Monday, March 10. 2008
Greg Mitchell: In case you thought she would stop with this. My favorite quote of the week:
Her instinct to make nice to McCain only serves to remind us of her past (and possibly future) support for the Iraq war. She really should have enough presence of mind to recall who she's running against, and what she's running for. Or at least the good taste not to turn all those answers back into herself. Of course, Clinton is even less likely to get the nod than Joe Lieberman, but that's not the point. The point is that while she's desperately working to undermine Obama, she's helping to sanitize and legitimize the real monster of the campaign. Video requires Flash, so I didn't follow it.
In a later post, Mitchell quotes Bill Kristol arguing that McCain should pick Clarence Thomas as his running mate. Didn't catch the reasons, but you have to figure message discipline is one. The best you can say about Kristol is that this is nowhere near the dumbest idea he's ever had. It's pretty easy to come up with all sorts of fitting matches for McCain. For instance, Rush Limbaugh himself would make a state-of-the-art Agnew for McCain's Nixon. Too bad Curtis LeMay is dead.
Mitchell's blog seems to be running 3-6 short posts per day, a useful survey of the press. Just added his book to my shopping cart: So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq, released in paperback. Figure it will be a useful reference, even though by now the story's old news.
Another lousy week, but it's over now. I was so down early in the week I spent a good chunk of time with a couple of 4-CD Proper Boxes that had been sitting around forever: Benny Carter's The Music Master was good as expected; The Illinois Jacquet Story was even better. Jacquet's late-'40s jukebox hits have never been collected so well, and a big chunk of the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert really jump starts the box. Managed to get a little prospecting done, and was starting to feel better toward the end of the week, but I was still beset with distractions. Got the blogging back on track, including some book reports. It's starting to feel like spring here. Still possible we'll get hit with another blizzard, but it seems unlikely now that we'll get that new winter snow record.
It's about time to start thinking about how this Jazz Consumer Guide cycle will wind up. Nothing really compelling on the pick hits or duds fronts, but plenty to write about.
Pat Metheny: Day Trip (2005 , Nonesuch): Guitarist, from the Kansas City suburbs, cut his first record in 1975, has worked steady ever since, about as big a star as any jazz guitarist can be. (Don't have any sales figures, so that's just a guess.) I've never been much of a jazz guitar fan, and I've paid him especially scant attention over the years -- just 6 records in my database, including the great Ornette Coleman vehicle Song X and a bunch of stuff I didn't care for, most of which can be blamed on Lyle Mays' cheezy keybs. No Mays here: just Christian McBride on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, giving this a lean sound, reminiscent of Metheny's Charlie Haden duo, Beyond the Missouri Sky. The clarity is certainly welcome, although I'm still on terra incognita. [B+(***)]
Stanley Jordan: State of Nature (2008, Mack Avenue): Another well-known guitarist, one I've paid even less attention to than Metheny -- I have him filed under pop jazz, which may or may not be fair. Jordan had a run on Blue Note 1984-90 with at least one gold record, but hasn't recorded much since. Not much info to go with this advance copy: no musician credits, although Charnett Moffett, David Haynes, and Kenwood Dennard are somewhere, and there is something about Jordan playing guitar and piano simultaneously. Piano is fairly prominent on some pieces, including Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" and the quasi-classical "Healing Waves." Some of the guitar is quite elegant -- don't have an ear for his famous "tapping" method, which doesn't seem much in play. Mix bag of pieces, ranging from Latin to Mozart. Might as well wait for more info. [B+(*)] [advance: Apr. 22]
Bob Brozman: Post-Industrial Blues (2007 , Ruf): Guitar collector, particularly fond of National Resonator guitars, with half a dozen models featured here, as well as lap steel, 7-string banjo, dobro, a resophonic ukulele, and a closet full of exotic instruments (sanshin, chaturangui, gandharvi, etc.) that mostly turn out to be disguised guitars. Studied ethnomusicology at Washington University in St. Louis, probably about the same time I was there. Has a dozen-plus albums, half or more blues-themed (like this one), the other half more worldly, ethnomusicologically speaking. The blues are straightforward, although the guitar is a little bent. Two more/less non-originals, the Doors' "People Are Strange" and Nat Cole's "Frim Fram Sauce," renamed "Shafafa." B+(**)
