Jazz Consumer Guide (12):
These are the prospecting notes from working on Jazz CG #12. The
idea here was to pick an unrated record from the incoming queue,
play it, jot down a note, and a grade. Any grade in brackets is
tentative, with the record going back for further play. In some
of these cases there is a second note, written once I've settled
on the grade. These were written from November 1, 2006 to March 4, 2007,
with non-finalized entries duplicated from previous prospecting.
The notes have been sorted by artist. The chronological order can
be obtained from the notebook or blog.
The number of records noted below is 247.
Note: The Riverside Profiles series continues Concord's
sacking of Fantasy's catalog, picking out five artists who worked
for Riverside Records. Previous Profiles have appeared
for Prestige, Stax, and Specialty. Two of these five previously
appeared in a pre-Concord The Best Of series (Thelonious
Monk and Chet Baker) but unlike the Prestige Profiles, the
compilations are different this time: mostly shorter, around 60
minutes vs. 80. That's not such a bad thing, given that this sort
of thing is really only useful for people who don't know or much
care about the original albums. The other thing to note is that
the sets all come with the same even-more-useless label sampler,
adding cuts by Bobby Timmons, Charlie Byrd, and Art Blakey to the
big five. I mention it under Monk, but ignore the "bonus disc"
otherwise, not even describing these as 2-CD sets.
Muhal Richard Abrams/George Lewis/Roscoe Mitchell:
Streaming (2005 , Pi): These guys look serious
in the booklet photos -- only Abrams manages to crack a smile,
and then only when he isn't working. Lewis plays enough trombone
to remind you how much you wish he'd play more, but his main
instrument these days is laptop -- presumably the source of the
hums and buzzes, not to mention the birdsong effects. Mitchell
is probably responsible for most of the percussion, even though
his first credits are soprano and alto sax. Still, Abrams is
the center here, the reason for this universe's existence. This
reminds me of his early work. The toys are different, but the
creative impulse is the same.
Muhal Richard Abrams/George Lewis/Roscoe Mitchell:
Streaming (2005 , Pi): This starts to pay dividends
in the end, but it takes time getting there, with much of the early
going shuffling seemingly random sounds about. The latter most likely
come from Lewis's laptop, but he plays a fair amount of trombone as
well. Wish I had the patience to sort this out, but everyone involved
has made records in the past that make sense sooner, so maybe it's
just not meant to be.
Cannonball Adderley: Riverside Profiles (1958-62
, Riverside): A useful, typically breezy selection of cuts
from a series of uneventful albums, distinguished by the warm tone
and ingratiating dynamics of the leader's alto sax. Also by guests
like Milt Jackson, and songs like "This Here" and "Work Song" by
band members -- the latter by brother Nat, who often stands out.
Mario Adnet: Jobim Jazz (2006 , Adventure
Music): A Brazilian guitarist, most notable for his large and
intricate arrangements, e.g. of Moacir Santos's works. On the
80th anniversary of Jobim's birth, here he takes on Brazil's
most famous composer. A bit ornate for my taste, but I find this
growing on me as little details come to attention, not to mention
the seductive melodies.
Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005
, Between the Lines): Trumpet player, based in NYC since 1991.
Only three previous albums, including one called This Against
That, but his is a name that pops up frequently on other folks'
albums -- Carola Grey, Steve Coleman, Sam Rivers, Ravi Coltrane,
Uri Caine, Michael Cain, Fred Hersch, Don Byron, Bobby Previte,
Drew Gress, Jason Moran, Scott Colley -- and he always makes a
strong impression. This one is a quartet with Andy Milne on piano,
Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums, with Ravi Coltrane
guesting on four cuts. Don't have much to say at this point --
I've been on a critical hiatus the last several days, during which
few if any albums have pleased me this much.
Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior):
I found info about two Don Aliquos on the web. This one teaches
in Tennessee, has four records, and plays classic hard bop with
a light touch and well-developed tone. The other is based in
Pennsylvania, where this one originally hails from, and looks
old enough to be this one's father. The group here is the usual
quintet, with Clay Jenkins on trumpet and Rufus Reid on bass
making the trip down from New York, plus two fellow academics
on piano and drums. Got distracted midway through when my copy
started to skip. Got it repaired, but will have to spin it
again to decide how exceptional this very mainstream record
All Ones: Bloom (2006, Number): I suppose you could
call this an organ trio, but the sound is less consistent -- Matt
Cunitz employs a wide range of electronic keyboards -- and there's
no real trace of soul jazz formula. Partly this is because the trio
lacks a real lead instrument -- the keyboards comp and doodle, the
others are electric bass and drums. Partly it's all improv. But it's
also the case that the musicians work more frequently on the rock
side, so this draws from lines going back to Kraut rock. All of
which make it interesting, but not all that compelling.
Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: Teatro
(2004 , European Echoes): Portuguese saxophonist from the
Lisbon Improvisation Players teams up with two of Ken Vandermark's
mates. The rifling up-and-down tenor and baritone sax is about par
for the avant-garde -- leans a bit to the melodic side, actually --
and I find that casually attractive. The support is first rate,
especially the drummer.
Among 3 (2004-06 , Fresh Sound New Talent):
Barcelona-based piano trio, with Roger Mas [Giménez] on piano, Bori
Albero on bass, Juanma Mielo, plus guests on two tracks. Never heard
of these guys, and found out very little. (A Spanish singer-songwriter
named Roger Mas is evidently someone else.) The piano trio is fine,
although not especially inspiring. The extras add little.
Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (2006 , Arbors):
A singer from Portugal, working in unaccented English on a set of
standards -- "I'm Old Fashioned," "Black Coffee," and "Old Devil
Moon" -- and vocalese lyrics from Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, and
Jon Hendricks. (Actually, Hendricks provided the lyrics to "One
Note Samba," the only Brazilian piece here, and well within the
odds for any American jazz singer.) The band is billed as Five
Play's Women of the World -- a subset of Sherrie Maricle's Diva
big band with Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, Tomoko Ohno
on piano, Noriko Ueda on bass, and Maricle on drums. Ignoring the
surface internationalism, I can't think of a more emphatically
American jazz vocal album. More than anyone else, Anadon reminds
me of Rosemary Clooney -- same brassiness in her voice, but a
bit more precision. Better band, too.
Bill Anschell: More to the Ear Than Meets the Eye
Seattle-based pianist, worked with Nnenna Freelon for several years,
has several albums under his own name, dating back to 1994. This
one, a mix of five standards and six originals, is built around two
trios, with sax or trumpet added on half. Elegant postbop, flowing
piano, horns a mixed blessing.
Charly Antolini: Knock Out 2000 (1999, Inak):
Swiss-born drummer, based on Munich, mostly worked in big bands,
going back far enough to have recorded with Benny Goodman (Basel,
1959). Cut a 1979 record called Knock Out, which this one
presumably refers back to. This one is simplicity itself: a drum
solo to start, then little add-ins from Wolfgang Schmid on electric
bass and Nippy Noyo on percussion, although there are bits that
sound synthesized, and maybe a little guitar. Like Buddy Rich, when
Antolini wants to turn up the heat, he reaches for his brushes.
Charly Antolini: Knock Out 2000 (1999, Inak):
A big band drummer from Switzerland, whose early career bumped
into Benny Goodman in 1959, turns in a pure drummer's album,
every cut built around a beat up front, even when bass and
percussion intend a fusion groove; the cover pics are all
muscle, but like Buddy Rich, when Antolini wants to turn up
the heat, he reaches for his brushes.
The Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet: Afraid of the Heights
(2006 , Ardijenn Music): She has an M.Ed. in Science Education,
an Ed.D. in International Educational Development with a "doctoral
concentration . . . in Peace Education," and a day job as Executive
Director of Salvadori Center, which "introduces children to the beauty,
wonder and logic of architecture and engineering as a way of helping
them to master mathematics, science, arts and the humanities." She
also moonlights as a jazz singer, in a duo with guitarist Chris
Jennings, here augmented with bass and drums. Standards-oriented,
but not ready for cabaret: starts with a scat on "Anthropology,"
adds new words to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," adds a yarn to "Autumn
Leaves," deftly navigates one by Jobim, offers a couple of songs
by group members, winds up with a wispy "You Go to My Head." Like
her voice, phrasing, and wit. The band is never intrusive and the
guitar is a plus when I notice it. LP length, short and sweet.
Bruce Arkin Quartet: Wake Up! (2006, Fresh Sound
New Talent): Arkin plays tenor and soprano sax. Don't know anything
more about him. Record was recorded in Barcelona with Albert Bover
on piano, Chris Higgins bass, Jorge Rossy drums. Mostly indifferent
postbop, but he does pick up some steam on a "bittersweet love song"
called "All I Wanted Was You (Bitch)," so maybe he just needs to be
slapped around a bit. A meditation on Tookie Williams, executed in
California recently, is also worthwhile.
Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 , Zoho):
I asked for this as background to Aslan's intriguing new Buenos
Aires Tango Standards (Zoho). The new album features a standard
jazz quintet lineup -- tenor/baritone sax, trumpet, piano, bass (the
leader's instrument), drums -- on a set of standards that are new
to me. This one, mostly originals plus four by "Piazzolla," is more
conventional, in lineup at least: bass, violin, bandoneon, trumpet
tenor sax, piano, plus three vocals, with violin/bandoneon in the
lead. I can only guess what's avant about it, starting with a high
level of energy.
Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006
, Zoho): Argentine bassist, lives in New York, but recorded
this in Buenos Aires. Group is a quintet, unknown to me, presumably
all Argentine: Gustavo Bergalli on trumpet, Jorge Retamoza on tenor
and baritone sax, Abel Rogantini on piano, Daniel Piazzolla on drums
(Astor's grandson). The songs are putative tango classics, but the
jazz instrumentation, especially the absence of bandoneon, shifts
them out of their natural element. The main effect is to exaggerate
the choppiness of the music. Very interesting stuff. Aslan has a
previous album called Avantango. This makes me even more
curious about it.
Nanny Assis: Double Rainbow (2006, Blue Toucan):
Brazilian percussionist from Bahia; sings a couple of originals,
a range of soft sambas and such like -- one from Carlhinos Brown
is described as "Brazilian rap," but you could have fooled me --
and one piece by Seal. The cover and most of the booklet photos
feature him with guitar, but the credits only list him once on
acoustic guitar. Hard for me to pin down whatever it is that may
separate this from the norm.
Omer Avital Group: Room to Grow (1997 ,
Smalls): Israeli bassist, evidently a fixture at Smalls in the
late '90s. A 1996 tape released last year as Asking No
Permission was subtitled The Smalls Years: Volume One.
That suggests more volumes to come, and this, recorded live a
year later, certainly fits the bill, but there's no indication
on the cover or booklet here. Same basic lineup, with bass,
drums, and four saxes, but a couple of personnel changes: Mark
Turner and Ali Jackson have left, replaced by Grant Stewart
and Joe Strasser. None of the remaining saxophonists are a
match for Turner, which is just as well: their scrawny tones
and free dynamics keep anyone from dominating, leaving even
the bass some space.
Chet Baker: Riverside Profiles (1958-59 ,
Riverside): A narrow slice of Baker's discography, transitional
between his important Pacific Jazz 1952-57 recordings, where is
made his name as a cool trumpeter and wan vocalist, and his long
exile in Europe -- one cut here stands him up against "fifty
Italian strings," and another features a pick-up band in Milan.
Only two easy-going vocals, lots of lovely trumpet. I like this
mix better than Riverside's previous The Best of Chet Baker,
which shares five songs.
Jeff Baker: Shopping for Your Heart (2006 ,
OA2): Jazz singer. Third album, starting with Baker Sings Chet
in 2003. He works the gamut of olde standards and bebop sprints.
I tend to enjoy the former and chafe at the latter, and that's
pretty much how this breaks. The band could call themselves the
Origin All-Stars: Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop, and
especially Brent Jensen, whose sax especially warms up attractive
moderate fare like "Time After Time."
Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 , AYVA):
Drummer/percussionist, works with Herbie Hancock, who guests on
three cuts here. Born 1983 in Rhode Island, grew up in Connecticut,
but gravitated to Cuban music, and counts Andy Gonzalez as a mentor.
Went on to NEC. Studied Indian percussion with Jerry Leake, which
is reflected by a piece with sitar here. Later on we get a klezmer
piece with voice and accordion. Feels a bit clinical to me, like
he's trying to show off all he can do. On the other hand, it's all
impressive -- not least, saxophonist Daniel Blake. Didn't recognize
him. That won't happen again.
BassDrumBone: The Line Up (2005 , Clean
Feed): This is Mark Helias on bass, Gerry Hemingway on drum, and
Ray Anderson on bone. Their first album together was Wooferlo
(Soul Note) in 1987, which I didn't think much of at the time. But
one in 1997 called Hence the Reason (Enja) was terrific. I
was wondering if this is a once-per-decade thing, but evidently
there are more, buried on obscure labels: Oahpse (Auricle),
March of Dimes (Data), You Be (Minor Music), Cooked
to Perfection (Auricle). There's also a record by the trio called
Right Down Your Alley (1984, Soul Note) -- Oahpse looks
like the oldest, dating from 1979. Helias also plays with Anderson in
the Slickaphonics, and produced most of Anderson's Gramavision albums.
The oldest entry in Hemingway's discography, a 1979 record called
Kwambe, also features Anderson and Helias. So no surprise
that this trio is so tightly integrated and evenly balanced, but
they don't seem to be able to break out of their integration and
jump to some higher energy level. Good to hear Anderson, who hasn't
released much under his own name since his string with Enja ran out
around 1999. Whatever the problem is there, it's not in the bone.
Benevento/Russo Duo: Play Pause Stop (2006, Butter
Problems/Reincarnate Music): Just have an advance and a hype sheet,
but this has been sitting around a while -- albeit not as long as the
advance to their previous album. I dislike advances, especially when
they don't grow up to be real records -- although if they're not very
good that's just as well. As far as I've been able to figure out, the
names are Marco Benevento and Joe Russo. Don't know what they do, but
it sounds like keyboards and drums. They keep a beat, add some texture,
but it all seems skeletal, undeveloped, not all that danceable, let
alone jazzworthy. I don't dislike it, but they don't offer much, and
when they try to muscle up toward the end, they just get messy.
The Benevento Russo Duo: Best Reason to Buy the Sun
(2005, Ropeadope): This is the older advance. It strikes me more
favorably, mostly because it builds up stronger, and there's more
piano to it. Same basic rock instrumental groove. Not experimental
enough to be experimental rock; not danceable enough for dance
music; not improvised enough for jazz, sedate enough for new age,
or hypnotic enough for surf.
Gorka Benítez: Bilbao (2003 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Spanish tenor saxophonist, born in Bilbao, based in
Barcelona. I've been impressed by him every time out so far, and
this has some strong moments, especially the soaring "Y dale!,"
but it does stumble along early on. Quartet, with Dani Pérez on
guitar, mostly keeping pace to shimmering harmonic effect.
Cheryl Bentyne: The Book of Love (2006, Telarc):
She's enough of a pro that she delivers a perfectly good rendition
of perfectly good songs -- a "You Don't Know Me," a "Cry Me a
River," anything by Cole Porter. But she's not great enough to
get anything out of a song that isn't already there, and the
musicians aren't any help at all -- least of all the City of
Prague Symphony Orchestra Strings, who might as well serenade
Brezhnev. And the title cut gets turned to ethereal fluff by
Take 6. Twice. Concepts aren't a strong suit either.
David Berger and the Sultans of Swing: The Harlem
Nutcracker (1996 , Such Sweet Thunder): Don't know
why this decade-old item popped up in my mailbox. Certainly not
because I've shown much enthusiasm about Berger's later records.
On the other hand, I find little to complain about here. I'm not
overly familiar either with the Ellington-Strayhorn score or the
Tchaikovsky model, so I find this concise and lively version
useful. Enjoyable, too.
Will Bernard: Party Hats (, Palmetto):
San Francisco guitarist. Has a couple of albums under his belt,
plus work with Peter Apfelbaum (who appears here), Robert Walter,
Stanton Moore, not sure who else -- his website mentions a project
with a Sonoma county reggae group called Groundation. The sheet
says this was recorded over three years, but doesn't say which
ones. Bernard's website just says this is previously recorded
stuff, helpfully adding a list of who played what where if not
when. Actually, even though the rosters jump around, the record
itself is pretty seamless, held together by a groove that does
bear comparison to Scofield, where the horns aren't necessary
but welcome anyway. It occurs to me that I have enough stuff this
time to write a sidebar piece and call it "So Much Guitar": this
would make the cut.
[B+(***)] [Feb 20]
Jordi Berni Trio + Santi De La Rubia: Afinke (2005
, Fresh Sound New Talent): Berni's a young pianist based in
Barcelona. His trio plays above average but unexceptional postbop,
securely in the middle of the mainstream. De La Rubia plays tenor
sax in the same vein, although he doesn't have an especially
distinctive sound. The record develops nicely, expertly even.
Too good to complain about, but I'm not sure what else to do
Tyrone Birkett featuring Paula Ralph-Birkett: In the
Fullness of Time (2006 , Convergence): This takes
off like a rocket but soon comes crashing back to earth with an
overload of holy spirit. He's a PK with a rafters-raising alto
saxophone, fronting a bunch of anonymous keyb-guitar-bass-drums
players. She sings every other song, and she can air them out
too. Both are talented, but their material is pretty dreadful.
It seems that someone with more stomach for the stuff than I have
could do a study on the dumbing down of Christian music, which
presumably correlates with the dumbing down of Christians. I can
still handle the gospel, and for that matter the Christians, I
grew up with, but whenever I tune in to the words here, they
C+ [Apr 1]
Michael Blanco: In the Morning (2004 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist, born and raised in San Diego,
studied at North Texas (evidently a strong jazz program), moved
on to New York. He puts his compositions forth on a broad pallette
with five or six pieces, and he's managed to draw on first rate
players all around: Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alan Ferber trombone
Aaron Goldberg piano, Bill Campbell drums, plus two cuts with Rob
Wilkerson alto sax. Perry sounds terrific, and of course I love
Ferber's solo. But my favorite moment turns out to be the bass
lead on the closer. Educated postbop, impressively executed.
Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005 , ECM):
Young pianist, from Milan, has classical training, pop studio
work, a stretch working with Enrico Rava, a stack of albums
starting with one from 1997 called Mambo Italiano. This
is as advertised: solo, moderately paced, mostly quiet, but
remarkably balanced and filling. Touches on Prokofiev, Scott
Joplin, Lerner & Loewe, Brian Wilson. Doesn't seem like
much, but I'm finding it seductive.
Janice Borla: From Every Angle (2006, Blujazz):
Jazz singer from Chicago. Her website lists three albums over the
last ten years, but also mentions a first album (Whatever We
Imagine) that dates back at least 20, as does her "leading
role in vocal jazz education." She's not a cabaret singer -- the
songs here come from the bop era with assists from Jon Hendricks
and Bobby McFerrin. She can scat. She gets respectful, tasteful
backup. In fact, this is expert enough that I feel kind of bad
that I don't respond to it more. Professionalism doesn't come
easy. Nor does reviewing it.
Bridge 61: Journal (2005 , Atavistic): Another
Ken Vandermark joint, with Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Nate McBride
on bass, and Tim Daisy on drums. Vandermark plays tenor and baritone
sax as well as a little clarinet. Nice artwork but no info in the
booklet. Don't know anything about Stein, and I'm having some trouble
figuring out what he's doing here. The Boston bassist and Chicago
drummer fit well, and Vandermark gets to flex some muscle on tenor
Bridge 61: Journal (2005 , Atavistic): You
know about Ken Vandermark, Nate McBride, and Tim Daisy by now. The
fourth wheel here is Jason Stein on bass clarinet -- Vandermark
plays tenor sax, baritone sax, and clarinet. He was born 1976,
grew up on Long Island, bounced around through Central America
and Montana and Vermont and Michigan and wound up in Chicago.
I'm not so sure what he's doing here. This is advertised as an
evenly balanced cooperative, but the distribution of compositions
is: Vandermark 4, McBride 2, Daisy 2, Stein 0. I don't hear much
that sounds like bass clarinet either -- a couple of muffled solos,
a fair amount of comping. As for the others, Daisy and McBride
continue to develop, and Vandermark closes with a very strong
piece for Sonny Sharrock.
Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 ,
Artistry): How do you score this one? Bromberg's a pop-funk electric
bassist with aspirations of going straight -- a double meaning for
the "upright" acoustic bass he plays here. (Four cuts also have him
on "piccolo bass," which looks to be an electric bass guitar.)
