Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Jazz Album Of 2009: Acoustic Ladyland

Best Album Of 2009
Over the last week we have discussed the albums that have been spinning continuously on our stereo over the past year. I said that these were in no particular order. The only part about this statement that is incorrect is my final entry for the year. Today's entry is truly my Album Of The Year.

Acoustic Ladyland
Living With A Tiger
(Strong and Wrong)

I decided to sit down and listen to Living With A Tiger again for about the 3rd time this week to see if it held up from last week. As you can tell I probably have listened to this record at a miminal of twice a week since it came out. This is Acoustic Ladyland's fourth album and is definitely their most aggressive and adventurous. A jazz, indie rock, art rock hybrid--like John Zorn and Frank Zappa fronting Sonic Youth distorting your speakers and disturbing your neighbors is how Acoustic Ladyland will feel. Once you tear all that aside, Acoustic Ladyland is a quartet that has quickly become revered and acknowledged in the European jazz circles as one of the most exciting bands on record and live--in just a few short years.

As with The Vandermark 5 stateside, Acoustic Ladyland are setting dynamite to what we know as jazz or free jazz. Their incorporation of rock idioms is nothing new but it certainly hasn't been done this well since possibly the Zappa era. From the opener, "Sport Mode" to the closer "You and I" and my personal favourite "Have Another Go", Living With A Tiger demolishes every musical category and leaves you with the most important thing--The Music.

The collision of frenetic saxophone, grinding guitars, pulsating bass lines and ambulance-inducing drummers makes for a considerable dedication of the listener from the outset for this London based band. But they more than meet every challenge with each record. Acoustic Ladyland is a shot in the arm (or face) for jazz and will continue to be an exciting and refreshing reward for anyone who takes the time to open their mind to this journey with a Tiger. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: Joshua Redman & Bugge Wesseltoft

Best Albums Of 2009
Each day until the end of the year we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo for the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Joshua Redman

With Compass, Joshua Redman has made an in depth and fully realized masterpiece that does remind me of his first three albums. The double trio exploration with two bassists and two drummers on paper sounds like a wall of cacophony. Compass is nothing of the sort. Its is an album filled with just the right amount of muscle and tranquility that you will undoubtedly listen to again and again. Inspired by his great father Dewey Redman, but sounding more and more like one of his other inspirations, Sonny Rollins, Compass take another step forward in making Joshua Redman one of the best saxophonists on his generation. He continues to be highly inventive and pushes rhythm into new directions. Compass is the place to start if you haven't listened to Joshua Redman before.

Bugge Wesseltoft
(Jazzland Records)

Sparse, introspective and hauntingly beauty are the images that come to mind when listening to Bugge Wesseltoft's latest release, simply titled Playing. Wesseltoft has been conjuring up alluring and futuristic imagery for over 10 years now as a solo artist, with his collective New Conception Of Jazz, and as sideman (Nils Petter Molvaer, Joyce, among others). He is a mainstay on the Norwegian and European jazz scene but only a cult figure in the U.S. (more due to the small distribution of his albums than his willingness to tour here). Bugge Wesseltoft has been compared to Keith Jarrett in his ability to create a full emotion of sound from a single piano setting as well as Jarrett's manner of forcing the listener to experience every note. Playing features an almost playful version of Brubeck/Desmond's legendary "Take Five" as well as wonderful gospel-tinged version of "Many Rivers To Cross". Wesseltoft may not be the European Keith Jarrett but he is a master at creating a mood that will resonate with almost anyone. Enjoyed with a nice glass of Merlot, Playing will be probably be one of your favourite albums of 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: Portico Quartet

Best Albums Of 2009
Each day until the end of the year we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo for the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Portico Quartet
(RealWorld Music)

Portico Quartet have created a rousing and hypnotic second album, Isla, that combines their love of African rhtyms and distinct musicianship into a haunting yet beautiful opus. Where there 2007 debut clearly showed their influences (Steve Riech, Coltrane, et al), Isla has taken a leap forward with deep concentration of song structure and the balance of each musicians contribution. Atmospheric, emotional, rich and delicate--all quite comfortable and appropriate words for this album but Isla demonstrats so much more. On tracks like the opener, "Paper Scissors Store" "Dawn Patrol" and "Line" show a quartet that definitely loves what they do and are looking forward to what comes next. Very few bands today can create such an ethereal element throughout an entire album and still leave you wanting more. Portico Quartet have done just that.

For those who've enjoy E.S.T. over the last decade, Portico Quartet might be a good alternative to follow and they will be addicting. Isla is an expensive import CD but you can find it for download for a little less.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: Jon Hassell & David S. Ware

Best Albums Of 2009
Each day until the end of the year we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Jon Hassell
Last Night The Moon Came Dropping It's Clothes in the Street

Jon Hassell's muted, electronically enhanced trumpet style has been directly related to the experimental work of Miles Davis in the 70s. Jon Hassell's early work with electronic/ambient pioneer, Brian Eno are now considered benchmark recordings for the electronic/ambient and new age genres. Hassell's work has always combined the beauty of jazz and the wonder of eastern philosophy. Last Night The Moon Came Dropping It's Clothes In The Street continues Jon Hassell marvellous use of soundscapes that are not just mood setting but highly involved experiments in world music with jazz and poetry as its foundation.

