Jazz Consumer Guide (7):
These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #7. The
idea here was to pick an unrated record from the incoming queue,
play it, jot down a note, and a grade. Any grade in brackets is
tentative, with the record going back for further play. In some
of these cases there is a second note, written once I've settled
on the grade. These were written from Oct. 9 to Nov. 27, 2005.
The notes have been sorted by artist. The chronological order can
be obtained from the notebook or blog.
Anders Aarum Trio: Absence in Mind (2002-03 ,
Jazzaway): Piano trio, slightly left of mainstream, smart and tasty
with a little edge especially in the drums, but too subtle for me
to grasp in one somewhat distracted pass.
Anders Aarum Trio: Absence in Mind (2002-03 ,
Jazzaway): Norwegian piano trio. Aarum has shown up on several albums
lately, and he always make a good impression. One thing I've learned
is that good piano trios are trios: the bass and drums matter in a
way that is more/less as important as the piano. They prop each other
up, and the successful ones work as a unit. Much of the most effective
work here comes with the drummer in the lead -- stretched out, very
abstract, exceptionally interesting. The drummer is Thomas Stønen,
another name to keep on file. The bassist is Mats Eilertsen -- don't
recall him from elsewhere, but he holds up his end as well.
Mario Adnet & Zé Nogueira Present Moacir Santos: Choros
& Alegria (2005, Adventure Music): Pushing 80, Santos is
a legendary arranger and saxophonist in Brazil. But he only appears
here with a few vocals, by far the least appealing aspect of an album
of subtly orchestrated pieces based on Santos arrangements dating as
far back as 1942. Much of this is very appealing.
Eric Alexander & Vincent Herring: The Battle: Live at
Smoke (2005, HighNote): Presumably the model is Jug and Sonny,
but Herring's alto is short of weight and tends to slip into the
tenor's harmonics. Surprisingly, Alexander doesn't seem to be up for
the challenge either. The semi-slow one doesn't develop much juice.
Pianist Mike LeDonne plays fast, taking several leads.
Arild Andersen Group: Electra (2002-03 , ECM):
This sneaks up on you, developing into a fascinating piece of music.
In some sense this takes Andersen back to Masqualero, the early '90s
group he led with future jazztronica trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer,
but it also seems quite unprecedented. Andersen's recent albums have
stayed within conventional bounds for a major bassist -- piano trios,
small groups, rare solos. He composes, but he's never led a ten piece
group through an eighteen part suite before. The group is in no way
conventional: four members are vocalists, with Savina Yannatou (who
has a couple of good ECM records to her credit) and Chrysanthi Douzi
taking the leads; three more members work with drums, or four if you
count the bassist's drum programming, but the most important is the
return of Molvaer. That leaves Eivind Aarset's guitars sculpting
textures on top of Andersen's bass, and Arve Henriksen's typically
invisible trumpet. I'm guarded, as this is not the sort of thing I
often go for, but it definitely merits further attention, and could
move up a notch.
Susie Arioli Band Featuring Jordan Officer: Learn to Smile
Again (2005, Justin Time): She's an interpretive singer
with no particular stylistic affinities -- AMG lists her styles
as: blues, western swing, swing, mainstream jazz, standards. This
album, her fourth, is built around six Roger Miller songs -- not
the ones you know, just sad little gems: "Less and Less," "Husbands
and Wives," "Half a Mind," "A Million Years or So," "A World I Can't
Live In," "Don't We All Have the Right." Officer accompanies her on
guitar, a simple but elegant foil, emphasized in two instrumentals.
Other people appear in the credits, but they work modestly in the
background. Don't know her other albums, which presumably swing
harder. This one mostly lilts, touchingly with Miller, majestically
on Naomi Neville's "Ruler of My Heart" (a big hit for Irma Thomas).
Antonio Arnedo: Colombia (2000 , Adventure
Music): Arnedo is a Colombian saxophone player. Doesn't specify
what kind(s) of saxophone, but my ears and one booklet picture
lean toward soprano. There's also a picture of him playing a long
skinny instrument, presumably the gaita (different from the Spanish
bagpipe of the same name). Recorded in Brooklyn, the rest of the
musicians are US-based, with guitarist Ben Monder and percussionist
Satoshi Takeishi most prominent here. Rough and exotic, with the
first half-plus just bubbling up from the percussion -- every time
I hear Takeishi I'm more impressed.
Michaël Attias: Renku (2004 , Playscape):
Saxophone trio with John Hebert (bass) and Satoshi Takeishi (drums).
All three are players I've noticed working on records I admire and
enjoy, but this is Attias' first album as a leader. Studiously avant,
thoughtful yet open-ended. Not a real distinctive sound, especially
with Attias dividing his time between soprano, alto and baritone
saxes, but first-rate group interaction.
Michaël Attias: Renku (2005, Playscape): With John
Hebert and Satoshi Takeishi, who more than hold up their end of this
studiously avant sax trio. Attias plays soprano, alto and baritone --
the latter, perhaps because it's relatively rare, or perhaps because
it weighs so much more, makes for the most interesting parts. Perhaps
the variety loosens the focus, but loose and open-ended is the idea.
Gregg August: Late August (2003 , Iacuessa):
Bass player, writes all the pieces, plays one as a solo, one as a duo,
one with guitar and drums, the rest with a crack quintet, joined once
by Frank Wess. Mainstream with a latin twist; the group swings, the
spotlight pieces less so. Good stuff, as far as it goes.
Albert Ayler: New Grass (1968 , Impulse):
This was Ayler's r&b move, heralded as revelation by Ayler
himself in the opening "Message From Albert," hated by pretty
much everyone else. One thing it's not is a sellout. Pretty Purdie
and Bill Folwell may keep strict 4/4 time, but Ayler plays as
furiously and as ugly as ever -- the juxtaposition is the most
pleasing thing here. On the other hand, it does cede a lot of
ground to girlfriend Mary Parks, aka Mary Maria, whose vocals
dominate the second side. Another record along these lines,
Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe, followed
before Ayler's untimely and rather mysterious death. I regard
this as one of many experiments at the time to form a bridge
between avant-jazz and black power street politics. As the '70s
wore on, that movement faded into oblivion, but when this was
cut it was just gathering steam.
The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity? (2005, Columbia):
Still impressive in their individual skills, still loud together. Other
than that, I'm having a hard time making much sense out of this.
"Chariots of Fire" doesn't help, either. I still consider them to be
an important group, and will give them more time. It's unlikely that
this will ultimately flop, but their previous albums succeeded quickly,
and this one doesn't. Do like a couple of the titles: "The Empire Strikes
Backwards," "O.G. (Original Gentleman)." Where there's wit there's hope.
The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City
(2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Another confusing attribution -- could
be read several ways, but Balcazar is key: plays bass, wrote all the
pieces. The quartet fleshes out with tenor sax, guitar and drums. The
guitarist, Alejandro Mingot, fleshes out the melody and keeps the music
on the sweet side, a bias that helps saxophonist Miguel Villar "Pintxo"
sound more like Lester Young than he might otherwise. Overall, this
feels composed, rather tightly controlled by a bass line that isn't
conspicuous except for the ordering. The premium then is on atmosphere.
An extra saxophone joins in on the final cut, cruising deep into the
night. Impressive work, even if I don't know what it means.
Gato Barbieri: Chapter Four: Alive in New York
(1975 , Impulse): Like many live performances, this one
picks up speed as it progresses, eventually delivering on its
Coltrane to cha-cha-cha promises. Like many live performances,
it's also thinner sounding than its studio predecessors.
Ray Barretto: Time Was - Time Is (2004 ,
O+ Music): Time was the time of bebop, the time of jazz's first
fling with what much later came to be called world music. Time
is is what happens when you get old enough to distinguish it from
time was. As bebop-latin fusion, this starts strong, powered by
Joe Magnarelli and Myron Walden in the roles of Diz and Bird.
As for Chano Pozo, Barretto's played him all his long life long.
Kenny Barron Trio: The Perfect Set: Live at Bradley's II
(1996 , Sunnyside): The title overreaches, but this is a trio with
a lot of snap (Ray Drummond, Ben Riley). A standard, two Barron originals,
two Monk tunes. Nothing they couldn't have done any day of the week. Will
have to play it again to see if it overcomes my skepticism, but it might.
Bayashi: Rock (2004 , Jazzaway): Sax trio
from Norway with a tough free improv sound. Know very little about
these guys: a slightly earlier album is out on Ayler; bassist Bjørn
Andresen died shortly after this recording; saxophonist (also bass
clarinet and flute) Vidar Johansen also plays in Crimetime Orchestra,
and evidently has been around a while; no idea where the name comes
from, but google suggests Japan. Most good trios depend on an even
balance, but the guy who most impresses me here is drummer Thomas
Strønen, who I gather is by far the youngest.
Michael Blake Trio: Right Before Your Very Ears
(2004 , Clean Feed): The ex-Lounge Lizard saxophonist has
worked with Ben Allison's Medicine Wheel lately, so here Allison
returns the favor, with Jeff Ballard on drums. Starts with a
screech, which is soon repeated, but most of the record is well
reasoned, tightly wound free jazz, good stuff.
Richard Bona/Lokua Kanza/Gerald Toto: Toto Bona Lokua
(2004 , Sunnyside): Universal is an apt name for the world's
largest music business, even though the name came from a movie studio
first Bronfman then Vivendi picked up. They're everywhere, but the
main office is in France, and Universal France manages to release a
lot of music that Universal's many tentacles in the US fail to pick
up. Sunnyside is one of the labels that looks for attractive scraps
left on Universal France's table, which is where they found this one.
It's not jazz, although AMG wasn't being ridiculous when it reminded
them of Bobby McFerrin's multitracked vocal projects. I was thinking
more in terms of South Africa's mbube, but that's not right either,
and not just because Bona plays a wide range of instruments. With all
three singing, there's more interplay here, not just layering, which
gives it a light feel. Toto and Lokua are from Africa -- Cameroun and
Congo (I'm guessing the ex-French colony, not the ex-Belgian one)
respectively. Bona was born in Paris with roots in the Caribbean,
which means Africa too.
Anthony Braxton: 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003 ,
Leo, 4CD): Four more CDs from the same tour that yielded last year's 4-CD
23 Standards (Quartet) 2003. The bounty comes from Braxton picking
fresh songs each show -- jazz pieces more often than the usual chestnuts,
with old favorites Brubeck and Desmond most prominent. The pieces stretch
out leisurely, with Kevin O'Neil's deft guitarwork often the highlight,
and Braxton's saxes favoring the high registers. Smart and cool, the most
accessible and simply pleasurable set he's done. (That I'm aware of, anyway.
Braxton's catalog is probably the largest of working saxophonist -- Lee
Konitz, with a two-decade head start, might come close; younger players
like David Murray and Ken Vandermark have approached Braxton's pace, but
not for nearly so long.)
The Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Be Music, Night
(2004 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark's favorite charity. With a
front line of Brötzmann, Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee,
and Jeb Bishop, they are the heavyweight champs in avant-noise. But
this record is different in that it features Mike Pearson's homage
to Kenneth Patchen. The noise builds fast and furious to start, but
takes several breaks as Pearson recites Patchen's poetry, sometimes
alone, often with light comping -- light volume that is, Gustafsson's
bari sax not so light in any other regard. The range and mix make
this more palatable than most of its predecessors, the spoken word
providing a dry counterpoint to the potential overkill. Along the
way I noticed a remarkable guitar-like section. No guitar in the
cast, so I suspect that was the work of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.
James Brown: Gettin' Down to It (1968-69 ,
Verve): Like the slightly later Soul on Top, this is a big
band album of Brown singing and grunting his way through standards.
I was blown away by the later album, judging it on par with another
soul singer who scored with big band workouts of standards: Ray
Charles. But this record reminds us that such magic depends not
only on the singer and the band, but also on the song. Soul
on Top's songs were solid: "That's My Desire," "Your Cheatin'
Heart," "It's Magic," "September Song," "For Once in My Life,"
"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," like that, plus two of his own
signatures. But the songs on this album fit so poorly that one
wonders whether they weren't done tongue-in-cheek: "Sunny,"
"That's Life," "Strangers in the Night," "Willow Weep for Me."
That's just the first four; after he gives us a break with "Cold
Sweat," he dives back into his Sinatra records -- "Chicago," "For
Sentimental Reasons," "Time After Time," "All the Way," "It Had
to Be You." First time through, this seemed like a sure shot for
the Duds list. Now I'm not so sure: play it enough and even corn
like this turns sweet.
Bill Bruford/Michiel Borstlap: Every Step a Dance, Every Word
a Song (2003-04 , Summerfold): AMG, in one of those
mysteries that arise from having too many chimps typing too fast,
classifies Dutch pianist Borstlap as R&B/Funk/Fusion, but they
also have an entry for him in their classical database. Here he's
playing acoustic piano duets with Bill Bruford, who AMG classifies
as Rock/Avant-Garde/Fusion/Post-Bop/Canterbury Scene. My guess is
that Borstlap comes out of a solid classical background but likes
to experiment, which throws him into the jazz realm. Bruford, of
course, was prog rock's most famous drummer (except, I guess, for
Phil Collins), having worked for Yes, King Crimson, and (replacing
Collins) Genesis, but really he's concentrated on jazz ever since
he hooked up with Django Bates and Iain Ballamy to form Earthworks
in 1986. And this, certainly, is a jazz record, with two razor sharp
performers improvising in concert -- meaning, both together and
live. One of the more prickly versions of "Bemsha Swing" I've heard
recently, with "'Round Midnight" being the only other cover, and
the title cut improvised from nothing more than its title.
Bucketrider: Guignol's Band (1998, Dr. Jim's):
This is a rockish avant-jazz band from Australian, led by trombonist
James Wilkinson and saxophonists Adam Simmons and Timothy O'Dwyer.
They have a half-dozen albums. I've worked through three of them,
and they're an interesting, brainy, daring group who make messy
records that I can't quite bring myself to love. This starts with
a piece of screech, then moves on to some impressive postrock roll.
Despite its rough spots, this may be their best record -- at least
the best I've heard. Given how old this one is, not a real JCG
Alex Bugnon: Free (2005, Narada): Bugnon plays a
happy piano, and the snappy beat of the title cut and a few more
is down right infectious. However, this slips a notch on occasion
when the electronics of his sidekick Phil Davis get the upper hand.
Then it merely sounds like what it's spozed to: smooth jazz, just
a knick better than average.
John Butcher/Mike Hansen/Tomasz Krakowiak: Equation
(2002 , Spool/Field): Hansen's credit is "record players" --
presumably he's the one who laid down the static noise that forms
the backbone of two suites based on physics equations. Butcher's
saxophones and Krakowiak's percussion never change the texture of
the material -- any way you slice it, this remains high concept/low
yield noise. Not my thing, really, and even less likely to be yours,
but this is one of the few such albums that holds my attention. Not
sure whether that makes it a success for its type, or a failure.
Uri Caine/Bedrock: Shelf-Life (2004 , Winter
& Winter): A very accomplished left-of-mainstream pianist, Caine's
side projects have ranged from improvising on Schumann and Mahler to
his very old school take on Tin Pan Alley to joining Questlove for
The Philadelphia Project and his jazztronica group Bedrock --
a trio with Tim Lefebvre's bass and guitar and Zach Danziger's beats,
but most importantly, Caine's electric keyboards. Important acoustic
pianists from Chick Corea to Cyrus Chestnut always seem to lose touch
when they dabble in electronics, but Caine somehow makes it work --
perhaps because he sticks to the instrument's range, supplementing
the beats rather than trying to conquer them. This goes beyond the
original 2001 Bedrock album by adding guests, including beat
programmers Luke Vibert and DJ Olive, occasional horns, a couple of
vocalists even. Closes with Bunny Sigler singing "Sweat" in a rare
Philly soul moment that's both classic and futurist.
Will Calhoun: Native Lands (2005, Half Note): Don't
know when these cuts were recorded, but the constantly shifting cast
suggests not all at once. Comes with a DVD which I haven't viewed,
but that might explain more. Meanwhile, hope it doesn't cost you
extra. (Looks like it doesn't.) My problem with this album is that
it spends much time showing you all the things Calhoun can do instead
of building on a few things that really work. But maybe that means
I just wish he had kept Pharoah Sanders around for more than five
cuts -- Sanders leads off the first four cuts, and the album never
hits that level again. The rest are mostly stripped down beat pieces,
with Wallace Roney playing Miles on a couple; Antoine Roney's
soprano sax and Gregg Marret's harmonica are the only other lead
voices. Fascinating album. Maybe I should look at that DVD.
James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal: Gold
Sounds (2004 , Brown Brothers): The idea of doing a
jazz album based on Pavement songs is interesting enough. And, of
course, anything that lets Carter blow is cause for celebration.
