Jazz Consumer Guide (15):
Old Forms, Fresh Outlooks
Innovation reigns, from 36-CD retrospectives to the
Hüsker Dü of free jazz
by Tom Hull
Photos in Black, White and Gray
Referencing Gigi Gryce's alto sax and Lucky Thompson's tenor,
Byars finds new niches in bebop, picking up threads from the
1950s that got pummeled by hard bop, discarded altogether by
the avant-garde, then buried under whatever passes for postbop
these days. Much as bebop developed underground in places like
Minton's where musicians gathered to play for each other, the
same dynamic developed at Smalls in the '90s, connecting a
new generation to unreconstructed veterans like Frank Hewitt
and through them to the foundations of modern jazz. Tapping
into the process, Byars sounds fresh even working in such a
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History [1895-1950]
Miles Davis reduced jazz history to four words: Louis Armstrong
Charlie Parker. Ken Burns's 10-hour Jazz didn't go much further
than to add Miles Davis. Martin Williams' canon-establishing five-CD
Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz was more judicious, but
he disposed of the origins problem by contrasting two takes of
"Maple Leaf Rag" -- one by Scott Joplin, the other by Jelly Roll
Morton. Compiler Allen Lowe takes the contrary approach, picking
records for the questions they raise. He's repackaged his book
into four boxes totalling 36 CDs, 854 songs. Researchers will
want the first box, which doesn't get to Armstrong until the last
cut. Fans might start with the third, which announces "swing is
here" and never lets up.
The Claudia Quintet:
I can't conceive of post-jazz or post-rock -- two filing suggestions
for John Hollenbeck's ensemble -- but post-minimalism would make sense:
the beats are similar, and the melodies emerge in soft tones, pixilated
and dithered like the artwork. But the self-imposed limits have been
discarded for real-world complexity -- resonant acoustic instruments,
shifting time, even passages where Matt Moran talks and Chris Speed
squawks. Only a dead-ender wouldn't call it jazz.
The Neil Cowley Trio:
A rock-ribbed acoustic piano trio, full of thumping chords, pogoing beats,
assured elaboration, and calculated tension and release, showing they know
English folk music -- from Pink Floyd to Coldplay, anyway -- and hope
to please as much as to dazzle. Ends with a whiff of electronics,
remixing a fast one.
Happy Apple Back on Top
Bad Plus drummer Dave King's other power trio, with Erik Fratzke's
bass plugged in and Michael Lewis leading on one sax or another.
Given their Minneapolis address, it's tempting to call them the
Hüsker Dü of free jazz, assuming you can manage the translation.
It is jazz, after all, and while they like rock grooves more than
most, they never leave it at that.
Matt Lavelle Trio:
Avant like it ought to be: sharp, shocking, bursting with creative
ideas. Bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson are
worth tracking on their own, but Lavelle has a unique twist: playing
three songs each on flugelhorn and bass clarinet, an unprecedented
mix. His bass clarinet is utterly distinctive, its normal airiness
choked down to short trumpet-like bursts. His native trumpet returns
on one track, amid shouts of "Sí Se Puede." Right -- they can.
Live at the Market Theatre
A 30th-anniversary bash for the Johannesburg venue, and a triumph
for the trumpeter/vocalist who put his homeland's music on the world
stage in the 1960s. This works as an informal career summary, its
two discs allowing him to stretch out and work the crowd and even
preach a little, knowing there's more than celebrating left to do.
Chris Potter Underground:
Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard
Adam Rogers's guitar snaking over Craig Taborn's blippy Fender
Rhodes and Nate Smith's drums makes for a fresh update on the
old organ trio -- especially when the pace slows, Taborn looks
to be as far ahead of the field as Jimmy Smith was in 1958.
Potter can play soul jazz, but he's most impressive when he
kicks out the jams, raising r&b honking to a higher plane.
John Sheridan and His Dream Band:
Swing Is Still the King
Pianist Sheridan and his band of Arbors all-stars arrange a batch
of Benny Goodman-linked songs in their own, where the atmosphere
is cool and the swing is gravity-free. Rebecca Kilgore enters on
the fourth song and sings most of the rest, turning old chestnuts
into delectable treats.
Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Chad Taylor:
They mean Postmodern Primitives but have the good sense to look
for another term. Cooper-Moore is central. His homemade string
instruments -- diddley-bow, mouth bow, bango -- add a hillbilly
twang to Harry Partch tonality, and he sings one, "Ol' Saint
Peter," which is more campfire tale than hymn. The others are
bemused, with Taylor's possibly digital beats sometimes sounding
like balafon, and Tsahar putting his new thing sax on the back
burner until the closer, comping and cooing on bass clarinet
and pulling out the old didgeridoo.
Fay Victor Ensemble:
Cartwheels Through the Cosmos
She reminds people of Betty Carter, perhaps because so few jazz singers
ever look to break new ground. Victor's voice is relatively unmannered,
but one trait she does share with Carter is her ability to command a
band worth listening to with or without her: guitarist Anders Nilsson
is always up to something interesting, while bassist Ken Filiano and
drummer Michael T.A. Thompson have a knack for showing up unheralded
on good albums. The songs explore the cosmos, but the closer homes in
David S. Ware Quartet:
Reportedly the finale of the most formidable quartet since Coltrane's,
with stars William Parker and Matthew Shipp and a series of drummers
marking epochs within the era. One more live shot to go with Live in
Yerba Buena Stompers:
The Yama-Yama Man
Second generation revivalism, inspired less by King Oliver (whose
two cornet, banjo and tuba lineup set the mold) than by Lu Watters'
Yerba Buena Jazz Band, which invented trad jazz. The Stompers' John
Gill started by ransacking those charts for such unambitious delights
as Dawn Club Favorites and New Orleans Favorites.
