Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Undiscovered Soul: Micatone

Micatone (group; formed 2001)

Lisa Bassenge (vocals)
Boris Meinhold (guitar, electronics)
Paul Kleber (bass)
Sebastian Demmin (keyboards)
Stefan Rogall (electronics)
Tim Kroker (drums)

On a recent trip to the U.S. city of Atlanta, I visited a couple of record stores. Most of them were quite exceptional considering the economic culture and the state or record retail in the U.S. But one store stood out for me and I was a little upset that I wanted to make this my last stop of the day. Moods Music was a slight goldmine for me. I found a number soul, acid jazz and electronica records that I had been searching for over the last year or so. I also stumbled upon a few records that I heard about but never actually got a chance to listen to. One of the groups that I discovered was Micatone.

I really hadn't heard Micatone before. I remember seeing there name pop up on my "Amazon You Might Like These" list but didn't give it any attention. I asked the clerk if they could play a little of it for me and to my shock they did!

Micatone are an incredible band from Germany. Lead singer Lisa Bassenge has a lovely soulful voice that wraps Jodi Watley, Bille Holiday,N'dea Davenport and Corrine Bailey Rae in with the funkiness of Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies and trip-hop sensibility Rae & Christian. It's a nice blend of nu-jazz and electronica that works well immediately on first spin.

The first album, Nine Songs (Sonar Kollektiv) combines soul, drum n' bass with a Bassenge's late night jazz cafe vocals for a bright and inventive debut. Setting the tone in the beginning are vibraphonic sounds of "Still In Time" and "Tranquilo". Both of which feature some nice funky beats against a moody hypnotic electronics. As Bassenge sings in the chorus of "Tranquilo", "...I'm for real". While this track is more about the feeling one gets from their significant others love, it can also state the intention of the band. They are for real and the lyrics and music make that case crystal clear.

The follow up, Is You Is (Sonar Kollektiv) moves things forward with more concentration of the bands soul jazz elements. While tracks like "Plastic Bags & Magazines," "Mon coeur" still hold the electronic flavour its the soulful tracks like "Quiet Boy" and "Sweet Child" that really stuck with me. Micatone seemed to be growing on both the lyrical and musical side. While still projecting ambient, trip hop foundation songs like "I'm Leaving Anyway" and "Sit Beside Me" are crafty love songs that will have you intoxicated and wanting more.

Nomad Songs (Sonar Kollektiv) is that something more you might be looking for. Nomad Songs is more lyrically focused and the instrumentation is also placed more squarely on live/acoustic. The electronics are still there but a little more in the background. There's also an element of diversity in theme going on. "Trouble Boy" takes on a more reggae feel while "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" is definitely in the Jamiroquai/BNH camp as far as the vibe is concerned. "Out Of The Game and "You've Taken All" really highlight Bassenge's vocals and the band crafty lounge feel.

Micatone may bring reminders of some previous acid jazz standard-barrers but believe me, this band is getting better with each album. For anyone interested there is a compilation called Best Of Three (Sonar Kollektiv) which covers some of the more important tracks from each of there albums. It is available online so I would definitely check them out. I great discovery for me and it also shows that there are still good record stores out there with great knowledgeable people that are willing to turn you on to something. Big ups to Atlanta!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alexander McCabe: Quiz

Alexander McCabe (sax)
Quiz (Consolidated Artists Productions; 2010)

Ugonna Okegwo (bass)
Uri Caine (piano)
Greg Hutchinson (drums)
Rudy Royston (drums)

Alexader McCabe has been on the scene since the mid-eighties. You may not know the name but you more than likely have heard his big, bold alto on records by the Chico O'Farril Afro-Cuban Big Band. He has rich, fiery tone in manner of John Coltrane or Branford Marsalis that lights many of the tracks on only his second album as leader, Quiz.

Quiz opens with two wonderful numbers "Weezies Waltz," and "Lonnegan", both of originals written by McCabe. Each track features two different drums which provides an interesting background for the interplay between all of members. "Weezies Waltz" is more laid back with some delicate timing from Hutchinson and great accompaniment from Caine and Okegwo. This a beautiful opening piece.

"Lonnegan" is a blistering number with some superb interchanges between Caine and McCabe but also some surefire rolling beats from Royston. Both tracks show a nice depth in McCabe's writing and solid mastery on the sax. It's bewildering that Alexander McCabe has only recorded two albums as leader.

