Sunday, August 30, 2009

10 Album Downloads You'll Love

Normally I wouldn't immediately recommend you download jazz and world music albums. Unlike other genres, jazz, world and classical have so much intricacies that you really need to hear it on a stereo to get the full meaning of the music. Listening on your computer speakers (no matter how expensive) just doesn't cut it. But since the demise of the record store there are few places to actually get physical CDs. So downloading is the best and only way to go.

I wanted to suggest a couple of albums you could download from iTunes that would satisfy your listening pleasure for awhile and give you a little more insight on what to discover next. I've tried to list titles that I haven't talked about before. I hope you have the time to check this out soon.

1) Old and New Dreams Playing (ECM Records)
2) One For All Upward and Onward (Criss Cross)
3) Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer Pasodoble (ACT Music)
4) Fred Hersch Trio+2 (Palmetto Records)
5) Nine Horses Snow Borne Sorrow (Samadhisound)
6) Sam Yahel Hometown (Positone)
7) Eric Alexander Primetime (High Note)
8) Polar Bear Polar Bear (Tin Angel Records)
9) Jon Hassell Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street (ECM Records)
10) Femi Kuti Day by Day (Mercer Street Records)

Since you will have a chance to listen to a sample of each song on iTunes I think you will get a good idea of the entire album. Have fun and happy listening.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dave Brubeck's Time Out: Why It's Important

Dave Brubeck (piano)
Paul Desmond (saxophone)
Eugene Wright (bass)
Joe Morello (drums)
Time Out

Dave Brubeck is widely known for two jazz standards, "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo A La Turk" from the album Time Out (Columbia), which celebrates 50 years this year. And with 50 years comes the question, "Why is it so relevant?" I'll tell you why. His style is quiet, composed and complex while still illuminating everyone around.

Dave Brubeck is a delight at the piano. I have seen him at least six times in recent history and I have met him as well. He is a wonderful person and an even more amazing performer. In my brief (and I do mean brief) conversations with him he did mention this recording and how it came about.

Not much is different from what you would read in the liner notes to the album. But it is important to note that Time Out includes some of the most complicated arrangements for the time period. Brubeck specifically wanted to record and album that went beyond the traditional jazz meters (4/4 for those who don't know). An experimental album if you could call it that. He integrated the strange but beautiful 9/8 into "Blue Rondo A La Turk" which makes it so recognizable.

Then there is "Take Five." The unbelievable saxophone performance from the hugely underrated Paul Desmond (who on his own never made a bad recording) make this a monumental track aside from the entire album itself. As Desmond and Brubeck have mentioned in the past, the song was meant to be a showcase for the drummer, Joe Morello. It turned into the signature chords and possibly curse for Paul Desmond.

"Pick Up Sticks," the closing track on the album, is the highlight for both Brubeck and bassist, Eugene Wright. The building pattern in rhythms and dominance of Brubeck's delivery on piano to the close out the album are perfect for this true masterpiece of American music.

There is currently a 3 CD set of Time Out celebrating the 50th anniversary of the album that includes live material and a DVD documentary. I normally don't go for these kinds of things but since I own all three of these separately I can say it is all worth it in one place. The documentary includes conversations with Brubeck--an insightful piece of jazz viewing and of course highly recommended. If you don't want to shell out the 20 something bucks for the 3 disc set there is always the single disc which will end up on repeat in your stereo and on your ipod for years to come.

Dave Brubeck tours regularly so you should check him out the next time his in your town.

Paul Desmond would go on to create his own quartet which as previously mentioned never recorded a bad record. He recorded some fantastic albums with Gerry Mulligan (sax) and with Jim Hall (guitar) as well as phenomenal recordings with The Modern Jazz Qurartet.