This is an album you need to discovery and let melt into your system like medicine. There are times, as on the enchanting "Northline" that you can truly feel the Miles Davis influence with great effectiveness. The musicians Hassell has surrounded himself with (Eivind Aarset on guitar, Jan Bang (sampling) among others) for this recording add more cohesion and youthfulness to the proceedings than previous records. Jon Hassell has made one his best albums in over 20 years--a collage of sound, colours and atmosphere that is enjoyable from first listen.

David S. Ware
(Aum Fidelity)

David S. Ware is probably the closest thing you will get to hearing John Coltrane. A declared influence on his development, David S. Ware has forged a career that has been built on spirituality and improvisation. His albums are always a step ahead of his contemporaries and challenge the listener to think and accept the different world that is around them and how it can influence you in more ways than just the music.

Shakti explores the Indian tradition in the same manner Coltrane did with his later work such as OM, Crescent and Interstellar Space, etc. One of the fascinating things about Shakti that I have enjoyed is Ware's use of guitar (provide by the versatile Joe Morris) which acts as the replacement for a pianist and makes the outing an highly inventive affair. The interplay between the quartet is sublime and their approach throughout the recording is both seductive and rewarding. I've found that Shakti and Ware's 2006 BalladWare make for the best primer for those wanting to discover the complex, fierce and yet accessible world of David S. Ware.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: Eric Alexander

Best Albums Of 2009
Each day over the next week we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo over the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Eric Alexander
Revival Of The Fittest
(High Note)

Eric Alexander is a veteran saxophonist from Chicago, whose style reminds me of a young Dexter Gordon. He has built a successful career on powerful, full bodied textures but has the ability to pull back beautifully as heard on his most recent release, Revival Of The Fittest (High Note). Eric Alexander has always been a bold and fabulous leader, (over 20 albums to his credit) and he has developed intyo a solid hard bop performer over the 15 years. He is also a founding member of the critically acclaimed sextet, One For All. He doesn't stray too far from the path which makes him one the perfect choices for anyone interested in starting their jazz collection off with something comfortable and familiar.

Revival Of The Fittest features some great work by Alexander regulars, Nat Reeves (bass), Harold Mabern (piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) who place themselves squarely in time with Alexander's every move. The main driving force is the veteran pianist Mabern, with whom Eric has worked since almost the begin of his career in the early 90s. Two of the tracks were written by Mabern ("Blues For Phineas" and "Too Late Fall Back Baby") which not only showcases Mabern but exemplifies the dexterity of Alexander as a performer.

Eric Alexander's maturity over the last decade really comes to the fore on Revival Of The Fittest, making this one of the best albums from him in a while. It's worth the purchase if you are an ardent fan, but also definitely if you are a newcomer to jazz and want to check out a great artist in prime form.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: The New Mastersounds

The Intersection: Best Albums Of 2009
Each day over the next week we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo for the past 12 months (in no particular order).

The New Mastersounds
Ten Years On
(One Note Records)

With a combination of Jimmy Smith, Booker T. & The MG's and the Meters jazz/funk, The New Mastersounds have created a sound all their own. This Leeds based quartet has been around as their new album says--for 10 years, with only a few lineup changes but always remaining fresh and true to their funky jazz roots. While on first listen you may not think of the group as "jazz", the more you listen the more precise the jazz influences begin to appear.

The New Mastersounds definitely will set a party on fire but it's the tight the musicianship that has really turned me on over the last few years. Each album has the Hammond B3 and piano as its base point but with little swathes of sax, guitars and guest vocalists, NMS turn each outing into a new adventure. The current release Ten Years On is phenomenal. A rich and diverse selection of tunes that move from high intensity funk of the opening "San Frantico" to tantalizing and well composed "Cielo" featuring some very fine sax work.

The New Mastersounds may not be every jazz fans cup of tea but every once in awhile you have to let yourself go. The New Mastersounds to me are the Headhunters of the 21st century. And Ten Years On has become one of my late favourites of 2009.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: Julian Lage

Best Albums Of 2009
Each day over the next week we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo for the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Julian Lage
Sounding Point

Julian Lage's Sounding Point is an album that has stuck with me since I first put it on late in the spring. Lage has been the main guitarist in the group Generations, led by the legendary vibraphonist Gary Burton. This is Julian Lage's debut album after a strong series of duo and session work aside from Burton's group and it doesn't disappoint. His style is very reminiscent of Jim Hall, Ralph Towner and a younger Pat Metheny.

Sounding Point is a wonderful collection of vivid and imaginative originals and a very small selections of standards including a great version of Miles Davis' "All Blues". This is an album that most young musicians would take at least 4 albums to produce. Julian Lage combines a delightful blend of classical and jazz themes to this session that is far beyond his years. He has surrounded himself with a band that is also up to the challenge of following this young and wildly talented guitarist through a journey that is quiet yet evocative.

At a time when everyone is looking for next generation of leaders, Julian Lage has stepped into the spotlight with a degree of maturity that others might have a very hard time catching up to. Sounding Point is an album that matters right here, right now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: Dave Douglas

Best Albums Of 2009
Each day over the next week we will discuss the albums that have been on repeat on our stereo for the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Dave Douglas
Spirit Moves (Greenleaf Music)

With the release of two albums this year, Spirit Moves and A Single Sky, both on Greenleaf Music, Dave Douglas continues to show why he is one of the few musicians who is truly pushing jazz forward with original, innovative and entertaining material. The album that has captured my hears this year is an all brass ensemble recording entitled Spirit Moves. Spirit Moves is fun, complex and refreshing. A real change from Douglas' more bop and electronic hybrid albums of the last few years.

