Jazz Consumer Guide (14):
The Raw Power of a Fresh Start
Pleasurable epitaphs, avant-garde daring, and
wonder-filled immigrant songs
by Tom Hull
Jewels and Binoculars:
Ships With Tattooed Sails
Michael Moore plays more alto sax and less clarinet on this trio's
third volume of wordless Dylan songs, which should give them a harder
edge, but the trio -- Lindsey Horner on bass, Michael Vatcher on
drums -- sound more serene than ever, a feat of meticulous balance.
Two previous records picked off Dylan's more obvious tunes, so most slip
past me unrecognized, doing what filler should do, holding the
album together around landmarks like "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only
Bleeding)" -- three with Bill Frisell, whose Americana interests
are right at home.
Another Ken Vandermark vehicle, or actually two. He wrote a
batch of dedications to beats and raw power -- Coxsone Dodd,
King Tubby, Lee Perry, Burning Spear, Miles Davis, Hank Shocklee,
the Stooges -- and took them first to Oslo then to Chicago. Nate
McBride, in his Spaceways Inc. electric bassist mode, made both
trips. In Oslo, Lasse Marhaug's electronics plug into the Ingebrigt
Haker Flaten-Paal Nilssen-Love rhythm team, a powerhouse platform
for Vandermark's tenor sax. But the Chicago group has an extra
dimension in Jeff Parker's guitar. Some Vandermark band names
are obscure, but this one is just what it claims.
A Jazzy Way
Anadon turns her back to her native Portugal and takes a bite of
"Old Devil Moon" and a dozen more show tunes and vocalese skits.
Her Women of the World band, with Japanese Tomoko Ohno on piano
and Israeli Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, are no less at
home. More proof that sometimes immigrants discover wonders
we take for granted, making them the best Americans.
Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake:
From the River to the Ocean
The grizzled AACM saxophonist has never sounded more congenial.
Life's been good lately: he got a fresh start when the Social
Security checks started arriving and his virtual son developed
into one of the world's outstanding percussionists. This makes
five straight winners, the novelty this time the addition of
guitarist Jeff Parker.
Buenos Aires Tango Standards
The Argentine bassist's Avantango pushed his national heritage
to extremes, dramatizing tango's twists and turns. This second
album takes a different tack, eschewing bandoneon and violin in
favor of a standard jazz quintet. The standards are more orthodox,
but subtler and less jagged, opening up the melodies, as jazz is
wont to do.
Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe:
Above & Beyond
The fire-breathing tenor saxophonist was down to one lung here,
so out of breath by the end of the gig the promoter wanted to
call an ambulance. Lowe died a few months later, leaving this
as his last testament. All upbeat, with hard piano and swinging
fiddle. Lowe makes up in clarity what he lacks in volume, his
pleasure staving off the pain.
Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra:
His 25 years worth of trips to the Bordeaux Jazz Festival
pay off, with the locals -- including turntablists, rappers, and 12
percussionists -- expanding El'Zabar's trio, a/k/a Ethnic Heritage
Ensemble, to 39 pieces. The big band doesn't blow hot and brassy.
Rather, they fill in details so subtly that it takes a while to
realize how far they've expanded El'Zabar's world-brotherhood
David Murray Black Saint Quartet:
Begins and ends with two Ishmael Reed lyrics sung by Cassandra
Wilson: the title cut, tied to Murray's soundtrack for the Marco
Williams film *Banished*, recalls atrocities between 1890 and 1930
when rioting white mobs drove thousands of black Americans from
their homes, clearing out whole neighborhoods, while the closer
conjures up an ancient Cassandra as "The Prophet of Doom." In
between, Murray waxes poetic -- lamenting the past, redeeming the
present, offering hope for the future.
Before East takes over with two originals and Coltrane's "India" --
the latter a last session with father Dewey -- Redman has some fun
with the West, including a rollicking "I'm a Old Cowhand." He earns
his right to play soprano sax on three cuts, and the last time his
tenor was this robust was when he played Lester Young in *Kansas
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
The debut album from a Kansas City alto saxophonist starts a cappella,
then takes flight over free rhythms acutely accented by Mike Pinto's
vibes. Next up is a wry-toned ballad with Mike Moreno's guitar filling
in. Step by step, Richardson works around the edges, showing everything
you can do with an alto sax except sit on it.
Sonic Liberation Front:
Change Over Time
Their third album offers more of the same mix of Afro-Cuban Lucumi
rhythms, avant-garde daring, and communal popcraft. Drummer Kevin
Diehl studied with Rashied Ali before taking up the bata drums and
launching his revolution. This time the songs don't go much beyond
chants, compared to their sweet and sour *Ashé a Go-Go*, but the
avant-ethnic fusion is still potent, and Dan Scofield's sax rises
to the call.
