Jazz Consumer Guide (7):
The real possibilities open up when it doesn't cost a bundle to pursue your muse
by Tom Hull
This article is an unpublished draft.
*20 Standards (Quartet) 2003*
Four more CDs from the same tour that yielded last year's 4-CD *23
Standards (Quartet) 2003*. The bounty comes from Braxton picking fresh
songs each show -- jazz pieces more often than the usual chestnuts,
with old favorites Brubeck and Desmond most prominent. The pieces
stretch out leisurely, with Kevin O'Neil's deft guitarwork often the
highlight, and Braxton's saxes favoring the high registers. Smart
and cool, the most accessible and simply pleasurable set he's done.
The group pits saxophonist Tim Berne with longtime collaborators
Drew Gress and Tom Rainey for long, freewheeling improvs. They
released two records from 1996-98, then nothing until this set
from The Stone in May 2005. I doubt that they were planning on
releasing this one either, but rarely has spontaneous invention
meshed so perfectly. Gress delivers the fat bottom you want in
a bass, but the real star is Rainey, whose drums are exceptionally
loud and precise, shifting the time so adroitly he constructs a
labrynthine cage for the sax. Berne paces, tests his limits, but
ultimately plays within himself. He's never sounded so cogent.
FRED ANDERSON/HAMID DRAKE/WILLIAM PARKER
The five minutes of solo sax opening the second disc lays bare
Anderson's toolkit. He can't get out of second gear until the
rhythm section joins in, but when they do, Parker and Drake
sound huge, filling the soundscape with shifting grooves and
potent rumble. Anderson has plenty to say then, until Parker
picks up his nagaswaram (an Indian oboe) for a snake-charming
*New York School*
Christensen says his compositions draw inspiration from the circle of
poets and painters around Frank O'Hara, but that tells you nothing about
the music. He writes for pairs of reed instruments, mostly matching
timbres rather than looking for contrasts. He's joined here by Walt
Weiskopf and a bass/drums combo that keeps things moving as he and
Weiskopf work their way up and down the equipment rack. The tenor
sax duel is the liveliest, but the interplay fascinates even when
they draw flutes.
*Place & Time*
An Israeli in New York who works most often in Latin bands, Cohen
has a light touch with her saxophones and a dollop of klezmer in
her clarinet. Her first record syncretizes a world of influences,
with none dominating, except perhaps the bebop that never met a
music it couldn't incorporate. More surprising is how well behaved
her syntheses are, leaving us with an album that is impossible to
pigeonhole beyond noting its surpassing gracefulness.
GERRY HEMINGWAY QUARTET
This is a very potent group. The horns -- Ellery Eskelin's tenor sax
and Herb Robertson's trumpet -- can deploy in myriad ways, notably
Eskelin's crafty solo constructs and Robertson's rapid fire brass.
But the rhythm section is evenly balanced and tightly engaged. With
all due respect to the leader and his songbook, the MVP here is Mark
Helias, whose rumbling pulse, on electric as well as acoustic bass,
sets everyone else up.
GEORGE RUSSELL AND THE LIVING TIME ORCHESTRA
*The 80th Birthday Concert*
In theory at least Russell was the guy who moved jazz from bebop to
postbop, although in practice Miles Davis and John Coltrane are more
likely to get the credit. His early records, from *Jazz Workshop* in
1956 until he moved to Europe in 1963, were progressive seeds that
still bear fruit. His influence especially in Scandinavia was profound.
On returning to the US in 1969, he settled into academia, working on
his Lydian Chromatic Concept and writing sweeping orchestral works
like "Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved By Nature" and "The African
Game" -- the two centerpieces reprised for his big band birthday bash.
At 80 you'd think he's slowed down enough we might catch up, but even
when he's just having fun, like here, he's still several steps ahead
of the game.
She has quickly established herself as a versatile violinist
working everywhere from ROVA to the Hot Club of San Francisco, but
she flashes little virtuosity here. Instead she makes her mark
elaborating folk tunes into luminous harmonic textures, shaping the
melodies with her violin but leaving it to others to buff up the
highlights--Ron Miles's cornet, Doug Wieselman's clarinets,
Rachelle Garniez's accordion and piano, and most of all Bill
Frisell's never more shimmering guitar.
Two versions of "What a Difference a Day Makes" -- one with the
band, the other a duet with Frank Wess -- mark her for this year's
Dinah Washington sweepstakes, where she's less consistent but more
interesting than Diana Reeves in *Good Night, and Good Luck*. No
idea how old she is -- she's got Louis Jordan on her resume, and
a 1961 album with Cal Tjader, but other than that she's only been
recording since 1990. One key to this one is the Geri Allen-led
band, whose perfectly measured support never intrudes.
