Monday, September 30. 2013
Music: Current count 22093  rated (+27), 572  unrated (-7).
Didn't get back from Arkansas/Oklahoma until Wednesday night, so this is a bit more than a half-week's work, plus/including eight new releases this week (most written up earlier and held back). The HMs are interesting albums, but the week belongs to Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman. It's not easy to sort out his many albums -- he's as or maybe even more prolific, at least over the last five years, as Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, and Anthony Braxton -- and they rarely wind up high on my year-end lists, but they jump out of the speakers when compared to my typical weekly regimen (like everything else below). Enigma is easily the top one, followed by Serendipity from earlier this year.
With Christgau's Expert Witness kaputt and Tatum's Downloader's Diary only slowly dribbling in -- that September window has all but closed -- I'm on the fence again, tempted either to hang it up or double down: install that blog software over at terminalzone.net and open it up for interested fellow spirits, while resurrecting my long-neglected next-generation ratings/reviews database code and using the thousands of short reviews I've written as a skeleton for an opinionated reference resource.
On the down side, I've noted, for instance, that I'm no longer receiving records from ECM -- especially troubling given that Tina Pelikan was the first jazz publicist who showed an interest in me. On the other hand, I did just get a substantial package from NoBusiness in Lithuania -- not yet unpacked below -- and other desperate pleas for notice. (I'd hazard a guess that few self-acknowledged jazz fans have heard of more than a third of the 18 leaders/co-leaders below; at least a third were new to me.) Can't do this without them, but even as a critic not afraid to dredge up something obscure the gap between what I get and what I want keeps widening.
What Christgau has done for more than forty years, and I have attempted to do much more sporadically, has been to sort out as much music as might be of conceivable interest. That task is way beyond what any human can do, so we each have our cheats: he discards shit when it fails to engage him, and I write it up anyway (albeit not very well). He's managed (until now, anyway) to get paid for his considerable trouble, whereas I haven't (at least since the Village Voice editors lost interest in jazz, but really even before then). And that matters more to him, because he's always tried to make a living writing, whereas (even when I got paid) I never did.
When I moved to New York, I immediately sought out a typesetting job to make ends meet. On the other hand, I had a self-published zine, Terminal Zone, and had every intention of continuing to publish it. That blew up in a horrible misunderstanding with my partner, Don Malcolm, but even before that it had floundered on the question of whether we could get good writing cheap enough. I had expected that when I moved to New York I would meet all kinds of talent, but I mostly ran into expense, and I've never had the business chops to make that work. A couple years after losing Terminal Zone, I gave up writing about music, and started to make a real living, but that came to an end after 2000. Thanks to Christgau I then got an outlet for jazz reviews, and soon found that I could publish anything I wanted to write about on the web. In effect, it became possible to restart Terminal Zone -- but it hasn't happened yet, mostly due to technical problems: I'm not the programmer, or for that matter the worker, I once was, and every time I touch it I get stuck.
Also, let me throw out this offer: much of Terminal Zone is available on-line (here), but if anyone wants a physical copy, send me email. As I recall, I have a box full of extras in the basement. I won't guarantee very fast service, and I'm not sure what it's all going to cost (especially postage overseas), but right now I don't forsee any need to charge. It would also be nice to get the rest of the contents online -- I just did my own stuff, but I doubt that anyone else would object, and it would be especially nice to get Kathy's artwork scanned. For the address, look for the contact page.
Also, I have a file with links to a bunch of download links from commenters during the last week of Expert Witness. I expect they will progressively break over the next couple weeks -- some are already gone -- but they've been degunked and are more usable than trying to excavate them from the comments. Again, send me an email request.
