Wednesday, March 31, 2010

William Parker

William Parker (bass; b. 1952)
(photo: Dave Kaufman)

Probably the most creative and forward-thinking bassist since Charlie Mingus, William Parker has been a prolific recording artist for more than three decades and over 20 albums. William Parker's technique is direct and his phrasing is always well considered. His records range from avant garde to hard bop to large ensemble pieces -- all with great inventiveness. He has played with such luminaries as Charles Bracken, Rashid Ali and Don Cherry -- to name a few. All have had an influence on Parker's work to one degree or another.

A series of releases recorded with his most consistent quartet, featuring Hamid Drake (drums), Rob Brown (sax), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), include two highly recommended projects, O'Neals Porch and Sound Unity (both on Aum Fidelity). Both highlight the ability of each member to establish, develop and create thematic moods that evoke a sheer mastery of their instrument.

The themes and directions of both albums, while building toward free improvisation, actually start with a foundation that many will find accessible. The material is highly layered and the individual performances gel magnificently. At their best, they're reminiscent of Charles Mingus' releases for Impulse during the 60s, such as Black Saint and Sinner Lady.

The title tracks and "Song For Jesus" are notable for their lyrical beauty. Brown and Barnes also express themselves wonderfully throughout these sessions, making it clear that no one in this band is ever overshadowed. While many of Parker's albums are very complex with themes and textures that can be overwhelming and arching in new directions, both Sound Unity and O'Neals Porch are well suited for the uninitiated. Two must listens by far.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thelonious Monk Live In Stockholm 1961

Thelonious Monk
Live In Stockholm 1961 (Dragon Records)
Thelonious Monk (piano)
Charlie Rouse (sax)
John Ore (bass)
Frank Dunlop (drums)

The Thelonious Monk Quartet were in midst of a European tour at the time Live In Stockholm (Dragon Records) was recorded. It is probably one of the favourite Monk concerts I own. The sound quality is excellent (originally from a Swedish radio broadcast). There's nothing new in repertoire for this tour. It takes place just a few months before Monk would sign for Columbia Records and he was really starting to become a household name among jazz lovers. He's band (Rouse, Ore and Dunlop) had been together for two years now were to prime form. The gig kicks off with a great version of the Monk standard "Jackie-ing" with some killing interplay between Rouse and Monk. At this point the two men probably had the same brain they were so in sync. Charlie Rouse really is on fire during this performance especially later on during the set on "Well You Needn't" and "Beshima Swing". Rouse also has an incredible solo on "Round Midnight" that is best heard loud. This quartet was Monk most powerful and prolific.

Monk kept this group together along with selected touring/session members for almost four years before Ben Riely took over on drums from Frank Dunlop. The evening ends with a lovely version of "Body And Soul" as only Monk could do it. While there isn't anything historic about this date it is well worth seeking out for the sound quality and pretty decent packaging. Live In Stockholm is a brilliant snapshot of Monk and his quartet in fabulous form.

Unfortunately I haven't found any footage of this performance or of this quartet together at this time period. The performance below is from the quartet Monk put together shortly after Dunlop and includes Charlie Rouse (sax), Ben Riely (drums) and Larry Gayles (bass). Still a stellar quartet and marvelous work from Monk.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Miles Davis: After Bitches Brew

Miles Davis (trumpet)
Big Fun (Columbia, 1969)

The Miles Davis cannon is showered with influential and astonishing albums, Bitches Brew being one of them. But after you've listened to Bitches Brew and you experience the "world" music vibe Miles was trying to capture, where do you go next? He would make slew of incredible live album featuring all new material during the '70s. One album that I've always felt was overlooked is entitled Big Fun (Columbia; 1969). Big Fun is awash of electric fusion but also Indian raga and hypnotic modal structures.

Big Fun actually took 4 years to complete. Miles had recorded almost every track with a different ensemble of musicians (including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham on drums and the wonderful sitar and tambra work from Khalil Balakrishna. Balakrishna's trance-like work is evident on the opening track "Great Expectations". This really does set the tone for the proceedings. Another standout for me the duel between Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul both on electric piano (right and left channel (or speaker) respectively) on the lovely "Recollection". There's also some funky movements with "Ife" mainly provided by piano work of Lonnie Smith and Harold Williams but some infectious drum/percussion work from Al Foster, Billy Hart and Jame 'Mtume" Forman.

