Jazz Consumer Guide (23):
Mocking Traditions, or Joining Them

Plus suave elegance, raw non-beauty, and other works-in-progress

by Tom Hull

Pick Hits

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed) Two alto saxmen, rising stars at least according to *Downbeat*'s critics, in a free jazz quintet mediated by guitarist Liberty Ellman. Mahanthappa has sopped up Coltrane and the Karnatic tradition, but here blends in with Lehman, who learned his stuff from Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, with a more accessible take on the latter's compositional discipline. No jousts or flights of fancy; just dense patterns swung over freewheeling rhythm -- live no less. A

Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort (Hot Cup) The history lesson this time spotlights a 1962 Roy Haynes album, Out of the Afternoon, mostly exploited for its cover, a shot of the band lost in the woods, overdressed and underequipped. Haynes had Roland Kirk doubling up on his horns, but Moppa Elliott gets a similar flair from two players, and skips Tommy Flanagan's piano, which would only slow things down. They've grown out of their juvenile terrorism, delighted that they've now secured a slot in the tradition they used to mock. A


Ben Allison: Think Free (Palmetto) A bassist-composer needs someone to step out front, and that's violinist Jenny Scheinman here. She brings out the sweetness in Allison's supple, easy-flowing melodies, with guitar and trumpet playing off the edges. A MINUS

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (Owl Studios) From Indianapolis, a genuine territory band working venerable standards, framed in finely oiled antique wood with brass for sparkle, not bombast, and distinctive boy and girl singers. Everett Greene glides over the lyrics, his deep voice honed to sauve elegance. Cynthia Layne cuts deep into her songs, a feisty contrast. A MINUS

Ralph Carney: Serious Jass Project (Akron Cracker) Sax/clarinet player, started in Akron rock band Tin Huey, toured with Tom Waits, wound up in various San Francisco projects, like this old time, good time band. Mostly Ellington, with a Dave Bartholomew boogie and a honking shot of Big Jay McNeely - not exactly trad jazz, but these days the '30s and the '50s get to help each other out. A MINUS

Bill Frisell: Disfarmer (Nonesuch) Another slice of Americana, stripped down to strings including pedal steel and fiddle, tuned to Depression-era photos of farmers. Frisell's originals are bare soundtrack sketches, with titles like "Think," "Drink," and "Play." But the indelible melodies of covers like "That's All Right, Mama" and "Lovesick Blues" jump from the grooves, spreading their warmth over everything in the vicinity. A MINUS

Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden (ECM) The Norwegian saxophonist's normally crystalline tone is a bit muddied in this rare live double, as is the conceptual clarity of studio albums that wove together music from all over the world. The pieces are here for a recap of a remarkable 40-year career, but the lesson is that it's still a work in progress. A MINUS

Darius Jones Trio: Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity) Beauty is in the ear of the beholder, but raw for sure, with a down and dirty blues base and plenty of squawk on the uptake. His keeps his alto sax down in the tenor range where it sounds scrawny and mean, until he slows down and Cooper-Moore switches from roughhousing diddley-bow back to piano. Elegant, not sure about beautiful. A MINUS

PianoCircus Featuring Bill Bruford: Skin and Wire (Summerfold) Four pianists, the drummer, and bass guitarist Julian Crampton play the music of Colin Riley, a "composer of no fixed indoctrination" who gets them started with some programming. Riley moves beyond minimalism, breaking his patterns into sharp edges, never letting his ambient stretches get too predictable. A MINUS

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Dream Dance (CAM Jazz) An all-star piano trio to rival Keith Jarrett's, if anything less mannered, lighter, spryer. They've played together for most of the last decade, churning out one fine album after another. This one is distinguished by its range: fast, slow, dense, quiet, graceful in any mode and tempo. A MINUS

Radio I-Ching: No Wave Au Go Go (Resonant Music) Avant-wandering rock refugees -- Andy Haas on curved soprano sax and electronics, Don Fiorino on guitarlike things, Dee Pop on percussion -- pull together. Their worldbeat originals smoke the jazz covers, which serve as ethereal exotica -- except for "Judgment Day," which redeems their faith in Americana. A MINUS

Wadada Leo Smith: Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform) Two discs, two live sets, two bands, one trumpet unifying two approaches to a semi-popular niche the AACM veteran spent most of his career avoiding. The Golden Quintet juxtaposes him with pianist Vijay Iyer and doubles up on drums, while Organic plugs in three or four guitars and an extra bass, riding on his Yo Miles fusion concept without getting trapped by it. A MINUS

Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (ECM) The avant-garde trumpeter from Poland continues to age gracefully, picking up another group of youngsters, notably Jakob Bro on guitar and Alexi Tuomarila on piano, and keeps firmly in front of them. A fierce section early on makes you wish he'd do that more often, but even when the melodies turn pleasant his trumpet is singular. A MINUS

Matt Wilson Quartet: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (Palmetto) Andrew D'Angelo lives, and after a brutal illness is back, as fierce as ever, facing his alto sax off against Jeff Lederer's tenor. No postbop niceties this time. The drummer has to raise his game just to keep up, and he does. A MINUS

John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (Tzadik) A composer's album, like recent work attributed to Bach or Brahms, or more to the point like Zorn's own voluminous Filmworks -- simple and elegant pieces for a Rob Burger piano trio. In fact, several pieces are dedicated to filmmakers, although the opening Vince Guaraldi dedication frames Zorn's ambitions: popular as in accessible, not pop, never schmaltz. A MINUS

Honorable Mention

Maria Muldaur: Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy (Stony Plain) More songs about failing banks and two-timing preachers -- the panic is on, but she at least has a plan.

