Jazz Consumer Guide (8):
Fungible Insights

Jazz on the fringe, even when it hopes to end up in the middle

by Tom Hull

Pick Hits

FME: Cuts (Okka Disk) What makes Free Music Ensemble Ken Vandermark's best pure improv showcase is how conducive bassist Nate McBride and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are to his basic style--rough, rock hard, punkish. That may not have been the idea when he named the group to honor Germany's avant-noise FMP label, but this is a band that could have been designed to kick out the jams. Still, most cuts do have soft parts--clarinet with minimal accompaniment, McBride often arco--and these cohere like never before. A

SHEILA JORDAN + CAMERON BROWN: Celebration (High Note) She grew up in a coal town, fled to the city, chased Bird, and caught his piano player. George Russell asked her to her sing a song in 1962, and she would have been unforgettable for that alone. It was another decade before she worked steadily, but she waltzed away with the album on Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer--long my favorite jazz album. At 76 she threw this birthday party, with just bassist Brown behind her. It's an uncharacteristically loose and happy set, strung together from medleys with generous scat and patter, sometimes ad-libbed into the music. Makes me think she's the only real jazz singer left--the only one worth chasing, anyhow. A MINUS

URI CAINE/BEDROCK: Shelf-Life (Winter & Winter) One problem with '70s fusion is that when pianists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea went electric they gave off an air of slumming. That's not an issue with younger players weaned on funk, disco, and hip-hop--electronics for them are an invitation to have fun. Matthew Shipp and George Colligan are good examples, but Uri Caine--surprisingly for a guy with whole albums of Schumann and Mahler in his closet--tops them all. He got it right on the first Bedrock album: Zach Danziger's beats come first, then Tim Lefebvre's grooves, and anything he does on synth just elaborates. This one goes further, adding a guest horn here and there, even a couple of vocals, but never losing track of first principles--which for him closes with a straight Philly soul classic. A MINUS

PETER EPSTEIN/BRAD SHEPIK/MATT KILMER: Lingua Franca (Songlines) All three have interests in the world's many musics--there are subtle Indian, Balkan, and West African spices here--but all three are homegrown and play conventional instruments. Shepik's guitars intertwine with Kilmer's percussion. Epstein's alto or soprano sax floats above, as if charming snakes. A MINUS

RICH HALLEY TRIO: Mountains and Plains (Louie) The desolate, rugged landscapes in the cover snapshots are a fitting analogue to the deliberate articulation of Halley's tenor sax in this bare-bones trio. Based in Oregon and trained as a field biologist, with previous records about Saxophone Animals and Coyotes in the City, Halley obviously comes at free jazz from far afield. And he's collaborated with Dave Storrs and Clyde Reed for so long that they get the balance just right. A MINUS

ARTHUR KELL QUARTET: Traveller (Fresh Sound New Talent) Jordi Pujol named his label for an ad touting the "fresh sounds" of West Coast jazz in the '50s, but his search for nueva cool has focused on New York and Barcelona. The New Talent series produces a steady stream of Honorable Mention wannabes--tight, cleverly arranged, tepid little albums nwith much to admire and little to get excited about. This one is exemplary, with Kell's bass firmly anchoring his tunes, while Steve Cardenas's expansive guitar lines and Gorka Benitez's golden-toned tenor sax flesh them out. A MINUS

STEVE LACY/JOÉLLE LÉANDRE: One More Time (Leo) The grand master of the soprano sax ended his long residency in Europe with a series of "farewell concerts" in 2002, made all the more final by his death last year. A box is promised, but this duo with bassist Léandre got carved out first. She's worth concentrating on, proving that the bass is a sonic toolkit of amazing breadth. But focus inevitably drifts to Lacy in an intimate performance that is both typical and exemplary. One to remember him by. A MINUS

HILARY NOBLE & REBECCA CLINE: Enclave (Zoho) Good students. Noble studied sax with George Garzone and Yusef Lateef, but he also did extra credit in Afro-Cuban percussion, and he puts both to use here. Cline picked up her piano from Joanne Brackeen and Chucho Valdés, and she delivers the whole package--she's impossible to ignore, even in the background. Whereas most Latin jazz gravitates toward siesta, leave it to a couple of Yanks to shake things up. A MINUS

