Jazz Consumer Guide (15):
These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #15. 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 Sept. 17, 2007, to Jan. 6,
2008, 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 259. The
count from the previous file was 269.
Muhal Richard Abrams: Vision Toward Essence (1998
, Pi): My usual caveats about solo piano apply here, but one
thing I can't complain about is lack of ideas, and another is lack
of sonic depth. Abrams plays the whole piano, with the rumblings
and reverberations of the box a big part of his sound. Recorded
live at the Guelph Jazz Festival, this is one piece, three parts,
just under an hour. A lot to take in.
Muhal Richard Abrams: Vision Toward Essence
(1998 , Pi): An hour or so of solo piano, recorded live
at Guelph in Canada, and a decade later acclaimed a masterpiece
and finally released. I wax and wane on it: there are masterful
bits, but an hour of nothing but piano can grow tedious, and
there are also parts that seem designed to produce that effect.
Abrams is an important figure, one I've long admired, but I
have no way to gauge this. I guess I worry that it's over my
head, or beyond my attention span, or (worse still) not quite
as good as it ought to be. Could be any of those things.
Tony Adamo: Straight Up Deal (2007, Urban Zone):
Smooth jazz vocalist, or so he claims. I find he's got some grit
to his voice, and his studio musicians are agreeably funky -- a
couple of spots with Eddie Henderson and Ernie Watts even show
some jazz cred. Could use better songs.
Eric Alexander: Temple of Olympic Zeus (2007,
High Note): A mainstream tenor saxophonist with a strong, clear
tone, plenty of chops, the whole kit. I've liked most of what
I've heard from him before, but this runs straight into one of
my pet peeves. There must be a technical explanation for this:
what happens is that when two horns -- tenor sax and trumpet
or, more often here, flugelhorn -- lock onto each other they
create these harmonics that sound really polluted to me. This
happens a lot in postbop contexts -- seems to be something
taught in jazz school nowadays -- but this yokes the horns to
old-fashioned bebop, which used to know better. Still, that
only explains the four of eight cuts Jim Rotondi joins in on.
Alexander sounds much cleaner on his own, but he's still stuck
in the same damn rollercoaster ride. A dud.
Postscript: Played this one more time, thinking it
might make for a good dud feature. Better than I remembered
it -- I still found myself indifferent, but not so deeply
repulsed. Drummer Joe Farnsworth stands out, and Hazeltine
has some nice moments. Nudged the grade up a bit:
Dave Allen: Real and Imagined (2007, Fresh Sound
New Talent): Guitarist, born in Philadelphia, attended Manhattan
School of Music in 1988, presumably still based in New York. AMG
lists 29 Dave or David (or more famously, in bold type, Daevid)
Allens, none of which appear to be him. But he does have a 2005
album, so this is probably his second. It's a quartet with Seamus
Blake on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums.
Wrote all the pieces. Has a metallic tone and adept rhythmic sense
that fills in well behind and beside the sax. First rate rhythm
Harry Allen: Hits by Brits (2006 , Challenge):
Needing only ten songs, the limit doesn't cramp Allen too bad -- it
means three songs by Ray Noble, including "Cherokee" and "The Very
Thought of You." The others are hardly more obscure, and some, like
"These Foolish Things," are even less. This is a quartet with his
recent partner Joe Cohn on guitar, Joel Forbes on bass, and Chuck
Riggs on drums, with John Allred's trombone added on four cuts. In
his liner notes, Richard Sudhalter hedges that the album is "perhaps
Harry Allen's best yet," which is certainly false. It strikes me as
utterly typical. Sudhalter also likens Cohn to Wes Montgomery, but
for once I'm inclined to be more generous. I'd say he's graduated
into Bucky Pizzarelli territory.
Harry Allen: Hits by Brits (2006 ,
Challenge): The songbook doesn't cramp a single disc --
"Cherokee," "These Foolish Things," "You're Blasé," "A
Nightingale in Berkeley Square," "The Very Thought of You"
are the five most obvious of ten -- and Allen is in his
usual form in high gear and in low. But the second horn,
John Allred's trombone, does slow him down a bit, and
the contrast is a mixed blessing. Sidekick guitarist Joe
Cohn is also on hand, as are bassist Joel Forbes and
drummer Chuck Riggs.
The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Guys and Dolls
(2007, Arbors): Francis Davis beat me to this in the Voice -- it
seems to have slipped through the random post office filter, so
I had to request a copy. For once, Davis likes an Allen album
better than I do. The reason almost certainly is Frank Loesser,
whose "Guys and Dolls" I've never felt any connection to. I do
have a 1992 RCA CD of a Broadway revival, dutifully purchased
following Robert Christgau's recommendation. Played it once or
twice, got nothing, shelved it. I should probably dig it out for
reference here. The quartet is often wonderful here, with Cohn's
light guitar enjoying the rhythm more than Allen's luscious tenor
sax. But most cuts come with vocals, with Rebecca Kilgore and
Eddie Erickson in the key roles. Neither are as sharp or shrill
as I recall the musical, which may be an improvement but if so
is one that calls the whole project into question. No urgency
The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Music From Guys and
Dolls (2007, Arbors): I'd like this better, at least
would have gotten to like this quicker, if I liked Frank
Loesser's Guys and Dolls in the first place, but the
few times I've heard it I've found much to resist. I'm still
not much impressed with Eddie Erickson's half of the vocals,
but I'm fine with Rebecca Kilgore, and she gets the sharper
lines and the catchier melodies. Still, no vocal compares
to how sublime Allen sounds, and guitarist Cohn seems to be
getting better each time out, carrying the soft spots that
hold the narrative together.
The Jimmy Amadie Trio: The Philadelphia Story: The Gospel
as We Know It (2006-07 , TP): A veteran pianist,
Philadelphia's favorite, or so I hear. Not actually a trio record:
special guests Benny Golson, Randy Brecker, and/or Lew Tabackin
play on virtually every track. Amadie is a throwback to the '50s,
with his trio swinging hard throughout, the horns delightful.
Nothing here not to like.
Arjun: Pieces (2007, Pheromone): Guitar-bass-drums
trio, with namesake Eddie Arjun Peters playing the guitar, composing,
arranging, and producing. Website features a news item announcing
that Pieces "is number 14 on the Jamband Top 40!" I don't
recognize most of the competitors, but those I do seem to be an
arbitrary mix of rock (Wilco, Patti Smith, Son Volt) and semipop
jazz (Chick Corea/Bela Fleck, Will Bernard, Bad Plus). This is
rockish guitar bop, or boppish guitar rock -- at times reminds
me of Cream, but then doesn't deliver much on the hint.
Gregg August Sextet: One Peace (2006 ,
Iacuessa): Bassist, originally from Schenectady NY, went to SUNY
Albany, then Juilliard. Worked in Barcelona. Traveled to Cuba.
Second album. Previous one (Late August) had more of a
Latin twist; this is more straightahead postbop, mostly sextets
with three horns, Luis Perdomo on piano, and EJ Strickland on
drums. Myron Walden's beboppy alto sax sets the dominant tone,
with tenor and trumpet for shading, a harmonic scheme much
favored by postbop arrangers, one I find rather unappealing.
Omer Avital: Arrival (2006 , Fresh Sound
World Jazz): Israeli bassist, working in New York since mid-1990s,
with a handful of albums -- The Ancient Art of Giving
(2006, Smalls) is a personal favorite. This, however, is not.
It's a very advanced, sophisticated postbop sexet, with Avishai
Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (saxes), Avi Lebovich (trombone),
Jason Lindner (keyboards), and Jonathan Blake (drums). There is
a lot of art to the layering of the horns, producing dizzying
swirls of sound. It's not clear why this came out in a World
Jazz series: Avital plays oud on a couple of cuts, but that
doesn't fix them in any kind of world -- meaning foreign to
the west -- music. Nor does the fact that the rhythm is pretty
regular count for much beyond its galloping rush. So maybe
he's just gotten too old to pass for New Talent?
Albert Ayler Quartet: The Hilversum Session
(1964 , ESP-Disk): This is the sort of session that would
make an ideal complement to some sort of "Deluxe Edition" reissue
of Ayler's 1964 landmark Spiritual Unity. The former album's
trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, reappear,
reprising "Ghosts" and "Spirits" and adding other Ayler pieces.
But this does more than reiterate: the fourth member is Don Cherry,
whose cornet shadows Ayler's lines and lifts the band's spiritual
Jay Azzolina: Local Dialect (2007, Garagista):
Guitarist, b. 1952, studied at Berklee, got an MFA at Conservatory
of Music at Purchase NY. Played with Spyro Gyra, John Patitucci
(present here), Tim Ries (also here) Rolling Stones Project, plus
various popstars and mainstream jazzers. Third album, with Ries'
sax and flute, Scott Wendholt's trumpet, Mike Davis' trombone,
Larry Goldings' organ, Patitucci's bass, Greg Hutchinson's drums,
a few others scattered abouts. Regarded as a fusion guitarist.
I'm not so sure, but he does force the rhythm in uninteresting
directions, and nothing else appeals enough to sort out.
Baker Hunt Sandstrom Williams: Extraordinary Popular
Delusions (2005 , Okka Disk): Album cover just gives
last names. The details are: Jim Baker (piano), Steve Hunt (drums,
percussion), Brian Sandstrom (bass, electric guitar), Mars Williams
(various saxes). Order is alphabetical, with all pieces jointly
credited. Needless to say, Williams makes the most noise, and he
makes an awful lot of it. I find that noise oddly exhilarating --
maybe I'm relieved to hear Williams back in form after all these
years trying to make a living out of acid jazz? Baker emerges in
the quieter spots. Over the last decade or so, he's sort of been
the Chicago avant-garde's go-to pianist, but they don't go to
pianists very often. Some interesting odds and ends, too.
Chris Barber: Can't Stop Now (European Tour 2007)
(1986-2007 , MVD Audio): The cover is misleading in several
respects: only one cut was recorded in 2007 (although it's given
two dates and locations); all but two of the rest were recorded
in the UK in February and November 2006, which isn't exactly what
you'd expect from a European Tour; the two loose ends date from
1988 or 1986 (one is listed both ways); Andy Fairweather Low is
pictured as "special guest," but he's only appears on three songs
(more/less those named on the cover, with "Worried Man Blues"
advertised as "It Takes a Worried Man," and a medley with "Will
the Circle Be Unbroken" reduced to "Lay My Burden Down." Barber
sings two others, including "Can't Stop Now," which I originally
took as Low making a joke of his foundered rock and roll career.
Still, this confusion has remarkably little effect on the music.
Low's "Worried Man Blues" triangulates perfectly with Barber's
skiffle sideline, picking up where Lonnie Donegan left off. And
Barber's trad jazz is timeless: he's done it for 53 years, so
slipping a couple decades is hardly noticeable.
Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years 1994-2002
(1994-2002 , Premonition, 3CD): Jazz singer, pianist, and
composer, her career forms something of an underground parallel
to Diana Krall's -- her voice dusky and shrouded where Krall's
is bright and articulate, her piano more substantial but still
secondary, a successful niche player whereas Krall crossed over.
This takes five albums and reshuffles them by category: pop songs,
standards, and originals. All are slow and somber, but at least
the rock-era pop songs start with some bounce as well as catchy
melodies -- "Use Me," "You Don't Know Me," "Black Magic Woman,"
"The Fool on the Hill" are given especially learned readings.
The older vintage standards are less surprising. The originals
are less obvious, but thoughtful and sometimes haunting. I see
little value in sorting them this way: her albums are mixes of
all three -- trending toward more originals over time -- and
often work just because these mulitple facets fit. A fine example
is Modern Cool (1998).
Count Basie: Basie at Birdland (1961 ,
Roulette Jazz): This is about where Basie's "Second Testament"
(as they put it here) band starts to slip, but they can still
kick the old songbook into high orbit, the section work is
atomic, a key tenor sax solo (Budd Johnson?) is much further
out than expected, and Jon Hendricks mumbles his Clark Terry
impression on "Whirly Bird." Nearly double the length of the
original LP, the extra weight suits them.
Marco Benevento: Live at Tonic (2006 ,
Ropeadope, 3CD): Pianist, although he's likely to play any kind
of electronic keyboard. B. 1977, New Jersey. Has a couple of
albums with drummer Joe Russo as Benevento/Russo Duo, which
tend to get filed as experimental/instrumental rock. Involved
in Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing and Garage A Trois,
which elicit similar confusion and collectively define a niche
of beatwise future fusion. This was put together from five
November nights -- no date given, but presumably 2006: solo
(sometimes plus Scott Metzger); duo (Mike Gordon); trio (Reed
Mathis, Matt Chamberlain); quartet (Steven Bernstein, Dave
Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman); and "drum night" (Previte, Russo,
Mike Dillon). De trop, of course, although at $19.98 list not
a ripoff. Some good things, with the second disc starting
strong and ending with a striking take on "Elmer's Tune."
Andy Bey: Ain't Necessarily So (1997 , 12th
Street): Recorded live at Birdland in 1997, with Bey singing and
playing piano and the Washingtons for rhythm (Vito Leszak subs for
drummer Kenny Washington on two cuts). Bey's a subtle, graceful
singer, able to turn even "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" into
seduction. The live format lets the band stretch out agreeably.
Michael Blake Sextet: Amor de Cosmos (2005 ,
Songlines): Saxophonist, born Montreal 1964, moved to Vancouver, then
to New York, where he played in the Lounge Lizards. Here he's on a
Canadian label with an all-Canadian band, playing tenor and soprano,
in a sextet that includes Brad Turner (trumpet), Sal Ferreras (marimba),
Chris Gestrin (piano), André Lachance (bass), and Dylan van der Schyff
(drums). Played this twice. Like many parts, but can't get a grip on
the whole, and wonder whether it's worth trying to figure out.
Terence Blanchard: A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for
Katrina) (2007, Blue Note): The title strikes me as a
philosophical muddle, although I suppose if you think it was a
willful act of a purposeful God, His hurricane may merit some
form of tribute. The title emerges chanted at the start of the
first cut, "Ghost of Congo Square," and returns near the end
of the piece, but doesn't break out beyond that. Congo Square
was the site of the old New Orleans slave market, which back
in its heyday was also felt by some to be part of God's will.
Despite the words, the piece is striking, with Kendrick Scott's
percussion conjuring up an African vibe, and Blanchard's trumpet
clear and eloquent. Most of the deluge of post-Katrina albums
pick their themes obviously -- titles here include "Levees,"
"The Water," "Wading Through," "In Time of Need," "Ghost of
1927," "Funeral Dirge," and "Dear Mom" -- then map out their
music in predictable clichés. Blanchard doesn't escape this,
but his horn stands out on record like his silhouetted images
on the front and back covers. My main caveat is the orchestra
that appears on several pieces, which paints a pretty backdrop
while adding nothing of substance.
Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (2007,
Watt): The Lost Chords was a 2004 group/album name, the group
led by pianist-composer Bley and including Andy Sheppard (soprano and
tenor sax), Steve Swallow (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). Fresu
is a well-regarded trumpet/flugelhorn player from Sardinia. He has a
couple dozen albums since 1985, almost all on hard-to-find Italian
labels -- a half-dozen filtered down to my shopping list, but I've
never managed to pick up any. He fits in very nicely here, topping
out Bley's melodies, including an extended meditation on bananas,
and burnishing Sheppard's sax lines to a bright brassy sheen.
Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (2001 , ECM):
Released for Bley's 75th birthday. Touted as his first solo piano
on ECM since 1972's Open, to Love. He's recorded numerous
solo albums elsewhere -- Penguin Guide mentions 12, most recently
Nothing to Declare (2003 , Justin Time), recorded
after but out before this one. This one is slower, of course; per
Dr. Eicher's Rx, no doubt. I also like it a shade better, although
with solo piano I'm not much of a judge. Ten Roman-numeraled
variations, on what I'm not sure, but consistently interesting,
never dull. Bley has had quite a career, starting in 1953 with
the marvelous Introducing Paul Bley, a trio backed by guys
named Blakey and Mingus. A couple of years later he hired an
unknown alto saxophonist, Ornette Coleman. He also married a
pianist, Carla Borg; after she took his name and went her own
way, he married vocalist Annette Peacock. He moved into free
jazz in the 1960s, most notably with Jimmy Guiffre's trio. He
has a vast discography, which I've only occasionally sampled
and barely grasp, but often find intriguing.
Bloodcount: Seconds (1997 , Screwgun, 2CD+DVD):
This is Tim Berne's mid/late-1990s group, a quartet with Jim Black
(drums), Michael Formanek (bass), Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet),
and Berne (alto sax, baritone sax). With Marc Ducret on guitar, the
group recorded three CDs of Paris Concerts in 1994, which is
the subject of Süsanna Schonberg's Eyenoises . . . The Paris
Movie, packed in here on the DVD. The film doesn't offer much
visually: black and white, tight close ups, cut between practice
and concert not that it's always easy to tell, with some ambling
about town here and there. Musically, it seems to pull a single
piece together through multiple iterations. Watching Black, you
get the sense of the rhythm working its way through his whole body.
Ducret can be a potent force but he mostly holds back, and he isn't
missed much on the live sets documented on the CDs. The reason is
the interlocking reeds. Most two-horn free quartets use trumpet
and sax not just for contrast but to set each loose on its own
trajectory. Pairing two reeds -- most often alto/tenor sax, with
tenor/baritone sax and clarinet/alto sax the other options --
poses a tougher challenge. Here the similar tones slip in and out
of phase, never falling far apart. The result is free rhythmically,
lose melodically, but tight harmonically. Although the two discs
only repeat one song, the form is so dominant that effectively
they are multiple views of the same thing. That may seem like too
much, but I find the redundancies to be fascinating. [FYI, Berne's
been down this road before, releasing a 3-CD live set from 1996,
Unwound, which I haven't heard but should be much more of
the same sort -- according to Penguin Guide, "raw, immediate and
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.
The Blueprint Project: People I Like (2006 ,
Creative Nation Music): Core group is a trio of college chums:
saxophonist Jared Sims, guitarist Eric Hofbauer, pianist Tyson
Rogers. All three write, do interesting work. Could use a drummer,
and maybe a bassist. Last time out they filled those roles with
Matt Wilson and Cecil McBee, and got a nice postbop album with
a bit of edge. This time they went for Han Bennink, and he's
already turned them into a bunch of dadaist anarchists. Can't
say it's an improvement, but it's an interesting turn, with the
percussion fracturing the soundscapes.
Paul Bollenback: Invocation (2007, Elefant Dreams):
Four extra names on front cover, but nothing inside provides credits.
The names are Randy Brecker, Ed Howard, Victor Lewis, and Chris
McNulty, which presumably means trumpet, bass, drums, and vocals,
respectively. Guitarist. Originally from Illinois, but spent some
eye-opening years in New Delhi as a teenager. Currently based in
New York. Seven albums, starting 1995. Likes nylon strings. Don't
know what he's using here, but he gets a soft, silk sound that is
quite attractive. The trumpet is a nice, but somewhat rare, touch.
I don't care for the scat at all, but the final cut, Coltrane's
"After the Rain," holds together so nicely maybe I should give
it another play.
Ruby Braff and the Flying Pizzarellis: C'est Magnifique
(2002 , Arbors): Recorded June 2002. Braff took ill in August
and died the following February, so this turns out to have been his
final recording. Beats me why it took so long to get released, other
than that Braff had so much in the pipeline the label was just pacing
themselves. Title comes from a Cole Porter song, included here. The
record isn't quite magnifique, and in some respects feels unfinished,
but it's hard not to cut them some slack. Braff's cornet doesn't swing
as hard as in days of yore, but it's clear and poignant. The guitars
chug along amiably, with Bucky's rhythm a particularly nice foil for
the cornet. John Pizzarelli gets credit for his trio, with Ray Kennedy
on piano and brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass. John has a couple of
nice guitar leads and sings two songs -- not necessary but nothing
wrong with them. Ambles a bit at the end.
Anthony Braxton: Solo Willisau (2003 ,
Intakt): I need to go back and listen to For Alto again.
It was recorded 35 years earlier, is legendary as the first
solo saxophone record (although Coleman Hawkins and possibly
a few others did solo pieces). Penguin Guide ranks it as a
crown album. Last time I played it I noted that it was the
ugliest thing I ever heard. I doubt that I say the same now,
but you never know. To this day when my wife wishes to show
extreme disgust over some quarrelsome saxophonist I'm playing,
she asks if it's Anthony Braxton. That's unfair and way off
base. For Alto aside, when I first started listening
to jazz in the mid-1970s, the first two artists I really keyed
onto were Braxton and Ornette Coleman. (I figure that's why I
grew up thinking Charlie Parker was a piker.) After Lee Konitz,
Downbeat's critics should give Braxton some serious Hall of
Fame consideration -- although that seems a long ways away,
given that he's not on the ballot and stuck down around #9 in
the alto sax category. This new one isn't anywhere near the
ugliest ever, but it is solo, which gives it a narrow tone
range and makes it tough to sustain much rhythm. He does "All
the Things You Are" and seven originals, each running 8-12
minutes. At least some of it is sustained invention of a high
order, but it's abstract, difficult, tough to keep up with,
and ultimately of rather marginal interest.
Ari Brown: Live at the Green Mill (2007, Delmark):
Chicago saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano, sometimes at the
same time, also a little flute. B. 1944, came up through AACM in
the 1970s, playing with Muhal Richard Abrams and Lester Bowie,
more recently in Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio. Third album as a
leader, a sextet (mostly) with Pharez Whitted on trumpet, Kirk
Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums,
Dr. Cuz percussion. Back cover quote: "Not impossibly virtuosic
or unnecessarily complex." Also on DVD with an extra cut. Played
it, but can't say I actually watched it all.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: Bogalusa Boogie Man
(1975 , Sunnyside): Texas bluesman goes native in Louisiana,
creating a mess of swamp pop that is campy gumbo at best and slimy
okra at worst, with "Dixie Chicken" a repast of both; five bonus
cuts show off some respectable blues guitar, out of place here.
The John Brown Quintet Featuring Ray Codrington: Merry
Christmas, Baby (2006-07 , House of Swing): Brown
plays bass, teaches at Duke, also has an Art Blakey tribute album
out (more on that later). Codrington plays trumpet in the quintet,
and gets to sing here. He's hardly special, but brings good cheer
to songs that are nothing but -- God gets dutifully thanked in
the liner notes, but the only song here that might upset devoted
secularists is "Happy Birthday, Jesus," which reminds me more
of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to JFK. Frosty, Santa
Claus, and Rudolph all swing like mad, and it snows all over the
winter wonderland. Not even I dare rain on their parade.
