Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Little Something About Musical Genres

If you've read this blog so far, you'll note that most of the coverage is about jazz, modern jazz. That won't always be the case. I'll be covering rock, whether metal, progressive, punk or jamband style. I'll be covering world music. I'll be covering the "new" music in concert form or electronically. I might even touch on country and hiphop. And just about anything else, except maybe new age. It all depends on what's coming across my desk and what I am listening to on my own.

Now all these categories are called genres out there. And like never before, the structure of our communications industry and marketing/distribution channels demand strict adherence to genres. Search engines want to pigeonhole this blog as belonging to one genre or another. Right now, "music" is the main category, so you might not find me at the top of listings because perhaps that's too confusing to the robot crawlers looking for keywords. Well, all of music could be my keyword phrase. No, all good or interesting music might be better suited. So. And the same goes for my other blog, That one ostensibly deals with guitarists and bassists of all kinds, but not exclusively.

Why does it matter? For years, almost the only media that covered music in all its forms were the audiofile magazines like High Fidelity. With these folks the idea was, "here are some things to put on your stereo. They have good sound (or don't) and it's good music (or isn't)." They found an audience of listeners who did not limit themselves exclusively to one genre. I believe there are still people out there who are like that. If you are one of them, you are on the right page.

Maybe most importantly I believe we are in a time of change. There are musics out there developing outside of the major distribution outlets that combine genres in new ways, and perhaps none of the genre categories fit properly with what is going on. These music makers have small but dedicated followings and they are doing important service to the music culture of the world we live in. I'll try to cover them in postings to come and you can also expect me to touch on all kinds of music, and not just the latest releases either.

If you read along and maybe try out some of the music I'll be reviewing, my work will be accomplished. There are musicians and labels that need your support to keep the music alive. I am their champion, I guess. You can be too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A New Spin on the New Thing from the New Language Collaborative

Ayler Records, a Swedish label that offers up improv and "new thing" jazz with a good ear for interesting ensembles, has a download-only series that introduces you to various recordings otherwise unavailable, some very good, all interesting. For $10 you get a near CD-quality MP3 download of the album plus all art and notes. This makes them the Nonesuch of new jazz, if anybody remembers what they used to do.

One release I've been listening to in the past week I think especially interesting. It's by the New Language Collaborative and they title it New Fields. The four-person juggernaut responsible for the music contained therein create seven excellent equal-voiced quartet excursions. Now you may not have heard of Eric Zinman (piano), Mario Rechtern (reeds), Glynis Lomon (cello) and Syd Smart (drums) but that's OK. This is not music of a cult of personality, star-takes-all sort. It's more akin to some of the earlier improv groups like the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, MEV and AMM. This band though sticks a little closer to the vocabulary of free jazz than the above mentioned precursors. But not with a solos and rhythm concept. At least not very much. The four-way equality of voices, the musical dialog is continuous and unfailingly coherent. There is a judiciousness of sound involved, a deliberateness and a free-sound eloquence that distinguishes this outing. There are moments of frenetic density, as one expects in this music, but nothing continuous, and the various moods and densities seem to grow out of one another in a kind of natural logic the four musicians share.

Well, so if you don't like out music, will you like this one? No. I don't think it will change you. If you do like it, though, you will. And if you don't know, you may know a little after listening. Or not. That's how life can be, right? It's very groovy music for those that already know where they stand. Fifty years of this music probably wont change the mind of others. But who can tell, this one might convince you if you open those ears.

Get the download or just shop around at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ornette Not At Twelve Anymore

When you look back at Ornette Coleman's career and its reception by critics and music people, it can be hard to imagine how square some people were. His breakthrough band with Cherry, Haden, and Blackwell or Higgins was hailed by some, violently panned by others. He shook some people up! If you listen to those classic Atlantics, at least when I do, I can't imagine someone getting put out. There is so much that is rootsy. But some couldn't hear it. Then people got riled up when he formed a trio and added trumpet and violin to his arsenal of instruments. OK, in neither case was his playing of a technical polish. It was raw. But it was so together too. I listen to out violinists these days and I think they all owe something to what he began doing then.

