Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daron Hagen's Complete Piano Trios

American composer Daron Hagen (b. 1961) may not be universally recognized for his chamber music. The recent release of his Complete Piano Trios (Naxos 8.559657) may do much to rectify that.

There are four trios written between 1984-2007. Each has its own character. I must say I do quite like the third, based on the folk melody "The Wayfaring Stranger."

His music is lyrical, "neo" more than avant garde, idiomatic and well thought out.

It's the sort of music one knows will take quite a few listens to absorb fully and before such work-pleasure is complete, some ultimate or semi-ultimate judgement will not be on the personal program. At least that's how it is with me.

This is music that is "serious" in the same way that Aaron Copland's chamber music was. It is not given to pleasantries. There is a depth to these pieces I've yet to fully plummet. I will say that the performances by the Finisterra Trio seem marvelous to me. Detailed and passionate interpretations prevail.

I do recommend this recording. I reserve final judgement on the music itself however, until I've lived with it for a longer time. One thing is clear. Daron Hagen's Piano Trios are formidable works.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tenorman Rich Corpolongo and His Trio "Get Happy"

From what I understand Rich Corpolongo can take it out as well as remain inside. On his third (as far as I know anyway) CD Get Happy (Delmark 592) he fronts a trio of veteran jounrneymen (Dan Shapera, bass; Rusty Jones, drums) and they play in the later '50s pianoless trio style made popular by Sonny Rollins.

Now that in itself is not remarkable. What IS remarkable is the sheer joy you hear in their playing, which can sometimes be missing from the modern approach today. This is loose and advanced bebop in the Rollins-early Trane sort of bag. They cover standard standards like "Body and Soul" and "Lullaby of the Leaves" and a few of the more obscure Bird numbers ("Chi Chi," "Dewey Square"). It's a two-microphone recording in a resonant hall and so the sound matches the style perfectly.

But what matters is that the trio plays the music with all the inspired abandon it demands. Rusty Jones swings with all the nuance and verve of the Max-Roach-and-after school. Dan Shapera has that big bass sound that booms out welcomingly. And Rich Corpolongo can play a rapid line with the Chicago intensity of Von Freeman and the guys.

This is no repertoire band sort of thing. It has all the verve and commitment of those who genuinely love the style and have devoted many years to making the music LIVE. Corpolongo sounds especially terrific.

A great addition to your bebop holdings is what this could be. It's so good you start to forget it was made yesterday.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny Griffin's Last Go-Round, Live at Ronnie Scott's, 2008

Johnny Griffin is gone. His music stays with us. He was recorded in May of 2008 at Ronnie Scott's famed venue and it turns out that it was his last official record date (In & Out 77095-2). You get an hour of Johnny in the distinguished company of Billy Cobham, Roy Hargrove, pianist David Newton (with James Pearson and Steve Kuhn taking over the keys on one cut each). Reggie Johnson anchors the music on bass

They play an assortment of standards (like "Lester Leaps In" and "How Deep is the Ocean") plus three Griffin numbers and one by Hargrove.

The band is in fine form with Roy Hargrove in a good place throughout. And Johnny Griffin? He has his sound. But he doesn't quite have the masterful execution of the glory years. That is sad to hear.

If you are a stalwart Griffin fan, you'll probably want this one. Others may choose to seek out the music of the more healthy Griffin.

Friday, September 24, 2010

McPhee, Whitecage, Smoker, Prentice, Kowald, Duval, Rosen, 1998

Time flies whether you are having fun or not. So as I listen to CIMPhonia 1998, Part One (CIMP 173) and revel in its improvisatory glow it comes as a shock to me to realize that this recording was made 12 years ago. It transcends time, so that's not the point. It hits me, though, that '98 is now part of the somewhat distant past.

For the music contained on this CD it only underscores how great improvisation has and will outlast the time zone in which it was created. And with Trio X currently touring, it also underscores that the three members (Joe McPhee, soprano, tenor, trumpet; Dominic Duval, acoustic bass; Jay Rosen, drums) have been interacting together for a long time.

CIMPhonia 1998, Part One is a more all-encompassing collective improv date though, so the three are intermingled with some very potent cats: Mark Whitecage on reeds, Paul Smoker, trumpet, David Prentice, violin, and the late Peter Kowald on bass.

