjazz, 2007)

Multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and drummer Paul Nilsson-Love have performed in a number of groups and contexts over the past decade. In this case, they are all by themselves performing a spontaneous three part improvisation, much like a high-wire act in tandem before a live audience. The first piece is a very long, slow building exploration entitled "First Hit, Second Fall" where the emphasis in the music is on texture. Love uses the entirety of his drum ensemble to develop a great many percussive sounds, and Vandermark responds with slurs, squeaks and squeals, sounding at times like another Chicago legend, Roscoe Mitchell. "Open Too Close" was the highlight of the disc for me, fifteen minutes of unfettered blowing, with each man taking his instrument to the limit. This is "free jazz" for certain, but the two never lose a sense of control over the proceedings and there is a great sense of mutual respect and collaboration throughout. The disc ends with the very brief coda of "Universal Funeral" and rapturous applause of the gathered crowd. This was a solid album of spontaneous creative jazz which ranges from lively, straight from the gut free music to pointillistic and dry abstraction.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Saxophonist Brian Patneaude has posted his Top Ten for 2007: "1) Sam Yahel Trio - Truth And Beauty (Origin) Previously known as Yaya3 and the Joshua Redman Elastic Band, the trio of organist Sam Yahel, saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade eschews their usual electronics in favor of a stripped down organ combo sound on a collection of memorable compositions by the leader and covers of Ornette Coleman and Paul Simon."

Tom Hull has posted his Top Ten and more: "If there's a theme to this year's list it's that world beats are coming to America. Two of five (Youssou N'Dour, Papa Noel) are Africans doing African things, but three more are first world integrators (Manu Chao, Gogol Bordello, MIA), as much at home here as wherever there is."

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Elliot Sharp's Terraplane – Forgery (Intuition, 2007)

Like many of the musicians on the downtown scene, guitarist Elliot Sharp leads or is a member of several different ensembles. Terraplane is his blues ensemble, where he is accompanied by Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, David Hofstra on bass, Toney Lewis on drums, Eric Mingus and Tracie Morrison vocals. “Smoke and Mirrors” leads off the recording with a broken and shifting beat, before Mingus' deep shouted vocals and the horns enter. “Tell Me Why” and the medley of “Katrina Blues/How The Crescent City Got Bleached” add a political element to the mix, taking the blues down deep to their roots as a rallying cry of oppressed people, while adding some interesting funk elements to the mix. “Dance 4 Lance” is a wonderfully upbeat tribute to a fallen musician and friend of the band, while “War Between the States” and “Badlands” mix electric and acoustic guitar with slide accents and horns to present a progressive alternative to much music passing as the blues today. Musicians like Sharp and James “Blood” Ulmer are using jazz and avant-garde musics to push the traditional music of the blues in new and interesting directions with very positive results. This is a very interesting band that is a welcome breath of fresh air in both the blues and jazz scenes.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Zero Point - Plays Albert Ayler (Ayler, 2007)

Appropriately enough this tribute to the late free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler is released on the label that bears his name. Zero Point is a jazz trio based in Mexico City that plays free improv indebted to the open ended trio concept of Ayler's classic Spiritual Unity LP. German Bringas performs on alto and tenor saxophones, Itzam Cano on bass and Gabriel Lauber drums making up the group and they play in the cohesive manner of a well rehearsed trio that is familiar with their material and with each other. That material is a mix of Ayler composed themes, and sections of original free improvisation. There is a lot to recommend here, this is a live recording that has the band performing enthusiastically before a small but sympathetic audience. The band covers material from Alyer's early career, where open ended free jazz met spirituals and folk music themes. For all of his reputation as a fearsome member of the avant garde, Ayler wrote some very memorable melodies like the simple and folkish “Ghosts” which the group uses as a wonderful springboard for performing, especially Lauber's swirling drum patters which recall free legends like Sunny Murray or Rashied Ali. This is a very enjoyable and thoughtful tribute to Albert Ayler, and I hope this band is able to continue with future releases, it would be fascinating to hear what they would make of Ayler's lat period music where he experimented with rock rhythms and R&B. The music of that period is usually reviled, but I have to confess a fondness for it.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sun Ra – Detroit Jazz Center Residency Discs 1&2 (Transparency, 2007)

Given my Sun Ra fanboy status and my incontrovertible nerditude, it's a given that I would order a 28 CD boxed set chronicling the Man From Saturn's epic stand in Detroit from December 26th, 1980 to January 1st, 1981. I've just begun to scratch the surface on this monster, but it has already been a rewarding experience. The sound quality is surprisingly good, certainly not perfect, but far better than the bootleg quality I was expecting. Ra and the band are on fire as well, mixing his own compositions with free jazz improv and swing era nuggets for an intoxicating mix. On disc one Ra accepts the key to the city of Detroit and then proceeds to lead the band through a blasting set, focusing on riff centered swing era standards like “Queer Notions” and “Yeah Man!” which have the group sounding like a 1930's territory band. They move forward in time to the bebop era, checking a medley of “Lady Bird/Half Nelson” before blasting full bore into modern jazz/free improv with a 23 minute percussion centered “Love in Outer Space.” Disc two is more vocal centered with Ra leading the band through chants and songs, on regular tunes from his book like “Space is the Place” and “We Travel the Spaceways” before blasting off into those spaceways with some unfettered improvisations. Ra has spent most of the first two CDs on organ, and there have been several excellent solo spots for John Gilmore. It's quite a trip and I look forward to checking out the rest of the set. More updates to come.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

B.B. King – The RPM Hits 1951-1957 (Ace, 1999)

Early on in his career, the great bluesman B.B. King established a pattern of music that would serve him well for over fifty years. Fronting a powerful little big band with his own potent guitar and vocals, combined with memorable songs and performances, he established himself as "King of the Blues" by relentless touring and recording. This disc presents the best of King's earliest recordings, where he is at his leanest and most mighty, belting out the original versions of songs he would continue to revisit throughout his career, like the riff laden “You Upset Me Baby” and the violet blues “Three O'Clock in the Morning.” B.B.'s great and resonant voice comes through on the classic recordings of “Every Day I Have the Blues” and the amazingly emotional “Sweet Little Angel.” Some of the more pop and ballad oriented material is a little less successful, but its inclusion shows the range of material that King was recording during this period. The liner notes are extensive and well written, scouring the blues landscape for information about King and his singles during this period. There is some truly wonderful and historic music here, and anyone looking for a one disc summation of B.B. King's early recordings would do well to track down a copy.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ibrahim Electric Meets Ray Anderson Again (Stunt, 2007)

