Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bill Charlap: The Modern Pianist

Bill Charlap (piano; b. 1966)
Writen In The Stars

Bill Charlap is wonderful and accomplished pianists in the vain of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. He has worked with Tony Bennett, Clark Terry and Gerry Mulligan among others. There's nothing technically complicated or cerebral going on here, just a nice dose of jazz with your Sunday morning tea.

I first started listening to Charlap after seeing him at the Village Vanguard in New York many years ago. I thought he was a superb performer and his band consisting of two young veterans, Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums) were excellent compliments to Charlap's mastery of the standards repertoire.

Charlap has an extensive catalog crossing a couple of labels but the one album that I believe is very representative of his style and is most appealing to everyone is Written In The Stars (Blue Note). Written In The Stars features the members listed above and is absolutely perfect throughout. This album is pretty widely available so you should be able to find it fairly easily. Bill Charlap is a modern craftsman of piano and someone you might want to check out if you starting your jazz collection from scratch.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jack Kerouac: Jazz On The Road

Jack Kerouac
On The Road

I began re-reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road recently and I have to say this novel should be listed in the top 50 of American literary stories. Kerouac's vision and storytelling was always far beyond is fellow "Beat" contemporaries. While Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs and others were all prolific and inventive, Kerouac's writing was more appealing to the masses. Keroauc was a big jazz fan (especially of Charlie Parker) and On The Road reads like one giant jazz opus.

The cross country trek taken by Kerouac, Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy is one of beauty, grit and a magnificent description of Americana in the late '40s. For those who don't know, Kerouac wrote On The Road in 1947 and the final version wasn't published until 1957. There have been numerous reprints over the last 50 years with the most recent being the complete scrolls. This version is definitely worth buying but you can easily find the originally publishers version everywhere as well. The difference mainly is that in the scrolls features the real names of the characters before he changed them for the 1957 publication.

If you haven't read On The Road due yourself a favour a pick it up. Below is a classic clip from a Jack Kerouac documentary that epitomizes why he was one the best American writers we will ever see.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Charlie "Bird" Parker

Charlie Parker (alto saxophone; b. 1920 - d. 1955)

Along with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker is the reason why we love jazz. Charlie Parker was responsible for creating the foundation for many musicians (not just other saxophone players) to follow. The sheer power, beauty and swift ability of his improvisation is what everyone looks to achieve as a musician, why people go to concerts and why we buy an album. His skill was the result of years of study and hard work but he is arguably the godfather of bebop.

Born in Kansas City, Charlie Parker originally spent time playing blues and R&B before switching to jazz in his teens. After moving to New York he soon began working with Dizzy Gillespie (the partnership known to many as "Diz and Bird"). His life was filled with ups and downs all fueled by drugs (mainly heroin) and other struggles with life. But this is also what fueled his creative process and for that we have a wealth of material to be thankful for and to explore. Definitely an artist from whom everyone should at have at least one CD in their collection. If you go online or to a record store you will find a plethora of music from this legend.

This entry is really meant for those who may not have a Charlie Parker album in your collection. Let me narrow it down with a little laser sharp vision. I would recommend The Best of Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings (Savoy Jazz). This collection is pretty readily available online and in-stores. The music is literally the most essential of Charlie Parker's material and many of the tracks will be familiar even to those of you who are not jazz fans such as "Scrapple From The Apple", "Orinthology" and "Yardbird Suite". Charlie Parker's performances with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie are well documented and can be found on a variety of other collections. The Best of Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings focuses on his material and while you listen you will realize you are in the presence of greatness.

Charlie Parker's influence can be felt on almost every artist in jazz in some form of another. And as one more point of reverence, one of Clint Eastwood's early production works was the film Bird which pays tribute to the legend. Not the greatest film but Eastwood is a big jazz aficionado so he deserves credit for trying.

I hope everyone has a chance to buy a Charlie Parker album at some point in their lives - you will have the opportunity to experience the Greatest right in your own room. This is why we love jazz.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Intersection: Mocean Worker

The Intersection is a new 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 Mocean Worker.

Mocean Worker aka Adam Dorn is one of the jazzier electronica musicians out there, and with good reason – he has it in his blood. Dorn's dad Joel was one of Atlantic Records’ top producers during the 1960s and '70s, helming sessions by John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, as well as Roberta Flack, Bette Midler and the Allman Brothers. As for Adam, he studied at the renowned Berklee College of Music and has worked with artists as varied as David Sanborn to Hal Willner to Chaka Khan. Adam and his dad also have reissued jazz albums from the defunct Muse and Landmark labels on their own 32 Records.