The group goes through a goodly contrast of moods and modes, from the "sunrise on the Delta" sort of undulations of "Estrus" to all the sorts of permutations and trajectories artists of this caliber can conjure.

Everybody sounds great and they mesh together quite well. To me though it's the horns as a unit and the two basses interlocking that make for especially remarkable listening.

Perhaps you've missed this one. Don't. In its own sweet way it is a milestone for improv, circa 1998.

Click on the CIMP link on this page to get details.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good Vibes On Chris Graham's "After-Birth of the Cool"

If you've dug the alternately dreamy and pointed tonal excursions of Gary Burton's vibraphone artistry, Chris Graham is an important exponent and extension of the style, and so you will find yourself on familiar yet somehow regenerated ground if you listen to his recent After-Birth of the Cool (Chris Graham Jazz).

It's Mr. Graham and his trio (Alex Austin, acoustic bass; Oliver Hunt, drums) holding forth for around 30 minutes of good sounds. The bass and drums give solid and sensitive support while Chris Graham shows his tasteful, subtly swinging multi-malleted harmonic-melodic abilities, which are considerable.

Most of these seem to be originals and they are appealing. But I especially like the version of Ralph Towner's "Icarus," a Winter's Consort signature song that here is given a lyrical vibes trio treatment.

It's all good, if short.

Chris Graham is a vibraphonist of distinction. The CD is a delight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Either/Orchestra Celebrates 25 Years with New Release

Mood Music for Time Travellers (Accurate 3285) kicks off the 25th anniversary celebration of the Either/ Orchestra, a large ensemble dedicated to modern-tight arranging-composing and a sense of adventure.

The new disk sees them take a retrospective look at American music forms: jazz boogaloo (see yesterday's posting for my feelings on that in general), Ellingtonian rhumba, Latin jazz, reggae, and such.

As always Russ Gershon and the group go the extra mile for compositions and arrangements that have flash, polish and full musical content. The Latin numbers are especially invigorating, aided and abetted by new member pianist Rafael Alcala.

The album is filled with examples of how and why the Either/Orchestra is one of the most sophisticated, accomplished and dynamic large ensembles working today.

Grab an earful of this new one and I think you'll be very pleased! Happy 25th to the Either/Orchestra.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Benny Sharoni, New Tenor on the Block

To start a review off by noting that tenor-sax man Benny Sharoni was born on a kibbutz in Israel and grew up there, that his father was originally from Yemen, that he has studied with Jerry Bregonzi and George Garzone would imply that all of that is relevant to what he plays on his debut CD Eternal Elixir (Papaya Records). Well I don't know that it isn't. He does seem to be quite fluent in the modern jazz treatment of the minor mode and there's a ballsy not-quite-mainstream approach (if you associate the mainstream with music that can be anemic, which it can these days) that Bergonzi and Garzone have in common.

That all assumes that musicians are nothing but an algebraic proportion of the cultural milieu of their upbringing and education. We know that cannot fully account for what makes somebody thrive, nor does it account for the particular combination of elements in any artist's way of creating. Like for example I happen to have cultivated a life-long love for Dostoevsky and Melville, but I don't think it explains how I write, exactly.

So let's cut to the quick. I like this album and I like Sharoni's playing. It's modern, nuanced, and has the ability to fire up or remain tranquil according to the song and the mood. If I hear a trace of Joe Henderson plus Bergonzi, Garzone and Lovano in his playing, all the better, since I do like those players very much. His fellow session mates are well-chosen. Mike Mele shines on his guitar solo spots, Barry Ries plays a puckery trumpet with roots in the '60s masters of the instrument, the alternating piano work of Joe Barbato and Kyle Aho can be filled with the old-school hard bopper's way or a post-Tyner bag, depending, but they are good exponents, and the rhythm team of Todd Baker (bass) and Steve Langone (drums) are solid.

This is hard-bop-and-beyond blowing. It's no accident that Sharoni spices up his interesting originals with some classic Blue Mitchell and Donald Byrd. Hebb's "Sunny" is not one that I would expect, but Sharoni does something on his solo, so. . . then "To Life" evokes another musical trunk that it would be natural for someone like Sharoni to reference, as we imply (but does not explain HOW he references it).

