Friday, December 31, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: Polar Bear

JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Polar Bear (group)
Peepers (The Leaf Label)

Mark Lockheart (sax)
Peter Wareham (sax)
Sebastian Rochford (drums)
Tom Herbert (bass)
Leafcutter John (electronics)

2010 was a momentous year for Polar Bear. The beginning of the year saw the new offering of the amazing Peepers (The Leaf Label). In addition, the band returned at late in the year with the drastically different but extremely rewarding Common Ground (The Leaf Label). And to top things off, co-founding member, Seb Rochford disbanded the bands alter-ego Acoustic Ladyland. That band will resurrect at some point in a different incarnation according to Seb.

But our real focus is the superb Peepers which is a heavier sounding and more adventurous sounding album than its predecessors. Starting with the traditionally kinetic Polar Bear sound of "Happy For You" and then spinning quickly to the more contemplative and experimental chords of "Drunken Pharaoh" and "A New Morning Will Come". This was the sound of a band maturing and stretching everything with scintillating results.

The title track "Peepers" has an almost indie rock fell to it and shows how this band moves from theme to theme. But the band also show some real deconstructionism with "Hope Everyday Is A Happy New Year" and some straight ahead balladry (if I can call it that) with the lovely "Want To Believe Everything".

Peepers also has some of the band compositional work I have heard from Polar Bear since their first album and the subtle use of electronics throughout Peepers makes this a fascinating listen. This is why Polar Bear are one if not the most rewarding bands to come out of the English jazz scene over the last decade. Highly Recommended purchase for those of you who didn't know about Polar Bear. And one of our favourites this year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: The Vandermark 5

The Vandermark 5 (group)
The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone (2CDs; Not Two Records)

Ken Vandermark (sax; clarinet)
Tim Daisy: percussion Dave Rempis (sax)
Kent Kessler (bass) Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello)
Magnus Broo (trumpet) Havard Wiik (piano)

The Vandermark 5 returned with a vengeance this year with their fifteenth album, The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone. For this outing Ken Vandermark takes the unique step of inviting two of his regular collaborators in his other projects, Magnus Broo (trumpet) and Havard Wiik (piano) (of the group Atomic) to sit in and it has some stunning results. The album features a number of tracks that appeared on the band previous two albums Annular Gift and Beat Reader.

The addition of the two Atomic member does add a bit more fire to the session. It seems Vandermark's material here is more challenging and each member has allot to counteract with throughout the recording. Things get started heavy with fierce opening number "Friction" where Wiik's heartpounding progression an intensity and urgency to band that I haven't heard in a few records. On the next piece, "Some Not All," the group subtle into a rhythm lead by the pianist and Tim Daisy on drums with some unbelievable work from Longberg-Holm on cello. The horn section led by Vandermark provides a wonderful battle like Godzilla vs all of Japan.

Wiik contributes to magnificent pieces to this set "New Weather" and "Green Mill Tilter", the latter featured recently on the Atomic live album, Theater Tilters (Jazzland). "New Weather" is nice and complex piece with the horn section leading the way in the early going and quietly giving way to some trio interplay by Wiik, Longberg-Holm and Daisy. Then returning to the horns for some rich, bold statements on each players part. Wiik has written a piece that suits V5 perfectly. Since each of the members have played with one another in very forms you have to except there is a great deal of knowing each others movements and strengths. Wiik and Vandermark have picked up on that perfectly throughout The Horse Jumps...

The Vandermark 5 as I have said before, are one of the few bands pushing jazz forward and beyond. The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone is no exception. It is a compelling and sprawling work that challenges everything in free jazz and shows this American quintet plus two to be in peak form. The Vandermark 5 get better with each record. They are one of the most important jazz bands not just in America but in the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: Jason Moran

JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Jason Moran (piano)
Ten (Blue Note Records)

Ten celebrates Jason Moran's ten years on with Blue Note Records. As with his previous efforts it is a highly creative and challenging outing. The one difference I found is that Ten is also the most accessible album in the Moran cannon. "Blue Blocks" opens with a nice dose of Sunday morning church roll call that is both joyous and uplifting.

A number of the pieces on Ten were originally commissioned for concerts/exhibitions over the last few years. So its nice to hear some of this material for the first time on disc. "Feedback Pt.2" is one of those pieces and has loads of atmospheric effects mixed with Moran's classical side reminiscent of his material on the highly acclaimed Modernistic album. Moran also tackles one of his influences with an incredible reworking of "Crepusucle With Nellie" which for me makes this album worth owning out right.

