Monday, March 30, 2015

Matthew Shipp Trio - To Duke (Rogue Art, 2015)

Conventional wisdom states that Matthew Shipp is a “free-jazz” or “avant-guard” musician. But in truth he is a wide ranging and thoughtful pianist and composer who as Duke Ellington himself would undoubtably say is “beyond category.” This is a thoughtful and quite beautiful tribute that takes his well known melodies with a hint of reverence, but then moves beyond them to to create pithy personal statements. He is ably supported by longtime colleagues Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. After a short introduction called “Farewell to Duke” the trio dives into some of the most well known compositions of the Ellington canon. Shipp’s deeply percussive attack and use of the entire piano makes him uniquely qualified to place a personal stamp on the music. “In a Sentimental Mood” is re-imagined as a mysterious performance where the whole trio flirts with the melody, and then takes liberties from the inspiration that it provides. The jaunty melody of “Satin Doll” is nearly danceable before the group begins to gleefully deconstruct it. There is a great sense of the band having fun, like the Ellington tunes are old friends that they can celebrate with shared knowledge and trust. This sense continues on the chestnut “Take the A-Train” with some wonderfully fast paced bass work from Bisio and hard-charging piano from Matthew Shipp, playing the low end of the piano very hard to give the music a forceful percussive feeling that drives the music forward. “Mood Indigo” quite subtle with Dickey switching to brushes as the trio gently swings the ballad. Shipp returns to the ballad form on "Prelude to a Kiss" taking this as a solo piano feature and playing the song with grace and tact. "Sparks" comes barreling out of the gate with storming trio interplay. Elastic bass and drums stretch and pull as necessary and allowing Shipp to fly free in his torrid improvisational exploration. This is a very wonderful and consistently exciting album, where the listener is consistently surprised with the way that the trio interprets and deconstructs this well known standards. Duke would be quite proud. To Duke - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Atomic - Lucidity (Jazzland, 2015)

Atomic is a stalwart modern jazz band from Scandinavia featuring Havard Wiik on piano, Fredrik Ljungkvist on saxophone and clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass and Hans Hulboekmo on drums, replacing Paal Nilssen-Love. The music is their trademark free-bop, beginning with “Laterna Interfult” which opens with a mysterious melody before diving into some more powerful improvised sections, where the music stutters and sways, and the horns weave and joust around each other. Ljungkvist breaks lose on saxophone, before stopping on a dime, moving the music back to a more passive position. There are sections of faster, choppier collective improvisation which are quite exciting as is the nimble way that everyone can drop out to give Haker-Flaten a well deserved bass solo. The full band returns for a rousing and swinging conclusion. More beautiful bass playing is featured on “A New Junction” which patiently adds instruments developing a slow simmer. Spacious and spare, there is room to move for trumpet and clarinet, then involving droplets of piano. “Lucidity” jumps out of the gate hard with the full band firing on all cylinders. A punchy trumpet solo from Broo, is kicked in the pants nicely with Hulboekmo’s heavy pulse. They ramp down to a more abstract section, before Wiik gleefully leads them back into the back into the fray with trumpet and saxophone reaching for the sky about the powerful rhythm team. Flute like trumpet from Broo along with open ended piano draws subtle shades on “Start/Stop” before they jump up with a more complex group improvisation including a nice section for clarinet and bass, followed by very heavy hitting piano and drums accented by trumpet squeals. “Major” has a noir-ish haunted opening, Things spring to life with throbbing fast bass (IHF is just epic throughout the whole album) pushing Broo’s trumpet ever higher. The full band comes together, rocketing into orbit with an excellent collectively improvised section. Atomic has been around for a while now and their music continues to evolve, moving from jazz to free improvisation and back. The band is a group of very talented individual musicians, but when the come together, the whole is definitely better than the sum of its parts. Lucidity - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book: The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones 30th Anniversary Edition by Stanley Booth (Chicago Review Press, 2014)

Author Stanley Booth had an opportunity that a writer would never have has before or since, a chance to be part of the Rolling Stones as they toured the United States successfully in 1969 and then crashed and burned at the infamous Altamont Festival. Booth chronicles everything from the ever present drugs to groupies, managers and hangers on. He does stall the narrative on a few occasions to talk about his own problems of getting his book deal and advance, but for the most part stays on topic. He will juxtapose the narrative of the 1969 tour with vignettes of the Stones early tours, where they were mobbed by fans, some of which are beyond belief as fans are driven to near-psychosis, attacking band members and their entourage for any scrap of memento that they can get their hands on. Also portrayed is Brian Jones, the ill-fated founding member of the group that went from rising star multi-instrumentalist to drug casualty with an early death. It is fascinating the way that drugs are handled back then too, as the police raid the members homes and they face multi-yrear jail terms for the possession of marijuana. But in the end it comes down to the music, and Booth's portrayal of the tour from the inside is fascinating with a hard to beat lineup that featured the Stones along with B.B. King and Ike & Tine Turner. Booth had full access to the group and the behind the scenes banter is fascinating as well, with the band members talking about their musical influences, recording sessions and aspects of their personal lives that were never before revealed. But then it all went wrong: the band liked the idea of playing a free concert like many of the American west coast bands like the Grateful Dead had done, and settled on the Altamont Speedway in California for the event. This is one of the most famous events in rock & roll history and Booth is right there to cover it all - the madness of the Hell's Angels as they kill a man right in front of the stage and savagely beat and maim others. The band's desperate and eventually futile attempts to calm the crowd, a restless mass of over 300,000 people in a truly anarchic state of tragic lawlessness. In the end the book works quite well, and the first-person narrative carries a lot of the weight of this heavy time very well. Despite some flaws, this is a must-read from rock & roll fans. The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Anat Cohen - Luminosa (Anzic Records, 2015)

Using Brazilian music as a jumping off point, multi-instrumentalist Anat Cohen plays a wide range of music on this balanced set of mainstream jazz. She is joined by Jason Lindner on keyboards, Joe Martin on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums, Romero Lubambo and Gilad Hekselman on guitar and percussionist Gilmar Gomes along with special guests. The album begins with “Lilia” which has a slow and patient opening, building to a mid-tempo clarinet solo that smears long slippery notes over piano, bass and drums. Joyful clapping percussion introduces “Putty Boy Strut” which wouldn’t sound out of place at a New Orleans street party. Cohen responds with upbeat, dancing clarinet. The word “strut” accurately describes this song as the buoyant playing carries it all the way through to the end.  “Bachiao” is enveloped by hollow sounding clarinet and gentle guitar making for a bossa nova feel. Satiny sounding guitar picks up the pace in the middle and the interplay on this duo selection works quite well. Slow and haunted acoustic guitar in conjunction with elegiac clarinet usher in “Cais.” The music has a slow and mournful ballad feel with light percussion and just a hint of keyboards framing the piece. The rhythm section glides in to pick up the pace, giving the music an episodic feel. Cohen’s clarinet becomes more urgent over percussive piano as she includes crying wails from her bass clarinet. “In the Spirit of Baden” has some medium tempo percussion with a hint of gentle guitar while the clarinet caresses the melody. Keyboard notes fall like a gentle shower while acoustic guitar and gentle percussion hold the groove. The music moves to a rather complex but beguiling conclusion. “Espinha De Bacalhau” has a very jaunty feel with accordion adding to the guitar and clarinet. The music is fast and impassioned but also light on its feet, truly music to dance to. There is a rolling feature for the clarinet, carrying the music through to the finale. She ends the album by playing tenor saxophone on “The Wein Machine” with the band swinging well at a medium boil. Thick bass and drums underpin a catchy groove with a hint of keyboard. Using compositions from musicians as diverse as Flying Lotus and Milton Nascimento as well as her own originals on this album keep the music varied. There is no pretentiousness to the music and it is played in the spirit of fun, sincerity and open emotion. Luminosa - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jim Snidero - Main Street (Savant, 2015)