Mocean Worker began promisingly with the cut ‘n’ paste drum ‘n’ bass album Home Movies from the Brainforest ('98), which was released by the punk label Conscience. His appreciation of Latin rhythms and crime jazz moods is evident on “The Mission” and “Overtime” which smolders with film noir intensity. His mash-up of “Summertime” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” is among the best of its late ‘90s retro kind.

Dorn moved to Island Records’ subsidiary Palm Pictures for his strong second effort, the more polished Mixed Emotional Features ('99). By turns jazzy and cinematic, this album further demonstrates Dorn’s love of tasty samples, but also shows some significant growth in his synth and production skills. An atmosphere of intrigue and drama pervades tracks such as “Rene M” and “Heaven @ 12:07.” And the cut ‘n’ paste retro jazz workout “Counts, Dukes and Satyrs” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on his first album.

Dorn’s third album Aural & Hearty ('00) is the clubbiest of his efforts and probably the most disposable, but does offer another trip down millennial sampledelic nu-jazz in “Velvet Black Sky.”

When Mocean Worker returned four years later with Enter the MoWo! ('04), Dorn’s taste for funky beats and jazz loops (“On and On”, “Right Now”) were back at the forefront. The album also features a number of special guests including Les McCann (“That’s What’s Happenin’ Tonight”), Bill Frissell (“Salted Fatback”), Steve Bernstein of Sex Mob (“Only the Shadow Knows”), and Hal Willner (“Move”) as well as David "Fathead" Newman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Nina Simone. Enter the MoWo! may be the best introduction to Mocean Worker.

For his fifth album, Dorn continued to ply the old school beat jazz vibe and Latin jazz grooves with Cinco de MoWo! ('07). Check out the infectious sample-jacking splendor of “Shake Ya Boogie”, and the cameo appearances of Herb “Tijuana Brass” Alpert (“Changes”) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (“Siss Boom Bah” and “Reykjavik”). While the hooks aren’t quite as infectious as Enter the MoWo!, Cinco de MoWo! effectively builds on Dorn’s jazz-inspired electronica sound.

Next Week: Compost Records' Future Sounds of Jazz series

Monday, November 23, 2009

Roy Hargrove: No Longer A Young Lion

Roy Hargrove (trumpet; b. 1970)

I met Roy Hargrove many years ago before his first record. I thought then that this cat was going to have two albums and never be heard from again. Oh boy, was I an idiot.

Roy Hargrove has had a long career filled with a few minor stops and starts but he has always been true to his craft. After being lumped in with the "Young Lions" tag back in the beginning of the '90s (along with Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, and others) Roy Hargrove has paved his own path and paid his own dues to become one of the more creative and thoughtful trumpeters of his generation. The "neo-classicism" label that many of the jazz artists were given during the '90s while condescending it was a rejection of the hard boiled fusion that had overtaken jazz during the '70s and '80s.

Roy Hargrove has done small quartet/quintet recordings, big band and hip hop; all to varying degrees but all with integrity. I have seen him live quite a few times over the last twenty years and he continues to impress me. He is not the new Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie but he is rising to the occasion with every record. Many of his earlier albums are not available anymore but if you see the compilation The Collected Roy Hargrove (Novus/RCA) I would highly recommend picking it up. It does a fine job of covering his first five albums.

Of his newer material I would recommend two of his most recent albums, the big band effort Emergence (Emarcy) which feels like an artist who has finally found his voice again and last years Earfood (Emarcy) which is a small group recording. Both are excellent examples of his entire career and you can begin to work backwards from there.

Check these two videos; the first is before his first record even came out and the second is from the Earfood release. Wow, if I had known that night I first met him how much of a fan would be now...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Outhouse: Britian's New Avant Garde

Outhouse (group; 2004)

African rhythms and jazz have always been a great combination, but doing it well isn't always easy. Outhouse, a new collective from London, seem to be doing it with justice, integrity and invention. On their self titled debut, Outhouse (Babel Records) from 2008, settles right in with the aesthetics of European jazz (ethereal with sprinkles of experimentation). Their use of two tenor saxophonists and the influence of African drums makes their music more interesting than some of the more Miles Davis inspired acts coming out of Norway and Sweden at the moment. The second album from Outhouse entitled Outhouse Ruhabi (Loop) explores their African influences further with collaboration from Gambian drum outfit Ruhabi (hence the album title). Outhouse Ruhabi is fantastic concoction of European and African motifs that if you are fan of world music you are bound to enjoy. Both albums are a fascinating listens and definitely put Outhouse in the shop window as a band to look out for over the next couple of years.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Great Live Albums: Like Dylan Going Electric

Benny Goodman The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Columbia Records)
Benny Goodman (clarinet, b. 1909 - d. 1986)

While some may associate Benny Goodman with the swing/WWII era, he was also a serious performer and band leader with a much wider vision for jazz (large ensembles as well as in small quartets). Goodman was also groundbreaking for employing and work with many African American artists at a time when it was highly dangerous to White performers careers. Goodman gave those critics a big "F.U."