Another standout is "Play To Live" a number co-written with the late Andrew Hill, another major influence (outside of Monk) on Moran's playing. It's a quiet and emotional piece that really brings home the power of Moran and his trio. "Gangsterism Over Ten Years" follows in the footsteps of a previous number from Modernistic with complexed arrangements yet pulsating and accessible all at the same time.

Ten is a brilliant celebration but also is a shinning document and statement as to why Jason Moran stands apart from all other piano players of his generation. It's engaging, challenging and creatively far and away from any of other piano based album you'll hear all year. One of the years best albums is our listening room.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best Album Of 2010: Mary Halvorson

JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Mary Halvorson (guitar)
Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 Records; 2010)

So when I first wrote about Mary Halvorson a few months back I enthusiastically said I was addicted to her music and her latest release, Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 Records). Since then I have acquired a boat load of other releases featuring Halvorson; including the spectacular trio album from drummer Tom Rainey, which features some phenomenal playing from Halvorson.

But let's stay focused on the real album at hand. Saturn Sings is a powerful statement from a guitarist who really stands high and above most of her contemporaries, even if a large majority of the jazz public doesn't know who she is...yet.

Saturn Sings features the same trio from her first album as leader, Dragon's Head (Ches Smith (drums) and John Hebert (bass))now expanded into a quintet with Jon Irabagon on sax and Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet. This adds a little more body and rhythm to some of the recordings. But it doesn't interfere with free flowing atmosphere of the original group. In fact I think it gives the musicians more strength and room to breath or expand on different themes.

Halvorson is still the leader but allows the band to do some of the talking as on "Mile High Like" which Irabagon, Finlayson and Smith rip through notes while Halvorson's floats above and sometimes just underneath the rhythm. This is one the best examples of how this quintet melds together beautifully throughout Saturn Sings.

"Crack In Sky" and more importantly "Moon Traps In Seven Rings" are almost ballad-esque, with a loose abstract construction from Halvorson. Finlayson is the standout on "Moon Traps In Seven Rings" until about two thirds of the way in when Halvorson takes a Marc Ribot like solo and the group returns to the original melody. This is a great piece of writing. "Crack In Sky" sees Irabagon and Halvorson interplay beautifully--displaying Mary Halvorson can combine tradition and avant garde into something magical (similar to her mentor Anthony Braxton).

"Sea Seizure" again expresses the more indie-rock leaning side of Halvorson. It's a groove-laden track with aggression and agitation that could sit alongside anything Sonic Youth or Praxis could write. The title track, "Saturn Sings" opens with marching order-like quality led by Halvorson and Smith, only to return to a wonderful group dynamic played out by the rhythm section. Saturn Sings is an album that is another step up for Mary Halvorson in song writing, leadership and performance.

You may have noticed the headline of today's entry was slightly different. I purposely don't like to rank my "Best Albums" because I feel its too difficult to make your deciding factors on how they should be ranked. So I'd rather just talk about them. But in the case of Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings--I have made the rare judgement that this by far is my #1 Album Of The Year.

I wanted to talk about it early in the week in case a lot of you are not around towards the end of week/year. The sooner you know about this album the better. If you want an album and an artist that is going to knock you socks off or change your thoughts on what the guitar means to jazz, than Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings is the place you should start. Beyond Highly Recommended.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: Soil & Pimp Sessions

Over the next two weeks JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Soil & Pimp Sessions (group; formed 2003)
6 (Brownswood Records)

Shacho ("agitator")
Tabu Zombie (trumpet)
Motoharu (sax)
Josei (keyboards)
Akita Goldman (double bass)
Midorin (drums)

Soil & Pimp Sessions have done their fair share of DJing and guest billing on other albums for the last few years. In addition, they have pulled off an amazing feat in today's music world, of releasing five albums since their formation in 2003.

The Japanese "Death Jazz" (their term, not ours) sextet, returned with their sixth album this year. Aptly titled 6, was a raucous and relentless release with buzz saw crowd pleasers like "Papa's Got A Brand New PigBag," "Pop Korn" and "Quartz and Chronometer" blazing the way to the dancefloor.

But the group has grown into more than just a consistent source of dance heavy tunes. They have managed to turn on the lovelight with the midtempo stomp of "My Foolish Heart" and "Double Time." The bands constant touring globally has sharpened their influences more so now than on their previous records.