Still, there's something off about this record. Not sure whether
it's the fragility of the songs or the slapdash approach to them --
probably both. Handicapped by rock's most uncharismatic singer, that
Pavement's best songs held together at all seemed miraculous. Here
they lose both their framework and their surprise, in other words
their integrity -- instead, they are reduced to fodder for the
postbop changes machine. Chestnut flops between piano, organ and
synth, but he's so old school he never seems comfortable on the
electronic keyboards. Meanwhile, Carter swaps tenor and soprano
sax -- the former deep and dirty, the latter nondescript. Most
interesting player here is drummer Ali Jackson, probably because
he sticks closest to the texts, doing things you don't expect in
a jazz drummer. Of course, Carter's blowing is impressive enough
to occasionally make me suspend my reservations, but they keep
coming back. I'll keep this open: could rise up, but also could
sink into the Duds list.
James Carter Organ Trio: Out of Nowhere (2004 ,
Half Note): On reading first reports that Carter was working with an
organ trio I imagined a postmodern synthesis of Gene Ammons, Willis
Jackson and Stanley Turrentine, able to go hard or soft, fast or slow,
d and to throw in more than a few of his tradmeark pops and clicks
along the way. This doesn't deliver on my expectations, but it makes
amends when guests James "Blood" Ulmer and Hamiett Bluiett show up.
Ulmer sings "Little Red Rooster," but his guitar is even more welcome.
Bluiett caps the show.
Sara Caswell: But Beautiful (2004 , Arbors):
Caswell is a young violinist, well schooled both in classical and
jazz -- her parents are both musicologists, and her sister Rachel
sings on three cuts here, plays cello (but not here), etc. Songlist
doesn't fit Arbors' usual return-to-swing curriculum -- "The Way
You Look Tonight" starts out there, but Monk, Shorter, Ron Carter,
Billy Joel, and someone named Mihanovich also make the list, plus
a couple by good ol' "traditional" and one original. The point, I
suppose, is to showcase her versatility, but I can't discern any
other. Good pianist in Lynne Arriale, underused. "Shenandoah" is
a nice closer, even with the vocal scat.
Bill Charlap/Sandy Stewart: Love Is Here to Stay
(2004 , Blue Note): A very subdued make-out album, modelled
perhaps on the Bill Evans/Tony Bennett album, but less so -- far
less. Credit Charlap's lead billing to the marketing folks -- he
barely plays, but then Stewart sings so measuredly that she leaves
him little to work with. Stewart has a touch of opera in her voice,
an instant turn-off for me, but your mileage may vary. As usual, a
great song, like the title tune or "It Might As Well Be Spring,"
lifts the interpretation, but anything less reduces to affect.
Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn? (1966 , Blue
Note): My favorite jazz format this year has been two horn (one
brass, one reed), bass and drums quartets, preferably with heavy
hitters like William Parker and Hamid Drake in the back. With no
piano or guitar to gum up the works, the horns fly off at odd
tangents, so while Gerry Mulligan pioneered the lineup, it took
off only with the avant-garde. This long lost record is a prime
example: up front is Cherry on cornet and Pharoah Sanders on tenor
sax; out back is Henry Grimes on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums.
While that gives us half of Ornette Coleman's pioneering quartet,
Grimes roughs up the rhythm, and Sanders brings on the noise.
Billy Childs Ensemble: Lyric: Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 1
(2004 , Lunacy Music): This is so far away from anything that
interests me that I have to punt. More specifically, this has all the
hated accoutrements of euroclassical music: a string section, the
minor wind instruments of classical orchestrae (oboe, bassoon, french
horn, flutes up the wazzoo), harp even. Childs' piano fits right in,
without a trace of swing or stride or even bebop. On the other hand,
I have to admit that it doesn't churn my stomach like ye olde classics
so often do, and when the orchestra melts away to reveal the piano it
can be quite pretty. Note that the longest piece, called "Hope, in the
Face of Despair," was inspired by Art Spiegelman's Maus.
The Claudia Quintet: Semi-Formal (2005, Cuneiform):
Oh dear, here we go again. Almost every jazz artist fits into some
reasonably well recognized framework, and almost every such framework
has many examples, some of which are inevitably more skilled, more
exemplary, or at least more interesting than others. These are the
rules that make it possible to, usually quickly, sort out the vast
produce of jazz into relatively manageable bins, and as such to give
jazz consumers a break. Personal taste enters into this, of course.
I happen to like saxophones more than pianos, especially in the
stripped down context of trios, so may skew my grades accordingly
(or compensate by skewing them otherwise), but give me a batch of
mainstream piano trios and I'll probably sort them out reasonably
well. John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet has two problems here: one
is that they're unique -- ain't nobody else remotely similar to
them, at least not within jazz. On the big map, I suppose they
fit somewhere between minimalists like Philip Glass and post-rock
experimentalists like Tortoise, but unlike either, like the jazz
musicians they undoubtedly are, they not only play in that uncharted
space, they improvise in it. The second problem is that unlike most
conceptualists they don't refine and reduce their concept -- they
muddy the waters, projecting their ideas in multiple directions
until you're never sure just what the concept is. One consequence
of this is that the albums are, tastewise anyway, maddeningly
inconsistent. I sat on I, Claudia for nearly a year before
finally deciding that the marvelous parts outweigh the imponderable
parts, and I could do the same here, but experience tells me that
in the end the marvels will win out. One thing I have a problem
with is the mushiness of the instrumentation: the lead instruments
are vibes, accordion, clarinet. On the other hand, that only holds
true when Ted Reichman's accordion (or keyboards) holds the center.
Matt Moran is one of the most interesting vibraphonists working,
and he's just as likely to swing to the rhythm side building on
John Hollenbeck's beats. Chris Speed mostly plays clarinet, but
he switches to tenor sax on several pieces here, and that provides
a huge contrast to the dominant pastels -- every time he does he
blows me away. I'm not through here, but I figure it would be
chickenshit to sit on the rating. One of the most distinct and
exhilarating albums I've heard this year -- and, yes, it's jazz,
because that's the sort of thing great jazz aims at. But it's
also not as convincing as I'd like.
Nels Cline/Wally Shoup/Chris Corsano: Immolation/Immersion
(2005, Strange Attractors): Starts out sounding absolutely hideous, and
periodically returns to that state. The noisemakers are electric guitar,
alto sax, and drums. Each can be interesting when not flailing insanely
against the other, and there are some quieter moments when they're merely
edgy. Moreover, not all of the noise bursts are unlistenable. But most
are. For what it's worth, Cline is the biggest offender.
Tim Coffman: Crossroads (2004 , BluJazz):
Three horns (piano, bass and drums) is typically an arranger's
lineup, not something I normally look forward to, but it does
improve the odds a bit that the leader plays trombone. Songlist
mostly comes from the hard bop era, with Juan Tizol's "Caravan"
the only throwback -- and one of the nicer things here, although
the arrangement breaks no new ground. Nothing here excites me,
but it's all tastefully crafted, the horns interlocking smoothly,
with generous solo space for the trombone.
George Colligan: Past-Present-Future (2003 ,
Criss Cross): This is a sharply played, very lively piano trio.
Colligan has recorded quite a bit since the mid-'90s, and he's
been consistently praised by the Penguin Guide. This is my first
encounter with him, so I'm reluctant to go overboard, especially
in a format I have trouble explaining. Will work on it.
George Colligan's Mad Science: Realization (2004
, Sirocco Jazz): A different kind of trio, with Colligan on
Hammond B3 and computer synthesizers, Tom Guarna on guitar, and
Rodney Holmes on drums -- although not all that different from
Uri Caine's Bedrock group. Organ players tend to be blockier than
piano players, perhaps because the organ frequently replaces a
bass. Colligan and Caine are both superbly quick-witted pianists,
and they lose little velocity on organ. I suspect that Caine has
the edge here, but need to delve further.
George Colligan's Mad Science: Realization (2004
, Sirocco Music): Like Uri Caine's Bedrock, this is a trio
with guitar-drums led by a first rate pianist on electric keybs.
Still, it's more retro. Colligan plays more organ than synth, and
Rodney Holmes sticks with his drumkit instead of beat machines.
That leaves Tom Guarna in the role of Grant Green -- he doesn't
have Green's lyrical touch, but gets the job done.
John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note
(1965 , Impulse, 2CD): Radio broadcast tapes, long circulated as
bootlegs, finally cleaned up for an official release. Sound is still a
bit thin. The group is Coltrane's famous quartet -- McCoy Tyner, Jimmy
Garrison, Elvin Jones -- near the end of their run. Only four songs
(plus announcements), the closer a 22:47 "My Favorite Things." Welcome,
of course, but I doubt that this will settle out in the forefront of
live Coltrane, of which there is quite a bit available.
Jackie Coon: The Joys of New Orleans (1993 ,
Arbors): Cover says, "All sales proceeds donated to the Jazz Foundation
of America for the benefit of New Orleans Musicians' relief." Looks
like they pulled this old tape off the shelf for just that purpose.
Don't know how old Coon is, but he recorded back in the mid-'50s
with Jack Teagarden and Barney Bigard. Most trumpeters also pack a
flugelhorn these days, but Coon is unique among trad jazz players
in preferring the larger horn, and he sticks to it here, with Connie
Jones complementing him on cornet. Strikes me as ordinary New Orleans
fare, regardless of the cause, a good one no doubt.
The Dan Cray Trio: Save Us! (2005, BluJazz): Good
piano trio. Quick out of the box with a Stevie Wonder piece, then
"When You Wish Upon a Star," then on to Cole Porter, Tadd Dameron,
Monk, Shorter, Silver, ending with an original (or two). Mainstream,
good taste, not a deconstructivist.
Joan Crowe: Bird on the Wire (2004, Evensongmusic):
Her background as an actress, and maybe her summers spent on her
grandparents' dairy farm in Deutschland, led her to cabaret. Don't
know about her much touted comic skills, but she's a keen interpreter
and runs a band that's always there for her without ever intruding,
let alone tripping her up. A wide range of songs, with one original,
called "Petite Southern Woman," certainly not autobiographical. She
even tackles "Twisted," which she slows down and inches into, like
trying out an especially weird costume. Title song from Leonard Cohen.
Closing "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss" straight out of Marlene Dietrich.
Jamie Cullum: Catching Tales (2005, Verve Forecast):
I can think of a half-dozen definitions of what it means to be a jazz
singer at this date, but this doesn't fit any of them. Maybe there's
a historical explanation -- I didn't bother chasing down his previous
album, let alone its obscure predecessors. But what I hear here is:
that his vocal chops are genuine and impressive, and adaptable like
an actor; this his guitar, keyboards and drum programming are nothing
special; that his songwriting is rock-based and prematurely geriatric;
that his gimmick for covers is to slow them down, often by breaking
their kneecaps; that his arrangements aim for smooth jazz filigree,
but rarely achieve it. Covers like "Our Day Will Come" and "I Only
Have Eyes for You" play to his strengths, plus they have indelible
melodies. His own songs don't, even when Allen Toussaint and Dan
Nakamura try to help out. Probable Dud.
The Kenny Davern Quartet: In Concert, Albuquerque, 2004
(2004 , Arbors): The veteran clarinetist with guitar (James
Chirillo), bass and drums. About what you'd expect. W.C. Handy's
"Ole Miss" sounds quite archaic these days, "Careless Love" only
slightly less so. "Summertime" and "These Foolish Things" are
hardly innovative let alone needed, but not unwelcome. "Somebody
Stole My Gal" and "Royal Garden Blues" soar. So, about what you'd
Sarah DeLeo: The Nearness of You (2005, Sweet Sassy
Music): Young vocalist, identifies with singer Peggy Lee, not cellist
Peggy Lee; a passel of standards, mostly backed with guitar (Chris
Bergson), bass and drums, sometimes with keybs, two cuts with trumpet.
So competent, and so likeable, the ups and downs merely mirror the
Dave Douglas: Keystone (2005, Greenleaf Music):
This is a set of music Douglas wrote to score a 1916 film by Roscoe
Arbuckle called Fatty & Mabel Adrift. The package includes
a DVD with the film and music, plus a CD with the music worked out
into finished pieces. The music is mostly upbeat, scaled large with
DJ Olive pushing the beats, and Marcus Strickland's saxophones filling
in behind Douglas. After dismaying me at first, this sounds better
with each play. Guess I need to look at that DVD.
Mark Dresser: Unveil (2003-04 , Clean Feed):
Solo bass, always a difficult proposal, since it often boils down
to stupid bass tricks. Just beginning to get my bearings here, but
some passages have strong rhythmic appeal.
Marty Ehrlich: News on the Rail (2005, Palmetto):
I don't have a good feel for this one yet, in part because the
multiple sound approaches don't quite cohere. Six piece group,
three horns plus piano-bass-drums. The horns shift -- Ehrlich
between alto sax and clarinet; James Zollar between trumpet and
flugelhorn; Howard Johnson between tuba, baritone sax and bass
clarinet. The clarinet line-up on "Light in the Morning" is loose
and spacious, quite appealing, but the brass-heavy "Enough Enough"
is too much already. Some good stuff here, but I doubt that it's
going to win out.
Harris Eisenstadt: The Soul and Gone (2004 ,
482 Music): Sextet led by drummer Eisenstadt, with several familiar
Chicago players: Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jeff Parker (guitar), Jason
Roebke (bass). Also a couple of Jasons I'm unfamiliar with: Adasiewicz
(vibes) and Mears (alto sax, clarinet). It may be that Eisenstadt's
got too many resources here for his rather abstract music -- lots of
little sounds pop out of nowhere and vanish as quickly. Interesting
stuff, in principle, and listenable as well, but I suspect he could
have done more with less.
Either/Orchestra: Éthiopiques 20: Live in Addis (2004
, Buda Musique, 2CD): Francis Falceto's Éthiopiques series
provided a comprehensive survey of Ethiopia's short-lived pop music
flowering in the early '70s, a period soon choked off by infertile war
and revolution. Now Falceto has come full circle with new recordings,
both of Etiopians and of western musicians who discovered Ethiopia
through his unique series. A few years back, Russ Gershon rearranged
several pieces from Éthiopiques 13 for his big band. That led
to Gershon's Either/Orchestra playing an extended program of Ethiopian
music at a festival in Addis Ababa, recorded here. The session starts
with five west-meets-east pieces where the orchestra's discipline
doesn't tame the source material so much as muscles it up. But it
keeps its African roots, especially thanks to guest percussionist
Mulatu Astatqé. After that start, more Ethiopian guests join in --
several singers, and explosive saxophonist Gétatchèw Mèkurya.
Peter Epstein/Brad Shepik/Matt Kilmer: Lingua Franca
(2003-04 , Songlines): The back cover suggests to file this under
"jazz/world fusion" -- a new genre or category to me. There are hints
of divers world beats here and there. Epstein studied with Charlie
Haden, James Newton and John Carter, which in turn led him to west
African, Indian and Balkan musics -- all evident here in miniscule
quantities. Shepik worked with Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, which
explored Balkan motifs. The album is lovely but feels slight, like
the idea was to suggest much while revealing little. Kilmer is
modestly credited with "percussion" but must be using a wide range
of hand drums and other devices. Shepik is credited with "guitars"
although some of what he plays is sitar-like. Epstein's alto and
soprano sax are more straightforward, adding a light voice and
bright tone on top of the shuffle. I've played this a lot; wish I
understood it better.
Booker Ervin: Tex Book Tenor (1968 , Blue
Note): I doubt that any jazz musician has worked his name into
more titles than Ervin: The Book Cooks, The Song Book,
The Blues Book, and so on. Lee Konitz, maybe, but Konitz
was born three years before Ervin, and continues to work 35 years
after Ervin died. Ervin has that big Texas tone, which after years
with Mingus he learned to push exceptionally hard. This made him
one of the '60s most vigorous tenor saxophonists. This is in many
ways a typical hard bop quintet, distinguished by Ervin's fiercely
muscular play, but also by two younger players who threaten to
steal the show: Woody Shaw and Kenny Barron.
The Alon Farber Hagiga Quintet: Exposure (2003
, Fresh Sound New Talent): Looks like "hagiga" is Hebrew
for "celebration" -- dumb luck that I figured that out. This is
an upbeat, postbop Israeli group, with two saxophones (Farber on
soprano and alto, Hagai Amir on alto), guitar, bass and drums,
with New York-based Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen guesting on
three cuts. They state the music is inspired by Wayne Shorter
and Dave Douglas, which sounds close enough, although I'll also
note that one song is called "A Chat With Ornette." Complex and
fluid, a rich feel, lots of movement. Cohen certainly earns his
Amina Figarova: September Suite (2004 , Munich):
September, as in September 11, you know what, you know where, you know
why. Song titles march through the emotions: "Numb," "Emptyness,"
"Denial," "Photo Album," "Rage," "Trying to Focus," "When the Lights
Goes Down," "Dawn," "For Laura" -- the latter unexplained, the rest
pretty easy to guess at. "Numb" is repeated again as a "bonus track."