RALPH SUTTON & DICK CARY
*Rendezvous at Sunnie's 1969*
Sutton was the postwar era's nonpareil stride pianist, so he offers
little here that hasn't already been demonstrated many times. So focus
on Cary, who cut his teeth on piano with Louis Armstrong and trumpet
with Eddie Condon. Here he sticks to trumpet and alto horn -- looks
like a miniature tuba -- adding a wizened, soulful voice to Sutton's
flashy little trio.
THE VANDERMARK 5
Of course, this is over the top, even for an artist as exhaustively
documented as Ken Vandermark: five nights in Krakow, two sets each,
plus a couple of jam sessions bring the total to twelve discs.
Serious students can plot variations in the repeated songs, note
how three new songs compare to the later studio versions on *The
Color of Memory*, and see how the band works classics by Rollins,
Kirk, and others. The rest of us will just pick discs at random.
The surprises seem endless.
THE VANDERMARK 5
*The Color of Memory*
Clocking in at just over eighty minutes, it wouldn't have been hard
to squeeze this down to a single disc. Some pieces, such as the one
that jams dedications to Ray Charles, Elvin Jones and Steve Lacy
into one "Suitcase," feel underdeveloped. And the recent albums'
spin-on-a-dime arrangements have turned loosey-goosey. Makes one
wonder if eight albums dropping one per year isn't getting to be
a rut. But the loose stuff on the second disc overcomes my doubts,
mostly by showing how powerfully the band has developed around the
Dud of the Month
In the movie *'Round Midnight* Hancock played the one musician who
had food and preferred it over drink. Can't begrudge him that, nor
the fame he built up with and without Miles in the '60s. But even
if you credit his headhunting '70s, he's been coasting a long time,
and in this joint venture with Starbucks he finally cashes out. Ten
songs, a dozen singers plus Santana, a little cocktail piano. It's
not awful -- not all of it, anyway -- but the business plan has got
to be a lot more interesting. In particular, I wonder how much these
has-beens and wannabes -- Christina Aguilera singing Leon Russell
counts as both -- had to pay to get their names on the cover. With
nine thousand stores peddling a couple dozen titles to millions of
caffeine-addled impulse buyers, the rent's gotta be steep. But how
long can they keep product this mediocre before some accountant
figures the space is better invested in chocolate?
Additional Consumer News
*Good Night, and Good Luck*
She haunts the movie, her role expanded here for a superbly professional
primer, reminding us that the soundtrack to the separate and unequal
'50s was its shadow.
They don't write them like they used to, but Hazeltine's fogey
enough he doesn't try to push mod past the Bee Gees anyway.
*Negrophilia [The Album]*
Perhaps the book would help clear a few things up, but Ladd's words
fascinate while his friends kibbitz.
Worldly beats, guests who could've stayed longer -- especially Pharoah
*Full of Life*
My fave among four or five recent records by the trumpet legend --
working steadily but slower, taking time to smell the roses.
MARC COPLAND/JOHN ABERCROMBIE/KENNY WHEELER
No bass, no drums, nothing to hurry three masters from their luxury.
ERNEST DAWKINS' CHICAGO 12
*Misconceptions of a Delusion Shades of a Charade*
As the mayor says, "We're not here to create disorder; we're here
to preserve disorder."
*For My Father*
The Great Jazz Trio leader, in one of his more reflective moods,
settling for a real good jazz trio.
Lovano's ballad sense is suspect, but they disposed of the evidence
THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET
*London Flat London Sharp*
Bobby Militello doesn't make you forget Desmond, but he helps
GERRY HEMINGWAY QUINTET
*Double Blues Crossing*
Between the Lines
New players, same odd mix -- clarinets, trombone, cello, bass, drums --
as his old avant-chamber group.
*Perles Noires Vol. I*
Free ranging drums, Sabir Mateen's struggling sax, guests -- Dave
Burrell gives *Vol. I* a slight edge, but *Vol. 2* is comparable.
PETER APFELBAUM & THE NEW YORK HIEROGLYPHICS
*It Is Written*
BILL CHARLAP/SANDY STEWART
*Love Is Here to Stay*
MARIAN MCPARTLAND & FRIENDS
*85 Candles -- Live in New York*
*Mizell: The Mizell Brothers at Blue Note* [1972-77]
*Mosaic Select* [1956-57]
Jail never straightened Pepper out, but each time he got out his
music burst forth with greater urgency and sadder maturity. After
a year in the Fort Worth slammer, he emerged as a master, not a
disciple, of Charlie Parker -- cf. his expansive "Yardbird Suite,"
his own wizened "Straight Life," his jousts with trumpeter Jack
Sheldon. These sessions were his first career peak.
