Monday, March 24. 2008
John McCain's latest view of the future: "Today in Iraq, America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism." Precipice? My dictionary gives two definitions: 1) An extremely steep or overhanging mass of rock; 2) The brink of a dangerous situation. Even the less metaphorical first defintion begs a question: how many allies can you fit on a precipice? (About as many as the US has?)
In the Wichita Eagle's article on the 4000th US soldier killed in Iraq, they go on to report a few more events of the day:
Meanwhile, George W Bush concluded: "The surge is working. And as a return on our success in Iraq, we've begun bringing some of our troops home. The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around -- it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror."
It's hard to imagine what Bush could possibly mean by victory. But McCain has a point about the precipice: it's the point from which every direction heads down, most (for lack of a better word) precipitously.
Michael Schwartz: How to Disintegrate a City. The history of the Battle of Baghdad. The Bush and McCain quotes above come from Tom Engelhardt's introduction. Schwartz has a book coming out in June, based on his remarkable series of TomDispatch posts: War Without End: The Iraq War in Context.
Not a happy week. Having a lot of difficulty writing, especially on the records I should be shepherding into the finished Jazz CG. They still sound good enough, but the words aren't coming. Very frustrating. I so wish I was done with it.
Lauren White: At Last (2006 , Groove Note): Singer, from Dallas-Fort Worth area, reported to be 20 years old. Three songs look like originals, credited to "(L White, W White)"; rest are covers, mostly Gershwin-Porter era standards, but also Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou," Leon Russell's "Superstar," and Lee Ann Womack's "Why They Call It Falling." Some good musicians, including tenor saxophonist Ricky Woodward on 4 cuts, guitarist Anthony Wilson on 4, and pianist Bill Cunliffe on 3. All that suggests good taste, albeit nothing distinctive or idiosyncratic. Not much of a jazz singer, though. B-
Duke Ellington Legacy: Thank You Uncle Edward (2007 , Renma): Nine-member group, eight instruments plus vocalist Nancy Reed, at least for this record -- website shows two other lineups, the common denominators being leader-saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, trumpeter Mark McGowan, pianist Norman Simmons, drummer Paul Wells, and namesake guitarist Edward Ellington II, Mercer's son, Duke's grandson. Two guests here are Joe Temperley on bass clarinet/baritone sax and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. (If you're counting, that leaves bassist Tom DiCarlo.) Ellington songs (one from Mercer, the rest from Duke) aside from the well disguised "Toe Tickler" by Mayhew. Five vocals, mostly unexpected -- e.g., Jon Hendricks vocalese on "Cottontail." The arrangements are big and bold, and the band swings hard. Didn't much notice the guitar. B+(**)
Virginia Mayhew Septet: A Simple Thank You (2007 , Renma): Saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano here. b. 1959 San Francisco, based in New York since 1987. Sixth album. Might as well think of the Septet as a small big band: the hornplay, with two brass and two reeds, is constant and complex; the rhythm of guitar, bass and drums is inconspicuous but capable of pushing the horns hard. Best thing here is the closer, "Sandan Shuffle," for just that reason. Didn't much care for the intricate postbop until then, but going back I find more hot spots, including a rousing "Rhtyhm-A-Ning." B+(**)
David Liebman/Roberto Tarenzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco: Dream of Nite (2005 , Verve): Never got a final copy of this. I gather from the cover scan Liebman is David, not Dave, like my copy of the credits says. Also looks like it was originally released on EmArcy in Italy, then picked up by Verve here, and came out last November. Recorded in Italy, live (I think), with a local group, none of whom I recognize. Pianist Tarenzi wrote two tunes; if drummer Arco is the same as A. Arcodia, he wrote one also. Last two pieces are Liebman's, and they do one from M. Davis. Benedettini plays double bass. The band is pretty sharp, especially Tarenzi, and they keep Liebman on his postbop toes. For once, I can't even complain about the soprano. B+(*) [advance]
Bo's Art Trio: Live: Jazz Is Free and So Are We! (2007 , Icdisc): Bo is Bo van de Graaf, Dutch saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor). Don't have much background, but he's been around since 1976, discography since 1981, mostly on BVHaast. Has some sort of relationship with film composer Nino Rota. He formed Bo's Art Trio in 1988 with pianist Michiel Braam and drummer Fred van Duijnhoven. Like much of the Dutch avant-garde, the operative concept here is humor -- most obviously on the two pieces where Simon Vinkenoog shouts poetry over Braam's jokey, crashing piano chords: D.H. Lawrence's "A Sane Revolution" from 1928 and a "Jazz and Poetry" original, in Dutch, I believe. Those pieces may limit the appeal. Van de Graaf's saxes are bright and edgy, bursting with joy. B+(**)