The slow pieces are powerfully moving. The fast pieces -- "Denial,"
"Rage" -- are less certain of their emotion. The group is tight, with
little individuality -- this is plainly a composer's record. As theme,
this may have come too late, or too early. Figarova grew up in Baku,
but her notes speak of waking up in Brooklyn with the plume of smoke
in the air. Been there, done that too. It's not something one forgets
easily, and there's something to be said for bringing back one's first
impressions, before the posturing took over and the politicos made a
perfectly awful tragedy even worse.
Amina Figarova: September Suite (2005, Munich):
Haven't gotten much more out of this. The suite is heartfelt,
soberly executed; the musicianship dutiful. She's better at
"Numb" and "Emptyness" than "Rage" -- which is good in a human,
but not necessarily in an artist.
FME: Cuts (2004 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark's
configurations each have their own name, but the names don't always
map well to the music. Free Music Ensemble sounds like a chamber group,
with someone like Paul Lovens on drums and a bassist -- well, Kent
Kessler would do. But Vandermark went punk instead, with Spaceways
Inc./Tripleplay bassist Nate McBride and School Days/Free Fall/Atomic
drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Most pieces have both hard and soft parts.
The soft ones are free fragments, often with Vandermark on clarinet
with minimal counterpoint. But the hard ones burst into some of
Vandermark's most roughhouse blowing. Possible pick hit.
Jean-Marc Foltz/Bruno Chevillon: Cette Opacité
(2003 , Clean Feed): Ten duets. Foltz plays clarinet or bass
clarinet, Chevillon bass. Don't know these people, but the action
pins your ears from the start. Dark, abstract, difficult listening,
but deeply moving. Interesting record; could move up a notch.
Dominic Frasca: Deviations (2003 , Cantaloupe/Serious
Music): Frasca plays guitar. Not sure if there's anything else on here --
percussion or treatments, but it at least sounds overdubbed. The music is
close to minimalism -- tightly spaced rhythms, modulated here and there,
but because it's guitar it has more angular momentum. I was into this kind
of music -- its progenitors, that is, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, et al. --
back in the late-'70s, but haven't followed it in a long time. This is
very appealing. Will take some further play to sort out, and it could get
bumped a notch.
Nnenna Freelon: Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie
Holiday (2005, Concord): Holiday has become so iconic that
she's everyone's choice target, but looking at the booklet photos
I get the sense Freelon's aiming more at Diana Ross. Her voice is
closer to Ross too, but she doesn't want to concede even that --
she wants to show how different, hip, unique she is. In the cases
of "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" -- two songs never
associated with anyone else -- her risks pay off. But on covers
there's nothing to tie her performances to Holiday's, which makes
for a weird kind of tribute. Especially unsettling is her take on
"All of Me" -- latin beats, emphasis shifted, no swing. And just
to show there's no center here, "Balm in Gilead" goes off over
the other deep end.
Mitchell Froom: A Thousand Days (2005, Kontextrecords):
Well known as a producer and part-time Latin Playboy, this is a
sharp change of pace: a short (38:03) solo piano album, original
material, moderately paced, modestly done. Nice. Handsome cover.
Satoko Fujii Four: Live in Japan 2004 (2004 ,
P.J.L): Fujii is probably the most important active jazz musician
in the world who still doesn't have a section in the 7th edition
of The Penguin Guide. That's likely to change when the 8th
edition rolls off the presses, but the catch-up job will be huge --
more so than when Ken Vandermark made his debut in the 4th edition
with eight records. AMG lists 22 records under Fujii's own name,
going back to 1995, and they don't have this one listed yet. I've
only heard five of those albums (plus another five by her partner,
trumpeter Natsuki Tamura -- two solo, three in groups with Fujii),
and the one thing I'm most struck by is how varied they are: the
solo Sketches, the intensely composed Illusion Suite,
the big band Blueprint, and (my favorite) the avant-fusion
Zephyros. This one is mostly a live recap of Illusion
Suite -- the title piece fills up 36:28 in the middle here,
and the group is the same, with Tamura, Mark Dresser on bass, and
Jim Black on drums. There's some impressive stuff here -- Fujii's
piano when she cuts loose, Tamura's trumpet swell on "Looking Out
of the Window," the whole long sprawling mess of "Illusion Suite."
One of these days I'll have to sort out the broader dimensions of
her career. Meanwhile, I'm still working on this one.
Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Resolving
Doors (2004, Charles Lester Music): Rough, aggressive
avant-garde music, with Futterman exploding on piano and Levin
racing through the curves on tenor sax or, frequently, bass
clarinet. Fielder drums. Don't have a clear take on this yet,
but it has potential to move up.
Jacob Garchik: Abstracts (2004 , Yestereve):
Garchik is a trombonist based in New York, plays in a large number
of local groups, including a few I've heard of. This is a trio with
Jacob Sacks on piano and Dan Weiss on drums. The eight pieces are
designated Abstracts, numbers 1-8. Free jazz, sharply played, the
instrumental mix interesting.
Gato Libre: Strange Village (2004 , Onoff):
File this one under trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who wrote all the
pieces. His partner Satoko Fujii is also present in the quartet,
but playing accordion instead of her usual piano. The difference
between the two is that she can get a lot noisier than Tamura --
at times she approaches Cecil Taylor intensity, although that's
hardly the only tool in her bag. Tamura, on the other hand, tends
to play within himself, drawing out the lyrical quality of his
instrument. Fujii's accordion has none of the flash of her piano,
but the tones complement Tamura nicely. The other two members of
the group are Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu
on bass, providing a bed of strings for the others. A beguiling
Herb Geller/Rein de Graaff: Delightful Duets 2
(2002 , Blue Jack Jazz): No great surprises here. Geller
sounds fine, working through standards he's no doubt played
many times. De Graaff complements nicely on piano. Delightful,
for sure. Will keep it around to see whether anything more
Herb Geller/Rein de Graaff: Delightful Duets 2
(2002 , Blue Jack Jazz): One of the senior statesmen of west
coast cool squares off with a fine Dutch pianist. Delightful? Of
course. Fairly predictable fare, too: "Lady Be Good," "Melancholy
Baby," "Ornithology," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Perdido," "Embraceable
You," "Cheryl," "Cherokee." Nothing wrong with that, not to mention
Rick Germanson: You Tell Me (2004 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Mainstream piano trio, sure of foot, bright,
vibrant, richly played. No real complaints, but virtues like
that don't go all that far either.
Joe Giardullo: No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy
(2004 , Drimala): Seven originals plus two Lacy pieces, all
played on solo soprano sax. It's limited conceptually -- solo anything
is bound to be marginal, and musically it slipstreams in Lacy's wake.
But that may be a too narrow way of looking at what is in its own
right a remarkable performance. And now that Lacy has died it may
be all the more valuable to recognize that he lives on.
The Gift: Live at Sangha: Nov 6, 2004 (2004 ,
Bmadish): One long piece, no title, just a night of invention at a
club in Takoma Park, MD. The group is Roy Campbell (trumpet, flute),
William Hooker (drums), and Jason Hwang (violin). Hooker's drumming
is central and vital. Campbell is his usual buoyant self on trumpet,
and a pleasant surprise on flute -- a bit tentative, perhaps, but
his head's in the right place. Hwang is a violinist I've wanted to
hear more from, but he seems to fill in more like a bassist here
than to take charge like Billy Bang or Leroy Jenkins would do. An
interesting night's work.
Robert Glasper: Canvas (2005, Blue Note): Young
(27 years old) pianist on a major label -- the inference is that
he's the next Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap, Jason Moran, someone
like that. Like those, he has a steady trio, with Vicente Archer
on bass and Damion Reid on drums. The trio holds its own on six
of ten cuts here, with Glasper playing sharp and fleet, and the
drummer standing out. Two more cuts feature Mark Turner's snaky
tenor sax, making you want to hear more. The other two cuts have
Bilal scatting or ululating, making you want to hear less. Don't
have a strong feeling one way or another.
Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos
(2002 , Squealer): Gold Sparkle is Andrew Barker (drums), Adam
Roberts (bass), and Charles Waters (reeds, mostly alto sax with some
clarinet), with Barker and Waters splitting the writing chores. The
addition of Vandermark here adds a second set of reeds (tenor sax,
clarinet, bass clarinet) -- I'm reminded of an old gum jingle that
goes, "double your pleasure, double your fun." Free shenanigans open,
but the record closes with a straight and lovely ballad ("Autumn Ever")
and a New Orleans-style party romp ("Carpet Quarterbagger").
Euge Groove: Just Feels Right (2005, Narada Jazz):
Born Steve Grove, the moniker wishful thinking, or maybe a sly joke.
Relentlessly pleasant smooth jazz.
Mats Gustafsson & David Stackenås: Blues (2003
, Atavistic): In his liner notes, Ken Vandermark argues that
the main difference between American and European jazz musicians is
that the former string time together whereas the latter deconstruct
it. What makes these blues unrecognizable as blues is that they have
no rhythm at all. That leaves us with sounds that erupt rather than
flow: electronics from Stackenås' guitar, faint approximations of
bass and drums from Gustafsson's bari sax. As an American I find
it all rather peculiar, but as a low-key, swingless noise album
it's not without interest.
Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra: Not in Our Name
(2004 , Verve): The front cover reprises the first LMO album, recorded
way back in 1969. The picture on the back cover of the booklet is modelled
after an old Soviet poster, with a man and a woman locked shoulder to
shoulder, gazing off into the bright future of the new world. Carla Bley,
her face mostly bone, her hair straw, still fits, but Haden, slouching
behind sunglasses, looks lost, and soft. It's an ambivalent picture, as
is the cover -- between the two veterans all we see are the usual motley
crew of musicians, all relatively young, some younger than the first LMO
album. I've had a tough time sorting this record out, in no small part
because at first blush it's a rehash of Bley's Looking for America.
The arrangements could hardly be the work of anyone else, and the tactic
of weaving bits of old patriotic songs into the tapestry is repeated.
Still, the opening bars of this "America the Beautiful" fills me with
sadness -- even though the musicians can't help but rejoin the song's
climax. It's been a long, sad retreat from "Song for Ché" to "Not in
Our Name" and "This Is Not America" as the positive strengths that once
were our assumed baseline we now hopefully cling to like life preservers.
In the end we're left with the sheer beauty of the music, and sadness.
Rich Halley Trio: Mountains and Plains (2004 ,
Louie): I'm so attuned to the sax-bass-drums trio format that I tend
to practice reverse discrimination, lest these rather common records
take over the CG. Hence, I've been resisting this one, even though,
or precisely because, it's right down my alley. Halley is based in
Oregon. Has a half-dozen or so well-regarded albums, none of which
have crossed my path before. Plays tenor and soprano, mostly tenor.
Penguin Guide describes his work as "freebop" -- it's close enough
to the tradition for that description to fit. Pieces run fast and
slow, and Halley's distinctive both ways. Bassist Clyde Reed and
drummer-percussionist Dave Storrs help out -- I especially like a
stretch with hand drums. Could hold out for another spin, but this
time I think I'll go with my druthers.
Slide Hampton Meets Two Tenor Case: Callitwhachawana
(2002 , Blue Jack Jazz): The two tenor saxists are Sjoerd
Dukhuizen and Simon Rigter -- don't mean anything to me, nor have
I heard of the rest of the Dutch band. This is a set recorded live
at the Pannonica jazz club in the Hague. Hampton is best known for
his big band arrangements, but this is basic bebop, lingua franca
for jazz musicians everywhere. Fine stuff -- especially nice to
hear Hampton let it all hang out.
Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (2005, Hear Music):
I hate the game that dismisses unorthodox variants as "not jazz,"
but this isn't any kind of jazz that I can recognize. Hancock plays
piano behind singers -- ten songs, each song with its own singer,
none of whom have any sort of jazz rep, nor do the songs have any
repertory standing. Hancock has a couple of nice moments on piano,
but they hardly qualify as solos. The singers are an odd mix of
has-beens (Sting, Paul Simon, Annie Lennox) and wannabes (Jonny
Lang, Joss Stone, John Mayer, Damien Rice, Raul Midon) -- Christina
Aguilera singing Leon Russell may qualify for both simultaneously.
Nothing here is awful -- well, Trey Anastasio comes close, and
three or four others are on rather shaky footing -- but from any
sort of artistic standpoint it is a complete waste. Most likely
the business plan is a lot more interesting than the record. The
main idea here is to trigger impulse buys at Starbucks, so the
range of singers are really cross-marketing vectors. Given that
songs sells records, think of each one as a trap -- if Aguilera
jailbait doesn't attract you, maybe Sting will. Or maybe they do
just sell you the song. But in the end the real value in the deal
isn't the music at all -- it's the tiny patch of counter-space at
Starbucks. Given the relative values, I wouldn't be surprised to
find that the guests had to pay to get their names on the cover.
Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (2005, Hear Music):
This time Downbeat put my Dud of the Month on the cover
before I called the shot. In some ways it's unfair: this is not
a jazz record by any stretch of the imagination. Hancock has been
overrated since 1973 (Headhunters) or maybe even since he
left Miles (1968), and hasn't produced an A-list record (that I
know of, and I know of a dozen that aren't) since Empyrean
Isles in 1964. Of the has-beens and wannabes on the cover --
how much did that cost 'em? -- the worst are back-loaded (Damien
Rice & Lisa Hannigan, Raul Midón, Trey Anastasio), but only
slightly worse than the mid-section stars (Paul Simon, Annie
Lennox, Sting). Jonny Lang & Joss Stone are kinda cute, but
Christina Aguilera singing Leon Russell takes has-been wannabe-ism
to highly improbable levels. Some facts from the Downbeat
article: over 9,200 Starbucks stores, sold over 750,000 copies
of Ray Charles Genius Loves Company (out of 5-6 million
worldwide, as I recall), with a customer rate over 33 million.
The stores are mostly small, the music kiosks smaller. Not sure
how many titles they carry -- two dozen seems a stretch. Clearly,
the multiple names thing, a variation on the duets thing, means
cross-marketing. It's business, and it's probably not the end of
music, but it bodes ill anyway. And while I keep wanting to write
that it's not awful -- what I really mean is that Hancock's not
awful -- it does suck.
Craig Harris: Souls Within the Veil (2003 ,
Aquastra, 2CD): Composed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of
W.E.B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk, a book so forward
thinking we ain't got there yet. With three brass and four reeds
there's a lot of wind in these sails. But the extra percussion
Kahil El'Zabar adds to Billy Hart's drums and Cecil McBee's bass
helps on the bottom. No piano. Most pieces follow a series of
superb solos -- Steve Coleman, Hamiet Bluiett, Don Byron, Hugh
Ragin, Graham Haynes, Oliver Lake, and the leader all have spots
on the highlight reel. Likely to be upgraded when I get to spend
more time with it. Unlikely to be in JCG, this time anyway, given
that Francis Davis already praised it to the skies. Otherwise it
would be a strong Pick Hit prospect, and may wind up in the year
Donald Harrison/Ron Carter/Billy Cobham: New York Cool: Live
at the Blue Note (2005, Half Note): Same lineup as Heroes,
an album recorded in 2002 that challenged Harrison to work in a tight
trio context, but helped him out with an extraordinary rhythm section.
But this reprise has the easy structure of a concert performance, with
traditional fare, long pieces, even a healthy-sized drum solo. In other
words, nothing so challenging -- even if much is enjoyable, including
the drum solo.
Richie Hart: Greasy Street (2005, Zoho): Hart's last
one, Blues in the Alley, was such a straightforward blues romp
I was reluctant to file it under jazz. This one is certainly jazzier,
with a preference for shimmering notes. Not dislikeable, not even when
Dr. Lonnie guests. Sweet even, but weren't they aiming for greasy?
David Hazeltine: Modern Standards (2004 ,
Sharp Nine): Bacharach and Mancini, let alone Leonard Bernstein
and Steven Sondheim, don't exactly strike me as Moderns. Nor are
the Beatles and Bee Gees and Isley Brothers cutting edge. Nor is
the bold march beyond Johnny Mercer necessarily a good thing.
But few of these concerns matter much for a pianist as deft as
Hazeltine. He's a superb mainstream pianist, and he keeps these
songs light and lively. This is one I've been sitting on the
fence on for a long time now, and it's still on the cusp.
Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Double Blues Crossing (2002
, Between the Lines): Interesting sounds here and there, but
after two plays I'm still confused. The sound mix comes from Frank
Gratkowski's reeds (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax), Wolter
Wierbos' trombone, and Amit Sen's cello. Hemingway's compositions,
including the five-part title suite and three more pieces, are
less clear. Been distracted while listening to this, and need to
move on. Later. (The closer, "Slowly Rising" is a terrific piece,
built around an elementary vamp beat which the gang plays off of.)
Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Double Blues Crossing
(2002 , Between the Lines): Whereas Hemingway's Quartet on
The Whimbler hums along with a steady beat and playful
expression from the two horns, this one is darker in mood, lighter
in sound, and stranger in the mix. The two horns are pitched
farther apart, with Frank Gratkowski on clarinets and alto sax
and Walter Wierbos on trombone. Kermit Driscoll has less pulse
at bass, even though, like Mark Helias, he plays both acoustic
and electric. The fifth instrument here is Amit Sen's cello, an
unusual choice. The songs, especially five-part title suite,
tend to come apart in spacious abstraction, but they don't all
stay there, and several patches cook furiously.
The Frank Hewitt Quintet: Four Hundred Saturdays
(1999 , Smalls): After missing every opportunity to record
during his 66-year life, this is the third posthumous release for
Hewitt, the everyday pianist at New York's legendary Smalls after
hours club. This one is a live set, with his trio augmented by
saxophonists Chris Byars and Mike Mullins. Fine latterday bebop,
long solos on four old standbys, plenty of atmosphere.
Andrew Hill: Andrew!!! (1964 , Blue Note):
Bobby Hutcherson!! John Gilmore! That's roughly the pecking order
here, with Richard Davis and Joe Chambers rounding out the quintet.
Blue Note founder Alfred Lion recognized in Hill a successor to
Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols and recorded him extensively
from 1963-70, but the records were erratically released -- this
one didn't appear until 1968, many of the later sessions have
only appeared recently, and many more are still out of print.
After 1970, Hill mostly recorded obscure solo and trio sessions
for European labels before returning to the limelight with larger
groups since 1999's Dusk (Palmetto). This quintet fits
somewhere between his small and large group moves: Hutcherson's
vibes reinforce the angularity of Hill's piano, while Gilmore's
single horn riffs along, again leaving the piano central. These
dynamics make this an exceptional record for focusing on Hill's
Warren Hill: Pop Jazz (2005, Native Language):
The first cut is about as good a riff as you get in pop jazz. The
second is "Come Together," a pretty safe change of pace. After that
the ideas run thin. I mean, "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)" has
been done already.
David Holland/Barre Phillips: Music From Two Basses
(1971 , ECM): Just what the title says, with two of the
great masters of the postbop era plucking and plying a versatile
but difficult instrument.
Elmo Hope: Trio and Quintet (1953-57 ,
Blue Note): This combines two early 10-inch LPs -- one a trio,
the other a quintet with Freeman Lee on trumpet and Frank Foster
on tenor sax -- plus three tracks from a later quintet with Stu
Williamson and Harold Land. Hope was a fine bebop pianist, best
heard on the sparkling trios, but interesting throughout, even
when he takes a back seat to Foster's swinging leads. Land, of
course, is more boppish, but less compelling.
Wayne Horvitz/Ron Samworth/Peggy Lee/Bill Clark/Dylan van der
Schyff: Intersection Poems (2003 , Spool/Line):
Four musicians from Vancouver, one from Seattle, meet for free form
improvisation, with no one much in control, and no real direction
in mind. Sometimes it sounds like something might come of it, then
it wanders off again. I certainly haven't paid it the attention it
might deserve, but then I expect records to tell me when they're
important, and this one didn't.
Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte as Groundtruther + DJ Logic:
Longitude (2005, Thirsty Ear): More fusion than anything
else, Hunter works on his power guitar moves, Previte complements
on drums. DJ Logic adds some electro-murk, reinforcing the guitar
more than anything else. Not as consistent as I'd like, and nothing
really compelling, but I'm not sure another spin won't make some
sort of difference.
Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte as Groundtruther + DJ Logic:
Longitude (2004 , Thirsty Ear): Still not as
consistent as I'd like, but this is a pretty impressive showcase
for Charlie Hunter's guitar fusion. Bobby Previte is the other hand
of Groundtruther, a fine drummer well suited for this kind of music.
As with their previous album, this one has a guest star. DJ Logic
inserts some turntable twists, but they complement rather than
compete with the lead. B+(***)
In the Country: This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat
(2004 , Rune Grammofon): Piano trio from Norway, with Morten
Qvenild on piano, Roger Arntzen on bass, and Pål Hausken on drums,
slipping in some extra keybs and percussion here and there. Starts
deliberate, the sort of slow free thing ECM likes, but roughens up
the edges a bit, adding some noise.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Sameness of Difference
(2005, Hyena): Reed Mathis' weird bass effects take a back seat this
time, turning this group into a more conventional piano trio. This
record is anchored in two jazz standards, one by Mingus, the other
by Brubeck. More numerous are the rock songs -- Hendrix, Björk, Neil
Young, Brian Wilson, Lennon & McCartney -- but they are neatly
tucked into the flow, bound together by five originals.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: Higher Ground: Hurricane
Relief Benefit Concert (2005, Blue Note): The problem with
these benefit concerts is that everyone wants to get into the act,
and that leaves you with a mess. At the concert itself, you're
likely to remember the high spots, write the crap off as failed
good intentions, and figure it's all for a good cause anyway. On
record, it's the crap that stands out. Dianne Reeves' "The House
I Live In" is the worst kind of well meaning liberalism turned
to God and Country paean. Norah Jones doesn't do much better,
and the gospel bookends by Shirley Caesar and Cassandra Wilson
are over the top and out the door, respectively. James Taylor
brings back memories of Lester Bangs. And somehow Aaron and Art
Neville manage to blow "Go to the Mardi Gras." That's a lot of
dead weight for any album to carry. Diana Krall, Buckwheat Zydeco,
and Jordan Family stick to the literal higher ground and stay
safely dry. The only singer to do something interesting here is
Bette Midler, asking "Is That All There Is?" and resolving to
party on. The instrumental pieces are less likely to sink in
the muck. I've yet to notice Marcus Roberts' piece, stuck as
an interlude between Reeves and Jones, but Terence Blanchard
and especially Joe Lovano are inspired, and Wynton Marsalis can
really "play that thing" so long as that thing is "Dippermouth
Blues." The highlights here are worth hearing, even if you're
unlikely to play the whole thing more than once. The proceeds
go to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Jazzanova: Blue Note Trip (1949-75 , Blue
Note, 2CD): The mixes don't change the original sources much, so
this is almost an oldies compilation, selected by DJs according
to DJ logic. This suggests two review approaches: one for its
historical (i.e., educational) value, the other utilitarian. In
either case, the mix favors early '70s Mizell Brothers fusion
material -- i.e., the stuff they put out on their way down after
Alfred Lion retired and the founders faded. Then the next layer
back comes from hard boppers, especially Horace Silver. Finally,
there are a few oddities -- Sam Rivers, Sheila Jordan, Charlie
Rouse, the most interesting stuff here. But overall it looks too
random for historians, if not for history. Utility is harder to
gauge, but it doesn't do much for me.
Jazzmob: Pathfinder (2003, Jazzaway): Norwegian quintet
led by alto saxist Jon Klette. Hard to pigeonhole, since avant-trad-fusion
doesn't clarify much of anything. Except perhaps by suggesting a cosmic
wormhole to the similarly named Sexmob, who do a better job of keeping
what they're spoofing straight.
Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (2004 , ECM):
Johnson is a bassist with a couple of quite good albums under his
own name, and well over 100 sideman appearances. He recalls some
favors here, especially from Joe Lovano and John Scofield, who
are used lightly but to good effect. More important is Brazilian
pianist Eliane Elias: Johnson plays bass in one of her two working
trios, and here she co-wrote the songs in addition to holding down
the piano. This starts off with Lovano turning in the most gorgeous
work of his recent career, then hums along nicely, with Scofield
taking a couple of fine turns, Elias consistently wonderful, the
leader directing from the back. Joey Baron is on drums, Alain
Mallet on organ. Can't quite place the latter, and still have
doubts on my rating, although I've played this many times.
Hank Jones: For My Father (2004 , Justin Time):
A delightful little piano trio, with George Mraz and Dennis Mackrel.
Light touch, easy swing, not as boppish as he was fifty years ago,
but he has no need to prove himself -- enough just to be himself.
Sheila Jordan + Cameron Brown: Celebration (2004
, High Note): She's been my favorite jazz vocalist ever since
she waltzed away with Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer. I saw
her once, doing a practicum at Harvard, where she was gracious to
students a million miles away from her talent. When she did sing
the clarity and resonance of her voice were astonishing, as is
her ability to shift the words around to whatever time and mode
strikes her fancy. She describes herself as "a little quirky, maybe
an acquired taste." But I recall that when I played her for Phil
Eder, a friend who had introduced me to plenty great jazz, her
voice stopped him dead in his tracks. She came out of a coal town
in Pennsylvania to chase Bird, landing his pianist Duke Jordan
instead, who left her a name and a daughter. Her first recording
was a song for George Russell, followed by Portrait of Sheila,
then nothing more for fifteen years. She was close to fifty when
she finally got the hang of a vocalist's career, and much of her
work since then has been duets with bass only -- Harvie Swartz,
then more recently Cameron Brown. This record is a set she sang
at the Triad on her 76th birthday -- just her and Brown, plus one
brief guest appearance by fellow vocalist Jay Clayton (who really
is an acquired taste). The graciousness I saw at Harvard is still
here, as is her skill at toying with her songs. The three medleys
are the highlights, especially the one where "Fats Meets Bird."
Anders Jormin: Xieyi (1999 , ECM): Mostly
a solo bass record, and a rather slow, sedate one at that, but it
draws my attention. The exceptions are six short pieces for brass
quartet (trumpet or flugelhorn, french horn, trombone, bass trombone),
which are slight and elegant. A record this slight could easily slip
by without getting proper notice.
Arthur Kell Quartet: Traveller (2004 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Kell is a New York bassist, composer of all the
pieces here. The group is an interesting mix, with Steve Cardenas
on guitar, Gorka Benitez on tenor sax and flute, and Joe Smith on
drums. Benitez is an appealing postmodern saxist, and his flute has
some redeeming merit. Cardenas is probably the key, his guitar most
active in shaping the tunes. Typical of Fresh Sound's new talent --
with Kell's first album here all four have albums on the label;
perhaps slightly better than typical. I'll let this one simmer.
Peter Kenagy: Little Machines (2003 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Young (b. 1977) trumpet player from Seattle,
based in Boston. This is his first album, a sextet with two saxes,
guitar, bass and drums, on a thoughtful but slow moving program.
Guillermo Klein: Una Nave (2002 , Sunnyside):
An interesting bandleader from Argentina -- main instrument is piano,
but plays some guitar and sings here as well. But he's mostly worked,
as he does here, with large ensembles, at times the size of the band
overwhelming. I find this a very mixed bag -- some sections really
catch my ear, such as the trumpet intro to "La Ultima"; others strike
me as skillful, and some leave me wondering why bother. The latter are
often the vocal pieces, but I remain as fascinated by "Fascinating
Rhythm" as anyone. Impressive enough to recommend, but not without
caveats, and confusing enough I doubt I can do it justice -- whatever
that may entail.
Guillermo Klein y Los Gauchos: Live in Barcelona
(2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): A different band, including
many Fresh Sound New Talents, far more easily recognized than the
Argentines on Una Nave -- Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry, Gorka
Benitez, Ben Monder, Jeff Ballard, Carme Canela. But still a big band,
still a lot of texture, still an odd if occasionally exhilarating mix,
still confusing. I give this one a slight edge, more for consistency
than anything else.
Lee Konitz: Jonquil (2003 , Blue Jack Jazz):
"Have sax, will travel" could be Konitz' motto. He is a brilliant
alto saxophonist, absolutely unique, continuing to work in whatever
configuration will have him more than fifty years after he first
emerged in the Miles Davis "birth of the cool" nonet and weaned
himself from Lennie Tristano's tutelage. This particular outing
finds him working with two combined groups: the Marco Kegel/Axel
Hagen Quartet and the Gustav Klimt String-Quartet. The strings
fill the background unmemorably, but Hagen's guitar stands out,
providing much of the shape and feel of the pieces. Kegel plays
flute, alto and tenor sax, but I suspect his main job here is to
make way for the master. Konitz repays the deference whenever he
come to the fore with tightly reasoned eloquence. The excess, even
the strings, doesn't do any real damage, but makes one wonder what
a tighter group organized around Hagen and Konitz might do. I only
rarely manage to get hold of recent Konitz records, so the chance
to hear him play like this is always a treat, but frequently one
winds up wondering whether there aren't even better examples out
KTU: 8 Armed Monkey (2004 , Thirsty Ear):
K is for Kluster -- Kimmo Pohjonen on accordion and voice, Samuli
Kosminen manipulating samples thereof. TU is another duo, formed
by Trey Gunn on guitar and Pat Mastelotto on "rhythmic devices."
Gunn and Mastelotto also have late King Crimson on their resumes,
plus a good deal more. Not part of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, where
the jazz credentials are stronger. Somewhere on the edge betwen jazz
and rock and electronica, the vocal samples have no great import,
the beat is fierce.
Steve Kuhn: Trance (1974 , ECM): Credits
Sue Evans with percussion, but it's unclear how much of a mark
she really makes. Otherwise, this is a piano trio, with Kuhn
playing electric as well as acoustic piano, Steve Swallow on
electric bass, and Jack DeJohnette. Most pieces are built on
top of a light and sprightly rhythm, where the electric bass
and piano mesh productively. The acoustic piano pieces are more
complex, more labored -- more conventional.
Steve Kuhn Trio: Quiéreme Mucho (2000 ,
Sunnyside): Gringo piano trio works its way through an all-Latin
songbook, including such well known pieces as "Bésame Mucho" and
"Duerme." Sharply played, bright sound, but while the melodies
are recognizable the "Spanish tinge" is somehow missing.
Steve Lacy/Joëlle Léandre: One More Time (2002 ,
Leo): One of a series of "farewell concerts" that Lacy gave moving back
to the US from France -- the farewell made all the more poignant when
Lacy passed away. When Lacy picked up the straight soprano sax in the
'50s the instrument was identified almost exclusively with Sidney Bechet.
Since then, and despite increased competition, it's belonged to Lacy --
all the more remarkable since he has rigorously pursued a career on the
edge of the avant-garde, based in Paris, recording numerous albums on
widely scattered small labels, often styled as explorations into the
apparently inexhaustible inspiration of Thelonious Monk. This one is
both typical and exemplary: a duo with bassist Joëlle Léandre, who
provides a dense undertow to Lacy's consistent probing. It's basic
to his sound, his approach. It's one to remember him by.
Yusef Lateef: Psychicemotus (1965 , Impulse):
There is something odd about Lateef's world music -- in some ways
he's ahead of the times, but in others it feels like he found his
exotica in old National Geographics. Here he hops about the globe
from flute to bamboo flute, never settling anywhere long enough to
get comfortable, neglecting the tenor sax which is his true calling.
Pianist George Arvanitas gets the last cut for a solo. He's earned
it, but not necessarily here.
Peggy Lee Band: Worlds Apart (2004, Spool/Line):
The jazz cellist from Vancouver -- I suppose it's one measure that
she's established herself that AMG answers a search for her with
the choice "Peggy Lee [Cello]" in the same bold type as "Peggy Lee
[Vocals]." AMG now credits her with 5 albums and 48 appearances,
although a half-dozen or more of those look like mistaken links
to the singer's work. This record doesn't parse readily, I suspect
because the cello is relatively inconspicuous in a sextet led by
trumpet (Brad Turner) and trombone (Jeremy Berkman), whose dithering
enhances the abstract expressionism.
Steve Lehman: Demian as Posthuman (2005, Pi):
Twelve pieces run 36:30, not much more than an LP from the era
when singles were king. Three are group pieces with Vijay Iyer on
piano and Meshell Ndegeocello on bass. Most are duos with Tyshawn
Sorey on drums, and a couple are solos. Lehman plays alto sax, or
sopranino sax on one cut. Electronics happen, so the solo cuts
are usually Lehman playing against his own programming. Short,
sharp, eloquent. Don't quite have a handle on this yet, but he's
certainly turning into an interesting figure.
Ramsey Lewis: With One Voice (2005, Narada Jazz).
Church music. Big church, performed live, with sixty voices in the
choir, shaking the rafters on "Oh Happy Day," and guest vocalists
Smokie Norful and Darius Brooks leading a song each. The group
varies by song, sometimes a dozen or more strong. Kevin Randolph
co-wrote several pieces with Lewis, and plays keyboards throughout,
but Lewis' piano pokes through as the single most authoritative
instrument. I don't expect much from Lewis these days, so the joy
and power of the opener caught me by surprise. This plays out as
a solid, but hardly transcendent, gospel album.
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Don't Be Afraid . . . The
Music of Charles Mingus (2003 , Palmetto): Gee, and
to think I thought Sue was draining the life out of the Mingus
corpus. The only thing that keeps this off the Duds list is the
unorthodox song selection, plus my admiration for the great man's
wondrous music. But then if I put it back and play it again I may
overcome my reservations. It's worth noting that there are only
two viable models for big band jazz these days: one is when some
institution lays some money out; the other is when a ragtag bunch
of musicians get together to indulge one of their own's fantasies
as an arranger. Both approaches have their successes and failures,
but Lincoln Center's investments have yielded very little. One big
problem with institutional jazz is that it's relatively vulnerable
to political scams.