Ibrahim Electric is a Danish organ trio that prides itself on "exploring the borders between jazz, rock, afro, funk" according to their myspace site. On this album, the band recorded live at the Copenhagen JazzHouse in February 2007. The group is composed of Niclas Knudsen on guitar, Jeppe Tuxen on Hammond B3 organ, Stefan Pasborg on drums, and as the title indicates, special guest Ray Anderson on trombone. The disc comes across as something like a European version of the New Orleans party funk group Galactic, with the band keeping the grooves bubbling, the guitar lines choppy, and and Anderson slurring on the trombone like someone who has indulged in a few too many pints of lager. The highlight is the alarmingly titled "Blue Balls" which panders to the hometown crowd in the best way with some ravishing up-tempo boogie while "Funkorific" and "Absinthe" leave no doubt that the group wanted to keep the crowd riled up. For the most part, they are quite successful, the core group is a very tight trio and Anderson's addition extends the band's range, and adds an almost vocal accompaniment with the smears and slurs he produces. Fans of funky jazz or organ music in general should find this disc enjoyable.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Michael Blake Sextet - Amor de Cosmos (Clean Feed, 2007)

The new album by saxophonist and composer Michael Blake is filled with thoughtful and complex improvisation. This is music that does not immediately grab your attention, but seeps into your subconsciousness after several listening sessions. Joining Blake on this disc are: Brad Turner on trumpet, Sal Ferreras on marimba and percussion, Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Andre Lachance on bass and Dylan van der Schyff drums. Over the course of his musical career both as a leader and as a sideman (notably with the Lounge Lizards) Blake has explored many facets of jazz and world music. On this disc he takes inspiration from Canadian journalist William Alexander Smith (who renamed himself Amor de Cosmos) and uses his writings as inspiration for a new set of compositions. Several of the compositions are lengthy, approaching ten minutes, and take their time exploring the musical terrain. The title track builds a thoughtful tenor saxophone solo over an insistent drumbeat to good effect, and then the track moves to truly cosmic territory with keyboards and shimmering cymbals. "So Long Seymour" adds marimba and fast moving drums to a fleet soprano saxophone solo for a memorable improvisation. The Clean Feed label has carved out a niche for itself in modern jazz as a label that encourages thoughtful improvisatory music, and Blake's newest disc is a solid example of that. The music is rick taking but never reckless and is a good addition to Blake's diverse discography.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jimmy Smith – Straight Life (Blue Note 1961, 2007)

This historical release puts out some of the final recordings that the great organist cut for Blue Note before moving to the Verve label where he found great commercial success. While many of the Verve recordings found Smith in big band settings, this disc features him with his bread and butter trio with Quentin Warren on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums. There's nothing fancy here, this is probably representative of what you would have heard if you saw his trio in a live performance at this time. Smith's repertoire of blues, ballads and up-tempo cookers is well represented here, and while this isn't Smith's most exciting session (probably why it wound up in the vaults for so many years) there is some solid music to be found here.

Dave Leibman, et. al. - Dream of Nite (Verve, 2007)

Saxophonist Leibman documents is regular European touring group on this live recording from 2005. Backing him on this disc are Roberto Tarenzi on piano, Paolo Benedettini on bass, and Tony Arco on drums. The group is very comfortable with each other, and while Leibman can sometimes be quite exploratory in his musical flights, this disc is a rather restrained examination of melody and harmony, using compositions of his sidemen as jumping off points. The most upbeat piece of music is the opening “Unsteady” which is a pithy and smart piece of modern jazz. “Feel” stretches this way out over the course of a fifteen minute improvisation and is aptly named as the texture and patience of the composition is paramount. Miles Davis' rarely performed “Fran-Dance” from Kind of Blue receives a nice reading, with a wide open fee that pervades the entire disc.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Big Road Blues had a very interesting post about Robert Nighthawk: "Nighthawk stayed in Chicago periodically but he related the following to writer Don Kent: “He told me he frankly preferred the South. It was cheaper, apt to be less violent than the City, and he was better known. When he was in Chicago he was a regular on Maxwell Street, Chicago’s bustling open-air market. The market was a magnet for musicians just arriving to Chicago as well as those already established on the local blues scene."

Boogie Woogie Flu marks the passing of Ike Turner by posting several of his 45's in mp3 format: "Ike Turner's dead. He was a lot of things. Among them, he was a badass guitar player, piano player, producer, arranger, bandleader, songwriter, and a talent scout for Sam Phillips at Sun. He was also a bad motherf*****. Unfortunately, he'll probably be best remembered as a wife beating substance abuser. He probably wasn't a "nice guy," but his contributions are vast and deep."

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

2007 has been a wonderful year for music, and in an exciting change of pace, the number of great new releases far outstretched the number of great historical releases.

Top Ten New Releases (no particular order):

Dave Douglas - Live at the Jazz Standard: Douglas has had a stable band for several years now and the growth and camaraderie really shows here. All of the sets from their Jazz Standard run are available for downloading, but this two disc set cherry picks the highlights for a concentrated dose of great live jazz.

Marc Ribot - Asmodeus: Book Of Angels: Vol.7: One of Ribot's most audacious projects (and that's saying a lot!) this howling power trio blurs the line between punk rock and jazz, taking compositions from John Zorn's Masada songbook and reworking them for a rampaging power trio

The Bad Plus - Prog: Media always seems to focus on the groups witty covers, but here it's the thoughtful compositions and improvisations that take center stage. The compositions "Physical Cities" and "1980 World Champion" show that the group is far from a one trick pony.

Charles Tolliver - With Love: Bursting back on to the scene with his first album in many years, trumpeter Tolliver leads an outstanding big band filled to the brim with both great ensemble playing and stellar soloing.

Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior: Songwriter and guitarist Thompson is in a class by himself when it comes to writing witty and thoughtful lyrics. Whether it's skewering domestic relationships in "Mr. Stupid" or writing about the terror of the Iraq war in "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" this is another stellar entry in a long and distinguished catalog.

The White Stripes - Icky Thump: Refreshed after a year off and on a new label, Jack and Meg White continued to expand their bluesy garage rock, branching out so far as to include Scottish and flamenco influences. But the core of their music remains the minimalist, guitar driven rockers.

Joshua Redman - Back East: Redman's acoustic trio record is a crackling winner indebted to classic Sonny Rollins LPs. The group plays superbly, improvising vigorously on both well known standards and originals.

Bettye Lavette - Scene of the Crime: It took soul diva Betty LaVette nearly 40 years to make her mark, but her potent blend of blues, R&B and funk are like a force of nature.

James "Blood" Ulmer - Bad Blood In the City: Ulmer continues to remake himself as a bluesman, taking his complex Ornette Coleman influenced guitar and adapting it to songs of hardship and freedom.

William Parker - Corn Meal Dance: Bassist and composer Parker put out several albums in 2007, all of them excellent, but this one with his "Raining on the Moon Band" was perhaps the finest of them all. Parker also emerges as a lyricist of great thoughtfulness.