Helping him out are a bunch of old smoothies, who also get to
play "upright" straight-ahead jazz for once in their careers:
Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Boney James, Gary Meek, Jeff Lorber,
George Duke, Lee Ritenour, Gannin Arnold, Vinnie Colaiuta. Not
a big surprise that guys like Lorber and Whallum have the chops,
but Braun is a totally unexpected pleasure. Also helps that the
bass is mixed up phat. But in the end it may be classier than
usual, but it's still a pop-funk record. I'm tempted to indulge,
but will hold back for now.
Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 , Atavistic):
Don't know whether I'm just getting used to Brötzmann or whether this
actually stands out. This is a 40-minute radio shot from a group with
three saxophones, trumpet, two trombones, piano, bass and drums. The
brass is there mostly to roar and blare on the siren-like alarm motif --
something about reactions to a nuclear emergency. It's simplistic, but
at least it's something you can hang onto while the saxophones -- Frank
Wright and Willem Breuker join Brötzmann -- get all exercised. After
the two-part title piece, we get 3:38 of a Frank Wright piece, complete
with vocal -- uncredited but presumably Wright, since a) it's in English
and b) he did that sort of thing. But the real star in the early going
is pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, who bounds over everything the
horns throw at him. The South African rhythm section of Harry Miller
and Louis Moholo also impress. Beware that the concert got caught
short by a bomb threat.
Peter Brötzmann/Albert Mangelsdorff/Günter Sommer: Pica
Pica (1982 , Atavistic): A meeting of two major
figures of the German avant-garde -- almost two generations,
as trombonist Mangelsdorff was 13 years older than saxophonist
Brötzmann. Sommer plays drums and "horns," whatever that is,
and is basically a substitute for Han Bennink -- an inferior
one, if you accept the authority of the Penguin Guide (first
edition, back when the LP was available). I find the encounter
generally gratifying all around.
John Bunch: At the Nola Penthouse: Salutes Jimmy Van Heusen
(2006, Arbors): The label likes to do these double titles. I'm following
the spine, except for adding a colon. Doesn't read right to me, but don't
know what else to do. The subject for both clauses is pianist Bunch, who
will turn 85 later this year. He's been a dependable name for a long time
now. Follows in Teddy Wilson's footsteps, and doesn't wander far from
there. Dave Green and Steve Brown complete the trio, neither making much
of an impression. Nor does Bunch, really -- this is quiet and respectful,
lovely when you focus, but a bit too modest to listen to.
Dave Burrell: Momentum (2005 , High Two):
Piano trio with Michael Formanek on bass and Guillermo E. Brown
on drums. One thing I've long loved about Burrell is how hard he
plays, especially with his left hand -- Pete Johnson was once
described as having the left hand of God, and Burrell fits in
that tradition. Formanek also puts a lot of muscle into his
bass, and Brown managed to hold his own in David S. Ware's
Quartet for a few years. First cut, "Downfall," comes roaring
out of the box, all rough angles and flying gears. The slower
pieces following don't compress as firmly, but I'm still working
Dave Burrell: Momentum (2005 , High Two):
Mass times velocity, right? So when this slows down after the
first piece (portentously called "Downfall") it gets heavier.
That doesn't favor the pianist, who could hold his own in any
boogie woogie bar, so much as the bassist. That would be Michael
Formanek, and he's the guy to focus on.
John Butcher/Paal Nilssen-Love: Concentric (2001
, Clean Feed): Another improv duo, this one sax (tenor or
soprano) and drums. Butcher is highly touted in the Penguin Guide,
but I have little experience with him, and no firm picture. The
drummer I know much better, and not just from his work with Ken
Vandermark in groups like School Days, FME, Free Fall, and the
Territory Band. This is intense, rough going, hard to grab hold
of. Butcher starts to make more sense only toward the end, first
with a splotch of soprano. Nilssen-Love seems to get his best
shots in early. Not inconceivable that the pleasures might make
up for the pain, but it's bound to be tough.
Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart (2006 ,
Winter & Winter): I grew up hating Mozart, although I couldn't
help but enjoy the raffishness shown in the movie Amadeus,
some of which shows through here in the bubbly, plasticky themes.
On the other hand, the eight-piece Ensemble is capable of muscling
them up or beating them to a pulp, even if the two horns -- Chris
Speed on clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet -- stick to the light
side. Don't know where I'll land on this, but it isn't immediately
appalling, which puts it ahead of his Schumann, nor is it confusing
like his Mahler. (Missed the Bach, and lord knows what else.)
Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Finnish pianist, moved to Boston in 1984,
played with Either/Orchestra and Bob Brookmeyer, released a couple
of albums, and now seems to be based in Brooklyn. This album, like
some or all of his previous ones, features vocals wrapped around
poems or found words. One "nostalgic" piece is based on Clinton's
grand jury exegesis of "The Word Is"; another mangles the Bill of
Rights into "State of the Union": "and no fact tried by a jury,
shall be otherwise reeamined in any/freedom of speech, or of the
press, or the right of the people to/cruel and unusual punishment."
George Garzone recites the latter, but the rest of the pieces are
sung by Christine Correa, in a sort of offhand diva voice that I
usually find annoying, but here is more awkward. But there's
nothing rough or difficult about the the instrumental sections.
Carlberg is a fluid pianist, and Chris Cheek swings hard. The
real state of the union? "What do we do/who do we bomb?"
The Paul Carlon Octet: Other Tongues (2005-06
, Deep Tone): Carlon's a New York-based saxophonist --
also plays flute and mbira here -- with a substantial interest
in Latin jazz. His group is largish, with a couple of uncounted
guests -- Ileana Santamaria sings on three songs, Max Pollak's
"rumbatap" (presumably tap dancing to rumba rhythms) surfaces
on two. Some fancy stuff, consistently listenable, sometimes
Carneyball Johnson (2006, Akron Cracker): Led by
Tin Huey saxophonist Ralph Carney, guitarist Kimo Ball and drummer
Scott Johnson contribute parts of their names, while Allen Whitman
just offers up his bass. For those who missed it, Tin Huey was one
of a half-dozen or so new wave bands to come out of Akron in the
late '70s -- Pere Ubu and Devo were better known; the Bizarros,
Rubber City Rebels, and the Numbers Band were more obscure; the
Waitresses were a spin-off from Tin Huey's Chris Butler -- with
a 1979 album fondly remembered for the Ubu-ish "I Could Rule the
World If I Could Only Get the Parts" (cf. Alfred Jarry's plays
more so than the band). I hear they still play together. Haven't
heard Carney's other albums, but saxophonists tend toward jazz --
after all, that's where the models come from. He plays Monk and
Sun Ra here, which I haven't digested yet. But the loose and trashy
pop singalongs based on the Yardbirds and Demond Dekker grabbed me
Carneyball Johnson (2006, Akron Cracker): Even when
they were young, Akron new wavers Tin Huey realized they'd have to get
the parts to rule the world. Failing that, Chris Butler tried his hand
as a feminist impersonator in the Waitresses, while Ralph Carney eeked
out a career playing sax for Tom Waits and others. They he met the
useful names of guitarist Kimo Ball and drummer Scott Johnson, not to
mention the useless name of bassist Allen Whitman, and formed Rubber
City's answer to the New York's Lounge Lizards. The likeness is clear
when they take toons like Cream's "White Room" or Desmond Dekker's
"Intensified" and bend them into aural origami. The difference is
that they bounce more, and tango less.
Regina Carter: I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey
(2006, Verve): Cut after her mother's death, Carter describes this as
"a life saver"; after her Paganini album, I'd say it's more like a
career saver. Old songs, sentimental songs, ancient amusements, one
original. The number of things that violin can do in jazz seems to
be limited, but includes swing ŕ Grappelli and the elegiac take on
the title song. Guest vocalists appear: I'm not so sure about Carla
Cook's three spots, but Dee Dee Bridgewater's two are choice cuts.
Regina Carter: I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey
(2006, Verve): She describes this project as "a life saver for me. After
my mother made her transition last year, it was the darkest period of my
life." The songs Carter opts for here point back to the '40s, affections
presumably handed down to her through her mother. The Grieg piece leading
off comes from a John Kirby arrangement. Afterwards, the pieces range
from "St. Louis Blues" to "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" to "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön"
to "I'll Be Seeing You," with one original called "How Ruth Felt." Five
songs have vocals -- three by Carla Cook, two by Dee Dee Bridgewater,
the latter choice cuts. Paquito D'Rivera plays clarinet on five; Gil
Goodstein accordion on three of those plus two others. The swing era
songs bring out the Grappelli in Carter's violin -- a big improvement
after that awful Paganini album. No doubt her mother would have loved
this. Come to think of it, mine would have, too.
The Catz in the Hatz: Resilience (2006, Rhombus):
Featuring singer Steve Johnson, a/k/a Rusty. He touts the same
idols list as Jonathan Poretz, with the minor substitution of "Nat"
for "Bobby." Can't say he sounds like any of them, Nat least of
all. He sounds hollow, which I find growing on me a bit, but not
impressively. The guys in the hatz are OK, with Mike Wiens getting
off a couple of nice guitar solos.
Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays (1992-98
, Telarc): Selected from the label's Christmases past, avoiding
any hint of merriment, joy, or, heaven forbid, excitement. Nonetheless,
this order is mostly filled by thoughtful solo piano (Oscar Peterson,
Dave Brubeck, George Shearing) and guitar (Jim Hall, Al Di Meola --
the latter is unexpectedly lovely on "Ave Maria"), all of whom have
something to add to the melody. Better still is Jeanie Bryson cooing
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" over Kenny Barron's piano.
Still doesn't break my tinsel ceiling, but comes close.
Circus (2006, ICP): All pieces are improvs attributed
to all five members, who could just as well be listed as the artists
of record, had the packaging steered that way. The four instrumentalists
are ICP veterans: Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Tristan Honsinger
(cello), Misha Mengelberg (piano), Han Bennink (drums). The fifth is
vocalist Alessandra Patrucco. I suppose the attraction of voice in this
sort of framework is flexibility and dramatic detail, but I've never
found it all that attractive -- Patrucco, dramatizing in a manner I
associate unfondly with opera, less than most. Honsinger and Mengelberg
also add to the vocal content. The instruments are more interesting.
Fay Claassen: Sings Two Portrait of Chet Baker (2005
, Jazz 'N Pulz, 2CD): Recorded by a Dutch singer and group in
remembrance of what would have been Baker's 75th birthday -- Baker
spent his last years in Europe, dying in Amsterdam when he fell, or
was pushed, out of a window. The second disc/portrait is the most
straightforward, with Claassen singing from Baker's songbook with
Jan Wessels' trumpet and Karel Boehlee's piano the key accompaniment.
She's a more conventional singer than Baker, but captures some of his
brittleness. The first disc refers back to Baker's legendary quartet
with Gerry Mulligan, with Jan Menu playing baritone sax, and the
singer scatting around where the trumpet might have been. Don't have
much of a feel for that part yet.
Fay Claassen: Sings Two Portraits of Chet Baker
(2005 , Jazz 'N Pulz, 2CD): First disc is a look back at
the music of the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet, with Claassen's
scat vocals adding little to a set where Jan Menu's baritone sax
dominates Jan Wessels' trumpet. Second disc has Claassen singing
the songs that Baker sung -- "My Funny Valentine," "Let's Get
Lost," "Blame It on My Youth," etc., with a samba and a piece of
bebop vocalese the odd songs out. I'm tempted to say she sings them
better, but Baker's fragility has only rarely touched me, so that
may not be fair. Given how she approaches the songs, it may not
even be appropriate.
Billy Cobham's Glass Menagerie: Stratus (1981
, Inak): Fusion group, with electric keyboards, bass and
guitar. Mike Stern plays the latter, but the tone that really
dominates is Michal Urbaniak's violin -- electric too, natch.
Anat Cohen & the Anzic Orchestra: Noir (2006
, Anzic): She must be very charming. She neither wrote nor
arranged any of this -- the arranger/conductor is Oded Lev-Ari,
like Cohen a veteran of Israeli military bands -- but she put
a fascinating big band together, and she's clearly its star. Ted
Nash and Scott Robinson are obvious picks; brothers Avishai and
Yuval Cohen expected ones; Deborah Weisz, Ali Jackson, a cello
trio anchored by Erik Friedlander, and a phalanx of Brazilian
percussionists including Duduka Da Fonseca and Zé Mauricio are
among the surprises. Big bands are favored toys of the new
generation of overeducated jazz composer/arrangers, and Cohen
works that circuit assiduously. But few others have so much
fun with their toys.
Anat Cohen: Poetica (2006 , Anzic):
A clarinet recital, mostly in a quartet with Jason Lindner on
piano, Omer Avital on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums. Four
tracks add a string quartet, which I don't regard as much of
a plus, although mostly they pretty things up without making
too much of a mess. A mix of Israeli songs, Brazilian, Jacques
Brel, John Coltrane. She's very appealing.
Scott Colley: Architect of the Silent Moment
(2005 , Cam Jazz): A bassist working in New York. I hadn't
noticed him until he won a Downbeat TDWR, then quickly discovered
him damn near everywhere: AMG credits him with 139 albums since
1986, although the hype sheet just claims 80. This is his 7th as
a leader. I've played it several times, but still don't much get
what's going on -- a common problem I have with the cutting edge
of the not-so-avant-garde. I could quote David Ake's liner notes
on the importance of the recorded jazz tradition, but there's a
shortage of info on the music. Don't know which guests play on
which tracks, although Gregoire Maret's harmonica is obvious,
and the others shouldn't be too hard to pick out -- the only
instrument intersect is piano with Craig Taborn and Jason Moran,
and how hard can that be? What I do like, quite a bit, is Ralph
Alessi's trumpet. The rest is more work, possibly rewarding.
George Colligan Trio: Blood Pressure (2006, Ultimatum):
Trio suggests a group with a fixed lineup, which isn't the case here.
Josh Ginsberg is replaced or joined on bass by Boris Kozlov. Jonathan
Blake yields the drumset to EJ Strickland and Vanderlai Pereira. Two
more cuts have extras: Jamie Baum's flute on one, Meg Okura's violin
on the other. Colligan plays synths as well as piano, so there are
various electronic blips as well as the usual soft tones. I find it
all very confusing, although the straight acoustic piano trio is
superb, as usual, and the other stuff is interesting. One thing
that is clear is the message to "Mr. Cheney" in the tray photo.
Corbett Vs. Dempsey: Eye & Ear (1943-2004
, Atavistic): Corbett vs. Dempsey is actually an art gallery
in Chicago, named for principals Jon Corbett and Jim Dempsey. The
record is Corbett's arrangement of old jazz, avant jazz, and divers
sound effects for a show dubbed "Artist <-> Musician." The
soundtrack was originally released for sale at the show, and has
been picked up by Atavistic -- Corbett produces their invaluable
Unheard Music Series. Interesting scholarship, as always, but it's
less clear what we're listening to, let alone why. Pee Wee Russell
and Dave Coleman are old meant to sound older; Sun Ra offers a
pathetic little vocal; Han Bennink adds silence as much as divers
percussion; Hal Rommel's random noise tape weaves and dazes, as
François Couturier: Nostalgia: Song for Tarkovsky
(2005 , ECM): Released in October. I only got an advance with
a photocopy of the booklet, which is good enough for current purposes,
although it took me a while to recognize as much. Dedicated to filmmaker
Andrei Tarkovsky, which doesn't mean much to me, although the booklet
has some striking stills. Don't know how the music relates to the films,
but the credits are to group members -- cellist Anja Lechner has two,
soprano saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché one, Couturier the rest. Also in
the group is Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion. The instrumentation
can lean folk or classical, with moods shifting between light and
The Robert Cray Band: Live From Across the Pond
(2006, Nozzle/Vanguard, 2CD): A terrific blues guitarist, a so-so
singer, and a songwriter I all too frequently find myself wanting
to strangle. After twenty-some years, he's entitled to throw out
a live double career retrospective. But that doesn't make me like
the songs any better. Well, not much better, anyway.
Greg Davis/Steven Hess: Decisions (2003 ,
Longbox): Davis does laptop improvs. Hess adds drums/percussion.
Mostly minor electronica, noises rather than beats, although
thump is an important part of the mix. I like it more so than
most similar things I've heard, but I have doubts about its
Mel Davis: It's About Time! (2006 , TomTom):
Davis plays Hammond B3, runs through a mess of shoogity boogity
pieces, with guitar, drums, sometimes a little extra percussion
and/or horns. Davis also sings four pieces, improving none of them.
Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger:
Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 , Delmark):
Dawkins plays alto and tenor sax. The group includes trumpet and
trombone, bass and drums. Don't see a credit for vocals, but there
are quite a few -- blues shouts, hip-hop, and various hollers, not
to mention the patter. Dawkins himself seems to be more out than
in, but the ensemble is out for party more than art. A good time,
for sure, but I don't have it calibrated yet.
Eli Degibri: Emotionally Available (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli tenor saxophonist, "with Bulgarian
and Persian roots," as his fancy website puts it, in a quartet with
New Yorkers Aaron Goldberg, Ben Street, and Jeff Ballard. This has
some good spots, particularly the cut with guest Ze Mauricio on
pandeiro, although that's mostly because the sax perks up there.
But more often his tone is a bit dull, and his play indistinct.
Diane Delin: Offerings for a Peaceable Season
(2005 , Blujazz): Violinist with five albums going back
to 1997. Don't know anything more, but clearly she's fond of
Grappelli. Starts off with "My Favorite Things" and "Baby It's
Cold Outside" before toppling into unavoidable Xmas songs,
recasting the meaning of those not normally so tainted. By
the end of the year this rant is likely to get old, but I
have no interest whatsoever in holiday music. Didn't even
like it before I read the factoid that it outsells jazz.
This one snuck in on the peace train, so I'll let it off
with a mild reprimand. The others I'm saving for a real bah
Les DeMerle: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 1 (2005
, Origin): Going with the spine on this one; the front cover
spells out "Volume One," adds "Live at the Jazz Corner," and lists
the artist as "The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band featuring Bonnie Eisele."
The setup is piano-bass-drums plus singer, but the leader is the
drummer, and he sings some too. In fact, DeMerle and Eisele pair
up like Louis Prima and Keely Smith, even if they play it straight
most of the time. (But not all the time: DeMerle sings one about
a sailor who comes home after three years to find his wife has a
new baby named Bennie. Where'd he come from, the sailor wonders?
"Bennie's From Heaven.") Eisele doesn't enter until the fifth
song, then belts out Ellington, Jobim, "Lullaby of Birdland."
DeMerle's quite a drummer, and pianist Mike Levine bounces in
an all-upbeat program until he gets a lovely ballad at the end.
Nothing groundbreaking, but it's good to be reminded that jazz
was once a form of entertainment. This is a lot of fun.
Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 , Telarc):
It may not be fair to treat him as another Sinatra wannabe. He plays
piano some, although he gives way to Tedd Firth on five cuts here,
and he writes a bit, including the title cut. He's especially adept
at going soft, as on an "How Deep Is the Ocean?" reduced to the
barest simmer, or his own delicate "Lover's Lullaby." He takes two
rock pieces -- Prince's "Kiss" and Carole King's "I Feel the Earth
Move"; I thought about saying contemporary but on average they're
older than he is -- and pares them down to his niche, but he's
more comfortable with the old stuff. Bucky Pizzarelli plays guitar.
Five cuts have horns, including an underused but invaluable Harry
Allen. Two albums down, he's my favorite of the wannabes -- except
for Diana Krall, who already is.
B+(***) [Jan 23]
Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle: Battery Milk (2006 ,
Hyena): Plays vibes and percussion in a bunch of more/less related bands,
including Critters Buggin, Garage A Trois, the Malachy Papers, Billy Goat,
Hairy Apes BMX, and the Dead Kenny Gs, as well as side credits with MC
900 Ft Jesus, Brave Combo, Pigface, Karl Denson, Les Claypool, and Sex
Mob. There must be some kind of genre label for this sort of thing, but
experimental rock doesn't convey how pop it is, and fusion leaves one
wondering what sources it's trying to put together. A couple of raps,
an Aaron Neville soul ballad, various groove pieces, cultural critique
("Stupid Americans"), and one for Bush ("Bad Man").
Al Di Meola: Consequence of Chaos (2006, Telarc):
Starts off as a nice groove album, and stays there. Just dropped
this in for a stretch when I was preoccupied so couldn't follow it
closely. Don't know his work, didn't expect much, but enjoyed what
I could follow.
Al Di Meola: Consequence of Chaos (2006, Telarc):
Fusion guitarist from New Jersey. Made his reputation in Chick
Corea's Return to Forever, with Corea returning the favor here.
Some of this is pleasantly grooveful. Some is sparely elegant.
Some of it is Corea-style fusion.