The classic and historic Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Columbia Records) concert is one of those moments like when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in '65. The Carnegie Hall concert was important because it was the moment when Swing finally arrived to the masses. They (the audience) finally accepted the pulsating beat of Gene Krupa, the driving sensation of Buck Clayton's trumpet, Johnny Hodges on saxophone, the smooth rhythmic melodies of Teddy Wilson on piano and Lionel Hampton on vibes (as well as the rest of the orchestra).

This performance is absolutely smokin'. Forget everything you've ever thought about when it comes to swing and listen to this album as killer live jazz show. The Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert has always been criticized because the sound quality isn't great but this was an era before tape masters and the fact that this historic moment was recorded in its entirety is amazing.

You will feel completely different after listening to it on the first spin; A great live recording and probably one the most important in all of recorded music. Bob Dylan stunned the crowd at Newport and change everything for folk. Benny Goodman stunned the audience at Carnegie Hall and changed everything for Swing and Jazz. For more proof of the power of Benny Goodman's Orchestra take a look at the video for "Sing, Sing, Sing"--Gene Krupa (drums) is a madman!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Great Live Albums: John Coltrane

John Coltrane Live At Birdland (Impulse)
Jimmy Garrison (bass)
Elvin Jones (drums)
McCoy Tyner (piano)
John Coltrane (sax)

Live At Birdland (Impulse) probably isn't the first choice for most jazz critics. And I'm not a critic. So my choice is a wonderful and moving performance from one of the most famous venues in the world, Birdland. This date was recorded during the rise of the civil rights movement in the early '60s and the emotion can be felt when listening this to record. The experience of being there was probably even greater.

The two opening tracks "Afro-Blue" and "I Want To Talk About You" are heavy, intense and spiritual as I listen to them again this evening. At this point in his career (1963) Coltrane was already in a peak performance and would soon go on the explore the more spiritual side as heard in his following recordings such as the benchmark A Love Supreme (Impulse) and it's follow up Crescent (Impulse). His quartet at this time was one of consistentency and invention. To me it symbolized what the African American experience was during the sixties and how far reaching it could go in the future.

The album also includes two studio recordings including one of my personal favourites "Alabama" which has become a standard in the jazz repertoire. Not necessarily your average live date but more of a introspective journey--Live At Birdland is definitely one of the great live albums in my book. And a nice slice of history.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Miles Davis And The Greatest Live Album Ever

Miles Davis Live In Stockholm 1960 (Dragon Records)
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Wynton Kelly (piano)
Jimmy Cobb (drums)
Paul Chambers (bass)
John Coltrane (sax; March 22, 1960)
Sonny Stitt (sax; October 13, 1960)

Live In Stockholm 1960 is an "unofficial/official" live album that has been released under various titles (Miles Davis in Stockholm Complete, ...with John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt in Stockholm Complete are usually the other widely seen titles). It can be found as a 4 disc or two separate 2 disc sets. The reason for this was that one concert recorded in March of 1960 included John Coltrane and a second concert in October 1960 featuring Sonny Stitt (both on saxophone). This tour took place just a few months after Miles recorded Kind Of Blue and during the time he would record Sketches of Spain.

Live In Stockholm 1960 is one of my favourite CDs of all time. Originally recorded for Swedish Radio it is of very high quality. The concert with Coltrane is fascinating on two levels. One, you can feel the pounding tension (in the best possible way) of two giants ripping through chords at breakneck speed. It's bop at its finest. Second, if you are lucky with the version you purchase there is an interview with John Coltrane between sets. Coltrane talks of what it is like to be in Miles's band, his admiration for fellow saxophonist Sonny Rollins and his own future plans. The Sonny Stitt date is a real pleasure; not just in comparing how these two saxophone players shape Miles' material but also how Stitt interacts with fellow band members, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly. Stitt was not as adventurous as Coltrane but he was just fierce on the sax, so the date becomes a wonderful companion piece as well as a historical document.

This may be a very difficult set to find and it can be pricey if you do manage to discover it, but I guarantee you Live In Stockholm 1960 is worth whatever you pay for it. I have enjoyed listening to this album (first on vinyl and then CD) for almost 20 years and it never stops sounding anything short of spectacular.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Intersection: Jaga Jazzist

The Intersection is a new 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 Jaga Jazzist.