Spirit Moves begins with a nod to New Orleans gospel funeral marches with "This Love Affair" and quietly moves through a series of lovely motifs that leave the listener with a sense of joy and enlightenment of what the possibilities are in jazz. At times you never notice that this is a all horn affair excluding the exquisite drumming from Nasheet Waits.

No bass. No piano. How can this work? Well my friends its an amazing record that I think everyone would enjoy. There's nothing avant garde about this record. It lays out a path that is straight forward and let's you weave your way through the contributions of each instrument. One of the best parts for me is how Douglas allows instruments like the tuba and trombone to take center stage at certain moments as on the wonderful "Bowie" (a tribute to legendary trumpeter Lester Bowie).

This is one of the most enjoyable and upbeat albums of year for me. Some jazz listeners may notice the similarities with the great New Orleans jazz band Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but I would say this is a much more intricate and focused thematic record than what DDBB would do. Don't get me wrong, I love DDBB but Dave Douglas is in prime form musically and emotionally on Spirit Moves and I believe this is an album that commands your attention. I think if you haven't listened to Dave Douglas before this might be a good place for you to start and you will be keeping your eyes open for Dave Douglas from now on.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Intersection: Red Snapper

The Intersection 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 Red Snapper.

Like fellow Brits, The Cinematic Orchestra, electronica trio Red Snapper has fashioned a jazz-tinged sound through an expert blend of acoustic instruments and electronic textures. Founded in 1993 by guitarist David Ayers, double bassist Ali Friend and drummer Richard Thair, Red Snapper has (with some lineup changes along the way) explored acid jazz, trip hop and IDM styles on five albums, including Prince Blimey (’96), Making Bones (’98), Our Aim is to Satisfy (’00), Red Snapper (’03) and Pale Blue Dot (’08).

Prince Blimey, Red Snapper’s debut on Warp Records, established the group’s sound, which places heavy emphasis on throbbing double bass lines and detail-oriented drum patterns. Unfortunately the rhythm section is so strong that whatever is added to its scaffolding can sometimes feel like an afterthought. Thankfully, the alchemy works like a charm more often than not. On tracks like “3 Strikes and You’re Out,” “Thomas the Fib” and “Digging Doctor What What” the jazz noir atmospherics and forceful forward thrust of the grooves make for an entrancing listening experience. As for the guest appearances, they range from impressive (Ollie Moore’s saxophone on “Thomas the Fib”) to the merely acceptable (Anne Haigh’s vocal on “The Paranoid”). Overall, Prince Blimey is an impressive debut album that hasn't dated as much as some electronica albums of the mid '90s.

On Making Bones, Red Snapper simultaneously expanded its stylistic pallet (hip-hop, drum’n’bass, punk, soul and dub) and strengthened its sound. Again, Ayers (guitar), Friend (bass) and Thair (drums) amply demonstrate how live instrumentation can build a better groove than a sampler can – especially when the musicians have a strong feel for jazz. Witness the monster groove on the hip-hop/drum’n’bass frankentrack “The Sleepless” (with MC Det on the mic). Another creative high point is “4 Dead Monks,” which blends several layers of guitar (including Spanish) with trumpet, bass, electronics and drums. On “Crease,” the groove underpins some cinematic strings and a mood of escalating action and danger.

Much like its predecessor, Our Aim is to Satisfy, explores a number of popular styles (big beat, hard rock, soul jazz) without losing sight (or sound) of the massive grooves that make Red Snapper so exciting. On “Bussing,” the sound incorporates scratches, alongside a bit of cinematic mood setting by brass and rhythm guitar. On “Shellback,” a grim gritty mood established by a ponderous beat and squelchy samples are aided and abetted by vocalist Karime Kendra, who also delivers diva-big on a breakbeat disco track, “The Rough and the Quick.” For all of its style hopping, Red Snapper always returns to the cinematic noir jazz sound that is its bread and butter, and this album’s “Keeping Pigs Together” is as absorbing and exciting as Red Snapper gets.

After a bit of a break, Red Snapper returned with an eponymously titled album that favors its noir jazz sound – imagine Lalo Schifrin’s Dirty Harry soundtracks redone for the electronica crowd. Surging brass, intricate keyboard and guitar textures supported by Red Snapper’s patented drum’n’bass foundation make tracks such as “Regrettable” and “Mountains and Valleys” so transporting. The production of the record also reflects the rapid advances in studio electronics. One listen to “Hot Flush” clearly shows how digital editing tools allow relatively traditional musicians (who play real instruments, and not just samplers and drum machines) can use electronics to expand their god-given abilities.

After a few years off, Red Snapper returned with Pale Blue Dot, an energetic album by clearly revitalized musicians whose instrumental chops are equally matched by their compositional skills. The addition of Tom Challenger on sax and melodica made a big difference. For proof, check out the propulsive and intriguing “Lagos Creepers” and the hard-edged “Wanga Doll”. As on the Red Snapper album, Pale Blue Dot favors noir jazz feeling over style hopping. So, while earlier albums such as Making Bones and Our Aim is to Satisfy offer great variety, the group’s later albums are more effective at exploring the group’s cinematic side. Just listen to the impromptu and enthusiastic hollering in the background on “Wanga Doll” and you can hear how much fun these guys are having – and you will too when you explore the sounds of Red Snapper.