Kenny Dorham: Trompeta Toccata (1964 , Blue
Note): A hard bop trumpeter very fond of Latin rhythms, something
he explored in 1955's Afro-Cuban (Blue Note) and returned
to frequently, including this his last album; Joe Henderson is a
tower of strength on tenor sax, and Tootie Heath's cymbals suffice
for the clave.
Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): Like most
avant improv duos, this is slow, thin, and demanding. Ab Baars
plays tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi, noh-kan -- the last two
are Japanese bamboo flutes. Ig Henneman plays viola. It's tough
for me to concentrate closely enough, but there are enough spots
of interest to keep it in play.
Dominique Eade/Jed Wilson: Open (2004-05 ,
Jazz Project): Jazz singer, teamed here in minimal duets with
pianist Wilson. She has a USAF father, Swiss mother, born London,
grew up mostly in Germany; attended Vassar, Berklee, New England
Conservatory, the latter keeping her on to teach. Five albums,
including a tribute to June Christy and Chris Connor. Writes
most of the songs here, although Leonard Cohen's "In My Secret
Life" is the one that stands out. Way too spartan for my taste,
but striking nonetheless.
Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: One Great Day
(1996 , Hatology): I've made extended discography lists of some
musicians whose import extends far beyond their own records -- like
Paul Motian, Dave Holland, and William Parker. I haven't gotten around
to Jim Black yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find him on the same
track, if not quite yet in the same league. Parkins is the odd one out
here: she's credited with accordion and sampler. Seems to me there's
a small bit of piano here, so maybe that was sampled? The accordion
functions like an organ -- Eskelin's mother played organ, so that may
have something to do with his thinking here -- similar in tone, a bit
slower dynamics, harmonizes better with the sax, while covering the
hole left by no bassist. None of which matters all that much: above
all else, this is a great tenor sax album, with a singular voice
working difficult material.
Ellery Eskelin: Five Other Pieces (+2) (1998,
Hatology): Same trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black. The five
pieces by others come from John McLaughlin, Lennie Tristano, John
Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and George Gershwin. The "+2" are Eskelin
originals. The most immediate effect of working with "other folks'
music" -- a Roland Kirk phrase Eseklin quotes in his remarkably
useful liner notes -- is to bring Parkins' accordion much to the
fore. As usual, covers mean stronger themes -- why else bother with
them? -- and in the case of Coltrane's "India" set up an unusual
degree of repetition, which underscores the group's sound. The
"(+2)" are two Eseklin originals.
Ellery Eskelin: Ramifications (1999 , Hatology):
Eskelin expands his trio to quintet here, making unorthodox choices.
Is Joe Daley's tuba the brass alongside Eskelin's tenor sax, or is
it the missing bass? Or is Erik Friedlander's cello the missing bass,
or the second lead instrument. Actually, there is no second lead --
the group mostly provides a somber backdrop for Eskelin's pained,
powerful sax maneuvers. This is especially true on the title cut,
which is dirgelike except for the sax's mighty struggles.
Ellery Eskelin: Vanishing Point (2000 ,
Hatology): One of the more interesting sax-with-strings records,
but not a surprise given that the strings are Mat Maneri on viola,
Erik Friedlander on cello, and Mark Dresser on bass. You could
think of it as a string quartet with tenor sax subbing for violin,
but it is an exceptionally unruly one. The classical string sound
that so often turns my stomach comes from the sonic seasickness of
the section playing in unison, but that can't happen in unscripted
improv like this, where each player responds to the others. Fifth
wheel is Matt Moran on vibes, an occasional tinkle of percussion
that pops out orthogonally to the sonic mix. The pieces have an
odd, ambling quality. I've played this a number of times, and it
remains obscure, a puzzle with no obvious solution.
Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: 12 (+1) Imaginary
Views (2001 , Hatology): I got a note from Eskelin
back in October offering to send me a copy of his latest, Quiet
Music. I wrote back and mentioned that I had heard very little
of his music -- mostly an early record, Figure of Speech
(1991, Soul Note), that I admired greatly. He then offered to send
a batch of his Hatology records, saying "If you haven't heard those
you really haven't heard my music." So that's where this batch of
catchup notes comes from. The new record is a high HM, and might
have gone higher had I more appreciation or tolerance for voice.
Eskelin's point is certainly well taken. I don't really have the
skills to explain how his music works in any technical sense, but
at least I've heard it. This album returns to the trio that made
One Great Day five years earlier and has been his core working
group all along. Parkins has developed into a more imposing force on
accordion, and finally plays some piano as well. The "12" are rough
ideas developed through improvisation into dense patterns that build
on the previous records. The "+1" is an obscure Monk piece at the
Ellery Eskelin: Quiet Music (2006, Prime Source, 2CD):
A rather avant tenor saxophonist, originally from Kansas as I recall,
but raised in Baltimore. When he wrote about sending me this record,
I wrote something back about having heard little of his music -- the
main exception is Figure of Speech (1991, Soul Note), which I
admire greatly -- and he generously sent along a stack of his Hatology
releases that had long been on my shopping list. I started thinking I
should work forward, then finally decided that would take too long,
and gave this a spin. This, like most of the records, features Andrea
Parkins on piano (or organ or accordion) and Jim Black on drums. The
fourth member here is Jessica Constable, contributing her voice. I'm
not sure what I think of that, and indeed the experience varies from
the scatlike improv early on to the more formally classical stuff on
the second disc. I'm much more pleased with the sax, and suspect that
in the end I'll favor his trios. But I'm not getting an Aebi reaction
here -- my rule of thumb was that every piece the lady sung cost Lacy
one grade. But it often is awkward both using and working around voice,
and this shows some strain for it. Also, the music isn't notably quiet,
Ellery Eskelin: Quiet Music (2006, Prime Source, 2CD):
Still working on him. I've played five background records several times
each without writing prospecting notes. Two are likely to wind up A-,
with the others high B+, the preference going to the ones most wholly
dependent on his sax. This new one is relatively more varied, both in
his efforts at containing the title's irony and in the addition of
vocalist Jessica Constable to his long-term trio -- Andrea Parkins on
piano (or organ or accordion) and Jim Black on drums. The voice can be
dramatic, obscure, merely instrumental, or absent, adding complication
that is not always unwelcome but something of a distraction. But the
sprawling music keeps growing on me.
Bill Evans: Riverside Profiles (1958-63 ,
Riverside): Like Thelonious Monk, Evans did his major work for
Riverside, his Complete Riverside Recordings amassing 12
discs, just shy of Monk's 15. Monk was by far the more radical
player, which in retrospect makes him much easier to grasp. He
had a knack for putting notes in wrong places, arguing his case
obstreperously, eventually winning. Evans, on the other hand,
seemed to always work within the lines, finding right notes no
one could doubt. So while I recommend going straight to the
original albums for Monk, this survey strikes me as a useful
primer. The first eight cuts are trios, so they flow evenly even
though Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian -- already the sneakiest
drummer in jazz -- stand out. The last two cuts are a group
with Freddie Hubbard and Jim Hall and a solo piece -- a good
one-two punch to close this out.
Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else
(2006 , Thrill Jockey): This is cornetist Rob Mazurek, better
known as the cornerstone of Chicago Underground Duo, Trio, and Quartet.
This, his big Sun Ra move, could have been attributed to the Chicago
Underground Big Band. Two multi-part pieces called "Sting Ray and the
Beginning of Time" and "Cosmic Tones for Sleep Walking Lovers" and a
one-part interlude called "Black Sun." Starts out in fine orbit before
it cracks up a bit, then wanders off into a cloud of microscopic space
dust. Eventually the cosmic tones start to emerge -- something else
I guess we can blame on flutes. Not unlike the man from Saturn, the
best parts sound fabulous; not so sure about the rest.
Expolorations: Classic Picante Regrooved, Vol. 1
(2006, Concord Picante): Better than the usual back catalog remix
project, probably because most of the originals are so awash in
beats they hardly need remixing. Surprising because Picante had
turned into something of a retirement home for salseros, so maybe
we should hand it to the A-list remixers, who evidently know how
to juice up the clave.
Miguel Fdez-Vallejo Meets Miguel Villar: El Perro
(2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Two Spanish tenor saxophonists,
names I've run across in the past but don't know much about -- nor do
they have the web presence that helps make up for obscurity. Formally,
this promises to be a joust, but is pretty subtle, the two sax lines
tracking each other closely over bass and drums. One cut adds guests:
vibes by Marc Miralta, with Gorka Benítez taking the lead on flute.
I've played this several times, and like it as haunting, poignant
background music, but don't have much more to say.
Michael Felberbaum: SweetSalt (2005 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Paris since 1991, before that
in US from 1985, before that not sure -- website says he played in
"Roman clubs" when he was 15. Has a previous album. This one is a
quartet with piano-bass-drums. Another solid postbop exercise, with
some urgency which can either be driven by the guitarist or Pierre
de Ethmann on piano or Fender Rhodes.
Mitchel Forman: Perspectives (2005-06 ,
Marsis Jazz): Pianist, including electronic keyboards. Not familiar
with his own albums. Most of his side credits seem to be fusion
(starting with John McLaughlin) and pop jazz (Chuck Loeb, Rick
Braun, Jeff Golub, Najee, list goes on), but two early credits
were with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz. This is half acoustic,
half synthesized, often with sequenced percussion. Two originals,
two Beatles songs, various covers which most likely represent a
personal view of the tradition -- Hancock, Corea, McLaughlin,
Shorter, Ron Carter, Russell Ferrante, and most importantly two
from Keith Jarrett. Coming after Jarrett in my queue, this popped
my ears right up. Will have to play it some more.
Anat Fort: A Long Story (2004 , ECM): Israeli
pianist, classical training, middle eastern exposures, lives in New
York since 1996, one previous album, has composed various pieces for
string orchestras. I suppose nearly every pianist who's come of age
in the last forty years has dreamed of playing with Paul Motian --
many of the best have, and you can add Fort to that list. Her duos
and trios with bassist Ed Schuller are elegant, attractive affairs.
But most of the album adds a fourth player. Any horn is likely to
dominate a piano trio, but Perry Robinson's clarinet does it not
by force of volume but by sly innuendo. Long underrated, this is
a fine showcase for him.
[A-] [Mar 6]
Frank Foster: Well Water (1977 , Piadrum):
Big band. Huge. Monstrous. Foster calls this 20-member aggregate
the Loud Minority Band: five trumpets, four trombones, seven reeds,
most of the latter with flutes in their kits. This previously
unreleased tape is a good deal more unruly than Foster's Basie
work, but I don't find the overkill invigorating or interesting.
On the other hand, the "bonus track" breaks down to a Mickey
Tucker piano trio that rocks and rolls, then further dissolves
into a drum solo, which is pure Elvin Jones.
The Four Bags: Live at Barbčs (2006, NCM East):
Quartet. Second album. Very unusual instrumentation: trombone
(Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik), electric guitar (Sean
Moran), soprano sax/clarinet/bass clarinet (Michael McGinnis).
I recalled Garchik as playing trombone, as on his pretty good
debut album Abstracts (2005, Yestereve), and that's how
his website identifies him. Originals by all four. Covers include
one from Arnold Schoenberg, who also gets rather belated thanks.
Given the instruments and influences, it's not surprising that
this comes off choppy, rhythmically unhinged. Very interesting
sound. Could wear on you after a while. We'll see.
Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip (2005 , Favored
Nations, 2CD): Jazz guitarist, on her seventh album since 1987.
Nickname is Fast Fingers -- she doesn't strike me as particularly
fast or fancy, but she does pick out a strong line and she keeps
her balance rhythmically. First disc is a small group -- piano,
bass, drums, extra percussion on two cuts -- and it hums along
nicely. Second disc is solo, and it holds together as well. Don't
know her earlier work, and I'm not quite sure what to make of
this, but won't mind studying it further.
Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip (2005 , Favored
Nations, 2CD): One disc with a small group, the other solo. $15.98
list, so you can figure the solo disc as some sort of bonus, maybe
for educational purposes. The group, with Xavier Davis on piano,
Harvie S on bass, and Billy Hart on drums, and a little extra
percusion on two tracks, moves right along. While the solo doesn't
have the same zip, it is thoughtful and well crafted. If I wasn't
already up to my ears in guitarists, I'd be tempted to give her
extra attention. As it is, a solid mainstream album.
The Frankenstein Concort: Classical-A-Go-Go (2006,
Sfz): Subtitled "invigorating musical novelties for woodwinds, piano,
and percussion." Featuring Erik Lindgren, the piano player, who is
best known from one of the first landmark experimental rock groups,
Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Don't really know what to make of this
one, which seems neither classical not go-go, but rather something
that works within a closed system of humor I'm not really privy to.
Includes pieces from usual suspects Erik Satie and Raymond Scott,
a gloss on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," and originals, including
one close to "Tomorrow Never Comes." Not without interesting bits,
but too clever by some factor beyond my powers of calculation.
The Free Zen Society (2003 , Thirsty Ear):
This started as a session with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and
harpist Zeena Parkins. Musically it's dominated by Shipp's piano,
and is typical of his slower improv work, forceful chords wrapped
in bass-harp-electronics gossamer. The latter, indeed the whole
project, is largely the work of Thirsty Ear head honcho Peter
Gordon, who took the shelved tape and doctored it into present
form. I find it rather new agey, although it clearly has more
muscle under the soft skin.
Janice Friedman Trio: Swingin' for the Ride
(2006, Janika Music): Pianist-singer, hasn't recorded a lot,
but judging from her website keeps busy and upbeat, including
a teaching job at Rutgers. I appreciate the info, including
birth date and her characterization of growing up in "lily
white" Livingston NJ, as well as the schedule that puts her
in my old stomping grounds out in Bernardsville for a couple
of nights this month. Record has five originals vs. seven
standards. Trio has a guest percussionist, which comes in
handy on the Brazilian fare. Aside from a "Summertime" she
rides too hard, it's hard to fault anything here.
Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: In Krakow, in November
(2005 , Not Two): Trumpet-piano duet, recorded Nov. 8, 2005,
at Radio Krakow, released on a Polish label that has been doing some
interesting stuff, but has yet to answer my inquiries. I figured,
given the vast number of options for exploring their music, this
would be marginal at best, but this one keeps gaining on me. It is
in Tamura's more moderate vein, with little flash or daring --
solidly built, powerful music.
Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There (2005 ,
Libra): Faced with all those big band albums, I chickened out and
threw the plum grade to Fujii's Junk Box trio, figuring it's the
common denominator to an oeuvre that is remarkable in its totality
even if the pieces never seem to quite add up. Still, I worried
that Junk Box wasn't quite up to snuff either. But no such worries
here. This time it's a quartet with Jim Black in place of John
Hollenbeck -- both drummers who can keep a beat as well as free
it up -- and Mark Dresser added on bass. The combination is as
powerful as Zephyros on the straightaways but a lot nimbler on
the curves. There's a lot going on here, and I don't have it
anywhere near sorted, but no quibbling on the grade this time --
unless it eventually goes higher.
Tia Fuller: Healing Space (2006 , Mack
Avenue [promo]): From Colorado, plays alto sax and flute, has a
group with three other women: pianist Miki Hayana, bassist Miriam
Sullivan, drummer Kim Thompson. One previous album, Pillar
of Strength, which I haven't heard, and AMG doesn't list.
Sean Jones and Ron Blake also appear here, and someone
(presumably Fuller) sings two. Given that she plays in
Beyoncé band, I figured this would come out smoother, but
it's actually fairly dense and complex postbop.
Tia Fuller: Healing Space (2006 , Mack Avenue):
It seems likely that sooner or later she'll be lured to the smooth
side -- indeed, two tracks with guest vocalists point that way, and
her resumé-topping tour with Beyoncé gives her a taste of the star
life -- but for how she has too much chops and spunk not to enjoy
herself. Good tone and plenty of grit on alto sax. Also plays soprano
and flute, but why bother? Very mainstream, with two pieces inspired
by Katrina. Sean Jones plays trumpet on four, a good match. Ron Blake
plays tenor on one, no big deal.
Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at
the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music): Little to
distinguish this one from their previous, Resolving Doors,
an honorable mention a while back. Futterman is a pianist of the
Cecil Taylor school while Levin follows up on the new thing
saxophonists of the '60s, and Alvin Fielder recalls Rashied
Ali. In other words, these guys are old school avant-gardists,
unafraid of a little noise, the challenge of winging it, or
occasionally fucking up. Futterman plays a little soprano sax
as well, which complements where his piano clashes. Levin's
most interesting parts are when he switches to bass clarinet.
Christoph Gallio/Urs Voerkel/Peter K Frey: Tiegel
(1981 , Atavistic): Soprano sax, piano, bass, respectively,
although there are bits of drums (Voerkel) and trombone (Frey).
Recorded in Zurich. Seems to be a previously unreleased work tape,
with thirteen compositions each called "Improvisation" followed
by a number. Gallio went on to form a group named Day & Taxi,
where he has a substantial body of work I'm unfamiliar with. AMG
only lists one album for Voerkel, but a web search reveals a half
dozen or so. Voerkel and Frey reportedly lived in a house with
Irčne Schweizer and other luminaries -- Mal Waldron was another
on the list. The music is delicate, articulate, sharply drawn,
with each member contributing memorable moments.
Gato Libre: Nomad (2006, No Man's Land): The ten
pieces here have titles like "In Barcelona, in June" and "In Krakow,
in November." All of the places are in Europe, and they represent
a continent's worth of folk themes elevated to chamber jazz. That
they were recorded in one day in a Tokyo studio matters little --
this could be an Enrico Rava album, but it isn't. The trumpeter,
leader, composer is Natsuki Tamura. He's always been a straighter
shooter than his better half, pianist Satoko Fujii. Here she does
him a favor and sticks to accordion, filling in that prototypical
European folk sound without ever showing him up. The other key
ingredient here is Kazuhiko Tsumura's guitar, especially on the
Spanish-flavored tunes, which he has down pat. But Tamura is the
real treat here. He's been working his colors into Fujii's more
chaotic canvases all along, but here he paints his own masterpiece.
Robert Glasper: In My Element (2006 , Blue
Note): Obviously the jump from his debut on Fresh Sound New Talent
to a second album on Blue Note was considered a big deal: it put
the young pianist squarely in the footsteps of Jason Moran and
Bill Charlap, who are big deals. Glasper got a lot of plaudits
come year-end, but I didn't think much of the album, and not just
because his hip-hop connection (Bilal, Mos Def) didn't register.
In fact, I toyed with the idea of listing it as a dud, but let it
slip quietly by instead. I doubt this one will pan out either.
Very mild-mannered acoustic stuff at first, including a soft gospel
medley, then he feels a strange need to break out of his rut. So
he starts with a Radiohead/Herbie Hancock mashup, then channels
some J Dilla samples, both of which are better on paper than in
sound. Then he tosses off a pretty good free piece called "Silly
Rabbit," but chops it up at the end with a sample and some junk.
Then he reverts to form with a tribute to Mulgrew Miller. Finally,
a piece called "Tribute" with excerpts from a eulogy.
[B] [Mar 20]
Ned Goold: March of the Malcontents (2005 ,
Smalls): Tenor saxophonist, has a rather muted sound that seems
to belong in dark, smoky clubs, where his modest, MOR postbop
sounds like you figure jazz should sound these days. This is a
quartet with pianist Sacha Perry, who fits in unobtrusively.
J.A. Granelli and Mr. Lucky: Homing (2005 ,
Love Slave): AMG lists him as J. Anthony Granelli. Son of drummer
Jerry Granelli. Plays electric and acoustic bass. Calls his group
Mr. Lucky. This is their third album, but the personnel has turned
over, with Brad Shepik on guitar (replacing David Tronzo), Nate
Shaw on organ (Jamie Saft), Mike Sarin on drums (Kenny Wolleson
or Diego Voglino), and Gerald Menke joining on steel guitar. So
this bears some resemblance to organ-based soul jazz, but it's
subtler and slinkier than that, with Shepik most frequently taking
the lead, and the steel guitar adding lustre.
Lou Grassi's PoBand: Infinite POtential (2005
, CIMP): Avant quintet, with three horns up front -- Herb
Robertson's trumpet, David Taylor's bass trombone, Perry Robinson's
clarinet -- with Adam Lane's bass all led by the drummer. Don't
have a good fix on this yet, but the drums strike me as central,
heavy pummelling that lifts up the brass.
Lou Grassi's PoBand: Infinite POtential (2005
, CIMP): Perry Robinson's clarinet loses out in the three-horn
attack here, pummelled to a pulp by Herb Robertson's trumpet and
David Taylor's bass trombone. Would like to have heard more from
him after the Anat Fort album, but this is, after all, the drummer's
album. His play is central, setting the standard for the roughness
all around him. Not that Taylor, Robertson, and bassist Adam Lane
don't have their moments, but this doesn't strike me as wise use
of such resources.
Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: Unlearn (2006, Spool/Line):
Oh dear, another good guitar album! Grdina is based on Vancouver. Plays
oud and an interest in Arabic classical music, but here it's just guitar,
in a quartet with François Houle on clarinets. Houle is terrific. Grdina
mostly pushes things along, momentum the secret of the success.
Johnny Griffin: The Congregation (1957 ,
Blue Note): A bebop tenor saxophonist given to heavy blowing
sessions, this quartet layers his big bold sound over Sonny
Clark's free-flowing piano, a simple formula that pays off
Brian Groder: Torque (2006, Latham): An attractive,
vigorous brass-reeds-bass-drums quartet, with the leader on trumpet
and flugelhorn, Sam Rivers on flute and saxophones. Groder gets
more play and makes more of an impression, with Rivers tending to
slip into the background.
Russell Gunn: Plays Miles (2006 , High Note):
Like Davis: born in East St. Louis, plays trumpet, into electronics.
So this was probably inevitable. Calls his group the Elektrik Butterfly
Band. Orrin Evans plays keyboards -- bass, drums and percussion, but
no guitar or sax. First impression is that it's less developed and
less interesting than Yo Miles!, not to mention the inspiration --
could be because it's conceived as a reduction.
Russell Gunn: Plays Miles (2006 , High Note):
Cover shows a trumpet, an electric power line plug, and a butterfly,
signifying the Elektrik Butterfly Band and pointing towards Miles
Davis's fusion period. Keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, but no
guitar or sax. Not all that interesting, at least compared to Yo
Miles!, but fun in its own right.
Gypsy Schaefer: Portamental (2005 , PeaceTime):
Second album by a Boston quartet -- Andy Voelker on saxophones, Joel
Yennior trombone, Jef Charland bass, Chris Punis drums -- with a
Dixieland-associated name but variously characterized as modern jazz,
post-bop, and/or "mildly avant-garde." I can more or less hear all
that, but I can't figure out why I should be impressed. Or maybe I'm
just suspicious when the avant-garde goes mild?
Scott Hamilton: Nocturnes & Serenades (2005
, Concord): A set of slow standards, with "Autumn Nocturne"
and "Serenade in Blue" tying into the title, "You Go to My Head"
and "Chelsea Bridge" more instantly recognizable, and "Man With
a Horn" his definitive statement. In other words, pretty much
his typical record. The English quartet doesn't have the snap of
Back in New York, but sometimes sax is best when you take
it nice and easy.
Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery
(2004 , Thirsty Ear): AMG files him under rap, but most of
the credits on Scott Harding's resume are for producer, engineer,
and/or mixing. His credit here is for drum machines, samplers,
optigan, and percussion. Keyboardits John Medeski and Matthew
Shipp get second billing, followed by William Parker, Nasheet
Waits, DJ Olive, and Mauricio Takara. Basically, this is what
you get when you shuffle Shipp's jazztronica with Medeski's
Lafayette Harris Jr.: In the Middle of the Night
(2003-04 , Airmen): Likable, albeit lightweight, smooth jazz
outing from a pianist who started out on Muse and could have stuck
in out in soul jazz territory. Which means that for all the soft,
slinky, synthy slickness, there are occasional moments of class:
a workmanlike "Work Song," guest spots from Donald Harrison and
Terrell Stafford, flashes of Ben Butler guitar, and a closer ("A
Little Feel Thing") that slips over the Afro-Cuban line. The guest
vocalists don't fare so well.
B [May 1]
Taylor Haskins: Metaview (2004 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Trumpeter, on his second album, with another
16 credits since 1996, mostly with Andrew Rathbun, Guillermo
Klein, and Peter Herborn. Much of this is in large groups,
including the Dave Holland Big Band. Claims to have composed
themes for 50+ TV commercials, which is neither here nor there.
This record is a quintet with Rathbun on tenor and soprano sax
and Adam Rogers on guitar instead of the usual piano. That
moves it into a harmonically rich vein of postbop, which I've
never much cared for, but then I've rarely heard it done this
well. Probably because it's not just harmonics -- he has a
definite knack for weaving melodic lines together. Either that,
or he's damn lucky.
Hat: Hi Ha (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent):
One thing I'm sure of is that sooner or later Sergi Sirvent will
wind up producing an A-list album. This piano quartet with Jordi
Matas on guitar may be the one. Right now my main reservation is
his vocal on the closer, "Everyday Is a New Beginning." He's not
much of a singer, although he tries to make up for it in passion.
Reminds me a bit of Annette Peacock, but not as skillful. But his
command of the piano continues to advance, and I have no complaints
about the Fender Rhodes he credits first either. His compositions
offer interesting ideas, and he's moved to the point where it's
hard to pigeonhole him. He has his own sound, he's prolific, and
he's on a role. It's just a matter of time before he gets some
Hat: Hi Ha (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent):
Sergi Sirvent is an up and coming Spanish jazz pianist with a
handful of impressive records over the last few years. Here he
adds guitarist Jordi Matas to his trio and finds the perfect
balance. At first it sounds like a mistake when he tries to
sing one, but even that he puts over on pure emotion.
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues (2006
, Domino): Looks like The Exchange Session wasn't
a one- (or two-) shot. Same concept here: Hebden improvises
from laptop samples and guitar, giving him an unexpected range
of sounds, while Reid drums. Shorter pieces offer more variety,
and the sonic range is certainly interesting, but I can't quite
zero in on what they're up to, unless it's just experimenting,
which is cool.
[B+(**)] [Mar 19]
Steve Herberman Trio: Action:Reaction (2006, Reach
Music): DC-based guitarist, plays 7-string. Second album, with Drew
Gress on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. PR comes with laudatory quotes
from Gene Bertoncini, Jimmy Bruno, and Jim Hall. The trio setting
does a nice job of setting up the guitar, offering a clean, clear
exposition. Will keep this open -- for now he doesn't particularly
remind me of anyone else, including his fans. Good rhythm section.
Steve Herberman Trio: Action:Reaction (2006, Reach
Music): DC-based guitarist, plays 7-string, ably supported by Drew
Gress on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. Attractive tone, lean lines,
very tasteful, hard to fault, easy to enjoy.
Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin):
Despite the song selection -- I can't say as I've ever wanted to
hear "Black Magic Woman" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" again --
this is an exceptionally engaging middle-of-the-road jazz album.
She's a Chicago pianist, working since 1980, but as far as I can
tell only has one previous album. This drops down to a trio, as
on the Bud Powell closer, which she explains thus: "Everybody got
to play some bebop!" But most cuts are amply filled out with Tito
Carillo's trumpet and/or John Wojciechowski's sax.
Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin):
As I understand it, postbop is the expansion of bop to include
elements of free jazz, or looking at it from another viewpoint,
it is the normalization of the avant-garde. Anyone who studies
jazz these days is exposed to it. Hickey is a Chicago pianist
with only one previous album, but she's taught since 1994, and
this quintet record with folks I've never heard of on trumpet,
sax, bass, and drums is exemplary postbop. Mostly standards,
including a pair from the '60s I didn't figure to like at all
("Black Magic Woman," "Bridge Over Troubled Water"). Drops down
to a trio for a Bud Powell piece at the end, and nails it too.
John Hicks: Sweet Love of Mine (2006, High Note):
Table scraps, including snatches of Ray Mantilla percussion, Elise
Wood flutes, Javon Jackson sax, and three pieces of solo piano,
as if no one had the slightest idea what they were doing or what
the future might hold. As it was, Hicks died a month later, so
take this cockeyed mess as a memorial, note that his improbable
helpers looked up to him -- and like he's done throughout his
career, he makes them better -- and enjoy the piano, poignant
alone, playful together.
John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys &
Desires (2004 , Intuition): There's too much going
on here for me to wrap my brain around. The big band can function
as one instrument or many, but rarely as a set of individuals,
even the ones noted for their solos. Part of the complication is
Theo Bleckmann, credited with electronic effects as well as vocals.
The first piece is his show: he recites a Wallace Stevens poem
with little more than his effects for background. He appears
several times after, notably in the first and third parts of
the title set. The latter starts out in slow church mode, but
eventually shifts into something far more joyous. The middle
piece is an ecstatic dance, thoroughly delightful. But that's
only some of what's going on here. I may never get it all, but
this is one of the more remarkable discs I've heard recently.
John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys &
Desires (2004 , Intuition): After my preliminary
note, Hollenbeck wrote in to correct me that Theo Bleckman's
"effects" on the first piece were acoustic, not electronic,
and that the band played there as well. Indeed, they frame
the poem in striking tones, complementing Bleckman's reading
while staying out of its way. Five minutes into the second
piece, there's still nothing here that couldn't have been
done more economically with synths, but gradually the sonic
wealth of the big band takes shape, and the record is off and
running. Bleckmann returns much later with the rapturous title
chant (the piece is "The Garden of Love"), the high point of
an album that is always sharp and often seductive.
John Holloway: Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and
Partitas (2004 , ECM): The only music teacher I ever
had -- an old geezer named Pankratz -- always named Bach as his
all-time favorite. I aced his tests and the notebook, did my best
to never actually listen to any classical music, and always felt
self-conscious about my singing -- at least since Lannie Goldsten
(or was her name Marva Goldberg? I think she used both) started
kicking me every time I made a peep ("just lip sync!"). So this
does and doesn't bring back traumatic childhood memories -- not
the music because, as I said, I never actually listened to it,
although the sound of violin was enough to send me scurrying.
That's the only sound there is here, and I find it oddly soothing
on a very gray, rainy December day, although I also find it rather
indifferent -- the violinists I do like have a little swing in
their kit. But I'll grade this one leniently: Laura thinks it's
Mike Holober: Wish List (2004-05 , Sons of
Sound): A pianist I've been consistently impressed by, although
I'm a little slow on the uptake here. Wolfgang Muthspiel's guitar
gives this a shiny allure -- always good to hear him. I'm less
sure about Tim Ries, credited with "saxophones" -- something for
Mike Holober: Wish List (2004-05 , Sons of
Sound): I don't get the sense that Holober is an exceptional pianist,
but I have noticed that he often shows up in good places, and that
he is one of the main factors in that success. That may mean he's
a better follower than leader. That this record makes such a soft
impression may be that his lead players never take charge. Tim
Rees adds little more than color with his saxophones; Wolfgang
Muthspiel is even more evanescent on guitar.
Honolulu Jazz Quartet: Tenacity (2006 ,
HJQ): I dunno. A squall line just blew through in the middle of
playing this, so I assume that the thunder and crashing trees
and such were unscripted. Was trying to read Nat Hentoff's
purple-on-black liner notes -- name-dropping about shit told
to him back in the day by Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington --
and was having trouble with that, too. Group is a quartet, based
in Honolulu. Leader is bassist John Kolivas. Tim Tsukiyama plays
tenor and soprano sax, mostly tenor; Dan Del Negro piano; Adam
Baron drums. Very mainstream stuff, with the only non-original
from local legend, slack key guitarist Keola Beamer, not that
it stands out. Actually, the distractions don't matter much.
Either this is exemplary competency or it's a work of marginal
distinction. Think I'll give it a pass and go with the latter,
since for my triage purposes it doesn't much matter.
B+(*) [Mar 20]
Owen Howard: Time Cycles (2005 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Drummer, don't know much of anything about
him. Group includes two saxes, mostly threaded close together,
sometimes both on soprano, with Gary Versace's piano and John
Hebert's bass. I normally hate this kind of tight harmonizing,
but these guys -- John O'Gallagher and Andrew Rathbun -- make
it interesting. Or maybe Howard is the one who makes it work
by shaking up the rhythm.
Freddie Hubbard: Here to Stay (1962 , Blue
Note): The younger generation of hard boppers hard at work, with
Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman, with Philly Joe
Jones the only over-30, offering a sleekly modern take, even of
standard fare like "Body and Soul." Cut between Impulse albums
at a time when it seemed he could do no wrong, this sat on the
shelf until 1976.
Bruno Hubert Trio/B3 Kings: A Cellar Live Christmas
(2005 , Cellar Live): Hubert plays piano. The B3 Kings have
Cory Weeds on alto sax, Bill Coon on guitar, Chris Gestrin on the
famous organ, and Denzal Sinclaire on drums. My impression is that
the two groups alternate rather than play together, excepting that
Sinclaire sings one song with each. There's some good news here.
One is that they're serious enough about jazz that sometimes they
deconstruct these songs until you forget what they're playing.
Another is Coon's guitar, although the others, notably Hubert,
strike me favorably. Still useless.
Bobby Hutcherson: Happenings (1966 , Blue
Note): A quartet matching the leader's vibes with Herbie Hancock's
piano, the latter taking the lead on a pair of lovely slow pieces,
while the vibes run off with the fast ones; Hancock's "Maiden
Voyage" gets an especially sensitive reading.
Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness (2006, Capri):
Young (age 27) Japanese composer/arranger, plays piano but not on
her first album here. Came to US in 2001 to attend Berklee. Hooked
up with trumpeter Greg Gisbert from Maria Schneider's orchestra,
who in turn put a big band together and recorded this in Colorado.
The band has a rich brassiness that lets up only when Mike Abbott's
guitar takes over. The arrangements are robust, straightforward,
none too fancy, and the final piece with a Jeremy Ragsdale vocal
shows a firm sense of songcraft.
Incognito: Beer + Things + Flowers (2006, Narada Jazz):
Niche marketing, but what can you do with a rather old-fashioned straight
soul group these days? In their natural classification they'd be second
rate, but smooth jazz is so lame they come off as consummate pros. Still,
they should be advised to disguise their limits a bit. The two best
sounding things here are "Tin Man" (which should belong to the Isley
Brothers) and "That's the Way of the World" (which does belong to Earth
Wind & Fire).
Vijay Iyer + Mike Ladd: Still Life With Commentator
(2006 , Savoy Jazz): I liked their previous album, In What
Language? (2003, Pi) quite a lot, but thus far I'm more perplexed
here than anything. Iyer put the music together and Ladd the words
for a theatrical production "conceived & directed" by Ibrahim
Quraishi, something about the fragmentation of mediated reality in
the postmodern world. Iyer's keyboards and programming are fleshed
out with Liberty Ellman guitar and Okkyung Lee cello. Several folks
take a whack at the words, with Pamela Z's arch soprano a personal
turnoff. Will give it another shot, but maybe not soon.
Jazz Yule Love II (2006, Mack Avenue): If Christmas
music really outsells jazz, as I've seen reports claiming, I guess
this is one way to help pay the bills. Seems useless to me, but I've
heard far worse down at the local mall. The roster includes familiar
names from the label's recent releases, plus two I hadn't noticed:
Oscar Brown Jr. and Bud Shank. No dates provided. Brown died in 2005,
with his last album in 1998. Shank is 80 now, still active, with a
good live record last year joined by Phil Woods. Here he makes the
best case I've heard in years for letting it snow.
JC and the Jazz Hoppers: Chillin' at Home (2004 ,
Jazz-Hop): JC is Jason Campbell, guitarist. The Jazz Hoppers are Colin
Nolan and Andrew Dickeson, who play organ and drums, respectively. Don't
know anything about Campbell -- his website has Flash but no substance --
but the record was recorded in Australia, which isn't what you'd call
an international jazz destination. So, guitar-organ-drums: been done.
Chillin'? That too. Sounds like Grant Green? Sort of, but if that's
the point, not enough.
Kayhan Kalhor/Erdal Erzincan: The Wind (2004 ,
ECM): Kalhor plays kamancheh, a four-string spiked fiddle or bowed
lute from Iran: a violin sound, although pitched a bit lower. Erzincan
plays baglama, a long-necked oud from Turkey. Unlisted on the cover
is a third musician, Ulas Ozdemir, on divan (bass) bagalama. One long
improv based on Iranian and Turkish traditional music, indexed for
twelve parts. Fascinating, but a bit thin at this considerable length.
Phil Kelly & the SW Santa Ana Winds: My Museum
(2006, Origin): Los Angeles-based big band, including a bank of strings
and some featured soloists of note -- Wayne Begeron, Pete Christlieb,
Bill Cunliffe, Grant Geissman, Jay Thomas are names I recognize. Kelly
wrote five of nine pieces and arranged the rest, including "Body &
Soul" and "Daydream." Kelly has also worked with a Seattle-based group
called the Northwest Prevailing Winds. Nicely done, with some inspired
moments, but sometimes I wonder why anyone puts so much effort into
projects of such limited potential.
Nancy King: Live at Jazz Standard With Fred Hersch
(2004 , MaxJazz): This won the Voice Critics' jazz poll as best
vocal album of 2006, so I figured I should check it out. Vocal jazz
is many things, and this is one of them: a standards singer with a
lone pianist for support. Hersch is in pure support mode here -- if
he takes a single solo it slipped past me. His patterns have little
interest in themselves; they merely serve as foils for King. She too
keeps this low key: it took a while before I noticed her subtleties
rising to the surface -- the emergence of "Day by Day," the details
to "Everything Happens to Me," little bits of inconspicuous scat.
Didn't have this when the poll closed, not that it would have made
any difference to me. It's the sort of thing that could slowly grow
on you, but Diana Krall blew me away from the start, as did Maurice
Hines, and there's maybe a dozen more jazz vocal albums higher on
my 2006 list. But that's just my take: of the many things comprising
vocal jazz, each has its own distinct appeal, defying easy comparison.
Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh
Sound New Talent): Klein is a young (b. 1982) Israeli pianist,
moved to US in 2005, divides time between Boston (New England
Conservatory) and New York. Can't find much on bassist Cohen
Milo, except that he's Israeli and also tied to NEC. I doubt
that he's any older. A thoughtful album, ending on a quiet
David Krakauer: Bubbemeises: Lies My Grandma Told Me
(2006, Label Bleu): Front cover credits also include Socalled and
Klezmer Madness. Socalled is credited with samples and sequences.
Klezmer Madness is the band. Socalled was around for Krakauer's
2004 Live in Krakow, but fits in much tighter here -- in
many cases the tracks begin with the samples, beats and a bit of
rap, which sets up a contrast that Krakauer's manic tendencies have
David Krakauer: Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me
(2006, Label Bleu): Socalled's samples provide a useful postmodern
framing for the leader's clarinet, which otherwise just tends to
whirl away in a dust cloud of mad klezmer. Even better is the rap
that speaks truth to Bubbe. In full charge, this is an exciting
group, but I've played the record many times without convincing
myself it belongs on the A-list. So it must not.
Diana Krall: From This Moment On (2006, Verve):
I going to have to do some comparison listening before I make this
official, but my instant impression is that the sweepstakes is over:
John Pizzarelli, Tony DeSare, not to mention Michael Bolton, can
all pack it up and head home -- she's the new Sinatra. And I'm not
talking about some distaff version or whatever. There's nothing
markedly feminine either in her voice or demeanor. She's simply
in total control, both of the Clayton-Hamilton Big Band and of
the small subset that keeps the record from overheating.
Diana Krall: From This Moment On (2006, Verve):
The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra doesn't split the difference
between Billy May and Nelson Riddle so much as they aggregate the
virtues of each. That wouldn't mean a thing without a commanding
singer, but Krall fills that bill. She sings the title song, "It
Could Happen to You," "Come Dance With Me," even the often hoary
"Willow Weep for Me" as authoritatively as they've ever been sung,
and each come with long, illustrious histories. And while the
Orchestra is capable of overkill, it's remarkable how seamlessly
she slips in four songs without them.
Norm Kubrin: I Thought About You (2006, Arbors):
About what you'd expect from the backgrounder: "Since 1993 Kubrin
has resided in Palm Beach and has been the resident artist at the
Leopard Room in the Chesterfield Hotel, the music director of the
Colony Hotel, and the resident pianist-singer at Donald Trump's
Mar-A-Lago Club. For the last few years he has been the resident
artist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach and performs
regularly on the Florida concert scene." In other words, Shmoozy
piano balladry, in a trio with bass and guitar, singing ye Great
American Songbook. Good as far as that goes. I was particularly
touched by "Where Do You Start," the breakup song closing the set.
Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 ,
Blue Note [promo]): Piano trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster. A little
bit of this and a little bit of that, skipping from Fats Waller to a
Debussy-Strayhorn medley to Charlie Parker, and on for 75 minutes.
Don't have much to say about it, least of all anything negative.
Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 ,
Blue Note): Still don't have anything useful to say about this,
but it's real good, thoroughly enjoyable if you like piano trios
at all. Long at 75 minutes, but not tiring. A little bit of
everything from Fats Waller to a Debussy-Strayhorn medley to
Charlie Parker to Steve Kuhn. Experience at work -- times three,
actually, given that his trio-mates are Ron Carter and Al Foster.
Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: Christmastime Is
Here (2006, Telarc): Included here only because the featured
singers, at least when they can shut up the Children's Choir and the
Indiana University Singing Hoosiers, have jazz credentials -- Ann
Hampton Callaway, Tony DeSare, Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli.
Reminds me of a junior high recital, only at a higher standard of
competency. Hard to say how much of a plus that really is. But it
is clear that the jazz singers only made the program through the
label's contacts, and that they were wasted.
Pete Levin: Deacon Blues (2007, Motéma Music):
Veteran keyboard player, mostly synths in the past, but organ
here. Worked with Gil Evans from 1973, Jimmy Giuffre from 1983,
plus a long list of pop, jazz, and in-between session work.
With guitar (Joe Beck or Mike DeMicco), bass (his brother,
Tony Levin), drums/percussion (Danny Gottlieb, Ken Lovelett,
Carlos Valdez, in various combos). Steers clear of soul jazz
clichés -- maybe having a bassist on board keeps him out of
the grits range. Steely Dan title cut and Beach Boys' "Sail
on Sailor" are tastefully underplayed.
Dave Liebman/Anthony Jackson/Mike Stern/Tony Marino/Marko
Marcinko/Vic Juris: Back on the Corner (2006 ,
Tone Center): The reference is to Miles Davis' 1972 album On
the Corner, which was where Liebman joined the circus. It
is one of the few Davis albums I don't own. The album is hated
by many jazz critics, and not just the Crouches of this world --
Penguin Guide gives it a meager 2.5 stars, but AMG goes whole
hog at 5, while Christgau settles for a B+. I should check it
out one of these days, especially given how much fun this one
is. But it's also possible that Liebman cleaned it all up. He
kept only one song ("Black Satin"; the other Davis tune, "Ife,"
comes from elsewhere); got rid of the keyboards (except for the
little he plays), tabla, and excess horns, not even recruiting
a trumpet; doubled up on the bass and guitar. All of that works
in his favor, even making his wooden flute tolerable. Could
wind up reducing the attribution here just to Liebman, who is
clearly the main guy.
Dave Liebman/Anthony Jackson/Mike Stern/Tony Marino/Marko
Marcinko/Vic Juris: Back on the Corner (2006 ,
Tone Center): How this stacks up against the oft-maligned On
the Corner remains to be seen, but with no trumpet weighing
in the saxophonist works all that much harder, which is good for
him, and with no keyboards, the rhythm people focus on their
mission. I have this slotted as HM, but will list it only under
Liebman's name. He makes it work, and after half a dozen or more
disappointments during the span of Jazz CG, it's good to be able
to give him some credit.
John Lindberg/Karl Berger: Duets 1 (2004 ,
Between the Lines): Bassist Lindberg first met Berger in 1975 when
the latter was director and the former student at Creative Music
Studio in Woodstock NY. Berger was 40 then, originally from Germany,
strongly influenced by Ornette Coleman. He plays piano and vibes, the
latter more often, and more distinctively, with both contrasting well
with Lindberg's bass.
Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (2004 , Fresh
Sound World Jazz): New York pianist, first appeared in 1998 on
the Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls anthology. I don't
have much of a handle on his piano here, which when he drops
down to a solo on a Bud Powell piece doesn't do much. On the
other hand, the trio turns his relative orthodoxy into a calm,
clear center. Omer Avital plays oud as well as bass. Even more
interesting is Venezuelan percussionist Luis Quintero.
Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006,
Clean Feed): No booklet. Not even a goddam PDF. So here's what I
know: The leader is alto/baritone saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, who
loves Ornette and set this group up for pure improv, often with
whatever guests are in town and up for the sport. This is the
second LIP album. Bassist Pedro Gonçalves was also on the first,
and he makes a strong impression here. Drummer Bruno Pedroso is
new, but probably part of the core group. The trumpet is Dennis
González is a guest, although this isn't his first meeting with
Amado. He adds a low-key lyricism, stabilizing Amado's tendencies
to go over the deep end. The title cut, like everything else, is
jointly accredited, but seems very much his thing -- measured,
meditative, lovely but not in the conventional ways. Cellist
Ulrich Mitzlaff is another guest, limited to the last two cuts.
Wish I knew more.
Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized
(2006, Clean Feed): Saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, on alto and
baritone this time, is the leader, mainstay, or hub of this
variable group. Dallas trumpeter Dennis González is the guest,
adding a low-key lyricism to Amado's tendencies to get rough.
Cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff joins in on the last two cuts. It all
appears to be group improv, and it's a bit hit and miss, with
some low volume sections that are hard to resolve, and some
blaring where they get stuck on one idea. But most of the
time it works, and it's interesting to see how González fits
Maria Kalaniemi: Bellow Poetry (2006, Alula):
Finnish accordionist, classically trained but plays folk melodies,
intimately detailed, warm and comfy, with occasional vocals --
which leaves them lacking sufficient energy to jump over the
cultural barrier, or sufficient deviousness to tunnel under.
Sofia Koutsovitis: Ojalá (2005 , CD Baby):
Argentine singer, moved to Boston in 2001 for education, and on to
New York in 2005 to work. She wrote about half of the material
here, including one co-credited to Jorge Luis Borges. The covers
cover the map, with stops in Cuba, Brazil, and Peru, and are
shapelier than the originals -- "You Don't Know What Love Is,"
nearly the only one in English, is particularly nice. The Group
works for her, and "Silence 2" is fractured, multiphased Latin
jazz at its best. The slow ones are a bit more awkward, but
overall a very attractive record.
David Kweksilber + Guus Janssen (2003-06 ,
Geestgronden): Clarinet and piano duets, recorded over -- or more
likely picked from -- a series of sessions, mostly live, but one
at Janssen's home. Like all such encounters, especially among the
avant-leaning, this seems small -- thin sound, moderately paced,
tentative, exploratory. Unlike most, the miniaturism maintains
its interest. And it does pick up a bit of groove at the end with
a barely recognizable "Honeysuckle Rose" -- a treat.
Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Expansions
(2005 , Rhombus Publishing): The label looks to be unrelated
to Rhombus Records, a jazz label I run into occasionally. It is
run by Leake, and called Publishing because Leake's books outnumber
his records by a margin of 16 to 3. Leake teaches at New England
Conservatory and Tufts. His books are mostly about percussion, and
his expertise centers on West Africa and North India, although his
appetite for percussion instruments seems endless: he lists 42 of
them in his credits, with vibraphone, balafon, metallophones, and
tabla most prominent. The pieces are a mix of traditional themes
(mostly African or Indian), elaborations, and jazz pieces (Bill
Evans is favored). Several songs employ voice, which plays out as
another form of talking drum. There's a bit of extra guitar on one
track, bass on two, but the 22 tracks are mostly solo. The result
is a bit scattered, like an encyclopedia -- a set of exercises and
experiments, all interesting, some quite enchanting. Educational
Jacques Loussier Trio: Bach: The Brandenburgs
(2006, Telarc): I have him rather stuffily filed under classical,
since that's what a quick glance at discography, at least since
1987's Reflections on Bach, reads like. Bach represents
about half the list, but I also note Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Satie,
and Ravel. But there's nothing stuffy about this record. I don't
know the classical readings, so it's hard for me to tell where the
texts end and the jazz begins, but surely the walking bass wasn't
in the original.
Joe Lovano: Streams of Expression (2006, Blue Note):
Advance copy, store date Aug. 1, so no urgent need to sweat details
like two of the piece-sets being called "Steams of Expression Suite" --
probably just a typo. Or how many of ten hornsmen are used how often.
Or why three groups of pieces are blocked out as suites, leaving three
other pieces as stragglers. Or what Gunther Schuller is doing here --
why he's involved in "The Birth of the Cool Suite" and not the others.
Or how much of the piano is provided by the late great John Hicks. Later
for all that. For now, note that there's an awful lot going on here, and
that some of it is quite remarkable. I've always preferred Lovano as the
sole horn in small groups, and I haven't cared for his previous work
with Schuller, especially Rush Hour, but this can't be dismissed
out of hand. Could rise or fall, but this is likely to wind up on quite
a few critics' year end lists.
Joe Lovano Ensemble: Streams of Expression
(2005 , Blue Note): Gunther Schuller is only credited
with the three-piece-long "Birth of the Cool Suite," but the
big band assembled there carries on for two chunks of Lovano's
own "Streams of Expression" and a Tim Hagans piece "Buckeyes."
As such, this resembles the widely admired (albeit not by me)
Schuller-arranged Rush Hour. Lovano cut his teeth in
big bands, and he's comfortable here. But I get squirmish,
admiring one section for its slick intensity, getting annoyed
by others, and eventually not caring which is which.
The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpático
(2005 , ArtistShare): This is latin jazz of a high order, but
I have no real grip on just how high or even what order. Palmieri
is a project I've made little progress on, although I've found two
albums that I like quite a bit -- Palmas (1994, Nonesuch)
and Ritmo Caliente (2004, Concord) -- and don't doubt that
they are more. Seems like the piano is reduced here, the conga is
grooving steadily, and the trumpet gets more play, but then this
is really Lynch's album. He's a terrific player anywhere he wants
to play. Phil Woods guests on four cuts, with at least one notable
solo. Yosvany Terry showed up, but his spots got cut, leaving him
with just an asterisk. Lila Downs sings two cuts, and they're not
Russell Malone: Live at Jazz Standard: Volume One
(2005 , MaxJazz): A guitarist, Malone has always struck me as
a very straightlaced Wes Montgomery acolyte -- a style I've never
much cared for, although I can point to exceptions in Montgomery's
own catalog. This is lightweight, but as likeable as I've ever heard
him, mostly fast groove pieces from his own pen, plus a slow, pretty
one by Milt Jackson. Pianist Martin Bejerano can hold a solo too.
Russell Malone: Live at the Jazz Standard: Volume One
(2005 , MaxJazz): I've noticed myself complaining about Wes
Montgomery a lot lately, and indeed I don't see much value in his
school, or even in much of his own work. Still, when he was on, he
did amaze, as on Smokin' at the Half Note -- which I first
heard embedded in Impressions: The Verve Jazz Sides along
with a lot of Jimmy Smith. Malone is so squarely in Montgomery's
wake that until now he's always struck me as redundant or worse.
Score this one as redundant at best, in part because he pulls more
than sweetness out of the blues. Also because pianist Martin Bejerano
had me thinking of Wynton Kelly for a while. In a different venue,
this could be called Smolderin' at the Half Note.
Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis
Music/Rounder): A note in the booklet: "This album is dedicated to
the memory of Jackie McLean, John Hicks, Hilton Ruiz, Rosalie Edwards,
Stan Chin, Joyce Alexander Wein, Shirley Horn, John Stubblefield, Don
Alias, Ray Barretto, Roy Brooks, Keter Betts, Lucky Thompson, Percy
Heath, Arnie Lawrence, Jimmy Smith and Benny Bailey." A couple of
names there don't ring a bell for me, and others could have been
added, but it's been a brutal year. Good, therefore, that Branford
seems to be back in his game. This is his working quartet -- pianist
Joey Calderazzo gets some flashy solo spots, while Eric Revis and
Jeff Watts hold things together. The credits don't specify which
"saxophones" Branford uses, but he tends to charge hard on tenor
and wax eloquent on soprano -- not clear if there's an alto or any
other sax in his kit. Just played this while multitasking, so I
don't have any idea whether the booklet references to Chopin-like
nocturnes and Messiaen-like piano solos are just bullshit, I'm
pleased enough to keep it in play.
Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis
Music/Rounder): Since Coltrane and Shorter, damn few tenor
saxophonists have managed to restrain themselves from adding
soprano sax to their toolkit. Given his influences, ambitions,
and essential conservatism, Marsalis was certain to follow that
temptation. To his credit, he's learned to wax eloquent, but I
still prefer the big horn by a wide margin, not least in his
hands. On tenor he can get gruff, and when the band, a standard
issue piano quartet just like Coltrane and Shorter, gets rough
in turn, he sounds terrific. But that's just one part of his
blend, which to his benefit is a bit stronger than usual here.
Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
(2007, Blue Note): At this late date, a jazz musician not interested
in the future is bound to be trapped by the past. Marsalis built his
career by working backwards from Woody Shaw to Miles Davis to Louis
Armstrong, eventually rediscovering his home town and making his
happiest records. But the intense early praise he garnered went to
his head, seducing him with the idea that he's not just a masterful
trumpet player -- of course, he should be a great composer too. But
again, his only view was backwards. Blood on the Fields was
his most ambitious effort at following Ellington. Here he moves on
to Mingus, crafting a set of songs built from trad moves with newly
surreal colorings and political lyrics. He's good enough musically
that some of this works, but the words, especially the orthodox but
unconventional politics -- conservative by class, liberal by creed,
radical by race -- are hard to avoid. So are the vocalists: young
Jennifer Sanon is a weak spot, as is the rapper at the end.
[B] [Mar 6]
Mike Marshall/Hamilton de Holanda: New Worlds/Novas Palavras
(2005 , Adventure Music, CD+DVD): Mandolins aren't exactly choice
dueling instruments, but the point here is more likely to see what can
come together than how American and Brazilian mandolinists stack up. The
match isn't exactly equal: de Holanda plays 10-string bandolim and Irish
bouzouki, both close matches to Marshall's mandolin. Marshall also drops
down a bit with mandocello and tenor guitar. This struck me as the label
owner's indulgence at first, but it works better than expected. Sounds
to my ears somewhat like one of those plucky mediaeval dance things, but
more tightly wound -- a plus. DVD has three songs: that's the owner's
indulgence, but he wants you to see how happy he is.
Martirio & Chano Domínguez: Acoplados (2004
, Sunnyside): Martirio sings Spanish copla, a traditional
pop song laced with flamenco and dolled up here for dramatic
effect. Domínguez supports her with a tight little piano trio,
but the RTVE big band and orchestra bathe the proceedings in
strings and horns. It's hard to know what's traditional and
what's progressive here, which limits are prodded and which
are dutifully adhered to.
Nicolas Masson: Yellow (A Little Orange) (2004 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Swiss, plays tenor sax and bass clarinet,
recorded this in Geneva, but has lived in NYC, studying with Chris
Potter and Rich Perry. Two horn quartets on the avant side tend to
let the horns fly free; on the mainstream postbop side they tend to
be shackled together, which is mostly the case here. The other horn
here is Russ Johnson on trumpet. Looks promising on paper, but thus
far it's only impressive in spots.
Jackie McLean: Demon's Dance (1967 , Blue
Note): The last of McLean's Blue Notes is a bright, breezy, bop
quintet with newcomers Woody Shaw and Jack DeJohnette standing
out -- the sort of quickie he made routinely a decade earlier at
Prestige, but with his mastery all the more evident.
Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer: Boneyard
(2007, Origin): Mainstream piano trio. Played it twice so far.
Don't have much to say, but it strikes me as superbly crafted.
Trio met in early '70s. Claim to have played together regularly
for 35 years. I can't find any prior recordings with all three,
but Spencer and Sill have work together. McNeely is a highly
regarded pianist I'm barely familiar with: I've only heard his
1992 Maybeck solo, but it's worth noting that of the 8
Maybeck solos I've heard, his is the only one I've rated
as high as A-. SFFR, clearly.
Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 , AYVA): Cuban
drummer, moved to Boston around when he turned 30, wound up teaching
at Berklee. This is his first album, recorded in New York, released
in Barcelona, and the main problem I find with it is an embarrassment
of riches. For instance, he has to pick and choose between three
willing saxophonists: Anat Cohen, George Garzone, and Joe Lovano.
Ditto with two lesser known but excellent guitarists: Lionel Loueke
and Nir Felder. And he has to find space for keyb man Leo Genovese.
He composed all but the Ornette Coleman piece. All this makes it
hard to focus on the drums, which don't strike me as particularly
Cuban. The Voice Jazz Critics poll picked this as the debut record
of the year. Thus far I have mixed reactions, but it is the sort
of thing that can make a big impression, especially when Garzone
or Lovano get cranked up.
Myra Melford/Be Bread: The Image of Your Body (2003
, Cryptogramophone): Looks like another slipcase promo, with
the press doc buried in MS Word files -- ugh! even worse than PDF! --
on a website, but this is an advance and I'm likely to see the real
thing before I finalize. Melford is one of the major pianists of her
generation, dazzling when she goes outside, delightful on the soft
inside fills. She likes to name her groups, even though this quintet
has three-fifths in common with last album's quintet, the Tent. This
starts off with her on harmonium, a hand-pumped organ she's studied
in India and Pakistan, although she returns to piano for most of the
album. Interesting group mix: trumpeter Cuong Vu and bassist Stomu
Takeishi lean toward fusion on their own; guitarist Brandon Ross has
some hip-hop on his resume as well as work for Butch Morris and Henry
Threadgill; drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee was last seen working with
Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman in Fieldwork. Lot of intriguing stuff
here to sort out.
Myra Melford/Be Bread: The Image of Your Body
(2003 , Cryptogramophone): She's added harmonium to her
piano, via studies in India and Pakistan that have left a mark
on her music. Her quintet leans toward fusion on their own --
at least that's the case with trumpeter Cuong Vu and bassist
Stomu Takeishi; guitarist Brandon Ross has some hip-hop on
his resume, while drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee was last seen
working in Fieldwork -- but the mix here is hard to decipher.
I've played this a lot and never quite connected with it.
Hendrik Meurkens: New York Samba Jazz Quintet
(2005 , Zoho): Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1957; moved to
the US in 1977, first to Berklee in Boston, then on to New York.
He plays Brazilian music with the single-minded devotion of a
native. His instruments are vibes and harmonica. Over time the
ratio has shifted in favor of harmonica, at least two-to-one
here. I've never cared much for his work in the past, but this
is a sharp group -- "New York" is an intenstifying adjective,
putting a charge into samba that is often lacking -- and his
leads stand out on both instruments. His harmonica is especially
revelatory. The instrument's range, tone, and sweep is such that
it's curious how few jazz musicians have taken it up -- Toots
Thielemans has pretty much had the field to himself, but he's
hardly been an obscurity, winning "miscellaneous instrument"
polls with absurd ease. Records like this should open some
Nando Michelin Trio: Duende (2006, Fresh Sound New
Talent): Pianist. Don't know any biographical details, but AMG lists
six albums going back to 1996, and that doesn't include this one.
Only two side-credits. This one was recorded in Boston. Richie
Barshay plays drums and percussion. Esperanza Spalding plays bass
and contributes scat vocals to most songs. I'm fairly neutral about
the latter, which is to say they're unannoying and less disruptive
than I'd expect. Piano is attractive, and bass and drums provide
The Microscopic Septet: Seven Men in Neckties: History of the
Micros Volume One (1982-90 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Breakdown
here is four saxes, piano, bass (or tuba), drums. Soprano saxophonist
Phillip Johnston, most recently heard from in the Captain Beefheart
tribute band Fast 'N' Bulbous (also on Cuneiform), is the evident
leader, although pianist Joel Forrester writes nearly as much. Dave
Sewelson (baritone sax), David Hofstra (bass, tuba), and Richard
Dworkin (drums) were constants, with the alto and tenor sax chairs
revolving over ten years and four albums. This collects their first
two albums: Take the Z Train (1983) and the live Let's
Flip (1985), with a few extra tracks thrown in, including a
brief take of Forrester's theme for NPR's Fresh Air. Hard
to know what to make of this: it's basically swing done by NYC's
downtown fringe without any obviously ironic affectations -- sort
of the premillennial version of Steven Bernstein's Millennial
Territory Orchestra. Live record gets dicier. They can approach
the marvelous at times, but don't make a habit of it.
The Microscopic Septet: Surrealistic Swing: History of
the Micros Volume Two (1981-90 , Cuneiform, 2CD):
Two more albums -- Off Beat Glory (1986) and Beauty
Based on Science (The Visit) (1988) -- and they're done,
with a couple of cuts from an early session with John Zorn and
John Hagen and more "Fresh Air Theme" stretching the dates.
