Jazz Consumer Guide (18):
Little Innovations Run the World
Echoes of Basie, Mingus, Tyner, etc., with chops and
abstractions all their own
by Tom Hull
Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra:
We Are MTO
Count Basie's ghost band is still working, available for gigs like
their recent post-historic match with a batch of old Ray Charles
tapes. They're still sharp and snappy, but nowhere near as fresh
as Bernstein's MTO. Bernstein boned up on Basie while working on
the soundtrack to Robert Altman's *Kansas City*, then transplanted the
idea of a KC territory band to the Tonic in NYC, gigging once a
week, not recording until they were too legendary to resist. Old
pieces from Basie, Don Redman, Fats Waller, and others genuinely
obscure; an old-sounding brass band "All You Need Is Love"; some
vocals and modern flourishes like lead guitar and Charlie Burnham
violin. I doubt anyone dances to them, but that doesn't mean
it isn't fun.
With alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa waxing Coltrane-ish,
it's tempting to cast Iyer as the new-model McCoy Tyner. He
plays with equal facility, but with no swing in his swagger.
He sets up rumbling rhythms, then busts them up into abstract
blocks. He can delicately ponder a slow spot, and no matter
how fast the pace picks up, he's always thinking ahead. He's
actually more impressive.
Ben Allison & Man Size Safe:
Little Things Run the World
Like fellow bassist-composer Charles Mingus, Allison uses his titles
to advertise public thoughts of no obvious relationship to the
music. The title cut refers to the Gaia hypothesis -- that bacteria
maintain the Earth as a habitable environment. "Man Size Safe" refers
to Dick Cheney, with "Blowback" is the consequence. Unlike Mingus,
Allison manifests little anger in his elegant and poignant postbop.
A little overblown, but hey, what else do you expect of a suite?
Using the Nels Cline Singers, plus extra guitar, as the core of
his rhythm section, Bernstein sounds Ellingtonian with just two
brass and two reeds.
Dave Douglas & Keystone:
Several years of electronic dabbling finally pay off: DJ Olive's
scratching and Adam Benjamin's Fender Rhodes are woven seamlessly
into the rhythm, but the garbled Bush sample seems to be there just
to make you wonder. New saxophonist Marcus Strickland more than
lives up to his illustrious predecessors. And then there's the
trumpeter: Douglas wins those polls not for his compositions --
he's too far over everyone's head for that -- but for his chops.
The sweet spot between Ellis's sparsely avant Chicago Spontaneous
Combustion Suite and his luxuriantly Mali-meets-Brazil Speak in
Tones project Subaro: a group from the nordeste Brazilian
melting pot, with a groove that can't stop, chants that don't get
in the way, and the leader's soprano sax, which bites a little
when he gets excited.
Scott Fields Freetet:
Bitter Love Songs
Exorcising the "slime trail of bile that love leaves behind,"
Fields's guitar doesn't ramble for once: he is focused, calm,
cool, concise. Bass and drums forego the avant free-for-all,
keeping him on track without demanding attention. His misery
is our gain.
Steve Lehman's alto sax distills the acidic tones of his mentors
Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, which might seem to limit him,
but his trio support here from pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer
Tyshawn Sorey is so brimful with clever ideas and good cheer
that he simply brings them back into earthly balance. Too tight
to be a supergroup, although the individual talents warrant
David Murray/Mal Waldron:
(2001, Justin Time)
Cut in Brussels a year before Waldron's death, this may now be
seen as a remembrance of an all-time piano great, but Murray
fills the room so prodigiously that you have to work to hear
how skillfully Waldron ties it all together.
Some Blues but Not the Kind That's Blue
Two "small group" sessions that fell through the cracks and
wound up in Atavistic's remarkable Unheard Music Series. Mostly
covers, familiar songs like "My Favorite Things" and "Black
Magic" shot into unforseen orbits. The horns cut the grease,
but the piano (or organ on the 1973 tracks) dominates: Ra's
mix of stride, bebop, and something from the outer reaches
of the galaxy is pretty amazing.
Road Shows Vol. 1
Who else could throw together an album of seven concert shots
spanning 27 years, with five different drummers, and make it
all sound of a piece, much less a tour de force?
Opening up feature space for cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm slows them
down, drawing in Ken Vandermark's clarinet for approximate ballads.
Still, most of this is loud enough, and when they crank it up,
what you notice even more than Dave Rempis' lead sax lines is
how strong an agile Vandermark has gotten on baritone. A composer's
group with improvisers' skills, they haven't dropped a merely good
record since 2000's *Burn the Incline*.