Next week: Squarepusher

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Jazz Albums Of 2009: The Vandermark 5

Best Albums Of 2009

The Vandermark 5
Annular Gift (Not Two Records)

It's been a fantastic year in jazz. Many mainstream critics have writen off jazz which I think is incredibly dumb. Of course if you look at it from the sales/profit standpoint, critics would have a case. But since most of us are here to listen and enjoy the music, I would say its alive, well and still creative as ever. I've been listening to allot (probably more than usual) this year and each day over the next week we'll discuss the albums that have been on repeat on the stereo this year (in no particular order).

The Vandermark 5 has been taking the jazz scene on both sides of the Atlantic by the throat and restructured it over the last decade. Led by the uncompromising Ken Vandermark, the group has changed lineups on numerous occasions but continues to be a challenging force that takes two leaps forward with each album. In the vein of Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, The Vandermark 5 refuse to settle on laurels of their previous efforts. The newest lineup just released its first live album, Annular Gift (Not Two Records) recorded live at The Alchemia in Poland. While carrying the torch for Free Jazz, The Vandermark 5 have made one of their most balanced albums since Music For Airports (2002) and Elements In Style (2004).

While the album is always a group effort, the standout performances from Dave Rempis (sax) and Fred Longberg-Holm (cello) throughout Annular Gift make this one of the best Free Jazz albums of the year for me. This is no more evident than on the openning track "Spiel" and "Early Colour" where both shine along with drummer Tim Daisy. The album shifts from stylistic modality to beautifully cacophony with great ease. When you listen to this, even as someone who may not be a fan of the avant garde, you will realize the melody and muscle this band possess and find your own center of appreciation. There are so few jazz bands on the scene today, particularly ones that are consistently great each time out that you have to stand up and cheer for a band like The Vandermark 5 who write aggressively and convene every year to amaze themselves and the fans regularly.

Annular Gift may not be the best starting point for the uninitiated but it is worth your time to listen, as you definitely hear one the best groups around. It is clear - The Vandermark 5 appear to have no intentions of disbanding anytime soon.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Intersection: Emperors New Clothes

The Intersection looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by non other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On The Corner).

Emperors New Clothes (group; 1993 - 2000)

During the '90s England when through a phase known as Acid Jazz. Acid Jazz was essential young DJs, club kids/musicians who were influenced by the crates of jazz albums from Motown, Miles Davis Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and On The Corner to Herbie Hancock's Headhunter fusion. The bands that came out of this scene were quite good enough though many of them didn't not make a big impact on either side of the Atlantic. One of these bands was Emperors New Clothes.

Emperors New Clothes were originally a sextet that employed the psychedelic aura around their Miles Davis/Ornette Coleman inspiration on record with dazzling results. They only manage to release two albums, Unsettled Life and Wisdom & Lies (both on the Acid Jazz label). What I felt set Emperors New Clothes apart from the rest is they were using Free Jazz as their platform not the soul and funky jazz of their contemporaries at the time. This probably made them serious outsiders for garnering any success outside of London.

You probably won't find either Emperors New Clothes albums in a used record store, that' how obscure the band has become unfortunately. But I did notice Emperors New Clothes on iTunes this week filed under Rock as well as Jazz (silly I know). So go check it out and I hope you dig it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Frank Morgan: Jazz Over Adversity

Frank Morgan (sax; b. 1933 - d. 2007)

Frank Morgan was not only a great saxophone player he was considered by many to be the successor to Charlie Parker. He performed allot in L.A. when he was young. Frank Morgan's early work showed incredible promise. His career was derailed slightly after just two recording sessions by a heroin addiction (common among jazz musicians during the '50s) and a long stint in San Quentin. During this time he also worked with the likes of Art Pepper, keeping his chops fresh.

When he reemerged it was as if he had never left the scene. The influence of Charlie Parker was still there but with a new sense of direction and vigor. Many of his older releases are out of print but you can find some of his '90s and '00s releases in stores and online.

A recent set of three releases on High Note Records, recorded live at the Jazz Standard in NYC (City Nights, Raising The Standard and A Night In The Life) are a perfect example of his craftsmanship and are highly recommended. While a large majority of his material from the 80s and 90s are now out of print (with only very little available online), an early '90s session, You Must Believe In Spring (Antilles) is a wonderfully mellow duet recording with various piano players including Kenny Barron, Hank Jones and others that you should also check out.

An intelligent and powerful performer who overcame the odds of addiction and psychological stress of incarceration continued to raise the bar with each recording upon his comeback, Frank Morgan is a legend to be loved, revered and admired. Frank would again overcome odds after having a stroke on the way to a gig in Michigan. He survived a continued to perform and record until his passing. A major loss to music fans of any genre but his ability to surpass his adversities should be an inspiration to all. If you have the time buy any Frank Morgan album (maybe even the ones mentioned here), I have a strong feeling you will enjoy his music allot. Check out the performance below, its a great way to close out the week and start your weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jazz Vocals: Claire Martin

Claire Martin (vocals; b, 1967)

Claire Martin is the masterclass. A talent that has been around the European scene for almost two decades. Born in London and raised on a good dose of Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter, Claire Martin has recorded over 12 albums and racked up numerous jazz awards. She also hosts a jazz radio program on BBC Radio. She pours every ounce of power into each of her recordings. I personally feel she is sometimes more Carmen McRae then the aforemetioned artists but its all great company to be in.

She is an artist who has always strived to elevate the standards and explore the unexpected cover with stellar results (Nick Drake, David Sylvian, Esbjorn Svensson, Donald Fagan among others). Clarie Martin is taking the jazz singer kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. It's easy for us to become comfortable with artists who stick to the standard material, but as with classical music there are also only so many times you want to hear "Solitude" or "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".