Cannon Re-Loaded: An All-Star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley (2006 , Concord Jazz): An assembled studio band, doing ten songs more/less associated with Adderley. Group leader and alto saxophonist is Tom Scott, the all-star of L.A. studio hacks. He doesn't break any new ground, but he's got a gorgeous sound, swings hard, and carries the album. Playing Nate is an underutilized Terence Blanchard. The keyboards are doubled up with Larry Goldings on organ and George Duke on everything else. Marcus Miller plays bass, spelled by Dave Carpenter on two cuts. Steve Gadd is the drummer. I could do without Nancy Wilson singing two songs, but have to admit that "The Masquerade Is Over" ain't half bad. The Adderleys were respectable hard boppers who somehow were remarkably popular, an equation that doesn't seem to be repeatable any more, even though it's hard to imagine how anyone could dislike them. This is an honest, somewhat obvious attempt to bring them back and make them sound contemporary. Works about as well as it can -- but 50 years ago we were different, mostly younger (as I recall). B+(**)
Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (2006 , Atavistic): After a record every fall on the dot for six years or more, this one slipped past New Year's Day. This is pretty much the same record as the last one, A Discontinuous Line (2006), which marked the arrival of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Where the previous records with trombonist Jeb Bishop turned on their crack horn section arrangements, the Lonberg-Holm records are throwbacks to the earlier improv discs. That's just fine, especially when they break loose as emphatically as on the 6th and 8th cuts, "Compass Shatters Magnet" and "Desireless." After three plays, I'm holding back only because I'm already jammed with A-list records, and I haven't rated anything they've done lower since 2000's Burn the Incline. Plus I hope to play it some more. [B+(***)]
Alex Sipiagin: Out of the Circle (2008, Sunnyside): Trumpeter, b. 1967 Yaroslavl, Russia; won a competition in Rostov in 1990, then moved to New York in 1991. Eighth album, first I've heard (6 others are on Criss Cross, an important Dutch mainstream label that has never answered my inquiries). Fancy postbop, with a large cast of slick players -- Donny McCaslin (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Adam Rogers (guitars), Henry Hey (keyboards), Gil Goldstein (accordion), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Daniel Sadownick (percussion) -- a sort of creamy tone I've never cared for, a lot of rhythmic flex. Two songs have vocals by wife Monday Michiru, the first over a perky Latin groove, the other a torchy ballad. She's a good singer. He's taken a tack that I'm not very inclined to follow and made it work well enough I can't much complain. B+(*)
Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (2007 , Thrill Jockey): Dixon is an avant-garde trumpet player, probably best known for his 1966 appearance on Cecil Taylor's Conquistador. He has a fairly thin discography since then, mostly on the Soul Note label in Italy, mostly small groups, many duos. He's something of a legend, but often a tough slog. Exploding Star Orchestra is a large ensemble of Chicago avant-gardists led by Chicago Underground cornet player Rob Mazurek. Long list of familiar names here, including: Nicole Mitchell (flute), Matt Bauder (bass clarinet, tenor sax), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jeff Parker (guitar), Jim Baker (piano), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), a half dozen more. Three sprawling pieces, two by Dixon sandwiching one by Mazurek. A slog, with moments of amusing clarity. Haven't made up my mind yet. For that matter, I still have last year's Exploding Star Orchestra on the replay shelves. [B+(**)]
Kali Z Fasteau/Kidd Jordan: Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland (2007 , Flying Note): Credit can/should also include drummer Newman Taylor Baker, whose name is on the front cover in smaller print on the cover but not on the spine. Jordan is a veteran from New Orleans who plays raw avant tenor sax, a throwback to the 1960s when ugliness was creed. Fasteau plays all sorts of things, taking nine songs on nine different instruments: mizmar, piano, nai flute, cello, synthesizer, voice, violin, drums, soprano sax. She offers a wide range of contrasts to Jordan's constant. Gets loud, weird, sometimes mesmerizing. Audience has fun. B+(*)
Ryan Blotnick: Music Needs You (2007 , Songlines): Guitarist, b. 1983 in Maine, studied in Copenhagen, and recorded this album in Barcelona, although his home base these days looks to be Brooklyn. First album. Website lists a number of interesting musicians he's played with, but doesn't provide any further discography, and AMG lists no side credits. Quintet, with Pete Robbins (alto sax), Albert Sanz (piano), Perry Wortman (bass), and Joe Smith (drums). I've run across Sanz and Smith before on Fresh Sound, while Robbins had a good album a couple of years back on Playscape. Split the difference between those labels and you should get cool-toned postbop with a quietly subversive avant edge, which is about what Blotnick delivers here. I might even go further and say that this is what cool jazz would sound like if anyone was still making any. Mostly slow, but sneaks up on you. Robbins doesn't stand out until six cuts in, one called "Liberty." Could be I'm calling this prematurely, but it's awful subtle. B+(***)
