Jazz Consumer Guide (9):
Second-Term Blues

Avant or retro, unplugged or wired, guerrilla musicians defy the neocon millennium

by Tom Hull

Pick Hits

BERNARDO SASSETTI TRIO²: Ascent (Clean Feed) The superscript implies a piano trio raised to a higher power, but here Sassetti uses cello and vibes to lower the energy--the vibes add mere ghost harmonics to his piano, the cello a sweeter, more wistful bass. Some of this was written for soundtracks, which explains its pensive moods, and why the pieces that pick up volume and speed never threaten to fly loose. This music fits into no known jazz tradition. It's more like Eno's Another Green World-- unplugged. A

IRÈNE SCHWEIZER: Portrait [1984-2004] (Intakt) Nothing in this year's bumper crop of solo piano is anywhere near as robust as the three solo cuts on this sampler from 14 albums. Eight duos, mostly with drummers, impress even more. The Swiss free jazz pioneer's straight rhythmic undertow rivals Jarrett's, and her pianistics challenge Cecil Taylor's. But as Schweizer demonstrates on the longest piece ("First Meeting," with trombonist George Lewis), her real talent is her spontaneous response to the challenges of such minuscule aggregations. One of the few compilations ever that makes me want to hear every single one of the source albums. A

THE HARRY ALLEN-JOE COHN QUARTET: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors) Given that Cohn is Al's son, you might figure this for a tribute. Indeed, Dad's songbook looms large on what remains an exceptionally well-rounded Allen showcase, There are nods to Getz and Webster, but both the lift of his jump shot and the ease of his balladry are distinctly his own. The son's guitar sets an unobtrustive groove, and the Charlie Christian feature shows how comfortable he can be in old clothes. Like Allen. A MINUS

NIK BÄRTSCH'S RONIN: Stoa (ECM) Citing James Brown as well as Kurosawa, Bärtsch's "Zen-funk" is minimalism that doesn't risk inscrutability by sticking too long in one groove. Built from repeating piano figures with clarinet, bass, and a double dose of percussion for springworks, these "modules" improvise not note by note but section by unexpected section. A MINUS

THE CLAUDIA QUINTET: Semi-Formal (Cuneiform) Leader John Hollenbeck is a drummer, so it isn't a surprise that the pieces are all rhythm studies and the band has to play along with him. Although the soft tones--accordion, clarinet, vibes--still predominate, the textures have loosened up since 2004's I Claudia, even incorporating a bit of pedal steel. But the most welcome innovation comes when Chris Speed reminds us that he also plays a mean tenor sax. A MINUS

GARAGE A TROIS: Outre Mer (Telarc) Two percussionists, Charlie Hunter guitar, and Skerik sax work through a soundtrack's worth of moods and atmosphere, all smartly anchored and acutely detailed. Suitable for background, painless if you happen to tune in, not so ebullient it wears you out. So simple--it's what jazz-funk fusion should sound like, or would in a world free of kitchen-sink production and opportunistic cross- promotion. A MINUS

MONCEF GENOUD: Aqua (Savoy Jazz) A blind pianist from Tunisia via Switzerland hooks up with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Bill Stewart for an album that swims in the mainstream but offers a few unexpected twists: a "Summertime" that loses the melody, a Coltrane piece that radically shifts time. When Michael Brecker guests on three cuts, and Dee Dee Bridgewater sings "Lush Life" to close, it's more than marketing for once. The sax rises organically from the mix, and the vocal closes on a poignant note. A MINUS

STEVE LEHMAN: Demian as Posthuman (Pi) Twelve short pieces, structured like a bridge with communities on both ends bracketing duo pieces where Lehman plays alto against his own programming and Tyshawn Sorey's drums. Dense and cerebral, with no wasted motion. A MINUS

MARIO PAVONE SEXTET: Deez to Blues (Playscape) Pavone describes his music as upside down: the bass and piano set the melody while the horns and violin countermove. Pavone's bass is certainly at the center of everything, the core force that drives the piano and drums of long-time comrades Peter Madsen and Michael Sarin, while perturbing Steven Bernstein's trumpets, Howard Johnson's bass horns, and Charles Burnham's violin more erratically. The complexity, even on "Second-Term Blues," is wondrous. A MINUS

