Jazz Consumer Guide (19):
Houston Person: The Art and Soul of Houston Person (1996-2008, High Note) Joe Fields recorded Person's debut at Prestige in 1966. When Fields moved on to found Muse and High Note, Person was his first hire: a slow moving, easy swinging tenor sax soul man, so consistent his biggest problem has been differentiating his albums. This 3-CD set settles that: 30 classic songs from a dozen mature albums sum him up perfectly. Irresistible for anyone with a taste for tenor sax and a sense of jazz's grand historical arc. A
Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (Arbors) So rooted in tradition he named his son Bix, so postmodern he conceived two of his best albums as Inside Out and Outside In. This one covers all the bases, with his originals fitting seamlessly amidst standards from Berlin, Porter, and Carmichael and scattered threads from Debussy to Jobim to Bill Evans. Bassist Nicki Parrott adds charming vocals on four tracks, guitarist Howard Alden provides elegant support, and Sandke plays some of the hottest trumpet of his career. A
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Rea (Ronin Rhythm) Repetitive rhythms are so fundamental to Bärtsch's aesthetic that he even overdubs his Piano Solo album, one of six albums of "Ritual Groove Music" that predate his two more luxurious ECM releases. The albums are all of a piece, the first two less consistent, Live punchier, Aer more refined, but this one, the fifth, is sublime, its simple, shifting rhythmic figures building imperceptibly to gratifying climaxes. A
Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk (Savant) A Boston-bred mainstream tenor saxophonist with a minor in Coltrane and dozen solid-plus albums to his credit turns it up a notch, if only to keep a step ahead of the young, hitherto unknown Italians in his band -- Renato Chicco on piano and Andrea Michelutti on drums. A MINUS
Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse (Fresh Sound New Talent) A contest of daredevils. From the beginning tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby gave her group a rough edge, but three albums in they've all caught the bug. Bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis pull the rhythm apart at the seams, and the pianist-leader plunges in with rough block chords, but the tradeoffs can be intricate, like in "Wayne Oskar" where the piano leads into intriguing abstractions, then backs off as Malaby finishes the thought. A MINUS
Bill Frisell: History, Mystery (Nonesuch) The string quartet at the heart of Frisell's latest revisioning of classical Americana, all name jazz musicians, forms the sea that Frisell's guitar swims through, occasionally rising up in wonder. They go to Sam Cooke for inspiration and Mali for a blues, and check tunes by Monk and Konitz, but those are merely outposts, as Frisell's writing subsumes all before it. Greg Tardy's sax and Ron Miles' cornet are rare enough to be treats. A MINUSKenny Garrett: Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue) Garrett's first live album is a nod to Miles Davis, who hired him at the crossroads of their careers. Would be no big deal, but he crosses late-Miles funk with the orgiastic Coltraneisms Miles missed out on. Better still, he gets Pharoah Sanders to deliver them in person. A MINUS
Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen (Pi) Like Jason Kao Hwang, Mahanthappa is one of a growing cadre of second-generation Americans who've gone back to study their ancestral culture for clues moving forward. His previous efforts stuck a shmear of Indian effects on top of his Coltraneisms, but this time he starts with the masters -- most importantly, Kadri Gopalnath, who did the hard work of translating Indian classical music to alto sax: a solid foundation he builds rich textures on. A MINUS
Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music) Long a rising tenor sax star, he finally strips down to a format where his chops break away from his postbop ambitions -- like he's strayed from Chris Potter's footsteps to chase after Sonny Rollins. A MINUS
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: This Is Our Moosic (Hot Cup) Moving forward in history from their bebop terrorism, Moppa Elliott's gang appropriates his home turf of Moosic, PA, to play on and around Ornette Coleman. Often sounds like a deranged New Orleans brass band, sometimes even breaking into melody. A MINUS
Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More (1975-79, Arbors) Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber formed their double soprano sax group in 1972, met frequently through the end of the decade, and held occasional reunions as late as 2001. Sidney Bechet was their obvious focus, but these archives include a session devoted to Jelly Roll Morton, and two non-summits: a Davern clarinet trio, and a Wilber group with Ruby Braff. A MINUS
David S. Ware: Shakti (AUM Fidelity) A new quartet, with guitarist Joe Morris the second seed. The Indian motifs are part of Ware's spiritual quest, but when he plays it's hard to escape the here and now. While most tenor saxophonists have tried to sound like John Coltrane, Ware simply lived the life, finding his own unique way, elevating everyone around him. A MINUS
Cassandra Wilson: Loverly (Blue Note) After numerous attempts to modernize the songbook and capitalize on a deep voice invoking Vaughan-Carter-Lincoln, she retreats into a scattered set of old songs, and comes up with her most satisfying album. It's all in the details: the Jason Moran piano that drives "Caravan"; the upbeat sass of "St. James Infirmary"; the way she wraps her voice around Reginald Veal's solo bass "The Very Thought of You." A MINUS
The Microscopic Septet: Lobster Leaps In (Cuneiform) Vintage postmoderns regroup for a rousing round of trad jazz in a tradition wholly their own.