The John Brown Quintet: Terms of Art: A Tribute to Art
Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Vol. 1 (2007, House of
Swing): Bassist, leading a standard hard bop quintet, with Ray
Codrington on trumpet, Brian Miller on saxophones, Gabe Evens
on piano, Adonis Rose on drums. Most of these songs I recognize
from Blakey's group -- none written by Blakey, only some by
group members like Wayne Shorter and Bobby Timmons. I don't
really see the point in doing such straight recreations of
material that effectively consolidated bebop into mainstream.
The result is less notable than Brown's Xmas record, but I
wouldn't feel right to grade it lower.
Jimmy Bruno: Maplewood Avenue (2007, Affiliated
Artists): Guitarist, from Philadelphia, b. 1953, fits in the line
of mild-mannered, swing-happy guitarists from the '50s; started
recording in 1991 for Concord, when they were trying to corner
the market for mainstream jazz guitar. This is a trio with Tony
Miceli on vibes and Jeff Pedras on bass, both named on the front
cover. If Bruno doesn't leave much of an impression, that's
because Miceli is so entertaining.
David Buchbinder: Odessa/Havana (2006-07 ,
Tzadik): Canadian trumpeter, previous groups include the Flying
Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shurum Burum Jazz Circus. (AMG also cites
an "Arabic fusion ensemble" called Medina, but it doesn't show up
in his credits or in his website bio.) Here he trades compositions
with Cuban pianist Hilario Durán, who lives in Canada and has
worked with Arturo Sandoval. The band is a mix of klezmer and
Cuban specialists, including Quinsin Nachoff on reeds and flute,
Aleksandr Gajic on violin, Dafnis Prieto on drums, and Roberto
Occhipinti on bass. Actually, more klezmer than Cuban, largely
because the horns and violin drown out the piano and percussion
has trouble keeping up. (Contrast this with Roberto Rodriguez,
who starts with Cuban rhythms and adds klezmer on top, a more
effective strategy.) One slow spot works nicely. Some of the
orchestration is overblown. Nachoff has some strong sax parts.
Michael Camacho: Just for You (2003-04 ,
New Found): Vocalist. Has a distinctive voice, soft and silky,
which occasionally impresses but I don't find all that appealing.
First album, Don't know anything more about him. Album appears
to have been originally released in 2006 on CAP, then reissued
on New Found Records -- cover is changed, but songs look to be
the same. Five originals, plus standards including some basic
rock ballads ("Norwegian Wood," "Spanish Harlem").
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Kathmandu (2006
, FMR): Alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively, both
from Quebec. They've played in a trio for much of the decade,
but here, recording live in Nepal, it's just the two of them.
Carrier's become one of my favorite players -- clear, liquid,
almost always on edge. Lambert plays free and can mix it up.
Basically what I expected, but I'll have to give it a closer
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Kathmandu (2006
, FMR): Alto sax/drums improvisations, recorded live in Nepal.
After the first piece, someone (presumably Carrier) announces that
the piece was called "Kathmandu Improvisation." He then introduces
the next piece, also called "Kathmandu Improvisation." He invites
people to dance to their improvs, observing that others have done
so. The released album does have song titles: "White Summit,"
"Dancing Light," "Joyfulness and Playfulness," "Prayer for Peace,"
etc. Sometimes pure improv works, sometimes not so much. One part
reminds me how ugly the lower range of the alto sax can be.
Paul Chambers: Bass on Top (1957 , Blue
Note): One of the top bassists of the era -- AMG's credits run
to seven pages, all the more amazing given that he was just 33
when he died, although I figure 1/2 to 2/3 of those are dupes
for compilations. Although he did a handful of albums as a leader,
this is exceptional in its focus on the bass -- or at least it
starts that way, as guitarist Kenny Burrell later moves to the
Cyrus Chestnut: Cyrus Plays Elvis (2007, Koch):
Presley, of course. Well, why not? It's not like he's been doing
much of interest lately -- 1993's Revelation was the last
time he showed anything to get excited about. It's certainly a
lot more promising than another trip to church -- although he
couldn't resist ending with "How Great Thou Art" (and it comes
off nicely). Ballads like "Love Me Tender" always sound good,
and the upbeat ones remind you that Chestnut could boogie when
he wants to. But I have to wonder, why break the piano trio
continuity by adding Mark Gross sax on two cuts? That sort of
thing happens a lot when angling for a radio cut, which isn't
impossible here, but I find it disruptive.
John Chin: Blackout Conception (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist. Born 1976 in South Korea, grew
up in Los Angeles, went to Cal State when he was 14, got interested
in jazz piano, graduated at 19, headed on to Rutgers, where he
studied under Kenny Barron. First album. Starts as a quartet
where the first thing you notice is the tenor sax: Mark Turner.
He plays on the first two cuts, the fourth and sixth. The other
three drop back to a trio and let the pianist stretch out. He
sneaks up on you.
Choro Ensemble: Nosso Tempo (2007, Anzic): Anat
Cohen, on clarinet, fronts a Brazilian group, with Gustavo Dantas'
6-string guitar, Carlos Almeida's 7-string guitar, Pedro Ramos'
cavaquinho and tenor guitar, Zé Mauricio's percussion (pandeiro,
zabumba, surdo). Aside from the clarinet, the choro is felt and
authentic. The clarinet isn't authentic, to choro at least; the
exultant uplift Cohen brings to the proceedings sounds much like
the stock-in-trade worldview of klezmer.
Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (2006 ,
Arbors): Clarinetist, b. 1974 Long Beach CA, headed for New
Orleans, stopping for a three-year stretch in the Jim Cullum
Jazz Band. Previous albums include two volumes of Clarinet
Road: The Road to New Orleans; The Ragpickers --
half Tony Parenti in 1949, half Christopher in 2002; a Jazz
Traditions Project Live at the Meridien. He dedicates
this album to Lorenzo Tio Jr. (1893-1933) -- "the father of the
New Orleans clarinet style and the early teacher of many of
the greatest clarinetists who came from New Orleans" -- but
he works the broader tradition, starting with a Parenti piece,
adding originals, and checking out New Orleans nods from Hoagy
Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. Quartet, with Dick Hyman on piano,
although he's far less interesting than the clarinet.
Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (2006 , Arbors):
A young student of the New Orleans clarinet tradition, starting
with Lorenzo Tio Jr. and leading through Tony Parenti but with
no explicit reference to George Lewis. Whereas most New Orleans
jazz uses clarinet for contrast against the brass, this quartet,
with Dick Hyman textbook perfect as usual, singles it out. For
better or worse, without the competition Christopher never gets
the chance to go wild.
Cique (2007, Capri): Cover explains: "cique (sik) --
(n) post retro trans genre hippy trippy spank a lank; (adj) really
totally happening; (adj) not at all well." Latter sounds like "sick."
Denver group, with Jeff Jenkins on keyboards (rhodes, organ, synths),
Bijoux Barbosa on bass (electric & acoustic), Matt Houston on
drums. Steve Holloway guests on bodhran (a celtic frame drum) on
one track. John Abercrombie plays guitar on four tracks, rating a
"with special guest" honorific. Abercrombie's easy-going fusion is
probably the main interest here, but Jenkins contributes some tasty
funk as well.
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.
Stanley Clarke: The Toys of Men (2007, Heads Up):
Bassist, mostly electric although he plays a good deal of acoustic
here, as well as variants like piccolo bass and tenor bass. From
Philadelphia. Made a big splash in the early 1970s (his own early
20s) with Return to Forever and on his own, but his crossover never
carried much critical weight -- one result being that this is the
first of his 30-some records I've heard. (Of course, I have heard
other records he's played on -- AMG's list runs to four pages.)
This one is an odd mix of things. The six-part title suite would
be overblown arena jazz if such a thing existed. But there are
also solo bass pieces (acoustic, no less), funk drums duos, keyb
and guitar trios, a vocal piece with Esperanza Spalding writing
and singing. Most of it is quite listenable, but I don't quite
see how it adds up.
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).
Gil Coggins: Better Late Than Never (2001-02 ,
Smalls): Pianist, born 1924 in New York, died 2004. Played with Miles
Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, and Ray Draper
back in the 1950s. Cut an album called Gil's Mood in 1990;
otherwise this is it, hence the title. Sounds like a piano trio --
two drummers are credited, probably two sessions. Nice work, but hard
for me to place this.
Ryan Cohan: One Sky (2007, Motéma): Chicago pianist,
b. 1971, two previous albums, has worked with Orbert Davis and Ramsey
Lewis, evidently as an arranger. He does have a passion for arranging,
keeping three horns busy. Indeed, he's much more likely to fall down
when he cuts back to the piano setting up a theme than when he's
running full bore. The saxophone is often impressive -- don't know
whether it's Bob Sheppard or Geof Bradfield or both -- and Tito
Carillo has good moments on trumpet. Indeed, much of this album is
impressive, but I also find it annoying, pretentious, overblown,
and I have no desire to try to sort it out -- it's like jazz has
finally come up with its analogue to the Rachmaninoff era. If this
gets hyped enough I may have to come back and decide whether to list
is as a dud. It could be, but I probably won't.
Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (2006 ,
High Note): Nat's brother, 14 years younger, although he seems
like a generation removed, recording his first album 13 years
after Nat's death, and his second 12 years later. The latter
was called I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me, and they've come
out steadily ever since. He's never been in the same league,
but the family resemblance is real enough -- perhaps too much
so to avoid unfavorable comparison. Still, this holds up well
on its own. He's older now than Nat ever got -- it moves him
into new territory, and he seems comfortable there. Of course,
the Bill Charlap Trio helps, a lot.
Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (2006 ,
High Note): A pretty good soft crooner album with Bill Charlap's
trio for backup, a high class move that doesn't translate into
anything fancy. He has a lock on the family sound, but has moved
on to a new level of maturity.
Richard Cole: Shade (2000-07 , Origin):
Saxophonist, tenor first, soprano an afterthought, based in
Seattle. Third album. Name reminds one of alto saxophonist
d Richie Cole, but they have little in common. This album was
put together with tracks from three sessions: one from 2000,
three from 2005, four more from 2007. Randy Brecker gets a
"featuring" credit for the first two. The oldest track, "A
Shade of Joe," is by far the most impressive -- dedicated to
Henderson, Cole rises to the challenge. Becker has good spots
on the 2005 tracks. The 2007 tracks feature the Bill Anschell,
Jeff Johnson, John Bishop rhythm section, but Cole seems
diminished, and the overall effort is rather scattered.
Tim Collins: Valcour (2005 , Arabesque):
Plays vibes; also (not here but not unrelated) piano and drums.
AMG lists four albums, starting in 2003, but his website describes
this as his first album as a leader. Group includes alto sax (Matt
Blostein), trumpet (Ingrid Jensen), piano (Aaron Parks), bass and
drums. That's a lot of options, letting them navigate some tricky
postbop. Sounds fine, but none of it sticks with me.
The Cool Season: An Origin Records Holiday Collection,
Vol. 2 (2007, Origin): I really wish publicists would
just stop sending me Xmas music. I'm not interested in it. I
can't resell it (or anything else; oh, for the days when this
town still had record stores). I don't have space to shelve
it, even on the dregs shelf in the basement. I can't remember
ever liking it, even when Xmas still excited me. And my views
got more jaundiced when I read that Xmas music outsells jazz,
even though at least there are at least 10 times as many jazz
records released each year. I suppose the flip side of that
equation is that jazz labels, having to pay the bills to put
out the underappreciated music they exist for, should get in
on a bit of the Xmas action. That's all this really is. No
artists put their names on the covers here, but the whole
thing is done by the same quartet, featuring Origin's usual
rhythm section -- Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop --
with Thomas Marriott on trumpet/flugelhorn. It's utterly
inconsequential, and pretty close to inoffensive. If for
some reason, like you own a retail business, you feel obliged
to play the stuff, this is an investment that will spare a
lot of people a lot of grief.
Chick Corea and Béla Fleck: The Enchantment
(2007, Concord): Duets, about half from each artist's catalog.
The banjo often merges into the piano, producing something like
a harpsichord sound, and giving the whole affair a baroque cast --
not as rigid rhythmically, of course.
Eddie Daniels: Homecoming: Live at the Iridium
(2006 , IPO, 2CD): Plays clarinet and tenor sax, much
better known for the clarinet although I rather prefer the sax
here -- slows down the bebop runs and feels more centered in a
band that includes vibes (Joe Locke) and piano (Tom Ranier).
Originally from New York but lives in Santa Fe, hence the title.
Charles Davis: Land of Dreams (2006 , Smalls):
Saxophonist, plays tenor a lot here, soprano a little, but best known
for his baritone. Born 1933, Goodman MI. Early on (1954-61) played
with Sun Ra, Dinah Washington, Kenny Dorham, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor,
and a fairly steady stream thereafter -- often in large groups, like
Muhal Richard Abrams' Hearinga Suite, where his role isn't all
that clear. Has very little under his own name -- a 1979 album is
called Dedicated to Tadd, and he plays a Dameron piece here.
Reminds me of Clifford Jordan with his leonine tone and foursquare
phrasing. Quartet includes Tardo Hammer (piano), Lee Hudson (bass),
Jimmy Wormworth (drums), but the sax is constantly front and center.
Even his soprano sounds heavy, which may be why he built his career
Miles Davis: Evolution of the Groove (1959-72
, Columbia/Legacy): Feels like an aborted project, adding
up to no more than 14:40 including an unreleased, unnecessary
"Freddie Freeloader" outtake, and four short remixes -- one
featuring Nas, one featuring Carlos Santana, two more with no
one much at all.
Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions
(1972-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): I had a day when I wasn't
able to sit at the computer, so figured I'd give this a preliminary
spin, just to get acquainted. I don't have notes on who played what
when or anything like that. The hype sheet describes this as "the
eighth and final deluxe 'metal-spine' multi-CD box set in the Miles
Davis Series." This collects all of the 1972-75 studio sessions,
resulting in the albums On the Corner, Big Fun, and
Get Up With It, but it isn't actually the end of Davis'
Columbia records -- that would be Aura, in 1985, ten years
later, but evidently not part of the box plan. There are also live
albums from this same period, including Dark Magus (1974),
Agharta (1975), and Pangaea (1975). The group was
exceptionally fluid, with bassist Michael Henderson the constant
presence along with Davis. Henderson's electric buzz permeates
everything, with everything else -- guitars, electric keyboards,
saxes, trumpet -- stacked on top. On the Corner itself has
a reputation as one of the few weak spots in the discography. My
first impression doesn't find me disliking any of it, although
this is certainly a mixed bag. Will work on it more later. It may
come down to historical import: this is likely as far as Davis
was able to push his funk-fusion aesthetic; surprisingly, no one
since has managed to push it further.
Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions
(1972-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): The eighth, and reportedly
last, of Legacy's deluxe metal-spine multi-CD box sets, which have
attempted to reframe the Davis catalog in its broader studio context.
While some of the earlier boxes did little more than repackag well
known material, the later sets undid Teo Macero's edits, returning
to the original session tracks. That hasn't always been a plus: the
Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson session boxes largely
vindicated the edits. But here it is a plus. On the Corner
was rudely dismissed by virtually all jazz critics at the time,
even those who bought into the earlier fusion albums. Indeed, by
Ornette Coleman's rule-of-thumb it wasn't a jazz album at all --
Coleman argued that in rock the band plays with the drummer, while
in jazz the drummer plays with the band. But rewrite that rule to
make funk bassist Michael Henderson the focal point, with the drums
(including congas and tabla) just the first layer of elaboration.
Davis by the early 1970s was a pop star as well as a jazz legend,
which led him to conceive of his evolution in terms of James Brown
and Sly Stone, but unlike his fusion followers, he had no intention
of watering anything down. He spent this period working with British
avant-gardist Paul Buckmaster, listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen,
neither offering any pop potential. What Davis learned here was to
be comfortable with repetition, a very unjazzlike attitude. He let
the bass line stretch out endlessly, opening up space that he could
pierce at will with his trumpet. Over three years, he took various
groups into the studio 16 times, releasing the edited down On
the Corner and two more bundles of scraps, Big Fun and
Get Up With It. The edited albums never quite let the music
breathe, which turns out to be key. Until now the period was best
represented by live albums, and Dark Magus is still the one
to turn to first -- no doubt because audience rekindled the jazz
legend's love of improvisation. But this history fleshes out the
story. Those waiting for Davis to stumble will have to look further.
Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup (1959 , Blue Note):
A minor hard bop pianist, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd,
Jackie McLean, Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Bobby Watson, a few others.
This quintet was his only album on Blue Note, or for that matter
under his own name until 1977. He wrote all the pieces, but he
doesn't get much piano space. The album is dominated by Byrd, with
McLean present but usually laying back.
Deep Blue Organ Trio: Folk Music (2007, Origin):
Chicago group, with Chris Foreman on organ, Bobby Broom on guitar,
Greg Rockingham on drums. Third album; first two on Delmark. No
idea where the title comes from. Nothing here suggests anything
I can recognize as folk music: most of the pieces come out of
hard bop, with songs from the Beatles and Ohio Players slightly
more recent. Foreman doesn't strike me as a particularly imposing
organ player. He tends to pad out the groove rather than drive
it, letting Broom's guitar set the pace and direction.
The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol.
2 (2005 , Origin): Drummer, sings swing tunes and jump
blues in a voice that brings Louis Prima to mind, especially when
he turns the microphone over to his straighter half, wife Bonnie
Eisele. But the analogy held up better on Vol. 1, where he
uncorked a funny story called "Bennie's From Heaven"; nothing here
The Karl Denson Trio: Lunar Orbit (2007, Bobby Ace):
From San Diego, plays sax and flute, more funk than jazz. Got his
break in 1989 with Lenny Kravitz. Other credits include Fred Wesley,
Blackalicious, the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood, John Scofield,
and a couple of organ grinders I like: Robert Walter and Ron Levy.
The trio here is an organ-drums thing, but it's not really a trio:
he uses three different organ players and three different drummers
(counting Steve Haney on congas). This leads off with a flute piece,
awful really, and he returns to flute several more times -- "That
Other Thing" is a tolerable example, but it still seems like a
pretty silly funk instrument. The sax, of course, works better --
cf. "Dingo Dog Sled," probably the most retro piece here, easily
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.
Alessandro D'Episcopo Trio: Meraviglioso (2005
, Altrisuoni): Fine piano trio, leaning hard on four Monk
pieces, which set the rhythmic frame for a few originals, a trad.
Neapolitan song, and the title track from Domenico Modugno.
Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin'
(2006 , Stomp Off): Des Plantes is a pianist who plays stride and
knows his Jelly Roll Morton. He has five albums on Stomp Off, a few more
on Jazzology, going back at least to 1991. I can find very little info
on the web, but turned up a photo with Dave Greer's Classic Jazz
Stompers ("a territory band from Dayton, Ohio") showing a guy with a
mustache and a deficit of mostly gray hair. Also found quotes from a
couple of reviews he wrote for The Mississippi Rag (as in
ragtime). I've heard one previous Washboard Wizards album, Ohio
River Blues (1994, Stomp Off). This is a little more modern than
the Yerba Buena Stompers albums, at least in two respects: the song
focus is Harlem 1924-37, so it swings more, and Des Plantes wrote
two new songs to slip in with the old ones. But the band lineup is
similar, with banjo and tuba, and four players in common: Leon
Oakley (trumpet there, cornet here), Hal Smith (drums, also washboard
here), Clint Baker (tuba there, trombone here), and John Gill (banjo).
The main difference is replacing the second trumpet with an alto sax --
again, a post-Oliver New York move. Five (of 17) vocal tracks: four by
Des Plantes, one by Gill. Des Plantes is the more engaging vocalist,
and the dollop of sax and dash of swing give this a slight edge.
Bob DeVos: Playing for Keeps (2007, Savant):
Guitarist-led organ trio, with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander
an added attraction on four of ten songs. Don't have much bio
on DeVos: four records since 1999, three on Savant, but he looks
older, and has credits Richard "Groove" Holmes albums in 1977,
then very little until he pops up with Charles Earland in 1997.
Dan Kostelnik plays a relatively reserved and supportive organ
here, letting DeVos run his long, grooveful leads. I haven't
had much nice to say about Alexander lately, but he's back in
full tone here, powering through the leadoff cut, and mixing
it up with DeVos in the later cuts.
Dion: Son of Skip James (2007, Verve Forecast):
Nephew of Muddy Waters, cousin of Chuck Berry, both of whom figure
larger here than James, but it's worth noting that the latter's
comeback came after Dion's Belmonts faded into doo-wop history.
At the time, Dion was refashioning himself as a folk singer, and
he was remarkably good at it -- cf. Bronx Blues: The Columbia
Recordings (1962-1965). He makes a pretty fair bluesman too.
Lou Donaldson: Gravy Train (1961 , Blue Note):
An alto saxophonist, Donaldson got a reputation early in the 1950s
as a Charlie Parker imitator, but it's hard to hear the influence,
especially by the early 1960s when his easy-flowing blues style fit
snugly into the soul jazz milieu. The temptation to put him down as
derivative may be because he never showed any big ambitions. He was
content to knock off dozens of clean toned, easy grooving albums,
popular enough that Blue Note kept him employed from 1952 to 1974.
This one makes the most of his limits. Two originals are small
ideas worked out comfortably. The covers carry stronger melodies,
which he renders with little elaboration but uncommon elegance.
Herman Foster's piano is crisper than the usual organs, while
Alec Dorsey's congas lighten and loosen the beat.
Double Duo: Crossword Puzzle (2005 , Libra):
Two piano-trumpet duos, one from Japan (Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura),
the other from the Netherlands (Misha Mengelberg, Angelo Verploegen).
Not much different than a single duo would have been, given that
both duos leave ample room for the other.
Dave Douglas Quintet: Live at the Jazz Standard
(2006 , Greenleaf/Koch, 2CD): Working off a copy from the
Wichita Public Library, which is too bad because I'll have to
give it back in way before I can sort it out. The music comes
from December 2006, and is part of a massive 12-hour set being
sold download only. The group consists of Douglas on cornet,
Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes, James
Genus on contrabass, and Clarence Penn on drums. In other words,
it is to our era roughly what the Miles Davis Quintet was in
1965 when they recorded their 7-CD Plugged Nickel set. I don't
doubt that it's good to have it all available, and as much as
I dislike download-only product, I must admit it makes a lot of
sense in this case. The 2-CD release is an afterthought, meant
for those of us who don't have the patience to wade through the
whole thing. For me it still may be too much. Douglas is way
too fancy for my taste, combining amazing chops with ideas that
sail way over my head. Caine is in the same league, although
I find him easier to follow, and write off what I don't get to
his euroclassical passions. McCaslin certainly has chops to
match, but he doesn't give me the same sense of bedazzlement.