Honorable Mention:

David Murray - Sacred Ground
The Claudia Quintet - For

Nels Cline Singers– Draw Breath

Sam Rivers - Aurora

William Parker's Little Huey Big Band - For Percy Heath

William Parker - Alphaville Suite
Dave Douglas - Moonshine

Chris Potter - Follow the Red Line

Watermelon Slim - The Wheel Man

Best Historical Release:

Miles Davis - The Complete On the Corner Sessions: Sony manages to turn each of its Miles boxes into a drama, and this one was no different with missed shipping dates, outrageous price and all of the other fun and frolic of the reissue game. Fortunately it was all worth it, and this package may be the most surprising of all of the boxes so far. When Davis released the original On the Corner LP in the early 1970's, it was almost universally reviled. But now, in the intervening years, the music world has caught up to the experimentalism that Davis was up to, and far from being a sell-out as was claimed, the mix of jazz, funk and avant classical was prescient and well ahead of its time.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Chris Potter - Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside, 2007)

Saxophonist and composer Chris Potter's second live album in a few years further charts his development as both a player and improviser. This full length CD has five very long improvisations, often employing knotty twists and turns that keeps the music fresh and invigorating. Joining him here are Adam Rogers on guitar; Craig Taborn on electric piano and Nate Smith on drums. Potter shows a great deal of confidence by allowing the music to stretch out into abstract territory, he gives the music a lot of room to evolve but it never escapes the group's control. “Train” opens the set, and much like a locomotive, it does take a little while to build up a head of steam, but then things really take off with Potter billowing out lengthy lines of tenor over Taborn's bubbling rhodes and Rogers' probing and angular guitar while Nate Smith keeps the engine room cooking. An exploratory feel pervades the other up-tempo cuts on the album as well. Much like the Dave Holland Quintet (which both Potter and Smith are a part of) the lengthy improvisations become journeys into the heart of jazz where nothing is taken for granted, and teamwork takes precedence over individual glory. That said, it must be noted that Potter's tone on tenor saxophone have developed into a deep mahogany color, that can be traced back through Coltrane and Rollins to the musical father of them all, Coleman Hawkins. There's a stentorian depth to his tenor that while never ponderous still speaks with a great deal of gravity. This is a very enjoyable and thoughtful set of modern jazz. It demands close, repeated listening, and rewards it immensely.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

OK, I think I might have passed some sort of Geek threshold here. But I couldn't resist using a Cyber Monday coupon I received to order the Ion USB Turntable. It's not a bad record player and has the wonderful benefit of having a built in pre-amp, and a USB output to your computer for converting to mp3 then to your iPod. Last night I coverted The MC5's Back in the USA, and Wayne Shorter's The All Seeing Eye to mp3 and listened to them in the car today. I'm having a little bit too much fun with this...

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Various Artists - Coolest Songs in the World, Vol. 1 (Wicked Cool, 2007)

When I used to subscribe to Sirius Satellite Radio, I was an avid listener to Little Steven's Underground Garage, which played a wonderful selection of straight ahead unadorned rock and roll. Each week the DJ's would highlight one particular song, and this disc is the first in a (hopefully long running) series collecting these selections. The songs actually cover a pretty wide range of "Nuggets" style rock from the sing-a-long power pop of the opening "On the Airwaves" by The Shazam, to the no-frills garage rock of "I Can't Stand It" by The Greenhorns and "I Woke Up This Mornin" by The Mooney Suzuki. Think of this as a modern day equivalent of the Back From the Grave series of garage rock samplers from the 1960's. While most of these bands received little traditional radio airplay, that's more of an indictment against corporate rock radio than the level of the music. These samplers are at a budget price and are well worth checking out for fans of old-school rock and roll.

Frank Frost and Sam Carr - Last of the Jelly Roll Kings (Blue Label, 2007)

Guitarist, harmonicist and singer Frost and drummer Carr were stalwarts in the legendary Delta Blues band The Jelly Roll Kings. Frost has since passed on while Carr still gigs occasionally. This disc releases the remainder of the recordings the two made together both in the studio and live in concert. The joy of this recording comes from the deep roots that they both have in the music. Things get a little sloppy and out of tune at times, but that is part of the charm. Many of these songs have been heard before and are considered standards, but the group plays them with panache and complete authority, and even chestnuts like "Black Cat Bone" and "Rock Me Baby" sound fresh and current in their hands. This is a fine and enjoyable disc, and with traditional delta blues fading away as the masters of the idiom pass on, it's another chance to relive a sweaty night in the juke joint of the mind.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Joshua Redman - Back East (Nonesuch, 2007)

After fulfilling his obligation as nominal leader of the SF Jazz Collective and disbanding his own electric jazz band, tenor saxophonist and composer Joshua Redman returns with an album of acoustic trio music, backed by a rotating cadre of bassist and drummers and joined by the occasional guest saxophonist. Much indebted to Sonny Rollins' wonderful trio albums during the 1950's, Redman is still able to use the many possibilities of the format to craft his own style. Taking on Rollins in the format he pioneered is a daunting task, but Redman acquits himself well, performing excellent versions of "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm An Old Cowhand," both of which were staples of the classic Rollins LP Way Out West. As impressive as these are, the finest track on the album may be the extraordinary version of John Coltrane's exotic modal composition "India." Joined by his father Dewey Redman, who would pass on not long after this recording, they craft an otherworldly performance which is the highlight of the album. Redman's own compositions may be a little overshadowed by the illustrious company they are keeping on this disc, but they also work well. Eric Harland adds some fine drumming that adds propulsion to "Mantra #5," and the title track "Back East" is one of his most ebullient performances to date. This is a very fine album, the wide open vistas of the trio setting clearly appeal to Joshua Redman and he responds with some very inspired playing. The group simmers with energy, creating enjoyable and creative music throughout.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Various Artists - American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1969, Vol. 2 (Hip – O, 2004)

This CD is an accompaniment to the amazing series of DVD's that have been being released by Hip-O, chronicling appearances on European TV by legendary American bluesmen and women. Performances on this disc and the preceding Vol. 1 are live recordings from the Folk Blues Festival tour, a more natural setting for the musicians, rather than the sometimes contrived settings the otherwise well meaning TV producers arranged. Superb performances abound, leading off with Big Mama Thornton reclaiming “Hound Dog” from a certain Elvis fellow, followed by a couple of fine performances by the wily Sonny Boy Williamson, “Keep It To Yourself” and “Your Funeral and My Trial.” Great stuff indeed, but the music really goes into overdrive at the end of the CD, with Son House letting loose with a frighteningly potent version of his classic “Death Letter Blues,” followed by Koko Taylor with Little Walter in support belting out a tough as nails version of “Wang Dang Doodle.” Muddy Waters rocks “Long Distance Call” with some absolutely unique slide guitar, and Earl Hooker goes over the top on a medley of instrumental compositions. Finally Magic Sam delivers a superbly emotional “All Your Love” before the disc ends with a finale that brought everyone back to the stage. This is a pretty amazing disc, and it's hard not to be jealous of the European blues fans who got to hear this fantastic assemblage all in one place.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Steve Lehman – On Meaning (Pi Recordings, 2007)

