Saturday, October 30, 2010

Undiscovered Czech History: Plastic People

The Plastic People Of The Universe (group; formed 1968)
Magic Nights (Munster Records)

The Plastic People Of The Universe were a fantastic and extremely revolutionary group in all the exact terms. This collective formed in the late '60s in Prague under Soviet rule which happened just a month after the bands formation.

This isolation of the times is reflected in throughout their music with elements of radical classical gypsy-esque movements in addition to Western influences like Velvet Underground and The Mothers Of Invention (to whom the bands name is derived). The music is a combination of dark love themes, rhythmic world genres and wrapped within the political strife of the era. The best way to describe it would be like going to a concert with Can, YMO, Kraftwerk, Mothers Of Invention and Velvet Underground all playing taking turns performing during one set. Yes, that would be awesome. And The Plastic People Of The Universe are that cool.

A brand new collection just came out that captures the significant moments of this band long, up and down career. Magic Nights (Munster Records) covers 1969 - 1985) covers the multiple changes in the band; from the early prog rock experimentation's to poetic structures under Egon Bondy. The band was literally "the underground". Their albums were recorded a various locations as so not be caught by Czech authorities and band member were consistently harassed and in some cases jailed.

It wasn't until the late 80s and various break ups and reincarnations that the group got any stability. Shortly after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and under President Vclav Havel (a friend and follower of the band) that the band began to tour and record more frequently.
In terms of revolutionary music, The Plastic People Of The Universe are definitely a true symbol of that just as Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong were to the world of music. Magic Nights is not just a great compilation--it is a serious historical document that if you are a fan of any of the artist I've mentioned you should definitely looking into this collection.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Joe Morris/Nate Wooley Create Fascinating Rhythms

Joe Morris/Nate Wooley
Tooth And Nail (Clean Feed; 2010)
Joe Morris (acoustic guitar)
Nate Wooley (trumpet)

Tooth And Nail

For me Joe Morris is a slightly new discovery. I don't own any of his material as leader. I mainly have a couple of records he's been on with Ken Vandermark--most notably a DKV Trio recording from 1998 entitled Deep Telling (Okkadisk). Nate Wooley, I was aware of through some his work with avant garde drummer Tyshawn Sorey.

So when I found this new duo recording with Nate Wooley, Tooth And Nail (Clean Feed), I decided to give it go. Knowing that Morris is an excellent guitarist and his oblique way of playing was something that I also thought was interesting and inventive; this album is probably going to very excited. And it is.

Tooth And Nail is an improvised and technically brilliant work. There a very sparse passages throughout with Morris delicately picking in far reaching angularity. Nate Wooley's creates some interesting soundscapes that seem like combinations of Arve Henriksen and Enrico Rava. There are some very interesting exchanges on "Gigantica" and "Steelhead" where you can hear the improvised moments but they work in such a timely fashion that it becomes a beautiful melody.

"Noble Reasoning" is another moment in which Wooley and Morris really take off. There is a simpatico that occurs towards the final few minutes of the piece that the notes come rolling fast and furious but its never overbearing or distracting. And it folds perfectly into the next piece "Forest Grove" where Morris' playing feels like cello in hands of an angry child.

The closing number "A Terrific Snag" is another scale jumping moment where Wooley's work really comes to the fore. While Joe Morris sets the parameters, Wooley is exercising some lovely and ingenious phrasing.

One of things that really attracted me to this record was the pairing of guitar (especially acoustic) and trumpet. It's rare. You usually see the regular pairing of drum and sax, sax and piano or sax and sax. Tooth And Nail felt like an anomaly. But its sounds like a well woven piece of art. It's a deep bit of storytelling but I think if you are a fan of Ken Vandermark and the Chicago and New York underground scenes you will definitely find Tooth And Nail a fascinating listen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Celebrating Marion Brown

Marion Brown (sax; b. Sep. 8, 1935 - October 25, 2010)
Three For Shepp (Impulse)

Today we celebrate the highly under appreciated saxophonist, Marion Brown who passed away on Monday. This is an entry I did a few weeks ago but I wanted to share it again for those you may not have had a chance to explore the music of Marion Brown.

Marion Brown embodied a lovely, soft tone on alto sax. Many jazz fans will know his work on John Coltrane's Ascension but Brown's own work much more understated. He didn't necessarily fit into the free jazz realm as much as his contemporaries.

Born in Atlanta, he moved to New York in the late 60s when later he would join Coltrane on the aforementioned Ascension. Brown would develop an extensive body of work from '65 - '71 that was both conservative and free form. While his work on Ascension and some later albums for both ESP and Fontana were high intensity and bold statements of intent, his overall tone was more empathic. Over the course of his career Marion Brown has worked with Mal Waldron, Anthony Braxton, Andrew Cyrille and even Jon Hassell.