Jim Snidero is a veteran alto saxophonist and composer with several albums to his credit. On this album he leads a fine mainstream jazz band consisting of Fabian Almazan on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Snidero tours widely, and that is relevant to this album as the song titles presents a travelogue of sorts. I grew up not far from there so “Post Time Saratoga” rings a bell, with a fast paced feeling evoking the famous racetrack and the strong swing of the song reflecting the excellent jazz scene of that area. “Duluth at Noon” leads of the album with a strong and efficient groove, with Linda Oh and Rudy Royston expanding and contracting their playing like a living being and allowing Snidero and Almazan to range freely through the music. “Las Vegas” has a lush opening for solo piano, before subtle bass and drums fold in with slow and stately saxophone allowing the rhythm to carry the music. “Oxford Square” has a patient and supple sound, allowing for Snidero’s ripe saxophone to make a positive statement ably supported by the rhythm unit. The well know standard “Autumn in New York” is presented as a stately ballad, yearning in its emotion and a bit melancholic. Snidero thrives at this tempo, not rushing or forcing, but allowing the melody to carry him and his elaborations on it. A fine bass feature opens “The Streets of Laredo” before the rest of the band comes charging in, building a strong uptempo foundation. The music is fast and hard and develops into a ripe situation with Snidero circling and swooping while Rudy Royston drives the music relentlessly forward and is rewarded by taking an excellent drum solo. This is the highlight of the album, and everybody gets a turn in the spotlight including Almazan who shows powerful mastery of the keyboard, before everybody comes together for a storming conclusion. This is a fine middle of the road jazz LP that should appeal to a wide range of fans. The music is well played and the musicians are fully engaged creating in the moment. Main Street - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

King Crimson - Starless (Discipline Global Mobile, 2014)

A massive love letter to fans, this walloping twenty-seven disc boxed set is the kind of love that stares in your windows and goes through your trash. This version of King Crimson was one of it’s most revered with leader Robert Fripp on guitar and mellotron, John Wetton on bass and vocals, David Cross on violin and keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. The box covers the band’s 1973-1974 tour of Europe from Scotland to Germany. Setlists were relatively similar night to night, with the staples being the fan favorites like the crushing “Easy Money” and “The Great Deceiver” to the ethereal “Starless” and “The Night Watch.” What makes each of the concerts unique was the manner that the group brought the each performance, and the quality of the collectively improvised sections that bridged the songs. Each member of the group was a master of their instruments, and the improvised sections rival The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever or any other jazz-fusion band of the day except for the massive electric funk groups of Miles Davis. Of particular interest are the so called “blue tapes” which are very high quality recordings and make up the heart of the set. There are several mixes of the original Starless and Bible Black studio album, both in stereo and surround sound, mastered by Steven Wilson, and there is high quality DVD-A and Blu-Ray material that presents certain concerts and studio recordings in higher fidelity. There is a lengthy booklet included with excellent photographs, diary entries and comments by the band members and an essay that puts the music in historical context. There is also a set of ephemera like replica concert posters and tickets and magazines to round out the package. But it all comes down to the music, and if there is one band that deserves this outrageous treatment it might very well be this one where the songs, improvisations and performances make for a titanic achievement. Starless (Deluxe box set) - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Captain Beefheart - Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970 to 1972 (Rhino/Warner Brothers, 2014)

Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) was a seminal figure in rock and roll from the late sixties to the early eighties. What he may have lacked in popular music sales was more than compensated for with a completely unique musical conception and a massive influence on generations of musicians. This boxed set collects the work immediately following his seminal masterwork Trout Mask Replica, containing the albums Lick My Decals Off Baby, The Spotlight Kid, Clear Spot and a disc of alternate takes and rarities. Lick My Decals Off Baby is closest in spirit to Trout Mask Replica, with the caustic spirit of tracks like “Doctor Dark” and the leadoff title track juxtaposed with Beefhearts Dadaist humor on “I Wanna Find A Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go”, “The Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig)” and the concluding “Flash Gordon’s Ape.” The material on The Spotlight Kid has a little bit more conventional melodic content on “Blabber ‘n’ Smoke” but the Captain was a ferocious as ever on “I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby” and the wonderfully ominous “When It Blows Its Stacks.” Clear Spot continued this trend with the melancholic “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains” and “Her Big Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles” balanced with the humorous “Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man” and the ferocious “Big Eyed Beans from Venus.” The fourth disc is a grab bag of alternate takes and instrumental tracks of interest to diehard fans and collectors, but they do offer a peek behind the curtain at one of the most unusual, fascinating and enigmatic musicians in rock and roll history. Sun, Zoom, Spark:1970 to 1972 - amazon.com

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