My only quibble is about the tradition and what we choose to maintain of it. Byrd's "Pentecostal Feeling" was one of those Blue Note boogaloos that found its way onto jukeboxes in the mid-sixties. In that period just about every Blue Note record had at least one of those numbers, because there was a community of listeners that dug it.

It's an old style and I am not sure it speaks to us today as much as some other aspects of the tradition. I'll be honest. I'd really rather listen to James Brown do something in this mode, because he and his band could smoke it to the high heavens. The jazz boogaloo thing always seemed to be (and still does) a kind of watering down of the electrifying experience of hearing Mr. Brown do it. What if every rock act were to be obliged to do a twist song? Not all of the past needs to be rehashed, and we can always go back to the originals. That's not to take away from the whole thing, but it's a personal bugaboo with me. And it is only a small part of what's on this album.

Benny Sharoni shows he can play, really play on Eternal Elixir. It's a fine outing and gives notice that here is a player! Bravo for that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Paul Hartsaw's SocioCybernetic Music Machine, Oakland 2007

The world of "free jazz" and improvisation (or improv) and the world of avant garde classical have been converging for some time now. In opposition to the "Third Stream" concepts put forward in the late '50s by Gunther Schuller and others, the musical rapprochement does not necessarily combine the musical syntax of jazz and classical vocabularies. Rather there has developed a language of sounds and intervalic relations that both groups hold more or less in common.

By utilizing various schemas to encourage both improvisational discourse and sonic innovation, artists from both sides are creating musical works that involve all participants in the decision of what to play and when. Sometimes there is full notation and individual decisions are made on the level of timing and ordering of the music at hand. On the other end is the intuitive group improvisation, where a kind of total choice is available on the part of artists, subject, of course, ultimately to the approval or disapproval of fellow artists and audiences.

Somewhere in between is the music produced by Paul Hartsaw's Octet in a project he calls the Socio-Cybernetic Music Machine (SCMM), recorded in performance in Oakland in 2007 (Metastable Sound 012). As I understand it, Mr. Hartsaw created a performance schema where individual musicians were instructed at various times to remain silent, to play, or to "take initiative," to play in the manner of a soloist. Musicians were given written motives to sound as well as given times where they could freely improvise.

The end result is a performance lasting 51-odd-minutes, controlled in part by Paul Hartsaw's role as "signaller," a kind of combination traffic cop and conductor.

The octet consisted of seven musicians and one vocalist, and the performance that ensues I trust is only one of infinite numbers of possibilities.

And so does the music have and retain interest? Yes. It has that free-abstract improvisational sound one might expect, somewhere between Stockhausen's improvisational pieces and the AACM in their more avant mode.

It is music that takes a number of listens to accustom oneself to, as is usually the case with any sort of complicated and advanced work. There are moments of comparative repose and moments of density and energetic activity. What Hartsaw's schema does is ensure that there is sonic variety and contrast in every performance. Like more conventional jazz, the music depends heavily on the imagination and ability of the artists. Like more conventionally conceived avant modern concert music there is a more or less ordered presentation of musical events that proceed in linear fashion from point A to point B.

The CD is recommended for those who like to explore ensemble abstractions. Paul Hartsaw's structural and personal direction of the sounds ensures that there is interest and variety. Recommended listening.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

David Borgo and his Trio: "Initial Conditions"

David Borgo has many sides to his musical personality. Initial Conditions (Circumvention) gives you the modern jazz trio side. It's a "blowing" date structured by very good original material and each member carries his weight with a lithe and swinging countenance. Gunnar Biggs can play a very accomplished and notable solo, then go on to swing the group heartily. Duncan Moore plays a very together role as a swinging drummer who can get a little out but can also really propulse. There's nothing hackneyed about either player's style; they play in the freebop tradition, but with their own horizons in sight.

David Borgo sounds great on alto, tenor, and soprano saxes and also alto flute and Irish flute.

The pieces are about half by Borgo, three by Biggs and a couple by some names that are new to me.

