Monday, May 31, 2010

José James & Jef Neve — For All We Know

José James & Jef NeveFor All We Know (Impulse, 2010)

If you've been following the career of vocalist José James — and you should — you've probably been waiting for him to cut a record like this one — a simple, straight-forward collection of jazz standards.

To date, James has brought his rich baritone to a handful of albums (solo projects and works by Nicola Conte, Timo Lassy, Soil & Pimp Sessions, etc.) where the emphasis has been on new compositions in contemporary styles (r'n'b, soul, hip-hop and jazz). By exploring such material, James has demonstrated impressive range, but it has also begged the question: Can J.J. deliver the goods on a classic material, too?

The short answer is yes-maybe. Working alongside Belgian up-and-comer pianist Jef Neve, who's sensitivity as an accompanist is deeply felt, James brings a relaxed (maybe too relaxed) approach to standards such as Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” George and Ira Gershwins “Embraceable You,” and Duke Ellington’s “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.” On one hand, the songs and the intimate instrumental setting are well served by James' quiet, romantic style, but on the other hand he can sound a little tentative and self-conscious about phrasing, like he's holding back to avoid making mistakes. Likewise, one senses that Neve is holding back on his keyboard virtuosity to compensate for James' relaxed vocal style.

So, while the album doesn't definitely prove James' capability with Great American Songbook, it suggests enormous potential. It would be exciting to hear him (and Neve) cover similar material with a larger group. Let's hope they do.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bud Powell: When Bebop Took Shape

Bud Powell (piano; b. 1924 - d. 1966)

Bud Powell is arguably one of the top five jazz greatest pianists of all time. His style while influenced by Theonious Monk and Art Tatum in his early years would become very distinctive very quickly. He developed great agility on the piano and his ability to rip of chord changes at a blistering pace was something other musicians had not seen at the time. But Powell wasn't just an amazing improviser he also had subtle rhythmic tones that made his mid period work standout far and above many of his contemporaries.

While his studio recording career was brief (roughly 20 years) he left a legacy that shines bright throughout jazz history. He suffered from mental trauma in the prime of his career due to a police beating that occurred in '45 but that didn't really stop his recording but it did make his life activities erratic until he passed away in 1966.

It's commonly recommended that The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2 (Blue Note) (both sold separately) are the core records for your collection. I would tend to agree with any of my fellow jazz friends who would say this. The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 recorded in 1951, includes songs that would later become standards in jazz songbook. Songs like "Un Poco Loco" "Bouncing With Bud," "Dance Of The Infidels," on Vol. 1 sparkle with dynamism of Bud's interaction with Sonny Rollins (sax), Fats Navarro (trumpet), Roy Haynes and Max Roach (drums on separate numbers) and the rest of the band. "Dance Of The Infidels" is the perfect example of Bud Powell's gift at the piano. It is a very complicated number which he incorporates an series of cord changes that at first listen don't sound like they go together at all but he somehow turns it into real melodic beauty. A few years after this session and before the second Amazing release, Bud would work on another legendary and contensious session with his friends, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Max Roach entitled Live At Massey Hall.

The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2, recorded in 1955, features a trio lineup on George Duvivier (bass) and the truly under-rated Arthur Taylor (drums). This album is surrounded by covers and only two Powell originals but it is still a beautiful session. Bud and company shift through classics "Autumn In New York," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and Bud's original, "Glass Encounter". This is bebop at its finest and definitely deserves in anyone music fans collection. One of my personal favourites is "Reets And I", a killer number were the trio really let loose and you can feel each musician challenging each other. On "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" the trio (mainly Powell) turns this into a dark, dense introspective piece that really brings you closer to the pianist than ever before.

The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2 are great documents of a legend. But if you want a slightly comfortable overview (at an affordable price) you might want to look at The Definitive Bud Powell (Blue Note/Verve). It is by now means "definitive" but it covers the essential records from both labels and for that generation that might want it simple for the mp3 player, this is the one to get. Don't get me wrong--there's absolutely nothing wrong with this collection. It's brief, concise and to the point. If you don't own any Bud Powell this should suite you just fine. If you want to dig deep I suggest the aforementioned The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2.

You can also check two compilations The Best Of Bud Powell on Verve and The Best Of Bud Powell on Blue Note. These separate disc will give you a full overview of each labels materials with very little overlap. They are both a little hard to find but worth picking up when you do spot them.

One way or another you should put Bud Powell on your shopping list. If you want a true lesson into the origins of bebop, outside of Charlie Parker--Bud Powell is a great place to start.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Undiscovered Soul: Lynden David Hall

Lynden David Hall (vocals, multi-instrumentalist; b. 1974 - d. 2006)

British Soul music gets a really bum wrap (especially from the British press) for trying to sound too American. Well there were/are a short list of British artists who are part of a next wave of Soul (Beverley Knight, Lewis Taylor, Mica Paris, Carleen Anderson and Roachford et. al), who continue to pave a new artistic direction for British Soul. Lynden David Hall embodied the best elements of both American and British Soul and was among the top of the class.

Hall wrote, played most of the instruments and co-produced his albums. He music was positive, yearning and dripping with emotion that could move mountains.

