Tuesday, September 1, 2009

9/01/09 What I'm Listening To

Marion Brown, Duets

Marion Brown, Sweet Earth Flying

Herbie Hancock, Flood

Dave Burrell, High Won, High Two

Lester Young, Complete Aladdin Recordings

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Recent Passings

They say deaths come in threes, but it seems like many notable people in and out of the jazz world have passed away recently. In addition to George Russell, drummer Rashied Ali and multi-reedist Joe Maneri recently left us. Ali is probably the better known musician, due to his work with John Coltrane on Concert in Japan and, most famously, Interstellar Space shortly before Coltrane passed away in 1967. His approach to free rhythms solidified and extended what had been started by Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves.

Joe Maneri, a Boston-area legend, was a one-of-a-kind voice who played alto, tenor, clarinet and piano. He is best-known for pioneering micro-tonal playing, which divides the octave into 72 tones rather than the 12-tone equal temperment system found in most Western music. He was a long-time faculty member of the New England Conservatory of Music and counted Matthew Shipp among his students.

Joe experienced a renewal of interest in his music starting in the 90's, based partly on the emergence of his son, Mat, as a bright new voice on violin and viola. Maneri recorded for both Leo and ECM; his albums with Mat and bassist Barre Phillips, Tales of Rohnlief and Angles of Repose, are a good place to start an exploration of his music, as is the duet album with Mat, Blessed, also on ECM. Once you immerse yourself in their world, the albums have a strange beauty to them underneath a dissonant exterior.

(Waiting For The) Flood

Right now I am righteously digging Flood, a Japanese Sony release from Herbie Hancock that contains parts of two concerts he gave in Tokyo in 1974. The set lists are from his Headhunters, Thrust and Man-Child albums, with the exception of Maiden Voyage, and the band is all-star: Bennie Maupin, Paul Jackson, Mike Clark, Bill Summers and Blackbird McKnight.

When I first got this (as a two-CD set a few years ago), I liked it OK but it didn't really get to me. For some reason I pulled it out a couple of days ago and it just burns! For me the highlights are Bennie Maupin's solos on tenor and soprano. He is one of my all-time favorites with his ability to play the blues like no other and go outside without sounding like a Trane clone. I also love the tone he gets on all his horns.

If I were to knit-pick I'd say a couple of Hancock's solos go on a little too long, but overall this band is tight and works it. If you like the best kind of fusion, then get this.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Praise of Sam Rivers

The Destination Out blog has a nice post about Sam Rivers, including three trio tracks from his 1975 album Hues. As a teenager in the 70's, I visited my local record store and bought Rivers' Involution, which was part of the Blue Note Reissue Series. That record and Andrew Hill's One For One, also part of the series, just blew me away. As much as I liked Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, the intensity of Rivers' tone and his compositions just reached me like no other tenor player. The fact that he wrote his own exercises also appealed to me. 
I had a chance to see him with the University of North Texas big band about 6-7 years ago and they did a great job with his charts. As Destination Out states, Sam Rivers should be much better known than he is.

Goin' to Kansas City

Count Basie's Kansas City Suite was one of the first big band records I bought when I was starting to listen to jazz. It was one-half of a two-record set on Roulette Records (Roulette RE-124) that also featured Easin' It. At the time (the early '70's),  Roulette was making a lot of their back catalog available as part of their Echoes of an Era series. Others that I picked up along the way included a set that provided my first exposure to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Putting this on the turntable for the first time in probably 30 years really brought back the rush that I felt when I was discovering jazz. I knew that Count Basie was a big name, but I didn't know where to begin when I bought the album. Even with my limited knowledge at the time, I knew when I got it home and saw the recording date was 1960 that it wasn't from the golden era of the  big bands. Regardless, Kansas City Suite is classic, bluesy Basie. The Suite was composed and arranged by Benny Carter, who never actually played with the band. The ten tracks have a vaguely familiar feel now that I've listened to a lot of jazz, but the writing and playing are top-notch. This edition of the Orchestra included Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Marshall Royal, Frank Wess, Frank Foster and of course Freddie Green.