Big Fun is a massive cross section of styles that really only Miles could orchestra among so many musician over 4 different sessions. It's a jaw dropping experience to hear this recorded after Bitches Brew and seeing contrast the movements. There not radically different, just the emphasis is placed--jam sessions with short bits of structure--but only Miles knows that. The majority of the tracks on Big Fun were technically recorded during other sessions which is why some jazz fans may know some of the tracks from boxed sets (Bitches Brew and On The Corner) but make no mistake this is an album that Miles had in mind and its a beautiful mixture of styles that you should definitely listen to after Bitches Brew. If you have it already let us know your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Billy Higgins: Why He's Important

Billy Higgins (drums; b.1936 - d. 2001)

The greatest and most recorded jazz drummer of all time. High praise yes but if you actually knew how many albums on which Billy Higgins plays, you would understand (and also probably be a very rich person). Billy Higgins played in R&B when he was young, coming to prominence once he joined bassist/pianist, Red Mitchell's group. This led him to apply his versatility in both complex and delicate recording sessions and live gigs. Billy Higgins had become the "artist of choice"--recording and performing with such musicians as Lee Morgan, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and most recently with Charles Lloyd.

His style was rhythmically understated but always precise. Billy Higgins could literally do-no-wrong when behind the kit. As a result of Billy's "in demand-ness" (at least 100 sessions as sideman) his own discography is very thin. But thinness doesn't mean lack of quality. Of the ten albums attributed to him as leader only about four are still available--just barely. I don't own all his albums but he is one of the first artists I look forward when I'm in a used record store. His recordings are beauty and each provide a small bit a variety to making them very distinct from each other. Again the understated quality combination with superb musicianship.

I would recommend The Billy Higgins Quintet (Evidence, 1997) as one of the album you should definitely seek out. Quintet includes a wonderful lineup featuring Oscar Brashear (trumpet), Harold Land (sax), David Williams (bass) and his most consistent collaborator Cedar Walton (piano), all in absolutely sublime form for this outing. Higgins was never really an original composer; his own releases contained standards and material written by his fellow musicians. But that shouldn't stop you from taking a good listen to this fabulous recording. Cedar Walton and Harold Land are legends and are really cookin' on this session as evident on the opener, "Step Right Up To The Bottom," and " The Vision" both written by Land and Walton, respectively. They almost overshadow the proceedings until you listen closely and realize who really is leading the session--Higgins. It's an awesome recording that would be worth the money to pay for.

In the last few years of his life he had recorded with saxophonist Charles Llyod, most significantly on Llyod's 2004 album Which Way Is East (ECM). Which Way Is East is phenomenal and features an array of instruments played by both musicians on this duo session. Higgins even plays guitar on a couple of tracks. This album may be only for the true jazz fan but I highly recommend it as an example of what both artists can do at the top of their game. The album was recorded just a few months before Higgins passed away.

Billy Higgins was an indelible figure and his influence will be felt for years to come. Check some of your albums you may even have Higgins in your collection and don't even know it. The word "legend" gets used allot (even by me) but in Billy Higgins case it is beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Groovin' With Benny Golson

Benny Golson (sax; b. 1929)

Benny Golson's (saxophone) new release, The Best Of Benny Golson (Concord Music Group), is a compilation of material spanning his career with the Milestones, Concord, Prestige and OJC labels. Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Golson worked in early R&B outfits in the '50s to before becoming a member in both Dizzy Gillespie's and Art Blakey's band in the late '50s. He would later go on to formed The Jazztet with Art Farmer.

He has worked with almost every major bebop musician of the era. Benny Golson's own work is powerful yet very inviting. He has written a number of now standards for jazz musicians including "Stablemates," "Along Came Betty," and "Killer Joe" to name just a few. Many people may be more familiar with his work from the film The Terminal staring Tom Hanks and directed by Steve Spielberg. Benny Golson and his band performed in lounge bar of the airport. This brought new awareness of Benny's material and he has since toured consistently again.

Whenever he performs live I try to get as many people who are new jazz to experience his shows. Benny Golson is probably the best intro for people who are unfamiliar with jazz and all its beauty. There will be songs that are very recognizable to you on this collection, including "April In Paris," "Whisper Not," and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was". If you enjoy the saxophone and want to hear a true musician at the peak of his power, check out The Best Of Benny Golson. I believe you will enjoy immensely.

Tune in Saturday for some Sexy Movie Grooves

Kristopher Spencer, author of Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979, and JazzWrap contributor, will discuss jazzy sexploitation soundtracks with Scott Greenberg, host of WGWG radio's "Debts No Honest Man Can Pay". They'll play selections by John Barry, Gato Barbieri, Piero Umiliani and more.

The show starts @ 10am EST.
The interrogation begins @ 11am EST.

Listen online @

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alex Chilton: We Will Miss You

Alex Chilton (guitar, b. 1950 - 2010)

While this blog is about jazz, ever once in a while you have to mention the music that is truly dear to you. This week the music world lost a legend. Alex Chilton's voice and lyrics were the light and soundtrack for generations. Alex Chilton was the founding member of not just one band influential band but two. He started his career in his teens with the late sixties outfit The Box Tops and in the seventies he formed Big Star.