Joe Locke: Rev-elation (2005, Sharp Nine): Front
cover attributes this to Joe Locke and the Milt Jackson Tribute
Band, and names the rest of the group: Mike LeDonne, Bob Cranshaw,
Mickey Roker. Spine just lists Locke. Booklet explains that the
"driving force" behind the band was ex-Jackson pianist LeDonne.
AMG only lists one Jackson album that LeDonne appeared on: 1997's
Sa Va Bella, one of the vibes master's last -- although
the Penguin Guide says that LeDonne played with Jackson "for many
years." The booklet says that LeDonne, Cranshaw and Roker played
with Jackson for a decade. In any case, this is LeDonne's second
Jackson tribute, following 2001's Bags Groove, on Double-Time,
with Steve Nelson working the mallets, along with Cranshaw, Roker,
and four horn players. The list of eight songs includes one by
Jackson, LeDonne, and Locke, plus five covers that no doubt showed
up somewhere on Jackson's hundred-plus albums, including one by
Ray Brown called "Used to Be Jackson." I'm beating around the bush
here because I don't quite get the point. My ear isn't sharp enough
to readily pick out differences between vibraphonists, but two
things stick in my mind about Jackson: one was that the main thing
that he brought to his own records was his effervescent swing,
which was one thing that made his records with Basie so memorable;
the other was his ability to accentuate the rhythmic sense of his
pianists, starting with his amazing work with Monk. I don't feel
either of those senses here, although Locke has done similar things
with more modern pianists, like Kenny Barron. Of course, shorn of
its concept, this is a fine sounding, if somewhat backward looking,
piano-vibes quartet album.
Mat Maneri: Pentagon (2004 , Thirsty Ear):
I can't recall Maneri ever doing anything remotely like this before.
At nine pieces (not counting vocalist Sonja Maneri), this is a large
group. Even for ten pieces, it is a loud one. I keep looking through
the credits for a guitar, but don't see one -- although there are
several synths and keybs, plus Maneri's electric violin and viola.
Sounds industrial. With the vocalist, sounds operatic. Sounds like
some weird sort of fusion. Hell, I'm not even sure what it sounds
like. Nor whether I like it at all, but some parts are intriguing
enough that I'll keep it open.
Mat Maneri: Pentagon (2004 , Thirsty Ear):
I could push this back forever, but it's never gonna get far enough
over the B+ threshold to make a publishable HM list, nor is it likely
to sink far enough to make the Duds list -- best shot might be for
"Howl in My Head/Motherless Child," with its oddly misplaced vocal,
as a Choice Cut. The random walk down "An Angel Passes By" is also
appealing, also in odd ways. As is the weepy, skewed "America" (as
in "the beautiful"). The rest sounds more like Industrial than
anything else, a fusion move I haven't seen anyone else tackle,
but I'm not sure that's the point. Not sure what the point is.
Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra: TNT: A
Tommy Newsom Tribute (2005, Lightyear): Maricle's all-woman
orchestra powers through ten Newsom arrangements. Maricle appeared
on Newsom's Octo-Pussycats record, and on an earlier album with
Newsom's Tonite Show predecessor, Skitch Henderson -- connections
that garnered her an approving blurb from the late Johnny Carson.
Band is quite solid, swings hard, has some bright voices.
Mike Marshall: Brazil Duets (2005, Adventure Music):
Not as egregious as most duets albums these days -- no singers, just
a choice of second instrumentalists to go with Marshall's mandolin or
guitar. Marshall initially established himself in bluegrass, but took
such an interest in Brazilian choro that he founded Adventure Music,
a label that has done a fine job of connecting the dots between Brazil
(and other parts of Latin America) and the U.S. He manages to do some
interesting stuff here, but the common problem is that the music winds
up thin with just two players -- and none of the seconds add to the
percussion -- and from song to song the feel shifts strangely. Maybe
he took duets too literally.
Hugh Masekela: Revival (2005, Heads Up): South
Africa's most famous jazz trumpeter returns home to a scene run
amok with kwaito -- South Africa's take on hip-hop -- and works
through his own twist on South African r&b, singing most of
the songs, but making more of a mark with his horn. The more trad
"District Six" I recall the title of a Chris McGregor album, but
don't recall the significance -- something from the Apartheid
era. "Working Underground" is another hardship song, no doubt
as felt today as it was back then.
Bill Mays Trio: Live at Jazz Standard (2004 ,
Palmetto): Mays started out as an accompanist (Sarah Vaughan) and
sideman, started recording under his own name around 1982, has piled
up a respectable list of credits. He doesn't particularly sound like
any other pianist -- I'm tempted to group him with the likes of Walter
Norris because they don't sound like anyone else either. Standards
here that I know well don't seem so familiar in his hands, any more
so than the couple of originals he works in. All that adds up to is
that this isn't the sort of thing I feel like I can gauge -- no doubt
it's good, much doubt on how to explain it, not enough to inspire me
Alexander McCabe: The Round (2005, Wamco): First
album for a journeyman alto saxist (credits include Ray Charles and
Chico O'Farrill big bands, Harold Mabern and Clifford Jordan). Nice
tone and use of space on opener, "Floating." Pianist Joe Barbato
switches to accordion for the title track, an interesting harmonic
effect. The rest ranges from straight bebop to post-bop, somewhat
more relaxed and generally quite pleasant.
Jackie McLean: Consequence (1965 , Blue Note):
McLean made dramatic advances toward the avant-garde during his tenure
with Blue Note, but he also cut straight hard bop sessions like this
one. One key is the lineup: Lee Morgan, Harold Mabern, Herbie Lewis,
Billy Higgins. Another is a first song called "Bluesanova" -- more
blues than nova, of course. A minor album in McLean's discography,
not released until a housecleaning in 1979. Still, fans of Mabern
and Morgan will be pleased.
Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman: Song X: Twentieth Anniversary
(1985 , Nonesuch): Anyone even roughly familiar with Coleman's
evolution from Science Fiction in 1971 up through Virgin
Beauty in 1988 will instantly recognize the real author here.
Metheny got top billing because he made the deal that got the album
released. Likewise, the reissue is part of Metheny's deal with his
latest label. This makes for some interesting contrasts that have
little to do with music. Metheny has enjoyed rare commercial favor
thoughout his career, receiving major label support everywhere he's
gone. Coleman, on the other hand, never worked consistently with a
label after his early Atlantics and Blue Notes, and often has opted
not to record rather than to feed the exploiters. One result of this
is that only two Coleman albums from the '70s and '80s are still in
print -- making him far and away the most obscure genius in jazz.
So maybe you don't know those albums? In the '70s Coleman started
working with electric guitar and bass, producing albums that were
true fusion -- in the sense that fusion produces new elements plus
copious energy, not just a mix of the old compounds. Metheny had
early on recorded an album of Coleman pieces, and had worked quite
a bit with Coleman bassist Charlie Haden, so however strange Song
X may seem within Metheny's crossover-dominated catalog, he
clearly knew what he was doing here, and plays with exceptional
skill. Haden and Jack DeJohnette also work to steady the platform,
letting Metheny and Coleman cut loose. The result is a satisfying
mix of old-and-new Ornette, an interesting contrast to Coleman's
own 1985 album, In All Languages, where he kept his new
and reformed old groups separate. The new issue adds six scraps
that didn't fit the original LP length, putting them seemlessly
up front where they warm up the themes the album proper extends.
MI3: We Will Make a Home for You (2002-03 ,
Clean Feed): Three musicians from the Boston end of the Vandermark
connection, holding court without the reedist. Not a piano trio
either, as Pandelis Karayorgis plays Fender Rhodes this time,
assuming a range from chintzy electric piano to something more
guitar-like. With Karayorgis going electric, bassist Nate McBride
sticks to acoustic, mixed up loud enough to assume a major role.
Curt Newton drums. The program is mostly Monk, and these guys
wear "Ugly Beauty" on their sleeves. Avant-fusion, hooray.
Mingus Big Band/Orchestra/Dynasty: I Am Three (2004
, Sue Mingus Music/Sunnyside): The three Mingus legacy groups
are similar instrumentally, all heavy with brass. The seven piece
Dynasty is the most conventional, with piano-bass-drums for rhythm,
two brass, two winds. The ten piece Orchestra has guitar instead of
piano, and more exotic horns (french horn, bass clarinet, bassoon).
The Big Band is a scaled up version of Dynasty. Sue Mingus continues
to ride herd, and brought them all together for her latest label.
The songbook, of course, is magnificent, with "Wednesday Prayer
Meeting" and "Tensions" especially resplendent with all the power.
Still, after nearly a dozen such albums, one has to start wondering
why bother. Mingus wrote many compositions with big band in the back
of his mind -- that's no doubt why they scale so readily -- but his
own groups were most often medium-sized combos, 4-6 pieces, which
he then whipped up to big band volume through sheer will power (not
to mention the omnipresent threat of violence). What's always been
lacking in the Mingus legacy bands is the leader's mad temper. Sure,
it must be fun to play Mingus. And sure, the songs deserve to be
aired out. But isn't there something else one can do with them?
Blue Mitchell: Down With It! (1965 , Blue
Note): This is lightweight but otherwise a terrific hard bop set.
Al Foster and Gene Taylor keep the pot bubbling, young Chick Corea
has some fine stretches on piano, journeyman Junior Cook muscles
up on tenor sax, and Mitchell's trumpet is clear and bright.
Red Mitchell/George Cables: Live at Port Townsend
(1992 , Challenge): Seems like an odd little piece to dig up
these days, but bassist Mitchell and pianist Cables make a fine pair.
But perhaps it's meant as a memorial -- Mitchell died shortly after,
so it may be his last recording. Mitchell's vocal is a throwaway,
and that's its charm.
Mixed Media Series: Basquiat Salutes Jazz (1948-74
, Prestige): A Concord publicist called me up shortly after
this dropped to get my reaction -- seems like they're envisioning
a series of painter-themed jazz comps. Conceptually I think it's
a crock, but I rather admire their dilligence, and respect their
desperation, in trying to come up with new ways to market old jazz.
My painter literacy pretty much ends around 1970. The only reason
I've heard of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88) is because he was the
subject of a movie -- which I haven't seen, so I appreciate the
lavish artwork and packaging all the more. He strikes me as a cross
between Robert Rauschenberg's structure and Larry Rivers' color,
but I suspect the artwork shows here is selected largely based on
his jazz references. No real surprise when painters are found to
be jazz fans. When Basquiat died of heroin overdose -- what Greil
Marcus has called "the common cold of rock death" -- he left behind
some three thousand "mostly jazz" LPs. It's possible that Concord's
mapping of Basquiat's collection to Fantasy's catalog distorts the
painter's interests, but the curious thing about the mapping is
that every song save one dates back before Basquiat outgrew diapers.
(The exception isn't: it's a 1974 Dizzy Gillespie recording of "Be
Bop," the song that gave the music its name. The reason, of course,
is that Fantasy didn't own an earlier version.) In other words, once
you get past the packaging, what you get is a typical bebop comp.
And while there's some pretty classic stuff here -- a 1950 Sonny
Stitt "Cherokee," a marvelous Monk "'Round Midnight," vintage Fats
Navarro -- there's also things you can nitpick -- an inferior live
Mingus "Haitian Fight Song," live Bird including a slice from that
horrid St. Nick's bootleg. Part of the problem here is that Fantasy's
bebop catalog isn't all that classic -- especially regarding Parker
and Gillespie. On the other hand, tying Basquiat to Bird strikes me
as necrophilia. Maybe it was true, but after Bird died most of the
other famous junkies cleaned up and went on to notable careers --
Miles, Coltrane, Rollins, McLean, Getz, eventually even Art Pepper
(sort of). If Basquiat was locked into that culture, it doesn't
seem like much to celebrate. Ornette Coleman could have saved his
Hank Mobley: Reach Out! (1968 , Blue Note):
Something of a straight pop move, with the Four Tops' anthem as
the lead song, and the infectious "Goin' Out of My Head" as what
would have been the lead of the second side. This is a sextet, with
Woddy Shaw sharing the front line, and George Benson's slinky-sweet
guitar. On pianist Lamont Johnson's "Beverly" they work up a most
pleasing groove. Mobley sounds fine, but the program isn't all
Modern Traditions Ensemble: New Old Music (2003 ,
Adventure Music): New versions of Brazilian choro classics, done by a
five piece group led by pianist Benjamin Taubkin, with guitar, mandolin,
soprano sax/clarinet, and percussion. Nice.
Ben Monder: Oceania (2004 , Sunnyside):
A guitarist I run across frequently in side roles, where he is
often a notable asset. This shows the range of skills that makes
him so useful on the side, but doesn't cohere into much. Two solo
cuts, some with bass-drums, some with Theo Bleckmann, whose sounds
more like a theremin than a vocalist. The common denominator is an
icy coloration, joining the electric beat-heavy "Rooms of Light"
and the Fripp-and-Eno-ambient "Spectre."
Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane: At Carnegie
Hall (1957 , Blue Note):
Small world it was back in 1957. The program for Carnegie Hall's
Thanksgiving Jazz concert -- two shows, top-priced tickets going
for $3.95 -- lists a few other folks you might like to hear: Billie
Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker with Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins
("introducing in concert the brilliant"), and "special attraction"
Ray Charles. But Monk's two sets add up to 51:35, and satisfy our
craving to hear something more substantial from his short-lived,
rarely recorded Coltrane quartet than that cruddy-sounding Five
Spot tape that was acclaimed as Discovery! back in 1993.
It turns out that the concert was recorded by Voice of America
for overseas broadcast, but the tapes have languished ever since
in the Library of Congress vaults until Larry Appelbaum made his
discovery. The sound is fine. Monk engages quickly, but Coltrane
is revelatory, especially on the one non-Monk tune where he kicks
everything up a gear, then sustains that level to the end.
Morthana (2004, Jazzaway): Group name appears to come
from drummer Morten Olsen and guitarist Anders Hana, leaving little
acknowledgment of Andrew D'Angelo's reeds (bass clarinet, alto sax).
Judging from the sound that probably is the pecking order, although
the back cover credits are alphabetical and/or front-to-back. Mostly
a noise group -- bracing at best, annoying otherwise.
Kjeril Møster/Per Zanussi/Kjell Nordeson: MZN3
(2005, Jazzaway): Deciphering the artist and title isn't easy,
but this makes more sense than the cover does. The booklet says
that this was reorded "April 26 & 27" but doesn't specify
what year. The band is from Norway. No one I've heard of before
other than executive producer Jon Klette, who runs the label.
But this seems to be typical, both of Norway and Scandinavia
in general: aggressive free improv with hard, rockish beats.
Møster's credit is just "saxes," but either he plays a lot of
baritone or he's sneaking in some bass clarinet. Heavy, tough,
good fun, but typical, both for the label and for that whole
neck of the woods.
Moutin Reunion Quartet: Something Like Now (2005,
Nocturne): Bright, bouncy mainstream jazz from France, led by Moutin
brothers François and Louis on bass and drums, with a fine pianist
in Piere de Bethmann and the wonderful Rick Margitza on tenor sax.
First rate, but unexceptional. Good to hear Margitza again.
David Murray 4tet & Strings: Waltz Again
(2002 , Justin Time): The rate of Murray releases has slowed
down since the late '80s when he could knock out three or four
brilliant ones in a couple of days, but part of that is because
the scope of his ambitions has grown. He's worked with large groups
based in Guadeloupe and Senegal. He's fronted a huge Latin Big Band.
Here he engages a large string section with his 26-minute "Pushkin
Suite #1," followed by four more pieces in the 10-minute range.
My first reaction was that Murray is as brilliant as ever, the
quartet is fine, and the strings come from the nether reaches of
hell. The latter are largely contained in the smaller pieces, but
dominate the suite. They are less succinctly modernist than the
strings in Stan Getz' Focus -- that is, there modernism is
more evocative of late classical music (Stravinsky, perhaps) than
the more abstract modernism that followed. (The booklet describes
Pushkin as "the iconic Russian writer of African descent." More
details from Wikipedia: "his mother's grandfather was Ibrahim
Petrovich Gannibal, an African (possibly from Ethiopia or Chad)
who was abducted when he was a child and ended up in Russia and
became a great military leader, engineer and nobleman after his
adoption by Peter the Great." Further details under Gannibal's
entry, a fascinating story.) The strings tend to merge more into
the background on the other pieces, and they can, at times, be
appealing. My reactions started to warm a bit on the third play,
and it's possible this will move into B+ territory, much as his
own commanding presence finally overcame my reservations and
pushed Octet Plays Trane and Now Is Another Time
into A- land. Still, for me the best album he's done in the last
6-8 years was the simplest, the quartet Like a Kiss That Never
Ends. Would love to hear this quartet -- Lafayette Gilchrist,
Jaribu Shahid, and Hamid Drake -- without all the muck. Francis
Davis has promised a piece in the Voice on this one. Won't do
anything rash until I hear (and read) further.