Norwegian nu jazz fusionists, Jaga Jazzist, scored an underground hit in Scandenavia with their full-length debut, A Livingroom Hush (2001). This 10-piece band is as unique sounding as anything in jazz or electronica today. By combining trumpets, bass clarinets, trombone, guitar, bass, tuba, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone and drum 'n' bass-style programming, Jaga Jazzist (or simply Jaga) create a dense, complicated, melodic balance of man and machine. Stand-out tracks include the single "Animal Chin," the spacious "Cinematic," the hypnotic "Airborne," the uplifting "Lithuania," and the infectious "Made for Radio."

Jaga's follow up, The Stix (2003), continues along the same lines, but ratchets up the electronic element, which adds interest to most tracks ("Kitty Wu," "Toxic Dart," "Day") while overwhelming others ("The Stix," "Doppleganger").

The e.p. release that followed, entitled Magazine (2004), is actually a reissue of the band's early work, and it's more like A Livingroom Hush than The Stix. The quality of the material is excellent and the musicianship exemplary. Stand-out tracks include the invigorating "Jaga ist Zu Hause" and the gorgeous "Plym".

When Jaga returned with new material on What We Must (2005) they sounded a bit more prog than before with greater emphasis on keyboards and guitars. Emotionally resonant melodies meet virtuouso ensemble performances on tracks such as "All I Know is Tonight," "Stardust Hotel" and "Oslo Skyline." While the material and performances are impressive, some of the charm of the earlier work is lost. Still, all of these releases are highly recommended.

Jaga Jazzist is the answer for anyone who thinks the mix of electronica and jazz is limited to the downtempo grooves that feature a jazzy breakbeat (like Mr. Scruff's catchy "Get a Move On" or St. Germain's "Rose Rouge," which was used in a luxury car commercial). Jaga Jazzist is way beyond jazz posing -- they've got serious chops, melodic gifts and an eagerness to push the electronic jazz genre to new heights. They actually create music worthy of the label, but in their case, the label hardly does them justice.

Next week: Mocean Worker

Monday, November 16, 2009

Woody Shaw: A Trumpet Legacy

Woody Shaw (trumpet; b. 1944 - d. 1989)

Woody Shaw for me was a logical successor to Miles Davis. At one point Miles Davis and Woody Shaw were both signed to Columbia Records. Shaw's career never really scaled the same heights as Miles Davis, Lee Morgan or even Donald Byrd (fellow trumpet contemporaries). Woody Shaw had the same distractions as many other musicians during the 60's and early '70s. He also suffered from a retinal disease that restricted his eye sight.

Shaw's clear cut focus on post bop may have cost him a wider audience even after incorporating swathes of innovative fusion for a string of albums during the mid-seventies. But it's that same precision and dedication that kept each of his records sounding rich, vibrant and still surpass a large majority of the records of the 70's and 80's. Woody Shaw would go on to influence another set of up and coming musicians such as Tony Reedus (drums), Mulgrew Miller (piano) and Steve Turre (trombone) whom would play in his band shortly before his death. Woody Shaw would die in the hospital after a tragic NYC Subway accident.

Most of Woody Shaw's catalouge is now unavailable (there are a few you can download) but there is an excellent series of CD's entitled Woody Shaw Live Vol. I - IV (High Note Records) that can serve as a wonderful primer if you interested in hearing a truly underrated musician like Woody Shaw. If you see any of his albums at a record store or online I would highly recommend buying them.

Woody Shaw built a huge body of work in just a short amount of time ('65 - '87) and his legacy will continue through these CD's and the artists he has influenced including Wynton Marsalis, Anthony Braxton and one of my favorites Dave Douglas. I hope that more people will come to appreciate and regard Woody Shaw with the legendary status as time passes. Check out the commentary from Anthony Braxton on Woody Shaw below.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why We Love Jazz

David S. Ware (saxophone; b. 1949)

I have written about David S. Ware before. He is one the few musicians I believe is pushing jazz forward. Today I wanted to share with everyone some terrific news to my heart. As some of you may know David has been severely ill with kidney failure for the last few years. This limited his touring but not so much his recording. Currently David S. Ware is back on the scene and looks to vibrant as ever. But here's something I really wanted to pass along with everyone from NBC Nightly News Online. A rare national interview with this jazz iconoclast. I hope it touches you as much as he has me. This is why we love jazz.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Soweto Kinch: The UK Strikes Back

Soweto Kinch (saxophone, vocals)

Soweto Kinch is a young British alto sax player with hip hop influences. Resembling the Roots and Guru's Jazzmatazz in session with Sonny Rollins, Courtney Pine and Branford Marsalis, Soweto creates an atmosphere while not original it is definitely honest and heartwarming. Unlike most hip hop jazz hybrids Soweto manages to meld the two with great affect. It also helps that Soweto is a good lyricists. His two albums Conversations With The Unseen (Dune Records) and The Life in The Day of B19 (Dune Records) both explore the journey of a jazz musician in a hardcore urban environment.