Steve Reid Ensemble:
Itinerant drummer, with Kieran Hebden's laptop in tow, meets up
with Senegalese pros for a slick little groovefest.
Roots & Grooves
The WDR Big Band Cologne goes to heaven, backing the man with the
keys to one disc of Ray Charles, a second of James Brown.
Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981
A hot set with a "favorite group" he rarely recorded with --
remarkable as usual.
Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla:
Two discs, no bassist, less terror, more soul, vibrant as ever,
aging with some grace, some bitterness.
Bobby Previte & the New Bump:
Set the Alarm for Monday
Slick rhythm, with drums and vibes leaping over one another, but
Ellery Eskelin and Steven Bernstein cut the grease.
Houston Person/Ron Carter:
Just Between Friends
Pitching woo, directed more at old chestnuts than each other.
The Jimmy Carl Black Story
(Zonic Entertainment/Hot Club)
Grandmother of invention tells tall tales over chintzy avant-lounge.
Marcin Wasilewski Trio:
A near perfect quietstorm of ECM piano, with every little detail
carefully locked into place.
Circle the Path
Avant violin, a Revolutionary Ensemble for liberal Vancouver.
Territory Band-6 With Fred Anderson:
Ken Vandermark's territory band makes more sense centered on Anderson,
who breathes soul into the transatlantic avant's peculiar blues.
Louie Bellson & Clark Terry:
Louie & Clark Expedition 2
A bang-up big band, the octogenarian leaders still swinging like
they did for Ellington.
Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis:
Two Men With the Blues
Neither man feels the blues, but call out a song and chances are
they can wing it.
Esmée Althuis/Albert Van Veenendaal:
The Mystery of Guests
Guests like drummer Han Bennink and guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen flesh
out a sax-piano duo with plenty of rough edges and unfinished ideas.
Mort Weiss/Ron Eschete:
All Too Soon
Clarinet-guitar duets -- a late bloomer from the bebop generation,
a young 7-stringer who can swing.
The James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet:
Bebop upstarts, octogenarians now, relishing Gillespie and Dameron.
The Peter Brötzmann Octet:
The Complete Machine Gun Sessions
The original fount of saxophonic terror, a certified classic, still
farther out than you really want to go.
Rob Mosher's Storytime:
More proof that jazz is the semipop classical of the 21st century.
Near-solo voice, proof that the avant-garde can still find new
ways to annoy.
If Less Is More . . . Nothing Is Everything
Stupid pet tricks, without the cute factor.
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.
- Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: We Are MTO (Mowo!) A
- Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic (Sunnyside) A
- Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (Palmetto) A-
- Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (Tzadik) A-
- Dave Douglas & Keystone: Moonshine (Greenleaf Music) A-
- Mike Ellis: Bahia Band (Alpha Pocket) A-
- Scott Fields Freetet: Bitter Love Songs (Clean Feed) A-
- Fieldwork: Door (Pi) A-
- David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (Justin Time) A-
- Sun Ra: Some Blues but Not the Kind That's Blue (Atavistic) A-
- Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy) A-
- Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (Atavistic) A-
- Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (Domino) A-
- Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (Heads Up) A-
- Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981 (Widow's Taste) A-
- Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla: Born Broke (Atavistic)
- Bobby Previte & the New Bump: Set the Alarm for Monday (Palmetto)
- Houston Person/Ron Carter: Just Between Friends (High Note)
- Jon Larsen: The Jimmy Carl Black Story (Zonic Entertainment/Hot Club, 2CD)
- Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January (ECM)
- ZMF Trio: Circle the Path (Drip Audio)
- Territory Band-6 With Fred Anderson: Collide (Okka Disk)
- Louie Bellson & Clark Terry: Louie & Clark Expedition 2 (Percussion Power)
- Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis: Two Men With the Blues (Blue Note)
- Esmée Althuis/Albert Van Veenendaal: The Mystery of Guests (Evil Rabbit)
- Mort Weiss/Ron Eschete: All Too Soon (SMS Jazz)
- The James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet: Our Delight (IPO)
- The Peter Brötzmann Octet: The Complete Machine Gun Sessions (Atavistic)
- Rob Mosher's Storytime: The Tortoise (Old Mill) B-
- Lindha Kallerdahl: Gold (ESP-Disk) C+
- Kate McGarry: If Less Is More . . . Nothing Is Everything (Palmetto) C
Album count: 31; Word count: 1355 (graded 18: 1033; additional 13: 322).
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.
Working on the following (both new and old). When done they will go
to the print or done
or flush file. When the column is published,
the done entries will be dumped into notebook.