Jazz Consumer Guide (14):
These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #14. 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 June 4 to Sept. 16, 2007,
with non-finalized entries duplicated from previous prospecting.
The notes have been sorted by artist. The chronological order can
be obtained from the notebook or blog.
The number of records noted below is 269. The
count from the previous file was 218.
Muiza Adnet: Sings Moacir Santos (2006 ,
Adventure Music): Another spinoff from Ouro Negro, the
project that brought Afro-Brazilian composer Santos some small
measure of fame. Santos roughs in some vocals shortly before
his death, but producer Mario Adnet is in charge of the delicate
arrangements, and his sister Muiza is featured in what strikes
me as an overly proper framing. Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins
also appear, as do guitarists Marcos Amorim and Ricardo Silveira.
Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior):
I found info about two Don Aliquos on the web. This one teaches
in Tennessee, has four records, and plays classic hard bop with
a light touch and well-developed tone. The other is based in
Pennsylvania, where this one originally hails from, and looks
old enough to be this one's father. The group here is the usual
quintet, with Clay Jenkins on trumpet and Rufus Reid on bass
making the trip down from New York, plus two fellow academics
on piano and drums. Got distracted midway through when my copy
started to skip. Got it repaired, but will have to spin it
again to decide how exceptional this very mainstream record
Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior):
Tenor saxophonist, plays rock solid hard bop, based in Tennessee,
but helped out by New Yorkers Clay Jenkins and Rufus Reid here.
Rodrigo Amado/Carlos Zíngaro/Tomas Ulrich/Ken Filiano: Surface:
For Alto, Baritone and Strings (2006 , European Echoes):
Amado is a Portuguese saxophonist. Plays alto and baritone here, and
wrote pieces where he accompanies a string trio -- Zíngaro plays violin
and viola, whichever. Has a couple of previous albums, on his own and
leading the Lisbon Improvisation Players. The string stuff here is what
I like to call difficult music: arch, grating, hard to follow, sometimes
hard to stand. I'm always surprised when I do and can, even more so when
I start to enjoy it.
Rodrigo Amado/Carlos Zingaro/Tomas Ulrich/Ken Filiano: Surface:
For Alto, Baritone and Strings (2006 , European Echoes):
Leader plays both alto and baritone sax, so don't expect much interplay
there. Strings are violin/viola, cello, and double bass. The strings
can be difficult, both to follow and to stand, but I've gotten used to
them and even admire their arch abstraction. I do wish the saxophonist
would put out more, which from other records I know he is capable of.
Anjani: Blue Alert (2006 , Columbia):
Young pianist-singer from Hawaii, wrote this batch of songs
with Leonard Cohen, who co-produces. Sometimes his cadences
come through, and you can imagine his croak too. The songs
are slow, the arrangements rough; they seem to old for her --
"I danced with a lot of men/Fought in an ugly war/Gave my
heart to a mountain/But I never loved before"; "Every night
she'd come to me/I'd cook for her, I'd pour her tea/She was
in her thirties then/Had made some money, lived with men" --
but she looks up them and through them. Maybe too young for
him, too, but that seems more like luck than a problem.
The Bad Plus: Prog (2006 , Heads Up): Label
is sometimes given as Do the Math Records; their logo's on the back
above Heads Up, but only the latter is on the spine. The group, of
course, is Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass, Dave King
on drums. Each is notable on his own. Together sheer muscule of the
bass and drums forces the piano to aim for sharp edges. All three
are able to ramp their volume and speed up and down so fast that
they become improvisational vectors in their own right. The result
is an acoustic piano trio that projects hard rock power, a point
they underscore by covering rock anthems instead of tin pan alley
standards. They do three or four this time, depending on what you
make of Bacharach & David's "This Guy's in Love With You." The
others are "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Tears for Fears),
"Life on Mars" (David Bowie), and "Tom Sawyer" (Rush). Only the
Bowie is instantly recognizable to me, although I've no doubt
heard many of the dozens of Bacharach-David covers, starting with
Herb Alpert's 1968 hit. In between, all three craft originals --
Anderson's "Giant" impressed me the most this time around.
The Bad Plus: Prog (2006 , Heads Up):
The usual mix of covers and originals, or unusual, given that
Tears for Fears and Rush mean nothing to me, which makes them
more difficult problems than the originals. On the other hand,
David Bowie's "Life on Mars" means the world to me, so the
climactic rise to its chorus towers above its surroundings
like Denali. Still, the best thing here is Reid Anderson's
"Giant," and I'm more impressed than ever by drummer Dave
King. But I don't have any idea how to fit this into "prog" --
maybe they see it as stunted progress. If so, they're too
Chet Baker: Chet (Keepnews Collection) (1958-59
, Riverside): The original back cover touts "the lyrical
trumpet of CHET BAKER," but the more descriptive term is "slow";
in Baker's day, that also passed for romantic -- even if you're
unsure whether the cover girl draped over Baker's shoulder is in
love or merely asleep.
Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond:
An Evening in Grand Rapids (2003 , Justin Time): They
pulled this out of the files, recognizing it as the last time Bang
and Lowe played together, but regardless of context it is simply
fabulous. If Lowe seems uncharacteristically mild, Bang explains
that Lowe was only operating on one lung, and in Cleveland "he was
so out of breath at the end of the gig that the lady who promoted
it wanted to call an ambulance." Lowe looks awful on the back cover
here, and finally succumbed to cancer less than five months hence.
But the word for his sound here is sweet. Andrew Bemkey's piano
adds a contrasting sharpness, and Bang flat out swings. Some spots
get rough, including an awkward, ugly close on one piece where all
you can do is laugh it off.
Stefano Battaglia: Re: Pasolini (2005 , ECM,
2CD): That would be Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75), best known for
but by no means limited to his films. Battaglia is a pianist and
composer who pays homage at great length, writing material that
would no doubt work as soundtrack. The two discs have different
groups with Battaglia the only common player, but cello dominates
both, with violin added on the second, trumpet and clarinet on
the first. I'm torn here, impressed by the stately, magisterial
music, but anxious to move on.
Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist (2006 , Savant):
Tenor saxophonist, from Boston. Couple dozen albums since 1982.
Broad, breathy tone, mainstream rhythmic sense, can go fast but
prefers moderate paces and pitches a fetching ballad. He fits
a type that I'm particularly fond of, but I haven't followed
his own work all that closely. Quartet this time, with John
Abercrombie's guitar providing the chords. Album gets stronger
as it progresses, and Abercrombie fits in particularly well.
Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist (2006 , Savant):
A mainstream tenor sax album for folks who love sax the way God,
er, Coleman Hawkins, intended it: broad, deep, full of spunk,
but dependably on the beat, and close enough to the melody you
can track it while enjoying the differences. A quartet, with
John Abercrombie's guitar fitting in better than the usual
piano, and standing out on the rare occasions he feels like
Andy and the Bey Sisters: 'Round Midnight (1965
, Prestige): Sisters Salome and Geraldine complement brother
Andy Bey, producing a tricky mix of harmonies that works sometimes --
the light "Squeeze Me" and the heavy "God Bless the Child" are two
for different reasons -- but can also drag and stall, especially
'round the title tune. Andy Bey staged a comeback in the late '90s,
leading to this and the 1964 Now Hear bundled together as
Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters (, Prestige), priced
steeply ($18.98 list; this one lists at $11.98).
The Birdhouse Project: Free Bird (2006 ,
Dreambox Media): As one of the few who likes Charlie Parker's
tunes better than his playing, I should be relatively favorable
toward this project. However, I can't much see the point. The
group is a trio: Randy Sutin on vibes, Tyrone Brown on bass,
Jim Miller on drums. The vibes should be the lead instrument,
but actually Brown's bass sets the pace -- an unfamiliar one
for Parker. Brown also manages to hold my attention, which
doesn't say much for Sutin. Does have some novelty value, and
certainly isn't dislikable. Just not much there.
Michael Bisio Quartet: Circle This (2006 ,
CIMP): Seattle bassist with a two saxophone quarter, featuring
Avram Fefer (tenor and soprano) and Stephen Gauci (just tenor),
and CIMP regular Jay Rosen on drums. Title on spine and cover
includes CIMP 360, the label name and number, figuring
that ties in nicely with the first song title. I've gone back
and forth on the title, opting here for the simple version. Bisio
moved to Seattle in 1976, and has recorded since 1980, with a dozen
(maybe more) records either under his own name or matched with
others -- the latter include duets with Eyvind Kang, Joe Giardullo,
and Joe McPhee. Website spends a lot of time extolling his skills
as a bassist, which between CIMP's acoustics and my system are hard
to verify. The main thing I hear is two horns engaged, sometimes
pulling together gently but more often roughhousing.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Caravan (Keepnews
Collection) (1962 , Riverside): One of Bu's greatest
bands -- Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton,
Reggie Workman -- but a rather sloppy and indifferent set, perhaps
thrown off by the ill-fitting title track. Still, Hubbard, who
recorded his own Caravan on Impulse, makes a game showing.
Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder: At Night (2005 ,
Songlines): Bleckmann may be the most interesting jazz vocalist to
appear in the last 10-20 years, at least in the sense that he is
doing things no one else has ever done, sounding like no one else
has ever sounded. His high-pitched voice can sound fey or winsome,
but it's less pleasing without appropriate words. Here he mostly
exercises it as instrument, aided and abetted by live electronic
processing, Monder's guitar, and Satoshi Takeishi's percussion.
Monder gains traction when he goes heavy. Interesting, of course,
but that's an odd form of praise, or dismissal.
The Blueprint Project: People I Like (2006 ,
Creative Nation Music): Don't have a recording date, but the liner
notes are dated 2006, so that works. Group consists of three chums
from New England Conservatory of Music: saxophonist Jared Sims,
guitarist Eric Hofbauer, and pianist Tyson Rogers. All three write
and contribute strong performances, but as a trio they'd be short
on rhythm. Last time they solved that problem by adding Cecil McBee
and Matt Wilson, for a tightly played, craftily thought out postbop
eponymous album that made my A-list. This one is much looser and
more scattered -- further out, with veteran Dutch anarchist Han
Bennink on drums and whatever. Harder to get a grip on this one,
although I can say that a Latin piece is fairly wonderful, and Sims
aces his clarinet feature.
Boca do Rio (2007, Vagabundo): Unfair to make fun
of these hard-working Brasil wannabes to point out that their rio
is the Sacramento; the percussion is pretty sharp, and saxophonist
Larry de la Cruz is always welcome, so I guess the problem is the
vocals, and not just that Kevin Welch has swallowed way too much US
Luigi Bonafede/Pietro Tonolo: Peace (2005 ,
ObliqSound): Two Italians: Bonafede plays piano, Tonolo tenor and
soprano sax. Tonolo played on the label's Elton John tribute. I
know even less about Bonafede -- AMG credits him with a dozen or
so albums, including one with Guido Manusardi in 1986 and one
with Massimo Urbani in 1994 (Dedications to Albert Ayler and
John Coltrane, a good one). An Italian website has more like
40 albums, mostly on Italian labels AMG never notices. Half of
the cuts are duos, moderately paced, played with great care and
feeling. The other half add guests playing marimba and/or cello,
which fit in nicely.
B+(**) [advance, July 17]
Anthony Braxton/Joe Fonda: Duets 1995 (1995 ,
Clean Feed): This is a reissue of 10 Compositions (Duet) 1995,
previously issued on Konnex. Braxton plays C melody and alto sax,
contrabass and B flat clarinet; Fonda plays double bass. Composition
count doesn't quite add up: 8 pieces here, one of which is called
"Composition 168-147"; two are covers, one from Cole Porter, the
other from Vernon Duke. Elemental free jazz interplay, just Fonda's
bass circled by Braxton's saxophones or clarinets; measured, thoughtful,
too carefully planned and executed to be pure improv, but rarely what
Tad Britton: Black Hills (2006 , Origin):
Drummer, from Sturgis SD, now based in Seattle, leading a trio
with bassist Jeff Johnson and pianist Marc Seales. One original
each by Britton and Johnson. Interesting cover pairing: "Fire
& Rain" and "Ring of Fire"; opening sequence is Bill Evans
followed by George Duke -- "Time Remembered" is done nicely.
Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 ,
Artistry): How do you score this one? Bromberg's a pop-funk electric
bassist with aspirations of going straight -- a double meaning for
the "upright" acoustic bass he plays here. (Four cuts also have him
on "piccolo bass," which looks to be an electric bass guitar.)
Helping him out are a bunch of old smoothies, who also get to
play "upright" straight-ahead jazz for once in their careers:
Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Boney James, Gary Meek, Jeff Lorber,
George Duke, Lee Ritenour, Gannin Arnold, Vinnie Colaiuta. Not
a big surprise that guys like Lorber and Whallum have the chops,
but Braun is a totally unexpected pleasure. Also helps that the
bass is mixed up phat. But in the end it may be classier than
usual, but it's still a pop-funk record. I'm tempted to indulge,
but will hold back for now.
Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 , Artistry):
After a career of hacking out pop-funk, Bromberg's new pleasure
in the upright acoustic bass is heartening. This starts off with
a suggestion that it might be possible to work a funk groove into
something of jazz interest, but settles into routine as it goes
along. Not sure whether to blame this on Bromberg's circle of
friends: Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, and Boney James play with
more vigor and range than they'd ever risk on their own albums.
A more likely clue to the slide is that the first three pieces
were written by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Les McCann,
whereas the rest were written by Bromberg.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 1
(2006 , Okkadisk): Peter Brötzmann's name has dropped from the
masthead, but he's still here, and this is still his band, with Ken
Vandermark in the background arranging the Chicago base. (Actually,
Brötzmann's name appears in a logo-like thing on the front cover, but
not on the spine.) The band is long on loud horns: Brötzmann, Mats
Gustafsson, Vandermark (various reeds for all three), Joe McPhee
(trumpet, alto sax), Hannes Bauer (trombone), Per-Åke Holmlander
(tuba); with two drummers (Paal Nilssen-Love, Michael Zerang), and
Kent Kessler's bass matched by Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello. One piece,
43:39, with a long front movement, a squeaky interlude for the
strings, and a rebound. Play it at low volume, like I do, and it's
easy enough to sort out the multiple waves of undulating rhythm, with
the horns compressing into static noise. I'm sure that's not the plan,
but I appreciate the sense of structure and the bare tightness. I can
only speculate about what happens when you crank it up, but even at my
volume level there are parts that pick me up.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 2
(2006 , Okkadisk): Same deal, only longer at 52:48, louder too,
which I don't necessarily regard as a plus. For one thing the rhythmic
structure is less clear, and that's the thread that all the noise
hangs off of. This just makes you work harder, but as free jazz big
bands go, this group has gotten remarkably tight.
Marc Broussard: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (2007,
Vanguard): Peace, love, and chicken grease -- the signature of a
Louisiana man with Cajun credentials as he dives head first into
vintage soul -- "Inner City Blues," "I've Been Loving You Too
Long," "Respect Yourself," "Love and Happiness," "Yes We Can Can,"
"You Met Your Match"; overly familiar, marginally distinguished,
monumental. I like the closing ballad, "Come In From the Storm,"
the one original here.
PS: Later grade change:
New Wonderland: The Best of Jeri Brown (1991-2006
, Justin Time): Canadian jazz singer, with nine solid albums
providing plenty of choice material, but it's the players who shine --
especially Kirk Lightsey on "Orange Colored Sky" and David Murray on
"Joy." On the other hand, they gamble with four previously unreleased
cuts, which are anything but choice.
Dave Brubeck: Indian Summer (2007, Telarc): Solo
piano, again, even slower than Previn, and far less idiosyncratic
than the work that made him famous. Still, I'm more sympathetic,
although it could just be sympathy. Recorded in March, at age 86.
Hank Jones is a couple of years older, but their seniority shows
just how completely the pre-1945 jazz generation has passed from
Bruford: Rock Goes to College (1979 ,
Winterfold): An Oxford concert, broadcast by the BBC, two albums
into prog-rock's premier drummer's solo career, still pretending
his last name was a group, not quite ready to call the music made
of Allan Holdsworth's guitar and Dave Stewart's keybs fusion, let
alone the jazz that got there first. Added attraction: two Annette
Peacock vocals, but little more than perfunctory.
Kenny Burrell: 75th Birthday Bash Live! (2006
, Blue Note): Advance had a different title, mentioning
Yoshi's in Oakland, where some of this occured. However, other
tracks were cut at Kuumbawa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz -- maybe
the lawyers figured that out. Six tracks, mostly from Santa Cruz,
feature the Gerald Wilsons Orchestra, sounding hoarse and wheezy.
Joey DeFrancesco (3 cuts) hardly picks up the slack, especially
when Hubert Laws (5 cuts) joins on flute. Burrell sings two, no
help either. Early in his career Burrell established himself on
solid albums with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane; here the
best he can do is Herman Riley, and it takes "A Night in Tunisia"
to get Riley going. At least they didn't include any patter, but
I'm too annoyed at the black-on-blue booklet print to cut them
any slack over that.
Donald Byrd: The Cat Walk (1961 , Blue Note):
Versatile, prolific trumpet player, leading a group with baritone
saxophonist Pepper Adams and pianist Duke Pearson that would just
as soon boogie as bebop; Byrd goes both ways, indecisively, to
Joey Calderazzo: Amanecer (2006 , Marsalis
Music/Rounder): Mostly solo piano, with Romero Lobambo's guitar
creeping into the background on three songs, Claudia Acuña vocals
on two of those plus one more. The solo material is appealing, no
doubt because I detect traces of stride in the originals, but also
because "Waltz for Debby" is so surefire. Acuña's contribution is
arch and dreary, while Lubambo is so supple you barely notice him.
Michel Camilo: Spirit of the Moment (2006 ,
Telarc): Another piano trio, also leaning on the Miles Davis
songbook -- two pieces by Davis, one each by Coltrane and Shorter.
Repeats "Nefertiti" from Robert Irving's record, answering any
doubts I had about possible underrating. I haven't cared for
Camilo's recent records, but there's no doubting his skills, and
this Dominican-Cuban-Puerto Rican trio makes or a stimulating
mix -- Charles Flores on bass, and especially Dafnis Prieto on
Michel Camilo: Spirit of the Moment (2006 ,
Telarc): Dominican pianist, although even with Puerto Rican Charles
Flores on bass and Cuban Dafnis Prieto on drums, this hardly counts
as Latin jazz. The covers draw on the Miles Davis songbook, including
Coltrane and Shorter, and the originals fit in. A skillful group, and
an appealing piano trio record.
James Carney Group: Green-Wood (2006 ,
Songlines): Pianist, originally from Syracuse NY; studied in
Los Angeles, where he was based until moving to NYC in 2004.
Fourth album, widely spaced since 1994, and little side work,
suggesting he sees himself primarily as a composer. Wrote or
co-wrote everything here, including two pieces commissioned
for the Syracuse International Film Festival. I'd never run
across him before, but I recognize and have been impressed by
everyone in his septet. The four horns -- Peter Epstein and
Tony Malaby on reeds, Ralph Alessi and Josh Roseman on brass --
are especially formidable, but they also strike me as too much.
But there are strong stretches here, and sterling individual
play, not least from the pianist.
B+(*) [Aug. 7]
Amanda Carr: Soon (2007, OMS): Singer, from Boston,
second album; standards, like the Gershwins' title tune, "Flamingo,"
"Squeeze Me," "Good Bait," obligatory sambas (from Jorge Ben as well
as the usual Jobim). Website says she currently stars in "A Tribute
to Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman"; also says she "frequently is the
featured vocalist with The Artie Shaw Orchestra, Harry James Band
and has appeared with the Glenn Miller Band, too." Don't know how
old she is, but Miller died in 1945, Shaw quit cold in 1954; James
held on at least into the 1960s and died in 1983. The oldest date
I find on her website is 1998, so it's tempting to say that she
only sang with those bands in her dreams. But they do follow her
dreams, and had she sang with those bands she would have done fine.
I also like Arnie Krakowsky's sax appeal.
Postscript: Amanda Carr wrote in to fill me in on the
ghost bands. The Artie Shaw Orchestra has been led for years by
Dick Johnson, using Shaw's charts. "The band tours around the
country frequently with its last 10 week tour ending 4 months
ago." The Harry James Band has been led by original first trumpet
player Fred Radke "for years now," also based on James' original
charts. The Glenn Miller Band has been touring for years, using
Julia Rich as regular vocalist, with Carr occasionally filling
in. I knew that James and Miller ghost bands had existed at one
time, but not that they (let alone Shaw) were still operational.
The Ellington Orchestra lasted a while after his death, but not
long. Carr also mentions the Basi Band, which has been visible
lately with such sleights of hand as Ray Sings, Basie Swings.
Carr writes: "the Basie Band just played at the Newport 'JVC'
Festival last week and I don't think anyone was disgusted and
got up and left because it wasn't with all original players or
that they might be 'dreaming' and not actually seeing the Basie
Band from the 40's." Of course, they're not seeing the Basie
Band from the '70s either, when it was still pretty healthy.
In fact, it survived its leader's death better than most due
to the strengths of leaders like Frank Foster. I have nothing
in principle against doing repertory -- if I pick on the Mingus
Big Band it's because I wish they were better -- but there's
something fraudulent about institutionalizing them under the
original brand names. Same thing happens elsewhere, especially
in rock, where pale copies of '50s and '60s groups still tour
county fairs. That's probably where I got my distaste. Carr
may be perfect for those antique framings, but her own album
is a good deal fresher.
Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle: Live at Tower Records
(2006, Tubman Atnimara): A CDR, part of a series of items Lavelle sent
me for background. Just a duo, eight pieces, both musicians moving from
instrument to instrument: Carter plays tenor sax, alto sax, clarinet,
piano, flute; Lavelle plays piano, pocket trumpet, bass clarinet,
flugelhorn, trumpet. By far the most interesting is Lavelle's bass
clarinet, but overall not a lot of chemistry or action.
Ron Carter: Dear Miles, (2006 , Blue Note):
Well, he's got a right, and he's still commanding with his bass.
The group is a quartet -- actually, a piano trio plus percussion.
The pianist is Stephen Scott, a good fit. The songbook is mostly
associated with Miles Davis, but only "Seven Steps to Heaven" has
even a co-credit to Davis. Two pieces are by Carter, who's also
associated with Davis.
André Ceccarelli: Golden Land (2006 , CAM
Jazz): Drummer, from Nice in the south of France, been around since
the mid-'70s, working with Jean-Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, Michel
Legrand, Birelli Lagrene, Martial Solal, Michel Portal, Stephane
Grappelli, Eddy Louiss, Dee Dee Bridgewater -- a few names further
afield, like Aretha Franklin. Has several albums under his own name,
going back to 1977. This one is a pan-European quartet, with Enrico
Pieranunzi on piano, Hein van de Geyn on bass, and David El-Malek
on saxophone. Pieranunzi has an especially good outing here, both
on fast and slow pieces, but El-Malek is also a discovery. His sax
has a deep, rich tone, and he plays with great ease. Born in France,
has several albums I haven't heard, with side interests in Jewish
folk music and electronics. Together they make impressive, slightly
mainstream postbop, but two cuts add a singer I don't find the least
bit appealing. Her name is Elisabeth Kontomanou, also born in France,
of Greek and African heritage. I can imagine her as the sort who can
be mesmerizing in a smoky bar, but here she slows the album down and
takes the air out.
Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard
(2007, Blue Note): The promo sheet reads as if the Village Vanguard
is the real star here, citing a long list of famous musicians to
have recorded there -- and by the way, omitting the only one I was
ever present for: Dexter Gordon's famous 1976 homecoming. In the
end, though, this is just a record, a sample of an exceptionally
vital piano trio. The advance provides no info on who wrote what
or when it was recorded, although there are songs I recognize --
"The Lady Is a Tramp" really jumps out.
[B+(***)] [May 22]
Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard
(2003 , Blue Note): Recorded September 2003; not sure why
it's coming out now, but the promo package seemed to be pushing
the Village Vanguard more than Charlap and Washingtons Peter and
Kenny. The latter are the best mainstream rhythm section in the
business -- Charlap is lucky to have them, but not undeserving.
This adds little of great import, but "The Lady Is a Tramp" stands
Don Cherry: Live at Café Montmartre 1966 (1966 ,
ESP-Disk): One annoying thing here is that the booklet doesn't provide
the actual date of the performance, and I can't find any secondary
sources (like a gigography or even a detailed sessionography) that
help narrow it down. The Cherry discographies don't even get down to
the song level, but it does appear that this is a different recording
from the ones released by Magnetic in two volumes as Live at "Café
Montmartre", although all three discs include Bo Stief on bass.