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman has been carving out a unique niche in cutting edge jazz on his own diverse projects and in the collective group Fieldwork. On this album he is joined by Drew Gress on bass, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and Chris Dingman on vibraphone. This disc is a very good updating of the tart alto and vibraphone sound pioneered by Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson and Lehman's mentor Jackie McLean on Blue Note Records during the mid 1960's. “Analog Moment” has a complex and mysterious sounding improvisation, with very urgent sounds coming from the horns, and haunting vibraphone accents. “Open Music” is very much like it says on the tin, with percussive drums and vibes setting the mood before alto sax and trumpet open up and join the fray. This performance has an Out To Lunch vibe to it, bringing the classic Eric Dolphy album into the 21st century. Jagged and pungent alto saxophone are also the hallmarks of the wonderfully titled “Haiku d'etat Transcription” and they short but very dynamic “Curse Fraction.” The music has a wide open and spacious sound which gives everyone a chance to comment on the proceedings and collective improvisation is encouraged, no one is locked into a particular role. Score another one for Pi, a little label run on a shoestring that is making some of the best music in jazz right about now.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

McCoy Tyner - Quartet (McCoy Tyner Music, 2007)

Coming off a health scare last year pianist and composer McCoy Tyner is noticeably gaunt and thin on the cover of his newest release, but that has done nothing to quench the fire of his music. His first release on his new label is one of his most intense in years, and he's joined by a great trio of Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. Recorded live at Yohsi's in Oakland, the group nears the intensity of Tyner's incendiary live albums of the early 1970's Enlightenment and Atlantis. "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" was a staple of that period, and it's the lead off track here, with Joe Lovano bellowing through the wide open spaces of this composition with an almost desperate fury. McBride gets a bass feature on "Sama Layuca" before the group builds to a powerful piano and drums crescendo. "Passion Dance" explodes out of an edgy drum intro, building into a lengthy and fiery Lovano solo. He gets a breather as a strong and intense piano trio interlude builds, before rejoining for a thunderous conclusion. "Search For Peace" has a lush thoughtful tenor saxophone opening taken at ballad speed, it's a wonderful feature for Lovano's thoughtful and patient playing at slow tempos. Tyner ends the disc showing his sensitive side on the elegant solo piano version of "For All We Know." This ruminative performance seems a little out of place considering the muscular brawn that had proceeded it, but it makes for a fine epilogue. This was a very good live album from a masterful band of all stars. There's a sense that they are really laying it on the line on each performance and that nothing is taken for granted. Fans of Tyner's intense early 70's records on Milestone will find a lot to enjoy here.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Various Artists - Putumayo Presents World Hits (Putumayo, 2007)

World Hits is designed for the person who is curious about the music of other cultures, but is afraid to stray too far from the comfortable cocoon of popular music. It features several readily identifiable pop icons, and by presenting these musicians in collaborative contexts, there is enough hand holding to help neophytes get beyond the strangeness factor. Mongo Snatamaria's "Watermelon Man" popularized by Herbie Hancock is always a joy to hear with its mixture of Latin rhythms and jazz. Another hero of Latin fusion, Carlos Santana, is represented with his massively popular version of "Oye Como Va." The reggae contingent is well represented by the leadoff track, a collaboration by Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh, "(If You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" and Jimmy Cliff's swaggering "The Harder They Come." Some of the tracks like Jimmy Clegg's "Scatterlings of Africa" suffer from being a little too polished and produced, but they still serve their purpose. Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" works an interesting horn arrangement and some punchy tenor saxophone soloing to good effect, and they Gypsy Kings make the final stop on the disc with the guitar driven "Bamboleo." Hopefully these familiar pop star led themes will have the desired effect of encouraging listeners to broaden their musical horizons. A world of great music awaits.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Sun Ra - Mayan Temples (Black Saint, 1990)

During his last years on the planet, keyboardist, composer and bandleader Sun Ra consolidated all of the music he had spent a lifetime playing and at his best like on this wonderful album he combined pre -war swing, far out free jazz and abstract expressionism into a cohesive whole like no other. A large group recording, this album features some of Ra's longest serving colleagues like tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, altoist Marshall Allen, vocalist June Tyson and fellow travelers like trumpeter Michael Ray. Highlights include a righteous version of the classic Sun Ra theme written during his star in Chicago, "El is the Sound of Joy" as well is the tenor saxophone fueled "Opus in Springtime." "Theme of the Stargazers" is the centerpiece, clocking in at nearly fifteen minutes, moving from abstract percussion to swinging riff laden big band jazz. This is a wonderful album and proves that Sun Ra was truly creative right up until the end. It's also a fine place to make his acquaintance if you are unfamiliar with him, as it has examples from the breadth of his music.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bettye Lavette - Scene of the Crime (Anti, 2007)

To make it in the world of Detroit soul music, you have to be tough and man Bettye LaVette is tough. Originally a child prodigy, cutting an R&B hit at the age of 16, she kicked around the music scene for years after that, enduring a series of bad luck and trouble for finally hitting the big time with the excellent 2005 album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. This album continues that success with another strong disc of soulful blues. Several of the songs here are deeply personal and autobiographical. "Talking Old Soldiers" is almost overpoweringly emotional as she recounts her personal ups and downs from a bar stool at a local watering hole:

I can hear what they say
There goes that old, crazy broad again
But I've things that would make a young man
Go out of his brains...

Before The Money Came (Battle Of Bettye LaVette)" shows a scarred but proud warrior who was once scraping to get by on nothing, but who is now older and wiser and success has finally found her. It's not all tap-a-vein material though, "Jealousy" is pulse pounding soul music with LaVette in full vocal flight, backed by a crack band, and "You Don't Know Me At All" is the mission statement of a proud woman who is fed up with all the cheating and lying going around. This is an excellent album of strong and rich old school R&B the likes of which isn't heard enough any more. may her winning streak continue so we can hear more of her tales of survival.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

His Name Is Alive - Sweet Earth Flower (High Two, 2007)