Sunny Murray: Perles Noires, Vol. I (2002-04 ,
Eremite): This is the first of two volumes of duos-plus between the
veteran free jazz drummer and saxophonist Sabir Mateen. Only one cut
is actually a duo. Dave Burrell (piano) joins on four, and his block
chording on "Three Is a Crowd" is the best thing here. Louis Belogenis
(tenor sax) and Alan Silva (bass) join for two cuts, including a tasty
"Lonely Woman." Mateen's thankless job is to riff frantically, while
Murray gets to dazzle. A very long trek through rough terrain, worth
listening to, but wearing. And this one is only the start.
Sunny Murray: Perles Noires, Vol. II (2004 ,
Eremite): More, much more. Aside from Murray and Sabir Mateen, in
their expected roles, the guests are Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet
and c-melody sax) on four cuts and John Blum (piano) on the other
three. Thomas provides a greater contrast as a second horn than
Louis Belogensis on the first one. Blum roughly approximates Dave
Burrell's performance on the first volume. The two volumes are
evenly matched, hard to choose, although I'd rather arbitrarily
pick Vol. I for the real Burrell.
Oliver Nelson's Big Band: Live From Los Angeles
(1967 , Impulse): Four trumpets, four trombones, six saxes
(counting Nelson on soprano), piano, bass, drums, guitar on two
cuts -- your basic big band brass orgy, staffed by west coast
stalwarts who checked their cool at the door. Not much of a
swingfest, but the brass pyrotechnics are thrilling.
Niacin: Organik (2005, Magna Carta): Upbeat organ
trio. Irrepressibly upbeat, tediously upbeat even. John Novello's
occasional insertions of piano into the mix occasionally add a bit
of welcome crunch, but they don't last, so it's back to Hammond B3.
Read the song titles ("Barbarian @ the Gate," "Nemesis," "Blisterine,"
"Hair of the Dog") and it comes clear what they're after: heavy metal
Paal Nilssen-Love: Townorchestrahouse (2002 ,
Clean Feed): The Norwegian is fast becoming one of the most notable
drummers around. Still, it's unclear why he gets top billing here:
the three pieces -- two approaching the half-hour mark -- are group
improvs attributed to all four players, and the guy with the lead
instrument, Evan Parker, is far better known than Nilssen-Love, if
not pianist Sten Standell or bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. The
pieces strike me as typical for Parker, with the first (long) and
third (short) on tenor sax, the second (long) on soprano. Everyone
else makes solid contributions, with Standell's piano making the
most of his space.
Hilary Noble & Rebecca Cline: Enclave (2004 ,
Zoho): Noble is a Boston-based saxist-percussionist with one previous
album (good title, Noble Savage). Cline's a pianist I know
nothing about, except that on this evidence she sounds like the young
Joanne Brackeen. They play latin jazz with a lot of edge -- sharp
corners even. Don't have a good sense of Noble yet, as a saxophonist
anyway -- his percussion array is pretty impressive. Not sure how
well this will hold up, but for now it goes back into the queue for
Kevin Norton's Bauhaus Quartet: Time-Space Modulator
(2003-04 , Barking Hoop): The title's a play on Lazlo Moholy-Nagy's
light-space modulator, a gadget built of clear plastic and light bulbs
that splashes a room with complexly patterned light. How this translates
through sound into time isn't obvious, but the key is probably to focus
on drummer Norton and bassist John Lindberg, while letting Dave Ballou's
trumpet/cornet and Tony Malaby's tenor/soprano sax fall where they may.
At least that's a theory. Not quite there yet.
The Onus: Triphony (2003 , Hipnotic):
Trio led by clarinetist Darryl Harper, with Matthew Parrish on
bass and Butch Reed on drums. The Onus has also appeared as a
quintet with guitarist Jeff Ray, in what's been described as
a Benny Goodman-Charlie Christian lineup. But Harper doesn't
sound at all like Goodman: more like a cross between Don Byron
and Jimmy Giuffre, but also factor in a more direct influence
from Yusef Lateef. Like Lateef, he works in a little exotica,
but he also manages to push postbop into territory that is
inventive but clear and accessible. Sounds terrific at first,
but at 78 minutes it gets to be pretty long.
The Onus: Triphony (2003 , Hipnotic):
Darryl Harper's clarinet trio has grown on me. First I thought
it sounded terrific, then overly long, but with patience I am
struck by its pace, its moderation, its maturity. He searches
but doesn't rush.
Michael Pagán Big Band: Pag's Groove (2004 ,
Capri): In the category of institutionally supported big bands (cf.
my previous note on the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra), the largest
subcategory are university bands -- and I don't mean the marching
bands you see at college football games. There are quite a few such
bands, and one label in particular (Sea Breeze) specializes in their
output. Not sure that this qualifies, but it was recorded at the
University of Northern Colorado, and annotated by a prof at the
University of Colorado. I don't recognize any of the musicians
here, nor Pagán for that matter. I may just be getting tired as
I near the close of this round of prospecting, but all I have to
say about this record is: everyone seems to be in fine spirits,
doing good work, but this really doesn't do much of anything for
Paraphrase: Pre-Emptive Denial (2005, Screwgun):
Another exercise in how graphic design can obscure even the simplest
discographical details. Group name seems to be Paraphrase. (Front
cover is ambiguous, but Spine implies that, and back cover exclaims
"Meet the Paraphrase.") Alternatively, the artist's own names also
grace the front cover -- Tim Berne, Drew Gress, Tom Rainey -- so
one could file this under Berne et al. and construe Paraphrase to
be part of the title. On the other hand, the record could hardly
be more clear. Two long group improvs, distinguished from most
such inventions by a relatively steady pulse, with Berne mostly
working inside a cage framed by Rainey's drums. The pieces ebb
and flow, with minimal sections of solo bass, and maximal power
when all three play flat out. I've been slowly warming up to
Berne over the years -- a Julius Hemphill disciple who stayed
true, in the past he's often made music ambitious beyond his
reach, but his recent stretch of records have grown more measured
and more focused as a result. This is the best one I've heard,
a possible pick hit.
Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Toward the Margins
(1996 , ECM): Playing catch-up here. This is the first of three
albums by the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, with Parker, Barry Guy, and
(mostly) Paul Lytton on the acoustic side, Walter Prati, Marco Vecchi,
and (mostly) Philipp Wachsmann on the electro side. This has the static
feel of much purely experimental electronic music, a lot of farting
around for little evident gain. So, yes, I still don't get it; so,
yes, I'm still working on it. New record next.
Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour
(2004 , ECM): In principle I approve. In practice, I still don't
get it, but this seems a bit closer to the target. Some of this makes
sense as avant-jazz, some fits the postclassical experimentalist mode
more, with its premium of sound over structure -- conceptually more
complex, for practical purposes weirder. I used to be interested in
that mode, but lost track of the threads over the years. Interesting,
Charlie Peacock: Love Press Ex-Curio (2005, Runway):
I don't really know anything about Peacock. AMG lists him under CCM,
and most of his records on gospel label Sparrow, but this one sez
"File Under: Jazz." On hearing it, I don't see why not. Musically it
straddles smooth and mainstream, maybe even a bit left of mainstream.
Guests range from Kirk Whallum to Ravi Coltrane, with Ralph Alessi on
most cuts, and James Genus and Joey Baron on some. Synth beats appear,
and are reasonably well integrated. Peacock plays piano, and rarely
fails to impress. It's all a little slick and fancy for my taste, but
it tries to do a lot, and mostly succeeds.
Charlie Peacock: Love Press Ex-Curio (2005, Runway):
With its synth beats and slick keybs this fits most closely into the
pop jazz realm, but that sells it short. The horns, even Kirk Whallum,
are left of mainstream, and one thing Joey Baron isn't is a sellout.
Still too fancy for my taste, but many people are likely to find this
Kerry Politzer Quartet: Labyrinth (2004 ,
Polisonic): Young pianist, on her third album. Straightforward
postbop, makes a strong impression, especially on the opener,
"Rhodes Rage," with its percussive block chords. Fourth member
is saxophonist Andrew Rathbun, whose leads free Politzer to
work out the rhythmic angles. Rathbun plays tenor and soprano --
no surprise that I prefer the tenor. Best known musician in the
group is George Colligan, playing drums rather inconspicuously
instead of his usual piano. Politzer wrote all the pieces.
Positive Knowledge: First Ones (2005, Charles Lester
Music): This one is a throwback to the intersection of the avant-garde
with the black power renaissance of the late '60s -- or rather, an
attempt to move forward again. The tipoff is Ijeoma Thomas' "poetic
vocals" -- in the tradition of Linda Sharrock, but more substantial.
The evident leader is Oluyemi Thomas, who mostly plays bass clarinet,
with C-melody sax, soprano sax, musette, flute, and percussion as the
spirit moves him. Or Spirit -- that's the drummer's name. Also present
is tenor saxophonist Ike Levin, so mostly this breaks down to two
reeds plus drums -- shades of Sonny Simmons and Prince Lasha. Plus
poetry and percussion. This is still at the interesting level for
me. Check back later.
Julian Priester Pepo Mtoto: Love, Love (1974
, ECM): A Chicago-born trombonist, Priester has played on
over 200 albums from 1954 until health problems recently slowed
him down, but has few albums under his own name. He started with
Sun Ra and Max Roach, backed Dinah Washington and Ray Charles,
worked with Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane in the early '60s, did
a short stretch with Duke Ellington at the end of the decade.
He's played everything from his hometown blues to avant-garde,
including a foray into fusion in the early-'70s with Herbie
Hancock. The two LP-side medleys here fuse synths, guitar, bass
and percussion into long riddim romps, with smears of trombone
adding depth and personality.
Ike Quebec: The Complete Blue Note 45 Sessions
(1959-62 , Blue Note, 2CD): A mainstream tenor saxophonist
with a large tone and graceful swing, Quebec recorded a bit in
the '40s -- his work on Thelonious Monk's early records was almost
comically inept, but he had a jukebox hit in "Blue Harlem." After
a hiatus -- drugs, the common cold of the bebop era -- he hooked
up again with Blue Note in the late '50s, recording a series of
blues and ballads albums that framed him well before he died at
age 44 in 1963 -- Blue and Sentimental is a good example.
Aside from the albums, Quebec cut singles aimed at recapitulating
his early jukebox success. The 26 cuts here are all small groups
with organ, sometimes guitar and/or bass, and drums. The sidemen
are little known and mostly inconspicuous, and he sticks closely
to what he does best: blues, simple romps, beautifully articulated
Abbey Rader/Dave Liebman: Cosmos (2001 ,
Cadence Jazz): Rader is a drummer who came to my attention while
researching Billy Bang. He more than held up his end of Echoes,
a duo with Bang, and he holds up his end here as well. The bigger
surprise is how adroitly Liebman handles these duets. His little
used tenor sax is gruff and puckish, but even the soprano, which
has become his main axe of late, retains its tartness.
Rake-Star: Some Ra (2003 , Spool/Line): The
booklet has pictures but no excuses. Funny to watch a bunch of white
guys who look like they just came down from Saturn. Impressive how
much they sound like their models, too.
Enrico Rava: Tati (2004 , ECM): Past 60
now, Rava's trumpet has slowed down, but his work schedule seems
to have picked up. I've heard half a dozen albums by him in the
past two years: all good, none great, mostly indistinguishable.
This trio with pianist Stefano Bollani and Paul Motian is on the
minimalist end musically, but ratings-wise near the middle of the
pack. I'll hold it back for another spin, maybe some comparison
listening -- something he's done should be on the HM list.
Enrico Rava: Tati (2004 , ECM): Ranks about
midway in a longish list of the trumpeter's albums over the last
two years, all of which are various shades of B+ albums. Tops is
Full of Life (CAM Jazz), then La Dolce Vita (with
Giovanni Tommaso, also CAM Jazz), Easy Living (ECM), this
one, Salvatore Bonafede's Journey to Donnafugata (CAM Jazz).
This is the most inauspicious, with pianist Stefano Bollani taking
more of a lead role, and Paul Motian dithering what passes for
rhythm. Lovely, but very understated.
Red Rodney/Herman Schoonderwalt Quintet: Scrapple From the
Apple (1975 , Blue Jack Jazz): A live radio shot from
1975, with Charlie Parker's trumpeter "Albino Red" joining a Dutch
quartet led by reedist Schoonderwalt. The program leans on Parker's
songbook, with long pieces and generous solos. Aside from Red, pianist
Nico Bunink is most impressive. Terrific lead-off "On Green Dolphin
Street," but very solid throughout.
Dianne Reeves: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005,
Concord): This is being marketed as the soundtrack to the George
Clooney movie about Edward R. Murrow and the McCarthy witch hunts
of the 1950s. Judging from the fine print, only six of the songs
appear in the movie, including a surprisingly toned down version
of Dinah Washington's risqué "TV Is the Thing This Year" -- you
can imagine the film segué for that. But rather than fill up the
disc with with transitional moods, the producers let Reeves fill
it up with period standards. She's so professional, I can't decide
whether this is brilliant or just her usual professionalism applied
to an exceptionally fine set of songs. Still waiting for the movie
to hit town, so I'll hold off until then.
Dianne Reeves: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005,
Concord): "Music by and inspired by the motion picture," which
she had a small part in -- nothing plotwise, just atmosphere.
The inspiration expands five songs into fifteen, picking up a
broad swath of '50s pop, played not for nostalgia but for context
and atmosphere. The decade of American triumphalism was still
haunted by ghosts past and present, where the deepest of TV
journalism struggled heroically to just barely scratch the
surface. I'm still ticked off at the bowdlerized "TV Is the
Thing This Year," but even it is good, and "How High the Moon,"
"Pretend," "Solitude" (maybe the best version I've ever heard),
and "One for My Baby" are considerably better than that. Also
adore Matt Catingub's tenor sax on the instrumental "When I Fall
in Love." Still barely above the cusp. Sometimes I slip an A-
album into the Honorable Mentions, and that's what I plan to
do here. Partly because I mentioned Reeves in my Mary Stallings
piece -- they are similar singers, and I give Stallings the edge
for reasons that illuminate the contrast -- and partly because I
say what I want to say in the short context.
Randy Reinhart: At the Mill Hill Playhouse: As Long As
I Live (2004 , Arbors): I'll have to play this
again to be sure, but on first play this sounds like the perfect
storm of the Arbors set. John Sheridan, Dan Barrett, and especially
Kenny Davern play even more impressively than on their own recent
Arbors albums, with frequent collaborator James Chirillo making
comparable moves on guitar. Reinhart plays cornet on this, his
first album, and has a blast. Given the instrumentation, this is
more trad than swing.
Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Basic saxophone trio, the leader playing tenor and
clarinet. I know very little about him: born San Francisco, father
played flute in the SF Symphony, studied at Berklee with the George
Garzone (like, who didn't?); has four records I've never hard. Never
heard of bassist and drumer either. Booklet has short note from Renzi:
"The music on this recording represents a four-year span of experiences
living in Japan, Italy, New York, and India." The most striking thing
about this record is how centered it is: Renzi plays difficult music
but makes it look easy because he doesn't go in for the stress and
force of most avant saxophonists. Not sure where this will land
eventually, but for a first play I enjoyed it a lot.
Tim Ries: The Rolling Stones Project (2002-04 ,
Concord): Nine Rolling Stones songs (or ten -- "Honky Tonk Women" gets
two takes) followed by a chilldown piece by Ries. Each gets a distinct
studio treatment, with 25 guest musicians weaving in and out of the
lineup, including Ron Wood for one cut, Keith Richards for two, and
Charlie Watts for five -- the most appearances of any guest. Most
tracks have vocals, with Lisa Fischer up three times, Sheryl Crow,
Norah Jones and Claudia Acuña onc each. Guitarists include Bill Frisell,
Ben Monder, and John Scofield, as well as the aforementioned Stones.
Ries plays tenor and soprano sax. He put this together over a couple
of years, and the care and patience shows. This struck me as a bad
idea from the start, mostly because tributes with guests tend toward
crass commercial opportunism -- John Scofield's Ray Charles album is
a recent example. Indeed, the industry's so desperate for sales that
the temptation's unavoidable. Moreover, even when a promising idea
does emerge, it gets abandoned with the next guest star. And vocals
skew close enough to the originals that they often beg comparison.
Still, this doesn't come off so badly. For starters, the songbook
holds up, especially less obvious songs like "Slippin' Away" and
"Waiting on a Friend." Frisell is interesting everywhere he appears,
especially so on his near-solo "Ruby Tuesday." Norah Jones' "Wild
Horses" is a choice cut. The ravers have more problems, but at least
they have a first-rate drummer.