Cuong Vu: Vu-Tet (2007 , ArtistShare): Trumpet player, fond of electronics, born 1969 in Vietnam, emigrated to Seattle 6 years later, moved to New York in 1994. Fifth album since 1999. Also has a significant credits list, including key roles over several albums each with Chris Speed's Yeah No, Myra Melford's The Tent and Be Bread, and Pat Metheny Group. (Other creditss: Orange Then Blue, Bobby Previte, Andy Laster, Jamie Saft, Dave Douglas, Gerry Hemingway, Assif Tsahar, Satoko Fujii, Matthias Lupri, Mark O'Leary/Tom Rainey.) Quartet here, with Speed on unspecified reeds, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Ted Poor on drums. These are interesting musicians, but here at least together they tend to congeal into sludge. The bass lines don't go much beyond heavy metal, the electronics aren't clear, and I don't have a clue what Speed is doing. At least the trumpet has some contrast. B
Nick Vayenas: Synesthesia (2007 , World Culture Music): Usually the first thing I do when I put a record on is write down the song list and the personnel list, noting instruments broken down by track. The requisite information is available here, on the inside of the cardboard gatefold cover, but it's formatted using abbreviations of names and instruments that require several mappings, all printed in microscopic all caps type with little contrast and registration blur (semi-white on semi-brown). My eyes just aren't up to it. Vayenas was born in Boston, studied at Berklee, plays trombone. First album, or second counting one co-led by saxophonist Patrick Cornelius (on board here). Other musicians here, as far as I can tell, are: Aaron Parks, Matt Brewer, Janek Gwizdala, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato, none of which clearly accounts for the synth fusion bubbling beneath the horns. I like the trombone, of course, and Cornelius shows some flashy sax, but the synthy stuff doesn't quite come off, and Parlato's vocal wash is de trop. B
The Puppini Sisters: The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo (2008, Verve): Vocal group, modelled on the Andrews Sisters, led by Marcella, last name Puppini. Her "sisters" are likely ringers, one named Kate Mullins, the other Stephanie O'Brien. Their previous album, Betcha Bottom Dollar, hewed more closely to the concept. Here they try to move on, you know, advance artistically. Puppini writes three songs, Mullins one. "Jilted" would be more than adequate filler if their covers held up better, but they range from "Old Cape Cod" to "Walk Like an Egyptian," stumbling badly on "Spooky" and "Could It Be Magic" -- not for Barry Manilow, not here either. B
Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla: Born Broke (2006 , Atavistic, 2CD): Duo, stripped down from the trio that recorded the excellent Medicina in 2004. The loss of the bassist limits the color and shadings, but drummer Uusklya breaks loose impressively. Brötzmann is credited on the back cover with tenor sax and clarinet, but the booklet photos show him on alto sax with some other instruments sitting off to the side, possibly his trusty taragato. Does sound more like tenor, though. One can argue that he's mellowing a bit, but that's sort of like saying the Himalayas are eroding. First disc has three pieces totalling 57:51; second one piece at 38:24. The thin, harsh sound wears over time, but the rough hewn musicianship can be dazzling. B+(***)
Scott Robinson: Plays the Compositions of Thad Jones: Forever Lasting (1992-2005 , Arbors): Not the best of concepts. Robinson's specialty is in antique reed instruments, like C-Melody sax, bass saxophone, and contrabass sarrusophone, to which he adds various flutes and clarinet and a couple of brass instruments -- echo cornet, french horn, flugelhorn. He trends toward trad jazz and swing, whereas Thad Jones was postbop before bop even ran its course. Brother Hank Jones plays piano on one cut, but Richard Wyands handles most of the others, and Mike Le Donne chimes in on Hammond B-3 on five -- indeed, the album's dominant sound motif is bass sax over organ. Listed as "Great American Composers Series, Vol. 3." Vol.1 was Louis Armstrong (Jazz Ambassador), a better fit. Don't recall seeing a Vol. 2. B
Aaron Weinstein & John Pizzarelli: Blue Too (2007 , Arbors): Don't have a birth date for Weinstein, but when his first album (A Handful of Stars) came out he was still in his teens. A violinist, cites Joe Venuti at the head of his list of influences. For his debut, Weinstein tapped Bucky Pizzarelli for his Eddie Lang. Here he settles for the son, who turns out to be a pretty good match, and a steady next step after his star-studded debut showed so much taste and erudition. B+(**)