6 spreads the themes around with tinges of Latin funk on "Paraiso" and soulful grooves of both "Mirror Boy" and a second version of "My Foolish Heart." British semi-pop superstar, Jamie Cullim sits in on "Stolen Moments" surprising recreating Mark Murphy but it works.

If it always sounds like a good time on Soil & Pimp Sessions records, its because they try to recorded everything live in the club. That's no different here. You get the feeling of party and you have the feeling its never gonna stop.

Soil & Pimp Sessions have remained in the "underground' for far too long. This is by far their best and most cohesive album to date and well worth seeking out. 6 is a party album, no doubt about it. But its the kind of album that will also have you stopping in your tracks to listen to "that" song again...and again...and again.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: Soweto Kinch

Over the next two weeks JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Soweto Kinch (sax, vocals; b.1978)
The New Emancipation (Soweto Kinch Recordings)

Resurfacing this year with an incredible document, The New Emancipation (SK Recordings), Soweto Kinch may have established himself as the premier storyteller of the new British jazz generation influenced by Hip Hop. This fertile underground mind delivers the trials and tribulations young London life trying to reach the better horizon.

That story is capsulized in perfectly on the opener, "Trying To Be A Star". Maybe in a similar fashion as some of Courtney Pine's earlier records but with a more updated and solid vision.

One of the brilliant things to come out The New Emancipation for me was the way Kinch has grown as a musician on sax. His playing especially on the hard bop of "A People With No Past" is very reminiscent of Branford Marsalis circa Crazy People Music. In the first two full tracks Kinch has made his case that Jazz and Hip Hop an coexist within the same sphere.

The influence of both someone like Branford, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McClean and Hip Hop artists Mos Def, KRS-One and Black Thought (of The Roots) can be felt throughout Soweto's discography but even more so on The New Emancipation.

And it's not just Soweto who stands out here either. He's band a superb. Guitarist, Femi Temowo and drummer Justin Brown act as wonderful counters to Kinch's fierce, rolling vision on the more traditional jazz pieces, including "The Never Ending" and "Suspended Adolescence."

The rhythm based pieces such "Raise Your Spirit," "Axis Of Evil" and the hilarious "Paris Heights" show the lighter yet bold side of Soweto's lyrical storytelling. But overall, The New Emancipation is sold jazz album. It balances Hip Hop and Jazz to perfection. This lyrical delivery of Soweto Kinch has never been more clear than now. Soweto has become a more mature and focused player and songwriter.

The New Emancipation is not only a statement of our culture. It is a blueprint of what Jazz and Hip Hop should sound like. It was one of my favourite albums during the second half of the year and I haven't stopped listening.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: One For All

Over the next two weeks JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

One For All (group; formed 1997)
Incorrigible (JLP)

Eric Alexander (sax)
Jim Rotondi (trumpet)
David Hazeltine (piano)
Joe Farnsworth (drums)
John Weber (bass)
Steve Davis (trombone)

One For All have consistently delivered albums of quality and distinction for over a decade now (15 albums in all). This years, Incorrigible (Jazz Legacy Productions) was no exception.

Driven by an unparalleled sense of unity, each member of One For All writes music for their records. Incorrigible demonstrates once again that One For All are that rare breed of band that you can tell has been together for a long time. They play off each other extremely well. They challenge each other with every note. And they have fun doing it.

From the eternal standard "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", the lovely tribute to Freddie Hubbard "Voice" to what could easily become a standard in twenty years, the Steve Davis penned "Spirit Waltz"--Incorrigible is an album that is quite accessible for any music fan.

One For All have always been compared to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (a comparison they enjoy in fact). But they continue to show that they are a new breed for a new generation of jazz fans. This is a group enjoys playing together while having their own highly successful individual careers.

The title track, "Incorrigible," was written by Eric Alexander and it rips with delight. Jim Rotondi's playing is immaculate as always and the interchanges between the horn section are superb. But as with all One For All records each musician standout in their own way. Hazeltine, Webber and Farnsworth all have shinning moments throughout Incorrigible and that's what makes One For All one of the most important jazz groups of the last decade.

One For All are not a band out to reinvent the wheel--but they definitely make the wheel look alot better with each outing. Their sense of unity and continuing drive of making the perfect record is one of the things we have always enjoyed. Incorrigible is highly recommended and one of JazzWrap's favourites this year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best Albums Of 2010: Mikrokolektyw

Over the next two weeks JazzWrap revisits our favourite albums of 2010.