What we all want or at least sometimes need is an artist who can make you think differently about the song and also tell you "hey, I've got one of my own too." I believe Claire Martin does that on her new album Modern Art (Linn Records). Modern Art is a confident and very spirited collection with material that should make others stand up and take note. You can experiment as a singer but you also have to have the passion and ability to deliver that passion on stage and in the studio. Modern Art shines with material from saxophonist, Joshua Redman and Steely Dan in addition to traditional classics by Rogers & Hart. With 12 albums under her belt you expect Claire Martin to deliver an album that is forward-thinking and mature. She does that and more.

While there is an excellent compilation entitled Every Now And Then, I think Modern Art is really the right place to start if you want to investigate one of today great jazz singers. Let me know how you feel - Are there underappreciated jazz singers out there you want to let us know about?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jazz Vocals: Stacey Kent

Stacey Kent (vocals, b. 1968)

Stacey Kent is a wonderful interpreter for the American Songbook. In the way Anita O'Day, Ella Fitzgerald and Helen Merrill were before her. She isn't as original in her delivery as those legends but she pays homage to her influences with great respect.

Originally from New York, Stacey Kent moved to England for her university studies. She eventually met her husband and fellow band member saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, whom also directs the band. Stacey's vocals and the standards she chooses are tempered but that in some ways makes them more enjoyable and romantic.

There's no straying from the path to force you to think that she or the material are anything other what it is--a great standard. I have seen Stacey Kent perform on a number of occasions and she has never disappointed. She is a consummate performer with nothing but the passion of song in her heart. Some may feel there is a bit of a cocktail lounge atmosphere to the proceedings but I highly disagree.

Many of Stacey's albums are widely available thankfully. I would recommend her third album, Let Yourself Go (Candid Records) which is a tribute to the material associated with Fred Astaire. It is a great album with some really upbeat moments including the classic title track. Stacey Kent's most recent album Breakfast On The Morning Tram (Blue Note) is another one of my favourites. This was her Blue Note Records debut and while it doesn't change much in direction of her music, Stacey does attempt to showcase some of her own material as well as some interesting tributes to Serge Gainsbourg. A highly enjoyable outing.

Stacey Kent has been recording since '96 and while there have been a number of vocalists in the last few years who have skyrocketed to mass stardom on what can only be loosely called jazz, Stacey remains one of the few constants that maintains a high standard and is every bit worth your money. Grab a glass of wine and take a nice ride with Stacey Kent. You will be delighted.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jazz Vocals: Joyce Moreno (aka Joyce)

Joyce (vocals, guitar; b. 1948)

Joyce Moreno hails from Rio de Janeiro and has been performing since the early 60s with at least 25 albums to her credit. She has preformed with such greats as Nana Vasconcelos (percussion), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Joe Lovano (sax) among others.

Originally her bossa nova sound could be coupled with that of fellow Brazilian, Astrud Gilberto but in the last 10-15 years she has transformed her mixture of folk and jazz with that of the mid tempo beats of the British Acid Jazz scene and catapulted herself to wider international acclaim. This transformation is in part due to recent collaborations with Norwegian pianist, Bugge Wesseltoft and husband/drummer, Tutty Moreno whom continue to add an element of inventiveness to each session. Joyce's lyrical style is reminiscent of Elle Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day or even a young Joni Mitchell.

Her recent recordings for Far Out Recordings are definitely the place to start. I would especially recommend Just A Little Bit Crazy (Far Out Recordings, 2003) because of the contributions of both Wesseltoft and Moreno. If you can find the mid '90s album The Essential Joyce 1970 - 1996 (Mr. Bongo), this is a great compilation that does fill the gap from the '70s to the '90s.

Sultry, power, evocative and always enchanting, Joyce continues to capture the ears of new fans with every album. If you are lover of Brazilian music and enjoy a great hybrid of bossa and lush European grooves, due yourself a favour and check out the one of the greatest underrated singers in jazz--Joyce.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jazz Vocals: Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy (vocals; b. 1932)

Mark Murphy is one of the few truly original jazz vocalist left on the scene today. To me he is a combination of the scatology of Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and the rouge elegance Tony Bennett. He doesn't tour that often in the U.S. although he lives in New York City. He has been on the scene since the '50s. His early recordings are very self-assured and were part of the "Beat" culture for a short time.

Murphy moved to Europe in the '60s and this is when he really started to gain a grasp on his delivery, interpretation and writing. His raspy voice and ability to scat at such a rapid pace is stunning at first listen. If you didn't know he had been on the scene for five decades you would think this guy is nothing but a wry hipster but that this far from the truth.

Mark Murphy is an acquired taste all around but I believe if you enjoy jazz vocalists, especially one who can bend and reconstruct a standard and make it his own, then you need to check out Mark Murphy. His best material is scattered and goes in and out of print depending on the year. If you see any of the following Bop For Kerouac, Kerouac: Then and Now and Rah you should definitely pick them up.

There isn't a solid career spanning compilation on Mark Murphy but two compilations that would give you good idea of what a brilliant performer Murphy is. First, Jazz Standards (32 Jazz) which contains a large majority of material that he did during the 70s and will be pleasing to many. Secondly, Songbook (32 Jazz) also covers the same time period (71 - 91) with different track listing but same exquisite performance quality. In the last few years Murphy's material and labels have been all over the place. While the albums are good they are also hard to find.