Hadley Caliman: Gratitude (2007 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, started in Los Angeles in the 1950s -- website says he's 77, booklet says 76, AMG says born 1932. Had an eponymous record in 1971, a couple more over the years, but this is the first one in a good while. Recorded in Seattle. Quintet: Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Joe Locke (vibes), Phil Sparks (bass), Joe La Barbera (drums). The vibes are a nice touch, lightening and sharpening a fairly conventional west coast bop group. B+(**)
Mitch Paliga: Fall Night (2006 , Origin): Originally from Montana, based in or near Chicago since 1990, teaches at North Central College in Naperville, IL. Plays soprano sax, leading a quintet with an interesting postbop mix: Jo Ann Daugherty (Fender Rhodes, accordion), John McLean (guitar), Patrick Williams (acoustic bass), Ryan Bennett (drums). Bright and lively, doesn't get caught up in overly fancy harmonics. B+(**)
Chris Gestrin: After the City Has Gone: Quiet (2007, Songlines, 2CD): Canadian pianist, from near Vancouver, graduated from Berklee. Has a mixed bag of side credits (Randy Bachman, Loudon Wainwright III, K-OS, DOA, Nickelback, Swollen Members, Bruno Hubert's B3 Kings), 4 or 5 albums on his own. This is a set of 28 solo, duo, and trio pieces, mostly with other Vancouver musicians I recognize -- Jon Bentley (saxes), JP Carter (trumpet), Ron Samworth (guitar), Gordon Grdina (guitar, dobro), Peggy Lee (cello), Dylan van der Schyff (drums). They are mostly slow, quiet, and abstract -- chance encounters of sound without much thought to melody. Several instruments are prepared and/or processed. Didn't sound like much at first, and it seems like a lot to slog through it all, but I find it growing on me. Should probably keep it pending, but it's been on the shelf a long time already, and I'm doubting I'll find the time it needs. B+(*)
Walt Blanton: Monuments (2006 , Origin): Plays trumpet, based in Las Vegas, evidently teaches at UNLV, has two previous albums. This is a trio with Tony Branco on piano and John Nasshan on drums, also Las Vegas based. Improv set, free jazz, not so far out but holds your interest, full of little surprises. At least I'm surprised -- needs another play. [B+(***)]
Sam Barsh: I Forgot What You Taught Me (2008, RazDaz/Sunnyside): Plays electric keyboards more than piano. Based in New York since 2001. Plays in bassist Avishai Cohen's groups. This first album is a quartet with vibes (Tim Collins), bass and drums. Mostly groove pieces, the keyboards plasticky but not quite cheesy. Plays some melodica too, which fits. B+(*)
Amos Hoffman: Evolution (2007 , RazDaz/Sunnyside): Israeli guitarist, mostly plays oud now. Spent some time in New York, but is now based in Tel Aviv. Third album. Strong middle eastern flavor, with alto flute (Ilan Salem), bass (Avishai Cohen), and percussion (Ilan Katchka). Cohen contributes an unnecessary vocal, also plays some piano, but the string interplay predominates. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Charmaine Clamor: Flippin' Out (2007, FreeHam): Filipino singer, recasts "My Funny Valentine" as "My Funny Brown Pinay" and enlists the Pakaragulan Kulintang Ensemble for her 5-part "Filipino Suite," which doesn't push the exotica all that hard. Her torch ballad "Be My Love" drags a bit, but she shows a sweet tooth with some R&B grit on "Sugar in My Bowl" and "Candy." B+(*)
Kurt Elling: Nightmoves (2007, Concord): Live in Chicago led the Penguin Guide to exult: "what an electrifying performer Elling is!" They went on to dub Man in the Air "the jazz vocal album of the last decade." He seems to be the consensus male jazz vocalist pick. I don't think he has a lot of competition, but I've never heard anything from him that caught my ear. He does some vocalese, awkwardly forcing his voice through word mazes, with little vocal reach. The small groups here are too intimate to give him much cover. Fussy, arty, deadly dull, except for Randy Bachman's "Undun," which has a genuine pop hook and swings a little. I don't know his records well enough to know how this compares, but something is amiss. C+
Diane Hubka: Goes to the Movies (2005-06 , 18th & Vine): Clear, clean, articulate voice, as good as the songs, which as you know with movie music isn't always that good. But with 13 songs from 42 years (1937-79) they don't sink too far -- the mixed flow is the main distraction. The small group helps, especially Carl Saunders on trumpet/flugelhorn and Larry Koonse on guitar. B+(*)
Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch: When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos (2007 , Durtro Jnana): The former leader of Annie and the Asexuals, a/k/a Annie Anxiety or sometimes even Annie Bandez. Rough, rockish voice, more attitude than art, but that suffices, especially on songs that pay dividends in kitsch -- "Song for You," "Private Dancer," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," but also "Yesterday When I Was Young" and "It Was a Very Good Year" and "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)." Wallfisch plays piano. Doesn't live up to the destruction of the cover photos. Probably just as well. B+(**)