Rightfully compared to Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Al Green, Lynden David Hall burst onto the British scene with his 1997 debut, Medicine 4 My Pain (EMI; 1997) which featured a slew of phenomenally rich collection of Nu-Soul that really did put allot of American Soul to shame at the time. The album was garnered solid chart success but it really amounted to quality of the songs like the beauty "Sexy Cinderella," "Crescent Moon," "There Goes My Sanity" and more. It's hard not to fall in love with Lynden's voice on first listen as it will definitely remind out of the great soul singers of 70s but then you realize that the lyrics are even more incredible. All this coming from someone who was only 23 years old.

Hall's second album, The Other Side (EMI; 2000) continued where Medicine left off. Employing a little more funky pounding bass into the proceeding and of course an extra dose of maturity sent the signal that Lynden David Hall was here to stay. The album was self produced and featured some heart-wrenching and thought provoking numbers like "Where's God," "Sleeping With Victor," "Dead And Gone" and magnificent and appropriate cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Let's Do It Again". For me its hard to decide which of the first two albums is better. I lean towards The Other Side only because of production values. The writing is strong for both.

In 2003 Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma which would keep him from recording and releasing what would be his final album In Between Jobs (Random Records) until 2006. The six year wait seemed like only a few months. In Between Jobs contained the same easily accessible and romantic crooning as its predecessors. Wiser, sexier and more sophisticated, In Between Jobs was again written and produced by Hall himself and featured the funky "Pimps, Playa's and Hustlers," "Don't Hide Your Heart" and "Memories and Souvenirs" all make the comparison to Marvin Gaye even more apparent. One of the main themes throughout Hall's music is love and devotion and In Between Jobs showcases that in spades especially on uptempo and love letter "Stay Faithful". The music is simplified, complimentary and never overproduced. The lyrics as with his previous albums are front and center with no vocal histrionics or electronic gimmicks.

While well-respected in the U.K., Hall remained little more than a cult figure in the U.S. but he was definitely known and loved among those Americans who were fans. He is one those artists that you will probably end up listening to at least once a week after you become addicted. Solid songwriting and quality musicianship makes his albums, including the Medicine 4 My Pain (now over 10 years old), sound fresh as ever. Hard to say what he would have achieved if he wasn't taken so soon. But Lynden David Hall's legacy definitely lives on. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Steve Davis

Steve Davis (trombone; b. 1967)
Dig Deep (Criss Cross)
Jim Rotundi (trumpet)
Eric Alexander (sax)
David Hazeltine (piano)
Nat Reeves (bass)
Joe Farnsworth (drums)

Steve Davis is regarded in the jazz scene as the heir-apparent to Curtis Fuller and J.J. Johnson. He is also one of the co-founding members of the sextet, One For All. Davis has the great distinction of performing in the final Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Jackie McLean lineups as well as with Chick Corea's Origin Sextet. Bold, confident and expressive are all the things one will say after listening to a Steve Davis record.

Steve Davis has recorded over 15 albums to his name but the one that I wanted to focus on is his third album, Dig Deep (Criss Cross; 1997).

A few weeks ago I was doing my unfortunate/fortunate rummaging through used record stores for little gems. I found Dig Deep on that day and it made my eyes pop out of my head. And it was four dollars (US)!

Dig Deep is from what I can tell the first actually studio recording of the One For All band. This is significant in that up to this point they had only been performing live. Davis captures that live energy and the early unity of the band perfectly on this record. Dig Deep is fluid and diverse with the majority of the album written by Davis but each member contributes solid interplay and solo work throughout. It is a brilliant record documenting One For All in their early stages. At this point the most well known in the group was Eric Alexander. But everyone here is in crisp, solid form and up to the challenge. This a killer post hard bop date that pretty much anyone will enjoy.

The coolest thing about Dig Deep is the chemistry the band exudes. The opening track, aptly titled. "One For All," was written by Davis (originally when he was with The Jazz Messengers) is remarkably fresh, pounding and lively. The cover of "I Should Care" is beautiful and upbeat, featuring some incredible arrangements by David Hazeltine. In addition, another Davis penned number, "Payne's Window" is awesome and illustrates Davis great ability as band leader. The closing number, "Trippin'" is a barn-burner of a number at just over seven minutes. Joe Farnsworth and Eric Alexander really light up this piece and make it a perfect bookend to the opening track.

Dig Deep is definitely the first chapter in what would led to the long history for the entire group culminating a few more months later on the very first "official" One For All album. This a must have album even if you don't own a One For All album. It's a great modern hard bop date that is rare and hard to come by nowadays from most jazz groups. Seek it out. Indeed, sometimes when you find history no matter what genre you have to pick it up. You will regret it if you don't.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet (group; formed 1973)
Monk Suite: Kronos Quartet Plays Music Of Thelonious Monk (Landmark, 1984)

For some, you may not know the name Kronos Quartet. I hope that isn't the case but its possible. Kronos Quartet are a classical ensemble that has been together over 3 decades now. You could say they are single-handily responsible for bringing a "punk" ethic to genre and expanding it to younger generation. The "punk" ethic that I'm referring to is Kronos Quartet's choices of daring repertoire. They have performed the music of John Zorn, Jimi Hendrix, David Grisman, Ornette Coleman as well the more avant garde classical composers like Philip Glass and Alfred Schnitke.

