Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Terence Blanchard, Choices, Concord

Intelligent, in the manner of Miles' great '60s quintet, soulful, bluesy jazz with elements of fusion and a nod to his News Orleans hometown now and then, featuring impeccable playing by the leader himself on trumpet (man, does he soar on Winding Roads) and saxophonist Walter Smith III, as well as some fascinating licks from Lionel Loueke on guitar. All of which makes this a darn fine listen.

But the really interesting part is how well the interspersed spoken-word interludes by Dr. Cornel West fit into the program. In both what he says and the way he says it, the dude is positively riffing. A few comely neosoul vocals from Bilal, too. (When Will You Call is a goodie.) I wish everyone was this adventurous with their latest CD.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The very definition of "aggressive stupidity"

"I think he's a very upstanding guy. I think that's his reputation and I think that reputation will be with him here. I really don't foresee any problems."

--Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear on John Calipari, the $31.65 million U.K. hoops coach.

You know, the guy who just had his Final 4 season with Memphis voided by the NCAA, making him the only college coach in history to have Final 4s voided at two different schools. (UMass was the other.)

In these tumultuous times it sure is good to see some things never change, like Kentucky's willingness to dance with any devil for a bit of basketball success.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Impulse

I routinely pass over this when flipping through my Coltrane thinking I just won't be able to get into it. Then, I'll pull it out for one reason or another and remember how wrong I was skipping it all those times before. Yes, it is one of those "What were they thinking?" ideas pairing the tenor and the torchy singer. But I'm glad they thought of it.

On this trip through, it struck me what a near-perfect performance My One and Only Love was, from Coltrane's wonderful solo leading into Hartman's singing to Coltrane's uncanny comping behind Hartman to the subtle, note-perfect backing of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. One more reason (as if A Love Supreme, Crescent, et al, were not enough) this Coltrane quartet is legendary.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, 1975: The Duets, Verve

Crap I was listening to when this came out, what a waste. If they're eminently sympathetic on the other things in their oeuvre, like muy famoso Time Out, the point is only put into bas-relief by the duet setting. Nowhere more than on Koto Song, a stunning six-minute improvisation, and Balcony Rock, two minutes that says about six minutes worth. A musical delight. Be sure to stay to the end for the live version of You Go To My Head, which inspired the idea of a duet recording.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

McCoy Tyner, Today and Tomorow, Impulse

Like Reaching Fourth this is another opportunity to hear Tyner in the '60s outside the context of the Coltrane quartet (of course, you want to hear him inside the context of the Coltrane quartet as often as possible, too). He does a rapid-fire Night in Tunisia with the dexterity of a stride master like Luckey Roberts or Willie "The Lion" Smith and plays Autumn Leaves with the elegance of a Dave Brubeck or Oscar Peterson.

But the bigger attraction here, I think, are the three cuts with horns, including underappreciated Frank Strozier on alto, Thad Jones on trumpet and, most notably, John Gilmore on tenor. It is Gilmore's presence that prompted me to buy the CD. Tyner played, and still plays, plenty of his own sessions. But there are few recordings of Gilmore outside the context of Sun Ra's Arkestras.

I certainly think Gilmore's playing is important in that context and respect (even cherish in cases like Jazz in Silhouette, The Magic City and Lanquidity) the music. But Sun Ra's output was very much about ensemble play and having the pieces making up a greater whole. Soloists tend not to stand out. Gilmore gets an opportunity to stand out here on tunes such as T 'N A Blues and Three Flowers in a more conventional setting than with Sun Ra, highlighting the marvelous, singular tone I think of as deep but not heavy, and just what a great jazz tenor saxman he was.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Donny McCaslin, Declaration, Sunnyside

Between his high-energy (and often higher-register) tenor, Ben Monder's guitar, Edward Simon's piano and the brass band behind them, there's certainly nothing to make you feel lethargic on M and Fat Cat, which open this. Declaration, more of a ballad, makes me think of the Branford Marsalis Quartet with brass, which is a compliment. Even it soars. Uppercut and Rock Me, as you would expect from the titles, romp like (but don't sound like) the first two tunes, although epic might be a better word than romp for M. Rock Me has an interesting fusion interlude, Monder shredding and Simon on electric organ. Late Night Gospel is the kind of tune that says last call.

The brass is generally used effectvely for accent and color rather than being overwhelming, a tribute to the deftness of the musicians behind those instruments (variously trumpets, flugelhorn and french horn, trombones and a tuba) and to the composer and arranger. All songs and arrangements are McCaslin's and it's nice to hear a collection of entirely new music. And interesting, intricate, sophisticated thoroughly 2000s jazz, albeit it with a firm grasp of the tradition, at that. Yes, I'm impressed.

I'd like to hear more, from tubist Marcus Rojas in particular.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

And some things are...

Sometimes people call a thing timeless and my mind questions it. Disco Inferno, not timeless. The Deep, not timeless. Swashbuckler, not timeless.

Giant Steps, timeless. Not only the title track, but every minute otherwise. What more can you say about a session that also included Naima, a ballad to define the term, Mr. P.C. and Syeeda's Flute Song, all of them, well, timeless.

One thing I never noticed before, Coltrane used three different pianists and drummers in the course of recording this music. I think that's indicative of two things that contribute to making this such a notable session: 1) the force of his vision and 2) the steady anchor of Paul Chambers on bass. Timeless!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Like I was sayin'

Which isn't to say that Interstellar Space is not a prime example of the symbiotic musical relationship Coltrane and Rashied Ali developed.

Saturn says it all, cool planet, cool song, or hot, depending on your perspective. Leo, which didn't even make it on the original, you figure they're making up as they go along, but you wouldn't know it from the way they jibe, which is as if they were dancers following a choreography. Check out Coltrane on the bells at about 7:50. Even there, it's a pair fully complimentary.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The right stuff...

Rashied Ali obviously had it. Besides Coltrane in Coltrane's later period, he banged the cans behind Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders, not to mention Don Cherry and William Parker, among others, not that you need many others in terms of free jazz with that lineup alone.

Still, Elvin Jones is always my favorite Coltrane drummer. They were just meant to be (The Drum Thing on Crescent would be Exhibit A, a Love Supreme Exhibit B). Rashied Ali and Coltrane were more of an opportunistic, albeit it fortunate, coupling. They needed each other to go where they were going musically at the time and they evolved into a complimentary pair. (Everybody thinks of their duet session Interstellar Space in this context, and it is a good example; I think it is maybe even more evident on Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording.) But it wasn't a no brainer, as was the pairing of Coltrane and Jones (nor is the music Coltrane and Ali made; it requires intellectual engagement). This tension makes Coltrane's Meditations, where he used both Jones and Ali, a pretty fascinating listen with a whole lot of drumming in it. Listening to Meditations, Interstellar Space and Olatunji in succession provides a good view of the partnership.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oops 2

From the Washington Post:

"At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, S.C., a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis to 'keep your government hands off my Medicare.'"

In other news, I hear Stephen Hawking is moving to the U.K. to avoid the possibility of...

Oh, never mind.

I'm not much for death panels; who really is, despite the delusional workings of Sarah Palin's mind and mouth? But I think I could get behind a public spanking panel for the aggressively stupid.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

McCoy Tyner Trio, Reaching Fourth, Impluse

You wouldn't know right off this is the pianist moving ever forward along the cutting edge with Coltrane at the time (1962, a year after Live at the Village Vanguard and two before Crescent and A Love Supreme). He sounds more like a bluesy Bill Evans.

Roy Haynes maintains the beat in perfect harmony with his mates, not a surprise. The special thing about this is really hearing, with plenty of room in the trio setting, what a fine advanced yet conventional bassist Henry Grimes, an absolutely great avant-garde bassist then and now, could be when the situation called (Benny Goodman used him, too). Good version of Old Devil Moon.


From the Investor's Business Daily:

(In a piece panning Obama's health plan, and the idea of national health care generally.)

"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."


"Editor's Note: This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK."