TRIPTYCH MYTH: The Beautiful (AUM Fidelity) Another case where an album title has become the group name for a second album, giving reclusive pianist Cooper-Moore a bit of cover. He reminds me of Horace Tapscott--not as fast, but as dense and exacting, if anything more sensitive to the other two panels of his group, bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor. They play the way freedom is supposed to work--untethered but aware and complementary. A MINUS

ASSIF TSAHAR/COOPER-MOORE/HAMID DRAKE: Lost Brother (Hopscotch) Cooper-Moore emerges as a double threat: no piano, just homemade toys. His ashimba slips in between Drake's frame drums for stretches of pan-African groove, with Tsahar's bass clarinet gently tooting along. But when Cooper-Moore cranks up the twang of his one-stringed diddley-bow, Tsahar switches to tenor sax and his usual Aylerisms lurch into overdrive, a style we might as well call avant-honk. A MINUS

MARK WHITECAGE & THE BI-COASTAL ORCHESTRA: BushWacked: A Spoken Opera (Acoustics) Except for one lyric written in 1776, the spoken words come from news reports, but they rivet your attention. The intent is outrage, but I find the words, so unflinchingly rooted in the real world, calming--compared to the anarchic jazz swirling around them. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

LINCOLN CENTER JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Don't Be Afraid . . . The Music of Charles Mingus (Palmetto) This became inevitable once flacks tried to draw an orchestral line from Ellington to Mingus to Marsalis--otherwise, wouldn't Mingus be a bit too outré for the uptown crowd? Mingus has yet to develop into a repertory staple, at least outside of the official tribute bands Sue Mingus rides herd on, and even there recent albums like *I Am Three* suggest they're running on fumes. What's missing from all the remakes is Mingus himself--the virtuoso bassist, of course, but more importantly the leader who drove small bands to play huge. Here 15 musicians play small. At the end of the tricky title piece about the clown, they even laugh small. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

DOMINIC DUVAL/MARK WHITECAGE: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (Drimala) No agitprop, just bass and reeds, a starter kit without the racket.

RANDY REINHART: At the Mill Hill Playhouse: As Long as I Live (Arbors) Trad jazz teamwork--Kenny Davern, Dan Barrett, and John Sheridan are friskier than on their own recent albums.

SAM RIVERS/BEN STREET/KRESTEN OSGOOD: Violet Violets (Stunt) Old times only easier, so reminiscent of his '60s grace it could be a self-tribute.

BAYASHI: Rock (Jazzaway) Norwegian avant-sax trio--two vets dating back to George Russell days, and TDWR drummer Thomas Strřnen.

JOE FIELDER TRIO: Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff (Clean Feed) And, finally, simplifies the avant-trombone master for much needed clarity.

BILLY JENKINS: When the Crowds Have Gone (Babel) . . . you're alone, just guitar and harmonica, crying like Blind Willie Johnson without even the Lord for comfort.

DOMINIC FRASCA: Deviations (Cantaloupe/Serious Music) Guitar minimalism, the patterns expanding harmonically rather than repeating ad absurdum.

JOEL FUTTERMAN/ALVIN FIELDER/IKE LEVIN TRIO: Resolving Doors (Charles Lester Music) Piano-sax roughhousing, refereed by an AACM drummer who keeps both sides swinging.

THE ONUS: Triphony (Hipnotic) Darryl Harper's clarinet trio is a marvel of studied moderation, searching but not rushed, long but not wearing.

TRYGVE SEIM: Sangam (ECM) Large group, the deep horns, accordion and strings move slowly in thick layers of harmony.

PAUL MOTIAN/BILL FRISELL/JOE LOVANO: I Have the Room Above Her (ECM) Lovano's ballad sense is suspect, but he adds substance to Motian's slow abstractions.

JOE GIARDULLO: No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy (Drimala) Meditations on solo soprano sax--a real tightrope act.

HAMID DRAKE & ASSIF TSAHAR: Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler) Two-thirds of Lost Brother takes its avant-honk on the road.

GEORGE COLLIGAN'S MAD SCIENCE: Realization (Sirocco Music) More organ than synth, more drums than beats, so the advance starts from further back, trading Grant Green for Tom Guarna.

JULIUS TOLENTINO: Just the Beginning (Sharp Nine) Fancy hard bop with Jeb Patton piano and extra brass, sandwiched by originals celebrating Parker, lamenting Jacquet.

MARK WEINSTEIN: Algo Más (Jazzheads) Flutes, chants, hand drums, soft homespun Afro-Cuban roots.

