Saturday, December 31, 2005

Stuff I liked...

Even more than other stuff I liked.

I enjoyed most of the CDs I bought in 2005 (and skipped writing about the few I didn't enjoy) and I'm not much for best-of-the-year lists anyway. Who's to say, music preference being one of the more personal of things? My own feelings about various disks can change with each listen. But here are 13 (a baker's dozen as the old saying goes, plus I was born on Friday the 13th so I like the number, unlike most people) I liked a lot and still do. Your mileage may vary.

1) Ian Ballamy and Stian Carstensen, "The Little Radio," Sound Recordings. Two guys, a sax and a button accordion make great music with an amazingly big sound.
2) Jamie Baum, "Moving Forward, Standing Still," Omnitone. Sophisticated septet session that reveals a new twist every play.
3) Dawn Clement, "Hush," Conduit Records. Power piano playing with Bad Plus sensibility, classical chops.
4) Henry Grimes, "Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival," Ayler. Marvelous return by long-lost bassist who played with everybody from Benny Goodman to Albert Ayler before 30-year hiatus.
5) Iswhat?!, "You Figure it Out...," Hyena. Somebody needs to fuse jazz and hip-hop and these guys may be showing the way.
6) Vijay Iyer, "Reimagining," Savoy Jazz. Jazz may have found its next Monk, stunning and complex music.
7) Jonas Kullhammar, "Snake City North," Moserobie Music Production. Swede with Rollins-like kung fu fronts fine big band.
8) Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane, "Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall," Blue Note. CD from rediscovered tape in Library of Congress storage like finding a Rembrandt.
9) David Murray, "Waltz Again," Justin Time. Third stream goodness classical music and big band, chamber, free and hard bop jazz fans alike should dig.
10) Sonny Rollins, "Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert," Milestone/Concord. Welcome and heartfelt live recording from master improviser.
11) Woody Shaw, "Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard," Columbia. Live date around the time of his landmark "Rosewood" studio recording adds excellent disk to the too few available from trumpet great.
12) John Tchicai, "Big Chief Dreaming," Soul Note. Proof that jazz continues to advance and that freely improvised jazz can be accessible.
13) Miguel Zenon, "Jibaro," Marsalis Music/Rounder. Super young saxophonist takes a big step in his evolution using rhythms of his Puerto Rican home.

Peace and best wishes for the new year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Meet Benny Bailey

When trumpeter Benny Bailey died this year it didn't generate much attention because Bailey, like the great tenor saxophonist Don Byas, nipped off to Europe early in his career and stayed there. I think much of jazz journalism in the U.S. short shrifts musicians working outside the country and generally those from other countries, which is short sighted given the wonderful jazz produced in Europe and elsewhere and the market for it overseas.

I bought Bailey's "Big Brass," Candid, last month, and gave it its second listen this week. The CD is a 1960 session of straight-up hard bop that kind of reminds me of "Birth of the Cool" only with more of an edge and from a septet, versus a nonet, that includes saxophonist Phil Woods (who gets in some nice solos, including on Bailey's "Maud's Mood") as well as Tommy Flanagan on piano and Julius Watkins on French horn, big hitters both.

Bailey is comparable to a Clifford Brown or Freddie Hubbard and sounds more like Clark Terry than Miles Davis when he goes to the mute. Nice guitar work by Les Spann on "Alison" and he plays some excellent flute on "Maud's Mood," too. Buddy Catlett on bass and Art Taylor on drums are a textbook rhythm section on this disk, which is a good one to get to know Benny Bailey.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Braith and the B-3

A while back, B-3 and Blue Note fan Andy suggested I look up George Braith, in response to a post of mine about "Kirk's Work," a CD featuring multi-reedist, sometimes more than one instrument at a time, Roland Kirk and B-3 legend, as well as Champaign native, Jack McDuff. While it's out of print, I was lucky enough to find a surplus copy of the two CD-set "George Braith: The Complete Blue Note Sessions" at Amoeba Records in Hollywood on my trip to LA last month.

Braith is not Kirk. He has a lighter sound overall, more like Coltrane on soprano, and his use of multiple instruments isn't as blatant. The organist for the date, Billy Gardner, reminds me of Larry Young and you also get Grant Green, one of the best jazz guitarists ever, although he's not overly prominent on many of these sides.

"Mary Ann" makes me feel the same kind of joy Sonny Rollins' calypsos do, or some of the reggae music I like, and you gotta love "Mary Had a Little Lamb" turned into a jazz tune, one with avant-garde touches at that. The way Braith and Gardner recast "The Man I Love" is unusual to say the least. The former sounds like he's playing a train whistle or a car horn in places. "Billy Told" includes some clever quoting of "The William Tell Overture," which also is quite skillful because it's done completely in context. Glad I found this CD set, the sum total of Braith's Blue Note recordings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chiefly free

This year's "Big Chief Dreaming," Soul Note, from John Tchicai, who played alto saxophone on Coltrane's landmark "Ascension" and Archie Shepp's free jazz classic "Four for Trane," is a CD I would recommend to anyone dubious about, but looking to ease into, freely improvised jazz and to anyone who thinks jazz is stagnant.

It matches "Garage" by The Thing, which I wrote about recently, in its thought-provoking complexity but is more lyrical and accessible. "The Queen of Ra," by guitarist Garrison Fewell, who co-leads with Tchicai, and Fewell's "X-Ray Vision" are a perfect examples of that.

Meanwhile, the interplay among Tchicai on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Fewell and Italian Tino Tracanna on tenor and soprano saxes (he's excellent) is interesting throughout and, bass and drums completing the spare ensemble, needs to be. "Basetto" and "Yogi in Disguise" are highlights. I'm putting this disk on my 2005 favorites list.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Well bassed

I've written admiringly about bassist Richard Davis playing on other people's dates, a couple times actually, and also about pianist John Hicks, which made picking up "The Bassist: Homage to Diversity," Palmetto, an easy choice. It's a Davis date ostensibly, but his only accompanist is Hicks, so call it a collaboration, and a perfect pairing.

Diversity is just what the disk includes musically. They play everything from classical (Vivaldi's "Estate/Summer" and Eccles' "Sonata in G Minor," beautifully rendered) to classic blues, "C.C. Rider," and spirituals "Go Down Moses," the latter with ominous, borderline avant-garde bass work. Frank Foster's "Simone" is as powerful as if a large group were playing it and Charlie Parker's "Little Benny" appropriately boppy. Davis on the bow would star in any symphony orchestra. This is a nice CD to appreciate his considerable skill and Hicks' as well.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Guitar goodness

Guitarist Peter Leitch caught my ear in a guest spot on the Woody Shaw CD "Solid," Savoy, (a reissue worth getting) so I bought his 2004 Reservoir disk "Autobiography" recently, which is straight-ahead hard bop with accomplished playing by Leitch (I really like the run he lays down on Charlie Parker's "Segment"), surprisingly good Jed Levy on tenor sax (new to me and showcased on "Clifford Jordan" and "Allyson," both Leitch compositions) and reliably good George Cables on piano.

Nothing really shocking, except maybe playing Albert Ayler's "Ghosts," as a kind-of calypso no less, but good music. The Leitch and bassist Dwayne Burno dueting on ""Medley: Little Girl Blue/Girl Talk" is smashing.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Yule hot

So I'm listening to an Xmas mix I've built in iTunes as I get ready to go do the family gathering deal and I know three things: 1) Lavay Smith ought to be more famous than she is (see her Fat Note CD "Everybody's Talkin' Bout Miss Thing"); 2) I'm surprised people even bothered trying to do "White Christmas" after Charlie Parker did it (check out "The Complete Live Performances on Savoy"); 3) but the only holiday music disk you really need to have is "Christmas Cookin'" on Verve by the late great Jimmy Smith.

Also, Rhoda Scott would have rocked any cathedral that hired her to woman its pipe organ, as "Les Orgues de Noel" on "The Hammond Organ of Christmas," Sunnyside, clearly shows.

Season's greetings!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Monk's music, Flanagan's style

My favorite local book (and CD) store Pages for All Ages recently sprouted a bunch of Enja reissues in its "new" jazz releases section, including Coleman Hawkins' "Supreme," which I wrote about the other day. While I thought "Supreme" was worthwhile, I'm prepared to rave about "Thelonica," Tommy Flanagan's tribute to Thelonious Monk, recorded not long after Monk's death in 1982.

Flanagan, Ella Fitzgerald's favorite pianist as well as the keyboard man on Sonny Rollins' landmark "Saxophone Colossus," doesn't play anything like Monk in covering eight of Monk's songs. (No. 9, the title track, is Flanagan's tribute to Monk.) He plays like Tommy Flanagan, eminently skilled and near classically with none of (or not much anyway) Monk's fascinating and sometimes unnerving erraticism.

And yet, Monk comes through clearly on tunes such as "Reflections" and "Ugly Beauty" and Flanagan also captures Monk's essence in "Thelonica." That a pianist so divergent from Monk can render his music so well is a tribute both to Flanagan's ability and to Monk's compositional genius. George Mraz on bass and Art Taylor on drums are perfect in support. Might be my pick for the must-have Tommy Flanagan CD.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Bill Barrett making the harmonica a primary instrument on a funky soul jazz outing isn't as weird as bluesman Corky Siegel mixing the "blues harp" with classical chamber music. But the result on Barrett's "Backbone" is just as nifty in my book.