Somebody slipped on their ideology, I guess.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Another random baker's dozen from my iTunes library

1) Universal Message, Albert Ayler, might help me sort out String Theory, also, if you don't hear the blues in it you're not listening; 2) Encantamento, Mafalda Arnauth, I'm still lamenting that love I lost back when and she's singing about it, in Portuguese; 3) Violets For Your Furs, John Coltrane, working the upper register and hinting at his eventual importance; 4) Memoirs Of A Frozen Summer, Stefon Harris, good vibes, literally, although kind of sad in this case; 5) Miss Brown To You, Billie Holiday, she could be miss purple with pink polka dots and I would still, as Duke says, love her madly; Yesternow, Miles Davis, you say you want to take a shower after, so what?; 6) Moving Out, Sonny Rollins, Sonny does bop; 7) Begin The Blues, Barney Kessel, somebody asks you what jazz and blues have to do with each other, you could do worse than trotting this out

8) Blues For Philly Joe, Sonny Rollins, Newk shifts to hard bop and it won't be the last time he shifts; 9) The Lone Arranger, Chu Berry, big band plays, Chu gets something like 20 seconds to solo and that's all you end up thinking about; 10) Lonesome Road, Madeleine Peyroux, suck it in, go harder, keep truckin'; 11) Cottontail, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, that said, I need to comment why? 12) Scrapple From The Apple, Charlie Parker, no one, no one, played the saxophone like him before, or since; 13) Confirmation, Charlie Parker, sometimes clusters result from randomization, no complaint here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Something to be said for Barco Negro (black boat)

Traditional fado tune, I now have six versions of it in my iTunes library (not as many as Round Midnight, 42, but there's time, I hope). For Ana Vinagre it's a lament, for Celeste Rodrigues kind of a fado march. For Cristina Nóbrega, the preferred approach is with a sense of irony. For Mariza, twice (Concerto Em Lisboa and Fado Em Mim), it begins with a drum chant over which she imposes the considerable range of her captivating voice, which spans Streisand to Sills in my mind at the moment (and undoubtedly more). I'm partial to the Fado Em Mim version. Névoa races through it with special effects, and not to bad effect.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cristina Nóbrega, Palavras Do Meu Fado, iPlay

She has an expressive husky voice I dig and the music is pleasingly traditional in its simple accompaniment and mix of songs, from almost-romps like Madrugada De Alfama and Zanguei-Me Com O Meu Amor, to pieces with a sense of irony (even in Portuguese) like Disse-Te Adeus E Morri or Barco Negro to exceedingly sad tunes like Meu Amor, Meu Amor (Meu Limão De Amargura) and Com Que Voz.

The video shows she's accomplished even when warming up.

And we think we're so smart...

I have to be honest, I'm not sure I would have figured out how to get the worm as fast as the bird did. Note that he picks only the largest, and hence most effective, stones.

BBC article here. Of course, if Monroe had opposable thumbs, like me, he could just pick up the carafe and down the water and the worm. You know, kind of like drinking Mezcal.

Luisa Soares, Fados do Fado 39, Movieplay

The phrase "belt it out" comes to mind and I finally decided who she reminds me of, after a half dozen listens: Lavay Smith. I'm not intending to be critical in either case. In terms of Boss Springsteen, it's the difference between the unfolding of Thunder Road and the all-out assault of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Both great songs magnificently rendered. And both Luisa Soares and Lavay are wonderful singers, who happen to take the Freeze-Out tack in their delivery.

You could say they sing with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. You also could say they sing joyously. I'd say the latter. Listening to either, or to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out for that matter, is rousing. It's hard to listen to Sombras Da Madrugada (Luisa) and Big Fine Daddy (Lavay) and not feel good about it. Not necessarily giddy in the case of Soares, because she conveys, in songs like A Diva, the melancholy in many fado pieces. But even then, there's an energy surge to be had from her singing. I think Fado Cunha E Silva is one of my favorite fado tracks

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mike's early stuff is scary good

Character flaw though it was, I had scant interest in art before 1999. Dogs playing poker was about it. That spring, I visited friends teaching in Italy and in short order experienced the Sistine Chapel in Rome and Michelangelo's David in Florence and, boom, I had an epiphany. (It didn't hurt that we then took the train to Paris and I visited the Louvre shortly after.) I have not passed on the art museums in various cities I've visited since.