Cherry appeared in Copenhagen a number of times in 1966, early on
with Jean-François Jenny Clark on bass, then on March 31 with Stief
on a 69-minute radio broadcast, which also doesn't match this song
list. Musically this may not matter, but part of the reason behind
issuing rare historical recordings is to provide the history. This
has a non-trivial booklet, so the omission is glaring. The group is
a quintet with Cherry on trumpet, Gato Barbieri on tenor sax, Karl
Berger on vibes, Stief on bass, and Aldo Romano on drums. The play
is red hot, on the cusp of breaking into chaos, and the sound is
tuned to rattle your cage. The centerpiece is a 13:20 "Complete
Communion," followed by something called "Free Improvisation Music
Now" which most likely just combusted on the spot. I have mixed
feelings: as a document, the main thing this shows is how ragged
they were willing to run to pump up the excitement; still, there
are spots where it works, Cherry much more than Barbieri, but the
real revelation here is Berger, whose vibes provide a shimmering
Frankie Cicala: Frankie Plays! (2006, 3B's):
Guitarist, says he was in the Marines in the '70s when George
Benson inspired him. Did a couple of albums in the '90s as
Frankie and the Burn. This is the first under his own name.
Pop groove thing, has much of Benson's tone, doesn't sing
(a plus), wrote most of the songs.
Circus (2006, ICP): All pieces are improvs attributed
to all five members, who could just as well be listed as the artists
of record, had the packaging steered that way. The four instrumentalists
are ICP veterans: Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Tristan Honsinger
(cello), Misha Mengelberg (piano), Han Bennink (drums). The fifth is
vocalist Alessandra Patrucco. I suppose the attraction of voice in this
sort of framework is flexibility and dramatic detail, but I've never
found it all that attractive -- Patrucco, dramatizing in a manner I
associate unfondly with opera, less than most. Honsinger and Mengelberg
also add to the vocal content. The instruments are more interesting.
Circus (2006, ICP): Dutch avant-garde group, with
four more/less well known names -- Han Bennink, Ab Baars, Misha
Mengelberg, Tristan Honsinger -- and vocalist Alessandra Patrucco.
The fractured music is often interesting, but not enough to carry
the fractured vocalizing -- at times shrill, often just thin.
Charmaine Clamor: Flippin' Out (2007, FreeHam):
Jazz singer, from Subic-Zambales in the Philippines, presumably
based in the US these days, on her second album. First song is
a "My Funny Valentine" spinoff ("My Funny Brown Pinay") that I
found annoying, and she continued to dig a whole for herself
until midway through I noticed that her take on Nina Simone's
"Sugar in My Bowl" wasn't bad. That was followed by a 5-piece
"Filipino Suite" that started with some interesting percussion
courtesy of the Pakaragulan Kulintang Ensemble. That didn't
quite sustain my interest, but her "Be My Love" ballad came
off well. So I figure I should play it again, but not now.
The Claudia Quintet: For (2006 , Cuneiform):
Booklet tells us nothing -- just four graphics, cutouts with large
degradé pixels. Pattern shifting is also the music idea, but there
at least it's grown far more sophisticated. When I first tuned in,
on the group's second album (I Claudia), everything seemed
to revolve around drummer John Hollenbeck's post-minimalist rhythms.
Two albums later the music has broadened to the extent that there's
no clear-cut center: Chris Speed's reeds, Matt Moran's vibes, Ted
Reichman's accordion, even Drew Gress's bass, cloud up the picture,
obscuring simple reactions or explanations. The hype sheet says "file
under: jazz/post-jazz" as if anyone has a clue what "post-jazz" might
be. The delta between this and what we conventionally think of as
jazz is that this doesn't feel improvised, because it isn't built
on individualism -- even when Moran talks, or Speed squawks. Rather,
it has an organic vitality to it that envelops you, like something
new age or ambient might aspire to but doesn't have the brains to
make interesting enough. Yet I'm never really certain with this
group: the last two albums took me ages to settle on, and this one
raises the same conflicting responses. But it consistently scores
points, and builds over time -- almost as if it makes marginality
an aesthetic pursuit. Album title reflects each song having some
sort of dedication, mostly to people I've never heard of -- the
exception is Mary Cheney, who's offered an ode to pity.
The Nels Cline Singers: Draw Breath (2007,
Cryptogramophone): The group name always throws me: there are no
vocalists here, although Cline claims a credit for "megamouth"
here, whatever that is. Cline plays guitar, electric more than
acoustic, with or without effects. The group is what back in the
'60s was called a Power Trio: guitar-bass-drums, like Cream, or
the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Devin Hoff plays contrabass, which
I take to be the big acoustic one. Scott Amendola is credited
with drums, percussion, "live" electronics/effects. Glenn Kotche
appears on one track, as if Amendola isn't enough. This is their
third album, although Cline has other projects, including a rock
band called Wilco -- or maybe he's just hired help there. This
is as close as anyone's gotten to heavy metal jazz. I'm not sure
if that's a good or bad thing; if I'm just not in the mood, or
just got put out of the mood. I think I'll put it on the replay
shelf and wait for a better time. Could be it's amazing. Could
be it's not. I do recommend an earlier one called The Giant
Pin (2003 , Cryptogramophone).
Club D'Elf: Perhapsody: Live 10.12.06 (2006 ,
Kufala, 2CD): The paper insert where you might expect a booklet
merely explains the "biodegradable/no plastic/no chemicals/no
toxins" packaging -- not that you'll really be in much hurry to
throw this away. The diversity shown on their one studio album,
Now I Understand, was the result of networking and taking
eight years to record the thing. On any given night, they're
likely to be much more specialized. On this one the absence of
Ibrahim Frigane means no Middle Eastern charms, and the presence
of John Medeski means lots of boogie groove. Indeed, it all sort
of flows together. Only by the end does one start wondering why
Medeski can't keep his own group motoring so effortlessly. Most
likely, the answer is bassist and clubmaster, Mike Rivard.
Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note
(2006 , Razdaz/Half Note): Israeli bassist, based in New
York, continues a steady run of first-rate work. Plays electric
as well as the big fiddle, and puts the former to good use on
the opening "Smash," matching up against Sam Barsh's electric
keyboards. Quintet, Diego Urcola on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on
various saxophones. Closes with a long, inventive take on
"Caravan." No oud, nothing exotic. Not sure how much stock
to put in it. Comes with a DVD I haven't seen yet, and may never.
Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note
(2006 , Razdaz/Half Note): The bassist, not the trumpeter,
leading a quintet with Diego Urcola on trumpet and Jimmy Greene
on various saxophones through a selection of his consistently
impressive songbook, closing with a funked up Middle Eastern
take on "Caravan." It all works pretty much as it should, with
the bright, light informality of a live recording. Comes with a
DVD, still unseen. A fine introduction, calling card, resume.
Joe Cohn: Restless (2006 , Arbors): Al Cohn's
son, basically a rhythm guitarist, which means he tends to disappear
behind the horns regardless of how much swing he contributes. Co-led
a group that put out a terrific album last year, but most of the
credit went to his partner Harry Allen, who does that sort of thing
all the time. Here Cohn is alone on the cover, mostly working with
a mild-mannered alto saxophonist named Dmitry Baevsky. Their cuts
are uniformly nice. But on five cuts, Allen appears as a guest, and
he really slices the bacon. So in the end this is half a Harry Allen
album -- an inconvincing step forward for Cohn, but one with much to
John Coltrane: Stardust (1958 , Prestige):
Two sessions toward the end of Coltrane's tenure with Prestige,
each yielding two stretched out nice-and-easy standards, with
Wilbur Harden on the first set, and 20-year-old Freddie Hubbard
on the second; the sense of accomplishment is earned, but nothing
here suggests the giant steps to come.
John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (1957-58 ,
Prestige, 6CD): Trane's claim to genius conventionally starts with
his aptly named 1959 Atlantic debut, Giant Steps, and extends
through his universally acclaimed 1964 Impulse! masterpiece, A
Love Supreme, or possibly up to his death in 1967, depending on
how far out you're willing to go. In the early '50s Coltrane tended
to be written off as a Dexter Gordon wannabe, but in 1956 he made a
series of appearances that could eventually be seen as prophetic:
playing in the Miles Davis Quintet, the Thelonious Monk Quartet,
and sparring with Sonny Rollins on Tenor Madness. Between
'56 and '59, Coltrane recorded massive amounts for Prestige -- the
sessions were eventually collected in a 16-CD box, which by all
accounts is a minimally interesting hodgepodge of leader and side
sets. It's easy enough to blame Prestige: they may be viewed as a
major independent label of the era, but at the time they specialized
in quick and dirty: just round up a few guys and reel off some
standards, often holding them on the shelf and raiding them after
the artist had gone on to greener pastures -- Coltrane's 1957-58
records kept appearing through 1965. Coleman Hawkins and Sonny
Rollins managed to record great albums on Prestige anyway, but
Coltrane didn't join them until later, when he figured out modal
improvisation, found his distinctive eternal search sound, and
felt the full brunt of the avant-garde. Searching his Prestige
records for that post-1959 development is unrewarding, the big
box de trop and the individual titles too slight. But this far
more selective box, packing 11 LPs into 6 CDs, gives us a chance
at last to savor his post-1956 plateau: at this point he's still
a straight shooter, with fast and assured bebop riffing and an
authoritative voice for blues and ballads. He still can't tear
a standard apart like Hawkins or Rollins, but he's just a tier
down. And frequent collaborator Red Garland gives him steadying
support. Another big plus is the booklet, especially the indexes
by session and album -- as useful as any box booklet I've seen.
Jacques Coursil: Clameurs (2006 , Sunnyside):
Trumpet player, born in Paris, his parents from Martinique; appeared
on several avant records in 1960s (Burton Greene, Sunny Murray, Frank
Wright) plus a couple under his own name. Then basically dropped out
of jazz, pursuing a career teaching French literature and linguistics,
winding up in Martinique. In 2005 Tzadik released a new album titled
Minimal Brass. Haven't heard it, but this follow-up is pretty
minimal, with percussion and spare trumpet juxtaposed with spoken
texts, including a piece by Frantz Fanon and poems by Edouard
Glissant. I can't vouch for the texts, but mix appealing in its
The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (2005 , Hide
Inside): I just have a CDR with a low-res copy of the cover artwork.
Artist has a website implemented in Flash with a minimum of actual
information. My notes have release date as Mar. 20, but AMG puts it
at May 29, 2006. Evidently it's been out in the UK for a while, as
the website has laudatory quotes from the British press, including
a "debut of the year" from Mojo. Cowley plays piano, with
Richard Sadler on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Haven't
heard of any of them. Presumably they're British -- seems to be
where they live and work. Cowley likes simple rhythmic vamps, some
chord-heavy, a few almost dainty; some get more complex, but he
keeps his lines short and punctuates them strongly. Somewhere
between EST and the Bad Plus.
The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (2005 ,
Hide Inside): Scrounging for ideas on this record has led me up
a lot of blind alleys, such as one reviewer comparing it to the
Clash and concluding, "Actually, it's probably best to avoid the
j-word." Their myspace page describes the group as "jazz, acoustic,
shoegaze," so I had to be reminded once again what shoegaze is/was.
Again, I see no relevance, although even that's better than the
tirelessly repeated story about Cowley playing Shostakovich at age
10. Waiting until he turns 34 to release his first record suggests
he's survived prodigyhood. Or is it just first jazz record? AMG
lists a couple pages of credits, mostly producer credits on various
artists techno compilations (titles like: Bossa Barva! Vol. 2,
Distance to Goa Vol. 7, Café del Mar: Chill House Mix,
Cafe Buddha: The Cream of Chilled Cuisine). Or is that the
same Neil Cowley? (If it were me, I'd be more likely to brag about
the techno than the Shostakovich.) Actually, they're a rock-ribbed
acoustic piano trio, full of fat chords, pogoing beats, assured
elaboration, calculated tension and release, showing they know their
English folk music -- from Pink Floyd to Coldplay, anyway -- and
hope to please as much as to dazzle. Ends with a whiff of electronics
remixing a fast one, possibly their next stage. Won a BBC jazz album
of the year prize, with acclamations of future stardom. Maybe in the
UK, or even Europe; over here I doubt they'll be as big as Jason
Moran, but I'm reminded a little bit of when Keith Jarrett broke
through to rock audiences in the '70s.
Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet
(1968-69 , Blue Note): A no-name hard bop crew from Detroit,
cut two albums sandwiched together on one disc here, then mostly
vanished -- a couple showed up on an MC5 record, and hung out with
Phil Ranelin's Tribe, and much later Cox appeared on James Carter's
Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Actually, they're sharp
and lively, especially trumpeter Charles Moore.
Tadd Dameron With John Coltrane: Mating Call
(1956 , Prestige): In retrospect, as the only horn working
with a set of Dameron's songs, Coltrane makes an especially strong
show of his early, Dexter Gordon-influenced style, exhibiting a
rough hewn muscularity that gets the best of Dameron's usually
Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Pasodoble
(2006-07 , ACT): Bass-piano duet. Swedish bassist, born 1958,
has more than a dozen albums as a leader, many more as a sideman.
How many is hard to tell because there's a Danish bassist named
Lars Danielsson whose website claims to have appeared on more than
100 albums -- appears to be more of a funk/rock player, but he's
worked with Nils Landgren and took over a teaching position in
Copenhagen from NHØP. Mozdzer is a Polish pianist with the usual
Chopin in his closet. The two sound terrific together, in large
part because Danielsson's sound is so resonant, underscored all
the more by the brightness of the piano.
Steamin' With the Miles Davis Quintet (1956 ,
Prestige): The fourth LP carved from the two sessions that marked
Davis's move from indie Prestige to major Columbia, a kiss-off of
quickly recorded standards that in retrospect were recognized as
his first great Quintet, with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul
Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones emerging; an odd mix of songs,
each standing out on its own.
Dick de Graaf Quartet: Moving Target (2006 ,
Soundroots): Dutch saxphonist, tenor plus a bit of soprano, in a
piano-bass-drums quartet. De Graaf has been recording under his
own name since 1986, and lately is listed as leader in two groups:
Trio Nuevo, whose Jazz Meets Tango is in my que, and
Istanbul Connection, which isn't. Website brags about his "hip
big tone" and gives a lot of play to him being selected to replace
the late Bob Berg, and that pigeonholes him pretty well. Straight
Hawkins-style on tenor, works around the melodies, loves how the
sax sounds, group swings.
Hamilton de Holanda: Íntimo (2006 , Adventure
Music): Solo 10-string mandolin, by a Brazilian mixing originals
with Jobim and other standards; he doesn't stretch out or break
new groups, just delivers on the honorably modest title.
Alessandro D'Episcopo Trio: Meraviglioso (2005
, Altrisuoni): Italian pianist, born Naples 1959, moved to
Milano in 1979, then on to Zurich in 1989, where he's currently
based -- teaching, playing with his trio and other bands, etc.
Starts with a regular, upbeat original called "Latin Pendulum,"
followed by the first of four Monk pieces.
Ron Di Salvio: Essence of Green: A Tribute to a Kind of
Blue (2005 , Origin): Jazz pianist, from New York,
lives and teaches in Kalamazoo, author of a book called The
Marriage of Major and Minor, the Synthesis of Classical and Jazz
Harmony. The booklet has some interesting theory about how
this relates to the Miles Davis classic, but I'm just reacting
to what I hear. Group is a septet, with Derrick Gardner's trumpet
fronting three saxophones, and original band member Jimmy Cobb on
drums. That affords a lot of harmonic options, a combination I
find unappealing. Some pieces add a quartet of voices, arranged
for vocalese. Some of this sails along marvelously, but too many
things turn me off.
Bruce Eisenbeil Sextet: Inner Constellation: Volume One
(2004 , Nemu): Guitarist, born 1968 Chicago, grew up in New Jersey,
moved to NYC in 1996. Has four or more albums. Has three previous albums
on CIMP, a couple more as co-leader (including one with Perry Robinson
I'd like to hear). Website also lists a big band record with David Murray
"to be released in 2112." Plays free with a heavy metallic ring -- plays
Fender Stratocaster on the 47:28 title cut, Ibanez acoustic and Gibson
L5 on three short trio pieces that close out the record. The sextet,
with violin (Jean Cook), trumpet (Nate Wooley), alto sax (Aaron Ali
Shaikh), bass (Tom Abbs) and drums (Nasheet Waits) is a heavy slog I
admire more than like, and may be shortchanging. The short pieces are
intriguing. Francis Davis wrote the liner notes, and is a fan.
Bruce Eisenbeil Sextet: Inner Constellation: Volume One
(2004 , Nemu): Another guitar record just below my line, this
one well to the avant side of the spectrum. The bulk is in the 47:28
title track, a multi-movement mass improv thing with violin, trumpet,
alto sax, bass and drums conflicting with the leader's electric guitar.
It works about as well as those things do, but not much better. The
tail end offers three short pieces where the guitar is clearer. No
idea about a Volume Two.
Kelly Eisenhour: Seek and Find (2007, BluJazz):
Jazz singer, originally from Tucson, graduated from Berklee, currently
based in Salt Lake City, teaching at Brigham Young -- has an entry at
"Famous Mormons in Music," along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the
Osmonds, the Killers, Warren Zevon, and Arthur "Killer" Kane. Third
album. Terrific voice, clear, sharp, arresting. Wrote the title cut
and some vocalese lyrics, but mostly takes standards and gives them
distinctive readings. Bob Mintzer gets a "featuring" on the cover,
and repays it with tasty sax accompaniment.
Eldar: Re-Imagination (2006 , Masterworks
Jazz): Eldar Djangirov, from Bishkek in Kyrghyzstan (his parents
are ethnic Russians, father a mechanical engineer, mother a music
teacher), emerged a couple of years ago as one of a bunch of
teenaged piano prodigies. Born 1987, still a teenager on this
his third album, he has the usual classical education and the
usual tendencies to show off. On the other hand, anyone who can
speed up Oscar Peterson is entitled to flaunt it a bit, and he
is beginning to develop a distinctive style on electric keybs,
especially when aided by DJ Logic.
Booker Ervin: The Freedom Book (1963 ,
Prestige): Short-lived Texas tenor, seems like most of his titles
were plays on "Book" -- this followed The Song Book and
The Blues Book; this doesn't qualify as free jazz, but
it does open up and range beyond hard bop, with Jaki Byard's
piano challenging the sax.
Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 , Savant):
Tenor saxophonist, with one obligatory cut on soprano. Last time
I heard him I flagged his Intuition (Nagel Heyer) as a dud.
I got some mail questioning that call, not based on the record but
based on a high estimation of his chops. No doubt he has the chops,
but he strikes me as a guy who, like Charlie Parker, is a bit too
impressed by speed. This one is a definite improvement. I'm still
not sure how much he has to offer beyond fierceness and speed, but
he doesn't fall flat when he does slow down, and the band -- Joe
Locke on vibes, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Lewis Nash on drums --
is a good one, with Locke a fleet match.
Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 , Savant):
Tenor saxophonist, takes one track on soprano without faltering,
plays fast postbop, holds an attractive tone when he slows down;
basically, has all the tools. Dresses sharp too. Only wrote one
song, which holds up. Ends with superb pieces by Ellington and
McLean. First rate band, with Joe Locke on vibes a special treat,
especially when they race. Hans Glawishnig on bass, Lewis Nash
Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else
(2006 , Thrill Jockey): This is cornetist Rob Mazurek, better
known as the cornerstone of Chicago Underground Duo, Trio, and Quartet.
This, his big Sun Ra move, could have been attributed to the Chicago
Underground Big Band. Two multi-part pieces called "Sting Ray and the
Beginning of Time" and "Cosmic Tones for Sleep Walking Lovers" and a
one-part interlude called "Black Sun." Starts out in fine orbit before
it cracks up a bit, then wanders off into a cloud of microscopic space
dust. Eventually the cosmic tones start to emerge -- something else
I guess we can blame on flutes. Not unlike the man from Saturn, the
best parts sound fabulous; not so sure about the rest.
Eye Contact: War Rug (2006 , KMB Jazz):
Musician credits in booklet are: "Cuica-Wind," "The Cuica-Earth,"
"Lone Wolf-Tree." Elsewhere they've been identified as Matt
Lavelle (trumpet, bass clarinet), Matthew Heyner (bass), Ryan
Sawyer (drums). Looks like there have been two previous Eye
Contact albums, on Utech. Seems understated compared to the
other Lavelle records, which may be a help but allows for some
Art Farmer: Farmer's Market (1956 , Prestige):
Bright, joyful hard bop from a rhythm section that includes Kenny
Drew and Elvin Jones, but Farmer on trumpet and Hank Mobley on tenor
sax don't mesh all that well, nor does either threaten to run off
with the record.
Michael Fein: Four Flights Up (2005 ,
Dreambox Media): Tenor saxophonist, from and/or in Philadelphia,
first album, in a six piece group with alto sax, trumpet, vibes,
bass, drums, but no piano or guitar. Mostly originals, but the
two covers are the most interesting things here: an elegant
"Bye Bye Blackbird" and a solo "Days of Wine and Roses" that
shows off Fein's attractive tone. The three-horn front line
doesn't do much of interest, but vibraphonist Behn Gillece
has some nice moments.
Alan Ferber Nonet: The Compass (2006 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Trombonist, twin brother of drummer Mark
Ferber; not to be confused with saxophonist Alon Farber or trombonist
Joe Fielder let alone drummer Alvin Fielder, though sometimes it
takes some effort. Third album, second nonet, a configuration I
almost always abhor. Played it to clear it off my shelf, then had
to play it again to verify what I was hearing. It does have a fair
amount of that complex postbop harmony I care so little for, but
the delicate parts of something like "North Rampart" are luscious,
even when the horns weigh in. And the charging trombone sells the
The Essential Maynard Ferguson (1954-96 ,
Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Trumpeter, from Quebec, made his rep in
Stan Kenton's band for his piercing high notes, enjoyed a long
run as a popular bandleader; the '50s sides tend to dissolve
into white light, the '60s and '70s add schmaltz and fad --
"Maria" and "MacArthur Park" are the worst, at least until he
discovers disco; "Caravan" and "Manteca," from his endgame on
Concord, aren't bad.
Floratone (2007, Blue Note): I filed this under Bill
Frisell, mostly because he has a file, unlike the other three principals.
Actually, that's unfair to Tucker Martine, whose albums are scattered
under aliases like Mylab, whose album, with Frisell the key musician,
I liked enough to feature in an early Jazz CG. Martine has a long list
of production credits, most based in Seattle, few related to jazz. I
didn't recognize the other two principals; my bad. Lee Townsend, like
Martine credited with production, has a long list of jazz production
credits going back to 1981, with Frisell at the top of the list; other
names include Joey Baron, Jerry Granelli, Dave Holland, Charlie Hunter,
Marc Johnson, John Scofield. The fourth member, credited with drums and
loops, is Matt Chamberlain. He has one album under his own name but more
than 200 credits, almost all rock, especially female singer-songwriters
(e.g., Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Melissa Etheridge, Macy Gray, Lisa Loeb,
Natalie Merchant, Stevie Nicks, Liz Phair, Shakira). Closer to jazz he's
worked with Dave Koz and Critters Buggin -- an "experimental rock" group
with a good sense of groove and a honking saxman named Skerik. Martine
and Townsend are both credited with "production" -- I think the actual
chronology was that Chamberlain and Frisell recorded some jams, then
handed them over to Martine and Townsend to sort out. Somewhere along
the way guests got dubbed in: Viktor Krauss on bass, Eyvind Kang on
viola, Ron Miles on cornet. The pieces all start out on grooves with
guitar dressing -- there's nothing much to lift them up, so everything
depends on the beats, and they rarely falter. Townsend calls this
"futuristic roots music" -- he may be thinking of Frisell's take on
Americana mirrored into the future, hoping it takes root. In any case,
it sounds easier than it is. There are a lot of people trying to do
something like this, but few actually making it work, and these vets
have separately worked with most of them -- here they almost bring
Sonny Fortune: You and the Night and the Music
(2006 , 18th & Vine): Sounds great right out of the
blocks, but so mainstream I start to wonder whether that's all
there is to it, then he switches from alto sax to flute and I
wonder why even bother. Then I got distracted and lost track,
so I'll get back to it later. Quartet, with George Cables a
definite plus on piano.
Sonny Fortune: You and the Night and the Music
(2007, 18th & Vine): The veteran alto saxophonist sounds great,
making giant swipes at familiar songs, with pianist George Cables
and rhythm inclined to swing madly. Still, it may be that by making
it look so easy they undercut our sense of their accomplishment.
Or maybe it just is too easy.
Frank Foster: Manhattan Fever (1968-69 ,
Blue Note): The 6- and 7-piece groups here sound larger than
that -- Foster's apprenticeship with Count Basie skilled him at
sharpening the edges of the arrangements, and he never wastes
an instrument, typically riffing against sharp blasts of brass,
then parting the waters for a deft solo with a bit of piano;
Duke Pearson produced, and must have pushed him hard.
Bud Freeman: Chicago/Austin High School Jazz in Hi-Fi
(1957 , Mosaic): Small world, that so many of Chicago's trad
jazz greats came out of the same high school, but the lineup here
is actually broader, with Jack Teagarden among the ringers. Freeman
was an easy swinging tenor saxophonist, emerging in the late '20s
as a prototype for the lighter, looser Lester Young sound, and
lasting into the '80s. The three sessions collected here didn't
have to look too far back to find the camaraderie, the freshness,
and the excitement the Austin High Gang grew up with. An early
entry in a promising series of "limited edition" -- 5000 copies,
big deal -- single-disc reissues: a record I've known about but
couldn't find for a long time now.
Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane (2005
, Skipstone): Solo cello compositions and improvisations,
inspired by trips across the vast American landscape. Pizzicato
sounds open and airy, like guitar; arco gets more volume and
intensity, while avoiding the squelch of violin and the deep
barrenness of bass. Or maybe he's just an exceptional cellist
and composer/improviser, because this is both more cohesive and
more consistently intriguing than most solo albums; a neat trick.
Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble: Fujin Raijin (2006
, Victo): Her folk music group -- that's how Min-Yoh translates.
Two trad pieces, plus originals. Quartet with Curtis Hasselbring's
trombone complementing Natsuki Tamura's trumpet, with Andrea Parkins'
accordion matched up against Fujii's piano. No drum, no bass, not
much groove. Starts slow, gets loud. At one point someone -- Fujii,
presumably -- sings. Another aspect to an amazingly varied oeuvre.
Richard Galliano Quartet: If You Love Me (2006
, CAM Jazz): Accordion, more than any other instrument I
can think of, signifies a deep emotional attachment to European
folk music. Galliano is regarded as a jazz musician, but first
and foremost he is an accordionist, and he milks this binding
for all it's worth. He takes center stage here, with first rate
bass and drums support from George Mraz and Clarence Penn. Most
intriguing is the fourth: Gary Burton, on vibes. His fast moves
and light touch provide a fanciful contrast to the accordion.
Rob Garcia's Sangha: Heart's Fire (2005 ,
Connection Works): Drummer, based in New York (I think), plays
Latin, mainstream, free, dixieland, whatever. This one leans
Latin, and I'm impressed as long as I focus on the drummer. But
I'm more dubious about all the flute and soprano sax, and simply
don't care for the singer, who moves this into unappealing prog
Red Garland: Soul Junction (1957 , Prestige):
The pianist manages to sound bluesy and soulful on his own, taking
"I've Got It Bad" slow enough to make the point. The horns work best
when they stay in character, as on the long title piece, with both
Donald Byrd and John Coltrane contributing blues-tinged solos. When
they get out front, as on "Woody'n You" and "Birks' Works," the
pace quickens and the piano struggles a bit to keep up.
Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall (2006, Nonesuch):
I've been griping for years now about Nonesuch not sending me
their jazz records, and this was one I had in mind, especially
when it started showing up in year-end lists. Found a copy at
my local public library, so I thought I should give it a spin.
Starts heavy-handed, tightening up around itself to build up
tension, riffing Coltraneisms in search of mystic aura, which
is ultimately provided by a chorus on two songs, after Tibetan
samples and erhu proved little more than flavoring. Garrett has
pursued Coltrane before, and dedicates this one to McCoy Tyner.
(I've read that Tyner was the intended pianist, but unavailable;
Garrett reacted with the obvious move, hiring Mulgrew Miller.)
But the real heavyweight here is Pharoah Sanders, whose claim
on Coltrane is more organic and more singular. I found this more
than a little irritating at first, and still find much I don't
care for. But it's good to hear Sanders wail, and Miller and
Bobby Hutcherson fill in admirably.
Stephen Gauci Trio: Substratum (2006 , CIMP):
Tenor saxophonist, from New York, plays avant, in a trio with Michael
Bisio and Jay Rosen -- same group as Bisio's Circle This minus
Avram Fefer, but working on Gauci's material rather than Bisio's.
Seems like an interesting player, but the record is often inaudible
over the ambient hum of my antiquated computers -- he can play hot,
feverish runs, but also favors quiet stretches that can be annoying
when they drop below my hearing threshold for any appreciable spell.
CIMP does this on purpose: they want to create a perfect live sound
with a full range of dynamics, but to get the full benefit you have
to own the sort of high-end audiophile gear they also hawk, have a
perfect room, and sit properly in front of the speakers, volume
cranked up, ears cocked for minute details. I don't live like that,
which doesn't kill all CIMP records for me, but hurts in cases like
this. I like what I can hear, and would like to hear more.
Lafayette Gilchrist: Three (2007, Hyena): Third album,
but could just as well refer to the number of musicians, or maybe
even David Murray's "3d family" -- Gilchrist works with Murray. This
time the piano trio appears to be purely acoustic. Most pieces have
a regular pulse. Booklet refers to Sun Ra, James Brown, Andrew Hill,
and CLR James.
Lafayette Gilchrist: Three (2007, Hyena):
Acoustic piano trio, a fairly conservative form, but played
with such regular rhythm you'd think they're after a groove
record. To show they can do it? That's a rather odd form of
The Essential Benny Goodman (1934-46 ,
Columbia/Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD): The Sony-BMG merger unites most
of Goodman's discography, especially from his peak popularity
period; this carves the bounty up into evenly balanced slices:
live performances, and studio recordings featuring arrangers,
singers, and small groups; they provide a useful introduction
to the King of Swing in his prime, but if anything slight his
still remarkable clarinet.
Dexter Gordon: Clubhouse (1965 , Blue Note):
The end of Gordon's Blue Note period, this sat on the shelves until
1979. Quintet session, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Barry Harris
on piano, Billy Higgins on drums, and Bob Cranshaw on bass --
replaced by Ben Tucker for his own piece, "Devilette." Hubbard
makes a splash early on, and takes a striking solo on the ballad
"I'm a Fool to Want You." Gordon is even better on the slow stuff,
reminding you that he's one of the instrument's great stylists.
The more upbeat pieces are merely typical.
Darrell Grant: Truth and Reconciliation (2005 ,
Origin, 2CD): Title from a Nelson Mandela quote: "Truth is the road
to reconciliation." Grant is a pianist, also employing Fender Rhodes.
Born Philadelphia, grew up in Denver, studied in Rochester and Miami,
worked in New York, finally moved to Portland in 1997, where he
teaches. Six albums since 1993, starting with two on mainstream
Criss Cross; couple dozen side credits, including Greg Osby, Craig
Harris, Tom Harrell, and Don Braden; early on worked with Betty
Carter and Tony Williams, but evidently not on record. I don't
get a strong sense of Grant's piano here. Rather, we have a long
series of sly pieces, some songs with lyrics, Grant vocals, and
more/less political themes. Bill Frisell and Adam Rogers play
guitar, which tends to add silky shades to piano; Joe Locke adds
some vibes, to similar effect. Steve Wilson's saxophones provide
the only horns. They're unspecified, but soprano and alto would
be his norm. John Patitucci plays bass; Brian Blade drums -- so
it's possible that the leader is the least widely known player
here (certainly he is to me). Two pieces provide settings for
speech excerpts from Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Martin
Luther King, working quite nicely.
Tord Gustavsen Trio: Being There (2006 , ECM):
Piano trio, from Norway, with Harald Johnsen on bass, Jarle Vespestad
on drums. Third ECM album, nominally the culmination of a trilogy,
but I doubt they are that thematic. Johnsen contributes one piece,
Gustavsen the rest. Very low key, precise, sensible. I prefer the
pieces that pick up some momentum to the ones that are all melody,
but he's very adept at the latter.
Tord Gustavsen Trio: Being There (2006 , ECM):
Bankrolled by Keith Jarrett, ECM has cultivated a range of pianists
who seem to be converging on a serenely peaceful style, one that is
neither swing nor bop nor avant, that moves slowly with assurance,
that supplants new age while reducing its avatars to shlock. There
are a dozen or more ECM pianists who fit this bill -- even utterly
different players like Paul Bley and Marilyn Crispell gravitate that
way under Manfred Eicher's production -- but none more so than Tord
Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione: Heartplay (2006
, Naim): Forcione is an Italian guitarist, or as his website
puts it, "acoustic guitar virtuoso" -- close enough for me. Haden
you know. So these are bass-guitar duets, simple things, gorgeous
in their own way. Similar to things Haden did with Egberto Gismonti --
I'm tempted to say better, but I haven't heard the best regarded one,
In Montreal (1989, ECM). I only wonder if there's enough here.
Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione: Heartplay (2006
, Naim): Not much here, just simple but elegantly picked
guitar and bass, with Haden in his hypersentimental mode. So
modest, not to mention quiet, you could easily miss it, which
would be a shame.
David Haney & Julian Priester: Ota Benga of the Batwa
(2006 , CIMP): Piano-trombone duet, the second match for Haney
and Priester. Haney is a pianist, born 1955 Fresno CA, grew up in
Calgary, studied in Portland OR; has several records since 2001, but
this is the first I've heard. Priester is better known, in his 70s
now, with a career that straddles avant and mainstream. Duos are an
avant staple, a chance for two players to feel each other out with
a minimum of preconditions and distractions. They demand such close
listening that I often have trouble with them. This, at least, is a
good mix of instruments, and Haney adjusts well to the limits of the
trombone. The dedication is to Ota Benga (1884-1916), a Batwa pygmy
exhibited at the 1906 St. Louis World's Fair. He wound up working at
the Bronx Zoo, at first ending to the animals until crowd interest
inspired the management to make an exhibit of him. After protests,
he was sacked, sent away, and finally committed suicide, hoping to
return his spirit to Africa.
Happy Apple: Happy Apple Back on Top (2007, Sunnyside):
Bad Plus drummer Dave King's other trio, billed as "jazz punk," with
Erik Fratzke on Fender bass and Michael Lewis on various saxophones
and occasional keyboards, with their seventh album since 1997. I've
only heard the last album, The Peace Between Our Companies,
which made my A-list. This one is more or less as good -- having a
lot of trouble making up my mind. Lewis reminds me a lot of Tony
Malaby on tenor and, oh, Michael Blake on soprano -- pretty good
models, but not quite distinct. Coming from Minnesota, I'm tempted
to call them the Hüsker Dü of free jazz, especially when they go
hard or Fratzke gets into one of his rock grooves. But they're more
flexible than that, with the slow stuff retaining interest as well.
Tom Harrell: Light On (2006 , High Note):
A somewhat slick but fairly conventional postbop quintet, with
Danny Grissett playing Fender Rhodes as much as acoustic piano,
and Wayne Escoffery's tenor sax matching up against Harrell's
trumpet and flugelhorn. Each player has his moments, but in
the end they don't add up to critical mass.
Joel Harrison: Harbor (2006-07 , High Note):
Most jazz musicians these days describe themselves as x-composer,
where "x" is their main instrument. I usually leave the composer
tag off here because it seems like such a cliché, but I'll mention
it here because Harrison is more composer than guitarist. That's
not a hard call. His bread and butter appears to be soundtracks,
which may be why this album runs toward long set pieces -- groove
things and mood things with a slightly metallic taste. But also
he employs guitarist Nguyên Lê on 6 of 8 cuts. I don't know either
well enough to sort them out, but if I tried it'd probably be on
the basis that Lê has a Jimi Hendrix tribute on his resume where
Harrison's tribute is to George Harrison. I've heard both and
don't care much for either. I'm not all that interested in this
one either, but I'm impressed by its dense complexity and get a
charge out of Dave Binney's alto sax, even though it's mostly
Roy Haynes/Phineas Newborn/Paul Chambers: We Three
(1958 , Prestige/New Jazz): Bop piano trio with a nice, evenly
balanced feel, with drummer Haynes and bassist Chambers holding their
own despite the fact that Newborn was one of the slickest, most
voluble young pianists working then; presumably Haynes got top
billing as the oldest; fifty years of steady work eventually made
him the most famous.
The Jimmy Heath Orchestra: Really Big! (Keepnews Collection)
(1960 , Riverside): When Blue Note launched their RVG Editions
they at least promised a sonic face lift by handing the reissues back
to original sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The series was successful
enough that Van Gelder cut a deal with Concord too. It's less obvious
what the Keepnews Collection offers. Orrin Keepnews was producer and
co-owner of a series of important labels: Riverside and Milestone in
Concord's portfolio, Landmark in limbo. He's credited as producer here,
but the 24-bit sound has been remastered by Joe Tarantino -- Keepnews'
main contribution is to revisit his liner notes. Still, list price is
the same as the previous Original Jazz Classics series, and occasional
bonus tracks -- one here, an alternate take of "Nails" -- don't hurt.
The choice of records within the Riveside and Milestone catalogs thus
far seem completely arbitrary. Still, this one is an overlooked gem:
a ten-piece band with Clark Terry, two Adderleys, three Heaths, and
plenty of low-pitched horns to flesh out the acrobatics.
Helena: Bang! Dillinger Girl & "Baby Face" Nelson
(2006 , Sunnyside): The pictures are more suggestive of Bonnie
and Clyde, but bank robbers in America are as interchangeable, not
to mention boring, as anyone else. Dillinger Girl is Helena Noguerra,
who has two previous albums of French pop under her first name. Baby
Face Nelson is Federico Pellegrini, who had something to do with a
group called Little Rabbits, and who has more recently styled himself
as French Cowboy. This album was cut in Tucson with little if any
French accent. I don't really know what to make of it.
The Jon Hemmersam/Dom Minasi Quartet (2006 ,
CDM): Two guitarist above the line; the other two are bassist Ken
Filiano and drummer Kresten Osgood. Hemmersam comes from Denmark,
plays Spanish guitar and electric; he has a previous album called
Abakvarian, another record with Michael Jefry Stevens and
Karen Valeur as the Jazzic Trio, and some other credits I don't
quite understand (e.g., "Fusion Energy is a musicschool
band leaded by Jon"). Minasi is from Queens, had a brief fling
on Blue Note in the 1970s, reappeared with an album in 1999, and
has been recording himself steadily ever since. I tend to think
of him as a Joe Pass-type who somehow fell into an avant-garde
crowd. He plays 12-string here, adding to a density that is all
but definitive when they pick up the pace. The Spanish stuff is
more ornate and less satisfying. Filiano is a plus, as usual.
Todd Herbert: The Path to Infinity (1999-2003 ,
Metropolitan): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Chicago area,
moved to New York in 1997. Has played with Charles Earland, Freddie
Hubbard, and Tom Harrell, although AMG doesn't give him any credits.
Six cuts date from a 1999 session with George Colligan on piano,
Dwayne Burno on bass, and Darrin Becket on drums, showing a straight
shooter with some fire -- reminds me of Eric Alexander speeding. The
odd cut out came later with David Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on
bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. The rhythm there is more slippery
and the sax less straight, more Prez than Hawk. Might be fruitful
to follow up in that direction.
Andrew Hill: Compulsion (1965 , Blue Note):
Despite the horn firepower -- Sun Ra's John Gilmore smoldering on
tenor sax and bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard firing away on trumpet --
Hill's piano has rarely loomed larger or more critically. He stamps
out dense chords and skitters off with abstract fills, his rhythmic
eccentricity prodding Cecil McBee and/or Richard Davis on bass, Joe
Chambers on drums, with an extra layer of Afro-exotica from Nadi
Qamar and Renaud Simmons.
Andrew Hill: Change (1966 , Blue Note):
The fine print notes that this, minus two alternate takes, was
originally issued under Sam Rivers' name as half of the 1976
2-LP Involution. That it should now revert to Hill's
catalogue reflects the changing fortunes of the principals.
Hill was a pet project of Francis Wolf in the '60s, but much
recorded then went unreleased at the time, including this
quartet with Rivers. From the late '90s, Hill mounted quite
a comeback, with two much admired albums on Palmetto and a
return to Blue Note, Time Lines, which swept most jazz
critic polls in 2006. I'm not a huge fan of the late albums,
but they've led to a massive reissue of Hill's 1963-69 Blue
Note period, which has if anything grown in stature. Rivers'
career actually parallels Hill's quite nicely, with Blue Note
in the '60s, a long stretch in the wilderness, and a comeback
in 1999, with two large ensemble albums, Inspiration
and Culmination, released on RCA. Hill died in 2007,
but Rivers carries on in his 80s, with an exemplary trio
album, Violet Violets (Stunt) in 2004. Still, it is
appropriate to restore this session to Hill's ledger: he
wrote all of the pieces, and once you get past the ugliness
of an 11:04 opener called "Violence" the sax calms down and
the piano emerges, as impressive as ever.
Lisa Hilton: The New York Sessions (2007, Ruby
Slippers): Pianist, from Southern California, relationship to
Paris unknown, but better looking, for sure. Has 10 self-released
albums since 1997, most with b/w photos on the cover and titles
like My Favorite Things, one with a cocktail glass on the
piano. Just a blue vignette this time, with the title and a list
of the musicians: Christian McBride / Lewis Nash / Jeremy Pelt /
Steve Wilson. That's a lot of talent, but the horns are severely
underused, and the rhythm section is likely to fool a blindfold
test. Hilton wrote a little more than half of the pieces, adding
covers of Monk, Ray Charles, Johnny Mandell, and Joni Mitchell
("Both Sides Now," reprised at the end). Pleasant.
Bruce Hornsby/Christian McBride/Jack DeJohnette: Camp
Meeting (2007, Legacy): Hornsby is a Berklee-educated
pianist who emerged in the late '80s as a platinum-selling rock
star, creating a mix of Americana, schmaltz, and Elton John. I
never bothered listening to him until 2006, when Legacy sent
me his 4-CD box set, which I played through twice and accorded
a polite B. My only other encounter with him was one of Marian
McPartland's Piano Jazz sessions in 2005 that Concord's
new owners put out when they were trolling for names they've
heard of -- Steely Dan and Elvis Costello were the others. It
turns out that Hornsby's long been a jazz nerd. Now that his
career has coasted to where he's got nothing better to do, he's
indulging himself. I don't know whether to encourage him or not.
On the one hand, this is a pretty useless piano trio album --
a mix of bop standards that he doesn't add much to and originals
that don't take much away. On the other, it's pretty consistently
enjoyable. Hornsby himself is more than proficient, and the Bud
Powell pieces especially shine. And the bassist and even more so
the drummer are superb, as you'd expect. Even the marketing folks
figured that out: the advance only has Hornsby's name on it, but
the final copy lists all three. Makes sense to me: in this niche,
McBride and DeJohnette sell Hornsby much more than the other way
Diane Hubka: Goes to the Movies (2005-06 ,
18th & Vine): Singer; plays a little 7-string guitar, although
most of the fine guitar here is credited to Larry Koonse. Website
bio has no biographical information, and is otherwise dubious --
"arguably the biggest discovery since Roberta Gambarini"? (FYI,
I've never heard Gambarini, although I recognize the name.) Looks
like she came from Appalachia, worked in DC and/or NYC, has three
previous albums, mostly on Dutch labels, and a favorable entry in
Penguin Guide, likening her to Sheila Jordan. I don't hear
that here, but haven't heard the earlier albums. She has a clear,
clean, articulate voice, and gets unassuming support from a quintet
led by pianist Christian Jacob, with Carl Saunders providing finish
touches on trumpet and flugelhorn. Record rises and falls on the
songs, which include enough melodramatic themes and noirish ballads
to turn me off. Could use another play.
Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (2006
, Euonymus): Hwang is a Chinese-American violinist, who has
managed to distinguish himself both in Chinese classical music and
avant-jazz. Park is a Korean, born 1950 in Seoul, moved to New York
in 1980. He plays ajeng (a 6-string bowed zither) and kayagum (a
12-string plucked ziter), which are capable of a rough, sour -- I'm
tempted to say ugly -- sound, contrasting with the more conventional
violin. Park has worked with Laurie Anderson, Henry Kaiser, Ryuichi
Sakamoto, and has a solo album. Like most duo albums, this initially
strikes me as limited to the sum of its parts. I have no framework
for evaluating Park's mastery. Hwang is one of the most interesting
violinists around, but Park controls the tempo and sound.
François Ingold Trio: Song Garden (2006 ,
Altrisuoni): Swiss pianist, in a trio with bassist Diego Imbert
and drummer Fred Bintner. Looks like his first album. Don't know
much more. I like the record quit ea bit, but it's one of those
things I don't have much to say about. Given the nominal release
date, no problem holding it back for later.
[B+(**)] [Sept. 1]
François Ingold Trio: Song Garden (2006 ,
Altrisuoni): Swiss pianist, first album, sounds impeccable, like
what you'd expect in a first rate piano trio while hoping for a
miracle. Don't have much to say beyond that, which is why I'm
sweeping it under the rug. Not impossible that he'll come back
and make us pay attention.
Tomas Janzon: Coast to Coast to Coast (2006, Changes
Music): Janzon noticed I had put this on down in the "low priority"
section of that missed music list I published a few months ago, so
he sent a copy. Glad he did. Guitarist, born in Sweden, based in Los
Angeles (more or less) since 1991. Record is recorded with several
configurations of trio and quartet groups -- no horns, the fourth
instrument is either William Henderson's piano or Birger Thorelli's
marimba. Cool, intricate style; attractive record.
Tomas Janzon: Coast to Coast to Coast (2006, Changes):
Another good mainstream guitar record just below my line, its virtue
in simple and elegant lines, uncomplicated by horns -- just bass and
drums, and on a few cuts marimba or piano. Cool.
Joseph Jarman: As If It Were the Seasons (1968
, Delmark): The arty 23:47 title cut was done by a trio plus
voice, the sort of thing that AACM could do when imagining great
black classical music. But when the gang -- including Muhal Richard
Abrams, Fred Anderson, and John Stubblefield -- showed up for the
20:58 "Song for Christopher" all hell broke loose. You already
know whether you can stand this or not, but if you can, focus on
the percussive thrash, credited to Everybody.
Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tattooed Sails
(2006 , Upshot): The group comes from a line in a Bob Dylan
song. The group -- Michael Moore on reeds and melodica, Lindsey
Horner on bass, Michael Vatcher on bass -- plays Bob Dylan songs.
This is their third album, which still doesn't get them very far
through the songbook, although the stuff that a non-Dylan fan
like me can recognize is thinning out. That in itself matters
little: one thing they've already proven is that Dylan is quite
a melodist, even blanking out his legendary lyrics. One I do
recognize is "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," even though
they turn it into a fantastic improvisatory platform. Bill Frisell
joins in on three cuts. Haven't noticed them yet.
A- [Sept. 1]
Postscript: Played this record another 8-10 times groping
for words for the review, mostly in speechless admiration for its
balance and elegance. Eventually came up with something, going so
far as to bump the grade up to A and making it a pick hit.
Looked at Lindsey Horner's website, where he is at pains to insist
that the group is collaborative, not a Michael Moore vehicle. Moore
had made the same point previously in personal mail. Even believing
that, it's hard to know what to do with it. But it may explain why
they shopped around for another record label, instead of releasing
the record on Moore's Ramboy, like the other two.
Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo: The Other Road (2007,
Cumulus): Back cover exclaims: Brazilian Jazz. Website explains:
Original Brazilian Inspired Jazz. I would have insisted on a hyphen:
Brazilian-Inspired. Johnson plays guitar (mostly nylon-string) and
sings; based in or near San Francisco or San Jose (Palo Alto?); has
five albums, two with this band, but previous albums were evidently
similar. The band (horns and percussion, anyway) aren't bad, but
the leader's guitar is nothing special, and the vocals are somewhere
between inept and awful -- the constant bubbling of the background
voices is especially annoying.
C- [Oct. 1]
Etta Jones/Houston Person: Don't Misunderstand: Live in New
York (1980 , High Note): Jones only appears on three
tracks -- "Exactly Like You," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "I Saw Stars" --
revealing nothing beyond her usual competency, so no point seeking
this out on her account. Organist Sonny Phillips is perfunctory at
best, and the longer he holds the spotlight the duller the record
gets. So that leaves Person -- his tenor sax all honey, so sweet
he turns "Blue Monk" out as a natural standard, even managing to
elevate Phillips' blues jams.
Thad Jones: Detroit-New York Junction (1956 ,
Blue Note): Eventually the middle Jones brother became well known
for his compositions, his arranging, and his band co-leadership
with Mel Lewis, while his '50s small group records remained out
of print. This sextet, mostly Detroit musicians moved to New York,
offers a little bit of everything: bebop trumpet, three original
compositions and two Rodgers-Hart standards, clever arrangements.
Barb Jungr: Bare Again (1999 , ZC):
Reissue of her first album Bare, named for its minimal
piano-only accompaniment, with three extra cuts to grow the
title. Jungr has some jazz flair, and picks songs come from
'60s-'70s pop, with Jacques Brel's "Sons Of" a revelation,
Ian Dury's "What a Waste" a surprise, and Kris Kristofferson's
"Me and Bobby McGee" a dud.
Fred Katz: Folk Songs for Far Out Folk (1958 ,
Reboot Stereophonic): About all I know of Kabbalah is that it seeks
to peel off the illusions of G-d, only to find more illusions. I'm
tempted to add that's because there is no God, so the only things
you can possibly find are illusions. The peeling off metaphor is one
we can apply to history. The most nominal categorization of Katz is
anthropology professor, a post he used less for science than as a
license to indulge his own interests -- mystical religion, political
radicalism, ethnomusicology, the "oneness of man." But strip all of
those back to their roots, and you find a boy playing classical music
on his cello. That at least validates the metaphor, inasmuch as we've
found a seed from which all else grows. But peeling off could just
as well leave us with an uncomfortable void, as in seeking God, or
in peeling off the history of knowledge, where each new achievement
reveals a previously held falsehood. The most striking thing about
Folk Songs for Far Out Folk is how much our evolving view has
change the meaning of those words over the 50 years since the record
was conceived. Katz takes three sets of folk songs -- African, Hebrew,
and American -- and arranges them for three different orchestras. The
African tunes get West Coast brass and Jack Constanzo's bongos for
the drums we now know should be there. The Hebrew psalms get flutes
and reeds, but nothing suggesting klezmer. The American songs get
vibes and guitar. They're interleaved to juxtapose rather than flow,
but what they all share is the arranger's classical fix on control.