In any case, this is Douglas in full command. His pieces explode,
scintillate, dumbfound. I doubt that I'll ever figure them out,
and certainly don't have time now. I'll resume this if/when I
get another chance to listen.
B+(***) [PS: I hear a copy is on the way, so I may
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Hope Radio
(2007, Stony Plain): Winner of an honorary "shut up and play
yer guitar" award. Filed under blues, although they could pass
as a soul jazz organ group -- trio plus two extra bassists, one
also playing a bit of piano. Earl's blues guitar is clean and
fluid. Still, at its best it reminds me of the guitar breaks
in blues-infatuated rock records -- like Big Brother and the
Holding Company with no Janis Joplin.
Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (2007,
Palmetto): One of those razor-thin slipcase specials that got
lost on my shelves, discovered only when I reached for the next
record over and it fell out. Duos. Melford plays piano; Ehrlich
alto sax and clarinet. Both are important figures who should by
now need no introduction. Pieces are evenly divided, with one
extra each by Robin Holcomb and Andrew Hill. This suffers the
usual duo problems -- the instrument imbalance, uncertainty and
the resultant tendency to slow down, erratic flow -- but comes
through often enough to suggests it may be worth the time to
sort out. Hope I can find it again.
Kurt Elling: Nightmoves (2007, Concord): Widely
touted as the top male vocalist in jazz, a highly problematic
category. I've only listened to him rarely, more often than not
with much displeasure. This may reverse the ratio -- his "Undun"
swings fine -- but "A New Body and Soul" brings out all the usual
annoyances: the awkward forced word-fit of vocalese, the hipster
posturing, the fact that his voice doesn't have a crooner's reach.
Need to play it again and see which way it falls.
Amir ElSaffar: Two Rivers (2007, Pi): B. 1977,
near Chicago, Iraqi father, American mother, studied trumpet at
DePaul, worked in classical and jazz contexts. Journeyed to Iraq
in 2002, learning to sing maqam and play santoor (a hammered
dulcimer), leaving before Bush brought it on. Maqam are habitual
note patterns in Arabic music, based on uneven microtonal scales,
hard to notate and therefore handed down from person to person.
ElSaffar's santoor and vocals presumably fit the model. He says
he's adapted his trumpet style as well -- at first it sounded
typical hard bop, but by the end I was no longer so sure. The
band spreads out between east and west: Carlo DeRosa (bass) and
Nasheet Waits (drums) provide jazz rhythm, while Zafer Tawail
(violin, oud, dumbek) and Tareq Abboushi (buzuq, frame drum)
improvise in Arabic modes. The sixth member is Indian-American
alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has a head start on
Asian-Coltrane fusion. The piece was intended as a suite, based
on the Tigris and Euphrates, from their sources to the Shatt
al-Arab. But the rivers are just as aptly Iraqi and American,
only played out in mutual respect, as jazz not war.
The Engines (2006  Okka Disk): Jeb Bishop
(trombone), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor/baritone sax), Nate McBride
(bass), Tim Daisy (drums); i.e., the Vandermark 5 minus Vandermark
with a switch at bass -- lately, McBride has been appearing on more
Vandermark albums than Kent Kessler anyway. Sounded real promising:
I haven't heard most of the recent work by Rempis and Daisy, but
their two Triage albums were super, and Bishop's departure from
the V5 signalled an interest in developing his own work. Results
are, well, mixed, with pieces from all four showing their distinct
talents but not jelling into anything coherent. Daisy continues to
impress -- I particularly like the spots where the band lays back
and lets him work out. Rempis tends to squawk, for better and
sometimes for worse. Bishop paints dark, dirty swathes of sound.
I'd be more impressed if I had lower expectations.
Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra: Invitation (2007,
Pacific Coast Jazz): Listed in the credits as Dr. Bruce Eskovitz.
Got his Ph.D. at University of Southern California. Don't know how
old he is, but he's got some grey in the beard and a discography
that goes back to 1992, or maybe to 1983. Plays saxophone, mostly
tenor, some soprano, some alto flute. AMG describes his early
records as "crossover," but he turned around and did a Rollins
tribute (One for Newk) in 1993. This is a 10-piece big
band -- not huge in terms of numbers, but they play loud -- one
of several things I like about them. Another is a choice cut
called "Latin Fever" which Eskovitz wrote as a classroom salsa
intro but kept in the book because it's "always a crowd pleaser."
Reminds me of Gillespie's big band. Finally, I like it when the
saxophonist takes center stage and cuts loose. Not a lot of
finesse here. Maybe the academy isn't so stuffy after all.
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.
Joe Fiedler Trio: The Crab (2007, Clean Feed):
Trombonist. Based in New York. Third album as leader, plus a
substantial sideman list, divided between salsa bands, big
bands, and work with avant-gardists (Anthony Braxton, Satoko
Fujii, and Chris Jonas show up repeatedly). A previous trio was
called Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff, also on
Clean Feed, which did a good job of framing trombone as a lead
instrument. This trio, with bassist John Hebert and drummer
Michael Sarin, builds on that, although it also shows the basic
limits of volume and dynamics.
Scott Fields Ensemble: Dénouement (1997 ,
Clean Feed): Actually, a double trio: two sets of guitar, bass
and drums. On the left channel: Jeff Parker, Jason Roebke, Michael
Zerang. On the right: Fields, Hans Sturm, Hamid Drake. Most or all
Chicago musicians. Fields has a dozen or more records since 1990,
maybe earlier, including a duo with Parker on Delmark. This was
originally self-released on Geode Records in 1999. Fields explains:
"For most of the compositions, the trios are working in different
but interlocking pitch sets and compound time signatures. These
structures result in pip-popping little kicks and
difficult-to-pin-down harmonies." Strikes me as dabbling: a bit
here, a bit there, no particular urge to pull it all together.
Ella Fitzgerald: Love Letters From Ella (1973-83
, Concord/Starbucks): I don't really know what's going on
here. I just have an advance copy and a PR sheet that's more
concerned with hyping Starbucks than any of the music here. Plus
I figured I'd put it off until some Verve reissues showed up,
but they never did. Now I'm just cleaning up. What we have here
are ten previously unreleased vocal tracks from Fitzgerald's
1973-83 Pablo period. They are strong performances of familiar
material. Eight are presented as featuring special guests: Count
Basie, the London Symphony Orchestra, Joe Pass, André Previn,
and/or Scott Hamilton. Some have been merged in the editing --
LSO and Hamilton for sure, Pass and Basie are dead although the
latter retains a ghostly form, especially at Concord. I'm only
partly inclined to reject such adulteration out of hand -- for
instance, I don't have a big problem with remixes and mash-ups,
but there the shoe is on the other foot. But I do like to know
what I'm dealing with, and there's a whiff of dishonesty here
that may or may not be dispelled in the final product -- the
reviews I've read add some info suggesting it is, but not enough
to be sure. In any case, "Our Love Is Here to Stay" with André
Previn is a choice cut -- holds up even though my mind keeps
interjecting snatches from her duet with Louis Armstrong.
Wendy Fopeano: Raining on the Roses (2006 ,
Outside Shore): Vocalist, originally from Kansas City, now based
in Denver. Second album. Likes vocalese, writing her own lyrics
to David Murray and Kenny Barron pieces, as well as using some of
Jon Hendricks' lyrics. Likes to scat. Does two Jobim songs, several
standards, one co-credit with pianist-husband Marc Sabatella. Gives
one song slot up to fellow KC vocalist Carol Comer. Recorded live
with a pretty upbeat group.
Gary Foster/Putter Smith: Perfect Circularity
(2006 , AJI): AJI stands for American Jazz Institute. Foster
is credited with woodwinds. Two booklet photos show him playing
alto sax, a third a flute. Lee Konitz wrote a note also mentioning
tenor sax. Foster was close to 70 when this was recorded. He came
out of Kansas a little too late for the west coast cool boom of
the 1950s, but he does have a connection to Warne Marsh and Konitz.
He cut three albums in the 1960s, little more under his own name,
but he has a substantial number of credits, including an acclaimed
record in Concord's Duo Series that Alan Broadbent got top
billing for. Smith is a bassist, five years younger. His credit
list is much shorter, conspicuously including a half-dozen albums
with Broadbent. This is a duo, with the usual limits but nicely
done, with both players holding interest in their solos as well
as their interplay.
Jamie Fox: When I Get Home (2006 , Rare Cat):
Guitarist, from California. First album. Doesn't look to be all
that young. Brief bio on website suggests a checkered career:
"played lead guitar and served as Musical Director for the Joan
Baez World Tour (1989-1991), . . . was lead guitarist
for Blood, Sweat, & Tears (1998-2000), touring the USA and
Canada." Not being much of a guitar buff, I could go up or down
on his attractive mainstream guitar, but he put together a pretty
good band -- four (out of five) names I recognize, the best known
being pianist Kenny Werner, the most impressive saxophonist Dan
Willis. His work here reminds me that I still owe Willis an
honorable mention for Velvet Gentlemen.
Von Freeman: The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition
(1996-2006 , Premonition, 2CD+DVD): You could call Freeman a
late bloomer, but one could also argue that he's always been around
but never caught a break until in his 70s. Born 1922, he played with
Horace Henderson before the war, the Navy during, and the Pershing
Ballroom house band when he got out. He joined Sun Ra in 1948 and
hung with the AACM later, but he was also chums with Gene Ammons and
Johnny Griffin, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk liked him enough to produce
his debut album (1972, age 50). He had one of the most idiosyncratic,
instantly recognizable tenor sax sounds ever -- he attributes some
of that to being a poor boy playing cheap saxophones, and there's a
legend that he built his first sax at age 7 out of a Victrola horn.
But he's mellowed since he hit 80, developing a richer, cleaner sound
that still falls far short of lush. He cut a couple of 1970s records
for AACM-connected Nessa, and two more in 1992 for Steeplechase in
Denmark, but didn't get much attention until Half Note released his
75th Birthday Celebration. Then Premonition picked up his
1996 Live at the Dakota and started recording him regularly.
The material anthologizes well -- it's all quartets with piano or
guitar excepting a solo and a duo with Jason Moran -- and includes
a couple of previously unissued bait tracks. The DVD just shows him
speaking, first in an interview and then to a street crowd at the
dedication of Von Freeman Way. He's a natural comic, mature like
his music, which sums up a short century of saxophone wisdom --
he reminds me of Sonny Rollins, even if at best he's more like
Newk's scrawny little brother.
Joe Friedman: Cup O' Joe (2006, NAS Music):
Guitarist, from St. Louis, now in New York. First album. Wrote
two of ten pieces, claiming arrangements on a couple more, so not
a big composer. Other pieces include two from Monk, one each from
Horace Silver and George Benson. He's a good but unremarkable
mainstream guitarist. What lifts the album above par is a band
that includes George Colligan on piano and Peter Washington on
Satoko Fujii Quartet: Bacchus (2006 , Onoff):
There are (at least) two Satoko Fujii [-Natsuki Tamura] Quartets,
one with Mark Dresser and Jim Black, and this one with electric
bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. This one
did a record called Zephyros in 2004 which I liked enough
to put on my top ten list -- a marvelous mix of fusion grooves
and avant bash. However, this one strikes me as an idea gone bad.
The music is rockish at the fragment level, but without much to
hold it together -- the groove plodding and cartoonish when it
exists at all. But there is plenty of volume, especially with
Tamura splattering his trumpet uncharacteristically. Not sure if
she's famous enough to spend a dud slot on, but this is a very
unpleasant, disappointing record.
Champian Fulton with David Berger & the Sultans of
Swing: Champian (2007, Such Sweet Thunder): Singer,
plays piano on two tracks, would probably play more but not
much point in front of a big band. Born 1985, grew up in Norman
OK, then Le Mars IA, then back to Norman. Father plays trumpet,
became director of Clark Terry Institute for Jazz Studies --
Terry was a household guest early on, a world-class education
in itself. She graduated from SUNY Purchase, moved to New York,
sings with Berger's big band. The Berger band always seemed
better in theory than in practice, and are still little more
than perfunctory here, but Fulton fits in nicely and brightens
them up -- good examples are "He Ain't Got Rhythm" and "Just
One of Those Things."
Funky Pieces of Silver: The Horace Silver Songbook (The
Composer Collection Volume 1) (1997-2005 , High Note):
An unnecessary label sampler, but it's hard to go wrong with Silver
songs. Six of nine feature the Hammond B-3, including four by Charles
Earland, three from the same album. The only surprise is that I like
Joey DeFrancesco's trumpet more than his organ. Everything is tight,
and funk is its own reward.
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.
Richard Galliano Quartet: If You Love Me (2006
, CAM Jazz): Gary Burton's vibes provide fast light accents
to Galliano's accordion, which carries the emotional weight of
pieces that are neither fast nor light. Both players have a
connection to Astor Piazzolla, who wrote the majority of these
pieces. When Burton played with Piazzolla back in the 1970s, he
was more fan than help. Here he fits better, not least because
Galliano is in a mood to woo, not race.
Stephen Gauci's Basso Profundo: Nididhyasana
(2007, Clean Feed): Gauci is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1966,
based in Brooklyn, has appeared on 10+ records since 2001,
mostly with bassist Mike Bisio. The group here is a quartet
with two basses presumably the source of the name: Bisio and
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (of various Ken Vandermark bands).
The fourth member is trumpeter Nate Wooley, which gives the
group a two horn front line. No drummer, but there is some
percussion, presumably from tapping on the bass. The horns
split free, but they're less interested in fireworks than
Dennis González NY Quartet: At Tonic: Dance of the Soothsayer's
Tongue (2003-04 , Clean Feed): Actually, only 34 minutes
were recorded at Tonic in 2003; the rest comes from a later studio
session, added when the label thought 34 minutes was too short to
release. This is the same group that recorded NY Midnight Suite
in 2003: González on trumpet, Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Mark Helias
on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on what he calls soundrhythium
percussionist. Each have typically strong spots.
Brad Goode: Nature Boy (2006 , Delmark):
Trumpet player, from Chicago, now based in Colorado. Sixth album
since 1988, when his debut was titled Shock of the New.
Haven't heard that one, but I doubt that it was very shocking.
Very mainstream, bright tone on the trumpet, standard quartet
with Jeff Jenkins on piano. Has a nice stretch of covers early
on, including "I Remember You," "Sealed With a Kiss," "Tres
Palabras (Without You)." Originals more conventionally postbop.
Bobby Gordon: Plays Joe Marsala: Lower Register
(2007, Arbors): Marsala was a clarinetist from Chicago, 1907-78,
with most of his recordings on two Classics volumes from 1936-46,
plus appearances with Wingo Manone, Eddie Condon, Adrian Rollini,
and many other trad jazz artists -- although Dizzy Gillespie and
Charlie Parker also pop up. Marsala wrote or co-wrote all of the
songs in this tribute. Gordon was born in 1941, first saw Marsala
when he was 5, and wound up not only playing clarinet but taking
lessons from Marsala. Gordon has a dozen or so albums starting
in 1963, including a similar Pee Wee Russell tribute. This one
is a delight, with a first rate band including Randy Reinhart
on trumpet and James Chirillo on guitar, with pianist Keith
Ingham contributing arrangements.
Grant Green: The Latin Bit (1961 , Blue Note):
The latin percussion is professional enough -- Johnny Acea on piano,
Willie Bobo on drums, Carlos "Patato" Valdes on congas, Garvin
Masseaux on chekere -- but they can't inspire Green to break out
of his usual groove. Two later cuts with Ike Quebec on tenor sax
and Sonny Clark on piano work better, with the chekere gone and
the congas reduced to atmosphere.
Onaje Allan Gumbs: Sack Full of Dreams (2006 ,
18th & Vine): Pianist, b. 1949 in New York, 6th album since 1990,
with a long list of sideman credits going back to Betty Carter's boot
camp in 1972 and Woody Shaw's Moontrane in 1974. He's always
struck me as an able supporting player, but I've never gotten a sense
of his own style, and this strikes me as all over the map. One vocal
track, featuring Obba Babatunde, disrupts the flow, despite noble
Frode Haltli: Passing Images (2004 , ECM):
Norwegian accordionist, second album, both on ECM. This one with
Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Garth Knox on viola, and Maja Solveig
Kjelstrup Ratkje singing (or vocalizing -- there's not a lot of
conventional singing). Songs are evidently folk based, including
one by good ole' trad. Dense, dark, minimal sounds; any other
trumpet player would bust out of this, but Henriksen provides
little more than harmonic overtones to the accordion. Might be
worth another play, but the pickings look pretty slim.
Tardo Hammer: Look Stop & Listen: The Music of Tadd
Dameron (2007, Sharp Nine): Pianist, from New York, on
his fourth album, mostly trios -- this one with John Webber and
Joe Farnsworth. Deeply rooted in bebop, all the more evident on
this program of Tadd Dameron tunes. He does a respectable job,
here as elsewhere, but I find this of rather limited interest.
Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters (2007,
Verve): Joni Mitchell songs, plus "Solitude" and "Nefertiti" --
I'm not enough of a Mitchell scholar to explain why, but they are
two of four songs done as instrumentals. The rest have vocals, a
smattering of guests who get one shot each. Norah Jones leads off
with "Court and Spark," affecting Joni tics and sounding like a
pale imitation. Same for Corinna Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza, even
Tina Turner. Mitchell sings an obscure one, allowing herself the
amusement of hiding among the poseurs. Only Leonard Cohen avoids
that game. One result of all these shaded stylings is to remind
us that Mitchell's voice and songs were necessarily one. Tribute
albums succeed or fail depending on whether they offer convincing
reasons for the bother. The vocals fail that test here, and take
down with them some very nice instrumental work. Hancock himself
does a lovely if risk-free job tucking the melodies in. Better
still is Wayne Shorter, especially his little bits on soprano.
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.
Happy Apple: Happy Apple Back on Top (2007,
Sunnyside): Bad Plus drummer Dave King's other power trio,
with Erik Fratzke's bass plugged in and Michael Lewis leading
on one sax or another. Given their Minneapolis address, it's
tempting to call them the Husker Du of free jazz, assuming you
can make all the necessary translations. It is jazz, after all,
and while they like rock grooves more than most, they never
leave it at that.
Julie Hardy: The Wish (2006 , World Culture
Music): Vocalist, from New Hampshire, now in Brooklyn after studying
in Boston. Second album, after A Moment's Notice (2005, Fresh
Sound New Talent). Wrote half or a bit more, including three pieces
subtitled parts of "The Wish Suite." Also does a Beatles song, some
standards, and added lyrics to a Wayne Shorter piece. Band includes
some minor names -- guitarist Ben Monder is probably the best known.
I didn't care much for the voice or the arrangements, thought "All
or Nothing at All" was especially clunky; but I was working on other
stuff at the time, wasn't paying enough attention to get technical,
and gave her the benefit of my doubts on the grade, seeing little
prospect in pursuing this further.
The Harlem Experiment (2007, Ropeadope): Related,
although I can't tell you how, to two previous Ropeadope releases:
The Philadelphia Experiment and The Detroit Experiment.
The promo cover speaks of "a quilt of sounds that speak to the real
Harlem," but I suspect that has less to do with the actual Harlem
of today than the mythic Harlem of yore -- a scene still haunted
by Langston Hughes and Malcolm X, where "Reefer Man" is still funny,
"A Rose in Spanish Harlem" is a lonely jíbaro serenade, and the
Jewish past still lingers in Don Byron's clarinet lead "Bei Mir
Bist Du Schoen," with token entries for funk and a plea for rhyme
as serious lit. In other words, an album of distinct pieces composed
into an artificial mural. Vocals by Queen Esther, Taj Mahal, James
Hunter, Olu Dara. Steve Bernstein smears his trumpet over Malcolm
X. DJ Arkive is credited with cuts and bruises.
David Hazeltine: The Inspiration Suite (2007,
Sharp Nine): One of the very best mainstream pianists working
today, consistently engaging in his trio -- cf. The Classic
Trio (1996, Sharp Nine) -- and a dependable support player.
This whole group looks sharp, with Eric Alexander on tenor sax,
Joe Locke on vibes, John Webber on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums,
and Daniel Sadownick on percussion (three tracks). But the first
time I played it I was little more than annoyed; second time it
just flopped lamely, marking time before it expired. I suppose
I could give it a third spin to see whether to add it to the
dud list, especially if I can figure out why. I'm not real sure
why this doesn't work -- Alexander sounds thin, way off his
usual game; Locke solos well but otherwise is disconnected;
the 26-minute title thing straddling the middle is impossible
to distinguish from the before and aft; the leader rarely gets
space to stretch out -- but it probably doesn't matter much.
The Skip Heller Trio: Mean Things Happening in This Land
(2006, Ropeadope): One of those advance copies that got lost in my pile,
in this case for a year or more. No big deal. Heller is a guitarist,
born in Philadelphia, based in Los Angeles. Has a dozen-plus albums
since 1992, drawing on blues, swing, pop, and if AMG is to be believed,
Bakersfield country. The mean things include at least two obvious
references to New Orleans: "Katrina, Mon Amour" and "Heckuvajob."
Maybe three, given that another title is "President Nero?" There's
also a song for Ani DiFranco, "The Kind of Beauty that Moves," and
he follows that up with the Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl." I wish
the music lived up to these titles, but it's mostly mild-mannered
organ funk. Last song has a vocal, but no credit for who sang it.
It's called "Aragon Mill," about the closing thereof, and is the
best thing here, probably because words are sharper than guitar.
Marsha Heydt: One Night (2007, Blue Toucan):
Plays sax, flute, clarinet. Grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country,
tracing her family back to the eighteenth century. Moved to Los
Angeles in 1991, then to New York in 1992. First album. Wrote
four songs, including one done both as an instrumental and with
a nuanced Carla Cook vocal. That's the only vocal. The rest, with
the marginal exception of a Monk piece, is rather schmoozy easy
listening music, often with quasi-Latin rhythms, three with a
string trio, six more with Erik Friedlander's cello. Booklet
doesn't specify what Heydt plays where, but her website gives
the breakdown as: alto sax 6, soprano sax 3, flute 4. Heydt's
alto sax sounds rather wobbly, although her "Georgia on My Mind"
has some charm. In fact, quite a bit of this is likable, but
it's hard to see much point to it.