Some people hooted and hollered about the electric funk band he put together later. That was after they hooted that he was playing in an older style and needed to update his rhythmic bag. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

Before that, though, they were put out when Ornette added his son, Ornette Denardo, on drums. Denardo was quite young, and played with a natural freedom that peed some people off. As time passed, Denardo became more versatile as a player. Those early recordings, though, show a kind of art brut sublimity.

So today I am talking about that period in Ornette's opus. One album that gets ignored often from then is the Impulse release Ornette at 12, recorded in 1968. I'll admit I didn't pay that much attention to it when I first heard it in the early '70s. But now I hear it and it blows me away. It has Ornette on all three of his instruments, a wry and bombastic Dewey Redman on tenor (underrated is too mild a term to describe the legacy of his reception), the wonderful Charlie Haden on bass, and Denardo on drums, who turned twelve that year (hence the title of the record).

It has some great Ornette pieces and damned fine improvisations from everybody. Yeah, and we look around now and Denardo is not twelve anymore. He's playing as well as he ever did though, mostly with his father. It's great music too. But don't forget At Twelve if you can find a copy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Piano Trio CJ3 Plays King Crimson

Any group that sustains a long-term success artistically and commercially stands to be subjected to the tribute album. King Crimson certainly has been a group that qualifies. The ordinary album of this kind consists of a number of better or lesser known artists playing from the repertory, one hopes in distinctive ways, but alas, not always.

The CJ3 (Crimson Jazz Trio) and their King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2 (Inner Knot) is a different proposition altogether. This is a jazz piano trio with Crimson sometime drummer Ian Wallace joined by Jody Nardone on piano and Tim Landers on bass. They play an interesting mix of KC tunes, including the song that started things off way back, "In the Court of the Crimson King." Mel Collins, associated with KJ at certain critical points, plays sax on part of the album as special guest, and he still sounds good.

Rhythmic transformation and displacement are the principal arranging devices used by the band. They turn rock to jazztime, they re-rhythmatize passages, they alter tempos. Of course there can be reharmonizations too. What you get in the end is a trio that still has the rock energy level but totally refreshes songs very familiar to any Crimson fan. Oh yes, it's good jazz too. Maybe not at the level of the Bill Evans Trio at its peak, but who is that good?

If you are a fan and want something different, this is a good bet. For the jazz listener sick of the same old standards, this one will recharge you too. It may not be a classic of classics, but it's quite wearable, like a comfortable pair of socks you can put on anytime and be sure of the right feel. Like that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Jorge Sylvester's Afro-Caribbean Approach to the Trio

We spoke earlier in the week about the horn trio in modern jazz. Today we have another way to sculpt the group sound with this configuration. Jorge Sylvester plays an appealing, lucid alto. For his new CD In the Ear of the Beholder (Jazz Magnet) he brings electric bassist Donald Nicks into the fold. Nicks can slap and cajole his bass into a hip groove and he does so throughout. Most importantly, Latin set-master Bobby Sanabria is also on board, and he helps make this record pop in a big way. Together they create a very convincing route through the tangle of Latin, Caribbean, Afro, Funk and Jazz strands of music today.

Sanabria is amazing. He can sound like a full Latin percussion array or swing and funk out with the best of them. But in his own, very moving way. Jorge takes full advantage of this potent rhythm section by writing and arranging the music to capitalize on the rhythmic possibilities they can unleash. And unleash they do. A calypso like "Sly Mongoose" starts with how Rollins might go about it and takes it a couple of notches beyond that, with hard hitting syncopation from everybody and a loose but hipply rhythmic alto riding on top with joyous abandon.

In the Ear of the Beholder is jazz that is muy caliente. And extraordinarily hip too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Plotkin and Khlyst Not Strange Bedfellows

We took a look at James Plotkin's fine solo CD two days ago. Now we delve into the Khlyst CD Chaos is My Name (Hydra Head Records). Mr. Plotkin is involved in this group and his influence is surely important to its sound. In fact there is a haunting loop motif here that also is a thematic component to his solo venture.

Anyway so Plotkin and Khlyst are no strange bedfellows--meaning that they meld stylistically. This is evocative soundscape fused with what one might call extreme metal chamber music. There are moments for exorcist vocals and low-pitched moaning electric guitars that, since I played this one often at a high volume, made me wonder when the neighbors would call the cops. It's at the edge like that! And then there are those spacey soundscape sections that poetically resonate and give you peace.

It's well worth a listen if you have the spirit of adventure in you. If you don't I suspect you haven't gotten to this point in the posting, so that is your loss isn't it? But you aren't reading it anymore so myself and my fellow intrepid music hounds will just have to pat each other on the back for being so advanced and with it and think of you with pity, but not disdain!

Check out the ordering info at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jack Gold-Molina and the Trio Form Today

The pianoless jazz trio of horn (usually sax), bass and drums had auspicious beginnings when Sonny Rollins showed up at the Village Vanguard in the late '50s with such a configuration. The gig and the several recordings of it that followed were enormously influential. Rollins demonstrated convincingly that if you did away with the usual piano component you were freed of the harmonic strictures that the comping keyboard imposed. The bass player became especially critical through the implications of his note selection, and a looser rhythmic interaction became more the norm. Most importantly the horn soloist gained the freedom to play in, out and around any implied harmonic structures. Linear line weaving was infinitely more feasible, and this was a boon for Rollins and his so-called thematic improvisational tendencies.

As time went by, the trio form of musical gathering became ever more popular with musicians. And with the burgeoning of free playing, the horn-bass-drums trio has become a mainstay for jazz akin to, say, the string quartet in the concert music scene.

So when drummer Jack Gold-Molina puts together such a trio, as featured in his recent CD Colored Houses (Sol Disk), he brings into play the history of what groups have done with this format, or undone. He invites comparisons.

"That's all very well," you might think. "What does this trio do that's fantastic and why should I care?" OK, I'm getting to that.

Whatever an ordinary trio might actually be, Jack's trio is not that. First off, Mr. Gold plays tastefully with abundant density. That's the advantage for a drummer of being the leader. I have often felt uncomfortable with those leaders who tend to squelch continual percussive contributions of the overt sort in their groups. That's a shame. Of course not every drummer is up to it. But think of Trane with Elvin, Miles with Tony or DeJohnette. The out-front presence of a great drummer can bring a band to a much higher plane than what sometimes results when the more discrete accompaniment is demanded. If a drummer bashes, so he bashes. What a great drummer who is freed up to really play can do for a group is not to be easily dismissed. Think of Baby Dodds and his solo demo album, for example, versus what he was allowed to play on those early recording sessions (mostly for technical reasons, supposedly. The inscribing needle was allegedly said to jump at loud percussive thwacks. Perhaps too the record executives of the day didn't understand the music and tried to "clean it up" a bit? I don't know.) On the gig (recordings of which alas there are no surviving examples) Dodds must have kicked King Oliver and Louis to the heavens, I'll bet.

The point is that Jack Gold-Molina is one of those drummers who is most benefited by being given a free hand. And the band gets that impact.

Second, bassist Michael Bisio is a killer. With bow or with fingers, he brings a BIG contribution into this group. I won't go into his other activities these days, save to say that his recent quartet and trio recordings have been exemplary (see my other blog at the Gapplegate site for that). He has a great rhythmic sense and interweaves through the proceedings with lines that help drive the music to very good places.

Then there's Michael Monhart on soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones. One of the biggest tributes one can give is to say that somebody doesn't sound like anybody else. He doesn't. His free inventiveness forms the critical third component to the musical totality of Colored Houses.

I am not going to say that this is the seminal free jazz album of the year. It's too early in the year at any rate. What it is, is a lengthy excursion of three thoughtful yet forceful players into a territory that is thoroughly of the moment. Music for today. Very good music for today and I think it will sound just as good, or better, tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

James Plotkin and the Art of the Musical Soundscape

In recent years the soundscape has emerged as an art form in its own right. It has come about gradually, starting from earlier extended electronic music compositions and working its way through landmark Fripp and Eno works. Whatever the lineage, it is undoubtedly an ever more significant medium of expression.

James Plotkin shows himself one of the more important creators within this form on his excellent CD Kurtlanmak/Damascus (Utech Records). The good soundscape tends to be electro-acoustic in nature. It revels in the sensual components of musical and extra-musical organized sound. At the same time it invokes a kind of narrative. But to be truly noteworthy, the choice and organization of musical sound events should strike the ear, should evoke panoramas, expanded vistas, infinite horizons before the ears of the listener. This Mr. Plotkins does admirably. Each section connects to the long narrative but has interest in itself.

James comes to us as an important member of three innovative groups since the 1980s: Old, Khlyst and Khanate. (See a recent posting in my other blog for a discussion of an "Old" CD at He gets away from the apocalyptic in-your-face metal of those bands to show a more lyrical side on this solo work. I am intrigued with it. It has some very nice guitar playing. It has envelopes of sound that put you outside of yourself. And it is musical at all points.

Go to his site at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Naked Future Hit it Hard on Gigantomachia

I was unfamiliar with Arrington de Dionyso until I heard the new Gigantomachia (ESP) CD by the group he heads, the Naked Future. He works the bass and contralto clarinets with fire and sometimes fury. According to what I read he has been a fixture in the ensemble Old Time Relijun. Hey, there's so much to keep up with these days I have no idea whether the fact that I don't know that group is a terrible gaffe on my part or just an incomplete grasp of the musical infinity we all currently inhabit. No matter, really. My old boss would say at this point, "that's a good kind of problem to have." And he would be right. As he often was.

The Naked Future also has the forthright post-Cecil piano presence of Thollem McDonas. Arrington and Thollem make this recording jump (I would say, "make the needle jump" but CDs don't have that, so. . . ). They are confirmed bashers and honkers in the classic free "new thing" sense, and they have a concentrated commitment to this form of expression, if Gigantomachia is any indication. I think it is. Oh, they are joined by John Niekrasz on drums and Gregg Skloff on bass, both of whom provide the requisite outness appropriate to the session.

I am impressed with the single-minded devotion to uncompromising and fertile out playing these people evince. After a couple of listens, I began liking what I heard. Now I like this disk very much. It is surely in the venerable tradition of ESP Disk productions. It sounds like it could have been recorded in 1965. And yet, no, the current world intrudes in the music, and that's surely for the best. This is an excellent example of how and exactly where the out music flourishes today. Elsewhere too, of course. But the brave, new, and naked future world just as well might start here. Listen and perhaps you'll agree. Check the CD out at

Monday, May 4, 2009

Steve Swell's Magical Listening Hour

When you have a Free Jazz lineup of trombone (Steve Swell), tenor saxophone (Louie Belogenis), alto saxophone (Michael Attias) and trumpet (Nate Wooley), you do not have any preset compositions or heads, and you are playing live, the challenges to create meaningful music are enormous. Yet that just is what occurs on the Magical Listening Hour CD "Live @ The South Street Seaport," a new release on Cadence Records.

There isn't a rhythm section to establish a groove or a kinetic barrage, no harmony instrument to lay down a tonality, nothing but the creative collective listening and responding skills of four very creative and accomplished improvisers.

For 70 minutes at the South Street Seaport, the musicians did indeed create a kind of magic. It's a free improv textbook example of mutual musical sympathy. Motifs, textures and sound colors appear spontaneously, evolve, and get juxtaposed with or superseded by other musical events throughout the set. Each instrumentalist has full control of his instrument and engages with the others as easily as one engages in a good conversation (although perhaps the art of conversation isn't what it once was, but that's another matter). The dialog is inspired. The CD is highly recommended.

Go to and click on Cadence Jazz Records to find out about ordering this CD.