John McLaughlin: Vision is a Naked Sword

I sure do miss McLaughlin song titles like "Vision is a Naked Sword." What in the world did that mean? It sounded so cosmically spiritual. That is all that really mattered back in those days. Listening to this music was your way of convening with the Supreme Being. (That, some incense and a joint….)

McLaughlin could have called this tune anything he wanted and it would still be great. To hear a full symphony orchestra playing Mahavishnu riffs in full-throttle is a spine-tingling experience. McLaughlin, Ponty, Armstrong, Moran and Walden were the core Mahavishnu band at this point. Their sounds pierce through the London Symphony's support. McLaughlin and Ponty lead with blazing excursions. They perpetrate about a dozen false endings before the music culminates in a soaring coda. Thrilling stuff!

Reviewer's fun fact: Mahavishnu Orchestra road manager Joseph D'Anna has very fond memories of this recording session. In an interview for Power, Passion and Beauty – The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra, D'Anna recalled: "I remember just being a young and naïve kid, and thinking, 'Hey, we are playing with the London Symphony Orchestra.' I thought all these classy classical musicians must be real gentlemen. As soon as there was a break, they all whipped out cigars and started playing cards. It was like when I was growing up on the streets of Brooklyn. It was so strange to me."

Reviewer's pet peeve: The CD reissue of the album lists conductor Michael Tilson Thomas as playing piano on this cut. He actually plays piano on the earlier cut "Power of Love." I can't help it. I hate mistakes in liner notes. It is not like they were writing a book with 90,000 words in it. (And, yes, I hate it when I make mistakes in my reviews as well.)

Editor's note: Walter is being much too self-effacing. His 400+ jazz.com reviews are virtually error-free. I wish I could say the same for my own humble reviews. – Alan Kurtz

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Todd Coolman: Crescent City Ditty

Perfect Strangers was created under the mechanisms and auspices of ArtistShare, an online environment for artists from different locales and backgrounds to collaborate. In this case, accomplished bassist Todd Coolman gathered some of the top-notch working New York City musicians to pair up with composers who answered his "open call" for new tunes from the ArtistShare community. Coolman's quintet successfully meets the challenge of interpreting music they were seeing and hearing for the first time.

"Crescent City Ditty" has a catchy head. Coolman's thumping bass and John Riley's cymbal work carries this straight-ahead piece forward through the changes. Jim McNeely's fine keyboard work leads to a nice workout from trumpeter Brian Lynch. McNeely returns to swing it. Saxophonist Eric Alexander enters with a staccato blaze before he stretches things out. The grooving head arrangement returns to take the piece home. This is good music played with a flowing momentum and straight-ahead power. It is also proof positive that collaboration borne of the Internet can be a beautiful thing.

September 30, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jason Domnarski: Big In Japan

Pianist/composer Jason Domnarski bases Notes from Underground on his musical experiences in New York City. Domnarski is a block-chord player on "Big in Japan." The tune's first half has him playing an infectious rolling chord melody such as you may hear on a good Joe Jackson pop record. Midway through, the tenor of the vibe changes, as an urgency is added through a rhythm shift, piano runs and distorted ambient harmonics. The band sounds experimental for several measures. This change of pace is quickly succeeded by a return of the pleasing chordal changes that got us here in the first place. Domnarski and his talented trio have nailed down the art of catching a groove and milking it for all it is worth. This is always a good thing if you want to entertain some folks.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Just For You

"Just For You" is one of the more puzzling entries in the Coleman discography. The track features trumpet and alto sax playing simultaneously, yet in the album credits (and all the discographies I've seen), Dewey Redman is noted as playing tenor sax only on these sessions. Therefore, one might infer that Redman sat out this track while Ornette overdubbed either alto or trumpet. At first, the altoist's tone does in fact sound pretty Ornette-ish—that is, until you listen to the other tracks on the album, when it becomes clear that despite the vague similarities, the sound you're hearing was very probably produced by a different musician playing a different horn with a different mouthpiece. Despite what the credits and discographies say, this is almost certainly Dewey Redman playing alto for one of the rare times in his recording career.

That said, the relatively brief (4:14), gloomy ballad is hardly one of Coleman's best efforts. The melody and countermelody are attractive in a rather saccharine kind of way. Ornette's rambling, noodling, note-cracking trumpet solo goes nowhere. Jimmy Garrison's equally meandering arco bass seems almost entirely disconnected from Ornette, as does Elvin Jones's uncharacteristically low-decibel percussion. The best thing about the track is actually Redman's straightforward interpretation of the countermelody. It's the only solid ground in 4+ minutes of aural quicksand. This is by far the weakest track on Love Call.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Desfiladeiro de Nuvens

To the growing list of fine young bass players with creative and compelling offerings to their credit, add the name Leonardo E.M. Cioglia. Born in Brazil, and a Berklee graduate, Cioglia has attracted sidemen worthy of the most veteran players, forging an extremely satisfying piece of music. Mallet master Stefon Harris conjures aural alchemy within the confines of this floating Cioglia composition. Guitarist Mike Moreno's wonderful turn casts his own hypnotic spell on steel-string acoustic guitar. John Ellis's horn has a John Surman quality to it here, and Antonio Sanchez fills any empty spaces with just the right percussive accent. Harris is the star, with the anticipatory voicings of his solo marimba runs haunting in their prescience. Cioglia must be applauded for assembling just the right performers to make his music magical.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Filhos do Pequi

With an infectious Latin beat, this Cioglia-composed cooker showcases a talented group of sympathetic musicians through its cascading, crescendo-building twists and turns. The syncopated rhythm section of Cioglia on bass and Metheny-veteran Sanchez on drums more than keeps the beat going in an interesting and dynamic way. Goldberg's inspired piano solo opens the proceedings, with Moreno's subtle rhythm guitar adding precisely the right tone while injecting Metheny-like fills. Ellis's driving saxophone solo further fuels the frenzy, all the while Sanchez's relentless trap, rim and roll work never lets up and never fails to impress. This fine ensemble not only cooks, its nuanced professionalism makes this spicy track well worth savoring.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Asaf Sirkis: Dream

A hypnotic note cycle introduces the number. You enter into a trance. Special guest keyboardist Gary Husband's synthesizer impersonates a flute being played under water. He is the pied piper of the technological age. An angular electric guitar solo follows. I'd mention the guitar player's name, but I only have a few minutes and there are too many letters to type. You can check out his name in the personnel credits above. At any rate, he prepares you for Asaf Sirkis's drum solo. I would say Sirkis is influenced by Tony Williams. His impressive turn is interrupted by a reappearance the opening note cycle. It is a reassuring if slightly uncomfortable feeling, as if we are going down a drain. The Asaf Sirkis Trio plays some rather enigmatic music. They should be watched very closely.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Asaf Sirkis: Stoned Bird

I talk to a lot of jazz critics. Some of them are a bit older. Well, they are my age. But a lot of them are disillusioned. They don't believe there is any good jazz being made anymore. They seem stuck in the past to me. They need to open their minds a bit. Well, that's not our problem. Let's move on.

The Asaf Sirkis Trio (abetted here by special guest keyboardist Gary Husband) is damned good, and play exciting music that falls somewhere between the rungs of progressive jazz and fusion. The band is heavy on distinctive arpeggios, spatial anomalies and interesting melodies. I wouldn't call this a jam band because its product is jazzier. But that spirit of following a groove does seem to live in the music.

"Stoned Bird" begins with a circular arpeggio punctuated by some well-placed strikes from drummer and leader Sirkis. The tune settles down to become a reflective soundscape. Bassist Yaron Stavi plays a pointed solo. Guitarist Spiliotopoulis (promise me, Tassos, you will shorten your surname when you hit it big!) adds some cutting blues lines as Sirkis kicks ass behind him. Spiliotopoulis then goes insane playing through a ring-modulator. This is a very ugly sound. But when used right, it can be quite dramatic. The song fades away ready to be listened to again with a touch of the replay button.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rachael Price: Serenade in Blue

The 23-year-old Rachael Price is one of the best young jazz singers around, and thanks to the encouragement and support of T.S. Monk, Nnenna Freelon and Nancy Wilson, has started gaining the recognition her talent deserves. On The Good Hours, Price applies her powerful but flexible voice to a program of standards, and exhibits both an assured maturity and interpretive skills that are not commonly seen in someone so young. You can't just casually say, in her case, that "the potential is there" – some minor polishing is probably all she needs at this point.

"Serenade in Blue" is one of Price's finest performances on this CD. Thanks to her seemingly perfect pitch, artfully sustained notes and gorgeous vibrato, Price conquers this tricky theme in graceful and captivating fashion. She displays a range of attack that extends from a purring, silky smoothness, to a hard-edged brassiness, and handles the jaunty, backbeated midsection with authority. Pianist Wolf's sparse, pensive intro, and bluesy solo with its darting arpeggios, contribute notably to the success of this highly recommended track. Price may be a star about to be born.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jack Broad: Current

The number of young jazz guitarists directly influenced by either Charlie Christian or Wes Montgomery is dwindling. Nowadays, the main guitar influences are Metheny, Scofield, Frisell, Abercrombie, and Rosenwinkel. Jack Broad describes the music on his Current CD as "guitar-oriented, electronic, modern jazz/fusion." The recording is self-produced, to say the least, with "all songs composed, programmed, performed, recorded and mixed by Jack Broad." He did not, however, do the mastering or take the photos. Despite that, this impressive debut will be much appreciated by lovers of contemporary jazz guitar, in all its many guises.

"Current" contains a Metheny-like circular theme and an assertive Broad solo that most recalls Rosenwinkel in terms of structure, ideas, clean lines and ringing tone. Broad's sure technique extends beyond his proficient guitar playing. The seamless electronic keyboard, bass and drum tracks that he programmed and mixed are very engaging and complement his guitar work perfectly. Ethereal voices are effectively layered in at times as well. Elsewhere on the CD, Broad shows that he can rock out with the best of them and create more dissonant, highly provocative soundscapes, but on this title track he gives us an overview of his basic stylistic foundations, from which the possibilities are endless.

September 29, 2008 · 3 comments

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Phil Woods: Adiós Nonino

As prolific a recording artist as Phil Woods has been, many listeners may have missed his moving tribute CD to New Tango innovator Astor Piazzolla and the legendary Brazilian singer Elis Regina. Then again, some of Woods's more insular bebop fans may have looked upon this project as an oddity and simply passed it by. The only odd thing about it, however, is that Woods played clarinet exclusively on the Piazzolla tunes, and alto sax only on the Brazilian numbers dedicated to Regina. Also, with the prominent aid of Friedlander's cello, Woods emphasized the lyrical beauty of Astor's compositions in lieu of extended improvisations.

The famous "Adiós Nonino" was written by Piazzolla in 1959 shortly after the passing of his father, Vicente, who was affectionately known as Nonino. Piazzolla recorded it a year later with his very first New Tango Quintet. Woods's elegant clarinet sound graces Piazzolla's legato lament, touchingly enhanced by Friedlander's counterlines and Finck's resonant bass notes, as the three expressively delineate the piece's verse/chorus structure. Charlap, the lone soloist, contributes a delicately struck, understated gem. Woods then reverently articulates the main theme a final time. Woods first met Piazzolla in 1956, and some 40 years later created this very stylish salute to him.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Renee Rosnes: Black Holes

In 1997, two months after participating in this session, Chris Potter recorded his breakthrough CD Unspoken. Christian McBride was perhaps the most in-demand young bassist of the '90's. And Jack DeJohnette was – well, simply the one-of-a-kind Jack DeJohnette. So Renee Rosnes had quite a quartet at her beck and call for what was to be the fifth of her nine Blue Note releases over a reputation-establishing 13 years. A gifted composer and riveting pianist, and a current (and founding) member of the much- praised S.F. Jazz Collective, Rosnes gives us in "Black Holes" a shining example of her talents.

The track opens with an uneasy ostinato by Rosnes that establishes a tension that Potter extends through his reading of the swirling, fanfare-like theme. Rosnes's driven solo is impelled by the relentless support of McBride and DeJohnette. The pianist's captivating modal excursion maintains a persistent rhythmic flow as she executes spiraling, complex phrases and runs. The ostinato's return bridges Potter's subsequent statement. His brusque tone suits his dense note clusters and wailing, sometimes dissonance-inflected exclamations. Rosnes, McBride and DeJohnette inspire him with the headlong insistence of their locked-in, swelling groove. A more relaxed variation of the previous ostinato is utilized for the closing interlude, over which DeJohnette responds with some light-touched, adroit stick work.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donna Lee Saxophone Quartet: Four To Go

The Croatia-based Donna Lee Saxophone Quartet (DLSQ) was formed in 1999 by altoists Zdenko Ivanuši? and Andrej Henigman, and has had the same personnel since 2001. While they have been known to play charts of their predecessors the World Saxophone Quartet and the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet, over time they have developed their own distinctive identity and sound.

On this follow-up to their first CD, Four Odd, it becomes apparent that baritonist Suša's role is just as important to the DLSQ's overall success as were those of Hamiet Bluiett and Jim Hartog, respectively, to the aforementioned a cappella sax quartets – providing essential basslines and rhythms. Ivanuši? is the DLSQ's strongest soloist and main composer, a vibrant player heard at his best on his own infectious "Four to Go." Suša's winding bassline leads to Ivanuši?'s articulation of the prancing theme. A catchy vamp by the two altos and tenor serves as the bridge. Ivanuši?'s stop-and-start solo leaves space for an accompanying line by the other saxophonists to take the forefront, as his velvety tone accentuates his intricate and lively post-bop runs. After Ivanuši? revisits the theme, with the contrapuntal backing of his bandmates, the vamp/bridge creates a perfect resolution. There is an easeful mastery at work here that simply must be heard.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roger Kellaway (featuring Stefon Harris): The Nearness of You

When a jazz pianist adds vibes and guitar to the band, comparisons with George Shearing will inevitably come to mind. But there are several strong individuals in this band, so there is little risk of Shearing redux on this 2006 recording from the Jazz Standard. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Stefon Harris, who plays in a very tasty and traditional style. During the first few bars of the melody statement, I wondered whether this ensemble would find the right groove, but by the time we get to Harris's fine solo, the group's cohesion is admirable. Without a drummer on hand, the music sounds very exposed, but the players seem to take delight in a setting that allows them to bring the dynamic level down to a whisper. Russell Malone plays very little here, but everything he adds is premier cru. Kellaway shows off his pristine touch on his solo, but I especially like the way he comps behind Harris. Clearly chamber jazz is still alive and well in the new millennium.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lynne Arriale: Tones For Joan's Bones

Since she won the 1993 International Jazz Piano Competition, Lynne Arriale's recordings have consistently impressed due to her versatile style, as well as by their diverse repertoires and imaginative arrangements. On Inspiration alone, her tight trio interprets tunes by Bernstein, Ellington, Lennon/McCartney, Bacharach, Jarrett, Corea, Carmichael, and Ibrahim. According to our invaluable Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians, this CD was named among the top six jazz CDs of 2002 by The New Yorker magazine.

Arriale approaches Chick Corea's "Tones for Joan's Bones" with the same zest as its composer, while not sounding particularly like him. She begins reflectively, with gratifying commentary by both Anderson and Davis, and only a few more vigorous piano chords hint at what is to come. When Arriale accelerates the tempo, the trio takes off in lock step. The pianist's phrases ring out with much emotion and urgency, and her technically gifted attack can only be described as controlled spontaneity. Anderson follows with a lyrical solo played with a pulsating tone. Davis's concise drum spot exhibits his refined methodology. The swirling energy of the out chorus, after Arriale's theme restatement, unfortunately evolves into a fadeout. This performance overall is closer in spirit and execution to Bill Evans than to Chick Corea, but exudes the fresh inventiveness that Arriale brings to all her efforts.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Still

My advance copy of this CD, the final studio project by the late Esbjörn Svensson, lists the instruments as piano, bass and drums. Yet the music on this track, and throughout the Leucocyte CD, is drenched in electronics. Svensson works here amidst a jungle of gurgles, buzzes, zings, beeps, rumbles and other assorted sounds. On top of this, a wistful, elegiac piano part eventually enters, and moves ahead with slow, stately precision. The piece follows a strict tempo, but if the beats were any farther apart, you would need to send out signal flares so one bar wouldn't get lost from the next. At times, the trio's work here reminds me of some of electro-acoustic jazz coming from the iconoclastic Erstwhile label. Yet the piano part itself is almost a New Age parody, and its juxtaposition against the electronic house of mirrors is peculiar. Imagine someone tinkling at the ivories in the parlor while downed power lines are sizzling across the carpet, and you may get some idea of the unsettling sensibility of "Still." We will now never know where this surprising phase in Svensson's career might have led. But the music on Leucocyte suggests that this artist was focused on forging ahead into new and untamed musical territory.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuna: Moondance

This version of "Moondance" retains the spirit of the original song while employing decidedly un-Morrison arrangements. Beginning with a sprightly acoustic guitar waltz said to be inspired by the Venezuelan genre of Joropo, the listener can't be faulted for thinking that maybe the song has been mislabeled. This is "Moondance"? Well, Claudia Acuna's crystalline voice comes in, fitting the expected melody perfectly in its place. Arturo O'Farrill lifts the end of the chorus with some ascending piano figures that introduce the middle section, which seems to be Coltrane-inspired (the liner notes confirm this). Acuna's voice is then accented by its lone pairing with some simple percussion before the group heads again back into the chorus and conclusion. An exhilarating twist on the Morrison classic.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonathan Voltzok: Shawnuff'

It would be a huge mistake to try to one-up Diz & Bird. Thankfully, most jazz musicians have a lot more sense than that. On "Shawnuff'," Jonathan Voltzok pays tribute to the Gillespie/Parker classic "Shaw 'Nuff" by (aside from slightly altering its name) taking those incredible unison lines and rendering them with trombones. Slide Hampton, having several Gillespie-related tribute records on his résumé, pushes Voltzok into the 'bone stratosphere. Voltzok's rhythm section adds to the action, particularly pianist Aaron Goldberg, who comps with abandon and tosses in some great accents just when the horns are changing direction. It's says a lot about a composition when, after all these years, musicians can unearth new gems from such well-trod ground.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Randy Klein: Process

The modern stereotype, thrown down by Miles Davis, is that "Simply ain't easy." True enough. This is why I take great pleasure in improvisations such as Randy Klein's "Process." Based at the start on a simple 4-chord ostinato, Klein pushes, pulls, tugs and bends those chords, extracting as much musical interest out of them as he can muster. You can hear the story being told as those chords give up their points of interest. My ears want to hear the hopefulness of the dawn, but Klein brings in just a hint of discord and chaos, making me lean toward a sadder event.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chico Hamilton: Ain't Nobody Calling Me

One listen to this composition and I was lost in a momentary reverie, back to when "fusion" wasn't a dirty word. Monster fusion bassist Matthew Garrison does more than anchor this trio, he brings back the spirit of Jaco Pastorius and drives this trio hard. Sure, leader Hamilton holds everything together with some incredibly detailed snare work, but it's Garrison who alternately lays down the funk one minute (giving guitarist Cary DeNigris room to solo) while taking blistering bass solos the next. "Bass solos?!", you might be thinking. Yes. They're tasty, nutritious, and good for you!

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rachael Price: Mood Indigo

So we're sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table, me and TheWife. There's a large (but recently shrinking) pile of unopened review material sitting between us. I pop one fresh CD into my laptop and give bits and pieces of it a secret listen (earbuds can save a marriage, I tell you).

While I'm reading the liner notes, "that" look passes over TheWife's face. She has apparently noticed the photo of Rachael Price on the back of the digipack. So as to dissuade the notion that I'm in this purely for the pretty faces, I unplug the my earphones and let the voice drift into the room. Yes, she had to admit that there's definitely something going on there.

And so there is. While I don't normally lean toward being a skeptic, it goes without saying that maybe the jazz world doesn't need another take on "Mood Indigo." No, it needs this one. She might be 23 years old, but her voice goes far, far beyond that. With echoes of both Abbey Lincoln and (gulp!) Amy Winehouse, I was just mesmerized.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nico Muhly: Mothertongue Pt. 1: Archive

OK, let's get this out of the way: this piece is not jazz. It doesn't pretend to be. I chose it because it had the same effect on my ears that many great jazz compositions have had: I sat up and thought, "Why, what the hell is that?!"

Composer/pianist Nico Muhly, who has worked with both Bjork and Philip Glass, takes language and the human voice and turns them into something...else. Sung by mezzo-soprano Abigail Fisher, words fly by at the speed of light. Vaguely reminiscent of the Glass compositions Einstein on the Beach and Music with Changing Parts, "Mothertongue" employs simple language fragments (including the alphabet and spoken street addresses) as source material around which Muhly wraps orchestration, gorgeous harp, and layers of deeply buzzing synthesizer. The effect is otherworldly yet somehow drenched with emotion.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cathy Rocco: You're Gonna Hear From Me

"You're Gonna Hear From Me" is a classic canticle to emerging talent, one of the few memorable by- products of Robert Mulligan's 1965 film Inside Daisy Clover. It has become a fixture of straight-ahead jazz, recorded by Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Bill Evans and so many others. Cathy Rocco adds her powerful voice to the list, fronting a swingin' rhythm section in a live session beautifully captured by mainstream crusader George Klabin, president of Resonance Records. On this outing Rocco proves that, even in the strongest mainstream currents, she can definitely paddle her own canoe.

Although Rocco is often compared to Nancy Wilson, I hear a bit of Shirley Bassey coloration in her voice as well. But make no mistake: this is a jazz singer, pure and simple, whose phrasing conjures images of wailing bebop trumpets and shout choruses on a 52nd Street Saturday night. Her sidemen deliver sizzling support, with some edgy soloing by Michael Higgins and Tamir Hendelman. Sadly, this is among the last recorded performances of bassist Dave Carpenter, who passed away in 2008.