Listen to the Nine Winds CD and at times you will swear Barrett is playing a saxophone ala "Sweet" Lou Donaldson or Sonny Stitt. He gets that much mileage out of his "harp." Dr. Lonnie Smith would probably love this session and organist Wayne Peet isn't too far from being in Smith's class. His compositions, like "Bluzo" (just soaked in the blues, man, soaked in 'em), and Barrett's are highlights. "MmmHm" is a soul suite, "Smiley's Dilemma" virtuosic funk and the title track plain rocks. I love this disk.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sony's lost revenue

I was looking at laptop computers and a flat-screen desktop monitor today and found some Sony models very attractive. But I decided not to buy them because Sony has seen fit to release CDs copy protected in a manner that makes them unusable in iPods, iTunes or any other standard MP3 players and damages computers to which the disks are ripped.

The malicious Sony software that does the damage even gets installed, it now appears, if a user clicks no to Sony's license agreement and aborts the ripping process. There's no other way to put it, these guys are scum!

Really classic blues

Jazz that incorporates other forms of music, beyond those traditionally melded with it, such as ragtime and the blues, intrigues me. It's a reason I like soul jazz, which, let's face it, more than a few jazz snobs look down their noses at (dumb if you ask me). It's why I liked Jenny Scheinman's "Shalagaster" earlier this year, Dino Saluzzi's "Senderos" and most recently David Murray's "Waltz Again", which make use of European folk, tango and classical elements, among other things.

Little wonder then that after I heard Chicago blues legend Corky Siegel talking on NPR Saturday about mixing the blues and chamber music, I went out and bought his CD "Corky Siegel's Traveling Chamber Blues Show."

I think a lot of people would, like me, be surprised how well this works, except maybe for "Train," which tries to happily marry vocal, as well as instrumental, blues with classical strings. It feels more like a shotgun wedding than true love. Still, overall the CD reminds me a lot of the three jazz disks I mention above. It's mostly intricate, sophisticated, interesting music and pretty jazzy as well. If you ever wondered how a harmonica might go with a Mozart quartet, "Opus 4(1/2 of Opus 8)" is your answer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Austin fallout

Besides the return of psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson and a joyous interlude with New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, I also got to see The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Austin City Limits music festival this fall, a priority for me because the band's Rope a Dope CD "Funeral for a Friend" was one of the most enjoyable I bought in 2004, from the opening avant-garde touches and the wild tempo shift on "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" through the New Orleans marching band, soul, zydeco, gospel, Latin and even Ellington and Mingus influences (among others) evident over its course. The rousing versions of "Jesus on the Mainline" and "I'll Fly Away" are fabulous.

"Buck Jump" from Mammoth, which I picked up after the Austin festival and gave its second listen over the weekend, lacks the unified theme of "Funeral for a Friend," a tribute to the late Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, legendary New Orleans street musician. (Don't think that makes it a downer. Remember, New Orleans jazz funerals tend to be about as subdued as Mardi Gras.)

Still, "Buck Jump" has everything "Funeral" does, along with some mambo ("Run Joe"), fusion ("Duff") and a heaping helping of funk ("Dead Dog in the Street"). "Pet the Cat" is an example of how serious musicianship can be fun, too. This disk is very similar to what DDBB sounds like in concert in my experience, and that's a good thing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Supreme no, good yes

On one of my favorite Chet Baker CDs Baker's trumpet playing is weak and limited in range, he misses a note now and then and his singing is tired and raspy. He needs the help of the NDR Big Band and the Hannover Radio Symphony Orchestra, both of which he played with on the live date (and they're excellent). After years living in the fast lane on a hard road, he's weeks from death and it shows.

But I like, "My Favorite Songs: The Last Great Concert," Enja, because I have yet to hear another where Baker was as emotive. I literally want to weep when he sings and blows on "My Funny Valentine." It's like, mostly stripped of all his other tools, he gets down to the essence of what made him an attractive musician in the first place, the emotions he could convey with his playing and singing.

"Supreme," a new Coleman Hawkins reissue by Enja that I bought this month, strikes me in much the same way. Yeah, Hawk, who'd be dead of his own demons a couple years after the 1966 gig in Baltimore captured on the disk, doesn't sound great. But he's giving what he's got left and some it it is the base material of his greatness. (Check out the last solo run on "Lover Come Back to Me.") Hearing him play "Body and Soul," the song which first made him famous, this late in his career is a selling point as well.

Pianist Barry Harris, Gene Taylor on bass and Roy Brooks on drums are another reason to buy "Supreme." They play well on long-form performances clocking in at 9 to 17 minutes, I think knowing Hawkins needed the support and rising to the occasion. Not the first Coleman Hawkins CD I would buy, but more worthwhile than it generally gets credit for being.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I pitty the fool...

Who doesn't dig Stanley Turrentine's "That's Where It's At," Blue Note, another reissue I've been hoping to see for awhile (like Elmo Hope's "Trio and Quintet"). Mr. T wasn't on the first tier of great saxophonists from his era, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or Wayne Shorter. But he's comparable to Sonny Stitt and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, and that means he could play, baby.

His soulful, bluesy tone went good with the B-3 when he was married to Shirley Scott and later with Lonnie Liston Smith's electric piano on the CTI Classic "Sugar." Which makes soulful, bluesy piano player Les McCann a perfect partner on "That's Where It's At."

McCann is a big reason I wanted this disk. He's not overly acclaimed outside of "Swiss Movement" with saxophonist Eddie Harris and trumpeter Benny Bailey, like "Sugar" a CD I think every semi serious jazz fan should own. But he was a heck of a pianist and a good composer.

Four of the tunes on "That's Where It's At" are McCann's, including the lively, lyrical "We'll See Yaw'll After While, Ya Heah" and the melancholy ballad "Dorene Don't Cry." Turrentine kicks in "Soft Pedal Blues." (I think the soft pedal part of the title is misapplied, but not the blues part.) You get to hear plenty of both musicians (bassist Herbie Lewis and drummer Otis Finch stick to the background) and they sound darn good. Worth the wait and a steal at $11.99 most places.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Pelt's Identity

Jeremy Pelt's "Identity," Maxjazz, is a logical extension of Miles Davis' second classic group with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock, Pelt in the Miles role and Frank LoCrasto as Herbie. It makes me think of "In a Silent Way," a passion of mine, in particular.

But there's more. LoCrastro plays the B-3, Fender Rhodes and synthesizers. Pelt has more range than Davis on trumpet and uses the flugelhorn and electronica as well. Myron Walden sticks to soprano sax and also plays some bass clarinet. They add vibes and guitar at times. So, in effect, it's Miles in the '60s meets Miles in the '70s and '80s.

Thing is, it probably works better than some of Davis' fusion stuff, which I personally think is a lot better than many people give it credit for, but then young lion Pelt has the advantage of a couple decades or three of experimentation by various jazz musicians to get it just right and I think he largely does. Modern jazz, yet still rooted in in the music's tradition, that bears close listening.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Kermit swings

Earlier this year, I wrote about what a good time I had listening to Kermit Ruffins at the Austin City Limits music festival, which possessed me recently to pick up "Swing This!" from Basin Street Records. And suddenly I was back in Austin, minus the 108 degree heat.

A fun vocal starts "Ain't Misbehavin" followed by some joyful New Orleans-style trumpet and trombone with clever quotes of "In the Mood." Fats Waller would have been pleased. Don't get the idea this is a novelty disk, however. There's some serious jazz going on, "Swing This!" for instance. Still, you gotta love a guy who can make you smile playing "But Not for Me" and "This Little Light" is just delightful.

In fact, the whole thing is delightful. Plus you get Kermit Ruffins' recipe for barbecue smoked turkey in the liner notes, which starts with "an ice chest full of beer," something I'm strongly in favor of. My life would be diminished by not owning this CD.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Big Banding, part 7

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

"Billy Eckstine and his Orchestra 1946-47," Classics. You want it because, while I like Eckstine's voice, which is more Bobby Darin pop than Joe Williams blues, he also had a heck of a backing band over this two years. That includes, at times, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss, Gene Ammons, Wardell Gray and Fats Navarro, which accounts for the memorable, if short, solos on songs such as "The Jitney Man" and the bop hit "Oo Bop Sh' Bam," remade here big band style. Great playing and singing on "In the Still of the Night," one place where Eckstine lets you know he is, in fact, a baritone. "Jelly Jelly" drips the blues and "She's Got the Blues for Sale" is swing city, man.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Chick Webb or Benny Goodman or Fletcher Henderson or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

J.C. in bloom

Another James Carter CD I think deserves more attention is "Gardenias for Lady Day," Columbia. The tribute to Billie Holiday is pretty standard music, including "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" and "More Than You Know," but Carter renders it very much in a non-standard way.

He doesn't go on the free flights of, say, Archie Shepp leading into "In a Sentimental Mood" on "Live in San Francisco" or Sonny Rollins playing "Autumn Nocturne" on "Don't Stop the Carnival" (two pieces, in my view, of brilliant musical logic in the way they progress from there to here). J.C. toes closer to the line, but not on it, which I think may be harder to do in some respects.

John Hicks, there he goes again, on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums do a great job in support, along with orchestral groups varying in composition. What Carter does with "Strange Fruit," given its history a tough one to pull off for anyone who isn't Billie Holiday, is not to be missed.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sax gospel

The new book The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, from Noisy Novelty to King of Cool" by Michael Segell ends with a nice vignette about saxophone-playing prison evangelist Vernard Johnson, which prompted me to buy his CD "I'm Alive." The disk, a keeper, features Johnson, who makes me think of George Coleman, Eddie Harris, or maybe Clarence Clemons, with the kind of high-energy gospel singers, choirs and bands that could even get me to church. (There's some great organ music, too.)