What you get is a beautiful performance of some solid material. There are some quasi-African-like pieces, burning swingers, some out-of-time and free-floating avant balladry and a little advanced funk.

It's quite good. More than quite good. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Seattle Soprano and Alto Sax Man Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson. Another new name to me. He comes out of Seattle with a quartet for his first album, Clarity (Pony Boy 50163-2). There's Jon Hansen on piano, who has a Tyner-Corea affinity and a nicely honed flourish. The bass-drums team of Chuck Kistler and Adam Kessler do a fine job keeping the momentum going. Dave Anderson's soprano and alto sax deliver cool agility and pure-toned extroversion. A little like Joe Farrell in his sound and attack, especially on the soprano. Just a little.

The set furnishes plenty of modern jazz blowing. And it is clear that Anderson and Hansen are up to the challenge of the prolonged exposure the album furnishes. They are both good, strong players and the rhythm team bolsters them. Clarity is fine listening.

Very nice first effort. I hope they continue on and have much success.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Phil Wilson and Makoto Ozone Live at Berklee, 1982

When I was at Berklee College of Music, back in the Paleolithic Era, Phil Wilson was in charge of the "dues band," the first-tier student big band that periodically Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, and a few others would raid to fill the ranks of their organizations. That Wilson also was an interesting trombonist was not at the forefront of student consciousness back then. But it was true.

In 1982 Phil and Japanese piano phenom Makoto Ozone did a set of duos in concert at the Berklee Performance Center. The results are now on CD (Capri 71004-2).

It's one of those teacher-proudly-shows-off his-prize-student sorts of things. Ozone was (and presumably still is) a pianist that wears his technique on his sleeve in an updating of the Art Tatum-Oscar Peterson school of having at it. By 1982, he was really rather good at it.

The duets show Phil slightly restrained, Makoto wildly exuberant. The chemistry was there, but it really served as a showcase for Ozone. That said, it has plenty of interesting moments, some of the best when Ozone alludes to stride roots.

It's a very decent set and a testament to the rapidly developing talents of Mr. Ozone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ensemble Economique's "Standing Still, Facing Forward"

Composer Brian Pyle and his virtual Ensemble Economique give us something quite wonderful on their release Standing Still, Facing Forward (Amish 032). It's part of Amish Records' "Required Wreckers" series which, if this is a typical example, is presenting important work.

Maestro Pyle takes pre-existing recorded samples of orchestral and otherwise instrumental music along with other found sounds and field recordings, and puts them together in the studio to create unique compositions. Standing Still, Facing Forward is his latest and (apparently) most fully realized piece based on these methods, and it is something that brings to your ears a memorable sonic world.

The music functions as a soundscape at times, as a modern classical composition of a more organized sort at other times. It's a fully worthy CD that should be heard by anyone interested in the avant garde today.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chris Massey and "Vibrainium"

Young drummer Chris Massey leads a select group he calls the "Nue Jazz Project." Their new album Vibrainium (Chris Massey Music) showcases the band and the songwriting abilities of Mr. Massey and several of his bandmates.

This is a throughly modern outing and the band is up to the challenge of creating "Neu" jazz. Good soloists are out front throughout, not the least in Chris Massey himself. Benjamin Drazen plays some heated lines on the alto and soprano and perhaps is the strongest of them. Donald Malloy is in the bold brassy trumpet tradition, and pianist Evgeny Lebedev has a nice touch and some good harmonic-melodic ideas. The rhythm team of Massey and bassist David Ostrem keep it all swinging.

Comparisons to Art Bleakey's Jazz Messengers have been made, and that's inevitable. A drummer-led group playing a modern version of hard bop. . . so who comes to mind then? But the many years that have now intervened between the heyday of the Messengers and today are reflected in the music. The opener "Galactus" for example utilizes "Giant Steps" changes on the blowing sections, which Mr. Blakey's groups were not likely to take on back in 1962.

The way that they do modern sorts of versions of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" and Chick Corea's "Windows" shows that they center in on that past but circle around it and try getting something new from it. In many ways they are more like a mid-period Wayne Shorter group updated for today. A subtle difference perhaps, but a difference nonetheless.

