Monday, January 12. 2009
The big kitchen project is chewing up about half of my time now, and that's likely to go into overdrive this week, and stay that way through the end of the month. Don't know whether that will allow for much or any jazz prospecting -- seems like a big segment of my life has gone on hold. The way this worked this past week was that I worked on the house during the day, playing things I didn't have to pay any attention to, like Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker -- my construction partner is a blues fan -- then getting to some jazz and blogging during the evening. This will likely be the pattern, but I expect my production to drag. Picking through new stuff here, finally checking out some of the more promising 2009 releases -- including the first two A-list records of the new year, plus a possible third.
No news on Jazz CG (18). Sent the Voice a revised draft last week, and a list of possible holds. Haven't done the surplus cull yet, but all the other paperwork is in order to push onward. One thing I do notice is that the Honorable Mentions candidate list has gotten way out of hand. I may have to slash through them for the surplus post. Too bad, as they are by definition good records, most likely to be very pleasing to those who especially like the particular styles. Still, I'm listing 148 of those records, which is about 8 columns (2 years) worth of honorable mentions. Clearly, I can't get to more than a third of those. Not sure what the best way to deal with them would be, but the easiest would probably just be a blog post. Given the other time pressures right now, I can't even commit to when on that.
PS: I've compiled the vote lists for the Jazz Times Critics Poll, as well as for the Village Voice Jazz Poll. Interesting thing here is that the Voice poll is both larger and much more diverse. Don't have time to draw many conclusions from this data here, but I did point out a few things in the comments at the bottom of the Jazz Times poll. The other thing to note is that the web-posted Jazz Times results differ from the print list, in a couple of cases significantly. This subject would be worth a separate post, but again I can't promise when.
Cynthia Hilts: Second Story Breeze (2008, Blond Coyote): Pianist, singer, probably in that order. Trio, with Ron McClure on bass, Jeff Williams on drums. Mostly standards, like "My Favorite Things" and "Three Blind Mice." Played it three times today. Hard to hear clearly, and not just for the many distractions that weren't her fault. Doubt that a fourth spin would make enough of a difference to put this in play. B-
Michael Jefry Stevens Trio: For Andrew (1996 , Konnex): Pianist, b. 1951, more avant-garde, at least as an economic niche, than postbop. AMG only credits him with 8 albums, mostly because bassist Joe Fonda's name comes first in the Fonda-Stevens Group. Trio includes Jeff Siegel on drums, Peter Herbert on bass. Andrew, of course, is Hill, but this is an oblique tribute. It seems unlikely that this 12-year-old tape was cut with Hill in mind -- 7 of 9 songs are Stevens originals, neither of the others are by or particularly associated with Hill. On the other hand, Stevens can plausibly claim Hill both as influence and inspiration. He's long struck me as someone I should pay more attention to, but I often have trouble sorting out subtleties among pianists. This one pays dividends on close attention, but I'm hard pressed to explain exactly why. B+(***)
Jonathan Voltzok: More to Come (2008, Kol Yo): Trombonist, b. 1983 in Israel, moved to New York on a scholarship in 2004, currently based in Brooklyn. First album, a quartet with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Barak Mori on bass, Ali Jackson on drums, with Slide Hampton (trombone) guesting on two tracks, Antonio Hart (alto sax) on two more. Three covers check bop-era classics -- "Shaw Nuff," "Round Midnight," "Con Alma." The originals I figure for postbop, although they don't move much beyond JJ. B+(**)
Blah Blah 666: It's Only Life (2007-08 , Barnyard): Drummer Jean Martin and co-conspirators -- Justin Haynes ("b6 defretted guitar"), Ryan Driver ("street sweeper bristle bass"), Tania Gill (melodica), and Nick Fraser ("plastic blow thing") -- explore barnyard sounds all too literally, with banjo, ukulele, and glock prominent among the off instruments, and nearly everyone [dis-]credited for voice. Two pieces the formula works on are "Mexican Hat Dance" and "La Cucaracha" -- most likely the band learned them from cartoons. B
Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks (2008, Nowt): Group led by bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky: born in Winnipeg, grew up in Fargo, studied at McGill in Montreal and New England Conservatory, based in Brooklyn. Group includes trumpet (Jacob Wick), tenor sax (Evan Smith), euphonium (Adam Dotson), drums (Jason Nazary). Hype sheet says group "began as a vision of a metal/opera/cartoon with hamsters singing classical arias over metal-based rhythmic structures." At least they got rid of the vocal aspect here, and the rhythm is more free than metal. The horns chew on each other, with the euphonium an interesting contrast. I suspect it's too limited to go far, but worth another listen. William Block's comic strip illustrations are a nice touch. [B+(**)]
Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (2007 , ECM): Bassist, one of the young Norwegian players who latched on to George Russell in the late 1960s, establishing a new postbop wave that turned into a big chunk of the ECM aesthetic -- Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal are better known, probably because they aren't bassists. Andersen contributed mightly to all that, moving on to his Masqualero group -- better known for introducing Nils Petter Molvaer -- and he has a substantial discography under his own name: ECM's Rarum XIX: Selected Recordings is an excellent introduction, one of the best entries in their sampler series. Useful here to concentrate on the bass lines, and the lovely soft intro to "Dreamhorse" which starts arco and slowly resolves into tenor sax. After all, if you don't concentrate on the bass, you'll just get overwhelmed by the saxophonist: Tommy Smith, in a muscular, mature, masterful performance. A-