This album by the improvising rock collective His Name is Alive is a tribute to the music of free-jazz pioneer Marion Brown. Saxophonist Brown recorded several influential albums for ESP, Impulse! and ECM during the 1960's and 70's before become inactive recently due to health concerns. This album compiles both studio and live versions of songs by the legendary jazz saxophonist and the group is comprised of: Warn Defever on guitar and piano, Elliot Bergman on tenor saxophone, Jamie Saltsman on bass, Justin Walter on trumpet, Michael Herbst on alto saxophone, Erik Hall on electric piano and Jamie Easter, Olman Piedra and Dan Piccolo on percussion. There is a spooky and haunting opening to the album on "Sweet Earth Flying" with slow building piano and trumpet setting the stage, and elastic bass underpinning the sound. Saxophone bubbles up halfway through "Juba Lee" to give the music a focal point and building to a deep cacophony steeped in the ecstatic free jazz tradition. A live version of "Capricorn Moon" in the centerpiece of the album, featuring wonderfully moody electric guitar and pungent saxophone solos. This is a lengthy and impressive performance of one of Brown's best known themes. "November Cotton Flower" has beautiful shimmering electric piano and percussion. Erik Hall plays the Fender Rhodes with particular beauty on this track as he does throughout the album. Bergman gets a wonderful free form solo over guitar playing reminiscent of Sonny Sharrock on "Bismillahi 'Rrahmani 'Rrahim" which is a deeply spiritual blend of free jazz and abstract improvisation. Two version of Brown's "Geechee Reflections" are presented, a live version which is performed electrically with wah pedal guitar and trumpet improvising over a bed of percussion, and a studio version featuring acoustic piano. An emotional trumpet solo fuels the finale "Sweet Earth Flower" bringing the music to a thoughtful conclusion. This was a heartfelt and well done tribute, far from the rote recitation of Brown's music that might be expected. This album captures the spirit of exploration that is at the heart of jazz.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In the notes to his latest radio show, Big Road Blues has some interesting commentary about classic blues musicians like Tommy Johnson:

"For a musician who cut just a handful of sides in 1928 and 1929 he was vastly influential. While his initial records sold well his influence stems mainly from those who learned directly from Johnson. David Evans began researching Johnson in the 1960’s, discovering many musicians who still performed Johnson’s songs and made field recordings of many of them during this period."

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Ethan Iverson has uploaded a very interesting post about saxophonist Bill McHenry to the Do the Math blog:

"A significant part of the McHenry aesthetic is faux-naif, or the art of seeming simple when it is really not. This aesthetic is declared with the initial music on his first record, the introduction to "Afterthought," where a duo of saxophone and bass play square descending half notes with pauses. It is nearly banal, but the intervals aren't quite the expected ones."

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catching up with vinyl plucked from the bargain bins:

ROVA Saxophone Quartet – Saxophone Diplomacy (Hat Art, 1983): This wonderful 2-LP set is a live recording of ROVA's visit behind the Iron Curtain in the early 1983. This was during the darkest days of the cold war but the band is greeted rapturously during it's concerts in Russia and Romania. The group sounds really inspired by their surroundings and creates spontaneous riffs and improvisations where one saxophone will solo while being supported by the other three, or the group will improvise collectively, moving from melody to cacophony and back. The lengthy “Flamingo Horizons” and "Paint Another Take of the Shootpop" last for entire sides of vinyl and build to powerful conclusions. But the entire set is powerful and accessible music, and it a great plave to make the bands acquaintance.

The Move – Best of the Move (A&M, 1974): The Move was a fascinating English rock 'n' roll band that was eclipsed in its 1960's heyday by the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. This “best of” is actually the band's self titled debut LP on one platter and a collection of singles from the period on the other. The collection is interesting because of the way the band juggles rough and ready garage rock, incense and peppermints psychedelica and even string laden ballads. Their “Nuggets pop” may be the most interesting with the goofy pop of “Fire Brigade” and the druggy sing-a-long of “Ican Hear the Grass Grow” being the most fun. These are dated a little bit, but they still make fine examples of the boundless experimentalism of British pop music during this period.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dave Douglas & Keystone - Moonshine (Greenleaf, 2007)

Trumpeter and cornetist Dave Douglas continues to investigate the intersection of electronic and acoustic jazz and their relationship to film with his new album. On this disc he is joined by
Marcus Strickland on saxophones, Adam Benjamin on electric piano, Brad Jones on bass, Gene Lake on drums and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. The tracks were inspired by “Moonshine” an unfinished collaboration by early film actors Rocsoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keyton. Olive's instruments along with the shifting tones of the electric piano and the solid bass and drum work give a firm if ever shifting platform for the band to improvise on. There is a strength and toughness here that hasn't been heard from a Douglas ensemble since the days of Freak In. Douglas writes in the liner notes that playing with Strickland is a “combative pleasure,” and that comes out in the recording as the two front line instruments challenge each other throughout. Highlights on this album are many, but include the title track which has a rollicking funky beat and dexterous improvisation. Perhaps this was inspired by the film, but there is a sense of fun and humor that that pervades the track that makes it so enjoyable. “Dog Star” has a mysterious vibe from the electronics and rhodes piano that sets a haunting vibe. “Married Life” slows the pace a bit and allows Douglas to improvise at length over a gently ominous groove. “Scopes” is a short track featuring some very strong tenor saxophone playing from Marcus Strickland, and “Kitten” cuts a near industrial rock groove. The diverse nature of the music and organic development of the music was by design. According to the liner notes, this was a spontaneous recording session recorded while the band was on tour in Ireland. The loose and open feel suits the band quite well and the end product is another very good album of modern jazz.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Recently The New York Times published an interesting and provocative op-ed piece by David Brooks about the fragmentation of American music called “The Segmented Society.” Riffing off of Sasha Fere-Jones lengthy and much blogged about article in the New Yorker, the crux of the article was that American music has become so splintered that there is no real mainstream that provides a common cultural frame of reference, like the music of the 1970's. I assume he means the early 1970's, before punk and disco. You can make a case for this in all genres of music, but I'm not so sure it's entirely a bad thing. Everyone has different tastes, for example in the blues, the mainstream has shifted to a blues rock hybrid that really doesn't appeal to me. I favor something that could be tagged “old school” or “traditional” blues, but even then there is quite a bit of room for micro-genres.... “contemporary acoustic Delta singer songwriter instrumentalist” anyone? OK, perhaps that's going a little too far, but recognizing the sub-genres gives more opportunity for cross-pollination and the development of interesting hybrids.

I found one of Brooks' points a little dubious, however. He blames the rise of the “mass educated class” for the fragmenting of mainstream music. He claims that people feel more “individualistic and special” when they “cultivate obscure musical taste.” I'm really not so sure about this one, especially when everybody at work is talking about American Idol and I'm in the office in my little bubble listening to Henry Threadgill, I don't feel particularly special, but I don't feel particularly left out either. That may be more due to my curmudgeonly nature than anything else. Working at a public library, I can assure you that there is a healthy appetite for the mainstream in all forms of culture. The idea of the Long Tail really comes into play here. The CDs we have from the pop heros of the moment are always in circulation and it's hard to get people to take a chance on “outsider” entertainment, whether it's Matthew Shipp or China Meiville.