Offhand, I'd say the 1986 album slips a notch, but the 1988
one makes up the lost ground. Thought I heard an attractive
tango on the latter, but the title claims it's a waltz. Oh,
Bob Mintzer Quartet: In the Moment (2004 ,
Art of Life): Yellowjackets tenor saxophonist in a straight acoustic
piano-bass-drums quartet. Plays bass clarinet too. Away from the
big bands, pop groups, and fusioneers, he's a solid, respectable
Nils Petter Molvaer: ER (2005 , Thirsty
Ear): Molvaer matches Miles Davis's fusion breakthrough in two
respects: he's a master at getting the rhythm tight, and his
trumpet adds a bare minimum of human voice without detracting
from the machines. His programmed beats grow more complex and
varied each time out, opening up new paths ranging from chill
out to a striking Sidsel Endresen vocal. This was originally
released by Universal as Europe-only, like its predecessor
the still hard-to-find NP3. When Thirsty Ear noticed
the market gap and the affinity between Molvaer's jazztronica
and their homegrown Blue Series, they licensed this and the
Live: Streamer from Molvaer's own Sula label, then
mixed some of those, a little NP3, and some remix bait
into An American Compilation. So three cuts here are
redundant. Consumers will have to judge the redundancies and
bait, but this is where the others were heading.
Nils Petter Molvaer: Live: Streamer (2002 ,
Thirsty Ear): Originally released on Molvaer's own Sula label,
I gave the original an Honorable Mention without giving it much
thought, figuring it to be a second helping of the studio albums
that preceded it. Same record, I think, in a shinier box, but
the more I listen to it, the more I'm struck by his growth and
Thelonious Monk: Riverside Profiles (1955-59 ,
Riverside): From Brilliant Corners to Town Hall, Monk's
Riversides were his growth period, in many cases taking early songs
and finding new ways of orchestrating them -- most notably aided by
saxophonists named Hawkins, Coltrane, Rollins, Griffin, and Rouse.
Ten cuts from ten albums, most deserving to be heard at far greater
length. Come with a generic Riverside bonus disc, including "Bemsha
Swing" -- which I would have preferred here to the solo pieces, or
Wes Montgomery: Riverside Profiles (1959-63 ,
Riverside): His soft metallic tone, intricate lines, and irrepressible
groove made him the premier jazz guitarist of his times and immensely
influential ever since. His Complete Riverside Recordings box
totals 12 discs at the peak of a shortened career -- he died in 1968
at age 43 -- so this should be prime, but it's also rather spotty,
with organ grinds and strings, and others frequently stealing the
Stanton Moore: III (2006, Telarc): Personnel
credits don't list Moore, but he's the drummer. He was probably
the main guy in Garage A Trois, whose Outre Mer ranks as
my favorite pop-jazz-fusion album of the Jazz CG era -- not that
it has a lot of competition. The key there was that they kept the
mix lean and the groove sharp. This is even leaner, a bare bones
organ trio, at least when the two guests -- Skerik on tenor sax,
Mark Mullins on trombone -- don't weigh in. It no doubt helps
that Moore's two bandmates have produced memorable albums on
their own -- specifically, ones that impressed me more for their
instrumental prowess than their overall achievement. The Hammond
guy is Robert Walter. The guitarist is Will Bernard. First cut
is just the three of them, something called "Poison Pushy," and
it clicks. Beyond that I'm less certain, but for now it's worth
noting that Skerik earns his keep. He's carved out a niche for
himself as a postmodern honker -- a Joe Houston for Coltrane's
Stanton Moore: III (2006, Telarc): Not sure
what you'd call Moore's strain of jazz-funk fusion. It shares
some ground with MM&W, looking back to soul jazz organ
(Robert Walter is the guy here), guitar (Will Bernard), and
sax (Skerik). Garage A Trois's Outre Mer, which Moore
had a big hand in, is my favorite example -- it just seems
to click together right. This is spottier, especially on the
more straightforward funk toons. Two slower pieces toward the
end -- Abdullah Ibrahim's "Water From an Ancient Well" and
trad.'s "I Shall Not Be Moved" -- are exceptional, curiously
sandwiched around a Led Zep blues, "When the Levee Breaks."
Nick Moran Trio: The Messenger (2006, CAP):
Guitarist-led organ trio, with clean lines, gentle swing, and
Ed Withrington's light touch on the organ. First album, quite
likable. Credits George Benson as an influence.
Lee Morgan: The Cooker (1957 , Blue Note):
Relatively early, in fact still in his teens, but Morgan's trumpet
sound is loud and clear, contrasting brilliantly with Pepper Adams'
baritone sax, with a young Bobby Timmons on piano.
Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio: Bright Side (2005 ,
Material): I wonder what Pat Metheny's fans would think of Muthspiel.
Probably find him too dry. Penguin Guide speculates that he's "too
individual, I suspect, for the majors." I'm not sure what "individual"
means, but it doesn't mean idiosyncratic. He gets a clean sound from
his electric guitar, little echo or distortion, no effects, nothing
prepared, but he also has no interest in the horn-like single note
lines that have been so prominent in jazz guitar from Wes Montgomery
to Joe Morris. He plays guitar more like a piano, teasing harmony
and rhythm out of it as well as melody. That may be even clearer on
Solo, where he has to dig deeper into his kit, but the payoff
is on this trio with bass-drums from brothers Matthias and Andreas
Pichler. They push him hard, but he's always in control, never breaking
a sweat. Best guitar jazz I've heard since, oh, Black and Blue,
from 1992, same guy. Possible pick hit.
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Solo (2004, Material): Like
most solo albums, this slows down with no one pushing him, even
dragging a bit in spots. Limited in tone too, although attractive.
Still, he's so sharp connoisseurs will appreciate this for the
study points. [PS: Photo inside sleeve shows him sitting in the
middle of an array of gadgets, so my "no effects" idea may be off.
Also plays some bass here -- presumably electric. May very well
do some overdubbing as well.]
Wolfgang Muthspiel/Brian Blade: Friendly Travelers
(2006 , Material): AMG's entire biography on guitarist reads
something like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Interesting
electric guitarist, rivaling John Scofield. Placed in the fusion,
contemporary, neo-bop genres. Not an overbearing player." That's
lame even as a first approximation, and not just because Scofield
can't hold a candle to him. Soft, metallic tone, which he can amp
up; not much into funk grooves or long bebop lines, but he plays
tight, thoughtful melodies, especially on these intricate duet
improvs. I've heard most of his early recordings on Amadeo -- as
far as I'm concerned, Black and Blue was the guitar album
of the '90s -- but this is the first I've heard of a half dozen
or more recent discs on Material and Quinton. Best thing I've
heard from Blade.
Andy Narell: Tatoom (2007, Heads Up): Subtitled
Music for Steel Orchestra, the steel drums are Narell's
expansive kit, photographed in the booklet. The "orchestra" adds
drums, percussion (congas, timbales), and guests on three cuts:
two with guitarist Mike Stern, one with tenor saxophonist David
Sanchez. The latter cut is worthwhile. The rest leaves me slightly
queasy, even though it sounds like one of the most straightforward
jazz albums he's made. Not sure just why, nor all that interested
in figuring it out.
New Ghost: Live Upstairs at Nick's (1998 ,
ESP-Disk): After some digging, I filed this one-shot group under
Philadelphia saxophonist Elliott Levin. His resume ranges from
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes to Cecil Taylor. This particular
group, as you could probably figure out, is dedicated to Albert
Ayler. Both Levin and guitarist Rick Iannacone are credited with
vocals, which gravitate toward Beefheart, but mostly they haunt
and squawk, sometimes to hair-raising effect.
David 'Fathead' Newman: Life (2006 , High Note):
Dedicated to the late John Hicks, who write the title song. Fathead's
feeling light-headed here, his tenor sax so mellowed out as to render
Doug Ramsey's Texas Tenor-themed liner notes nonsensical; his alto is
even creamier, while his flute, sugared up with Steve Nelson vibes and
Peter Bernstein guitar, floats aimlessly into space. Which is where
his "What a Beautiful World" belongs -- I'd rather hear Kenny G's,
with or without the Armstrong sample. Closes with a nice "Naima."
Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Blood (2004, Kopasetic):
I was impressed by Nilsson's guitar on the Fay Victor album, so
thought some due dilligence was called for. He has two previous
albums with his avant-rock (or is it post-punk fusion?) quartet
Aorta. Electric bass and drums power and thrash, and saxophonist
Mattias Carlson squawks, but the guitar leads. Nilsson plays
rock guitar with jazz chops: I get the feeling this is mostly
improv, spontaneous inventions based on core concepts. There
are a bunch of Scandinavian groups working along these lines --
Atomic, Jazz Mob, the Thing -- but this may be the best.
Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic):
Second albums, at least among rock groups, tend to be stronger
musically but have weaker material than first albums. This was
especially true among punk rockers, who either grew or shrunk
into self-caricature. This is jazz, but these guys started out
in rock, and they track that model well. The first album was
all thrash and fury -- bring the noize with great guitar that
can't be characterized as guitar solos because the band doesn't
leave Nilsson enough room. This one is much more varied -- the
quintessential growth sign -- which gives everyone a chance to
show their skills. For instance, saxophonist Mattias Carlsson
discloses a ballad style not previously evident. Only problem
is that when you slow the guitar-dominated mix down too much
it starts to sound like heavy metal. Not sure how that will
weigh out in the end. A lot of interesting music here.
Seth Noonan Brewed by Noon: Stories to Tell
(2006 , Songlines): Noonan is a Boston drummer. Brewed by
Noon is one of three groups he juggles, along with the Hub
("spit-in-yer-face attitude of punk, and the muzo-sophistication
of jazz") and Chips (duet with Aram Bajakian). Brewed by Noon
dabbles in world music, with vocals from Ireland and Africa,
although the three guitars (Bajakian, Jon Madof, Marc Ribot)
seem to be more to the point. Interesting record, although the
four vocal tracks don't do much for me yet.
Steve Oliver: Snowfall (2006, Koch): First snow
of the season here in Cowtown, so I figured that must be what I've
been saving this for. Oliver plays guitar and synths, and he makes
tolerable background music out of trifles like "Carol of the Bells"
and his own "Crystals in the Snow." Unfortunately, he also sings,
or in one case is credited with "vocal sounds." It's not that he's
awful (although he is), but these songs don't deserve the sort of
attention that voice commands.
Pärson Sound (1966-68 , Anthology, 2CD):
Well, actually this isn't a CD, let alone two, at all. Anthology
Recordings is a label that only sells downloads -- I just happen
to have gotten the album on two CDs because the publicist figured
(correctly in my case) that some of us would only respond to CDs.
I don't like the business model. I've never paid for mere bits,
and doubt that I ever will. On the other hand, I mention this
here because it is sort-of jazzlike -- mostly instrumental, with
saxophones in the lead -- and because it's pretty good. Mostly
instrumental, built from thick layers of guitar, cello and sax
with hard rock beats punctuating dirgelike repetitive drones -- at
its lightest just guitar over bird twitter; mistaken for psychedelia
at the time, this owes more to LaMonte Young, parallels the Velvet
Underground and Soft Machine, and runs far ahead of hardcore bands
like Flipper, but sounds to me most like a jazz fusion road not
taken. (Looks like it's still in print in Sweden on Subliminal
Sounds. More on Anthology in the next Recycled Goods, due early
Oscar Peńas Group: The Return of Astronautus (2005
, Fresh Sound New Talent): Don't know much about Peńas, and
never heard of anyone in his group except perhaps -- rings a bell,
anyway -- keyboardist José A. Medina. Barcelona group, Peńas plays
guitar. Evidently Javier Vercher played sax in an earlier edition
of the group, but the current saxophonist goes by the name Guim G.
Balasch. The other band members are D-Beat Gonzalez on bass and
Mariano Steimberg on drums. Peńas has a thick, metallic tone,
which melts into the fender rhodes and electric bass. Postbop,
more or less. The ballads are lovely. The faster pieces don't
make much of an impression.
Alain Pérez: El El Aire (2005 , AYVA):
Cuban bassist, lives in Madrid, has worked with Chucho Valdés,
Paco de Lucia, Jerry Gonzalez. Busts some interesting rhythmic
moves, shuffles his musicians around for variety, and reaches
a bit too high on occasion, especially when he tries to sing.
In a better world I'd give this more than two plays and try
to sort out what I do and don't like about it -- there's no
shortage of both. It's even possible that he'll come back with
something that encourages me to do so. But until then:
Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Milt Jackson: What's Up?
The Very Tall Band (1998 , Telarc): Leftovers from
the three day stand that produced The Very Tall Band Live at
the Blue Note (Telarc). Nothing all that special at the time,
but it's great to hear Bags again. One of the first things I ever
read about Jackson described him as "always swinging"; Peterson
and Brown aren't the sort who'd moderate that tendency.
B+(**) [Feb 27]
John Pisano's Guitar Night (1997-2006 , Mel
Bay, 2CD): Guitar Night is every Tuesday at Spazio's in Sherman
Oaks CA -- at least that's where all the recordings from 2001 on
come from. Pisano hosts one or more guest guitarists, usually
with a revolving set of bassists and drummers. Pisano's first
Guitar Night was in 1997 at Papashon, with George Van Eps and
Herb Ellis early guests. Picking 16 cuts from a decade, Guitar
Night features 12 guitarists plus Pisano on roughly half of the
cuts. Pisano's own credits include work with Chico Hamilton in
1956-58 and a current duo with vocalist-wife Jeanne dba the
Flying Pisanos. I'm not familiar with most of the guitarists
here -- Peter Bernstein, Joe Diorio, and Larry Koonse are the
exceptions, aside from Ellis and Van Eps -- and they sort of
flow together. A good thing, I'd say, a delight for anyone
into the intricate inner workings of postbop jazz guitar.
5 for Freddie: Bucky Pizzarelli's Tribute to Freddie
Green (2006 , Arbors): Check out this "cast of
characters": Pizzarelli as Green, John Bunch as Count Basie,
Warren Vaché as Sweets Edison, Jay Leonhart as Walter Page,
Mickey Roker as Jo Jones. Green was famous for never taking
a solo, which doesn't open up a lot of space for Pizzarelli
to show off, but Basie's rhythm section redefined swing, and
these understudies are competent revivalists. Still, the guy
who lifts this above the normal run of tributes is Vaché,
whose cornet is a spare, tart reminder of Sweets' trumpet
and a whole lot more.
Mikkel Ploug Group (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent):
Guitarist, don't know anything more about him. Went to his website,
which responded: "At present it's not possible to view the text in
Firefox. Sorry for the inconvenience." Fuck you, too. Recorded at
"Location Studios," wherever that is. The Group includes Jeppe
Skovbakke on double bass and Sean Carpio on drums, whoever they
are. The featured guest is Mark Turner, who they hardly need name
given how clear and distinctive he sounds. (Cf. Eli Degibri, whose
rating suffered in comparison.) Will write more when I've cooled
off a bit. Seems like a good support guitarist behind a really
good tenor saxophonist.
Mikkel Ploug Group (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent):
Danish guitarist, aka Mikkel Ploug Petersen, born 1978. Wrote all
the pieces here. Postbop, nice movement. Seems like a decent enough
guitarist, but he's overshadowed in this quartet by tenor saxophonist
Mark Turner. Not sure whether this is near the top of Turner's game,
but anyone with a serious interest in him should like this. Ploug's
website sucks. When I accessed it with the browser he insists on,
I got a bit further, but with further aggravation.
Jonathan Poretz: A Lot of Livin' to Do (2006 ,
Pacific Coast Jazz): Actually, not sure of the recording date, but
clearly it can't be the same year as the official release date.
Poretz is an unabashed admirer of the cardinal male vocal lineage.
Down in the "Special Thanks" he says, "Thanks to Frank, Tony, Mel
and Bobby for showing me the way." If you have to ask for surnames,
this record isn't for you. In my case, "Bobby" gave me pause -- I
always thought of Darin as a rocker until I started listening to
him lately. Anyhow, we're not talking McFerrin. Of the four, the
closest match is Bennett. Actually, I like Poretz better, but I
can't claim he adds anything new. Probably wouldn't want to, even
if he could.
Roger Powell: Fossil Poets (2006, Inner Knot):
His main claim to fame was playing synths in Todd Rundgren's space
group Utopia, adding resonances to the etymology of the word. Other
credits include Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell and David Bowie's
dreadful Stage album. He's older now, evidently wiser as well.
He styles this as "retro-future" music, meaning electronic, but toned
down and dialed back for oldsters. His beats are dependable: they hold
the music together without crossing either into dance or ambient --
chill might be the right word, but not too cold. Simple enough I'm
not sure it'll sustain interest. I'd be tempted to classify it as
New Age, but it's much better than that neighborhood.
Peter Primamore: Grancia (2006 , Blue Apples
Music): Pianist from New Jersey, probably in his 40s, first record,
background includes: Neil Young tribute band on Jersey shore, a
gamelan ensemble at Cornell, lounge piano in Atlantic City. AMG
classified this as easy listening. On listening to it, I shuttled
it off to my new age file. In fairness, he does rock a bit, on a
piece called "Free Western." This is composed and neatly layered
instrumental music -- mostly strings (including Chieli Minucci's
guitars, a quartet, and harp), soft reeds (clarinets, flutes, oboe),
percussion -- with no jazz feel. Often pleasant, at times lovely.
Puttanesca (2006, Catasonic): Sauce, usually served
with spaghetti. Brown 4 halved cloves garlic in 3 tbs. olive oil. Add
4-5 anchovy fillets, crush with fork. Add 28 oz. crushed tomatoes, 10-12
coarsely chopped black olives, 2 tbs. capers, 2 tbs. flat parsley, a
small red chili or equivalent. Stirring occasionally, cook over medium
heat until reduced to sauce (about 10 minutes). Pasta alla puttanesca
translates as whore's pasta. It has a loud, noisy taste, one that grabs
your buds and beats them around. Group tries to do the same thing, but
less successfully. Their obligatory inspirational cover is Beefheart's
"Lick My Decals Off, Baby," and throughout the guitar-bass-drums exhibit
a similar skew. The vocalist is Weba Garretson, who's also done business
as Weba World. Given that nobody knows what a jazz vocal is these days,
she's probably close enough -- certainly too kinky for alt-rock.
Ike Quebec: It Might As Well Be Spring (1961 ,
Blue Note): Great name, but a spotty career, cutting r&b 78s for
Blue Note and Savoy in the late '40s, then reappearing from 1958-62,
specializing in soul jazz 45s, before dying of lung cancer in 1963,
age 44. All along he may have been more notable as Blue Note's a&r
guy, recruiting Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, and many
more. He played on Monk's early "genius" recordings, sounding confused.
But by 1960 he developed a rich, lustrous tone to his tenor sax, and
his blues and ballads bring out the joyous warmth of the instrument.
This quartet with Freddie Roach on organ and Milt Hinton on bass has
two originals that go down easy, but it's the well-worn standards
that shine: "Lover Man," "Ol' Man River," "Willow Weep for Me," and
the title track.
Juan Carlos Quintero: Las Cumbias . . . Las Guitarras
(1997-2006 , Inner Knot): Colombian guitarist, from Medellin,
although he's been in the US since studying at Berklee and New England
Conservatory in the early '80s. Selected from a decade's work, the
pieces offer a remarkably uniform flow -- all instrumental, most with
bass, accordion, and drums/percussion, a couple with piano. Just a
slightly folkie groove that never lets up.
Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 ,
ECM): This continues a string of first-rate albums, on CAM Jazz as
well as ECM, with the trumpeter wry and laconic, like he's finally
settled on his life's work. What's unsettled here is the trombonist,
young Gianluca Petrella, who shares the line in front of piano, bass
and drums. Petrella's Blue Note exposure won him Downbeat's TDWR
poll, a rare breakthrough for any European. While I take that with
the proverbial grain of salt, Petrella adds something here.
[B+(***)] [Feb 6]
Revenge of Blind Joe Death: The John Fahey Tribute Album
(2006, Takoma): The various artists here hew so closely to Fahey's
guitar style that this tribute not only flows smoothly, it comes
close to converging into a single mind -- compensation, for sure,
for the fact that Fahey is no longer with us. One cut that stands
out is Henry Kaiser and John Schott on "Steamboat Gwine 'Round the
Bend/How Green Was My Valley," where they amplify Fahey's tone and
double it up.
Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (2006, Fresh Sound
New Talent): Young (b. 1980) alto/soprano saxophonist from Kansas City,
educated at Berklee and the New School, based in NYC. Runs a quintet
here with vibes-guitar-bass-drums. Runs on the wild side, with fast,
complex runs, leaps, and the occasional squawk, against mostly free
rhythm. Not inconceivable he has Charlie Parker in mind, but he's a
completely contemporary player. Mike Pinto's vibes make interesting
contrast here. Also impressed with bassist Matt Brewer, even younger,
who's worked with Greg Osby -- who, by the way, offers praise in the
booklet. Could go higher; impressive debut.