Don't be put off by the hip hop tilted of these records, Soweto Kinch is a true jazz musician. He has laid the ground work for serious growth over his next few albums. Soweto Kinch is one of those artists to truly look out for in the future. If are a fan of groups like the Roots, Massive Attack, Jurassic Five and the fusion of jazz and hip hop than you should take a spin with Soweto Kinch and hear what the future of jazz can be.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wynton Kelly: The Unheralded Giant

Wynton Kelly (piano; b. 1931 - d. 1971)

Wynton Kelly is most remembered for his lush, melodic, hard bop performance on Miles Davis' "Freddy Freeloader" from the Kind Of Blue album. But I feel he was much more a significant player than just that one shinning (and I do mean "shinning" moment). His career was not long ('51 - '68) and his recordings were what some may call "middle of road" but if you listen much more closely you will hear all the signatures of a great giant emerging onto the scene. Miles knew this. Unfortunately Wynton Kelly didn't have the opportunity to expand on the ideas he was creating as a leader.

His most constant trio (Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums) performed with Wes Montgomery on the classic Live At The Half Note and with Joe Henderson on two fantastic albums for Verve. (Four! and Straight No Chaser). Wynton Kelly's style laid right in the middle of the hard bop scene. He was definitely more powerful than his contemporary, Bill Evans (whom he replaced in Miles Davis' quartet) and had a rhythmic excellence that blended perfectly with his fellow musicians on every record. He could go from a straight ahead hard bop standard to his own more bluesy driven ballad with ease.

Wynton Kelly is that missing link in the Miles discography that everyone should investigate. Most of his albums are surprisingly still available. If you have the opportunity you should check out two import collections which combine a number of albums on to two discs (The Vee Jay Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz) and The Complete Blue Note Trio Sessions (Jazz Factory)). These collections cover a lot of ground and along with Live At The Half Note (Lone Hill Jazz) and Complete Joe Henderson Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz) would give you about 85% of the Wynton Kelly you would need. And that's still good.

For those you looking to download try Kelly The Great and Kelly At Midnight both on Vee Jay Recordings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Rethink On Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton (saxophone, clarinet, flute; b. 1945)

Anthony Braxton is considered a major influencer in the Free Jazz/Avant Garde Jazz movement. Recently I had to rethink how I had to approach this future jazz legend. I have always been apprehensive about diving into the catalog of Anthony Braxton (alto and soprano saxophone) due to a vast array of releases he has recorded. But I believe there is an album for everyone--from the well versed to the newcomer.

Braxton has a magnificent ability to shift between a wild inner cacophony of his solo compositions and beautiful collaborative efforts with quartets, quintets and large ensembles unlike many of his contemporaries. His music can resemble the best classical composer such as Cage, Schoenberg or Stockhausen as well as jazz legends John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman or Wayne Marsh to name a few.

One album that I feel can have appeal to both the experimentalist and the average jazz listener would be the two disc set entitled What's New In The Tradition (SteepleChase). This two disc set features Braxton and his quartet (featuring piano great Tete Montoliu) performing standards from Charles Mingus to John Coltrane. Many critics have mixed opinions about this date, mostly mentioning that due to the focus on standards the recording is too slow paced. I think this is true only if you are a diehard Braxton fan used to his more avant garde recordings. If you are just checking him out this is definitely the best and affordable entry point. It gives you great way to experience his playing and insight on how he deconstructs some classics. In addition, it's a perfect starting point to explore some of his more "out there" recordings.

If you are interested in some of Anthony Braxton's avant garde recordings I would look to the classics live recordings from his 1985 European tour with his most famous and adventurous quartet which included Marilyn Crispell (piano), Gerry Hemingway (drums) and Mark Dresser (bass). There were three albums all titled by the city in which they performed (London, Coventry and Birmingham (Leo Records)). After revisiting these albums just a few weeks ago it felt like a whole new discovery of a jazz great.

If you have ever wondered where to start and your interests lie on either side of the jazz fence you should start with these albums. It's more than just Jazz 101--get started.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Intersection: Skalpel

The Intersection is a new 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 Skalpel.