Mikrokolektyw (group; formed 2004)
Revisit (Delmark; 2010)
Kuba Suchar (drums, electronics)
Artur Majewski (trumpet, electronics)

The melding of electronics inside jazz (particularly European jazz) has been a prominent force over the last decade. One of the best pioneers of this fusion is Nils Petter Molvaer, with numerous artists and groups emerging since Molvaer's groundbreaking Khemer release. One group were the Polish quartet Robotobibok. Robotobibok recorded three stellar albums in the mid-nineties--their 2000 debut, Jogging (Vytvornia OM) is highly recommended. After the group split in 2004, Suchar and Majewski carried on as a duo, now known as Mikrokolektyw (pronounced Microcollective).

Mikrokolektyw have created a magnificent piece of Eastern European jazz, electronics and acoustic improvisation with their debut, Revisit (Delmark). More atmospheric and live instrument based than like-minded countryman, Skalpel, Mikrokolektyw present beautiful soundscapes, rich in texture and lyrical expansion. While the absence of a bassist and pianist seem bizarre on the surface, its Majewski's sublime trumpet playing and Suchar's hypnotic patterns of percussion that make tracks like "Running Without Effort" and "Revisit" completely flawless. The listener never realizes that this is a duo (with the added accompaniment of a minimoog) driving the forceful yet melodic nature of the tunes.

This is similar ground that Robotobibok covered during its seven year run, so anyone familiar with those records won't be too surprised. But its the fluidity of Revisit as a whole that makes this one of the best albums of the year for me. The interplay between Suchar and Majewski on "Almost A Good Morning" is infectious and mind blowing all at once. There could be comparisons to Molvaer but that would only be on the surface of the melodic nature of the music. The improvisation and bending of sound of "Lipuko" and "Tar Man" show deep sense of creativity and search for sounds beyond jazz and electronica.

Mikrokolektyw released a companion DVD entitled Dew Point (Delmark) which will really convince you that this is a duo with serious intentions. The performance blew me away. It also includes a few numbers which aren't on Revisit. So it is well worth having both documents.

Mikrokolektyw have definitely made one of the best "boundary pushing jazz" records of the year - one that I can't stop listening to. Revisit builds on the experimental traditions of Miles Davis' latter fusion material and the worldly recordings of Don Cherry (a major influence) but then blast into Sun Ra territory without you ever noticing. This is confident work from musicians who have been on the scene long enough and continue to search and explore new sounds. I urge you if you haven't been turned on to Mikrokolektyw yet--now is the time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Keefe Jackson: The Future Of Chicago?

Keefe Jackson (sax)

Keefe Jackson, a native of Arkansas, is slowing becoming a major force in the ever-evolving Chicago Free Jazz scene. A combination of complex and complete compositions and bold well-rounded playing is making a lot of people outside of Chicago stand up and take notice.

As discussed here at JazzWrap many a time, the Chicago Jazz scene is a breeding ground for some of the most solid, hard framed improvisational jazz coming out of the U.S. Yes, many New Yorkers would argue this point but I'm moving forward with my statement.

Keefe Jackson was already a well toned musician by the time he arrived in Chicago in 2001. But his association and contributions to such local groups as Chicago Luzern Exchange, Lucky 7s, Fast Citizens and the Josh Berman Quintet really established his credibility within the scene. In a town where Ken Vandermark looms large, it probably is extremely hard to break out from the presence. Keefe Jackson is doing just that. Not by following the same avant garde path as Vandermark but creating a rich base of post bop sensibility filled with forward-thinking lyricism.

While I do recommend any of the albums by the above mentioned groups (definitely Josh Berman and Lucky 7s), I want to really focus on the three albums Keefe Jackson has made as leader. These all show a progression to imploding convention of free jazz and resurrecting it in a cohesive exploration of free ideas. Ideas which many listeners will find challenging but highly rewarding.

Ready Everybody (Delmark; 2006) is a fantastic debut as leader by Jackson. The album is actually under the title, Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens (named after the collective which the musicians belong to). The opening number "Ready Everybody" travels some similar territory as Atlantic era Ornette Coleman or Charles Mingus but with a very playful nature wrapped by some illuminating song structure and phrasing from Jackson.