Bryn Roberts: Ludlow (2003-04 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Another new pianist/composer, placed in a quartet with
Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber. Blake
dominates the sound, playing at his usual level, his scattered runs
roughing up the otherwise lush postbop sound.
Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars: Elaboration
(2004 , Clean Feed): Since they're "allstars" we might as well
start by listing them: Robertson (trumpet, cornet), Tim Berne (alto
sax), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), Tom Rainey
(drums). Courvoisier is a new one to me, but a quick check reveals
my bad. AMG lists six albums plus ten more credits, and she's mostly
worked with people I do recognize. Album contains one 48:28 piece.
Starts slow, builds to something quite impressive, fades out, just
like it should. I'm duly impressed, but I doubt that this would make
much sense to a neophyte. Will make a note to pay more attention for
Roundtrip: Two Way Street (2004 , Jazzaway):
Sax trio, from Norway, led by Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on alto and
baritone, with Ole Morten Vågan on bass and Ole Thomas Kolberg
on drums. Fiercely energetic avant group with a rockish flair --
not sure whether Vandermark influenced this scene or he merely
found a second home among like-minded players. In any case, add
Kolberg to the list of Scandinavian drummers who can really pound
the skins. Fredrik Ljungkvist (of Atomic) wrote the liner notes.
I like this mode a lot. This is a good, but not extraordinary,
Roswell Rudd & the Mongolian Buryat Band: Blue Mongol
(2005, Sunnyside): The Mongolian Buryat band is a conservatory-trained
folk group, playing traditional instruments -- Mongolian variants on
bass, fiddle, lute, dulcimer, zither, flute -- and featuring throat
singer Battuvshin Baldantseren. Rudd is one of the all-time great jazz
trombonists. As Verna Gillis -- founder of the Soundscape multicultural
center, and wife to Rudd -- explains in her notes, trombone and throat
singing have in common the knack of generating high-pitched overtones
on top of a bass fundamental. The pairing makes for deep harmonics, but
the record succeeds on more than this one trick. Rudd's Malicool
album foundered for lack of a beat, but this time no drums gives the
mostly traditional melodies an open, airy feel, as seems fit for the
vast steppes of central Asia. Not that this record is devoid of rhythm:
Rudd's "Buryat Boogie" starts out copping a line from the Beach Boys.
But mostly Rudd works his way into the folk group, adding a welcome
growl to the traditional repertoire.
George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra: The 80th
Birthday Concert (2003 , Concept Publishing, 2CD):
This is a little oversimplistic, but the original emergence of a
jazz avant-garde in the latter half of the '50s -- i.e., before
Ayler, before Coltrane flipped out, before all that other '60s
revoltion -- can be traced to four singular musicians: Charles
Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and George Russell. (In
retrospect, Steve Lacy might have been a fifth, but at the time
he was associated with Taylor.) Russell is the least well known
of the four (or five): more composer than pianist, more theorist
than composer, he moved to Europe and only sporadically appeared
with recordings bearing little resemblance to anyone else's jazz.
But he made it to age eighty, and here finds himself fêted by a
superb big band as they work through two of his longer pieces,
plus fragments of two more, plus his arrangement of Miles Davis'
"So What" that turns into the perfect vamp for introducing the
band. Marvelous music, breathtaking sweep. Need more time to absorb
it all, so grade could improve. Possible pick hit.
Rutherford/Vandermark/Müller/van der Schyff: Hoxha
(2004 , Spool/Line): Van der Schyff recorded this international
summit in Oregon, then passed the tape on to his Canadian label. The
idea of pairing Vandermark with England's avant trombone legend is
enticing, but it doesn't quite come off. Rutherford is spotty and
chaotic, never on long enough to pull his thing together. Vandermark
plays as much clarinet as tenor sax, perhaps looking for an Evan
Parker vibe, but willing to settle for Brötzmann, Gustafsson, or
whomever. The bassist is mostly lost in the mix, so the drummer is
the only one who really impresses. But the chaos does come together
now and then, especially in "Dagahra" (with Vandermark on tenor sax).
Poncho Sanchez: Do It! (2005, Concord Picante):
Veteran conga player, apprenticed in Cal Tjader's band, then set
out on his own around 1980. This is my first taste of his work,
and I have damn little idea how to evaluate it. The percussion is
slicker than the Afro-Cuban things I've been liking. The brass is
tight and punchy. Two vocals aren't awful. Overall sounds pretty
good, but I can't begin to quantify that.
Poncho Sanchez: Do It! (2005, Concord Picante):
Holds up solid enough, especially in the instrumentals where the
riddim rules. Vocals so-so.
Pharoah Sanders: Elevation (1973 , Impulse):
The 18-minute title piece is a rough retread on "A Love Supreme" --
the constant reference inevitably detracts from its originality.
The next two pieces find Sanders without horn -- the pieces are
built around Joe Bonner's piano and myriad percussion, the latter
a piece of Nigerian juju with Sanders' vocal striving to keep up
with Bonner's piano. The last two pieces are rather shapeless,
the psychedelic percussion winning out in the end.
Alexander Schimmeroth Trio: Arrival (2004 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): First album by the German pianist, relocated
to New York, which is where Jordi Pugol finds most of the new talent
he showcases on his Spanish label. He is quite good. His trio-mates,
Matt Penman and Jeff Ballard, are quite good. And this is a very nice
Aram Shelton: Arrive (2001 , 482 Music):
Shelton plays alto sax. Based in Chicago, he fits roughly into the
Vandermark orbit, an association underscored by Jason Roebke and
Tim Daisy here. This would be a typical avant-sax trio, but it's
not: it has a fourth wheel, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, which
adds a distinctive twist. Most vibes players, going back to when
Lionel Hampton traded his sticks in for mallets, are primarily
into rhythm, but one thing Adasiewicz does here is to exploit the
instrument's tone to add a harmonic dimension to the trio.
John Sheridan's Dream Band: Easy As It Gets (2005,
Arbors): Sheridan is a fine stride pianist, rooted in the old swing
styles he encountered as a child on Benny Goodman records. He calls
his band "the dream band" -- you would too if you stepped into his
shoes. The seven instrumental cuts swing lightly but definitively,
with the title piece the choicest of cuts. Ron Hockett's clarinet
stands out, but everyone contributes, and the band hangs together
to properly sum up its parts. The other eight cuts feature singer
Rebecca Kilgore, who fits nicely into the swing, but is almost a
distraction in this company. But she does ace the closer, "I'm
Sitting on Top of the World."
Wayne Shorter Quartet: Beyond the Sound Barrier
(2004-04 , Verve): The booklet just gives an 18 month range
for the dates, citing three continents, so these were carefully
picked performances. Shorter's main work came from 1959-68, in a
series of solo albums and perhaps more importantly in his work
with two of the most important groups of the period: Art Blakey's
Jazz Messengers and the Miles Davis Quintet. After that he played
in Weather Report, a fusion band I've never cared for, and cut a
few indifferent solo albums. But since 2001 he's enjoyed a major
comeback, winning polls and much acclaim. I've long been skeptical,
late to recognize how vital his contribution was especially to
some of Blakey's finest albums, only slowly warming to his early
Blue Note albums, softening but never reversing my disdain for
Weather Report. But I found it hard to quibble over Footprints
Live!, his hugely acclaimed 2002 album. And I find this one,
with the same group a year or two further down the line, even
more impressive. The group is key, of course, especially Danilo
Perez, a Monk-inspired pianist who has never sounded so vibrant
and risky on his own records. But the biggest surprise for me has
been how much soprano sax Shorter plays here, and how distinct it
is. That strips away yet another illusion I had, my belief that
Shorter is indeed a fine tenor saxist but vastly overrated on the
soprano. On the other hand, these pieces have been carefully
culled from 18 months of performances.
Rebecca Shrimpton and Eric Hofbauer: Madman's Moon
(2005, CNM): Hofbauer's a guitarist who has done good work in the
past, but is so low key here it's hard to notice him. Shrimpton is
a dusky vocalist who never gets out of second gear.
Adam Simmons Toy Band: Happy Jacket (2002, Dr. Jim's):
Simmons plays saxophones from bass to sopranino, plus a little bass
clarinet and shakuhachi. In that mode this is good, clean avant fun.
But the band's name reflects another dimension: all members also dabble
in toy instruments. Don't do it enough that it takes over the album,
but it does toss in the occasional oddball sound.
Sonny Simmons: The Traveller (2004-05 ,
Jazzaway): Sonny goes to Norway, hooks up with Anders Aarum's
piano trio, a string quartet, and veteran reedist Vidar Johansen,
who limits himself to flute and conducting. So at first glance
this is one of those sax with strings things where the strings
just provide a schmeer of background tapestry for a saxophonist.
The recent Lee Konitz Jonquil album is typical of the sort,
where you wish someone would just lop off the strings and let the
man play. I'm not much more impressed with the strings this time,
but still they seem to have put Simmons in a particularly fine
mood. He has rarely played so clear and cogently -- seems like
he's spent most of his career jousting with a second saxophone
in bare-bones trios, like his marvelous 1996 Transcendence,
so maybe there's something to be said for letting him bask in the
glory of a tasteful string section. Kudos also for Aarum, who
solos adroitly and provides consistently solid backing.
Simply Red: Simplified (2005, Verve Forecast):
AMG describes them as a "British soul-pop band," formed in 1984.
This is their tenth album. Don't understand what they're doing on
a jazz label, but maybe it's silly these days to regard Verve
Forecast as anything of the sort. Mick Hucknall has a pretty
voice, soft and somewhat soulful. Some songs are re-recorded from
earlier albums, and they appear in various arrangements, like the
electro-funk of "Something Got Me Started," the big band (with sax
solo) of "Sad Old Red," the string-drenched ballad of "For Your
Babies," a standard croon with bare piano and eventually a taste
of flugelhorn on "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye."
Sergi Sirvent: Free Quartet (2003 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): More like a piano trio with a double dose of
drums. The extra drums accent the angularity of the rhythms, as
Sirvent plays an intriguing program with three Ornette Coleman
tunes, some originals and group improvs.
Slammin: All-Body Band (2003-04 , Crosspulse):
Acapella group, with "beat box" and "body music" -- Keith Terry is
the source of the latter. A quote from the website explains: "claps
his hands, rubs his palms, finger-pops, stamps his feet, brushes his
soles, slaps his butt and belly, pops his cheek, whomps his chest,
skips and slides, sings and babbles and coughs, building his music
out of a surprisingly varied register of sounds and clever rhythmic
variations." Not bad. Not jazz. Not something I find particularly
Sonido Isleño: ¡Vive Jazz! (2005, Tresero):
Interesting mix of Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican elements,
simmered in the melting pot of "New York, the largest Caribbean City
in the world." The chef is Benjamin Lapidus, who signs his liner
notes "Ph.D." without saying what in. Lapidus plays guitar and
various percussion instruments, and is joined by 17 others on
one or more tracks -- most credited with percussion, but also
tenor sax (Paul Carlon), piano (Matt Ray), vocals (Pedro Pablo
Martínez). Don't quite know what to make of it yet.
Sonido Isleño: ¡Vive Jazz! (2005, Tresero):
Regardless of how many people play here, the leader is guitarist
Benjamin Lapidus, and he cuts an interesting figure. It would
take some much more expert than I to disentangle the various
Latin strains here, but Afro-Cuban percussion seems to be the
dominant one -- albeit somewhat subdued. The grooves are more
compelling than the vocals, but the spoken one offsets nicely
against the riddims.
Luciana Souza: Duos II (2005, Sunnyside): Brazilian
songs, just voice and guitar, the latter divvied up between four
guitarists. In many ways this is the core of Brazilian jazz, but
it's so stripped down it's hard to find the groove. Which probably
isn't the point. I doubt that I'll really warm up to this, but
another listen is advisable.
Luciana Souza: Duos II (2005, Sunnyside): Further
listening lets these voice-plus-guitar duos shape up. It's still
too minimal and too subtle for me to get enthusiastic, but it makes
for attractive background music, with alluring details when one
happens to focus.
Soulive: Break Out (2004 , Concord): The
core group is brothers Neal and Alan Evans, keyboards and drums
respectively, and guitarist Eric Krasno. File them under "acid
jazz," which seems to be the generic term for the funky side of
smooth jazz. But the core just provides the pulse: add horns
and vocalists -- Ivan Neville, Chaka Khan, Reggie Watts, Corey
Glover -- and, what the hell, pedal steel guitarist Robert
Randolph. The result is not-quite-contemporary r&b turned
inside-out. The "not-quite" is because the funk sounds leftover
from the post-disco '80s rut. The "inside-out" is because the
interchangeable vocals are just piecework, meant to accentuate
the riffs, as opposed to the normal practice of getting the
anonymous studio musicians to puff up the singers. I thought
this sounded wretched the first time through, but can't recover
that thread now. What I hear now is competent but unpersonable.
Cinzia Spata: 93-03 (2003 , Azzurra Music):
She's a Sicilian vocalist who loves to scat, or just let her voice
float around melodic curves. I feel rather indifferent about what
she does -- for pure texture, give me Donny McCaslin's soprano sax.
But the hidden gem here is Marc Copland's piano, which impresses
even when he's just filling in cracks.
Mary Stallings: Remember Love (2004 , Half Note):
Without stopping to count them, there must be at least six distinct
types or niches of jazz singers. Like Billie Holiday (but not Ella
Fitzgerald), Dinah Washington (but not Sarah Vaughan), and Carmen
McRae (but not Betty Carter), Stallings is a classic black pop singer,
her jazz credentials limited to interpretive grace, ye olde American
songbook, and good taste in musicians. She opens and closes with one
of Washington's signature songs, and sparkles on everything mid-tempo,
while keeping a respectful distance from the slow ones. Geri Allen
herds the musicians, and she can call on a choice horn anytime she
wants the effect -- Frank Wess, Vincent Herring, Wallace Roney. As
neatly done as I've heard in years by this particular type of jazz
Bobo Stenson Trio: Serenity (1999 , ECM, 2CD):
Another background disc, or two in this case -- the total doesn't run
a lot over 80 minutes, but they decided not to cut it. As noted too
often, I've never got the hang of describing piano trios -- what I
like, what I don't, and why, but I know one when I hear one, and this
one works. Calm, deliberately paced, subtle, refined, stately. None
of those attributes can be depended on, but they all work here. One
common denominator in all the better piano trio albums is that the
bass and drums hold up their ends equally. Anders Jormin is often
fascinating here. Jon Christensen, of course, is a given. By the way,
Stenson was the leader on my all-time favorite Jan Garbarek album,
Witchi-Tai-To. The leader of a close second in the Garbarek
sweepstakes was Keith Jarrett, as frantic as Stenson is calm.
Bobo Stenson/Anders Jormin/Paul Motian: Goodbye
(2004 , ECM): A slight fall-off here, which it's tempting
to blame on the legendary but inconspicuous drummer -- Motian
has made a career out of working with difficult pianists, going
way back to Bill Evans. I suspect, however, that the songbook
just doesn't have much lift to it, leaving more empty space,
which idles Stenson and lets Jormin and Motian fill up in their
own idiosyncratic ways. Still, this rewards close listening;
you just have to snuggle up to the speakers more than usual.
Given how many slow, meditative piano albums Manfred Eicher's
produced in the last few years, maybe he should loosen up a
bit and find someone who can play a little boogie woogie.
Loren Stillman: It Could Be Anything (2005, Fresh
Sound New Talent): Young alto saxophonist -- says here he's 23,
which is pretty young for a guy who cut his first album in 1998.
Last time I heard him he was pretty mainstream, but this quartet
has some real zip to it. Gary Versace plays piano, Scott Lee bass,
Jeff Hirshfield drums. Solid postbop, fast, sure footed. Thick
booklet with a series of prints for each song and some actual
info I haven't fully read yet. Worth thinking on further.
Loren Stillman: It Could Be Anything (2005, Fresh
Sound New Talent): Young alto saxist, started mainstream, but he's
quickly developing into a distinctive, inventive stylist, and this
piano-bass-drums quartet has some zip to it. Not inconceivable that
he could develop into a major player, and if he does this one will
be viewed as a stepping stone. But for now he's skilled, sure footed,
and working in a niche overloaded with competitive talent.
Nicola Stilo/Toninho Horta: Duets (1999 ,
Adventure Music): Horta plays guitar and sings in Brazil's chanson
lite. Stilo plays flute, inevitably more lite. The result has some
appeal, in large part because it seems so unpolished, but it's
still awful lite.
String Trio of New York With Oliver Lake: Frozen Ropes
(2004 , Barking Hoop): This approaches the 25th anniversary of
the John Lindberg-James Emery group, with Rob Thomas the current holder
of the violin chair. The trio is in typically resplendent form, but
the extra attraction here is Lake, who's been popping up in surprising
places over the last year or two and always making a splash. Still on
the cusp here; could go higher.