Brooks' interviews Steven Van Zandt for the piece, and while I admire his attempts to save and promote traditional American garage rock, his comments in the article fall into an all to predictable screed about “those damn kids.” Indie rockers, he says have lost touch with their roots, the fertile ground of American music, blues and R&B. Musicians of Van Zandt's era certainly had deep roots in the blues as do modern bands such as The Black Keys and The White Stripes. But for modern indie rock, I think that it isn't that they are rootless, but that their roots are in different soil. Raised on MTV and rock radio, musicians today don't have the exposure to blues and traditional R&B, so naturally this element of their music will be less prevalent than in bands of the past. At the end of the article, Van Zandt proposes a high school curriculum teaching American history through music. While I would support this, I just hope it does not lead to the stale classicism that plagues institutions like Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Omar Kent Dkyes and Jimmie Vaughan - On the Jimmy Reed Highway (Ruf, 2007)

Bluesman Jimmy Reed was a massive influence of postwar R&B and early rock and roll. His simple melodies and lyrics inspired many to take up instruments and join in making music. Veteran blues musicians Dykes and Vaughan invite some fellow admirers of Reed to produce a thoughtful and genuine tip of the hat to the great man's legacy. There's nothing fancy here which is sensible, since part of Reed's charm was his no-frills working class vibe. Highlights include a medley of Reed hits, "Baby What You Want Me To Do/Bright Lights Big City" with Kim Wilson sitting in on harmonica. Another great harp man, James Cotton, adds some slinky lines to "Caress Me Baby." Lou Ann Barton adds a ladies touch, singing on a couple of tunes as well. But it's the slow rolling vibe of Reed's indestructible music that is the real star here, no matter who is sitting in. A couple of originals bookend the disc, Dykes tribute to the man who inspired this disc "Jimmy Reed Highway," and his heartfelt nod to his recently departed wife, "You Made Me Laugh." Both fit in well with Reed's own music and are performed admirably. The simple music seems like it is a lazy rolling river that the musicians hop aboard on a raft for a slow ride down the stream of the blues. This is a fine album and is recommended to fans of old-school blues.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ari Roland - And So I Lived In Old New York... (Smalls, 2007)

Ari Roland's latest CD is a mostly uptempo investigation of modern mainstream jazz. Roand switches deftly between bowed and plucked bass and he is accompanied by Chris Byars on tenor saxophone, Sacha Perry on piano, and Phil Stewart on drums. This is a very strong blowing session, the group knows each other well from the scene around the Smalls club and have an easygoing familiarity with each other. A la Duke Ellington, Roland writes tunes for specific band members, “Byars-a-Carpet” gives the saxophonist plenty of room to stretch out, and “Perry Plov” features some ripe and svelt piano playing. Elsewhere, it is the bassist's show, like on the disc ending “Blue Madi” which has a couple of bowed bass solos. This is a fine album of modern acoustic jazz which mixes the fresh and classical in equal portions. The musicians sounded like they were having fun searching for new ways to explore mainstream jazz.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007)

When I first heard about this project, I was skeptical. Although I love both Herbie Hancock's and Joni Mitchell's music, I wasn't convinced that this wouldn't just be a slapped together project. The music is for the most part slow paced and contemplative and it takes a while to sink in. But once it gets its claws into you, it becomes apparent the durability of the Mitchell melodies and the work that Hancock and company put into re-envisioning them. It's particularly wonderful to hear Hancock and Wayne Shorter who have developed an uncanny empathy together. They both play very sparely on this disc, leaving a skeletal structure and allowing the listener to draw their own conclusions. The vocals are by committee, and for the most part work well. Norah Jones takes a slow and contemplative approach to "Court and Spark" and Tina Turner brings an understated sauciness to “Edith And The Kingpin.” Corinne Bailey Rae is a touch too cheeky singing "River," but the lyrics are so poetic and the instrumental accompaniment so astute that the song becomes nearly indestructible. But the highlight is Joni Mitchell herself singing "Tea Leaf Prophecy" with a hard won, world weary grace. "Both Sides Now" and "Sweet Bird" are taken instrumentally, getting wonderful readings, particularly the latter which is a bravura performance of thoughtful improvisation. Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and Shorter's "Nefertiti" round out the instrumental portion of the program gracefully re-harmonizing these old warhorses. This is a very thoughtful and well done album, Mitchell's music is perfect for jazz investigation, and Hancock and company have done a fine job.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Various Artists - The Harlem Experiment (Ropeadope, 2007)

The Harlem Experiment brings together diverse musicians from a number of genres to collaborate and experiment on a record dedicated to the music of a particular place. Jazz musicians like Don Byron and Steven Bernstein rub shoulders with Latin and hip-hop performers. Like its predecessors in the Philadelphia and Detroit Experiments, this album brings together hip-hop, jazz and a host of other musics in an unlikely, but mostly successful aural melange. The liner notes state that the disc wass designed as a sort of "musical archeology," a audio tour hosted by DJ Mums and this tour does highlight the musical history of this place from the perspective of a perceptive listener rather than that of a musical historian. The standard "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem" is checked with James Hunter providing soulful vocals, then again near the end of the album as an instrumental, providing a touchstone for the musical direction of the album. Bluesman Taj Mahal sings a goofy but fun calypso/reggae take on Cab Calloway's "Reefer Man." A beautiful clarinet solo from Don Byron on "Bei Mist Bist Du Schoen" brings in the influence of klezmer that was part of the early 20th century Harlem landscape. Listening to this disc is like letting an old fashioned radio dial spin and come up with diverse music. As an aural journey through the history and musical diversity of a legendary neighborhood, this album works pretty well, and it could be enjoyed by open minded music fans.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Bobby Rush - Raw (Deep Rush Records, 2007)

Blues guitarist and singer Bobby Rush made his mark on the blues with a high energy live show riveting with electricity. That is one of the things that makes this album so interesting. Here's Rush unplugs and gets back to his acoustic roots, going deep down to deliver a fine album of front-porch acoustic blues. Rush moves well through a variety of blues themes and styles, when he covers, he never covers directly but puts a unique spin of his own on things, whether it's the classic woman done me wrong tale "Nine Below Zero" usually associated with with the second Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) or going all the way back to "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." Rush mixes in a little harmonica, but mostly sticks to the acoustic guitar, playing strong and clean but with a fresh earthy tone, like just plowed ground. His own original songs sound right in place next to those standards, which is quite a complement. In "Uncle Esau" he sings about how the blues gets passed down within families and in "I Got 3 Problems" he sings slyly about breaking up his family with a little messing around. This is a fine statement from a veteran musician, showing that he is a multi-faceted bluesman. Original acoustic blues hasn't exactly been burning up the blues landscape lately, so hopefully this well done and thoughtful album will encourage others to pull the plug and explore the music's deep and diverse roots.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

I hit some of my regular haunts for bargain-bin LP shopping last weekend and found some real gems. At Jack's Music, the nice guy that works there (also named Tim, go figure) let me root around in their storeroom and I found some good stuff like the first Canned Heat LP, John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, a mint copy of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, along with Hank Mobley's Dippin' and Milt Jackson's live Impulse LP That's the Way It Is. My original plan was to frame the Miles LP, and I may still do that (I have it on CD) but the vinyl is so crisp and quiet, I may just keep it all together and play it occasionally. There's a warm and full sound that comes out on a good vinyl pressing that is lost on the compact disc. I also found a couple of interesting early Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention LP's as well, Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Burnt Weeny Sandwich. At the Princeton Record Exchange, the dollar bin was equally forthcoming, with nice copies of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers In Paris, Lester Young's Prez Lives, and John Coltrane's Transition.