Listening to this as a teenager transported me to New York, to a mysterious world that I was just discovering and imagining. It was a nice way to spend part of an afternoon getting acquainted with it again.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

8/19/09 What I'm Listening To

Joseph Jarman, Song For

Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, Sound

Sidney Bechet, Master Musician

Tina Brooks, True Blue

Stetsasonic, Sally (12" single)

Eazy-E, The Boyz-N-The Hood/Fat Girl (12" single)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Bid'ness

I'm in the process of listening to albums that I haven't played in literally years, and I pulled Julius Hemphill's 'Coon Bid'ness (Arista Freedom) from the shelf this morning. I always liked Julius' alto, but I had forgotten how great the compositions are on this recording. They defy easy categorization, and share a fascination with timbre and a sense of occasional whimsy with the AACM membership. The line-up is pretty great too: (Black) Arthur Blythe, Hamiett Bluiett, Baikida E. J. Carroll, Abdul Wadud on the funkiest cello you'll ever hear, Barry Altschul, Philip Wilson.

The Hard Blues, indeed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

8/07/09 What I'm Listening To

Eberhard Weber, Yellow Fields

Eberhard Weber, Silent Feet

Jimmy Woods, Conflict

One Night With Blue Note Preserved, Vol. 2

Frank Lowe, Fresh

Oliver Lake, Holding Together

I Like Conflict

The album, that is. (rim shot!) I'm speaking of altoist Jimmy Woods' 1963 album Conflict, recorded for the Contemporary label and featuring an impressive lineup of Harold Land on tenor, Carmell Jones on trumpet, Andrew Hill on piano, George Tucker on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. This was only Woods' second session as a leader but it would prove to be his last, for reasons of which I'm unaware.

Conflict features six Woods originals; he also arranged all the selections. I originally bought the album used (for $35.00, gulp) when I was going through my obsessive Hill collecting phase. Hill certainly doesn't disappoint: Even though it was early in his career, his unique approach to rhythm and harmony are a positive disruption to the bop-influenced compositions. But Woods impresses as well, as he has an urgent, keening quality to his solos that set him apart from the pack. His tart tone and intervallic leaps, particularly on Apart Together and Look to Your Heart, remind me of Eric Dolphy, and in spots, mid-70s Braxton.

Doe anyone know what happened to him? Seems a shame he didn't record more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Tribute to Tribute

There's an interesting thread over at the ECM Forum on JazzCorner.com about overlooked gems on that label, records that received little fanfare when they were first released. One of my nominations is drummer Paul Motian's Tribute (ECM 1048), issued in 1975 and featuring Carlos Ward on alto sax, Sam Brown and Paul Metzke on guitars, and Charlie Haden on bass. I bought the album new for $5.79 (!) and I love the combination of Ornette's influence and the deep but free groove that Motian and Haden set up. It's some of my favorite Haden, helped in part by the great bass sound achieved by engineer Tony May.

Fortunately, it has been reissued on CD and is available on ECM's site.

8/05/09 What I'm Listening To

Sonny Clark, Sonny's Crib

Sonny Rollins, The Bridge

Bobby Hutcherson, The Kicker

Bobby Hutcherson, Dialogue

Hancock, et al, In Concert Volume 1

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Sad Day

I learned that George Russell, composer and pianist, passed away last night at the age of 86. He created the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, which influenced Miles Davis' and John Coltrane's use of modes, and the system has been called "the only original theory to come from jazz".

His string of mid-50s albums for Riverside highlighted his original compositional sense and his outstanding arrangements for small groups. The mid- 60s Live at Beethoven Hall albums for the German MPS label featured Don Cherry and are some of my absolute favorites to this day. His reworking of classics like Round Midnight demonstrate how the Lydian Concept changes a musician's approach to the relationship between scales and chords.

During the sixties he worked frequently in Europe, particularly Sweden, and his recordings feature some of the earliest work from future ECM mainstays Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen. He returned to the United States, taught at the New England Conservatory of Music, and released big band albums like The African Game on Blue Note. In the eighties he formed the Living Time Orchestra with a pool of international musicians. This chapter of his career is his least interesting, in my opinion, as the rock influences sound a little corny and overdone to these ears.

Nonetheless, George Russell was an relatively unsung giant in the jazz world, and I will be listening to his work for years to come.

Monday, July 27, 2009

7/27/09 What I'm Listening To

Parker/Guy/Lytton/Crispell, Natives & Aliens

Baikida Carroll, Marionettes on a High Wire

J.R. Monterose, s/t

John Coltrane, Blue Train

Greg Osby, The Invisible Hand

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Good Old Days

Like a lot of jazz fans, I buy most of my CDs through mail order, but back in the day (the day being when we actually had things called record stores) I also bought from brick-and-mortar outfits to support their efforts. For example, the Tower store here in Dallas had a surprisingly good jazz section. There was just no substitute for browsing, finding something unexpected, and taking it home that day.

This is surely a case of beating a dead horse, but I find it incredibly sad that I can’t go out on my day off and buy a copy of one of the new ECMs (Parker, Sclavis, Vitous) anywhere in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex.  An area of several million people, and no one carries this stuff anymore!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Releases We’ll See in 20 Years

The Hits: The Very Best of Evan Parker and the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble

Steve Reynolds Collector’s Edition of Mujician’s Colours Fulfilled with inflatable Paul Dunmall doll

Sine Wave Sonata for test pattern and no-output ironing board (Erstwhile)

Diana Krall and Mats Gustafsson: Love Songs

And on the Fox Network Times (formerly the New York Times) Bestseller’s List:

How I Killed Jass Music by Jon Abbey

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Praise of Patrick Gleeson

The "fusion" movement of the late 60's/70's was a mixed bag, with innovations in rhythm, tonal palettes and the use of electronics charting a new path yet standing alongside indulgent excesses that today you might be embarrassed to admit you listened to (Romantic Warrior, anyone?) 

Someone I think is due for more recognition is Dr. Patrick Gleeson, who was part of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi group that recorded Crossings for Warner Bros. and Sextant for Columbia. If memory serves, I believe he taught Herbie about the synthesizer. He is also an integral presence on Julian Priester's overlooked Love, Love, which I think is a fusion classic. If you haven't checked that album out, which ECM re-released on CD, it's worth your time.

He seemed to disappear for awhile, but he and Bennie Maupin put out Driving While Black in 1998. It's ironic that the advances in keyboard technology and sequencing make him a little more generic sounding than his earlier analog work. I see that he released Jazz Criminal in 2007 with Jim Lang, who appears to be a studio keyboard player. Anyone heard this?

07/14/09 What I'm Listening To

Ellery Eskelin, Ten

Anthony Braxton, The Montreux/Berlin Concerts

Joe Lovano, Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard

Anthony Braxton, Composition 96

My Earliest Braxton Memory

I believe the first time I heard Anthony Braxton was while listening to Willis Conover's Voice of America broadcast one morning before school, around '73 or '74. I had heard of Braxton, but I think this was before New York Fall 1974 came out, which was my formal introduction to his music.

The broadcast was a tape from the Newport Jazz Festival, one of those all-star jams where they play a theme, a seemingly endless parade of soloists follow, and then the theme is restated. Braxton just cut through like a knife with his uniquely angular phrasing, and he got the biggest ovation from the crowd. 

Does anyone know the specifics of this performance? I don't think it's ever been released.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

First Take: Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford, Under The Water

Libra 202-024

Satoko Fujii, piano
Myra Melford, piano

I've been a longtime fan of both Ms. Fujii and Ms. Melford's work, but I had a moment's hesitation before I ordered this CD. Could they mesh their approaches and create something special? Would this be a case of "two great tastes that taste great together"? (My apologies to Reese's, and whoever's reading this.) I needn't have worried; to say Under The Water exceeded my expectations is putting it mildly.

Recorded live at Maybeck Studio in Berkeley, CA by the redoubtable Myles Boisen, the program consists of three duets and one solo performance from each artist. The solos are tremendous; you would expect that. It's the duets that just knocked me out. There's no meandering going on here, no sense of each feeling the other out. Fujii and Melford have a single-mindedness and sense of direction that's astonishing. At times it sounds like one very, very good pianist is playing and it's hard to separate the contributions. 

As soon as the CD finished, I couldn't wait to hear it again. One of the very best I've heard this year.

06/27/09 What I'm Listening To

Anthony Braxton, The Montreux/Berlin Concerts

Bud Powell, The Complete Blue Note and Roost Recordings

Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford, Under The Water

Paul Motion and the Electric Bebop Band, s/t

The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Curious Case of Steve Kuhn

ECM Records has announced that they will be releasing a new recording from Steve Kuhn with Joe Lovano on 7/07/09 called Mostly Coltrane. I'm somewhat looking forward to hearing this, but Mr. Kuhn has been a frustrating figure to me for many years.

In the 70's, he released Trance, a wonderful album from a time when, as a friend once stated, "Every album ECM released was a classic." It was a unique fusion of jazz and classical music, with a dash of Kuhn's wry sense of humor. If memory serves, he went on to record a couple of more albums for ECM and then his output seemed to drop off.

I saw him with a trio at the Village Vanguard in New York in the mid-eighties and he put me to sleep. Every once in a while I've come across a CD of his, but they seemed to be standards-based, which struck me as curious because I liked his original compositions so much. I have his ECM CD Remembering Tomorrow, which again seemed a little lifeless to me, but I'm glad he's back with a new one on the label that's released his best work.

If anyone has opinions on the ECM albums he released in the late-seventies, Motility and Non-Fiction, please post a comment.

6/13/09 What I'm Listening To

Weather Report, Black Market

Satoko Fujii, Summer Suite

Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore, Blowin' in from Chicago

Wednesday Week, What We Had (N.C. indie rock from the '80s)

Tough Guys in Dub (dub reggae from the '80s)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

5/31/09 What I'm Listening To

George Russell, The Essence of...

Ellery Eskelin, One Great Night - Live

Wayne Shorter, Etc.

Duke Ellington, The Blanton-Webster Band, disc 2

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unintentionally Amusing Reviews

It's admittedly a challenge to try to describe sound to someone who hasn't heard what you're hearing, but I still get a giggle when I read certain record reviews. Recently I came across a couple on the All About Jazz site that caught my attention.

First up, from Raul d'Gama Rose's review of Revolutions, a large ensemble recording by Jim Beard:

"Beard is first and foremost a composer of the highest artistic skill. His approach to music is primarily through the classic elements of song. This gives every composition a form. He must then shape the form by twisting the melody and imbuing it with challenging harmonies so that it can take on a shape and life of its own."

OK, I'm not a musician, but isn't that what most composers do (at least those working within any kind of traditional Western framework)?

Later, in the same review:

"Beard's music here is down to earth and echoes with the memory of events that may have been memorable at one time."

Ahh, Memories...(cue the Cat's soundtrack)

Then we have Glen Astarita's review of Live by Marteau Rouge with Evan Parker: 

"The foursome generates a sense of urgency amid intriguing dialogues and streaming treatments, and strikes an asymmetrical balance, awash with lucid imagery, that spans catastrophic events and hardcore noise-shaping motifs."


Does anyone else ever react in a similar fashion, or do I just need more coffee?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

5/26/09 What I'm Listening To

Duke Ellington, The Blanton-Webster Band, disc 1

Ellery Eskelin, Ten

Tina Brooks, Minor Move

The Pixies, Doolittle

My Favorite Shepp

Of all the "new thing" sax players to come out of the 60's, Archie Shepp is one I've probably spent the least time listening to. I have Fire Music, but it just doesn't catch fire for me; his playing seems adequate at best. But I absolutely love two records Shepp did for Arista/Freedom, Montreux One and Montreux Two. Recorded live at the Festival in 1975, One and Two feature Charles Majid Greenlee (whatever happened to him?) on trombone, Dave Burrell on piano, Cameron Brown on bass and Beaver Harris on drums.

The group sounds great, tight yet loose, and Burrell seems especially inspired, at times breaking into some stride piano during his solos. Shepp performs a wonderful solo intro to Lush Life, and the whole performance is a thing of beauty.

Anyone else heard these?

Monday, May 18, 2009

5/18/09 What I'm Listening To

Ellery Eskelin, Ten

Cecil Taylor, The Great Concert of...

George Russell, Vertical Form VI

Anthony Braxton, Quintet (London) 2004

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Take: Henning Sieverts Symmetry, Blackbird

Pirouet PIT3040

Henning Sieverts, bass and cello
Chris Speed, clarinet and tenor saxophone
Johannes Lauer, trombone
Achim Kaufmann, piano
John Hollenbeck, drums

heard a couple of samples from this while surfing Jazz Loft, and I was intrigued by the line-up, particularly the presence of Achim Kaufmann, who I've enjoyed on the recent Unearth (nuscope), with Frank Gratowski and Wilbert de Joode.

After one spin, the word that comes to mind to describe Blackbird is delightful. It has a sunny disposition that makes it perfect for listening on a summer's day. With forward-thinking names like Speed and Kaufmann on board, it might seem strange to refer to the CD this way, but this is a thinking person's lite jazz. Which is not to say it's lightweight; there's plenty of satisfying improvisations and angular themes penned by Sievert. In addition, the group tackles Charlie Parker's Blues for Alice, and the Blackbird in question is of the Lennon/McCartney variety. 

The front line of Lauer's trombone and Speed's clarinet make a great match, bouyant or moody as the music requires. Sievert never calls attention to himself, choosing to emphasize the group sound in service to the compositions. I look forward to digging into this more; even my wife might like it!

Welcome Alarming News Readers!

I want to welcome any visitors from Karol's blog Alarming News. I've read her for a few years now and admire her chutzpah. This blog examines the world of jazz and improvised music; I hope you like it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

5/13/09 What I'm Listening To

Air, Air Song  

Mark Helias, Split Image  

Sly & Robbie, Gambler's Choice  

David S. Ware, Solo Live in the Netherlands  

Isley Brothers, Go For Your Guns  

Stetsasonic, Sally (12" single)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

5/12/09 What I'm Listening To

Anthony Braxton, Quartet (GTM) 2006  

Jimmy Giuffre, Free Fall  

Fred Anderson, On The Run  

Miles Davis, Live/Evil

Duke Ellington, Complete Prestige Carnegie Hall 1946-47 Concerts

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Review: Georg Graewe, impressions of monk

nuscope CD 1006

Georg Graewe, piano
Marcio Mattos, bass
Michael Vatcher, drums

This is a quiet gem that I listened to again recently for the first time in several years. Recorded in 1995, impressions of monk accomplishes the feat of making you listen to Monk's music in a whole new way, gaining insights into his genius. And no matter where Graewe takes his improvisations, the essence of Monk's approach to rhythm and harmony is there. I have a feeling Monk would approve.

Friday, May 8, 2009

5/08/09 What I'm Listening To

Anthony Braxton, Quintet (London) 2004

Anthony Braxton, Quartet (GTM) 2006

Steve Lantner Quartet, Given - Live in Munster

Andrew Hill, Mosaic Select (group sessions)

Charles Mingus, Presents the Jazz Composer's Workshop

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Center vs. The Margins

I was going through my CD rack, looking for something to strike my listening fancy, when I came across Change of Time (Omnitone records). It's a trio date consisting of Russ Lossing on piano, Adam Kolker on reeds and John Hebert on bass, putting their spin on Bartok's Mikrokosmos. It came out in 2001, and I realized I hadn't come across Lossing since. 

I little digging reassured me that Mr. Lossing has releases on HatHut and appeared on Michael Adkin's Rotator CD (reviewed on this blog), but that got me thinking about how jazz musicians market themselves and stand out in a crowded field. It seems that those who are considered avant-garde, like Anthony Braxton and Matthew Shipp, carve out a very distinct "territory" for themselves. There are a devoted set of fans for that genre, with attendant blogs/magazines and even a store, Downtown Music Gallery, basically catering to that audience. (DMG also carries other genres, but is known for music on the "margins.") On the other hand, musicians who are closely identified with the mainstream (the other margin), like Eric Alexander, also have labels and fans that offer support.

But what about those in the "center," musicians like Lossing who don't fall into either extreme? It seems a potentially perilous place to be, in the way that a product without a distinct brand identity can be lost in a sea of choices. After all, belonging to an extreme has its advantages. For example, I don't keep up with guitar players generally, but I know about Mary Halvorson because she has apprenticed with Braxton, has a disc coming out on HatHut, and has been mentioned in DMG's email newsletter.

There are many, many mainstream-modern jazz musicians out there who probably deserve more exposure than they're getting. Even as the Internet has opened up the possiblity for artists to have a relationship with their fans, a musician has to attract the fans in the first place. I'd love to hear how musicians keep their careers viable, playing this music that we love that is outside of the predominant tides of pop culture. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

4/21/09 What I'm Listening To

Brad Mehldau, Songs

Charles Mingus, East Coasting

Charles Mingus, The Jazz Experiments of Charles Mingus

Saturday, April 18, 2009

4/18/09 What I'm Listening To

Tristano/Marsh, Intuition

Hal McKusick, The Jazz Workshop

the nommonsemble, Life Cycle

Evan Parker/Keith Rowe, Dark Rags

Satoko Fujii Trio, Junction

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Favorite Cecil

Howard Mandel's blog, Jazz Beyond Jazz, had a couple of posts about Cecil Taylor's 80th birthday, and following a comment I wrote he asked me to name my favorite Taylor recordings. That's a serious undertaking, but here's my list in chronological order:

The trio recordings with Buell Neidlinger and Dennis Charles that first appeared on The World of Cecil Taylor. These sides show his connection with post-bop jazz and the rhythm section gets him.

Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come, with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray. Just sublime playing by all; if only the damn piano had been in tune!

Leaf Palm Hand, the duets with Tony Oxley. Taylor has worked with some great drummers, but Oxley reacts and anticipates him like no other.

2 Ts for a lovely T, with the Feel Trio of William Parker and Oxley. Fantastic interplay, plus I'm a sucker for box sets.

Nailed, with Evan Parker, Barry Guy and Oxley. Just try to catch your breath after this one.

The Tree of Life. Cecil solo.

Almeda, with an eight-piece ensemble. This size unit gives the music more space to breath than Cecil's larger ensembles.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


A great place to meet and exchange thoughts with fellow enthusiasts is JazzCorner.com, specifically their Forums section called Speakeasy. I used to post there regularly a few years ago, and I recently rejoined. Some real characters hang out there!

4/12/09 What I'm Listening To

Happy Easter everyone!

On this day I'm listening to:

Steve Lantner Trio, What You Can Throw

Michael Adkins Quartet, Rotator

Simon Nabatov Octet, A Few Incidences

Denman Maroney Quartet, Gaga 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

First take: Michael Adkins Quartet, Rotator

HatOLOGY 660

Michael Adkins, Tenor Saxophone
Russ Lossing, Piano
John Hebert, Bass
Paul Motion, Drums

This is the first in what I hope is an occasional series of CD reviews based on an initial listen or two to the recordings. (If I waited until I listened several times before I wrote a review, it might never get written!)

Tenor saxophonist Michael Adkins is a new name to me, although he's been based in New York City since 1998 and recorded a previous album in 2000. I don't know what he's been up to during the last decade, but overall Rotator is a very impressive (near) debut album. Adkins style is contemplative with bluesy overtones and a hint of Jan Garbarek's plaintiveness. I also hear echoes of Keith Jarrett's 70's quartet with Garbarek in the ways themes are sometimes stated in unison by the sax and piano. The rhythm section is not one in the traditional sense; there's a near telepathic interplay among all four and an elastic sense of time. Pieces seem to expand and contract as they evolve, and there's a sense of events unfolding in a logical way. If I have a quibble with Rotator, its that many of the performances are taken at roughly the same medium-fast tempo; it would have helped to have a little more variety. This slight homogeneity also has me wondering if Adkins is a one-trick pony. If he is, however, than it's a mighty nice trick. 

Rotator comes highly recommended for the organic group sound that the quartet generates, and I'm interested in what Mr. Adkins does next.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Remembering Sun Ra

My earlier post about seeing Cecil Taylor live got me thinking about other jazz artists I caught in concert. One memorable occasion was seeing Sun Ra with a 100-piece orchestra in NYC. 

I was living in New York around 1985-86 when Sun Ra rented out an abandoned ballroom on the Lower East Side and put on this extraordinary concert. I had a friend named Liz who, although not into jazz, was up for the adventure and accompanied me.

I don't remember what the building was called, but it was a great space for a concert, with a large main room featuring ornate balconies. The band was set up on one side, with the audience sitting on the floor on the other side. I don't think it was the tightest performance that I've ever heard, but it was great just seeing that mass of musicians at one time.

The best part of the evening occured after the show. Liz and I decided to explore the space so we went up to the balcony area. And who should we find sitting there than Mr. Sun Ra himself! He was very gracious as we engaged in some chit-chat. At one point his two dancers came in and rubbed oil on his feet! (I wonder if one was June Tyson?)

I'm glad I can say that I met the enigmatic Sun Ra in person.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Usual Sources

Readers who are long-time jazz fans are probably already aware of these companies, but I wanted to recognize three great sources for jazz and improvised music recordings: Downtown Music Gallery in NYC, the Jazz Loft in Bellevue, WA and Cadence in upstate New York. All three offer extensive catalogs and great service. 

Through April 19, the Jazz Loft is offering 10 HatHut titles of your choice for $35! The entire HatHut catalog is not part of the special, but there are some great titles up for grabs.

The One Record I Play More Than Any Other...

I've got a lot of Jazz albums and CDs; I've been collecting since I was 13 and I'm now...well, never mind. But in spite of my love for the avant-garde and specifically Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill and others, the album I've probably played the most over all the years is In Concert Volume Two, which was released in 1974 on CTI Records. 

The two discs are culled from all-star concerts recorded in Detroit and Chicago with a front line of Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine. Specifically, I listen to Interlude and Hornets from Side 1, which features a quartet of Herbie Hancock on electric piano with Eric Gale, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette. Hornets simply smokes; Herbie pours on the intensity and then keeps taking it higher. DeJohnette is with him step for step, and there are points where it starts to veer into free playing, as there seems to be an implied pulse, but not a set rhythm. Gale throws in some nice commentary, and Carter holds tight to the initial riff. 

I've never seen either volume on CD, but Volume 2 especially is worth the price for some very loose, inspired blowing from all parties.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Everybody has 'em. My jazz-related guilty pleasures usually revolve around 70's fusion, as it gave (and gives) me a chance to "rock out" without the brain-dead rock lyrics or plodding musicianship. A few records come to mind:

Return to Forever: Where Have I Known You Before and Romantic Warrior

Herbie Hancock: Thrust

Eddie Henderson: Sunburst (although this is much less of a guilty pleasure compared to the others I listed: the record holds up very well today.)

Add yours in the comments!

Happy Birthday Cecil!

March 15 (or 25, depending on the source) was Cecil Taylor's 80th birthday. Of all the jazz and improvising artists out there, Cecil's catalog is the one I've most obsessively collected. 

The first record of Cecil's that I heard was Silent Tongues, the live solo recording from Montreux, when I had only recently begun to listen to jazz. In spite of my lack of knowledge about jazz in general and free jazz in particular, that record blew me away. I followed that up with Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come and I've never looked back.

I've only seen Mr. Taylor in concert once, on a double bill with the Art Ensemble of Chicago at The University of Houston around 1978 or 79. He had his sextet with Ronald Shannon Jackson, Ramsey Ameen, et al that recorded the two New World Records releases. The Art Ensemble went first, and I hate to admit that by the time Cecil's Unit came on stage, I was feeling the effects of a hurried trip down from S.M.U., where I was in my freshman year. Because of that, I didn't give his performance the attention it deserved. I would love to see him again. 

There's a complete sessionography for Cecil Taylor located here.

Improvised Addiction?

A few years ago I read an interview with drummer Gino Robair in which he stated that people who liked free improv recordings often had what was akin to an addiction. Fans needed to buy one CD after another to satisfy their need. Gino's comment struck a chord with me, although I don't exclusively buy that genre. I may like a CD, but I want that new one I just read about; there is that hunger to feel like you're up-to-date with the latest. That's partly the reason why there are many CD's in my collection that I know I haven't listened to enough to fully appreciate. Anyone else experience this?

Nuscope Love

I've always been impressed with the output of Nuscope Recordings and I'd sing their praises even if they weren't based in Dallas. I once met Russell Summers, the founder, at a Gerry Hemingway concert and he's a great guy. The label has been around since 1998 and I haven't encountered a bad release yet. 

My perception is that the label doesn't get a lot of attention, even though it's distributed through the usual sources such as Downtown Music Gallery, JazzLoft and Cadence. Nuscope has recorded heavy hitters such as George Graewe, John Butcher, Barry Guy and Mat Maneri, but it seems other records from those musicians get more publicity. I've always wondered why that is.

Upcoming Eskelin

Tenorist Ellery Eskelin recently announced on his website that his group with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black will be releasing a new live recording on April 24 entitled One Great Night...Live on hatOLOGY. It's hard to believe that the band has been together for 15 years! If you haven't tested the waters and listened, it's time you did; it's one of the most important small groups of the last few years.

Welcome to improvised!

Welcome to a new blog about all things concerning jazz and improvised music.  My name is Craig, and I've been a jazz fanatic since I was 13 and heard Dexter Gordon's Blues a la Suisse on Willis Conover's Voice of America shortwave broadcast.  (I'm a lot older now, but we'll skip the details.) I enjoy the entire tradition of jazz, from big band swing to completely improvised performances. I plan to use this blog to review recordings and comment on current players and the state of jazz music. Please share your thoughts and comments; let's build a dialogue!

4/04/09 What I'm Listening To

Yes, I know I ripped this feature off of Jazz Corner's forums, so sue me! It's a good way to get a look at what I like, and hopefully you, dear reader, will add your current obsessions in the comments. Here goes:

Cecil Taylor Ensemble: Almeda

Now Orchestra and Marilyn Crispell: Pola

Anthony Braxton: Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003

Kaufmann/Gratkowski/de Joode: Unearth