That the albums was marketed as jazz is an artifact of the time,
much like the notion that these are still folk songs, and that we
are far out folk.
Chris Kelsey Quartet: The Crookedest Straight Line Vol. 1
(2006 , CIMP): Soprano saxophonist, born in Maine, based in New
York. This looks to be his eighth album since 1997, starting with one
called The Ingenious Young Gentlemen of the Lower East Side,
mostly for avant-audiophile label CIMP. Pianoless quartet, with John
Carlson on trumpet/flugelhorn, François Grillot on bass, Jay Rosen
on drums. Haven't been able to focus on the leader, partly because
the trumpet seems more prominent, partly due to other distractions.
I do like some spots where they kick up the volume.
Chris Kelsey Quartet: The Crookedest Straight Line Vol. 1
(2006 , CIMP): For some reason I find the sound of soprano sax and
trumpet played in unison to be highly irritating. When the two horns --
the leader's soprano sax and John Carlson's trumpet -- diverge, as is
most often the case, each takes an interesting path; all the more so
when drummer Jay Rosen picks up the pace.
Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the
Tower Block (2006 , Dune): Part one (of two) of
a concept album about a normal day in the life of three blokes
in a Birmingham (UK) housing project (B19) -- Adrian, Marcus,
and S -- with the usual hopes and dreams and dreads and ennui.
Probably means more if you've been there or at least can grok
the accents -- I recall an English (err, Welsh) businessman I
used to work with as describing Birmingham as "three million
people with a common speech defect." I find it takes an awful
lot of effort to follow what on paper appears as 15 skits in
a matrix of 15 pieces -- even on paper the organization isn't
that neat, with "Opening Theme" and "Everybody Raps" among the
pieces. As hip-hop, I'm more impressed by its ambition than by
the accomplishment. As jazz it isn't much clearer. Kinch has a
plastic take on alto sax -- his tone playful, almost toyish,
his lines bent in odd ways -- but he tends to fall back into
soundtrack mode here, so only occasional patches suggest that
he may be up to something interesting. I don't hate the idea
of hip-hop-era jazz, but this one's a long way from sorting
out the kinks.
Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower
Block (2006 , Dune): It's just a matter of time
before hip-hop seeps into jazz, unless this shotgun wedding
spoils the idea forever. Kinch's previous album had a lot of
blowing interrupted by a few raps; this is the opposite, with
the raps not only predominant but also saddled with the full
weight of a narrative concept Prince Paul isn't even ambitious
enough to tackle. Moreover, it's so British it doesn't travel
well -- like, what are "benefits" that one might worry about
losing? And the surfeit of rap is set on grime beats, which
seep into the jazz breaks like an oil spill.
Roland Kirk With Jack McDuff: Kirk's Work (1961
, Prestige): Soul jazz, a sax-organ quartet, albeit with
a few surprises, like the cover picture of Kirk blowing into
three saxophones; Kirk's flute work is also novel, emphasizing
the instrument's hollow depth.
Guy Klucevsek/Alan Bern: Notefalls (2006 ,
Winter & Winter): I looked Klucevsek up in Wikipedia and saw
that they have a link to "Avant-garde accordionists"; clicked that,
and discovered that Klucevsek is the only one listed. That seems
appropriate. I can think of some avant-jazz accordionists, but no
one he's unique in having come out of the what I guess is called
"modern composition" these days -- his early discography includes
work with Lukas Foss, Virgil Thomson, Pauline Oliveros, people
like that. Bern plays accordion as well, but his background is
more common, coming out of the klezmer group Brave Old World. In
the long run Klucevsek has ranged far and wide, including a fair
amount of klezmer and polka, a lot of jazz, and an occasional
appearance with someone like Laurie Anderson. This is his second
duo album with Bern, who doubles up on accordion on several pieces,
but more often plans piano, and in one case melodica. This is
another record I'm cutting corners on. It feels composed through,
and loses my interest in spots, but the upbeat cuts "Don't Let
the Boogie-Man Get You" and "March of the Wild Turkey Hens" are
Mark Knox: Places (2006, Dreambox Media):
Knox is credited throughout with keys, and on various tracks
with percussion programming, samples, and vocals. His keys
and beats are light and frothy. The places straddle the map,
with an extended sequence in Japan followed by a Vietnamese
folk song. Most of it is attractive enough. The only standout
is John Swana, whose trumpet burns brilliantly on four cuts.
Kreepa: Inside-a-Sekt (2006 , Monium):
Bad time: playing this but I can't read the cover notes, let
alone figure this out. Mostly electronics, or "electro-noise"
as the website puts it, with a little trombone. English, I
think, but distributed out of the Netherlands. Interesting.
Will get back to it.
Kreepa: Inside-A-Sekt (2006 , Monium):
Abstract electronics, mostly, although any sort of instrument can
be employed to similar effect, and trombone can occasionally be
discerned. While the sounds themselves seem disconnected, they do
on occasion add up to something vaguely resembling melody. But
most of the attraction is in the minimalist junkyard jumble, a
distinctly limited but real pleasure.
Joachim Kühn/Majid Bekkas/Ramon Lopez: Kalimba
(2006 , ACT): Drummer Lopez has his name on the spine, but
on the cover he's listed "with" below the title, while Kühn and
Bekkas are in larger print above. He's a useful guy, but the
action here is between the top-liners. Bekkas is a gnawa guy
from Morocco. He plays guembri ("a bass-like lute"), oud, and
kalimba, and sings, more like a stiff chant. I'm not sold on
the latter, but I'm not turned off either. He makes for an
interesting counterpoint to Kühn, who is dazzling as usual on
piano, and surprisingly assured on alto sax.
Steve Kuhn: Pastorale (2002 , Sunnyside):
Another piano trio. Playing this after Chip Stephens reminds me
of the difference between college sports and the pros. Stephens
is very good at playing other people. Kuhn is, well, Kuhn. He
broke through with Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane (before McCoy
Tyner replaced him), Stan Getz, and Art Farmer. He recorded as
himself in 1963, and has worked steadily ever since. I haven't
followed him closely -- I'm not much of a piano person, and
don't care for some of his digressions, like the Latin-tinged
Quiéreme Mucho. Even this is a bit too inside for my
interest span, but he sounds terrific -- as he does on the
more recently recorded Live at Birdland, an HM if I
ever find the words for it. Major league bass and drums too:
Eddie Gomez and Billy Drummond.
David Lackner: Chapter One (2006, Dreambox Media):
Alto/soprano saxophonist, in a Philadelphia quintet drescribed as
"the Dreambox house band." I know very little about Lackner, other
than that he's very young (20, I hear) and this is his first album.
He wrote all but two of the pieces, covering "Softly as in a Morning
Sunrise" and "Cherokee." Has a very nice, warm tone on alto, playing
fairly mainstream post-bop.
Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late
(1962-2002 , Cuneiform, 2CD): One thing that distinguished
both Lacy and Rudd is that they vaulted directly from trad jazz
to the avant-garde, pausing only to snatch up the songbooks of
Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Instrumentation had something
to do with this: before Lacy, the only known soprano sax master
was Sidney Bechet, while, pace J.J. Johnson, the trombone had
long been a New Orleans staple for dirtying up the lead trumpet --
Louis Armstrong never went anywhere without a Kid Ory or Trummy
Young or Jack Teagarden. The first Lacy-Rudd quartet only cut one
album, School Days (1963), but it was landmark enough that
Ken Vandermark named his trombone-powered pianoless quartet after
it. The four early cuts here are unreleased demos -- three takes
on Monk and one on Cecil Taylor -- and they are major finds, keys
to how to turn a song inside out and make something new of it. The
group broke up with Lacy moving to France and Rudd teaming up with
Archie Shepp and others before fading into obscurity. Finally, they
regrouped for tours in 1999 and 2002, with a new album, Monk's
Dream. The balance here are live shots from the tours -- long
pieces, mostly Lacy's improv frameworks, plus Monk and Nichols and
a sprightly pseudo-African riff from Rudd. They don't blow you away
so much as they resonate with the authoritative voices of two major
careers bound together at their ends.
Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love:
4 Corners (2006 , Clean Feed): Recorded over
three days in Portugal, with four pieces by Lane and three by
Vandermark. Nilssen-Love has played frequently with Vandermark,
including some notable duets and in School Days, a two-horn
quartet similar to this lineup. Broo plays trumpet in Atomic,
which merged with School Days for a 2004 album, Nuclear
Assembly Hall, so those three are connected. I think the
connection with Lane is new. It's hard to tell offhand what
difference Lane makes, but he's been putting together a very
impressive body of work. On the other hand, Vandermark is
impossible to miss. He mostly plays baritone sax here, with
lesser amounts of clarinet and bass clarinet, and he's become
a very powerful baritone player. Need to give this more time,
especially given that it's not the sort of thing you want to
listen to during a tornado warning.
Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love:
4 Corners (2006 , Clean Feed): Three Vandermark
songs, which tend to be wild and wooly, mixed in with four Lane
songs, which are probably the ones with the sharp patterns and
good beats. I'll need to recheck that, but the first cut is a
Vandermark squawl, with Broo's trumpet adding a fair share, but
it comes together after that. The drummer, of course, can go
any which way, and he's busy here.
Matt Lavelle: Trumpet Rising Bass-Clarinet Moon
(2004, 577 Records): Recorded live, with a quintet. If guitarist
Anders Neilson isn't a typo, he's as obcure as the rest -- Atiba
N. Kwabena on djembe, flute, percusion; Francois Grillot on bass;
Federick Ughi on drums. They provide a more varied background
than the duo/trio albums, but the focus is still on Lavelle's
trumpet and bass clarinet -- both distinctive. Lavelle describes
this as "a summation of my work from 1990-2000," and dedicated
it to the late Sir Hildred Humphries, his formative link back
to the pre-bop era.
Matt Lavelle and Daniel Carter (2006. downtownmusic.net):
Another duo, just a CDR in a plastic scallop case, recorded at Downtown
Music Gallery. Four pieces, much further developed than the Tower Records
set. Still, typical of avant duos, limited pallette of sounds, a lot of
feeling each other out, but strong performances if you pay attention.
Matt Lavelle: Cuica in the Third House (2007, KMB):
Solo project, with spoken bits I didn't really follow, and blasts of
trumpet or flugelhorn and bass clarinet, as interesting as ever.
Limited edition CDR, hand packaged.
Nguyên Lê: Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (2002,
ACT): Vietnamese guitarist, based in France, with ten or so albums
going back to 1989. This is somewhat old, inexplicably showing up
in the mail. A trio with guitar, electric bass, and drums, plus
guests, including vocals and North African percusion. The vocals
have a soft fuzziness, framing the words without really grabbing
them, let alone cutting them off as Hendrix did. The guitar also
lacks definition, although in the end the purple smudge does have
Nguyên Lê Duos: Homescape (2004-05 , ACT):
Home studio recordings, made at leisure with Lê on various guitars
with various electronics and either Paolo Fresu or Dhafer Youssef.
Fresu plays trumpet/flugelhorn; Youssef plays oud and sings. Not
actually specified who played which tracks, but it wouldn't be
hard to figure out if I had taken more careful notes. I could
also point out choice cuts -- there are some, but not enough to
draw another play right now.
Joélle Leandre/Pascal Contet: Freeway (2005 ,
Clean Feed): Duo improv, with Leandre on bass, Contet on accordion.
Record split into 12 pieces, titled "Freeway 1" to "Freeway 12."
In short, scattered stuff that demands a close ear, and returns
somewhat more than passing interest.
Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom: Yesterday, I Saw You
Kissing Tiny Flowers (2002-05 , 4Zero): Levy is a
San Francisco singer-songwriter, with credits going back to a
1994 EP -- only one I've heard before is a bit part on Mushroom's
Glazed Popems. AMG classifies her as Alternative Pop/Rock
and Indie Rock. AMG classifies Mushroom as Experimental Rock,
Prog-Rock/Art Rock, Kraut Rock, Instrumental Rock, Jazz-Rock,
Avant-Prog, Psychedelic, and figures their influences to have
been Herbie Hancock, King Crimson, Caravan, Can, and Gong. The
group has a dozen or so records, but once more, I've only heard
Glazed Popems (although I do have a new one with Eddie
Gale in the queue), which is some sort of '60s London tribute.
Among the others are titles that suggest they're a real critics
band, like Mad Dogs and San Franciscans and Foxy Music.
I haven't tried to work out the comings and goings, but aside from
Levy, the only constant on the four sessions here is drummer Pat
Thomas. Maybe it's the band vibe, but Levy reminds me enough of
Grace Slick to make this sound like a postmodern, not to mention
postrevolution, Jefferson Airplane -- certainly a more interesting
tangent than Paul Kantner's Starship.
Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2007, Verve):
Few singers I've listened more to and gotten less out of -- such
is her reputation, or maybe it's just Gary Giddins' fault. So I
wasn't expecting much here, but this starts off with a gallopping
pedal steel-enhanced "Blue Monk" before getting down to business
recycling the singer's originals. There's a bit of re-recording
your hits here, but that's less unbecoming in a jazz singer that
it is for, say, Merle Haggard. But it does give you a chance to
bump up the average quality level, and while I recognize many,
they're not things I've grown accustomed to.
[B+(*)] [May 22]
Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2006 ,
Verve): Francis Davis raved about this in the Voice. I suspect
that anyone else already in love with her will feel much the same.
I've long been a disappointed skeptic, so the best I can say is
that listening to her old songs redone here fails to remind me
of whatever it was that annoyed me about her in the past. One
possibility is that her voice has coarsened her voice, taking it
off that pedestal I never cared for. But also, the arrangements
are refreshing. The group is string-oriented, with Larry Campbell
playing acoustic and electric guitar, National resonator guitar,
pedal steel guitar, and mandolin; he's backed with cello, bass,
drums, and accordion for color. The pedal steel is the biggest
surprise, with "Blue Monk" played as a cowboy tune. The rest of
the songs are originals, selected (I assume) for strong melodies
that fit the framework -- a "greatest hits" effect, but given my
ignorance without regrets. A couple of songs in I thought about
suspending my skepticism, but the record runs long and isn't
The Jason Lindner Big Band: Live at the Jazz Gallery
(2005 , Anzic, 2CD): Mainstream pianist, the young potential
star Impulse favored over old Frank Hewitt when excavating Jazz
Underground: Live at Smalls. Lindner manages to straddle advanced
postbop and scattered world music interests -- his record on Fresh
Sound World Jazz, Ab Aeterno, is on my Honorable Mention list.
His Big Band dates back to 1995 at Smalls, so this particular event
was touted as a 10th anniversary celebration. The line-up is notable,
with Israelis and Latin Americans in abundance -- Omer Avital, Anat
and Avishai Cohen, Rafi Malkiel, Miguel Zenon, Yosvany Terry Cabrera
(limited to one track on chekere). Liner notes refer to similar large
ensembles -- Maria Schneider, Guillermo Klein, Magali Souriau -- but
this group is both simpler and more powerful, at least when they open
up. That doesn't happen much on the first disc, but two cuts on the
second ("Freak of Nature" and "The 5 Elements and the Natural Trinity")
get off on more interesting Latin rhythms; they're also the ones that
start with piano leads.
Charles Lloyd: Of Course, Of Course (1964-65
, Mosaic): On his second album, Lloyd opens with flute
over Gabor Szabo's sweet guitar, with Ron Carter and Tony
Williams shuffling along. Lloyd's main instrument was tenor
sax, and he soon garnered a following by taking Coltrane to
the masses, but this album was more varied and idiosyncratic:
his sax reminds me of Warne Marsh, but the flute suggests the
more flamboyantly eccentric Roland Kirk, tuned more tightly
to the melody, without the special effects. The reissue adds
three later tracks, trying out an appealing tropic groove.
A-Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Terminal Valentine (2006
, Atavistic): Chicago-based cellist, recently joined Vandermark
5 replacing trombonist Jeb Bishop. The initial problem here is that
there isn't a lot of sonic variety to a cello-bass-drums trio, so
it's hard to tell what's going on without paying close attention.
As background this flows agreeably, with some edge that may pan out,
but I'll have to return to it later. Another open question is why
do so many FLH albums involve valentines?
Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Terminal Valentine (2006
, Atavistic): The latest -- perhaps the title means the last --
of a series of Valentine albums by the Chicago cellist. Sounds
sad to me, which may be inevitable given the cello-bass-drums lineup
and that they never get out of low gear.
Frank London: A Night in the Old Marketplace
(2006 , Soundbrush): Alexandra Aron conceived this "tragic
carnivalspiel" based on a 1907 Yiddish tale, tapping playwright
Glen Berger for the words, klezmerist London for the score, and
a dozen or so singers -- best known are Susan McKeown and Lorin
Sklamberg. The drama unfolds with Brechtian flair, but I distrust
a shady character called "G-d" -- leaving me in doubt as to what
it all means.
Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble: Expectations (2007,
Kind of Blue, CD+DVD): Looks like another attempt to hide one of
those unpronounceable Polish names. The leader here is bassist
Darek Oleszkiewicz, who's also recorded as Darek Oles, and has
four albums from 1994 on listed under Los Angeles Jazz Quartet.
He was born 1963 in Wroclaw in Poland; moved to Krakow in 1983,
and on to Los Angeles in 1988, studying with Charlie Haden, and
teaching currently at UC Irvine. The Ensemble is a quintet with
vocalist Janis Siegel added on four tracks. Guitarist Larry Koonse
is a holdover from the Quartet. Bob Sheppard and Peter Erskine
take over sax and drums, respectively, while the added position
goes to Alan Pasqua on organ. The songs are a mix of pop and jazz
standards -- Tom Harrell's "Sail Away" is the only latecomer.
Oleszkiewicz arranged them, and they flow with marvelous ease,
with Koonse and Pasqua taking especially attractive turns. I'm
not so pleased with the vocals, which might have benefitted from
a lighter voice. Haven't watched the DVD, but might.
Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser: Metal Rat
(2006 , Clean Feed): Pianist Lossing is the presumed leader
here, but Maneri's viola dominates the sound and pushes this so
far into abstract chamber music territory that the others can
only tag along. Lossing in particular makes an interesting go
of it. Dresser is harder to gauge because his bass contrasts
less with the viola and tends to get drowned out, but I suspect
closer focus will reveal more. Not what you'd call accessible.
Nor something I'm inclined to readily dismiss.
Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser: Metal Rat
(2006 , Clean Feed): Abstract avant-chamber music, with
Maneri's viola occupying the sonic center and providing most of
the squeak. Still, it's likely that pianist Lossing is the one
providing the bulk of the interest.
Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation
(2004-06 , Spaceout, 2CD): Actually, the title goes on: Or: All
the Blues You Could Play By Now If Stanley Crouch Was Your Uncle;
and on: Or: Dance of the Creative Economy: How I Learned to Stop
Worrying About the Space Gallery and Love the Music Business. Lowe
wrote in suggesting that if I made this a Dud he could market around
that. I doubt that he'll get that particular wish, although the record
is a huge mess, a lot of things that fit oddly if at all. Next step is
RTFM: Lowe may not be much of a musician -- his alto sax is fine, but
he mostly plays guitar here along with banjo, bass, and synth -- and
he certainly isn't much of a singer -- but he's a good writer and an
exceptional musicologist, and the manual (err, booklet) looks to be
as important a part of the package as the discs. All I can really say
thus far is that this shatters expectations.
Lucky 7s: Farragut (2006, Lakefront Digital): This
is where Jeb Bishop landed on leaving the Vandermark 5, although
it's hardly his only project -- a new one called the Engines, which
is the Vandermark-less 5 subbing Nate McBride for Kent Kessler on
bass, looks most promising. Lucky 7s is led by Bishop and fellow
trombonist Jeff Albert, who also plays tuba. Seven piece group,
natch, with Josh Berman's cornet and Keefe Jackson's reeds, Jason
Adasiewicz's vibes, Matthew Golombisky on bass and Quin Kirchner
on drums. Takes a while to kick in, but when it does you get a
thick gumbo of New Orleans polyphony gone avant-garde, with the
vibes glittering above the fray.
Lucky 7s: Farragut (2006, Lakefront Digital):
Chicago group, led by two trombonists: Jeff Albert, who also
plays tuba, and Jeb Bishop, better known from his tenure with
the Vandermark 5. When it all comes together -- cornet, tenor
sax or bass clarinet, Jason Adasiewicz's vibraphone accents --
as on the last two cuts ("Farragut" and "Bucktown Special")
they cook up a tasty polyphonic gumbo. But this starts off
slow, with some weak spots along the way.
Gloria Lynne: From My Heart to Yours (2007, High Note):
Jazz (or pop or soul) singer, recorded a lot for Everest 1958-66,
after which her discography thins out. Second record on High Note,
after one in 1992 on predecessor label Muse. Interesting reading
of "My Funny Valentine," like she's trying to build on Chet Baker's
affectuations but can't make herself frail enough. Nothing else
caught my interest, but there's no doubting her strength or skill.
Raymond MacDonald/Günter "Baby" Sommer: Delphinius & Lyra
(2005 , Clean Feed): MacDonald is a alto/soprano saxophonist from
Scotland. Has a group called the Burt-MacDonald Quintet ("one of the most
adventurous jazz groups in Scotland"; Burt is guitarist George), and plays
in the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, a/k/a GIO. MacDonald is pretty obscure,
but Sommer has been one of the main drummers of Europe's avant-garde over
the last three decades, despite spending much of that time in the GDR. His
own discography is thin, but includes a number of notable duos, especially
with Cecil Taylor and Irène Schweizer. He brings a lot to this duo, even
when the main thing you hear is MacDonald's piercing squall. One section
erupts in shouts. These guys are having a blast.
Robert MacGregor: Refraction of Light (2006 ,
Black Tri): Young (b. 1983) tenor saxophonist, from Los Angeles,
part Chinese, studied at Manhattan School of Music under Steve
Slagle and Dick Oatts. In a quartet here with folks I don't know,
with trumpet and flute added for one song. I didn't expect much,
but he's got a distinct sound, and maneuvers easily around tricky
postbop. Pianist Miro Sprague holds his own as well.
[B+(**)] [Aug. 1]
Robert MacGregor: Refraction of Light (2006
, Black Tri): Young tenor saxophonist with a distinctive
sound and plenty of chops, leading a young postbop group with
a pretty good pianist named Miro Sprague.
Rafi Malkiel: My Island (2006 , Raftone):
Latin jazz, with all the bells and maracas, the songs conscientiously
broken down by style (bolero, guajira, bomba, danzon-cha, etc.) and
country (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Brazil, with New Orleans listed
for Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy." Malkiel is originally
from Israel, now based on New York. He plays trombone and euphonium,
composed the majority of the pieces, arranged the rest. I suppose
I'll get flack for favoring this over the natives, but I love the
light touch and imaginative arrangements -- even the old-fashioned
vocals -- and I do enjoy good trombone.
Billy Martin/John Medeski: Mago (2006 , Amulet):
I.e., Medeski, Martin & Wood minus bassist Chris Wood, released
on drummer Martin's boutique label instead of major Blue Note. All
three principals have had their side projects -- Martin has quite
a pile of drum solos and duets, break beats, and DJ mixes; organist
Medeski shows up on Thirsty Ears and at Club D'Elf and dabbles in
gospel; Wood has the Wood Brothers, which I can't describe off the
top of my head, proving how forgettable the album was -- but this
seems dangerously close to their meal ticket, with the inevitable
groove loss offset by greater freedom and more individual play.
The analogy that occurs to me is David Byrne-Brian Eno, My
Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which felt like a rough draft
for a Talking Heads album but stood on its own because it drew
out the limited idiosyncrasies of the key players. This is the
same idea, but not really on the same level.
Martirio: Primavera en Nueva York (2006, Calle 54):
Without grokking the Spanish, I'd take this "bolero suite" for torch
song -- slow, steady, packing emotional weight regardless of the
words. The bonus is in the New York musicians, including two cuts
each with Paquito D'Rivera and Houston Person, one with Claudio
Roditi, and exceptional piano support from Kenny Drew Jr.
Mat Marucci-Doug Webb Trio: Change-Up (2006 ,
CIMP): Third member of the trio strikes me as better known than the
two leaders: bassist Ken Filiano, who gets a "featuring" on the front
cover. Drummer Marucci wrote the pieces, excepting "Body and Soul"
and one group collaboration. Webb plays soprano sax, tenor sax, and
stritch, so he has the dominant voice, making this a basic sax trio.