There are a number of decent compilations that are widely available including The Best Of Paul Desmond (Columbia) and The Best Of The Complete Paul Desmond (sampler from a larger boxed set). But for specific albums you should also check Pure Desmond (CTI), Two Of A Mind (RCA), Live (Verve) and Take Ten (RCA). The aforementioned are more available online than at record stores. I hope you check out these master performers at some point soon. It's history we should all share.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tony Bennett: The One And Only

Tony Bennett (vocal)
The Essential Tony Bennett

There are so many things I can say about Tony Bennett. He truly is the one and only for me. He is compared to Frank Sinatra a lot and while justified (he even acknowledges and appreciates the comparison) I tend to enjoy Bennett's interpretation of the American Songbook more than Sinatra's. You can feel the heart and emotion in every note Tony sings.

Tony's most recent albums have revolved around themes (the blues, duets, etc.) more geared at gaining a mass appeal audience. That's fine but I think many would prefer to hear Tony in the more comfortable role of jazz singer and interpreter of great standards. With that said I would suggest two records that cover this perfectly, The Essential Tony Bennett and The Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album both on Columbia Records and Fantasy Records respectively.

The Essential covers everything up to the early 2000s and includes exactly the material you are looking for "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," "Rages To Riches," "The Best Is Yet To Come," and recent collaborations with K.D. Lang. Bennett Evans is a "core collection" type album, meaning you should definitely own it. Recorded at a time when Tony was very influenced by bebop, he went into a session with pianist Bill Evans and they came away with one the best vocal jazz albums of all time. If you really want to hear Tony in a different setting this is the album to listen to.

In recent years Tony Bennett's celebrity has overshadowed his musical contributions but there is no denying that he is a living legend and will be acknowledged as one of the best jazz singers of the last two centuries. A little raspy but consistently smooth, Tony Bennett continues be the embodiment of cool. Below are two cool clips featuring Tony with Bill Evans and a colloboration with Paul McCartney, K.D. Lang and Sting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Great Entertainers

Michel Petrucciani (piano; b. 1962 - d.1999)

Musicians and entertainers come and go. Great entertainers and communicators touch the heart, the soul and will live with us long after their passing. Michel Petrucciani embodies that marvelous combination ever time he sat down to play the piano.

Michel was born with a bone disease which also contributed to stunting his growth - But this did not stop him from recording over two dozen albums and becoming one of the most entertaining live performers of the last 25 years.

A delightful mixture of fun and technical brilliance which at times brings to mind a young Bill Evans, Michel Petrucciani is greatly missed on the jazz scene. He had worked with such legendary performers as Lee Konitz, Jim Hall, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Lovano and Wayne Shorter to name a only a few. His music connected with people immediately and you could feel the emotion and vigor in every note.

For many who may not be familiar with him, you should check him out. We are lucky enough that while he has huge catalog of releases, two of the labels he recorded for have made available two well developed compilations which together give a good overview of his superior talent at the piano. Both The Best Of The Blue Note Years and The Best Of Dreyfus Recordings are available online from J and R in New York. One additional recording that even if you bought as your first, you would still find satisfying will be The Complete Solo Live In Germany (2CDs; Dreyfus Recordings).

...Live In Germany is a defining moment for Petrucciani. To me, it's one of those albums that solidifies an artist among critics, fans and musicians. These three albums would be all you need if you choose to go no further, although I would highly recommend that you do.

Here are two wonderful videos showcasing one of the greatest entertainers of the last two decades. I think you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Mongo Santamaria (drums; b.1922 - d. 2003)

To many, the name Ramon "Mongo" Santamaria will mean nothing. But you have heard his music for years. The famous John Coltrane piece "Afro Blue" was written by Mongo. Ramon "Mongo" Santamaria was a monster on the drums. Another true entertainer who is dearly missed. His infectious blend of jazz, Latin and R&B yielded a career spanning almost 4 decades.

At a time when Latin jazz was not reaching the radar of music executives as well as the public, Mongo proved to them all that their was an insatiable desire for percussive driven jazz. And with that Mongo would conquer America and the world. All this before Carlos Santana was even signed to Columbia Records.