Maurice Horsthuis: Elastic Jargon (2007 , Data): One thing I've found is that there's usually an exception to any generalization one might make. By now, you know how much I hate the sound of massed violins, how lame I find classical string quartets, maybe even how estranged I feel from so much advanced contemporary composition (or whatever you call it -- maybe only because I get so little opportunity to follow it). Even at best I figure those things are projects, something that, given more exposure and understanding, I might some day learn to sort of like, a little bit at least. But here's an exception: all strings (4 violins, 2 violas, 3 cellos, double bass, and electric guitar), a very limited pallette with a lot of sawing back and forth, but it's really flowing, with waves of ideas, crashing and bubbling. Need to hold it back as a sanity check. Horsthuis plays viola. He's part of Amsterdam String Trio, which has at least four albums. He's also played with Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra back in the 1980s; also with Han Bennink and Maarten Altena. Group name could be Maurice Horsthuis' Jargon, in which case album name might be Elastic. [A-]
Plamen Karadonev: Crossing Lines (2007 , Mu): Pianist (also plays keyboards and accordion), from Bulgaria, where he studied at the Academy of Music and played for the National Radio Big Band. Got a scholarship to Berklee in Boston, where he's currently based. First album: in fact, a good example of what we might call First Album Syndrome, where a new artist tries to show off as many friends, connections, styles, and skills as possible. Originals, covers (Cole Porter, John Coltrane, Ivan Lins), a take on Schuman, expansive piano pieces, two guest shots for trombonist Hal Crook and two more for saxophonist George Garzone, three cuts with vocals by Elena Koleva. The individual pieces are impressive enough -- even the rather limited vocals come through. Garzone, of course, is always a treat, but the piano more than holds up, and the accordion solo on the Lins piece is lovely. B+(*)
John Ellis & Double Wide: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (2007 , Hyena): Saxophonist, mostly tenor (also soprano and bass clarinet here), originally from rural North Carolina, now in New York, with an identity-forming stop in New Orleans along the way. Fifth album: one in 1996; another on FSNT in 2002; three now on Hyena, where he's been going for a soul-funk vibe, which he mixes up a little more than usual this time. This is a quartet, with Gary Versace on organ and accordion, Matt Perrine on sousaphone (a marching band tuba filling in for bass), and Jason Marsalis on drums. He's got a distinctive tone on tenor sax, which the deep brass only adds to. B+(**)
Lisle Ellis: Sucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat (2005 , Henceforth): Ellis is a bassist, also interested in electronics. Originally from Canada. Three previous albums, plus three more as part of What We Live, plus scattered credits, mostly avant-garde. I can't tell you what if anything this has to do with Basquiat, a painter and drug casualty evidently quite fond of jazz, except that Ellis pulled "sucker punch" out of a bit of Basquiat graffiti. Group here strikes me as an odd bunch. Pamela Z's electronically filtered vocals add an air of high church to the requiem, and I suppose Holly Hofmann's flute could signify angels. Mike Wofford is a first-rate pianist who works a lot with Hofmann. Susie Ibarra is an interesting percussionist formerly associated with David S. Ware and Assif Tsahar. They work hard to hold this together, but George Lewis is pretty inscrutable on trombone. On the other hand, the one thing you really do notice here is the sax, unmistakably the work of Oliver Lake. B+(*)
Jacob Garchik: Romance (2007 , Yestereve): Trombonist, originally from San Francisco, in New York since 1994. Second album. Side credits include Lee Konitz's New Nonet, John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars, and Slavic Soul Party. I recall liking Abstracts, his first album, but didn't manage to write more than a note on it -- "free jazz, sharply played." This isn't, even though it's the same trio (Jacob Sacks on piano, Dan Weiss on drums). Slow, arty, even more abstract. Judith Berkson adds her voice to two cuts. More dead weight. B-
Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 1: Modinha (2006, Pirouet): Got this for background after listening to Vol. 2. Gary Peacock plays bass on both, but the drummers change: Bill Stewart here, Paul Motian there. One thing I always remember about Stewart is how he completely slam dunk aced a blindfold test a few years back (in Jazz Times, I think). That almost never happens: not only did he recognize everyone, he provided a lot of detail on why. Clearly, he knows his trade and its lore. Compared to Motian, however, he's very straightforward, which makes him hardly a factor in these fine piano trio recordings. Three covers here provide some melodic highlights -- especially lovely is the closer, "Taking a Chance on Love." B+(**)