Marucci is the senior member, b. 1945 in Rome NY, with 11 albums
going back to 1979, and side credits with Jimmy Smith and John
Tchicai, and a more performing credits, mostly mainstream. Webb
is younger, b. 1960, has three co-leader albums with Marucci and
a forthcoming quartet album under his own name, but it looks like
he's done a lot of session work -- his website claims 150 albums
but only lists 75; most are unknown to me, none avant-garde, some
big bands (Doc Severinsen), some retro (Chris Barber), more pop
jazz (Brian Bromberg, Stanley Clarke), quite a few not jazz at
all (Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, Holly Near). Webb lists most sax
weights (sopranino to baritone) on his instruments list, as well
as dozens of flute and reed instruments, whistles and ocarinas.
In his notes, Webb writes, "Living in Los Angeles, I don't often
get a chance to play as artistically as I would like, so I would
like to thank Mat and Bob Rusch for giving me the opportunity."
Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre (2006
, Times Square/4Q, 2CD): A 30th anniversary bash -- for the
Johannesburg venue, that is; the South African trumpeter-vocalist goes
back further, having started his globetrotting at least a decade
earlier. This is a triumph, an informal career summary that tracks the
struggle against apartheid and baser oppressions. Its two discs allow
him to stretch out and work the crowd, even to preach a little,
knowing there's more than celebrating left to do, but pleased to be
there that night.
Bill Mays/The Inventions Trio: Fantasy (2001-05
, Palmetto): Well-known, well-regarded postbop pianist,
originally from Sacramento CA, Mays has more than a dozen albums
starting around 1982, including a Maybeck Recital. First
time I heard him was in 2005 on Live at Jazz Standard, an
impressive piano-bass-drums trio recording. This is a totally
different trio, with classical specialists Alisa Horn on cello
and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn. The centerpiece is a
three-movement original, "Fantasy for Cello, Trumpet and Piano."
Other credits include Bach, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy,
Gershwin ("Prelude #2"), and Charlie Parker. Meant to explore
the intersections of chamber music and jazz, this slipped and
fell into the chamber.
B- [advance, Aug. 21]
Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007, Sunnyside):
Technically one of the most impressive tenor saxophonists of his
generation, a dependably exciting sideman, an ambitious composer,
generous to his friends, baffling to me. After reading that Samo
Salamon is touring with him, I was surprised to see Ben Monder
here, but Monder excels at the sort of backing he plugs in here.
Dave Binney produced, and adds stealth alto sax to fatten up the
harmony, at least when McCaslin isn't burning down the house. I
just wonder why he doesn't do more of it. And why he plays flute.
Then I read the "thanks" and encounter more common sources of
confusion: Dave Douglas, Michael Brecker, God. Mysterious ways,
Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007, Sunnyside):
Dedicated to his mentor, Michael Brecker, offering a ready
explanation why I can't get into him even though he's beyond
any doubt a tremendous saxophone player, but I doubt that it's
so simple. For one thing, he's much better than Brecker. In
fact, I can't think of anyone who plays with more assurance
at breakneck speed. He writes ambitious, difficult pieces.
He plays with first class musicians. He's stepped into Chris
Potter's shoes more than once and bumped the energy level up.
So I really don't know what the reason is. Maybe he's just
too much. Or maybe when he does let up I feel he's letting
Barney McClure Trio: Spot (2006 , OA2):
This looks like a low-value target: organ-guitar-drums trio, three
guys I've never heard of: the leader playing organ, drummer Kevin
Congleton, guitarist, and with a "featuring" credit, guitarist Mike
Denny. But Denny composed half the pieces, and outranks McClure in
previous albums, two to one. (Correction: McClure's website lists
five previous albums; haven't found any more for Denny.) Actually,
this is a terrific record -- light, loose, and lively, none of
which are common adjectives for organ trios.
Barney McClure Trio: Spot (2006 , OA2):
Hammond B3 organ-guitar-drums trios are normally as routine as
electric guitar blues, a conservatized form that persists in
vague remembrance of some primal significance -- the distilled
essence of funk, actually. This is not just a cut above run of
the mill -- it's light, loose, and lively. Sweet guitarist Mike
Denny has a lot to do with that, earning his "featuring" credit.
Kate McGarry: The Target (2007, Palmetto): Singer,
scats a little. Has three albums on Palmetto now, one or two before
that. The only other one I've heard had folkie airs, but she seems
to be aiming for dusky moodiness here. At least this feels like
she's trying to stretch, but it rarely feels right. The band is
built around Gary Versace's organ -- too peppy and eager to swing
for the music -- and Keith Ganz's guitars. Exception that proves
the rule: "Do Something"; best supporting actor: Donny McCaslin's
sax solo on "The Lamp Is Low."
Bill McHenry: Roses (2006 , Sunnyside): Tenor
saxophonist, born 1972, originally from Maine, moved to Barcelona in
1996, returning to New York. Has 6-8 albums as leader -- the range
depends on how you count albums with pianists Ethan Iverson and Ben
Waltzer listed first -- mostly on Fresh Sound. Sort of fits in the
Chris Potter-Donny McCaslin line, but rougher than either, which
comes in handy in this quartet -- I'm surprised to hear guitarist
Ben Monder come out so aggressively, but Reid Anderson on bass and
Paul Motian make for a curiously unstable rhythm section.
Erin McKeown: Sing You Sinners (2006 , Nettwerk):
Counted as a folk singer, a point reinforced by listing the dates of
the songs -- aside from a new one, they range fromn 1930-56, clustered
toward the ends. Still, it's no stretch to consider this as jazz: half
or more of the songs are standards jazz singers like to work on, she
approaches them with interpretive imagination, and the backing swings
and shines with horns -- nowhere more so than on "Melody," her original.
John McLaughlin/Jaco Pastorius/Tony Williams: Trio of Doom
(1979 , Columbia/Legacy): A faint record of a lost opportunity,
a dream trio assembled for a rare State Department-sponsored show in
Havana, nicknamed "the bay of gigs"; the trio's slice of the released
Havana Jam had to be recut in a New York studio, but McLaughlin
has finally salvaged the original tapes; no relevations: the guitar
comes through strong, the bass remains an enigma.
The Essential John McLaughlin (1963-2006 ,
Columbia/Legacy): By the time the second cut finished my mind
was entertaining comparisons between McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix.
They were both born in 1942. By 1970, when Hendrix checked out,
McLaughlin had reached a pinnacle in jazz guitar, both denser
and fancier than anyone else around, Hendrix included. The first
disc here, with one oldie from 1963 and an intense flurry of
activity from 1969-72, makes the case, although numerous other
selections would have done just as well. The rest of McLaughlin's
career wandered idiosyncratically, embracing Indian music, going
acoustic, hooking up with symphony orchestras, and occasionally
returning to heavy metal fusion. The second disc neither shapes
nor makes sense of 35 years. Rather, it just lays out samples
and challenges your ears to pick out the guitar. Turns out that
works better than expected, too.
Jackie McLean: New and Old Gospel (1967 ,
Blue Note): Charlie Parker's teenage go-fer developed as a great
alto saxophonist only after he digested Ornette Coleman's sense
of ordered chaos. Here he pays tribute on two gospel-themed
Coleman pieces, adding a complementary suite. Coleman, in turn,
defers to McLean's superior saxmanship by switching to sloppy
trumpet, reaffirming that genius has nothing to do with chops.
Steve Miller/Lol Coxhill: The Story So Far . . . Oh Really?
(1972-74 , Cuneiform, 2CD): This Steve Miller was a pianist from
Canada who enjoyed a brief spell in Canterbury's jazz-rock underground,
playing with Alexis Korner, Caravan, and bald soprano saxophonist Coxhill.
This rescues two albums with the latter and as many relevant spare parts
as they can fit: mostly duos, sometimes augmented by bass, drums, and/or
guitar from Miller's slightly more famous brother Phil -- uh, Hatfield
and the North, Matching Mole, National Health, 6-8 albums under his own
name. Also very brief appearances by relative superstars Kevin Ayers and
Robert Wyatt. Coxhill has a long discography going back to the 1950s, one
I'm almost totally unfamiliar with. But they come up with an appealing
mix of abstract dithering and tone-poem minimalism, and the historical
interest makes up for the incongruities. Miller died in 1998, so this
is one of his few souvenirs. Coxhill is pushing 75, still working, a
subject for future research.
Andy Milne: Dreams and False Alarms (2006 ,
Songlines): Canadian pianist; studied with Oscar Peterson; moved
to New York in 1991, working with M-Base; more lately formed a
group called Dapp Theory. This is solo piano, mostly folk-rock
tunes, with fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young the
most frequent sources. Didn't readily ID familiar songs without
listening closely, and wasn't able to manage that, although I
found the deliberate pacing attractive as background. Life's
not fair, but I'm pretty sure that if I stuck with it this is
where I'd wind up.
Andy Milne + Grégoire Maret: Scenarios (2007,
Obliqsound): Maret plays harmonica. He's already won a Downbeat
Rising Star poll, and seems likely to replace Toots Thielemans
from his Misc. Inst. perch a year or two after he dies. He adds
a complementary voice to Milne's piano, but perhaps a bit too
complementary: interesting ideas, but not enough range to make
for much of a contrast. Two cuts have a guest: Anne Drummond
on alto flute; Gretchen Parlato singing "Moon River."
Charlie Mingus: Tijuana Moods (1957 , RCA
Victor/Legacy): With Pithecanthropus Erectus in 1956 Mingus
started to make his move as a composer and arranger, drawing
together his experiences with Kid Ory, Duke Ellington, Charlie
Parker, and his own experimental workshops into a synthesis that
spanned the length and breadth of jazz history with his unique
daring and grandeur. A trip across the Mexican border inspired
these sessions, producing four Spanish-tinged originals and an
arrangement of "Flamingo" that Ellington could be proud of, but
the tapes languished until 1962, a mess of false starts and
derailments. When Mingus finally patched them into an album,
he was pleased enough to proclaim it his best ever. That would
be an exaggeration, but he anticipated world-swing moves that
Ellington took another decade to match. Reissues in 1986 and
2002 swept up more and more -- the former, dubbed New Tijuana
Moods, filled out a CD-length disc with alternate takes, and
the latter tacked on a second disc. This time they swing back
the other way, sticking with Mingus's edits for a non-redundant
36:00, but adding on a 10:57 bonus track with Lonnie Elder
rapping over a Mingus vibe.
Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964
(1964 , Blue Note, 2CD): This is touted as a true find -- actually,
"a truly spectacular never-before-released performance" -- but I don't
hear it. Actually, I don't hear much of anything, which surprises me.
The same sextet -- Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor
sax, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond on drums, as well as Dolphy
on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet -- recorded Town Hall Concert
1964 two weeks later, an important album in the Mingus discography,
then went off to Europe and recorded more, including a much bootlegged
Paris concert that Sue Mingus insisted on officially releasing under
the title Revenge! This starts out rather slow, with Byard
doing a solo piano impression of Art Tatum and Fats Waller, followed
by Mingus taking on "Sophisticated Lady" solo, then the band joins
in for 29:42 of only intermittently coherent "Fables of Faubus." Nor
does it get much better, although "Take the 'A' Train" and "Jitterbug
Waltz" are at least recognizable. Dolphy is a major disappointment,
especially given what he was doing on his own in what turned out to
be his last year. His flute, in particular, is never more than a
novelty, and sounds especially corny on "Jitterbug Waltz." This is
an advance, and there are some things evidently screwed up on it.
Will withhold final judgment until the final arrives.
[B-] [July 17]
Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964
(1964 , Blue Note, 2CD): A cause celebre, a newly discovered
tape with what on paper at least looks like one of Mingus's most
promising groups: Dannie Richmond on drums, of course; Jaki Byard
on piano; Johnny Coles on trumpet; Clifford Jordan on tenor sax;
and elevated to near-headliner status, Dolphy on alto sax, flute,
and bass clarinet. Dolphy's last year is worth examining under a
microscope -- his masterpiece, Out to Lunch, was recorded
a month earlier, and he died three months later, barely 36. Mingus
was a year beyond one of his own masterpieces, The Black Saint
and the Sinner Lady. Ever since the promo arrived, I've been
reading rapturous reviews: "his greatest small ensemble"; "most
adventurous sextet"; "at the apex of its brief yet astonishing
collaboration"; "a relaxed maestro at the height of his imaginative
powers"; "it truly needs to be heard to be believed"; "the most
talked-about jazz album of the year." Or as Gary Giddins summed
up in his liner notes, "It doesn't get much better than this."
Actually, it does. The most direct comparison is the same band's
Town Hall Concert, recorded 17 days later: much shorter,
but it captures the two essential new pieces in fuller flower,
with more imposing sound. Then there's the Paris concert two
weeks hence, given an official release as Revenge! by
Sue Mingus in 1996, fuming over the bootleggers who made the
European tour the most intensively documented Mingus group ever.
Still, for sheer exuberance and panache, nothing by this sextet
rivals Mingus at Antibes (1960) or Mingus at Carnegie
Hall (1974). So don't believe the hype. On the other hand,
this is about as good as, and somewhat more amusing than, the
rival boots, and will at least spare you Sue's wrath. It starts
with Byard doing his Art Tatum impression, and ends throwing out
"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "Jitterbug Waltz"; the serious
stuff in the middle includes a long "Fables of Faubus" serving
as an introduction to the similarly inspired "Meditations"; and
best of all, the first side ends with a rousing "Take the 'A'
Train," with a monster bass clarinet solo -- Dolphy established
the instrument for jazz, and here you can hear why.
Brian Stokes Mitchell (2000-06 , Playbill/Legacy):
First album by Broadway theatre actor/singer, evidently a notable
star with credits going back at least to 1988. Most of these songs
are show tunes, smartly arranged for a large orchestra with various
soloists, and dashingly sung. Not my thing at all, although I only
lost interest toward the end when the drama drowned the finesse,
and only gave up when Broadway Inspiration Voices took their toll.
Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble:
Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (2004 ,
ECM): I'm reluctant to rate this because I'm only sort of starting
to get it, but objectively it's difficult enough that it's likely
to end up more or less where it is. The US contingent starts with
three quarters of James Carter's old quartet (Craig Taborn, Jaribu
Shahid, Tani Tabbal), then adds trumpeter Corey Wilkes and Mitchell
playing relatively inconspicuous soprano sax. The Europeans mostly
cluster around Evan Parker, significantly including Barry Guy and Paul
Lytton. There's also a string section keyed by Philipp Wachsmann's
violin -- another Parker connection. Recorded in Munich, which gives
the benefit of the doubt to Europe. Starts dull with strings, but
flows, branches, flowers, whatever. Some of this sounds like what
I imagine Barry Guy's bands should sound like if I could hear them,
which thus far has never happened -- of all those I see as projects,
he's one of the toughest. Intersects enough with Parker's electro
projects, also on ECM, that it could be considered one. Don't know,
but I do rather enjoy the complex layering. It's enough to get lost
Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble:
Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (2004 ,
ECM): Too scattered to hold your, or at least my, attention for any
appreciable span, I nonetheless find these rambling abstractions
more often than not delightful. The ensemble is a meeting of the
continents, with James Carter's old Detroit rhythm section (Craig
Taborn, Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal) and Lester Bowie supersub Corey
Wilkes following the venerable AACM saxophonist over for the Munich
recording, and Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton, and Philipp
Wachsmann among the Europeans on the other end.
Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Miren (A Longing) (2006
, Clean Feed): Indian percussionist, based in New York. Did a
previous Trio Tarana album I liked a lot, called Climbing the
Banyan Tree (Clean Feed), with Jason Kao Hwang and Shanir Ezra
Blumenkranz. The group has changed this time, with Sam Bardfeld
replacing Hwang on violin, Brandon Terzic replacing Blumenkranz
on oud. Neither strikes me as an improvement -- the Chinese twang
of Hwang's violin is particularly missed -- but the riddim rolls on
Thelonious Monk Trio (1952-54 , Prestige):
Monk recorded four 10-inch LPs for Prestige, released in 1953-54,
reissued as 12-inch LPs in 1956-57, and eventually spun into all
sorts of confusing packages, culminating in the 3-CD Complete
Prestige Recordings. One source of confusion is the naming,
where Monk, Thelonious Monk, and Thelonious Monk
Trio have all been used to describe the same music -- I'm
going with the spine and back-cover title here, as opposed to
the front cover, with its small "thelonious," large "MONK," and
clear "PRESTIGE LP 7027." Like the cover art, this faithfully
reproduces a 1957 12-inch LP that combined a 1953 10-inch LP
and two (of four) cuts from a 1954 10-incher. It's hard to see
why they didn't restore the missing cuts given that the album
only runs 34:27, a limit of '50s technology that is at least
sonically transcended here: the effect is to consolidate most
(but not all) of Monk's trios in a handy package, separate from
the quintets featuring a young and brilliant saxophonist, now
available as Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins. Classic Monk
tunes here like "Bye-Ya," "Monk's Dream," "Blue Monk" -- but
the covers may be even more impressive: a solo "Just a Gigolo,"
Art Blakey's percolating rhythm on "Sweet and Lovely," Monk's
own radical take on "These Foolish Things."
Monk's Music Trio: Monk on Mondays (2005 ,
CMB): Si Perkoff on piano, Sam Bevan on bass, Chuck Bernstein on
drums, the latter always listed first -- he's also producer,
executive producer, etc. Songs by Thelonious Monk. Group has
been together since 1999, playing two or three Mondays per
month at Simple Pleasures Cafe in San Francisco. This is their
fifth album -- the third one I've heard. Mondays sounds
like their usual grind.
Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (2005 , Marquis):
One thing rock and roll did was make life tough for interpretive
singers. Before, songwriters spread their wares like spores, and
natural selection favored singers with voice, nuance, and payola.
After, most singers hawked their own songs, and those that didn't
have them seemed somehow deficient, regardless of vocal skills.
It got so bad that good singers wound up stuck in jazz. I bring
this up because even though Montcalm wrote three songs here and
picked a couple that qualify as pre-rock (although not by much),
what grabs me here are her striking reworkings of rock-era pop,
especially Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." Don't know much about
her. Hails from Canada. Only address I've seen was Alberta, but
she wrote one song in French. Don't know her age, but it says
something that she introduces "How Sweet It Is" by talking about
how she discovered James Taylor. Plays guitar. Has a voice that
beats you into submission, not unlike Annette Peacock. Maybe
there's a future for rock-era standards after all.
Frank Morgan: A Night in the Life (2003 ,
High Note): Front cover subtitle says: "Live at the Jazz Standard
Vol. 3"; there's a previous City Nights: Live at the Jazz
Standard from the same dates with the same group, but I'm
not aware of a Vol. 2. Six songs: three from Bird, one from
Miles, "On Green Dolphin Street" (might as well chalk that up
to Miles as well), and "It's Only a Paper Moon." But whereas
Parker was sharp, shrill, and explosive, Morgan has mellowed
to where he's sweet and soulful. If anything, he reminds me of
his Sing Sing bandmate, Art Pepper. In that regard, it does
help that the pianist is George Cables.
Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray: Rebus (2006
, Clean Feed): Six pieces, each called "Rebus," with no composer
credit -- at least that I can find in the weird and, in this case,
severely mangled promo packaging -- so I figure this is pure improv,
built around a Morris theme. I've tried focusing on the guitarist
throughout: his solos sparkle, and he's played enough bass elsewhere
in his career that he fills that role when Vandermark takes over --
which is most of the time. Vandermark sticks to tenor sax here --
he plays all sorts of reed instruments in his conceptual contexts,
but the tenor sax is his native language, and I can listen to him
spin its stories endlessly. Gray helps out on drums.
Postscript: Backed down a bit on this one, filing it as
an Honorable Mention. Main problem is I didn't come up with much
to say about it -- just a good improv between Morris and Vandermark,
what they do when they're kicking back. Space, of course, is an
issue: it'll run as an HM alongside other more ambitious Vandermark
projects, whereas it'd languish up top. Left the grade the same,
although I could have nicked it -- it's real close to the edge.
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard,
Vol. 1 (2006 , Winter & Winter): The trio consists
of Motian, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Chris Potter on tenor sax;
the "plus two" are Masabumi Kikuchi on piano and Greg Osby on alto
sax. Played this twice, think it's marginal, and want to move on,
but will give it another chance later. Motian is habitually slippery,
and that's rubbed off on his usually more straightforward bandmates,
Maria Muldaur: Naughty Bawdy & Blue (2007, Stony
Plain): She sizzles when her handy man greases her griddle, but for a
singer who's often put her libido first, this is less risqué than the
title promises. The booklet includes respectful sketches of the first
wave of what's now called classic female blues: Ma Rainey, Victoria
Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters,
Alberta Hunter, and Sara Martin. Spivey is remembered as mentoring
young Maria D'Amato in the '60s, recording her first jug band, and
urging her to step out and strut her stuff. Wallace offers another
direct connection, but all these women who made their mark in the 1920s
are long dead now, and the girl Spivey discovered is into her 60s --
perhaps that realization and respect blunted her edge? On the other
hand, James Dapogny's band backs up these songs with more flair than
anyone since Fletcher Henderson. And Muldaur is still a terrific blues
archivist, able to warm up any creaky old song. And it's worth recalling
that Hunter came back with her dirtiest album ever at age 84.
Dave Mullen and Butta: Mahoney's Way (2006, Roberts
Music Group): You must know by now that I hate Flash websites, but
Mullen's is annoying enough to spur me into reiterating the obvious.
Mullen is a saxophonist. Don't know where he comes from or when, but
he's spent time in Boston and New York, and he's one of the hundreds
or maybe thousands who have studied with George Garzone. Claims he
was inspired by his father's record collection, accumulated as a DJ
in the '50s/'60s, with honking sax the standout trait. He means to
update that, with synth beats, guitar (including Nile Rodgers on one
track, Marc Ribot on three), raps, and a chorus of True Worship
Ministries Singers (three tracks). I'm not sure that any of that
works, but I got up in a real foul mood this morning, heard most
of it under that haze, and need to move on. Two cuts where he kicks
back and plays sax ballads are quite nice. Don't know about the one
called "For Rashaan" -- there's a picture of Mullen playing soprano
and tenor at the same time so most likely he is thinking of Kirk,
but is the typo deliberate or just sloppy? AMG likens him to Kirk
Whallum, but I suspect he has a more determined vision -- could
even be an American Courtney Pine, a concept I'll have to put off
[B] [Oct. 1]
David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground
(2006 , Justin Time): This record does not mark the return
of David Murray to church. The title piece and a closer called
"The Prophet of Doom" are based on texts by Ishmael Reed, sung
by Cassandra Wilson, with little or no gospel reference. Five
pieces in between are instrumentals, Murray originals played by
his quartet. Just to single out one of them, "Pierce City" has
the most intense, uplifting, overpowering tenor sax solo I've
heard in this young century, followed by a piano run that flows
from the comping and is good enough to forgive Lafayette Gilchrist's
last album. Murray returns on bass clarinet to tone down the next
cut. I'm not done with this -- the grade here is a minimum, and
could rise. Given that my other favorite record this year is
Powerhouse Sound, we could wind up with another Vandermark-Murray
pick hit billing. I hate being so predictable, and hope someone
else steps up to the plate. But this makes that a tall order.
Postscript: I had a terrible time writing up a short
review of this, and wound up playing it something like two dozen
times, hoping words would come. A longer review would have been
much easier, and a much longer review would have been possible
had I managed to transcribe Ishmael Reed's words. I even managed
to look at the Banished trailers -- two anyway -- and some
Murray clips on YouTube (one of which refused to play for me).
In the process, I had ample time to think about how this ranks
among Murray's canon, and wound up moving it up a notch -- I'd
put it at the bottom of the full A-list, which would bring it
in at #11, but above the longer A-minus list. Or maybe it would
edge out Gwotet and/or Jazzosaurus Rex, which are
also somewhat marginal. What the new one lacks is the sort of
galvanizing bravado that lifted his best work. On the other hand,
he's rarely been more consistently gratifying -- Like a Kiss
That Never Ends is the one record that combines both virtues;
as his last quartet album, it made for a stiff comparison here.
I've been extremely reluctant to give out full A grades in Jazz
CG, only belatedly registering three this round (Jewels &
Binoculars, Powerhouse Sound). But those records are a cut above
the rest, so it's proper to note that somehow.
Mushroom With Eddie Gale: Joint Happening (2007,
Hyena): No recording date info -- lack of documentation is Joel Dorn's
characteristic contribution to the dark ages -- but at least we have
personnel information, which helps sort out who is in Mushroom. Pat
Thomas (drums), Ned Doherty (bass), and Matt Cunitz (keyboards) are
on all cuts, with Thomas production supervisor and Cunitz cited for
production assistance. Four cuts add Tim Plowman (guitar) and David
Brandt (vibes, percussion). The other three use Erik Pearson (guitar,
flute, sax) and Dave Mihaly (marimba, percussion), to similar effect.
Gale is guest and headliner. He produced two terrific avant-funk
albums for Blue Note in the late '60s, then largely disappeared
until Water Records reissued them in 2003, followed by a nice new
groovefest, Afro-Fire, on subsidiary label Black Beauty.
Both labels were handled by Runt Distribution, whose publicist at
the time was Pat Thomas, q.v. Together, the obvious reference point
becomes Miles Davis, although the groove's spacier, and the trumpet
brighter and more loquacious.