Ted Brancato: The Next Step (2012 , Origin): Pianist, grew up in Seattle, "has worked in and around NYC" almost 30 years. This looks to be his first album: all original pieces, with one co-credit to percussionist Mayra Casales. Best known band member is bassist Ron Carter, probably the most recorded musician of all time. Credits list runs long, including guitarists with names like Carri Coltrane and Woody Allen, but the record is most attractive when he keeps it uncluttered. B+(*)
Brasslands [A Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2013, Evergreene): As usual, I have no idea about the film, but the soundtrack features two sets of Balkan brass bands, one from the old country (Serbia) and the other from Brooklyn -- Slavic Soul Party, with its jazz luminaries, I've run across before, but Veveritse Brass Band, Raya Brass Band, and Ziatine Uste are new to me. Same for the Serbian groups -- orchestras led by Dejan Advic, Demiran Cerimovic, and Dejan Petrovic. Not sure if any of them aim for the dance beats popular with Balkan bands in Berlin and Wien, but the rhythm is as central as the brass here and it isn't folkloric -- it flows. B+(**)
Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad: Plays Puccini (2012 , self-released): Alto sax and piano, respectively. Second album together. Olsen has a previous album under his own name, two as Urban Survival. Tunes from the opera writer, done straightforwardly with instrumentation that plays up the melodies -- this was, after all, the pop music of the 19th century -- without those horrible voices. B [October 1]
The Matthew Finck Jonathan Ball Project: It's Not That Far (2012 , self-released): Finck plays guitar, Ball sax (tenor in the photo). Band includes Jay Anderson (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums), and on three tracks Randy Brecker (trumpet/flugelhorn). Neither leader, unlike the others, has much prior discography, but the sax is striking, and as mainstream jazz this is entertaining and substantial -- e.g., "The Way You Look Tonight." B+(**) [October 1]
Erik Friedlander: Claws and Wings (2013, Skipstone): Cellist, composed this in the months after his wife of 22 years died, at once somber, affectionate, and lovely. With Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Ikue Mori on laptop. B+(***) [October 1]
Florian Hoefner Group: Falling Up (2013, OA2): Pianist, from Germany but based in New York, second album (as far as I can tell), reprising the group from his debut Songs Without Words: Mike Ruby (tenor/soprano sax), Sam Anning (bass), Peter Konreif (drums). Postbop with some edge and quick moves. All by Hoefner except for "Eleanor Rigby" -- usually unjazzable but he keeps it neatly cloaked until the punch line. B+(***)
Tim Horner: The Head of the Circle (2012 , Origin): Drummer, studied at Berklee, moved to New York in 1980; third album under his own name, several dozen side credits going back to 1982. All original material. Band includes Ted Nash (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet, flute), Jim Ridl (piano), Steve Allee (accordion, keyboards), Joe Locke (vibes), and Dean Johnson (bass). Horner adds a scat vocal I don't care for, and the flute leaves something to be desired, unlike Nash's tenor sax leads. B
Keefe Jackson's Likely So: A Round Goal (2013, Delmark): Tenor saxophonist, b. in Fayetteville, AR; based in Chicago where he rotates several band projects -- notably Fast Citizens, which cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm borrowed for a superb album last year (Gather). This group is all saxes and clarinets, seven strong, a mix of Chicagoans (Mars Williams, Dave Rempis, Jackson) and Europeans (Waclaw Zimpel, Marc Stucki, Peter A. Schmid, Thomas K.I. Mejer) recorded live in Switzerland. A mixed bag, remarkable for stretches, annoying in spots, variously thin and shrill and thick and sumptuous. B+(**)
Ahmad Jamal: Saturday Morning (2013, Jazz Village): Pianist, has been recording steadily since Chamber Music of the New Jazz in 1955, mostly trios or, like here, quarters with extra percussion (Manolo Badrena) added to the bass-drums (Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley). At 82 he still runs the keyboard, lots of fleet arpeggios especially when Badrena has that Latin tinge moving, not that he doesn't also handle ballads authoritatively. B+(**)
RJ Miller: Ronald's Rhythm (2013, Loyal Label): Drummer, also plays keyboards and analog synths here, based in Brooklyn, first album; backed by bass, additional keyb or analog synthesizer on most tracks, accordion (Leo Genovese) on one. The analog synths, in particular, give this the feel of vintage electronica. B+(***) [October 1]
Billy Mintz: Quartet (2013, Thirteenth Note): Drummer, first album (although AMG, with its tendency to sort the last name first, credits him with a 1997 album that lists Steuart Liebig and Vinny Golia left-to-right). Quartet includes John Gross on tenor sax, Roberta Piket on piano and organ, and Putter Smith on bass, with Piket singing one. Best part is the sax chasing the beat, but there's also a lot of slow stuff. B+(*)
Michael Moss/Billy Stein: Intervals (2013, 4th Stream): Stein is a guitarist, based in New York; has a previous album that was a high HM back in 2005 (Hybrids). Moss plays clarinet, sax, and flute. He arrived in New York in the mid-1960s, played in a group called Free Life Communication, later Free Energy and Four Rivers. He recorded three albums 1978-80, then got a Ph.D. in psychology. Songs are credited to either or both but feel improvised, surprising even if they wander a bit. And for once I don't advise the saxophonist to tear the flute down and shelve it, although I suspect Stein deserves as much credit there as Moss. B+(***)