He has gained a much wider audience now with the hip European audiences through collaborations with jazz/electronic influenced bands such as 4hero and Four Corners Quintet. His most recent albums, Once To Every Heart (Verve) and Love Is What Stays (Verve) both done with European musicians contains a mixture of standards and new renditions of more notable artists such as Coldplay and Johnny Cash and are very easy to find. Mark Murphy isn't everyone's cup of tea but he is well worth checking out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Misunderstood: Everyman Band

Everyman Band
Without Warning (ECM; 1985)
David Torn (guitar)
Martin Fogel (sax)
Michael Suchorsky (drums)
Bruce Yaw (bass)

Everyman Band was an experimental fusion group from New York that recorded two forward thinking albums for the electric European label ECM. Without Warning (ECM), the band's second album is the only one available on CD/download unfortunately, but it still gives you great insight into what good fusion sounded like outsideCheck Spelling of Return To Forever, Mahvishnu and Weather Report. Everyman Band seemed to combine free thinking jazz and blues with the prog aesthetics of Adrian Belew-era King Crimson to a much more comfortable degree. This was highlighted by the superb work from an up and coming guitarist named David Torn.

While nowhere near the quality and distinction as the aforementioned bands, Everyman Band did produce something worthwhile and forward looking in the early 80s for what jazz could be 20 years later. Their youth and lack of creativity was at times their strength. It showed that they were willing to work and play with as many ideas as possible. Sometimes it doesn't always work but its good to hear someone trying. The band were never well received at the time and I believe not too many people would even remember them today. But if you have a chance take a good listen. Everyman Band's Without Warning is available pretty cheap for download.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Holiday Gift Guide: Miles Davis

Miles Davis (trumpet; b. 1926 - d. 1991)
The Complete Columbia Album Collection

So this is for the person who has allot of money, the collector, or the best gift you could give friend. The Complete Columbia Album Collection sums up a large majority of Miles' career. It captures him during in his peak and most influential period. All 52 albums he recorded for Columbia are included, from the seminal Kind Of Blue, Bitches Brew to Man With The Horn, are housed in a sturdy box with a DVD and lavish booklet.

Now I don't normally get excited about massive boxed sets like this but this is an opportunity for someone to get the most important albums by one artist in one quick swoop. Yes, it's expensive--really expensive, but I think its almost worth it. There are also two other reason to pick this up. First, it includes a rare album of recordings with the underrated pianist, Tad Dameron. While this album highlights Miles' trumpet it also educates those unfamiliar with this wonderfully talented but drug afflicted pianist. Secondly, the set features Live At The Isle Of Wright 1970, recorded during the year of the Jack Johnson album release, which saw the every expanding group go through a series of frenetic and phenomenal sets that also produced the albums Live Evil and Live At Filmore. While some of the 70s material can take allot of the listener it is important to remember that very few other musicians where exploring the mixture of rock and jazz to the degree that Miles was at this time.

Miles Davis retired for a short while after being taken ill in the late 70s and didn't return to action until 1981. This period produced some great material that still needs a little more time to be digested but it was also a time when Miles returned to prominence amongst the masses not just the jazz community. This period is when he recorded Man With The Horn and Your Under Arrest, the latter featuring the now famous renditions of Cyndi Laupers "Time After Time" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature". Don't laugh, these are actually quite good recordings and became staples in Miles' live performances until his passing.

The Complete Columbia Album Collection is allot of money and might only be for the fanatic and would probably take someone at least a week to listen to the whole thing but its worth it. For those who can't spend the heavy price tag I would suggest a compilation I've recommended before which is The Essential Miles Davis (Columbia) which is a 2 disc set that covers tracks from every label he recorded for and is probably the most concise Miles Davis compilation available. Happy shopping everyone.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bobby Hutcherson: The Vibe Of A Legend

Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone; b. 1941)
Stick Up! (Blue Note, 1966)

The vibraphone is a beautiful instrument that set the tone for many a jazz tune. There have only been a few musicians that have carved out their own identity on the vibes. Bobby Hutcherson is one of those few over the last five decades (along with Gary Burton) to change how the instrument is perceived. At times I feel as though Hutcherson has created a whole new instrument by the manner in which he performs. The model structure is completely original and challenges you to listen to every intricacy.

Bobby Hutcherson was born in California and originally studied to play piano but switched to vibes very early on. He was highly influenced by the great vibraphonist Milt Jackson but studied under another, Dave Pike. Bobby would later perform along side such greats as Curtis Amy, Al Grey and later with Jackie Mclean and Eric Dolphy in addition to a small number of albums as leader.

But it was after a move to New York that the jazz scene on both coasts would know of the kid with indescribable sound on the vibes. Hutcherson would soon runoff a string of important albums with Blue Note Records. The album that has always stood out for me is Stick Up! (Blue Note). Stick Up! features a quintet of future legends at the peak of their powers: Joe Henderson (sax), Billy Higgins (drums); Herbie Lewis (bass) and McCoy Tyner (piano). This is a sizzling session that you will want to spin again and again. Hutcherson is in fine form and rips through his interplay with the rest of the band with ease. The harmonics and layers of this album are absolutely stunning and that's why I think Stick Up! is a classic jazz album of note as well as being one of the best Blue Note Records ever recorded.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Herbie Hancock: Tune In. Turn On. Funk Out.