They have recorded over 40 albums so it does become a daunting task for someone to find the right album to start with. For me, it was Monk Suite (Landmark Records). I first heard it in of all places--a record store! I thought it was the coolest thing I heard to that point. For a few minutes I couldn't place the songs. And then I realized it was Thelonious Monk, but I couldn't understand who would turn this songs into classical music. Was this some sort of joke? Like when Devo did their Muzak album? (I hope some of you get that reference. Please tell me you did?).

I asked the clerk at front what was playing and she showed me the album. All I could say was--wow! I hadnn't heard of Kronos Quartet to this point. Monk Suite features some very familiar Monk pieces including, "Well You Needn't," "Round Midnight," "Crepuscule With Nelle" among others. The tunes are not that different from the originals but it is honor and spirit to which the recordings are done that makes this so special. The performances have a fun and vibrant quality to them that is both beautiful and endearing. The quartet is also joined by legend jazz musician Ron Carter on bass. Carter's contribution gives these pieces an additional depth and foundation for which the non-classical, non-jazz listener can easily enjoy the experience.

Kronos Quartet also recorded another jazz themed album or Bill Evans material but I believe the Monk Suite is probably the most accessible of all the Kronos releases. Monk Suite may also be a nice way to get yourself into both jazz and classical without feel overwhelmed. If you do pick this up there is also a compilation called Released 1985 - 1995 (Nonseuch) that covers a good majority of their classical repertoire that is well worth owning.

Kronos Quartet have and continue to expand the view of classical music by consistently performing new and challenging material. They unfortunately haven't revisited jazz in the complete context as the Monk and Evans albums but they made an indelible mark with these recordings and set a benchmark for other string quartets and classical ensembles to deconstruct and reinterpret contemporary/modern music with great vision.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Undiscovered Soul: Lewis Taylor

Lewis Taylor (vocals; multi-instrumentalist)

Englishman, Lewis Taylor is a multi-instrumentalist with one of most beauty and soulful voices on the scene. The unfortunate side to his story is that after being completely frustrated by the music industry for all the obvious reasons (conflicting artist demands, royalties, control over recording work, etc) he has since left the business. But his music lives on through all of us. And his music is still readily available and I hope everyone has a chance to check it out. Even if you don't like it, I think you will understand how special he is.

In short, for those who may not be familiar with him, let me provide a setting. Imagine the vocal rawness of the first two Prince albums, Marvin Gaye, Daryl Hall, D'angelo, and Maxwell (Embrya era) and you have a possible comparison to Lewis Taylor--rich, soulful voice with truly meaningful lyrics. His skill as musician is also in the realm of Prince, Todd Rundgren and Brian Wilson. Deighton composed and performed everything himself, especially on the latter albums. All this in today's environment doesn't spell success does it. I guess the crowning achievement of his influence at least on the European side of things was Robbie Williams covering one of Lewis' best songs "Lovelight" on Robbie's 2006 album Rudebox. It was a very respectful version worth listening to even if you hate Robbie Williams (which I do not).

Lewis Taylor had been on the scene in various incarnations during the 80's (prog-psychedelic rock bands) but his love of soul and desire to be a solo artist landed him with a major label deal in the mid-nineties. It was kind of the right time too (so you would think). This was a time when most of the public was focused on bands like Oasis in the rock world, Wynton Marsalis in jazz, Babyface on the R&B side. His self titled debut, Lewis Taylor and its predecessor, Lewis II (both on Island Records) were critically acclaimed for its blend of originality--a use of soul, funk, jazz rhythms and psychedelia. It was something that didn't reach the masses until really, Paul Weller (probably a fan of Lewis Taylor) perfected it on his fourth album, Heavy Soul. Lewis Taylor's first two albums feature some soulful beauties such as "Bittersweet," "Whoever," "Lucky," "My Aching Heart" and "Never Be My Woman". These and the rest of the albums would make most of the soul artists from nineties and the two thousands irrelevant.

Lewis would later be dropped from his major label but after some soul-searching he reemerged on his own label, Slow Reality, with even more fresh and inventive material. The next two records Stoned Pt. I and Stoned Pt. II, were fascinating combinations of love, loss, beauty, fun, longing. Wrapped in the usual over-centered psychedelia that he had come to be known for. I use the term psychedelia loosely because its more his voice than the instruments he uses that give the music a dream-like feel. Songs like "Positvely Beautiful," "Lovelight," "Send Me And Angel," "When Will I Ever Learn," and "Reconsider" all will make you think what would Marvin Gaye and Brian Wilson done if they were locked in a room together for a week. Both albums were released in the U.S. with slightly different track listings and in some cases different artwork. But at the end of the day its the music you should pay attention too. The music is superb and must be heard.

Lewis would make essentially two more records (sort of). They were both called The Lost Album (one in UK and one in the U.S.). Again the feature slightly similar track listing. The U.S. artwork is much better but again pay attention to the music. Some of the tracks were music he recorded before leaving Island Records so it gives you a good idea of where he was going musically before the Stoned releases.

