Friday, October 31, 2014

Touch and Go Sextet, Live at the Novara Jazz Festival

I've lived now for over 20 years in a Manhattan-adjacent NJ town that was where Ozzie Nelson grew up and attended high school. He went on to become a successful singer-bandleader and then was responsible for the quintessentially '50s Americana comedy TV show "Ozzie & Harriet." The show stood in its quirky way for the Middle America that Ozzie grew up in and espoused. Today there is not much evidence of that pancake-eating homespun suburbia. It is not to be found. Not in this town, anyway. Not around here. In its place is a new America, pluralist, culturally diverse and ever-evolving into something we sometimes are not so sure of. The music of today that captures that new world we live in is surely not Ozzie's big-band sides, nor Ricky's rock and roll, but more the modern fractalist new jazz, such as can be heard with the Touch and Go Sextet.

Their album featuring drummer Vijay Anderson's compositions is out. It is called matter-of-factly Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds 0314). As the liners tell us the band formed originally to showcase guest composer-artist-instrumentalists--Avram Fefer, Vinnie Golia and Marco Eneidi. In the meantime Vijay Anderson was studying with the great Roscoe Mitchell at Mills College. Roscoe instilled in Vijay a confidence in his composing which ultimately and fortunately led to this album project covering Vijay's music, recorded with the sextet live.

The band is a group of talented, mostly West Coast players and they shine forth on the album. Vijay of course is at the drums, Aaron Bennett is on tenor and baritone, Sheldon Brown on alto and bass clarinet, Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Darren Johnston on trumpet and Lisa Mezzacappa on acoustic bass.

The compositions are nicely turned with ensemble contrapuntal thrusts of a very modern sort and room for collective and individual solo expression.

The believing is in the hearing, however. It is not just that they do a free/composed set with maximum individual-collective expression, it is how well they express Vijay's formidable charts and how that launches the sextet into excellent avant modern jazz territory.

This is a capstone disk, a really fine assemblage doing music with a personal and collective stamp that flows with the best on the contemporary scene but does it in a unique way. I am stoked with this one. By all means, get it and listen!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Darius Jones, The Oversoul Manual

Darius Jones has impressed me with his very together, accomplished avant alto saxaphone work. We took a look at a wonderful duet he did with Matt Shipp earlier this year (type "Jones" in the search box above for that). Now he comes to us on his own in a very different context: an a capella vocal work for a quartet of female voices, the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, in the fourth part of Jones' Man'ish Boy cycle, entitled The Oversoul Manual (AUM Fidelity 091).

It is conceived as a "sacred alien birthing ritual" via an interrelated presentation of 15 parts. For this work Jones creates his own vocabulary of an imagined alien people. The quartet sings in a kind of ritualistic new music style, which in part comes out of Jones' roots singing in church in Virginia in his youth but beyond as well into avant realms.

The composition has more of a new music ambiance than typical of avant jazz, but that is only to say that Maestro Jones comes to us as a composer rather than an improvisor (and of course one could say rightly that improvisation is spontaneous composition. Very true that is. But this is new music first and foremost.).

Kudos for vocalists Sarah Martin, Jean Carla Rodea, Amirtha Kidambi and Kristen Slipp for their fine work here. This is music that demands ritual drama, a certain precision and pitch exactness though the parts can be difficult to execute. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit give us a strong performance throughout.

The music is original and very moving, though you might need to listen a few times to get on its wave length. The birth of "Man'ish Boy" is an important event in the ongoing story, but it is also about the truth that comes to us beyond words, embedded in musical form.

Bravo! Jones is an innovative force on the New York contemporary scene. This work confirms it in the best way. Listen to this one!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alan Sondheim with Christopher Diasparra & Edward Schneider, Cutting Board

Alan Sondheim came to our ears years ago principally on the two albums he did for ESP, Ritual-All-7-70 and T'Other Little Tune, issued in 1967 and 1968, respectively. I came to him a little later through these albums, which impressed me as uncompromisingly home-made in their DIY experimental avant improvisatory thrust. On them Sondheim played guitar and a battery of other instruments, neither evoking jazz or new music syntax but rather forging his own vocabulary that reached out to world musics but only obliquely so.

Much time has passed and apparently also a number of releases came out that I have not heard as yet. He returns to the ESP fold with a new recording Cutting Board (ESP 5004). On it Sondheim matches sonic textures with Christopher Diasparra on tenor and baritone saxes, and Edward Schneider on the alto sax. Sondheim plays a wealth of instruments, from chromatic harmonica, sarangi, classical guitar and flute to electric saz and ukulele. As always Alan's playing is about sound and texture, not as much typical linear technique.

The totality of the album hangs together as experimental free improv more than free jazz per se, though Schneider and Diasparra give out phrasings more akin to post-new-thing sax expressions than not.

As is always the case with Sondheim, the music suits your ears best when you wipe your listening mind of expectations. This music has little in common with JATP, standards, or even ensemble avant jazz and new music as they come to us today. It is Sondheim music and for that it is very good. It is musical sound as art. So go ahead and listen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bud Powell, Live at the Blue Note Cafe, 1961

Bud Powell in the later phase of his career has some parallels with later Lester Young. Both suffered in their later years from external and internal difficulties that were made even more difficult by racism in its various guises. Both are considered to have done their best work in the earlier days of their career. And both could belie their general reputation of decline to make excellent recordings in the later phases of their musical lives.