Chris Massey and the Nue Jazz Project is a straightahead band that does not rest on the past ways of getting everything moving. They are more restless and searching in their sound. That leads me to think that the band could be on the verge of further development.

In the meantime this is a fine set from a talent group of journeymen. Nice going!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Angles' "Epileptical West" for Some Significant Ensemble Jazz

Angles and their recent Epileptical West (Clean Feed 182) live record exemplify what a fully realized ensemble vision can do for the new music scene. Angles at this juncture is a six-man outfit. Altoist Martin Kuchen wrote the pieces in this set. The band as a whole crafted the arrangements. That band includes Mattias Stahl on vibes, Magnus Broo, trumpet, Mats Aleklint, trombone, Kjell Nordeson, drums, and Johan Berthling on the acoustic bass.

This is joyously boisterous music. The ensemble plays with a kind of boundless enthusiasm that one all-to-seldom hears today. Listen to "Pygmi" and its adaptation of the pygmy vocal style to the ensemble. It's a freely articulated full-throttle groove with convincing solos by the horns. It has that classic Art Ensemble/Archie Shepp/Sunny Murray inspired abandon, and it is not untypical of what you get on this fine release.

And like the ensembles/artists mentioned above, they can take on something like a kind of funk and transform it entirely into a freely conjoined blastout. Each of the horns gives out with strong solos, the vibraphonist is a centrifugal-centripetal force in keeping the music spinning (while also doing interesting solo work himself) and drummer Nordeson keep the spirit-level elevated with over-the-top bashing. Berthling's bass solidly pins down the bottom of the sound.

It is ultimately the sheer power of the band as ensemble that puts this recording into orbit.

Here's a band I would go see with a feeling of happy expectation. I can't always say that. The recording translates perfectly well the sort of energy a live outing quite obviously brings out in the band. Wow. What a nice thing this band is! Highly recommended.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Curtis Fuller, Hard Bop Bone Master in Full Force

Curtis Fuller was (and is) one of the handful of master hard bop trombonists. After J. J. Johnson, it could be said with much justification that he did most to advance the style in the late '50s through the sixties. Certainly his contributions to a particularly wonderful Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers lineup were seminal, as were his own solo outings, not to mention "Blue Trane."

He is active today. Very active. You can hear how active in his new 2-CD set I Will Tell Her (Capri 74100-2). This has one studio and one live disk, both with a solid sextet that includes some nice playing by Keith Oxman, tenor, and Al Hood, trumpet. Don Sickler contributes the charts, at least on the studio date, and he is at his usual level of craftsman-like inspiration. The music is a good mix of originals and jazz standards.

Now I'm not going to tell you that this CD package contains music that will change the face of music in the next 20 years. No. What it does is show you that Curtis Fuller, though he may not be giving out with as many 32nd note runs these days, remains a vital player. One note from Curtis and you know. He gets something on all of them. A master phraser of finesse. Listen to his ballad rendition of the title cut. The album is dedicated to his wife of long standing, and how he feels comes out there, whammo. But then he can swing the house down too.

Trombone lovers take note. Music lovers take note. Curtis Fuller still has that extra something. Hear it at length on this one and enjoy the ride!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ursel Schlicht, Steve Swell and Sound Quest, 2001

I first came across pianist, improv-composer Ursel Schlicht in a concert posted on the web. I think it was WKCR's old site. It was Ms. Schlicht and windologist-flautist Robert Dick in duo. I liked what I heard. One thing led to another and I hold in my hand the jewel case for Ursel Schlicht/Sound Quest's 2001 CD Implicate Order (Cadence Jazz 1140). This consists of a live appearance of the group in Kassel, Germany.

It's a good lineup: Schlicht of course on piano, the master Steve Swell on the trombone, Ken Filiano, bass, and Lou Grassi, drums. They are joined by Martin Speicher on alto for one number.

This is the sort of improv collective that can do the rolling thunder or quiet down for a new music sort of give and take. Ursel's piano has a nicely burnished tang to it. She plays interesting lines that stretch the harmonic-tonal base when there is one, and otherwise puts together thoughtful, well-considered phrases. The pieces are all band collective improvisations with the exception of one Schlicht composition, which is quite interesting.