His Name Is Alive: Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to
Marion Brown (2007, High Two): I imagine that most
readers know who Marion Brown is, but that may not be a slam
dunk. He's an alto saxophonist, born 1935, made a few notable
avant-garde albums starting with ESP-Disk in 1965 up through
a couple of remarkable Mal Waldron duos in the 1980s, but
he's recorded little since, evidently having multiple health
problems. Very few of his records are in print, so if you
weren't aware of him when he was active, there's not much
likelihood of being reminded of him now. His Name Is Alive
is more/less a front for guitarist Warren Defever. In the
early 1990s he recorded quasi-rock albums with singer Karin
Oliver. Robert Christgau recommended a couple of his/their
albums. I bought one, made no sense of it, and never paid
any further attention to him/them. Now, a few dozen mostly
self-released albums later, comes this Marion Brown tribute.
Three cuts were recorded live in 2004, the others undated
studio cuts. The musicians mostly come from the Ann Arbor
group NOMO, with Michael Herbst on alto sax, Elliot Bergman
on tenor sax, Justin Walter on trumpet, Olman Piedra on
congas and cajon. None of these players make much of an
impression, except occasionally the guitar. Long stretches
are rather fallow, occasionally dirgelike. [PS: Looks like
Why Not? is available at the ESP-Disk website, as
good a place to start as any.]
Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles
(1935-42 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Her early Brunswick singles
were credited to Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, but only the most
arcane European labels still credit them to Wilson. One proof that
Holiday is the most bankable name in pre-WWII jazz is that the major
label custodian of Wilson's Brunswick and Holiday's Vocalion singles,
currently d/b/a Sony/BMG, has kept them consistently and extensively
in print throughout the CD era, even while they've let works by Louis
Armstrong and Duke Ellington, not to the Wilson cuts that didn't
feature Holiday. The first CDs were The Quintessential Billie
Holiday, released as nine separate volumes. In 2001, Sony came
up with 35 unreleased alternates and packaged it all together in
a 10-CD box, Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia
1933-1944, which they broke down to six CDs of master takes and
four of alternates. All along, they've spun off smaller samplers,
which are almost impossible to screw up -- unless they drag in a
1958 Columbia horror show, Lady in Satin, where her voice
is shot and drenched in dreadful strings, about the only possible
complaint is that they cut her short. If the big box seems de trop
and the still-in-print Quintessentials seem too arbitrary,
this 80-song box is perfect. The subtitle is misleading in that it
contains nowhere near all the master takes and singles, but the
selection is canonical, faultless. It smoothes over the arcs of
her story -- her emergence from being in the band to stardom, the
wear and tear of a troubled life. On this evidence, she took charge
of a band of superstars from day one and was a model of consistency
at least as far as the box goes -- her voice limited in range, her
technique straightforward and uncluttered, her phrasing definitive.
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.
Charlie Hunter Trio: Mistico (2007, Fantasy):
Guitarist, currently plays a custom-built 7-string guitar cut
down from an 8-string. Has recorded prolifically since 1993,
including several albums with Bobby Previte as Groundtruther
and Stanton Moore and Skerik as Garage a Trois -- including
one in my replay queue. This seems about par. He is at the
center of a cluster of fusion musicians that combine loping
rhythms, funk, and electronics in interesting ways.
Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte as Groundtruther +
Special Guest John Medeski: Altitude (2006 ,
Thirsty Ear, 2CD): Hunter plays 7-string guitar. Previte is
a drummer who dabbles in electronics. They both have notable
solo careers -- Previte's a decade longer, from 1987 -- and
now have three Groundtruther albums together, each named for
geographical dimensions (Longitude, Latitude),
each with an extra guest (or two). This one adds keyb player
Medeski, of Martin & Wood fame. First disc is labeled
"Below Sea Level," which lets Medeski exploit the whole gamut
of bubbly burbling organ effects, a tedious onomatopoeia that
ultimately fails to evolve gills and expires in the deep. The
second disc is "Above Sea Level," which lets Hunter air out
his guitar for some pleasant flightiness, eventually coaxing
Medeski to switch to piano, which for once surprises.
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.
Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (2006
, Euonymus): Park's zithers -- the 6-string bowed ajeng and
the 12-string plucked kayagum -- and voice make up the core here.
I can't decide, or even hazard a guess, whether he's playing folk
or classical or some sort of avant-garde that would seem as strange
in Korea as it does here. Hwang is easier: he knows his way around
classical Chinese music, but he's also a remarkable jazz violinist
who dances gracefully around the more static core.
Todd Isler: Soul Drums (2006-07 , Takadimi
Tunes): Drummer, percussionist, seems to have special interests
in Indian and African percussion, evidently based in New York. This
is second or third album. Claims to have appeared on hundreds of
albums. AMG counts 16. Has a book called You Can Ta Ka Di Mi
This. Songs include various saxophonists, pianists, bassists.
Sandwiched between are short percussion-only pieces. Covers two
songs: Stevie Wonder's "Bird of Beauty" and Joe Zawinul's "Badia" --
the latter the closer, breaking the pattern with a guitar duo. The
song pieces are very nice. The interludes break up the sweetness.
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish
Heart: Live at Montreux (2001 , ECM, 2CD): This
trio, introduced here as The Trio, debuted circa 1983 as
The Standards Trio, but has been fixed ever since, perhaps from
habit, possibly, well, if you're Jarrett, who else would you
rather play with? I don't know how many albums they've done
together -- pretty much everything in Jarrett's catalog for
the last score-plus years except for the numerous solos. Given
my relatively thin and unnuanced bandwidth for processing piano
trios, they've long since achieved a plateau where they all
pretty much sound the same. I'm not sure whether this is the
exception, or it just started off so brightly that I kicked
back and let myself enjoy it. It is a standards exercise, with
two Fats Waller pieces unexpected pleasures in the middle --
I'm not sure how distinctive they are, but I'm glad to have
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish
Heart: Live at Montreux (2001 , ECM, 2CD):
The dozens of albums Jarrett's "standards trio" have released
since 1983 blur together, but here two Fats Waller pieces jump
out, lightening the load and brightening the day. Jarrett is
every bit as adept with "Four" and "Straight, No Chaser" and
the inevitable ballad, and DeJohnette shows you why Jarrett
has stuck in his trio rut all these years: who else would you
rather play with?
Brent Jensen: One More Mile (2006 , Origin):
Saxophonist, plays soprano here but his main instrument is probably
alto. Website banner touts LA Jazz Bands, but Jensen seems to have
started in Idaho ("In 1986-87, Brent studied in New York City with
jazz legend Lee Konitz on a grant from the Idaho Commission on the
Arts") and wound up there ("Brent Jensen is currently Director of
Jazz Studies and Woodwinds at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin
Falls"). I have relatives in Twin (as they call it), and thought a
bit about moving there once -- seems like a nice place to retreat
to when all hell breaks loose. The other band members get their
names on the front cover: Bill Anschell (piano), Jeff Johnson
(bass), John Bishop (drums). They're strictly Seattle, for all
purposes the label's house band, slightly left of mainstream,
first rate players all. Johnson and Anschell contribute songs,
and Anschell arranges a couple of oldies; Jensen's only writing
credit is shared with Johnson and Bishop. So maybe this should
be viewed as a group effort, but it's Jensen's clear, measured
tone that gives it voice. Jensen's previous Trios was an
HM. We'll see if this one rises higher.
Brent Jensen: One More Mile (2006 , Origin):
Thanks to Origin Records, Seattle has one of the better documented
regional jazz scenes. Their house rhythm section -- Bill Anschell
on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, John Bishop on drums -- is flexible
and dependable, but that's usually as far as it goes. Jensen isn't
even Seattle. He teaches woodwinds in Idaho, and doesn't write much,
but he has a distinctive tone and rigorous logic on soprano sax.
Studied under Lee Konitz, which probably has something to do with
Jentsch Group Large: Brooklyn Suite (2005 ,
Fleur de Son): Led by Chris Jentsch, guitarist, based in Brooklyn.
Has a couple of previous albums I haven't heard, including one
called Miami Suite -- got his Doctor of Musical Arts degree
from University of Miami. Group numbers 17, including conductor
JC Sanford, five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, guitar, bass,
drums -- familiar names include John O'Gallagher, Dan Willis, Russ
Johnson, Jacob Garchik, Alan Ferber. Big, swimming sound, but I'm
not all that well disposed to the swaggering moves and the fancy
orchestration. Ends with two non-Suite pieces which develop the
guitar and individual horns better.
Ellen Johnson: These Days (2005 , Vocal
Visions): Singer. Grew up in Chicago, teaches in San Diego. Has
three albums starting with Too Good to Title in 1993, plus
a couple of instructional things. This particular album puts her
in line behind Sheila Jordan, who repays the compliment with two
guest vocals: a duet on Jordan's "The Crossing" and background
on Johnson's tribute to Jordan, "Little Messenger." Elsewhere,
Johnson acknowledges such Jordan signatures as duetting with
bassist Darek Oleskiewicz (Oles here) and adding words to Mingus'
"Nostalgia in Times Square" reminiscent of Jordan's birdwatching.
Sean Jones: Roots (2006, Mack Avenue): This one
was released in Sept. 2006. Again, all I have is the advance. On
the back it says: "Sean Jones and Roots take you from the
church, to the dance hall, and through the night clubs of New
Orleans." Actually, they start with "Children's Hymn" and end
with "John 3:16" and "I Need Thee," stopping at "Come Sunday"
and "Lift Every Voice" and similar fare along the way -- maybe
Brad Leali's "Puddin' Time" counts as a change of pace? (Sounds
like it.) Jones is a bright, energetic trumpet player, but he
rarely picks the music to show that off. The saxophonist has
some good moments; evidently that's Tia Fuller.
Sean Jones: Kaleidoscope (2007, Mack Avenue):
Trumpet player, b. 1978 in Warren OH. Fourth album, quite a few
side dates, mostly with labelmates but he can also point to some
notable big band work (Brad Leali, Gerald Wilson). Never got a
final copy of this; for that matter, got an advance but no final
of his previous Roots, which I never got to (but may be
around here somewhere). This one is meant to showcase vocalists.
Don't know who sings what, but the vocalists are: Kim Burrell,
Gretchen Parlato, Carolyn Perteete, Sachal Vasandani, JD Walter.
Most have a gospel vibe, and none strike me as the least bit
interesting. But the trumpet does shine behind them, and tenor
saxophonist Walter Smith III breaks loose some tough runs.
Maybe I should find the old promo?
Thad Jones: The Magnificent Thad Jones (1956
, Blue Note): The title strikes me as a play on Jones'
debut album on Debut, The Fabulous Thad Jones -- among
other things it implies continued growth. The slowest great
trumpet player of his generation, Jones never dazzled you with
his chops, but he had an uncanny knack for finding right places
for his notes, and at his moderate pace you get to savor the
full beauty of the instrument. Ends with a graceful non-LP
duet with guitarist Kenny Burrell.
Manu Katché: Playground (2007, ECM): ECM has gone
to a system of distributing promos via downloads. Universal, which
distributes ECM in the US, has used this for a couple of years, but
I've only managed to put aside my chagrin in the last week, using
it for Recycled Goods -- like Elvis Costello and Bo Diddley releases
that complement ones they actually sent to me, and a Police set I
knew backwards already. I haven't bothered with the ECM downloads,
because I've been sitting on a pile of advances that I got before
the new policy went into effect. Originally I was wating to see
what would happen. This one his the shelves Sept. 25, and nothing
happened. ECM has been generous in their support in the past, and
would probably respond now if I made a stink. I don't mean to do
that here. I'm trying to work with the new system, and explain how
it works. Anything marked [advance] here with no date has already
been released, but I'm working off a CDR with no booklet or cover
art. At least thus far I have press releases, which with ECM have
more info than the picture-oriented booklets have, and I'm trying
to make up what's missing by searching the internet. (One problem
with Universal's download system is that it doesn't provide useful
collateral documentation -- lack of discography is a big problem,
more so for Recycled Goods than ECM.) So much for that. As for this
record: Katché, from France, has a handful of albums since 1992,
and has done sideman work notably with Jan Garbarek. Garbarek and
Tomas Stanko's band appeared on Katché's Neighbourhood, which
came out in 2006 and got a Jazz CG A- rating. This one has Trygve
Seim for Garbarek and Mathias Eick for Stanko -- interesting players,
but they lose a lot of presence. A couple of pieces tighten up the
groove to where it seems to have some potential; otherwise this is
lax and fluid, attractive, but not all that compelling.
Manu Katché: Playground (2007, ECM): Seductive
but understated album, the big difference from his previous
Neighbourhood is the presence of cleverly textured but
unstriking horns (Mathias Eick, Trygve Seim) in place of ones
that that force your attention (Tomasz Stanko, Jan Garbarek).
Katché, a drummer who composes but doesn't make a lot of noise
here, did manage to hang on to two thirds of Stanko's young
Polish trio, with Marcin Wasilewski's piano the charm here.
Bernie Kenerson: Just You & Me (2007, Bernup):
Subtitled "The Art of the EWI" -- promised as the first of a number
of volumes exploring the Akai EWI 4000s electronic wind instrument;
i.e., a synthesizer you control by blowing into. EWI's show up on
some smooth jazz records, but not often otherwise. (Sanity check:
fgrep through my notebook produces: Michael Brecker, Felipe LaMoglia
[w/Ignacio Berroa], Bob Mintzer, Jørgen Munkeby [Shining], Steve
Tavaglione [Jing Chi], Andre Ward. That strikes me as short on the
smooth side, but my note-taking isn't always up to snuff there.)
Problem is that Kenerson doesn't push the instrument very far. He
describes himself as "a child of funk and fusion," cites Brecker
as his favorite musician, and picks Mintzer's Yellowjackets as his
favorite band. Backed with keybs, bass and percussion, Kenerson
mostly sticks with harmless funk and a bit of space atmosphere
here. The EWI ranges from flute to sanitized alto sax tones --
it's not the problem, but not the solution either.
Nigel Kennedy: Blue Note Sessions (2005 ,
Blue Note): Booklet says "Kennedy may be the world's best selling
classical violinist." Never heard of him, myself, but AMG lists
about 110 credits going back to the early 1980s. Also says,
"Kennedy" has always been a jazz player" -- mentions that he
studied Stephane Grappelli as well as someone named Menuhin
(no first name given; sounds vaguely familiar). He certainly
got the treatment here, with classic-looking Blue Note cover
art; Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette for rhythm; Joe Lovano,
Kenny Werner, and Lucky Peterson dropping in here and there;
Raul Midón playing guitar and singing on one piece. Two songs
credited to Kennedy -- "Stranger in a Stranger Land" is a good
title. The others are mostly jazz staples like "Song for My
Father," but Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind" is
especially appealing. The groups are nearly faultless, and
I like the sound of his violin quite a bit. He could have a
future if he decides to stick with it.
Stacey Kent: Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007,
Blue Note): Vocalist, originally from New Jersey, studied comparative
lit at Sarah Lawrence in New York, and took her degree to England,
where she married saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and stepped into what's
evidently a very successful singing career. Looks like she has ten
records since 1997. This is the first I've heard, and it's sent me
up and down. She has an attractive voice, thin, clear, with nary a
hint of the mannerisms so many jazz singers cultivate. The settings
are spare, mostly keyed off the guitar, with Tomlinson's sax mostly
limited to breaks. Two covers -- "Hard-Hearted Hannah" and "What a
Wonderful World" -- are exceptionally reserved. Four songs have
lyrics by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. Three songs are in French --
the first two especially beguiling. Penguin Guide: "Problem is, the
singer has simply repeated the formula across each subsequent record,
and given her temperate approach they've taken on a soundalike
Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii: Minamo (2002-05 ,
Henceforth): Violin-piano duo. Kihlstedt is best known for her work
in Tin Hat, although she's shown up in a number of contexts, including
ROVA's latest assault on Ascension. The first three tracks,
totalling 20 minutes, were recorded as an opening act for a ROVA
concert in San Francisco. The final 28:40 tracks was recorded at
Wels in Austria. The latter set meshes better, probably because
the violinist is more aggressive. The pianist can brawl with the
best of them, but she tends to hold back when not provoked. Which
is OK too, in the limited way of duos.
Meinrad Kneer/Albert van Veenendaal: The Munderkingen
Sessions: Part 1 (2004 , Evil Rabbit): This predates
Predictable Point of Impact, a trio with percussionist Yonga
Sun that made my last Jazz CG column. The drums keep things moving,
or at least provide a welcome distraction. Cutting back to just
bass and piano inevitably slows things down, and this is no
exception. Kneer is the bassist. Van Veenendaal plays more or
less prepared piano, which offers some surprises, but more often
than not the pair get bogged down in minute abstractions. I find
this somewhat fascinating, but don't expect many others will.
Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology (2006
, Omnitone): Konitz came in #3 in Downbeat's Hall of Fame
ballot last year, behind recently deceased Andrew Hill and Michael
Brecker (who got in on the popular ballot) and ahead of still
ticking (actually, like Konitz, still working) Hank Jones. Unless
someone important dies, he should be next in line. (Jackie McLean,
embarrassingly, wasn't even on the ballot when he died, then lept
to the top of the list.) It's taken him a long time, but he's
never been anywhere near the mainstream. Early on he was way
ahead of his time -- looking back I'm tempted to call his 1949-50
Subconscious-Lee the first great postbop album -- and even
when time caught up he remained sui generis. Even in the middle
of a big band built for camouflage it's trivial to pick him out.
On the other hand, don't know much about Ohad Talmor, who is here
billed as conductor, arranger, musical director, and co-composer.
He was born in France of Israeli parents, grew up in Switzerland,
moved to New York in 1995. Plays tenor sax in his own groups, but
works more as arranger/director in projects with Konitz and Steve
Swallow. I dudded his Swallow project record. Haven't heard his
previous work with Konitz. This one makes use of an extant big
band from Portugal, Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, which I've
previously on an album with Chris Cheek that I also disliked.
So I'm inclined not only to credit this to Konitz but to give
him extra credit for degree of difficulty. Or maybe I should
save it for another spin.
Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (2006 ,
Chamsa): Credits are listed from drums forward with the leader
last, rather than the convention of starting with the horns or
the leader, in this case both. At first I wondered whether that
was because I had heard of Aaron Alexander and Reuben Radding
but not Brandon Seabrook (guitar, banjo, tapes) or Kontorovich
(clarinet, alto sax), but then I figured that's cutting the
market research pretty thin. Kontorovich was born in Russia,
lives in New York, is 26, is working on a PhD at Columbia, in
math. He has an interest in klezmer, but also wrote a "New
Orleans Funeral March" and a "Waltz for Piazzolla." Solid
record; first one this cycle I want to hear again.
Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (2006 , Chamsa):
Some more biographical notes: born 1980, in Russia, don't know
where, or when he came to US -- no later than 1999, although he
was a research fellow in Israel 2000-02. Got his Ph.D. in math
at Columbia 2007, and now teaches at Brown in Rhode Island.
Research interests include analytic number theory, stochastic
processes, and game theory -- studied the latter at Princeton
with John Nash, better known as A Beautiful Mind. Plays
clarinet and alto sax, mostly in klezmer groups, some with ska
angles -- The Klez Dispensers, KlezSka, Frank London's Klezmer
Brass Alltars, Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mish Mosh, King Django's
Roots and Culture Band. Also reports playing with the Klezmatics
and Boban Markovic. This is a jazz quartet with a lot of klezmer
input, but he also offers "Waltz for Piazzolla," "New Orleans
Funeral March," and "Transit Strike Blues," and rolls up a bit
of infectious fusion called "AfroJewban Suite." Brandon Seabrook
sets most of these pieces up with guitar, banjo, and tapes.
The Very Best of Diana Krall (1995-2006 ,
Verve): The most successful jazz vocalist of her generation, her
precise, practiced control of nuance is evident in every note,
sometimes so conspicuously that she stretches slow songs out to
imponderable lengths. Still, she has no hit parade, no canon --
the selection here seems arbitrary, favoring her least graceful
albums making the songs seem unnecessarily difficult. I imagine
that other selections are equally viable -- had I started from
scratch to make up my own mix tape, I doubt I would have picked
as many as two of these songs.
Jonathan Kreisberg: The South of Everywhere (2007,
Mel Bay): Guitarist, from New York, has several albums since 1996.
This is a quintet with alto sax (Will Vinson), piano (Gary Versace),
bass (Matt Penman), and drums (Mark Ferber). Some cuts drop down
to a trio. The sort of record I find appealing while it's playing
but can't remember much of afterwards. There are dozens and dozens
of good jazz guitarists these days, and he's certainly one of them.
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.
Joachim Kühn/Majid Bekkas/Ramon Lopez: Kalimba
(2006 , ACT): Musically you can attribute this to Bekkas,
a Moroccan whose voice, guembri, oud, and kalimba provide the
core of an intriguing world music album. Kühn adds the note of
jazz improv that kicks it up a level. While he mostly plays
piano, his Ornette-ish alto sax is more than respectable.
Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow: Two by Two (1995 ,
Owl/Sunnyside): Piano/electric bass, two longtime masters, trading
songbooks as well as lines. Played it with pleasure three times and
have no idea of how to write about it: intimate, understated,
seductive, but too respectful to shake much of anything loose.
Mário Laginha Trio: Espaço (2007, Clean Feed): Not
living anywhere near a decent record store, I've never been able to
figure out whether the new format Clean Feed promos are the same
packaging as their released albums or something especially cheap
just for the writers (like their old promos obviously were). The
new ones at least give me a package that I can file on a shelf and
identify by reading the spine. I've never seen that sort of package
in the stores, but it matches the album covers I see, and it comes
close enough to my requirements that I've stopped flagging them as
advances. I mention that here because this came in much better
packaging: three-fold cardboard, a plastic tray glued down in the
middle, and a separate booklet that slips into a slot. Clean Feed
mostly releases American avant-gardists, but every now and then
they come up with some local (Portuguese) talent that they like,
even if far removed from the edge. Laginha plays piano, and this
is a standard piano trio. Website is in Portuguese, so I'm not
really sure what he's saying there about Deep Purple and Jethro
Dull -- probably that he liked them before he discovered Powell,
Evans, and Jarrett. B. 1960 in Lisbon. Has a discography going
back to 1983, mostly accompanying singer Maria João -- the later
records often list both names -- but also including a duet album
with pianist Bernardo Sassetti. This may be his first trio album.
It has a quietly understated eloquence, deft but not too flashy.
Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers (2006 ,
ECM): Norwegian father, Finnish mother, sings the Norwegian
words of lumberjack-poet Hans Børli -- like Langeland, hailing
from the Finnskogen, the "Finnish Woods" of northeast Norway --
while playing santele, a Finnish table harp. She has several
previous albums, probably more authentically folkish. For ECM,
Manfred Eicher hooks her up with his favorite Nordic jazzers,
most notably Trygve Seim on sax and Arve Henriksen on trumpet --
his third appearance in this batch, finally making a memorable
appearance. Most of this is slow, cold, a little arch, but now
and then they crank up the tension, and interest.