This is really magical stuff and to be honest I haven't heard a musician this devastatingly rich and original on the soul scene since he decided to retire in 2006. I have been listening to Lewis Taylor since I first heard his debut at an HMV store in London and I felt compelled to share it with everyone. You won't find any of these records at the local record store but you should be able to find some of them online for download 
(Amazon UK and iTunes). Lewis Taylor--an undiscovered soul gem.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jacky Terrasson: Revived and Pushing Forward

Jacky Terrasson (piano; b.1966)
Push (Concord Music)

I really have to admit I haven't listened to a Jacky Terrasson album in a long while. I really enjoyed his first 4 albums for Blue Note. They showed incredible technique and promise. I think what really happened was I drifted away and started listening to different things. Now I think it is time for a new beginning. For myself and Jacky Terrasson.

Jacky Terrasson after 10 impressive and always critically acclaimed albums for Blue Note moved to his new label, Push (Concord Music). And with that his new beginning starts with an intriguing and sharp shot across the bow of jazz theory. Push is a funhouse ideas. The usual Terrasson beauty is applied to his compositions but are filled with a new breath of ideas. Here he utilizies gospel, blues, and funk that literally sees him pushing the envelope for what the listener usual expects from a Jacky Terrasson release.

His playing is delicate in a Keith Jarrett-Herbie Hancock manner as demonstrated on "Carry Me Away" and turns playful and funky on the tribute to his daughter "Gaux Girl". But then you also get the exquisite complexity and improvisation that shines through on "Ruby My Dear" and "Round Midnight". these are rich textures takes on Thelonious Monk standards and I'm enjoying immensely.

I really wanted to concentrate on this album allot for simply fact I really needed to reacquaint myself with Terrasson so I have been listening to this record incessantly for about a week. I knew there was something special here and it comes when Terrasson diverts from the script with soulful numbers like "My Church,' electric funk on "Beat Bop" and Brazilian flavor of "O Cafe, O Soleil". Terrasson's improvising is also at its peak throughout this album. This isn't just a wonderful album from Terrasson.

The work of his band is exceptional. The percussion and drum work of Cyro Baptista and Jamire Williams is quite and harmonically reflective. Ben Williams and the rest of the band are fantastic and aid magnificently on some of more challenging and unexpected moments of the session like "Say Yeah" and "Beat It/Body and Soul". Terrasson takes up sing on "Say Yeah" with good fun results. But it is truly out of left field combination of the Michael Jackson classic with the jazz standard "Beat It/Body And Soul" that the listener really gets a true understanding of what kind of a writer Terrasson can really be. These two very different tunes are combine and deconstructed into something really unique where most musicians would have played it straight and it would definitely come off sounding hokey.

Push is definitely what the title says but it is a delight to hear an artist like Jacky Terrasson feeling fresh and revived with new ideas and ready to take his fans and all comers into a new and exciting experience. This was a pleasent surprise for me after drifting away from his music for so long. I'm glad I returned to make a new beginning--the same as Jacky Terrasson I suppose.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Guitar Week: Jakob Bro

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.
Jakob Bro (guitar; b. 1978)
Balladeering (Loveland)

In conclusion to our Guitar Week I hope we have given you insight into some of the historical figures of jazz guitar. Trust me there are another dozen we could have written about or have written about. We will probably do another one in the future. Today I wanted to discuss a musician whom I have been a big fan of for a couple of years now. I have to admit only until recently did I know he had solo material. I knew his work more from the session/touring collaborations with Paul Motain and recently Tomasz Stanko. That musician is Jakob Bro.

Jakob Bro is from Denmark but has spent considerable amount of time in the U.S. either touring, studying or recording. In his brief recording career he has already work with a large number of revered musicians, among them, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Paul Motian, Chris Cheek, Bill Frisell, Ben Street and Lee Konitz. Bro has recorded 7 solo albums since his debut, Daydreamer (Loveland Records) in 2003. He has also works with three Danish bands, Bandapart, Got You On Tape, and one of my favourites Beautiful Day (all worth checking out).

Jakob Bro style is confident, ethereal and emotional. At times it reminds me of a young John Abercrombie. While I came to hear Jakob on Paul Motain's Garden Of Eden (ECM; 2006) album, his playing beautiful on that album, but it was the recently released Tomasz Stanko Dark Eyes (ECM) that really turned my head and made seek his own material.

Jakob Bro is a musician who allows his band members to express themselves freely. His seven albums are all very diverse but highly accessible for jazz new comers as well as your typical jazzhead.

The two records I would highly recommend are his 2007 quintet release, Pearl River (Loveland) and the recently released Balladeering (Loveland). At the point of Pearl River, Bro has already achieved the acclaimed within the jazz community to enlist some of the best musicians of the day (Mark Turner, Paul Motian, Chris Cheek and Ben Street). The album itself is a delight in hearing the exchanges between each of the musicians especially with Bro, Cheek and Turner. Tracks like "Pearl River," "Black Is All Colours At Once," "Mosquito Dance" and "Welcome" showcase a beauty and complexity that most artist this days can't come anywhere near achieving.