Nanette Natal: I Must Be Dreaming (2005-07 ,
Benyo Music): Jazz singer, with a dark, smoky voice, and deft feel
for the beat. Bio says her career started in 1962 singing classical,
then moved through blues and rock -- AMG gives two stars to a 1971
recording on Evolution called The Beginning -- before settling
into the jazz lofts. Launched her own label in 1980, releasing an
album every few years since -- I've counted 8, with 6 in print, but
have only heard 2004's It's Only a Tune. This one has politics,
and could use a lyric sheet -- "here living's hard if it doesn't come
easy" and "the jails are filled to capacity/in the land of the brave
and the free" are two lines I jotted down. Next time around I'll
probably find more.
Nordic Connect: Flurry (2005 , ArtistShare):
Postbop quintet, led by trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, with her saxophonist
sister Christine Jensen equally prominent. Impressive initially, but
I lost track along the way, eventually wondering why this is still
playing, and when will it ever end. The others are Maggi Olin on
piano, Jon Wikan on drums, Mattias Welin on bass. Any or all could
be Scandinavian, but they met up in Boston and recorded this in
Montreal. It was, however, funded by the Swedish Art Grant Committee,
The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, and Concerts
Sweden, as well as some Canadian organizations, so I guess those
are the real Nordic connections.
Nordic Connect: Flurry (2005 , ArtistShare):
Led by Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her lesser-known alto
saxophonist sister Christine Jensen, with two-thirds of the rhythm
section from Sweden -- pianist Maggi Olin and bassist Mattias Wellin;
drummer Jon Wikan was born in Alaska, grew up in Washington, lives
in New York. Shiny, luxurious postbop. I go back and forth on it,
savoring it when I pay close attention but finding it slips into
the background with the slightest distraction. Alas, distraction
seems to be the order of the day.
Oregon: 1000 Kilometers (2006 , CAM Jazz):
The '70s vogue for naming groups (mostly rock) after places warned
me away from these guys for a long time -- don't think I bothered
until the late '90s, by which time they seemed to have faded into
history. Even after I realized that they weren't pop jazz, I still
tended to think of them as new agey. In fact, AMG's list of styles
reads, unappetizingly: New Age, World Fusion, Fusion, Folk-Jazz,
Chamber Jazz, Progressive Jazz. The World Fusion part could have
been laid on Collin Walcott, who played sitar and tabla and died
in 1984. The other three players -- 12-string guitarist Ralph
Towner, oboe/English horn player Paul McCandless, and bassist
Glen Moore -- are hard, maybe impossible, to classify. But after
Mark Walker's drums settled into the percussion slot, the fusion
analogies fell away. Still, such a sui generis act easily baffles
me, and four straight plays tell me when to give up. Isolated bits,
including Moore's bass solos, are fascinating, but I'm unable to
get much further than that.
Evan Parker: A Glancing Blow (2006 , Clean Feed):
A trio with John Edwards on bass, Chris Corsano on drums. Parker's an
important player with a huge discography that I've barely scratched
the surface of and can scarcely claim to get. About all I can say is
that I find his electronics baffling; his soprano sax can get pretty
annoying (and sometimes amazing, as in The Snake Decides); but
I usually enjoy his tenor sax, which is much in evidence here. Two
long pieces, evidently live, from the Vortex in London. Would like
to hear more. Indeed, he's a long-term project.
Evan Parker: A Glancing Blow (2006 , Clean
Feed): A trio with bass and drums, Parker playing tenor and soprano
sax on two long pieces. Typical, or at least what I imagine as
typical -- Parker is a long-term project for me, but some things,
like his circular breathing, are becoming familiar.
William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Corn Meal Dance
(2007, AUM Fidelity): Another group named for a previous album,
which was in turn built on his O'Neal's Porch quartet --
Rob Brown on alto sax, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Hamid Drake on
drums -- plus vocalist Leena Conquest for a couple of songs. This
one adds pianist Eri Yamamoto and feeds Conquest a full plate of
lyrics. The piano holds the group together, giving it a unifying
swing that Parker didn't want with the quartet, but which buoys
up the singer, while trimming back the horns. Still, if this was
an instrumental album, it would be faultless, a tour de force
that could sail right down the mainstream admired by everyone.
The caveats concern the singer, who strikes me as too gospelly,
and the lyrics, which tend toward the didactic. Still, those
concerns may pass. If Parker wants to assert that "God made the
land," at least he's not conned by owner "Mister Johnson." And
while the prayer that opens the second song seems too crude --
"I am your brother please don't cut my throat" -- the title
"Tutsi Orphans" reminds us that such is too often the case.
Nicki Parrott/Rossano Sportiello: People Will Say We're in
Love (2006 , Arbors): I'm tempted to make this a Pick
Hit just for the cover, with the gawky, awkward, besmitten pianist
hovering behind the lithe, discreetly charming bassist/singer. He
is actually an elegant accompanist, with light touch and considerable
speed to build upon the bass melodies. He even joins in on singing
one -- terrible voice, of course. She has a delightful voice -- not
something you'd put on a pedestal -- but she's also content to just
play bass more often than not. Standards mostly. Charming record.
The Essential Jaco Pastorius (1975-81 ,
Epic/Legacy, 2CD): This seems suspiciously thin, ending in 1981
six years before the bassist's young death. It draws seven cuts
from his eponymous 1975 album on Epic, and ends with four cuts
from 1980-81 albums on Warner Brothers. In between we get 10
Weather Report cuts, 3 with Joni Mitchell; one each with Pat
Metheny, Michel Colombier, and Herbie Hancock; with no trace
of the numerous live albums that document his later years. I've
never managed to figure out what all the fuss was about, and
this ill focused, sporadically interesting survey helps little.
Rhino has an apparently more definitive compilation called
Punk Jazz: The Jaco Pastorius Anthology. Haven't heard
Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen/Ulf Wakenius/Jonas Johansen:
The Unforgettable NHØP Trio Live (1999-2005 , ACT):
Two sets, the first five cuts recorded in Denmark in 1999, the other
six in Germany in 2005, a little more than a month before the great
Danish bassist died at age 58. From the early '60s on he was the
first choice bassist for Americans visiting Copenhagen, or for Ben
Webster, Dexter Gordon, and Kenny Drew, relocating there. AMG has
five credits pages for him; I haven't tried to weed out the dupes,
but that must credit him with more than 300 albums. The first page
alone ranges from Count Basie to Anthony Braxton, although most are
securely within the bop mainstream. He recorded more than two dozen
albums under his own name -- Trio 2, with Philip Catherine,
and Friends Forever, his Kenny Drew tribute with Renee Rosnes,
are two I especially like, although there are many others I haven't
run into yet. This one's a nice souvenir of the bassist's most basic
group, with guitarist Wakenius feeling especially frisky, doing
standards and folk songs and fast groove pieces, with typical aplomb.
This did, however, send me back to Those Who Were, a 1996
d record languishing on my unrated shelves, where I found the closer
here, "Our Love Is Here to Stay," opening: much slower, very poignant.
Of course, he could play it any way he wanted.
Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri
Concert (1981 , Widow's Taste, 2CD): The alto sax
great had as many comeback as he had stretches in prison, with
1956, 1960, and 1975 watershed years. The last comeback proved
to be his greatest, with a steady torrent of recordings until
his death in 1982 -- The Complete Galaxy Recordings, at
16 CDs, never wears out or runs down. No one was more successful
at digesting Parker and Coltrane and still coming up with his
own unique -- an accomplishment equal in craft and eloquence to
what Benny Carter did with a previous generation of saxophonists.
But while Pepper's early work could be seen as West Coast cool
jazz, his post-1975 period was marked by raw emotion, a trait
that became ever more pronounced. This is especially clear in
the live material that occasionally appears. I'm not sure that
widow Laurie Pepper's releases haven't appeared before: this one
lines up with Live in Far North Japan (TDK), but offers
more music. The only surprise here is how raw and frenzied the
early cuts are. His "Besame Mucho" is much rougher than the one
on Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 from
earlier in the year, but remains one of life's great pleasures.
Another highlight is "Body and Soul": Pepper's verdict -- "That
was one of the nicest things that I think I've played in my life"
Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert
(1982 , Widow's Taste): Recorded at the Kool Jazz Festival
in Washington DC on May 30, less than three weeks before Pepper
died on June 15, this was a typical Pepper set: a fast one, a
tricky one, something with a Latin bounce, a gorgeous standard,
a feature for his clarinet, some talk along the way. He sounds
fine all the way through, especially on the clarinet piece, a
swinging "When You're Smiling" that he dedicated to Zoot Sims.
The latter includes a flashy, almost over-the-top piano solo
from Roger Kellaway, filling in for Pepper's usual pianist,
George Cables. A marvelous closing act.
Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil: Tudo Azul (2006
, Riony): Brazilian singer, working in New York at least
since 1991, although I'm not aware of any previous records. She
wrote five of ten songs, sings them with authority but not all
that distinctively. What makes the album work is the band. The
horns stand out, even Laura Dreyer's flutes, even more so her
alto and soprano sax and Claudio Roditi's spots on trumpet.
Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil: Tudo Azul (2006
, Riony): Brazilian singer working in New York, where her
crack band is able to sustain the golden age samba they grew up
on -- light, airy, the easy lilt enriched by guests like Claudio
Roditti on trumpet, Hendrik Meurkens on harmonica, and Romero
Lubambo on guitar.
Misha Piatigorsky: Aya (2007, Misha Music): I haven't
started penalizing musicians for offensive websites yet, but entering
this one felt like being assaulted. Probably would have been even worse
if I had speakers hooked up -- I don't have speakers on my computer to
avoid occasions like this. End of rant. Pianist, born Moscow, moved to
US in 1981, studied under Kenny Barron at Manhattan School of Music,
lives in NYC, has seven albums since 1996, does some producing and
soundtrack work. This one pretty much pulls it all together. He's fast
and can swing. Some cuts add horns -- Omar Kabir on trumpet and trombone,
Boris Kurganov on alto sax -- and they lift the temperature. But most
songs have words, and he uses four very different vocalists: Barbara
Mendes (Brazilian bombshell), Judy Bady (soul diva), Ayelet Piatigorsky
(classical chorale), and Rahj (spoken jive). It's all mixed up, which
is no doubt the point.
Pink Martini: Hey Eugene! (2005-06 , Heinz):
Morris Berman's Dark Ages America makes a case that Portland,
Oregon is untethered to American culture without even citing this
faux French band. I won't try to claim them for jazz, but their "Tea
for Two" puts all the standards interpreters I can think of to shame.
So cosmopolitan they sing in a half-dozen languages, and even more
styles. I'm tempted to call what they do world cabaret. It's always
been rather hit and miss, but this time they have enough high points
to carry the rest. In fact, I wonder whether the stuff I don't get
isn't just over my head.
Play Station 6: #1 (2006 , Evil Rabbit):
A sextet of more/less well known Dutch avant-gardists: Maartje
Ten Hoorn on violin, Eric Boeren on clarinet, Tobias Delius on
clarinet/tenor sax, Achim Kaufmann on piano, Meinrad Kneer on
bass, Paul Lovens on drums. Strikes me as par for the course,
with each player taking interesting but even-tempered shots
without coming together into a more cohesive whole. Nothing
wrong with that.
Jimmy Ponder: Somebody's Child (2003-06 ,
High Note): Guitarist, has a couple of dozen albums going back to
1946, plus a vast number of side appearances, mostly for High Note
and its predecessor Muse. These are various quartets with piano,
bass, and drums, recorded over several years; the exception is a
duet with Douglas Malone playing violão, a Brazilian nylon-string
guitar. Nice, tuneful album; consistently interesting leads, not
much more to say about it.
Michel Portal: Birdwatcher (2006 , Sunnyside):
French, born 1935, has an extensive discography, mostly plays bass
clarinet here, with one song each on clarinet, alto sax, and soprano
sax. He has experimented with world rhythms in the past, and they
reappear here mostly in Airto Moreira's percussion (7 of 11 tracks).
Other musicians shuffle in and out, with tenor saxophonist Tony
Malaby making predictably large waves. I'm somewhat at a loss here:
some of this sounds terrific, but there's so much going on I can't
get a handle on it. Will hold it back.
Lewis Porter-Furio Di Castri-Fabrizio Sferra Trio: Italian
Encounter (2006 , Altrisuoni): The leader of this
piano trio appears on his website as Dr. Lewis Porter, and is
identified in his bios as "PhD, Brandeis, 1983." He seems to have
more books than records, including studies on Lester Young and
John Coltrane. He edits a series of books on jazz published by
the University of Michigan Press, and has written a substantial
"Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians" that I am delighted to find
line. The record is elegant, measured, thoughtful, but other
than that I don't have a lot to say about it.
Tineke Postma: A Journey That Matters (2007,
Foreign Jazz Media): Dutch saxophonist, b. 1978, credited with
alto, soprano, and tenor, in that order. Third album; first I've
heard. Three Ellington/Strayhorn songs, the rest originals. Works
with bass, drums, scattered pianists; three cuts have guitar;
three have a wind section of flute, clarinet/bass clarinet,
bassoon, and French horn. Studied postbop, elegantly crafted,
with a lovely tone where appropriate. Can't get excited, but
have to respect what she's done.
Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (2006 ,
Sunnyside): Ten musicians, with flute-clarinet-bassoon in the winds
section and violin-viola-cello-bass for strings, guitar too, and
percussion. With that sort of instrumentation, this is full of
orchestral stretches that I find deadly, even when I recognize
that they're not so bad. Moreover, the saxophonist often rises
to the occasion, or exceeds it, and he has a much more full-bodied
sound than the one I found annoying on his early work. So I don't
feel the anger to make this a Dud, although I'll keep it active
in the "done" file a while in case I find myself hard up.
Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at the
Village Vanguard (2007, Sunnyside): Easily the top regarded
tenor saxophonist of his generation -- Sonny Rollins and Joe Lovano
still get more votes in polls, but that's it. I resisted for a long
time, but his Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard won me over
with its quartet simplicity and high energy. The lineup was typical
sax-piano-bass-drums, with peers Kevin Hays, Scott Colley, and Bill
Stewart. In 2005 Potter recorded Underground with a funkier
quartet: Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Wayne Krantz on guitar, Nate
Smith on drums, with no bass. The new Village Vanguard record takes
that group with Adam Rogers instead of Krantz into the spotlight and
turns up the heat. The highlight is called "Pop Tune #1" as if jump,
jive and wail were just an exercise, but all save one of the cuts
are like that, at least once they warm up. The slow change of pace
is nice too, and he left the soprano in the hotel. This may just go
to show that his postbop stuff critics and fans adore is too fancy
André Previn: Alone (2007, Emarcy): Veteran pianist,
born in Germany in 1930, escaping to France and then to the US in 1938.
Probably best known for film and Broadway and for conducting various
orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, but he has a long
list of jazz records going back to the early 1950s -- mostly trios or
less, many keyed to songbooks. I have no idea how they sort out, but
this is about what I expected: mild-mannered, elegant, thoughtful,
too slow and too straight to overcome my natural resistance to solo
piano, but otherwise impeccable.
The Puppini Sisters: Betcha Bottom Dollar (2006
, Verve): A vocal trio, modelled on the Andrews Sisters down
to a good chunk of their songbook, reportedly inspired by The
Triplets of Belleville, which as far as I can tell they had
nothing to do with. Only one Puppini too: Marcella, an Italian-born,
London-based cabaret singer. The other two are Kate Mullins and
Stephanie Brown. The frothy sound works best on proven material,
but seems more awkward when they try more modern fare, even though
songs like "Wuthering Heights," "Heart of Glass," and "I Will
Survive" have strengths of their own.
[B] [May 1]
The Puppini Sisters: Betcha Bottom Dollar (2005-06
, Verve): The WWII-era pieces that set the stage here refer
these figurative-sisters -- Marcella is the only Puppini; Kate
Mullins and Stephanie O'Brien were added to the act in London --
back to the Andrews Sisters. Pieces like "Mr. Sandman," "Bei Mir
Bist Du Schön," and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" always appealed to
me, and here they're as bright and perky as ever. More recent fare,
including Kate Bush and Morrissey, are harder sells, but at least
I'll take their "Heart of Glass."
Flora Purim: Butterfly Dreams (Keepnews Collection)
(1973 , Milestone): Sort of a Stanley Clarke groove, George
Duke funk album, with mild spicing mostly from fusion percussionist
Airto Moreira; the singer aspires more to Ella Fitzgerald than to
her Brazilian heritage, resulting in something fast and light but
neither here nor there.
Putumayo Presents: Latin Jazz (1973-2006 ,
Putumayo World Music): Big subject, but fair enough: aside from
one ringer from Iceland, this plots a triangle spanning Havana,
San Juan, and the Bronx, name-checking the obvious -- Machito,
Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Poncho Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri --
plus a couple of pleasing surprises in Chocolate Armenteros and
Hilton Ruiz. Not classic, but not skimmed from the latest hype
either. Choice cuts by Ruiz and Palmieri/Brian Lynch.
Quadro Nuevo: Tango Bitter Sweet (2006 ,
Justin Time): Drummerless German quartet -- reeds, accordion,
guitar, bass do the trick -- arguing that all the songs here
originated in Europe, reclaiming tango from Argentina, Sidney
Bechet from New Orleans, and Aram Khatchaturian from the vast
steppes of Russia. They make a fine case, a little too pat for
jazz, a little too danceable for chamber music.
Alvin Queen: I Ain't Looking at You (2005 ,
Enja/Justin Time): Drummer, from Queens, has a couple of albums on
his own, as well as side credits, going back to the '70s, including:
Charles Tolliver, Lockjaw Davis, Horace Parlan, John Patton, George
Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Drew, Bennie Wallace, Dusko Goykovich,
Warren Vaché. Going back to the '60s, as a teenager he played in a
Wild Bill Davis Trio, spent six months with Don Pullen backing Ruth
Brown, joined Horace Silver's band, then by the time he was 21 moved
on to George Benson. I list all this not just to establish Queen's
bona fides but because he manages to pull them all together here.
Mike LeDonne's organ identifies this as soul jazz, underscored by
opening with a Shirley Scott piece, reflected later in a LeDonne
original called "Shirley's Song." The B3 usually covers for piano
and bass, so most organ records are trios, with drums and either
guitar or a horn. This does both, with Peter Bernstein on guitar,
Jesse Davis on alto sax, and for good measure Terrell Stafford on
trumpet and flugelhorn. Soul jazz may seem like old news -- only
two originals here, both by LeDonne, both pointed straight into
the past -- but it's rarely been done with so much flair.
Boots Randolph: A Whole New Ballgame (2006 ,
Zoho): Tenor saxophonist, did some pop instrumentals in the early '60s
which got classified as country because he was born in Paducah and
based in Nashville. No idea what the title means -- there's nothing
remotely new here, just a bunch of swing standards like "Stompin'
at the Savoy" plus a couple of weak takes on Parker and Monk. Not much
impressed by his tone, but I can't get too down on him. [Just noticed
that he passed away on July 3, at age 80.]
Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 ,
ECM): This continues a string of first-rate albums, on CAM Jazz as
well as ECM, with the trumpeter wry and laconic, like he's finally
settled on his life's work. What's unsettled here is the trombonist,
young Gianluca Petrella, who shares the line in front of piano, bass
and drums. Petrella's Blue Note exposure won him Downbeat's TDWR
poll, a rare breakthrough for any European. While I take that with
the proverbial grain of salt, Petrella adds something here.
[B+(***)] [Feb 6]
Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 ,
ECM): Chamber jazz, in a quintet where the leader's eloquent trumpet
is amplified by Ginaluca Petrella's trombone. I wonder sometimes if
Rava hasn't grown too subtle -- he's recorded a lot recently, fine
albums with little to recommend one album over any other, but this
is better than par, just a bit hard to nail down.
Duke Robillard's World Full of Blues (2006-07 ,
Stony Plain): Journeyman blues jockey, sings a little, plays a lot of
guitar. Stretches to two discs, not because he has a lot to say -- more
like he don't know what to leave out. Then calls the second disc a free
bonus because he's not arrogant enough to expect you to pay double for
mere encyclopedia; surprisingly, second disc actually kicks in quicker.
The Rocco John Group: Don't Wait Too Long (2006
, COCA Productions): COCA stands for Coalition of Creative
Artists. Looks like a front group: their "contributors" include
three-fourths of this quartet, no other musicians, but a few
painters, dancers, poets, etc. Rocco is Rocco John Iacovone.
He plays alto sax, and wrote the songs. The group started as
a trio in 1997, adding trumpeter Michael Irwin for this album
to make a freewheeling pianoless quartet. AMG has no record of
Iacovone before this album, but the website lists five albums,
a couple cut off the beaten path in Alaska. Iacovone reportedly
"cut his teeth" playing in Sam Rivers loft-era orchestra; also
studied with Lee Konitz. Album could move up a notch, but it's
so much down my alley I feel the need to go cautious.
[B+(***)] [June 2]
The Rocco John Group: Don't Wait Too Long (2006
, COCA Productions): Cut his teeth in the '70s lofts with
Sam Rivers, an influence on alto saxophonist Rocco John Iacovone,
then waited plenty long, including a stretch in Alaska, before
returning to find young trumpeter Michael Irwin and find that
the two horn, bass and drums quartet is the optimal free jazz
The Rodriguez Brothers: Conversations (2006 ,
Savant): The brothers are Michael on piano, Robert on trumpet and
flugelhorn. A third Rodriguez, Ricardo, plays bass on four cuts, but
doesn't get any mention in the booklet. Father Roberto Rodriguez,
born in Cuba, produced. Album dedicated to late grandfather Roberto
Rodriguez Nieto. David Sanchez guests on two tracks. I'm tempted to
describe this as hard bop, but the beat isn't hard enough -- on the
other hand, it isn't notably Latin, although there is a whiff. In
any case, both piano and trumpet/flugelhorn stay within conventional
forms, even if often fast and fluid bop.
Wallace Roney: Jazz (2007, High Note): I should
be better prepared for this, but will need more time to think
about it, or at least to average it out. Strikes me as Roney's
archetypal album, at least since he discovered turntables and
keybs as a way of jacking up the funk quotient, all the time
making his family -- brother Antoine Roney on various saxes and
bass clarinet, wife Geri Allen on piano and various keyboards --
pull their weight. Where it all comes together, as on the opening
"Vater Time" and the closing "Un Poco Loco," it's a lot of fun,
not least because the trumpet soars high in the mix.
Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna
(2005 , Accurate): Trombonist, originally from Boston, based
in New York since 1990, has a long list of side credits ranging from
Either/Orchestra to Lester Bowie Brass Fantasy to Dave Holland Big
Band to the Roots. Third album under his own name. Calls his 7-piece
(trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, keybs, guitar, bass, drums) group the
Constellations -- only one I recognize there is saxophonist Peter
Apfelbaum; the bass and keyb players are from Groove Collective.
Starts with a rarefied reggae groove on "Satta Massagana," credited
to a different lineup with Will Bernard on guitar, although only
one date is given. Shifts after that to postbop with an undertow
of bent funk, but returns to Jamaica periodically -- Don Drummond
song; another one credited to Drummond and the rest of his band,
the Skatalites; John Holt song; also includes a Roseman dedication
to Drummond; and, apropros of nothing I can tell, a Beatles song,
ending with a live remix of same. Recorded in Joe Zawinul's playpen,
so figure him as an influence. Interesting attempt to put something
together that breaks ground both as improv and riddim.
Daniel Bernard Roumain: Etudes 4 violin & Electronix
(2007, Thirsty Ear): Been holding off on this advance expecting a final
copy to appear and clear some things up, but release date was June 26.
I've gotten nothing but advances from this label in quite a while, and
the advances and PR packages are severely lacking in information. I do
know that DJ Spooky, Peter Gordon, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass, and
a couple of others appear here because they get "feat." plugs next to
titles. Could be duets. One with no "feat." is relatively interesting,
with at least three instruments, repeating patterns on piano, a synth
(or maybe a horn), and the leader's violin wailing background. Roumain,
a Haitian-American violinist, has classical education, long dreadlocks,
and hip-hop interests. Not sure if this is considered a jazz release
or not -- no indication that it's part of Matthew Shipp's Blue Series,
although Roumain has appeared there in the past -- but it is notably
lacking both in jazz musicians and in any sort of swing. (I almost
said "rhythm," but Glass and DJ Scientific do contribute something
there, just nothing jazz-friendly.) Also, the violin tends to appear
in sheets, without much bite or spunk.
Roswell Rudd & Yomo Toro: El Espíritu Jíbaro
(2002-06 , Sunnyside): Robert Palmer once called Yomo Toro
"the Puerto Rican Jimi Hendrix," but from what I've heard -- and
his solo "Inspiración" bears this out -- he's comes closer to John
Fahey. Rudd, playing with Steve Lacy and Archie Shepp and leading
his New York Art Quartet, was the great trombonist of the avant-'60s.
He had a second wind as a Herbie Nichols interpreter, and a third
as a world music sojourner, hooking up with musicians from Mali,
Mongolia, and now Puerto Rico. Percussionist Bobby Sanabria is a
third name on the cover, likely the most responsible for taking
such a broad swath of Latin jazz here -- bolero, guaracha, marcha,
merengue, cumbia, tango, son (of course). Toro's jíbaro is usually
considered a country music, but he swings plenty here.
Saltman Knowles Quintet: It's About the Melody
(2007, Blue Canoe): Mark Saltman, bassist; William Knowles, pianist.
They met in 1994 at University of Massachusetts. This is their fourth
album, the first three released as Soul Service. Group includes Mark
Prince on drums, Charles Langford on sax, Lori Williams on vocals.
For all intents and purpose this is a vocal jazz album, with Williams
up front on every song, shaping the melodies, slipping around them,
the sort of thing jazz singers do -- some spots remind me a bit of
Sheila Jordan, but not so immediately arresting. Langford has a
good accompanying sound.
Dino Saluzzi Group: Juan Condori (2005 ,
ECM): Argentine bandoneon, born 1935, in a quintet with three
younger Saluzzis and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Felix
Saluzzi plays tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, although
he doesn't stand out -- the string sound of guitar and bass is
much more prominent. Folkish, not particularly close to tango.
Dino Saluzzi: Juan Condori (2005 , ECM):
Argentine bandoneon player, working with three younger Saluzzis
and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Never got the final copy
of this advance, unlike the later duets with Anja Lechner -- a
puzzle and an annoyance. Saluzzi recorded an exceptional album
in 2001 called Responsorium, which does a lovely job of
summing up his brand of jazz-tango. Since then the records I've
heard have seemed like broken fragments of the same picture.
The larger group here, led by Felix Saluzzi's reeds, suggests
a similar richness of vision, but I also hear stretches where
it slows down and descends to the merely pretty, or maybe even
the merely dull.
Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner: Ojos Negros (2006 ,
ECM): Bandoneon-cello duets. Saluzzi is an Argentine who's done some
notable work in the past, but seems to be slowing down lately. Lechner
is a German cellist with classical credits, an ECM album of Chants,
Hymns and Dances by Gurdjieff and Tsabropoulos, an appearances on
previous ECM jazz albums by Saluzzi and Misha Alperin. This one is
especially slow and resonant. It started growing on me about half way
through, and deserves another listen.
Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner: Ojos Negros (2006 ,
ECM): Bandoneon-cello duets. Drags in spots -- where you'd expect
the tango rhythms to quicken the blood, the cello dampens it. Not
that there is a lot of rhythm. But every time this starts to get
me down, something interesting, intriguing, or just plain lovely
Bobby Sanabria: Big Band Urban Folktales (2007,
Jazzheads): Drummer-percussionist, Puerto Rican parents, from the
Bronx, graduated from Berklee in 1979, IAJE's expert on Afro-Cuba
jazz, a guy who (counter the standard joke) can teach and do. Big
band, throws a lot of everything at you -- more than I can handle,
especially when they break out the kazoos for Frank Zappa's "The
Grand Wazoo." But more manageable fare like "Bésame Mucho" works
for me, as does Chareneè Wade's guest vocal on "Since I Fell for
You" and a lucumi-inspired piece called "El Aché de Sanabria en
Moderación" where everything seems to work even when none of it
Antonio Sanchez: Migration (2007, CAM Jazz):
Drummer, from Mexico City, studied at National Conservatory of
Music there, then got a scholarship to Berklee, graduated Magna
Cum Laude, did some more study at New England Conservatory, and
landed a spot in Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra
(post-Gillespie, directed by Paquito D'Rivera). First album as
leader, but his credits list is impressive, and he calls in a
few chits to help out here: David Sanchez (no relation), Chris
Potter, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Scott Colley -- he even got
Metheny and Corea to debut new songs here. The problem is that
the band is so great it's hard to tell what the drummer brings
other than mainstream postbop competency -- he has quite a bit
of Latin jazz in his discography, but doesn't so much as hint
at it here. Rather, we get an all-star game, with Potter and
David Sanchez in full flower, Metheny and Corea making choice
Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher: Strokes (2006
, Clean Feed): Sandell is a Norwegian pianist, combines
interests in free improv, avant composition (Cage, Feldman,
Xenakis), classical music from around the world, art rock, and
so forth. Also dabbles in voice and electronics, which are used
here but not so obvious. Butcher is a British saxophonist; he's
recorded quite a bit since 1990, but I've heard very little and
don't have much of a sense of him. Two long pieces here, plus
one short one at the end -- sort of a throwback to the '70s,
when we still thought we could discover new things. Maybe we
Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher: Strokes (2006
, Clean Feed): Sandell's avant-leaning piano trio plus Butcher's
sax -- the latter is also credited with "amplification/feedback" as
if he isn't normally this loud. Very rough, with little gemstones of
piano embedded in the matrix.
Arturo Sandoval: Rumba Palace (2007, Telarc):
The percussion section is up to snuff, but can't salvage the slow
ones. The trumpeter can burn white hot or negotiate tricky changes,
but by now that's expected. He's turned me off more in the past,
but he's also turned me on more. So this is a good example of what
Christgau calls Neither.
Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06
, Clean Feed): Among my earliest musical experiences was an
extreme distaste for Euroclassical music, which has attenuated only
slightly over the years. This makes me suspicious of the classical
backgrounds inevitable in the university programs that produce most
young jazz musicians these days, not to mention all those "third
stream" projects that first appeared when the academy discovered
jazz back in the '50s. In bring this up because my first impression
of this record was that it sounds like classical music only better.
It even crossed my mind that this is what Mozart might sound like
if he was really as good as everyone seems to think. Obviously, I
need to listen some more. Sassetti's previous records have been
small piano groups -- Ascent impressed me enough to make
it a Pick Hit. This one has dozens of extra musicians, including
a large percussion group, a saxophone quartet, something called
Cromeleque Quinteto (clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn),
and so forth, all deployed with the precision and taste Sassetti
exhibits in his piano.
Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06
, Clean Feed): Portugese pianist, often brilliant, but tends
to work in soundtrack motifs, which take over here when he employs
vast arrays of musicians: Quarteto Saxolinia (saxophone quartet),
Cromelque Quinteto (clarinet, flulte, oboe, bassoon, french horn),
a battery of percussionists (directed by Miguel Bernat), and various
"guests" (flute, alto/soprano sax, tuba, double bass, drums). At
least he stays clear of strings. Intriguing music, tasteful, but
it often merges into the background.
Paul Scea: Contemporary Residents (2005 ,
BluJazz): Plays flute, soprano and tenor sax, wind synth, etc.
Teaches at West Virginia University (Morgantown WV). Has co-led
groups with guitarist Steve Grismore (present here) and drummer
Damon Short (absent; Marc Gratama is the drummer here), but this
is first album solely under his own name. Reports describe him
as heavily influenced by the '60s avant-garde, with his flute
coming out of a line from Eric Dolphy through James Newton. Hard
to tell. There's some edginess in the soprano sax, but the three
horns -- Eric Haltmeier plays alto sax and clarinet, Brent Sandy
trumpet -- do a lot of bobbing and weaving, and in any case the
electric guitar and bass -- Grismore and Anthony Cox -- run on
fusion lines. Sounds promising at times, but each of three plays
left me with no net impressions.
Lalo Schifrin & Friends (2007, Aleph): Pianist,
originally from Argentina, 75 now, mostly known for 100+ soundtracks,
but he studied classical music under Messiaen in France in the 1950s
and, more importantly, jazz under Dizzy Gillespie in the 1960s. This
takes a half-dozen of his songs including "A Tribute to Bud" [Powell,
I presume], adds in "Besame Mucho," "Tin Tin Daeo," and Oscar Peterson's
"Hymn to Freedom." The booklet has a lot of words, and generally good
bios on the Friends, but doesn't actually have any credits. One assumes
that Schifrin plays piano, James Morrison trumpet (or any other brass
instrument that appears), James Moody saxes (and maybe flute), Dennis
Budimir guitar, Brian Bromberg bass, and Alex Acuña drums/percussion.
It's a good group, relaxed, generous, warm, enjoyable.
Maria Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue (2007, ArtistShare):
I reckon my continuing indifference to Schneider's highly refined art
is subliminal. She doesn't set off the gag reflex that I have long
had to highly orchestrated classical music, but that's what I suspect
is lurking, somewhere near the chronic level of an allergen. Clearly,
jazz fans who also like euroclassical simply adore her -- it's not
common for a self-released, no-retail-distribution record like her
Concert in the Garden to win a Grammy. Still, for every time
a nicely orchestrated motif catches my fancy, three or four fall off
my ears leaving nothing. The band is full of well-regarded musicians --
over the last couple of years membership has been a plum on everyone's
resume. The packaging has been padded out with pictures and notes in
two booklets -- a feast if you're interested. I think it's good that
she can record like this. Figuring my disinterest to have mostly been
my problem, I was reluctant to saddle Concert as a dud, until
it won that Grammy and I didn't have any response to my editor as to
why it wasn't a dud. This one is no different, at least insofar as I
care to tell.
Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (2005 ,
ECM): Working off an advance copy here, although the release date is
April 24, so presumably this is out, but not part of the top tier
promotion. Quintet here, with Marc Baron's alto sax joining Sclavis'
usual clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax combo in an unusually
fierce -- for Sclavis, and especially for ECM -- front line. Blame
that on the rhythm section: Paul Brousseau's keyboards, Maxime
Delpierre's guitars, François Merville's drums. They keep the beat
steady and charging -- effectively this is a fusion album, improvised
enough to keep it interesting.
[B+(***)] [Apr. 24]
Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (2005
, ECM): I can't find a thread that ties this record together.
Working with a familiar drummer and three upstarts -- Marc Baron
on alto sax, Paul Brousseau on keyboards, Maxime Delpierre on
guitar -- it's as if the veteran clarinetist's just throwing
shit at the wall to see what sticks. It pretty much all does:
electronic drones, free sax riffing, rocksteady beats, airy
meditations, noisy fusion -- the sounds of tradition passing
down, and blowing back.
Kendrick Scott Oracle: The Source (2005-06 ,
World Culture): Young (b. 1980) drummer, attended Berklee, works
in postbop veins, appears on Terrence Blanchard's latest. First
album, ambitious, complex, rather impressive set of musicians --
e.g., saxophonists are Seamus Blake, Walter Smith III, and Myron
Walden; Robert Glasper plays some piano; Lionel Loueke some of
the guitar -- yet I find it dissolving into texture and failing
to hold my interest, except, say, when Blake takes a solo.
Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra: Meeting of the Waters
(2005-06 , OA2): Not all female -- lead trumpet Dennis Haldane,
drummer Jeremy Jones, musisic director/arranger Daniel Barry are the
main exceptions, with some Mikes and Chads on the credits list but
not listed on the website roster. Second album. Seems unexceptional
for a big band, although not without its attractive moments. Sound
quality is a bit iffy.
John Sheridan and His Dream Band: Swing Is Still the
King (2006 , Arbors): A Benny Goodman tribute, more
or less, with Ron Hockett on clarinet -- sometimes also Dan Block
and Scott Robinson, although they most play saxes -- and Rebecca
Kilgore singing a majority of the songs. But it doesn't feel like
a Goodman tribute -- the swing is looser, cooler, more delectable.
Sheridan is credited with arrangements as well as piano, and its
the arrangements that push this past the usual retro limits.
Matt Shulman: So It Goes (2006 , Jaggo):
Website advises "please turn off any pop-up blocker software/- to
enter this website/- for a better viewing experience." Figured I
might as well make a U-turn then and there: what I look for in a
website is information, not experience. I get too much experience
without having to go look for it. Shulman was born in Vermont;
studied at Oberlin; moved to New York. He plays trumpet, and has
a patent on what he calls the Shulman System, a sort of sling for
holding the trumpet in the proper position. He also sings and gets
a credit for effects, often tracking them all together. His group
is a trio with bass and drums. I don't really know what to make of
him. The helpful hype sheet suggests "Miles Davis meets Radiohead,"
"a Chet Baker for the new millennium," or simply "a new voice from
jazz's emerging generation." I doubt that any of those are true,
although I'm not expert enough to fully dismiss Radiohead. He does
"My Funny Valentine" to beg those comparisons, but it works just
as well to defy them. The best I can say is that he's trying to do
something new, which might explain why it's so hard to pigeonhole.
On the other hand, it's also possible that what he's doing simply
isn't clear yet, or is too marginal to care much about. Either
way, in the short term I expect reactions to be inordinately pro
or con. Given enough time I could go either way myself, but for
now I find his trumpet and even more so his voice too limited to
carry his ideas, and his ideas too prog -- albeit more avant and
less arty than the usual rock usage -- to stand on their own.
David Sills: Green (2006 , Origin): Tenor
saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, with a handful of albums since
1997, both under his own name and as the Acoustic Jazz Quartet.
He has a big, smooth mainstream sound, the sort of thing I easily
fall for. Also plays a little flute; nothing to complain about.
Could be characterized as neo-cool, both in tone and in artful
arrangement. Six-piece group, with Gary Foster's alto sax kept
close, and both piano and guitar for chords. I don't find such
complexity all that useful, but it's worth noting that this is
the third appearance by guitarist Larry Koonse in my logs over
the last two weeks, and again he adds something special.
Ricardo Silveira: Outro Rio (Another River)
(2005-06 , Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, mostly
acoustic, mostly working in small groups with bass and drums --
two cuts add piano, one clarinet, one tenor sax, one cello,
several percussion, one voice, not that the extras really add
much of anything. Delicate; nice, easy flow; very pleasant as
background; as artful but not as tuneful as his Nascimento
Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the
'60s (1967-78 , RCA/Legacy): Strong voice, can be a
powerful stylist, has no problem convincing you that she's entitled
to interpret anything she wants, which makes her inconsistencies
and flat out muffs all the more annoying. Four Dylan songs here,
two -- "I Shall Be Released," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" --
Carol Sloane: Dearest Duke (2007, Arbors): Jazz
singer, first emerged in late 1950s with Les Elgart's orchestra,
moving on to replace Annie Ross in Lambert, Hendricks, Etc., with
a comeback on Concord in the 1990s, and a 2001 album for High Note
insisting I Never Went Away. I never heard her before, but
my first impression is that she's a complete pro. The songbook
here is Ellington's, which isn't all that easy for a singer. The
accompaniment is Brad Hatfield on piano and/or Ken Peplowski on
clarinet or tenor sax -- strictly minimal stuff, which doesn't
make it any easier either. She does fine, and Peplowski has some
especially nice moments.
Jimmy Smith: Straight Life (1961 , Blue Note):
A simple organ-guitar-drums trio, as restrained as anything he's
ever done, which makes the eloquence of his phrasing on such a
crude instrument all the more impressive. This has actually been
a remarkable installment in Blue Note's Connoisseur Series: five
albums, all so obscure I've never heard of them, each surprisingly
close to my A- cusp. The series are nominally limited editions,
although those that sell out have been known to return as RVG
Mark Solborg 4: 1+1+1+1 (2007, ILK): Danish
guitarist, also associated with groups Mold, Revolver, and
Ventilator. This is a quartet with Anders Banke on tenor sax
and clarinet, Jeppe Skovbakke on bass, Bjørn Heebøll on drums.
Banke plays in Piere Dørge's New Jungle Orchestra and also
plays in Mold. He has an attractive hard-edge sound, matching
well with Solborg.
B+(*) [advance, Apr. 26]
Golda Solomon: First Set (2002, JazzJaunts):
Solomon describes herself as a "one-of-a-kind 'Medicine Woman of
Jazz'"; alternatively, "poet, and Professor Mom." Writes words.
Speaks them over jazz -- or actually, with her violin-tuba-drums
trio, this sounds a bit like old-timey pre-bluegrass. Has a book
Flatbush Cowboy good for an excerpt here. Other bits on
meeting Dolphy and "The Etiquette of No." Good diction -- reminds
me of Tom Verlaine's pronunciation of that word. Short, EP length:
Golda Solomon: Word Riffs (2006, JazzJaunts):
Full length, or close enough (39:18). I suppose we can chalk this
up to Second System Complex. The music has moved from the goofball
accompaniment Bernard Purdie threw together to more creditable
avant-garde, with Saco Yasuma on alto sax, Eri Yamamoto on piano,
Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass, and most importantly Michael
T.A. Thompson on drums. The words were consciously written with
jazz in mind, with three pieces with "Blues" in the title, two
more with "Bop," one called "1960s Jazz Hag," one name dropping
Ellington. On average I'd say it's a wash: more exciting music,
less intriguing words, same rivetting performance. Something of
a learning process, but all things considered she's pretty unique.
Somi: Red Soil in My Eyes (2005-06 , World
Village): Singer-songwriter, born in Illinois of parents from Rwanda
and Uganda. She calls what she does Holistic New African Jazz-Soul,
aiming at "introspective bliss and inspiration" -- noble sentiments
for music that goes nowhere. The jazz is nu, although musicians like
Lionel Loueke and Jeremy Pelt are recognizable, at least on the credits
list. The songs are half in an unidentified African language, half in
Sonic Openings Under Pressure: Muhheankuntuk
(2006 , Clean Feed): Alto sax trio, led by Patrick Brennan,
who's recorded under this group name with other people before --
this time it's Hilliard Greene on bass, David Pleasant on drums,
etc. Brennan came to New York from Detroit in 1975. He plays
tight, fast, complex runs over free rhythms, with a hard tone;
unpretty, but rigorously functional. Need to play it again,
but I'm impressed so far. Don't know how many records he has,
but this is the first I've heard.
Sonic Openings Under Pressure: Muhheankuntuk
(2006 , Clean Feed): Don't get as much free jazz as I'd
like, but I manage to hear enough to have gotten used to it.
Still, my standard for recommendation is that it has something
non-devotees can grab onto, which leaves me with a widening
gap of stuff I like well enough but can't see breaking out of
its narrow niche. Most of this falls in that range, but two
cuts in the middle stand out: "The Hardships" starts with a
fast, regular beat, then erupts in a torrent of even faster
words -- thank David Pleasant for both beats and words, while
leader Patrick Brennan's alto sax settles into a skronk groove.
That's the hook cut, pop materials done with avant flair. It
then sets up "Prosified" with Brennan taking over, writhing
snakey improv lines against the beat.
Spark Trio: Short Stories in Sound (2006, Utech):
Another limited edition CDR, a trio with saxophonist Ras Moshe,
drummer Todd Capp, and Matt Lavelle on trumpet and bass clarinet.
Energetic thrash, especially from the drummer, who strikes me
as overly busy. The horns are in your face throughout. I find
them bracing and sometimese exciting, but this is not the sort
of thing I can easily recommend to non-believers.
Martin Speicher/Georg Wolf/Lou Grassi: Shapes and Shadows
(2006 , Clean Feed): Free jazz trio; alto sax/clarinet, bass, drums,
respectively. Speicher is German, did a couple of records in the '90s, but
otherwise I don't know anything about him. I know even less about Wolf.
Grassi is an American drummer; runs a group called PoBand with 10 or so
records, and has side credits going back to Roswell Rudd's Numatic
Swing Band. Another fine record, although after a handful of these
I'm hard-pressed to sort them all out; this one winds up as something
people who like this sort of thing will like, but probably not much
Russ Spiegel: Chimera (2006 , Steeplechase):
Guitarist, originally from Los Angeles (b. 1962), lived in Germany
for a spell, now based in Brooklyn. First album, a sextet including
vibes but no piano. Wrote all the pieces except "Cherokee." The two
horns -- David Smith's trumpet, Arun Luthra's saxes -- offer rich and
varied higlights, but the spots that most struck me were when the
guitar rose to the top. Will get back to the album later, but for
now I want to not how pleased I was to open my mail and find a
Steeplecase CD in it. They're a Danish label, founded in 1972, with
a large, well tended, and critically important catalog. Although
they have had a few European artists -- Tete Montoliu, John Tchicai,
Michal Urbaniak, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen -- they've primarily
served as a haven for American artists, starting with Dexter Gordon,
Jackie McLean, Duke Jordan, and Archie Shepp, while later filling
their catalog with postbop notables like Doug Raney, George Colligan,
Harold Danko, Joe Locke, Steve Stryker, Bob Rockwell, many others.
Lately they've been hard to get in touch with and follow -- I could
say much the same about Criss Cross, a similar Dutch label.
Russ Spiegel: Chimera (2006 , Steeplechase):
Good mainstream guitar record, with all sorts of bells and whistles --
trumpet, sax, vibes, but no piano. Among the options, the guitar stands
out. But given my space and time issues, not to mention interests tuned
elsewhere, this falls just shy of my scratch line. That should be the
definition of an honorable mention, but under current formulas, it's
the definition of a near miss.
The Chip Stephens Trio: Holding On to What Counts
(2006 , Capri): Piano trio, with Ken Walker on bass and Todd
Reid on drums. Stephens teaches jazz at Urbana-Champaign, after
spells in Boulder and Youngstown -- this was recorded in Denver,
where Walker is based. His web page there claims "nearly 40 records
and compact discs" but AMG only counts 9, with this the second under
his name. Five original pieces, plus covers of Cole Porter, Horace
Silver, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, and a Miles Davis medley. I'm
tempted to write this off as textbook stuff, but Stephens' dynamism
and flair raises the ante on the standard fare -- the Monk really
jumps, the Silver sizzles, a bit of "Sweet Georgia Brown" swings.
Joan Stiles: Hurly-Burly (2005 , Oo-Bla-Dee):
Pianist, sings credibly on two cuts, but that's not her calling
card. Second album, after Love Call (1998-2002 , Zoho),
which I've heard but didn't think much of and barely recall. Don't
have birth date or biographical info suggesting her age -- one side
comment about liking Monk and Evans as a teenager suggests an upper
bound of 60. Teaches at New School, and has an interest in Mary Lou
Williams. So I didn't expect much here, at least until I read the
band roster: Jeremy Pelt, Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Peter Washington,
Lewis Nash. They appear as a sextet on 4 of 12 cuts, dropping down
to subsets for the rest, with one piano solo, a duo with Wilson, and
various 3-4 configurations. The songs favor Monk, Ellington, and
Williams, with Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and Jimmy Rowles'
"The Peacocks" thrown in, a Ray Charles song (one of the vocals),
and two or three originals -- the question is a juxtaposition of
Monk and Ellington-Hodges called "The Brilliant Corners of Theloious'
Jumpin' Jeep." The band is terrific, of course, but the pianist is
impressively on top of everything. The Charles song has been sung
better, but the other vocal, "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee," is a gas.
Still need to play it again and pay some attention to the solo.
Joan Stiles: Hurly-Burly (2005 , Oo-Bla-Dee):
She sings two songs credibly enough, but her main interest is piano
jazz, which she organizes as a pyramid: Mary Lou Williams is her
special interest; Ellington and Monk her guiding lights; Fats Waller,
Ray Charles, and Jimmy Rowles are tapped for further examples. She
writes things like "The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious' Jumpin'
Jeep" to stitch it all together, but what moves this beyond concept
is the dream band she commands in units from duo to sextet: Jeremy
Pelt, Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash.
Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group: Open Reel Deck
(2007, Strick Muzik): Should have mentioned Strickland in my Downbeat
poll comments. He's one of the best young tenor saxophonists around --
had I mentioned him, he would have been the only one under-30. He gets
a lustrous sound with consumate ease and grace, and has a supporting
group that merits the marquee -- especially E.J. Strickland, a drummer
as telepathic as an identical twin should be, but Mike Moreno on guitar
and Carlos Henderson on electric bass redefine how to put a postmodern
sax quartet together. Still, the band spends a good deal of time backing
guests -- trumpeter Keyon Harrold I'm undecided about, but Malachi's
spoken word exploits are riveting. Jon Cowherd also appears on piano
leading into his "Subway Suite 2nd Movement" which the band really
builds on. Still working on this.
Helen Sung: Sungbird (2006 , Sunnyside):
Pianist, originally from Houston, educated in Boston, based in
New York. Trained in classics, didn't take up jazz until well
into college, which brought he under Kenny Barron's wing. Works
in postbop mainstream, definitely knows her stuff. First album,
a trio on Fresh Sound New Talent, was an Honorable Mention here.
This one is a quintet, with extra percussion and Marcus Strickland
on tenor and soprano sax. It's built on a tour of Spain, with a
couple of stabs at tango and other dance themes, including the
attractive title cut. I haven't digested the piano yet, which
starts solo and takes a while to cohere, but I adore the light
melodic flair Strickland adds, and may for once even prefer his
soprano over tenor.
Helen Sung: Sungbird (2006 , Sunnyside):
A pianistic tour de Spain, slow on the solo uphill stretches,
fleet on the well oiled downslopes when percussionist Samuel
Torres joins the trio, and soaring when Marcus Strickland adds
his saxophone -- a rare context where the soprano proves more
interesting than the tenor.
Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan: Live at MCG
(1993 , MCG Jazz): Like J.J. Johnson on trombone, or later
Jack Bruce on electric bass, Mulligan took an instrument out of
the back of the band and moved it up by playing in its upper
range with the virtuosity expected of the front men. Mulligan's
instrument was baritone sax. This has the charm and intimacy of
a Stan Getz quartet, but not quite the sweet sound. Taylor gets
top bill because he's on his home court, carries his end, and
makes his guest feel welcome.