"Signs" is haunting piece with some fabulous distortion work from Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and additional brilliance by both Josh Berman (trumpet) and Anton Hatwich (bass). Frank Rosaly, whose omnipresent drum work can be found on many Chicago jazz albums is superb here as well as the rest of this session. "Saying Yes" is a number where Jackson, Berman and Aram Shelton (alto sax) have some seriously delicious interplay that is both rhythmic as well as inventive.

While Fast Citizens documents a collective that has become a truly cohesive force on the music scene; it also shines light on creative writing of Jackson. This idea is moved forward on Jackson's second release as leader, Just Like This (Delmark; 2007). Just Like This is a massive 12 piece brass/woodwind ensemble that takes starts in foundation on themes of Ellington, Armstrong and other large swing ensembles and injects them with a large dose of Chicago improvisation.

The group includes such Chicago luminaries as Jeb Bishop (trombone), James Falzone (clarinet), Dave Rempis (alto sax) and more. A beautiful exchange expression and melodies moves throughout Just Like This, giving the listener a real sense of depth and freedom by this group Jackson has constructed.

"Dragon Fly", a funky, avant garde yet mid-tempo opener fills the airwaves with its complex arrangements and chord changes but shows a real sense of unity amongst the many players. There's a lot going on here but you are captivated by the varying passages and performances. The title track, "Just Like This" is another mid-tempo gem filled with hard hitting moments of colour by Jackson and clarinet/cornet section (including Berman again in this session).

A real standout here is "Wind Up Toy" written by drummer Frank Rosaly is a tempo shifting ride that feels like elements of crime jazz, swing and avant garde put through the mixer and coming out as an exquisite sundae delight. Just Like This may have Ellingtonian touches but also paints a Jackson Pollack-esque picture with Jimmy Giuffre and Ornette Coleman type brushes.

In 2010, Keefe Jackson returned with the magnificent Seeing You See (Clean Feed Records). Here Jackson pairs things down to a quartet featuring regular collaborators Noritaka Tanaka (drums), Jason Roebke (bass) and Jeb Bishop (trombone). Jackson and Bishop play point/counterpoint throughout Seeing You See with beautiful results. "If You Were" is a great example of their scintillating stylistic duel. This is aided by the subtle rhythms of Roebke and crisping (Billy Higgins-like) timing of Tanaka.

With the previous two albums exploring various themes and influences, Seeing You See approaches things from a slightly straight-forward free form of ideas and utilization of space. For me it's like listening to Giuffre's Free Fall. This is especially evident on "How-A-Low" a downtempo blues where the quartet maneuvers with gentle grace and beauty.

"Seeing You See" is rich with space and tonal structures that get bent in different directions by Roebke during a solo midway through the piece. The proceedings get jumping (slightly) with "Turns To Everything" where the group becomes one force of sound-in-rhythm with ripping chord changes and patterns that better experienced on headphones. "Word Made Flesh" a fierce composition which Frank Rosaly and Jackson have done as a duo previously, sounds even more venomous as a quartet.

"Close" silently takes you through a final journey a spacious undertones. This is led by Roebke's delicate bass lines and some wonderful and haunting movement from Bishop and Jackson (on bass clarinet) combined. Seeing You See really shows how Keefee Jackson has grown as a musician and more importantly a leader and composer.

Listening to the progression not just over these three records but over the course of the last decade in various groups encapsulates how significance Keefe Jackson has had on the Chicago scene. Among the new breed of Chicago improvisers, Keefe Jackson is becoming as prominent and as important as Ken Vandermark was a decade earlier. Keefe Jackson is a talent that everyone needs to start following if you haven't already. Start with the Delmark releases and then move forward to Seeing You See.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jazz at the Movies: The Big Boss

The Big Boss
Peter Thomas

Chris' Soundtrack Corner/All Score

After years of toiling in TV (The Green Hornet) and movies (Marlowe) as a kung fu novelty act, Bruce Lee starred in his first true chop-socky feature film, The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury, '71; confusingly enough, Lee's next movie, made in 1972, also is known as "Fists of Fury").

Within a couple of years Lee catapulted to superstardom in Enter the Dragon ('73), featuring a classic jazz-funk score by Lalo Schifrin. After Lee's tragic death in '73, Game of Death was completed without him and released in '78, featuring a Bondian orchestral score by John Barry. Both of those movie soundtracks appeared on LP at the time of their theatrical releases and subsequently reissued on CD several times.