Most people may not know Big Star but you know their songs and the influence. With them you may not get R.E.M., The Replacements, Wilco, Teenage Fanclub, Jeff Buckley and countless other mellow guitar bands. The band recorded 4 highly influential albums and have become the benchmark for the aforementioned bands and continues to be the blueprint on how it should be done. The songs "September Guurls" and "Kangaroo" have been cover by numerous musicians (Kangaroo by Buckley and This Mortal Coil famously in recent decades). I personally got into Big Star by a high school friend while hanging out at their house. He played the vinyl of #1 Album and from that point on I was hooked. Alex Chilton's and Chris Bells sweet melodies captured my childhood years as much as Chilton's solo work did for the rest of my life. Today is a sad sad day indeed. Love Live Big Star. Long Live Alex Chilton.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Intersection: Galliano

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz in new and highly creative ways.

Galliano (group; formed 1988)

This rag-tag collective is probably one of the most underrated of the Acid Jazz movement during the early '90s (along with Mother Earth and Emperors New Clothes). The group was more spiritual, political and earthy than their funky contemporaries like the globe trotting Jamiraoqui and Brand New Heavies. Galliano had a beautiful mixture of Beat Generation poetry, African rhythms, Roy Ayers soulfulness and Pharoah Sanders forward thinking approach to the sky (so to speak).

Galliano was led by DJ turned musician Rob Gallagher and featured the raspy sexy vocals of underground legend Valerie Etienne, and delivered four phenomenal albums from 91 - 96. Each was built around a swirling jazzy soul motif and infectious trip hop grooves. In listening to these albums again over the last couple of days before writing this entry I realized they all hold up amazingly well as most of the Acid Jazz titles have done. Very surprising for this short lived movement.

While I think all the albums are necessary, if you can only find A Joyful Noise Unto The Creator and The Plot Thickens (both on Talkin' Loud) you would have the real essence of what the band was all about. A Joyful Noise Unto The Creator features some of the early roots for the Acid Jazz movement including the really funky "Skunk Funk," and the beauty "Prince Of Peace" which you'll find playing over and over again. The Plot Thickens was the big breakthrough for the band. It included "Long Time Gone," "Twyford Downs," and "Blood Lines," all real winners in the Acid Jazz soul playbook. Galliano, while feeling like a collective, was definitely a band with the strong use of live instruments.

On their fourth and final album, 4 (Talkin' Loud) they began to incorporate electronics (maybe due to the success of Massive Attack's Protection). That's not to say it's a bad record, its actually quite good and was the platform for the next band that Gallagher would form, Two Banks Of Four which has put out three incredible albums that if you can find them are worth buying no matter the price. There were a myriad of bands during the Acid Jazz era--most were quite good but didn't receive the mass acceptance that the two bands mentioned in the beginning of this entry, but if you haven't investigated the Acid Jazz era, Galliano are great place to start.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Intersection: Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald

The Intersection is an occasional feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by none other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On The Corner).

This week's focus is Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald's Recomposed: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky

This column is usually about the collision of jazz and electronica, but this time it's about a remarkable album where classical and electronica meet head-on with stunning results.

Released by Universal in 2008, Recomposed: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky is the third volume of a series in which electronica producers "recompose" famous classical music originally recorded for the legendary label Deutsche Grammophon. In this case, the maestros are Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald, who brilliantly reinterpret 1987 recordings by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra of music by Ravel ("Bolero") and Mussorgsky ("Pictures at an Exhibition").

Armed with vintage drum machines and analogue synths, the Berlin- and Detroit-based DJs Von Oswald and Craig sampled, looped and recast the classic works to fit the minimalist techno aesthetic. Rather than sounding like a kitschy remix, this marvelously entrancing album stands as an utterly original work in its own right.

It begins with a spacey introduction that lulls the listener into a serene expectant mood. Patient ears are rewarded when the first movement begins. Craig and Von Oswald use the majestic, sensual 3/4 pulse of "Bolero" to build anticipation until the groove blends seamlessly into the second movement where it takes on more tension. By then, the horn samples begin to chatter fascinatingly like birds on a wire.

At the start of the third movement, a quickened electronic pulse forces the horn lines to become more simplistic and repetitious, overlapping in the fourth movement before morphing into pure electronica in the interlude that follows it. This is like Steve Reich's minimalist chamber music reimagined by Cylons.

Just as the work threatens to lose its point of reference entirely, the symphonic elements return in earnest during the fifth movement. The menacing mood is like something out of Bernard Herrmann's music for Cape Fear.

