Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dedicated to Percy

So long to Percy Heath, 81, bassist and last surviving member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, who died of bone cancer this week. I'm not certain there is such a thing as a bad MJQ CD. But I rate "Pyramid" as the group's classic. The other one I wouldn't want to be without is the double CD "Dedicated to Connie," a live recording from 1960 only released after drummer Connie Kay died in 1994. Leader and pianist John Lewis said the group never played better.

Friday, April 29, 2005

In praise of Parker

I wrote earlier about the bassist Henry Grimes returning, impressively I might add, after more than three decades. When the folks who found Henry Grimes went looking for a bass for him after he told them he'd like to start playing again (he had sold his long ago for money to live), it was William Parker who came up with one.

Now, William Parker is not only a good human being, he's, to me anyway, the modern incarnation of Charles Mingus as a skilled bassist and, more importantly, one of the best group leaders going. (See "Mayor of Punkville" and "O'Neal's Porch" for two very good, and quite varied, examples.)

Trouble is, you often don't get to hear a lot of William Parker playing when he's leading a sizable group and that's a shame. Which is one reason I enjoy his recent release "Luc's Lantern," a trio with the excellent pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Michael Thompson. Parker's readily apparent on this and it's a pleasure to hear so much of him. The CD is also a little less "outside" than a lot of his stuff, so it's approachable for you free jazz agnostics. Definitely worth buying and you get the good feeling that comes with supporting a nice guy, too.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Blue hands

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
Check out this photo of blues legend David "Honeyboy" Edwards playing at Jackson's Ribs -N- Tips in Champaign Tuesday night. His face, and especially his hands, tell you why Honeyboy can play the blues, I think. He's lived 'em. My friend Cindy "Honeygirl" Pringle took the great picture. Her husband Kirby "Velveetaman" Pringle told me to call her Honeygirl.

New flamenco sketches

Jerry Gonzalez, outstanding trumpeter late of the Fort Apache Band and the excellent Latin jazz documentary "Calle 54," moves to Spain, becomes a sensation, decides to fuse jazz and flamenco music and yields "Los Piratas del Flamenco," which is a little bit "Sketches of Spain," a little bit Tito Puente, with snatches of Dizzy Gillespie and Machito and a whole lot of you’ve not heard anything quite like this before, at least not on a jazz CD. I like it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Holy iPod Batman

Jesus has better stuff on his iPod than the president if you ask me. I just knew he'd be a Mingus fan.

Some radio

My pick for the most unusual jazz CD I have heard in, oh, let’s say the past year, goes to "The Little Radio," a duet session between the British saxophonist (tenor here) Ian Ballamy and Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen, who plays for this session, and yes I am actually going to type this in a jazz context, button accordion.

I had been looking for this CD since reading a review in a British jazz magazine last year and found it at Ray’s Jazz on my trip to London in March. If you can find it, buy it. I predict you will be amazed by the big sound these guys make, floored by their improvisational chops and thoroughly entertained. As a bagpipe fan and a jazz fan, "Danny Boy" gives me goose bumps.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Under the influence

I guess 90 years of perspective is helpful in playing the blues. Or so it seems to me while sitting here, drinking beer and listening to Honeyboy Edwards play. I'll be frigging dead at 90.

Later: OK, Honeyboy isn't playing the guitar as well as, say, Sonny Rollins played the sax in Chicago Friday night. Then again, did I mention that the guy will be 90 in June. It's amazing he's playing the guitar at all, plus singing.

Good Honeyboy Edwards CDs: "I've Been Around" and "Mississippi Delta Bluesman."

The other Honeyboy

I am about to head out the door to hear Delta blues legend David "Honeyboy" Edwards at Jackson's Rib -N- Tips in Champaign. What the heck he is doing at Jackson's Ribs -N- Tips in Champaign I don't know, although they do have really good food in excellently sized portions, always a winning combination in my book. But I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth in any event.

More iPod thievery

Oh yeah, let's see these chicks try to steal my iPod, or rather either of my iPods. Not unless you're willing to pry them from my cold dead hands baby. That boy is going to need therapy, however.