Jon Larsen: Strange News From Mars (2007, Zonic
Entertainment): Norwegian painter-guitarist, traces his
inspirations back to Salvador Dali and Django Reinhardt and is
able to confuse them. The Reinhardt connection is presumably
developed fully in his Hot Club de Norvège group, which has 17
albums going back to 1981. Add another half-dozen under his
own name, which look to be scattered all over the map, with
a string quartet on one end and this piece of sci-fi fusion
on the other. Jimmy Carl Black narrates short bits like
"Unwanted Sexual Attention in Space." The music is spacey,
racey keybs, marimba, guitar, and trombone -- amusing stuff.
Timo Lassy: The Jazz and Soul of Timo Lassy
(2007, Ricky Tick): Finnish saxophonist, tenor and baritone,
plus a little show-off flute. Looks like his first album, a
sextet with trumpet and trombone shagging his flies; piano,
bass and drums for rhythm. Website suggests: "He is the perfect
melting of diverse characteristics triggering a likeness to
Willis Jackson and Pharoah Sanders in one's mind." I can't
say that he sounds like either, although the juxtaposition is
bizarre enough that it helps locate where he'd like to be.
He's not there -- simply doesn't have the sound or authority.
But his band is happy playing soul jazz, and trombonist Mikko
Mustonen, who also works with UMO Jazz Orchestra, earns a
Steve Lehman Quintet: On Meaning (2007, Pi):
First artist website I've bumped into since I got rid of Flash
that has zero non-Flash info. Life without Flash has been swell:
no browser hangs or crashes since I removed the plug-in. What
brought this on was that AMG was serving Flash-based ads that
wrecked my browser. But even benign ads can achieve high levels
of annoyance when implemented in Flash. Glad to be rid of it.
Lehman's not unfamiliar. Plays alto sax, which he studied under
Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton. This is his 5th or 6th album.
First I heard was Artificial Light, a quintet I didn't
care for, and probably missed a lot in. Next was Demian as
Posthuman, a mix of smaller groups including duos which were
simple enough to give his abstractions recognizable shape. This
one is a quintet again, with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Chris
Dingman on vibes, Drew Gress on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.
Hype sheet says: "Each of On Meaning's eight compositions
addresses the challenge of creating fresh environments for modern
vision of compositional form, harmony, rhythm, and orchestration"
and describes Lehman's sax as "combining a highly advanced harmonic
language, microtonal playing, extended techniques, and a deeply
rooted rhythmic sense." I don't know what most of that means, but
I do hear it in the music, especially the rhythmic sense, which
gives his complex abstractions a jingle-jangle quality. Sorey
continues to impress, too.
Steve Lehman Quartet: Manifold (2007, Clean Feed):
First, apologies to Nasheet Waits, who has no problems with Lehman's
difficult music, and whose assertive free drumming makes the opener,
"Interface D." Lehman plays alto and sopranino sax, the latter on an
exercise titled "For Evan Parker" which I can't swear isn't a parody,
although I doubt it. Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet adds a freewheeling
second horn, and John Hebert is expert as usual on bass. Recorded
live in Brazil, this is more off the cuff than Lehman's Pi albums.
João Lencastre's Communion: One! (2006 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Portuguese drummer, don't have much to
go on, but MySpace page lists "Jazz/Drum & Bass/Experimental."
His group here is a quintet with Phil Grenadier (trumpet), Bill
Carrothers (piano), André Matos (guitar), and Demian Cabaud
(bass). For a quintet this is a rather lean and mean group with
a very spare sound -- the trumpet is lean with no other horns
to harmonize, and Carrothers is an edgy pianist. Matos is also
Portuguese, although he lived in Boston for a few years, studying
at New England Conservatory.
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.
Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom: Yesterday, I Saw You
Kissing Tiny Flowers (2002-05 , 4Zero): See what I
mean about Mushroom: this seems like a throwback to San Francisco
in the late '60s for no better reason than that Levy does a fairly
decent Grace Slick impression -- except in presence, since she
never really takes control of the album. That gives it a certain
anonymous quality. But while the evoke Jefferson Airplane, they
do so with more flexibility and wit. And their polymorphuousness
continues unabated and unapologetic. Inspirational title: "Kraut
Amy London: When I Look in Your Eyes (2005 ,
Motéma): Can't glean much from her bio: born somewhere in Ohio, got
a BA from Syracuse, been in New York since 1982 (at least), took
time from her career for children -- presumably she's recovered
from that. Discography shows nine albums: this one, a duo with
guitarist Roni Ben-Hur (who plays here), the rest without her
name on the cover -- Broadway cast recording City of Angels,
movie soundtrack Radioland Murders, something based on
Rainer Maria Rilke, Tom Browne's Funkin' for Jamaica, more
Ben-Hur. She has a Broadway voice: precise control, projects well,
able to exploit a nuance to tell a story. She's also managed to
assemble an admirable band, including the late John Hicks on
piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Richie Vitale on trumpet, and Chris
Byars on sax, as well as Ben-Hur and others -- they don't stand
out so much as they fit in. Choice cut: "The Best Is Yet to Come."
Evidently she's taught voice for quite a while; she does a whole
textbook on that one.
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: LAGQ Brazil (2007, Telarc):
Four guitarists: original members John Dearman, William Kanengiser, and
Scott Tennant, plus Matthew Greif, who joined in 2006 replacing Andrew
York. Group began at USC in 1980 under Pepe Romero, although York didn't
join until 1990 and I can't find any discography that goes back further
than 1993 (Dances From Renaissance to Nutcracker, although an
album called Recital evidently precedes it). An album called
Labyrinth featured "Zeppelin to Sousa, Basie to Copland." One
called Air & Ground included Afro-Cuban, Macedonian, Native
American, Brazilian, and Celtic pieces. So they're used to exotic
repetoire, but they aren't specialists. Brazilian music is friendly,
perhaps inevitable, guitar ground. This is pleasant and unchallenging.
Guests pop in on a couple of songs: Kevin Ricard percussion, Katisse
Buckingham flute and soprano sax, Luciana Souza vocals (two songs;
she's never been a plus on anything I've heard, and ranks as a minor
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.
Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble: Expectation (2007,
Kind of Blue, CD+DVD): A set of pop and jazz standards, given
attractive, respectful, easy going treatments. The leader here
is Darek Oleskiewicz, who's expanded his Los Angeles Jazz
Quartet for the occasion: Bob Sheppard (sax), Alan Pasqua
(organ), Larry Koonse (guitar), Peter Erskine (drums), and
Janis Siegel (vocals on 4 of 12 pieces). DVD captures a bit
more than 30 minutes of studio time, with everyone working
in separate rooms.
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.
Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation
(2004-06 , Spaceout, 2CD): I've played this half a dozen times,
and read the book, and I'm still not clear what Hell is -- maybe it's
somewhere in Maine, where Lowe lives? Or maybe the in suburbs of Long
Island, where Jews ate pork and embraced postmodernism, putting Lowe
on a path where his radical Jewish impulses were acculturated (or is
it pickled?) in Americana? (Compare to city boy John Zorn, who kept
his Radical Jewish Culture free of American trash, probably because
urban life reinforced community while suburban life stripped it bare.)
Or maybe the whole thing is much more metaphorical than a pragmatist
like myself can imagine. One reason it's hard to tell is that Lowe
doesn't seem to be completely honest here. One of the alternate titles
he offers is, "Dance of the Creative Economy: How I Learned to Stop
Worrying About the Space Gallery and Love the Music Business." The
Space Gallery is a music joint in Maine that Lowe can't get a job at,
and there's little evidence here that he's stopped fretting, not to
mention bristling, at that. As for his love of the music business,
he certainly hasn't adjusted to its first principles -- money and
glamour. On the other hand, he does have friends on the fringes of
the business. He touts their names on the cover -- Marc Ribot, Erin
McKeown, Matthew Shipp, Randy Sandke, Lewis Porter -- and he keeps
their features in the mix no matter how tenuous their connection to
his themes may be. First few times through I was irritated by his
unwillingness to edit, condense, throw anything away. Lowe plays
assured, fluid alto sax, but features it rarely here, but spends
most of the record playing grungy guitar, overdubbing keybs, and
singing stuff he has no voice for. (There is some dazzling guitar
here, but credit that to Ribot.) In the end I stopped worrying:
"Lonesome and Dead" should be ugly, and "Suburban Jews," "Where's
Lou Reed?" and "Jews in Hell" are hard to ruin. First disc holds
closer to concept ("Tsuris in Mind," "The Old Stetl (Where I Was
Bonr)," "Oi Death"). Second is more scattered and scrapbooky.
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]
Tony Malaby: Tamarindo (2007, Clean Feed):
A trio, with Malaby playing tenor and soprano sax, William
Parker on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums. Malaby owns all the
song credits, but it has a loose improv feel. Parker gets
quite a bit of space, and his arco work is spectacular. But
the album doesn't quite click for me: maybe too much soprano,
or maybe there's a mismatch between Parker and Waits -- the
latter is best known for his work with Jason Moran and Fred
Hersch. Malaby is remarkably adaptable at playing with both
types, but not quite forceful enough to lead them.
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.
Rafi Malkiel: My Island (2007, Raftone):
Latin jazz, with all the bells and maracas and a few old fashioned
vocals, the songs broken down by style and country, ranging from
Brazil to New Orleans, with Cuba predominant. The leader is an
Israeli trombonist, and occasionally a klezmer vibe slips in. His
island is Manhattan.
Harry Manx & Kevin Breitt: In Good We Trust
(2007, Stony Plain): Two guitarists, with occasional variants --
banjo, mandolin, mandola, bazouki, slide mandocello, lap slide
guitar, national steel guitar, etc. Manx reportedly "fuses south
Asian music with the blues" -- I can't really attest to either,
nor can I see much reason to file this as folk or country or
jazz but at least it's better than new age. Manx also sings,
starting with Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," taken at a
past that doesn't risk combustion.
Roger Mas 5tet: Mason (2006 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Spanish (or, more precisely, Catallan) pianist,
although his favored instrument here is Fender Rhodes. Quintet
includes tenor/soprano saxophonist Jon Robles, guitarist Jaume
Llombart, no trumpet, but the group is augmented with "special
guest" Enrique Oliver on tenor sax. Two covers, one from John
Coltrane, the other from Antonio Carlos Jobim. The record has
a slick postbop feel, the saxophones omnipresent, the guitarist
taking more solos than the leader.
Bennie Maupin: The Jewel and the Lotus (1974 ,
ECM): Plays "reeds" which sounds like a sneaky way to slip the flute
in, although soprano sax and bass clarinet are also featured in his
toolkit; best known for headhunting fusion with Herbie Hancock, who
returns the favor here, but this is an early exercise in ECM pastorale,
what New Age would be if brains or guts were required.
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.
Bill McHenry: Roses (2006 , Sunnyside):
Tenor sax quartet with guitar, bass, drums. I'm tempted to
say that Ben Monder and maybe Reid Anderson want to rock, but
Paul Motian won't give them a steady rhythm. McHenry stradles
this tension, often inventively, but he's not as slick or as
self-assured as a Chris Potter or Donny McCaslin, which if
anything helps to open up the interplay.
John McLean: Better Angels (2004 , Origin):
Guitarist, based in Chicago, with Berklee and University of Miami
in his background, a 25-year career, three records under his own
name, a couple dozen more working with others. Like many people
who record infrequently, this record has a kitchen sink quality.
Pop songs with vocals, original pieces with little song structure,
covers that are interesting in their own right but which scarcely
fit or flow, a septet that obscures the leader more often than
not. That lets McLean's guitar appear multi-faceted, but also
leaves you wondering why not develop it one way or another --
like the electric squawk on "Airmail Special," or completely
different, the quiet, organ-backed "I'm Confessin' (That I Love
You)." Grazyna Auguscik's two song vocals -- Janis Ian's "Ready
for the War" and you-know-who's "Blackbird" -- are OK, but her
vocal texturing elsewhere is unappealing, unnecessary whitewash.
Trio M [Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson]: Big
Picture (2006 , Cryptogramophone): Another slipcover
deal which took a lot of shuffling and scanning to dig up, although
here at least it's still in advance of the release date. Melford's
combos all have names, and this one isn't hard to decipher. Three
songs for Melford; two each for Dresser and Wilson. Without paying
close attention, I'd guess that the complex ones are Melford's, the
bouncy ones are Wilson's, and the weird arco stuff is Dresser's.
No need to sort it all out now. Very interesting stuff.
[B+(***)] [advance: Oct. 23]
Trio M [Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson]: Big
Picture (2006 , Cryptogramophone): Taking a clue
from first names, they call themselves Trio M, but are established
enough to keep their names on the spine. I figure the complex
cerebral stuff is pianist Melford's and credit the bouncy bits
to drummer Wilson. There's no doubt that the weird arco bass
is Dresser's. He has a huge reputation, but rarely makes albums
you can kick back and enjoy. This is the exception.
Memphis Slim: Boogie Woogie (1971 ,
Sunnyside): I'm no aficionado of boogie woogie records, and I've
never been much impressed by the former Peter Chatman, but this
late arrival covers all the ground worth covering, and makes up
in grace what it sacrifices in speed. No vocals (that I recall).
Just lots of piano, accompanied by drummer Michel Denis, who I
scarcely noticed but must have made a difference.
Memphis Slim & Roosevelt Sykes: Double-Barreled
Boogie (1970 , Sunnyside): Two old blues pianists,
shooting the shit between singing and playing old blues songs,
some with stories. Neither are noteworthy singers, but both can
boogie, and the history is good for something.
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Black Unstoppable
(2007, Delmark): Young flutist, based in Chicago, has mostly avant-garde
connections, but has all the marks of stardom, at least at the sort of
level Regina Carter enjoys. Won Downbeat's Rising Star category three
straight years -- admittedly not a lot of competition, but it hasn't
been close either -- and likely to bump James Moody from the top spot
in a year or two. Not just involved in AACM, she's co-president. I've
noticed her on various projects, including a live trio that made my
HM list, but missed her main vehicle, the boisterous Black Earth
Ensemble, which has three previous albums. She wrote and arranged
everything on the new one. I find it maddening, with stretches of
marvelous music -- e.g., Jeff Parker's guitar, a funk vamp topped
by David Boykin's honking -- and bits I can't stand, starting with
the gospel vocals. Played it twice, and haven't tried to diagram
the ups and downs, which I suppose I should if I decide to make
this my featured dud. Flute's not an instrument I much care for,
but it's not the problem here. No jazz flutist has done more since
Robert Dick came on the scene. (Also available on DVD, which I have
but haven't watched.)
MI3: Free Advice (2004 , Clean Feed):
Boston group, consisting of pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and
two-thirds of Ken Vandermark's Boston trio, bassist Nate McBride
and drummer Curt Newton. Karayorgis' website lists 18 records
going back to 1989, and I'm way behind the learning curve on
them. MI3 was formed to play in Boston's Abbey Lounge, a bar
usually featuring rock bands. On their previous album (We
Will Make a Home for You) Karayorgis played Fender Rhodes
and featured pieces by Monk and Dolphy, while McBride recycled
his Spaceways Inc. funk grooves. This is more conventionally
an avant-garde piano trio, with acoustic piano and bass, more
originals, but also pieces from Sun Ra and Ellington -- the
latter filtered through Steve Lacy. The result is one of the
more satisfying piano trios I've heard lately, a mix of strong
rhythms and surprising offsets.
Postscript: Played this a bunch more times, and it's
turning into one of my favorite piano trio records of recent
history. The rhythm holds together, especially when McBride
borrows a riff from Ellington or Sun Ra, but even on his own
he keeps developing into a subtle as well as grooveful bassist.
At times I think Karayorgis is calm and logical, and at times
I find him pushing limits, flying off on dazzling tangents.
Actually, he often manages to do both at the same time.
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
Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Miren (A Longing)
(2006 , Clean Feed): There's a disquieting moment here where
violinist Sam Bardfeld breaks into some sort of Scottish march,
reminding me that not all world musics are equally worthy of
fusion. Changing oud players from Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz to
Brandon Terzic may not have had much effect, although they did
lose the bass option in the deal. But Bardfeld isn't nearly as
interesting, at least in this context, as Jason Kao Hwang, who
brought a rich but little known Chinese classical expertise
into the mix. Still, the basic idea remains, which is Momin's
Indian percussion in a non-Western string context, and much of
this is as mesmerizing as its predecessor.
Jane Monheit: Surrender (2007, Concord): Didn't
bother asking for this, so I can't complain that they only sent
me an advance with no credits or hype sheet. Three songs credit
guests: two in Portuguese cite Ivan Lins and Toots Thielemans;
the third, "So Many Stars," was done with Sergio Mendes. She's
30 this month, with six albums going back to 2000. This one
debuted at #1 on Billboard's Jazz Chart, not that that gives
her any jazz cred. She has a striking soprano voice, capable
of precisely detailed innuendo. The music, on the other hand,
is swathed if not drowned in strings; given how stiff the
Yankee stuff is, the tinkly Brazilian percussion is almost
daring. Best song is the Jobim without the guests, "Só Tinha
De Ser Com Você." Runner up is "Moon River," which is buried
in goop and doesn't mind.
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.
Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (2005 , Marquis):
She has a voice that's one half whisper, kind of like her fellow
Canadian Leonard Cohen back when he was young, although she's
more adept at singing with it. Wrote three songs, but they're
much less striking than her covers: especially "Love," "Sweet
Dreams," "I Want to Be Around," "Voodoo Child," but others make
you wonder about her judgment -- she may be young enough to have
learned "How Sweet It Is" from James Taylor but that doesn't
make it right. Plays guitar, which gives this all a rockish
cast, but puts her ahead of the game for interpretive jazz
Lee Morgan: Indeed! (1956 , Blue Note):
The 18-year-old trumpet whiz's first studio experience, cut one
day before the Hank Mobley session that Savoy rushed into print
as Introducing Lee Morgan, this is as interesting for
the presence of rarely-recorded Clarence Sharpe on alto sax
and the way Horace Silver's piano jumps out at you; Morgan
still had a ways to go, but the excitement around him was
Lee Morgan: Volume 2: Sextet (1956 , Blue
Note): Less than a month after Indeed!, Morgan is sounding
even more confident in a larger, more daunting group featuring
Hank Mobley on tenor sax and little known Kenny Rodgers on alto
sax, with Horace Silver again providing his inexorable bounce.
Lee Morgan: Volume 3 (1957 , Blue Note):
Still 18, at the helm of a subtler, more sophisticated sextet,
and even more clearly the star, despite the estimable talent
around him -- saxophonists Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce, pianist
Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Charlie Persip.
Golson wrote the whole program, spreading out the complexity,
while Kelly holds it all together.
Lee Morgan: Candy (1957 , Blue Note):
Still in his teens, but at last out front alone, leading a
quartet with the redoubtable Sonny Clark on piano, running
through a mix of standards, including a couple he reclaims
from the pop/r&b charts -- "Candy" and "Personality";
he's bursting with energy and ideas, still finding himself,
but completely in control.
Mörglbl: Grötesk (1999-2006 , The Laser's
Edge): French fusion group, a trio consisting of Christophe Godin
(guitar), Ivan Rougny (bass), Jean Pierre Frelezeau (drums). Third
album, including one released in 1997 as Ze Mörglbl Trio. No idea
what the name and/or title mean, but it reminds me of a French
rock group from the 1970s named Magma that invented their own
language to sing in. All three are credited with vocals, but
they've managed to keep them discreet enough I didn't notice.
One song from 1999; the rest from two sessions in 2006. Fairly
innocuous fusion, dependable beat, one slow one has a sweet
tone and feel. There's probably a whole minor genre/cult for
what they do, especially in Europe, where instrumental rock was
a common response to the English language problem (damned if
you do, especially if you wind up sounding like Abba; damned
if you don't). Filed them under Pop Jazz, where they kick ass.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Shamokin!!!
(2006 , Hot Cup): Quartet led by bassist Moppa Elliott,
originally from Scranton PA, now in New York. Elliott wrote all
of the pieces except "A Night in Tunisia," the closer they hack
up into extended solos -- blurb calls it a "twenty-one minute
jazz orgy [including] references to the majority of recorded
sound of the last century." Most of the noise comes from the
two horns: Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax.
This strikes me as "free bop" -- more tethered to the jazz
tradition than similarly configured avant groups, but unruly,
eager to break loose, clash, get down and dirty. Might have
cracked my Top Ten list had I gotten to it earlier.
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,
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard,
Vol. 1 (2006 , Winter & Winter): The Trio has
Chris Potter on tenor sax and Larry Grenadier on bass. The "+ Two"
are Greg Osby on alto sax and Masabumi Kikuchi on piano. Smells
like a quintet to me, but there is probably some arcane logic in
the division -- e.g., Motian, who made his reputation backing
pianists, for a long time avoided pianists in his own groups,
but this isn't the first time Kikuchi has appeared as an add on.
Motian is a slippery drummer, and he often throws the saxes off
their stride. They deserve credit for keeping their composure
and making something of the tricky terrain.
Mr. Groove: Little Things (2007, DiamondDisc):
Contemporary jazz group: their words, I've never been sure what
they mean by that, and find the practical distinctions between
Billboard's Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts to be impossible
to discern, probably just a branding issue. Formed sometime in
the 1990s by brothers Tim Smith (electric bass) and Roddy Smith
(guitars), currently at six with two keybs (Mark Stallings and
Steve Willets), sax (Tim Gordon), and drums (Donnie Marshall).
Also numerous guests, including original drummer Tony Creasman
on the majority of tracks. Four vocal tracks: one by Willets,
the other three by guests (Tim Cashion, Daryl Johnson, Ron
Kimball). Record ends with two "radio edits" of vocal pieces.
Band has also worked with Bonnie Bramlett and the late Boots
Randolph. They groove agreeably, and have fun with "Papa Was
a Rolling Stone," but the guests and programming suggests that
even under their own name the can't help being a backup band.