Mentioning Coltrane's name in this piece may seem a little strange but there is some serious work going on here and you have to acknowledge that McCabe has studied and mastered his craft extremely well. There are moments on the title piece "Quiz" that I am left mesmerized by how powerful his performance is. "Quiz" also features some excellent work from the always fantastic Uri Caine as he translates McCabes notes into a truly beauty storyline.

"Good Morning Heartache" has shades of 'Trane written all over it. This is probably the most adventurous track on the album but demonstrates the perfect balance of "out there" and "accessible" you'll hear in one track all year. The band is in fine form and this is one of many shinning moments on Quiz. Closing out the session is the under-rated standard "How Little We Know" which is sound wonderful in the hands of McCabe and his quartet. A very laid back piece that bookends the Quiz perfectly with some quiet, romantic yet still buoyant individual performances. This is a number which if heard in the club setting will probably bring the audience to its knees.

Alexander McCabe's Quiz is brilliant piece of work from a musician who has spent to much time on the sidelines so-to-speak. I hope this is his coming out party. Another one of those albums this year that if you are serious about jazz (either new fan or old jazz head) you should check it out. Lot's of surprises are in store. Recommended.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Steve Tibbetts: Natural Causes

Steve Tibbetts (guitar; b. 1954)
Natural Causes (ECM; 2010)

(A short entry today everyone. Need to take a small break and relax.)
Steve Tibbetts is rare among the jazz/world music artists. He has been able to meld the two genres beautifully into this recordings. While his recording output seems infrequent (Natural Causes being his first in eight years) when he does release an album you stand up and take notice. Tibbetts is a native of Minnesota. This northern Midwesterner seems to have the same minimalist nature in his music that fellow Scandinavian jazz music posses.

Natural Causes (his 13 album overall) has stunning rhythmic elements wrapped in truly a world of adventure. Tibbetts guitar fret-work has always been seamless and his mastery of Eastern and Western cultures runs throughout Natural Causes. With undulating guitars and gently pulsating gongs added by longtime collaborator, Marc Anderson on drums give this record immense depth. Tracks like "Attasha," "Chandorga," "Lakshmivana" and "Lament" illustrate a beauty that for some might be reminiscent of David Sylvian's instrumental work on Gone To Earth.

Steve Tibbetts mainly works with 12 string guitar but his manner of playing is breathtaking and gives unique quality and ethereal beauty that many contemporaries cannot match. For anyone not familiar with Steve Tibbetts work, Natural Causes is a great place to start.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

David S. Ware: Onecept

David S. Ware (sax: tenor, stritch, saxello)
Onecept (Aum Fidelity; 2010)
William Parker (bass)
Warren Smith (drums)

David S. Ware's newest release, Oncept (Aum Fidelity) is a celebration on multiple levels. First it is a celebration of a half century of playing saxophone and creating music which has engaged and challenged listeners and the structure of jazz itself. Second it is continued documentation of an artists overcoming adversity (dialysis, kidney transplant) and pushing forward with the exploration of spontaneous sound.

Oncept was recorded just a few months after his return to live performances (as documented on Saturnian (Aum Fidelity; 2009)). The trio which he has worked with in various forms (most recently 2008's Shakti) is in supreme form on Onecept. This is free form improvisational album similar to the solo concert album Satunian. Ware utilizes the same saxophones he used for that concert on this session. While there is a distinct difference in the sound of each horn that Ware uses, the main theme that runs throughout the recording is the unity of the trio.

"Book Of Krittika" opens the set in gripping ascendancy. Ware performs on the stritch sax. Both Smith and Parker are exquisitely in snyc with Ware's vision on this piece. Ware and Parker have a wonderful battle about midway through that is truly magical. "Celestial" is smokin' piece which Smith's drum work is slice of brilliance. Parker and Ware appear to follow along but you soon realize this is one unit playing a breakneck pace. That pace bleeds into "Desire Worlds" (with Ware playing saxello) which see Smith and Parker keep time on a feverishly changing of patterns from Ware. Absolutely stellar stuff.