New old thing

I’m a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and I remember after the first time I read them through, before I discovered the pleasure of reading them again periodically, fishing for replacements and reading "The Seven Percent Solution" by Nicholas Meyer. Yeah, it was imitative. A pretty good imitation, in fact. Which happened to make it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

And that’s how I feel about Wallace Roney’s recent CD "Prototype," which is imitative of the great '60s quintet and electric period (I hear a "In a Silent Way" and "Tutu" on this in snatches) of Miles Davis. It's a pretty good imitation, in fact. (Roney, after all, once served as stand-in for the great one.)

Which happens to make it an enjoyable listen. Worth buying. Also, you critics should get off Wallace Roney's case about sounding just like Miles Davis. He doesn't, any more than Nicholas Meyer writes just like Sir Arthur. Sounding like Miles isn't an insult anyway, man.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Write your congressperson

These newly discovered recordings of Coltrane playing with Monk absolutely should be released on CD and it's an outrage if they're not.

Stanley speaks

My friend Carl Abernathy points out that electric bass legend Stanley Clarke has a blog, which appears to be fairly active this month anyway. Cool.

Everybody loved Sonny

And another glowing review of the Sonny Rollins concert in Chicago Friday night. He really did kick butt.

Not exactly funny

Why couldn't Helen Keller drive?

Because she was blind and deaf.

Lots of realistic spins on old, bad jokes that maybe will give some of the people who still tell these things pause for thought, although I doubt it. (And calling them "jokes" was a stretch, if not plain stupid, in the first place.)

In praise of Mr. Rollins

Here's a nice review of the Sonny Rollins concert in Chicago Friday night. I'm pretty much in agreement with it, especially the last paragraph.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A jazz history lesson

With a Champaign-Urbana flavor. Saxophonist Tony Zamora remembers some of the jazz roots, which run impressively deep, of the place where I live.

This was done as part of a jazz promotion project last year by folks at the University of Illinois and in the community. Thanks to my friend Carl Abernathy for sending along the link.

I knew Mr. Zamora as a student at Purdue University, where he took a job after living here, and Carl and I just saw him at the Sonny Rollins concert in Chicago Friday night. He's still playing. If you're ever in West Lafayette when his band is at the Knickerbocker Saloon downtown, which claims to be the oldest bar in Indiana, do yourself a favor and catch him. If Tony hadn't decided to make his career doing good things for students, I think he'd have made a notable one as a full-time jazz musician.

Early Sonny and more

Every semi serious jazz collection should include "Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street" with Sonny Rollins on tenor. Brown’s untimely death in an automobile accident that also killed pianist Richie Powell, Bud’s brother, left us with too small a recorded legacy for a great group, which really was pushing beyond bebop at the time of this recording.

Even if you’re not a semi serious jazz collector, it’s a good time hearing what they make of "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing."

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Mr. Rollins rules

Sonny Rollins may be showing his age a bit, he'll be 75 in September, but the guy still has it big time. At his concert in Chicago Friday night the old man improvised for the better part of a half hour on his song "St. Thomas," or perhaps "Don't Stop the Carnival," or, heck, maybe even "Salvador." The point is, I've heard him play four times in person now and never heard anything like this, on a recording either, although the stuff on "G-Man" is an approximation. Simply amazing.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Headed to Chitown

Off to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to work on an article about a new exhibit called "Game On," a history of video games. After that, it's Sonny Rollins time. Report on the concert to come.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

More Sonny

Speaking of Henry Grimes, check out "Sonny Meets Hawk!" Grimes on bass, Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins playing sax. Sonny playing pretty darn free and Hawk keeping up admirably. Priceless.

And my pick for most underrated Sonny Rollins CD as Sonny week builds toward his concert in Chicago Friday night (I am so excited): "Nucleus." Mr. Rollins gets funky.

Welcome back Henry

I'm in free jazz heaven listening to the new CD "Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival." Henry Grimes' reappearance after more than three decades is a great story. I'll tell you an even greater one. The guy, at least from what I hear on this CD, hasn't lost a lick from when he played bass with Benny Goodman, Miles, Monk, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, et al. (Imagine that, a guy good enough, and flexible enough, to play with Goodman AND Ayler.)

