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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Static Multimedia posted the September 2005 edition of Recycled Goods today. This is the 23rd edition in a series that has now bagged 907 records. This was kind of a rush job after other projects chewed up most of the month, but I think I came up with a good mix of albums. Several are arguably new. Some months back I was having so much trouble getting good world music albums that I just dropped the recycled requirement. I figured that while most world records newly washed up in these parts are really old ones in their native lands, the distinction caused more confusion than it was worth. Two more records are new releases of live jazz concerts not really old enough to be classified as vault material: Sonny Rollins and David S. Ware. But starting short of material, I rather arbitrarily ruled them eligible anyway. I actually wrote them up for the Jazz Consumer Guide, but once the Voice published full reviews they deprioritized and lost out in the inevitable space squeeze. Besides, I could run them here.

We did two album covers this time. Although not identified as such, these are the Pick Hits. In that role Amadou & Mariam was the obvious choice, but I also wanted to show off the Rollins cover. Publisher had no problem with the suggestion, so this will probably be a regular feature. The mad scramble to make deadline partly contributed to the ACN, although I've done this a couple of times before, and as I notice reissues of albums worth pointing out I'll run this section. There's no reason I have to do fifty albums each time, other than that I'm trying to keep up. But it takes a lot of time, and I'm starting to worry that I don't have the time to handle this many properly.

The other frustration is getting enough of the albums that deserve to be reviewed here. This is especially a problem with world music, but the only genre I'm reasonably well supplied with is jazz. After world music, the toughest area to keep up with is recent rock, hip-hop, etc. Looking at the reissues section in Blender this month, I have 6 of 26 records reviewed, but they come from just three labels. One positive thing is the sudden uptick in country music this month, mostly thanks to Universal -- which had been largely absent from the column for the past year (excepting Verve, their jazz label). Would love to see more hip-hop and more dance music. Despite my complaints, this column can be a lot of fun to work on.


Here are the notes for the records included in last week's Jazz Consumer Guide.