Tsuyoshi Niwa: At the End of the Day (2013, self-released): Soprano saxophonist, plays flute on one cut, b. 1972 in Tokyo, Japan; programmed computers, graduated with a degree in chemistry, moved to NY and studied with George Garzone, bounced around returning to NY in 2011. Has a couple previous albums. Starts this quintet off with "My Favorite Things," which thanks to John Coltrane has probably sold more soprano saxophones than any other song or artist, Sidney Bechet and Steve Lacy included. Other five cuts are originals. Randy Brecker's trumpet provides a strong contrasting horn. B+(*)
Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (2013, self-released): Plays violin and erhu, b. 1973 in Tokyo, Japan; studied at Juilliard and is based in New York. Third album with this group: Anne Drummond (flute), Helen Sung (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). I find the CD to be totally impossible to read, so excuse the lack of info. Presumably the dozen pieces are from the very prolific Japanese composer/keyboardist, who started in Yellow Magic Orchestra and now has many dozens of albums (at least 80, half soundtracks, including his Oscar-winning score to The Last Emperor). The "chamber" rubric may be a cliché for violin-flute-piano but they cut against each other's excesses. Not sure Sakamoto isn't a hack, but he provides plenty to chew on. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Balazs Pandi: One (2013, Rare Noise): Tenor sax trio, with Morris playing electric bass for the first time on record -- he established himself on guitar, but has also played acoustic bass more frequently of late -- and Pandi on drums. Perelman's been knocking out a half-dozen records per year recently, with two good ones already this year -- The Art of the Duet, Volume One with Matthew Shipp, and Serendipity with Shipp, William Parker, and Gerald Cleaver -- and this, with its choppy intro and an inspired torrent near the end, is another inspired performance. A- [advance: October 1]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey/Gerald Cleaver: Enigma (2013, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, two drummers -- the doubling up isn't conspicuous or necessary even to balance out leaders who run on the loud side, but in an art where "the drummer plays with the band" their separate takes add subtle points -- not that you need them when the Brazilian saxophonist is on such a roll. A- [October 1]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Mat Maneri: A Violent Dose of Anything (2013, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, viola. Brazil's leading avant-saxophonist has been releasing six albums a year for a good while now, most with Shipp (their relationship goes back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz duet), so one can wonder whether they wind up being too much of the same thing, or whether, having graded A- no less than ten of his releases since 2000 (13 since 1989) I've lost my objectivity. Perelman's forte is the sax trio: he's basically a free blower and nothing suits him more than a strong rhythm section pushing him on -- Shipp has nearly that same effect in a duo, even more so in a quartet. Perelman usually has more trouble with strings, but those records are just easier to dismiss. But this one is harder. Shipp and Maneri go back at least to a 1998 duo (I don't particularly recommend). The viola is particularly prickly here, often engaging like a second horn although sketching out a more treacherous terrain, which Perelman is eager to explore -- the first few minutes offer some of his most flightful work ever. Title comes from a film for which this is the soundtrack, but the seven pieces are long and coherent with none of the pastiche or cliché that marr filmwork. Played this more than the others and it's barely on the cusp, but in some ways the handicaps make it all the more remarkable. Bump those numbers up one more. A- [October 1]
Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras (2013, Thirsty Ear): Pianist, a major one since c. 1990, plays solo here, something he's been doing more frequently lately as if he's trying to shake the taint of his early Blue Series albums' veer into jazztronica. The focus here is in dense chord patterns, lots of muscle rather than melodic lines. Two covers ("Giant Steps," "Nefertiti"), short ones for just a whiff of recognition. B+(**)
Dave Slonaker Big Band: Intrada (2012 , Origin): Los Angeles-based outfit, first record, Slonaker arranges and conducts but doesn't play. He grew up in Pittsburgh, studied trombone and piano, got degrees at Indiana and Eastman School of Music, and headed west to work in film and TV. Standard big band lineup (five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, drums -- many names I recognize but few real stars (Bob Sheppard, Wayne Bergeron, Peter Erskine are probably the best known). All Slonaker originals except for "It's Only a Paper Moon." B-
Matt White: The Super Villain Jazz Band (2012 , Artists Recording Collective): Trumpet player, studied in Miami, based in Nashville, has played in big bands at both stops but this is his own first album. Postbop, gets help from two saxophonists (Evan Cobb and Don Aliquo) plus piano-bass-drums, but his trumpet makes the deepest impression; wrote all but the Tom Waits cover. B+(**) [October 1]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: