Recorded in Lisbon during the 10th anniversary celebration for the Clean Feed record label, this new ensemble consists of Christof Kurzmann on electronics, Devin Hoff on bass, Ken Vandermark on saxophones and Tim Daisy on drums. According to the liner notes, this band would practice “modular improvisation,” which creates sections of varying texture and intensity. Things open well on “Further (For John Cage)” with a strong and exciting full band opening before throttling back dramatically to a slow and abstract middle section/module where lighter than air saxophone wafts over tapping rhythm. Another module towards the end of the performance regains some of the energy, with long peals of saxophone over rolling drums. “Presentation (For Buckminster Fuller)” uses drones and smears of strummed or hammered bass and electronics. They move through this section for quite a long time, before the bass and drums ramp up and Vandermark’s saxophone builds in, developing a more interesting collectively improvised section. The final of the tracks (all run nearly twenty minutes) is “Of The Facts (For Marshall McLuhan)” which once again builds from a slow and tentative beginning to gradually develop intensity with bursts of saxophone, drums and electronic delay. The group shifts down once again to an abstract ominous module before waking up to a strong conclusion. There were parts of this album which were quite good, but overall I felt that the length of the songs worked against it. They spent an interminable amount of time investigating what drummer Bill Bruford called “squeaky-bump” jazz, that is low volume, spacious and abstract improvisation. This was undoubtedly fascinating to the musicians themselves, but I had a hard time concentrating, and thus was excited by the thrilling and compelling areas or up-tempo and free improvisation. Made to Break - Provoke: clean feed.
I picked up the Original Album Classics compilation which covers Soft Machine's albums Third through Seven, or roughly 1970-1974 of this mercurial band's career. Third is a complete sea change from the two albums that preceded it. Where Volume One and Two worked within the pop song format in a fractured manner, Third dispenses with that notion entirely, instead consisting of four 18 minute plus improvisation/jams, only one of which has any vocal content at all. The the core of this continuously changing group was Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Robert Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass and Elton Dean on saxophone with a few guests sitting in. The songs are quite daring for the time period, melding jazz sounds of Miles Davis and Ian Carr’s Nucleus with progressive rock. The marriage may seem to be a shotgun one, but it works. On “Facelift,” studio techniques are used to manipulate the sound, grafting the music together as Teo Macero would do with Davis. Swirling organ is the key to this, but tape manipulating can give it an otherworldly feel. Robert Wyatt’s last vocal with the group is “Moon in June” a typically stream of consciousness lyrical exercise that weaves in and out of the musical texture. Four simmers the music down into more digestible chunks. Now completely devoid of vocals, the group has firmly nailed it’s jazz fusion flag to the mast. “Teeth” is the longest tune at about nine minutes, developing episodically like parts of Third while allowing for some neat horn arrangements. “Fletcher’s Blemish” moves into free jazz territory, developing intense interplay among the musicians in a collective improvisation. Side two of the original LP features a four part suite by Hopper “Virtually 1-4” which does drift into navel gazing music at times, gradually fading out analogously to “In A Silent Way.”
I have been listening to quite a bit of music, but being in a bit of a funk, I have been having trouble writing. Hopefully, changing the format a little bit will get me back in the swing of things. Iron and Wine consists of singer-songwriter Sam Beam and a rotating cast of backing musicians. Beam is a superb songwriter with a haunting, confessional voice and over the past decade his music had evolved from acoustic solo work to full band drawing on elements of rock and roll. This music on his new LP Ghost on Ghost skirts the sound of 1970's soft-rock, but never quite succumbs to saccharine schmaltz. I have listened to John Coltrane's Meditations many times, but it never fails to awe. With Pharoah Sanders joining Coltrane on tenor saxophone, the music becomes almost unbelievably intense. Developing into suites of music with spiritual themes, it's fascinating to juxtapose Coltrane and Sanders. The older man paces his solos and playing, with a deep and stoic nature central to his sound. Sanders, however, almost sounds desperate, sending scalding waves of torrid sound, almost like he is searching for himself musically as well as spiritually. The sense of wonder that imbues Coltrane's music also exemplifies pianist Kris Davis's music although through a much quieter manner. Capricorn Climber, her latest album, features sketches of music that allows her colleagues a great deal of freedom to fill in the music and react to each other in an organic fashion. The music never behaves quite like you think it should, with odd rests, bursts of sound, and varied colors throughout. With much hullabaloo about his most recent album in the news, David Bowie's 40th Anniversary edition of my favorite album of his album, Aladdin Sane, has gone a bit unnoticed. "Panic In Detroit" knocked me out when I first heard it, and the gritty funk of that song still resonates today. The glammy "The Jean Genie" and "Watch That Man" are also featured, sounding like a continuation of the Ziggy Stardust album. It is interesting to see that while the 30th anniversary edition of this album included an extra disc of b-sides and live performances, this new edition scales things back to the original album shorn of any additions.
Albatre is an improvising trio from The Netherlands consisting of Hugo Costa on alto saxophone and electronics, Gonzo Almeida on bass and electronic effects and Philipp Ernsting on drums and electronics. Their music is frenetic and exciting free jazz with splashes of electronics that gives the music a wide palette of sound. Electric bass guitar and pulsating drums combine with snarls of electronics making a dark and ominous sound that is really in your face with blasts or drums between wails of saxophone. The start-stop dynamic they use is particularly effective as a tension building device on “Malestrom.” A spare and haunting theme opens “Aphotic Zone” with the reverberations of the electronics making for a lonely feel to the music. The full band comes through and really ramps things up into overdrive, moving into the following track, “Deep Trench” which is shorn of any ornamental nature and evolves into a pure trio stomp. “Vampyroteuthis Infernalis” has a strong bass and drum foundation that drives the music ever forward and makes for a great launching pad for an absolutely scalding sound. The closing “Albatrossia” breaks with the formula a bit, with Almeida and Ernsting developing a fractured funk groove before Costa enters and leads the group into an overpowering collective improvisation. I found this album to be quite enjoyable and exciting. The group holds nothing back, and fans of The Thing and similar groups should find a lot to enjoy here A Descent Into the Maelstrom - amazon.com
I've become somewhat obsessed with singer-songwriter Nick Drake lately, which I guess is a good barometer of where my head is at currently. Drake was a British singer-songwriter active in the late 1960's and early 1970's known for melancholy songs of delicate beauty. He was little known in his time, mental illness and a reluctance to perform live kept his audience rather small. After his death in 1974, he gradually built a cult following, blossoming full force in this decade with jazz tributes from Brad Mehldau and Jason Parker. It can be easy to miss the depth of Drake's work as I did on my first pass, hearing the delicate guitar (occasionally with strings or other accompaniment) and the wistful singing and dismiss it as something too genteel. Delving into Drake's lyrics provides another perspective and makes you realize how outstanding he really was. On headphones it sounds like Drake is speaking hidden truths to you alone, with tracks like the enigmatic "River Man" from Five Leaves Left along with the haunting "Time Has Told Me." The special album sold on Record Store Day was a compilation album from his first two LP's that introduced a new audience to his music, particularly in the United States. As with most Record Store Day specials, it was a limited edition (and priced like it) with the record pressed on heavy vinyl and a poster and download code included. The album Pink Moon is considered by some to be his finest statement, is a haunting and confessional album with just guitar and vocals that reveals its secrets slowly, akin to Van Morrison's masterpiece Astral Weeks. Beguiling tracks like "Road" with the lyrics "You can take the road that takes you to the stars, and I will take the road that will see me through" are indicative of the hushed meditative nature of the music. It is because he refused to use any of the pop conventions of the day that his music has become timeless, adrift in space and time between sadness and grace, wonder and fear.
Quoted right at the top of the liner notes of this release is a verse from Bob Dylan’s tribute song “Blind Willie McTell.” This alone can give some indication of the vast influence that McTell’s music has gained in folk, blues and rock circles. This is a reissue of music from the Document Records vault series on on vinyl only. This album contains the opening recordings of McTell’s career, mostly on the Victor label, but also a few he did for Columbia on the sly, where he recorded as “Blind Sammy.” His delicate guitar picking is intricate and complex without being ornamental and his vocals are wry and knowing whether singing or some talking blues that seem to deliberately proceed the format that Dylan used in some of his early recordings. His best known recording (by rock and roll fans at least) “Statesboro Blues” anchors side one of the LP which also includes deep emotional music on “Mama, Ain’t Long For Day” and “Dark Night Blues.” Side two has some dazzling guitar playing on “Atlanta Strut” and the wry “Come Up to My House Mama.” I can’t tell if the music on this record has been remastered from 78’s, but the sound quality is quite solid considering the vintage of the recordings. This makes for a solid introduction to McTell’s music and vinyl fans who haven’t made his acquaintance will find this a fine acquisition. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order Volume 1 - Third Man Records.
Ches Smith has become a first call jazz drummer over the past few years and in addition to his percussion ability, he has excellent capacity as a composer and a musical conceptualist to match. Developing a large palette of musical colors and rhythms, he creates a wide variety of exciting sounds that are as fresh as they are exciting. This album has Smith on drums and percussion along with Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone, Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Andrea Parkins on accordion, organ and electronics. Malaby and Berne make of an thrilling front line, whether playing together in harmony or taking off on scalding solo flights. The rest of the band adds excellent texture to the music, with Parkins various instruments framing the soloists and adding sounds that give a new prospective to the music that is being played. She fills in the role that was traditionally filled by bass but is able to provide a much more varied context. Mary Halvorson is typically excellent, lurking like a predator just beneath the surface of the music and then suddenly bursting forth with barbs of jagged electric guitar. I am very enthusiastic about this album, the music is distinctive with non-stop energy and the musicians are supremely talented and bring the music to life with a kaleidoscope of sound. Hammered - Clean Feed Records.
I'm working today (probably a blessing in disguise, actually) but if anybody picks up some Record Store Day exclusives and would be interested in trading/selling let me know. These are the things I was interested in:
Captain Beefheart - Frank Freemans Dance Club Gary
Grateful Dead - Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966
King Crimson - Going Schizoid With King Crimson: Collectables Set
White Stripes - Elephant (10th Anniversary)
Miles Davis - Milestones (special record store day edition)
Nick Drake - Nick Drake
It is amazing to think how much extraordianry music that John Coltrane made in 1965. Releasing the albums The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, Meditations and the game changing Ascension he also recorded enough music to fill several albums that were released posthumously including Sun Ship. This two disc collection includes all of the music that was recorded on August 26, 1965. One of the last sessions of the so-called "classic quartet" with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, the music gains much of its energy due to the different paths the musicians were ready to embark upon. Coltrane was headed toward a unique and spiritual version of free jazz, while Tyner and Jones wanted to remain playing post-bop jazz that they were comfortable with. The performances on this collection, "Dearly Beloved," "Attaining," "Sun Ship," "Ascent" and "Amen" are presented in their complete forms with master takes, alternate takes and incomplete/inserts as well. It's particularly fascinating to hear how the album came together in the studio. Despite all of the extra material, the album remains surprisingly listenable, and quite fascinating as they build the music block by block. For such powerful music, the session was quite relaxed as some included studio banter demonstrates. The music is truly transitional, but absolutely fascinating to listen to, as Coltrane takes off for the stars while the group searches for their role in the evolving music. The interactions between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones are particularly powerful. Sun Ship: Complete Sessions - amazon.com
Melodic accessibility is the key to drummer Yoron Israel's jazz take on the music of Stevie Wonder. He is accompanied by Lance Bryant on tenor and soprano saxophone, Lazlo Gardony on piano and keyboards, Ron Mahdi on bass, Thaddius Horgath sits in on guitar and harmonica on a few tracks and Larry Roldand adds spoken word on a few tracks as well. The title track "Visions" is approached by the entire group setting a medium pace. Roland's spoken lyrics are the centerpiece, but the music also moves through solid saxophone and bass sections. "Contusion" has sparse shaken percussion with spacey electronics to begin. Bryant's saxophone perks up the proceedings with help from some electric piano and bass. This was an interesting suite like performance which ran through sections of dreamy melody and tough improvisation. Israel makes his mark here, hooking up with Bryant for some jagged improvisation. One of Wonder's radio hits, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" develops a mid-tempo melodic approach to match the lyrical content. Stevie Wonder's music has long been an inspiration to jazz musicians, particularly of late with the SF Jazz Collective devoting a full season and multi-disc set to his music. This is worth checking out for Stevie Wonder fans and those who appreciate melodic mainstream jazz. Visions: Music of Stevie Wonder - amazon.com
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup is most well remembered today as the man who inspired Elvis Presely with his song "That's All Right Mama" but he was really much more. Crudup grew up in Mississippi then moved to Chicago in the late 1930's. Living rough, Crudup found early success by recording for the Bluebird label amongst others through the 1950's. Like many blues musicians, he dropped out of the music business, before being "rediscovered" in the 1960's. This album was recorded in 1969 with a group featuring Jimmy Dawkins (who sadly just passed away) on guitar and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums. Crudup doesn't show any ill-effects from the time off on this album, his voice is steady and strong and his guitar is rhythmic and propulsive. The session has an informal nature, exemplified by the included studio banter, where producer Bob Coster tries to coax a little something different out of the band. Crudup was having none of it, insisting that he was feeling the blues, and then ending the session with a lengthy and haunting song, "All I Got Is Gone." He riffs of the "Dust My Broom" theme for "Called Up China" weaves thoughtful and deep stories on the songs "The Mistake I Made in L.A." and "I'm Leaving Town." This short LP is very well played and definitely of interest to listeners who enjoy the history of the Chicago blues. Crudup was there in the 30's and 40's under the producer Lester Melrose, and then near thirty years later he was back on the scene sounding as good as ever. Sunny Road - amazon.com
Drummer Lenny White may be a little bit below the radar for some, but he has a pretty wide ranging discography, moving from several albums as a leader to stints with Return to Forever and a famous sideman gig on Miles Davis' epochal Bitches Brew. Surprisingly, the music here was recorded 15+ years ago, and didn't see the light of day until musicians began pestering him to release it. It was a wise move, the band has Mark Ledford on trumpet, Bennie Maupin on saxophones, Foley and Victor Bailey on bass, Patrice Rushen and Donald Blackman on keyboards is hot and very tight making strong jazz fusion that transcends the limitations of that sub-genre. Opening and closing with alternate takes of "Whew, What a Dream!" demonstrates what makes this group memorable. Having two bassists makes for a powerful groove, allowing one to keep the beat with the other sols and accompanies the music. Same thing with keyboards, especially on the alternate take where one solos on piano, while the other keyboardist frames the music with subtle synthesizer. "East St. Louis" is an epic track, coming on over twenty minutes in length. Building slowly from a subtle bass and drums groove, Lepford drops in for a well paced solo, before Bennie Maupin kicks in, and there is a feature for unaccompanied piano. "Pic Pocket" takes a jaunty angle, with electric piano shading coloring the song, while White provides a rhythmic kick from the rear. On the track "Dark," the synth keyboards provides a foundation for saxophone and trumpet to shimmer, before White drops the hammer and the music blasts off. Maupin now tears open on his horn, peeling off hot layers of music while the band before a powerful bass solo backed with thundering drums sends the music into outer space. This album worked very well, and fans of fusion or R and B tinged jazz should definitely take note, the combination of funk, jazz and fusion make a potent mixture. Lenny White Live - amazon.com
Flute player and composer Nicole Mitchell was a stalwart on the Chicago jazz scene for many years. Though she has moved form the city, she retains strong ties to its fertile improvised music scene and on this album, she performs with Joshua Abrams on bass, Frank Rosaly on drums and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. They play a sparkling blend of modern jazz, with flute and vibes making for a particularly interesting combination. Both instruments are capable if light sounds and texture, but they do not clash, but complement each other well. "Aqua Blue" is a fine example of this with Mitchell and Adasiewicz pushing each other to achieve a sound akin to the one Eric Dolphy and Bobby Hutcherson achieved on the classic Out to Lunch LP. "Today Today" begins with shimmering vibes and supporting bass, evolving into a lengthy tune giving solo space to Adasiewicz who is becoming one of the most sought after mallet players on the contemporay jazz scene. Named after Mitchell's astrological sign "Aquarius" features solemn bowed bass before slowly gaining momentum and culminating in a vibrant collective improvisation. The album concludes with a reverent piece dedicated to one of the leaders of the Chicago scene, the recently departed Fred Anderson. The musicians pay their respect with sound and spoken word recitation. Aquarius - amazon.com
Sometime it is portrayed that trumpeter Miles Davis began the use of rock rhythms in jazz with his epochal 1970 album Bitches Brew, making it into something of a year-zero musical big bang. Actually, Davis built up to that landmark, gradually introducing guitar on the Miles in the Sky LP, and then electric keyboard shading on Filles de Kilimanjaro. He used both on In A Silent Way, creating a beautiful and almost surreal album. Davis uses a wide ranging cast of musicians: Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea or Joe Zawinul on keyboards, Dave Holland on bass and Tony Williams on drums. This was a transitional group which was moving from the advanced acoustic jazz sounds of the second great Davis quintet (1965-1968) to the ensemble approach he would use until his sabbatical in 1975. This album consists of two lengthy suites (both of which were one full side long on the original LP.) “Shhh... Peaceful” has a beautiful, melodic feel almost trance-like in the way the textured keyboards ebb and flow with the grain of the music. Davis is completely in his element sounding sublime amidst the patiently woven surroundings. The second suite of the recording is “In a Silent Way/It’s About that Time” develops with slow swirls of sound for several minutes before moving into the “It’s About That Time” section of the suite, where they break out and move into a faster pace, with punchy soloing and louder ensemble play. This is a wonderfully dynamic suite, because after the lengthy medium-up tempo section They are able to downshift back into the “In a Silent Way” theme and take the suite on a quiet and mysterious note. In a Silent Way - amazon.com
When King Crimson lurched home after a lengthy American tour in 1974, violinist David Cross left the band, leaving guitarist Robert Fripp, bassist and vocalist John Whetton and drummer Bill Bruford to record the incendiary Red LP as a trio with guests. Fripp and Whetton also went through loads of tapes looking to put together a live album from the 1974 tour, eventually called USA and featuring mostly edited pieces from a concert in Asbury Park, NJ. Bowing to fan demand to hear the unedited concert, this two disc set releases the complete Asbury show along with a concert from Mainz, Germany in a bargain priced two-disc set. Pairing these two particular concerts together was a fine idea, as it shows two different sides of this unique band. The concert from Mainz is heavy with improvisation with lengthy sections of the musicians staring unflinchingly into the void with performing with great determination. The group was very tight at this stage, and any member of the group could take the music in a new direction as they developed. It's quite heady stuff, powerful, forceful and almost intimidating in its virtuosity. There are some songs as well, some of the more haunting entries in the band's catalog like the soon to be recorded "Starless" and "Lament" which moves from a ballad to a roaring beast in a few short minutes. It is easy to hear why the Asbury Park concert provided such fodder for the USA live LP as it had a nearly perfect mix of blistering instrumentals "Larks' Tongues In Aspic: Part II" and the spontaneous improvisation "Asbury Park" and excellent version of classic Crimson songs of the period such as "Lament", "Easy Money" and "Starless." The encore of "21st Century Schizoid Man" is thrilling, with the whole band throwing their all into this complicated and terrifying finale. After Red and USA, King Crimson would go into stasis until a very different version reconvened in 1981. Although this particular group was only together for a few short years, they had quite an impact on the possibilities of rock music, influencing Kurt Cobain and a host of other musicians to come. Collectable King Crimson 1 - amazon.com
Saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter was blazing across the jazz landscape when this album was recorded in early 1965. Having recently joined what would become Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, Shorter was also cutting a series of excellent albums as a leader for Blue Note Records. He has an extraordinary band on this album, collaborating with James Spaulding on alto saxophone, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. All compositions are by Shorter except “Valse Triste” by Jean Sibelius, which Shorter arranged for jazz sextet. Wayne Shorter always had a wide notion of what jazz contains, and the classical piece makes use of the unique musical colors that the ensemble has available. This piece would continue to intrigue him more than 40 years later as he continues to play it with his current quartet. The master take of “Angola” is the high point of the album, a comparatively short and powerful blast of energy allowing for a potent melody statement and brief, pithy solos. The alternate take of “Angola” that follows is nearly as good, but running a few minutes longer lessens the terse impact of the master take. “The Big Push” and “The Soothsayer” allow the group members to improvise striking solos, highlighting the leader as well as Spaulding and Hubbard who make excellent foils. The lone ballad, “Lady Day” is a fine evocation of the longing and pathos that Billie Holiday brought to her finest work. This is a typically excellent entry in Wayne Shorter’s 1960’s discography, and is is quite baffling why Blue Note withheld release until a vault-clearing project in 1979 as it stands with his finest work for the label. The Soothsayer - amazon.com