Monday, September 14. 2009
Not a lot to report this week, but enough to bother with a post. Still trying to get some other things done, and still frustrated in how little I'm accomplishing. A few records from Rhapsody this time. They are mostly things I wanted to check out following the Downbeat critics poll post. If anyone reads this, Mary Halvorson is probably not doing herself a favor in not sending me records. On the other hand, I'm just as happy not having to find somewhere to store Christian Scott. So it goes. I expect that prospecting will remain light for the next two weeks, then I'll go into a crunch period and finish off a column that I have something like 150% of my space already filled up.
One side project I should note is that I've been digging through Verve's Originals reissue series, which is the successor to their LP Reproductions -- i.e., reproduce original LP order and artwork with no extras (maybe better sound), so many wind up close to 30 minutes. I've identified 138 albums in the series. I haven't seen the packaging yet -- too bad I live in a town with no record stores, but almost all are on Rhapsody. First one I noticed was Satchmo at Pasadena, which turns out to be a small part of the utterly wonderful The California Concerts 4-CD box. I thought I'd sample a few items I'd previously missed and stuff them into Recycled Goods, but I've wound up listening to most of them, even predictably bad pop albums (although thus far I've only hit 2 of 8 Roy Ayers joints). Some finds (all A-):
The Ferguson and Washington were surprises -- I've been through all of the other Washingtons and nothing else comes close. Not listed are things I've long owned in previous editions, including nearly all of Coltrane's Impulse catalog, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (an all-time favorite), Gil Evans' Out of the Cool, Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth, the Oscar Peterson/Clark Terry Trio + One, Gato Barbieri's first two chapters (which I know as Latino America), Johnny Hodges' Used to Be Duke, Stan Getz's Sweet Rain, Sonny Rollins' On Impulse. A full report one of these days.
Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet: Live at Jazz Standard NYC (2009, Dafnison Music): Cuban drummer, has pretty much blown everyone away since arriving in New York. There is a style of Afro-Cuban jazz marked by extreme start-stop rhythmic shifts, overlaid by other time shifts in dazzling complexity. Prieto does all that, and he's really quite amazing. His quartet tries to scale those shifts up. They're a bit less convincing, mostly because none of them can maneuver as fast as Prieto. Peter Apfelbaum plays tenor sax, soprano sax, bass melodica; Manuel Valera piano, keyboard, melodica; Charles Flores acoustic and electric bass. B+(**)
Art Pepper: The Art History Project (1950-82 , Widow's Taste, 3CD): Three discs, designated "Pure Art (1951-1960)," "Hard Art (1960-1968)," and "Consummate Art (1972-1982)." The gaps account for prison time, which would have been clearer had whoever put this together been better at dates: the first disc actually goes from a Stan Kenton cut in 1950 up to 1957. Another gap between 1960 and 1968 is buried in the prison-hardened second disc, and the third doesn't actually get going until 1977. Still, the eras are roughly correct. Aside from the Kenton, the first disc -- a best-of picked from a string of superb albums -- has a bright, fresh, clean sound with no extra lines or baggage, just virtuoso alto sax over impeccable west coast rhythm. The later material is more weathered and less choice. Most of the second disc comes from a previously unreleased set with pianist Frank Strazzeri -- rough stuff, Pepper fiercely determined to make up for lost time. The third disc adds a little angst to his extensively documented final period -- cf. the 16-CD Galaxy box, the 9-CD Complete Village Vanguard Sessions, scattered more/less legit live shots -- when everything he did seemed magical. A-
Joe Morris Quartet: Today on Earth (2009, AUM Fidelity): After several records on bass, Morris returns to his main instrument, guitar. The net effect is that he competes for lead time with alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, each interesting in his own right, but neither runs away with the show. That's a bit of a letdown for Hobbs, who's made a big impression both with Morris on bass and in his own group, the Fully Celebrated, with Timo Shinko on bass, as he is here. B+(***)
Darius Jones Trio: Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (2009, AUM Fidelity): Alto saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, has previously appeared with Tanakh and Little Women, not sure in any capacity other than playing alto sax. Rounding out the trio: Cooper-Moore (piano, diddley-bo) and Rakalam Bob Moses (drums). This has been stuck indecisively in my box for several days now, neither improving nor slipping, so I want to move on. Good to hear Cooper-Moore play some piano these days, but it's mostly buried under the sax, where it may not be the best support. [B+(***)]