When the electronic rhythms return it is again at the service of the samples. The percolating beats propel swirling strings, sinuous woodwinds and ominous brass toward a protracted resolution in the sixth movement. Here, the repetitive thrum and rocking of low brass and strings suggests a ship on crash course with destiny. And we are happy to go there, following the siren song. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Anita O'Day: The Incredible

Anita O'Day (vocals; b. 1919 - 2006)

Unfortunately always overshadowed by Sarah, Billie, Ella, Dinah and even Carmen, Anita O'Day was probably the most versatile of all this great legion of jazz vocalists. Anita moved comfortably between the swing era and bebop with a tough exterior that she carried her entire career. Take about feminism, Anita embodied it and then some. Her ability to scat could rival Louis Armstrong any day. Her gritty demeanour also reflected the rough and tumble lifestyle and demons she fought throughout a large majority of her career. O'Day could go from soft and sultry to fierce and punchy in the blink of an eye.

For jazz lovers there is no more an iconic image (and possibly performance) of Anita than her appearance at The Newport Jazz Festival of 1958, now immortalized in the film Jazz On A Summer's Day. The film itself is highly recommended especially if you are new to jazz. It's not necessarily the jazz version of Woodstock but it does include some incredible and unforgettable performances from jazz icons--especially Anita.

There are very few vocalists who have a catalouge that is as spotless as Anita O'Day's. There's not a dud in the batch. It's probably going to be extremely hard to find individual albums at the this point so you may be left with a host of compilations. While most of them are all quite good the two that are the easiest to find are Finest Hour and The Diva Series. Both cover her most prolific years with Verve (The Diva Series has an absolutely awful cover but its the music that counts) and the most well known material. I prefer the Finest Hour release just because of the sequencing, but that's me. It includes a killer version of Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing", "Tea For Two" and "God Bless The Child". In addition, there is a great compilation call Let Me Off Uptown (Columbia) which covers her swing era material with the great drummer/band leader Gene Krupa which is a must.

The jazz completist should seek out The Complete Verve Recordings (Mosaic Records) which is the entire vault and good weekend's worth of listening pleasure. Anita continued to record right up to her passing in 2006. Not too many female vocalist today can hold a candle to O'Day but you can hear the spirit in artists like Stacey Kent, Claire Teal and Claire Martin. A real troubadour for the Great American Songbook, Anita O'Day was a stunning vocalist whose legend needs to be spread and heard by as many people as possible.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cedar Walton: Living Legend

Cedar Walton (piano; b. 1934)

Cedar Walton has quietly become one of the most influential and revered musicians in jazz. In my opinion, Cedar Walton along with Wynton Kelly are one of a handful of hard bop pianists who don't get the recognition they so greatly deserve. He was a session player for many years during the '50s and early '60s. Cedar Walton has worked with a wide array of artists including a Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan among others. He is widely known as the first piano player for John Coltrane's Giant Steps sessions. But his true shinning moments are his own recordings of which there are many.
Walton's style is sophisticated, beautiful and intricate in the similar vein of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. His choice of band members is always a sign of the intensity of recording session (especially live). Any album featuring legendary drummer, Billy Higgins is worth buying on the spot. The combination of Walton and Higgins is like Jagger and Richards, Lennon and McCartney or Monk and Rouse--you almost can't see one without the other. Walton's live performances of a thing of beauty. I have seen him countless times and I haven't experience one low-par show ever.
While all of his records I could easily recommend there is a highly strong and critically acclaimed period that saw Walton in his most inventive and prolific period. This was from 1975 - 1978 when he formed a band called Eastern Rebellion (named after the Irish rebel movement called Easter Rebellion). The band would also work off and on throughout the 80s and 90s but the majority of the material was during this three year stretch. The band consisted of mainstay Billy Higgins (drums), David Williams, Sam Jones (bass) and rotation of sax players including George Coleman, Bob Berg and Ralph Moore. The band originated out of a European tour that Cedar was headlining and he wanted to give his band an actual name and that's how Eastern Rebellion came about.
The albums are mixture of standards and Walton staples ("Bolivia", "Ojos de Rojo" and "The Maestro") with performances of the highest order. Most of the Eastern Rebellion albums were live so its the perfect way to hear Cedar Walton. There is a fantastic three disc set simply titled First Set, Second Set and Third Set (SteepleChase) which are probably the ones to start with. Bizarrely they are listed as The Cedar Walton Quartet records not Eastern Rebellion but that's nit-picky. The albums are a little hard to find but not out of print so they shouldn't cost that much. I have found them online and for download if you chose that route.
For those looking for some of Walton's newer material you should check The Promise Land (High Note) which features a host incredibly strong selections that anyone interested in jazz would love. The title track along with "Bermond's Blues" and "Thirty Degrees To The Wind" highlight an album of mostly Walton originals and is a real pleasure to listen to. A pianist with great skill and beauty--if you haven't experienced Cedar Walton you really should.
If you have a chance to see him live I highly recommend you buy ticket and see one of the few jazz legends still around and performing regularly. The perfomance below was recorded during one of Eastern Rebellion's European tours in '76.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Thing: Swedish Rampage

The Thing (group; fromed 2000)
Bag It! (Smalltown Superjazz)

White Noise with style and beauty. That's probably the best way to describe it.