For anyone even remotely interested in Latin jazz you should look no further than starting with a Mongo Santamaria album. I would recommend two albums that are still widely available Skin On Skin (2CD Anthology; Rhino Records) and Afro American Latin (Columbia/Legacy). Skin On Skin covers his entire career and is well worth the money. Afro American Latin covers three very early albums he did for Columbia but do present the direction in which Mongo would eventually explore.

The dazzling and contagious beats coming from your speakers will keep you grooving for days to come. Then seat down on your next listen and really let the music sink in and you will understand his pure genius and wonder why he didn't receive more adulation that he surely deserves.

Mongo Sanatamaria was another true entertainer but also a pioneer for Latin jazz. Here's a burning set from 1985 included Tito Puente and Max Roach performing "Afro Blue."

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Necks: Australian Jazz?

The Necks (group)
Drive By

The Necks are a recent discovery for me. A close friend in Sydney asked me to check them out and I was hooked within minutes. Since then I have gobbled up as much as I can. The Necks are a trio utilizing improvisation to make you think more than shock.

The music is a slow build to sometimes cacophonous conclusion but not always. If this sounds like its almost unclassifiable well it is. The ambient movement of their very lengthy pieces (most albums are one long track) does eventually give way to a rhythmic pattern or groove. The comparisons to E.S.T. (from Sweden) are unavoidable but not justified.

Their music also evokes comparisons to legendary rock act Can or composer Philip Glass due to its repetitive nature. The Necks at times don't sound like a trio at all. They sometimes sound like a quartet or an orchestra. They don't use samples or overdubs. No--just a piano, bass and drum. At times you could imagine this being the soundtrack to a Neal Stephenson novel.

The Necks have over 10 albums in just over two decades in addition to numerous solo projects. All of the albums are pretty hard to find but you can download a number of them online. I would suggest their 2003 album Drive By (ReR). Drive By best encompasses The Neck ethos and I believe is the most accessible to new ears. Once you've enjoyed this one a few times I would try digging further.

WOW! I'm still shocked that I'm just now finding out about this band. But I'm so glad I did.

Check this performance and interview to get a good idea what The Necks are all about.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Armando Trovaioli — Rapporto Fuller Base Stoccolma

American Ken Clark made several Italian spy flicks over the course of the '60s, and Sergio Greco's Rapporto Fuller Base Stoccolma (aka Fuller Report, Base Stockholm, '69) was the last of them. Armando Trovaioli supplies the swinging beat jazz score for the mission. (Beat Records also released soundtrack for another Clark spy flick known in the states as Tiffany Memorandum from '67 on a triple feature Riz Ortolani compilation.)

Trovaioli's score for Rapporto Fuller is among his most swinging. The main theme, "The Touch of a Kiss," sung passionately by Lara Saint Paul, has the lush lounge sound in spades. Strutting brass, swelling strings and strong back beat push the emotion front and center.

Most notably, Trovaioli supplies action jazz cues that mimic the style of Dave Brubeck's famous cool jazz standard "Take Five," but add hot brass, smoldering woodwinds and stinging organ stabs.

In addition, there are relatively abstract cues ("Just a Bullet, Just a Fist") that build tension on dissonant strings and percussion runs as well as dreamy passages ("Tears and Spies") featuring piano, harp and floating female vocalisms. The night club-type jazz numbers (such as "The Stockholm Baths") sound like something from the early '60s, certainly not '69, but are still groovy in their own laid-back, sophisticated manner.

Twenty-four tracks strong, Rapporto Fuller is a intriguing from beginning to end, and one of the best soundtracks in the Italian spy game.

The CD insert folds out into a mini-reproduction of the eye-catching original movie poster.

This review was previously published at the author's soundtrack review site

V.A. — Jazz en el Cine Negro Espanol 1958-64

Take one look at the pulpy cover and you know what you're in for — Spanish film noir crime jazz of the same era as Peter Gunn, Johnny Staccato and Touch of Evil. Consider yourself under arrest, amigo.