The Godforgottens: Never Forgotten, Always Remembered (Clean Feed) Sten Sandell's organ doesn't trip up the free rhythm, and Magnus Broo's trumpet burns bright.

Anders Nilsson: AORTA Ensemble (Kopasetic) Swedish-American merger: double sax, double bass, double drums, whole lotta guitar.

Anthony Braxton/Maral Yakshieva: Improvisations (Duo) 2008 (SoLyd) Two disc-long sax-piano improvs, the master taking it easy through the paces.

Randy Brecker: Nostalgic Journey (Summit) Sharp trumpet leads on Wlodek Pawlik's suite, his piano trio backed by a Bialystok orchestra that strikes a nice balance.

Timucin Sahin Quartet: Bafa (Between the Lines) Turkish guitarist weaves his way in and around a risk-taking John O'Gallagher sax trio.

Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music I (Not Two) A 50th birthday milestone, with Julian ArguŽlles and Steve Swell offsetting, and disciplining, the leader's reeds.

Mose Allison: The Way of the World (Anti-) A cool little cluster of perpetual inquisitiveness thinks up modest proposals and turns out alright.

The Nice Guy Trio: Here Comes . . . the Nice Guy Trio (Porto Franco) Mingus meets Weill and other discreet pleasures, mostly trumpet-accordion-bass, with occasional guests.

Jeff Healey: Last Call (Stony Plain) Deeper into trad jazz, dubbing his trumpet and vocals over his roughest, nastiest Eddie Lang guitar, with Venuti-ish violin too.

Jon Irabagon: The Observer (Concord) MOPDTK slasher won a Monk prize, a contract, Stan Getz's old rhythm section; responds by reconstructing the bebop he used to tear apart.

Rodrigo Amado: Motion Trio (European Echoes) His usual sax tour de force, running circles around cello and drums.

Quartet Offensive: Carnivore (Morphius) Punk-fusion quintet, softened with bass clarinet and fuzz guitar.

Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne: Bombella (Sunnyside) Fancy how the big band fleshes everything out on its own terms, but Africa runs deep, even with piccolo flute subbed for pennywhistle.

Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls: Seize the Time (Naim) Hard times, clampdowns, freedom through solidarity, even in Nazi U.S.A. -- Mingus lives, Max Roach too!

Ehud Asherie: Modern Life (Posi-Tone) With Harry Allen, a debonair throwback to the 1940s, when modernity meant something.

Greg Burk: Many Worlds (482 Music) Bouncing blinking leptons, dancing clusters of taus, discordance that surely can't be mere chaos.

Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (Uqbar) Tony Malaby's tenor sax runs roughshod, but his soprano is the perfect foil for the leader's tuba.

Andrew Rathbun: Where We Are Now (SteepleChase) The new standard postbop quintet, guitar vying with piano in lieu of a second horn, tenor sax still in charge.

The New Jazz Composers Octet: The Turning Gate (Motema Music) Postbop composers scratching each other's back, bolstered by enough horns to keep everyone flying.

Joey DeFrancesco: Snap Shot (High Note) Regroups the original trio he made his rep with, grinding with grooveful guitarist Paul Bollenback.

Linda Oh Trio: Entry (Linda Oh Music) Bassist-led, balanced sound and structure, with Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet for ear candy.

Blink: The Epidemic of Ideas (Thirsty Ear) Rebel Souls from Chicago awash with ideas, mostly of the postrock/freebop sort.

Jerry Bergonzi: Three for All (Savant) More tenor talk, simply put as usual.

David S. Ware: Saturnian (AUM Fidelity) The inevitable solo tenor sax-stritch-saxello album, practice as slow-motion performance.

Gaucho: Deep Night (Gaucho) San Francisco gypsies roast Django-fied oldies in their hot club.

Fernando Benadon: Intuitivo (Innova) String music, a quartet with bass instead of cello, some clarinet and percussion.

Dan Aran: Breathing (Smalls) Soft-touch drummer hosts friends for eclectic postbop exercises.

Ben Neill: Night Science (Thirsty Ear) One-man trumpet-flavored jazztronica, like Nils Petter Molvaer divorced from the jazz moment.

Tribecastan: Strange Cousin (Evergreene Music) Cosmopolitan hillbilly music, a Don Cherry passport stamped with Balkan accents.