RAKE-STAR: Some Ra (Spool/Line) Canadians who look and sound like they just arrived from Saturn.

THE PETER BRÖTZMANN CHICAGO TENTET: Be Music, Night (Okka Disk) Mike Pearson's reading of Kenneth Patchen poetry provides a dry counterpoint structuring the avant-noise.


JAMIE CULLUM: Catching Tales (Verve/Forecast)

NNENNA FREELON: Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday (Concord)

DAVID MURRAY 4TET & STRINGS: Waltz Again (Justin Time)

Originally published in Village Voice, Feb 21, 2005


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

  • FME: Cuts (Okka Disk) A
  • Sheila Jordan + Cameron Brown: Celebration (High Note) A-
  • Uri Caine/Bedrock: Shelf-Life (Winter & Winter) A-
  • Peter Epstein/Brad Shepik/Matt Kilmer: Lingua Franca (Songlines) A-
  • Rich Halley Trio: Mountains and Plains (Louie) A-
  • Arthur Kell Quartet: Traveller (Fresh Sound New Talent) A-
  • Steve Lacy/Joëlle Léandre: One More Time (Leo) A-
  • Hilary Noble & Rebecca Cline: Enclave (Zoho) A-
  • Triptych Myth: The Beautiful (AUM Fidelity) A-
  • Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Hamid Drake: Lost Brother (Hopscotch) A-
  • Mark Whitecage & the Bi-Coastal Orchestra: BushWacked: A Spoken Opera (Acoustics) A-
HM [***]
  • Dominic Duval/Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (Drimala)
  • Randy Reinhart: At the Mill Hill Playhouse: As Long as I Live (Arbors)
  • Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood: Violet Violets (Stunt)
  • Bayashi: Rock (Jazzaway)
  • Joe Fielder Trio: Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff (Clean Feed)
  • Billy Jenkins: When the Crowds Have Gone (Babel)
  • Dominic Frasca: Deviations (Cantaloupe/Serious Music)
  • Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Resolving Doors (Charles Lester Music)
  • The Onus: Triphony (Hipnotic)
  • Trygve Seim: Sangam (ECM)
  • Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano: I Have the Room Above Her (ECM)
  • Joe Giardullo: No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy (Drimala)
  • Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar: Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler)
  • George Colligan's Mad Science: Realization (Sirocco Jazz)
  • Julius Tolentino: Just the Beginning (Sharp Nine)
  • Mark Weinstein: Algo Mas (Jazzheads)
  • Rake-Star: Some Ra (Spool/Line)
HM [**]
  • The Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Be Music, Night (Okka Disk)
  • Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Don't Be Afraid . . . The Music of Charles Mingus (Palmetto) B-
  • Jamie Cullum: Catching Tales (Verve/Forecast)
  • Nnenna Freelon: Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday (Concord)
  • David Murray 4tet & Strings: Waltz Again (Justin Time)

Album count: 33; Word count: 1575 (graded 12: 1140; additional 21: 435).


This was cut off rather arbitrarily. Don't have a lot more on the A-list without getting into old records. Thought about having an ACN section for Recommended Reissues -- Don Cherry, Ahmad Jamal, Andrew Hill, Julian Priester, Blue Mitchell were the list, all done already in Recycled Goods -- but I didn't need the filler. Graded records I didn't get written up: Erik Friedlander, Gerald Wilson. Davis did the latter, so it may fall off my list. Most promising records in queue: Manu Katché, Joe Morris, Bernardo Sassetti. Cooling a bit on Ben Goldberg and Marc Johnson. List of HM candidates is deep, so not surprising that this particular list is spotty. Some threads here, but others didn't make it, and the cutoff is pretty arbitrary. I've kept the bottom three HMs in, even though I expect them to be cut -- there must be 20 better records on the master lists, and they've been around a while now. I do want to get Brötzmann in. In general, I want to try to keep as many HMs as possible, even if that means holding back more major items. Otherwise I'll never get enough HMs printed. I've gone ahead and cut the duds down to three. Don't care about if any get printed.

I dropped one record that had been rated A-: Joshua Redman. Played it again and it didn't hold up all that well. More details in the prospecting log.

Possible cuts (best cuts first): Lehman, Rockwell, Claudia, Simmons, Garage, Miles; Walden, DeSare, Blake, Lovano, Jensen, Futterman, Tolentino; Cullum, Freelon, Murray.


The prospecting fiel is here.


The surplus file is here.


The pending records have been moved to the next JCG working file.