On his recent release Balladeering (Loveland; 2009) Jakob Bro expands his lush, beauty and melodic themes with the help of Paul Motian, Ben Street, Bill Frisell and the legendary Lee Konitz. Tracks like the opener "Weightless," "Vraa" and "Terrace Place" display the best of Bro's theory of allowing his fellow musicians to fill in the picture he has framed for them. The experience of Konitz and the counterpoint of Frisell and Bro shines throughout the session. Konitz sounds fresh as ever especially on "Starting Point (Acoustic Version)." Ben Street and Paul Motian add wonderful, lush and quite brushes across Bro's compostions, giving them strength and depth.

The album closes with "Starting Point (Electric Version)" which takes a more electronic/reverb vibe which Bro and Frisell tackle with ethereal effect. This is slightly similiar to Bro's previous work (most notably Sidetrack (Loveland; 2005) and is a great deconstruction of the entire album through one long solo (or two solo) loop. At times throughout this recording it is hard to believe that this was done in just two days.

Jakob Bro's mastery of composition and ability to set an stunningly emotional tone to the session makes this one the years best albums for me. So if you do anything this weekend, go out and buy Balladeering. It may not be at your local record store but you will be able to find it online at Amazon and iTunes. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

JazzWrap were caught up with Jakob while on tour with Tomasz Stanko to discuss his music, his label and what inspires him.

How have the experiences of playing in different size groups helped you develop as a performing musician and as a composer?

I find if very interesting to envision the music I play as a whole and then try to fill in whatever I think is missing - whatever I would like to hear that's not already there. So, playing in many different constellations and listening to a lot of different music has helped me become better at this…

How has your work with Paul Motian and Tomasz Stanko influenced your new album?

I learned a lot playing with Motian - trying to blend in with two horns, bass and another guitar - and sometimes trying to stick out. His compositions and the way that he arranges them and plays them have been a great influence to me over the last ten years. It's like he has created his own world of music combining the way he plays the drums with his compositions. It's very unique. To me, it's all the way up there alongside the great masters.

WIth Stanko I play a lot of unison and harmony parts with his trumpet - so again I'm learning to blend in and at the same time add colors…also in Stanko's band I have a lot of open solos which gives me the possibility to shape parts of the songs the way I hear them from night to night . This kind of freedom is something I can bring into my own music also.

In general, playing in different bands and with different composers has helped me and inspired me in my efforts to get closer to my own way of writing, arranging and improvising. And I've been very lucky to play with a lot of beautiful musicians from both Denmark and abroad.

Balladeering strikes me as a return to the more melodic and atmospheric soundscapes of your previous quintet release, Pearl River. Were you looking to expand of some of the themes created on that album?

After releasing Pearl River I wanted to record a lot of "songs" and arrange them pretty tightly. So, during a full week in 2007 I recorded 25 songs in New York with Frisell, Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Chris Cheek, Andrew D'Angelo, Paul Motian, Ben Street and the Danish alto saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen. The music from those sessions will be released as: The Stars are All New Songs (vol.1, 2, and possibly 3) - only vol.1 is already out.

The year after, in 2008, I went into the studio in New York again and made Balladeering. The focus for me on this recording was clearly to come back to the vibe of Pearl River - giving the musicians involved a lot of room to color the music and just open up the songs and see where the music would take us. The material is very simple, almost folk-like...

You've sometimes employed two guitarists or two tenor saxophonists -- what are the challenges and rewards when having two players for a particular instrument?

I like the thick sound of having two of the same instruments playing together. And especially with the case of guitars I like how strings can "melt" together. That way orchestral things, interesting voicings and melodies occur in a very spontaneous and sometimes even coincidental way. I find that beautiful. Sometimes though, a solo is much stronger if there is only one person playing - so the challenge for me with having double up's on instruments in a band is to know when to use that thick sound and when not to...

What is your vision for the direction of your label Loveland?

Loveland Records is kind of a playground for me, a place where I can store the music and the ideas I come up with and where people can buy it if they want…my distributor who is also the co-owner of the label is trying to make it as easy as possible for people to buy my music - it's difficult getting distribution and promotion but things are slowly moving in the right direction.

Who or what are you listening to lately that surprises or inspires you?

I listen a lot to Louis Armstrong at the moment. I also love Lester Young, Miles and countless more…in my teens I fell in love with Coltrane's music - that sound and that expression was the main reason why I decided to explore music.

What will you work on next?

I have some "Live" quartet-recordings with my trio + Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz - we did nine concerts in total at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse in 2009.

I need to spend a good amount of time on figuring out which takes sound the best. Also I still have a lot of unreleased material from New York in 2007. The Stars are All New Songs (vol 2 and possible vol 3). Besides, we just recorded "Live at Birdland" with Stanko so I hope that it will turn out to be an ECM album in the near future.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guitar Week: Trio Schmetterling

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.

Trio Schmetterling (group; fromed 2007)
Keisuke Matsuno (guitar/electronics)
Alexander Binder (bass)
Jan Roth (drums)

As discussed recently, the rise of trios on the jazz scene is quite simply--mindnumbing. It's is sometimes difficult to sift through all the good ideas being produced to find the originality. Well, I have to say in the case of the following trio there is something different for you grab hold of. Trio Schmetterling is a guitar based trio that utilizes both the sonic aspects of Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth and the best elements of recent Nordic jazz improvisers like Nils Petter Molvaer, The Thing, Supersilent, et al. Not clearly defined (which is something we at JazzWrap like allot).

The self titled debut, Trio Schmetterling (Analogsoul Records), opens with "Solaris", a dreamy and rhythmic piece that reminds me of Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine (circa Loveless). The albums is filled with mid tempo motifs that abstract yet enveloping. If anyone remembers the late 80s/90s instrumental band Pell Mell this is slightly (only slightly) similar. Further tracks like "Insel" and "Abschiedslied" contain some great drum work from Jan Roth and some nice bluesy interplay between Matsuno and Binder making for some highly enjoyable variations.

Trio Schmetterling never really take flight as you would expect from a guitar based trio. But I don't think that is their intention. This is an album of dark dense space with strong melodies pushing the listener forward. "Kinderlied" does finally take the band into some atmospheric territory taking a gentle tone in its beginning before venturing into a lovely harmonic chaos of arpeggios to close things out. Trio Schmetterling may not be a jazz band for some of you but they surely aren't a rock band for me. This is the work of a young band in progress but the progress is quite impressive.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Guitar Week: Charlie Christian

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.

Charlie Christian (guitar, b. 1916 - 1942)

He is considered the most important figure amongst jazz guitarists. I really didn't get into Charlie Christian until I was much much older but I had always heard the name amongst my older jazzhead friends. When I did start listening to him I was put off by the production quality of the time (lots of pops and crackles form 78 vinyl LPs). But then finally--finally the light in my light pigheaded brain turned on and I have been a disciple ever since.

Charlie Christian's style was unbelievably smooth and effortless. He had rhythm and swing like no other of his generation. And his influence on almost every jazz guitarist and even some rock artists is apparent to this day. Artist such as Wes Montgomery, Russell Malone, George Benson and more owe everything to Christian. He was instrumental during his brief time with Benny Goodman's band. Although according to history, Goodman was not impressed with Christian during his original rehearsal for the band. It wasn't until later during a live performance that Goodman got the full experience of what Charlie Christian could do on this new electric guitar and he was hired into the band. Charlie Christian also performed a number of jam session with or in the presence of future legends Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Christian's ability to play what at the time where considered almost impossible chords with impressive elasticity was something that made him a hot propriety at an early age and a legend for future generations.

For anyone new to jazz the glut of Charlie Christian compilations are beyond overwhelming. He didn't record much on his own. The largest chunk of material is with the Benny Goodman band but their is plenty of short solo jam session/live performances to gain enjoy. For the diehard fan there is an excellent 4 disc box set entitled The Genius Of The Electric Guitar (Columbia/Legacy) that is everything you need. But I would bet most people would also be best served with the also excellent and similarly titled single disc The Genius Of The Electric Guitar (Columbia/Legacy in the U.S., Definitive Records in Europe). There are a couple of different covers for the single disc. The music is mostly the same give or take a couple of tracks. If you love jazz guitar you need to know where it all comes from. Charlie Christian's recordings are the holy grail of jazz guitar and you should seek him out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guitar Week: Troyka

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.

Troyka (group, formed 2007)
Chris Montague (guitars)
Kit Downes (organ)
Joshua Blackmore (drums)

London based, Troyka have been making waves in the British jazz scene for the last three years. There self titled debut does deliver on the hype. This is a trio that is slightly different than many of recent crop in that their songs led by some crazy guitar work from Chris Montague. They also incorporate some lovely, psychedelic and funky organ interplay by Kit Downes (who is also making a name for himself as a solo artists). Joshua Blackmore's gritty and fernetic drumming keeps his fellow bandmates in line as they travel a familiar fusion path but create their own signpost along the way.

Upon first listen, especially the opening two tracks, "Tax Return" and "Clint" you might get the impression Troyka are heavily influenced by King Crimson. This would be very misleading. The trio have shades of prog, jazz and funky flirting throughout this recording. All of it results in bouillabaisse of rhythms that is hard to ignore. While they site Wayne Shorter, Aphex Twin, and Rage Against The Machine as influences, its hard not to notice the dedication to blues/world structures as on "Twelve" or "Noonian Soong" that are reminiscent of Mahavishnu. The aforementioned modern influences are there especially in the swirling organ work of Downes which fills this journey with some interesting aural/audio soundscapes. For fans of the Chicago band Tortoise, Troyka should definitely be an investment for you.

Troyka's closing moments encapsulate the band, with a nice piece of avant-funk entitled "Call" that certainly brings to mind the great Crimson circa Red, but breathes a life of its own with delirious watersheds of interplay between the three members. This is capitalized with the final but short number "Zeitgeist" which is indicative of band and the British jazz scene at the moment.

Troyka have made an album that is interesting on multiple levels and will appeal to jazz and alternative heads alike. It's funky, futuristic and layered with elements of avant garde that won't alienate any group of listeners. This is a brilliant and promising debut. Along with Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Portico Quartet, Outside and Neil Cowley Trio, the new British free jazz scene might start giving Norway, Finland and Sweden a serious challenge in the creative circles for leading jazz movement of the next few years. Great stuff and highly recommended.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guitar Week: John McLaughlin

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.