If that weren't enough, David Murray, saxophone god (plus bass clarinet on part of this), and Hamid Drake, "widely regarded as one of the best percussionists in improvised music" to quote allmusic, round out the ensemble. It will be hard to beat for my album of the year. I was actually sad when it ended. Thank goodness CDs are supposed to last 50 years, which is probably longer than I will.

Deserved better

Geez, I can't find much in the way of obituaries for the great bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who died too young at 58 Tuesday. This one is about as good as it gets. I hope they're remembering him more extensively in his native Denmark.

I caught him with Oscar Peterson at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago last summer and remember being just as excited to hear him play as O.P. Their trio date with Joe Pass, "Peterson/Pass/Pedersen: The Trio," originally from Pablo, is a great CD.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Louis did it, not

I'm pretty much in favor of making fun of Britney Spears in general. But when you can work Louis Armstrong in as a vehicle for the joke, I enjoy it even more.

Afterlife band just got better

So long to the great Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who died too young at 58 Tuesday. As I've mentioned before, I like "Looking at Bird," a series of duets between Archie Shepp and Niels-Henning. His gigs with Oscar Peterson are good as well.

My latest revelation

Trumpeter Hugh Ragin’s "Revelation" is basically a free jazz set, bordering on hard bop in places. It might remind you of Don Cherry as far as the former and Donald Byrd in the case of the latter. Assif Tsahar does good work on sax and bass clarinet and Hamid Drake on drums. William Parker turns in another stellar job holding everything together on bass, and gets in a few impressive solo licks of his own. "Night Life" really made me see the title’s subject in my head. Not at all sorry I bought this disk.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Miles electric

Here's another review of the new book about Miles Davis and the music of his last decade, which I, apparently like the author, think is underappreciated. "Live Around the World," for example, is a great CD and every serious Miles Davis collection should include "Tutu."

Sonny week

This is Sonny Rollins week because I have tickets to see Mr. Rollins Friday night at Symphony Center, A.K.A. Orchestra Hall, in Chicago with my friends Carl Abernathy, Pat Kuhnle, Kathy Willhoite and Rodd Zolkos, which makes me giddy, giddy, giddy.

In preparation, I am listening to some of the lesser-knowns in my insanely large Sonny Rollins CD collection. Check out "Alternatives" from Bluebird. Make sure it's the one that starts with "Four" and ends with "Jungoso" and offers two takes of each song, except for the latter, which is paired with "Bluesongo." Don't worry, the repeat takes are radically different from each other, a great way to hear why he's the king of the improvisers in my opinion. This also is Sonny Rollins playing free jazz while still remaining Sonny Rollins, a neat trick.

"Moving Out" and "The Sound of Sonny" are from 1954 and 1957 respectively, pre-dating free, so they're more straight ahead but still improvisational candy stores to a big kid like me. Plus you get Monk, Sonny Clark, Elmo Hope, Kenny Dorham, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey on the side, among others.

The tattoo for me

I'm thinking of getting this particular symbol of liberty tattooed on my person, and in a place more prominent than my butt.

Is this dumb or what?

Part of an occasional series. Gee, I guess everybody at the IRS has been in Rip Van Winkle mode for, oh, the last decade or so, at least as far as computer security is concerned.

Oops, I'm probably due for an audit now.

Mellow fellow

The Julian Arguelles CD “As Above So Below” with the Trinity College of Music String Ensemble, which I bought last month at Ray’s Jazz in London, is beautiful; there’s no other way to put it. I’ll be putting this on whenever I need a little peace in my life, kind of like the Bill Evans trio “Sunday Morning at the Village Vanguard,” except “As Above So Below” tends more to the classical. Mike Walker plays some great guitar.

Here’s a BBC review. I don’t buy that any of it sounds like music for television ads. Not American TV anyway.

Monday, April 18, 2005


So if your iPod music collection defines your personality, what does it mean if you don't have an iPod? No personality. Personally, I have two. Do I have two personalities? Ooh, creepy thought.

And what if somebody steals your iPod? Have they stolen your personality? Even creepier.