The package's luridly illustrated bi-lingual insert explains how the crime films of Julio Coll, Juan Bosch and other directors broke significant stylistic ground by delving into the seedy side of life in Franco's Spain through such films as Un Vaso de Whisky (A Glass of Whiskey, '58) and A Sangre Fria (In Cold Blood, '59).

Jazz En El Cine Negro Espanol delivers a riveting 79-minute program of hard-boiled brass, vulgar organ tones, well-chilled vibes and smoky atmosphere. Most of the music is by Jose Sola, with additional tracks by Augusto Alguero, Enrique Escobar and Federico Martinez Tudo, who are relatively unknown to film music fans.

Essentially, this Fresh Sound compilation produced by Jordi Pujol marks the first exploration into a neglected realm for many soundtrack connoisseurs. It will be a welcome addition to their collections.

Although one might expect frequent use of percussion and Latin rhythms, there is a fair amount of stylistic experimentation here. Some of the best passages employ the frenetic percussive style to depict dramatic action far from the dance floor. Other tracks favor swing and jazz styles that wouldn't sound out of place in a typical Hollywood production of the era. There's even a bit of rollicking rock 'n' roll featuring jangling electric guitar rhythms and wailing saxophone. Reinforcing the Hollywood influence is the presence of American singer Gloria Stewart on the slow, sultry "Manhattan Blues."

Peppered with dialogue and the sounds of on-screen action, the listening experience is akin to playing a video just for the aural atmosphere. About half of the tracks exceed the 10-minute mark as multiple cues flow one after another. This is an ideal personal soundtrack for fans of vintage crime novels. Like watching a film noir festival, however, the experience is likely to encourage heavy drinking and cigarette smoking!

This review was previously published at the author's soundtrack review site

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kind Of Blue: Why It's Important

Miles Davis (trumpet)
Kind Of Blue

Pretty much everyone on the planet will site Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue (Columbia Records) as the most important jazz album of all time. But if you aren't truly familiar with it you won't really understand why. I hope in this entry that I can help explain. And, if you haven't purchased it already you will soon.

Originally recorded in 1959 with John Coltrane (tenor sax), Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (alto sax), Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums), this is considered one of the fiercest, dazzling and romantic recordings ever made.

One of the many things that makes Kind Of Blue a masterpeice is the pure fact this album was recorded in only a few hours. The delicate tension between the musicians is felt with every note. I don't mean tension in a negative way. I mean that each member works off of each other with almost a boxing like mentality ("I can do you a note better"). The piano work by Bill Evans is impeccable and unmatched. This is by far one of his highest moments on record. Cannonball Adderley and Paul Chambers are in fantastic form. The real star is the sometimes underrated Jimmy Cobb on drums; Jimmy Cobb is also the only surviving member of this historic recording and carries the torch brightly whenever he performs any song live or speaks about it in interviews.

There have been various incarnations of this album since the advent of the CD. Most recently a super (and I mean super) deluxe version with blue vinyl, double CD & DVD, archival booklet and more, which is just about overkill. I would suggest sticking with the single disc if you just want the basics. There is a double disc version which includes some wonderful outtakes and a live version of the classic first track on the album "So What". I don't think its necessary unless you really are a true jazz fan.

You should own any single disc version since 1997 (check the copyright date on the back of the inlay). The original masters were found earlier that year and the sound quality and little intricacies are much more noticeable on any version since 1997. For this reason I would suggest not buying a digital version online or a used version at a CD store. Take the extra cash and buy a classic album. You won't be disappointed.

If you already own Kind Of Blue you will know most of this but I tend to believe not everyone does so I hope this finally convinces you. You hear some of the most legendary performers at the peak of their powers during one of the most historic moments in music history. Everyone says if you're going to start listening to jazz, Kind Of Blue is the album you need to start with. There really is no argument when it comes to this.