The Thing are a power trio from Sweden, who along with Acoustic Ladyland, Supersilent, Atomic and Polar Bear have been pushing the sound barrier of jazz for a decade now. Led by the creative mastermind of saxophonist Mats Gustaffson, Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), & Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (bass), The Thing is a consistent and reliable source for a challenging good time on every outing.

The Thing's new album (8th in total), Bag It! was produced appropriately by legendary noise maker, Steve Albini (founder of alternative band Big Black) whose production credits include The Pixies, Wedding Present and more. The album features covers of Duke Ellington "Mystery Song" and a rapturous version of Albert Ayler's "Angels" as well as their own "Hot Doug" to name a few.

The Thing do a masterful job of melding the avant garde and punk ethos together with fantastic results. While most European jazz recently has been based on the Miles Davis fusion era, The Thing has used prog-rock (King Crimson, Can, etc.) and jazz (Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, etc.) as their launching pad to explore new ideas that would probably make Miles and Coltrane extremely proud. The Thing isn't for everyone but if you like your music loud, improvised and in your face, then The Thing's Bag It! is the perfect starting point for self destruction (or self evaluation).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ryan Kisor: The New Power Source

Ryan Kisor (trumpet, b. 1973)

Ryan Kisor is a native of Iowa, of all places. He quickly became a fixture on the New York jazz scene in the '90s and has over 15 albums to his name. He is one my favorite artists from the new crop of trumpeters in the last two decades. Not in the same arena as Dave Douglas or Roy Campbell who prefer to push beyond bebop, Kisor has chosen to embody the influences of bop and hard bop while still creating his own voice.

Many will immediately notice the influence of Freddy Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Clark Terry in some of his compositions. But after a few listens you can hear the distinction in his sound and the vibe of a musician reaching the peak of his performance.

Ryan Kisor's career spans a number of different labels with much of his recordings either out of print or on high priced imports. There are few albums with Kisor as a session member available on iTunes which I also recommend. But if you really want to seek out this impressive trumpet player you won't go wrong with any of Kisor's CDs. The most readily available ones on the Criss Cross label and are actually reasonably priced for imports ($14-$17). You can also find a very unique and highly rare compilation The Best Of Ryan Kisor 2000 - 2006 at J&R ( really cheap. It covers 6 albums he made exclusive for the Japanese market and consists of mostly standards, but it does give a decent overview of his strength.

The easiest to find of the Criss Cross titles is Power Source and is also relatively in the same price range as mentioned above. Power Source is a full bodied post hard bop session that really highlights Kisor's skill as trumpeter and arranger. While only including one self-written piece (the title track) Ryan has also allowed fellow band member, Chris Potter (sax) to showcase his growing talent with the two tracks that are delightful, "Pelog" and "Salome's Dance." This is definitely one of those incredible outings that will make you step back and say "Wow!" Truly one of my favorites that I would hope everyone has a chance to listen to. You might even enjoy the hunt for his records as well.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roy Campbell: Pushing Jazz Forward

Roy Campbell (trumpet, b. 1952)
The Nu Band (group; formed 2001)

Mark Whitcage (alto sax)
Joe Fonda (bass)
Lou Grassi (drums)

Roy Campbell is considered one of the leading lights in avant garde today. His trumpet playing can be compared to Miles Davis electric era but Roy's concepts are a bit more in the realm of Sun Ra, John Zorn and Don Cherry the legendary "Dark One" himself. Hailing from Los Angeles, Roy Campbell originally studied under another great trumpeter, Kenny Dorham. He spent a number of years as a sessions man and with a few makeshift groups before finally settling into his own first solo album, New Kingdom (Delmark, 1999).

He has since recorded seven albums under his own name. The most popular and critically acclaimed, Ethnic Stew and Brew (Delmark, 2001) felt like an anvil hitting the music scene. Everyone knew his talent but Ethnic Stew and Brew just solidifies the importance of this new talent. The session blends African, Middle-Eastern and avant garde themes into a subtle but highly enjoyable affair. Images of Miles' Bitches Brew, In A Silent Way and even Ahgharta come to into the framework but that's okay because this is a session that you really have to experience almost by mistake to feel the intensity. I stumbled across it a few years ago in a record store and was completely blown away by Campbell's playing. I bought the album on the spot. Roy Campbell has worked with a wide variety of musicians including, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake and saxophonist troubadour, Peter Brotzmann in his Die Like A Dog quartet. One of Roy Campbell's own projects which is receiving critically raves of late is The Nu Band.