My personal favourite and probably the one most critics would pick as the best representation of his work is Three For Shepp (Impulse; 1966). Three For Shepp is a tribute to his friend and musical partnership with saxophonist, Archie Shepp--who in addition to Ornette Coleman was a major influence on Brown. They had both played on Ascension and also worked on each others albums while both were signed for Impulse Records. The albums six tracks are divided into three Shepp compositions and three written by Brown. Three For Shepp is a classic document of the free jazz period with a bright mixture of tones and structure that runs the gamut of blues, Latin and swing wrapped in a swirling African motifs.

Brown's own "Fortunato" and Shepp's "Spooks" are powerful statements of his talent and distinct vision that make Three For Shepp an adventurous and frenzy outing. While there are other free jazz albums from this period that made a significant and longstanding statement of jazz history, Three For Shepp is one of the unheralded masterpieces that needs to be re-examined and rediscovered by a new generation.

For the last few decades Marion Brown has been a teacher of jazz and very very rarely performing as a session member. He has had several illnesses in recent years but he is still moving along. Today is his birthday and you should do yourself a favour in the next few hours, days and weeks and seek out one of his records. Take a listen for yourself. You won't be disappointed by Marion Brown.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Return Of The Orb

The Orb (group; formed 1989)
Metallic Spheres (Columbia)

Cover (Metallic Spheres:David Gilmour)

In the realm of ambient, techno, trippy dance music, The Orb are in the top five most revered artists. Led by the funny and always inventive Alex Patterson, The Orb have carved out that trippy corner of the last twenty years as ambient's version of Pink Floyd (circa Dark Side of the Moon). They have done just as much to transform dance music over the last two decades as Brian Eno did with his groundbreaking album Discreet Music and A Guy Called Gerald did in a single track "Voodoo Ray."

While releasing a few unsuccessful early EPs, The Orb finally burst on to the scene with two highly creative tracks "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld" and "Little Fluffy Clouds". Patterson's technique of more slow, cerebral, beat-friendly rhythms caught on quickly with the now dub "chill out" crowd. The Orb have always admitted to the influence of David Gilmour and Pink Floyd in their music (and artwork) so it is only fitting that finally, finally, finally the legendary guitarist and archetypal ambient group would team up to record what is without a doubt one of my favourite albums this year--Metallic Spheres.

Metallic Spheres essentially contains two very lengthy tracks roughly 20 minutes each ("Metallic" and "Spheres"). The tracks are broken into 5 suites but you really aren't going to notice that unless watch the timer on your CD player. This is a really wonderful meeting minds. The Orb grooving heavy hypnotica melds perfectly to Gilmour's dreamy and drifting guitar melodies. Gilmour adds a small bit of vocal treatment on one of the suites on Metallic which is reprised later during "Spheres." It's as if they had been working together for years. "Metallic" might be the more atmospheric of the two tracks and containing some rich, dense patterns that are very reminiscent of the Orb's earlier work.

"Spheres" starts in a heavy, dub-centric manner with Gilmour's guitar and vocal work floating in and out of the mix. Early on in "Spheres" you know this is fully an Orb project. Nice electronic movements and sampled field noise creating a very funky direction for the second half of the session. There is an infectious pounding drum and bass chorus towards the later stages of "Spheres" that provides a small bit of dance intrigue but move quickly because as bright as this moment is it is gone. From that pulsating grooves comes an orchestral denouement in the short suite "Bold Knife Trophy" that brings the proceedings to gentle end but leaving you begging for more.

Metallic Spheres feels as though there is definitely more in the studio than what we were privy to but what we have is still phenomenal. For those wanting a new Pink Floyd album--you get it--with a 21st century spin. For those wanting The Orb to return to their ambient roots--you get it--with the addition of one of their greatest influences. Metallic Spheres is a nice crowning achievement by two groundbreaking musicians. Well worth your checking out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chie Imaizumi

Chie Imaizumi (composer, arranger)
A Time Of New Beginnings (Capri Records)

In jazz, you don't seem to get many composer specific artists anymore. At least not in the mold of a Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Billy Stayhorn, Betty Carter or Marian McPartland. That's not to say that Japanese composer, Chie Imaizumi is in the same ballpark but she does present a new spin on the foundation and themes built by the aforementioned legends.

Chie Imaizumi has quickly established herself as an up and coming force on the composer scene in just under a decade. Building on her critically acclaimed debut, Unfailing Kindness (Capri), Chie returned to the studio with some wonderful new pieces and a stellar line up of musicians to interpret her vision on A Time Of New Beginnings (Capri).

New Beginnings for me is a lovely body of work that lends itself more to jazz new comers than those of you who may what something more cerebral or avant garde in nature. But dig deep and you will see that Imaizumi has the talent to continue produces exquisite compositions for years to come.