So, it comes as some surprise that it took so long for Peter Thomas' brassy, bustling soundtrack for The Big Boss to receive a CD release in the west (there was a limited edition Japanese CD release in 1991, and an exclusive iTunes download a few years ago). It's surprising, not just because of Bruce Lee's collectability, but also because of the resurgent interest in Thomas' cult soundtrack reissues during the past 15 years. In essence, The Big Boss has been something of a holy grail for collectors of the composer's quirky music.

The work Thomas was doing around the time of The Big Boss included his off-the-wall big band jazz scores for various Edgar Wallace thrillers, German sex-ed films and the paranormal documentary Chariots of the Gods — all of which have been available on CD in recent years.

So, what's the story? How did a German composer get to score a Hong Kong movie production? Basically, when a German film distributor bought the rights to release Tang Shan Da Xiong (the original title), they felt that it needed a soundtrack that would be easier on western ears than the one provided by the original composer, Fu-ling Wang, which was traditional Chinese music. Enter Peter Thomas, who — given a limited budget — crafted a score that was half new compositions and half back-catalogue library cues.

Stylistically, Thomas' jazz-rock score for The Big Boss is an off-kilter, psychedelic blend of vamping brass, trilling flutes, chiming "oriental" percussion, tinkling piano, blazing electric guitar, gurgling Moog synthesizers, rumbling rhythms and outlandish studio effects.

Naturally, anyone who knows Thomas' other work will want it, and anyone who wants to discover one of the most distinctive and eccentric jazz-based film composers in his prime should check it out. I should note that the sound quality of the CD is excellent, and that the clip below is obviously taken from an inferior sound source.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Intersection: Brandt Brauer Frick

Inventive German electronica trio Brandt Brauer Frick's new album You Make Me Real (on !K7 Records) is headphone music par excellence.
Dan Brandt, Jan Brauer and Paul Frick's music blends the unexpected timbres of John Cage and intricate arrangements of Steve Reich with the kinetic energy of Kraftwerk and playful swing of Raymond Scott in "Powerhouse" mode. BBF's hypnotic beats bounce around in your cranium like they want to break out. By the end of the opener, "Corky Prelude," you'll want the band to take up residency in your dome.
How do they do it? With live drums, treated pianos, trombones, harp, marimba and a host of other treated live sounds — that's how. The organic nature of these sounds allows them to take root in your ears quickly, especially after consuming a double espresso like I did!
Click on tracks to listen to excerpts.

01. Corky Prelude
02. Bop
03. Paparazzi
04. Caffeine
05. Mi Corazon
06. Heart Of Stone
07. R. W. John
08. You Make Me Real
09. Teufelsleiter
BBF play at Barfly in London, 12/17. If you can't make it, visit them here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scorch Trio

Scroch Trio (group; formed 1998)
Melaza (Rune Grammofon; 2010)

Raoul Björkenheim (guitar)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass)
Frank Rosaly (drums)

Helsinki based, Scorch Trio have been active for over a decade now. All three members are successful musicians with various other bands and solo projects (most notably The Thing and Atomic). But Scorch Trio is no "jazz supergroup". This is a unit that functions flair and an intent on pulling at the boundaries of jazz.

Originally the group started with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. He has recently left the band to continue his other projects. The even more versatile Chicago native, Frank Rosaly (who has preformed with Ken Vandermark, Jeb Bishop, Josh Berman and Keefe Jackson among others) settles into the kit chair for now. And the result are quite interesting for me especially.

I have to admit, I own all four Scorch Trio albums, but I haven't been totally convinced--that is--until today. I'm definitely not saying the previous records lacked anything. I think I wasn't hearing what I was supposed to hear (if that makes sense). With the their new album Melaza (Rune Grammofon), this trio has created a document with solid compositional structure that moves like a great rock/jazz album. Like Bill Laswell's Last Exit fused with Tony William's Lifetime and Mahavishnu, Melaza has really blown me away.

The title track "Melaza" really spells things out. It's a pounding bit of fusion that has all the elements you would want--swirling McLaughlin-esque guitar, deep wrenching bass lines and pulsating timing on drums. This is three minutes of bliss jazz rock bliss. "Fajao" is another stunner that truly how well Rosaly has integrated into the band. The interchanges between Rosaly and Björkenheim here are absolutely fantastic. "Raitru" displays the more improvisational and intimate side of the trio. Midtempo patterns with some nice individual colour expressed by the band members.