The Nu Band features Campbell on trumpet along with Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) and Mark Whitecage (sax). This is a quartet which at first listen might be just a wall of sound but once you settle into the rhythm you are fully connected to the melody and the method to the madness. The Nu Band are a group that have been together for technically just a short time but have managed to somehow sound like its been twenty years. The interplay is fascinating to experience. Each member takes the lead on the appropriate piece and the rest of the members merge around the one theme. All of their four albums are live recordings which is probably the best way to hear this type of a group--in an improvised setting.

I haven't really decided on my favourite album by the band but Live At The Bop Shop (Clean Feed) and Lower Eastside Blues (Porter Records) are both worth checking out. They are available online if you're interested. But either way, Roy Campbell is thinking about the future and bring concepts that are making everyone thinking differently. Get on board...

Monday, March 8, 2010

David S. Ware: Returning Is So Sweet

David S. Ware (sax, b. 1949)
Saturnian (Aum Fidelity)

David S. Ware is one of the most astounding saxophonists on the scene today. In my opinion he is one of the jazz musicians you continually pushes jazz beyond its borders. For anyone looking for the John Coltrane successor, David S. Ware is it. With 24 albums to his name, Ware is not only prolific, his music is an adventure is sonic and structure. He came to prominence while working for the avant garde pianist, Cecil Taylor.

David ventured out on his own in the mid-eighties with his own quartet that shifted drummers until finally deciding on the fully realized group of Matthew Shipp (piano), Guillermo E. Brown (drums) and William Parker (bass). This group created a string of phenomenal albums in the mid-nineties including Wisdom Of Uncertainty (Aum Fidelity), Go See The World (Columbia) and Surrendered (Columbia). David's style is fierce, relentless, evocative and spiritual. David S. Ware's 2007 release BalladWare (Thirsty Ear) is probably the most accessible Ware has ever recorded and can be easily enjoyed by those unfamiliar with the musician but familiar with some of John Coltrane's latter work such as Crescent, Africa Brass and Impressions.

His 2008 recording, Shakti (Aum Fidelity) was an album of intense emotional beauty revolving around the concept the divine creativity power as expressed in the Hindi tradition. For the last several years David had been suffering from kidney failure and just recently received a transplant. His newest album, Saturnian (Aum Fidelity) is a solo saxophone performance live in New York City from October 2009. This was David's first return to the live stage in months. The album features three extensive pieces all performed on three different types of saxophones (Saxello, Stritch and Tenor). This is probably the best way to celebrate the return of the greatest saxophonists on the scene today. It is an emotional evening and you can feel the joy pouring out of each note Ware plays. Saturnian is a celebration of life, musical voice and ongoing creativity. I haven't felt this type of energy since Evan Parker or Rashaan Roland Kirk. A real must for David S. Ware fans.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Necks: Silverwater & New York Download

The Necks (group)
Silverwater (ReR)
Chris Abrahams (piano)
Lloyd Swanton (drums)
Tony Buck (bass)

Just over a month ago Australian jazz band, The Necks performed in Brooklyn, NY. JazzWrap were there and it was an amazing show. It was in support of the recent release Silverwater (ReR). It is just over an hour over aural bliss. Ironic considering that Silverwater is the location of the maximum prision outside of Sydney. But could also compliment the struggle of bliss and cacophony that one may face when left to your demons and angels. Silverwater features The Necks trademark slow building motifs surrounded by incidental atmospherics crafted from some very imaginative use of acoustic instruments.

The first 15 minutes revolve around the wonderful interplay between drummer, Lloyd Swanton and bassist, Tony Buck, as they set the rhythmic tone of the recording. Pianist, Chris Abrahams while plucking away gently in the background during the beginning of the piece, comes forefront around the 30 minute mark and band begin their surge into a hypnotic groove for the remainder of outing. The band even use some guitar textures throughout (I think).

Silverwater closes slowly with some intense percussion work from Buck. There is also the unique manipulation of piano and drums from Abrahams and Buck toward the end that constantly leaves me wondering how they manage to do that. The layer of instrumentation here is mystifying and makes for a wonderful sonic experience.

Silverwater is one of The Necks most fully realized studio albums and is the perfect follow up to accessible Chemist from 2006. For those with deep appreciation of the earlier work from The Orb and Brian Eno, The Necks are definitely something for you to check out.

If you are still on the fence (which I hope you aren''t) check out the FREE DOWNLOAD of the Brooklyn performance at the The Necks official site. Experience for yourself an unbelievable evening from one the best kept secrets in jazz. And then seek out Silverwater.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

DKV Trio: One Of Chicago's Finest

DKV Trio (group; formed 1994)
Hamid Drake (drums/percussion)
Kent Kessler (double bass)
Ken Vandermark (reeds)

DKV Trio is one of Ken Vandermark's many projects away from his main group The Vandermark Five. I hadn't listened to DKV in a few months until this past weekend and forgot how much I really dug these records. Formed in 1994, DKV Trio have released six albums and become one of the most popular group in their home base of Chicago as well as internationally.

