Jazz Consumer Guide (11):
Fractious Grammar

More fun with freshly revived old masters and wily young students

by Tom Hull

Pick Hits

Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar) Nothing for 10 years, then he repeats a scam he pulled 20 years ago with Opening the Caravan of Dreams: launching a new label with a live album named for the label, or vice versa. Seems cheap, but when sounding like no one else has been your shtick for 50 years, absence makes your reappearances sound even fresher, and working onstage heightens the suspense of his inventions. Actually, Coleman's changed little over the years, still pouring out the same prickly, piercing notes. What's new here is his use of two bassists, which keeps the contrast between Greg Cohen plucking and Tony Falanga bowing in the same register. It also doubles the chaos, which is what he thrives on. A

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed) The young bassist lists Mingus first among the inspirations for this group, and no matter how much Bootsy Collins or Melt-Banana he thinks he's adding to the mix, Mingus is the name that sticks. Lane's pieces have the master's grand melodic sweep. The soft spots are sweet and poignant, but the band can bring more noise and sheer orneriness than its body count of two saxes, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums suggests. With the Mingus Big Band looking backwards and running on fumes, and archival scraps like At UCLA 1965 of minor interest, the future was looking glum. But Lane draws the right lesson: to boldly break new ground. A MINUS


Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice (Palmetto) Like Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden, Allison plays bass and writes complex, catchy, often sublime tunes, sometimes with political titles because the billboard space comes free. His "Tricky Dick" is Cheney, rolling casually on Steve Cardenas's guitar while firing bird-shot bursts of Ron Horton trumpet -- so infectious it stands out on an album where everything stands up. A MINUS

Franšois Carrier: Happening (Leo) Carrier is an alto saxophonist from Quebec who plays sharp-witted freebop, usually in his tight, long-running trio, expanded here to meet the microtonal challenges of Uwe Neumann's sitar and Mat Maneri's viola. The event was meant to provide an improvised backdrop for dancers, an unseen, unheard presence that may explain how the potential chaos coheres into something physically possible. A MINUS

Jeff Healey & the Jazz Wizards: It's Tight Like That (Stony Plain) Trad jazz often feels like another lap around the block: old songs, old arrangements, old-fashioned cheer. Chris Barber, a graceful singer with some growl in his trombone, has run that race for 50 years and won it a few times. His guest appearance here rounds out a band that builds on the Hot Club as much as the Big Easy, and completes Healey's own transformation from blind blues guitarist to trumpet king. A MINUS

Junk Box: Fragment (Libra) Like Ken Vandermark's recent Territory Band albums -- two albums totalling five discs -- Satoko Fujii's four new big-band albums are overwhelming: in such vast universes, anything can happen, everything does, and fatigue sets in long before one can sort out so many marginal treats. At least with this trio you can keep the players straight. She pounds out thick piano chords, while sidekick Natsuki Tamura's surly trumpet adds tension and growl, and drummer John Hollenbeck referees. Basic Fujii. A MINUS

Charles Lloyd: Sangam (ECM) Which Way Is East offered two home-recorded discs of Lloyd and Billy Higgins farting around with world beats, reeds, and flutes. After Higgins died, Lloyd rounded up some pros -- tabla master Zakir Hussain and trap drummer Eric Harland -- for a trio that has the same aim. With nothing but rhythm to work against, Lloyd breaks free, unleashing the Coltrane-isms he's earned the right to call his own. A MINUS

Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. 4 (Winter & Winter) Fifty years after he came of age in the Bill Evans Trio, Motian may still be jazz's go-to drummer, with a dozen or more new albums over the last two years. But he's not the hardest working. His secret is economy: no flash, nothing so tedious as holding the beat, just a bare minimum to keep everyone on edge. He's stingy enough with this trio-plus-one that he won't let his two guests play on the same cut. Pianist Masabumi Kikuchi warms his spots up, while singer Rebecca Martin cuts hers back to a hushed stroll. In both cases the songs do the work, and Chris Potter's sax fills out the space. A MINUS

Sonny Rollins: Sonny, Please (Doxy) His first studio album in six years is no more eventful than his average annual checkup over three decades at Milestone. Granted, he sounds exceptionally comfortable, even taking his latest calypso out for a leisurely spin. He also sounds magnificent at any speed. A MINUS

Thomas St°nen: Pohlitz (Rune Grammofon) Solo improv by a Norwegian drummer who's impeccably Nordic on his ECM album Parish and dabbles in post-rock electronica elsewhere. Here his credits read, "beatable items, live electronic treatments, music" -- not sure whether the latter is a distinct input or merely the sum of the parts. His percussion tones recall Harry Partch, but he does swing some. A MINUS

The Vandermark 5: A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic) The initial effect of Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello replacing Jeb Bishop's trombone is to move the group from tight horn arrangements back into rough and ready free jazz. The other is that the saxes have moved down a notch -- Dave Rempis to tenor and Ken Vandermark to baritone -- to fill the bottom Bishop vacated and to kick up more dirt. The result is a bruising, brainy Wild West bar band: what the Territory Band promised, but slimmed down and fired up. A MINUS

Ulf Wakenius: Notes From the Heart (ACT) Songs by Keith Jarrett, respectfully interpreted by a Swedish guitarist best known for keeping Oscar Peterson company. Lars Danielsson plays some quiet piano as well as his usual bass, and Morten Lund drums. Simple, subtle, delicate -- I've reached for it often lately, finding that it both relieves stress and rewards attention. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

The Matt Savage Trio: Quantum Leap (Savage) Bill James studied the perils in projecting careers from teenage baseball players and concluded that it was virtually impossible. Jazz pianists must be even harder. This 14-year-old's press kit comes with quotes like "another Mozart" and "the future of jazz" from seers named Brubeck and Heath. Still, the album they're attached to offers little beyond sturdy competence -- remarkable for a teen and increasingly rare for Americans of any age, but several quanta short of distinction in a blindfold test. C PLUS

Honorable Mention

Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation Thirsty Ear Catching up with a half-decade of frigid Europe-only jazztronica.