Melaza isn't going to be for everyone, but if you are fan of the above mentioned influences and especially if you are a fan of some of free jazz and eclectic releases from the venerable Rune Grammofon label, Scorch Trio is well worth investigating. This is bright, fun, electrifying stuff that's will turn your ear (possibly upside down).

Now I have to go back and sit with the previous three records and see where my ears went wrong. Talk to you all later. Enjoy...

This video is of the original lineup with Nilssen-Love on drums.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A New Vision Of Chicago: Josh Berman

Josh Berman (cornet; b. 1972)
Old Idea (Delmark Records)

Keefe Jackson (sax)
Jason Adasiewicz (vibes)
Anton Hatwich (bass)
Nori Tanaka (drums)

(photo: Jim Newberry)

Surprisingly, this is cornetist Josh Berman's debut album. But Old Idea (Delmark) shows a lot of strength from an artist who really is a veteran player on the Chicago scene. Josh Berman's resume is deep; with solid Chicago credentials that include Lucky 7s, Umbrella Music collective, Luzern Exchange, Exploding Star Orchestra, Fast Citizens and Rolldown (led by Jason Adasiewicz). So he has been around the block and in the circuit long enough. A first album really shouldn't be a surprise. Neither should it surprise anyone how fantastic Old Idea truly sounds.

On first spin Old Idea could sound like many of the other free jazz brass ensembles that have come out of Chicago in the last decade. Many emulating the power and creativity of the revered Ken Vandermark/Vandermark 5. But after closer inspection you realize that all of them stand apart quite nicely. And this quintet stand up forcefully well, all led on strength and direction of Berman.

Fueled by multiple inspirations ranging from the fellow Chicago native, Brad Goode, the late Bill Dixon, Miles Davis and Dave Douglas, Berman has created his own lyrical style which is both inventive as it is sensitive. His band has played together in various forms in the aforementioned bands since around 2001.

The beauty interplay throughout this group is phenomenal. On the opener "On Account Of A Hat" you can hear the mixture of improvisation, creativity and sensuality in the playing as each member slowly comes into the performance. Starting with Jackson and Berman on horns, Adasiewicz with Hatwich gently nimbling his way and resulting in Tanaka on drums mixing it up with Adasiewicz until Jackson and Berman come counterpointing back.

What sets Berman's Old Idea apart is the free sparse arrangements he written for this group. While it is definitely based in the Chicago Free Jazz tradition, it definitely utilizes the aspects of space and breath for the listener to jump in and absorb. On "Let's Pretend", one of my favourite new Chicago performers Keefe Jackson, delivers some near perfect phrasing that is muscular but delicate. Delivered in a Rollins-like model, Jackson moves the material along as Adasiewicz adds the spacey earth-tone elements to proceeding. As the piece strays into "Out There" territory, Berman turns in a veracious yet cerebral performance that sort of tells you all you need to know---this cat is bold, serious and highly engaging.

The ballad "Almost Late" is a lovely piece led by Adasiewicz's moody Dave Pike meets Bobby Hutcherson momentum with swathes of rhythmic beauty from both Tanaka and Hatwich with Berman and Jackson combining to add some lush overtones. "Almost Late" is a exquisite piece of writing that had me coming back to this track over and over.

There are three short pieces entitled "New Year (A, B and C)" spread across the session that demonstrate the duo and collabrative efforts of the members within Berman's material. While the three pieces are different, they definitely show top-notch musicianship of the players. Particularly New Year C in which the full band add elements of space, colour and subtle improvisation that make it an absolutely beautiful way to close out a great recording.

Overall, Old Idea is an album highlighted by veteran performers with a leader in Josh Berman who's absorbed a lot over the last decade and it's finally made its way into the studio. This is an awesome debut if you want to call it that. Chicago has a rich tradition of Free Jazz artists. It's sometimes very hard to know where to start; I think Josh Berman is a great, creative and accessible way to dig your ears in for a taste of an artist with true vision for the future. I hope that he continues to strike out on his own in addition to the performances with his collective in Chicago.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sex Mob

Slide trumpet madman Steven Bernstein's New York-based outfit Sex Mob (with Briggan Krauss on alto sax, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums) isn't your father's jazz group. The Knitting Factory regulars specialize in a subversive brand of acid jazz with pop cult references ranging from New Orleans swing to spy soundtracks, from bachelor pad exotica to rock acts as disparate as Prince and Nirvana.