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]
Sunny Murray (1966 , ESP-Disk): The problem
with adding interview segments to CDs is that no matter how interesting
the interview may be to hear once, its long-term value diminishes
faster than the music. Even if you figure out how to program the
buttons, the interviews wind up being annoying make-work. On the
other hand, do you suppose the folks at ESP-Disk figured you'd only
want to play the music once, too? This is Murray's eponymous first
album, cut with a loud quintet with Alan Silva on bass and relative
unknowns -- Jacques Coursil's trumpet is the only real point of
interest, when he's able to break loose from the two alto saxes
(Jack Graham and Byard Lancaster). Murray mostly sticks to his
martial beats, rapid machine gun bursts where he's neither playing
with the band nor they with him. It's not without interest, but
you have to scratch and dig for it. The interviews are much easier:
23 minutes up front of name-checking "Early History"; some short
bits in the middle, one a "Recap Session" by someone else; and a
closing segment on magic and musicians getting screwed by record
companies. Seems like I've heard that one before. One point of
interest is that Murray describes his own music as avant-garde --
a phrase that most musicians seems to be at pains to avoid.
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.
Mushroom With Eddie Gale: Joint Happening (2007,
Hyena): It's probably misleading to start with Gale, given that any
lead trumpet in a fusion context is going to evoke Miles Davis. The
rhythm is different, less funk, more spaciness. My impression is
that Mushroom doesn't have a single aesthetic; rather, they draw
from multiple sources, definitely including Anglo prog-rock à la
Gong. AMG also suggests kraut rock, but that's harder to detect;
in honor of Gale most likely they did bone up on Miles Davis. It's
hard to say whether the spaciness is a good idea. Other '70s fusion
bands did go in that direction, usually far less successfully than
Zaid Nasser: Escape From New York (2007, Smalls):
Alto saxophonist, on his first album, but evidently he's played
around Smalls for quite a while. Father is bassist Jamil Nasser
(né George Joyner), who played with BB King and numerous beboppers
from the 1950s forward. The father provides the context for Zaid
working with such old timers as Bill Doggett and Panama Francis,
although I have to wonder about: "As a young saxophonist, he often
spent his days with Papa Jo Jones, getting lessons in jazz and
life from Father Time himself." Very young, I figure -- Jones died
in 1985, when Nasser was unlikely to be more than 17. In any case,
Nasser's references are bebop, which he plays with a freshness and
eloquence that was rare in its heyday. The quartet, with Sacha Perry
on piano, Ari Roland on bass, and Phil Stewart on drums, is more
conventional, setting a pace that keeps things interesting.
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.
Josh Nelson: Let It Go (2007, Native Language):
Young (28?) pianist, born in Long Beach, attended Berklee, now
based in Los Angeles. Cites Bill Cunliffe and Alan Pasqua as
mentors. Looks like his second album, after Anticipation
(2004). Seems to me that the label specializes in pop-jazz --
I don't normally get their records -- but this is thoughtful,
smartly composed and arranged postbop. (Nelson's lists Rhodes
and Hammond C3 among his credits, but acoustic piano dominates.)
Much of the credit goes to a first-rate band: Seamus Blake on
tenor sax, Anthony Wilson on guitar, Derek Oleskiewicz on bass,
Matt Wilson on drums. Two cuts add a string quartet -- one also
pitching singer Sara Gazarek. She's unnecessary here, but not
unfortunate. (Evidently Nelson also runs a promo company, and
she's a client, as well as a label-mate.)
Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (2007, High Note):
Vibraphonist, from Pittsburgh, only has a half-dozen albums since
1987, but has a huge list of side credits -- AMG's count is 134
albums, including compilations I wouldn't normally count, but
for the list stops in 2003, surely a glitch; it's safe to say
he pops up on 6-8 albums per year, sometimes more. That means
he doesn't write much -- three tracks here. But this quartet
is a marvelous way to frame his work. Vibes often mesh well with
piano, and pianist Mulgrew Miller gives Nelson a lot to bounce
off of. The bass-drums combo: Peter Washington and Lewis Nash.
Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (2007, High Note):
The sort of album that sounds like you expect jazz to sound
like, almost stereotypically so -- the fuzzy flutter of bebop,
stretched out into healthy doses of group interplay and improv.
Five covers, including a Jobim. Three originals from the leader,
a well-established vibraphonist who doesn't write or lead much.
The vibes are fleshed out by voluble pianist Mulgrew Miller,
and the bass-drums combo is the always superb Peter Washington
and Lewis Nash.
Alípio C. Neto Quartet: The Perfume Comes Before the Flower
(2006 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, from Pernambuco in northeast
Brazil, studied in Portugal. Not sure where he's based now, but this was
recorded in Brooklyn. Pianoless, Herb Robertson's trumpet is the other
slash and burn horn, Ken Filiano plays bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson
does his soundrhythium percussionist thing. Three (of five) numbers also
pick up Ben Stapp on tuba, which adds a bubbly bounce to the otherwise
The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam: Go Between
(1986 , Summerfold): A/k/a Nieuwe Slagwerkgroep Amsterdam,
founded in 1980 by Jan Pustjens and Niels Le Large. The roster
varies somewhat among the four pieces, including: Johan Faber,
Toon Oomen, Peter Prommel, Herman Rieken, Steef Van Oosterhout,
and Ruud Wiener. English prog/fusion drummer Bill Bruford and
Japanese marimba player Keiko Abe also appear on the cover and
on one piece each. The album originally appeared on EG Records
in 1987, and is now reissued on Bruford's label. It reminds me
a bit of the percussion ensembles Max Roach and Art Blakey tried
to put together c. 1960, but it's much more worldwise, especially
cognizant of Japanese percussion. The emphasis on marimba and
related instruments is also appealing.
New York Voices: A Day Like This (2007, MCG
Jazz): Vocal group, obviously. They formed in 1987 with original
members Darmon Meader, Peter Eldridge, and Kim Nazarian still
together, and Lauren Kinhan since 1992. Meader also plays tenor
sax, and Eldridge piano. This is their tenth album, including
featured appearances with the Basie Orchestra, Paquito D'Rivera,
and something involving chants. It is the first I've heard, and
hopefully the last. Dynamically they borrow from vocalese, but
they lay it on much thicker, with nothing that suggests humor.
Normal Love: 2007 (2007, High Two): Inscrutable
record, not much helped by the lack of information -- I'm not
even sure I'm parsing the title correctly. Group consists of
violin (Carlos Santiago Jr.), two guitars (Alex Nagle and Amnon
D. Freidlin), bass (Evan Lipson), and drums (Eli Litwin). No
vocals. Rough sound, sort of a postpunk fusion that might turn
interesting but never quite coheres.
Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Words Cannot Express
(2005-06 , OA2): These guys, recording in Springfield VA, I
don't recognize at all. The big band plays on seven cuts, including
a 3-part suite. The other three cuts are done by a sextet, with
Norman moving from piano to reeds and Harry Appleman taking over
at piano. McCarthy plays drums on both. He's based in DC, teaching
at Georgetown. Has two more records listed under Afro Bop Alliance.
Norman wrote everything here except the Tadd Dameron opener. His
father played sax with Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnett, and Bob
Wills in the late 1940s/early 1950s. He was schooled in Oklahoma,
currently works on the "arranging staff for the U.S. Army Field
Band," "as well as playing drums at church each week." This has
all the basic virtues of modern big band recordings -- the warm
bath of overtones, the feeling of completeness, that everything
is taken care of, nice and secure. Doesn't have much beyond that,
to make it stand out in a niche that has been overdone, that
requires a lot of skill but doesn't offer much inspiration.
Arturo O'Farrill: Wonderful Discovery (2007, MEII):
The spine actually credits this to Eugene Marlow, who is listed as
producer, composer (with a couple of exceptions, like "Summertime"),
arranger, but isn't listed as a performer. He also seems to be the
controlling interest in the label, which has released three other
albums of his music. Front cover expands to: "Virtuoso Pianist
Arturo O'Farrill & Friends Play the Music of Eugene Marlow."
The Friends, including four percussionists, give Marlow's music
the Latin treatment, which is pretty exhilarating early on, most
of all when Luis Bonilla's trombone bowls its way to the fore, but
runs down toward the end, especially once the flutes take over. As
for the virtuoso, I find his networking more impressive than his
piano. But this is a big improvement over the two previous albums
Mark O'Leary: On the Shore (2003 , Clean
Feed): Irish guitarist, based in New York. Has a half-dozen albums
since 2000 on Leo, mostly well regarded, some with interesting
names (Tomasz Stanko, Matthew Shipp, Mat Maneri, Uri Caine, Cuong
Vu, Tom Rainey), none that I've heard. This one looks to have been
on the shelf for a while. It was recorded in California with
percussionist Alex Cline and a couple of trumpets. Hard to get
a handle on it: mostly atmospheric, but not so consistently so
that you can be sure of his intent. One note says this was
influenced by Arvo Part, but also by Edward Vesala. Don't know
what to make of that either.
Alan Pasqua: The Antisocial Club (2007, Cryptogramophone):
Pianist, b. 1954 in New Jersey, studied with Jaki Byard and George
Russell (one song here is titled "George Russell"). Has nine albums
since 1993, which seem to be rather scattered stylistically, with one
foot in postbop and the other in fusion -- played in Tony Williams'
Lifetime early on and has had a long relationship with Weather Report
drummer Peter Erskine. This one is squarely in the fusion camp, tied
most closely to early-1970s Miles Davis. Pasqua mostly plays electronic
keyboards. The lineup closely follows the Davis groups, with Ambrose
Akinmusire on trumpet, Jeff Ellwood on sax, Nels Cline on guitar,
Jimmy Haslip on bass, Scott Amendola on drums, and Alex Acuña on
percussion. A lot of déjà voodoo.
Ben Paterson Trio: Breathing Space (2007, OA2):
Chicago pianist. Website bio provides no useful info, unless you're
impressed that he recently played two months in a Taipei jazz club.
Presumably his first album. Trio includes Jake Vinsel on bass, Jon
Deitemyer on drums, both also unknown to me. Straight mainstream
player. Wrote two of nine pieces, the others mostly bop era, none
too obvious. Good touch, good taste, pleasing, respectable.
Sacha Perry: Not Brand X (2006 , Smalls):
Pianist. Don't have any bio, but he's obviously based in New York,
regularly featured on Smalls albums. This is his second trio album
with Ari Roland on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. Underground bop,
or postbop, or something like that: thoughtful, well organized,
pleasant, not all that memorable.
Houston Person: Thinking of You (2007, High Note):
Eddie Allen plays trumpet on four cuts. Unlike Alexander-Rotondi,
he plays clean and distinctly, even though he has little to add.
Person is aging beautifully -- the more he slows down, the better
Houston Person: Thinking of You (2007, High Note):
Lovely, as usual. He gets a little more help this time than usual,
with James Chirillo's guitar on ten of eleven tracks and Eddie
Allen's trumpet on four. He certainly doesn't need the extra horn,
although it does little damage.
Leslie Pintchik: Quartets (2007, Ambient): Pianist,
based in New York, bios don't provide any early dirt until she put
aside her English lit studies to form a piano trio in 1992 -- bassist
Scott Hardy is still with her. This is her second album, following
a good piano trio from 2004 called Glad to Be Here. This one
has Mark Dodge on drums, with the trio augmented by Satoshi Takeishi
on percussion (five tracks) or Steve Wilson on alto/soprano sax (four
tracks). Takeishi had been the drummer on the first album. He fits in
tightly here. In fact, I find myself preferring his tracks to Wilson's,
at least on soprano, even though he does his usual fine job.
The Pizzarelli Boys: Sunday at Pete's (2007,
Challenge): The senior figure here is listed as John "Bucky"
Pizzarelli. Somehow I never noticed before that père et fils
were Sr. and Jr. The father was always just Bucky, which seems
like a natural nickname for a natural rhythm guitarist. John,
on the other hand, could be a matinee idol. I never heard the
well-regarded guitar duos they did in the early 1980s, before
John started his singing career, but lately they've returned
to the format -- cf. Generations (Arbors). The marquee
is different here to accommodate a third Pizzarelli, bassist
Martin, plus drummer Tony Tedesco, but the sound and feel are
the same: old songs, tight leads accented by rhythm chords
and a bit more.
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.
Michel Portal: Birdwatcher (2006 , Sunnyside):
Parts of this record sound terrific but it doesn't quite add up
or hang together. Portal mostly plays bass clarinet, with one song
each on clarinet and alto sax. He mostly adds subtle coloring and
comping, but every now and then his stunt double, Tony Malaby,
takes over and sets the house on fire. The rhythm section works in
shifts, with Happy Apple bass guitarist Eric Fratzke trading with
acoustic François Moutin while other cuts team Jef Lee Johnson and
Sonny Thompson on electric guitar and bass. Portal has a longstanding
fascination with African rhythms, which are sometimes approximated
by Airto Moreira.
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
Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at
the Village Vanguard (2007, Sunnyside): Adam Rogers' guitar
snaking over Craig Taborn's blippy Fender Rhodes and Nate Smith's
drums makes for a fresh update on the old organ trio -- especially
when the pace slows, Taborn looks to be as far ahead of the field
as Jimmy Smith was in 1958. Potter can play soul jazz, but he's
most impressive when he kicks out the jams, raising r&b honking
to a higher plane, or maybe bringing Pharoah Sanders down to the
Bud Powell: Live at the Blue Note Café, Paris 1961
(1961 , ESP-Disk): Powell's standard Paris trio with Pierre
Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums, plus a visiting Zoot
Sims on tenor sax on some of the cuts. Mostly Powell's standard
bebop fare, with a couple of cuts each from Gillespie and Monk,
but "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Lover Man" are done
especially well. I've never really understood the tendency to
dismiss Powell's later work. He may have been inconsistent in
person, but the few dates that do crop up on record are often
superb, even when they break little new ground.
Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Brass (1989-2006
, Putumayo World Music): Jazz may have originated in the
Crescent City, but by 1930 virtually every great jazz musician
who grew up there had moved on to Chicago, New York, California --
hell, Sidney Bechet went all the way to Paris; 70 years later you
can hear the same songs the town couldn't support back when it
had musicians who could play them and make them sound fresh.
Quartet San Francisco: Whirled Chamber Music
(2007, Violin Jazz): Classical string quartet format, with
two violins, viola, cello, no bass. Group formed in 2001.
Now has three albums. This one is long on Raymond Scott,
but not quite a tribute (7 of 18 pieces), with no other
source used more than once -- not even group member Jeremy
Cohen, who penned the sole original. They do manage more of
a jazz than a classical sound, and the good humor in the
Scott pieces helps, but the choice cut is "The Mooche."
Ike Quebec: Bossa Nova Soul Samba (1962 ,
Blue Note): Or something sorta like that, although Soul is the
only part of that title Quebec's all that conversant with; the
rhythm team leans Hispanic rather than Brazilian, and may have
meant the lazy riddims as satire, but the tenor saxophonist
took them as an excuse for a shmoozy ballads album, which is
Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues
(1982 , ECM): With Ed Blackwell on drums, Joshua's esteemed
father can work Ornette Coleman territory at will; with Charles
Eubanks on piano, he can take a break, and occasionally wax
lyrical on his tenor sax; with Mark Helias on bass neither
impulse strays far from the edge.
Júlio Resende: Da Alma (2007, Clean Feed):
Portuguese pianist, don't know much about him other than that
he studied in France. Leads a quartet here with either Alexandra
Grimal or Zé Pedro Coehlo on tenor sax, João Custódio on bass,
and either João Lobo or João Rijo on drums. I'm not familiar
with any of these names, and have very little to go on, other
than the music, which is attractive postbop with a free edge.
Label website claims: "The future of jazz in Portugal will
come from here." I'm not convinced they're wrong.
Kim Richmond Ensemble: Live at Café Metropol (2006-07
, Origin): Alto/soprano saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, with
eight albums since 1988, three in a group co-led by Clay Jenkins, plus
several dozen side appearances, especially with Bob Florence's big
band. This group is a sextet, with three horns (John Daversa trumpet,
Joey Sellers trombone), piano, bass, and drums. The horns mesh very
cleanly, and Daversa is consistently impressive with his leads. One
thing this shows is that it's possible to do sophisticated postbop
without falling into the traps that seem to snag especially those
just out of college. So in many ways this is masterful -- although
not quite enough to shatter my resistance.
Claire Ritter: Waltzing the Splendor (2006 ,
Zoning): Pianist, long-based in Boston, but currently teaching in
Charlotte NC. Has 8 or 9 records, only four listed at AMG. Website
describes what she does as "American/New Music" -- studiously
avoiding the J-word. With its waltz moves and string suites, this
sounds more classical than jazz. I'm inclined to dislike it, but
don't. The early going, including the suite inspired by Georgia
O'Keefe, is quite charming, with Jon Metzger's vibraphone a nice
plus. Some solo piano later on strikes me as roughly sketched.
Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars: Real Aberration
(2006 , Clean Feed, 2CD): Trumpeter, from New Jersey, attended
Berklee, settled into New York's downtown avant-garde scene in the
early 1980s, where he's a steady performer who's never garnered much
attention. The other stars are Tim Berne (alto sax), Sylvie Courvoisier
(piano), Mark Dresser (double bass), Tom Rainey (drums). I don't know
much about the pianist -- AMG files her work under Avant-Garde, not
Jazz, not that those distinctions are all that trustworthy -- but she
seems the odd one out. Also odd is Dresser, who starts each discs/piece
with bass solo, but I rarely have any idea what he's up to. The music
has no casual utility, just more or less interesting effects -- the
trumpet, for one.
David Rogers Sextet: The World Is Not Your Home
(2007, Jumbie): AMG lists 12 Dave or David Rogers, plus 3 more
Rodgers. There are probably some duplicates in there, but there's
still too much noise to find much out. This one is from Missouri;
lived in Ghana, where he picked up an interest in talking drums;
lives now in New York; plays tenor sax. It's hard to get a good
take on this. Starting out awkwardly, he seems to be having a
tough time getting the sax and the African percussion to mesh.
Later on, especially on "Mobius Trip," the sax comes alive, but
the Africana has vanished -- replaced by capable support work
from pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Louise Rogers: Come Ready and See Me (2007 ,
Rilo): Singer, originally from New Hampshire, in New York since
1997. Three previous albums include two jazz-for-kids things and
a duo with husband/bassist Rick Strong. This is a good sample of
her range: scoring a Nikki Giovanni poem, adding lyrics to pieces
by Mike Mainieri and Jerry Bergonzi, arranging a trad folk song,
reworking an original from 1991, sailing through a couple of
standard standards. She scales the high notes, scats, swings,
gets a song and some nice sax from Gottfried Stoger. The ballads
drag a bit, but "The Song Is You" is a choice cut.
B+(*) [Feb. 1]
Ari Roland: And So I Lived in Old New York . . .
(2007, Smalls): Bassist. Can't find any bio that goes any deeper
than: "Bassist Ari Roland grew up inside the New York underground
bop scene." That amounts to about ten years at Smalls, starting
with his first appearance on Impulse's Jazz Underground: Live
at Smalls. This is his second album as a leader. Other credits
include Chris Byars, Frank Hewitt, Zaid Nasser, Sacha Perry, and
Nellie McKay -- the only non-Smalls artist. This is a quartet with
Byars (tenor/alto sax), Perry (piano), and Phil Stewart (drums).
The idea of an "underground bop scene" is worth dwelling on for
a bit. Bebop has been jazz orthodoxy ever since Charlie Parker
routed the dancehalls and juke joints and made heroin king. Today,
minus the scag, it's respectable enough for Lincoln Center. But
Parker also started an undergrounding trend that led to discovery
of numerous new things far beyond his revelations -- the 1960s
avant-garde and all that's flowed out of it, about as uncommercial
as music can get. So "bop underground" strikes me as an oxymoron.
Smalls label mogul Luke Kaven has tried to explain this to me: in
technical terms way over my head, but I know that it is possible
to make new music out of old forms -- for example, there are still
people making brilliant new contributions to trad jazz -- and I
can hear a freshness in the best of these records despite knowing
that they're breaking no bounds. Underground also seems to be a
self-fulfilling commercial prophecy for Kaven, but that strikes
me as contingent. Whereas many avant-garde artists can never break
out of their narrow commercial niche, the Smalls records should be
much more broadly accessible. This is one of the better ones, in
large part due to Byars, but I'm also partial to the fat bass mix
that's the leader's prerogative. Still need to go back and compare
it against Byars' own Photos in Black, White and Gray --
slated for the next JCG, but still unwritten, even though it's one
of my favorites this year.
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.
Wallace Roney: Jazz (2007, High Note): If jazz
were a popular music, this would be a hit record. The brothers,
including the invaluable Antoine on saxes and bass clarinet, offer
the same mix of bold moves and accessibility that the Adderleys
offered back when real jazz still had the public's ear, Geri
Allen's piano insinuates a subtle edge (alternatively, Robert
Irving III's Fender Rhodes fattens the funk), while turntablists
DJ Axum and Val Jeanty contribute something fashionably novel.
On the other hand, with jazz so thoroughly consigned to margins,
one wonders why work so hard to make it easy, especially when
they can't heat "Stand" up much past tepid.
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.
Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna
(2005 , Accurate): Funk bent severely enough to qualify as
avant-garde, mostly generated from the Jamaican crucible of Don
Drummond and "Satta Massaganna.
Barbara Rosene and Her New Yorkers: It Was Only a Sun
Shower (2007, Stomp Off): Singer, from Ohio, specializes
in pop songs from the 1920s/1930s. Has three previous albums on
Stomp Off, each with 20+ songs, and one normal-sized album on
Azica. She's been appearing lately with the Harry James ghost
band, as well as Kevin Dorn's Traditional Jazz Collective and
Mike Hashim -- both Dorn and Hashim appear here. One of the
Stomp Offs was a tribute to Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw.
She picks more songs from that era here, few I recognize --
one from Etting, one from Clarence Williams, one rescued from
Tiny Tim. The band is superb, with old-timey banjo and tuba,
cornet, and deftly deployed fiddle. Long at 76:35, but only
two of the 23 songs top 4 minutes. Two are instrumentals, but
they slip by rather than stand out. Rosene gets two credits
for whistling, and they do stand out.
Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven
(1978 , Uptown): Two of the better bebop trombonists to
follow in JJ Johnson's wake. Both came up in big band, notably
playing with Stan Kenton at different points. The group here
includes Elmer Gill on piano, Torban Oxbol on bass, and George
Ursan on drums. It was recorded live in Vancouver a few months
before Rosolino's tragic death -- he shot his two young sons,
killing one, blinding the other, then killed himself. Fontana
recorded less frequently as a leader, but has if anything the
stronger reputation. The two trombone leads are delightful on
a mixed bag of swing and bop standards.
Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra: Jazz, Baby!