"Astral Earth" and "Bardo" (Ware playing tenor on "Bardo") are two slightly midtempo gems with emotional resonance that exude the joy and bliss. There is a special connection on Onecept that for me highlights three musicians whose harmonic relationship has produce a collection of brilliant recording over the years. Oncept is just another jewel in the David S. Ware's ongoing career of excellence and creativity. Here's to his 50 years of playing saxophone and hopefully many more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition)

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition)

So there isn't much else I can really say about Bitches Brew that we haven't discussed before. The real reason for today's entry is the fact that the most recently released editions of Bitches Brew (Deluxe Edition with all the bells and whistles at a hefty price or the Legacy Edition at a much more consumer friendly entry point) is well worth the purchase for Miles Davis fans.

The Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition) features the original album as well a second disc of outtakes and single edited version. Technically this really only for the die-hard collector. The versions aren't drastically different except for length (i.e. edited single versions). The real treat here is the DVD Live In Copenhagen 1969. The audio for this gig has been widely bootlegged in recent years but there's a reason for it--it's fantastic!

While the album session features a huge 12 member ensemble recorded in August of '69, the live recording is much more scaled down lean quintet. This November performance came a few months before the actual release of the album in 1970. You get a completely different experience with the performances from this smaller group featuring Wayne Shorter (sax), Chick Corea (electric piano), Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Dave Holland (bass). The songs are also not the same album length as evident of "Bitches Brew" and "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down." It's a slightly more intimate performance but still packs the fierce impact on the senses.

Each member is fine form throughout. Chick Corea really shines with some amazingly hypnotic doodling ("Bitches Brew"). This swirling synthesis is melded with Wayne Shorter's always omnipresent lyrical work on the saxophone (especially on "Agitation"). And there is a final moment on "It's About Time" that Dave Holland shows why he is one most creative bass player alive today. Miles is superb form as the group does truly explore new directions in music. This is a performance that was probably extremely experimental when it was performed but today it really will leave you in awe of what these legends did as a small group compared to massive scale they performed just a few months earlier in the studio.

If you already own Bitches Brew is going to be a tough call on buying this again but I have to say if you can spare the extra 12 - 14 Euros, its well worth it. If you don't own Bitches Brew this is a great way to get two incredible powerful performances from both the ensemble and the smaller quintet in one quick swoop. Highly Recommended.

Friday, September 17, 2010

John Fedchock

John Fedchock NY Sextet (trombone; b. 1957)
Live At The Red Sea Jazz Festival (Capri Records)
Walt Weiskopf (sax)
Scott Wendholt (trumpet)
Allen Farnham (piano)
David Finch (bass)
Dave Ratajczak (drums)

A veteran trombonist and consummate performer, John Fedchock has been a delight to listen to for over 30 years. Unheralded but deserving more exposure among jazz audiences, Fedchock is still one of the most respected among those inside jazz circles. Fedchock got his start with in the Woody Herman Orchestra in the 80s. The stint helped develop his songwriting skills as well as create a very distinctive voice on the trombone. Fedchock has also performed and recorded with Tony Bennett, Maria Schneider, Natalie Cole and Bob Belden among others. His style is well structured, colorful and fierce--similar in style to Curtis Fuller.

Surprisingly in his long career he only has six album to his name as leader but his new release Live At The Red Sea Jazz Festival (Capri Records) is probably the best way to experience his enormous talent. This is a live album that packs a lot of punch and drives with some really hard edges.

The performances from both Weiskopf and Farnham are superb in addition to the rest of the rhythm section who handle Fedchock's delicate and well crafted material in a relaxed manner that shows in a group that has worked together effortlessly. This is a band that can swing, bop and tantalize up and down the scale. There are some stellar solos from Fedchock, Wendholt and Wesikopf throughout the evening performance. "This Just In" and "That's All Right!" highlight the intensity of Fedchock's arrangements and the way the band member weave and interplay with each other.

The performance takes a mellower tone with the Tom Harrell penned piece "Moon Alley" with some lovely work from Wendholt. This is beautiful piece (one of only two covers on the album) which allows Fedchock to show his leadership by allowing the Wendholt to take most of lead throughout (after all the piece was written by a fellow trumpeter).

The albums closing moments are a cover of the Ellington classic "Caravan" and Fedchock's own "Not So New Blues". The sextet play it pretty standard but it does allow Dave Ratajczak to mingle with Fedchock and add a little more vibrancy to this already glittering classic. The final number is a perfect way to close the evening out. A boisterous mid tempo piece for Fedhcock's trombone and a nice back and forth between the horn section. A live post bop piece that could easily sit aside something from Lee Morgan or Stanley Turrentine.