Here is one singer who doesn't need a big band – those pipes come with their own horn section – brassy, sassy and infinitely classy. You're gonna hear a lot more from Cathy Rocco.

September 28, 2008 · 17 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Miles Davis once famously suggested that Oscar Peterson sounded like he had to learn how to play the blues. To which I reply: dang, he certainly learned 'em. There are flashier blues by Peterson available on the marketplace—for example, check out "Blues Etude" if you want fireworks. But this version of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" shows that this pianist could also play a more subdued blues. This is Oscar in a Basie vein, just strutting over the changes. Bassist Ray Brown does not solo, but you will be forgiven if you find yourself focusing on his walking lines, as reliable as Greenwich Mean Time, and much, much hipper. The piano trio has changed a lot since this band recorded Night Train, but this music is timeless.

September 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: The Sum of All Parts

The CD is called Pass It On, and this opening track certainly lives up to the title. The song spreads like a virus through the band, passed on from musician to musician. Eric Harland opens with a drum groove that entices Eubanks into a dialogue. For almost two minutes, this track continues as a duet, sounding as spontaneous as a practice-room amusement. Then sax and trumpet enter the mix, and the music settles into a glorious vamp. Mulgrew Miller now joins on piano, and finally the bandleader shows up on the premises. But he decides to join 'em, not fight 'em. Holland makes up for his late arrival by contributing a fine solo, which again brings Eubanks back into the fold. The constantly shifting textures here are quite effective, and the whole is definitely more than "the sum of all parts."

September 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Desire and the Comforter

"The Unknown Dissident" and "Desire and the Comforter" are the best two cuts from Electric Dreams. "Desire and the Comforter" is a jazz-funk number pretending to be world jazz. A cymbal-induced trance and the sliding notes of a fretless electric bass begin the piece. McLaughlin and violinist Shankar then introduce the melody with a joyful bombast. The song has the semi-Latin and Indian flavors that marked this band's music, and also enjoys the full rhythmic arsenal drummer Tony Smith and percussionist Alyrio could supply. Fernando Saunders's bass helps on the rhythm, and his funky lines make the tune jump a bit. The piece employs several disparate themes, all upwardly mobile. McLaughlin, violinist Shankar and synthesizer player Stu Goldberg have fun trading before the music climbs a few more rungs toward pleasure. The players make their feelings known with some vocal cheerleading. This music is infectious and uplifting. In contrast to most of Mahavishnu and Shakti, naturally the band's main influences, the guys don't take themselves too seriously here. You get the sense that as the song ends the band is going to jump off the stage and share a few drinks and conversation with you.

September 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Electric Dreams/Electric Sighs

"Electric Dreams/Electric Sighs" finds John McLaughlin's One Truth Band at its best. McLaughlin opens the song with an absolutely gorgeous demonstration of melodic control. The theme is simultaneously Spanish and Indian. He is playing a Gibson electric outfitted with a scalloped fretboard that allowed him to control all means of expression through the creative bending of strings. But he also got a unique and lovely sound out of that guitar. It is crisp and clear but very slightly muffled, as if his notes were recorded into a pail and then dumped out. The rhythm steadily builds tension as McLaughlin solos. Violinist L. Shankar adds shading. McLaughlin then brings out a banjo and plays it like McLaughlin would play a guitar. That is an unusual sound. The band then punches up the number even more with staccato embellishments. The One Truth Band was a much more rhythmic unit than any of McLaughlin's previous bands. When that superior element is combined with one of the best tunes McLaughlin has written, you get something really special.

September 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Miles Davis

"Miles Davis" is one of two songs on Electric Dreams meant to honor Miles. The other, "The Dark Prince," actually debuted live at the Havana Jam Jazz Festival as performed by the Trio of Doom, which featured McLaughlin, Tony Williams and Jaco Pastorius. Though "Miles Davis" possesses an interesting rhythmic energy and some engaging elements, it is not up to the general standards of McLaughlin's better compositions. It seems to stand in place. Of course you will hear some great guitar, and Goldberg kicks it on keyboards. You will also dig some off-the-hook riffs. But without that forward movement you will not feel that you have been transported anywhere special.

September 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Guardian Angels

"Guardian Angels" is only 52 seconds long, but is important in the John McLaughlin chronology. It opens this album, ushering in the sound of his new group, The One Truth Band. The theme is one step short of sinister. It is played acoustically, as McLaughlin once again introduces a unique sideways arpeggio. However, once the arpeggio is dispensed with, McLaughlin and violinist L. Shankar engage in a tête-à-tête that features a sound somewhat reminiscent of McLaughlin's former band Shakti. This signaled that McLaughlin's new band, featuring L. Shankar on electric violin, would be nodding more overtly to Indian music than had been previously the case in electric fusion, including John's own Mahavishnu Orchestra. Other differences were to become obvious as the record played on. But out of the chute, you knew the direction was changing.

McLaughlin would later flesh out "Guardian Angels" and create a longer, fuller piece from it. It became a popular staple of the Guitar Trio featuring McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia and Al Di Meola, and would appear on the group's first record Friday Night in San Francisco, although for reasons unknown the "s" was dropped from the song title for that album.

September 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Wings of Karma

The opening measures of "Wings of Karma" are presented by the London Symphony Orchestra only. The music is deep and somewhat foreboding. The arrangement is heavily into drama as strings, horns and kettle drums portend dire consequences. Then the electricity is turned on. McLaughlin leads a charge that carries both the central Mahavishnu band and the larger orchestra up a hill from which they joyously roll down the other side. All is not doom and gloom. McLaughlin and Ponty wail away in unison as the LSO finds an aggressive riff-jammed groove. McLaughlin plays a nasty solo midway through that cuts through the orchestra like a jagged knife. Violinist Ponty plays his own part that takes wing. In many ways, "Wings of Karma" may be the most accessible tune on the album. The band and the orchestra really mesh well. Economics prevented McLaughlin from ever taking the LSO on the road with him, and Apocalypse was not met with much critical acclaim at the time. But there are certain parts of this tune when the dream that McLaughlin had for this music appears close to coming true. (This goal is fulfilled on the less accessible but more triumphant "Hymn to Him" which follows this cut on the album). At the very least McLaughlin showed that fusion could encompass more than just jazz and rock. Next you add classical music and then eventually the music of other cultures to develop a true fusion.

September 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Smile of the Beyond

In the jazz-fusion world, vocals are always a tricky proposition. Should they be jazz-like or rock-like? How do you find the in-between? Rarely are vocals up to the standards of the superior musicians playing behind them. Return to Forever's Flora Purim had the formula down, but even she was part of the more acoustic version of that band. I think by acclamation the worst fusion vocalist of all time was Tony Williams. Long story short: there has been a paucity of effective fusion singers.

When John McLaughlin put together the second and larger version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, he went an entirely different route by bringing singer and keyboardist Gayle Moran aboard. Moran, who was recommended to John by Chick Corea, had an operatic range and a Broadway background. She was certainly not a typical jazz or rock singer. But she was the perfect vocalist for the role McLaughlin had envisioned. Her ethereal sound gave the music a spiritual bent. I could describe her singing as powerfully angelic. Her voice was distinct enough to sound pleasant over the horns and strings of a symphony orchestra and penetrating enough, in a contrasting way, to sound good over the heavy electronics that McLaughlin and Jean Luc-Ponty were displaying in the band. That being said, Moran is still somewhat of a controversial voice in fusion history. The argument isn't whether she was a good singer. I think the universal answer to that is that she clearly was. Rather, it was more a question of whether she was right for the material she was asked to perform. This would become an even greater issue after she left Mahavishnu and joined her (by then) husband Chick Corea's later Return to Forever band. The fact that there is still controversy about her contribution to the genre is evidence that she did contribute.

"Smile of the Beyond" is a cosmic spiritual. Of all of the Mahavishnu tunes over the years, it contains the most dominant vocals. Moran is heard in the song's extended opening over a spare background. Her upper-register voice reverberates around a cloudless sky. It is beautiful and moving. The opening melody is presented at a snail's pace and continues for one or two minutes too long. Finally the electric core of the Mahavishnu Orchestra enters and destroys the serene setting Moran has established. "Smile of the Beyond" is now a kick-ass fusion explosion. It's as if, after the angel call, Armageddon arrives. The high-energy synergy of the band has never been more evident than on this performance. This is music taken to the stratosphere. At song's end, Moran returns in full glory to reassure that the answers still lay out there in the cosmos.

So why is this reviewer giving a 94-point jazz.com performance only an 88 rating? It is not Gayle Moran's fault, but I think McLaughlin gave the vocal section one or two more choruses than it needed. The growing momentum of the tune is somewhat stilted by this. You take away a minute of the vocal section and "Smile of the Beyond" would have been better.

September 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Power of Love

Apocalypse marked the debut of John McLaughlin's second Mahavishnu Orchestra. McLaughlin was really thinking big in those days. London Symphony Orchestra big. Classical conductor Michael Tilson Thomas big. And finally, Beatles big – by employing The Beatles' sound engineer Geoffrey Emerick and famed Beatles producer George Martin.

Martin faced an enormous recording task. He had to separate the LSO and the Mahavishnu into different studios to isolate their dramatic difference in dynamics. Indeed, drummer Michael Walden was so powerful he had to be totally isolated. Martin may have been the first to use video conferencing in a recording studio, placing monitors in adjacent rooms so the musicians could see each other while recording. To this day, in almost every interview I read, Martin cites this album as one of his greatest accomplishments.

The beautiful "Power of Love," which opens Apocalypse, is the album's least electric and lowest-volume tune. Michael Tilson Thomas himself plays a sparing piano, leading me to suggest a good trivia question: name the 4 keyboard players who recorded with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. An acoustic McLaughlin plays the delicate melody over the wash of stringed orchestral strains. Jean-Luc Ponty's electric violin enters to mimic McLaughlin's lines. Soon Ponty veers off into his own complementary riff. The music floats above the clouds as McLaughlin and Ponty fade out in unison. The sound is big and delicate at the same time. There is beauty to be found in opposing tensions.

September 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Airborne

"Airborne" is in many ways what listeners in the late '60s had come to expect from Ornette Coleman: a tuneful, sequentially ascending major-key melody that leads into a fast, swinging solo section based on an ambiguous tonality. What's different from his past music can be attributed to his choice of sidemen. Elvin Jones is far more aggressive than previous Coleman drummers. During Ornette's solo, Jones and the saxophonist are clearly equals—improvising in tandem, sharing the foreground while bassist Jimmy Garrison alternately breaks up the time and anchors the pulse. Tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman is a muscular soloist, his tone caustic and often overtone-laden; his exalted level of creativity and energy is on the same plane as the rhythm section's.

Love Call and its companion album, New York Is Now!, have often gotten short shrift from critics who can't seem to wrap their ears around the stylistic dissonance between these and earlier Coleman groups. Approached without preconceptions, however, it's hard to understand how this can be considered markedly inferior to any but a few items in Ornette's discography.

September 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: The Garden of Souls

It seems almost an article of faith among critics that New York Is Now! and Love Call are among Ornette Coleman's lesser works; more than one scribe has panned them outright. Listening with fresh ears, it's hard to understand why. Both contain marvelous music. As the first track of New York Is Now!, "The Garden of Souls" introduced listeners to Ornette's latest foil, Dewey Redman—a tenor saxophonist with a rasping tone and soulful manner, whose oblique solos complemented and shadowed Coleman's. Redman's tenor fills out the ensemble, his husky tone burnishing the balladic theme statement, his focused improvisation adding more physicality to Ornette's concept.

Most of the criticism heaped on this music is aimed at bassist Jimmy Garrison, and, to a lesser extent, drummer Elvin Jones, whose main crime seems to be that they weren't Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. Garrison tends to engage Jones more directly than he does Ornette, making him, one supposes, more conventional than some of his predecessors with Coleman—David Izenson and Scott LaFaro, especially. But Garrison did the same thing when he and Jones backed John Coltrane. Elvin conversed with Coltrane; Garrison held down the bottom. That also happens here to good effect: Elvin listens closely to Ornette, mostly following the saxophonist's meandering whims, while Garrison listens for Elvin's cues and responds accordingly.

Thanks mostly to his choice of sidemen, the mood of the performance is darker than is typical for Ornette, but that just adds to its uniqueness. Garrison and Jones were different from Ornette's prior accompanists, all right. That doesn't make them bad or even unsuitable. Vive la difference. This is top-notch stuff.

September 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: A Face Without a Name

I generally prefer Evans's earlier trio work over the projects he pursued during his longstanding collaboration with bassist Eddie Gomez. Evans often struck me as too comfortable alongside Gomez, and during the 1970s he tended to play the same songs over and over again in his concerts and club performances. Yet the best of the music with Gomez demands our attention, and it is hard to find any Evans recording from this period that does not reward close listening. The pianist continued to advance his craft during these years, but in small and subtle degrees. The way he would anticipate a chord change before the bar or construct a melodic line revealed a penetrating mind that continued to grapple with the music at hands, even if it was a pop standard he had played hundreds of times before. Here he tackles a little known composition by Claus Ogerman with an unusual tempo change in the middle of the form (something that had always attracted Evans—check out, for example, his recordings of Earl Zindars's "How My Heart Sings" for a similar example). Evans is in fine form here, and even though the track stretches out to almost six minutes, one could easily imagine him continuing for several more choruses. It is interesting to note that one of Evans's other standout recordings from the era also comes in the context of a Claus Ogerman composition, the dramatic and sadly forgotten Symbiosis.

September 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jackie McLean: Old Gospel

In the 1960s, it seemed as if every Blue Note release had to have at least one grooving boogaloo-style tune—the better, one supposes, to garner radio airplay. On New and Old Gospel, "Old Gospel" fills the bill. What separates this from the average track of its ilk is the presence of Ornette Coleman, who joined Jackie McLean's quartet for this session. Ornette was years away from using dance rhythms in his own music. Indeed, at the time of this recording he was even moving away from conventional swing. Add the fact that McLean himself was venturing further and further "out," and you have something quite unusual.

The tune begins with an ordinary gospel piano vamp leading into a riff-ish head played in octaves by the horns. The solo section is built on a modal vamp. First up is McLean, who takes a bluesy, melodic tack, playing relative few notes but working up a sweat all the same. Ornette's trumpet solo follows. It's based mostly on a Bb minor scale, while the rhythm section plays in Db major: the notes are the same, but the tonal center is different, giving the solo a bi-tonal vibe. The rhythm section cooks mightily, especially drummer Billy Higgins, who displays strong gospel roots. This is a fun, smart track, showing a side of Ornette that wasn't much in evidence in those days. Could this session be seen as a first step toward Ornette's later dance-based music? Hmmm, I wonder . . .

September 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jackie McLean: Lifeline

Jackie McLean was a man in search of himself when he came under the influence of Ornette Coleman, so it's no surprise that Ornette joined him on New And Old Gospel. In the 1950s, McLean was a good if not great Charlie Parker-inspired alto saxophonist. In the '60s, he came into his own by making such leftward-leaning music as this.

"Lifeline" is actually four tunes in one: a medley, each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Ornette plays trumpet exclusively here, and he's even more harmonically unhinged than usual, seldom acknowledging even obliquely the tonal centers implied by the rhythm section. He experiments with varying timbre and attack, while engaging McLean closely in the collectively improvised passages. On the up-tempo opening, Ornette plays against the pulse. His textural scrawl is in stark contrast to the burning eighth-note swing feel. Ornette's trumpet style is different, and despite the occasional misstep, it works, largely because McLean puts ego aside and mediates the divergence between the rhythm section's more conventional modal-jazz style and Coleman's utterly free approach. McLean conscientiously plays phrases that help connect Coleman's lines to the whole. His solos lack boppish ornamentation, but are cliché-free, thematically derived inventions delivered with searing intensity. The rhythm section does a good job with the looser structures, especially drummer Billy Higgins, who after all had ample experience playing with Ornette. Pianist Lamont Johnson shines as well, displaying a lovely touch in the rubato sections and a strong reactive sense at quick tempos.

Although he has far greater facility on his instrument than Ornette has on his, McLean largely defers to his guest. His willingness to submit to Ornette's unorthodox strengths results in some fascinating music.

September 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Randy Klein: The Calm

If you head a record label, as Randy Klein does Jazzheads, your own album better be good. Luckily for jazz fans and Klein's own artist roster, it is. I could just imagine how awkward it would be if otherwise.

Reading through Klein's bio it appears he has spent a majority of his time behind the scenes or at least in less visible performance situations. But he has had a long and successful music career. He has some regional Emmy awards at home for his efforts. His playing has appeared on a couple of gold records as well.

I would say the same thing about "The Calm" as I would about any of the other 11 cuts on this fine solo piano album. The music is the artist's deep introspection reflected on the surface of a serene pond. He makes no effort to wow you with his chops, even though they are there in spades. So you won't hear any keyboard tricks or speed demon wizardry that would muddy the water. Calm is not the same as smooth, which this isn't in any way. The music presented is effective storytelling full of worthwhile tangents. It is presented with depth and meaning.

September 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Beck: Sophie

Master guitarist Jeff Beck has been much more an interpretive player than he has ever been composer. In a way he is the music equivalent of Germany-based BASF, the world's largest chemical company. That corporation's lengthy ad slogan has been playing on American television for years. "We don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better." In a nutshell that is what Jeff Beck has done with tunes from the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Jan Hammer, musician/producer Narada Michael Walden and others. So it is special when Beck finds the right composer. In the mid-'70s, arguably Beck's most musically and commercially productive years, it was a godsend that he hooked up with writers Max Middleton, Jan Hammer and Narada Michael Walden. They helped provide the platform for Beck to create one of the signature sounds of the fusion movement.

Walden is the composer of "Sophie." The tune opens with a contemplative slow panning keyboard and fuzzy chorused guitar. Then it kicks into gear. Walden, one of the great fusion drummers, propels the piece. Bassist Bascomb keeps it grounded so it doesn't fly too far away from its steel tether. Beck, using all of his tools, and synthesizer player Middleton cavort wildly. At times doubling up on infectious riff after infectious riff and at other times calling and responding, the pair go into warp-drive. The music reaches its saturation level before ending with just a hint of the opening theme. "Sophie" is a fusion classic.

During this time Beck outsold bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra even though he was openly copying them to a great degree. To his credit he has always admitted this. But Beck managed to find a groove that was more accessible to rock fans than the top fusion groups ever did. And he was able to do that without selling out one iota. Of course, having ex-Mahavishnu players write some of your music probably didn't hurt.

September 23, 2008 · 2 comments

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McCoy Tyner & John Scofield: Mr. P.C.

McCoy Tyner has often returned to songs from his stint in the legendary John Coltrane Quartet. However, this Coltrane composition, first featured on the 1959 Giant Steps project—not as a paean to political correctness, rather a dedication to bassist Paul Chambers—actually predates Tyner's time with the saxophonist (although it remained in the repertoire of the classic 1960s quartet with Tyner). A half century later, this sizzling minor blues still can pack a punch. Jack DeJohnette kicks things off with a solo drum intro of eight bars that sets a driving tone for the proceedings. Scofield is full of energy and highly inventive as he takes no fewer than twelve choruses, his lines getting more complex as his solo moves toward its climax. Tyner follows with a brilliant solo, his left and right hands trading sound fragments that rumble and growl over the fiery accompaniment of Carter and DeJohnette. Scofield jumps back into the fray—clearly his dozen previous choruses did not exhaust his thoughts on the subject of Mr. Paul Chambers, or at least his perspective on the minor blues. Ron Carter is given the briefest of solos before the final melody statement, but decides to keep on walking, which he does in a fashion that would make the original Mr. P.C. proud.

September 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner & Bill Frisell: Boubacar

The guitar-piano duo remains a fairly rare setting in jazz, despite the happy precedents of Evans-Hall and Metheny-Mehldau. Tyner plays with surprising restraint here, and lets Frisell take the lead in shaping the flow and sensibility of the performance. The pianist merely adds some gently rhapsodic touches behind the guitar melody. There are no solos here, but Frisell's composition has a bittersweet, poignant flavor, and the two artists present it with high drama.

September 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Beck: Love Is Green

In this download age, the 5- to 10-sentence album reviews that appear in music magazines and on music web sites are of little help. I hope those of you reading this review have noticed by now that we jazz.com reviewers write about individual cuts and not entire albums. No one else does that. We believe this policy gives our readers a far better chance to delve into the underlying aspects of what makes great jazz great. We look at each performance with a laser beam. The Jazz.com review model is a far superior method save one aspect. We don't always see the forest. But not to worry – the wise among us will point out the trees.

A truly good album is more than a series of downloadable tunes. Technology is changing our listening habits drastically. But I still believe that an album should be listened to as a complete work of art. Plucking tunes out of context ignores the craft and value of song positioning. This is especially true for instrumental music. I have my own pet peeves about how most modern CDs have way too much music on them. (That will be a blog topic someday). But the pure act of setting time aside to listen to an album intently can be so much more rewarding than cherry-picking only the tunes you like. I grant you, sometimes that may be necessary. But juxtaposition is underrated.

I would grade "Love Is Green" about an 83 on the jazz.com scale if it appeared in the middle of Jeff Beck's mostly frenetic fusion classic Wired. It is a beautiful and brief cosmic ballad written by Mahavishnu II drummer Michael Walden, who effectively plays piano on the piece. Through the use of overdubs, Beck plays the sensitive melody on electric and acoustic guitars. It is a real treat to hear him unamplified. It is a lovely piece. "Lovely fusion" does not have to be oxymoronic.

However, at some point Jeff Beck or a trusted partner decided "Love Is Green" ought to be the final cut on the album. This was a brilliant stroke. The song acts as the perfect cool-down of a vigorous workout. So I add 8 points to his rating for proper song placement. Now you see some of the trees.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Beck: Freeway Jam

"Freeway Jam" could have easily been placed on Jeff Beck's more fusion-driven Wired album the next year and feel totally at home. Funk jazz-rock is what this tune is all about. In fact, its bassline and rhythm are quite similar to Michael Henderson's efforts on Miles Davis's seminal "Right Off" from A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Beck was ready to dive into the deep end of the pool. He is a master of the whammy bar, and this is one of those tunes you can't imagine without it. "Freeway Jam" was written by Max Middleton, who is an overlooked figure in fusion history. He often plays the melody along with Beck. They jell. "Freeway Jam" is one rollicking fusion number that should be in everyone's collection.

Reviewer's aside: Sometimes while writing, an instantaneous thought comes out of nowhere and I write it down. My comment about Max Middleton being overlooked is a perfect example. After I wrote that I started wondering why this has occurred. In this case, I believe the answer is clear. Once Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck recorded a live version of "Freeway Jam" together a couple of years later, people began to associate the tune with Hammer. I think to this day many fans believe Hammer wrote the piece. Now it is a sure thing that many other reasons exist for Middleton's relatively low profile, not the least being the fact he doesn't seem to have done much over the years. (I looked it up.) Remarkably, he released his first solo album in 2007! Fame is a fickle thing – especially if you want it to be.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Beck: Scatterbrain

Jeff Beck's fusion sound didn't hit full groove until his Wired album came out a year after Blow by Blow. Notably, that coincides with his musical partnership with Jan Hammer. Not every jazz-rocker agrees with me, though. Many claim Blow to Blow has always been the superior effort. There are some great tunes on Blow by Blow, especially the beautiful "Cause We've Ended As Lovers," but not all the tunes are fusion. A portion of the album is clear funk and nothing else. That's okay. But it isn't fusion. Still, Blow by Blow is not an album that should be kicked out of bed. It is fantastic.

The jazz-blues-boogie oriented "Scatterbrain" remains in Beck's live repertoire to this day, and for good reason. The tune's driving nature allows Beck to do some real stretching out. Keyboardist Middleton and Beck double-up on the frantic intro. Beck then goes ballistic with cutting blues riffs. I still don't understand how he gets that sound without using a pick! The rhythm section keeps things flying. Beck demonstrates his mastery over harmonics. No one sounds like him. Middleton plays a straight-ahead electric piano as synthesized strings enter. The theme comes back, leading in turn to a short ending section that is clearly a tribute to John McLaughlin. Boy, those were the days.

Point of information: In 2002, Beck held a special three-night event at London's Royal Festival Hall. Each night he welcomed special surprise guests. On the third night he welcomed McLaughlin. They jammed on two tunes including "Scatterbrain."

September 22, 2008 · 3 comments

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Bruno Raberg: Elegy

The ominous tones at the start of "Elegy" have an almost industrial quality, as if a metal grinder had been pressed against a rusty truss in an old abandoned warehouse. In fact, as the attack-less guitar forms glide in, with the bowed bass adding further sinister accents, it seems likely that the composition might remain in that echo-laden building. But when Chris Cheek's saxophones enter the story, things change: the angles soften, and the band in its entirety begins to follow and comment on the horn's romantic and pensive melody. Gone is the sense of doom, replaced by hope and beauty. It's a simple and elegant transformation.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lafayette Gilchrist: Those Frowning Clowns

"Soul Progressin'" is an off-kilter funk/blues that will make you want to jump on the coffee table and just shake it. Gilchrist's piano intro is followed by Anthony Jenkins's loping bassline that sets up the real funk: the horns. They're naughty, they're tight, and they're ready to knock you over. When John Dierker's bass clarinet takes a solo (with Gilchrist comping beautifully), liftoff is achieved. As the composition progresses, horns come in from all sides, pushing the music's center of gravity back and forth. Somehow the group never loses track of the funk. Jenkins's bass solo catapults us back into one last visitation from that fearsome horn section. This needs to be played LOUD.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Henry Grimes Trio: Walk On

With Perry Robinson's sharp and angular horn lines, this tune is extremely evocative of early Ornette Coleman. This shouldn't be a surprise, given the fact that Grimes played with the likes of Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, and Billy Higgins. None of this is to say that "Walk On" has nothing to give on its own. There are some breathtaking passages where the trio switches back and forth between full-on skronk (Robinson's extended technique is choice!) to a more standard swing. The elastic tempo changes, their arrival being very unpredictable, add a lot of energy. Throughout all of this, Grimes's bass never loses its footing. Really fun stuff here.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Giuseppi Logan: Tabla Suite

Who doesn't love a good musical tightrope walk? Giuseppi Logan's sinuous horn kicks off the event, Don Pullen rides with it, peeling off shards of piano madness that are soon joined by Eddie Gomez, playing his bass in a most unorthodox manner. Over all of this is Milford Graves's tabla furiously keeping pace and, for a short period, standing alone, until the entire quartet rises up to celebrate the cacophony. As the composition ends, Pullen's chords echo off into the distance, and we're left with a few lone tabla notes, leaving the impression that the centrifugal force of play had thrown the musicians clear of the song.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Milford Graves: Nothing

I have always had a thing for percussion music. I've also had loads of fun defending it as music. That's right, some folks cling so desperately to the harmony/rhythm/melody (read: Western) model of music that when an element is absent, even merely implied, they're sure that the sounds don't add up.

If you listen to what Milford Graves and Sunny Morgan are up to here, there is a wealth of interactions and textures to contemplate. From the first clipped hi-hat segment to the various call and response interludes, Graves and Morgan build loads of tension, dispersing it at will as they shift off in other directions (the bells over the gong a few minutes in are particularly nice).

Not music? C'mon, you're kidding, right?

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mathias Eick: The Door

The first minute or so of "The Door" finds Mathias Eick's band implying, then shaping, the composition's structure. Just as it fully crystallizes, thanks to Jon Balke's staccato piano echoes and Auden Erlien's melodic outlines, Eick steps in with his trumpet to complete the thoughts set up before him. With a sparseness and economy of presentation, Eick's music draws a fine line across the decades, connecting musics as disparate as Eberhard Weber and Miles Davis. The key idea, playing just the right notes, is held in stark relief as the tempo picks up and Balke supports Eick with a series of exhilarating chromatic runs. When that last trumpet note fades, you'll find yourself thinking that this was the quickest eight minutes you've ever experienced.

September 22, 2008 · 3 comments

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Carla Bruni: You Belong To Me

When you first hear Carla Bruni's very sensual voice, all full of air and promise, it's hard to not think back to Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot. Unfortunately, I also think of my first French vocal record: The Singing Nun. Ouch.

Happily, Bruni's spin of this classic takes just a hint of the romanticism of Jo Stafford's version and adds all manner of texture and sexy nuance. The sparse arrangement (love the Dobro!) accentuates the earthy qualities of her instrument nicely. When her voice comes close to breaking up, you can almost hear the insinuation that she just got out of bed.

Plus, she made me forget about The Singing Nun.

September 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bheki Mseleku: Mister Allard

The talented South African multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku passed away in London on September 8, 2008, due to complications from diabetes. He was only 53 years of age. Star Seeding, arguably his best CD, should have resulted in what the title implied – the blossoming, if belated, of a major jazz artist – but this never came to pass, and he only recorded twice more after this 1995 session. While Mseleku's playing on these tracks is noticeably derivative, it is also highly skillful and passionate. At various times he sounds, on saxophone, like Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Johnny Griffin or Charlie Rouse, while on piano like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner or Monk.

For "Mister Allard" (named for co-producer Jean-Philippe Allard), overdubbed tenor sax joins Mseleku's piano, with his tenor singing the lyrical, dancing theme and sounding like an amalgam of Getz and Henderson. Mseleku's fluid piano solo is quite diverse, in a Hancock mode, and executed with a glistening touch. Buoyant phrasing, gliding single-note lines, and assertive left-hand accentuations highlight this elegant, self-contained improvisation. Mseleku's tenor then reprises the alluring melody, adding tastefully nuanced variations. Mseleku's polished musicianship will be sorely missed.

September 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Lonely Town

Freddie Hubbard's first three CTI releases, Red Clay, Straight Life and First Light were probably his most successful ever commercially, and had great merit artistically as well. First Light won a 1972 Grammy Award, and was the first of his recordings to feature Don Sebesky's creative arrangements. If memory serves, the title track and "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" got most of the jazz radio airplay, but "Lonely Town" – with Hubbard's exquisite trumpet work and Sebesky's superb arrangement – is a neglected classic. The thought occurs: how fascinating would collaborations between Sebesky/Miles Davis and Gil Evans/Hubbard have been?

"Lonely Town" is from Leonard Bernstein's 1940s Broadway musical On the Town, later made into a movie starring Gene Kelly. The strings/woodwinds intro is richly evocative. Carter's bassline ensues and introduces Hubbard's inspired reading of the wistful theme, backed by Wyands's sensitive comping, DeJohnette's brisk rhythms, and the orchestra's sympathetic fills. Hubbard's solo is aggressively lyrical, his lush tone elevating the effectiveness of his sinuous runs. Wyands, albeit on the now outdated-sounding electric piano, next contributes a short but appealing improvisation. Hubbard reappears to elaborate upon the melody, with the orchestra again in total harmony. The trumpeter's coda is Miles-like in its use of kissed and slurred notes. Sebesky has the last word, a refrain memorable for its succinct poignancy.

September 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Handy & Ali Akbar Khan: Ganesha's Jubilee Dance

The two albums recorded by John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan, Karuna Supreme (1975) and Rainbow (1980), are among the most successful fusions of jazz and Indian raga forms. Handy and Khan had been playing together periodically for several years before their first recording, which may help to explain Handy's relaxed and assured ability to adjust to the non-Western harmonic concepts, rhythms and tonalities of this challenging music, while still maintaining his individuality.

The 9-minute "Ganesha's Jubilee Dance," from Karuna Supreme, is inspired by Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the son of Shiva, the god of music, and is based on the raga called "Jhinjoti," meaning "vibrate your body." The joyful, skipping theme is played by Handy, who then soars into his first solo already in full flight. His distinctly boppish lines contrast with more Eastern-sounding tonal effects. After reasserting the theme, Khan solos, his nimble fingers creating delicate yet emphatic structures. Handy again states the theme, and his second improvisation then ventures into the upper register with a pinched timbre, before swooping down to the lower depths of his horn. From there, he repeats mesmerizing rhythmic patterns and finally adopts the complex rhythms being laid down by Hussain's tabla. Khan next delivers a more intense solo than his first, his phrasing more jazz-like in both nature and spirit. He and Hussain reach a stirring dual climax. Handy again mimics the tabla's beats in his closing statement, which includes some additional ecstatic runs. The theme is restated to satisfyingly complete the cycle.

September 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Monty Alexander: My Mother's Eyes

Growing up on the island of Jamaica, Monty Alexander was exposed to the music of legendary guitarist Ernest Ranglin, with whom he later recorded. Over the years, Alexander has incorporated reggae, calypso and other Caribbean sounds into his performances. However, on the straight jazz side, Nat Cole was his main influence pianistically, and he has since shared Cole's fondness for the piano trio format. On Live at the Iridium, his trio explores many of his musical interests, but the track "My Mother's Eyes" is a prime example of his reverential approach to a lovely old (1929) ballad.

Alexander's stylistic versatility is on full display here. His opening unaccompanied journey through the theme is openly sentimental, with loads of big chords, sweeping arpeggios, and even a strum of the piano strings for added effect. When Shakur and Taylor enter to provide their impeccable support, the pianist's bluesy voicings now prevail, with tremolos galore. When the tempo is doubled, Alexander adds more boppish lines, as well as some resounding Erroll Garner-flavored chording. The tempo is accelerated again briefly, which only makes Alexander's return to the loping pace of his intro that much more dramatic, as he tenderly progresses to an unadorned and tranquil rest. Although glimpses of Garner, Cole, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and even George Shearing seem to arise during this performance, no one puts these influences together more seamlessly than Bernard Montgomery Alexander.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Black Satin

Famed English arranger and cellist Paul Buckmaster teamed with Miles Davis for On The Corner in 1972 to introduce some innovative concepts of street funk by way of Stockhausen. Buckmaster's concepts were most closely followed for "Black Satin," which employed his script of multiple rhythms and heavy layering. In turn, the leader figured out how to carry out these ideas.

The Indian instrumentation that serves as both the prologue and epilogue provides an appealing exotic element among the random synth noises. In the middle, there's a funk beat comparable to James Brown's "Mother Popcorn" being defined by drummers, percussionists and handclappers that in itself is larger than most full bands. Miles's wah-wah trumpet competes with his conventional trumpet played an octave lower. Other sounds seem to drift in and out, the result of producer Teo Macero's heavy post-recording tape tinkering. At the center of it all is Henderson's unyielding bass loop.

Beautifully complex, mysterious and extremely funky, "Black Satin" is the last complete expression of Miles's genius in the studio.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Brazil

There are many places to start with Ary Barroso's wonderful song written about his homeland. All of the essential elements are here: samba, Jobim's vocal and Fender Rhodes, and wonderful percussion work by Airto Moreira. Joao Palm also plays a great rhythm on the drum set, which gives the song its overall drive and sense of direction. Jobim is right at home on this, the most extended song on the album. It's nice to hear him play some different songs. Historically, this album and this song will go down as highlights in the Jobim discography, but will always be neglected gems when compared to his previous efforts, though this writer feels otherwise!

September 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Children's Games

On this dark waltz, Eumir Deodato's talents as an arranger really shine. He composed wonderful counterpoints for this Brazilian big band and utilizes the flute in ways not really heard on many Jobim albums of the past. The percussion really drives this song, as is the case with most Brazilian music, but also brings out the playfulness of the song title. Built over a simple vamp, Jobim layers some interesting Fender Rhodes sounds at the end of the song. It's a shame this album is so overlooked because songs like this are real gems and display Jobim's diversity as a composer.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Tereza My Love

Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the main architects of Brazilian music, finds himself in great company on this highly underrated album. Accompanied by fellow Brazilian Eumir Deodato, who did all of the arrangements, Jobim wrote this song for his wife, Tereza. It's a very open and free-flowing song that sounds like you should be enjoying the amenities of the beach in Rio De Janeiro. Urbie Green provides a great opening trombone line, and Herbert Laws follows with a flute line that creates an urgent sense of utopia. Ron Carter is also perfectly comfortable playing this light bossa nova.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: The Whole Page

On this hard-swinging number, Marcus Strickland sounds like a straight-ahead hard-bop tenor player from the '60s. His lines swerve in and out of Glasper's piano chords and E.J.'s accents. E.J. proves why he is also one of the most in-demand drummers with his performance on this song. As for Glasper, there's no doubt he is going to be one of the most celebrated pianists of this generation. His sheer dexterity is matched only by the soulfulness heard in the lines he plays on this song.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: Brooklyn Street Fair

Robert Glasper and E.J. Strickland start this song off with a nice introduction. This composition firmly establishes why Marcus Strickland is one of the most in-demand saxophonists in New York City and abroad. His sound is very inviting here and evokes definite moments of Wayne Shorter, while twin brother E.J. plays around the beat. The band creates a deep, swinging groove on this one. A great performance.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: Thump & Cadence

Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland is one of jazz's rising stars. He and his twin brother E.J. prove themselves worthy of taking over the reigns for the future of the music. Pianist Robert Glasper plays a dazzling solo, sounding at times much like Herbie Hancock but with his own style mixed in as well. The band takes the dynamic down a little for Marcus's solo, which is quite lyrical and sultry. A worthy performance from a young and exciting group.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Shadow Dance

This tune opens with none other than the leader Dave Holland proving with a cryptic upright bassline why he's been so in demand over his 40-year career. He continues for more than 2½ minutes with a solo that has definite moments of Charles Mingus's influence. Antonio Hart joins in at the 3-minute mark with a dazzling flute solo that gives the song its title. Drummer Billy Kilson is quite at home with his free use of the ride cymbal and snare cracks. An overall great performance from one of jazz's more underrated contemporary big bands.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: The Razor's Edge

Veteran bassist Dave Holland assembled an all-star cast for this 2002 ECM release. Not only is this big band one of the best around in the new millennium, there's no piano—an absence that vibraphonist Steve Nelson uses to full advantage when heard. Holland's writing on this song is very reminiscent of Wayne Shorter, but with a more contemporary feel. Duane Eubanks plays a wonderful solo that is further accented by Nelson's vibes solo. Holland's skills as an arranger are especially displayed on the backgrounds, which sound like something you would hear in the opening sequence of a Hollywood spy thriller.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Wild Flower

On this 6/4 masterpiece, Elvin Jones provides this stellar cast with a hard, swinging drumbeat. Also, this song represents Shorter at arguably the most creative stage in his career as he is joined by his former Jazz Messengers partner Freddie Hubbard. Combined with his Miles Davis mates in Hancock and Carter, this group should have recorded more, as they represent the strongest unit heard on record from this period, even eclipsing the groups of Coltrane, Davis, and Blakey. Hancock finishes the song off with his trademark use of chromatic lines mixed with diminished undertones, creating a hypnotic feeling before they break back into the head. A must for everyone who likes any of these musicians.

September 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Wayne Shorter: Infant Eyes

Wayne Shorter, the master composer of post-bop jazz, is in full form on this ballad written for his daughter. Herbie Hancock opens with a wonderful piano introduction, followed by Shorter's haunting but beautiful melody. The harmonic structure is very beneficial to Wayne's tenor solo. The uniqueness of the changes allows Shorter and Hancock to exchange wonderfully developed ideas. This song is a strong testament to the genius and more importantly the versatility of Wayne Shorter both as composer and improviser.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Billy Boy

This song represents the only piece from Milestones that features just the rhythm section, and rightfully so because Red Garland displays his piano wizardry. The former boxer from Texas is perfectly at home on this traditional number. His 4-note left-hand chords combined with his root-fifth layering of the melody are spellbinding. He interacts with Philly Joe Jones so well that I wonder what this trio could've done on their own if given the chance. The only part of this song that doesn't fit is Chambers's bass solo. Not that it's bad, but it detracts from the commanding performance of Garland.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Milestones

On this modal 40-bar-form classic, Cannonball Adderley provides the jump-off solo with his always undeniable force on alto sax. Consistently rooted in the blues, Adderley's solo is the most riveting and moving as he sails across Red Garland's smooth comping. Davis's solo is nice but sounds like it would've worked better if he'd preceded Adderley. John Coltrane provides the last solo and exhibits his tenor sax mastery in ways very few have done since. Philly Joe Jones provides a nice change as he hits the snare on 4 every two measures, which makes the groove of this song during solo sections.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Dr. Jackle

The late 1950s ushered in a new phase in the career of Miles Davis, who expanded his quintet to a sextet that included some of jazz's most talented soloists. Davis's solo here is one of the most swinging from his catalog. Coupled with a blistering ride pattern from Philly Joe Jones, the group is in full force and sounds much more aggressive than Davis's 1956 quintet. Paul Chambers's bowed solo near the end of the track highlights his virtuosity and helps make this performance stand out even further. Though Miles's sextet would, with a couple of personnel changes, be immortalized a year later thanks to Kind of Blue, this album displays the full genius of Davis and company.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Sound Gravitation

Ornette Coleman took a step or two in a new direction with The Empty Foxhole. Whether or not it was a direction worth pursuing is something listeners must decide for themselves. The inclusion of his 10-year-old son as the drummer raised quite a ruckus when this record came out. Young Denardo was clearly his father's son: his iconoclastic (can a 10-year-old be an iconoclast?) approach on this freely improvised track disdains any semblance of time-keeping, instead accenting and responding to what his dad and Charlie Haden do on violin and bass, respectively. Ornette's violin technique consists primarily of scraped double-stops and very fast, serpentine lines. There's little melodic definition; it's mostly an exploration of timbre and texture. Haden mixes it up with Coleman & Son, while his fluttering pizzicato serves as an important organizing element. Denardo clearly has big ears and quick reflexes. Everything he plays relates to what his elders are doing. On some of the album's other tracks, he's forced into something of a conventional role, which doesn't suit him at this point. He's much better equipped to play absolutely free, as he does here with some success. This is a very noisy performance, more akin to '80s-era non-idiomatic free improvisation than jazz. Not for everyone, certainly. Maybe not even for Ornette. On his next two Blue Note albums he used Elvin Jones.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: The Empty Foxhole

If this music had been made by anyone other than Ornette Coleman, it would've been laughed at or dismissed out of hand. Actually, it was laughed at and dismissed by many at the time of its release. Even today—with Ornette an established figure given the widest possible benefit of the doubt by folks who otherwise scorn free jazz—it's still hard to listen to this without wondering what in heck he and the folks at Blue Note were thinking.

Ornette chose his then 10-year-old son Denardo play drums on the date. Was it done to provoke? Did he have a Dada-ish itch he needed to scratch? Could it be that he was just a little prouder of his son than he should've been? Whatever the reason, Denardo sounds exactly like what he was: a talented, enthusiastic but overmatched youngster.

This title track is perhaps the clearest example of his callowness. It begins with a martial snare keeping very shaky time in quarter notes. Charlie Haden on bass and Ornette on trumpet enter, Haden playing a simple triadic figure underneath Ornette's distant-sounding, bathetic theme statement. Ornette keeps his phrases simple; even on trumpet, he has that "cry" that distinguishes him as a saxophonist. Haden holds things together, playing with characteristic melodicism. With a Charles Moffett or Ed Blackwell in the drum chair, the total effect might have been stunning. Instead, they had Denardo, and Denardo's playing was infirm, underdeveloped—in a word, childish. And for good reason. He was 10, for chrissakes.

As any parent knows, your own child's first drawings are high art, while other kids' are mere scribbles. Maybe that's something Ornette never learned.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Moore & Fred Hersch: The Sad Bird

Michael Moore and Fred Hersch began their musical partnership in the 1970s at the New England Conservatory of Music. But this practice-room acquaintance has blossomed into a rich musical dialogue, as demonstrated on their Palmetto CD This We Know. "The Sad Bird" is an exquisitely melancholy Hersch composition, and the two musicians plumb its emotional content to the depths on this track. I am reminded of another ornithological jazz composition, Jimmy Rowles's "The Peacocks," which also found its fullest realization in a memorable duet setting. Hersch's piano accompaniment is closer to classical music than to jazz here, and both pianist and horn player incorporate stylish bird calls into the proceedings that would make Messiaen proud. All in all, this is a very bittersweet performance.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuna: In These Shoes

Latin jazz stars and friends in long standing Claudia Acuna and Arturo O'Farrill say they recorded this album just to have fun and nothing else. They say they weren't interested in pleasing "serious jazz cognoscenti" or wanting to "ingratiate themselves with jazz purists." Well, they have come to the right jazz critic in this case because I am neither of those things. I dug "In These Shoes." The song is fun even if I didn't understand vocalist Pedrito Martinez's Spanish lyrics. I still knew what he meant. The tune is basically a friendly suggestive tease between a man and a woman who is wearing some sexy shoes (a shoe/foot fetishist's dream). Acuna, who sings in English on the cut, has a wonderful jazz-inflected voice. Though it is true that most of the album probably would not pass the "jazz smell test," this tune has plenty of Latin jazz elements to qualify.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pete Rodriguez: Who Do I Trust?

Trumpeter/composer Pete Rodriquez is the son of famous Latin music star Pete "El Conde" Rodriquez. He grew up in the Latin music world and performed with many of Latin jazz's biggest stars including Eddie Palmieri and Chico O'Farril. Despite this, his music is not dominated by these experiences. The Latin influence is certainly heard in "Who Do I Trust?" but it is no more of an element than a hundred different other things. This is high-energy aggressive modern jazz. Crashing drums and an ever-so-slight Latin-tinged bassline, doubled on piano, introduce the provocative melody. As the tune starts swinging it, Rodriquez has saxophonist David Sanchez take the first turn. We hear straight-ahead blowing. Sanchez can play real good. Rodriquez joins him for some forceful counterpoint. The energy is ramped up and maintained until the theme is reintroduced. Rodriquez has written some very enjoyable music. The superior talent Pete Rodriguez and his bandmates offer adds to only further the obvious. This is very good jazz played with zeal. I would trust them with my ears.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks

I don't know if I buy into the whole "vision of a metal/opera/cartoon with hamsters singing classical arias over metal-based rhythmic structures" concept as presented in the accompanying press release for this CD. That idea seems as if it was thought up in some group peyote experience. The comic CD cover art pushes the same proposition. (Too bad this wasn't 25 years ago so the art could be full LP size.) But my qualms about the inspiration of the piece aside, I do buy the music.

The material on A Hamster Speaks is quite engaging. In a strange way it reminds me of English humor you see in those programs PBS imports for U.S. viewing. Some of the material is funny, but it is always presented in a serious way. It's like a guy dressed in a tuxedo telling a fart joke. Speaking of which, there is a song on this album that may as well be named "Ode to Flatulence." I was laughing out loud. But it is actually good creative music played at a very high level. You would have to hear the tune to understand.

"A Hamster Speaks" includes all of the devices offered in the press release such as the use of polyrhythms, chamber music, free jazz, some metal and rock sensibilities, etc. The tune starts with an ingratiating and dramatic horn section unison riff. An African beat takes us into the 1930s Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan jungle for a bit before a more standard rhythm takes over as leader and bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky presents his prestigious acoustic chops from the canopy above. Soon every animal for miles around is screaming for its mama. (Okay, maybe even some hamsters.) The cool opening riff then returns to calm the setting by force.

I apologize for having usurped the band's motivation and for putting this particular tune in an entirely different story. But that is what I heard. Peyote can do that to you. (Just ask Carlos Castaneda.) But whatever you want to call this music or whatever the band based it on, "A Hamster Speaks" is original, creative and downright entertaining.

September 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ornette Coleman: The Riddle

"The Riddle" is an almost 10-minute collective free-bop improvisation with a brief, don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it melodic tag on the end. Taken at a medium-up tempo, Ornette plays much of it in a jittery double-time. Supported by drummer Charles Moffett's bop-derived flights of freedom and bassist David Izenson's supple plucked bassline and guttural arco, Ornette's solo is a paradigm of what stream-of-consciousness improvisation can accomplish. He has so internalized the component parts of this style (which he invented, by the way) that he's able to manipulate it to communicate any effect: technical, emotional or otherwise. That means playing ahead, behind or right in the middle of the beat; grasping a tonal center or rejecting it entirely, for as long or as briefly as he wants; making one cry or laugh. "The Riddle" makes clear just how far Ornette had progressed in the 2+ years he was away from the jazz scene. Not only did teach himself to play two new instruments—trumpet and violin—he'd also improved as a saxophonist. Here he plays with more confidence than ever. His silence in 1963-64 begat an even more joyful noise in '65.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Snowflakes and Sunshine

Ten-and-a-half minutes of high-energy, wholly improvised Free Jazz, "Snowflakes and Sunshine" features Ornette employing his (then) newly acquired violin and trumpet chops. As could be expected, Coleman's hardwired auto-didacticism led him to approach the instruments idiosyncratically. Unlike his sax melodies—which are often diatonic, and in any case deal with standard intervals more often than not—his violin line is chromatic to the point of being microtonal, alternating scraping double-stops with lightning-fast squiggles. His trumpet playing is similarly expressionistic, if not quite as chromatic. Coleman's technique on both instruments is coarse, yet he clearly has ample means to express himself. David Izenson's rapid-fire pizzicato bass all but disappears in the shadow of drummer Charles Moffett's tom-toms and bass drum, though he lends the music a palpable momentum. Moffett displays why he might have been Coleman's most exciting drummer. His beat is steady, as the surrounding accents and rhythms are in constant flux. This music is restless and unrelenting. Though it lacks almost entirely the grace that characterizes Ornette's sax-based music, it possesses its own feral beauty.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Dawn

A ballad, Ornette-style. The aching theme meanders, never resolving or coming to rest exactly where you think it should. Ornette's alto and Izenson's arco bass begin with a tightly wound, presumably improvised introduction. The composed melody is a bit sentimental, stopping short of being maudlin. Like many of Coleman's ballad themes, it vaguely suggests something one might have heard before without being openly derivative of anything specific. In his solo, Ornette is spectacularly successful in holstering his chops and concentrating on lyric invention. Izenson bows in cello range, his gently expressive vibrato in apt service of liquid melody. Moffett's manner of accompaniment and placing accents is unconventional. Rather than simply snap shut his hi-hat on 2 and 4, for instance, he'll obsess over it with his sticks, subdividing the beat in unpredictable ways, while maintaining the pulse. The rhythm section is highly attuned to Ornette, interpreting his slightest suggestion as a command, following him in every direction—melodically, rhythmically, harmonically. A classic performance by a classic band.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Faces and Places

Compositionally, "Faces and Places" is of a type with such earlier start-and-stop, bebop-ish Ornette Coleman tunes as "Folk Tale" from This is Our Music or "Forerunner" from Change of the Century. In execution, however, there are differences, one being the absence here of Don Cherry. Whereas the older recordings had the trumpeter on hand to spice up the ensembles and provide another solo voice, now Ornette's alto is the lone horn. As a consequence, Coleman seems to play longer than on his quartet recordings, which is not a bad thing. He ratchets up the intensity to a higher level, due in part, one suspects, to the extended solo time and the fact that it was recorded live. Another reason is the presence of drummer Charles Moffett, a grittier player than Ed Blackwell, his immediate predecessor in the band. Moffett's ride cymbal is heavier, his accompaniment patterns and fills generally more raucous and active. In contrast, bassist David Izenson plays so soft (or is so under-recorded), he's nearly inaudible at times, though one can feel his presence as lighter, more surface-oriented than previous Coleman bassists such as Charlie Haden or Jimmy Garrison. That said, Izenson's style certainly doesn't dampen the energy. If anything, his technical facility increases the sense of drive. This performance has a more visceral kick than much of Ornette's prior work, and is a fitting introduction to a new stage of his career.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Ginseng People

Revisiting another of his classic lines from the CBS era with a “local” rhythm section comprising one established master (drummer Roy Brooks) and two rising stars (pianist Geri Allen and bassist Robert Hurst), Woody Shaw soars on this well-recorded live session from 1986.

By the time of the Bemsha Swing session, it seemed that Woody at 41 was almost a figure from a past era. Changes in the jazz business and the fashion for “young lions” had marginalized one of the most important voices in the music. It seemed that there was little interest for this swinging but forward-leaning music as young players turned to other, often conservative models for their nascent and marketable styles. Shaw would keep playing brilliantly until his tragic death after a subway accident in 1989, but the message of his accessible yet challenging music was overlooked. Woody’s music and playing had true originality, building on tradition but never content to follow, always striving to lead. The implications of his music have still not been explored by the musicians who have come after him to the extent that it, and he, truly deserves.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw: Desert Moonlight

The meeting on record of Woody Shaw and all-time trumpet great Freddie Hubbard was a cause for rapt anticipation before this side came out in 1986. (They had already met under the leadership of Benny Golson on the European Timeless label three years before, but somewhat under the radar.) The results were indeed historic, if a little confined by the Blue Note repertory approach to the material played. I can’t help feeling that, all in all, Woody was heard to better effect on the Hubbard/Shaw recordings—he’s always poised and fluent where sometimes Freddie strains a bit. They both sound great on this track, a cover of Lee Morgan’s “Desert Moonlight”.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: All the Way

Even as Woody Shaw‘s profile became a little lower in the 1980s, his art was still deepening and gaining a rich patina of experience and wisdom. This cut, from a late 1983 session of mostly standards, is proof positive. Woody’s mastery here enables him to take a more “inside” stance while preserving full freedom to employ his own lexicon in the most subtle, nuanced way. You can really hear Woody’s affinity with Lee Morgan on this song, associated with the slightly older trumpeter—and know that Woody was just as much a master of the jazz ballad. Woody here is not just paying tribute to, but making the tradition new with the heavy “authenticity effect” of his artistry. Also of note is the mastery of pianist Cedar Walton here, as always!

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Rahsaan's Run

Woody Shaw re-recorded this up-tempo minor blues, dedicated to the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk, on his first studio date back on an independent label after the completion of his stay with a “major.” Winds were shifting on the jazz scene, not necessarily in Woody’s direction. His playing, of course, remained at its towering level, and his group of 1981-1983 with Steve Turre, the young Mulgrew Miller, mainstay Stafford James, and Tony Reedus maintained the high standard of Woody’s ensembles. As much as the original version of “Run” (from Rosewood) is iconic for Woodyphiles, there’s something special about the headlong burn of this quartet version.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Isabel the Liberator

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Woody Shaw had arguably the finest touring jazz (straight ahead) small group on the scene, only rivaled by Betty Carter’s trio and of course Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It’s fortunate that a number of performances by his band have been documented on CD, notably the four volumes from the Keystone Korner. Here is Woody at his absolute peak as a player and bandleader. The live version of pianist Larry Willis’s “Isabel the Liberator” (originally recorded on Woody’s third CBS release For Sure!) is a tautly driving performance, and Woody’s solo on here is on a magisterial tip, building from a calm, reflective yet rhythmically assured opening to a number of successive peaks of shattering impact. This solo exemplifies for me that quality of Woody’s playing narrative in which he’s able to sustain a long solo through a sure control and exploitation of contrasts (intensity and complexity, inside and outside harmonic motion, chromatic and intervallic line construction, short rhythmic jabs and long legato phrases). Also check out Larry Willis’s playing, behind Woody and on his solo—out of sight! His comping really inspires Woody here.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Woody I: On The New Ark

I feel that in many ways Woody III is the masterpiece of Woody Shaw’s recorded output in the studio The three pieces that made up the first side on the LP—the Afro-Cuban tinged “Woody I: On The New Ark”; the up-tempo burner “Woody II: Other Paths”; and the nursery ballad-tribute (to the newborn Woody Shaw III), “Woody III: New Offerings”—really hit the bull's-eye both as composition and arrangement, eliciting outstanding performances from the all-star lineup. Woody has really hit his stride here in all aspects—trumpet innovator, composer and bandleader. I think “Woody I” is the hippest piece!—the quasi-songo feel coupled with its harmonic/melodic sophistication and ambiguity is way ahead. Woody had been hanging with the salseros a bit, methinks, around this time—he was a part of the glory days of “Salsa Meets Jazz” at the Village Gate. A classic!

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Gingerbread Boy

This recording contains all the feeling of New York in the ’70s. It was a big event in jazz when Dexter Gordon returned to the scene as a bandleader, his personal charisma in good part spurring on the resurgence of “straight-ahead” jazz in the latter part of the decade. The collaboration of the Shaw/Hayes group with Dexter on this recording, Live at the Vanguard, led to Woody’s signing with CBS and the inception of the most fruitful and successful period of his career. On “Gingerbread Boy,” a blues, Woody engages in a canny strategy (after Dexter’s long solo) of starting his solo trading “twelves” with Louis Hayes, then moving to a continuous solo statement later on—a great way of focusing attention and refreshing a long piece! Hearing Woody alongside Dexter, I really feel the continuity of tradition between these two players of different generations. Even as Woody stakes out his own position (and puts some fire on Dexter in the process!), his reference and knowledge of the tradition complements the older master quite well indeed.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Hello to the Wind

Woody Shaw’s series of Muse records from 1974 to 1979 really heralded his arrival as the “next cat” on the trumpet to the wider jazz public. These were also the sides that this budding player cut his teeth on, anxiously waiting for each new release! I’m picking here something from a live recording of an expanded version of the Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes quintet that was active between 1975 and 1977 on the recording and touring scene. (The performance of that group at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase in 1976 will be forever stamped on my mind and soul.) A beautiful rendition of an eloquent (and difficult) piece, Joe Chambers’s “Hello To The Wind,” a wide canvas for Woody to explore many emotions, from lyricism to aggression, while using every section of his musical palette from diatonic forthrightness to chromatic convolution.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Anthenagin

I have always really liked the little-noticed Messengers records on Fantasy/Prestige from the early '70s: Anthenagin, Buhaina, and Child’s Dance, now re-released on CD in a Vol. 1–Vol. 2 setup by OJC/Concord. There’s a sense of the cultural moment here with Cedar Walton’s Rhodes, the one-chord vamps on a number of tunes, and Tony Waters’s conga pumping it out in tandem with the redoubtable Buhaina. The highlight for me has been a number of great Woody Shaw solos throughout these dates, as well as the beginnings of the frontline partnership of Woody and tenor saxophonist Carter Jefferson, which bore fruit later in the '70s in Woody’s own group. “Anthenagin” has a great solo—one of Woody’s case studies in how to sustain interest on a limited harmonic base and reach multiple peaks in a solo statement. I feel Woody is getting into a new gear here in the development of his vocabulary; there’s a greater variety of melodic gestures (which you can really keep track of due to the harmonic stasis of the tune itself), and he can keep the line going longer.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: The Goat and the Archer

I’ve never understood why it took so long (almost five years from the date of his first breakthrough sideman dates) for Woody Shaw to release his first album as a leader. (The excellent session he recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s in 1965 was not released until the late 1970s.) In Lester Koenig’s West Coast label Contemporary, Woody finally found a company with the vision to present his music and group leadership. Woody’s first release for Contemporary, Blackstone Legacy, from 1970, was a somewhat sprawling affair, with plan and instrumentation seemingly informed both by the Miles Davis expanded ensemble of Bitches Brew (Miles's sideman of the time Gary Bartz was an important force on Blackstone) and the larger setups of late Coltrane and contemporaneous Pharaoh Sanders (with whom Woody recorded around this time). The music, though, was strong and distinctly Woody’s, and at least one jazz classic came out of the first date – pianist George Cables’s “Think On Me.” On Woody’s second Contemporary date, Song Of Songs, the format tightened up a bit, and over the years this record has become my favorite of the two sessions (which is not to say you should pass over Blackstone!). “The Goat and the Archer” is a blues, played harmonically and formally freely with standout solos from Cables and Woody. The introduction to this song, as well as the theme, uses the descending fourth structure lick, seemingly derived from the opening of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, that to me shouts “Woody”! In the theme and the opening of Woody’s solo, the major/minor 3rd ambiguity beloved of Woody (and of one of his favorite composers, Bartok) is on display.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Young: The Moontrane

An absolutely essential recording, Unity is also the template for the “progressive” jazz organ date. While it’s organist Larry Young’s date, Unity could also be thought of as Woody Shaw’s coming-out party as an important jazz composer, with three originals of his on the record. It’s also notable as an early document of the Woody/Joe Henderson front line. “The Moontrane” has become a modern jazz standard, subsequently recorded by Woody in a number of recordings, both studio and live. While his solos on later versions, such as the 1975 recording on Muse, may have more reach and fire, I have a special regard for the solo statements of young Woody on this first version from 1965. This record has been a real touchstone for musicians ever since it came out, and I vividly remember my own excitement in first hearing it over 30 years ago!

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: The African Queen

This was a breakthrough recording for Woody Shaw—for me, the first fully realized representation of the innovations that he would bring to the jazz trumpet vocabulary. Many of Woody’s signature melodic “formations” are present in his solo, such as his systematic use of pentatonic and fourth-based permutations leading to wider interval jumps, and the “in-to-out” sequencing and side-slipping. And the poise of his playing is beautiful; everything Woody’s going for is coming off here, with beautiful sound and pinpoint, nuanced articulation. It’s a truly incredible achievement for a 20-year-old player to have his own vocabulary and style so fully formed so quick!

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Donna Lee

The eponymously titled Jaco Pastorius was Jaco's first release as a leader. To this day many aficionados still consider it the greatest bass album ever recorded. At the very least, it is the most influential bass album as far as jazz-rock musicians go. It very quickly spawned legions of bass players who tried to live up to its standards. That yielded about 100,000 imitators and, thankfully, about 10 brilliant bassists over the years.

Legends come from someplace, and a big part of Jaco Pastorius's legend was born with this cut. His take on Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," a tune that Miles Davis claimed he authored and very well may have, is always listed in those "Top Ten" lists that fans seem to be so fond of making for their favorite artists these days. But fandom aside, the author of the definitive book about Jaco, jazz critic Bill Milkowski, says this particular performance is the one that introduced the modern electric bass era.

Regardless of original composer, Jaco makes this piece his own. (You'll forgive me a cliché every 300 reviews or so, won't you?) Don Alias keeps a steady conga beat as Jaco blazes through the changes of this bebop number. Those changes, based on the song "Back Home Again in Indiana," give Jaco the perfect opening to display both melodic and rhythmic chops simultaneously. He dives in with all 10 fingers, producing a rolling momentum that only your off-switch can stop.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Blues for L.W.

"L.W." stands for Lech Wa??sa, the former Polish union leader who led a worker's revolt against Poland's ruling communist party in the early '80s. John McLaughlin, the person, has over the years made clear in interviews and song titles like "Wall Will Fall" and "The Unknown Dissident" his disdain for totalitarian governments. These views combined with the fact that former communist satellite countries were deprived of hearing or seeing jazz performers for the longest time are the main reason McLaughlin attracts his largest crowds not in Western Europe or the U.S., but in post-communist Eastern Europe. (Then again, his crowds are even larger in India. That is for an entirely different reason.)

The Translators, McLaughlin's mostly acoustic European jazz outfit of the early '80s, was a fine band even if most of its function was to back McLaughlin on his solo flights. "Blues for L.W." opens with a sad hope. McLaughlin's acoustic playing puts light on shadows. The tune becomes a swinging blues shuffle. This blues is not of the rough variety, but is the clean European version that substitutes grace for soul. LaBeque's synth sounds a bit dated – the fate of advancing technology and taste. But it is quickly dispensed with for more of McLaughlin's empathetic picking. At song's end, the sadness returns as a bell tolls its hope for the future.

A more aggressive and uplifting "Blues for L.W." appeared on McLaughlin's 1989 album Live at the Royal Festival Hall. Since Wa??sa had by then become president of Poland, I can only assume that McLaughlin was celebrating the fact.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Farrell: Collage for Polly

I never really got into the art of Jackson Pollock. To me his abstract art was a bunch of nonsense. I mean how creative was it to stand over a big canvas and randomly drip paint onto it? I sort of looked at free jazz the same way. Free jazz has never really been in the bag of jazz music I reach into to. I am sorry to say I find much of the music of the free school to be no better than hearing a group of drunken revelers tooting away on their party noisemakers.

Of course, I respect all musicians and must leave room for the fact that the free music I didn't like may be above my head. What does this say about the free jazz I do like? Is it simpler? Is it less free? What does it say about me? Am I not very smart? I don't really know. But searching my memory for the few times I have enjoyed any music from the genre, something does become clear. I don't seem to be able to handle it when the musicians are all on top of each other playing directionless themes and disparate forms. I do have a good ear, and the music has to get pretty damn complicated to lose me. But I prefer the free jazz excursions in which individual players can be clearly heard. That occurs in "Collage for Polly." The tune – which is not a tune – is constructed in such a way that each player is given space to make a statement. Echo and reverb dominate the open spaces because that was what was available to the players in 1970. This collage is almost more a sampling of cosmic sound effects than any form, free or not. But they are cool sound effects. How can you not be interested in hearing four of the most renowned and inventive jazz musicians of their day (and now) express themselves in such an unencumbered way? It is also always a plus for any free jazz piece to be short in length. In this case we are talking 2½ minutes. Perfect.

Epilogue: It turns out that some years ago I was at a business convention in Chicago and attended an event at the Art Institute of Chicago. With gin and tonic in hand, I started roaming. I came across a Georgia O'Keefe. Then I saw the famous American Gothic. I turned the corner into a very large room to find myself standing in front of a HUGE Jackson Pollock. I stood and stared for several minutes. The damn thing was fascinating. I found myself analyzing each drip and jagged line. In my mind I could see a tired but inspired Pollock applying the gallons of paint. I realized then and there that Pollock was a great artist and that we should always keep our minds open to any art – and that includes free jazz.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddie Costa: Stretch in "F"

This enjoyable jam-session style tune comes from one of the few albums that pianist/vibraphonist Eddie Costa made before his untimely death at 31. The track begins and ends with quick polyrhythmic breaks from Motian, who extends the "fast-triplet-over-swing" polyrhythm longer than many other drummers could. Costa is the first to solo, and his turn is well executed, apart from the overwhelming feeling that this is a vibraphone solo being played on piano. Even though he was an accomplished pianist, listening to his piano and vibes solos back to back on this recording reveals his stronger improvisatory instrument. Farmer is up next, introducing his solo with a humorous melody before getting serious and offering a fine display of his effortlessly flowing improvised lines. Woods is off and running quickly and packs quite a punch in a very brief solo statement. A swinging track from a fine combination of relatable talents.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Conception I

Kurt Rosenwinkel's live performances and latest handful of albums are packed with densely arranged, 10-plus minute arrangements that have astonished his loads of fans and elevated him to the status of one of this generation's leading innovators. Intuit, his second session as a leader, shows us where much of this innovation came from, with a collection of hand-chosen bop standards. George Shearing's "Conception" is perhaps the most interesting choice because it hints at a possible hidden influence that has shaped Rosenwinkel's compositional aesthetic. While it's speculation on my part, digging a bit deeper reveals an interesting line of Shearing influence (Rosenwinkel's mentor, Gary Burton, toured with Shearing before joining forces with Stan Getz in the early 1960s). In any case, Rosenwinkel and all of his Smalls cohorts have established and maintained influential careers for themselves due to their combination of innate talent and wide-ranging knowledge of the jazz canon. The star guitarist's sympathetic take on Shearing's "Conception" is a historical must-listen.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pepper Adams: The Long Two/Four

10 to 4 at the 5 Spot delivers a single set of music from the famed NYC jazz club in 1958, a combination of Blakey-school hard boppers (Byrd, Watkins and Timmons) and the unique personalities of Adams's leading baritone sax and Jones's polyrhythmic drumming. This tune begins with a military-march statement from Elvin, reminding us that, even though we are used to hearing him involved in an intense swinging environment, he can execute just about anything behind a drum kit. Adams offers an adventurous solo, followed by an enjoyable yet somewhat underwhelming offering from composer Byrd. Bobby Timmons executes a fantastic solo (especially the first 15 or 20 seconds) on a regrettably out-of-tune piano. Elvin's solo is brimming with original ideas and flawless technical execution, especially the melodic run from 7:08-7:24. On second thought, the rest of this early Elvin solo is really just as great.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: Bordertown

Listening through Big Band, Julius Hemphill's only recording with such a large unit, one must wonder why he didn't assemble big bands more often. His compositions beautifully lend themselves to full brass or reed sections latching onto his carefully constructed background figures and compositional shifts. But perhaps it's better that way, allowing this late '80s date to stand out as one of Hemphill's career highlights. The other diamond in the rough here is the jazz/rock brilliance of Bill Frisell who, slightly after the 4-minute mark, begins a daring, raucous solo statement in which he manages to maintain his trademark melodicism amidst a jazz/rock blowing-session atmosphere. When the initial straight-eighths groove morphs into a double-time swing session that builds to an album-ending climax, daresay I hear a bit of rock-star shredding from the always tasteful Frisell? Yes! And because it's Frisell at the helm, it works.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sam Rivers: Tranquility

This intriguing track begins with a funky tuba/bass/drum vamp that makes you go back to your iPod to make sure you put on the right album. Once having confirmed that this is "the Sam Rivers Big Band" record, the listener is just waiting for something unexpected to develop from this Funky Meters-inspired start. One minute into the track, a wide array of percussion enters followed by an improvising flute. A minute or so later, Mr. Rivers's personality finally signals its arrival with jarring long tones played by a handful of the numerous musicians in the studio. The long chords build over the next five minutes, ebbing and flowing in a dramatic and delightfully unsettling manner. As the 8-minute mark arrives, the cacophony has melted away except for the flute, percussion, and funky tuba/bass/drum vamp that leave us exactly where we started. A unique journey courtesy of the fertile mind of Sam Rivers.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Yusef Lateef: The Centaur and the Phoenix

This album is filled to the brim with noteworthy events – the first recorded composition from a 17-year-old Kenny Barron ("Revelation"), the soon-to-be-expected unordinary instrumentation of the Lateef reed section (baritone sax, bassoon, and any of Lateef's many possible reed choices), the inclusion of then-unknown Joe Zawinul on piano, and the insertion of "The Centaur and the Phoenix" and "Summer Song," two complex pieces written by contemporary classical composer Charles Mills. Part Ellington, part Mingus, and, according to Mills himself, part Neil Young's Crazy Horse and Charlie Parker, "The Centaur and the Phoenix" juggles brief improvisational statements from many of its members with a dense arrangement of classical motives and stop-time hits. It's a bold undertaking – one that Lateef's groups would improve upon as the experimental phase of his career developed. Nonetheless, even in its earlier stages, it works.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Yusef Lateef: Number 7

This terrific set from Yusef Lateef's mid-'60's residency at Pep's Lounge in Philadelphia reveals a handful of fine, relatively unknown musicians performing with a multi-instrumentalist at the top of his creative game. "Number 7" is the perfect place to start if you are unfamiliar with Lateef's playing and compositional style. It begins with a fine, up-tempo bop tenor statement, followed by a slower, gospel/blues tenor statement that riles the crowd to a roaring ovation. Just when you think the tune is about to end, a bass vamp/solo begins and Lateef picks up the flute for a concluding statement. While the world music elements that have come to define Lateef's work as a leader don't reveal themselves here, his soulful tenor playing reached its career apex on Live at Pep's, a memorable live date recorded shortly after he'd completed a 2-year stint with Cannonball Adderley.

September 16, 2008 · 296 comments

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Tadd Dameron: Super Jet

Just a month after the classic Miles Davis Quintet (Davis, Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Jones) recorded its final Prestige sessions, John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones joined forces with pianist/ arranger/composer Tadd Dameron and bassist John Simmons for this date, also on the Prestige label. Yet notwithstanding Coltrane's participation, this record is truly Dameron's showcase. Every tune is a well-built Dameron original, and the presence of Trane and Jones motivates the pianist to put his playing chops on full display. After a passable Coltrane improvisation (by Coltrane's standards), Dameron offers a minimalist, experimental solo, taking his time to explore the complex ideas he surely imagined as he penned the changes to "Super Jet."

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Blues for Philly Joe

"Blues for Philly Joe" is the only Rollins original on the versatile Newk's Time. By the time the album reaches this second-to-last track, the previous burning tempo of "Tune Up," polyrhythmic complexities of "Asiatic Raes" and intense Rollins/Jones duet on "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" make this relaxed, mid-tempo blues a vital addition. Rollins, Kelly and Watkins offer solid though unexceptional solos. The track's magical moment arrives when Rollins and Jones trade fours. (Rollins probably wrote the piece because he was waiting for this moment!) The saxophonist and drummer are bouncing ideas back and forth, with Rollins's rhythmic playfulness and Jones's melodicism creating a charming interactive relationship. From this track to the aforementioned extended duet on "Surrey…," this entire session presents one of the more compelling leader/drummer lockups in recorded jazz.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: I've Told Ev'ry Little Star

Shortly after this West Coast session, Sonny Rollins returned to New York and withdrew from the jazz scene for close to 3 years, during which he was often found practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge. He once said of this period in his storied career, "I was getting very famous at the time and I felt I needed to brush up on various aspects of my craft. I felt I was getting too much, too soon, so I said, wait a minute, I'm going to do it my way. I wasn't going to let people push me out there so I could fall down. I wanted to get myself together on my own."

While he emerged from his self-imposed exile to produce some of his finest music (including the aptly titled The Bridge), his final pre-hiatus recording did nothing to suggest a "brush up" was in order. Hawes, Kessel, Vinnegar and Manne provided Rollins a unique backdrop for the playful execution of his deft song choices, from "The Song Is You" and "Alone Together" to the more oddball "Rock a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" and this Hammerstein/Kern standard. It's always fun to hear Rollins play over a "singsong-y" standard – he unearths an intricate web of melodic ideas that validates the inclusion of nearly any tune he chooses, as is the case here. His superior solo is coupled by the rather amazing interplay of Hawes and Kessel. These two are both comping, sometimes heavily, throughout much of this tune. Miraculously, they never get in each other's (or Rollins's) way.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Siete Ocho

Most of Andrew Hill's Blue Note sessions of the '60's featured horns, but on Judgment only Hutcherson's vibes joined up with the pianist's trio, and the Hill-Hutcherson pairing worked so well that Hutcherson included Hill, and his compositions, on his own debut album as leader (Dialogue) the following year. The challenging "Siete Ocho" is, as the Spanish title indicates, in 7/8 time, but the track possesses a natural and inevitable flow. A bass ostinato launches the piece before Hill and Hutcherson take up the tense, staggered theme. Hutcherson's solo is restlessly provocative, stimulated by Hill's repeated chordal figure and Jones's fiercely aggressive drum work. Jones's own forceful solo makes apparent his emotional commitment to Hill's conception. When Davis reintroduces his opening ostinato, Hill improvises while Hutcherson utilizes the pianist's earlier insistent chordal accompaniment. Hill's narrative is essentially a series of unresolved, abstract phrases that drift through a harmonic landscape populated by dissonant trills, tone rows and pounding chords, all of it sounding like a cogent and controlled mixture of Monk, Herbie Nichols and early Cecil Taylor. As demanding on the listener as on its players, this music is nonetheless accessible, rewarding and forever fresh.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Milestones

Joe Henderson was never more popular than during his Verve years of the '90s, with his well-received tributes to Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. For the Davis project, the always inquisitive Henderson did not go for the obvious choices, instead selecting rarely covered pieces such as "Teo," "Swing Spring," "Side Car" and "Milestones." No, not the totally different "Milestones" of 1958 – this was instead Miles's composition from the very first recording session he ever led, in 1947, with Charlie Parker on tenor. Miles later reworked the 1947 "Milestones" for a 1953 date, titling it "Miles Ahead," not to be mistaken for the better-known 1957 Davis/Gil Evans work by the same name (which Henderson also selected). Confusion may reign here, but definitely not in the music.

The rewardingly compatible pairing of Henderson and Scofield for So Near, So Far makes one wish that Scofield had been able to add Henderson to his own group around that time (or vice versa), as Joe Lovano was about to move on. Holland and Foster, of course, knew Miles's music first-hand and intimately, and perform at their best. This "Milestones" is an easygoing, circular melodic theme with an attractive bridge, and would have fit right in on the Davis Birth of the Cool session. Henderson and Scofield play it in relaxed unison before the tenorist's compelling solo, which features his expressive tone and a typically restless attack that utilizes compressed, staccato phrases and intricately wound extended lines. Scofield's comping makes this sound like a heady blend of '60s and '80s Miles, and the guitarist's own solo, even with its distinctive distortion-enhanced voicings, appears to be transposing Henderson's artistic sensibility from tenor to guitar. Soul brothers indeed, and Henderson wisely invited Scofield back some five years later for his Verve adaptation of Porgy and Bess.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Patricia Barber: Miss Otis Regrets

This story song is one of the strangest tunes in the Cole Porter songbook. Its macabre tale of an unhappy, murderous lover who is eventually killed by a mob reminds me of those tragic Old World ballads that Francis Child once collected. Patricia Barber brings out this old-fashioned element in the song by tackling the opening unaccompanied, much like the folksingers of yore. Yet when Neal Alger enters on electric guitar, backed by a throbbing drumbeat, he makes this performance even darker and more unsettling. Barber's delivery is stark and sober, and the end result is an eerie recording that likely would have surprised Cole Porter (who originally wrote this song for Ada "Bricktop" Smith) but which cuts to the essence of his troubling lyrics.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Patricia Barber: Just One of Those Things

Patricia Barber tackles this Cole Porter standard at a rapid-fire pace, but never loses the meaning of the words even when the changes fly by like fence posts along the highway. The opening half-chorus is driven by voice and bass, but when Chris Potter enters on tenor, he takes charge of the track. His solo is a blazing patterns-from-hell workout that beats the song into total submission. By the time Barber returns, ready to paint the town, we have almost forgotten where we were. But the vocalist wisely avoids trying to match the tenorist note for note—heck, Potter sounds like he is revving up to go another 12 rounds—and instead steers the band into a comfy coda. Phew!

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Windows

Sweet Rain was Stan Getz's first significant release following his bossa nova period, and the first of his two classic encounters with Chick Corea, the second being Captain Marvel in 1972. (Verve has just put out a newly remastered edition of Sweet Rain.) Corea had previously recorded "Windows" on a Hubert Laws date, and was to record it again a year later in a trio with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes, but the version with Getz is definitive. Getz was simply unbeatable on a lyrical piece such as this.

Getz glides through the melody with his sultry tone, but hardens it considerably for some guttural outbursts, his emotional reading even eliciting an uncharacteristic flub or squeak that might have prompted another take if this one was not so outstanding. His solo offers a wonderful panorama of enticing thematic embellishments and urgent, undulating runs, all somewhat remindful of his playing on the 1961 Focus album. Corea's accompaniment is forceful yet sensitive, and Tate's crisp accents are both polished and tasteful. The pianist's improv is played with a ringing sound, and impresses with its harmonically advanced voicings and fresh rhythmic nuances. Getz storms back in for a final heated say before once again endearingly presenting the theme, augmented by some additional passionate asides. His tenor winds down on a burnished, drawn-out lower-register note, to which Corea responds in kind with a tender punctuation of his own.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brian Blade: Return of the Prodigal Son

Brian Blade first came to most listeners' attention in the mid-'90s as Joshua Redman's hot drummer, and by the year 2000 had already released two notable CDs featuring his Fellowship Band. Yet despite Blade's consistently high profile since then, it took eight more years before his own group's third recording saw the light of day. It was worth the wait. The track "Return of the Prodigal Son" is a fine example of how Blade and his Fellowship Band present very appealing thematic material through inventive, multifaceted arrangements.

The soothing, unadorned theme, lyrical and reflective, is introduced by the full ensemble prior to Rosenwinkel's richly intoned opening solo, his lines flowing and gracefully resolved. The guitarist's final bars turn more resolute and dissonant, as if to set the mood for Butler's modal workout that follows. The tenorman's erupting phrases, exultant shrieks and deeply resonant low notes are reinforced by Cowherd's persistently prodding accompaniment. The pianist then turns the piece around with some lilting embellishments of the theme. When Rosenwinkel joins him, Butler and Walden begin playing another pattern in counterpoint. Before long, however, you notice that Cowherd and Rosenwinkel are now improvising and the horns have in turn taken up the melody. Finally the entire group merges to engagingly interpret the theme, which reaches a soft and satisfying conclusion. Blade and bassist Thomas provide diverse and responsive support throughout this performance. It must be added that the composition itself, Rosenwinkel's solo, and particularly the moving closing section, all remind one to some extent of Pat Metheny.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Peresina

"Peresina" begins as a 2-chord vamp on which Herbie Lewis states a distinctive bassline. Tyner proceeds to plays some of his familiar right-hand ruminations. The theme unfolds in the guise of the 3-part horn section playing a nice chart that varies in pace. After that, Tyner introduces the beautiful, Ellingtonian bridge that's repeated by Shorter, Shaw and Bartz in a complex arrangement that gives the effect of a pocket orchestra. Shorter's extended angular phrasing on the second round of that bridge is warm and discerning. The leader follows with his own solo that threatens to break out of the melody, but he reigns it in just in time on every occasion. Tyner plays perhaps a few too many notes at times, but the challenging, swinging composition and excellent support from other players still make "Peresina" a shining moment for him.

September 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: Heather on the Hill

Lerner & Loewe's Brigadoon opened on Broadway in 1947. This song from the show must have captured Mildred Bailey's attention, though recording details are sketchy. Like Alec Wilder's "It's So Peaceful in the Country," "Heather on the Hill" is a love song to an imagined place, an oasis in a difficult world.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: It's a Woman's Prerogative

"It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind." Cliché but funny and tongue in cheek. Mildred Bailey at her sly best, and still swinging.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: These Foolish Things

After Decca failed to renew her recording contract in 1942, Mildred Bailey had a difficult time finding another company to take her on. In 1945 her recording career resumed. On this track, the legendary accompanist Ellis Larkins (who would later play for Ella, Chris Connor, and Eartha Kitt, among many others) provides the "tinkling piano in the next apartment." The other solo parts are dreamy, too. Although some people comment on the weakening of Bailey's voice in her later years, the ballads she recorded from 1945 show a new emotional depth and richness in the lower register.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Mildred Bailey's introduction to the radio audience is part of this track. She mentions that "Motherless Child" was a favorite from her previous radio show, Rockin' Chair Lady, and that it's one of her favorites as well. It's a stunning performance of the traditional song.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: I'm Nobody's Baby

Another lightweight tune gets first-class swing treatment here with Mildred Bailey fully in control. Roy Eldridge's trumpet solo and a clarinet chorus are especially delicious.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

Eddie Sauter's arrangement of this lightweight tune from an earlier era is full of surprises. The bubbles float and pop, with help from Buster Bailey on the clarinet and from Mildred Bailey's peppy vocal. Thankfully, we're not in Lawrence Welk country.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: St. Louis Blues

Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo are the key players in this light take on the old standard with an element of seduction. Norvo on the xylophone equals Fred Astaire on the dance floor. It's clear that Bailey's "short fat squatty mama" will get her man back from the siren with the store-bought hair.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: The Weekend of a Private Secretary

This novelty song depicts a shy clerk who comes alive on a weekend trip to Havana. Mildred Bailey seems to get a kick out of telling the story. Red Norvo plays the maracas as well as the 'phone, and the band members join in on the chorus. Everybody has a rollicking good time.

September 14, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mildred Bailey: Junk Man

Mildred Bailey doesn't make her entrance until halfway through this track, but it's worth the wait, with Benny Goodman at the helm and on clarinet and Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax. Bailey jumps right into the action with the hard-driving opening lines of her vocal: "I'm going to give that junk man my broken heart, the broken heart I got from you. / I'm going to give that junk man my broken heart for a loaded .32." Frank Loesser, who later wrote the lyrics for such Broadway hits as Guys and Dolls, wrote these words when he was 23. I don't hear any glaring difference between takes 2 and 3, so I leave that choice to the listener's discretion.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: Shoutin' In That Amen Corner

After her stint with Paul Whiteman, Mildred Bailey moved on to sing with the other great bands of her day, including the Dorsey Brothers and Benny Goodman. "Shoutin' In That Amen Corner" is one of the highlights of her recordings with the Dorseys. It is infectiously listenable, with surprising tempo changes, a sparkling clarinet solo by Jimmy Dorsey, and vigorous stride piano from Fulton McGrath.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: There Will Never Be Another You

You can tell how much Lester Young liked the melody of this piece. Not only does he play it with great feeling on this 1952 date with Oscar Peterson, but even Young's solo finds him returning again and again to Harry Warren's theme. Yet even slow ballads, at this stage in the saxophonist's career, were never smooth, uneventful outings, and we hear the gruff and rough edge characteristic of late-period Prez. You don't get much from Oscar Peterson on this track. The pianist typically showed restraint when working with Young, and his contribution here is limited to a short stride-oriented intro. The track lasts only 3½ minutes and will leave you wanting more. Certainly this abbreviated performance shows you that Young was still delivering heartfelt solos in the 1950s, although fans first coming to this artist for the first time are advised to start their journey with the early Count Basie and Billie Holiday collaborations.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mildred Bailey: Rockin' Chair (1932)

Hoagy Carmichael first heard Mildred Bailey with Paul Whiteman's orchestra in 1929 and later taught her this song, which he felt suited her voice and style. "Rockin' Chair" was a huge hit and soon became Bailey's signature song. It also earned her the epithet, "Rockin' Chair Lady." Bailey's voice and manner were well suited to Carmichael's laconic style. This is her first recording with future husband Red Norvo.

September 13, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mildred Bailey: When It's Sleepy Time Down South

Contemporary listeners might cringe at this track's "darkies singing" and mammy "falling on her knees," but Mildred Bailey's affinity for the blues ran deep. And people who knew her in the early years say she was very hip. She knew about Louis Armstrong – who recorded this song six months earlier and subsequently made it his theme – even before he began his recording career. Once his records were out, she became his advocate, enthusiastically introducing them to friends and associates.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Glenn Shambroom: Wakeless Nights

Tom West’s creeping B-3 stirs and sets the scene for this clandestine piece that calls to mind a classic movie theme. The main characters are two stealthy-fingered second-story men. The larger of the two resembles a bottom-heavy, raspy-voiced bari sax; the other is a long slender fellow with the demeanor of an alto flute. The duo begins their caper in harmony against the backdrop of a languid city night. They split up and the sax takes the first flight of stairs with a dizzying penthouse solo. The flute slinks in, a cat proficiently padding between the changes. West covers the waterfront with his low-key cool, pumping the bass like the subway. Sensual sound, soulful playing, slick writing.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman: Endangered Species

The opening remark by Pat Metheny's Synclavier guitar and Ornette Coleman's alto sax is eerie and foreboding. When the rest of the band crashes in seconds later with Haden's rumbling bass and the double-barreled attack of DeJohnette's and Denardo's drums, the anticipated punch to the gut is realized. The strangeness of the song isn't the totally free and frantic way it's played. Rather, it lies in the sense that there is some method lurking beneath all that madness. While Metheny is making glorious noise on his axe, Coleman settles into his familiar harmolodic statements, acting as the eye of a violent storm.

"Endangered Species" is not some token nod to balls-out jazz meant to mollify Metheny critics; Metheny is fully invested in this song. And Coleman, reinvigorated.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Adrian Rollini: Beatin' The Dog

This track is one of a series of classic recordings of what can best be described as chamber jazz led by Joe Venuti for the OKeh label under the group names Blue Four and Blue Five. The Blue Five sides feature the above instrumentation plus Jimmy Dorsey on alto sax, clarinet and trumpet (!).

Venuti is so well remembered for his legendary practical jokes that it is easy to forget what a great soloist he was at a time when jazz soloing as we know it was still in its relative infancy. His playing swings furiously in the Armstrong manner while incorporating several devices, such as double-stops, that are idiomatic to the violin.

Adrian Rollini remains one of the music's most interesting and enigmatic figures. A childhood piano prodigy and virtuoso xylophonist, he began playing the bass sax without instruction, prior wind-playing experience, or stylistic role models. The bass sax was primarily used as an alternative to tuba or string bass in rhythm sections back then, and Rollini had no predecessors as a bass sax soloist. He was a pioneer as a jazz soloist, period, regardless of instrument, and was acknowledged as an influence by Harry Carney, Coleman Hawkins and Budd Johnson among others. Here he turns in a fiercely swinging solo, displaying a huge cavernous tone and flawless technique. His rhythm section playing was more flexible and contrapuntal than that of most of his contemporaries on any of the bass instruments, making him, in a way, a sort of Scott LaFaro of early jazz. As if all this didn't make Rollini interesting enough, he devoted the latter part of his career mainly to the vibraphone, developing an intricate four-mallet style that preceded Gary Burton by a good 35 years.

Eddie Lang doesn't solo here, but his rhythm work is solid and energetic. Schutt is fine when audible, although his piano sounds like it was placed in an adjoining room with the door closed. All in all, a superb example of hot chamber music.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley: One Banana

With Carla Bley tunes, it's always about cleverly constructed compositions, and "One Banana" is no exception. She uses melancholy notes to weave a beautiful ballad built with three distinct phrases in succession, each one compelling and elegant in its own way.

Fresu keynotes the first two lines, the initial one actually serving as a brief intro theme that serves as a back and forth conversation between the trumpeter and Bley, Sheppard and Swallow. It transitions seamlessly into the second sequence of notes. Fresu's tone here is lonely, pitch-perfect and deeply felt, the consummate fit for the song's somber mood.

The last piece begins after a brief pause. This five-chord line, slightly brighter than the prior two, is led by Swallow's idiosyncratic electric bass. Here, he manages to match the richly lyrical content of Fresu's preceding solo. Playing sensitively in the upper register, Swallow makes his bass guitar sing in the manner that a person would. The horn section gradually reenters, providing a supporting line in harmony with Swallow's thematic line that heralds the end of the song.

Perfectly conceived and executed, "One Banana" is one of Bley's very best.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Adam Niewood: A Rap Tap Tap In The Night

There's almost nothing more thrilling than listening to a section of improvised music as its inner shape begins to form. Oh, sure, sometimes music of this sort doesn't really have a shape, the energy and texture being more important than form. With "A Rap Tap Tap In The Night," Adam Niewood and his cohorts shift mid-song from meandering (and I mean that in the best possible way) sax, percussion and piano that spends a great deal of time on texture, to a more modal approach. I'm imagining A Love Supreme turned up a few notches.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley & Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly At The Black Orchid

I used to have this theory about Carla Bley's hair. It was formulated right around the time that her first Very Big Band record came out. To wit: Bley's "omni-directional" hairstyle was a direct result of the sheer force emanating from her horn section. Seriously, just look at the giant wall 'o brass her band is packin': four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes. It's enough to make anybody's coif go all Don King.

Seriously though, there's a very good reason that the horns are putting out a drastic amount of air, as Bley's compositions really put them through their paces. "Appearing Nightly" starts with a searching piano interlude that steps up a notch to Steve Swallow's and Billy Drummond's snappy bridge section that in turn introduces the rising horn section. Over the next 20-something minutes, many solos are taken (trumpet, sax, trombone) and all manner of side themes are injected. When the horns hit their peak, you'll wish you had brought along a fresh bottle of hair jell.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lowell Davidson: Stately

Sometimes, when encountering a person who is inordinately bright, it's fun to use the description "too many brains in his head." Stephen Hawking is a great example. Well, though I've never coined a similar phrase, there are definitely musicians out there who almost seem to have too much music in them. It just spills out effortlessly.

Which makes it all the more amazing that Lowell Davidson isn't a household jazz name. On "Stately," the music does just that: spill out and flow with an amazing amount of energy and grace. Davidson's piano traffics in styles from simple, quiet arpeggios to percussive clusters to wild chromatic runs. It's a good thing that Milford Graves and Gary Peacock came along for that ride, as lesser musicians might not have stood up to the sheer force of the idea stream.

Equal thanks must go to Ornette Coleman for championing Davidson, and ESP Disk for bringing Trio back into print.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Savina Yannatou: O Yannis kai O Drakos

Greek singer Savina Yannatou can do some amazing things with her voice. This track, ostensibly dealing with dragon slaying (sorry, my Greek is a little rusty), showcases her instrument against a simple backdrop of acoustic bass, violin and accordion. Yannatou sings melodies that swoop up from their anchor notes as if taking flight. With childlike chirps, shimmering melodies, whispers and shrieks, my ears thought of Joanna Newsome, Diamanda Galas and Meredith Monk. Now there is an eclectic combination!

What's quite amazing about the progression of this piece is that it obviously tells a musical story, even if the words remain opaque to most listeners.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Aaron Irwin: Little Hurts

Aaron Irwin may be running the show here, but guitarist Ben Monder is the secret weapon. Monder sets up a moody undercurrent with some swampy and reverb-laden arpeggios over which Irwin and Chris Cheek develop, in unison, the rising theme. When the horns split apart mid-song, taking simultaneous solos, "Little Hurts" steps above the expected head/solos format.

Ah, but it's Monder who holds the trump card, busting out an absolutely volcanic guitar solo that might be labeled "fusion" if it weren't for the decidedly non-fusion context. Don't let the "F-word" dissuade you, as this is a load of fun.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Speed, Chris Cheek, Stephane Furic Leibovici: Three Kinds of Folks

If you can imagine taking the most furious passages from Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi crossed with some of Evan Parker's circular blowing, slow the whole thing down a bit, and then re-imagine it as a new take on Klezmer, you end up with a hint of what's going on with "Three Kinds Of Folks." Sort of.

Speed's and Cheek's horns follow each other around, playing separate but related melodic lines while Furic Leibovici's very woody bass injects commentary as counterpoint. Though the slight air of Klezmer gives the tune a traditional feel, the interplay and oddball tangents taken reveal the group's far more modern spirit.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Ostinato (Suite for Angela)

The early space fusion piece "Ostinato (Suite For Angela)" was Herbie Hancock's unveiling of a new approach, using a melodic theme or vamp only as a loose guideline so the players could explore freely without boxing themselves in. This ostinato is stated over an off-center 15/4 time signature, powered by Hart, Chancler, and Santana band-member Areas's formidable West African pulse. Even Montrose's guitar exists to add to the percussion.

Trumpeter Eddie Henderson starts the soloing, soaring in a hard-bop vein as Hancock comps furiously, often turning up reverb and Echoplexing as if straining to get out front. When he finally does, we see his immense abilities as an improviser, going to the outer limits of the melody yet staying well attuned to the odd shuffle. Maupin's turn is relatively brief, but he maximizes his time with his usual dark, evocative bass clarinet. All along the way, the percussion section and Priester play off the mood of the soloists, even quickening the pace subtly, completing Hancock's electric-powered blueprint of funky, collective improvisation.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson: El Camino Real

J.J. Johnson will forever be remembered as the most influential trombonist in jazz from the late 1940s onward. His pioneering work in transcending the trombone's technical limitations to create a modern jazz style on the instrument, combined with the huge advances in technique and flexibility by many of his successors, has led many people to associate Johnson with a rapid-fire machinegun-like approach to the horn that is not really a characteristic of his best playing. The fact is that J.J.'s mature playing was always lyrical, swinging and to the point. He was a fine composer and arranger as well, and his style and technique as a writer evolved throughout his career.

The first recorded example of his large ensemble writing to appear on record was his original "Rambo" done by the Basie band in 1946. He went on to write several excellent extended jazz works, including "Poem for Brass" and the album-length Perceptions for Dizzy Gillespie.

"El Camino Real" showcases Johnson's playing at its lyrical best. His trombone carries the lion's share of the thematic material, with the band supplying constantly shifting background textures and transitional material. The piece strikes a perfect balance between providing a showcase for J.J. as soloist and making the ensemble an equal partner in the total musical experience. Every J.J. Johnson record is a jazz trombone clinic, but this track is also a living textbook for composers and arrangers in the art of constructing a piece around a jazz soloist.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden: He's Gone Away

Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny previously recorded this traditional Appalachian song on their 1997 duet CD Beyond the Missouri Sky. Now they revive it to good effect for Haden's country music project Rambling Boy. Haden's daughter Tanya, a cellist and spouse of comedian Jack Black, contributes an unadorned, heartfelt vocal, and pianist Bruce Hornsby sustains the mood with an austere solo. This is the jazziest track on a CD that is chock full of old-timey tunes. "He's Gone Away" is reminiscent of some of the Americana-tinged work Metheny handles so well on his own recordings. Some of my favorite CDs these days are breaking down the barriers between musical styles, and this is one of the most transgressive of the year. Heck, maybe there is room for a jazz club in Branson, Missouri, after all.

September 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: He's Gone Away

Both Haden and Metheny have mixed it up with Ornette, but don't let that fool you. They both have a traditional side, as shown by this delicately constructed version of an Appalachian folk song. You won't find many jazz tracks more understated or heartfelt than this one. The tempo hovers at the point where strict time almost falls into rubato. No guitarist is better than Metheny at these plaintive, yearning melodies. In a modern era when most guitarists try to make their name with speed and fire, his ability to cut to the essence of a song is worth more than a passel of flashy licks.

September 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: Groove Elation

It's a straight blues disguised as a Mardi Gras romp. Muhammad's flawless Big Easy beat, Irwin's old- school bass and Goldings's Jimmy McGriff-styled Hammond B-3 set the stage. With the rhythm section playing at perhaps a lower volume than customary for such festive music, the spotlight shines even more squarely on the leader, but man, does he deliver. Scofield's lines are precise, passionate and modulated to perfection. He starts off softly and builds to controlled urgency, inserting righteous blues licks while always remaining aware of Muhammad's backbeat. Entirely devoid of hackneyed phrases, too. As solos goes, the one he puts down here is one of John Scofield's finest moments in the studio.

September 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dreams: New York

To many jazz-rock fans, Dreams was almost better known as the main spawning ground for the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham and John Abercrombie than for its actual music, which blended rock with a good dose of improvisational jazz. In recent years, however, a fairer assessment has been developing. I own this album because it was popular as one of the earliest jazz-rock efforts. I have always found its music to be enjoyable, if uneven. Some of the lyrics and vocals seem out of place. Still, despite my reservations, the vocal tracks do have an innocent charm. They sound sort of like Broadway numbers from those days from such shows as Hair and Godspell. While the band sometimes seemed to be trying too hard to become pop stars, you have to stand back and admire what they were doing musically.

The Tony Williams Lifetime has always been given well deserved credit for its place in fusion history. However, everyone acknowledges that Tony Williams's vocals on those records were tortuously awful. Yet that has not diminished the group's importance. I can say unequivocally the vocals from Dreams are light years better than Williams's. I can also say that Tony Williams wanted to be a pop star too. There was nothing wrong with that. The trick was to create pop songs that were full of jazz – an almost impossible task.

"New York" starts with what would eventually become the signature horn sounds of the Brecker Brothers. Lead singer Edward Vernon enters with backup singers. They develop a good soul sound that puts them on the cusp of the Top 200. The funk rhythms are laid down big-time by Cobham and bassist Lubahn. Randy Brecker uses his trumpet to punctuate. Randy Brecker plays his ass off. Abercrombie adds some distorted guitar that the engineer decided to pan between channels. The song ends in the din of musically created New York traffic. It is a pretty entertaining attempt at crossover that would make a good B-side to some hit from one of Dreams' more successful contemporaries such as Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago Transit Authority (later known simply as Chicago) or Chase. But those bands' arrangements were better thought out and structured. Dreams prided itself in going more "free-form," letting the music take them wherever it would through improvisation.

Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago also offered listeners the vocals of great singers. The vocalists for Dreams were good, but not great. I believe if the band had stuck to instrumentals, which they were quite superior at, they would have had a stronger impact. There was also the little issue of creating a finely crafted pop tune. Dreams couldn't quite do that. But the fact is that, while some may credit Blood, Sweat & Tears and even Chicago in helping define jazz-rock, Dreams – as evidenced by the risks it took and the progeny (Breckers, Cobham. Abercrombie) it spawned – was far more important to fusion's development.

September 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Focus: Eruption

Focus was a progressive rock band that had a huge hit called "Hocus Pocus" in 1972. (That tune is included on this album, but a live performance of it on the band's next album was the actual hit.) "Hocus Pocus" was sort of a '70s version of what Spike Jones was doing in the '40s and '50s with nonsense vocalizing, whistles and just generally showing off in a humorous way. But even though the song was pop music all the way, its superior musicality suggested these guys might be more than met the ear. And in fact they were. For the most part, the band's music was a mix of rock and classical music. However, "Eruption," and several other pieces spread out over their next few albums, showed the band could also integrate jazz elements into their music. For that reason, I think Focus deserves to be mentioned when discussing the fusion movement, even if they came through a side door and were little noticed in the genre at the time.

"Eruption" is a multipart opus. In 16 distinct but connected sections, the band lays out the facts. Van Leer and Akkerman are high-caliber musicians. Their forays offer the most interest. Akkerman, in particular, represents the fusion face of the band as he grinds out one biting electric solo after another. He squeezes every last ounce of angst out of his instrument. Van Leer is the utility player. He plays everything in every way. The often changing tenor of the piece makes it impossible to describe "Eruption" fully. But though improvisation is probably at a premium, the tune can stand alongside any fusion anthem produced by Mahavishnu, Return to Forever or Weather Report. This isn't to say the tune could knock any of those groups off their pedestals. But certainly it could give them a strong nudge.

September 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu: Florianapolis

What a fun tune! "Florianapolis," written by John McLaughlin and the brilliant pianist and composer Mitchel Forman, is a happy-go-lucky Gypsy jazz-rock jaunt. McLaughlin goes acoustic for this piece. That alone was a welcome respite from the guitar synthesizer that dominated his music at the time. McLaughlin never ceases to amaze. He sounds like Django on an out-of-control treadmill. But he is always melodic, always in sync. Bill Evans (sax) adds his 12¢ above the textured layers of Danny Gottlieb's percussion, bassist Hellborg's throbs and Forman's keyboard work. McLaughlin's display of technique reaches its apex during the song's middle section. Seemingly playing his axe as if unwinding a taut spring, his notes flutter off with such rapidity it will have your head spinning. The tune ends with a great trombone solo. "Trombone? But there is no trombone!" It is probably John McLaughlin on his synth again. The phrasing seems to hint that McLaughlin is the culprit. But it could very well be Mitchel Forman playing on his own keyboard synthesizer. That's the crux of the problem during this time when McLaughlin was using the Synclaviar guitar. You couldn't always tell when he was playing because he didn't sound like a guitar. So even though that trombone sound was great, I subtracted 3 points from the rating for the subterfuge.

September 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dennis González's Spirit Meridian: Dust

Dallas and Ft. Worth are about 35 miles apart. Both have a history of producing great jazz artists. Dallas gave us David "Fathead" Newman and James Clay. Ft. Worth was home to Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman and Charles Moffett. It's as if Dallas got the straight-ahead cats, while Ft. Worth produced the free jazzers. Dennis González does his best to preserve that legacy on the one hand and counter it on the other. A native of Dallas, the 54-year-old trumpeter has spent the last 30+ years playing with some of the world's finest free jazz musicians (Charles Brackeen, Frank Lowe, Andrew Cyrille, among others), building a substantial body of work along the way.

"Dust" presents González in the company of a quasi-legend: alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, and long one of the most admired alto saxophonists in jazz. González and Lake are joined by New Yorkers Ken Filiano on bass and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. This tune's repetitive, singsong theme is nothing special, but the song does provide a kind of structurally nebulous framework that allows Lake the near-total freedom he seems to crave. Never an especially lyrical player, Lake's solo here is typically quick and sinuous—scribbles on a canvas, varying in density from pointillist flecks to broad splashes of pigment. González, on the other hand, is a more tuneful improviser. His line meanders, but is effective in its way. The dynamic Thompson maintains a lively discourse with his fellow improvisers. He's an exciting yet nuanced player. Filiano fills the space between Thompson and the horns most ingeniously, and his redoubtable sense of form grounds the performance. This is a quality effort, made all the more valuable by the presence of an all-time great.

September 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu: The Wait

Adventures in Radioland was the follow-up to Mahavishnu's 1984 Mahavishnu. That album had John McLaughlin almost exclusively playing guitar synthesizer. Though the album had some good music, it was frustrating as hell because you spent most of your time waiting to hear McLaughlin play a straight electric guitar. Adventures, on the other hand, was a much more pleasing outing. McLaughlin was still using the Synclaviar Digital guitar but was using it much less. There was honest-to-goodness McLaughlin electric wailing! Yes!

"The Wait" was composed by the overly talented Jim Beard. (Keyboardist Beard would go on to replace Mitch Forman on Mahavishnu's tour because of Forman's contractual commitment with Wayne Shorter.) Forman's sequenced keyboard patch introduces electronic drums and a searing electric statement from McLaughlin. The band dives into a frantic fusion syncopation mode as McLaughlin continues to drop depth charges. This was not your father's Mahavishnu Orchestra. This was the sound of 1986 technology. Though the audio could sound a bit dry sometimes, this was mostly a good thing except for the poor electronic drums. (The electronic drum sound – not Gottlieb's kit, which he plays with a punch – has aged terribly. You must think in 1986 context to appreciate it.) Bill Evans (sax) is in very good form as he takes over for McLaughlin. "The Wait," which opened many of the band's live shows, is a very fine jazz-rock performance replete with texture and drama. It was the perfect piece to reintroduce John McLaughlin on electric guitar.

September 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Murray: David Mingus

Ornette Coleman's harmolodics minus the clutter—that's "David Mingus," the one electric track on tenor saxophonist David Murray's otherwise all-acoustic album Children. Instead of the chattering twin guitars that adorned the background of Coleman's '80s funk abstractions, Murray uses just one—James Ulmer—and puts him in the forefront.

Ulmer's skronking accompaniment and percussive, freely melodic improvisation set the stage for Murray's own squalling, squiggling, register-jumping, Albert-Ayler-meets-A.C.-Reed tenor solo. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico plays countermelody most of the way, occasionally worrying over a motive, but for the most part improvising lines that hold equal weight with the guitar and sax. Speaking of weight, Smith is rather heavy-handed. His mannered shuffle beat is oppressive at times, though he does manage to mix it up with Murray whilst keeping the groove strong.

At the time of this recording, in the mid '80s, Murray was a thrilling player more often than not. He'd developed a comprehensive technique that lent his playing greater depth than it had in the '70s, when he relied heavily on expressionistic devices derived from his fascination with Albert Ayler. This context might not be ideal. It's easy to prefer Murray's acoustic work; the great subtlety of which he's capable is less a factor in an electric setting. Still, this track reveals an incredibly exciting, endlessly creative saxophonist at the top of his game.

September 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tom Beckham: Grillin'

The album's title, Rebound, refers to the reaction of a mallet after it strikes a vibraphone bar. (You know… that whole Newton's Law thing, "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" stuff.) In this case, Tom Beckham says it has a double meaning and also refers to the bouncing back of ideas that takes place during improvisation.

"Grillin'" is an up-tempo post-bop workout not dissimilar to something you may have heard from Dexter Gordon in the '70s. The Gordon reference is the direct result of saxophonist Chris Cheek's impressive performance and Beckham's arrangement, in which Dexter would have excelled. That is not to say Cheek is alone. All the players have their act together, and this includes the leader. But this music is more about group cohesion and equal opportunity than individual turns. Beckham says as much in his liner notes. After the impressive traditional solo turns, the group plays a wonderful unison section that lets you know just how tight that group cohesion is. This is toe-tapping good music. Fire up that grill, baby!

September 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Monique Danielle: Smile

At jazz.com, we review individual cuts in order to bring a more in-depth insight into the jazz canon we so admire. I don't know how other reviewers at jazz.com do their thing. But often while I am writing a review, the CD continues to play the remaining songs. My ear memory recalls the subject piece so I have no trouble typing away my strong opinions as different music plays away in the background. But sometimes the remaining music is so compelling that my unbreakable stream of thought is broken and I must stop the task at hand to listen more fully. This is good for my musical enjoyment but not so good for my wallet. I get paid by the word. The more words I can write in the least amount of time, the better. So you know by now I had to stop writing this review and concentrate on what else Ms. Monique was offering. Damn. Though I am reviewing only one cut, I want you to know that I absolutely loved the whole album.

"Smile" isn't even my favorite number. "The Look of Love" is. It is wonderfully arranged and creatively performed in sort of a Spanish mode. But I can't call that piece jazz. "Smile," like many other tunes on the album, would fall under the same jazz category we allow Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, et al. Everyone is familiar with this standard. So the best thing for me to say is that Monique Danielle has been blessed with a wonderful voice and the intuitive skills and taste to put that voice to its best use. There is not a hint of pretense in her interpretation. Music is about honesty after all. Surrounding herself with very good musicians and having the benefit of superlative arrangements doesn't hurt either. I unhesitatingly sing the praises of Monique Danielle and recommend that you listen to her immediately.

September 10, 2008 · 3 comments

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Jan Hammer: The Animals

"The Animals" is a historically important cut in understanding much of Jan Hammer's playing style from the Mahavishnu Orchestra on. Here is a quote from my book on Mahavishnu: "There had always been a tinge of Indian flavor in the band's music. But the influences of Indian music were really furthered on Mahavishnu's Birds of Fire. Jan Hammer had become very attracted to South Indian classical music. This interest arose from listening to cassette tapes that McLaughlin had given him. At one point, Jan even considered going to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to study Indian percussion. (McLaughlin took vina lessons at the school in 1970.) Hammer was particularly impressed with the vina playing of the Indian virtuoso S. Balachander, the same musician who had made such a great impression on John McLaughlin several years before. He would listen to the bends and slurs that Balachander was able to obtain from the vina and the sounds stayed with him. Jan believes his playing style, principally on the Minimoog from Birds of Fire on, was very much shaped by Balachander. (After he left Mahavishnu, Jan continued on this path and points to the tune 'The Animals' from his album The First Seven Days as the clearest example of his affinity for the Indian master.)"

When you consider the fact that the vina is an Indian stringed instrument you understand how differently Hammer approached his synthesizer from other keyboard players. He came from an entirely different place. "The Animals" is just as Hammer describes Balachander's music. It is a bending and slurring keyboard synthesizer atop quasi-Indian rhythms played by percussionist David Earle Johnson. It was difficult enough in those days just to create these sounds. The overwhelming musicality of the piece is an added bonus and a valuable look into a formative aspect of the style of a great artist.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jan Hammer: Oceans and Continents

Today we take audio technology for granted. If we wanted, we could all have a virtual orchestra in our computer and make any type of music we wanted. But as we should also know, a computer is only as good as the people who program it, and our music would only be as good as we could play it. The same was true when it came to the wondrous sounds on Jan Hammer's The First Seven Days. He was doing things with keyboards and synthesizers and using recording methods that nobody else was at the time. And programming? What programming? To put together this 1975 project it took an incredible knowledge of the new and unwieldy world of synthesis technology. Hammer was a pioneer. I know from a good source that it was not unusual for Hammer to open up the guts of these synthesizers and tinker with or rewire them so they would do what he wanted. And of course his electrical engineering skills were only a third of the equation. His musical imagination was another third and his great chops were the final third.

"Oceans and Continents" was just one of 7 cuts on The First Seven Days that displayed Hammer's magnificent reach. Brilliantly constructed, "Oceans and Continents" is played by Hammer as a one-man band. If you had no knowledge of the recording methods required, the difficult instrumentation or the technical skill it took Hammer just to record the song, you would still be blown away by his compelling performance. It is a tour-de-force keyboard presentation heard as if played through an emotional prism.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: To the Women in My Life / Le Lis

Spectrum was filled with much more than just the power drumming of Billy Cobham and screaming assaults from Tommy Bolin's electric guitar and Jan Hammer's Moog synthesizer. Cobham put together a more jazz-oriented group for two of the album's most beautiful cuts. While Jan Hammer was still included, John Tropea replaced Bolin, bassist Ron Carter replaced Lee Sklar and a horn section was added. "Spectrum" and "To the Women in My Life / Le Lis," the piece reviewed here, were relaxed groove affairs dominated by melodious horns.

The song opens with a lush and somewhat fragile Hammer piano excursion. That is always a good way to introduce any tune. A laid-back Cobham then supports the very hummable theme presented to us by the serene-sounding horn section. Hammer takes the first solo on synthesizer, and plays it close to the vest. Saxophonist Joe Farrell, who was also added for the recording, offers some further lessons, but we are not given any homework. Much like sorbet between spicy courses, this tune cleanses the palate and prepares you for the next dish.

While the rest of the album was very much from the Mahavishnu Orchestra school, in which Cobham was still enrolled while recording this album, "To the Women in My Life / Le Lis" (and "Spectrum") represented an entirely different curriculum. This tune was more about Cobham's composing skills, and proved that the machine-like drummer was capable of showing great patience. The musical characteristics of "Spectrum" and "To the Women in My Life / Le Lis" would carry over to Cobham's next album, Crosswinds.

Reviewer's Note: Some downloading services separate "To the Women in My Life / Le Lis" into two distinct pieces for purchase. The song's introductory section, "To the Women in My Life," is all of 51 seconds long. Beautiful as those 51 seconds are, they were not meant to stand alone. You will have to download both titles to listen to the complete song. Sorry. But this brings up an idea for all of you struggling musicians out there who are lucky enough to be offering your music for sale. You should start breaking up your song titles with hyphens, slashes or part numbers. That way the downloading service companies will list for sale many more songs than you actually created. This will enable you to profit from their mistake of overcharging your loyal fans. Jeez.

September 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Charlie Parker: Funky Blues

The live jam sessions that Norman Granz produced were usually hit-or-miss affairs. Raucous audiences could encourage some musicians to histrionics, or a lengthy series of solos on an overplayed standard could start to drag, or the rhythm section could be out of sync with the soloist. Granz organized this studio jam session to simulate the format of a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert, with the added benefit, of course, of better sound quality and no distracting crowd noise, and the result was sublime jazz.

"Funky Blues" is one of the more enjoyable tracks of this nature ever recorded by Granz, if only for the fact that acclaimed altoists Hodges, Parker and Carter solo consecutively, and that everyone plays convincingly and infectiously in the blues idiom. Hodges is both biting and tenderly purring. Bird displays an earthy sophistication, with playing remindful of his classic "Parker's Mood." Carter, who follows, sounds astonishingly like Parker, and nearly as modern. Peterson offers rumbling chords and tinkling trills, clearly in his element here. Kessel's steely tone lends a vital authenticity to his bluesy lines. Shavers's extroverted solo, with its repeated upper-register cries, owes a debt to Roy Eldridge. Webster wails with raw-edged intensity. Peterson returns for a bubbly chorus before the ensemble goes back to the head's funky riff, with Hodges getting in the last salient lick of this nearly 14-minute master class in the blues.

September 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Modern Jazz Quartet: My Man's Gone Now

Jazz.com recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the the most famous jazz adaptation of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, that of Miles Davis with Gil Evans in 1958. In 1965, however, the Modern Jazz Quartet presented their versions of seven pieces from the folk opera, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its 1935 premiere. This relatively obscure entry in the MJQ's discography has always deserved greater attention. The MJQ's intimate arrangements personalize the music to such an extent that it becomes as much theirs as Gershwin's, and Milt Jackson's theme readings and improvisations attain the same mesmerizing heights achieved by Miles Davis.

Their treatment of "My Man's Gone Now" is one of the most moving and memorable ever recorded by a jazz group. Heath's deeply resonant bassline and Kay's insinuating cymbals set up a steadfast rhythmic foundation for Lewis's insistent chords and, finally, Jackson's delicate, emotion-filled interpretation of the melody, with Lewis tenderly handling the bridge. The intertwining of Jackson's and Lewis's lines is both soothing and ingratiating. With a pickup in tempo (subtly varied from this point on), Jackson initiates an extended bluesy solo, the vibist's flowing phrases blossoming into cascading runs, and his radiant and singular vibrato accentuating his expressiveness. The support of Lewis, Heath and Kay is finely attuned, especially the bassist's plangent figures. The intricate reprise becomes a miraculous interaction between four individual yet totally compatible musicians. This music will linger in your mind for some time after hearing it, and then you'll want to hear it again.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eugene Maslov: The Witch (Baba-Yaga)

Russian-born Eugene Maslov emigrated to the U.S. in 1989 after studying classical piano as well as taking Jazz Studies, and eventually settled in Philadelphia. Although he has recorded several CDs, he is far from a household name, despite a dynamic and flexible piano style that can be as effusive as Oscar Peterson's or as wistful as Bill Evans's. Maslov's tour-de-force performance of "The Witch (Baba-Yaga)" brings to the fore an intense passion coupled with prodigious technique. Baba Yaga in Slavic folklore is a menacing witch who flies around on an oversized mortar, terrorizing children. The ninth piece of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition is dedicated to this mythological character, and the rock group Emerson Lake & Palmer, in their popular adaptation of this suite, also added an original composition, "The Curse of Baba Yaga." Now it was Maslov's turn to bring Baba Yaga to musical life.

The pianist's whirlwind excursion ebbs and flows, containing boppish, swinging sections in contrast to its pensive, mystical interludes. Swirling runs and pounding chords alternate with passages of childlike wonder. A remarkable extended fantasia is backed by haunted vocalizing (or is it Kozlov's arco bass?). Dissonant broodings laced with foreboding do not prepare you for Maslov's gentle concluding phrases. This and many other tracks by this superb pianist are well worth hearing.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Earl Hines: Warm Valley

Duke Ellington introduced "Warm Valley" in 1940 as a feature for Johnny Hodges with the outstanding Ben Webster-Jimmy Blanton edition of Duke's orchestra. According to Rex Stewart, the tune was inspired by Duke's gazing at a range of hills from a train window: "Just look at that, it's a perfect replica of a female reclining in complete relaxation, so unashamedly exposing her warm valley."

Although Earl Hines first met Ellington in 1925, and was a close friend of Johnny Hodges, he never played "Warm Valley" until the day he recorded it in 1971. Hines laid down numerous Ellington compositions in four sessions between 1971 and 1975, but was very selective. Some of Duke's tunes were just too orchestral in nature, or too dependent on a particular soloist, or too harmonically complex to learn on short notice, or were rare examples of Duke's own intimate solo piano pieces and better left alone. While "Warm Valley" was a challenge, Hines – one of the most important and creative pianists in jazz history – more than perseveres, despite a slightly tentative start. A probing intro leads to emphatic chords and a provocative interpretation of the lilting melody. His darting runs, ringing tremolos, touches of stride, and intricate, almost acrobatic two-handed counterpoint, make for an enthralling combination. There is a starkness and refreshing unpredictability to his attack, and after the sudden introduction of a waltz tempo, his approach becomes more regal and densely orchestral. Then he returns to more linear overlapping phraseology and an intermingling of lines. Hines's amazing final chorus clearly shows how much he directly or indirectly influenced pianists such as Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, Monk, and even Cecil Taylor. Magnificent, and accomplished in only one take! Hines's "trumpet-style" piano is timeless.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joel Harrison: Movement 2: Blues Circle

Guitarist/composer Joel Harrison has successfully integrated the sounds of strings, brass and reeds into a completely original example of the jazz and classical hybrid that Gunther Schuller dubbed Third Stream. Harrison's work as a guitarist is overshadowed on this offering, as his extraordinary compositional skills rise front and center. This 5-movement suite is hard to separate into its parts because it flows so well together in a cohesive and carefully orchestrated celebration. Explaining in the liner notes that his music incorporates "Appalachian, African and modern classical sensibilities," Harrison has here captured the best of these worlds. In Movement 2: "Blues Circle," he uses pizzicato stings, picked guitar and burnished brass and reeds to convey his message. Alessi's beautiful flugelhorn work is especially noteworthy on the blues break. The strings build tension in a climbing progression that leads to a succinct break back to pizzicato strings and a distinctly Appalachian-inspired coda. Harrison has created a brilliant piece that could only be produced by skilled musicians with a foot in each of the jazz and classical worlds.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Booker Ervin: Number Two

By the time this album was recorded in 1964, tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin had achieved some renown as a member of the extraordinary Charles Mingus group that also included multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy and trumpeter Ted Curson. That band is said to have been Mingus's answer to Ornette Coleman's revolutionary quartet. Certainly Mingus's music was then heavily influenced by the intensely melodic, harmonically ambiguous music made by Coleman. While not an experimentalist originally, Ervin's concept evolved while a member of the Mingus ensemble. On performances such as this one, Ervin garnished his earthy straight-ahead concept with some of the openness favored by the free players, with excellent results.

"Number Two" seemingly attempts to evoke the outer-space zeitgeist implied by the album's title. Indeed, pianist Jaki Byard's introductory whole-tone motive sounds like something one might hear on the soundtrack to an episode of Lost in Space. The tempo burns. Drummer Alan Dawson's dancing ride cymbal is simultaneously a catalyst and the music's central organizing element. Byard and bassist Richard Davis treat the descending chord sequence with an air of casual relevance. Both stretch the harmonies as far as they dare without having it snap back in their faces. Ervin adheres more closely to the structure, but he's not overly beholden to it, from either a harmonic or rhythmic standpoint. His attack is characteristically hard-bitten, his forward momentum unrelenting. Ervin's type of "free" is based more on an embrace of conventional harmony and bebop rhythms than is Coleman's. As a consequence, it is not as striking. The way he combines a hard-bop tenor sensibility with free jazz elements is unique, however, and often very compelling in its own right. For the '60s jazz listener who found Coleman's music daunting, this music might have served as a gateway to freedom—slightly experimental, yet retaining the gospel/blues essence that made hard bop so attractive.

September 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Lovano: Duke Ellington Sound of Love

This ballad is a late Mingus composition, which the bassist recorded in two versions (an instrumental as well as vocal featuring Jackie Paris) on his double-LP Changes project for Atlantic. I am not sure why more people don't play this lovely tune, which (despite the title) is much closer to Strayhorn than to Ellington—you might even call it Mingus's "Lush Life."

But Joe Lovano is no stranger to these changes, having covered the piece on his must-have live recording from the Village Vanguard. Yet this new version is completely fresh and different, featuring a very intelligent arrangement by Michael Abene. The intro is haunting and only gets better when Lovano enters in an attenuated dialogue with the orchestra. The rhythm section arrives 1½ minutes into the piece, but Abene uses it sparingly and to good effect. The textures and rhythmic sensibility are constantly shifting on this lengthy performance, and Lovano navigates through all of it with perfection. While I am usually wary of attempts to pair jazz sax with strings, Lovano shows here (as on his earlier Rush Hour project, a modern masterpiece in my opinion) that he handles this type of setting as well as any living jazz horn player.

September 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Stryker/Slagle Band: Fingers in the Wind

On this masterful rendition of a composition by one of my favorite underrated artists, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Steve Slagle plays the flute with great agility and soulfulness, in the spirit of the departed master. The subtle interplay with Dave Stryker's tender guitar is wonderful and perfectly understated. Slagle employs just the right amount of guttural intonation in his interpretation of this timeless classic, which floats along like a feather caught in a breeze. It's good to hear the next generation finding such fertile ground in the wellspring of the past era's great but sometimes unheralded champions. Slagle has obviously listened well.

September 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Stryker/Slagle Band: Hopewell's Last

On this Steve Slagle-penned ballad, the masterful sax duo of Lovano on tenor and Slagle on soprano opens this lazy, melancholy song dedicated to Slagle's late brother Stuart. The Stryker/Slagle Band has been honing their tightly meshed "pianoless" sound for some time now, and it shows in their flawless execution. After Slagle's sauntering, soulful solo, Dave Stryker weaves his guitar around the wistful melody with his skillful use of octave playing. The addition of powerhouse Joe Lovano only adds another diverse and complementary element to their signature sound. Lovano's mellifluous sax flows like water cascading over the slippery stones of a serene stream. The interaction between the two saxes is especially compatible in the soprano/tenor format. This group merits closer attention, and Lovano adds just another dynamic element to this stalwart band. Fine work.

September 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Moon Taj

John Carisi was one of the most highly respected composers in jazz, at least by those insiders who were aware of his work. A fascinating, multifaceted musician, Carisi studied under Stefan Wolpe, wrote commercial charts for numerous situations including Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, composed chamber music and modern dance scores, was conversant with Greek, Arabic, and Balkan music, and played trumpet in a style sort of like a slightly subdued Roy Eldridge.

Carisi's best known piece is of course "Israel" in the Birth of the Cool version that he later redid for Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. His tune "Springsville," arranged by Gil Evans, is the opening track on the classic album Miles Ahead. The rest of Carisi's work is difficult to find these days, with a chart or two turning up on relatively obscure albums by Urbie Green, Tony Scott and a few others. Seven octet tracks he recorded for RCA Victor in 1956 were not issued until 1988. The only complete album of his work that I know of is the long out-of-print 1968 Verve LP Machinations led by trumpeter Marvin Stamm.

As if these circumstances don't make it hard enough to find Carisi's work on records, the weirdly deceptive packaging of Into the Hot complicates matters further. Its nominal leader, Gil Evans, does not appear on this album as either arranger or player. The album cover and title lead a buyer to believe that it is a sequel to Evans's previous Impulse album, Out of the Cool. In this case, however, Evans functions solely as a sponsor for the work of two composers whose work he admired. The album comprises six excellent original works: three by Carisi and three by Cecil Taylor, with each composer leading his own ensemble—though Carisi's is a studio group rather than a working band.

Taj Mahal by Moonlight, c. 1928

As "Moon Taj" vividly demonstrates, Carisi wrote in a harmonic language all his own and was a brilliant orchestrator. "Moon Taj" opens with an exotic-sounding intro that presents a few melodic fragments that are developed throughout the piece, setting up a lyrical, wide-ranging trumpet melody, beautifully played by former Local 802 president John Glasel. A double-time section features an improvised solo by Eddie Costa, one of the era's most sadly neglected talents. Overall, the near perfect balance of unity and contrast in this piece marks it as a full-fledged jazz composition rather than a mere arrangement of a tune.

John Carisi was a jazz musician who was also a true composer, and the musical palette he had at his disposal was much wider and deeper than that of almost any other jazz writer, save perhaps Oliver Nelson and Clare Fischer. The closer you listen, the more you'll realize that Carisi created a personal world of sound unlike any other in jazz.

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Blind Lemon Jefferson: See That My Grave is Kept Clean

Blind Lemon Jefferson

No one did more than Blind Lemon Jefferson to create a commercial market for traditional blues. The success of his Paramount releases from the 1920s inspired many other record labels to jump into this market, and created opportunities for numerous blues musicians to release their own 78s. But Lemon's work still stands out among the crowd these many years later. This is a dark and troubled song, and like many of the best blues of the era, it touches on subjects that rarely figure in popular music. Jefferson's guitar always surprises, moving inside and outside the typical 12-bar form. You don't hear many of Lemon's peculiar licks here; instead he maintains a ruminative groove. But toward the end he stops chording and delivers resounding low register tones that imitate the funereal tolling of church bells. There are flashier blues from the 1920s, but "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" is about as deep as blues can go. What a shame that Lemon's grave remained neglected and unmarked for so many years. But eventually people paid attention to the admonishment in the song title, and his gravesite is now a much visited (and well tended) monument to a towering blues artist.

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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B.B. King: See That My Grave is Kept Clean

B.B. King may have been born in 1925, but his blues rarely reminds listeners of the really old 1920s blues. He is a modernist who runs his music off electricity, and is something of a dynamo himself. But here King resurrects a very old song, almost as old as B.B. himself. Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" back in 1927, and this song is about as old school as blues can get. King and producer T Bone Burnett skillfully update Jefferson's tune, giving it a pseudo-Latin beat, and adding a slick organ part that nicely underscores King's electric guitar lines. King's vocal is more understated than usual, but perfectly suited to the sober sentiments of the lyrics. After so many projects that have tried to make King into a rock or R&B icon, it is refreshing to hear him return to these early blues roots.

September 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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B.B. King: Get These Blues Off Me

B.B. King's One Kind Favor CD, released a few days before the guitarist's 83rd birthday, shows that the world's most famous blues musician is still going strong. King has tried his hand at a variety of styles over the years, even dipping into jazz, soul and rock stylings when the right occasion came along. But my favorite setting for King is a medium-tempo blues, a simple formula that has produced many of his greatest moments, such as "Sweet Sixteen," "How Blue Can You Get?" and "The Thrill is Gone"—to name just a few. The latter song may come to mind when fans hear "Get These Blues Off Me," which is reminiscent of King's 1969-1970 crossover hit. The guitar work and vocal are full of passion, and the band is first rate. Kudos for King, and also for producer T Bone Burnett, for adding another must-have album to this artist's lengthy discography!

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Route 4

Among the many innovative technological failures of the mid- and late 1950s, the 16-rpm phonograph record stands as the industry's answer to the Edsel. One of Prestige's contributions to this auditory dustbin was an LP on steroids titled Baritones and French Horns under the supervision of vibist, composer, arranger, A&R man Teddy Charles.

The baritone side of this album was reissued twice on LP and twice more on CD under Coltrane's name, though Pepper Adams was the actual leader on these sessions. There is a track titled "Mary's Blues" that many people later assumed was dedicated to the legendary "Cousin Mary," but as Pepper explained it to me, the name came from the fact that the recording date took place on Good Friday. (Oh, that Mary!) So much for fascinating trivia.

The music is stimulating and a lot less slapdash than that on most Prestige dates of the period. Charles's arrangements are detailed and fresh sounding, avoiding the potential for muddiness that such low-end instrumentation can produce in the wrong hands.

"Route 4" is an up-tempo minor-key original in AAB form with Cecil Payne's dark, plaintive sound stating the theme in the A sections, and a startling color change occurring when Coltrane plays lead on the B sections. Mal Waldron's ruminative solo, exploring the dark side of Bud Powell, kicks things off, after which Payne follows with an anxious, probing spot that is a revelation for its contrast with the cheerful buoyancy that normally characterized his style. All three saxophonists present a fascinating contrast in styles, with each possessing a tone that perfectly complements the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic content of his playing. Coltrane and Adams sound great, and each man's work is representative of his style at the time. But Cecil Payne's playing here reveals a deep, dark side that comes as a pleasant shock.

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Glenn Shambroom: Make Room For Snappy

Glenn Shambroom is a dichotomous creation: he's one part bari sax, the other guitar; he's also a serious musician with a spicy sense of humor, who can write a swingin', rib-stickin' chicken shack blues, then stir up a Mancini-flavored, cocktails-at-a-corner-table ballad. This track is an example of the former. The full horn section on the head is the main course, with nice sides of sax and an appetizing piano solo. Chef Shambroom prepares his melodies and arrangements like characters, and they're all of a palatable sort. Oh, and if you're wondering who Snappy is, it just might be you while you're feasting on one of Glenn's tasty, 4-star tunes.

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Living in the Crest of a Wave

I much prefer the music Bill Evans (sax) was playing in the 1980s and early '90s over most of his stuff since. But if you are a great musician you are compelled to move on, and move on is what Evans has done. Over the last several years he has been playing "soulgrass" music, which is a jazz-blues-bluegrass hybrid. He plays it well but there is too much twang for my tastes. Yet even soulgrass is an improvement over his earlier experiments combining jazz and rap. Yuck. Sorry, Bill.

"Living in the Crest of a Wave" is perhaps my all-time favorite Evans (sax) composition. It has "fusion anthem" written all over it. The in-your-face syncopated horn and synthesizer blasts splash over you instantly. (Loud and aggressive) "De Da. De Da. De….. Da…… De Da!" They are simple notes and chords. But they are played with the full power of a monster wave. The opening crash is followed by Evans and his crew wailing away. Finally we catch the perfect wave and find ourselves in the safety of the tube. As we ride enveloped our lonely but invigorating feeling is interrupted by the sparse and disparate sounds of nature's electrical short circuits. A drum roll signifies our wave has hit the shore and the main theme returns to fully take us in the rest of the way.

I would have rated this cut even higher, but I have heard Bill Evans (sax) perform it better than heard here.

September 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Zupe & Nichols: Speechless

According to my cursory research this Zupe guy is quite an entertainer and character out and about Altoona, Pennsylvania. He and Dave Nichols, a partner in crime for two decades, co-wrote the music on Speechless. I would simply call it "party music." Mostly it is a very heavily blues-based rock with an occasional jazz flourish. I don't quite hear the supposed influences of Jeff Beck, Joe Zawinul and Max Weinberg as touted in the press material. Joe Zawinul? But the music is fun and well performed.

"Speechless" is the album's final cut. After an expressive slow start from Zupe on keys, the piece turns into a classical progressive rock number before again changing to a light funk groove. The song continues to morph into a saxophone ballad followed by blues guitar and a repeating synthesizer riff to put the cherry on top. No one at the party is going to try and change the CD when this is on.

Rating explanation: Four points were removed because of the over-cleanliness of the recording. This is not Smooth Jazz. But when you eliminate all the rough edges in the recording process, you take away a bit of its character. I hope and trust the band sounds a bit rougher live.

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Colligan: Skeletons in the Closet

Pianist George Colligan may not yet be known by a wide swath, but his skills as an accompanist are well known inside the jazz community. He has performed with Cassandra Wilson, Christian McBride, Buster Williams and others. Runaway is his first recording as leader for Sunnyside. It is a mix of straight-ahead, acoustic, free jazz, fusion and even a couple of numbers that the press kit suggests are appropriate for Quiet Storm radio formats. Luckily the latter two tunes do not quite reside in Smooth Jazz (pardon me while I gag) territory. Instead, quite pleasingly, they are more in the mold of Chick Corea's first Return to Forever group, which featured vocalist Flora Purim.

"Skeletons in the Closet" is noteworthy for its freeness. I will admit that free jazz is among my lesser curiosities. I have heard enough bad free jazz to determine it should only be heard in snippets. Ironically, the album's diverse format creates just that scenario. There is true creativity going on here. I can listen to 3:46 of this and find interest. Even in the freest of environments there are patterns that you can glom onto. I think that may be the secret to good free jazz. Don't make it totally free. When good musicians play any music it is good. This is good music.

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marshall Gilkes: Lost Words

When reading this you need to know that this is my second review of a trombonist's CD that I am writing today – the other being my take on Bill Cantrall's "Axiom." That doesn't happen too often, believe me.

Marshall Gilkes is a Julliard graduate and has played in Billy Cobham's band. His compositions and playing are clear evidence of a high skill level and understanding of his art. An introspective Jon Cowherd piano prologue leads us into the quietly lilting melody of "Lost Words." Gilkes takes the lead from the outset as he introduces the theme and solos over the rhythm section. His playing is quite fluid. He is followed by an equally pleasing Michael Rodriguez trumpet solo. The tune maintains its pleasant allure to its end. It is fine music. Though there is no new ground being broken here, it isn't every day you hear a trombonist with enough compositional talent and superior chops to maintain interest over the length of an entire album. That is just the way it is. Gilkes got my attention and maintained it. Today I was lucky enough to hear two fine trombone players. Bring it on!

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava: Bye Bye Blackbird

Few tunes in the jazz repertoire are more indelibly associated with a single artist than "Bye Bye Blackbird" is with Miles Davis. (Yeah, I know, an obscure tenor player named Coltrane played it once in a while, too.) Trumpeters Rava and Fresu approach the standard with Davis's characteristic lyricism and chromatic skittishness. Pianist Stefano Bollani channels such Miles pianists as Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans in his comping. Bassist Enzo Pietropaoli swings hard on the backside of the beat; his solo has more than an echo of (Paul) Chambers. The superb drummer Roberto Gatto occasionally imbues the performance with a bit of post-boppish rhythmic freedom. When playing this tune, no trumpeter can ever escape the shadow of Miles—especially two so indebted to him stylistically—but that's rather the point of this performance, one supposes. In any case, for all his gifts as an "out" player, Rava never disappoints as a straight-ahead trumpeter. This is a typically fine example of his work "in the tradition."

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Duke: Everyday Hero

Old school funk still lives. This song will make you want to pull those '70s-era fashions out of your closet and dance around the block. Imagine something in the vein of "Pick Up the Pieces" or "Shining Star" and those other memorable K-Tel moments, and you will get the general idea of "Everyday Hero." But it is refreshing to hear a song of this sort nowadays relying on real live musicians instead of samples and loops. Not a single "programmer" is mentioned in the personnel listing on this track. So the mood may be retro, the lyrics banal, but the rhythm section is tight and hot and in the flesh. Drummer Ron Bruner, Jr. and percussionist Sheila E get high marks from me. Along with Duke, they take this simpleminded material and make it into something worth shaking your moneymaker over.

September 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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McCoy Tyner: In a Sentimental Mood

Musicians today have little sense of the pressure on jazz artists to jump on board the Free Jazz bandwagon during the late 1960s and 1970s. It was leaving town, turbocharged by the inexorable force of History with a capital H, and you didn't want to be left behind, stuck with old-fashioned chord changes. ("Chord changes, we don't need no stinkin' chord changes.") McCoy Tyner had helped set the Free Jazz movement in motion with his 1960s work alongside John Coltrane, but the pianist mostly remained within the bounds of tonality during his post-Coltrane career. Yet even an artist of this stature wrestled with the conflict between staying inside or moving beyond the harmonies.

No Tyner performance is more revealing of this tension than his solo piano rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood" from the memorable Atlantis live date from the summer 1974. There are long stretches here where Cecil Taylor seems to have taken over the keyboard, buzzing and hammering and obliterating the tonal center. Then Ellington's beautiful pentatonic melody will rise above the fray, like some towering monument to structure and order. But Tyner eventually moves beyond these external influences, and constructs his own rhapsodic vision of this song. This music is intense and beautiful by turns, and some moments are absolutely breathtaking. Solo acoustic jazz piano was making a comeback during this decade under the influence of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Cecil Taylor and others, but even in an era of keyboard masterpieces this track stands out from the crowd.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Prelude to a Kiss

From the start of his career, McCoy Tyner had a knack for Ellingtonia. A few months before he recorded Ascension with John Coltrane, Tyner undertook an entire project devoted to Ellington compositions for the Impulse label. He would continue to turn to Duke's songs in later years, and his live solo piano performance of "In a Sentimental Mood" from his 1974 Atlantis recording ranks among the high points of his work under the Milestone imprimatur. Three years later he tackled "Prelude to a Kiss" for his Supertrios session with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Tyner starts out with a fairly straight melody statement that emphasizes the lush harmonies of Duke's ballad, but his solo is a bit schizophrenic. Tyner launches into some of his trademark licks, almost as if he is trying to impose a modal sensibility on this non-modal song; but then after a couple of bars he pulls up and shifts back into a more traditional vein. One gets the sense that the pianist is torn between paying his respects to a classic jazz tune from the past and tearing it apart and rebuilding into a 70s-era Tyner vehicle. The process is fascinating to hear, even if this track finally falls short of some of the pianist's other efforts from this period.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Court Mast: Tam Junction

Herbie Mann: Push Push

I have a soft spot for the flute in a jazz context. It brings to mind things like watching old episodes of Peanuts, my first attempts at processing Rahsaan Roland Kirk albums, and (unfortunately) that icky Herbie Mann album cover.

Tam Junction has a sultry swing that hooked me immediately. Tim Wallace lays out the theme on flute before the horns follow on top of a rhythm section that's definitely in the pocket. When Scott Petersen takes that bluesy solo, he's just getting you ready for the slinky bass break that reintroduces the flute. At only 3½ minutes in length, "Tam Junction" is just far too short. I bet it really smokes in a live setting.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Funky Mustard: Jaco's Lament

Some might argue that Funky Mustard leans more toward rock than jazz. They might be right, but this guitar-driven instrumental's logic follows lines similar to Daniel Lanois and Ginger Baker's smaller percussion ensembles. Is that material jazz? Does the label really matter?

White's guitar forms the composition's boundaries within which the thematic instruments – Kristen Jensen's violin and Tim Glaze's trumpet – play a lovely, slowly forming duet. Maybe this isn't jazz in the traditional sense, but the musical story being told is too compelling to be ignored.

Note: Guitar players may notice the amplifier buzz that's audible at the beginning of the track. Honestly, it's a good thing.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marshall Gilkes: The Crossover

The contrast between this track's introduction ("Crossover Intro") and body couldn't be more stark. For a little over two minutes, leader Marshall Gilkes explores various textures and wide-ranging melodies (I love solo trombone, with notes so low you can almost see them), with shadows of themes to come entering and leaving. When we slide into "The Crossover" proper, Gilkes cranks up the swing and we're off. The way the changes flow is very reminiscent of "Giant Steps." What sets the track apart from a Young Lions-type thing is the cool use of unison lines – this is done to introduce the first solo segment and then again after Jon Cowherd's piano solo, this time revisiting Gilkes's opening theme before the close. All told, a really well-constructed composition that makes great use of melodic contour, tension and unbridled swing.

September 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Blink: Glass

People often shudder (sometimes with good reason) when the topic of jam bands shows up in conversation. But there's a difference, however subtle, between improvising over a set of changes vs. a long-form exploration involving not only structure (read: harmony, melody, rhythm) but also texture.

Blink takes four chords and tries to draw them out, seeking to pull fragments into different shapes. Attentive ears might think of Godspeed You Black Emperor or Sonic Youth. Though both the symphonic and skronky aspects of those two bands are dialed back a bit, Blink does add tension by employing the slow build. After some clanky percussion frames the tentative introduction of the melodic material (via Greg Ward's sax), the complement of instruments moves in to occasionally take hold of the partially formed sonic shape, pulling it slightly out of balance. When that shape has taken all of the torque it can stand, the band explodes and the sheets of sound fly.

Screw the neighbors...play this track at maximum volume.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Southside Johnny: Walk Away

Southside Johnny Lyon fans have waited years for this dream project. Southside has shown his love for Tom Waits songs such as "New Coat Of Paint" and "Gin Soaked Boy." With some raucous horn charts drawn up by longtime Southside cohort Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg, Mr. Lyon sounds at home here. When Waits himself takes a turn in the second bluesy verse and (especially) when the two men slide into the swaggering chorus, you just know that this is a match made in heaven (or at least in a sleazy motel in Los Angeles). One key change and the guys start "walk way" fours to close things out. It's just too much fun.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: My Feelings Are Hurt

Fats Waller's colorful story could start with his days as a teen prodigy winning his high school's talent contest playing James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout." Soon afterward, the dean of Harlem pianists (Johnson) took the younger man under his wing and taught him the ways of stride piano playing. He eventually secured Waller's first piano-roll and recording dates as well. This Victor side, made when the pianist was all of 25, is a slow stride blues with some fascinating turns towards Tin Pan Alley. Despite these beautiful digressions the blues is never far from the surface. "One never knows, do one?"

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz (featuring Astrud Gilberto): It Might As Well Be Spring

This Rodgers & Hammerstein gem from the 1945 film State Fair has long made the rounds as a jazz standard and receives a beautiful reading here. The leader and Gilberto play off each other right from the top with Getz weaving obbligatos in and out of her fairly straight reading of the melody. Getz plays a fine, though somewhat disjointed solo, which is almost anticlimactic following the lithe intertwining he performs with the singer. Given the light and smoky tone of both Stan and Astrud, the ensemble sounds like the archetypal jazz group laboring away in some bohemian Greenwich Village nightclub. Indeed, the album purports to have been recorded in just such a setting. The problem is, it's not true. The live tapes were deemed unusable by Verve and the band was sent to the studio for retakes. The results were issued with ersatz applause, and—all things being fair in war and the record business—everyone lived happily ever after. Although the liner notes credit guitarist Kenny Burrell as playing on this track, for the life of me I can't hear him (unless he was one of those providing ersatz applause in the studio).

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Sweethearts on Parade

In July 1930, Louis Armstrong headed out to the West Coast to be the main attraction in Les Hite's band. Things went so well that the orchestra was renamed for both the club and the star of its show. This track was recorded in the midst of the engagement, which continued until March 1931. The tune goes back to 1928, when Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians (including the song's composer, Guy's brother Carmen) cut it for Brunswick; it subsequently appeared in a film released the year of this waxing. The piece begins with a wonderfully subversive reading of the melody that subtly tells much about Louis's genius. The vocal introduces some stellar jazz singing from one of the music's first great improvisers. It all builds to the breakout section where Armstrong soars above the ensemble with passion and rhythmic daring, bringing this gem to a close with the trumpet call to assembly.

September 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Bill Cantrall: Axiom

Axiom is trombonist/composer Bill Cantrall's first release as leader. The album's title cut combines the sounds of Maiden Voyage-era Herbie Hancock with that of Crosswinds-era Billy Cobham, which featured trombonist Garnett Brown and trumpeter Randy Brecker. That is a good thing. Pianist Germanson and trumpeter Ryan Kisor are among the best plying the trade these days. As a bonus we also hear some impressive sax playing from Sherman Irby and Stacy Dillard in the tune's forward-moving midsection. (It is unclear from the liner notes if both play on the tune. They could be in the mix. At any rate, it is Irby who takes the solo.) Bassist Cannon and drummer Montez Coleman are a top-notch rhythm section as well. Composer Cantrall waits until late in the game to take his star turn. The '60s and '70s influences aside, "Axiom," the tune and the album, is finely crafted modern jazz providing plenty of improvisational space for these talented musicians to do their thing.

September 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bunky Green: Another Place

Apparently Bunky Green figured out early on that being a superb, even innovative, jazz alto saxophonist was hardly a way to make a secure living. In the 1970s, after having played with Charles Mingus briefly and recording a few albums for independent labels, Green began a distinguished career in jazz education, teaching at Chicago State University before moving to the University of North Florida, where he's now the Director of Jazz Studies. Even as he drifted away from fulltime performing, however, Green's chops never suffered. He's not as big a name as other saxophonists of his generation—Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean and Joe Henderson come to mind—but he's as original and accomplished an improviser as any of them.

The all-star team of youngbloods fielded by producer Steve Coleman to support Green on this 2004 recording inspires the veteran altoist to incredible heights. Green wastes little time in making the old Burke/Van Heusen standard his own. After a post-boppish intro, he plays down the melody, twisting it with whole-tone and chromatic embellishments. From the first note, he shows remarkable drive and sense of purpose. As his quick-fingered soloing unfolds, he blends inside/out harmonic tactics with a subtle but evident blues sensibility. Moran, Plaxico and Waits are well able to match Green, both technically and emotionally, as the ensemble raises its creative intensity to Coltrane levels. Moran's solo is wonderfully idiosyncratic, as he demonstrates his fealty to the kind of barely hinged harmonic approach heralded by Green.

One can only hope the kids Bunky Green has taught over the years appreciate their prof's artistic accomplishments. It's rare these days to hear straight-ahead jazz played with this kind of passion and sheer inventiveness.

September 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Toots Thielemans (with Milton Nascimento): Travessia

I have several versions of Nascimento singing this composition that first brought him widespread attention among the Brazilian public—when it placed second at the 1967 International Music Festival—including his debut recording of the song and his awkward 1968 version in English. But this collaboration with Toots Thielemans is my favorite. Nascimento is in top form, especially when he delivers a wordless vocal in the high register, and Thielemans contributes a lyrical melody statement. My only complaint is that the track lasts only three minutes, and the ending arrives somewhat abruptly. Three minutes might be the perfect length for boiling an egg or generating crossover airplay, but this diehard Nascimento fan would have liked to hear several more choruses.

September 02, 2008 · 1 comment

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George Colligan: End of a Dynasty

George Colligan is a pianist who seems to stand out from the plethora of other fine players currently active on the scene. Colligan's work first grabbed my attention on the notable Jamie Baum release Solace. His creative phrasing simply demanded to be listened to. Here on his own album he has created a grouping of self-penned offerings that run the gamut of styles. "End of a Dynasty" is a suitable homage to an obvious influence, McCoy Tyner. The cascading keyboard work that is Tyner's signature is abundant on this piece, as is the staccato melody line. Colligan deftly builds tension and demonstrates his fine phrasing, which dances around while Ginsburg and Strickland keep the driving time. While inspired by Tyner, this is not imitative; rather, while exploring a style, Colligan adds his own fertile improvisational magic. He is a pianist to be watched.

September 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jon Larsen: Shoegazing

Jon Larsen takes a break from his Hot Club de Norvege fare to render a languid, soulful ballad, one of his finest compositions to date. With "Shoegazing," the multifaceted guitarist displays his remarkable range and versatility, while expanding the role of the Django guitar in the process. In fact, I have rarely heard a Selmer-style acoustic sing the blues so convincingly. Jon's judicious use of space and economy serves him well, setting up delicious staccato finger runs as well as lovingly sustained blue notes. With able assistance from Hilde Hefte, whose phrasing here reminds me a little of Billie Holiday, and Egil Kapstad's well-seasoned trio, Larsen has crafted a tune that sounds as if it could have fallen right out of the Strayhorn songbook.

September 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Nica's Dream

Some people called her the 'jazz baroness': the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. But to the jazz greats she was Nica. She befriended some of jazz's most important figures, Bird and Monk included, and justly found her place in the musical history books as a result. But the recordings she inspired serve as even more fitting tributes, for example this great Horace Silver track from 1960. During this era, Silver had a golden touch (no pun intended), and filled his LPs with many inspired charts, but this is one of his finest, a hard-driving song with a simple A theme backed by a relentless groove, countered by an effective mood (and rhythmic) shift for the bridge. Silver adds nice touches, interludes, intro, brief backbeat pedal points . . . all the clever nuances that set his recordings apart. The soloists are definitely inspired by the chart, with Mitchell and Silver offering especially funky solos. So hot, so cool, so Nica-delic (can I coin a new word?) . . . She must have been a very hip baroness.

September 01, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jon Larsen: Nonstop

Hot Club Records, the Norwegian label founded by guitarist Jon Larsen, marks its 25th anniversary in 2008. Prominent on the European scene for decades, Larsen has played with jazz luminaries from Chet Baker to Stéphane Grappelli. As a leading proponent of the jazz Manouche genre, he has focused much of his company's recording activity on such Gypsy virtuosi as Jimmy Rosenberg and Angelo Debarre, as well as on his own group, Hot Club de Norvege. While Jon's enthusiastic support and encouragement of others might tempt us to take him for granted as a musician in his own right, The Next Step reminds us that, even in such lofty company, he can indeed hold his own.

This outing has Larsen wearing several hats, as a producer, leader and writer. Already known as a thoroughly seasoned Djanogoist, Jon demonstrates much more of his extensive musical vocabulary as he turns to more straight-ahead bop musings on "Nonstop." Though he is playing a gorgeous petite bouche Selmer-style acoustic guitar built by British luthier Doug Kyle, I hear more Burrell than Bireli in his playing. The ensemble comes out of the gate swinging hard and their ideas flow…well, nonstop. Very sure-footed stepping, whatever your stylistic preferences may be.

September 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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