Transition was a very important album in my own musical development. After I had been listening to jazz for a while in high school, I found a copy of Transition in my public library and though “cool, that's the guy that played with Miles Davis” expecting something along the lines of Workin' and Steamin'. Needless to say I was pretty surprised to find that when I played it the opening track was paint-peeling free jazz. I couldn't deal with it at the time, but eventually went back to it, and and doing so found my way to investigate Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and other icons of the avant-garde. The album is aptly named, since it's a transition between Coltrane's modal work like Crescent and A Love Supreme and his freer work like Meditations and Interstellar Space. It's a very important record for me as well, and expanded my musical horizons more than perhaps any other album. I have it on CD, but it feels great to have a nice clean vinyl copy of this talismanic recording.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Amir ElSaffar – Two Rivers (Pi Recordings, 2007)

Trumpeter and vocalist Amir ElSaffar makes his debut recording by exploring his Iraqi heritage and the intersection between Middle Eastern and American music. Joining him on this disc are Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Zaafer Tawil on violin and oud, Tareq Abboushi on percussion, Carlo DeRosa on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The music on this disc is very patient and thoughtful, filled with exotic, yet familiar music. Highlights of the disc include “Diaspora”which has an exotic sounding saxophone solo butting up against Tawil's stringed instruments before giving way to a deep bass solo. “Mamba”opens with vocalizations before Mahanthappa meshes with bass and strings and fascinating solo from Tawil emerges. “Khash Reng” finds alto saxophone and trumpet swirling around an interesting and open melody. This was a very enjoyable and interesting disc. Music is the great healer and hopefully this disc in some small way can bring different cultures together in an understanding that will benefit all.

Muhal Richard Abrams – Vision Towards Essence (Pi Recordings, 2007)

This is a document of a solo performance by legendary pianist and AACM co-founder Abrams at the 1998 Guelph Jazz Festival. The freely improvised hour long performance (broken into three sections on the disc) is a musical experience that flows like a river, swaying at times between percussive power and impressionistic beauty. Parts One and Three use the deeply rumbling and oppressive bass notes of the piano to develop an ominous feeling. Part two features light and fast pianistic runs that sound like a spring shower falling on a tin roof. The entire performance moves gracefully and in a flowing manner and is recommended to fans of exploratory piano music.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Larry Blumenfeld has an interesting op-ed in this mornings New York Times:

"The recent decision by federal and state officials to add the former home of saxophonist and composer John Coltrane in Dix Hills to both the National and New York State Register of Historic Places reinforces this idea as it honors one of jazz’s great legacies."

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Albert Ayler – The Hilversum Session (ESP, 2007)

This album is a fascinating glimpse of free jazz history, featuring Albert Ayler's greatest band which was responsible for the albums Spiritual Unity and Vibrations. Joining him are Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, with Donald Ayler on trumpet. This album was recorded in a Dutch radio studio in 1964 and then only saw a small release on LP in 1980, before finding wider release in this deluxe edition. The material covered here, represents some of Ayler's most widely known themes, using melodies as jumping off points to wide open improvisations. “Ghosts” and “C.A.C” have the strongest impact, the melodies are as old as music but the improvisations are as fresh as paint. Ayler will often start his improvisations with a slow rendition of the particular melody before working himself up to a level of ecstatic furor before launching into improvisatory flights into the upper register of the tenor saxophone. Donald Ayler adds trumpet smears like an impressionist painter while Peacock and Murray underpin everything in a constantly shifting and evolving manner. This is a very good album of early acoustic free jazz. The sound quality for a historical release of this vintage is really excellent. The performances are very good and anyone interested in Ayler or avant-garde jazz will enjoy the music.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lightnin' Hopkins - Lightnin' and the Blues: The Herald Sessions (Buddha, 2002)

Houston blues singer, songwriter and all-around raconteur Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins was primarily known as an solo acoustic guitarist, someone who was so unique that is was difficult for a bassist and drummer to follow him. But he plugs in here, playing electric guitar to great effect and receiving minimal but effective backing. Hopkins could make up a song about pretty much anything, but here he sticks to the time honored blues refrains of bad luck and trouble and the cheatin' women who caused them. A few storming instrumentals provide some very exciting moments, as “Lightnin's Boogie” and “Movin' Out Boogie” demonstrate. “Evil Hearted Woman” and “Don't Think Because Your Pretty” provide Lightnin's views on domestic man/women interactions. An excellent review of this disc on called Hopkins' electric guitar playing on this disc “raffish, offhanded, sly, sinister, and altogether engaging” and that is most certainly true. If your experience with his music is just through his subdued (although still excellent) acoustic blues, this will come as a very pleasant surprise. Fans of electric blues or early rock 'n' roll will find much to enjoy here.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

John Coltrane – The Complete Impulse Albums, Vol.1 (Impulse! 2007)

With my collection of John Coltrane LP's getting a little long in the tooth, I decided to pick up this discount boxed set of his first five albums on Impulse. The five discs are Africa/Brass, Live at the Village Vanguard, Ballads, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, and Coltrane. All of these albums are shorn of the extra tracks and alternative takes that have come out on previous reissues. The box claims that all of the albums ave been remastered (does this mean re-remastered?) and they do sound good. The packaging leaves a little but to be desired, however with each of the albums coming in it's own cardboard case, which I normally like, except in this case the original liner notes are re-produced on the inside cardboard in such a small mirco-font that they are unreadable.

Packaging quibbles aside, the music itself is of course extraordinary, and familiar to most jazz fans. It's nice to listen to this wonderful music again with fresh ears. Africa/Brass was Coltrane's first recording as a leader with a large ensemble, with the charts written by Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner. The epic length “Africa” dominates with Coltrane improvising against a velvet dark backdrop and wonderful percussive work from Elvin Jones. The ancient standard “Greensleeves” is a wonderful soprano saxophone feature. Live at the Village Vanguard contains the epic blues improvisation “Chasin' the Trane” that breaks down into a storming free duet with Coltrane and Elvin Jones. It is an extraordinary performance as is the haunting “Spiritual” with Eric Dlophy sitting in on bass clarinet. Ballads and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane were made during producer Bob Thiele's attempt to bring Coltrane back to the mainstream after accusations of playing “anti-jazz.” The record with Ellington is a joyous encounter, erasing any doubt of the great men's compatibility. Duke's line “Take the Coltrane” is a launching pad for a furious yet swinging improvisation. The whole album is a model of pithy swinging jazz and under Ellington's influence, Coltrane began to move away from recording multiple takes of each tune to a more spontaneous recording style. Ballads takes the pithy style to it's logical extreme, with performances clocking in at 3-4 minutes and Coltrane sticking to the melody in a vocal style. The box set leaves off with the simply titled Coltrane which strikes a balance between the minimal and the exploratory. Wonderful takes of Mal Waldron's composition “Soul Eyes” and the open-ended “Miles Mode” are standouts.