John Fedchock NY Sextet performed at the festival is over 100 degree heat but you would never know it by listening to this date. They are definitely smokin' and its one of the best live records I've heard all year. I honestly can say this is one of those discs you will keep listening to over and over as the year goes on and you won't get tired of it. Live At The Red Sea Jazz Festival is an album of the highest order and a great way to get into one of the most under-rated trombonist on the scene today.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Undiscovered Soul: Beverley Knight

Beverley Knight (vocals; b. 1973)

I'm assuming most of the American readers may not know of Beverley Knight--but you need to. One of my favourite soul artists of the last 15 years, British born Beverley Knight, is one of the countless real old school soul singers. Like many of her American counterparts (N'Dambi, Angela Johnson, Eyrka Badu) she combines a rich soulful voice with real instrumentation and most of positive and thought-provoking lyrics. Something severely lacking in the major hit R&B/Pop artist arsenal.

The influence of soul and gospel is very apparent in Knight music. She was raised on in a religious environment but also listened to soul greats like Aretha Franklin (a wonderful combination of the two genres) and later on highly influenced by the creative forces of Prince. After absorbing the two cultural experiences and developing her own writing skills Beverley Knight finally made it to the point of working on her debut album, B-Funk (Dome Records, 1995).

B-Funk contain the great floor-filler, "Flavour Of The Old School" which still gets me jumping 15 years later. Also reflecting her gospel/soul influences was the lovely ballad "Goodbye Innocence" a loving look at moving into the next phase of life. (9.17 correction: the song is about child abuse and recovering and moving on from that. thanks for explanation nusoulfan. we definitely appreciate it).

B-Funk became a classic blueprint of new British R&B. Let's be clear, there were other British R&B artists that came before (Gabrielle and Mica Paris most notably with success across both the sides of the Atlantic) but the B-Funk made a powerful statement of that British R&B had a grown stronger and was ready to break out.

In '98 Knight returned with the explosive Prodigal Sista (EMI). This is really the point that I became a fan. There is a balance of hip-street soul and melodic introspective beauty running throughout Prodigal Sista. That balance appears in the opening tracks "Made It Back" and "Rewind" which are both joyful and beat driven. The delicate and soul-searching nature of her ballads are nowhere more evident than on "Strong Hand" as we can all ask for someone to help us through the tough times in life.

While Prodigal Sista was the album catapulted her into the British popular eye and out of the nu-soul underground, her third album, Who I Am (EMI) contained some of her most powerful material to date. Who I Am is all over the map as far as strong mixture of funk, dancehall reggae, soul and pop. Tracks like "Get Up!," "Shoulda Woulda Coulda," "Bestseller Mystery," and "Same As (I Ever Was)" all shine with a vibrant beauty and genius that most Soul artists just haven't the skill to write or even perform. This was a big statement album for me and possible my favourite of all Beverley Knight's albums. A solid piece of work that is definitely a must have of any fan of Soul music.

Beverley Knight took another step up with Affirmation (EMI; 2004), an album more pop based than soul. That's not a big thing people. Affirmation was as the title suggest--a confident and more assertive demonstration of Beverley Knight as songwriter. To me I think this was definitely the direction she should have taken at this point. "Come As You Are," "Keep This Fire Burning" and "Remember Me" all show a maturity and in the case of "Remember Me", the gospel influence comes to the forefront again. Great stuff.

Knight's fifth album, Music City Soul (EMI; 2007) was the culmination of everything she believed and had been working on since '95. Motor City Soul marries Knight's soulful voice with the raw energy of Midwestern American Blues & Soul. Possibly an underrated album in Knight's arsenal. With tracks like "The Queen Of Starting Over," and "Every Time You See Me Smile" evokes her the prime periods of both Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. This is probably the most divergent of all her albums put it suits her perfectly.

Beverley Knight's most recent album, 100% (EMI; 2009) is a return to the robust, funky soul of Who I Am. It has a combination of pop flavour and dance oriented soul highlighted by two amazing tracks "Breakout" and "Soul Suvivour". The album closes with a wonderful rendition of Robin Gibb's "Too Much Heaven", a ballad that Beverley handles with ease.