BOB ROCKWELL QUARTET: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (Stunt) An undeniable pleasure -- if anything, too easy. Rockwell's a mainstream tenor saxman who moved to Copenhagen in 1983, two decades after Webster, and settled into a respected if unspectacular career. He has the master's broad tone but none of his vibrato, so he keeps a respectful distance while luxuriating in a dozen ballads. A MINUS

ALEXANDER VON SCHLIPPENBACH: Monk's Casino (Intakt) Three discs storm through the complete works--the 70 pieces Monk wrote mostly early, then rehashed as long as he lived without ever coming close to exhausting their twists and turns. Schlippenbach, like Monk, refrains from extemporizing, letting the horns grapple with the melodies. But where Monk usually featured tenor sax, this quintet spreads out with Axel Dörner on trumpet and Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet. They're also likely to rush the tempo and/or get a bit noisy, but even after three decades of post-Monk hermeneutics they're still in thrall to the text. A

SONNY SIMMONS: The Traveller (Jazzaway) Sonny goes to Norway, hooking up with Anders Aarum's piano trio and a string quartet conducted by veteran flautist Vidar Johansen. Ordinary in themselves, the string arrangements set Simmons so at ease that he plays with unforeseen grace and clarity. It helps that Aarum's solos spell him, not least because of how they advance the music. A MINUS

MIGUEL ZENÓN: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder) This starts out as the music of Puerto Rico's countryside, a thick stew of Arabic and African roots, its seasoning crossed with elements from Cuba and points south. But Zenón isn't tempted by folk instruments or traditional melodies. He maps the extraordinarily complex rhythms onto standard jazz piano-bass-drums, then improvises fast, jaunty alto sax lines in lieu of the usual vocalist. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

TAYLOR EIGSTI: Lucky to Be Me (Concord) Concord's latest youth pitch at the Adult Contemporary market looks like the Mod Squad scrubbed up for the neocon millennium: blonde ingenue Erin Boheme, black trumpeter Christian Scott, and this slightly scruffy white pianist. All three have talent, of course--Eigsti is a 21-year-old prodigy on his third album, clearly a hot property. But they wouldn't have gotten all that hair and skin budget, not to mention all that advertising, if they looked as geeky as Steve Lehman. The music is groomed, too: Eigsti gets two top bass-drums tandems and plenty of cover--Coltrane, Björk, Porter, Mussorgsky, the Sopranos theme song--for his scrawny originals. B MINUS

Honorable Mention

SONNY SIMMONS: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings (1966, ESP-Disk') Kicking off a great career, give or take 20 years in hell.

MARC JOHNSON: Shades of Jade (ECM) If Eliane Elias's label insists she play the pop star, she'll release her serious work under hubby's name.

GIANLUCA PETRELLA: Indigo 4 (Blue Note) A constructive traditionalist, working from Ellington through Sun Ra, willing to get his trombone dirty.

BEN GOLDBERG QUINTET: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact (Cryptogramophone) Steve Lacy as Zen master, or Dr. Seuss, with Kenny Clarke the cat with the hat.

EXPLODING CUSTOMER: Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (Ayler) Swedish freebop quartet, two horns performing aerial acrobatics, and the usual great drummer--in this case, Kjell Nordeson.

JAMIE DAVIS: It's a Good Thing (Unity Music) Count Basie's ghost band, Joe Williams's ghost singer.

JASON KAO HWANG: Graphic Evidence (Asian Improv) A Chinese tinge to the violin, as Francis Wong's soprano sax looks east from Coltrane to come full circle.

ANTONIO ARNEDO: Colombia (Adventure Music) Folk instruments, trad tunes, toned down Barbieri-ish sax, beats by Satoshi Takeishi.

RAY BARRETTO: Time Was - Time Is (O+ Music) Another memoir of bebop's Spanish tinge--the congalero's last.

BOB BELDEN: Three Days of Rain (Sunnyside) A soundtrack for Chekhov in Cleveland, with Joe Lovano to keep you snug and warm.

BRENT JENSEN: Trios (Origin) Standard curriculum, but the alto saxophonist aces his orals.

STRING TRIO OF NEW YORK WITH OLIVER LAKE: Frozen Ropes (Barking Hoop) They spar mostly, but find common ground on "Texas Koto Blues."