It will be interesting to see if MCA/Impulse will continue this series. Volume 2 would probable cover the collaboration with Johnny Hartman through A Love Supreme, and then things would get interesting as some of the more caustic free albums would come into play on a supposed Volume 3. Since each of these records has been released before, one more than one occasion, I am curious to see if enough copies of this will sell to make continued sets viable. As the authors of the Penguin Guide to Jazz have asked, just how many ways can you cut this particular salami?

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Monday, November 05, 2007

The Bad Plus have an interesting post on their blog about the making of their latest album, Prog: "While we love the covers, the three of us regard the original music as the real heart of the band. There are very little lead sheets or other paper in TBP. Reid or Dave will show me the song at the piano, or I will play them one of mine, and we learn the music by rote. Once in while I hand out a scrawl or Reid gives me a notebook to look at for a minute. But we are careful to never play live with any sheet music, and there wasn't any at the recording session either." has an interview with Sue Mingus about her fight to preserve the legacy of her husband Charles Mingus: "In addition to all the albums made when he was alive, recordings have been cropping up and repertory bands are taking the music all over the world. That part of it is still growing, all under the watchful eye of Sue Graham Mingus, who has overseen all things musical and business for her late husband since his death in 1979."

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Now playing: John Coltrane - In A Sentimental Mood
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Rob Wagner Trio w/ Hamid Drake and Nobu Ozaki (Valid, 2007)

Saxophonist Rob Wagener's Trio with drummer Hamid Drake and bass player Nobu Ozaki is a very good album of free-bop jazz, exploring rhythm, space and texture with poise and freedom. Wagner is one of a long line of great New Orleans musicians and he learned his craft sitting in with local ensembles like Galactic. With funk does have its place here, the music is much closer in spirit to open minded Chicagoans like Fred Anderson and Ken Vandermark. There is a strong protest element to this record as well, which leads off with "Desoparia (They handed out 12 billion cash in Iraq)" that Wagner gives a vaguely middle eastern feel on saxophone, while Drake is a dynamo of rhythm, constantly shifting like the desert sand itself. "Shock, Awe, Sham, Shame" leads with a fusillade of drum attack before Wagner and Ozaki lead the ground assault with a storming free passage. "Freedumb (Aren't you glad to vote in America?)" takes an even more ironic path opening slowly with saxophone and bowed bass mourning lost innocence and continuing through a sorrowful improvisation. It's not all heavy duty political commentary however, the open-ended "Childhood Memory" and "A Search For Home" give the band a chance to spread out and explore music that has a wide horizon and few boundaries. Hamid Drake is the lynch-pin here. As he's done countless times with musicians like David Murray and the aforementioned Anderson and Vandermark, he creates a landscape that is rife with improvisational possibilities and the band uses these as a jumping off point to create some wonderful music.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bill Shoemaker has another issue of his excellent web magazine Point of Departure available, featuring among articles and reviews a column from British jazz critic Brian Morton: "Jazz and improvisation enjoin on us all, as listeners or players, a long devotion and an austerity of craft that makes considerable sense of (T.S.) Eliot’s other example, religious revelation. If the epiphanies on offer have a very different complexion, the roads taken are not so very different."

Ross Lawson has another interesting Illsounds podcast, this time focusing on the avant-garde: "Interplanetary Travellers: Fierce and fiery avant garde jazz from the late 60 featuring Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Muhal Richard Abrams, Marion Brown, Sonny Simmons, Charles Tyler, Frank Wright and Maurice McIntyre."

On a sadder note, Donald Ayler, the trumpet playing brother of the famous saxophonist AlbertAyler has passed away: "Don Ayler suffered a sudden heart attack on Sunday October 21st, and passed away very quickly at the home he had been in, in Northfield Ohio."

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Having a fresh paycheck and a day off is always dangerous and a few weeks ago I wondered into the Apple Store "just to have a look around." Needless to say I walked out with the iPod Touch I had been coveting. It's an interesting gadget, basically the iPhone without the telephone, and being a practicing curmudgeon, I could definitely do without another telephone. The Touch has 16 GB of memory (about 14.8 GB of real memory after you've done the math) and addition to music (the most important part) it plays video, photographs and has an internet connection and a direct link to YouTube. The music sounds quite good, better than my older iPod and the larger screen displays cover art with what they call "cover-flow" the ability to select music by flipping through images of the album covers. It took me a while to figure out how to load videos that would actually play, but lately I have been having luck with Any Video Converter which has allowed me to convert the concert videos I've downloaded from Dime to mp4 files for the iPod. The wireless internet connection and Safari web browser work pretty well, I was able to get into my home network without a problem. Tipping the Touch from vertical to horizontal will help you enlarge the screen. It takes a delicate touch (no pun intended) to navigate, but I'm getting the hang of it. The direct link to YouTube works well. I'm not too into the goofy dogs-on-skateboards videos that dominate, but there are some classic jazz and blues videos that are well worth exploring. Never one to miss out on a chance to make a buck, Apple also has a wireless version of the iTunes store loaded on the device. I downloaded Archie Shepp's The Way Ahead and it came through quickly, and then was copied to my computer the next time I synched up. So overall, I am pretty happy with it. It's an expensive toy, but it is a lot of fun to use.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Steve Lacy & Roswell Rudd – Early and Late (Cuneiform, 2007)

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd performed together many times over the course of their respective careers, beginning as dixieland revivalists and then moving into modern and free jazz. This two disc archival set features live concert recordings from 1999 and 2002 and also early demo recordings that the two cut way back in 1962. On the concert recordings, Lacy and Rudd are joined by Lacy's trio regular partners, Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass and John Betcsh on drums. They have an easygoing familiarity with each other and Rudd readily adapts to their rhythm. The first disc is dominated by lengthy explorations of several Lacy themes, and the band keeps a wide open but not atonal pace going where melodies bubble up and fade as each take solos. A nice bass interlude is incorporated into “The Hoot,” while "Blinks" has a choppy melody, followed by a patient smearing trombone solo. Lacy sweeps in prodded by fast drumming adding some overblown train like notes to his swooping and swirling solo. Their performance of Thelonious Monk's “Light Blue” is short and pithy with the musicians caressing the melody. Disc two is highlighted by the four early demo recordings with Bob Cunningham on bass and Dennis Charles on drums. Short, sweet and fresh as paint it's a shame a full album couldn't have been released at the time, it would have fit in very well with the music being made at that time by Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. Their love on Monk shines through here as well with a joyful improvisation on “Think of One.” This is another fine archival release for Cuneiform. The sound quality of the music is quite good and there are lengthy liner notes detailing the sessions. The interplay between Rudd and Lacy (and the bands as a whole) is crisp and inventive and they show an authoritative knowledge of the past and present of jazz.

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