Jazz Consumer Guide (21):
Rova: The Juke Box Suite (Not Two) A saxophone quartet, as tight as non-stars can be after twenty years of interaction, loosen up with a world-music jukebox concept. With Bruce Raskin's baritone the prime mover, the pulse doesn't let up, and the themes -- Finnish folk to choro to Afro-Balkan to mambo to White Stripes -- gives them plenty of accessible ideas to work with. The slower unison themes are rich, the breakaways startling. A MINUS
Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (Okka Disk) The rock-schooled younger generation keep the beat neatly tucked in rather than letting it run free, inducing the elders to twist their unusual horns -- Kondo gets synth effects on electric trumpet, Brötzmann mixes tarogato and clarinet with his saxes -- into tight wads of sound, achieving an intensity that no longer depends, as it did in their younger days, on sheer volume. A MINUS
Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB 1980 (1980-81, DMG/ARC) If this be fusion, the rock component is New York No Wave, punk's dead end. The jazz side provides the skills to beat funky and free at the same time, and to forgo the vocals in favor of George Cartwright's ecstatic sax. A MINUS
Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Unity: Ancients Speak (Live Wired Music) The moderns speak in hip-hop tongues, homologues to ancient drums, but cross-bred like crazy, even if you can trace all of it, like damn near everything else, back to Africa. Gibbs is a bassist who has worked under band names from Defunkt to Harriet Tubman, with side credits ranging from Sonny Sharrock to Marisa Monte to John Zorn to Femi Kuti -- a career he finally unifies. A MINUS
Abdullah Ibrahim: Senzo (Sunnyside) A WDR radio shot of the pianist playing solo: a long, slow meditation that deftly sums up his career, stressing logic and craftsmanship over the his signature South African riffs, which are reduced here to rough diamonds. A MINUS
Darren Johnston: The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed) Ben Goldberg's clarinet takes flight immediately, with Sheldon Brown adding extra oomph on tenor sax and bass clarinet while the leader pokes in bits of trumpet and lays in wait for his breaks. This is postbop that looks forward, with such a broad range of moves and details you have to credit the composer. These days virtually all jazz musicians claim that title, but few convince you it matters. A MINUS
Jim McAuley: The Ultimate Frog (Drip Audio) An enigmatic guitarist from Kansas via Los Angeles offers two discs of homespun duos, rotating Nels Cline for denser guitar, Alex Cline for percussive backdrop, Ken Filiano for bass harmonics, and the late Leroy Jenkins for sharp-edged violin. Call it a cross between Derek Bailey freestyle and John Fahey organicism. A MINUS
Francisco Mela: Cirio (Half Note) Afro-Cuban rhythmic vamps, no more complicated than than have to be, allowing the international all-stars to follow suit: Lionel Loueke's guitar finds the groove, Jason Moran's piano learns new tricks, Mark Turner's sax stutters with shaded eloquence. A MINUS
Zaid Nasser: Escape From New York (Smalls) An alto saxophonist who risks sounding like Charlie Parker and winds up showing how it should be done. He taps Ellington for two tunes, wails through "Chinatown My Chinatown," plucks a barnburner from oldtime bebop pianist George Wallington, and strings them together with a couple of originals, including one from pianist Sacha Perry. Not a tribute. More like 55th Street is back in business. A MINUS
Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment's Energy (ECM) Parker's towering career in the European avant-garde has roughly the same size and shape as Anthony Braxton's, with hundreds of obscure albums spanning 40 years. Odd then that his one widely distributed label should feature a large and eclectic ensemble that all but buries his utterly distinctive soprano sax. Still, this is a breakthrough, with the electronics finally eclipsing the acoustic instruments even as Peter Evans's trumpet and Ned Rothenberg's reeds raise the bar. A MINUS
Andy Sheppard: Movements in Colour (ECM) Kuljit Bhamra's tabla adds soft percussion to the gentle grooves of Arild Andersen's bass and the complementary guitars of Eivind Aarset and John Paricelli -- graceful, compelling movement. The colors come from soprano and tenor sax, generally going with the flow but often rising in full flower above it. A MINUS
Lisa Sokolov: A Quiet Thing (Laughing Horse) A therapist by trade, she gets so deep under the skin of these songs you can feel the synapses firing as she makes them squirm, most clearly in covers which she slices up in unexpected ways. Her "Lush Life" is cold and stoney; the fear of death in her "Ol' Man River" shakes you to the bone. A MINUS
Ken Vandermark: Collected Fiction (Okka Disk) Two discs of improv duets with four bassists well known from Vandermark groups, conceptualized as day and night -- the former bristling avant interchanges, the latter slower and quieter, as close to Quiet Storm as Vandermark is likely to get. A MINUS
Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (Tzadik) In five meetings the avant-garde legends turn exquisite craftsmanship into explosive chemistry.
Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart (Rounder) Returns the banjo to its native Africa where it best suits rural backwaters.
Larry Ochs/Sax & Drumming Core: Out Trios Volume Five: Up From Under (Atavistic) Rova sax quartet man goes it alone, with two drummers hard on his tail.
Anat Cohen: Notes From the Village (Anzic) Focusing on her clarinet by popular demand, but still wielding a boss tenor.
Roy Nathanson: Subway Moon (Yellow Bird/Enja) Notes from the underground, delivered sotto voce with squiggly sax and brass.
Jim Snidero: Crossfire (Savant) Flashy mainstream alto saxophonist teams up with guitarist Paul Bollenback for a sweet, snazzy little quartet.
Zaid Nasser: Off Minor (Smalls) Classical bebopper, smoother and slicker than Bird, and not in such a hurry.