John McLaughlin (guitar; b. 1942)
The Essential John McLaughlin (Columbia/Legacy)

One the most technically brilliant guitarists of the last 50 years, John McLaughlin has shown the ability to move throughout the sub-genres of jazz but always reminding us that his style of fusion is always evolving. You may only know the name John McLaughlin but I assure you, you've heard his playing. I have to admit during my youth I really didn't give McLaughlin that much attention outside of his work with Miles Davis. I think I just wasn't ready for his diverse interests and ability to play at breakneck speed.

As a youngster, the British born, McLaughlin performed with the legends Georgie Fame, Ginger Baker and Brian Auger before moving to the U.S. and working in Tony Williams Lifetime band in addition to making some of most challenging and legendary recordings with Miles Davis (Bitches Brew, In A Silent Way and A Tribute To Jack Johnson). He would also record two phenomenal solo albums during this short period of 1969 - 1970. Along with solo albums McLaughlin would go on to from two incredible and influential fusion bands during the 70s in Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti which focus of the blistering combinations of jazz & rock from the former and a well focused Indian influence of the latter.

These groups and recording are definitely on par with other highly important fusion bands of the time period, Nucleus, Return To Forever and Weather Report. McLaughlin with every record since has shown the ability to go from gentle acoustic strumming to fiery eclecticism on electric guitar with astounding degrees. Some other important recordings were done with Carlos Santana, Chick Corea and the amazing trio Trio Of Doom (with Tony Williams and Jaco Pastorius). Trio Of Doom (Columbia) recorded one album but it is one of most important albums of 70s fusion and you must own it. In the 80s and 90s he would team with various musicians including Al de Meola and Paco de Lucia for a series of great acoustic sets.

A large chuck of the aforementioned and more are included on The Essential John McLaughlin (Columbia/Legacy). The Essential John McLaughlin contains almost everything you will need to understand this extraordinary guitarist and his genre-bending talent. He has blending Eastern and Western themes with rich technique and ingenuity that many other musicians just cannot match. This is very clear on tracks like "India," "Marbles," "A Love Supreme (with Carlos Santana)" and "Wayne's Way." For me this is a great overview/introduction to learning more about McLaughlin and all the various groups he has performed in as well as his solo material.

John McLaughlin's most recent album, To The One (Abstarct Logix) with his new band 4th Dimension is no different. It continues his wonderful ability of spellbinding guitar work with stunning interplay with his new band members who have been touring with him for the last four years. The album moves fierce opener of "Discovery" through the mid tempo rhythms of "Special Beings," and "Lost And Found" only to return with the high energy of "Recovery". This is an album that continues the East/West legacy he has paved for five decades with even more amazing results then recent recordings.

Someone with such a large and diverse catalog, The Essential John McLaughlin and To The One does a great job of summing up the best moments of his illustrious career in addition to providing a good understanding of fusion (outside of the Miles Davis material) this is a nice place to start.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Intersection: Flying Lotus — Cosmogramma

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

This week's focus is Flying Lotus's
Cosmogramma (Warp Records, 2010)

Much has been said about the influence of jazz on abstract hip-hop deejay Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison). His aunt is the legendary Alice Coltrane, so it's an easy case to make. IMHO, though, "electronic jazz" would be a gross oversimplification of what you'll hear on his latest offering, Cosmogramma — an excellent album that defies easy categorization as it flies against the conventions of such genres as nu jazz, clubjazz and the like.

FlyLo's sampledelic beat creations take inspiration from a host of genres from the past (exotica, library, early electronic, soul, soundtracks) and present (dub step, d'n'b, left-field, IDM). At times he reminds me of Amon Tobin, Daedelus, Xploding Plastix and other electronica artists who seem to draw up on a wide variety of older styles to serve
a hyper modern aesthetic.

The tracks that come closest to jazz ("Recoiled" and "Do the Astral Plane") do so because of some familiar element (saxophone, scat vocals), not because they especially demonstrate the influence of jazz tradition or improvisation. One of Alice Coltrane's favorite instruments, the harp, also figures in a few tracks, but the effect is more exotic and fantastical than jazzist. By no means is this meant to slight FlyLo's accomplishment. Cosmogramma is an imaginative and transporting album, well worth delving into if you enjoy abstract, experimental electronica.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Neil Cowley Trio

The Neil Cowley Trio (group; formed 2006)
Neil Cowley (piano)
Richard Sadler (bass)
Evan Jenkins (drums)

British outfit, The Neil Cowley Trio have garnered a considerable praise in just 4 short years and 3 albums. The band born out of the creative mind of Neil Cowley whom spent a number of years on the electronica/jazz/chill out scene with Zero 7, Brand New Heavies and more importantly his own band Fragile State. Fragile State released two critically acclaimed albums that you must check out if you want a nice hybrid jazz and electronica.

Excising those experiments Neil moved on full time to his love of jazz and formed the trio. He has admitted that he never started out as a jazz musician (classically trained) but his inventive and exuberant approach to writing and performing has resulted three spectacular albums. Their debut, Displaced (Hide Inside Records) was refreshing with great straight ahead melodies and propulsive rhythms. Neil Cowley and his fellow band member seem more traditional than their British counterparts.