Simply put by Bernstein himself: "Jazz used to be popular music. People would go out to clubs, listen to the music, go home, and get laid. Simple as that. We're bringing that spirit back."

Thanks in part of its raucous live shows, Sex Mob has done just that over the course of a decade, during which they've released six albums, starting with the aptly named Din of Inequity ('98), followed by Solid Sender ('00), Sex Mob Does Bond ('01), Dime Grind Palace ('03), Sexotica ('06), Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau ('09).

On record, Sex Mob cooks up a seedy, sleazy, sordid vibe of drunken depravity — and that's what's great about it! The sound of Sex Mob is slightly unhinged, as if the musicians have escaped from an insane asylum, only to join a kinky carnival. Don't get me wrong though — there's sense to the insensibility. Taken out of context (as when your iPod shuffles to random tracks like "Call to the Freaks" and "Pygmy Suite") Sex Mob can disrupt your train of thought like the sudden appearance of a drag queen at GOP fundraiser. But taken in its natural element — the dedicated listen – Sex Mob will free you from your pedestrian notions of socially acceptable behavior. Our advice: Listen to Sex Mob and let your freak flag wave.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dan Block: Rethinking Ellington

Dan Block (sax, clarinet)
Plays Duke Ellington: From His World To Mine (Miles High Records; 2010)

Dan Block is a highly respected reed player with a list of significant creditenials that should have more jazz fans standing up and taking notice. Of the many records we've reviewed this year, From His World To Mine (Miles High Records), is one that should have universal appeal to jazz new comers and jazz stalwarts alike.

Here at JazzWrap we've usually titled to more avant garde/free jazz, world and ambient, but I try to make a point when a record comes along that is so rich in tradition that you just have to spread the news. Dan Block has done just that with his new album. And I think you all need to know about.

Dan Block came out of the St. Louis jazz and blues tradition. He has performed or recorded with such legends as Charles Mingus, Frank Wess, Marty Grosz, Clark Terry, Rosemary Clooney and Maria Schneider to name a lot! He has also done his share of work in TV, Film and Broadway.

His style and arrangements are more for large ensembles but he creates an atmosphere that's more bebop small group that large scale big band. His previous release, Almost Modern (Sackville; 2006) which I thought finally captured the essence of Block ability has now been fully expanded and gone beyond sounding retro-big band. Dan Block is so much more than that. With From His World To Mine, Block has created a solid album of hard bop infused with the rich energy of Ellington or Goodman's big bands.

This homage to the Duke is a wonderful experience for those unfamiliar with Duke Ellington's material. Dan Block has kept the feeling of the numbers but has added a ting of his own buoyant personality on both sax and clarinet as evident on rolling and infectious opener, "Kissing Bug" (a Billy Strayhorn penned piece) which adds a dash of Latin flavour. This was a number which originally had some nice jumping vocals but is transformed by the Block's arrangement into something familiar but still original. Block's performance is crisp and bold with excellent accompaniment from Mike Kanan (piano), Brian Grice (drums) and Renato Thoms (percussion). This is a sextet piece that sounds like quartet. How can that be!?!

"Old King Dooji" is a small group number with Block starting off on clarinet and features some fierce performances from Grice again along with perfect pattern sculpting from Kanna and Lee Hudson gently on the bass. Nice stuff.

Elsewhere, Block shows the emotional beauty of Ellington with his arrangement of "Creole Blues". The arrangements are not that dissimilar. The blues tempo remains, but its the depth of Blocks performance on sax that really transforms the piece into something with deeper introspection and range. This introspection is also apart of "New York City Blues" where Block's sax and Mark Sherman's vibes dominate but don't upset the sentimental structure of the oriiginal tune.

"Mt. Harrissa" is another moment in which the emotional depth of the band is really prominent. The interplay of Grice, Kanan and now Mark Sherman (vibes) and gentle melody of James Chirillo (guitar) with some majestic playing by Block floating overhead, you will find yourself top-tapping away.

Duke Ellington's material is vast and stretches across different arranging structures. What Dan Block has done with From His World To Mine---by choosing mostly under-rated pieces from the Ellington canon is provide a vehicle that not only delivers a solid enjoyment of originality--it also demonstrates that you can look back to your elders and be inspired to create something familiar but yet highly effective for this new generation of modern jazz listeners. Highly Recommended.