All of Beverley Knight's albums are a reflection of her life at each moment. The remarkable thing is, everyone can relate to this experiences. And that's what makes a great songwriter. That's what makes the British Soul of Beverley Knight not just British but universal.

My two choices for anyone unfamiliar with Beverley Knight would definitely be Who I Am or if you just want a brief overview there are two compilations that cover the first five albums (The Voice: The Best Of Beverley Knight and The Beverley Knight Collection). If you haven't listened to her before now is a good time to check her out.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Vijay Iyer / Matana Roberts Live

Live At Le Possion Rouge NYC 10.9.2010
Vijay Iyer (piano)
Matana Roberts (sax)
(photos courtesy: me from my crappy mobile phone (flash off))

A night of discovery and solo bliss. It was a cool Friday night in New York City and the new space for the increasingly popular Le Possion Rouge was full and buzzing. The rare solo appearance of now New York icon, Vijay Iyer is definitely something to see.

I went with a friend who is a big fan. But I didn't really own any of Iyer's albums. I have material that he plays on so I am familiar with how good a player he is. I really hadn't thought about picking up one of his records before because I wasn't convinced of his strength. But tonight would be different.

I came into this gig with a completely closed minded. I was expecting a good show and I knew I would be entertained but I didn't think I would be blown away. Not too mention blown away twice.

You see, this was actually two performances. Matana Roberts, for whom I didn't know much about either until I went back home and realised I owned a number Brunt Sugar albums in which she performances on. In my head I realized, "that's why I loved that album so much." So this night belong to two fascinating performers with similar spiritual directions in music with subtlety different delivers.

Vijay Iyer currently promoting his new release, Solo (Act Music) was impressive with a brisk and quick deliver of mood and melody. There is a certain element of Debussey, Haydn and Satie in his work. While Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill are definitely influences Iyer's own compositions are what really shined for me on Friday night.

Two original pieces "Patterns" and "Abundance" (currently unrecorded for the studio apparently) showed large scale creativity a beauty as the piece were rolling studies in Indian culture and modal structures. Vijay Iyer's ability to inject some muscular strength into well used standards was also something I didn't expect. His interpretations of "Darn That Dream," Monk's "Epistrophy" and now jazz staple Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" feature a distinctiveness and daring that very few musicians would be able to pull off. These standards are feature on Solo along with a "Patterns" and for this once bird-sitter, I am now venturing to investigate more Vijay Iyer as I am now totally convinced.

The other revelation Friday night was that of veteran saxophonist Matana Roberts. Matana Roberts built her reputation in the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and has worked with a host innovative musicians including Guillermo E. Brown, Mary Halvorson, TV On The Radio and the late Fred Anderson for whom she credits a great deal of influence.

And you could sense the influence on this night as the ideas and energy she projected throughout the evening of this solo saxophone performance. Roberts who has done a lot of session and live work with others (with a small handful of releases under her own leadership) but that appears to be changing in the next few months with two albums done in the pipeline.

Friday night was a strong, bold performance with shades of Anderson, Rivers, Vandermark and Braxton all coming to my attention as I witnessed Matana move confidently up and done the scales. Her work has spacious, dark, melodic bluesy tones that show a fresh voice with diverse ideas. "Rue Vanhorne Parc" is a piece she says was created while on one of her journeys to recorded in abandoned buildings. It is a wonderful piece that is moves quietly like a journey through a cornfield with nothing but the birds and clear sky above.

Mr. Roberts can also let loose in caustic fashion that shows she has learned the balance and beauty that they aforementioned saxophonists have all mastered. Matana Roberts is currently working on a multi-tiered piece entitled Coin Coin which explores her cultrual and spiritual heritage in a similar vein that John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane and later poets Nikki Giovanni and Wanda Robinson and others have delve into with rich and extraordinary results.

The most recent album, The Chicago Project (Central Control Records) is a wonderful example of her compositional skill as well phenomenal playing. Featuring an awesome track entitled "South By West," "Exchange" and the lovely improvised pieces "Birdhouse"Worth seeking out.

For those looking for someone with some fresh ideas and bound to exploded in prominence sooner than we think--Matana Roberts is definitely the real deal folks. Get on board this train now. I glad I did--even if it was by accident.