Tad Robinson: A New Point of View (2007, Severn):
White blues singer, also plays harmonica, although I wouldn't
swear to the race without a photo. Actually, the notes refer to
him as a "soul-blues singer," but I find this so firmly locked
into the modern blues paradigm that his hard-earned soulfulness
Luis Rodríguez: U-Turn (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent):
Young tenor saxophonist (owns a soprano too) from Puerto Rico. Got a
scholarship to Berklee 1998; moved back to Puerto Rico in 2003. First
album, mostly a quartet with bass, drums, and Luis Perdomo on piano,
but Miguel Zenón joins in on two tracks, and really heats things up
on "On the Road." Music does not have a pronounced Latin influence,
although the possibility that Perdomo, in particular, is slipping in
something over my head is very real; rather, it's postbop of a high
order, easy to enjoy, hard to fault.
Florian Ross Trio: Big Fish & Small Pond
(2005 , Intuition): German pianist, studied in Köln, London,
and New York with the likes of John Taylor, Django Bates, Don
Friedman, and Jim McNeely. Has half a dozen records, of which
this is the first I've heard. Good taste, touch. I still have
a lot of trouble writing about piano trios, but I know one I
like when I hear it.
Florian Ross Trio: Big Fish & Small Pond
(2005 , Intuition): In a period when I haven't been able
to do much critical listening, I've played this piano trio a
lot and found it always pleasurable although rarely demanding.
But I do need to move on.
Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004 ,
Clean Feed): Trombone/bass duos, as limited sonically as you'd
expect. Two great players, capable of sustaining a high level of
interest if the listener is up for it. Rudd has rarely exposed
himself this intimately. Dresser, on the other hand, does it all
Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 , Wig): Two
Canadians, clarinettist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner,
started recording as Queen Mab a decade or so ago. I haven't heard
anything they've done before, either together or in side projects,
which include classical and klezmer as well as free jazz improv.
This is their second trio album with cellist Ig Henneman, who is
right in the thick of things. It's difficult going, and I'm not
sure just what I think of it, but on second play the discordant
piano gets my attention.
Saborit: Que Linda Es Mi Cuba (2006, Tumi):
Campesino music from east Cuba -- at one point they translate
"campesino" as "peasant," at another they extrapolate: "This
is Cuba's answer to country music." Country, sure, like jibaro
is Puerto Rican country, but this isn't an answer to anything.
The group is named in honor of Eduardo Saborit, who long ago
wrote the title song. The group has been around since the early
'80s, but this is their first recording. Coming from the Cuban
Oriente, this is less Afro and more Spanish -- more guitar and
voice, less percussion -- than the urban music of Havana; as
such, it travels easily across the Caribbean, mixing son and
guaracha with cumbia. Not jazz, but too infectious not to note.
I have a pile of Cuban classics on my shelf. I wonder if this
will sound so good after I work through the masters.
Saborit: Que Linda Es Mi Cuba (2006, Tumi Music):
I suppose it's pure coincidence that the guitars in this East
Cuban group remind me of nothing so much as Guitar Paradise
of East Africa. Cuba's Oriente is typically less Afro and
more Spanish than the urban jungle of Havana, but for country
music this builds on pretty complex riddims. Modestly named for
guaracha legend Eduardo Saborit, they've played together for
twenty-plus years before piling onto a tractor and heading
cross-country for their first studio date. That may make them
hicks, but they were right to take the chance.
Hironobu Saito: The Sea (2005 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Japanese guitarist, won a scholarship to Berklee, seems
to be based in Kyoto now, but he does get around. Second album, more
ambitious than The Remaining 2%. Most of it oscillates in
big waves of groove, with Walter Smith's sax keeping him company,
and Eric Harland accentuating the beat. In this mode he reminds me
of John Scofield or maybe Pat Metheny -- guitar's never been my
strong suit, and anyway the reaction he evokes is that I've always
distrusted those guys. Aside from Harland's drums, I find that part
of the album devoid of interest. Some bits fare better. The title
track is a simple thing with ocean sounds fading into a recitation
by Gretchen Parlato that's both atmospheric and sultry.
Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese
(2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Slovenia guitarist, has
a slightly earlier record, Two Hours (Fresh Sound New
Talent), still stuck in my list of deserving honorable mentions
waiting for words to come to me. That one was a quartet, with
Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. This one is a quintet,
with Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Helias, and Gerald Cleaver. I
prefer the former -- at least Malaby over Binney, but I like
the trombone here, and while I'm less familiar with Binney, he
can excite. Another reason may be that the guitar gets a bit
less space here. He's quite a player.
Dino Saluzzi Group: Juan Condori (2005 ,
ECM): Argentine bandoneon, born 1935, in a quintet with three
younger Saluzzis and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Felix
Saluzzi plays tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, although
he doesn't stand out -- the string sound of guitar and bass is
much more prominent. Folkish, not particularly close to tango.
Vittor Santos: Renewed Impressions (2005 ,
Adventure Music): It's very rare to hear a Brazilian record with a
lead horn of any sort, much less trombone. Santos doesn't do anything
very fancy: his tone is somewhat muted, just short puffs leading the
piano-bass-drums (or in two instances Hamilton de Holanda's mandolin).
But in the context of this relaxed samba that's definition enough. A
Mario Adnet tune, "An American in the Samba," is especially delightful.
Vittor Santos: Renewed Impressions (2005 ,
Adventure Music): It's rare to hear Brazilian music with a lead
horn of any sort, much less a trombone, but Santos's rapid-fire
puffs give some much needed heft to the sly rhythms and flighty
Scenes: Along the Way (2006, Origin): The trio
member names are also listed on the front cover: John Stowell,
Jeff Johnson, John Bishop. Guitar, bass, drums, respectively.
Johnson and Bishop are mainstays of Seattle's jazz scene, but
file this one under Stowell. His thoughtful, intricate guitar
doesn't fit cleanly into any of the usual categories. More than
anything else, this sounds like one of those piano trio albums
where everything sits right, but I'm left with very little to
Dean Schmidt: I Know Nothing (2006 , OA2):
Bassist, from Seattle or thereabouts, first album, composed 10
of 13 cuts -- the others from his pianists Julio Jauregui and
Steve Rice. Eclectic, but leans toward Latin things, starting
off with a piece including steel pans and guiro. I find the
simplest pieces most attractive, like "Harry Whodeanie's Magic
Impromptu Blues" -- just bass and bongos. Good title: "The Days
of Guns and Roses."
Kendra Shank: A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook
(2005 , Challenge): Jazz singer, fourth album, plays guitar
elsewhere but not here. Not sure what the relationship to Abbey
Lincoln is, other than mutual admiration, but she does 11 Lincoln
songs here. Lincoln may be my least favorite female jazz singer
ever, so I'm not at all sure where to start here. Maybe that the
music has a distinctly modern jazz flair to it, and that Shank's
relatively moderate voice -- that is, compared to Lincoln's; it's
still arch compared to most cabaret singers, but that may be a
function of the music -- never trips up or grates. I should give
this more time, but after three plays I doubt that will be
cost-effective. I should give Lincoln another chance at some
point, which this makes me dread a bit less. Gary Giddins wrote
the liner notes.
Elliott Sharp's Terraplane: Secret Life (2005,
Intuition): Not sure why this showed up at this late date. New
York guitarist, with many records since 1977: AMG lists 50 under
his own name, 175 under credits. Still, this is only the second
I have filed under his name, although I've surely heard more of
his work with others. AMG lists him under "Avant-Garde Music" --
most likely they mean eclectic + obscure. His website divides
his recordings into: the beginning; orchestral; strings; carbon;
guitar; blues; electro-acoustic; soundtracks; duos; groups;
producer; guest. Terraplane would mean blues: it was the title
of a 1994 album with David Hofstra and Joseph Trump and group
name for at least four more albums. The group here is a quintet
with Hofstra on bass, Lance Carter on drums, Curtis Fowlkes on
trombone, and Alex Harding on baritone sax. Eric Mingus sings
or shouts four songs, and Tracie Morris walks one more. Oh yeah,
Hubert Sumlin guests on two cuts. I'm finding the instrumentals
powerful and bent in interesting ways, but the vocals (Mingus,
anyway) much less so.
Brad Shepik Trio: Places You Go (2005-06 ,
Songlines): Guitarist-led organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B-3
and Tom Rainey on drums. As such, the group leans more avant and
more exotic than most such, but inevitably the organ takes center
stage, which brings out its limited range but deep well of church
and funk. The result is awkward and rather unsatisfying, although
it's hard to pin this on the guitar or drums, or for that matter
even the tastefully restrained organ.
Daryl Sherman: Guess Who's in Town (2006, Arbors):
Plays piano, sings standards, has ten albums now. Her voice is
similar to Mildred Bailey -- perhaps a bit lighter, but she can
surprise you with nuance. The rhythm section, including Jon
Wheatley's guitar but no drums, swings nicely, which helps most
on the fast ones. Harry Allen and Vince Giordano add sax on three
cuts each -- one in common, so five total.
Liam Sillery With the David Sills Quartet: On the Fly
(2005 , OA2): Sills is a mainstream tenor saxophonist, who did
an album earlier this year that I rather liked (Down the Line).
His quartet includes organ and guitar, so it takes off from soul jazz
mainstream. Sillery plays trumpet and flugelhorn. Sax-trumpet quintets
normally spell hard bop, but the bottom is weak here, and the top is
rather flighty, the horns harmonizing more than dicing. The result is
a sort of elegant postbop I find almost totally uninteresting.
Sergi Sirvent & Xavi Maureta: Lines Over Rhythm
(2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano-drums duets, starting
with a run of six Charlie Parker tunes, then originals along similar
lines, although these guys don't steal melody lines the way Parker
did. Not familiar with Maureta, but his deconstruction of "My Little
Suede Shoes" is irresistible. Sirvent continues to impress.
David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Young Canadian trumpet player, currently
NYC-based, in a quintet with saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist
Nate Radley, bass, and drums. Wrote all the material except for
Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Straightforward: the rhythm section
has a little swing to it, the two-horn stuff meshes nicely, I
like his tone and lyricism, and the guitarist gets in a couple
of nice solos.
Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (2006,
High Two): This follows the same lines, and has many of the same
wonders, as the their two previous albums, including my fave from
2004, Ashé a Go-Go. But it hasn't quite kicked in yet --
not sure what it is, but I don't get the same rise from the sax,
and the vocal pieces don't take on unexpected lives. That leaves
the bata drums, which may still be the point.
Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (2006,
High Two): Kevin Diehl's Afro-Cuban percussion continues to amaze,
especially when Dan Scofield's avant-rooted sax skips and skids
over the complex beats. If this fails to live up to the previous
one, Ashé a Go-Go, it's because the two vocal pieces are
more mojo than magic.
Sound in Action Trio: Gate (2003 , Atavistic):
Ken Vandermark, just credited with reeds, squares off against two
drummers: Robert Barry, from Sun Ra Arkestra, and Tim Daisy, from
Triage and numerous Vandermark projects, including the flagship 5.
The trio had a previous album on Delmark, Design in Time --
Daisy replaces Tim Mulvenna from then, as he replaced Mulvenna in
the Vandermark 5. Doubling the drums doesn't have a real pronounced
effect, although there is often something interesting going on back
there. But it puts Vandermark on the spot constantly, Vandermark
wrote about half of the pieces; the others are mostly avant-jazz
classics, including a Dolphy piece for Clarinet, and a Coltrane
that shows off his tenor sax.
Sound in Action Trio: Gate (2003 , Atavistic):
Two drummers: Robert Barry, from Sun Ra Arkestra, and Tim Daisy, from
Triage and numerous Ken Vandermark projects, including the flagship
5. One horn, Vandermark, constantly on the spot. Half originals, all
dedicated to drummers; half modern jazz pieces, with Dolphy offering
a clarinet feature, and Coltrane setting up some extraordinary tenor
Grant Stewart: In the Still of the Night (2006
, Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist; big, broad sound, straight
down main street, with a handful of albums since 1992, including
a group with Eric Alexander called Reeds and Deeds that's released
titles like Cookin' and Wailin'. Standards, with
"Autumn in New York" and "Lush Life" most memorable. First-rate
quartet, with Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth.
Marc Edelman gets his usual brilliant sound.
B+(*) [Feb 20]
Sonny Stitt: Stitt's Bits: The Bebop Recordings,
1949-1952 (, Prestige, 3CD): Stitt always claimed
that he developed his style independently of Charlie Parker, sort
of like Alfred Russel Wallace's discovery of Charles Darwin's
theory of natural selection. But Parker was four years older, got
his records out first, and established his case more persuasively.
Stitt's early records on Prestige came out when bebop was in full
swing -- indeed, Jay Jay Johnson headlined the first set here,
and Bud Powell co-led the second. And as he moved from tenor sax
to alto, he almost begged comparison to Bird. More than anything
else, Stitt was a working musician -- a guy who cranked
out hundreds of albums, often on the flimsiest of premises. Most
of the sessions here were jousts with Gene Ammons, and the best
are when they're both flying high. But including everything drags
their faint r&b vocal sides in.
Geoff Stradling: Les Is Mo' (2006 , Origin):
First album by a pianist whose CV starts off with increasingly long
lists of film, tv, and commercial work (Pampers, Swatch, Purina --
just a few that strike my fancy), then trails off into a couple of
dozen album appearances (Alphonse Mouzon, Jane's Addiction). Nothing
there prepares you for this album, an easy swinging concoction with
Rick Keller's saxes adding warmth and a bit of edge, nicely seasoned
with a bit of Latin percussion. Delightful, really.
The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook (2006
, Zoho): Steve Slagle strikes me as the model of what a
good postbop alto saxophonist should sound like, which among
more postive traits admits that he lacks the individuality of
Braxton, Coleman, Konitz, or McLean. He sounds terrific here,
even though he doesn't do anything unexpected. Dave Stryker
is a similarly virtuous, not to say virtuosic, guitarist.
Separately or together they recorded a long string of first
rate records for Steeplechase, of which the best are together,
and this is another. Joe Lovano, who like Slagle came up in
Woody Herman's band, drops in for two cuts. His harmony adds
a bit, and his solo a bit more.
Melissa Stylianou: Sliding Down (2006, Festival):
Canadian jazz singer, based in Brooklyn. Third album, although this
one is listed as Canada-only. Makes nice work of a couple of old
standards ("Them There Eyes," "All of You") and offers a refreshing
take on the Beatles' "Blackbird." The early going benefits from
light latin percussion, but she doesn't hold our interest when she
slows down, and the originals don't give her a lot to work with.
Yma Sumac: Recital (1961 , ESP-Disk): The
Incan diva, famed for her crystalline voice, was an exotic novelty
in the '50s, but here takes her folklore on the road, recording
this in Bucharest with an orchestra that frequently mistakes her
for an opera star. Not knowing her earlier work I'm not sure how
this fits in, or what it might be good for.
The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Hand (2006
, Telarc): Six of eleven songs (or eight of thirteen, given
two reprises) have "happy" in the title. Dyslexically there's also
"Glad to Be Unhappy," but even the happy songs aren't what you'd
call bubbling. The others are "You Are My Sunshine," "Great Day!,"
"Haunted Heart," and "Smile." Two are apocalyptic: "Great Day!" and
"Get Happy," the latter done both up and down, as is the secular
"Happy Days Are Here Again." Jack Sheldon guests on two tracks,
including a duet vocal and some unseemly patter added to "I Want
to Be Happy." As Sutton explains in the liner notes, "Our search
for happiness is an odd business." For example, it makes for the
first good album I've heard from her. Last one was called I'm
With the Band. This one credits the band because this time
they're with her.
Steve Swallow with Robert Creeley: So There
(2001-05 , ECM): Only got the advance here -- same for
a bunch of ECM releases, which have been languishing on my
pile in the hopes that the real thing might come along, but
the release date here is Nov. 7, 2006, so I guess I have to
make do. I went through a poetry phase in the late '60s before
getting to a point after which I found the stuff unreadable.
Creeley was a name I recall from then, but not a particular
interest. He has been a favorite of jazz musicians: Steve
Lacy tried adapting his poems to song, and Swallow did the
same on a much earlier album. But here he just speaks, which
works much better, providing the skeleton and cadence for
Swallow's music. The latter is mostly the work of pianist
Steve Kuhn and the Cikada String Quartet. Kuhn's work is
very attractive here: light and uplifting without turning
to fluff. The strings are more of a down, tearful even, but
they don't spoil the experience. Interesting combination of
effects. (Francis Davis wrote about this in the Voice.)
Tammen Harth Rosen Dahlgren: Expedition (2001
, ESP-Disk): Bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen
are familiar NYC names in the avant underground, guys a couple
of adventurous visitors would seek out for a gig downtown. Hans
Tammen plays what he calls endangered guitar -- sounds pretty
robust to me, even if not necessarily in the best of moods.
Alfred Harth (middle or nickname: 23) plays tenor sax and bass
clarinet. Basically an old-fashioned noisefest, but it pulls
together rather impressively toward the end, and in any case
is fun if you can stand this sort of thing. Don't know Tammen's
work, but he has a few albums and may be worth following up on.
Natsuki Tamura Quartet: Exit (2003 , Libra):
I've had this for a couple of years, but misplaced it. Noticed it
was in my unrated list, and looked around furiously for it, finding
it only after giving up. The packaging is like an LP jacket, but
CD-size, with a nice little soft paper inner sleeve for the disc.
The music has an industrial fusion feel to it, with Satoko Fujii
playing synth, Takayuki Kato guitar, and Ryojiro Furusawa drums.
Some of the noises resemble vocals, but could be coming from
anywhere, and don't resolve into much. In fact, only the drums
are particularly recognizable as themselves.
David Taylor-Steve Swell Quintet: Not Just . . .
(2005 , CIMP): Interesting instrumentation: two trombones,
from the leaders with Taylor playing bass, plus three strings: Ken
Filiano's bass, Tomas Ulrich's cello, and Billy Bang's violin. But
I'm not sure what's going on here, possibly because I haven't been
able to focus through the label's notorious acoustics, but it may
just be that no one steps up to the plate.
David Taylor-Steve Swell Quintet: Not Just . . .
(2005 , CIMP): Looks interesting on paper. The leaders play
trombone, with Taylor on the bass version. The rest of the quintet
is a string trio, with Billy Bang, Thomas Ulrich, and Ken Filiano
from top to bottom. The problem may just be the sound, which they
expect you to play louder than is my norm, on more expensive stereo
gear, and with rapt attention. Failing that, there are dull spots
where nothing much seems to be happening. In any case, Bang never
really catches fire, although the trombone interplay is worthwhile.
Ximo Tebar & Fourlights: Eclipse (2005 ,
Omix/Sunnyside): Guitarist from Spain, currently based in New York.
AMG lists four albums since Sunnyside picked up his Omix label, but
his records go back to 1988. He plays fast, slick bebop, coming out
of the Wes Montgomery school, with a sweet tone. Dedicates one song
to Pat Martino, another guitarist with that same general orientation.
Dave Samuels complements nicely on vibes and marimba. At its best,
the record sweeps you away. However, there are spots where it takes
awkward, unexpected turns. Will play it again.
Ximo Tebar & Fourlights: Eclipse (2005 ,
Omix/Sunnyside): Fast, slick bebop guitar, coming out of the Wes
Montgomery school, with a tribute to Pat Martino tossed in. The
fleet lightness is accented by Dave Samuels on vibes and marimba,
a nice touch, which at best sweeps you away. Less effective are
Tebar's scat vocals.
Thirsty Ear Blue Series Sampler (2002-06, Thirsty
Ear): The website lists this as The Blue Series Sampler: The
30th Year, but I find no evidence of that title here. The 30th
anniversary shtick is a stretch. They did some publicity in the
late '70s, but didn't release any records until 1990, and mostly
picked up others' productions until they hired Matthew Shipp and
launched the Blue Series in 2000. Even then, they had no idea they
were going to found a whole school of avant-jazztronica, let alone
open their tent wide enough to make a home for DJ Spooky, Charlie
Hunter, Nils Petter Molvaer, Carl Hancock Rux, Mike Ladd, and
numerous others. This is the third, and least satisfying, of their
samplers -- all that tent-opening has led to some sprawl. Still,
at $2.98 list, it is a bargain, not just to explore but because
it actually flows.
Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring (2007,
Hannibal): Original Tin Hat Trio members: Rob Burger (piano,
accordion), Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mark Orton (guitar). Burger
left in 2004, replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Zeena Parkins
(harp), and finally Ara Anderson (trumpet, piano). Sticker says
to "file under Tin Hat Trio," and there's continuity enough, even
though I have no clue what they're up to. The common phrase is
"chamber music" -- and indeed they seem to be closer to Kronos
Quartet than any jazz combos, although they don't have, or much
care for, the conventions of a string quartet. The instruments
seem to selected for oddness, even before the players started
dragging celeste, dobro, auto-harp, bowed vibes, and bul-bul
tarang into the mix. I'm puzzled, but not unintrigued.