Houston Person: Mellow (High Note) God blesses the tenor saxophonist who's got his own.

Ralph Bowen: Dedicated (Posi-Tone) Solo tenor sax is the purest voice in jazz, as this one proves with the help of a first-rate mainstream band.

Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music II (Not Two) A second helping, a bit sloppier and rowdier than the first.

Dom Minasi String Quartet: Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (Konnex) Guitar-violin-cello-bass, close enough for cranky avant-chamber music.

Duds

EEA: The Dark (Origin) Sax-trumpet-piano trio, faint figures unmoved by rhythm. C PLUS

Trombone Shorty: Backatown (Verve Forecast) New Orleans horn line tricked up with synth beats and bogged down with guest vocals and a stab at grunge. C PLUS

Addresses

Originally published in Village Voice, Jun 29, 2010

Notes

Breakdown at cut time: 2 pick hits, 12 A-list, 35 HM, 2 duds. (Last time: 2 pick hits, 15 A-list, 30 HM, 2 duds.)

Rated

This table provides a working guide to how the JCG is shaping up. This does not include anything moved to bk-flush: these include items relegated to Surplus, reviewed in Recycled Goods, or just passed over. Entries in black are written, gray graded but not written, red ungraded but with prospect notes (all these are at the bottom of their approximate grade levels, alphabetized). A-list, B-list and Duds are alphabetical; HM lists are ranked, with breaks for three-two-one stars.

Picks
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed) A
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort (Hot Cup) A-
A
  • Ben Allison: Think Free (Palmetto) A-
  • Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (Owl Studios) A-
  • Ralph Carney: Serious Jass Project (Akron Cracker) A-
  • Bill Frisell: Disfarmer (Nonesuch) A-
  • Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden (ECM) A-
  • Darius Jones Trio: Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity) A-
  • PianoCircus Featuring Bill Bruford: Skin and Wire (Summerfold) A-
  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Dream Dance (CAM Jazz) A-
  • Radio I-Ching: No Wave Au Go Go (Resonant Music) A-
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform) A-
  • Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (ECM) A-
  • Matt Wilson Quartet: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (Palmetto) A-
  • John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (Tzadik) A-
HM [A-]
  • Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy (Stony Plain) A-
  • The Godforgottens: Never Forgotten, Always Remembered (Clean Feed) A-
  • Anders Nilsson: AORTA Ensemble (Kopasetic) A-
HM [***]
  • Anthony Braxton/Maral Yakshieva: Improvisations (Duo) 2008 (SoLyd)
  • Randy Brecker: Nostalgic Journey: Tykocin Jazz Suite/The Music of Wlodek Pawlik (Summit)
  • Timucin Sahin Quartet: Bafa (Between the Lines)
  • Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music I (Not Two)
  • Mose Allison: The Way of the World (Anti-)
  • The Nice Guy Trio: Here Comes . . . the Nice Guy Trio (Porto Franco)
  • Jeff Healey: Last Call (Stony Plain)
  • Jon Irabagon: The Observer (Concord)
  • Rodrigo Amado: Motion Trio (European Echoes)
  • Quartet Offensive: Carnivore (Morphius)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne: Bombella (Sunnyside)
  • Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls: Seize the Time (Naim)
  • Ehud Asherie: Modern Life (Posi-Tone)
  • Greg Burk: Many Worlds (482 Music)
  • Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (Uqbar)
  • Andrew Rathbun: Where We Are Now (SteepleChase)
  • The New Jazz Composers Octet: The Turning Gate (Motema Music)
  • Joey DeFrancesco: Snap Shot (High Note)
  • Linda Oh Trio: Entry (Linda Oh Music)
  • Blink.: The Epidemic of Ideas (Thirsty Ear)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Three for All (Savant)
  • David S. Ware: Saturnian (AUM Fidelity)
HM [**]
  • Gaucho: Deep Night (Gaucho)
  • Fernando Benadon: Intuitivo (Innova)
  • Dan Aran: Breathing (Smalls)
  • Ben Neill: Night Science (Thirsty Ear)
  • Tribecastan: Strange Cousin (Evergreene Music)
  • Houston Person: Mellow (High Note)
  • Ralph Bowen: Dedicated (Posi-Tone)
  • Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music II (Not Two)
  • Dom Minasi String Quartet: Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (Konnex)
HM [*]
    B
      Duds
      • EEA: The Dark (Origin) C+
      • Trombone Shorty: Backatown (Verve Forecast) C+

      Album count: 51; Word count: 1788 (graded 20: 1115; additional 31: 673).

      Prospecting

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

      Surplus

      The surplus file collects final notes when I decide that I cannot realistically keep a record under active consideration for the Jazz Consumer Guide. These notes are mostly written at the end of a JCG cycle and posted to the blog when the column is printed. In effect, they are the extended copy to the column. There are various reasons for this. For especially good records, it is often because Francis Davis or someone else has already reviewed it and my two cents would be 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.

      Pending

      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.

      Pending: New

      Pending: Old