For more proof check out this performance.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jason Moran: Pushing Jazz Forward

Jason Moran (piano; 1975)

Born in Houston and a well studied disciple of the great legendary, Andrew Hill, Jason Moran is one of my favorite of all time. I truly believe like Dave Douglas is to the trumpet, and David S. Ware is to the saxophone, that Jason Moran is to the piano and is one of the few forward thinking musicians who is pushing jazz in new directions.

Jason Moran's style is inventive, melodic and thought-provoking. He has recorded seven albums for Blue Note. The most acclaimed as well as my favorite is
Modernistic (Blue Note) is an album that challenges everything jazz is about. Encompassing elements of jazz, electronica and classical with outstanding ease.

Unlike many of my favorites Jason does tour regularly so you should take the opportunity to see him if he comes to your town. A real visionary at piano, Jason Moran not only has been compared to his mentor, Andrew Hill, but also the enigmatic Thelonious Monk - high praise, but spot on.

A real experience as you search for new jazz to listen to, every one of his albums are worth the purchase.

Live In Brasil:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Michael Brook: Ambient Jazz

Michael Brook (guitar)

Michael Brook is one of those extremely underrated and under recorded artists whom most people immediately become addicted to once they hear one of his (only) four albums. He is mostly known for his collaboration and production work with Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan but has contributed and scored a number of soundtracks including Albino Alligator and An Inconvenient Truth.

Michael Brook shares a stylistic philosophy similar to that of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Harold Budd, ethereal and melodic but yet you enjoy the journey on which he takes you with each record. All four of his albums are still widely available but I would suggest starting with his second album Cobalt Blue (4ad). Cobalt Blue features elements of guitar, electronic and percussive manipulation that not even the best known guitarists like a John Scofield or Pat Mathney could conjure up.

While most people upon listening may not view this as jazz, I believe it fits neatly into the pocket of Carlos Santana or John McLaughlin, with a mixture of eastern and western instrumentation. Cobalt Blue as well as the live album, Cobalt Blue Live At The Aquarium are available of iTunes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wynton Marsalis: Jazz Ambassador

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet; b. 1961)

Wynton Marsalis has been hailed as the "keeper of the flame" for jazz for the last 3 decades. While some might argue that point, there is no denying his masterful talent to shift from his New Orleans jazz, ragtime, & blues roots to more traditional bebop in an instant; his talent is unquestionable.

Wynton's career really took off (as so many others did) while playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He quickly became a prominent figure in the collective. Wynton would later sign a deal with Columbia Records and was soon on the trajectory for over 25 albums as leader (including classical recordings) and numerous others as a guest musician.

So where does one begin if you really want to hear what all the hoopla is about? I would highly recommend Popular Songs: The Best Of Wynton Marsalis (Columbia/Legacy). While not covering every album it does give a decent representation of Wynton's best recordings including what I would call a future standard "Black Codes." This a great way to sample Wynton's talent and also a nice introduction if you decide to go further. So now you have wonderful guide map.

After this I would suggest J Mood (Columbia Records) and go from there.

Cherokee (Live):

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quincy Jones — The Split (1968)

Before he became the platinum producer for the likes of Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones was an ace film scorer, best known for his work on In the Heat of the Night and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs among other Sidney Poitier vehicles. Many of his best scores have been available on LP or CD for many years, but The Split ('68) has been noticeably absent — until now.

The Split is loosely based on The Seventh, a crime novel by Richard Stark (a non de plume for the late great Donald Westlake). The novel's antihero, Parker, has been renamed McClain, and is played by football legend Jim Brown. The Split is just one of several movies based on Stark/Westlake's work, and Jones is the only composer to score films featuring two Westlake characters, namely Parker and Dortmunder (The Hot Rock, '72).

There are a handful of decent but dated vocal numbers, sung by Billy Preston (alone and with Clydie King), Arthur Prysock, Sheh Wooley and John Wesley), but the real draw is Jones' riveting jazz funk underscore, which is stylistically similar to Jones' score for The Lost Man, which came out around the same time.