Sounding a little bit like label mates The Cinematic Orchestra, the Polish DJ/production duo known as Skalpel has made no secret of its affection for smoky '60s/'70s jazz.

On the group's eponymous Ninja Tune debut, Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo deliver an atmospheric 4-deck mix of obscure samples and breaks re-imagined for the 21st century. It's a well-crafted cut-n-paste homage to a legendary era of Polish jazz.

Skalpel's second album, Konfusion, blends nu-jazz groove production with old school musicianship, creating a vibe so cool it will appeal to beatheads and neo beatniks alike. Forgive the hyperbole. Just trust that the deep bass lines, hypnotic rhythms and cut-n-paste cinematic atmospherics make this a highly compelling listen. Plus, it's nice to know that these guys are celebrities in Poland, which means there's hope for modern music after all.

Konfusion comes with a bonus CD of remixes of tracks from Skalpel's eponymous debut, but at a regular single CD price. Among the remixers are Quantic, Backini and the Amalgamation of Soundz.

Next week: Jaga Jazzist

Monday, November 9, 2009

Charles Lloyd: The Dream Weaver

Charles Lloyd (saxophone, b. 1938)

Charles Lloyd is the epitome of jazz stalwart. He began his leadership during the height of the rock/political revolution in the late 60s. He forged an incredible partnership with fellow jazz giants Keith Jarrett (piano) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) to make a string of fantastic, complex and yet accessible albums including Dream Weaver (Atlantic) and Forest Flower (Atlantic). While these releases show only a brief Coltrane influence it would be almost two decades before he would record fully again.

Charles Lloyd took a brief hiatus from recording (briefly returning with Michael Petrucciani) and in 1989 began his now long-standing relationship with ECM Records with his debut album aptly titled Fish Out Of Water (ECM). It would be at this point that the Coltrane spectre would bloom. Lloyd's music would become dark and melodic but with an atmosphere that draws the listener into a new and highly dynamic world.

One of my favourite Charles Lloyd sessions is his second ECM album Notes From Big Sur. Notes From Big Sur is dominated by emotion and spiritualism that is very reminiscent of latter John Coltrane. But unlike many of Coltrane's late releases that would have spun into improvisational sessions, Notes From Big Sur keeps the listener engaged and waiting on every chord. Charles Lloyd has recorded eleven more album since, all of which are excellent. His current quartet features Jason Moran (piano), Eric Harland (drums) and Reuben Rogers (bass), and their latest work Rabe De Nube (ECM) is another stellar performance worth a listen, enough if you aren't an avid jazz fan.

Emotion, space and rhythm are the qualities that help one transcend on their journey through music. Let Charles Lloyd be your guide.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tune in Today at 11 a.m.

Kristopher Spencer, author of Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979, and JazzWrap contributor, will discuss crime jazz soundtracks with Scott Greenberg, host of WGWG radio's "Debts No Honest Man Can Pay". They'll play selections by Alex North, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and more.

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

Listen online @

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jazz For The Young At Heart

Nicky The Jazz Cat

It's great when you're entire family can enjoy in your passion. If you have kids and you've had enough of Laurie Berkner and the rest of the preschool favourites (although I do dig Laurie Berkner) maybe you should turn your kids in the direction of a great jazz compilation. Nicky The Jazz Cat is an excellent collection of jazz tunes that are perfect for day and nighttime listens. Unlike the plethora of classical sleepy time discs, Nicky The Jazz Cat comes with a great book that tells the story (in words and pictures) of Nicky as he meets the jazz legends (Gerry Mulligan, Lena Horn, Lionel Hampton and more) on his musical journey.

The music and book flow incredibly well and its a great way to teach your kids about some of the legends of jazz. Nicky The Jazz Cat may not be immediate fan favourite for those you without kids, but those of you with kids looking for something to change the musical routine will be disappointed if you don't pick up this book and CD's. Surprisingly a lot of fun and educational for all (parents check it out: Nicky The Jazz Cat).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Other Most Important Figure In Jazz

Duke Ellington (piano, b. 1899 - d. 1974)
Next to Louis Armstrong probably the second most important figure in jazz (you can easily switch the two depending on your opinion). Duke Ellington made over a hundred recordings. He shifted from big band recordings to stage and film to occasional small ensemble settings--all of which are phenomenal. His own compositions have now become standards in jazz repertoire. Ellington's work with Elle Fitzgerald, Billy Strayhorn and Mahalia Jackson have also become cornerstones in jazz history. For many, Ellington is another daunting task if you are just getting into jazz. But there are a two recordings that I believe you can gravitate to with ease and show exquisite compositional side of Ellington as well. My final personal favourite is a collection which is not a bad way get into Ellington but I would recommend experiencing a full album first.
Money Jungle (Blue Note)
One of those "difficult" records. This was a session featuring Ellington along side future giants Charles Mingus (bass) and Max Roach (drums), both of whom were influenced by the great pianist. The session is intense due to the battling personalities of Ellington and Mingus. Along side the classic Live At Massey Hall also featuring Mingus, this is one of my favourite jazz albums of all time.