Friday night was a great night for music and discovery. And that's why we love jazz baby...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shelly Manne Live At The Black Hawk

Shelly Manne (drums; b. 1920 - d. 1984)

I have to begin with the statement, I really didn't get into Shelly Manne until a few years ago. But I am glad I did.

Considered one of the best drummers ever, Shelly Manne was pure gift on the kit. Mainly known as part of the West coast outfit of jazz musicians, Manne originally got his start in New York in bands with Joe Marsala (clarinet) and Stan Kenton's (piano, leader) Orchestra until he moved out west in the early '50s. Shelly Manne had a driven rhythm and was dedicated and revered leader. His groups were super-tight and always came to play. He was one of those great leaders who lets his band get on with what they do best.

In addition to being a great leader he was also a superior session member. Manne worked with Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Benny Carter and late in his life with Tom Waits. Throughout his career Manne maneuvered between his group, session work and film projects (Hitchcock's Rear Window being one of the most known) but it was always his group and performing live that drove him.

There are quite a few best of compilations that are all worth picking up if you want the general overview. The most simply and affordable one is The Best Of Shelly Manne (Contemporary Records) which covers the most significant pieces. But for the real true experience of this dynamic performer I highly suggest jazz fans shell out the money for the four disc set Complete Live At The Black Hawk (American Jazz Classics).

Manne's group was one of the best bebop bands on the West coast and could rival anything coming out of the east at the time. The nights at the Black Hawk were beautiful and blistering. It's one of those live albums that puts you front and center of the action. There's some amazing numbers including "Whisper Not," "Poinciana," "Step Lightly," "Cabu" and "A Gem For Tiffany", all of which display a quintet at the peak of its power.

Shelly Manne recorded some amazing live albums including many at his own club, Shelly's Manne-Hole but Live At The Black Hawk has always been the one that I recommend to anyone. It's powerful, beautiful and stacked with superior performances. Consider this right up there as one of great live jazz albums of all time. I have a feeling some readers may not know much about Shelly Manne but I urge to find out more...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dave Douglas: Spark Of Being - Exapnd

Dave Douglas & Keystone
Spark Of Being: Expand (Greenleaf)

Dave Douglas (trumpet)
Marcus Strickland (tenor sax)
Adam Benjamin (fender rhodes)
Brad Jones (bass)
Gene Lake (drums)
DJ Olive (turntables, electronics)

The is the second part of the Spark Of Being Trilogy based on a re-imagination of the Frankenstein novel by film marker Bill Morrison. The accompanying music done by Douglas and his always adventurous and raucous Keystone ensemble.

Spark Of Being: Expand begins just as its predecessor did with a slow opening movement only to be enveloped by the crushing chords of the "Creature" and its swirling loops provided by DJ Olive. This along with the accumulating sounds of Marcus Strickland (sax) and Gene Lake (drums) and to the dark foreboding atmosphere of this outing. The track listings may be similar but the music does vary from its counterpart release.

Where the first installment, Spark Of Being: Soundtrack focused on the atmospherics of the film, Expand does exactly what it says--expand on the themes. The performances seem to have a little more breathing room especially on tracks like "Chroma" and "Travelogue" where Douglas and Strickland tend to take the lead more than DJ Olive and Adam Benjamin did on the Soundtrack. Strickland even turns up the funky groove quotient a bit on "Chroma".

The closing number "Prologue" remains a mid-tempo piece across both releases but on Expand it is definitely more a dark blues movement than previous. With the strength of Douglas, Lake and Strickland making it lovely outro for this second movement of the film.

As you would expect, Spark Of Being: Expand stands alone but it also gives the listens a different picture of the film in their imagination as well a jazzier soundscape to explore. The third and final instalment will be released later this month with film and score performances held surrounding the release. Spark Of Being is a concept record but probably only one that Dave Douglas & Keystone could pull off without sound trite and over conceived. This is an artist making a big leap with really big ideas and vision. Great stuff.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

John Coltrane: Live In France

John Coltrane (sax)
Live In France: July 27/28 1965 (Gambit Records)
McCoy Tyner (piano)
Jimmy Garrison (bass)
Elvin Jones (drums)

1965 was a furious time for John Coltrane. He had just come off the recording of the future landmark, A Love Supreme a year earlier and now was in mist of a series of quartet and ensemble sessions. By June of '65 Coltrane had recorded The Quartet Plays, OM, Kulu Se Mama, Selflessness and another landmark recording to rival A Love Supreme--Ascension.