Steve Swell sounds great throughout. Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi give you a free rhythm section that listens and strikes out on its own as well.

Highly recommended. Go to and click on the CJR link to get more details on this recording. They also have one on CIMP, which I most definitely will want to be hearing. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

David Borgo's "Chance, Discovery and Design" DVD

David Borgo, musician, composer, conceptualist and educator, has much going for him. He plays fluent sax and flute in the jazz-improv-new-music mode, he combines at various times electronics, electro-acoustics, his "metric" music (which has an African sound to it), improv, modern jazz and modern classical. He also has a flair for visual video creation. All of these facets of his art are well in evidence on his DVD Chance, Discovery and Design (Circumvention).

The visuals: they are extraordinarily interesting. They actually go completely with the music. There's animation, computer graphics, and altered visuals of the musicians in action. They enhance the experience of the music in palpable ways.

There is a cast of some 16 musicians that come in and out of play on any given piece.

Chance runs the gamut from quasi-tribal to avant-fusionesque to high-impact improv. The vibrant visuals ought to help those who might not be familiar with these musical styles because they give them a "total art" context. But even if you know about these sort of sounds the package makes for a very stimulating foray into new music today.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sun Ra Arkestra Live at the Paradox

When I heard that the Sun Ra Arkestra was under the direction of his long-time altoist Marshall Allen I wasn't sure how that would work out on the ground. Not that Mr. Allen isn't a totally capable musician and leader in his own right. He is. Bands that continue on without their founder can flounder. They can thrive. One never knows.

The Arkestra under Allen was captured Live at the Paradox a while ago and that performance is the focus of a recent CD (In and Out 77098-2) that forms the subject of this review.

I'm happy to say that the Arkestra (based on this recording) is alive and well. It retains the elements that made the Sun Ra unit so unique and exciting: the collective improvisations, the quirky instrumentals, the free soloing, the creaky standards done with Ra panache, the retro big band charts lurchingly performed with Ra-ist zest, the space songs and chants. All that remains in the new reincarnation of the band. But it's not Ra by rote. There's a refreshed focus. They don't quite sound the same much of the time--but that isn't so bad. In fact it's good.

If you are looking for the original go back to those recordings. If you want the 2010 version of Ra largess this is a very good way to get it. There are some long-time members of the fold: of course Marshall, Davis, Thompson, but there are also new members. The mix of old and new comes out well in the sound of the band, some of the Ra standards, and a series of new pieces composed by Allen.

It all works and brings you the joyous outness that the band always managed to create. But it's no recreate-the-old-material and how can it be as good sort of thing. It's a new take on the band. So it's a new band. And it's good. And that's good.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jeb Bishop and His Trio in Terrific Form, 2009

The confluence of factors that go into a great session by improvising artists can be many. But when the band is just ON IT, the rest becomes of minor significance (so long as everything in the digital world is in order). That's what happened on Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop's new 2009 (Better Animal 1) CD.

This is one of those fortuitous deals when everything is in alignment. Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums) are on fire and Jeb Bishop is burning things up like a pyromaniac. It is a set of very nice Jeb Bishop compositions, geared to getting the juices flowing in no mere perfunctory way.

There may be a fair amount of trombonist's albums out this year. This one is at the very top so far, and will surely remain so. Jeb is fluid and inspired; he lets loose with a torrent of great lines from the beginning of this CD to the end. This is a must listen for anybody into the trombone and/or the loose but impassioned and intelligent jazz one comes to expect from Mr. Bishop. Hell this is a great listen whether you are into the trombone as a rule or no!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Joyce Cobb, Now Here is a SINGER

While we babble about new jazz vocalists and how some of them are best left in some sort of mellow but isolated world where we don't have to hear them (no offense to the good ones) along comes somebody that, from the very first notes she sings, makes you forget about all that. I refer to Ms. Joyce Cobb and her self-titled album (Archer 31934). Now I have to say she totally convinces me.

Start with the accompaniment. It is pretty ideal. Michael Jefry Stevens, his piano and his trio. Mr. Stevens has rapidly become one of those players that defines how one can proceed out of an Evans-Jarrett sophistication of harmony and line and make of it something that is Michael Jefry Stevens music. He swings; he thinks; he executes; he plows new fields without a tractor. He is a joy on this one (and his own albums are well worth hearing too).