Where Unfailing Kindness was more a bebop/bluesy affair say in the realm of Ellington or Basie--New Beginnings stay in more of well crafted concept than spread of genres. The album delivers multiple layers of detailed structure as evident on "Information Overload"--a nice balance of big band implications and bebop traditions.

As I mentioned the musicians are stellar and really bring out the shining quality in Imaizumi's writing. On "Information Overload", Randy Brecker sounds fantastic. I'm not a big fan of Brecker either so I was really surprised when I looked at the liner notes for this record and noticed he was the spotlight on this track.

Another highpoint for me is "Many Happy Days Ahead" in which Steve Davis and Gary Smulyan dominate the piece with some starling affect. It's a lovely romantic piece in the style of the most intimate recordings of Dave Brubeck. The title track is another moment where you could easily hear Chie Imaizumi sound on jazz radio or at one of the many jazz festivals around the world. It's a bold piece with some magnificent playing by drummer Jeff Hamilton and Tamir Hendelman.

A Time Of New Beginnings is one of those warm additions that I think you sometimes need to break up the more intense, rough hues you may listen to on a daily basis. I definitely do. Trust me its not everyone's cup of tea but as I said if you listen closely and let it sink in--you hear a young artist painting a new picture on traditional canvas. Good stuff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

George Coleman

George Coleman (sax; b. 1935)

The illustrious career of George Coleman includes seminal recordings with greats such as Booker Little, Harold Mabern, Miles Davis (the albums My Funny Valentine and Seven Steps To Heaven), Chet Baker and Herbie Hancock (the legendary album Maiden Voyage). It is almost travesty that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Early in his career he spent time on Blues and Soul scene in bands with B.B. King and Ray Charles. The Memphis born native has also recorded under his own leadership with legends; Billy Higgins, Hilton Ruiz and fellow Memphis native, Harold Mabern.

Coleman is sound is big and powerful but with very smooth concentrated undertones of beauty. The musicians he surrounds himself with are always excellent additions to his lyrical structure and his interpretations of standards. One of the surprising things that is always the case with under appreciated artists like George Coleman is his short discography. He has recorded so much as a sideman that he owns albums are few and far between. So I recommend that if you see even just one record by George Coleman--pick it up. Two records that would definitely recommend that give a good picture of George Coleman's style are live recordings from Ronnie Scott's Club in London.

Playing Changes (Ronnie Scott Jazz House Records; 1988) is a magnificent live recording original recorded in 1979 and not released until '88. Coleman is working with one of his most consistent quartets including the aforementioned Higgins (drums), Ruiz (piano) and Ray Drummond (bass). Playing Changes includes three lengthy tracks but it is sheer masterclass. Coleman was in strong form during this period. He had just finished recording material with Charles Mingus in addition to sessions with Charles Earland. The opener "Laura", a Johnny Mercer standard is a lovely moment of nightclub jazz. The majority of the piece leans on the strength of Ruiz and Higgins with Coleman and Drummond adding the nice full-bodied exterior touches. Coleman's own number, "Ceora" delivers some lovely phrasing and harmonic structures that really demonstrate why he can be bold and beautiful inside the same piece.

Blues Inside Out (Ronnie Scott Jazz House Records; 1997) was a return performance to the world famous jazz club in 1995. This time he with a set of now famous British performers including Peter King (sax), Julian Joseph (piano) as well as Mark Taylor (drums) and Dave Green (bass). King's voice and Joseph mastery add a little more bite and to the is session. It's a long evening. All six tracks are over 10 minutes each. The quartet sizzles with pieces from Miles Davis ("Tune Up") and Sonny Rollins ("Oleo") as well Coleman's own "Blues Inside Out" and "Venus Fly Trap (Waltz)". "Venus Fly Trap" is delivers a lovely melody and some flawless musicianship from the big tenor man. "Blues Inside Out" while set in a blues mode is a real firecracker of a tune that should convince anyone of the greatness George Coleman possess.

The unfortunate part of the story is that both Playing Changes and Blues Inside Out are very hard to find. I have seen them as twofer on Amazon. They are also available for download. Either way there definitely worth a purchase.

Sometimes jazz fans (myself included) forget that sometimes people don't necessarily need to be turned on to the major artists like Coltrane, Mingus, Ellington, Brubeck, etc to enjoy jazz. Sometimes its the lesser known ones that can really have a greater impact on people. If you have a chance and really want to be turned on to some great heat, George Coleman is great place to start.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Undiscovered Masterpiece: James Finn

James Finn (sax; b. 1956)
Opening The Gates (Cadence Records; 2003)
Dominic Duval (bass)
Whit Dickey (drums)

James Finn is the surprise gem you find when you least expect it. When you think you're comfortable with the music you have and that you're going to settle in and focus on what you've got. Then a friend, an article, a record store clerk or just plain old intuition forces you take that extra step forward. This is what happened to me when I was given a copy of Opening The Gates (Cadence).