Tom Teasley: Painting Time (2007, T&T Music):
DC-based percussionist, composer, educator -- the latter two are
pretty standard self-descriptions, but Teasley takes his educator
roll public, presenting solo concerts called "The Drum: Ancient
Traditions Today" and producing videotapes. He has a half-dozen
previous records, mostly with titles like Global Standard
Time, Global Groovilization, and World-Beat: The
Soul Dances. Haven't heard them, but I reckon this to be
some sort of advance, at least in titling. Teasley plays several
dozen percussion instruments here, not least of which is the
standard drum kit. The pieces are groove-based, but they also
have some meat on them -- mostly John Jensen's trombone, which
takes the leads even when trumpet and sax/flute are available.
A surprisingly seductive album; will give it some more time.
Joe Temperley/Harry Allen: Cocktails for Two (2006
, Sackville): Bought this used in Detroit, not even realizing
that it's recent -- cover is old-fashioned, and Allen's so baby-faced
you don't recognize him as 40. No new ground here, but Temperley's
baritone sax makes a fine foil for Allen's tenor, and the rhythm
section -- stalwarts John Bunch and Jake Hanna, Ornette bassist
Greg Cohen -- do everything right. I know I'm a sucker for sax
that swings this hard, but I could give in and grade this up.
The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Side (2006
, Telarc): Six of eleven songs (or eight of thirteen, given
two reprises) have "happy" in the title. Dyslexically there's also
"Glad to Be Unhappy," but even the happy songs aren't what you'd
call bubbling. The others are "You Are My Sunshine," "Great Day!,"
"Haunted Heart," and "Smile." Two are apocalyptic: "Great Day!" and
"Get Happy," the latter done both up and down, as is the secular
"Happy Days Are Here Again." Jack Sheldon guests on two tracks,
including a duet vocal and some unseemly patter added to "I Want
to Be Happy." As Sutton explains in the liner notes, "Our search
for happiness is an odd business." For example, it makes for the
first good album I've heard from her. Last one was called I'm
With the Band. This one credits the band because this time
they're with her.
The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Side (2006 ,
Telarc): Her pursuit of happiness bags eight songs with "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 exhortation ("Get Happy")
to its wistful end. I never thought she had a good album in
her, much less a great concept. Last time all she aspired to
was to be with the band; this time the band's with her.
Art Taylor: A.T.'s Delight (1960 , Blue Note):
Hard bop drummer, did a lot of session work and occasionally got an
album out under his own name, often with titles like Taylor's
Wailers or Taylor's Tenors. The two horns here weren't
well known: trumpeter Dave Burns had been around since the '40s,
mostly working with Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody without making
much of a name for himself, but the young tenor saxophonist turned
out to be Stanley Turrentine. Both are fine here; Wynton Kelly and
Paul Chambers are dependable as usual; a shmear of Patato doesn't
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History Volume 1 (1895-1927
, WHRA, 9CD): Allen Lowe turned his 1997 book American Pop:
From Minstrel to Mojo: On Record 1893-1956 into a remarkable 9-CD
box set that jumped effortlessly among what we subsequently decided
were genres, providing us the the most comprehensive general survey
of early American music (recorded, anyway). His follow-up is That
Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History, 1900-1950, published in 2001, but
only converted to CD form in late 2006. The tighter focus of the book
is amplified by expanding the CD set to 36 discs, split into four
compact boxes each with 9 discs and nearly a quarter of the book.
It's a daunting task just to play the discs, and I haven't had time
to do more than thumb through the book, so this is very preliminary.
But I've played all of the first box at least once -- several discs
twice -- so I figure I can at least note this. The first nine discs
only bring us up to Louis Armstrong's "Hotter Than That" in 1927 --
the first Armstrong title, although he appears a couple of times,
starting with King Oliver in 1923 on disc five. Lowe works his way
into recognizable jazz slowly, not getting to the Original Dixieland
Jazz Band (1917) until the third disc, offering one song each by
Ethel Waters and Mamie Smith (both 1921) on the fourth, introducing
Jelly Roll Morton (1923) on the fifth; he sprinkles in early bits
by Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Bennie Moten, but holds
Bix Beiderbecke off until the second box. One result is that the
first two or three discs don't sound much like jazz at all; while
the last three clearly do sound like jazz, they are still much
cruder than your average New Orleans retro band today. I haven't
studied this, but it also looks like Lowe has avoided duplicating
standard anthologies you're likely to have -- no "Tiger Rag," no
"Dippermouth Blues," no "Cake Walking Babies From Home"; the only
"St. Louis Blues" is a 1917 version by Ciro's Coon Club Orchestra.
But maybe that's not a hard and fast rule. I see two dupes from
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz: "Hotter Than
That" and Morton's "Grandpa's Spells." Another curiosity is the
lack of anything by Scott Joplin here. Guess I'll have to read
the book to figure that out, as well as how all the vaudeville
Third World Love: Sketch of Tel Aviv (2005 ,
Smalls): There is something going on here that I don't get, and
don't expect to get in the near future. Website claims the band
"organically blends African, Middle Eastern, rock and jazz . . .
a poetic journey of rhythms, songs, dance and joyful celebration."
There's some of that, but it's hard to sort out, which may be the
point. The group is a quartet, with two fairly well known players
(bassist Omer Avital and trumpeter Avishai Cohen) and two lesser
knowns (pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman). Two
songs with vocals -- one a trad Jewish-Yemenite piece sung by
Avishai, the other sung by guest Eviatar Banai -- strike me as
out of step, but the way Cohen is playing, anything that takes
away from the trumpet seems like a bad idea. With their desire
to more asses as well as minds, chances are there's a great album
in their future.
Tied + Tickled Trio: Aelita (2007, Morr Music):
German electronica group, dating back to 1994 when brothers Markus
and Micha Acher spun off from Notwist. Advance copy, lists three
additional musicians -- Caspar Brandner, Andreas Gerth, and Carl
Oesterhelt -- but doesn't map them to instruments ("xylophone,
glockenspiel, melotrone dismal sounds"). The named instruments
add a toy sound to the ambient beats, which are pleasing enough.
I would rather like to see more electronica coming my way, but
much of it does strike me as anticlimactic.
B [advance, June 19]
Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring (2007,
Hannibal): Original Tin Hat Trio members: Rob Burger (piano,
accordion), Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mark Orton (guitar). Burger
left in 2004, replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Zeena Parkins
(harp), and finally Ara Anderson (trumpet, piano). Sticker says
to "file under Tin Hat Trio," and there's continuity enough, even
though I have no clue what they're up to. The common phrase is
"chamber music" -- and indeed they seem to be closer to Kronos
Quartet than any jazz combos, although they don't have, or much
care for, the conventions of a string quartet. The instruments
seem to selected for oddness, even before the players started
dragging celeste, dobro, auto-harp, bowed vibes, and bul-bul
tarang into the mix. I'm puzzled, but not unintrigued.
Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring (2007, Hannibal):
Up to five players now, with most playing multiple instruments to keep
the mix off kilter -- exception is Zeena Parkins, whose harp is odd
enough she sticks to it. I never made any sense out of this -- near
as I can figure, a bunch of interesting motifs that don't quite add
up to pieces.
Pietro Tonolo/Gil Goldstein/Steve Swallow/Paul Motian: Your
Songs: The Music of Elton John (2006 , ObliqSound):
Don't know Tonolo except by name, as he has mostly been confined
to Italian labels -- a dozen albums on Splasc(h) and EGEA, twice
that in side credits, of which Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band
is the exception. He plays soprano and tenor sax -- soprano is
usually listed first, but tenor predominates here. Goldstein plays
piano and accordion -- seems like I run across him most often on
accordion, but these songs feature piano. Swallow and Motian you
know. Same group got together in 1999 for Portrait of Duke
(Label Bleu). This one was producer Michele Locatelli's idea, and
they make a game effort, respecting the melodies but playing around
them, much like Motian drums.
B+(*) [advance, July 17]
Trio Nuevo: Jazz Meets Tango (2006 ,
Soundroots): Tenor saxophonist Dick de Graaf meets tango more than
half way. The trio includes Michael Gustorff on violin, Hans Sparla
on accordion. The violin-accordion is pretty thick, with the sax
not much evident except for harmony. Vocalist Sandra Coelers joins
for four songs. I don't really know what they're shooting for here.
I suppose what attracts me in tango is the rhythm, at least when
the dancers are light enough to flow with it. But the spectrum also
extends to the heavy, the operatic even, and that's where this seems
to go. If someone told me that this was an attempt to conjure up an
old-style tango, something free of modernist impulses, I'd likely
believe them. But this group makes no such claims. So I mostly find
it lumbering, especially the vocal pieces.
Gianluigi Trovesi/Umberto Petrin/Fulvio Maras: Vaghissimo
Ritratto (2005 , ECM): Advance copy. Trovesi is an
established saxophonist with records going back to 1978, playing
alto clarinet here. Pianist Petrin, like Trovesi, comes out of
Italian Instabile Orchestra. Percussionist Maras has played with
Trovesi since early '90s. A "chamber improvisation" project which
pulls together melodies from classical and pop sources. Starts
slow, but proves to be enticing, hard to resist. Title translates
as "vague impression" or "beautiful picture" or something like
[B+(**)] [Apr. 24]
Gianluigi Trovesi/Umberto Petrin/Fulvio Maras: Vaghissimo
Ritratto (2005 , ECM): Title translates as "beautiful
picture," or is it "vague impression"? Clarinet, piano, percussion.
Starts slow, never really picks up speed. Lovely work, for which
I'm short on words.
Akiko Tsuruga: Sweet and Funky (2006 , 18th
& Vine): Claims to be the "only Japanese female organ player in
New York," which can't be much of a stretch. Blurb also quotes Dr.
Lonnie Smith observing that "she can play!" True enough, plus she
has a great smile. This is a trio with guitarist Eric Johnson and
drummer Vince Ector, with percussionist Wilson "Chembo" Corniel
added on half the cuts. The guitarist is good for this sort of
thing, which is cheery more than bluesy. Mostly standard fare,
with four originals. No great shakes, but a good deal of fun.
Stanley Turrentine: A Bluish Bag (1967 ,
Blue Note): Two big band sessions, with 6-7 horns and 3-4 rhythm
each, the former chopped up for two 1975-79 albums, the latter
stuck in the vaults until now. Mr. T doesn't get a lot of solo
space, but Duke Pearson's arrangements give everyone a lot to
do, and several cuts really swing together.
John Vance: Dreamsville (2007, Erawan): Singer,
based in Los Angeles, second album, also has acting credits. Has
a soft, dreamy voice which is effective and quite appealing on
straight standards like "Darn That Dream" and "My Foolish Heart."
Has trouble reaching for a note or improvising against the grain.
Good, low-key support from the band, including guitarist Larry
Koonse on three tracks. He's getting to be a clue of hidden
quality, kind of like Harry Dean Stanton in low-budget movies.
Albert van Veenendaal/Meinrad Kneer/Yonga Sun: Predictable
Point of Impact (2006 , Evil Rabbit): Dutch pianist,
born 1956, leans avant, likes to work with prepared piano, in a trio
with bassist Kneer and drummer Sun. Van Veenendaal's website lists
36 records, some credits pretty marginal; first is a 1981 LP, then
a 1986 cassette, then a few side appearances from 1990; first with
his name on marquee was a sax-piano duo in 2002. As far as I can
tell, AMG only lists one of these records, with his name misspelled.
Has one previous trio recod with this group, and two more prepared
piano records on this label. I keep saying that I'll know a piano
trio I like when I hear it, and this is it. Mostly hard rhythmic
stuff, which bass and drums are clearly up for. One slow stretch
shows off the prep very nicely, giving the roll a guitar-like sound.
Elegant, low budget package, too.
Hope Waits (2007, Radarproof): Singer, co-wrote
three of twelve songs, so not really a songwriter, nor much of a
jazz interpreter, but she has an arresting, world-weary voice
that is especially effective on blues -- "Drown in My Own Tears"
is the most striking piece here. Peter Malick, of Norah Jones
fame, produced and co-wrote those three originals. Some horn
arrangements, and a bit of moody trad jazz background.
Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, & James Cotton: Breakin'
It Up, Breakin' It Down (1977 , Epic/Legacy): Once
Waters got Hard Again, he went out on the road, with Winter
and Cotton above the line, Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin below.
This previously unreleased concert won't hurt the band's reputation,
but songs like "Caledonia" and "Rocket 88" aren't exactly tests of
the blues great's mojo -- and the songs that do test him are sharper
on the studio record, where more was at stake.
Alexa Weber Morales: Vagabundeo/Wanderings (2007,
Patois): Singer-songwriter, from Berkeley CA, on her second album;
I find her command of Latin idioms completely convincing, entrancing
even, but I can't say the same for her Afro-funk, 6/8 gospel, or
ballad, and have the usual reservations about that goddess of war.
Danny Weis: Sweet Spot (2007, Nordost): Guitarist,
from Southern California; father played "country jazz" guitar, was
friends with Barney Kessel, but Weis turned to heavy metal early
in his career, founding Iron Butterfly, then Rhinoceros. AMG lists
scattered side-credits over the years: David Ackles, the Everly
Brothers (Stories We Could Tell), Lou Reed (Sally Can't
Dance), Iain Matthews, Burton Cummings, Bette Midler (Rose).
Pushing 60, this is the first record under Weis' own name -- easy
grooving pop-jazz, something I'm rather fond of even though it's
hard to make any claims for it.
B [Sept. 1]
Robin Williamson: The Iron Stone (2005 , ECM):
English folk singer, first made his mark with a group called Incredible
String Band, now in his 60s. This is something of a departure for ECM,
but the band has solid jazz credentials: Mat Maneri on viola, Barre
Phillips on bass, Ale Möller on accordion, flutes, etc. I'm not much
of a fan, and might not have given this much of a chance, but a song
called "Political Lies" caught my ear, and the accompaniment is hard
to deny. On the other hand, many pieces do little more than crawl at
a spoken word pace, and the deep lonesomeness can be alientating.
Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta
(2007, Dune): Another concept album, based on a character named Albert
Jenkins who, like Wilson, plays trumpet. Works better, partly because
the story line is confined to a few songs, which are straightforwardly
blues-based. Like the other Dune artists, Wilson is based in London,
but he was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and grew up in New Orleans.
That explains his references to Delta blues and New Orleans polyphony,
the yin and yang of his music. Fits him much, much better than the
soul man moves on his previous Jazz Warrior.
Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta
(2007, Dune): Trumpeter-vocalist, from Arkansas via New Orleans but
based in London now. Like his labelmate Soweto Kinch, Wilson has a
concept album, but it's based on a mythic bluesman, which at least
gives him a viable musical context to work with. The group is large,
with two saxes, trombone, tuba, guitar, harmonica, piano, bass, and
drums to go with the leader's trumpet. They can soar when given the
chance. The booklet ends on a Katrina note -- not the concept here,
but the fit isn't bad.
David Witham: Spinning the Circle (2006 ,
Cryptogramophone): Pianist, works with electronics, plays accordion,
all prominent here. This is only his second album, following the
self-released On Line from 1988, but he has a fairly broad
albeit scattered resume: studied with Jaki Byard and Alan Broadbent;
worked as George Benson's "musical director" since 1990; produces
a community TV show called "Portable Universe"; current projects
with Ernie Watts, Jay Anderson, Jeff Gauthier, Luis Conte; dozens
of credits, although there isn't much overlap between the obscure
names AMG lists and the better-known ones listed on his website.
This album pulls several of those threads together, but not into
a clear picture. The record opens with a synth percussion rush,
but rarely returns to it. There is a lot of texturing with guitar --
Nels Cline's electric on two tracks, Greg Leisz's steel on three
more, the latter affecting a Hawaiian twist -- and reeds, with an
occasional oasis of clearly thought-out piano. Most of the eight
pieces have ideas worth exploring further, but few are followed up
on. I've played this tantallizing album five times, and doubt that
I'm going to figure much more out.
The Phil Woods Quintet: American Songbook II (2007,
Kind of Blue): Didn't get the previous American Songbook
(2002 , Kind of Blue), which leaned a bit more to Porter (3
songs, vs. 1 here) and Gershwin (2 songs, vs. 0 here). This one is
pretty much what one would expect, with Bill Charlap holding the
center together, the superb Brian Lynch on trumpet, and dependable
Woods on alto sax.
The Phil Woods Quintet: American Songbook II (2007,
Kind of Blue): No surprises here. Woods may have started as a pure
Parker bebopper, but over time he embraced the whole mainstream of
American jazz. I don't see much live jazz, but did see him once,
playing good student with Benny Carter. In the senior role here,
his own good students include Brian Lynch and Bill Charlap, who
hardly need his guidance but are too respectful to hint otherwise.
The whole thing strikes me as too respectful, too self-satisfied,
too easy -- I'm reminded that when I saw Carter and Woods, it was
the much younger Woods who spent the whole set on his stool -- but
it still sounds glorious more often than not.
Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 , Leaf Note):
Alto saxophonist, born in Japan, based in New York since 1989.
First album. Composed all but one of the pieces, and rounded up
a superb quintet: Roy Campbell on trumpet and flugelhorn, Andrew
Bemkey on piano and bass clarinet, Ken Filiano on bass, Michael
T.A. Thompson on drums. Mostly free, but she has a disciplined
sound, even when she gets rough. She plays xaphoon, some kind of
bamboo sax, on one cut, slow with a Japanese folk feel that
Thompson gets into. One song has a dramatic torrent of words
attributed to Golda Solomon. Both experiments work, as does
her main course.
Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 , Leaf
Note): First album by an interesting alto saxophonist, with a
strong quintet that takes risks and plays heady avant -- the
standout is Roy Campbell on trumpet, but everyone contributes.
One song goes slow with the leader playing a bamboo sax on a
Japanese folk theme. Another unleashes Golda solomon for a
torrent of words. Drummer Michael T.A. Thompson is showing
up on a lot of good records lately.
Dept. of Good and Evil Feat. Rachel Z (2007, Savoy
Jazz): Rachel Z is a pianist originally named Rachel Nicolazzo. She
has at least 9 albums since 1992, but I've missed her until now --
my only encounter was the time when I was accidentally caught Mary
McPartland toasting her on "Piano Jazz," where she made a favorable
impression. AMG lists Wayne Shorter as a "similar artist" -- she
recorded a Shorter tribute album, but that hardly makes her similar;
"influences" are Joanne Brackeen, John Hicks, and George Garzone --
latter just means she's lived in Boston, where Garzone has taught
everyone; "see also" includes Najee, although I certainly don't
recommend following up there; "styles" include Crossover Jazz,
which she's pretty much managed to crossover from. She's got a
couple of cheesecake album covers in the past, but this isn't one.
I can't say as I hear much Brackeen or Hicks in her piano, but I
couldn't argue strongly against Hancock and/or Tyner. The mod
touches here include a couple of rock songs (Sting, Joy Division)
and a couple of unclaimed weak vocals on originals. Judging from
the typography, the group is a piano trio plus guests Tony Levin
on electric bass and Erik Naslund on trumpet. Seems more middle
brow than mainstream. Probably of minor interest, but shouldn't
be easily dismissed.
Dept. of Good and Evil Feat. Rachel Z (2007,
Savoy Jazz): Z is Nicolazzo to her mother, a charming name if
you ask me. Good pianist. So-so singer. Group is a trio with
guests, including some fine Eric Naslund trumpet. Impressive
talent. Less sure about the identity issues.
Paul Zauners Blue Brass: Soil (2006 , PAO/BluJazz):
Zauner plays trombone; also runs a label in Austria called PAO, which
has released some very interesting records, often world-oriented -- I
recommended Quartet B's Crystal Mountain in my first Jazz CG,
and it's good enough to plug again, especially since Mihály Borbély
is still not a household name in these parts. Looks like Blujazz has
picked up the distribution, an improvement publicity-wise. Group is
7-piece: two brass, two reeds, piano (often Fender Rhodes), bass, and
drums, with a lot of loose interplay among the horns. Starts off with
Abdullah Ibrahim's "African Market Place," a surefire way to warm my
heart and wiggle my toes, and returns to Africa for Osibisa's "Vo Ja
Jo." Even better is a Latin thing by baritone saxophonist Peter Massink,
called "Birds Have to Fly." Standards like "Georgia on My Mind" and
"Come Rain, Come Shine" are nicely interwoven, as is a Louis Armstrong
Paul Zauners Blue Brass: Soil (2006 ,
PAO/BluJazz): Austrian trombonist, runs a label with exceptional
good taste, proves to be a worldwise connoisseur, mixing two
African pieces with American standards and two originals,
polishing them all up to a fine lustre.
The following records, carried over from the
done file at the start of this cycle, were
also under consideration for this column.
- Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005 , Between the Lines) B+(***)
- Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: Teatro (2004 , European Echoes) B+(**)
- "Killer" Ray Appleton/Melvin Rhyne: Latin Dreams (2004 , Lineage) B+(**)
- The Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet: Afraid of the Heights (2006 , Ardijenn Music) B+(***)
- Lynne Arriale Trio: Live (2005 , In+Out/Motema) B+(***)
- Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 , Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 , AYVA) B+(***)
- Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (2006 , Marsalis Music/Rounder) B+(**)
- Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005, , ECM) B+(**)
- Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 , Atavistic) B+(***)
- Rob Brown Trio: Sounds (2006 , Clean Feed) B+(**)
- Dave Burrell: Momentum (2005 , High Two) B+(***)
- Chris Byars: Photos in Black, White and Gray (2006 , Smalls) A-
- Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2006 , Delmark) B+(**)
- Nels Cline/Wally Shoup/Chris Corsano: Immolation/Immersion (2005, Strange Attractors) C+
- Nels Cline: New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill (2006, Cryptogramophone) B+(**)
- Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 , Marsalis Music/Rounder) B+(**)
- Harry Connick Jr.: Oh, My Nola (2006 , Columbia) B+(***)
- The Crimson Jazz Trio: The King Crimson Songbook Volume One (2005, Voiceprint) B+(***)
- Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski: Dialogues (2005 , Arbors) B+(***)
- Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 , Delmark) B+(***)
- Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 , Telarc) B+(***)
- Liberty Ellman: Ophiuchus Butterfly (2005 , Pi) B+(**)
- John Ettinger: Kissinger in Space (2006, Ettinger Music) B+(***)
- Robin Eubanks + EB3: Live Vol. 1 (2006 , RKM) B+(**)
- Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 , Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music) B+(**)
- Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 , Squealer) B+(***)
- Maria Guida: Soul Eyes (2007, Larknote) B+(**)
- Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin) B+(**)
- Hiromi's Sonicboom: Time Control (2006 , Telarc) B-
- Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 , Dare2/Sunnyside) B+(***)
- John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires (2004 , Intuition) B+(***)
- Lauren Hooker: Right Where I Belong (2006 , Musical Legends) B+(***)
- The Jazz O'Maniacs: Sunset Cafe Stomp (2005 , Delmark) B+(**)
- Jon-Erik Kellso: Blue Roof Blues (2007, Arbors) B+(***)
- The Ray Kennedy Trio: Plays the Music of Arthur Schwartz (2006 , Arbors) B+(***)
- Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(**)
- Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 , Blue Note) B+(***)
- David Kweksilber + Guus Janssen (2003-06 , Geestgronden) B+(***)
- Matt Lavelle Trio: Spiritual Power (2006 , Silkheart) A-
- Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Expansions (2005 , Rhombus Publishing) B+(***)
- Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 , TCB) B+(***)
- George Lewis: Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (2004 , Intakt) B+(***)
- John Lindberg/Karl Berger: Duets 1 (2004 , Between the Lines) B+(**)
- Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006, Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 , AYVA) B+(***)
- Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 , CDBaby) B+(**)
- William Parker & Hamid Drake: First Communion + Piercing the Veil (2000 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD) A-
- William Parker & Hamid Drake: Summer Snow (2005 , AUM Fidelity) B+(**)
- Powerhouse Sound: Oslo/Chicago Breaks (2005-06 , Atavistic, 2CD) A-
- Les Primitifs du Futur: World Musette (1999 , Sunnyside) A-
- Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 , Wig) B+(**)
- Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(**)
- Slavic Soul Party! Technochek Collision (2007, Barbès) B+(***)
- The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook (2006 , Zoho) B+(***)
- John Taylor: Angel of the Presence (2004 , CAM Jazz) B+(***)
- Thomas Storrs and Sarpolas: Time Share (2005 , Louie) B+(***)
- Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 , CD Baby) B+(**)
- Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (2004 , ECM) B+(***)
- Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 , Skirl) B+(**)
- Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004 , Ayler) B+(***)
- Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (2006 , ArtistShare) A-
- Frank Vignola: Vignola Plays Gershwin (2006 , Mel Bay) B+(***)
- Larry Vuckovich Trio: Street Scene (2005 , Tetrachord) B+(***)
- Torben Waldorff Quartet: Brilliance: Live at 55 Bar NYC (2006, ArtistShare) B+(***)
- Bennie Wallace: Disorder at the Border: The Music of Coleman Hawkins (2004 , Enja/Justin Time) B+(**)
- David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 , AUM Fidelity) A-
- Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 , Omnitone) B+(***)