Monday, November 12. 2007
On the one hand, quite a bit of jazz prospecting follows. On the other, it has made virtually no dent in the backlog. It's also the case that I haven't moved from prospecting mode to trying to wrap the next column up. That's at least another week away, given that this coming week looks like it's going to be difficult and full of distractions. I also want to make sure I get the Miles Davis and Allen Lowe boxes into December's Recycled Goods, and I still have a lot of listening to do on both.
A couple of technical things are worth noting. One is that I've disabled Flash on my computer. I've been running into viral Flash advertisements, particularly from AMG, which put my browser into a state where all I can do is kill it. Flash has rarely been antyhing but an annoyance, so I don't miss it, but unfortunately a lot of musicians have websites built with it. Those websites are going to be impossible to access, and that will make it harder to gather the information that goes into these notes. (On the other hand, there is some positive correlation between the amount of Flash and the inutility of the information buried in it, so maybe the loss won't be that great.) I've also started to listen to and in some cases review -- more cursorily than usual, I'm afraid -- download music from MPE and Rhapsody. The former is a poor substitute for the real thing, but I've used it to fill out some Recycled Goods reviews -- e.g., UMe sent me the Johnny Cash live album in this month's RG but not the Legend best-of, so I reviewed the latter from MPE. The amount of stuff Universal puts into MPE is fairly small, but Rhapsody promises to be a way to check out things I'm not getting normally. Thus far I've only streamed things for curiosity, like the recent Animal Collective. But I imagine that it will prove useful here, especially for some of those big label records that suspiciously never arrive here. I still haven't gotten into any of the download-only releases, like Ayler has been pushing. (In fact, after playing three records from Rhapsody, I haven't gotten back to it in 4-5 days, the shelves taking priority.) When I do review something from a download source, I'll note that like I do with advances.
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 comes close. B+(*)
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. B+(**)
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. B+(**)
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. B
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. [B+(***)]
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. B+(*)
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. B+(*)
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. [B]
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. B+(***)
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. B+(**)
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. B
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. [B+(***)]
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. B
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. B-
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. B+(*)
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 Montańez and José "Perico" Hernández. They don't stick with me either, but at least they don't have memories to compete with. B
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. [B+(**)]
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. [B]
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 Vocę." Runner up is "Moon River," which is buried in goop and doesn't mind. B- [advance]
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. B+(*)
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. [B-]
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. B+(**)
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-Ĺke 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. B+(***)
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. B+(*)
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. B-
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. B+(**)
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. B+(*)
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. [B+(**)]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
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 ŕ 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 here. B+(**)
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 Mask Replica." B+(**)
Recycled Goods #49, November 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. Static has a new layout, and for once I rather like the way it looks. When I did the first column, they tacked on a featured album cover as an illustration. The Village Voice had long done that with Robert Christgau's Consumer Guides, so I immediately thought that the cover illustration should be the Pick Hit. Somewhere along the line I decided that two would be better, and that worked for a couple of months, until laziness or technical simplemindedness got in the way. I've never done much illustrating in my website, but started adding cover scans to my archive versions, in part to make up for the lack at Static. Then I started attaching the covers when I submitted my piece -- first to avoid a bit of possible confusion, then I found that it helped get the posts up faster. Anyhow, this is the first month where both cover scans appear with the column, and it looks good.
One thing to note is that the Pick Hits aren't necessarily the top-rated records. The Billie Holiday box is in longbox (double high) format, which wouldn't have worked for the layout -- not that I knew this layout was coming. And there are a couple more A+ records in the Briefly Noted. I think I did reach down there once for a Pick Hit, but I almost always stick with the first section. I've picked boxes a couple of times in the past -- my own pages stack the two album covers, so that works reasonably well -- but given this layout I'll try to stick with singles, at least as long as it lasts.
The cumulative album count is up to 2052.