Raspy, muted brass jostle with soul jazz organ, electric piano and bluesy electric guitar figures over restless percussion and rumbling bass lines. Occasionally, Jones' semi-abstract compositions and textural arrangements open up to let inquisitive flutes and skeptical strings into the mix.

As usual, Film Score Monthly delivers the full score with alternate bonus tracks and in-depth, copiously illustrated notes. The Split is a must-have for crime jazz fans and the perfect soundtrack for reading Stark/Westlake crime novels.

This review was previously published at the author's soundtrack review site

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Louis Smith: Here's Comes A Legend

Louis Smith (trumpet; b. 1931)

When someone tells you "You gotta buy this album", do you really believe them? Do you really buy it? Well this time we mean it.

Here Comes Louis Smith (Blue Note; 1957) is that record that you have to own. It is a brilliant debut that featured a number high flying artists; Cannonball Adderley (Sax), Duke Jordan and Tommy Flanagan (piano), Doug Watkins (bass) and the great Art Taylor (drums).

This isn't one of those milestone recordings like Kind Of Blue or Blue Train but it is one of those blistering sessions that even if you're not a huge jazz lover you will appreciate it the veracity of performances. If you haven't experienced a live jazz show this is an album that will give you the best idea of how it would feel.

Louis Smith's style was similar to another more famous hard bop trumpeter, Clifford Brown--for whom Smith included the piece "Tribute To Brownie" on this release. After this debut, Louis Smith went on to record one more album for Blue Note entitled Smithville. He then became a university professor. He returned to recording and performing in 1978. His subsequent releases actually feel like he never missed a beat but Here Comes Louis Smith remains his defining moment. The album is still available physically and for download. Highly recommended.

"Ande" (audio clip from youtube):

Sunday, August 2, 2009

John Zorn — O'o (2009)

Full disclosure: I've fallen behind on the work of John Zorn — way behind. Let's face it, the guy is prolific, and often quite challenging. Now, don't get me wrong. I enjoy my fair share of "difficult listening" (thank you, Laurie Anderson), but when you're talking about an artist as uncompromising as Zorn you approach with caution. (I mean really, stuff like Cobra is easier to respect than listen to.)

So, I've fallen out of touch with Zorn. Maybe I'm still miffed that he didn't grant me an interview for my soundtrack book (he even cold-called me to learn more about the project — talk about getting my hopes up). Most of my Zorn collection dates from the '80s (Naked City, News for Lulu, The Big Gundown, etc.) Then, last week, I stumble onto O'o, reading that it's an exotica record (and I'm a big fan of Baxter, Denny, et al). Naturally, I needed to check it out.

O'o — it turns out — is sort of a sequel to another Zorn album, The Dreamers (2008), which was sort of a sequel to The Gift (2001) — both of which I hadn't yet heard when I listened to O'o. All three of these albums have been characterized as Zorn's most accessible work, and what they all have in common is Zorn's appreciation for exotica, surf, Latin jazz and film music. They also share several of the same musicians: guitarist Marc Ribot, keyboardist Jamie Saft, drummer Joey Baron, bassist Trevor Dunn, and percussionist Cyro Baptista, and vibe man Kenny Wollesen. Zorn acts as arranger, conductor and producer (but leaves his alto sax out of the mix). The ensemble works every groove without showboating or grandstanding, while still demonstrating exemplary chops. The restraint is admirable. They're simply there to serve the music, which breaks no new ground, but avoids cliches.

The moods on O'o range from lively to dreamy, with no jarring digressions along the way. Given Zorn's penchant for frantic fragmentary style-jumping it is pleasantly surprising to hear him work in a straight-forward manner, letting the music work its magic without virtuoso technique and avant-garde concepts. You can imagine cruising down a coastal highway, wind in your hair, without a care in the world — for someone who has always associated Zorn with big concept projects it's refreshing to hear him embrace melody and rhythm in such an organic way.

Buy it.