Herbie Hancock (piano; b. 1940)
Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings (WEA)

Herbie Hancock has had an illustrious career. He is revered and honored inside and outside of jazz. Many of you may know him either from his seminal work with Miles Davis, the '80s pop/rock small futuristic hit single "Rock It", the awful '90s reinterpretation of "Cantaloupe Island" by British outfit US3 or more recently from the well received and well conceived River: The Joni Letters album from a year ago that won a Grammy of the Year.

Herbie Hancock has done so much work beyond these major accomplishments its almost impossible to name them all. But one era I feel that gets neglected is his semi-acoustic/fusion era just prior to forming his band The Headhunters and working towards the hit "Rock It". This includes two fantastic sessions done for Atlantic Records now called Mwandishi (Swahili for Herbie). Mwandishi is actually three albums (Fat Albert Rotunda, Mwandishi and Crossing) recorded between 1969 -1971. They have recently been repackaged as Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings (WEA) and are highly recommended.

Mwandishi was done shortly after Hancock's stint with Miles Davis. Hancock began experimenting with more Funk orientated rhythms before he created the group that would record his Columbia debut Sextant and the classic Headhunters ('72 and '73 respectfully). The Warner Brothers recordings were more of a spiritual journey for Hancock. The records explored more African/Eastern themes while incorporating some shades of funk through Buster Williams (acoustic/electric bass), Albert Heath (drums) and the infectious harmonics of Hancock (piano, electric piano).

Not well received at the time but as the years have gone on, these records along with the Columbia releases that would follow, were picked up by the Acid Jazz/Nu Soul scene in the UK during the 90s and has made allot of people go back and revisit these truly essential pieces of Herbie Hancock's history. Looking for those additional missing links after Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings (WEA) is a good place to start. Tune In. Turn On. Have a funky good time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Intersection: Amon Tobin

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 Amon Tobin.

His name sounds like an Ancient Egyptian sorceror priest. It's a fitting name, albeit in no way obvious since Tobin is an Brazilian living in Britain. And it's just as well, because Tobin's sound is as mysterious as it is hypnotically intense. Since Bricolage, his '97 debut (not to mention his '96 album Adventures in Foam recorded under the moniker Cujo), Tobin has delivered compellingly original drum 'n' bass exotica and trip hop soundscapes that mine thunderous bebop drum breaks and spacious film noir moods.

Bricolage was a promising debut, but is the weakest of his albums in retrospect, because he was still leaning heavily on drum 'n' bass formula and hadn't yet developed strong compositional skills. Listening to it now, it seems that Tobin was fixated on drums and textures, and fans of frenzied bebop drum solos will recognize his inspirational sources (Art Blakey comes to mind, as does Gene Krupa). Some of the tracks hold little interest beyond the surface. Working with layers as well as textures is where Tobin really hits his groove. Examples of this on Bricolage include "Easy Muffin", "The New York Editor" and "The Nasty". By the end of the album -- "One Small Step" and "Mission" -- the drum breaks dominate the aural canvas with limited appeal. It's clear that Tobin is still just a journeyman and not a master on his first full length.

On his follow up, Permutations ('98) Tobin sounds more assured of his style. The drums are still strong, but more effectively used and his use of samples more astute. On "Bridge", the bluesy bebop line and winsome melody are given life by the rolling drum licks. On "Sordid" Tobin takes an exotica loop, sticks a blues vamp on it and then a motoric drum pattern, all to great effect. On "Nightlife" he creates a wholly exotic sonic world, complete with ethereal, half-speed piano, strings and choirs.

The third album, Supermodified, is Tobin's masterpiece. His use of jazzy drum samples and soundtrack moods is at full potency on the 2000 album. It starts strong and stays strong throughout, offering a hypnotic array of abstract downtempo and drum 'n' bass soundscapes. The opening track "Get Your Snack On" kicks in hard with electro blues. "Four Ton Mantis" offers gargatuan beats and predatory evil. It goes to dreamy downtempo on "Slowly", other worldly on "Marine Machines", abstract ambient on "Golfer vrs Boxer", exquisitely beguiling on "Deo", free jazzesque on "Precurser", intriguing on "Saboteur", reverb groovy on "Chocolate Lovely", hard driving on "Rhino Jockey", brilliantly cut 'n' paste on "Keepin'It Steel" and organically easy listening on "Natureland".

Tobin continues to polish his technique on 2002's Out from Out Where and adds some new tricks to his bag. It opens with "Back from Space," which carries a sample that sounds suspiciously like something from Tchiakovsky's "The Nutcracker." That's no surprise, given Tobin's love of orchestral flourishes. This is followed by the first single "Verbal," which sounds inspired by the work of glitch hop pioneer Prefuse 73. It's abstract hip hop vocal diced and spliced against a crackling beat. Tracks like "Chronic Tronic" and "Proper Hoodidge" display Tobin's talent for fierce bebop drum breaks and tense cinematic moods. Any second you half expect someone to yell: "Get down! It's gonna BLOW!!