I'm selling my iPods. Just kidding.

Hot in here

Interesting piece from Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz on bloggers criticizing reporters. As a journalist, and a blogger, my feeling is best expressed by the old saying: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Check the two items at the bottom of the column for examples of why reporters should be scrutinized. That said, fair and rational scrutiny is preferable.

Lovely if not supreme

I like to say “A Love Supreme” is my favorite jazz album and Louis Armstrong playing “West End Blues” my favorite single, although in reality I would be hard pressed to select a lone favorite in either category. Let’s just say I would feel a lot worse about life if I didn’t have “A Love Supreme” in it. It’s a semi religious experience for me every listen.

That said, I really like what the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (read Wynton Marsalis, leader, arranger, trumpeter) have done in recasting Coltrane’s masterwork for a fairly conventional, and I say “fairly” because there’s a lot of advanced playing on this, big band. Proves one thing, Coltrane knew all about swinging, even in a piece that at face value wouldn’t seem to have much to do with the concept.

I’ve read a review or two that characterized it as sacriligious to play with “A Love Supreme.” I don’t agree. Come on fellas, remaking standards in your own image is a chief ingredient in the essence of jazz.

Some nice playing on the LCJO version by Scotsman Joe Temperley, who’s currently my favorite baritone sax player. See “Concerto for Joe” if you want more.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Smokin' indeed

I spent an enjoyable afternoon Saturday driving home from Indiana listening the new Verve reissue of Wes Montgomery’s “Smokin’ at the Half Note” with the Wynton Kelly Trio (Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb), which I mentioned hearing about on NPR earlier this month. Then I promptly listened to it again on the Denon when I got home.

If you don't have the original, get this one. The sound is improved and there are five more tracks, including a fine version of "Impressions." If you have the original, consider a trade, especially if you like Wes Montgomery. And who doesn't?

Doctor David

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
Many congratulations to my friend David Dewar, who passed his dissertation defense and says we have to call him Doctor Dewar now, which opens up a lot of possibilities for good-natured abuse.

For example, David's dissertation is about the American colonial period, incidently around the time he started working on it.

Just kidding Dewar. I am extremely proud of you.

Check out the picture of David and Carol Dewar with Steve Bohner, brother of our friend Bob, at our annual Labor Day get-together, the International Othersports Festival.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

B3ing it

Joey DeFrancesco at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis was a good show, although we got there a little late and sat at the bar, where you can’t really see much. Joey D had the excellent guitarist Jake Langley with him, whom he said he’s going to keep for awhile. I’m hoping the exposure will put some of Langley’s stuff back in print, especially “Doug’s Garage.” If anyone knows where to find that CD, I’d welcome the suggestion.

The Jazz Kitchen is a good place to hear (and sometimes see) big hitters. Good food, too. My buddy Carl Abernathy and I caught Kenny Garrett there earlier this year, from the front row no less, and I saw Tony Monaco by myself last month.

Get there before 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show to have a shot at a table if you’re not in the B.O.P. Club, which gives you preferred seating, among other things.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Cahl, me and Joey D

Off to see Joey DeFrancesco at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis with my friend Carl Abernathy. Pontification about it to come.

For a good time...

Buy Verve's Master Edition of Dinah Washington's "Sings Bessie Smith" and Columbia Legacy's one-disk "Bessie Smith - The Collection" and listen to them back to back. Even if the gals couldn't sing the blues, and man can they, you'd like these for the sidemen alone, Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry and Blue Mitchell on trumpets at various junctures, for example.

CD of light

I recently watched the movie "Sneakers," a decent flick by the way, which includes a scene with a Chinese band singing American pop tunes as entertainment at a dim sum bar. Paris Match's "Attraction" reminds me of this in places, albeit in French. I guess it really isn't jazz, more like cabaret music, whatever that is, although it certainly has some roots in Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club du France.

At its best, the CD reminds me of Pink Martini, a group I've been raving about for years. But why not buy "Sympathique" and "Hang on Little Tomato" and get the real thing? On the other hand, "Attraction" is pretty hoppin' and it makes good driving music.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Is this dumb or what?

Part of an occasional series. Anybody for a national law requiring the large, sociopathic corporations that now store so much personal data about us to let us know when they've allowed yet another security breach? Anybody for public spanking of the corporate officers? Bare bottom?

Queen for a CD

Maybe you’re not much into rap and you think her talk show and movies (except “Chicago”) have been goofy (I personally find her interesting), Dana Owens, A.K.A. Queen Latifah, can flat out sing in jazz and R&B mode. And she’s got some great accompaniment on “The Dana Owens Album,” including Herbie Hancock and John Patitucci, along with the Rev. Al Green on his “Simply Beautiful.” “Moody’s Mood for Love,” “Hard Times,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” are also highlights on a CD that’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

One where Marsalis rolls

"Big Train" is a recent Wynton Marsalis CD I do find interesting, enough that when I somehow scratched my first copy (probably from drunken CD player loading) I bought another. It's a big band outing best listened to as one piece instead of a bunch of songs.

Down with it

These guys have put a twist on the LIVESTRONG bracelet that might get me on board.

Map it Dano

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
If you haven't messed with the new satellite photo feature at Google Maps yet, do it. Very amusing. This one's a picture of Champaign-Urbana with my crib marked on it. All I ask is that you not use it for targeting purposes, on my mind because I watched "Memphis Belle", which was a better movie than I remembered, over the weekend.

A different Wynton

Interesting interview with Wynton Marsalis, which I read while giving a second listen to the second CD of “Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live at Blues Alley.”

I had this on my to-buy list for awhile and picked it up with a coupon recently. It’s a different look at the divine Mr. M., whose playing is a lot more, I want to say borrowing a phrase, sweet and low down on this December 1986 date, at which time he was a mere kid of 25. I hear the stuff that attracted Art Blakey to a greater extent than I do in his current work.

Look, I love what he’s done to promote jazz and to spread the word to kids in particular. I think he’s a great band leader, a superior trumpeter and a super composer and arranger. I believe he gets too much abuse from fans of the jazz avant-garde, and I say it as one of them. But his recent CDs have been, well, uninteresting, at least to me. I’d like to hear more of the fire I get from, say, “Skain’s Domain” on “Blues Alley,” a CD set I recommend highly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I know the feeling

Funny, sad bumper sticker I saw this afternoon: Dude, where's my country?

I wonder a lot myself these days.


This is a test of posting by e-mail from my Treo 600.


You want to own these Sonny Rollins CDs at a minimum: “Way Out West,” “Saxophone Colossus,” “Freedom Suite,” “Sonny Rollins +3” and “This is What I Do.” “Sonny Rollins +4” and “East Broadway Run Down” are the next two I’d add. I’m a big fan of “Here’s to the People,” in part because of the memorable version of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “G-Man.” The title cut on the latter rates with “Chasin’ the Train” on Coltrane’s “Live at the Village Vanguard” in my book. You get Sonny and Coltrane in a duet on “Tenor Madness.”

“Don’t Stop the Carnival,” while not as good overall in my opinion, is must have because of the improvisation on “Autumn Nocturne.” Spine tingling.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Now playing

What a surprise, his taste in music, judging from the president's iPod, is about as refined as his taste in U.N. ambassadors. I'm just glad I don't see any jazz.

OK, maybe I was a little hard on Gee Dub's musical tastes. His governance still blows.

Brooks brothers

The intricate, soulful tenor sax of Tina Brooks, which I first heard on the legendary Jimmy Smith’s “House Party,” went silent too soon and I hope he gets some belated recognition from the recent Blue Note reissue of “True Blue.” Freddie Hubbard scores some good licks on the CD, too. I like “Back to the Tracks” as well. Had he lived, I think Brooks, who sounds something like Wayne Shorter in his Jazz Messenger days, would rate today as a jazz legend himself.

If you like Tina, try Bubba. James “Bubba” Brooks, the more rhythm and bluesy of the tenor-playing Brooks brothers, has a fun, groovin’ outing with B-3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Advertise this

Personally, I have no problem with ads in video games.

As long as I get to use a Redeemer on them. Or a flak cannon.

It is sweet

Alto saxophonist Loren Stillman reminds me of Lee Konitz, with some Sonny Criss and Wayne Shorter thrown in, on "How Sweet It Is," a CD of eight compositions all by Stillman who was 21 when this came out in 2003. They're straight-ahead songs but on the border of the avant-garde, as is frequently the case with Konitz. I particularly like "Meat Snake" and "Chasing the White Rabbit."

Joe Lovano says Stillman's future "is so bright it's almost blinding" and the CD shows why. Pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Scott Lee and drummer Jeff Hirschfield are good, too. A disk very much worth getting.

Real ultimate Billie Holiday

Columbia University radio station WKCR is playing everything Billie Holiday ever recorded. What really impresses me is that Phil Schaap has 20,000 jazz records.

Hinton's eye(s) view

Looks like an interesting PBS piece on the life and photos of the great bassist Milt Hinton, an avid photographer. I just wish it wasn't on at 3 and 4 a.m. in my area. If you've never seen the documentary "A Great Day in Harlem," do. Hinton is one the the memorable story tellers in that film. His CD "Here Swings the Judge" is an enjoyable session of friends having fun playing together. Of course, Milt's friends included legends like Jo Jones and Ben Webster, who even plays stride piano on two cuts.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Well bassed

On “A Family Affair” Christian McBride makes jazz of the kind of R&B tunes that provided the sound track for his youth and trades in his upright for an electric bass. Had me steppin’ and struttin’ around my living room this evening. Funk-eee goodness.

Pilc in stride

I also saw the French avant-garde pianist Jean-Michel Pilc when I was in Paris last May, playing solo for a rapt audience at Sunset, a club on Rue des Lombards, down the street from the Duc du Lombards. His CD “Follow Me” is very much like that session and I recommend his trio album “Welcome Home,” too.

His playing is somewhere between Jaki Byard and Cecil Taylor, more structured than the latter, with the more obvious classical overtones common to a lot of European jazz artists. But I think he could hold his own in a stride cutting contest as well.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Miles finger in the socket

If you want to make one investment in the Miles Davis electric period you could do worse than "Live at the Filmore East (March 7, 1970) It's About Time." Miles, with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette opened for Steve Miller, who should have been peeing his pants at the prospect of following them.

Bass in point

Bassists, of course, aren't limited to anchoring free jazz excursions. They're frequently just as important in the more conventional forms of the music given its improvisational nature.

Case in point George Duvivier's playing on the Herbie Nichols date "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love," another Rhino reissue. You want this CD in any event because Nichols is a fantastic, and underappreciated, piano player comparable to Bud Powell or Bobby Timmons. Danny Richmond, drummer of choice for Charles Mingus, completes the trio.

Is this dumb or what?

Part of an occasional series. Gee, at a time when the world has been shrunken by technology; Europe is becoming a much closer association of states and China and India, for two, are arising as economic, and potentially military, powers; and issues such as multi-headed terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation, for two more, mandate international cooperation, an organization like the United Nations sure would seem handy.

So if I were going to appoint a U.S. ambassador the the U.N. I'd want to make sure it was somebody like John Bolton, an avowed U.N. opponent. Say what? My sentiments exactly.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bass lining

Check out my friend Carl Abernathy’s recent post on bassists in general and William Parker in specific. My own view is that bassists are key in many free jazz outings because they provide the beacon around which the improvisations revolve. You gotta get home eventually. The bass line is your marker.

I hear this in "From Valley to Valley," a CD from the Die Like a Dog Quartet (great name) including Parker, reedist Peter Brotzmann and, in this case, trumpeter Roy Campbell, which Carl gave me. Listen and I think you would agree Parker is the guy holding this very free session together. Good disk by the way, as long as you have an open mind.

Paris is jazzy

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
No, not that Paris. The city in France, rube. When I found out Sonny Rollins, my all-time favorite, was playing at the famous Olympia music hall in Paris last May I had to go. I love Paris almost as much as Sonny's playing and one reason is that jazz is still a big deal. Mr. Rollins, without a piano and with a conga player, which I hope to hear on CD later this year, got a standing ovation. I mean everybody was on their feet and no one went anywhere until they were absolutely sure he was done.

I was in Paris a week and went to jazz every night and got turned on to a couple new (to me) artists in the process, including the guitarist Mike Stern and Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, who's a little bit Miles, a little Dave Douglas and mostly himself. He mixes in some interesting electronic effects. I saw him at Duc du Lombards, another nice Paris jazz club, and bought his CD "Angel," which I like.

I received e-mail from the Olympia recently saying Mr. Rollins is playing there next May. I'm there.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

One of my favorite things

Make jazz of "My Favorite Things?” The Julie Andrews' song from the "Sound of Music?" On a soprano sax no less? Preposterous.

Byron Morris and his sextet Unity do for "Inch Worm" what Coltrane did for "My Favorite Things" on Unity’s CD "Y2K," complete with some joyful pseudo scat by the singer and percussionist Imani. This is fun, foot-tapping hard bop with a strong Latin groove in places, thanks in part to pianist Hilton Ruiz. "Wheel Within a Wheel" is about as good as it gets.

When I bought the disk from a Web store, Byron Morris sent me a thank-you e-mail. He’s got a fan here.

Trio triumphs

Tony Malaby reminds me a little of Archie Shepp, in tone and propensity to experiment. His consistently interesting “Adobe,” is a pianoless trio affair with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Paul Motian. If you’re a saxophone fanatic, like me, this format really allows the horn player extraordinary room. Malaby takes advantage.

The Sonny Rollins “A Night at the Village Vanguard” two-CD set and Joe Lovano’s “Trio Fascination” with Dave Holland and the late Elvin Jones are two other pianoless sax trios I recommend highly.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Congrats Illini

So in my day job as a newspaper reporter I volunteered for potential-riot duty at the University of Illinois last night and early this morning. It was quite the orange-hued Mardi Gras scene for fans whose team just lost the national championship game. But I have to say they were generally well behaved, for drunken college kids. Better than I was sometimes.

And they should have celebrated. Illinois had a great season and won more games and went farther than any team in 100 years of pretty good basketball history. Credit classy Coach Bruce Weber, who spent 18 years as an assistant at Purdue under Gene Keady, and his staff, two thirds of whom also coached at Purdue, with finally getting one of those frequently talented Illini teams to play the passing game and play defense like Boilermakers.

Archie, Manu and me

New Morning, a marvelous club for jazz in Paris, turned me on to Archie Shepp, who’s since become one of my favorites, and Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian sax giant (literally, the guy is big), in 2003. If you want to try Archie, check out “Fire Music” and “Four for Trane,” seminal free jazz albums of his. I really like “Looking at Bird,” duets with the bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and “Passport to Paradise,” Shepp's recent homage to Sidney Bechet, which is more conventional but not exactly conventional because Archie never is exactly conventional. “Lover Man” is a good ride, too.

“Gone Clear” is a nice Manu Dibango sampler. The tune "Doctor Bird" on it always makes me smile. They sometimes categorize Manu in World Music at record stores.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Orchestrating a winner

The Shuffle came up with Coleman Hawkins playing “Rainbow Mist” on my evening walk today and I was struck by the way his horn stood out from the big band behind him.

David Sanchez strikes me that way on “Coral,” an expansive piece of orchestral jazz I’d class with Bob Belden’s “Black Dahlia,” a five-star CD of the year in Downbeat in 2001 that’s on my list of things to take to the desert island.

This is not jazz you listen to in a smoky club with people clinking glasses and chatting in the background. More like sitting in a nice, smoke-free music hall, quietly and dressed to the nines. But it’s sophisticated, powerful stuff.

Is this dumb or what?

Part of an occasional series. Story in the New York Times about the hundreds of millions of dollars the federal government now is spending with private tutoring companies, projected to become billions, in connection with Bush's No Child Left Behind (yeah, right) Law.

The piece talks about the shoddy work some of these companies do and the need to monitor them, which is all well and good. But I'm wondering why it doesn't question the idea of sinking hundreds of millions of dollars, projected to become billions, into private tutoring firms instead of public schools, one of the foundation stones of our country.

More riffin'

Add “Pat Metheny Group” to my suggestions for a small study of fusion guitarists. While you’re at it, include something by Mike Stern (I like “Standards” and “These Times”). What the heck, toss in Joe Satriani’s “Surfing with the Alien” as well. I suggested “Jaco Pastorius,” Stanley Clarke’s “Journey to Love” and Allan Holdsworth’s “The Sixteen Men of Tain” earlier.

I saw Mike Stern in Paris last year at New Morning, a marvelous place to hear jazz in a bustling international neighborhood. He chatted up fans and signed CDs between sets and just seemed to be a really nice guy. Who also happens to have played with Miles Davis.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Me, I love buffets

"Deep Song" with Kurt Rosenwinkel leading on guitar, Brad Mehldau on piano and Joshua Redman on sax is a buffet of younger big hitters in jazz today, and a tasty one. If your feet don't move on "The Next Step," you're dead. Recommended.

There was jazz in the '70s

Bought the Rhino reissue of “Apogee,” the 1978 tenor sax summit featuring Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh and produced by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, who knew a little something about jazz. Very complimentary, rather than competitive, playing by Christlieb and Marsh.

Marsh is, justifiably, better known than Christlieb from his association with Lennie Tristano. But Christlieb was the tenorman in another notable band for years -- the Tonight Show orchestra. He’s also played with Tom Waits, notably on the very jazzy “Nighthawks at the Diner,” a personal favorite. His is a swinging power tone, I think in the manner of “Lockjaw” Davis, and it contrasts well with Marsh’s more subtle playing. Lou Levy is swingin' on the piano, too. Word is “Apogee” was one of the few great straight-ahead jazz records of the '70s. I don’t know about that, but it’s well worth getting.

A Cuban jazz message

“About the Monks” is extremely Latin, high-energy, complex jazz from drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto, formerly of Cuba, with the fine trumpeter Brian Lynch on board, among others. The Buena Vista Social Club doesn’t have anything over on this guy. The CD also could pass for a Latin-inundated Jazz Messengers’ date. Happy to have it.

Worth the price of admission

So I bought “Havin’ a Good Time,” from a rediscovered tape of Joe Williams performing with Ben Webster that Nat Hentoff wrote about in the Wall Street Journal last week, and it is one fine acquisition. Junior Mance, Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker were Joe’s band at the time. The sound is quite good for a tape and the liner notes by producer Joel Dorn are entertaining.

Oh, and did I mention it’s Joe Williams singing and Ben Webster blowing. Nuff said.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Miles frowns

Speaking of British beer, and I always like to, or rather I always like to drink it, interesting review in The Independent of “The Last Miles: The music of Miles Davis 1980-91” by George Cole.

I agree that "Tutu" is probably the best of the '80s stuff and that "Aura" is underrated. Personally, I kind of like "Doo Bop."

Lorez is great

At $11.99, the Impulse reissue of “Lorez Alexandria the Great” is like giving it away. Nice song selection, strong pipes exuding smoke and a crew behind her that includes Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Ray Crawford on guitar, among others. Judy Garland should have sung “Over the Rainbow” this way. Ditto Rex Harrison and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”


If you want to do a small study of fusion guitarists, and bassy fusion guitarists at that, you could do a lot worse than “Jaco Pastorius,” Stanley Clarke’s “Journey to Love” and Allan Holdsworth’s “The Sixteen Men of Tain.” Just make sure you play them when it’s OK to really crank up the sound, especially Holdsworth.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Varied Impressions

Caught a piece on NPR this week that had jazz author Ashley Kahn talking about the new Verve reissue of Wes Montgomery’s “Smokin’ at the Half Note” with the Wynton Kelly Trio (Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, off their stint with Miles Davis).

I may have to pick it up because it has six more cuts, 11 in all, than the old CD version I own, including one of “Impressions” that sounded cool in the radio report.

The aural contrasts when guys and gals take the same song and make it their own endear jazz to me, among other things. I’d like to hear Montgomery and Coltrane doing “Impressions” back to back.

I recommend Kahn’s books “Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece” and “A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album.” Good reads and good insight into how these two classics were birthed.