So I have this thing for Michelangelo, as we all should, which made this story about his first known painting, The Torment of St. Anthony, being on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York interesting to me. "Mike" was 12 or 13 years old when he painted it. And yeah, it's kind of spooky. Imagine what he might have done if they had put him to work on the CGI for a horror flick, another kind of "art" I enjoy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Amália and Trane

When I wrote about The Art of Portuguese Fado by Celeste Rodrigues, the younger sister of legendary fadista Amália Rodrigues, I probably shorted Amália's ability to sing fado in a manner that gets to its essence as a folk music. Certainly, there are many tracks where she is working at fado's very roots.

Still, listening to Amália even then can be almost painful. She is so good it can be shocking. Her singing is so personal it can be uncomfortable, like you're intruding on someone in what should be a deeply private moment. The situation fairly mandates that you can't listen casually, but must do so intently.

The thought crossed my mind last night that it's very much like listening to Coltrane from Live at the Village Vanguard on (and maybe starting with My Favorite Things). The music is so intense and, later, so increasingly spiritual that it can't, or shouldn't, be approached lightly.

That said, I wouldn't be without either. I don't think it is going too far to say such music elevates the spirit, soul, whatever. But a little Gene Ammons, or Celeste Rodrigues, something closer to the ground, has its place, too.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Big big horn fan

This tidbit amused me in a nice piece about Bill Charlap's The Gerry Mulligan Songbook tribute (which I'd like to see Charlap record).

Shortly after Mulligan's death in 1996, the bari master's widow received condolences and a tribute from a big fan who played a little saxophone himself.

“No one ever played that horn like he did,” wrote President Bill Clinton, “and no one ever will.”

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Charles Tolliver Big Band

Before Charles Tolliver had penguins marching, there was With Love from Blue Note/Mosaic, the first session recorded (in 2006) by his reconstituted big band, which features one of the swingingest versions of Monk's 'Round Midnight I've ever heard. Characterized by great ensemble play from a collection of veterans (Billy Harper, Craig Handy, Stanley Cowell, Cecil McBee, Victor Lewis) and a youngster or three (Robert Glasper), it is loaded kind of like the big bands of the '30s but sounds thoroughly 2000s.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Island hopping

The canoe Saudade parked in kind of a nifty little complex of gravel islands on the big river.

The current above Fort Ouiatenon is mighty strong in places but Saudade and her crew were stronger still. Fast ride back down, too.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Thing, Bag It!, Smalltown Superjazz

Hidegen Fujnaka Szelek is like a mixture of protean jazz ala Albert Ayler and Death Metal, the stuff of potential nightmares and so powerful and intoxicating that some conservative congressperson would certainly introduce a bill banning it if conservative congresspeople were aware enough to be listening to The Thing, a band I love, with Mats Gustafsson, about as nasty a reedman as exists today (and, my goodness, does he wail on the title track), Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums.

They follow the opener with Drop the Gun, which is almost as wicked. Strange version of Duke Ellington's Mystery Song and a marvelous rendering of Ayler's Angels. A 30-minute bonus CD contains one track, Beef Brisket, which is a homage to Ruby's BBQ in Austin, Texas (and yet another indication of what a great music town Austin is).

Fox News would surely declare it the end of civilization as we know it, if Fox News were hip enough to notice it, which Fox News is not.

Maria de Fatima, Rosario Foi Deus, ToCo Latino

Freaks me out because this is fado in a big production setting with strings, electronic effects and lots of other stuff that can be, frankly, a bit distracting and yet interesting from the standpoint of hearing the music in a new, for me, context.

Still, I can't help but thinking she would have done just fine without all the accoutrements. Her voice is powerful and expressive and on traditonal tunes like Ai Mouaria, Lagrima and Coimbra she could have held her own with most fadistas in front of just the basic guitarras and bass. Estranha Forma de Vida, a thoroughly gripping performance in which she's accompanied only by a piano, illustrates my point. Sometimes, and often in fado, simplicity is a virtue.