*Of Love and Peace* 
Young pushed the Hammond B-3 further than anyone as he moved
from blues to new thing. He cut his 1965 masterpiece *Unity* with
an all-star lineup, but the more wreckless non-stars here -- George
Morgan and James Spaulding for Joe Henderson, Eddie Gale for Woody
Shaw -- inspire Young's most vigorous organ. Except for the final
cut, a meditation on Islam that remains timely.
*Mosaic Select* [1967-70]
After *Passing Ships*, the rest of Blue Note's unreleased Hill --
sharp Charles Tolliver, sour Sam Rivers, and strings.
Title/tag line come from Hancock review. No majors or major-minors
up top (a couple among the HMs, more in the duds). Didn't select them
that way, but it's not an unlikely outcome. Possible cuts up top:
Halley, Scheinman. Low priority HMs (lowest first, despite order;
one reason I'm reaching down to Hemingway and Murray is that they
connect with main reviews): Jenkins, Seim, Jones, Motian/Lovano (a
related pair of albums), Brubeck. Low priority duds: Yellowjackets
(an awful album, but a lousy group under the best of circumstances),
Charlap/Stewart, McPartland. Word count 1842 (1441 in grade reviews,
401 in ACN).
Holds for next time: Uri Caine, Peter Epstein, FME, Garage A Trois,
Steve Lacy, Joshua Redman; HM: Bayashi, The Onus, George Colligan's
Mad Science, Mark Weinstein, Peter Brotzmann, Myron Walden, Tony
DeSare, Ron Blake; Duds: Debby Boone, Jamie Cullum. Hold word count
This table provides a working guide to how the JCG is shaping up.
This does not include anything moved to bk-flush: these include items
relegated to Surplus, reviewed in Recycled Goods, or just passed over.
Entries in black are written, gray graded but
not written, red ungraded but with prospect
notes (all these are at the bottom of their approximate grade levels,
alphabetized). A-list, B-list and Duds are alphabetical; HM lists are
ranked, with breaks for three-two-one stars.
- Anthony Braxton: 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (Leo) A
- Paraphrase: Pre-Emptive Denial (Screwgun) A
- Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Blue Winter (Eremite) A-
- Tom Christensen: New York School (Playscape) A-
- Anat Cohen: Place & Time (Anzic) A-
- Gerry Hemingway Quartet: The Whimbler (Clean Feed) A-
- George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra: The 80th Birthday Concert (Concept Publishing) A-
- Jenny Scheinman: 12 Songs (Cryptogramophone) A-
- Mary Stallings: Remember Love (Half Note) A-
- Ralph Sutton & Dick Cary: Rendezvous at Sunnie's 1969 (1969, Arbors) A-
- The Vandermark 5: Alchemia (Not Two) A-
- The Vandermark 5: The Color of Memory (Atavistic) A-
- Dianne Reeves: Good Night, and Good Luck (Concord) A-
- David Hazeltine: Modern Standards (Sharp Nine)
- Mike Ladd: Negrophilia [The Album] (Thirsty Ear)
- Will Calhoun: Native Lands (Half Note)
- Enrico Rava: Full of Life (CAM Jazz)
- Marc Copland/John Abercrombie/Kenny Wheeler: Brand New (Challenge)
- Ernest Dawkins' Chicago 12: Misconceptions of a Delusion Shades of a Charade (Dawk)
- Hank Jones: For My Father (Justin Time)
- The Dave Brubeck Quartet: London Flat London Sharp (Telarc)
- Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Double Blues Crossing (Between the Lines)
- Sunny Murray: Perles Noires Vol. I (Eremite)
- Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (Hear Music) C
- Peter Apfelbaum & the New York Hieroglyphics: It Is Written (ACT)
- Bill Charlap/Sandy Stewart: Love Is Here to Stay (Blue Note)
- Marian McPartland & Friends: 85 Candles -- Live in New York (Concord)
- Mizell: The Mizell Brothers at Blue Note (Blue Note)
- Art Pepper: Mosaic Select (1956-57, Mosaic) A
- Larry Young: Of Love and Peace (1966, Blue Note) A-
- Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select (1967-70, Mosaic)
Album count: 28; Word count: 1660 (graded 14: 1357; additional 14: 303).