A semi-supergroup, each individual is renowned throughout the jazz community, so the formation of DKV is force that must be seen as well as heard. The albums are explorations in "free jazz" but that doesn't mean its completely "out there". They utilize various rhythms and themes as the basis for the structure of their tunes. Hamid Drake's drum work can go from fernetic to funky in an instant. And the interplay with Kessler and Vandermark shows the simpatico the trio has developed over the past 15 years. In some ways the band is similar to late 60s - 70s work of Ornette Coleman's Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell as well as one of Vandermark's main influences Don Cherry. The trio even cover Cherry's classic Complete Communion on one of their releases.

A group with true artistry and extraordinary insight into what and where free jazz can go--DKV Trio are worth listening. All of their records are impressive, especially their collaborations with Chicago sax legend, Fred Andreson and guitarist Joe Morris. The albums are not that hard to find but you may have to dig around for them online and at some of the cooler record stores. This was one of fresh discovers for me this past week and one of those most where you say to yourself, "this is way I love jazz."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

David Torn: The Guitar And What's Next

David Torn (guitar, electronics; 1953)

New Yorker David Torn, not unlike Mark Isham, is a jazz musician with uncategorizable talents. He has worked on both jazz, world, rock and film and tv projects consistently throughout his career. His career includes studying under John Abercrombe and Leonard Bernstein. He does have a very deep catalog but unfortunately only a few albums are available. He received significant recognition for his work on the Everyman Band albums during the 80s. The albums that are available are truly phenomenal and worth the purchase, especially if you are a fan of Brian Eno, King Crimson, David Sylvian, Supersilent, et al.

David Torn's style is layered and tempered with ambient elements similar to Nils Petter Molvaer or Michael Brook. His style is subtle and sublime with beautiful combinations of the avant garde, mysticism and traditional jazz. Torn can turn the guitar into a dangerous instrument with elements of prog as highlighted from his latest album Perezens (ECM) with the titled track and its preceding track, "Bulbs". His music can be unsettling to the uninitiated but if you are already used to some of the aforementioned artists and you haven't listened to David Torn yet, Perezens is definitely the place to start.

He has recorded three albums for his current label ECM and Prezens is by far the most realized of the three. There is wonderful work from the rest of the band consisting of New York regulars, Tom Rainey (drums), Craig Taborn (piano) and Tim Berne (sax). The album provides a funky turn of sorts with "Them Buried Standing" which I've always loved. This is usually the point at which if you haven't lost the uninitiated, they might start to enjoy the album. If not, trust me they never will.

Perezens is an album of lovely textual soundscapes and loud cacophonous minimalism. If you dig this, his previous ECM album Cloud About Mercury and Best Laid Plans are well worth seeking out. There is a compilation of his earlier work pre-ECM (both solo and as session member) entitled The David Torn Collection which is good but not very well sequenced. It does show the range and variety of artists and styles he has worked in but I would stick to the ECM recordings for best enjoyment.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Five Corners Quintet: Looking At A New Century

The Five Corners Quintet
(group; formed 2005)

Five Corners Quintet hail from Helsinki, Finland. Many of the members were originally with the short-lived collective, Nuspirit Helsinki, an electronica outfit that used jazz as a small jumping off point. The Five Corners Quintet flips the script by utilizing those jazz elements to create something that pays homage yet is fresh for a new decade.

They have also collaborated with one of the greatest living jazz vocalists, Mark Murphy on both of their albums, Chasin' The Jazz Gone By (Ricky Tick Records) and Hot Corner (Ricky Tick Records), which shows they did their homework. Both albums employ a hard bop approach with splendid musicianship (especially on the vibraphone and horn sections).

Chasin' The Jazz Gone By really is superb. A collection of new beats, hard bop and hip-shakin' grooves that not only are perfect for the party atmosphere but will also compliment your evening alone with a nice glass of Merlot. The tracks with Mark Murphy ("Start Of Something", " Before We Say Goodbye","Jamming") are excellent showcases for both the band and the legendary vocalist. But don't let those tracks fool you. You need to check out "Devil Kicks" and "Straight Up" as case studies in how European bands are absorbing American influences and turning it into something unique and highly interesting.

On first listen to their debut I thought they would be a one album wonder. Then I picked up the second and was genuinely floored by the fact that Five Corners Quintet actually mean business and this may be a band that will be around for awhile. Hot Corner is an uptempo floor-burning album with more emphasis on melodies and instrumentation than the added use of electronics. The barn-burning '"Hot Rod" opens the proceedings and set the stage for what will be an exciting ride for the next 45 minutes. Mellow groove of "Midnight In Trieste" and "Waltz Up" for me shows some lessons learned from Lee Morgan and Sonny Clark. Again Mark Murphy joins in on the funky, latin-tinged "Kerouac Days In Montana" with great effect. A whole album of Mark Murphy backed by Five Corners would awesome. The other vocalist on Hot Corner is named Oku and she provides an additional soulfulness on the lovely "Rich In Time". The album stays funky and contemporary on the outro with "Habib's Habit" with some wonderful trumpet playing from founding member, Jukka Eskola.