Marian McPartland: Twilight World (2007 , Concord Jazz): A piano trio, with Gary Mazzaroppi on bass and Glenn Davis on drums -- not names I recognize, and not all that important here. A hard record for me to judge, not just because I rarely have much to say about piano trios, but also because this is so straight mainstream it's hard to discern anything that signifies this is jazz -- except her erudition and fine sense of musicality. B+(**)
Paolo Fresu/Richard Galliano/Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum (2007 , ACT): Fresu's trumpet and flugelhorn finally got an ear when Carla Bley tracked him down last year. This is a good chance to hear more. Lundgren's piano is a little short on rhythmic push, but has to do. At least he punctuates the lushness of Galliano's accordion. Not quite prepared to deal with this right now. Wouldn't be a bad idea for me to revisit Bley's record, either. [B+(***)]
Dave Douglas & Keystone: Moonshine (2007 , Greenleaf Music): I don't doubt for a moment that Douglas is brilliant, but often find that he is either over my head or beyond my ken. As near as I can tell, he does two things here: especially on the first half, he concocts postbop so tricky it puts classical music to shame; and he returns to his electronics experiments, mostly as coloring, but DJ Olive finally gets the upper hand with "Kitten." One piece in the lurch is called "Flood Plane," with a Bush sample mumbling something about terrorists as Douglas conjures the lost spirits of New Orleans over Olive's scratching. Relatively small group, with Marcus Strickland taking over the sax spot, and Adam Benjamin on Fender Rhodes. Interesting, but after four plays I'm still stumped. [B+(**)]
Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer (2007 , Half Note): I suppose "What Is Hip" is intended to be delirious. It is the least blue of these nine songs, with Lil Green's "In the Dark" the most archetypal, "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirits Down" the most ordinary, and pieces by Tracy Nelson, Joni Mitchell, and Mose Allison not much one way or another. Kenny Werner is the leader, arranging the songs and playing keyboards. Never thought of him as a blues guy -- Copenhagen Calypso is one of his more memorable titles. Roseanna Vitro sings. I liked her Ray Charles record quite a lot, but these songs rarely fit. The band has some all-stars, and they deliver a couple of scorching solos -- Ray Anderson on trombone and James Carter on tenor sax are standouts, and Randy Brecker has some moments on trumpet. Recorded live at the Blue Note. B
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
João Lencastre's Communion: One! (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Recorded at the Hot Club de Portugal, with a couple of well-known Americans -- trumpeter Phil Grenadier and pianist Bill Carothers -- in the drummer's band. Covers from Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard, George Gershwin, and Bjork, sandwiching group improvs. Postbop, a little slow and fussy for my taste, but full of interesting little details. B+(**)
Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices (2006 , Pirouet): The change from Vol. 1 was to replace Copland's usual drummer Bill Stewart with veteran maestro Paul Motian. Motian has made a whole career out of teasing pianists, and Copland is notable enough he'll slot right into a long list that starts with Bill Evans and extends through and beyond Marilyn Crispell. Gary Peacock plays bass. He has a long history with Copland, and takes a large role here -- in addition to his solo time he wrote four songs to Copland's three (Miles Davis' "All Blues" is the only cover). B+(***)
The Willie Williams Trio: Comet Ride (2007, Miles High): Sax-bass-drums trio, nothing fancy, just hard, fast bop, swinging especially hard on the closing "Caravan." B+(**)
Adam Kolker: Flag Day (2007 , Sunnyside): Very pleasing, easily listenable sax quartet, where three notable sidemen each have something distinctive to add: John Abercrombie on guitar, John Hebert on bass, Paul Motian on drums. Mellow sax, subtle surprises. B+(***)
Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (2007, Palmetto): Deceptively calm sax-piano duets from two musicians used to playing on the edge, but not so calm they slip into the background. Not sure what the idea behind the title was, but by removing all the tinder their spark never gets engulfed in fire. B+(**) [advance]
Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (2007 , Smalls): Let me start with one more pitch for Klein's earlier Duet with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo, on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple years back. That's where I got introduced, and was impressed with his subtle melodicism. Still, this is an advance, and not just because added drums and percussion push a much more upbeat rhythm -- actually, bassist Omer Avital may have as much as anyone to do with that. B+(***)