Following the release of his live album for Ninja Tune's Solid Steel series, Tobin delivered Chaos Theory ('05), his soundtrack for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell video game. It's easy to imagine special ops maneuvers in rubble-littered, booby-trapped lairs while listening to Tobin's tense, percussion-riddled cinematica. What makes this album ostensibly different from Tobin's previous releases is the fact that he uses live musicians playing drums, percussion, flutes, bass, piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, guitar, Mellotron and strings to augment his unique electronic sounds. Despite the augmentation, no one will mistake Chaos Theory for anything but an Amon Tobin album. By turns austere and exotic, pensive and propulsive, tracks like "Ruthless," "El Cargo" and "Kokubo Sosho Stealth" convey the potentially explosive danger awaiting players around each digital corner. Tobin's command of mood on this outing is awe inspiring and his already impressive musical ideas benefit mightily from the use of live instruments. One can easily imagine a track like "Theme from Battery" being performed by some edgy chamber group like the Kronos Quartet. The use of strings on this album certainly help sell the notion.

Speaking of Kronos Quartet, Tobin collaborated with the group on one of the tracks for his sixth stunning studio album, The Foley Room ('07), which relies more on found sound than samples, but is still recognizable as a Tobin album (a Foley Room is the name for a sound effects recording studio in the movie business). If you needed proof that Tobin was more than a sample-happy drum 'n' bass trip hop dj, this album is it. It's indisputable proof of his incredible imagination and a compositional skill that is rare in the electronica world. Tracks like "Bloodstone" and "Horsefish" immerse the listener in a sonic world of wonder. Go there now.

Next Week: To be announced.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Joshua Redman: New Compass, New Direction

Joshua Redman (saxophone; b. 1969)

Joshua Redman is the son of legendary jazz saxophonist, Dewey Redman. He is one of a select few artists of the last two decades that has consistently made strong and compelling records (14 in all). His albums are not experimental or even far reaching into the avant garde but he does lay out a steady presence with each release that does challenge your thinking. Those familiar with Sonny Rollins will see the similarities in Redman's approach.

He first gained prominence through collaborative work with guitarist Pat Matheny before branching off on his own. His first four albums (Joshua Redman, Wish, Moodswing and Spirit Of The Moment) took the jazz world by storm. People (including myself) were tripping over themselves to talk about how powerful and joyful his playing was and who went to the most live shows during that time period. Joshua Redman did deserve all the plaudits he received during the early '90s. This was the time period when jazz was having a massive resurgence through the Marsalis Family, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Russell Malone, Kenny Garrett, Benny Green, Harry Connick Jr. and more. But Joshua Redman's first few albums were probably only equaled in excitement by those from both Wynton and Branford Marsalis for sheer quality and musicianship.

Subsequent albums would grow with elegance and fluidity that would have made it extremely hard for you to believe that he could make bad record. Well, he hasn't. The next 11 albums all stand up well on repeated listens. It's very had to find one place to start if you haven't listened to Joshua Redman before. Which is actually a good thing. Take your pick. Most of the albums are still available at good record stores and online. The most recent, Compass (Nonesuch) is a real treat. Compass is a double trio session that sees Redman and his band in deep self reflective mode. The music breathes, but with a tension quality that underlies the passion of the performances.

All the material on Compass was written by Redman and members of the band. This is one my many favourites of Joshua Redman's in the last few years and will be one of my top albums of the year. Its definitely a good jumping on point if you aren't familiar with him. Once you've tried out Compass you might want to check out the live album Spirit Of The Moment (WB) which was recorded at the legendary Village Vanguard and is a smokin' double set worth your investment.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Holiday Gift Guide

Ion Audio (digital transfer products)

Looking for something to get the audiophile in your life (or just yourself)? Do you have a rare John Coltrane, Joe Henderson or Doug Carn album on vinyl? In this new digital age we sometimes forget that allot of what we are hearing was originally on vinyl. For some of us vinyl is still king. I wanted to let everyone know of a great way to transfer your vinyl to digital. For sometime now I've been using a Vinyl 2 PC turntable from a company called Ion Audio.

Ion makes great digital transfer products (cassette, VHS, vinyl and more). The set up is quite easy. You install the software, plug in the USB for turntable to your computer and go. There are some advance features which include volume/pitch control but that requires a little more studying in the manual book which I have chosen to ignore at this time. There a couple of different versions of the vinyl-to-PC at varying price points but all are effective for what you need to do.

If you have a couple of boxes of old cassettes (live Grateful Dead bootlegs, Doors, Beatles, Miles Davis, etc.) the Tape 2 PC can solve that problem too. It includes a noise reduction button that takes out a whole lot of the hissing from cassettes. Now before forewarned that the transfer is only has good as your cassette. I found that allot of my pre-recorded tapes (i.e. the ones I bought from the record store not the mix tape I made at home) sounded better when transferred to digital. Your old mixed tape might not sound so great now but you can make that decision. The Tape 2 PC helped me get rid of over 50 cassettes I had in storage for the last ten years. Whew, glad that's over. Now its nostalgia time.

The sound is impressive as well on the Vinyl 2 PC. There is very little vinyl crackle and pop. But if you are a vinyl junkie there is enough here to keep you satisfied and dreaming of the days when you would listen to an old Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk album at home while looking at that big vinyl album cover. Once the vinyl is transferred on to your computer the program automatically searches a database for the track information. Sometimes you may have to input the track info yourself which really isn't that big of a deal. The info is then imported to your iTunes or other mp3 device and your ready to go.

Yes I know it sounds too easy to be true but it is. And yes there are even better digital transferring devices on the market now but if you want the basics and you want an easy to understand manual Ion Audio is a great gift idea. I've been very happy with my turntable and it's spurred my desire for vinyl again. So if you've been wondering when that Sun Ra live album you owned when you were younger was every going to come out on CD don't wait spend the money and turn it to digital yourself. Prices start around $99 bucks. You won't regret it.

Ion Audio