The Tierney Sutton Band:
On the Other Side
She declares her pursuit with eight songs featuring "happy"
in the title, plus "You Are My Sunshine," "Smile," and "Great
Day!" -- more fascinated with the search than the attainment,
which she has reservations about anyway. Maybe that explains
the odd song out, "Haunted Heart" -- the whole album feels
haunted, from its tentative opening "Get Happy" to its wistful
closer "Smile." Last time her shtick was "I'm with the band";
this time the band's with her.
Albert van Veenendaal/Meinrad Kneer/Yonga Sun:
Predictable Point of Impact
Dutch piano trio, mostly hard rhythmic stuff, which Kneer's bass and
Sun's percussion are clearly up for. Van Veenendaal's prepared piano
offers some surprises, especially when the group slows down a bit.
Dutch avant-garde jazz is known for biting humor. Here the joke is
edge and energy you can still tap your toes to.
Dud of the Month
A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block
Kinch's previous Conversations With the Unseen littered its
tasty sax blowing with rap skits. This time he reverses the
ratio, burdening both: the raps are saddled with an ambitious
narrative concept that's peculiarly British and left waiting
a second volume to resolve (not that you care) while the
grime beats stunt the instrumentals. He's conscious enough he
has one character urging him to "put down the microphone and
stick to the sax." But the irony is wasted in this shotgun
William Parker/Hamid Drake:
First Communion + Piercing the Veil (2000,
Riddim exercises and intimate exotica, doubling a studio reissue with
a live warm-up.
Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray:
Abstract guitar leads spur tenor sax improvs recycling one piece six ways.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet:
American Landscapes 1
Big birds have deep, rumbling hearts . . .
State of the Union
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
Framing a voiceover critique of (political) stupidity with
somber free jazz, forcing musicians (and us) to think.
As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note
Fluid quintet showcases the bassist's songbook plus funky "Caravan."
Once More With Feeling (1960s-70s,
Prolific studio pro offers a taste of old-fashioned clarinet.
Tord Gustavsen Trio:
Low-key, precise, sensible, satisfying -- archetypal ECM piano.
(Fresh Sound World Jazz)
Piano trio, transported with Afro-Latin beats, oud, and melodica.
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble:
Hot 'N' Heavy
Four now, with Fareed Haque's guitar adding pan-ethnic groove to
hot trumpet, heavy sax, and El'Zabar's pan-ethnic beats.
Back on the Corner
Redeems his Miles Davis debut by jettisoning the keyboards and trumpet.
Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid:
If Hebden's laptop fails the Turing Test for improv, it's for
lack of competition.
Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake:
Indigo Trio/Live in Montreal
Fred Anderson's rough tumbling rhythm section, iced with flute.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet:
American Landscapes 2
. . . which swell over time, pumping longer and louder.
Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy:
A rough and amusing draft for Town Hall Concert and all those
Euro bootlegs Sue Mingus fumes over.
75th Birthday Bash Live!
History repeats, tragedy and farce in no particular order.
Beyond the Wall
Crawling up Mt. Coltrane, making fake vistas look painful.
Love Is What Stays
Lost his hip, leaving sensory deprivation and orchestral torture.
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.
- Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tattooed Sails (Upshot) A
- Powerhouse Sound: Oslo/Chicago Breaks (Atavistic) A
- Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (Arbors) A-
- Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake: From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey) A-
- Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho) A-
- Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond: An Evening in Grand Rapids (Justin Time) A-
- Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra: Transmigration (Delmark) A-
- David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground (Justin Time) A
- Joshua Redman: Back East (Nonesuch) A-
- Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (Fresh Sound New Talent) A-
- Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (High Two) A-
- The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Side (Telarc) A-
- Albert van Veenendaal/Meinrad Kneer/Yonga Sun: Predictable Point of Impact (Evil Rabbit) A-
- William Parker & Hamid Drake: First Communion + Piercing the Veil (AUM Fidelity) A-
- Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray: Rebus (Clean Feed) A-
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 1 (Okkadisk)
- Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (Fresh Sound New Talent)
- Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note (Razdaz/Half Note)
- Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (Arbors)
- Tord Gustavsen Trio: Being There (ECM)
- Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (Fresh Sound World Jazz)
- Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (Delmark)
- Dave Liebman: Back on the Corner (Tone Center)
- Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid: Tongues (Domino)
- Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake: Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal (Paperback Series Vol. 3) (Greenleaf Music)
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 2 (Okkadisk)
- Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (Blue Note)
- Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block (Dune) B-
- Kenny Burrell: 75th Birthday Bash Live! (Blue Note) C+
- Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch) B
- Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays (Verve) D
Album count: 31; Word count: 1504 (graded 19: 1249; additional 12: 255).
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
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 redundant. 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 forward.