Then Joyce Cobb. She exudes jazz. She phrases in a totally Cobbian way. She changes her vocal tone almost bar by bar. She has a terrific sense of time. She recomposes standards in ways that convince. There's none of that "tricky, show-off hijinks, Charlie the Tuna style." She ad libs as she feels it. And she feels it. This is what singing is about.

There's a very nice choice of repertoire: "Moody's Mood," a couple of Monk tunes, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" (and Daddy sure doesn't sound like old pops), "In Walked Bud". . . .

She gives each one her own spin. And Michael Jefry Stevens on piano, Jonathan Wires on contrabass, and drummer Renardo Ward sound terrific. They are true col-laborators on this one.

Now I suppose I could make comparisons (Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae) and she would hold up under such scrutiny. Because in her own way she has that powerful, deceptively off-hand way about her.

You like the vocal part of the music? I would recommend you HEAR this one.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Foltz, Turner and Carrothers Take A Trip to the Moon

What interests me (one of the things) in today's improvisational music world is that there are no limitations on the content of the improvisations. They can utilize the vocabulary of modern jazz, they can evoke rock elements, they can go with the language of "free" music, or, with today's CD, they can veer more towards the modern classical side.

But just because you do something doesn't mean you do it well of course. With Jean-Marie Foltz (clarinets), Matt Turner (cello), and Bill Carrothers (piano), "well" doesn't begin to describe what they do. To the Moon (Ayler 112) has the introspective contemplation of a George Crumb and a Claude Debussy. It has when warranted the power of the best of the improv ensembles. It has some of the spaciness of classic ECM jazz. And it has the fascination with unusual sound color and aural pauses of Cage and Stockhausen.

The resulting music is very accessible for those who have some familiarity with the above styles. Out of all their influences Foltz-Turner-Carrothers have crafted music that is occasionally breathtaking, always interesting, and all their own.

Highly recommended.

Beautiful Bosnian Song Interpretation From Amira and Merima Kljuco

Traditional Bosnian song, judging from the recording at hand, is something to listen to with absorption. That is, if you love the Eastern European-Middle Eastern minor mode. In the hands of Amira, richly nuanced vocalist, and Marima Klujko, accordionist with an orchestral conception of his accompanying role, it becomes transformed. Zumra (World Village 450012), released this summer, is a CD that straddles folk and high art, whatever those terms mean today (which is to say the meanings are changing).

Merima's accordion has an evocative cantabile lyrical quality to it. And on some songs there are dissonances that punctuate the harmonies. It makes things all that much more interesting. Amira has a beautiful voice that she puts to wonderful use in giving forth with impassioned interpretations of the folk strains.

Great songs, great singing, great and innovative accompaniment. It shows you that world music can do with its music what it likes these days. In the case of Zumra, the performers triumph.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Luther Thomas & Rune Larsen Play Street Music

Luther Thomas was a complicated cat, both personally and musically. We will only deal with the latter here. In the summer of 2001 he and Rune Larsen did some street busking as a duo in the Christiana section of Copenhagen. Luckily somebody taped nearly an hour of them in action and it is avalable as Busking in Christiana (Ayler Download 029).

First off, this is casual music-making. That's understandable given the time and place. They are on occasion accompanied by police sirens, dogs barking and general city-life sound. Such context only adds to the charm. It is deceptively casual, though, for there is some beautiful music-making going on.

What you get is Luther's alto and Rune's accordion naked, so to speak. They are playing jazz standards from swingtime on--"Tea for Two," "Autumn Leaves," "Take the A Train," "Blue Monk," etc. It shows you a side of Luther Thomas that you don't often get--the traditionalist that still gives out with outness. And the accordion of Mr. Larsen here is something else. He accompanies with ease, making the whole enterprise swing, suggesting stride sometimes, or a bop sort of bass and comping other times.

This is no classic. It is an absolute hoot though. There's nothing quite like it and it gives you a very sizable portion of why Luther Thomas was a magnificent player. Get it for some good fun and palpable insights. You must go to the Ayler site to get it. See the link on the right,