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse)
Another session featuring two legends of jazz. Unlike the Money Jungle, this session runs relatively smoothly although the playing is quite conventional. Coltrane at this time was coming into his own and Ellington was experimenting with the small group format. So the two make a perfect combination at the time. Ellington writes most of the material for this date. The performance is exceptional and worth every penny.

The Essential Duke Ellington (Columbia)
An affordable 2 disc set that covers the Columbia Records period. Includes every aspect of Ellington (small sessions, big band and film music). It features collaborations with gospel legend Mahalia Jackson in addition to his legendary recording Such Sweet Thunder. If you want a huge chunk this is a good place to start.

There are more that I should include but I wanted to stick to the ones I listen to most often. If you are a music lover, then CD's by Duke and Satchmo should be in your collection. There is enough out there that is reasonably priced and you can definitely find a disc that you will enjoy. These are not just for show - these are for you listen and learn. Just like the Beatles, almost everything in jazz stems from Ellington and Armstrong. Enjoy...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Portico Quartet: The New Thing

Portico Quartet
Duncan Bellamy (drums)
Jack Wylie (saxophone, electronics)
Milo Fitzpatrick (bass)
Nick Mulvey (hang, percussion)

Portico Quartet are a British quartet that started out as buskers (street musicians). Their sound is slightly difficult to describe but it is lush, melodic and ethereal all at once. The main attraction is their use of percussion--in this case the instrument of choice is called a hang. The hang is Swedish instrument modified from the steel drum used in Caribbean music. The hang looks like two steel drums welded together. It can be played both by hand and with sticks. It makes a beautiful sounds and for Portico Quartet is the perfect accompaniment to the saxophone and upright bass.

While only recording two records, Knee Deep In The North Sea (Babel) and their just released Isla (RealWorld), Portico Quartet have quickly established themselves on the jazz scene in England and in Europe. Their sound combines jazz, African and even Steve Reich (especially the album Music for 18 Musicians). As with such genre-bending groups as E.S.T., Acoustic Ladyland, Cinematic Orchestra--Portico Quartet have become one of those band you definitely need to learn about. Both albums are a delight and rewarding listen.

You can't truly pigeonholed this band but you will be enveloped by the dreamscape they can create over the course of listening to one of their albums. Or witnessing a live show (which is probably the best way to experience them.) So definitely check out both albums--I believe you will find that they really just might be the "New Thing."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Intersection: The Cinematic Orchestra

The Intersection is a new 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 The Cinematic Orchestra.

The Cinematic Orchestra (TCO) creates highly evocative imaginary soundtracks. TCO incorporates much live instrumentation in addition to samples and drum loops. A rotating cast of players on piano, sax, trumpet, electric and acoustic bass fill out the ambient drum&bass compositions by Jason Swinscoe. Not unlike the modal jazz masterpiece Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Motion coheres beautifully from track to track, offering a seamless listening experience. Combining jazz and funk in a moody, semi-orchestrated fashion, tracks such as "Ode to the Big Sea" and "Channel 1 Suite" deliver the listener into a cinematic state of mind. The only title to make reference to a movie ("Night of the Iguana") actually has nothing to do with the Tennessee Williams' play/movie from whence its title comes.

TCO's Remixes album includes just one Cinematic Orchestra original ("Channel 1 Suite") in addition to TCO's "remixes, extended versions and interpretations" of other artists' material. Pieces by Faze Action, Les Gammas, Kenji Eno and others get the CO treatment, while CO itself gets remixed by Tom Tyler. One of these tracks, a remix of Piero Umiliani's "Panoramica", appeared on Easy Tempo Experience 3. The tracks don't cohere quite as effectively as on Motion, and the degree of cinematic atmosphere is lessened overall, but it's an intriguing listen nevertheless.

Fans of the Cinematic Orchestra's full length debut Motion would not be disappointed by its long-awaited follow-up, Everyday.

Swinscoe's group just may be the perfect example of soundtrack-influenced trip hop/downtempo/nu jazz school of electronic music, pioneered by its record label Ninja Tune.

