Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fred Anderson, Blue Winter, Eremite

Two disks, four long, two very long, bouts of freely improvised trio jazz. Avant-garde, yes, but not too far outside to put off those who are skeptical of this kind of music I think, and sometimes pretty much inside in a conventional, if advanced, hard bop way.

Velvet Lounge owner Mr. Anderson is every bit of Ornette Coleman on tenor if you ask me, an insult to neither of them, with measures of Coltrane and Rollins. He also struck me as a real gentleman when he took my money at his club last month before playing with Henry Grimes.

I do believe William Parker and Hamid Drake could make anybody sound good and playing with someone like Anderson, a high-quality session is probably assured. This set proves my point.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Fela Kuti, Coffin for the Head of State/Unknown Soldier, Wrasse Records

Listen to all those horns and that wailing saxophone, which reminds me of both J.T. Brown and Manu Dibango. Jazzy and bluesy, but it satisfies the funk and reggae things I have going on the side as well. Mesmerizing bass and percussion beat behind the horns and singing with some sparkling keyboards that bring to my mind Horace Silver's "United States of Mind."

Unless you listen to the words, you'd hardly know it's about Nigerian government troops killing his mother and burning down his home.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, MTO Vol. 1, Sunnyside

Steven Bernstein always seems to be doing something interesting, whether it's covering (kind of) James Bond movie tunes with Sex Mob or woking as an arranger and trumpeter for modernists like Mario Pavone or Bobby Previte.

I like his Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra idea and "MTO, Vol. 1" so much that I gave it to a couple people as a holiday present. The concept (and execution) is a modern updating of the pre-World War II proto-swing territory band sound, think Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy or Bennie Moten, which makes for an upbeat and fun session since territorty bands existed to get people's feet moving on the dance floor.

Nonetheless, some of this borders on the avant-garde, but not so much that I thought my friends who wouldn't touch avant-garde jazz with a 10-foot pole wouldn't like it. I hope for more from this group.

Friday, December 22, 2006

James Carter's Strange Fruit

When I listen to Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit," I concentrate on the words and, of course, her voice. Although Miche Braden does a credible job singing in James Carter's version on the CD "Gardenias for Lady Day," listening to it this week the importance of the music underlying what is one of the most gripping songs I know stood out.

In part that's because of what Carter and his mates do with it in a reading I think of as operatic, but I think it's powerful music in any event and integral to the song's impact.

This really is an excellent Carter CD overall. Even though it's maybe his most "conventional" disk, it gives a great feel for his amazing command of the saxophone, or saxophones since he plays four different types, plus bass and contrabass clarinets, over the course of the program.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday greetings from Henry Grimes


Xmas e-card I received this morning from the great Henry Grimes and his friend Magaret Davis.

The CD "Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival," Ayler Records, with David Murray and Hamid Drake, is a great gift for your favorite jazz fan. I gave it to myself.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thoughts on listening to Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity

Music, I've decided, tends to affect me on either an emotional or an intellectual level. The blues, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Smith, stuff by Harry Chapin, Springsteen, "Ride of the Valkyries", Beethoven's Ninth, even, let's face it, crap like Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell," stir something in my gut ... joy, sadness, anger, outrage. They bring tears to my eyes, make me laugh, or something between.

Jazz, freely improvised jazz especially but also things like a great Sony Rollins solo, get my brain working. I'm captivated by the way a Mr. Rollins can generate idea after idea off a simple base or familiar melody ("Autumn Nocturne" on "Don't Stop the Carnival" is a classic example) and I thrill in the mental hunt for the logic inside the process.

What occurred to me in listening to Albert Ayler's "Spiritual Unity" this week is that it works on both levels for me, as does a lot of the music I've come to consider essential (including "Autumn Nocturne" on "Don't Stop the Carnival"). Ayler's use of devices such as march forms make his music as emotive as Sousa tunes while the labyrinthal path he treads from there makes for a cognitive feast.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monk's Casino, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Intakt

I have to think Thelonious Monk would have been pleased by this rendering of his entire compositional output by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach in an unusual group with a trumpet and bass clarinet added to the standard piano trio.

You can't fail to recognize the oft-played songs (say, "Ruby My Dear" or "In Walked Bud") if you're familiar with Monk, but the group, as might be expected from one led by von Schlippenbach, often puts its own spin on the music.

If the places where the avant-garde touches are pretty heavy don't sound too out of place, that's because Monk himself wasn't ever very far from the edge, if not a little over it, in his music. These three CDs can't help but deepen an appreciation for his genius. I get giddy when I listen to them.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Kingdom, Roy Campbell, Delmark

Roy Campbell reminds me more of Freddie Hubbard on this than Lee Morgan (he plays with a modernist sensibility underneath as opposed to a traditional blues base), but I think he blows the trumpet about as well as either. Most of the CD is strong hard bop, which is to say Jazz Messengers-like fare, with the updated '70s sound of Hubbard disks like "Red Clay" and "Straight Life," building on the foundation laid down by Miles Davis' last great acoustic quintet.

There are avant-garde interludes as well, particularly when Campbell plays in a drums and bass trio with William Parker (great as always), as he does on three of the eight cuts. In the sextet for the rest of the program, Zane Massey and Ricardo Strobert do some memorable sax playing. A nice way to be introduced to Roy Campbell if you haven't been already. It left me wanting more.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dr. Lonnie Smith...

plays joy
from the tip of his toes
to the top of his turban

(At the Jazz Showcase, Chicago)

Friday, December 01, 2006