Julia Hülsmann Trio: The End of a Summer (2008, ECM): Pianist, b. 1968 in Bonn, Germany. Has three previous albums on ACT, including one co-headlined by voalist Anna Lauvergnac; has also worked with vocalist Rebekka Bakken. This is straight piano trio, not exactly slow and not exactly meditative, but something along those lines. Another fine ECM piano album. B+(**)
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (2008 , Owl Studios): Steven Bernstein's territory band is a big city concept; Ken Vandermark's is transcontinental. This, however, is the real thing: a big band that's been working out of Indianapolis since 1994. Trombonist Brent Wallarab arranges and conducts. Mark Buselli plays trumpet, in front of the usual array of 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, bass, drums, boy and girl singers -- the only anomaly is "horn," played by Celeste Holler-Seraphinoff. The songs are standards, arranged conventionally with the feel of well oiled antique wood with sparkles of brass. Few soloists emerge, but the vocalists do, especially Everett Greene -- a highlight on that Gust Spenos Swing Theory album I liked so much last year, even more so here. His deep, graceful voice is unique, lending gravity and polish even to "My Funny Valentine." Cynthia Layne offers a sharp, slightly shrill contrast. A- [Jan. 27]
Frank Senior: Listening in the Dark (2007 , Smalls): Vocalist, born blind, don't know when but "after the birth of his daughter" dates from the early 1980s; based in the Bronx. Liner notes described this as his first album, but CDBaby has another album, Let Me Be Frank, which also claims to be his debut. Starts off with a Ray Charles song which he rips straight up the middle. More standards follow: "This Can't Be Love," "On the Street Where You Live," "The Very Thought of You," "Route 66," "The Best Things in Life Are Free." Bob Mover contributes sax appeal. B+(**)
Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things (1981-82 , Smalls): Pianist, b. 1942, worked with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack in the 1970s. Lightly recorded, with a 1976 avant-fusion thing called Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit, a 2001 pinao trio, a 2007 recap. This may be taken to fill in a hole, but it raises more questions than it answers. Seven tracks, five lineups with some common denominators. Starts off with a somewhat annoying vocalist doing ethereal scat to a hymn or anthem -- something taking itself way too seriously. Next few pieces alternate saxophonists Gary Bartz and Rene McLean, with Terumaso Hino on trumpet, and the last two bring a larger group together, including Steve Grossman and John Stubblefield -- and another, less annoying, voice. Bartz at the time seemed singularly determined to resurrect bebop as true radicalism, and Whitaker certainly approved of that idea. Some remarkable music when it all clicks together. B+(***)
Steve Laffont/Gino Roman/Yorgui Loeffler/Chriss Campion: Latchès (2008, Sunnyside): French group. Probably an eponymous group name/album title, but the members' names are listed on the front cover (not the spine), so I'll go with that. Roman plays bass. The other three are guitarists, modelled on Django Reinhardt, of course. Three Django songs; one more by Lulu Reinhardt (whoever that is); one original from each group member; a few other scattered covers. Nice enough, but shouldn't string jazz have a little more buzz? B
Randy Klein: Piano Improvisations: The Flowing (2008, Jazzheads): Solo piano, simple pieces with titles like "The Calm," "The Flowing," "Child Like," "Process," "Clean and Beautiful," "Always Grateful," "A World of Luxury." B. 1949, AMG lists six records; his website shows nine going back to 1986, as well as a larger number of records as producer and composer. I never quite know what to do with solo piano, but this is one of the more pleasantly listenable specimens I've heard in quite a while. B+(**)
Ran Blake: Driftwoods (2008 , Tompkins Square): Solo piano, more trouble for me. Blake has played a lot of solo piano over the years, and I've rarely been up to it. I gave his last one, All That Is Tied, a polite B+(**) and promptly forgot about it. The Penguin Guide, which has long shown an excessive fondness for solo piano, annointed it with one of their crowns. I need to dig it up and give it another shot. This one has a sticker saying: "Ran Blake salutes his favorite singers: Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and more." Need to figure out what that's about, too -- maybe even dig up that Unmarked Van (as in Vaughan, Sarah) that I didn't much care for long ago. (I've given him one A- grade, for his legendary Short Life of Barbara Monk, a non-solo.) What I can say is that he picks his way through these songs with great skill, like a master chef deboning fish. The one that I feel closest to, "You Are My Sunshine," hasn't been done this exquisitely since Sheila Jordan sang it for George Russell. No doubt a major jazz pianist. For me, still a project. [A-]
David S. Ware: Shakti (2008 , AUM Fidelity): Ware's old Quartet, with Matthew Shipp and William Parker, ran from 1990 to 2006, spanning four drummers, each as distintly interesting as the seasons. Overlooking the drummer changes, they were the longest-running major group in jazz history. The new quartet does without Shipp, or for that matter piano; keeps Parker; brings in a new drummer, old-timer Warren Smith. The other new player, guitarist Joe Morris, isn't the threat Shipp was to steal the show -- at least not Ware's show -- but he fills in interestingly. Still, Ware is such a singular tenor saxophonist that such differences on the sidelines pale in comparison. A- [Jan. 27]
Joshua Redman: Compass (2008 , Nonesuch): Advance copy. Back cover reads, "Full album program from Nonesuch 510844-2 available January 13, 2009," which makes me wonder if this is the full album. (Length is certainly substantial enough.) No track credits, but listing two bassists (Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers) and two drummers (Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson) makes me suspect this showcases two sax trios rather than a quintet with doubled bass and drums. Straightforward, elemental, another deep excursion into the saxophonist's art. [B+(***)] [advance: Jan. 13]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
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