RAY RUSSELL: Goodbye Svengali (Cuneiform) A fusion guitarist remembers his own personal Gil Evans.

JIMMY AMADIE TRIO: Let's Groove! A Tribute to Mel Tormé (TP) The pianist's Tormé is less the point than guest Phil Woods channeling Benny Carter.

KENNY WHEELER: What Now? (Cam Jazz) The mild man of Europe's avant-garde in a drumless all-star quartet.

ANDREW LAMB & WARREN SMITH: The Dogon Duo (Engine) Not o0nly does this $6.79-list CD boast the cheapest packaging I've ever seen, there's nothing bogus in the duets either.





Originally published in Village Voice, May 30, 2006


This table provides a working guide to how the JCG is shaping up. This does not include anything moved to bk-flush: these include items relegated to Surplus, reviewed in Recycled Goods, or just passed over. Entries in black are written, gray graded but not written, red ungraded but with prospect notes (all these are at the bottom of their approximate grade levels, alphabetized). A-list, B-list and Duds are alphabetical; HM lists are ranked, with breaks for three-two-one stars.

  • Bernardo Sassetti Trio²: Ascent (Clean Feed) A
  • Irène Schweizer: Portrait (1984-2004, Intakt) A
  • The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors) A-
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Stoa (ECM) A-
  • The Claudia Quintet: Semi-Formal (Cuneiform) A-
  • Garage A Trois: Outre Mer (Telarc) A-
  • Moncef Genoud: Aqua (Savoy Jazz) A-
  • Steve Lehman: Demian as Posthuman (Pi) A-
  • Mario Pavone Sextet: Deez to Blues (Playscape) A-
  • Bob Rockwell: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (Stunt) A-
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach: Monk's Casino (Intakt) A-
  • Sonny Simmons: The Traveller (Jazzaway) A-
  • Miguel Zenón: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder) A-
HM [***]
  • Sonny Simmons: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings (1966, ESP-Disk)
  • Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (ECM)
  • Gianluca Petrella: Indigo 4 (Blue Note)
  • Ben Goldberg Quintet: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact (Cryptogramophone)
  • Exploding Customer: Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (Ayler)
  • Jamie Davis: It's a Good Thing (Unity Music)
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Graphic Evidence (Asian Improv)
  • Antonio Arnedo: Colombia (Adventure Music)
  • Ray Barretto: Time Was - Time Is (O+ Music)
  • Bob Belden: Three Days of Rain (Original Soundtrack) (Sunnyside)
  • Brent Jensen: Trios (Origin)
  • String Trio of New York With Oliver Lake: Frozen Ropes (Barking Hoop)
  • Ray Russell: Goodbye Svengali (Cuneiform)
  • Jimmy Amadie Trio: Let's Groove! A Tribute to Mel Tormé (TP)
HM [**]
  • Kenny Wheeler: What Now? (Cam Jazz)
  • Andrew Lamb/Warren Smith: The Dogon Duo (Engine)
HM [*]
    • Taylor Eigsti: Lucky to Be Me (Concord) B-
    • James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal: Gold Sounds (Brown Brothers)
    • Jazz at Lincoln Center's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra With Arturo O'Farrill: Noche Inolvidable (Palmetto)

    Album count: 32; Word count: 1549 (graded 14: 1178; additional 18: 371).


    I try to write up an informal note on every jazz record I hear the first (or sometimes second) time I play it. Those notes are collected over the course of a week, then posted in the blog. They are also collected here.


    The surplus file collects final notes when I decide that I cannot realistically keep a record under active consideration for the Jazz Consumer Guide. These notes are mostly written at the end of a JCG cycle and posted to the blog when the column is printed. In effect, they are the extended copy to the column. There are various reasons for this. For especially good records, it is often because Francis Davis or someone else has already reviewed it and my two cents would be redundnat. For old music it is often because I wrote something in Recycled Goods and figure that was enough. Sometimes good records have just gotten old. Most of the time the records aren't all that interesting anyway. I can handle 25-30 records per column. It just doesn't make sense for me to keep more than 60-80 graded records in the active list at the start of a new cycle. In many cases, I decide the prospecting notes or Recycled Goods review suffices, so note that in the file.


    All pending records have been moved forwards.