Gabor Szabo: Spellbinder (1966 , Impulse):
A jazz guitarist from Hungary -- left the country just before the
1956 crackdown -- offers clean metallic picking over the latin beats
of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja, with Ron Carter and Chico Hamilton
steadying the light swing. His deadpan "Bang Bang" vocal works as a
novelty. Not certain about how much his folk music background plays
into this mild exotica, but he's much affected by the gypsy jazz
masters like Django Reinhardt.
Susan Tedeschi: Hope and Desire (2005, Verve Forecast):
She's a blues singer, one of a flock of white girls to find a niche
there since the early '90s. She used to have something of a rep as a
guitarist too, but the guitar credits here are all in the capable hands
of Doyle Bramhall and Derek Trucks. She used to sing blues songs too,
but Jagger-Richards, Dylan, Redding, DeMent, Stevie Wonder, even Percy
Mayfield and Dorsey Burnette are at least one step removed. Joe Henry
produced. One suspects he had something to do with the song choices,
and most everything else. She's a strong but indistinct singer. Which
adds up to an intelligent but pointless roots rock album. Not much of
a stretch, either for Henry or Tedeschi.
Julius Tolentino: Just the Beginning (2005, Sharp
Nine): First album by a young alto saxist who probably likes Jackie
McLean's swing records (though not his Ornette records) as much as
he digs Bird. He's got a good tone and steady execution. Jeb Patton
plays some flashy piano. Five of eight cuts include Jeremy Pelt on
trumpet and Steve Davis on trombone, and they swing "Domingo" even
harder than Benny Golson intended. The closer is an an original,
"Letter to Illinois," written after Jacquet's death, played with
just piano accompaniment, very nice. He's working in an old style,
but this doesn't feel retro, pinched or pinned down. Just feels
like his comfort zone.
Triptych Myth: The Beautiful (2005, AUM Fidelity).
Another second album where a first album title has mutated into a
band name. The real artists are Cooper-Moore, Tom Abbs and Chad
Taylor. Their previous album on Hopscotch was a coming out party
for reclusive pianist Cooper-Moore, especially combined with his
mostly piano-less duo album with Assif Tsahar, America.
Until then, the only prospect one had of recognizing Cooper-Moore
was by checking the fine print on William Parker's In Order to
Survive group, or more lately his work with Tsahar's wife, drummer
Susie Ibarra. He's a remarkable pianist, roughly similar to Horace
Tapscott, who also developed a uniquely expansive style in similar
obscurity on the opposite coast. This one is less explosive than
its predecessor, so it takes longer to settle in, but it does.
Erik Truffaz: Saloua (2004 , Blue Note): Don't
know his earlier work, just that he's carved out a niche for himself
in jazztronica, a latterday fusion project that typically uses regular
synth beats. There's some of that here, including a soaring piece of
fusion I don't find terribly appealing ("Spirale") and several, both
hard/fast and soft/airy, that I do. But the album is front-loaded
with vocals: four in Arabic from Tunisian Mounir Troudi and two (one
overlap) in English from Swiss rapper Nya. Choice cut: "Yabous,"
with Mounir's wail setting up Nya's peace proposal: "Israelites and
Ishaelites have to have equal rights and justice." Not inconceivable
I could upgrade this.
Erik Truffaz: Saloua (2005, Blue Note): His
jazztronica -- electrobeats topped by trumpet -- is attractive.
The vocals, by Tunisian Mounir Troudi and Swiss rapper Nya,
work well, especially Mounir, whose sour note cuts against
the sweet grain of the beats.
Stanley Turrentine: That's Where It's At (1962
, Blue Note): Mr. T's robust tenor is in full swing, especially
when pianist Les McCann picks up the pace, which is most of the time;
on the other hand, the ballads drag a bit compared to T's more typical
organ-based soul jazz, but not enough to dampen spirits.
Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at Glenn Miller Café
(2004 , Ayler): The booklet includes Ulander's discography:
seventeen records, all on tiny Swedish labels, most from 1963-77,
all sideman roles even though he plays alto sax, only two leaders
I've heard of (Phil Minton, Per Henrik Wallin). Jan Ström has made
a specialty out of releasing albums under the names of semi-legendary
musicians who have rarely (if ever) led groups before -- Arthur Rhames
and Mongezi Feza from old tapes, more opportunistically Henry Grimes
on a recent visit with Hamid Drake and David Murray in tow -- and he
insists that Ulander deserves a little spotlight too. Sure does. The
trio features veteran bassist Palle Danielsson and hot shot drummer
Paal Nilssen-Love, both superb. Ulander is less spectacular, but he
picks his way through the free improvs with considerable aplomb.
Unexpected: Plays the Blues in Need (2004 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): This is a trio led by Spanish pianist
Sergi Sirvent Escué -- the third record I've heard by him, and
possibly the best. "Need" is a fairly trivial twist on Monk's
"Well, You Needn't," which works as well as the original. Slow
pieces poke at the edges; fast ones sharpen them up. A vocal on
the final "Waltz for Someone" stretches and breaks in a manner
rarely heard since Chet Baker. I have a tough time with piano
trios, and this one still gives me slight pause, but I like
the pianist, like the group -- Esteban Hernández on bass, Daniel
Dominguez on drums. Not so sure about the nudity.
Dylan van der Schyff: The Definition of a Toy
(2003 , Songlines): First album by a Vancouver-based drummer
who's been popping up in lots of good places recently. This is not
a drummer-as-composer record -- van der Schyff has two co-credits,
everything else by other members of the group. This is a quintet,
with Michael Moore (reeds), Brad Turner (trumpet), Achim Kaufmann
(piano), and Mark Helias (bass). The pieces are lightly colored
abstracts, a little thin but cerebral.
The Vandermark 5: Alchemia (2004 , Not Two,
12CD): Five nights in Krakow, two sets each night, plus a couple
of jam sessions, every note preserved. In theory one can plot out
the variations in multiple takes of songs, or pick up the first
performances of three new pieces that reappeared later in The
Color of Memory, much like critics claimed you could do with
Miles Davis' Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel. But more
likely you'll just pick discs at random and savor the rough and
ready excitement each one brings.
The Vandermark 5: The Color of Memory (2004 ,
Atavistic, 2CD): It's tempting to assert that this could have been
edited down to a superior single disc release, but harder to figure
out where to cut. Certainly not the longer pieces on the second disc,
which start and end with muscular sax, while the longest piece spreads
out. The first disc is harder to get a handle on. The ballad pieces
feel unfinished, and the idea of jamming the late greats -- Ray Charles,
Elvin Jones, Steve Lacy -- into one is a bit of a rush job. Part of the
reason may be the announced departure of trombonist Jeb Bishop, a charter
member, and replacement by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm -- a different cat
altogether. This album may be shaded more toward Bishop, although it's
hard to be sure. More certain is that this one doesn't have the tight,
spin-on-a-dime snap of the previous two -- largely made possible by
the growth of Dave Rempis. Which makes this one more ordinary, but in
the end there's something impressive in every piece.
Vision Volume 3 (2003 , Arts for Art, CD+DVD):
Just played the CD with nine excerpts from the 2003 Vision Festival,
an annual showcase for avant-garde music (and dance, I guess) run by
Patricia Nicholson (dancer) and her husband William Parker (bassist
extraordinaire). Haven't worked through the DVD yet, but unlike most
cases this time I intend to. Also got an 80-page book called Vision
Festival Peace, a collection of poetry, pictures and manifestos
that I also haven't come close to digesting. The nine pieces provide
more variety and less continuity than is usually the case with these
musicians, which has its good and bad points. Roy Campbell, Daniel
Carter, and Rob Brown all make impressive splashes. Fred Anderson
sounds a bit thin with just bass behind him, and Kidd Jordan is ugly
as ever, but only for a manageable 7:25. The big surprise is that
three pieces focus on vocals: Thomas Buckner's is the sketchiest;
Patricia Nicholson's is the most striking, as she declaims agitprop
over Joseph Jarman reeds and Cooper-Moore's bass-like diddley-bo;
Parker's Jeanne Lee Project combines four singers and a big band
in a piece that threatens to overwhelm everything. Still need to
sort this out better, play the DVD, factor in the various tradeoffs,
etc. But for those of us who can't get to the Festival this is a
most welcome taste.
Cedar Walton: Underground Memoirs (2005, High Note):
Solo piano. One original (the title song), the other pieces more/less
standards, a mix of songbook and bop-era pieces like "Milestones" and
"Con Alma." Hard for me to gauge, but sounds lovely. Still working on
Cedar Walton: Underground Memoirs (2005, High Note):
Solo piano, one original, the rest standard jazz pieces from the
generation Walton grew up to. I'm duly impressed, but it's hard
for me to get much excited by solo piano. I suspect I'm selling
him short, but this has plateaued for me.
Jabbo Ware/The Me We & Them Orchestra + Strings &
Horns: Vignettes in the Spirit of Ellington (2001 ,
Y'all of New York): Huge band, twenty-three pieces not counting
Ware, who composed and conducts. The strings are limited to two
each -- violins, violas, cellos, basses -- but they are secondary
to the horns. The pieces show real muscle and sharp edges, slightly
reminiscent of Ellington circa 1950 when he was hard-pressed to
reassert himself in the face of bebop progressivism, but also this
flows out of later Ellington-inspired groups like Vienna Art and
Aaron Weinstein: A Handful of Stars (2005, Arbors):
Most of the teenage prodigies who've turned to jazz recently have come
out of the euroclassical straightjacket, flashing technique but little
sense of jazz. This 19-year-old fiddler looks the part, but in taking
Joe Venuti as his muse he's slipped into a surlier crowd. The booklet
says he picked the musicians here, and he did right. Joe Ascione's
keeps this lively with his light swing touch on drums, plus a little
djembe for a change. Even more important is Bucky Pizzarelli in the
critical Eddie Lang role -- he hasn't sounded so focused in years,
which lets Weinstein off the hook. Cameos by Houston Person and John
Pizzarelli don't hurt, even when the latter apes Chet Baker on the
only vocal, the sublime "Let's Get Lost." The kid plays fine, too.
If, when he grows up, he turns into the new Johnny Frigo, we all
should be happy.
The Deborah Weisz Quintet: Grace (For Will) (2004
, Va Wah): Rather complicated free-based music, with the
leader's trombone, Andrew Sterman's tenor sax, and "special guest"
Olivier Ker Ourio's chromatic harmonica making for a spotty but
exacting front line, and Sheryl Bailey's guitar supplementing
bass-drums. Sometimes vigorous, often interesting, but rarely
all that compelling.
Michael White: The Land of Spirit and Light
(1973 , Impulse): A violinist, born 1933, recorded quite
a bit in the '70s -- five albums on Impulse, two each on Capitol
and Elektra -- and hardly at all before or since. This one is
his consensus pick -- AMG calls it "a spiritual jazz classic,"
whatever that means. Impulse in the '60s was best known as John
Coltrane's label, but after his death in 1967 the ship steered
increasingly toward widow Alice's otherworldly concerns, and
this sort of fits. So this is a clash of styles, with White's
violin weaving between Bob King's guitar and Prince Lasha's
woodwinds and various percussionists, achieving a form of world
fusion rooted in no place in particular. It gets most interesting
when Cecil McBee's bass picks up the groove and the odds and ends
Mark Whitecage & the Bi-Coastal Orchestra: BushWacked:
A Spoken Opera (2005, Acoustics): When I requested this,
Rozanne Levine wrote back, "judging by your blog I think you will
dig this CD." Sure, I'm a soft touch when it comes to Bush bashing.
But what impresses me isn't the quality of analysis -- the spoken
parts come from "The Nation, Harper's, The Progressive Populist,
and a few others not afraid to speak Truth to Power"; in other
words, sources that are easy to find and reveal little you don't
know already -- but the music. The east coast part of the Bi-Coastal
Orchestra is Whitecage and Levine (alto sax and clarinets), from
Boonton NJ, for many years the northern terminus of I-287. The west
coast part are three musicians from Portland OR: Scott Steele (guitar),
Bill Larimer (piano), and Robert Mahaffay (drums). The spoken parts
aren't credited except for Larimer on "Who's the War For?": words
by the late Jeanne Lee, who added them to a 1990 Whitecage piece,
then titled "BushWacked" -- yes, we've been down this cul de sac
before. The music is wide-ranging, discordant, tough. In "0 for
5000" -- the reference is to the conviction rate of Ashcroft's
"terrorist" detainees -- Larimer starts with harsh block chords,
then slips into a little boogie woogie, then deconstructs that.
In "Follow the Money," Steele's guitar provides a coarse steel
backdrop for Whitecage's alto sax. Whitecage and Levine build up
a powerful polyphony on "Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me." Mingus used
to figure the least he could do was to put his message across in
his titles, like "Remember Rockefeller at Attica" and "Free Cell
Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." But the words do too add something to
this fresh, compelling music, and one thought I'm taking home here
is from "Jesus": "the fairness doctrine would spell the end of
Christian radio as we know it."
Gerald Wilson Orchestra: In My Time (2005, Mack
Avenue): Big band music, where the sections snap, crackle and pop,
and every soloist sounds like a star -- and not just because most
are. Wilson has been doing this sort of thing for a long time --
he was 86 when this was recorded, old enough to be famous for how
old he is, which puts him into the living legend camp. Big bands
since he came into his own in the early '60s have been basket
cases: with no economic rationale or prospects, they depend on
the generosity of grants and the musicians -- in both cases it
no doubt helps to be a living legend. And here it pays off.
Gini Wilson/The San Francisco ChamberJazz Quartet
(2005, Music Wizards): Alternate title, SFCJQ -- sometimes
it's hard to tell, and sometimes you wonder whether the artists
know either. The ChamberJazz name is fitting: the group projects
a polite and cozy intimacy. Wilson plays piano and wrote most of
the pieces. Steve Heckman plays soprano and tenor sax, clarinet,
and flute. Both are appealing, but the framework feels rather
constrained. Several pieces with guest vocalist Jackie Ryan are
neither here nor there.
Nils Wogram & Simon Nabatov: The Move (2002
, Between the Lines): Duets between trombone (Wogram) and
piano (Nabatov), some loose and free, some snap to a beat and pick
up speed. Both are players I've never heard before, but they come
with strong reputations, and they flesh these pieces out in
interesting and unexpected ways. I've heard a lot of stripped
down avant duos, but few as consistently intriguing as this.
Andrea Wolper: The Small Hours (2002 , Varis
One Jazz): Another slow vocalist. Her voice is more flexible than
Shrimpton's, and in this context Ron Affif's swing-influenced guitar
works better. Bassist Ken Filiano is also a plus, and Frank London
makes a tasteful appearance on trumpet. All of which add up, but not
to much of a margin.
Lizz Wright: Dreaming Wide Awake (2004 , Verve
Forecast): Only three originals (counting two co-credits), so she's
still not much of a singer-songwriter. The only recognizable covers
are by Neil Young and Chester Powers ("Get Together" -- Youngbloods
hit, also Chad Mitchell, We Five, Carpenters, Ray Stevens, Indigo
Girls), so it's not clear that she's an interpretive singer either.
Interesting voice, but with the guitar leading the slow, unsexy
grooves she sounds much like Tracy Chapman -- more cosmopolitan
than folkie, to be sure, but maybe that's just her producers?
Several songs caught my interest, but didn't sustain it. Probably
an improvement over Salt.
Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces: Transparent Horizons
(2004 , TCB): Guitarist Geoff Young wrote six songs to drummer
(and to a lesser extent, pianist) Wynston's four. The quartet fills
out with saxophonist Mike Murley and bassist Jim Vivian. Recorded in
Canada, the group maintains affinities to Paul Bley and Kenny Wheeler,
a soft and spacious strain of avant abstraction. Pleasant enough as
wallpaper, but hard to tell where it's going.
Denny Zeitlin: Solo Voyage (2005, MaxJazz): Five
pieces of solo piano, followed by "Solo Voyage," a 29-minute suite
that's not quite solo: Zeitlin plays synthesizer with horn voicings
then accompanies himself on piano. As always, a thoughtful, elegant
pianist. Nice, quiet, meditative.
Zucchero & Co. (1988-2003 , Concord/Hear
Music): Silly me. I had filed this in my jazz prospects list because
that's my first guess for unfamiliar artists on jazz labels, but
this isn't jazz, nothing close. And, following AMG, I had filed the
listing under Latin, but Zucchero, né Adelmo Fornaciari, comes from
Italy, which may claim on a technicality, but I won't sustain it.
In any case, he mostly sings in English, and the few possible Latin
songs are mucked up beyond classification. I also figured this as
new, but he starts off singing with a dead guy. Depending on how
you read the booklet, the dates are 2001-04 or 1988-2003, with the
latter most plausible, given that it intersects with Miles Davis'
lifespan. About the only thing I got right was to leave it on the
shelf 4-5 months before playing it. Don't expect to ever play it