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation (482 Music) Drummer-led freebop, with two racing saxes invoking the late 1950s Chicago underground and flying off.
Scott DuBois: Banshees (Sunnyside) Guitarist-driven vehicle, steady enough to keep avant-saxman Gebhard Ullman on track, wild enough to get him excited.
Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Apti (Innova) With Pakistani-American guitarist Rez Abassi, both sides are over the conflict, and world-class tabla player Dan Weiss is way beyond.
Maurice Horsthuis: Elastic Jargon (Data) Music for many strings including bass and guitar, the tone more classical than jazz, and fresh nonetheless.
Bob Mover: It Amazes Me . . . (Zoho) Slow, smokey ballads, lustrous sax, Kenny Barron accompaniment, improbably touching vocals.
Martial Solal Trio: Longitude (CAM Jazz) Eighty-year-old freebop pianist walks on the wild side.
Mauger: The Beautiful Enabler (Clean Feed) Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway, grads of Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet, audition a new saxophonist: Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo de Nube (ECM) A lonely voice crying over a prickly bed of Jason Moran piano.
Buffalo: Collision (Duck) (Screwgun) Two-thirds Bad Plus plus cellist Hank Roberts skewing the groove and Tim Berne's alto sax bowling over and ducking under.
Corey Wilkes: Drop It (Delmark) The hot young trumpet out of Chicago, funkier than that mosquita's tweeter.
Torben Waldorff: Afterburn (ArtistShare) Special award for best performance by Donny McCaslin in a supporting role.
Bill Easley: Business Man's Bounce (18th & Vine) Old-fashioned tenor sax honks, bops, pitches woo, and wisecracks over Nat Cole.
Steve Lehman Quartet: Manifold (Clean Feed) "For Evan Parker" strikes me as a parody, a little joke at the end of a live, vibrant sax-trumpet parry.
Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres (ArtistShare) Intricate, intimate guitar duets, subtle and silky, with an extra quartet disc to celebrate.
Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: Tabligi (Cuneiform) Dense Vijay Iyer-led background, shredded by razor sharp trumpet.
Sheila Jordan: Winter Sunshine (Justin Time) At 79, still the fan, reminiscing about her girlhood crush on Bird, wishing she could scat like Ella.
Ernestine Anderson: A Song for You (High Note) One of Johnny Otis's chick singers, still swinging at 80; who wouldn't with Houston Person pitching woo?
Bill Dixon: 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity) Poor Darfur: you don't know whether to cry, vent, or slump into a stupor. B
The Bad Plus: For All I Care (Heads Up) Semi-simple variations reduced to a numb, disintegrating torpor by a singer loaded on lithium. B MINUS
Jon Hassell: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (ECM) But did it really happen if no one was conscious enough to notice? B MINUS
Originally published in Village Voice, May 26, 2009
Closed this on April 10, 2009, with 47 albums and 1755 words. One thought is to limit the cuts to honorable mentions, then run them on the website to get them out and avoid carrying them over. At this point, the carry over is almost the same: 45 albums, 1876 words.
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.
Album count: 48; Word count: 1723 (graded 21: 1140; additional 27: 583).
Several records were cut from the print edition but kept in the on-line edition. They were: Gust Spenos, from the main section; and honorable mentions: Duke Robillard, Angles, Mike Reed's The Speed of Change, Ryan Blotnick, Brazilian Trio, Bobo Stenson, Jślio Resende, Jerry Bergonzi, Harry Whitaker, Bryan Beninghove, Tobias Gebb, Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz, Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski, Lee Konitz/Minsarah. There was a slight tendency to cut out lower ranked HMs and records by lesser known artists. In general, I felt it best to get these entries out sooner rather than later -- in many cases they came out pretty late anyway -- even if in a somewhat more limited forum.
I try to write up an informal note on every jazz record I hear the first (or sometimes second) time I play it. Those notes are collected over the course of a week, then posted in the blog. They are also collected here.
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.