Yaala Ballin: Travlin' Alone (2009, Smalls): Singer, b. 1983, from Israel, based in New York, debut album. Nice voice, soft curves wrapped around songs like "I Remember You," "I Only Have Eyes for You," "The Gypsy." Good group, including Ari Roland, Sacha Perry, and Chris Byars, who should be on the short list for singers looking for saxophone support. B+(**)
Stacy Dillard: One (2008 , Smalls): Saxophonist (mostly tenor, some soprano), from Michigan, 32 (presumably b. 1976 or 1977). Website lists 4 albums since 2006, but this is the only one on a label I've heard of. Wrote all the pieces. Quintet with fender rhodes, guitar, bass, and drums -- no one I recognize. Dillard gives a bravura performance, fierce at high speeds, soulful when he slows down. B+(***)
Led Bib: Sensible Shoes (2008 , Cuneiform): English group, led by drummer Mark Holub, with two saxophones (Pete Grogan and Chris Williams, who wrote 2 of 9 pieces), keyboards (Toby McLaren), and bass (Laran Donin). Third album since 2005, the previous ones on Slam and Babel (English avant-garde labels with virtually no US presence). It's tempting to slot this has a fusion group, mostly because they're loud, sometimes melting down into chaos, but then they'll throw you something that isn't. I've played this too many times; doubt that I'll ever put it together. B+(**)
Rez Abbasi: Things to Come (2008-09 , Sunnyside): Pakistani-American guitarist, did a record a few years back that I liked quite a bit, Snake Charmer. Lately he's joined Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition, and here he expands that group to include pianist Vijay Iyer. So this should be a major album, but I'm not feeling it -- perhaps with all this talent I'm expecting something with a strong South Asian vibe and that's missing. (Note that Dan Weiss, who is a superb tabla player, is only credited with drums.) I could take the easy way out and blame it on Kiran Ahluwalia's vocals (4 of 8 tracks) -- I can think of many more cases where the wife singing bogged down a record -- but I'm not sure that's it either. Will keep it open, noting that the three principals have strong solo spots, and that it's sounding better while typing this than it did before I sat down. [B+(*)]
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Dee Alexander: Wondrous Fascination (2006-07 , no label): She won Downbeat's Rising Star Female Vocalists poll, so I figured I should check her out. This is the only thing Rhapsody has: a pop gospel album with The Christ Community Worship Team. She's not an over-the-top gospel diva -- her voice only barely emerges above the crowd. Not a lick of jazz either. Sounds awful at first, but over the course develops a humdrum routine catchiness. The record I still want to find is Wild Is the Wind (Blujazz). C- [Rhapsody]
Christian Scott: Live at Newport (2008, Concord, CD+DVD): Cool young mainstream trumpet player, Downbeat's Rising Star, has two previous albums on Concord, neither made much of an impression on me. Sextet, with Walter Smith III on tenor, both piano and guitar as well as bass and drums. This starts out sounding funereal, and rarely picks up the place, although the rhythm is competently complex and Smith cuts a few strong solos. Can't see DVDs via Rhapsody, not that I'd want to. B [Rhapsody]
Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith: Calling All Portraits (2008, Skycap): Starts on something of a false note with a title scream, a feint toward punk or antifolk followed by a hard left into something else. Halvorson's guitar has the least presence here. Hoff's bass, on the other hand, is amped up to the point where he's the evident leader, while Pavone's violin slices through everything without the slightest hint of sweetness. Mostly odd groove music with a lot of sharp edges. Hard to say what it all means, but the bass and drums provide balance and diversity that the duo lacks. Maybe humor too. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Mary Halvorson Trio: Dragon's Head (2008, Firehouse 12): Away from Jessica Pavone, this finally provides some sense of what Halvorson's guitar sounds like, although the answer isn't simple. Trio includes John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums. As much fun as Devin Hoff was on Calling All Portraits, Hebert is a relief here, totally engaged in whatever's happening, as supportive as a bassist can be. Halvorson does a number of interesting things here, including some surprising heavy metal crunch, but mostly a lot of poking and prodding, small figures that stay far clear from ye olde bebop lines. This got a lot of poll votes last year. Seems like it is the sort of record an artist can build a reputation on. A- [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (and last):