There are seven tracks here (one for every day?) and each offers compelling evidence of the aforementioned claim. TCO's modus operandi is for Swinscoe to provide a compelling sample for his musicians to play around. As always, the samples that are uniformally serious, never glib or kitschy.

Vigorous drumming lays the bedrock for the jams as bass, horns and keyboards add rich harmonic interplay to complement Swinscoe's samples. At times, the mood is so serious as to sound like something by Philip Glass or Steve Reich, but without the rigor or repetition.

Swinscoe adds a new wrinkle on Everyday, namely the use of vocals by Fontella Bass ("All that You Give" and "Evolution") and Roots Manuva ("All Things to All Men"). While this promises to be a distraction from the music's soundtracky vibe, it proves a good fit after all.

TCO step out with their most ambitious offering yet, a new soundtrack for Dziga Vertov's 1929 silent film Man with a Movie Camera. Swinscoe and company originally intended the score to be a one-off live performance, but ended up performing it at film festivals from Turkey to Scotland.

Presented on CD, free of its formal association, TCO's Man with a Movie Camera is an absorbing listening experience. But for the ultimate experience, the DVD version -- which pairs the music to the film and adds video clips of the band interviews and live performances -- is truly the way to experience the music. The presentation is fantastic.

Like other TCO recordings, this one places heavy emphasis on atmosphere -- tracks develop slowly. Live drumming, double bass, strings predominate, complimented with subtle electronics, the occasional woodwind or horn and electric keyboards. The mood is quiet, hypnotic and intense.

Four years later, TCO recorded an imaginary soundtrack called Ma Fleur, each of its 10 tracks representing a different scene — some featuring mellow vocals by Patrick Watson, Fontella Bass and Lou Rhodes.

Fans of the group will immediate appreciate the album's elegant, languid arrangements featuring horns, acoustic guitar, piano and strings. The jazzier, more rhythmical elements found on earlier albums has all but disappeared, giving way to more spacious, ambient sounds. This may prove disappointing to fans looking for something fast and frenetic, but it's Sunday morning music at its most mellow.

In 2008, TCO released Live at Royal Albert Hall, a concert that favored their newer material and amply demonstrates their instrumental chops more than most electro-jazz groups.

(Some content originally appeared on the author's website

Next week: Skalpel

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Most Important Figure In Jazz

Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong
(trumpet, b. 1901 - d.1971)

There is no denying that Louis Armstrong is the most important figure in jazz. New Orleans best loved son worked with King Oliver and Flecther Henderson before branching off on his own as leader in 1925 with his highly influential group The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens. The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens are essential cornerstones for jazz listeners. Consider it the "Noah's Ark" of jazz. This group created various styles within just a few short years. And it wasn't all about Louis. Two of his bandmates (Baby Dodds (drums) and Kid Ory (trombone)) in particular help shape what would later be termed "improvising". Also in the band was the electrifying Earl "Fatha" Hines on piano. Hines would carve his own place in history just a few years later.

While it may be difficult to hear how influential this band really was to listeners who have been used to hearing the CD or digital sound quality. The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens recordings were done in the 20s and they still sound like that today (with the tape hiss cleaned up nicely). But if you can step back in time for a few moments you can hear how incredible this recordings were for the time period. Louis Armstrong would go on to record countless more albums with his orchestra (see a brief essential listens below).

His popularity after the war waned slightly but his vocal ability and his charismatic appeal keep Louis and his orchestra on the touring circuit and in the studio for years to come. His legendary recordings with Ella Fitzgerald are also a great touch point for anyone interested in jazz and the vocal talents of the great Mrs. Ella. Armstrong would also score a number of chart hits with the classics "What A Wonderful World" and "When You're Smiling" to a name a few.

Louis Armstrong became the benchmark that other trumpet players and band leaders would be measured against (excluding Duke Ellington) as the years went on. In a career that consisted of hundreds of recordings you can imagine that there are a few records that are not up to par but those are heavily outweighed by the ones that are. For anyone interested in the two great periods of Louis Armstrong I would suggest The Essential Louis Armstrong (Columbia/Legacy) and Back Through The Years: A Centennial Celebration (MCA/Decca). Both are two disc collections with The Essential covering his Hot Five & Hot Sevens as well as many great pre-war influential recordings; Back Through The Years brings the listener up to date with the material that you may be more familiar with including vocal recordings and collaborations with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan.

If you only bought these two collections you would have everything you really need. For those who would love to dig deeper try this on for size.

Plays W.C. Handy (Columbia)
The Complete Ella & Louis On Verve (Verve)
Ambassador Satch (Columbia)
The Complete Town Hall & Symphony Hall Concerts (Fresh Sounds)