Ascension was a massive work that feature a who's who of future jazz legends (Freddie Hubbard, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Art Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, Marion Brown, Dewey Johnson and McCoy Tyner). It is another spiritual masterpiece that is difficult for the average Coltrane fan to get their head and ears around. It is a cavalcade of sound and emotion that is similar in scope to OM. Shortly after its release Coltrane set out on a European tour with his current quartet. This formed the basis for the Live In France release.

A some people may know the French tour dates started on July 26 with a rare live performance of the complete A Love Supreme. This is now available on the deluxe version of the album that you can find a most record stores. The following two nights had been previously unavailable and they are well worth checking out. The main reason for this is the performance of "Ascension," which Coltrane at this point is not known to have been performed live outside of this occasion (please feel free to correct us if we are wrong).

The additional interesting part here is that the two performances of "Ascension" are done as a quartet. The original studio recording was done as a tentet. It is historic and amazing to hear this masterpiece in a much smaller setting and stripped of the larger free form aesthetics. The piece still keeps its rich, bold and illustrious beauty but it now encompasses a more intimate feeling that allows the listener a bit more time to concentrate and develop their own meaning. When you put these versions along side the original you do get two distinct versions which is truly the mark of greatness.

Live In France also includes stellar versions of "Afro Blue," "Impressions," "Naima" and "My Favourite Things"--all of which are have a dynamic element within themselves. The drum work from Jones on "Afro Blue" is incredible. McCoy Tyner delivers in magnificent fashion both nights on "Impressions." Coltrane is in blistering form on both nights and the sound quality is superb (I believe taken from a French radio program).

Live In France is probably only for the completest but it is an excellent document to go along side the A Love Supreme deluxe edition if you have it. A real treat for a Sunday afternoon listening session.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Breakestra: Dusk Till Dawn

Breakestra (group; formed 1996)
Dusk Till Dawn (Strut)

In the vein of The New Mastersounds but with the addition of revolving lead vocalists, Breakestra have evolved into a hybrid of Detroit Motown funk, Southern Soul and California hip hop lovin'. This is serious funk y'all. Fans of The Dirtbombs, Sharon Jones, The Roots, Poets In Rthythm and Broun Fellinis should take note of Breakestra, they are definitely the real deal. The US version of The New Mastersounds, maybe, but I think there is room for both Meters/Jimmy Smith-influenced soul groups.

Breakestra started on the on San Francisco club circuit by multi-instrumentalist, Miles Tackett. The group began at a local club the Breaks. They combined that name with one of their other influences Sun Ra's Arkestra and hence the soul funk hip hop Breakestra was born. After a series of DJ and club acclaimed 12''s and EPs and MixTapes (or in these case CDs) the band finally gained some major underground attention with Hit The Floor (Ubiquity Records) in 2005. At set melding their influences with great effect and featuring some killer riffs and funky lyrics. Hit The Floor featured floor-fillers "Stand Up," "Gotta Let Me Know," and "Family Rap". A fun, funky and fierce outing that is guaranteed to light up your speakers.

Brekestra returned in 2009 with an even funkier, soul jazz opus Dusk Till Dawn (Strut) which has everything you would want in a soul jazz band. There are infectious raucous rhythms and deep rootsy lyrics and long journey for peace and love. Opening with aptly titled "Need A Little Love" sets the tone for this wonderful tour de funk disc. The group pulls into Sharon Jones territory with "Come On Over" featuring Afrodyete, a mid-tempo burner that sure to have you sliding your feet across the floor with your lover.

Dusk Till Dawn also the wonderful call to arms for all the soul jazz bands on the scene with "No Matter Where Go" on where you can find soul across the globe. Dusk Till Dawn is definitely a funky ball-buster of an album but it's the softer moments that will make this a diverse and highly enjoyable outing. "I Don't Wanna Wait" and its instrumental counterpart "Me & Michelle" are great examples of those moments--a beautiful ballads (so to speak) that again demonstrates the band and album journey for peace, love and understanding among our fellow man/woman.