Charles Tolliver Big Band: With Love (2006 ,
Blue Note/Mosaic): I reckon that Tolliver's reemergence is a dividend
of Andrew Hill's accession to living legend status, given the trumpeter's
prominence on Hill records old and new. Tolliver appeared on numerous
avant-leaning Blue Note recordings in the late '60s, but his own work
was limited to his own very limited Strata East label -- The Ringer
(1969) is a personal favorite, but it's about the only one I know. (I
haven't heard the recent 3-CD Mosaic Select box, which picks up
live tracks from 1970 and 1973.) Tolliver's discography shows little
after 1975, at least until he reappeared on Hill's Time Lines.
Unfortunately, his new record is a loud and brassy big band thang. I
don't much care for it: the high energy parts don't move me even when
they're bruising, the solos lack finesse, and there's no groove to
hang things on. It will be interesting to see how this is received.
Gian Tornatore: Blackout (2005 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): A young saxophonist I like a lot -- his previous album,
Sink or Swim, was a low A- mostly on the basis of his bold,
forthright postbop logic. This one falls off a bit, mostly because
his sax is less dominant, and the rest of the band, including guitar
and Fender Rhodes, doesn't take up the slack. But when he takes
charge, he's superb.
Steve Turre: Keep Searchin' (2006, High Note):
I've never been much impressed by Stefon Harris, but the light
bounce his vibes add here is a nice touch, something that neither
challenges nor interferes with the trombone. A different contrast
comes from Akua Dixon's baritone violin on three tracks. I've
never managed to tune into his shells, so can't speak to that,
but he is a great trombonist.
Steve Turre: Keep Searchin' (2006, High Note):
After tributes to JJ Johnson and Roland Kirk, this has been viewed
as a re-exploration of Turre's own work. He is one of the more
remarkable trombonists of the last two decades, so he has plenty
to work with. The other main figure here is vibraphonist Stefon
Harris. I've never been much of a fan, but his light rhythmic tap
dance makes a nice contrast to Turre and Akua Dixon's baritone
violin (featured on three tracks), so I can't fault him here.
Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 , Skirl): This got
lost in my filing system because the box is a non-standard form
factor, similar to DVDs. Tyft is Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Andrew
D'Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet), Jim Black (drums, electronics),
although the dominant player appears to be Jensson, and this was
recorded on his home turf in Iceland. Jensson also plays in Black's
AlasNoAxis group. D'Angelo I know less about, although he goes back
to 1991 in a group called Human Feel, and has played in Orange Then
Blue and Either/Orchestra, and has a trio called Morthana -- band
mates are Anders Hana and Morten J. Olsen. Not sure what to make
of the record: Jensson's guitar spend most of its time in the lower
registers, where it could just as well be electric bass; D'Angelo
is even noisier. Not a bad mix of groove and dissonance.
Dave Valentin: Come Fly With Me (2006, High Note):
Plays flute, with 20 or so albums, mostly on pop-oriented GRP from
1980-93. Since then, one on RMM, one on Concord, two on High Note.
This is the first I've heard. It's mostly Latin, with Robby Ameen
on drums, Milton Cardona and Richie Flores on percussion -- Latin
jazz has always been a niche for flute players. I don't have much
feel for this sort of thing, but my impression is that Latin jazz
helps the flute more than the other way around. Choice cut here is
"Tu Pańuelo," where the rhythm gets so chopped up flow is impossible,
and the flute is mostly out of the picture, or panting hoarsely on
The Vandermark 5: Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4
(2003-04 , Atavistic, 2CD): All the maybes at the end of Ken
Vandermark's liner notes might make you think he's giving up on this
series of explorations into the free jazz tradition, which would be
a shame. Originally released as bonus discs in early runs of four
Vandermark 5 albums from Acoustic Machine to Elements of
Style, Vols. 1 & 2 (2000-01 , Atavistic, 2CD)
essayed pioneer pieces from Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry to Joe
McPhee and Julius Hemphill, while Vols. 3 & 4 focus on
two saxophonist-composers not of the movement but so creative they
couldn't help but parallel it: Sonny Rollins and Rahsaan Roland
Kirk. The recognizable themes give you a more accessible framework
than usual -- with free jazz every clue helps -- but in the end
the band makes all the difference. With two great saxophonists
and a trombonist who loves to get down and dirty, they can spin
on a dime, punch the chords up, or blow them apart.
Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos
(2006 , ArtistShare): Distracting trying to write about Leonisa
Ardizzone while listening to this: both are jazz singers backed by
guitar-bass-drums trios, and both move beyond the norm, but that's
where the similarities end. Ardizzone is a novice with an unknown
band working off the standards. Victor and Ensemble are something
else. She has one of those deep voices that so impress jazz writers,
closer to Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln than Sarah Vaughan. That's
not my idea of a plus -- I'm not a big fan of any of them, even when
I can recognize what wows everyone else -- but it stands her apart
from most vocalists, and she makes it work -- if not with Vaughan's
precision, at least with a good deal of Carter's daring. Her songs
go even further off the beaten path, with elaborate phrasing wrapped
around convoluted melodies -- not something I'm inclined to like,
but her band set them up impressively. Bassist Ken Filiano and
drummer Michael TA Thompson are dependable avant players. I'm not
familiar with the guitarist, but I've been playing guitar albums
all week, and Anders Nilsson's the first one I want to hear more
from. Complex, ambitious record.
Torben Waldorff Quartet: Brilliance: Live at 55 Bar NYC
(2006, ArtistShare): Guitarist, born in Denmark although his home turf
seems to lap over into Sweden. Two previous albums with Danish/Swedish
groups, unheard by me. The guitarist does a nice enough job here, but
the main interest will be McCaslin, who throttles back from his usual
overwhelming performance and carries the album anyway, always seeming
to be in the right place at the right time.
Wayne Wallace: Dedication (2006, Patois): San Francisco
trombonist, born 1952, teaches, mostly plays Latin, although some of
this is in a straighter jazz vein. Actually, he provides a thumbnail
breakdown: jazz (4), latin (2), ballad (1), tone poem (1, a Coltrane
piece Wallace doesn't play on; it's done with Asian flutes), bossa
nova (1), afro/jazz (1). The groups run large, often with trumpet,
two trombones (Jeff Cressman is the other), flute, three saxes, bass,
piano, drums, congas, timbales, and/or other percussion. I find all
this layered complexity often just cancels itself out, although I
do enjoy the trombone when I can make it out.
Wayne Wallace: The Reckless Search for Beauty (2006
, Patois): This one works better, probably because it hews more
consistently to the latin groove, with its undercurrent of percolating
percussion and choppy blasts of brass. The one break is Ellington's
"Chromatic Love Affair," described as a bolero, but basically one of
his dreamy suite things rendered gorgeously. The other big difference
here is the presence of Alexa Weber-Morales' vocals. She's credited
with leads on six tracks -- most memorably on Bill Withers' "Use Me."
Wayne Wallace: The Reckless Search for Beauty
(2006 , Patois): Trombonist-led Latin jazz record. Hard to
argue with the flow or spirit, but there's nothing much out of the
ordinary either. Lots of percussion. Six songs with vocals by Alexa
Weber-Morales, including a memorable version of Bill Withers' "Use
The David S. Ware Quartet: BalladWare (1999 ,
Thirsty Ear): This was recorded in summer 1999, after Ware. Don't know
what the details were, why it's being released now, why it wasn't
released then, but it fits in between Surrendered and the two
albums Ware released on AUM Fidelity. Seven songs: three standards,
four originals, including "Dao" and "Godspelized" -- album title
songs from Ware's earthshaking DIW period. These are measured only
by Ware's previous standards -- muffled perhaps, never pushed to
extremes, but still embroiled in deep tension. Pianist Matthew Shipp
is notable throughout, especially on "Godspelized."
The David S. Ware Quartet: BalladWare (1999
, Thirsty Ear): Not exactly a standards album, given
that four of seven songs come from Ware's own songbook. The
others are "Yesterdays," "Autumn Leaves," and "Tenderly" --
they qualify, and the other pieces fit nicely around them.
This reminds Francis Davis of Coltrane's Ballads, but
it isn't nearly as conventional, nor as pretty. For one thing,
Matthew Shipp does some tricky work on the chassis -- not raw,
but nothing expected either. And while Ware holds back from
getting rough, he does work the pieces around quite a bit.
Weather Report: Forecast: Tomorrow (1969-85 ,
Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): The jazz-rock fusion of the early '70s was
less a movement than a family franchise. It started with Miles Davis,
then spread with his departing employees: most importantly, John
McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and this Wayne Shorter-Joe
Zawinul joint venture. Hardly anyone without a connection to Davis
mattered, but the preponderance of keyboards set the music adrift --
the rhythms and textures thickening, the atmosphere clouding up. At
least that's what I always thought, but this box had me wondering
for a while. The first disc gets a running start by including three
pre-group cuts, starting with the Davis take of Zawinul's "In a
Silent Way." Then it leans heavily on the first album and live cuts
where the jazz whiskers come out. But it gets spottier as they go
on, especially when Shorter tries to fit in rather than stand out.
The DVD offers a 1978 concert at the band's popular peak with Jaco
Pastorius and Peter Erskine going shirtless in what must be a Cheap
Mort Weiss: The B3 and M3 (2003 , SMS Jazz):
Not sure what SMS stands for, but the website motto is "Straight
Ahead," and that's clear enough. (OK, Sheet Music Shoppe, a music
store Weiss owns.) Weiss played a little sax in his youth, giving
it up when he turned 30, and picking up the clarinet again when
he turned 65. He plays bright, bouncy swing, working here with an
organ-guitar-drums trio on two Charlie Parker warhorses and a set
of old standards. The booklet details a series of legal hassles
with Concord over how the organ player's name and image can be
used to promote the record, but only when you hear the record do
you realize why Concord was so pissed: it's not as if their boy
ever turned anything in to them this downright infectious.
Mort Weiss: The B3 and Me (2003 , SMS Jazz):
Clarinet-guitar-organ-drums. The organ player is Joey DeFrancesco,
unnamed but broadly hinted at. Supposedly Concord held this one up
over their contracts to DeFrancesco -- usually a desire to squash
the competition, although they could just be pissed that he puts
out more here than on his own records. Weiss is a clarinetist who
got back in the game after he turned 65. He's having a ball.
Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 , Omnitone):
Seven musicians, including Willis on all manner of reed-like things;
Chuck MacKinnon on the trumpet family; mostly electric guitar, bass,
and piano. Back cover claims: "Cross-inspird by the music of Erik
Satie and the precision-randomness paradox of quantum physics --
and infused with creative improvised music, jazz and psychadelic
[sic] '70s and '80s rock -- Velvet Gentlemen is an earful
experience." Something like that. I'm not sure if I'm overwhelmed
by the complexity of it all, or he's actually managed to achieve
some form of heisenmusic. (Ref. to Heisenberg, analogous to a CS
jargon word, heisenbug: "a bug that disappears or changes its
behavior when one attempts to probe or isolate it.")
Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 , Omnitone):
I reckon the liner note juxtaposition of Satie with quantum mechanics
with '60s psychedelia is just meant as testimony to the intellectual
precociousness of the music, at once neatly layered and feverishly
complex. The seven piece group includes electric guitar, bass, and
keyboards, and a second bassist who switch hits. The keyboardist also
switches off, this time to accordion. Trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon's
credits include EFX. Willis plays eleven wind instruments ranging
from piccolo to bass clarinet with the usual duduks and suonas and
the unusual oboe tucked in among the saxophones. More wondrous than
wonderful, I find, but then, like Einstein, I shy away from complexity
unless it's unavoidable.
Larry Willis: Blue Fable (2006 , High Note):
Four cuts feature alto sax and trombone. The others are just piano
trio. All are sharp, thoughtful, engaged. None are spectacular. In
short, this is an even match for his previous album (The Big
Push, also High Note), and for that matter, almost everything
else he's done.
Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: The Scenic Route
(2006 , Palmetto): Another undocumented slipcase promo, good
enough to make the extra work annoying, not quite great enough to
make it rewarding. Kicks off with some terrific trumpet (Terell
Stafford?), slips in some tastefully ungreasy organ (Gary Versace?),
ends with a medley of "Our Prayer" (Albert Ayler?) and "Give Peace
a Chance" (Lennon/McCartney!) -- the latter sung by the so-called
Frank Wright: Unity (1974 , ESP-Disk):
Wright's a tenor saxophonist from Albert Ayler's generation -- he
had a year on Ayler, two on Archie Shepp, five on Pharoah Sanders.
He started in r&b bands before leaping to the avant fringe.
Didn't record much -- a couple of mid-'60s albums on ESP, a 1970
Free America album, a bit with Cecil Taylor in the '80s. One I
like a lot is Last Set, a live set from 1984 under Raphe
Malik's name that just appeared a couple of years ago. This seems
to be another live discovery: a quartet from the Moers Festival
with Bobby Few on piano, Alan Silva on bass, and a drummer I don't
recognize named Muhammad Ali. Two pieces -- one 27:28, the other
29:00 -- with the usual solo shots, but Wright is a power house,
Few and Silva have strong moments, and they all hit a groove at
end end that really rocks the house.
Frank Wright: Unity (1974 , ESP-Disk):
If it weren't for ESP-Disk's "the artist alone decides what you
hear" motto Wright might have passed in total obscurity. Who else
would have approved the music he released on two ESP records from
1965-67? He was as rough a tenor saxophonist as the avant-garde
produced in the '60s, closer in spirit to the future Charles Gayle
than to his contemporary Albert Ayler. Since then an occasional
live tape pops up, like Raphe Malik's Last Set (1984 ,
Boxholder), and now this barnburner from the Moers Festival. The
drummer dances and stings like his namesake, Muhammad Ali. Bobby
Few's piano and Alan Silva's bass are cranked into overdrive,
and Wright really brings the noise. Impulse used to call shit
like this by guys like Shepp and Sanders "energy music," but
even they would have reached for the plug before this finishes.
Joe Zawinul: Brown Street (2005 , Heads
Up, 2CD): Looks like this was originally released last fall.
The cover shows two street signs intersecting: "Brown Street"
and "Black Market." It also offers more artist names: Alex
Acuńa, Nathaniel Townsley, Victor Bailey, WDR Big Band. The
spine, thankfully, reduces the title and credit to something
more manageable. The Big Band offers plenty of punch, but the
key here is Zawinul's rhythm section, a group he calls the
Zawinul Syndicate. They pitch in with Latin and African beats
that juice up even tired Weather Report horses. The only false
move is when they take one easy.
[B+(***)] [Feb 27]
The following records, carried over from the
done file at the start of this cycle, were
also under consideration for this column.
- Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 , Delmark) A-
- "Killer" Ray Appleton/Melvin Rhyne: Latin Dreams (2004 , Lineage) B+(**)
- Lynne Arriale Trio: Live (2005 , In+Out/Motema) B+(***)
- Omer Avital: The Ancient Art of Giving (2006, Smalls) A-
- Ab Baars Quartet: Kinda Dukish (2005 , Wig) B+(**)
- The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
- Sathima Bea Benjamin: Song Spirit (1963-2002 , Ekapa) B+(***)
- Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Volume 1 (2005 , Sunnyside) A-
- Ignacio Berroa: Codes (2005 , Blue Note) A-
- The Andy Biskin Quartet: Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster (2000 , Strudelmedia) B+(***)
- The Serge Chaloff Sextet: Boston Blow-Up! (1955 , Capitol Jazz) A-
- Thomas Chapin Trio: Ride (1995 , Playscape) B+(***)
- Nels Cline/Wally Shoup/Chris Corsano: Immolation/Immersion (2005, Strange Attractors) C+
- Nels Cline: New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill (2006, Cryptogramophone) B+(**)
- Club D'Elf: Now I Understand (1998-2006 , Accurate) A-
- Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 , American Clavé, 2CD) B+(**)
- The Crimson Jazz Trio: The King Crimson Songbook Volume One (2005, Voiceprint) B+(***)
- Meredith d'Ambrosio: Wishing on the Moon (2004 , Sunnyside) B+(**)
- Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 , Delmark):
- Les DeMerle: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 1 (2005 , Origin) B+(***)
- Whit Dickey: Sacred Ground (2004 , Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Negra Tigra (2005 , ILK) B+(**)
- Ismael Dueńas: Mirage (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
- Liberty Ellman: Ophiuchus Butterfly (2005 , Pi) B+(**)
- Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (2005 , Piranha) A-
- Kali Z. Fasteau/Kidd Jordan: People of the Ninth: New Orleans and the Hurricane 2005 (2005 , Flying Note) B+(**)
- Von Freeman: Good Forever (2006, Premonition) B+(***)
- Charles Gayle Trio: Consider the Lilies . . . (2005 , Clean Feed) B+(**)
- Charles Gayle Trio: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2006, Ayler) B+(***)
- Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 , Squealer) B+(***)
- Dennis González Boston Project: No Photograph Available (2003 , Clean Feed) B+(**)
- Groundtruther: Longitude (2004 , Thirsty Ear) B+(***)
- Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1 (2005 , Domino) A-
- Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 2 (2005 , Domino) B+(**)
- Anke Helfrich Trio: Better Times Ahead (2005 , Double Moon) B+(**)
- Mark Helias' Open Loose: Atomic Clock (2004 , Radio Legs Music) B+(***)
- Frank Hewitt: Fresh From the Cooler (1996 , Smalls) A-
- Andrew Hill: Pax (1965 , Blue Note) A-
- Maurice Hines: To Nat "King" Cole With Love (2005 , Arbors) A-
- Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 , Dare2/Sunnyside) B+(***)
- Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: Way Out East (2005 , Songlines) B+(***)
- Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa: Raw Materials (2005 , Savoy Jazz) B
- Hank Jones/Frank Wess: Hank and Frank (2003 , Lineage) B+(**)
- Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Palm of Soul (2005 , AUM Fidelity) A-
- Steve Lacy Quintet: Esteem (1975 , Atavistic) A-
- Tom Lellis: Avenue of the Americas (2004-05 , Beamtide) C
- George Lewis: Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (2004 , Intakt) B+(***)
- Rudresh Mahanthappa: Codebook (2006, Pi) A-
- Delfeayo Marsalis: Minions Dominion (2002 , Troubadour Jass) B+(**)
- Jay McShann: Hootie Blues (2006, Stony Plain) B+(**)
- Mike Melvoin Trio: You Know (2006, City Light) B+(**)
- Metta Quintet: Subway Songs (2005 , Sunnyside) B+(**)
- Mi3: We Will Make a Home for You (2002-03 , Clean Feed) B+(***)
- Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975 , Cuneiform) A-
- Frank Morgan: Reflections (2005 , High Note) B+(***)
- Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (2005 , Pi) A-
- One More: The Summary: Music of Thad Jones, Vol. 2 (2005 , IPO) B+(**)
- Houston Person/Bill Charlap: You Taught My Heart to Sing (2004 , High Note) B+(***)
- Les Primitifs du Futur: World Musette (1999 , Sunnyside) A-
- Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 , Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
- Bob Reynolds: Can't Wait for Perfect (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent) A-
- Roundtrip: Two Way Street (2005, Jazzaway) B+(***)
- Rutherford/Vandermark/Müller/van der Schyff: Hoxha (2004 , Spool/Line) B+(**)
- Samo Salamon Quartet: Two Hours (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent) B+(***)
- Irčne Schweizer: First Choice: Piano Solo KKL Luzern (2005 , Intakt) B+(**)
- David Sills: Down the Line (2005 , Origin) B+(**)
- Sonny Simmons: I'll See You When You Get There (2004-05 , Jazzaway) B+(**)
- Soft Machine: Grides (1970-71 , Cuneiform, CD+DVD) A-
- Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 , Inakustik, 2CD) B+(***)
- The Source (2005 , ECM) B+(***)
- Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Lontano (2005 , ECM) B+(***)
- Billy Stein Trio: Hybrids (2005 , Barking Hoop) B+(***)
- Mike Stern: Who Let the Cats Out? (2006, Heads Up) B-
- John Taylor: Angel of the Presence (2004 , CAM Jazz) B+(***)
- Yosvany Terry Cabrera: Metamorphosis (2004 , Ewe) B+(**)
- Thomas Storrs and Sarpolas: Time Share (2005 , Louie) B+(***)
- Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 , CD Baby) B+(**)
- Trio East: Best Bets (2005 , Origin) B+(**)
- Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (2004 , ECM) B+(***)
- Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004 , Ayler) B+(***)
- Warren Vaché and the Scottish Ensemble: Don't Look Back (2005 , Arbors) B-
- Larry Vuckovich Trio: Street Scene (2005 , Tetrachord) B+(***)
- Jessica Williams: Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor (2006, Origin) B+(***)