Anders Aarum Trio: First Communion (Jazzaway) Norwegian pianist tries to put the fun back in fundamentalism.

Pete McCann: Most Folks (Omnitone) A valuable guitar sideman shows his range, from samba to grunge.

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Maru (Bakamo) If Basie's big band was atomic, this one's thermonuclear.

Marcus Strickland: Quartets: Twi-Life (Strick Muzik) Hard bop heaven for two discs, but the plugged quartet has more juice.

Franšois Carrier/Dewey Redman: Open Spaces (1999, Spool/Line) Happy music days with Carrier's trio plus recently departed guest.

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Ballads (CAM Jazz) Lovesome flowers, foolish things, night after night, when all was Chet.

Adam Lane Trio: Music Degree Zero (CIMP) With Vinny Golia, more convoluted than the first helping on Zero Degree Music.

Terra Hazelton: Anybody's Baby (HealeyOphonic) Jeff Healey's sometime singer, with growl in her voice and country in her heart.

Shot X Shot: Shot X Shot (High Two) Intertwining sax quartet, with two Sonic Liberation Front veterans returning to the home front.

Avishai Cohen: Continuo (RazDaz/Sunnyside) Bassist-led piano trio, dense and powerful, with extra oud to heighten the Middle Eastern influence.

The Gift: Live at Sangha: Nov 6, 2004 (Bmadish) Roy Campbell-William Hooker free-for-all, refereed by the noisy bass of Jason Hwang's violin.

Christian McBride: Live at Tonic (Ropeadope) Three budget discs -- excessive, but each stands alone, and together they define funk fusion today.

Kris Davis: The Slightest Shift (Fresh Sound New Talent) Dense piano cut with Tony Malaby tenor sax, the left bank of the postbop mainstream.

Aaron Weinstein: A Handful of Stars (Arbors) Nineteen-year-old fiddler achieves dream of playing with Bucky Pizzarelli and Houston Person and proves one smart young fogey.

Boxhead Ensemble: Nocturnes (Atavistic) Sonic wallpaper for guitar and cello.

Mike Boone: Yeah, I Said It . . . (Dreambox Media) A bassist's aural scrapbook -- the importance of swing, and how he misses mom and Buddy Rich.

Duds

Geri Allen: Timeless Portraits and Dreams (Telarc)

The Chris Walden Big Band: No Bounds (Origin)

Originally published in Village Voice, Dec 11, 2006

Rated

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.

Picks
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar) A
  • Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed) A-
A
  • Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice (Palmetto) A-
  • Franšois Carrier: Happening (Leo) A-
  • Jeff Healey & the Jazz Wizards: It's Tight Like That (Stony Plain) A-
  • Junk Box: Fragment (Libra) A-
  • Charles Lloyd: Sangam (ECM) A-
  • Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. 4 (Winter & Winter) A-
  • Sonny Rollins: Sonny, Please (Doxy) A-
  • Thomas Str°nen: Pohlitz (Rune Grammofon) A-
  • The Vandermark 5: A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic) A-
  • Ulf Wakenius: Notes From the Heart (ACT) A-
HM [***]
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation (Thirsty Ear) A-
  • Anders Aarum Trio: First Communion (Jazzaway)
  • Pete McCann: Most Folks (Omnitone)
  • Marcus Strickland: Quartets: Twi-Life (Strick Muzik)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Maru (Bakamo)
  • Franšois Carrier/Dewey Redman: Open Spaces (Spool/Line)
  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Ballads (CAM Jazz)
  • Adam Lane Trio: Music Degree Zero (CIMP)
  • Terra Hazelton: Anybody's Baby (HealeyOphonic)
  • Shot x Shot: Shot x Shot (High Two)
  • Avishai Cohen: Continuo (RazDaz/Sunnyside)
  • The Gift: Live at Sangha: Nov 6, 2004 (Bmadish)
  • Christian McBride: Live at Tonic (Ropeadope, 3CD)
  • Kris Davis: The Slightest Shift (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Aaron Weinstein: A Handful of Stars (Arbors)
HM [**]
  • Boxhead Ensemble: Nocturnes (Atavistic)
  • Mike Boone: Yeah, I Said It . . . (Dreambox Media)
Duds
  • The Matt Savage Trio: Quantum Leap (Savage) C+
  • Geri Allen: Timeless Portraits and Dreams (Telarc) B-
  • The Chris Walden Big Band: No Bounds (Origin) C+

Album count: 32; Word count: 1507 (graded 16: 1176; additional 16: 331).

Prospecting

I try to write up an informal note on every jazz record I hear the first (or sometimes second) time I play it. Those notes are collected over the course of a week, then posted in the blog. They are also collected here.

Surplus

The surplus file collects final notes when I decide that I cannot realistically keep a record under active consideration for the Jazz Consumer Guide. These notes are mostly written at the end of a JCG cycle and posted to the blog when the column is printed. In effect, they are the extended copy to the column. There are various reasons for this. For especially good records, it is often because Francis Davis or someone else has already reviewed it and my two cents would be redundnat. For old music it is often because I wrote something in Recycled Goods and figure that was enough. Sometimes good records have just gotten old. Most of the time the records aren't all that interesting anyway. I can handle 25-30 records per column. It just doesn't make sense for me to keep more than 60-80 graded records in the active list at the start of a new cycle. In many cases, I decide the prospecting notes or Recycled Goods review suffices, so note that in the file.

Pending

This column is finished. All pending records have been moved forward.