Unlike most British jazz of late which has been more abstract and experimental, Neil Cowley for me has an upbeat quality reminiscent of Sonny Clark in addition to his own interest in the great Ahmad Jamal. Displaced sparkles with a live jazz club feel, particularly on "How Do We Catch Up," "Pair Of Teeth" and even a dash of funk on "Kenny Two Steps". The bands second album, Loud, Louder, Stop (Cake Records) was massive step forward. Right from the opener, "His Nibs" The Neil Cowley Trio appear to be making a statement that they were here to stay and advance their sound. The cascading rhythms of the opener to the gentle movements of "Scardey Cat," and the beautiful ballad "Well" all encapsulate the "playing with sheer fun and abandon" ethos of the trio.

While Loud, Louder, Stop could be considered the breakthrough for the band, the latest release Radio Silence (Naim Jazz) is a massive statement of intent. With the excellent "Monoface" as its opening Neil Cowley Trio do stake claim to becoming a trio that could (quite possibly) fill the gap left by E.S.T. The fact that the trio has has only been together for such as short time is never noticed by the deep interplay they have with each other. They seem also to mastered the mixture of mid-tempo tunes and raucous crowd-pleasers as evident on tracks such as "Stereoface," "Vice Skating," and "Hug The Greyhound."

There is an over abundance of piano led trio in recent years. Many of them owing a great deal to Esbjorn Sevnsson Trio but The Neil Cowley Trio have definitely made a case that they will be standing high and above the majority as the years going on. Radio Silence should be on your list of records to check out sooner rather than later.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Soil & "Pimp" Sessions — 6 (2010)

Japanese punk-jazz sextet Soil & "Pimp" Sessions are back with their sixth full-length in as many years. Simply dubbed 6, it's the band's most accomplished set to date and out now on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label.

Raucous and relentless tracks like "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" and "Double Trouble" amply demonstrate SPS's aesthetic: Blend boisterous, high energy soul jazz with ferocious chops and hit "pulverize". And by no means is it just a bunch of noise. Hell to the no. There are melodies a plenty swirling around in this stew, but beware — this shit is hot. Mess around and you might get burned.

So, who are these jazz punks anyway. According to their rap sheet, they include Shacho (agitator, spirit), Tabu zombie (trumpet), Motoharu (sax), Josei (piano), Akita Goldman (bass) and Midorin (drums). When's the last time you encountered a jazz group featuring an "agitator"?

First and foremost, SPS is a live band and their albums sound that way, sans audience interaction (though they do have a live DVD if that's what you're looking for). They call their music "death jazz," and while that's amusing and all you don't really get a negative vibe from their music. If anything it's all the way live.

According to the band's PR, "We always felt that in the world of jazz, there was an unwritten rule that the musicians were to concentrate on their techniques and the audience were simply there to admire, like a transmitter/ receiver relationship. We wanted to break away from that and create exciting jazz with far more interaction between the players and the audience."

Judging from 6, they've got the skillz that kill. This isn't jazz to sit calmly listening to, applauding politely after every solo. This shit is for dancing like your pants are on fire. Aw hell, just give it a listen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Timo Lassy - Round Two (2009)

A bit late out of the gate with this review, so stop me if you've heard this one before: Timo Lassy's got it goin' on. New to you, too? Thank me later. By the time you're finished reading this you'll want to get into Round Two, his second solo effort released last fall on Ricky Tick Records. It'll ring your bell.

You may know Lassy, the smokinist sax player of the red hot Helsinki jazz scene, from his work with Blue Note recording artist U-Street All Stars, the globe-trotting Five Corners Quartet and his solo debut The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy, naturally.

It's worth noting that Lassy also brought some heat to Nicola Conte's Rituals album, on which he made the acquaintance of José James, a jazz singer from Minneapolis whose voice lives up to its velvet reputation. James flew to Finland from none other than New York for Round Two's three-day recording session and contributes memorably on the swinging opener "The More I Look At You" and the cooker "Ya Dig."

While James makes his presence known, most of the set belongs to Lassy and his band, which is strictly A-list. Teppo "Teddy Rok"
Mäkynen kicks it behind the kit (as well as the mixing board, where he co-produced with Lassy). Jukka Eskola lets his trumpet do the talkin'. Georgios Kontrafouris tickles the ivories. Ari Jokelainen swings on alto sax. Mikko Mustonen lets it rip on trombone. Antti Lotjonen works a fleet-fingered bass groove. And Abdissa "Mamba" Assefa fills the beats in between on percussion.

At the center of it all is Lassy — a persuasive player, a confident composer and an assured arranger. While Lassy seems most at home in the hard-bop and soul jazz idioms, he seamlessly blends them with Latin jazz ("Shifting Winds," "Backyard Puma"), ballads ("Some Love"), tribal spirituals ("Deeper Into") and swing ("Fooling Rosetta," "Buzz Beater Stomp"). Clearly, he knows jazz tradition and, more importantly, knows how to breathe new life into them.

As retro as that might sound, Lassy's band sounds as contemporary as they come (but with a rootsy sensibility that never gets watered down). Moreover, they do it without resorting to trendy gimmicks or self-conscious experimentation. Mostly, I think ya'll dig the man's toe-tappin' tunes and his band's tuneful approach to improvising around them. You guessed right - Round Two is a knock-out.