A favorite Bud Powell recording for me, later or not, has been for many years his Live at the Blue Note Cafe, 1961 which came out on LP in the '70s and got my attention from the first as a beautiful representation of later Bud when he was totally on. I have not followed the ups and downs of its availability over the years because I already had the LP. But now, happily, it is available again on ESP (4036). The trio of Bud, Pierre Michelot (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums) were in regular residence at the Blue Note in Paris when these sides were recorded. Earlier that year the trio rolled the tapes for three numbers of the trio with Zoot Sims. They are included here and I am happy they are. It is more fine music and Zoot sounds very much into it.

The rest is trio all the way, with all three in excellent form. Bud is fired up and sounds in total command. They run through standards and bop classics. Bud sounds a bit more Monkish perhaps than he did in the classic period, no more definitively so than on a moving version of "Round Midnight" but also on "Thelonious," and "Monk's Mood." They are worth the ticket for this CD alone. But then it all is excellent. Keep in mind, this is not Bud channeling Monk. It is Bud as himself, which was always Monk-influenced in the widest sense.

It is prime Powell, evidence that he could still very much come through in the later period.

It is essential. I don't need to say more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wadada Leo Smith, The Great Lakes Suites

There seems little doubt about it in my mind, trumpeter-composer-leader Wadada Leo Smith continues to be one of the guiding lights in the new jazz today. He is doing some of the very best work of his career and it continues to delight. The new one, a return to a horns and rhythm group setting after several seminal large group works, brings us a series of pieces he calls The Great Lakes Suites (TUM CD 041-2 2-CDs).

Wadada creates a quartet of some very heavy players. There is of course Wadada himself on trumpet, Henry Threadgill sounding great on alto sax, flute and bass flute, John Lindberg on double bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

The first thing you notice, something that puts a strong foundation under the music, is the wonderful free-time drumming of DeJohnette. We've heard far too little of it in recent years and it reminds us how good he is in this zone. He still is a master at it. That adds much to the proceedings. John Lindberg prevails as a heavy on arco and pizzicato. And then Henry and Wadada sound better than ever.

The compositional frameworks go beyond head-solos-head form. There are motives the band gets into during the improvs that are pre-conceived. Where composition leaves off and improvisation begins is a fluid thing and it gives the freedom of the players an inherent structure that catapults the entire sequencing onto a higher plane. Yet as we would hope the improvisations are no less masterful.

It's an extended look at a master quartet and a master composer-conceptualist meeting on common ground and creating some exceptional music.

Outstanding! And so of course very recommended. Wadada is a leader in the widest sense. He keeps the music alive in the most vibrant way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lucky Peterson, The Son of a Bluesman

Lucky Peterson is a triple-threat blues artist--fiery guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist. He comes front-and-center on his album The Son of a Bluesman (Jazz Village 2-LP 33570038.39).

It's a grooving, full-blown production of Peterson, together band, and backup vocalists. His early experience with his father as blues artist and club owner and subsequently in the bands of Little Milton and Bobby Blue Bland gave him the catalyst for a vibrant urban style that also reaches way back to the roots on the album at hand. Originals and covers give us a complete picture of the artist, a bright spot in the blues world today, the real thing. So we get Bland's "I Pity the Fool" in a hot version, "Funky Broadway", "I Can See Clearly Now" as well as grits and gravy soul and roots.

Lucky's guitar playing has dramatic presence, he sings with true soul and gives us a complete modern blues package. The music has a contemporary sound in terms of production values but underneath it all is the read deal.

Lucky has it! Give this one a listen!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sackville All Star Christmas Record, 1986

Perhaps it is characteristic of the collector mania that I sometimes am prey to, but when in the past I glanced at the Sackville Records catalogs and listings, I would often mumble "What the h?" when I saw listed an item entitled The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (Sackville 3038). With Delmark's involvement in distributing and reissuing choice Sackvilles comes, directly from Delmark in a recent promo package, that very album, available on CD, and palpable in my greasy mitts! "I'll be d_mned!" I exclaimed, or something like that.

So I've been listening and thought I'd post on it early enough that you have plenty of time to get it for the season if you are so inclined. It's a cool record with a nice twist. Needless to say it covers holiday music of the sort you might expect ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town", "Silent Night") but then some welcome others you might not expect: like Bessie Smith's "At the Christmas Ball" and "Old Time Religion".

And it's not just the what, of course, but the how that sets it apart. First, to start with, one who was (for me) the unknown factor--the younger (then) sax player by name of Jim, Jim Galloway. He plays soprano here, sounding like something somewhere between Sidney Bechet, Rabbit Johnny Hodges and, perhaps a stretch, Willie Smith on soprano. He is a surprise gas--and fits right in with a beautiful trio of swing vets, Ralph Sutton on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and Gus Johnson on drums.

Everybody sounds great. But Ralph Sutton steals the show at that late date with all the punch and drive of his stride-swing style, which is killer here.

It sets off the Christmas cliches so they sound completely fresh because this is old-style jazz played with fervor and conviction.

If your world demands Christmas musical fare or you just play it because you want to be festive, to observe the season in the manner of the ancestors and all the reasons one does this--and get jaded with the commercialization and endless reiteration of horrible adaptations of "Jingle Bells" and such already filling our ears on TV ads, here is a perfect antidote. Here is a Christmas album you'll love even if you are Jewish, Zoroastrian, or any manner of faith! It has an old-jazz beauty and swing that will make a convert of you. I am sorry, I mean a jazz convert. The rest is up to you and your faith and/or beliefs. Happy Holidays early!