Running low after four albums, they're finally forced to dig deeper,
such as the 1908 title song. Watters should be proud. Oliver might
wonder about the backward thinking. I just get off on the ebullient
good humor which has always been the heart of jazz.
Dud of the Month
Chris Potter 10:
Song for Anyone
Ten musicians, with flute-clarinet-bassoon among the winds and
guitar joining the violin-viola-cello-bass strings. It seems
like every jazz musician aspires to compose and arrange on the
large canvas, but more often than not ambition gets the best of
them. Potter only manages drab, static backgrounds, then chews
them up with his tenor sax. With chops like his, why bother?
The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition (1996-2006,
Invisible until he turned 75 and morphed into Sonny Rollins'
scrawny little brother.
Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love:
Two composers, two Vikings to brawl with them.
New Constellations: Live in Vienna
Jah-driven funk, severely bent but rarely broken.
Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group:
Open Reel Deck
Malachi Rivers recites and cajoles over state-of-the-art sax quartet.
The Blueprint Project:
People I Like
(Creative Nation Music)
The guest rhythm section takes a mischievous turn: Han Bennink.
One Iraqi, the other American, played out in mutual respect,
as jazz not war.
A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)
Wading through when the ghost of 1927 revisits Congo Square.
A Night in the Life
Plays Bird songs, sweet and soulful -- it isn't just pianist George
Cables who reminds me of Art Pepper.
Sonic Openings Under Pressure:
Writhing snakey improv lines against David Pleasant's densemetriX
beat, with a momentary torrent of rap.
Matt Chamberlain/Bill Frisell/Tucker Martine/Lee Townsend:
Disembodied grooves veiled with guitar tones; future music intended
Paul Zauners Blue Brass:
Austrian trombonist, a connoisseur, collecting fine songs from
Africa and Afro-America, burnishing them to a fine luster.
Tango Bitter Sweet
Cosmopolitan folk music, too pat for jazz, too danceable for
Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione:
In a sentimental mood, so soft it's almost subliminal.
The Phil Woods Quintet:
American Songbook II
(Kind of Blue)
With Brian Lynch and Bill Charlap, so supremely mainstream you
feel like saluting.
Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation
From Massapequa to Maine, what a long strange trip it's been.
Satoko Fujii Quartet:
Godzilla tries to waltz, succumbs to toxic heavy metals.
River: The Joni Letters
A classy band, especially Wayne Shorter, wasted behind a bevy
of vocal caricatures.
Universal Syncopations II
Funk horns and multiple drummers whitewashed by heavenly voices.
This table provides a working guide to how the JCG is shaping up.
This does not include anything moved to bk-flush: these include items
relegated to Surplus, reviewed in Recycled Goods, or just passed over.
Entries in black are written, gray graded but
not written, red ungraded but with prospect
notes (all these are at the bottom of their approximate grade levels,
alphabetized). A-list, B-list and Duds are alphabetical; HM lists are
ranked, with breaks for three-two-one stars.
- Chris Byars: Photos in Black, White and Gray (Smalls) A-
- That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History [1895-1950] (WHRA) A
- The Claudia Quintet: For (Cuneiform) A-
- The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (Hide Inside) A-
- Happy Apple: Happy Apple Back on Top (Sunnyside) A-
- Matt Lavelle Trio: Spiritual Power (Silkheart) A-
- Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre (Times Square/4Q) A-
- Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside) A-
- John Sheridan and His Dream Band: Swing Is Still the King (Arbors) A-
- Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Chad Taylor: Digital Primitives (Hopscotch) A-
- Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (ArtistShare) A-
- David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (AUM Fidelity) A-
- Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man (Stomp Off) A-
- Von Freeman: The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition (Premonition)
- Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (Clean Feed)
- Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna (Accurate)
- Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group: Open Reel Deck (Strick Muzik)
- The Blueprint Project: People I Like (Creative Nation Music)
- Amir ElSaffar: Two Rivers (Pi)
- Terence Blanchard: A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note)
- Frank Morgan: A Night in the Life (High Note)
- Sonic Openings Under Pressure: Muhheankuntuk (Clean Feed)
- Matt Chamberlain/Bill Frisell/Tucker Martine/Lee Townsend: Floratone (Blue Note)
- Paul Zauners Blue Brass: Soil (PAO/BluJazz)
- Quadro Nuevo: Tango Bitter Sweet (Justin Time)
- Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione: Heartplay (Naim)
- The Phil Woods Quintet: American Songbook II (Kind of Blue)
- Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation (Spaceout)
- Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (Sunnyside) B
- Satoko Fujii Quartet: Bacchus (Onoff)
- Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters (Verve)
- Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (ECM)
Album count: 32; Word count: 1578 (graded 14: 1207; additional 18: 371).
I try to write up an informal note on every jazz record I hear the
first (or sometimes second) time I play it. Those notes are collected
over the course of a week, then posted in the blog. They are also
The surplus file collects final notes
when I decide that I cannot realistically keep a record under active
consideration for the Jazz Consumer Guide. These notes are mostly
written at the end of a JCG cycle and posted to the blog when the
column is printed. In effect, they are the extended copy to the
column. There are various reasons for this. For especially good
records, it is often because Francis Davis or someone else has
already reviewed it and my two cents would be redundant. For old
music it is often because I wrote something in Recycled Goods and
figure that was enough. Sometimes good records have just gotten
old. Most of the time the records aren't all that interesting
anyway. I can handle 25-30 records per column. It just doesn't
make sense for me to keep more than 60-80 graded records in the
active list at the start of a new cycle. In many cases, I decide
the prospecting notes or Recycled Goods review suffices, so note
that in the file.
All pending records have been moved forward.