Breakestra have been on scene for too long without getting the recognition they so greatly deserve. I hope that Dusk Till Dawn is the statement that helps catapult them to the next level. Highly Recommended.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kris Davis: Good Citizen

Kris Davis (piano)
Good Citizen (Fresh Sound/New Talent; 2010)
John Herbert (bass)
Tom Rainey (drums)

Kris Davis is one of my favourite pianist. I rank her right up there with Jason Moran and Keith Jarrett. Her compositions are compelling and inventive. Her newest release, Good Citizen is absolutely stellar. A vibrant and explosive trio session with regular collaborators John Herbert and Tom Rainey, Good Citizen is Davis' third recorded output this year (Paradoxical Frog with Ingrid Laubrock and SKM Trio) with a fourth coming before years end. All containing the rich cerebral outlook that makes Kris Davis one of the best musicians deserving much much much wider recognition.

Good Citizen opens with improvising title track smoothly sliding into point/counterpoint interplay of "Where Does That Tunnel Go", a piece that really demonstrates Davis command and freedom with her trio. The album bounces with exuberance and experimentalisim. This is post modernism with quiet accessibility.

Another favourite of mine which is very much in the downtown NYC realm is "Recession Special"-- a pulsating piece that rips itself up and down the scale. Very much what you would expect to see late night in a dark, dingy, New York club setting. It's follow up "Skinner Box" is more in he Cecil Taylor vein, quiet and minimal with Herbert and Rainey really coming to fore with Davis hold a delicate beautiful balance in the background.

Probably the most accessible track is "B Side" an upbeat boppish piece with some fantastic solo work from the always terrific Tom Rainey. A Monkish, Davis leads the group through a nice journey that will definitely have your head and feet bobbing up and down. Great stuff. "Human Condition" is wonderful ballad could easily become your late night theme. It's lovely and romantic but still has a sense of adventure that fits perfect with the rest of the surroundings.

Good Citizen closes with a number that featured earlier this year on the quartet album Paradoxical Frog, "The Iron Spider." This time without the rip current of Ingrid Laubrock's saxophone. But as a trio piece, "The Iron Spider" still packs a huge avant garde punch. Kris Davis fills in the gap with the same verve and excitement. The two pieces aren't drastically different, there's a bit more detail from Herbert and Rainey in this newer recording but at the end of the day it is a stellar piece of work written by all three musicians.

Good Citizen just might be the most varied session to date. It is by far, the must have for any one interested in the current crop of free jazz artists. Good Citizen is definitely in my best albums of the year category. And Kris Davis is one of the most important pianists working today and deserving of a wider audience. I hope after you listen to it, you agree.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bobby Avey: A New Face

Bobby Avey (piano)
A New Face (JayDell Records)
Thomson Kneeland (bass)
Jordan Pearlson (drums)
David Liebman (sax)

Great jazz doesn't always have to come from Europe. Sometimes it can be right in your own backyard and you don't even know it. That's what you may find out when you take a listen to the debut from Bobby Avey, a New York state native now living in Brooklyn. A New Face (JayDell Records) documents the strength and complexity of this young new talent to the scene.

With influences ranging from Bach to McCoy Tyner, Avey and his trio consisting of Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Jordan Pearlson (drums) explore similar creative themes like European counterparts Neil Cowley Trio and hard-edged poly-rhythms of E.S.T.. Big statements yes, but
A New Face definitely delivers with surprising results.

A New Face opens with "Late November" a multi-layered piece driven by Avey's delicate improvising at the piano and countered by some stellar interplay from Pearlson and Kneeland. The trio have been together for over five years so the understanding of each members movements is expected but it is still impressive to capture it in one session throughout the entirety of the recording.

The group are joined by longtime collaborator and renowned saxophonist, David Liebman for four numbers including the title track "New Face" and "Time Unfolding". Liebman's playing is exquisite and fierce throughout and probably one of the best sessions I've heard him perform. Liebman collaborated with Avey in 2006 for a reinterpretation of classical pieces. The two again show their unique bond on the duet "Influence", a lovely ballad that flows effortlessly into a battle of interplay resulting in a pleasant hypnotic denouement. A really beautiful piece that is probably my favourite track on the album (for right now).

A New Face closes with "Time Unfolding", a blistering quartet piece which Liebman leads the trio through a series of crisp, distinct and rolling rhythms that allow each member to stretch their abilities. Avey's movements are precise and mature--exactly what you expect from young and creative new comer. Bobby Avey and his trio may have more up their sleeve than we know. I hope so because this is an impressive debut that I may be telling you about again at the end of the year. Awesome!