(2006 , Origin): Or just Doug Beavers. Bio is very hard to
parse, and I have no idea what his discography looks like -- his
website has a long list of pieces and arrangements but it isn't
clear how they map to records, or if they do. Has worked with or
for Eddie Palmieri and Conrad Herwig -- salsa arrangements seem
to be a specialty -- and maybe Rosemary Clooney and/or Mingus Big
Band. Plays trombone, but employs five other trombonists, crediting
himself with one solo. First album, I guess. Concept is to take old
children's songs -- e.g., "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Shortnin'
Bread," "Comin' Round the Mountain," "Hush Little Baby," "Workin'
on the Railroad" -- and punch them up with 1950s-style big band
arrangements. Matt Catingub and Linda Harmon sing. I figure it
for a novelty and wonder how well it will wear, but it's a lot
of fun first time through.
Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra: Jazz, Baby!
(2006 , Origin): Children's songs, sung by Matt Catingub
and Linda Harmon, punched up with big band arrangements. Can't
say whether your kids will get off on it, but at least you won't
be bored shitless playing this for them. You may even figure
it's good for all concerned.
Poncho Sanchez: Raise Your Hand (2007, Concord
Picante): Conga player, from Laredo TX, seems to have inherited
Ray Barretto's lock on the percussionist category in Downbeat's
Critics Poll. Long list of albums, but this is only the second
I've heard. I can't see much point to it. The first and last
cuts are Memphis soul with Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, and
Eddie Floyd singing. Two in the middle feature Maceo Parker:
"Maceo's House" and "Shotgun." The congas do little for any of
those covers. Two more guest vocals go to Andy Montañez and
José "Perico" Hernández. They don't stick with me either, but
at least they don't have memories to compete with.
Santos Viejos: Pop Aut (2007, Cacao Musica):
Some fancy packaging here, a fold-out wallet with the disc
slipped into a slot on the right panel, and a spiral bound
booklet on the left. A lot of words, too, even with half or
more in Spanish. The label is Venezuelan, flush perhaps with
petrodollars? The group is Venezuelan too, described initially
as Venezuelan Rock, then as Pop Autóctono, or native pop. In
any case, it isn't jazz. And it doesn't have enough force to
overcome the language barrier, although the booklet may give
them a chance to recover. I have four more records pending
with the same packaging. No need to dig deeper right now.
Joe Satriani: Surfing With the Alien (Legacy Edition)
(1986-88 , Epic/Legacy, CD+DVD): A signature album for a rare
rock guitarist working without vocals, the title presumably referring
back to surf guitar, Hendrix, and possibly points even further out.
Although rhythmically straighter than McLaughlin, a first I figured
this might have some fusion potential, and was taken enough to rate
it B+(*). "Legacy Edition" is usually a 2-CD set, remastering
a notable album with a second disc of extras: sometimes useful, more
often redundant or superfluous -- live concerts are handy sources of
both. This is the first time I've seen them do the extra live concert
as a DVD. (Dirty Dancing came with a DVD of videos.) I have
next to no interest in DVDs, but seeing that this one was recorded
at the Montreux Jazz Festival, I figured it might be enlightening.
One thing clear is that he has no jazz potential.
Cynthia Sayer: Attractions (2006 , Plunk):
Plays banjo, sings; originally from Massachusetts, now in New York.
Resume spotlights 10 years with Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band,
and soundtrack work on Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and
with Marvin Hamlisch on Sophie's Choice, but I'm more curious
about "The New Spike Jones Show." Several albums, starting with
The Jazz Banjo of Cynthia Sayer, which I don't have a date
on. That one had "featuring" credits for Dick Wellstood and Milt
Hinton. This one features Bucky Pizzarelli, but aside from a duet
he hardly stands out beyond a superb trad-oriented band, with Scott
Robinson (saxes, clarinet), Randy Sandke (trumpet), Jim Fryer
(trombone), Sara Caswell (violin), Greg Cohen (bass), and Joe
Ascione (percussion). Half vocals, starting with Sidney Bechet's
reefer song "Viper Mad" and Hank Williams' "Half as Much," and
winding on through "Romance Without Finance" and "You Are My
Sunshine" and "Aba Daba Honeymoon." Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody"
is reduced to a banjo feature, which is fine with me.
B+(***) [Mar. 1]
Christian Scott: Anthem (2007, Concord): New Orleans
trumpet player. Young -- don't have a birthdate, but website claims
he's 22, Wikipedia says he graduated from Berklee in 2004, something
doesn't add up. Nephew of alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. Second
album. First one came out last year in a cluster with pianist Taylor
Eigsti and singer Erin Boheme which tempted me to label them the Mod
Squad. Scott had the most talent then, and he has more now, but first
pass through I don't care for this record at all. Seems to me like
he's invented the jazz analogue to heavy metal. Aside for "Like That"
near the end, the music here is all heavy sludge: loud drums, immobile
bass, keyb gumbo. The only saving grace is that it provides deadened
surfaces to scratch with his trumpet or cornet or soprano trombone or
flugelhorn. Part of this may be explained by his Katrina theme, which
may have brought sludge and waste and decay to mind. Still, I should
hold this back for another play. "Like That" lightens up and is rather
pleasant. And the closing, "post diluvial" version of the title track,
features a biting tirade from Brother J of X-Clan. He's reaching, and
my initial distaste may not be the final word.
Secret Oyster (1973 , The Laser's Edge):
The first of five 1973-76 albums by a Danish instrumental group.
AMG files them as "prog-rock/art rock," but they sound like a
perfectly typical fusion group to me -- if anything, better than
average, a credit to keyb player Kenneth Knudsen, who manages to
avoid the cheesy funk clichés that plagued the instrument back
Secret Oyster: Straight to the Krankenhaus (1976
, The Laser's Edge): So this is where they finally go prog,
with arty arena intros to build up the dramatic tension. But when
they do break loose, the jacked-up tempos have some urgency, and
saxophonist Karl Vogel turns out to have something to say.
Linda Sharrock/Eric Watson: Listen to the Night
(1994 , Owl/Sunnyside): Singer, married to guitarist Sonny
Sharrock, who featured her on his 1969 album Black Woman --
as I recall, she appeared as something of a banshee, a limited
role on a good album with some tremendous avant power riffing.
They did two more albums together -- haven't heard either --
then divorced in 1978. She moved to Austria, popping up on the
occasional Wolfgang Pushnig album; also appeared with the Korean
group Samul Nori. On the other hand, this is a quite conventional
jazz vocal album, with Watson's attentive piano the only backing,
and Sharrock's rich, dusky voice fit securely in a line that
extends from Sarah Vaughan to Cassandra Wilson. Three originals
are hit and miss, but the lead-off "Lover Man" is especially
striking, a choice cut.
The Adam Shulman Quartet: On Second Thought
(2007, Kabocha): Pianist, based in San Francisco, studied in
Santa Cruz, cites second generation beboppers (Barry Harris,
Tommy Flanagan, Bill Evans) and their followers (Fred Hersch)
as influences. First album. Wrote all the sounds. Quartet
features a soft-touch tenor saxophonist named Dayna Stephens.
Also John Wiitala on bass and Jon Arkin on drums. Very nice,
but nothing more.
Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits: In Case You Missed
It (2006 , Jazzheads): Drummer, percussionist,
originally from Venezuela, moving to US in 1987, studying in
Philadelphia, then New York. Brother of pianist Edward Simon and
trumpeter Michael Simon, both present here. No idea what the band
name signifies, but the music has a deep Afro-Cuban vibe, with
bata drums on several cuts, Roberto Quintero's congas on more.
Three cuts add a string quartet, more for color than anything
else. The horns are lively, with Alex Norris playing trumpet,
Peter Brainin sax, mostly tenor.
Frank Sinatra: A Voice in Time (1939-1952)
(1939-52 , Columbia/RCA Victor/Legacy, 4CD): Sinatra is
as great a singer as Billie Holiday, and for many of the same
reasons: the precise control and authority of his phrasing.
Both were born in 1915, but he got off to a slow start -- so
much so that he seems like a generation behind, missing the
swing era peak, hanging on with straggling bands that were
passé before he turned forty. Holiday attracted great jazz
musicians who often backed her with hushed reverence -- I'm
reminded of a perfect little curlicue of clarinet in "Pennies
From Heaven," delivered by Benny Goodman, who could just as
well have been showboating in front of the most popular band
in America. Sinatra had to make do with Tommy Dorsey early,
and went on to even more anonymous bands with Capitol in the
1950s, but in between he was treated even worse at Columbia --
Axel Stordahl? Mark Warnow? Harry Sosnick? At least I've heard
of Percy Faith. Compared to this company, one cut with Harry
James blows through like a tornado. The Sony-BMG merger has
managed to unite the first two segments of Sinatra's career,
but it hasn't improved them. Even careful selection only goes
so far: the 5-CD box with Dorsey is reduced to one here, and
the 12-CD Columbia box is cut down to three. Still, this is
spotty. There are points where Sinatra overcomes the orchestra,
and there are odd numbers out like the one with James. But you
have to work to get down to the Voice. That was never a problem
Gino Sitson: Bamisphere (2007, 18th & Vine):
Vocalist, from Cameroun, based in New York, but still sings mostly
in his native Medumba. Third album. Claims four octaves, "the only
vocalist who is incorporating African polyphonic techniques into
the improvisational jazz vocalese tradition." Hard for me to tell.
He does work quite a bit in falsetto registers, with a lower range
that sounds more spoken. He does his own backing vocals, and has
credits for "vocal instruments" and "miscellaneous vocal effects."
Opening track reminded me of mbube, but styles vary a lot after
that. He does have a reputable jazz group backing him: Helio Alves
on piano, Ron Carter or Essiet Essiet on bass, Jeff Watts on drums.
They don't get to do much, and while I don't doubt his virtuosity,
I don't get it either. Kind of like Cameroun's answer to Bobby
Slow Poke: At Home (1998 , Palmetto): This is
a 1998 album with Michael Blake (sax, keyb), David Tronzo (slide and
baritone guitar), Tony Scherr (electric and acoustic bass, guitar),
and Kenny Wollesen (drums and percussion). The original release label
was Baby Tank. This release is remixed with two additional cuts. The
press release describes this as Palmetto's "first digital only release."
It's not clear what that means. Palmetto's website offers something
for $10.99 and an MP3 version for $6.99, but it's not in Palmetto's
normal distribution. My copy is a promo in a jewel box with one-sheet,
one-sided inserts. Anyhow, we'll pretend this is a real release. The
interesting point would be Tronzo's slide guitar, which manages to
stay well outside any jazz guitar idiom I can think of -- sometimes
even sounds Hawaiian.
Daniel Smith: The Swingin' Bassoon (2004 ,
Zah Zah): Plays bassoon, obviously. Born 1939, has a reputation
in classical music, including a 6-CD set of 37 Vivaldi bassoon
concertos. Over the years he's tried a lot of unconventional
things with bassoon -- English folk songs, Scott Joplin rags,
a Jazz Suite for Bassoon -- and now bebop, with this
record the follow-up to last year's Bebop Bassoon (also
Zah Zah). Listening to things like "Scrapple From the Apple"
and "St. Thomas" makes it pretty clear why jazz musicians
favor saxophones over bassoon: it just doesn't have the speed,
clarity, nuance, and power that we're used to. The band's a
quartet, and Martin Bejerano's piano sounds like the real
Jim Snidero: Tippin' (2007, Savant): Alto sax
player, has a bunch of records since 1987, hard bop or postbop,
of varying levels of ambition. He takes it easy with this organ
quartet, letting Mike LeDonne and guitarist Paul Bollenbeck do
the heavy lifting, topping it off with his exquisite riffs.
Evidently there's a market for this sort of thing, and this
is much better than par for the course.
Solar Fire Trio: Rise Up (2006 , Foreign
Frequency): English group, based in Liverpool, with two saxophones --
Ray Dickat on tenor, Dave Jackson on alto -- plus Steve Belger on
drums. Website describes their "mission to combine the no-holds-barred
improvisational ethos of free jazz with the exuberance and rebellious
spirit of rock music." Dickaty has played in Spiritualized, and all
three have more rock bands in their resumes thay jazz -- Jackson is
the most likely to list an Eddie Prevost or Paul Rutherford or Lol
Coxhill among his references. The saxophonist play unreconstructed
'60s avant-noise, mostly on top of rock beats. It's fairly limited,
and not pleasant. I'm not sure whether I've gotten immune to it, or
there's something interesting buried in the mix, but it's probably
not cost-effective to try to find out.
John Stein: Green Street (1996-98 , Whaling
City Sound): Guitarist, originally from Kansas City, MO; now based
in Boston, teaching at Berklee. Has a half-dozen albums starting
in 1995. This was his second, released in 1999 on A Records (or
Challenge; sources differ, but if I recall correctly Challenge is
the parent label). It's a fairly conventional organ-guitar-drums
trio with guest tenor sax on 5 of 12 cuts. Stein's guitar and Ken
Clark's organ hit the right notes, but the real soul jazz comes
from Fathead Newman's tenor sax. Wish there was more of it.
Curtis Stigers: Real Emotional (2007, Concord):
Singer, originally from Idaho, moved to New York before he started
recording in 1991. Don't know his early work -- only heard one
unremarkable album from 2005. Didn't ask for this one either, but
it's good they sent it. Don't know whether he has much of a style,
but this makes a case for him in the Mose Allison school, at least
on Allison's "Your Mind Is on Vacation" -- tunes by other singers
who, by jazz standards at least, trend in that direction, follow
their models more closely (Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Stephin Merritt,
Bob Dylan). Larry Goldings co-produced, plays lots of keybs --
organ and piano are most prominent -- as well as accordion and
vibes. Four songs are just Stigers and Goldings, and the latter
proves to be a tasteful accompanist. The band pieces are similarly
loose, with John Sneider's trumpet a nice touch.
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.
Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group: Open Reel Deck
(2007, Strick Muzik): I think he's a tremendously exciting young
saxophonist, and his quartet, with electric guitar and bass and
equally talented brother E.J. on drums, is state of the art. But
there are points here where this drags, and not just the guests --
actually, Malachi Rivers' spoken word act focuses the mind, even
if it distracts from the music.
John Surman: The Spaces in Between (2006 ,
ECM): Started recording for ECM in 1979, which by now makes up
the bulk of his career. The more I listen to his pre-ECM stuff,
the more I wonder about why he wound up dedicating himself to
intricate, composerly postbop chamber music when he seemed early
on to have both fusion and avant-garde by the balls. With a full
string quartet, known as Trans4mation, plus bass (Chris Lawrence)
as the sole accompaniment to his bass clarinet, baritone and
soprano sax, this seems more chamberish than ever. But all the
strings do is flesh out the reeds, which intrigue and never lose
Koko Taylor: Old School (2007, Alligator): Allen
Lowe starts his book That Devilin' Tune with a set of quotes,
including this from Julius Hemphill: "Mostly playing the blues got
you more work playing the blues. I don't think playing the blues
encouraged anybody to do anything different." Taylor is past 70
now, and this is her first record in 7 years. She hasn't done
anything new since she started in the early 1960s, and back then
the only thing that set her apart was that she sang louder than
anyone else. On the other hand, the fact that blues singers can
keep doing the same thing on and on and on suggests not only that
they were on to something pretty timeless in the first place, the
more interesting point is that blues performers, almost uniquely,
get stronger as they get older. If blues is about anything, it's
survival, and it takes some aging to build up credibility. But
nothing proves the point like virility, which is why Muddy Waters
called his comeback album Hard Again. Taylor's comeback is
like that: loud, aggressive, in your face, up your ass. She may
settle for that "piece of man," but you know she'd rather have
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.
Tom Teasley: Painting Time (2007, T&T Music):
One thing that has changed in jazz, and probably in all other art
forms, is that way back when way back when musicians sought to
develop distinctive trademark sounds, whereas many now are happy
to sound a little bit like lots of people. This has something to
do with postmodernism, in particular the idea that we've run out
of new ideas so the best we can do now is to recycle old ones.
But some of it's just education: musicians grow up knowing much
more about the music that came before them so they inevitably
find themselves working within those traditions. Economics may
even select for such education -- it's certainly the case that
many jazz musicians stress their teaching and it's evidently a
big part of their incomes. Teasley is a drummer/educator who
doesn't sound like anyone in particular but does a good job of
synthesizing beats from everywhere, producing sinuous, enticing
rhythms, which he then dresses up with various horns, including
a healthy dose of trombone. I suppose if I attended his class
he'd point out the bits from Africa, India, Brazil, the Middle
East, and so forth, not to mention the "searing bop-informed
flute solo" that somehow slipped by me. Still, it seems to me
that something this catchy should be pop jazz, but isn't because
it's deemed excessively knowledgeable.
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.
Joe Temperley/Harry Allen: Cocktails for Two
(2006 , Sackville): Baritone saxophonist Temperley earns
top billing on this sunny set of standards, recorded at Sunnie
Sutton's in Denver with a notable band -- John Bunch on piano,
Greg Cohen on bass, Jake Hanna on drums. Temperely sets the
leisurely pace, and his husky tone leads. Allen's tenor sax
fills in and sweetens the mix. He's always been one who shows
respect for his elders.
Jacky Terrasson: Mirror (2006 , Blue Note):
German pianist, b. 1966, won the Thelonious Monk Piano prize in
1993, has nine albums on Blue Note or EMI, maybe a couple more,
which should put him somewhere in the forefront of jazz pianists
of his generation. I can't second that opinion. I've heard very
little, and never been impressed enough to seek him out over
dozens of other similar postbop players. This one is solo --
aficionados love the intimacy and/or freedom of the format, but
I usually find solos underdressed, not to mention underdeveloped.
This is no exception.
Territory Band-6 With Fred Anderson: Collide
(2006 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark's big band, originally
formed to spend some of his MacArthur Genius Grant money. Original
concept seems to have had something to do with the 1930s territory
bands, but it's always been hard to hear that in the records. Now,
in his liner notes Vandermark explains that his original idea was
centered around Fred Anderson, and that he got distracted when he
couldn't schedule Hamid Drake for the first session and wound up
using Paul Lytton instead, which led to a transatlantic meeting of
the avant-gardes, which led to the first five Territory Bands. This
isn't far removed: Lytton is still on board, as are the usuals from
Europe: Axel Doerner (trumpet), Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), Lasse
Marhaug (electronics), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), Fredrik Ljungkvist
(baritone/tenor sax), and newcomer David Stackenäs (guitar). In fact,
they outnumber the Chicago crew: Anderson, Vandermark, Jim Baker
(piano), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor sax), Kent Kessler (bass), Fred
Lonberg-Holm (cello). That makes for a big, sprawling group, and
it's hard to keep it all straight. In particular, I can't disentangle
the saxes -- Vandermark, Rempis, and Ljungkvist compete with Anderson
at tenor, although each plays a second instrument as well. And tenor
sax isn't all that prominently featured here, even if it produces
most of the wind in the occasional squalls. Marhaug's electronics
have gotten to where they register as integral to the music, and
Doerner's trumpet stands out. The five-part piece hold together
nicely, and Anderson gets his props at the end.
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
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 1
(1895-1927 , WHRA, 9CD): Whereas Martin Williams, in his
canonical The Smithsonian Collection of Classical Jazz
disposes of where jazz came from by juxtaposing two versions of
"Maple Leaf Rag," one by composer Scott Joplin and the other by
Jelly Roll Morton, compiler Allen Lowe digs deep into many roots
besides ragtime -- minstrels, songsters, march bands, James Reese
Europe's orchestra. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917) doesn't
appear until the 3rd disc. Ethel Waters and Mamie Smith (1921)
make the 4th, and Jelly Roll Morton (1923) the 5th, but the series
doesn't start to sound predominantly jazzy until the 6th or 7th
disc. While he sprinkles in early bits of Fletcher Henderson, Duke
Ellington, and Bennie Moten, he holds Louis Armstrong back until
the last cut -- maybe top play down the notion that Armstrong
invented jazz, or just because he couldn't find anything to
follow "Hotter Than Hot" with.
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 2
(1927-34 , WHRA, 9CD): Bix Beiderbecke leads off with 3 of
the first 9 tracks, contrasting with 2 cuts by obscure trumpeter
Louis Dumaine. The book takes on the always annoying question of
race in jazz, plugging numerous whites -- including an argument
that Beiderbecke was the first cool jazz proponent -- without
ceding any arguments to Richard Sudhalter's Lost Chords.
The records wend their way through numerous intimations of swing
to come, punctuated by occasional blues and country tunes that
are hardly less jazzy.
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 3
(1934-45 , WHRA, 9CD): Swing is here, announced by Jimmie
Lunceford, Red Norvo, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Benny
Goodman, and Ray Noble on the first disc. Second disc tees off
with Bob Wills, a westerner who swings too, and moves on to
Count Basie. The most consistently satisfying of the boxes,
at least until 1940 (disc 7) when Lowe starts looking for
premonitions of bebop -- Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie
show up on disc 8, but disc 9 (1944-45) is a broad smorgasbord
of retro dixieland (Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson), elegant Ellington,
singers like Billie Holiday and Nat Cole, saxophonists like
Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas.
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 4
(1945-51 , WHRA, 9CD): Bebop takes over, but of course it
isn't that clean a cut. Disc 4, for instance, starts with Bing
Crosby and Al Jolson singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" -- the
fourth take, following Collins and Harlan (1911), Louis Armstrong
(1937), and Bunk Johnson (1945). Then, after Sidney Bechet, comes
Chano Pozo's "Ritmo Afro Cubano." That disc wanders especially
wide: Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, Lenny Tristano, Mutt Carey,
Astor Piazzolla, Hank Penny, Nelly Lutcher, Buddy Rich, Benny
Goodman, Charlie Parker. But before long bebop has driven most
of the other contenders from the depopulated clubs -- exceptions
are the occasional throwback like Kid Thomas, and an especially
ugly bit of projectile vomit from Stan Kenton. I suppose there's
a lesson there: I would have picked something listenable, but
if you have to acknowledge Kenton, why whitewash him?
Postscript: I wound up treating all four boxes to a
single Pick Hit review. Graded it A, contrary to my
usual practice of settling on the lowest grade. Anyone who
wades through it all deserves extra credit.
Dave Tofani Quartet: Nights at the Inn (2007,
SoloWinds): Saxophonist, from Williamsport PA, moved to New York
to attend Juilliard, and stuck around. Evidently does a lot of
studio work -- website claims over 600 albums, including over
100 soundtracks; Donald Fagen's The Night Fly stands out
among the website's "small sampling"; this is reportedly his
fourth release on SoloWinds, although I can only identify three.
Mainstream tenor sax quartet, with standards from Ellington,
Kern/Hammerstein, Porter, Thad Jones, "I Hear a Rhapsody," and
originals to match. Nice tone and range. A real pro.