Isotope: Golden Section (1974-75, Cuneiform) Unreleased sets unleash Gary Boyle, spinning Montgomery-sized note strings with McLaughlin-inspired steeliness.
Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Tomorrow Came Today (Smalltown Superjazz) Dual pleasure with the avant-garde's grand old double threat: sax and trumpet, both uncompromising.
Darren Johnston/Fred Frith/Larry Ochs/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith: Reasons for Moving (Not Two) Two fierce horns orbit around Frith's dense guitar, the gravity that holds them in thrall.
Adrian Iaies Trio + Michael Zisman: Vals de la 81st & Columbus (Sunnyside) Tango, of course, with Argentine pianist Iaies prancing, and Zisman's bandoneon filling the room with lush, soulful sound.
Lajos Dudas: Jazz on Stage (Jazz Stick) Bop-easy clarinet, sort of a Hungarian Buddy DeFranco, with guitarist sidekick Philipp van Endert sometimes more.
Steven Bernstein/Marcus Rojas/Kresten Osgood: Tattoos and Mushrooms (ILK) Solemn trumpet-tuba-drums trio beat down Monk, Mingus, Hank Williams, and some ragged blues.
Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: Strange Strings (1966-67, Atavistic) Waves of mysterious bowed and plucked string instruments crash on a shore of log drums and tympani, with a squeaky door bonus.
Joe Lovano Us Five: Folk Art (Blue Note) The very young band liberates his idiosyncrasies, like playing straight alto sax and tarogato at once -- his Rahsaan Roland Kirk phase.
Denman Maroney Quintet: Udentity (Clean Feed) Trumpet and reeds play (relatively) straight, compared to the strange stuff coming out of the hyperpiano.
On Ka'a Davis: Seed of Djuke (Live Wired Music) Searching for deepest, darkest Africa on the Lower East Side.
Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller: Full Blast/Black Hole (Atavistic) High-energy physicists attacking the building blocks of the universe, mostly with clarinet to minimize the damage.
Joe McPhee/Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang: Guts (Okka Disk) Two unrepentant veterans of four decades of free jazz wars, swapping riffs over roiling rhythms.
Maybe Monday: Unsquare (Intakt) Fred Frith guitar, Miya Masaoka koto, Larry Ochs sax, with guest electronics swirling around no discrete point.
Nathan Eklund: Trip to the Casbah (Jazz Excursion) Another Donny McCaslin sideman tour de force, jump starting a postbop trumpeter in a hurry.
Evan Parker/Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten: The Brewery Tap (Smalltown Superjazz) The prime saxophonist of England's avant-garde sticks to tenor for these pensive improvs, rounded out by a tough young bassist.
Bruno Rĺberg: Lifelines (Orbis Music) Two discs of Chris Cheek sax and Ben Monder guitar, framed by the bassist-leader into tasty postbop.
Townhouse Orchestra: Belle Ville (Clean Feed) On two long, towering improvs Evan Parker does his usual tenor sax thing, with bass, drums, and Sten Sandell's piano mischief.
Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner/U.T. Gandhi: Melos (ECM) Gurdjieff melodicism if not mysticism, the real chamber jazz.
Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues (CMB) Minimalist gutbucket blues played on a Brazilian diddley bow, with Roswell Rudd for a choice cut.
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Nada (Creative Sources) Twenty rough sketches, a catalog of sax ideas with a thin veil of drums.
Exploding Customer: At Your Service (Ayler) Two-horn quartet from Sweden, play free bop with garage rock energy, except when they're teasing a vibe.
Fat Cat Big Band: Meditations on the War for Whose Great God Is the Most High You Are God / Angels Praying for Freedom Smalls Two separate discs cross Ellington and Mingus for postbop swing and back-to-the-future politics.
Rogério Bicudo/Sean Bergin: Mixing It (Pingo) Expats from Brazil and South Africa play show-and-tell duets, like Getz and Bonfa, with half the chops and a bit more charm.
Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra: Secrets of the Sun (1962, Atavistic) Space drums and space birds among the scattered lineups and rotating instruments, with Ra's rough piano jumping hither and yon.
Daniel Levin Trio: Fuhuffah (Clean Feed) Clear, sharp cello, muscled up with Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten's bass, accented by Gerald Cleaver's drums.
Jon Irabagon: I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues (Loyal Label) Mostly the alto saxophonist does the killing.
The Thing: Now and Forever (2000-05, Smalltown Superjazz) Mats Gustafsson's Don Cherry tribute band morphs into acoustic postrock monster, badder than the Bad Plus in every way.
Michael Blake/Kresten Osgood: Control This (Clean Feed) Ex-Lounge Lizard saxophonist walks on the wild side, his drummer shifting every which way.
Atomic/School Days: Distil (Okka Disk) Another Vandermark's Oslo-Chicago mashup, not as studious as Powerhouse Sound -- more like the wrap-up party.
Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Sweet Sweat (Smalltown Superjazz) Cranky machine gun sax with tart percussive interference.
Fire Room: Broken Music (Atavistic) Lasse Marhaug's electronics short-circuit Vandermark/Nilssen-Love. B
Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue) A flighty quintet like Dave Holland's, just not as well drilled; short on chops too. B
Terri Lyne Carrington: More to Say . . . (Koch) Project Mersh confusion: even in jazz there's more to selling out than just playing crap. C-
Originally published in Village Voice, Nov 24, 2009
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: 53; Word count: 1842 (graded 25: 1126; additional 28: 716).
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.
Records to evaluate before the end of this cycle, prioritized for this column:
Records to evaluate before the end of this cycle, but unlikely to be used until next column: