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.