The McCoy Tyner Quartet (2006 , Half Note):
This may be the least ambitious album of Tyner's career: just a
set from his huge songbook, done live, in a standard quartet with
nothing to prove. Just talent: Jeff Watts on drums, Christian
McBride on bass, Joe Lovano on tenor sax. Only reservation is
that they make it look too easy.
McCoy Tyner: Quartet (2006 , McCoy Tyner
Music/Half Note): The Coltrane Quartet pianist's first investment
in his own label is both low budget and surefire: a live album
with a new quartet that rivals the old one but fits a little more
comfortably around his own substantial songbook. Tenor saxophonist
Joe Lovano rises to the occasion, but Tyner can still muscle in to
make a point.
Gebhard Ullman: New Basement Research (2005-06
, Soul Note): German, b. 1957, plays tenor sax and bass
clarinet here, soprano sax and various flutes elsewhere. Claims
40 albums as leader/co-leader going back to 1985. This is the
fifth I've heard, all in the last 2-3 years. The title refers
back to a 1995 two-horn album he did with Ellery Eskelin. This
time he's escalated to three horns, with Julian Argüelles on
soprano and baritone sax and Steve Swell on trombone. The sound
is loud, discordant, boisterous. I found it to be fun, but Laura
made a point of how much she hated it, and I have to admit that
it's unlikely to travel well, or to convince anyone lacking
commitment to old-fashioned free jazz.
Upper Left Trio: Three (2007, Origin): Third
album. Three players: Clay Giberson on piano, Jeff Leonard on
bass, Charlie Doggett on drums. All three contribute songs, with
Giberson enjoying a slight plurality. Group based in Portland,
I think. Giberson has three previous albums under his own name,
all on Origin. An early review, posted on their website, tries
to triangulate them: "Bad Plus wannabe"; "midpoint between the
Oscar Peterson Trio and Medeski, Martin, and Wood"; Giberson
"crosses Horace Tapscott with Tommy Flanagan." I don't hear any
of that, but I'm hard pressed to peg them.
Albert van Veenendaal/Fabrizio Puglisi: Duets for Prepared,
Unprepared and Toy Pianos (2004 , Evil Rabbit): Van
Veenendaal is a Dutch avant-garde pianist, likes to work with
prepared piano, has an interesting body of work over the last
decade, including one album (Predictable Point of Impact,
on Evil Rabbit) that I especially like. Puglisi is an Italian
pianist I've never run into before. He was born 1969, describes
himself as "self-taught" but workshops with Franco D'Andrea and
Enrico Rava, a course with George Russell and Mike Gibbs, and a
study of Cecil Taylor. His Dutch connections include work with
Ernst Reijseger and Han Bennink. I'm hard pressed to think of
any piano duet albums I've liked, but this one is interesting,
with its odd prepared sounds, rhythmic machinations, and the
contrasting timbre of Puglisi's toy.
Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (2004-05
, ECM): All this shares with its precedessor is title, bassist,
and painstaking assembly. But what made Universal Syncopations
remarkable was the individuality of its superstars' performances --
Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette. They're
replaced by a committee here, maybe several, but this could just as
well have been assembled from Vitous's legendary library of digital
samples -- indeed, the sole voice credit, one Vesna Vasko-Caceres,
only hints at how he uses voice to whitewash a heavenly aura over
what sounds like a throwback to the Czech's Communist (err, classical)
education. The funk horns and multiple drummers only exist on paper.
Their syncopations are anything but universal.
Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: The Zoo Is Far
(2006 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, has four albums
now, all on ECM. This is a sextet, but it seems much more minimal,
with percussion, baroque harp, cello, violin (viola, Hardanger
fiddle), and Arve Henriksen's vanishing trumpet. Some of the
piano fragments remind me of Another Green World, with
acoustic instruments somewhat complicating the sound and the
melodies. The string bits are scarcely more complex, but don't
have the same elegance. Textures mostly, probably related to
Norse folk and baroque and such. Small pleasures, or maybe just
The War (A Ken Burns Film): The Soundtrack (1938-2005
, Legacy): Don't bother filing this under Wynton Marsalis. He
wrote a couple of connective background pieces, and may have had a
hand in selecting the standards (Basie, Ellington, Goodman, Crosby;
best of all Kay Starr with a band featuring Benny Carter, Coleman
Hawkins, and Nat King Cole) and classical filler. It seems slight
for 15 hours of film, but at least omits the shots and explosions
that fill as much screen time as the voiceovers. Further proof that
war is bad for music.
The War (A Ken Burns Film): Deluxe Edition (1930-2005
, Legacy, 4CD): The soundtrack plus two CDs of Sony/BMG catalog
music to flesh out the period (most actually prewar) and one CD of
the dull classical music that saws along backgrounding the voiceovers.
The first three discs -- not sure about the fourth -- are available
separately, packaged same as here: in shrink-wrapped jewel boxes with
short credits-only booklets. The extra box booklet adds nothing on
the music -- just more on the film(s). The catalog sets are quality
samplers, with the "dance hits" (I'm Beginning to See the Light)
predictably better than the plain "hits" (Sentimental Journey),
although the latter has such must-have items as Teddy Wilson's (i.e.,
Billie Holiday's) "Pennies From Heaven" and Coleman Hawkins' "Body and
Soul." Still, anyone looking for a thematic meditation on WWII and
popular music should look elsewhere -- Rhino's Songs That Got Us
Through WWII (two volumes, II better) and Smithsonian's We'll
Meet Again: The Love Songs of World War II are the obvious ones,
with Proper's Swing Tanzen Verboten! a shot from right-field.
Eberhard Weber: Stages of a Long Journey (2005
, ECM): German bassist, been with ECM since The Colors
of Chloe in 1973. Most of his albums are fairly minimal, but
this is a live recording built around the SWR Stuttgart Radio
Symphony Orchestra -- the group pictured on the cover is massive,
with Gary Burton (vibes), Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor sax),
Rainer Brüninghaus (piano), Marilyn Mazur (percussion), and Weber
added to the Orchestra. The Orchestra itself takes a background
role, sloshing back and forth like an uneasy sea, while the group
vies for your attention. The saving grace, unsurprisingly, is
Mark Weinstein: Con Alma (2007, Jazzheads):
Flute player, got into Latin jazz in Larry Harlow's orchestra in
the late 1960s -- Harlow wrote the liner notes here. Other credits
include Herbie Mann, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, Maynard Ferguson,
Alegre All Stars. Also has some Jewish and/or Balkan music in his
resume. This is a quintet with piano, bass, drums, and congas,
with the flute and congas providing the Latin gloss on what's
mostly a set of bop standards -- Coltrane, Shorter, Hutcherson,
Monk, Gillespie's title piece. I was more impressed by Weinstein's
previous Algo Más, which showed real Cuban roots. This, in
comparison, seems superficial.
Ezra Weiss: Get Happy (2006 , Roark): Pianist,
under 30, grew up in Phoenix, studied in Oberlin and Portland, wound
up in New York. Has a couple of albums. Tends toward complex postbop
arrangements, which here include a range of horns and three singers.
Even with the familiar Arlen-Koehler title cut, nothing here strikes
me as all that happy. Or all that interesting, but tenor saxophonist
Kelly Roberge makes the most of his spots.
Westchester Jazz Orchestra: All In (2007, WJO):
First time through I liked this relative no-name unit, presumably
based in the Westchester suburbs although most likely there are
a few ringers from the city present, more than I do Gerald Wilson's
(not to mention Maria Schneider's) expensive all-stars. (For the
record, I recognize 7 of 17, some barely.) So maybe it doesn't
just come down to money (except come Grammy Time). Music director
here is Mike Holober, who turned in a nice big band record a few
years back called Thought Trains (Sons of Sound). But the
arrangements come from all over, including non-members, and the
one cut I don't care for is Holober's Beatles arrangement ("Here
Comes the Sun"; hard to imagine that one ever working). Otherwise,
the horns snap, the band swings, they have a lot of fun.
Harry Whitaker: Thoughts (Past and Present) (2007,
Smalls): Pianist, born 1942 Pensacola FL, played in early '70s with
Roy Ayers, Eugene McDaniels, Bobbi Humphrey, Roberta Flack, Alphonse
Mouzon; has scattered credits since then -- Randy Crawford, Carmen
Lundy, John Stubblefield. This seems to be the second album under
his name, after The Sound of Harry Whitaker (2002, Blue Moon),
with the possible exception of a 1976 recording Black Renaissance:
Body, Mind & Spirit, issued (or reissued?) in 2002 by Luv N'
Haight and given 5 stars by AMG. (Haven't heard it.) This is a piano
trio with Omer Avital on bass, Dan Aran on drums. The songs are listed
with dates from 1970-93, but these appear to be new recordings. Seems
like a strong mainstream piano trio date; certainly doesn't live up
to the hype, but nice enough.
Howard Wiley: The Angola Project (2006 ,
CDBaby): Young tenor saxophonist. Second album, a rather ambitious
one that takes its prison setting and old-time gospel graces and
tries to turn them into something magnificent. I'm impressed, but
can't say as I like it -- especially the vocals, which raise the
rafters when they're not trying to paint the pearly gates. Many
cuts also have a pair of violins, another obvious angelic effect.
David Murray guests on one song, an overly complicated original
called "Angola." While Murray's the superior saxophonist, Wiley
holds his own.
Baby Face Willette: Face to Face (1961 ,
Blue Note): Organ man, church schooled, natch, cut two albums in
1961 with guitarist Grant Green and drummer Ben Dixon, then for
all intents and purposes disappeared; this one adds Fred Jackson
on tenor sax, whose skill set is summed up in the title of his
one album, Hootin' 'N Tootin'; still, it's hard not to
enjoy their gutbucket soul jazz.
Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Monterey Moods (2007, Mack
Avenue): I suppose Gil Evans got there first, but Wilson seems like
the founder of the post-big-band modern jazz orchestra, centered on
an arranger, assembled from time to time from spare musicians, often
of stellar quality. Wilson got his break long ago, replacing Sy Oliver
as Jimmie Lunceford's arranger, but he didn't emerge in his own right
until the early 1960s, when he cut a series of albums for Pacific Jazz,
drawing on west coast musicians who were particularly adept at carrying
big band harmony into the bebop era. He vanished during the 1970s, but
in the 1980s came back and has come up with commissions and albums
every few years, lately with some really high-powered bands, peaking
well into his 80s with In My Time. This one is less immediately
persuasive, and there are still things I'm unclear about, and don't
feel like forcing right now.
Robert Wyatt: Comicopera (2007, Domino): He
has straddled the jazz and rock worlds for 35+ years, remaining
so unique in both that nobody knows where he fits. His barely
controlled high-pitched voice is unprecedented and unlikely to
be followed, yet he has produced such compelling vocal albums
as The Hapless Child (under Michael Mantler's name). He
has a few more scattered masterpieces, but also quite a lot
that is barely (if at all) listenable. Few artists take more
risks. None that I know of put less ego on the line. I was a
fan early on, but couldn't handle many of his recent, even
highly touted, records (e.g., Shleep). This seemed like
another at first, with his vocals fitting awkwardly over odd
melodies and fractured rhythms, but the record is sprinkled
with wondrous instrumental bits -- Gilad Atzmon sax, a piece
with vibes and electronics, Eno keybs, something Latin, bits
of cornet. Several plays later it's filling out.
Robert Wyatt: Comicopera (2007, Domino):
I used to think I was one of his biggest fans, but I'm not able
to come up with the enthusiasm of more than a few bigger fans
who've posted this on their year-end lists. (In fact, The
Wire has given their top spot to his last two albums.) The
album does have its moments, including "Hasta Siempre Comandante,"
his best Che Guevara song since "Song for Che" on Ruth Is
Stranger Than Richard. I like the duet on "Just as You Are,"
the sax and vibes, his less-than-virtuosic trumpet/cornet, and
a few other things. But I also find it awkward and ungainly,
difficult and inaccessible -- things that the real fans are
able to overlook. I must not be one anymore, which saddens me.
Yerba Buena Stompers: Duff Campbell's Revenge
(2005, Diamondstick): A little background here: Stomp Off is
a modern day trad jazz label run out of a post office box in
Pennsylvania by Bob Erdos. I like a little trad jazz, and the
dozen or so Stomp Off albums I'd picked up over the years --
not the easiest things to find -- generally impressed me. So
when I started Jazz CG, I figured it would be good to mix in
some trad jazz but I never managed to make contact. Closest
I came was a dealer near St. Louis who runs a website in their
name but doesn't do any press publicity. On occasion, when I
found out about a new release, I'd try to track the artist
down. Most proved as elusive as the label, but when I wrote
to the Yerba Buena Stompers, Michael Custer offered to send
me everything. I keep a huge shopping list including pretty
much everything recommended by the Penguin Guide, and it had
all of the Stompers' Stomp Off records, so I welcomed him.
So now I have a bunch of them. I'll work through them in the
next few weeks. The main risk, I suspect, is that they'll all
wind up sounding much the same. If so, it may be hard to pick,
but also hard to go wrong. This is a live record tossed off
on the side of their main line of albums on Stomp Off. It
caught the band at a 90th birthday bash for Charles Campbell,
an art gallery owner who was a longtime patron of the trad
jazz scene in San Francisco. The title comes from a piece
that Turk Murphy wrote in Campbell's honor. The Yerba Buena
Stompers are an 8-piece band led by John Gill, who plays
banjo and sings on occasion. Gill is a New Yorker, b. 1951,
started out in dixieland bands, moved to San Francisco to
play with Murphy, then on to New Orleans, back to SF, and
finally back to Brooklyn. The band name invokes Lu Watters'
Yerba Buena Jazz Band, formed in 1939 as one of the first
bands to consciously attempt to revive traditional jazz up
to King Oliver's Original Creole Jazz Band -- tight ensemble
work, a deep brassy sound with tuba instead of bass. Watters
was early enough that he was able to work with folks like
Bunk Johnson who pre-dated Louis Armstrong. Murphy played in
Watters' band and carried on the flame, passing it on to Gill.
(Who, by the way, should not be confused with another John
Gill, an English pianist who also plays old timey jazz. AMG
is careful to make the distinction, then totally messes up
their discographies.) The live record is probably as good a
place to start as any: the intros provide some context, and
the selection tends to repeat their signature tunes where
they're more likely to seek out obscurities for the studio
albums. A lot of classics, broken in like old leather --
"Gut Bucket Blues," "Tiger Rag," "Milenburg Joys," "Maple
Leaf Rag," "Hesitating Blues." Their one concession to the
postwar period is "Blue Moon of Kentucky," which they frame
as a tribute to Elvis Presley, probably less of a reach for
Gill's gruff voice than Bill Monroe would have been. Grades
are more provisional than usual, subject to change as I
sort through the pile. But if I don't start tacking them
down I won't feel like I'm getting anything done.
Yerba Buena Stompers: Dawn Club Favorites
(2001, Stomp Off): This is the first of five albums John Gill's
group has done on Stomp Off, and it starts off on square one,
reviving and revitalizing Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band
with the same spirit Watters took on King Oliver's Original
Creole Jazz Band. San Francisco's Dawn Club was home base to
Watters from the band's formation in 1939 until the leader
got drafted in 1942. The lineup features two trumpets (Leon
Oakley and Duke Heitger), trombone (Tom Bartlett), clarinet
(Larry Wright), piano (Pete Clute), banjo (Gill), tuba (Ray
Cadd), and drums (Clint Baker). The album is dedicated to
Clute, a ragtime specialist, mainstay of Turk Murphy's bands,
and a direct connection to Watters, who died at 67 a month
after this was recorded. The most striking thing about the
album is the tremendous uplift of the soaring trumpets and
clarinet, pulling away from a rhythm that sometimes still
slips into step with ancestral marches and rags. One vocal,
by Bartlett, on "St. James Infirmary."
Yerba Buena Stompers: Barbary Coast Favorites
(2001 , Stomp Off): Second album, with Marty Eggers taking
over the piano bench for the late Pete Clute, which means a small
step away from ragtime and into the early 20th century. I expect
that the whole series match up pretty evenly, so the distinctions
will be marginal. The liner notes don't explain where this title
came from, but Barbary Coast is a neighborhood in San Francisco,
and could very well be another Lu Watters watering hole. The
artwork is almost the same as Dawn Club Favorites. The
songs are similar but with a few exceptions ("St. Louis Blues,"
"Jelly Roll Blues") a shade more obscure. Two vocals this time:
one each by Tom Bartlett and John Gill, with the latter's "Waiting
for the Robert E. Lee" a choice cut. Otherwise, it doesn't pick
me up the way the first one did, although it goes through the
same motions with comparable aplomb.
Yerba Buena Stompers: New Orleans Favorites (2002,
Stomp Off): Starts with "Tiger Rag" and "Tin Roof Blues;" ends with
"Panama" and "Dipper Mouth Blues," with plenty more you'll recognize
along the way -- "Doctor Jazz," "Ory's Creole Trombone," "Muskrat
Ramble," not to mention "When the Saints Go Marching In." But you
might not exactly recognize them because they're tuned back to the
pre-swing era, and with their lack of solo power one can even say
pre-Armstrong. The lineup again: two trumpets, trombone, clarinet,
piano, banjo, tuba, drums. Echoes of Lu Watters; reverberations of
King Oliver. They do "play that thing."
Yerba Buena Stompers: San Diego Favorites 2002-2003
(2002-03 , Diamondstack): Live tidbits from the San Diego
Dixieland Jazz Festival. The songs all show up elsewhere in their
catalog, and the studio versions usually have more polish and
often a bit more bounce. Also short on vocals. This only pales
Yerba Buena Stompers: San Francisco Bay Blues (2005,
Stomp Off): Wasn't looking, so I got this one out of order. Real New
Orleans jazz, as rediscovered in San Francisco in the 1940s -- yep,
another Lu Watters tribute. One thing to note is that John Gill is
singing better (3 songs) than on the early records, especially on
"Take Me to the Land of Jazz." Trombonist Tom Bartlett still takes
one tune, "Trouble in Mind," and also shows improvement. This is
a very consistent band.
Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man (2007, Stomp
Off): A couple of personnel changes in what has been a pretty stable
lineup: Orange Kellin replaces Evan Christopher on clarinet (before
Christopher, Larry Wright played clarinet); Clint Baker moves over
from drums to tuba, replacing Ray Cadd, and Hal Smith joins on drums.
Until now they've evidently kept close to the arrangements worked out
by Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, which includes a few originals
by Watters and Turk Murphy as well as old songs they brought back in
the 1940s Dixieland revival. Here they start to move on, picking old
songs Watters missed and treating them accordingly. The title song,
for instance, dates back to 1908, although Murphy had done it in 1957.
Several songs come straight from King Oliver, which matches the
orchestration to a tee. Others come from the Red Hot Peppers, which
is about as modern as they get. Locking onto their fixed reference
points, they freeze history, foregoing the sense of progress that
even then was all the rage. That should make them dry, but their
chosen moment is hard to resist: it was a point when the excitement
of jazz jumped out of the horns and off the stage. Playing through
the whole set of five studio albums shows two things that are rare
in any such sequence: remarkable consistency and no sense of progress
or evolution whatsoever. Both may be attributed to lack of individuality,
which may have something to do with the fact that leader John Gill plays
the most unprepossesing of instruments: the banjo. These are unjazzlike
traits, but the music is primevally jazzy.
Pablo Ziegler-Quique Sinesi: Buenos Aires Report
(2006 , Zoho): Artist credit includes, in smaller type, "with
Walter Castro." Castro plays bandoneon. Haven't found much on him;
he's the youngest of the trio, but due to his instrument is a large
part of the group's sound. Ziegler and Sinesi hail from Buenos Aires.
Ziegler was born in 1944, plays piano, and was part of Astor Piazzolla's
group from 1978-89. He composed all but two of the pieces here. Sinesi
was born in 1960, plays guitar, composed one song. The last is by
Piazzolla, and it seems significant that it is a much livelier, more
fully realized piece. By comparison, the others feel like sketches --
maybe studies is the better word.
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+(**)
- Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 , Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 , AYVA) B+(***)
- Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist (2006 , Savant) B+(***)
- Michael Bisio Quartet: Circle This (2006 , CIMP) 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+(**)
- Joe Cohn: Restless (2006 , Arbors) B+(***)
- Jacques Coursil: Clameurs (2006 , Sunnyside) B+(**)
- Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Pasodoble (2006-07 , ACT) 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+(***)
- Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 , Savant) B+(***)
- John Ettinger: Kissinger in Space (2006, Ettinger Music) B+(***)
- Alan Ferber Nonet: The Compass (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(**)
- Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 , Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane (2005 , Skipstone) B+(***)
- Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin) B+(**)
- Hiromi's Sonicboom: Time Control (2006 , Telarc) B-
- John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires (2004 , Intuition) B+(***)
- Lauren Hooker: Right Where I Belong (2006 , Musical Legends) 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+(***)
- Steve Kuhn: Pastorale (2002 , Sunnyside) B+(***)
- David Kweksilber + Guus Janssen (2003-06 , Geestgronden) B+(***)
- Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late (1962-2002 , Cuneiform, 2CD) A-
- Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (2006 , Clean Feed) A-
- Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 , TCB) B+(***)
- George Lewis: Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (2004 , Intakt) B+(***)
- Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006, Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Mat Marucci-Doug Webb Trio: Change-Up (2006 , CIMP) B+(***)
- Barney McClure Trio: Spot (2006 , OA2) B+(**)
- Kate McGarry: The Target (2007, Palmetto) B-
- Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 , AYVA) B+(***)
- Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (2004 , ECM) B+(**)
- William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Corn Meal Dance (2007, AUM Fidelity) A-
- Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello: People Will Say We're in Love (2006 , Arbors) B+(**)
- Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (1981 , Widow's Taste, 2CD) A-
- Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert (1982 , Widow's Taste) A-
- Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (2006 , Sunnyside) B
- Alvin Queen: I Ain't Looking at You (2006 , Enja/Justin Time) A-
- Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 , ECM) B+(***)
- Antonio Sanchez: Migration (2007, CAM Jazz) B+(**)
- Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 , Clean Feed) B+(**)
- Maris Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue (2007, ArtistShare) B
- Matt Shulman: So It Goes (2006 , Jaggo) B
- Golda Solomon: Word Riffs (2006, JazzJaunts) B+(**)
- The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook (2006 , Zoho) B+(***)
- Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan: Live at MCG (1993 , MCG Jazz) B+(***)
- John Taylor: Angel of the Presence (2004 , CAM Jazz) B+(***)
- Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 , Skirl) B+(**)
- Frank Vignola: Vignola Plays Gershwin (2006 , Mel Bay) B+(***)
- Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 , Omnitone) B+(***)
- Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (2007, Dune) B+(**)
- Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 , Leaf Note) B+(***)