  • Eric Alexander: Dead Center (2004, HighNote). An appropriate title, especially since he's already used Solid. His one original is a feisty piece that lets him show off his huge tone and plentiful chops. Then he works through the covers, a range of postbop swing including one by his redoubtable pianist Harold Mabern and a pair by Lerner and Loewe that he takes to the races. The center of the mainstream, but far from dead. A-
  • Scott Amendola Band: Believe (2005, Cryptogramophone). The drummer in the Nels Cline Singers moves up front, with twin guitars (Cline and Jeff Parker, a dream team), John Shifflett's bass, and most importantly Jenny Scheinman's violin. But this turns the Nels Cline Singers on their head, adding Jeff Parker's sweet guitar to Cline's sour guitar, reinforcing the string sound with violin and bass. The leader supplements his drums with electronics, producing groove and textures you'd have to be hard of hearing to take for ambient. A-
  • Eugene Chadbourne: The Hills Have Jazz (2003 [2005], Boxholder). Chadbourne's skewed but bouncing take the Tadd Dameron/Count Basie piece "Good Bait" is so ebullient and good natured I wish he had returned to that mode instead of following avant-gardists Oliver Lake, Eric Dolphy, Roscoe Mitchell, Sun Ra and John Coltrane down the rabbit hole. Not that the latter don't have their interesting moments, but the tendency is to skew sounds there abstracted from their music. But then I also don't share Chadbourne's fascination with horror movies, let alone why he should dedicate this to Wes Craven. B+
  • The Nels Cline Singers: The Giant Pin (2003 [2004], Cryptogramophone). The fast and hard ones deserve to be called heavy metal jazz, although Cline's guitar is less distinctive at that volume than Scott Amendola's free drumming. At more moderate speeds Cline gets a distinctive ring and plays with considerable poise. The slow stuff goes more for electronics and effects -- moods, and nice to catch acoustic bassist Devin Hoff on his own. As on Instrumentals, nobody actually sings. A-
  • Benoît Delbecq Unit: Phonetics (2005, Songlines). This starts with an unlikely rhythmic invention, Delbecq's piano and Emile Biayenda's drums bouncing about out of synch but forming an effortless cascade. Mark Turner's tenor sax and/or Oene Van Geel's viola add color without pumping up the volume. A-
  • Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Dancing Cheek to Cheek (2004, Stunt). Two nods to tin pan alley: "Cheek to Cheek" done Louis/Ella style, except that this Louis is Ray Anderson; and "Body and Soul" slowed to a savory crawl by Josephine Cronholm. The rest of the album is Afro-Danish big band, griots and pennywhistles, references to Mingus and Sun Ra, and a Dukish impression of Jakarta. Dørge, like his Jungle Music idol, plays orchestra, but when the occasion calls for it he also fills in smartly on guitar. A-
  • Duo Nueva Finlandia: Short Stories (2005, TUM). Piano and bass improvisations from two veterans of Finland's free jazz scene, pianist Eero Ojanen and bassist Teppo Hauta-aho. Not exactly household names, but they've played together since 1962, and have played with many important players of the last forty years -- some names that jump out are Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Paul Rutherford. Ojanen's piano has bits of Taylor and Waldron -- concentrated, abstract, ready to jump, especially when the bassist lays down a rhythm. Tight, often lovely, but never sweet. B+
  • Fieldwork: Simulated Progress (2004 [2005], Pi). On first approximation, this is a piano trio with Steve Lehman playing the bass parts on alto and sopranino sax, where they take on a life of their own. Lehman has such a strained, narrow tone that his work tends to duck behind the piano, anchoring the rhythm and painting the background. But then the pianist is Vijay Iyer, who can lead by the sheer force of his percussiveness and has a knack for putting the finishing touches on whatever Lehman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee throw at him. A-
  • James Finn Trio: Plaza de Toros (2005, Clean Feed). The bullfighting theme shows up in momentary flashes of Spanish bravado, the themes that the improvisations are presumably based on. One can imagine Finn's tenor saxophone center stage, exposed, engaged with an unseen but ominous force, living by his wits, which would relegate the secondary bass and drums (Dominic Duval and Warren Smith) to a role like the fanfare of the crowd. B+
  • Bill Frisell: Richter 858 (2005, Songlines). Unconventional string quartet -- Frisell's guitar joining Jenny Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola), Hank Roberts (cello). The music is based on a set of abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter. Frisell explains, "The music should not be 'pretty' in the conventional or sentimental way, because the paintings are simply not." Indeed, this starts with a burst of ugliness and it never quite recovers. This is thick with its strings, if not composed through then at least improvised with all on board, so perhaps inevitably it sounds like classical music to me -- my gag reflex kicks in too often to enjoy it much. Interesting booklet. Like the paintings -- mostly smears of oil on aluminum. B-
  • Dennis González's Spirit Meridian: Idle Wild (2004 [2005], Clean Feed). The good doctor's prescription for a country "sick with Bush" is "Bush Medicine" -- a delightful calypso fragment recalling "St. Thomas" with an Ornette twist, but fractured into discrete bits. Small pleasures, take them when you can. Oliver Lake's playfulness enhances González's spiritfulness, while the rhythm section keeps things loose. Of course, Bush Medicine is only a palliative. A cure starts with surgery, and the rehabilitation is likely to be slow and wrenching, with so much damage to be undone, and so much that cannot be undone. A-
  • Jerry Granelli: Sandhills Reunion (2005, Songlines). Granelli's music, constructed from clarinets and baritone sax, guitars and cello, has a spare windswept quality suited to the Nebraska Sandhills. The pictures of these hills can be taken for flat, a vastness of empty space spread out under an even vaster empty sky. They provide a setting for Rinde Eckert's words, spoken in a cautious monotone: tales of crime and loneliness and the meaning of the life as revealed at a strip joint by a singer, "a big fat black woman from Chicago." A-
  • Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Ground (2004 [2005], ECM). Quiet, almost sedentary piano trio. Patient, elegant, quite lovely. Never know what to say about such things. B+
  • Jim Hall: Magic Meeting (2004, ArtistShare). I doubt that there is any other major jazz player that I feel more uncertain, as opposed to ambivalent, about than Hall. He played guitar with Jimmy Giuffre as far back as 1956 and has worked consistently ever since. But aside from his support work for Sonny Rollins in the '60s I've never gotten the hang of him. It's tempting to bracket him with bop-influenced guitarists like Tal Farlow but it's hard to be sure. Is he subtle or shrewd? Enigmatic or just confusing? I'm not sure this record answers any such questions, but it rather neatly spreads the cards out on the table. This is a trio recording, a selection of not especially related pieces from a longer (probably much longer) set of live performances. The anchor is bassist Scott Colley, who also gets a share of the production credit; he seems to be the center of gravity even when he isn't playing (or is practically inaudible). Hall himself appears in various guises: his clean light notes glisten off Colley's contrasting bass notes, but he can also shift into a rhythm mode, and he uses some sort of effects to get a synth-sax sound for the head on Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." The third leg of the trio is drummer Lewis Nash, who can be as playful and offbeat as Hall. A-
  • Happy Apple: The Peace Between Our Companies (2005, Sunnyside). Not really the Bad Plus reloaded, although common denominator Dave King's drum attack is the distinctive signature here. Eric Fratzke's electric bass doesn't match Reid Anderson's virtuosity, but at least keeps them in the game. And Michael Lewis' saxophones make for a lead voice that is louder, more personable, and more anciently rockish than Ethan Iverson's piano. They alternate between going loud and going soft. In soft mode they go for avant-scratch; in loud mode Lewis shows his command of the Ayler/Coltrane basics, while King knocks your socks off. A-
  • Ari Hoenig: The Painter (2003 [2004], Smalls). Led by the drummer, but Guadeloupean Jacques Schwarz-Bart could write a book on state-of-the-art tenor sax, and French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc can dazzle when he's not merely helping out. Recorded live at Fat Cat, it sneaks up on you, like the realization that you've just had a real good time. A-
  • Ibrahim Electric: Meets Ray Anderson (2004 [2005], Stunt). When they turn up the heat the Danish guitar-organ-drums trio is more rockish than its soul jazz avatars. And when they dial it down they're knee deep in the blues. Neither trait is all that remarkable, but their meeting with the trombone master was inspired. After all, Anderson's first language is gutbucket, so when he growls and groans he delivers the dirt this band needs. But he can improvise on their grind, punching out lightning solos then diving back into the grime. A-
  • Sherman Irby: Faith (2004 [2005], Black Warrior). Irby has a beautiful tone on alto sax, a quick wit and surpassing soulfulness. He cut a marvelous down home record in 1998 called Big Mama's Biscuits, his second Blue Note album, but he's been out of print since then, until founding his own label. This one, built around originals with titles like "Faith," "Hope," and "Charity," comes close: the sound is clean and well structured, and pianist Larry Willis injects a little gospel base. "Fight for Life" is anything but kneejerk.