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.