Johnson's bluesy, jazzy blowing ranges from rousing, as on "Oh Happy Day" to spiritual, "I Love to Praise His Name." You may find yourself clapping your hands on "Call Him on My Horn" and Johnson and organist Chester McCree Jr. do for "God Bless America" what Jimi Hendrix did for "The Star Spangled Banner," which is to say make cool music of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mr. Greg's Grammys

Here are Mr. Greg's jazz Grammys for 2005, in the official Grammy categories. I'll list my favorites of the year, sans the restriction of the Grammy categories, later.

Best Contemporary Jazz Album: Sonny Rollins, "Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert." Best Jazz Vocal Album: Lizz Wright, "Dreaming Wide Awake." Best Jazz Instrumental Solo: Sonny Rollins, "Why Was I Born?" on "Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert." Best Jazz Instrumental Album Individual or Group: "Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival." Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album: David Murray, "Waltz Again." Best Latin Jazz Album: Miguel Zenon, "Jibaro."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Grammy thoughts

I notice Sonny Rollins' solo on "Why Was I Born?" off "Without A Song: The 9/11 Concert," Milestone, is up for a Grammy. The whole CD should be, although I don't have any problem with the nominees in the Contemporary Jazz and Jazz Instrumental categories.

I'd probably pick "The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel," from Meshell Ndegeocello and Shanachie Entertainment in the former category, just because I found it more outside the box than some of the other nominees, and Wayne Shorter's "Beyond the Sound Barrier," Verve, in the latter.

Wayne Shorter just seems to keep getting better. Then again, so does Sonny Rollins and I rate "Without a Song" over either of the above.

Friday, December 09, 2005

My new holiday

To heck with Pearl Harbor Day, I was persuing allmusic tonight and I noticed that John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and Rudy Van Gelder recorded "A Love Supreme" on Dec. 9, 1964. I think I'll take the day off henceforth and maybe re-read Ashley Kahn's excellent book about the making of the Coltrane masterwork.

I'm an ex-Sony customer

Sony apparently didn't learn a thing from the fiasco that forced it to recall 52 CDs with copy protection that makes the titles unusable in iTunes, iPods or any other standard MP3 player and exposes computers in which they are played to viruses and other damage.

The company now has another group of CDs on the market with another copy-protection system that does similar damage.

You can find a two-part list of the affected disks in the comments section of this Washington Post Web log entry. The company isn't recalling them as yet. A Sony list of the recalled disks as a result of the first controversy is here. Despite the recall, I still notice some of these CDs on sale at stores where I live.

I'm buying no Sony product of any kind for a good long while.

Reggae jazz

I have a little reggae collection going, nothing serious (I'm not going to let it get out of hand like my jazz collection), but I like to add something to it now and then.

Recently, I added "The Best of Don Drummond" from Studio One and I am mentioning it here because it's basically a nifty reggae-inflected jazz CD. Nothing strange about that. Drummond, a trombonist, originally made his name playing jazz before becoming a ska-style reggae pioneer.

Some of the tracks on the all-instrumental disk sound like they could have come from the Gigi Gryce and Donald Byrd Jazz Lab groups, with a reggae beat added under them, and there's some Dizzy Gillespie big band-sounding stuff as well. The sound is good but not great, not poppy and scratchy (not even Itchy and Scratchy) but a tad muddy in places with abrupt endings where the recorder just gets turned off. Still, it's plenty listenable and an enjoyable bunch of music for both jazz and reggae fans.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snakes! In Sweden?

I'd classify Jonas Kullhammar as a power tenor in the Rollins or David Murray mold (he sounds a lot like both in spots, no insult), which makes him just right for the kind of modern post-bop big band session you get on "Snake City North," a Moserobie Music Production disk pairing Kullhammar's quartet with the Norbotten Big Band, jazz-crazy Swedes all around.

All but one of the compositions are Kullhammar's and it's generally exciting, often frenetic music, structured but with plenty of room for solo improvising, especially featuring the leader, and for avant-garde flourishes. "Frippes Blues" and "Slow Drop" are quite intricate, the former a toe-tapping burner, the latter kind of an ominous ballad and the more bluesy of the two despite the titles. It wouldn't be hard to twist to "Ruskitoonies McAroonies," while "For X" has a classical feel. One of my favorite buys this year. Some reviews say it will put Kullhammar prominently on the radar screen. It should.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Speaking of David Murray...

One of the things I love about the guy, whom I listed Monday as one of the five saxophonists who really float my boat, is that you never know what he's going to do next. It's blow with a Cuban big band here (the outstanding "Now Is Another Time" from Justin Time), draw jazz straight from the well of African drum rhythms there ("Gwotet" and "Yonn-Dé," also Justin Time).

Now there's his new CD "Waltz Again," Justin Time again, which pairs Murray's quartet (Lafayette Gilchrist on piano, bassist Jaribu Shihad and drummer Hamid Drake) with a 14-piece string orchestra for five Murray compositions, including the 26-minute "Pushkin Suite No. 1."

The piece, I think, is a great example of what has been called "third stream" jazz with its classical overtones and avant-garde interludes. This isn't a lightweight (albeit lovely) "Charlie Parker with Strings." It's a hard-core orchestral piece at various junctures dark and turbulent then soaring and rousing married to hard-core post-bop and free jazz improvisation. They must be on their honeymoon because every moment is copacetic. Brilliant.

The title track makes me think of the big-group sound of "Now Is Another Time" without the Latin beat, while "Dark Secrets" is the blues with strings, an interesting combination, and "Steps" is a ballad with Ellington-like intricacy. Murray, playing tenor sax and bass clarinet, is marvelous throughout. I can't wait to see what he does for an encore.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

As the evening evolved...

Vibist Stefon Harris and his band Blackout were in town over the weekend and I caught their show (boffo) and picked up their most recent CD "Evolution," Blue Note. A good move on both counts. "Nothing Personal" is a funky opener with nice interplay among Harris, Marc Cary, a really good piano and keyboards player I knew nothing about before the concert, and alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin, another find. They make a haunting ballad of the Sting tune "Until" and give "Summertime" a modernist rendering that doesn't sound much like any version I've heard before, pretty hard to do on a song that's been recorded like 10 million times. "Blackout" (the song) reminds me of Weather Report, but not in an imitative way. If these guys keep making recordings together, I'll keep buying them.

I also downloaded the Cary-led session "Listen" from emusic. With Terell Stafford on trumpet and Ron Blake on tenor sax, it's impressive updated hard bop. Cary's playing here reminds me of McCoy Tyner. I think enough of it that I'm likely to buy the CD from Arabesque.

The cool jazz and hip-hop fusion group Iswhat?! played for free after the Harris concert and had baritone saxophonist Claire Daly along as a guest, making for a wonderful evening of music. Follow these links for my takes on the Iswhat?! CD "You Figure It Out..." and Daly's disk "Heaven Help Us All," both of which I like a lot.

I received a note from Napoleon Maddox of Iswhat?! yesterday letting me know that Daly is currently touring with the group. On the off chance that somebody in the following towns might read this, their schedule this week is Louisville, Ky., tonight at the Jazz Factory; Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday at Acme Art Co.; Lexington, Ky., Friday at Firebird; Pittsburgh, Pa., Saturday at Carnegie Mellon University; Brooklyn, N.Y., Sunday at Barbes. Go see 'em if you can, it's good stuff.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Saxual preferences

Since finishing the new book The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, from Noisy Novelty to King of Cool" by Michael Segell last month I've been thinking about my favorite saxophonists. I decided I don't have one, except for Sonny Rollins, any more than I have a favorite jazz musician, except for Sonny Rollins. Too many great musicians playing too much great music to be absolute about favorites, except for Sonny Rollins.

But there are five sax players I have a special affinity for, guys I knew I would be listening to a lot of the first time I heard them. Here are some of their not-considered-seminal CDs that I, nonetheless, rate among their best.

Sonny Rollins (Surprise!), "Sonny Rollins +3," Milestone. Mr. Rollins is at his outside of the envelope-pushing best on "What a Difference a Day Made," "Mona Lisa," well, basically everything. I've always felt Stephen Scott was one of the more sympathetic pianists with whom he's recorded. I don't hear a moment wanting on this disk.

James Carter, "Conversin' with the Elders," Atlantic. J.C. trades kung fu with his musical heroes Lester Bowie, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Hamiet Bluiett, Buddy Tate and Detroit altoist Larry Smith. "Freereggaehibop" is one of my favorite jazz cuts and Carter and Bluiett locking baritone saxes on Coltrane's "Naima" is classic, but what's really cool is the run for his money Edison gives the kid on "Centerpiece."

Archie Shepp, "Passport to Paradise," WestWind. I bought this one at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs d'Elysées before I went to see him play in Paris. It's Archie doing Sidney Bechet tunes and his own bluesy tribute to the New Orleans soprano sax legend. This isn't the fiery free Archie Shepp of the '60s, but an older, more structured and bluesier version, which doesn't make his playing less interesting. I adore "My Man" with Shepp comping behind vocalist Michelle Wiley.

Coleman Hawkins, "Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins," Impulse!. The liner notes say Hawk just showed up with his horn, he and Duke talked over what to play and they did. Hey, it was Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington, along with Ellingtonian legends Johnny Hodges on alto sax and Harry Carney on baritone sax, among others. They needed to practice like I need to eat another pizza. Ellington spent his life getting stellar performances from musicians and I think he does so here. Hawkins sounds great and also sounds like he's having fun. "Limbo Jazz" is a hoot. Great Hawk solo on "Mood Indigo," too.

David Murray, "Murray's Steps," Black Saint. They said he was a return to the Rollins school when he arrived on the scene in the '70s, so maybe it's natural that he captured my ear. Some his his best work has been done using larger groups and this octet, which also has Henry Threadgill on alto sax, is an example. "Flowers for Albert," Murray's tribute to Albert Ayler, is right up there with "Freereggaehibop" on my favorite tunes list.

Friday, December 02, 2005

More Gilmore

Here are a couple other CDs where you can get an earful of John Gilmore.

"Blowin' in from Chicago," Blue Note, is a hoppin' hard bop session with Gilmore and Clifford Jordan challenging each other over Horace Silver and Art Blakey in the rhythm section. This reminds me of Dizzy Gillespie's sessions with the Sonnys Rollins and Stitt. Gilmore and Jordan duet and trade blows impressively throughout. I think "Evil Eye" rates with the Rollins and Coltrane match on "Tenor Madness."

"Jazz in Silhouette," Evidence, is a skillful, fairly conventional large group session, although being led by Sun Ra it naturally has its "out there" moments. Gilmore gets extensive solo time, in much the same way a Coleman Hawkins or Ben Webster did in their big band days. The showcasing-Gilmore factor aside, it's an excellent, accessible disk full of fine playing and interesting music.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Gilmore guy

I appreciate pianist Andrew Hill and find his music, which even early on leaned toward the avant-garde and got more so later, thought provokingly complex. But I wouldn't classify him as one of my favorites and didn't really anticipate adding any more of his CDs to my collection.

Nevertheless, I bought the recent Blue Note reissue of "Andrew!!!" because of the presence of John Gilmore, a great saxophonist little recorded outside the context of Sun Ra's groups, in which Gilmore spent most of his career.

Hill on "The Girots," the only track without Gilmore, plays like a less edgy Monk, or a more edgy Herbie Hancock and it turns out this disk overall may be the one I own that I like best as far as his playing is concerned.

Gilmore's playing is diverse throughout. He reminds me of Wayne Shorter on "Symmetry" and "Black Monday," which also features vibist Bobby Hutcherson, and he opens "Duplicity" and "Le Serpent Qui Danse" (the ensemble piece I find most interesting here) with some fine blowing definitely on the outside. Excellent bassist Richard Davis is on the date as well, yet another reason I consider it a good buy.

My kind of poetry

"R is for Sonny Rollins: His rebellious ragging sparkplugged rebop.
Sonny reinvigorates rituals.
Strong in rejoicing, right rooted in risk,
Rollins' robust style radiates roundness."

From the new book "Jazz A-B-Z: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits" by Wynton Marsalis and Paul Rogers, Candlewick Press. I got a Borders 25 percent off coupon this week and I think I know where it's going.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shake it

This is my recipe for Sex Mob's "Sex Mob Does Bond," a cool CD my friend Carl Abernathy gave me: Mix a larger group concept album, like Bob Belden's superlative "Black Dahlia," with some of Miles Davis' fusion experiments, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and free-jazz period Pharoah Sanders screeching, honking and growling. Add a pinch of disco-reminiscent background vocals and spice liberally with electronic effects. Shaken, not stirred, of course.

Slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein adds organist John Medeski, and something called the Sex Mob Soul Choir, to his regular mob for the session, which is supposed to be the sound track for an imaginary James Bond movie, mostly created by repurposing music from actual Bond movies. Clever stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I'm Byased

When I'm in Europe flipping through the jazz selections at music stores I am always a little amazed at the number of CDs featuring Don Byas. The great tenor saxophonist, rival of Coleman Hawkins and inspiration for Sonny Rollins, among other things, went off to Europe after World War II and decided to stay. As a result, we rarely hear about him in the U.S.

So when I saw "A Night in Tunisia," 1201 Music, for $11.99 other other day at my favorite local bookstore Pages for All Ages (and CDs, too) I didn't hesitate. The 1963 session is actually a night in Copenhagen, with excellent Danish pianist Bent Axen and the wonderful bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, in his teens at the time. Byas, who could command the tenor like an alto, opens with an unusual fast-paced bopped version of "I'll Remember April," gives Charlie Parker a run for his money on "Anthropology," displays some of the stuff Mr. Rollins must have been impressed by on "Lady Bird" (a highlight) and performs "Yesterdays" as kind of a power ballad (Axen does an impressive job of matching his approach). Leaves me with a serious jones for more Don Byas.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Speak up

I'd read about baritone saxophonist Claire Daly in Down Beat (the magazine tagged her a rising star) and had heard her in the all-woman big band Diva, whose 2002 CD "Live in Concert" is a stunner, so I picked up her self-produced disk "Heaven Help Us All" recently. It was on sale at a concert by the great Henry Grimes because Napoleon Maddox and his exciting jazz and hip-hop fusion group Iswhat?! opened for Grimes and Maddox appears on Daly's CD.

A cool version of the title track, on which Daly's baritone approximates the voices of Joan Baez, Ray Charles and other singers who have done the song, is just one of the highlights. Maddox then does the yang to that yin, with his marvelous ability to make his voice fill the roles of a variety of instruments, on "Heavenly."

Pepper Adams probably would have been impressed with Daly and her crew on "Ol' Devil Moon." In fact, this is mostly a very good straight-ahead, post-bop jazz session, although you've got Maddox in the mix, Daly sings a couple times (including on a reprise of "Heaven Help Us All"), and you even get some beat-style poetry on "Theme for the Eulipions/What We Got Against Tyranny" and "Evil Ways/Don't Dismiss the Bliss" (on which Daly does a little avant-garde blowing). Eli Yamin on piano, Adam Bernstein on bass and Andy Demos on drums and percussion, who make up the group Solar, and guest Warren Smith on vibes are all excellent players. Bernstein's "The Small But Evil Man" swings like mad in their hands. I'm glad I went to see Henry Grimes and glad I bought this CD.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Jones jones

The three guys I wrote about recently as alternatives to Oscar Peterson, plus Elmo Hope, all have something in common. They're dead. Not so pianist Hank Jones, who's still making great music, some of it with saxophonist Joe Lovano. Meanwhile, on "The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come," Columbia, you get three guys who are the epitome of professionalism on their instruments, Jones, his famous drumming brother Elvin (also deceased now) and the highly under appreciated Richard Davis on bass.

In some respects, this disk really showcases Davis, a good reason to buy it. I have to think Charlie Parker would have been tickled by the way Hank Jones Dances through "Moose the Mooche" and with Davis' bowing. Davis also gets to show his stuff on "Long Ago and Far Away" and "Satin Doll" (and Elvin Jones gets some, too, in what is mostly a comping outing for him, albeit it an impressive job of it). They really hit on all cylinders on the title track. That and Hank Jones' solo rendition of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," in which he takes the standard everywhere from waltz to Waller, probably make this CD worth it alone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's a free jazz Thing

Sometimes I read books for pleasure, relaxation, to "veg out" if you will (Stephen King and the "Harry Potter" series come to mind), and sometimes I read books that are both pleasurable and intellectually stimulating, Mark Twain and Steinbeck, say, or the incredible multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro.

But I also read books that aren't, on the surface, much fun, like "Moby Dick," "Plutarch's Lives" and Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science," all of which I've suffered with in recent years. They're challenging, a struggle to get through. They also are a great workout for my brain and I usually slog through the last page of such tomes with a feeling of accomplishment and intellectual growth.

I listen to music, particularly jazz music, in the much same way. Sometimes I want to kick back with Jimmy Smith or revel in the intricacy of a Duke Ellington composition. But there are other times that I hanker for the challenge presented by an Anthony Braxton or Sam Rivers' "Crystals." Avant-garde freely improvised jazz, which quite frankly I used to hate, is now my aural "Moby Dick."

Which brings me to Sunday evening, part of which I spent listening, thanks to these guys, to reed and pocket trumpet legend Joe McPhee and a trio called The Thing, otherwise known as Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and Norwegians bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, all of whom also play extensively with reedist Ken Vandermark in Chicago, who's on my list of avant-garde mountains to climb.

Here's Joe McPhee talking about it before they played in Houston, Texas, last week. I was fascinated by the performance I went to and they didn't have t-shirts so I bought the CD instead, The Thing's latest "Garage," which doesn't include McPhee. The idea of the title is that they're bringing a garage rock sensibility to improvised jazz on the disk, kind of the way the Bad Plus brings a rock sensibility in general to what it does. However, these guys are to the Bad Plus what a hardcore metal band is to Buddy Holly. (OK, maybe not that extreme a contrast, but you get the idea.)

Gustafsson fittingly makes his baritone sax sound like a screaming electric guitar on "Art Star" by the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, an art punk group, whatever that is, and "Aluminum" by garage rockers The White Stripes. In other places, it's like a bagpipe (and, yes, I like bagpipe music) or, on "Hey Flask," the foghorn on an ocean liner. Elsewhere, an eerie trance kind of thing starts "Eine Kliene Marschmusik," a Peter Brotzmann tune they cover, and I'm reminded of theme songs from TV shows past (Peter Gunn for one) on "Have Love Will Travel," which they performed with McPhee at the concert. Nilssen-Love's drumming should be characterized in my mind as an attack. (He even sits up high over his kit as if to dominate it.) The guy has the kind of Elvin Jones chops that raise his drums from the level of rhythm section to primary instrument. Håker Flaten's throbbing bass anchors it all, but I don't think he gets to show the versatility he displayed live. He's really an outstanding bassist in a William Parker vein.

Having listened to "Garage," I feel so smart. Kidding, but I do think it's stimulating stuff. Here's an All About Jazz review and one from the BBC.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

One hot, saxy book

If pretty much my favorite nonfiction author, John McPhee, wrote a book about the saxophone I expect it would be a lot like "The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, from Noisy Novelty to King of Cool" by Michael Segell, which I bought at the wonderful Vroman's bookstore in Old Pasadena on my trip to LA and finished today.

Segell, an-award-winning magazine writer and a serious amateur saxophonist himself, takes a literary look at my favorite horn, its sometimes checkered history and eccentric inventor, the art of playing it, the acoustical science behind its sound, its care and feeding, and even the health implications for musicians who take it on, among other topics.

As you would expect, there are plenty of jazz musicians among the voices heard in the book, including Sonny Rollins, Benny Carter (briefly just before his death), Lee Konitz, Michael Brecker and nifty interludes with Phil Woods and Dave Liebman. Segell also marched in the band of my alma mater in the course of his research. Great read and a fine holiday gift for that jazz fan in your life.

Sample Shirley Horn

If you're looking for a good sampler from pianist and singer Shirley Horn, who died last month, check out "But Beautiful, the Best of Shirley Horn" from Verve. The base group is a trio, mostly Horn and her guys Charles Ables on bass and Steve Williams on drums, but she's got interesting guests on some tracks, including a trumpeter name of Miles Davis on "You Won't Forget Me" and Wynton Marsalis on "A Time for Love." Roy Hargrove plays on two live performances "Jelly, Jelly" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was."

I suspect that Peggy Lee would have been darn impressed with Horn's torchy rendition of "Fever." But my personal favorite is probably "You Don't Know Me," where she accompanies herself on the B-3, although Horn and symphony orchestra on "If You Love Me" is a close second. Classy music all the way through.

Monday, November 21, 2005


When I bought James Carter's latest CD "Gold Sounds," Brown Brothers Recordings, I knew next to nothing about the '90s indie rock band Pavement, which allmusic describes as "a combination of elliptic, cryptic underground American rock (and) unrepentant Anglophilia (with) a fondness for white noise, off-kilter arrangements and winding melodies." Although Carter and crew cover Pavement's music on the disk, I didn't need to know about the band.

With James Carter in the house, I knew it wouldn't sound like much I've heard before (OK, maybe a touch of "Head Hunters" and Lonnie Liston Smith). That's why I buy pretty much everything Carter does. "Gold Sounds" doesn't disappoint and its rockish back beat and electric organ on the opener "Stereo" don't mean there isn't plenty of Carter working his horns (three different ones, including contrabass sarrusophone) for all their worth. In fact, I'd have to classify Pavement's tunes as a great vehicle for him. On "My First Mine" he gets about as close to reproducing the human voice on a saxophone as I think you probably can. The music makes good jazz, too. "Here" is a fine ballad performance, for example.

As interesting as Carter is, as usual, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, whom I've only heard, and like, in a "straight" jazz context, is the revelation, especially when he plays the Fender Rhodes and B-3. Ali Jackson produces that back beat on drums and Reginald Veal does complimentary duty on basses (acoustic and electric). This is a jazz CD Pavement and other indie rock fans should like. Jazzwise, I don't know if I would rate it higher than my Carter favorite, "Chasin' the Gypsy," where he takes on the music of Django Reinhardt in stunningly creative fashion, but it's right up there.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Proceed with caution

My local Borders Saturday was still selling the 52 Sony CDs with copy protection that makes them unusable in iTunes, iPods and any other standard MP3 player, damages the computers they're played on by installing defective software and propagates viruses, despite Sony's recall of the disks last week. So in the words of the immortal Sgt. Philip Freemason Esterhaus, "let's be careful out there."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sony's mia culpa

Stupid Sony finally fessed up to including copy protection on a total of 52 CDs that makes the titles unusable in iTunes, iPods or any other standard MP3 player and exposes computers in which they are played to viruses and other damage. The full list is here. Be a long time before I buy anything from Sony again, if ever.

A Hicks main course

Pianist John Hicks is one of those sidemen like bassist Ron Carter: They're on a lot of dates and when you see their names you can be pretty sure there's some good music on the disk. Hicks was really the highlight when I saw him dueting with Frank Morgan in LA this month, although Morgan was feeling a little under the weather that evening.

Like Carter, the pianist also leads fine sessions, notably a series examining music like that of, from, or associated with some of his progenitors, Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams and Sonny Clark among them. I like "Fatha's Day: An Earl Hines Songbook" from High Note.

This isn't Hicks mimicking the stride-rooted Hines but rather playing his own way, somewhere in the neighborhood of Bill Evans, Tommy Flannagan or Oscar Peterson (albeit less long winded). His approach is diverse. There's an elegant reading of "Almost April," he nods at stride on "Rhythm Run" and "Synopsis," and he gets boppy on "Twelve Bars for Linton." It all takes place in a trio setting, with Dwayne Dolphin on bass and Cecil Brooks III on drums, another sideman, and producer, whose presence almost always signals a keeper.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Is cool

"You Figure It Out..." from the Cinncinnati-based group Iswhat?!, now on my man Joel Dorn's Hyena Records, is the best example I've found yet in my search for a good melding of jazz and hip-hop forms.

Napoleon Maddox, plays his voice, marvelously, in the best tradition of scat singers, rappers, beat poets and street corner evangelists. Saxophonist Jack Walter, who also plays some flute on the disk, sounds like David Murray here and David "Fathead" Newman there, pretty good company, which is to say he's legitimately adept. Bassist Matthew Anderson, equally adept, rounds out the trio. They use pieces of Monk, cover Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" (Anderson is outstanding in a Mingus role on "Trust Introduct" and "Trust," too) and otherwise mix it up together and with guests ranging from avant-garde jazz percussionist Hamid Drake to DJ Spooky. I find it to be pretty exciting stuff.

Champaign-Urbana area residents are lucky. Iswhat?! is playing for free here, with outstanding baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, after the Stefon Harris & Blackout concert Dec. 3.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Appreciating Albert

If you just don't get Albert Ayler, try "Spirits Rejoice" from ESP. A lot of the music he deconstructs is recognizable stuff, from popular (once) standards to marching band tunes and bugle fanfares, which makes it, I think, easier (at least a little) to try to come to grips with what he's doing.

The two-bass configuration employed with the great Henry Grimes and Gary Peacock also suggests this disk. Plus, Ayler is accompanied by a harpsichord on one track. Not to be missed, heh, heh, heh.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

At Sony, stupidity is job one

Sony BMG has relented and is recalling the copy-protected CDs it's been trying to foist on consumers like you and me, although they won't work in iTunes, our iPods or any other standard MP3 player.

But the move is too late for folks whose computers have been damaged by Sony's software, not only the original copy-protection code but a patch Sony released to fix it after the initial furor. Incompetent is the first word that comes to mind.

Followed by boycott. Sony, as well as EMI, still have plans to copy protect all "major" releases (whatever those are) by 2006. If so, no more business from me, a guy who's bought four figures worth of CDs this year.

That's one big guitar

I bought Mamadou Diabate's "Tunga" from Alula Records after hearing him play at a guitar festival in Champaign-Urbana this fall. The Malian kora player was on a blues bill with Rory Block (whose recent CD "From the Dust" is great) and blues legend Taj Mahal, a student of string music both from Africa and worldwide, who brought Diabate along. The music he produced with his 21-string behemoth of an instrument captivated me, hence the purchase.

When I listen to the disk, I hear Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Spanish guitar, Latin jazz, American and Irish folk music played on instruments like the dulcimer, strains of stringed Middle Eastern and Medieval music, and opera when he sings (only a couple times here), among other things. It also makes me think of Dino Saluzzi, the Argentine bandoneon player who makes jazz of tango music. It shouldn't be surprising that "Tunga" sounds jazzy quite often, given that jazz itself is heavily rooted in African rhythms. (Jazz bassist Ira Coleman also accompanies on five tracks.) I think the title track, which Diabate played at the festival here, is one of the most haunting tunes I've ever heard and "Soutoukou" one of the happier. This is an enchanting, mind-expanding CD.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Big Banding, part 6

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

Fletcher Henderson, "Under the Harlem Moon," ASV Living Era. You want these 22 sides from 1932-37 because Fletcher Henderson knew talent and Benny Goodman knew a stellar arranger and composer when he saw one, which is why he hired Henderson after Henderson's band broke up.

Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart, Chu Berry, Russell Procope and J.C. Higginbotham are among the players in arrangements sophisticated in the sense that a whole lot of things happen both as a group and solo and it all fits together like Legos, as on "Ain't Cha Glad?" and "Hocus Pocus." "Tidal Wave" is a swing symphony and "Christopher Columbus" and "Chris and his Gang" are positively Ellingtonian. Some of the soloing presages the avant-garde and bassists John Kirby and Israel Crosby do standout work holding things together. Great stuff that by no means sounds dated.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Chick Webb or Benny Goodman or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bop different

"Frank Morgan," GNP, is the CD to get covering the fine alto saxophonist, whom I caught dueting with John Hicks last week, before drugs and prison sidelined him for 30 years, but here are a couple titles from his remarkable comeback that I like.

"Bop!" from Telarc. Morgan comes down somewhere between the lyricism of Benny Carter and the outside leanings of Jackie McLean. As the title implies, the disk is a collection of bebop standards and includes nice versions of "A Night in Tunisia," "Blue Monk" and "Half Nelson." Monkish piano player Rodney Kendrick compliments Morgan, who gets in some Bird-class runs, well. This CD isn't that hard to find in the U.S., but I happened to buy it at the Paris Jazz Corner, which makes me think of one of my favorite cities, and a great jazz town, whenever I play it.

"City Nights: Live at the Jazz Standard" from High Note. Highlights include a bopped version of "Georgia on My Mind," cool renderings of "All Blues" and "Round Midnight" and stirring runs through Coltrane's "Equinox" and "Impressions." Morgan shows he's still got legs on a speedy (in tempo not length, which is more than 10 minutes) rendition of "Cherokee." George Cables on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass and Billy Hart on drums are outstanding in support.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Music to drink by

They say J.T. Brown sometimes sounded like a bleating goat when he played his saxophone and I can tell you from the 20-track Delmark compilation of Brown recordings "Windy City Boogie" that he was sure no technician.

So why do I love this CD then? In the movie "Diner," a favorite of mine, in one of my favorite scenes, a character takes his buddy, who's getting married, to a seedy burlesque bar where a blues-heavy jazz combo is playing and they have some drinks, laugh, commiserate, mull over the vagaries of life and end up in an all-night eatery trading philosophy with one of the dancers.

The music on "Windy City Boogie" could have been the soundtrack. It's down and dirty bluesy jazz or jazzy blues, the kind you might sit around with your friends and get happy drunk to, talk about anything and everything, and laugh a lot. Brown could blow up an atmosphere and the CD includes some good blues singing and guitar playing and tasty boogie-woogie piano as well. Heck, you could even dance to it. But keep your clothes on.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Avoid these CDs

Like the plague.

Here's a list of Sony CDs copy-protected to make them impossible to use on your iPod or any other MP3 player, a protection system that also surreptitiously installs software on your computer that "has a high possibility of crashing any PC it is installed on and soaks up processor cycles because of inefficient coding."

I have marked the jazz titles that stuck out at me.

Trey Anastasio, Shine (Columbia)
Celine Dion, On ne Change Pas (Epic)
Neil Diamond, 12 Songs (Columbia)
Our Lady Peace, Healthy in Paranoid Times (Columbia)
* Chris Botti, To Love Again (Columbia)
Van Zant, Get Right with the Man (Columbia)
Switchfoot, Nothing is Sound (Columbia)
The Coral, The Invisible Invasion (Columbia)
Acceptance, Phantoms (Columbia)
Susie Suh, Susie Suh (Epic)
Amerie, Touch (Columbia)
Life of Agony, Broken Valley (Epic)
* Horace Silver Quintet, Silver's Blue (Epic Legacy)
* Gerry Mulligan, Jeru (Columbia Legacy)
* Dexter Gordon, Manhattan Symphonie (Columbia Legacy)
* The Bad Plus, Suspicious Activity (Columbia)
The Dead 60s, The Dead 60s (Epic)
Dion, The Essential Dion (Columbia Legacy)
Natasha Bedingfield, Unwritten (Epic)
Ricky Martin, Life (Columbia)

I've purchased a lot of Columbia Legacy disks in the past and likely would have sprung for the Dexter Gordon title on the list at least. No mas.


The Gangbé Brass Band's "Whendo" from World Village is like listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo (when its members sing, which they do well), the Jazz Messengers (these guys can blow with Lee Morgan, et al) and a good Tito Puente, Ray Barretto or Pancho Sanchez session (in the percussion underpinnings and the often Latin feeling). In between, there's a lot of kickin' jazz, as in sections of "Remember Fela" or "Gbedji," for example. They even whip up a little kind of Latin jazz polka in "Glessi."

I ended up with this CD because my buddy Carl Abernathy caught the group, which comes from Benin in West Africa, recently in Indiana and raved about it. He rated Gangbé with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, whom we saw give a great performance at the Austin City Limits festival in September and whose disk "Funeral for a Friend" from Rope a Dope was one of my favorites last year (and still is).

Now Carl is a little like me and eating where concerts are concerned. They say my best meal ever was the last one I had. Nonetheless, when he says something rocks, he's usually right. Right again. If you like Dirty Dozen, or Mo'Fone, another horn- and percussion-oriented group I think is cool (see "Surf's Up" from Evander Music), you should dig this.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Indy gold

I plugged organist Melvin Rhyne's recent CD "Tomorrow Yesterday Today", but here's an early date, from 1959, involving Rhyne that's worth picking up. I got it for my birthday thanks to my friends Pat Kuhnle and Carl Abernathy.

On "The Wes Montgomery Trio: A Dynamic New Sound," Riverside, Rhyne plays mostly a complimentary role with Montgomery's guitar front and center. Some reviews characterize this grouping as not working fully to let Wes do his stuff, but I think the two Indianapolis natives work together smoothly and seem to have been a good fit. Melvin gets to run a bit on some tunes, like "Satin Doll." Montgomery puts his own stamp on "'Round Midnight," one of my favorite jazz standards, approaching it with a lighter touch than it usually gets in a version I'm pleased to have. Montgomery and Rhyne both get to let loose on Montgomery's tune "Jingles." Lots of good playing here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

And Jacko makes three

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
I thought the neighbor they assigned Les Paul and Mary Ford on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was interesting so I snapped this photo during my vacation to LA.

My buddy Mike Carniello and I also caught Frank Morgan and John Hicks dueting at The Jazz Bakery, a place I heartily recommend as an enjoyable venue for live jazz. I wish I was going back for Bobo Stenson tonight and Regina Carter later this month.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Mana store

Posts have been spotty because I'm vacationing in LA. If you ever get a
chance to hit Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard, do it. The best record
store I've been in and I am $143 poorer to prove it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Listening to Les

Lots of Les Paul stuff out in conjunction with the guitar master's
landmark 90th birthday and I chose "The Best of the Capital Masters:
90th Birthday Edition," which has Paul, who made his name as a jazz
guitarist, accompanying wife Mary Ford, certainly a pleasant singer in
a Lawrence Welk Show kind of way, which isn't at all hard for me to sit
through to get the pretty amazing Les Paul guitar playing behind and
around it.

Les positively rocks on "In the Mood," "Brazil" and "Avalon" and
there's both peppy guitar work and singing on a nice version of "How
High the Moon." Mary even gets a little bluesy on "Hummingbird." My
personal highlight: "Whispering," which is like Les Paul playing Art
Tatum on the electric guitar. A nice disk if you want to hear why Les
Paul is just as notable a guitarist as a guitar and sound gear inventor
and a fun CD in general.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Big Banding, part 5

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

"Benny Goodman and His Orchestra: Sing, Sing, Sing," Bluebird. You want it for the call-and-response soloing by ace musicians that goes on amid the stellar group play culled from 1935-38. A lot of people don't think about what a great improviser Benny Goodman was on the clarinet with, frequently, a boppish or post-bop sound well before it became the norm. Check out his two solo blasts on "Goody Goody." I think it's cool when he uses his flourishes to, in essence, comp the band like it was a single soloist. Great guitar work by George Van Eps on "Bugle Call Rag" and don't miss Gene Krupa's drumming on "Sing, Sing, Sing."

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Chick Webb or Fletcher Henderson or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

Friday, October 28, 2005

More Peterson alternatives

Here are disks from a three other bop, post-bop pianists who should probably get as much attention as Oscar Peterson.

Phineas Newborn Jr., "Here is Phineas," Koch. His version of "All the Things You Are," which starts out languidly classical and morphs from stride to bop and back is a wonder.

Herbie Nichols, "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love," Rhino. More than a little Art Tatum in his playing, he gives Bud Powell a run for his money and I don't doubt he could have been a concert pianist if so inclined. From "Too Close for Comfort" on, every track is powerful and inventive.

Bobby Timmons, "This Here is Bobby Timmons," Riverside/OJC. There's no version of "My Funny Valentine" I like more and none, I think, more clever. "This Here" plain rocks.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'm hoping for more

I'm down with Oscar Peterson, whom I saw get helped to his piano bench a couple years ago at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago, start rough and then turn in some playing maybe a handful of folks half his age could muster. But it always ticks me off when I'm flipping through the CDs at, say, a Barnes & Noble or a Borders and there are eight or 10 Peterson CDs available and one or two, if any, from some of the other great bop and post-bop keyboard masters, even Bud Powell for gosh sakes. (There's always plenty of Monk, too, but then Monk isn't a piano player per se. The piano is just the tool by which he plays his real instrument, his genius, which is a whole 'nother thing.)

You would be lucky, for example, to find anything from Elmo Hope and if you do it's probably "The All Star Sessions," a disk less about Hope than the horn men playing with him, Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd and Blue Mitchell among them. That's not the case on "Trio and Quintet," a CD I've wanted for some time and was happy to find last week that Blue Note has now reissued.

Hope has what I would call a light touch, happy and peppy on up-tempo pieces and deftly hinting at melancholy on ballads but not to the point of being depressing. There's always a little, well, hope in his playing. You get to hear him as the featured attraction on the first 10 cuts, in a trio with Percy Heath on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The other 10 tracks actually include two quintets, with Harold Land on tenor, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Art Blakey drumming, among others. Almost entirely Hope compositions, it's a real keeper and a welcome bit of diversity in the piano jazz selection of your local CD seller.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I like Ike

If you're a big fan, like me, of Ike Quebec, the deep-toned tenor saxophonist from the same vein as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster but with a sound all his own, you haven't had much choice in CDs: "Blue & Sentimental" and "Heavy Soul" or "Heavy Soul" and "Blue & Sentimental," take your pick. Mr. Quebec went into the business end of recording, for one thing, and didn't lead that many sessions, had drug problems early on when he was playing and died of lung cancer at age 44, not long after the playing side of his career revived.

Which is why the choice was simple when I spied the newly released "Ike Quebec: The Complete Blue Note 45 Sessions" in the bin at Borders over the weekend, especially with a coupon for 25 percent off in my pocket because the two-CD set is a little pricey. But worth it, with 26 tracks ranging from moody ballads like "Blue Friday" and "Imagination" to burners like "Mardi Gras" and "Me 'N' Mabe." All the tracks are Ike with an organist, guitarist, bassist and drummer, Sir Charles Thompson, Skeeter Best, Milt Hinton and Sam Jones among them. I sure wish they made this kind of stuff for jukebox distribution today.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Harry keeps his mouth shut

I tend to think of Harry Connick Jr. as a comely crooner and erstwhile movie actor and then, every once in awhile, something from his CD "Other Hours" will come up from the Party Shuffle playlist in iTunes or on one of my iPods and I'll think, "Boy, what advanced hard bop band with avant-garde leanings is playing that." Sure enough, it's a cut from "Other Hours." (OK, I don't really think that way, but you get the idea.)

So I was excited when "Occasion," another disk on which Harry sings not a word and confines himself to piano playing, came out recently on the Marsalis Music label featuring Connick in a series of duets with the label's head dude saxophonist Branford Marsalis, a favorite of mine and I think one of the best and most inventive current sax players, approaching the status of a Wayne Shorter.

The disk is maybe not as exciting as I expected, but it's good with music ranging from an updated New Orleans dance hall sound to the avant-garde, although more atmospheric, moody, even noirish than foot tapping in sum. There are plenty of classical overtones as well. I'd put it somewhere between "People Time," the Stan Getz and Kenny Barron duet collection from Gitanes and Verve, and "Bobo Stenson/Lennart Aberg" from Amigo. The two Swedes, as you can imagine, are a bit more on the outside than Getz and Barron, who play more to the inside but by no means in a boring fashion. "People Time" may be Getz's best stuff. "Occasion" gives you the same kind of opportunity to listen to Marsalis and Connick in detail and that makes it worth the price of admission. I just wish there were a few more jaunty tunes like "Good to be Home" on it. I highly recommend "Other Hours," which has Harry playing piano in an adventurous quartet. Charles "Ned" Goold on tenor sax is a big-time player.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Bad Plus minus

I'm a big The Bad Plus fan and gave their initial CD "These Are the Vistas" to a lot of people as a gift after taking a flier on it when it first came out. I'd really like to buy the band's new CD "Suspicious Activity" and almost did today until I looked at the back. Sony has applied its XCP copy protection scheme to the disk, meaning it can only be copied to players that play copy-protected Windows Media files, of which there are damn few, or Sony's own protected format ATRAC, which almost everyone agrees sounds awful.

Either way, none of my iPods, or anyone else's, can play those formats. Likewise, you can't use them in iTunes on your computer. Sony's system prevents you from coverting the tracks to MP3 files, which lets out most non-iPod players and non-iTunes playing software as well.

To be fair, you can buy the disk's contents at the iTunes Music Store for $9.90, or $9.09 less than I would have paid for it at Borders. Then again, I was most interested to see what the guys did with "(The Theme from) Chariots of Fire," so I just bought that track for 99 cents. Net savings: $18, which I invested in a CD from another company, one that wasn't copy protected. Incidently, you also could burn the tracks from the iTunes Music Store to a CD from iTunes and rip them back onto your computer as unprotected MP3s with what I would classify as acceptable sound quality. Otherwise, the iTunes Music Store's protection scheme allows you to burn seven CDs without changing the song list, play copies of the songs in iTunes on five computers at once and copy the files to an unlimited number of iPods.

Note to record companies: I spent about four figures on CDs last year and I am on track to do so this year. If you're going to make them impossible to use in my iPods and iTunes, I'm going to stop buying them and live with what I've got, the reasonably restricted (in my opinion) files from the iTunes Music Store and the unrestricted tunes I can get from emusic. I do commend Sony for labeling the disk as copy protected. Such labeling should be required by law.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Big Banding, part 4

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

"Chick Webb & His Orchestra: Stompin' at the Savoy," ASV/Living Era. You want it for the great ensemble playing by a band that in a battle of the bands kicked the Benny Goodman band's behind, and for the great, if short, solos contained within. Check out the Taft Jordan trumpet solo on "Let's Get Together." You can just see people out there on the floor of the Savoy Ballroom cutting a rug, so to speak. This music, often frenetic, was made for dancing, and mostly fast. Less sophisticated than Ellington, yes, but just as swinging. On cuts like "Down Home Rag" and "Go Harlem," your feet will be moving, man. I'm betting everybody was jumping on "Harlem Congo."

That said, the real reason you want this is for the half dozen selections featuring the teen girl singer Chick Webb said was too homely to front his band ... until she opened her mouth to sing. Ella Fitzgerald made dangerous jazz out of ditties like "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" with this group in back of her.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Benny Goodman or Fletcher Henderson or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Move, stand, listen

Flute player and composer Jamie Baum, who plays alto flute here as well, leads a well-appointed septet through a program that deftly mixes modern classical (Bartok and Stravinsky for two), hard bop and avant-garde influences on "Moving Forward, Standing Still" (Omnitone). The result is a diverse, but still coherent, collection of music that brings to mind a movie score and the Jazz Messengers here, Detroit funk and a Middle Eastern bazaar there. I like it a lot.

Good playing by Ralph Alessi, who's got kind of a Freddie Hubbard or Woodie Shaw sound, on trumpet. (See "In the Journey.") Ditto Doug Yates on Alto saxophone ("All Roads Lead to You"). Tom Varner plays French horn on the disk, George Colligan acoustic and electric piano and Drew Gress bass (with a great solo on "Spring"). They're all leaders in their own right, which makes this kind of an all-star group and it sounds like it. I think I'll hear new things whenever I listen. "Central Park" alone is an aural feast.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Look ma, no piano

Enrico Rava's "Full of Life" from CamJazz has the great Italian trumpeter in a Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker-like pianoless quartet, but with more of a Mingus feel musically. Rava is joined by Javier Girotto on baritone sax (mostly, he plays a nice soprano otherwise), a bassist and drummer. Most of the CD is compositions by Rava and Girotto along with a few standards, "Moonlight in Vermont," done as a fetching ballad with avant-garde touches, and "Nature Boy" among them. "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" is somewhere under the heavy and inventive improvising they do over it. Check out "Happiness is to Win a Big Prize in Cash," a calypso-sounding hoot I can see myself skipping down the street to, if I could still skip. A delightful disk top to bottom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Free duo

"New World Pygmies" (Eremite) gets you decidedly avant-garde alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and versatile bassist William Parker, one of my favorite current jazz musicians and group leaders. That's it. Two guys who hadn't played together in a dozen years in a program improvised live. That they do it so well is pretty amazing. This also is a good CD to study the importance, as I've posited before, a bassist can have in free jazz, writ large because it's only Parker and Moondoc.

Moondoc reminds me of later Ornette Coleman, although he isn't that much different than Sonny Rollins either, if you isolated what Mr. Rollins does as this CD isolates Moondoc, which is to say his playing's outside but not excessively outside. Parker does about everything you can do with a bass here. If you enjoy free jazz and improvised music you probably will like this disk.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Heavy Ludwig

So I doubt any heavy metal bands ever invited Gene Ludwig to play with them and there are probably a lot of reasons for that. One might be fear. Fear of the big but smooth sound the Pittsburgh B-3 god pumps out, which would make the metal dudes sound anemic and crude by comparison.

Check out "Soul Serenade" from Loose Leaf Music. From the opener, "Duff's Blues," Ludwig roars, and swings like crazy, too. Great version of the Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" signature tune "Freddie the Freeloader." This blues- and soul-laden disk will wake you up guaranteed. Even the ballads, like "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and the title track, aren't what you'd call sleepy. Some outstanding guitar work from Ken Karsh as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ponder Ponder

Although it's Jimmy Ponder's date, the guitarist and his Pittsburgh colleague organist Gene Ludwig could be billed as co-leaders on "What's New." On the High Note CD "James Street" you get to hear more of Ponder in isolation and as the main man in a quartet setting. Take "J.P.," where he goes on a Sonny Rollins-like improvised solo run, and "Love Theme from Spartacus."

Other highlights include a fun sprint through "You Can't Take That Away from Me," with some clever quoting of "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," and ballady renderings of "God Bless the Child" and "Body and Soul," the former a real contrast from the version on "What's New." John Hicks plays a mostly supportive role on piano but gets in a few good solos of his own, which you would expect from a guy who's simply one of the best modern sidemen, when he's not leading his own excellent sessions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chasin' a new Trane

In September we got a new CD from a rediscovered tape of Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane playing together in a Voice of America performance in 1957, just as Coltrane was beginning his ascension with "Blue Train" and "Giant Steps." Now we get another treasure, this from the Coltrane family closet, with Coltrane at the height of his skill just after "A Love Supreme" and before he steps firmly into the avant-garde.

"One Up, One Down" from Impulse! includes two CDs from tapes of live stereo broadcasts of Coltrane's classic quartet at the Half Note in New York City in March and May of 1965 on Alan Grant's Jazz Portraits show.

On the title track, Jimmy Garrison sets the table with his bass, although it's actually from a performance in progress because the show didn't begin until 35 minutes after the band had started. In Coltrane's solo, which spans most of the 27 minutes, I hear "A Love Supreme," "Crescent," which a lot of people consider this group's greatest work, and the avant-garde experiments that are coming with "Ascension" and the like. Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones pace him like veteran teammates pacing a great distance runner toward a record-setting performance. The sound is quite good, although a little off balance and glitchy in a few spots since it did come from a tape and made in a broadcast not a studio session, albeit it a pro tape done by Grant for Coltrane. You don't hear McCoy Tyner much on "One Down, One Up," but the pianist and Coltrane trade big-time chops on an electric (the feeling, not the instruments) up-tempo version of "Afro Blue," the other cut on the first CD, which lasts nearly 13 minutes itself.

The second CD includes the "Love Supreme"-inflected "Song of Praise" and a boffo version of "My Favorite Things" that I think contrasts with the title track on the Coltrane studio recording "My Favorite Things," done four years earlier, to show clearly the free-leaning advance of his music. Great, great Tyner solo and support from Jones, too.

By all means, you want "A Love Supreme" and "Crescent" if you don't have them. But "One Down, One Up" rates with "Live at the Village Vanguard," the gold standard for live performances by this historic group. Those four would make for a nice, representative collection. Add "Blue Train," "Giant Steps" and "Ascension" and I could survive on a desert island knowing I'd be able satisfy my regular Coltrane cravings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Steel City organ goodness

I've got individual CDs from both Jimmy Ponder and Gene Ludwig, fine Pittsburgh-based guitarist and B-3 organist respectively, so I was happy to get "What's New" from my friend Carl Abernathy the other day, a High Note disk that puts the duo in a trio with Cecil Brooks III, a drummer I admire and one of a few producers whose name I consider when deciding whether to buy a CD.

An up-tempo rendering of "God Bless the Child" is an unusual, and almost unrecognizable, version of the standard, and not in a bad way. I dig their blues-drenched rendition of "Please Give Me Someone to Love," in which Ludwig comps behind Ponder's guitar to near perfection. The sweet ballad rendering of "That's All" to close pretty much proves these guys can play any style. You can't go wrong buying this.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Big Banding, part 3

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

Claude Thornhill and his orchestra "The 1948 Transcription Performances" from the HEP label. You want it because the band is playing stellar arrangements by Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan before the former changes jazz with Miles Davis and the latter cuts his own notable swath.

Mulligan also gets some good solo time on baritone sax, as on the bop hit "Anthropology," and Lee Konitz is in this group playing alto as well. The music ranges from Latin-inflected "Adios" to a pretty abstract rendition of "Lover Man" and the recorded-for-radio sound is quite good.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Chick Webb or Benny Goodman or Fletcher Henderson or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

iPod Nano fun

Hard drives being the size of Texas these days, I pretty much copy every CD I buy into iTunes. That, the occasional virtual shopping trip to the iTunes Music Store and my subscription to emusic mean I'm approaching 8,000 songs in my iTunes library.

I use iTunes and my tough little iPod Nano to help me manage my musical cornucopia. I found that the Nano will hold about 56 hours of music. So in iTunes, I created a smart playlist 56 hours long that picks a random selection from my library but only songs I haven't heard in the last 30 days. (I could have set this to 60 days, 90, a year, whatever.) I've also excluded some things like Christmas music and audio books. Now, whenever I connect my Nano to my computer, iTunes moves the songs I've listened to recently out and puts in new tunes to replace them. Slick.

I could have done this with my iPod Shuffle, but the screen in the Nano makes it better for such a thing since I don't necessarily recognize every song and I like to be able to see what and who are playing.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More iPod Nano scratches

If you're worried about iPod Nano scratches get an iPod Shuffle, which is pretty much indestructable.

No screen, true, but that's what makes it a musical tank. I've created a playlist of a several hundred favorite songs I cycle through my Shuffle automatically with iTunes, so I'm rarely left wondering what tune is playing despite being screenless. It's like having a radio station in my pocket, a really good radio station.

I wouldn't be without my Shuffle. Of course, I wouldn't be without my Nano either. Or my 30 GB full-sized iPod...

Friday, October 07, 2005

iPod Nano scratches

Walter Mossberg, a guy whose stuff I generally agree with, whined about scratches on his iPod Nano in his Wall Street Journal Q&A column this week and I have the same message for Walter as I have for the other people bitching about scratched Nanos and getting far too much attention for it.

Get over it!

My Nano has scratches, too. It has them because it's a tiny device I can carry anywhere with fantastic sound. I don't put it in a case because I don't want to bulk it up. Constant use plus no case equals scratches, it's axiomatic.

That in no way affects the function of my Nano, not even the readability of the screen, as Mossberg implies (I think incorrectly) it could, any more than it affects the function of my little Canon Digital Elph, which has its share of superficial scratches after years of use as well. Check this out if you want to see what it takes to REALLY destroy a Nano. My advice is buy one.

Of course, this post and others like it won't get much press. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a real-life reporter.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Heard it before

The President, he's got his war
Folks don't know just what it's for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason
We're chicken-feathers, all without one gut
Tryin' to make it real — compared to what?

"Compared to What" came up on the Shuffle this morning and struck me, sadly, as just as relevant today as it was in 1969. It also reminded me what a funky good time "Swiss Movement" is with great piano playing and singing from Les McCann and fine work by Eddie Harris on tenor sax, Benny Bailey on trumpet and Leroy Vinnnegar on bass. It's a CD every jazz fan should have and one I think even non-jazz fans would enjoy.

Not your father's B-3 combo

On "Realization" (Sirocco Music) George Colligan and his group Mad Science graft computer synthesizers to a classic B-3, guitar and drums trio. The result is a package with a mostly rock-like beat and places where it kind of reminds me of the electronic stuff Bugge Wesseltoft does, but with strong overtones of Dr. Lonnie Smith and Larry Young. (On "Grounded," the title track and "Utopian Struggle," among other places.) By turns funky and abstract, I think it's kind of a cool update of the organ jazz combo.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Roky like Rocky

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
You can read the back story on Roky (pronounced Rocky, like the boxer) Erickson at allmusic and his own Web site. Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night after a long day in the 100-degree heat at the Austin City Limits festival and a lot of cold Lone Stars, I found myself listening to his first full concert performance in a long time. I would have been back at the motel showering if I hadn't been there with my musically encyclopedic friends Carl Abernathy and Rodd Zolkos, who wrangled us into attending. Suffice to say, Roky was a revelation.

Which is how I ended up buying last week "I Have Always Been Here Before," a new anthology of Erickson's career from Shout Factory. The music, 43 tracks worth, ranges from being like the Doors to Dylan. There are 10 cuts from his days in the 13th Floor Elevators, the landmark psychedelic band. Meanwhile, some of his stuff reminds me of the more rock-oriented material from folk rocker/musical storytellers Harry Chapin and John Prine, two of my favorites. And there's more than a hint of Texas blues (he's from Austin) in there, too. Sorry, I detect no jazz.

OK, Roky sings about working at the Kremlin with a two-headed dog and thinking up demons sometimes, but there also are some touching ballads and stirring calls for social justice on the two disks and a lot of stellar guitar work. At his best, he's as good as the Beatles, Stones or anybody else from the '60s. This new fan is pulling for him and suggests you do as well. Start by getting "I Have Always Been Here Before," which will be good for both of you.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Harper's peak

"Somalia" is an excellent display of Billy Harper's prowess, which I think is on par with, say, an Eric Dolphy or Sam Rivers. On the title track of the Evidence CD, the tenor saxophonist improvises rather amazingly off the elemental base of an African chant that introduces the song.

The other big draw is the Coltrane-esque "Thy Will Be Done," which pushes boundaries for nearly 22 minutes. With "Somalia" at more than 13 and "Quest" at nearly that, there's lots of room to be inventive and Harper and crew, including dual drummers, take advantage. This is the Billy Harper disk to have. Trumpeter Eddie Henderson, a favorite sideman of mine, also gets a chance to show he can do more than play straight ahead flawlessly.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Avant-garde messengers

That hard bop iconoclast Art Blakey might turn over in his grave if he heard me say it, but Grachan Moncur III's recent CD "Exploration" sounds to me like Jazz Messengers meets Archie Shepp, or maybe what the Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" nonet might have sounded like if it had come along a decade later.

The disk puts the trombonist, pretty much unrecorded the last 20 years, in a big-hitter nonet playing eight of his compositions as sympathetically rearranged by conductor Mark Masters. Among the other players: Gary Smulyan, one of my favorite baritone saxophonists, Gary Bartz on alto, and tenorist Billy Harper, who should get a lot wider recognition than he does. These guys perform like a group that's been working together for years rather than a pickup band. All of it's interesting, but I especially liked "Monk in Wonderland" and "Frankenstein." They tip the scales all the way to the avant-garde on the freely improvised "Excursion." On the Capri label via the American Jazz Institute, it's an intellectually stimulating CD I can recommend enthusiastically.