Both Chasin' The Jazz Gone By and Hot Corner are pretty easy to find in most stores and are definitely available online. While I don't think The Five Corners Quintet will change the face of jazz, I do think they will give a reason to listening over and over and over. Great stuff from a band born out of electronica and finally finding its feet in the tradition in jazz. If you looking for something fresh with a graceful nod to the past, The Five Corners Quintet is a good place to start.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Intersection: Parov Stelar

The Intersection is an occasional feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by none other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On The Corner).
This week's focus is Parov Stelar

Close your eyes and listen to the music of Parov Stelar, Austrian DJ, producer and head of Etage Noir Recordings, and you can easily picture yourself sitting in some posh boutique hotel lounge, sipping a pomegranate martini and thinking about that hottie you met at the club the night before. You invited him/her to join you here in the lounge this evening. Will (s)he come? Who cares... as long as you can groove to Parov's stellar blend of jazz- and swing-spiked house and breakbeat grooves.

Parov has four full-length albums (not to mention a "best of") and many EP's and singles. The most recent album is Coco, which continues to mine catchy samples from obscurity and revitalize them with modern beats and grooves.

JazzWrap caught up with Parov via email this week to find out why his grooves swing.

How did you get hooked on using jazz/swing samples?
Because the recordings from that time sound so great! You can feel the groove, and the mood is like nothing else in today's recordings. You can´t simulate it with a plug-in.

How do you select the samples?
Sometimes it feels like the samples actually select me : ) It´s not always so easy; you might already have the groove, but no sample fits. It´s a bit like picking up a woman in a bar -- it depends on whether the right one is there and wants you too.

Why jazz/swing and not something else (soundtracks, soul, rock)?
It´s more about the sound than about the genre. Not surprisingly, I love to listen to jazz, but not exclusively.

Who are your favorite classic musicians?
Well, it´s obvious, I think some musicians influence me so much that you can hear it in my music -- not always just with the sound, but with their attitude or with the mood of their work. I think Art Blakey is a great example.

Who are your favorite contemporary acts?
There are so many, but right now you can find a lot of tracks by Riva Starr in my playlist.

What makes your latest album Coco your best album so far?
Coco is a mixture of all stylistic elements I´ve been using so far. A special kind of work exhibition (as there are not old but new works), and a collage of the different moods of my soul. It sums up the whole "Parov Stelar" vibe but also leaves enough perspective for upcoming things.

What's next for Parov Stelar?
I am working on a new EP which will be released in may. And, together with the A.G. Trio, I´m working on revitalising Etage Noir Special, the electro sublabel of my label Etage Noir. Also, in the next months, there will also be a lot of concerts and DJ-sets.

Kenny Garrett: Bebop Into The Future

Kenny Garrett (sax; b. 1960)

Detroit born Kenny Garrett learned a lot as one of Miles Davis' session and touring band members during Miles' final years (1987 - 1991). He has also played with Woody Shaw (a major influence), Freddie Hubbard, Geri Allen and Art Blakey to name a few. His style has always been compared to Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt and definitely John Coltrane. But while the influences are there, Kenny Garrett has managed to create his own path and voice over the course of 15 albums. Garrett has shown himself to not only be a solid performer but a versatile one as well. He incorporates raw soulful grooves into his repertoire regularly, which makes many of his albums quite adventurous as well as refreshing.

There is a very solid block ('92 - '96) in which Garrett was prolific, thought-provoking and in clear grasp of his what he wanted to deliver to the public. For anyone, the albums Black Hope, Threshold, Triology and Pursuance (all on Warner Brothers) are all worth seeking out. For me these are 4 star albums of the highest order.

My personal favourite, Triology (Warner Brothers, 1995) is a fantastic record performed by a young artist that showed a myriad of ideas. The strength of his performance as well as his trio featuring Kiyoshi Kitagawa, Charnett Moffett (bass), & Brian Blade (drums) made Triology a worn out CD in my house for almost two years. The album included a nice mixture of standards and originals, all played with fresh verve and distinctive virtuosity. Standards like "Night And Day" & "Giant Steps" glide well against Garrett's own "Wayne's Thang" and "Oriental Towaway Zone" with true honour and respect to the foundations of jazz. The main thing for me has always been that some of the standards are very challenging to perform as a trio (without piano or trumpet) especially Coltrane's "Giant Steps," and towards the end of the album Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," but Garrett's trio pull this off with great ease and beauty.

Triology, among the aforementioned albums, is perfect for any music lover (jazz fan or not). Hope you dig them.