Opening The Gates is an amazing piece of work. It is bold statement from an artist who got a late start in recording under his own name but you would never know it by the muscle and inventiveness of this recording. The album was originally meant as a demo but record companies were so impressed with the power and strength of the recordings that there was a fight to sign him. Each track on the album is the first and only take (excluding one where they recorded it twice). And lucky for the listener the album remains intact as wonderful document of Free Jazz and a real masterpiece that should be heard by more people. So I'm telling everyone.

Finn's phrasing on the opening number "Stone Birds' Northward Helix" resembles the current beauty of David S. Ware (bold statement I know but you have to hear this record). Dickey and Duval play pivotal roles in shaping the undercurrent of Finn's messages. "Opening The Gates" Finn and Dicky fire through chord changes like buzz saws all the while keeping the number extremely tight and interesting.

On "Starlight Extensions" the trio wrap some complex structures in with what seems like some playful rhythms and it works well. Elsewhere, Duval really shines on "Spinning Pyramids Propelled" where his opening lines are almost Reggie Workman-esque. The spectre of Coltrane hovers throughout Opening The Gates but more so on "Spinning Pyramids Propelled" with Finn's playing becomes right in line with the latter period of the great legend.

"Prayer For The Dead" closes out the album with melodic style with some sparse pacing by Duval and beauty swathes of the drum kit by Dickey, while Finn adds the harder edge on the top. It's almost the counter argument to the album's opener.

Opening The Gates has hallmarks of great records by Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and aforementioned David S. Ware. The sound grows right of the NY Underground scene and is definitely one of those rare finds and a magnificent debut from an dynamic new voice that continues to recorded albeit slowly. Opening The Gates is destined to become one legendary masterpiece in years to come.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Celebrating Ray Anderson

Ray Anderson (trombone; b, 1952)
Ray Anderson / Marty Ehrlich Quartet
Hear You Say: Live In Willisau (Challenge Records; 2010)

Marty Ehrlich (sax; clarinet)
Matt Wilson (drums)
Brad Jones (bass)

This weekend was trombonist and Chicago native, Ray Anderson's birthday. A technically proficient and highly original performer, he gained wide recognition with Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul in the late 70s and 80s. His ability to meld both free form and bebop to me makes him combination some of his contemporaries like Steve Davis and Jeb Bishop. In addition, to celebrating his birthday, Ray Anderson has just released Hear You Say: Live In Willisau (Challenge Records), a collaboration with another versatile performer, saxophonist, Marty Ehlrich, whom both met while playing with Anthony Braxton.

The fun, humorous opener, "Portrait of Leroy Jenkins" with New Orleans aesthetics includes great back and forth dialog between Anderson and Ehrlich. It is sometimes surprising to realize they have not recorded together before yet playing in the same music circles for years. "Hot Crab Pot" is a scorcher with Anderson showing exquisite versatility along with crisp time keeping from Matt Wilson and some brilliant movement on bass by Brad Jones. Ehrlich joins in for a magnificent and extended solo midway that really tears up the scales.

"My Wish" is beautifully paced ballad which Anderson almost sounds like saxophone. Another example of his truly brilliant artistry. But the union of Ehrlich and Anderson cannot be overstated. Both men are the leaders here. They standout on each piece but for completely different reasons. There is a real camaraderie between all the musicians that gives the listener a feeling that this group has been performing for years but in actuality its only been two years. Truly amazing.

There's allot of post bop and improvisation moving throughout this live performance. It's a real jumpin' affair. "The Lion's Tanz" is a great piece that delivers an improvisational forum for all the members. It's a short piece but delivers a memorable punch. "Alligatory Rhumba" and "The Git Go" both bouncing numbers which Ehrlich and Anderson battle muscle, verve and polytechnic rhythms that also settle into a nice funky beat at times.

This funk leads into the closing number and title track is both gospel influenced as it is funkdified. "Hear You Say" has deep New Orleans-Dirty Dozen vibe but with even more true grit. Some excellent phrasing between the two lead musicians highlights this closer. Superb stuff.

Hear You Say: Live In Willisau is wonderful recording of a quartet that hopefully will continue record of the next few years. Each of the members has there own bands but this an excellent outlet for their creative forces that should be heard whenever possible.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Vandermark 5 On Fire Again!

The Vandermark 5 (group)
The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone (2CDs; Not Two Records)
Ken Vandermark (sax; clarinet)
Tim Daisy: percussion  Dave Rempis (sax)
Kent Kessler (bass)  Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello)
Magnus Broo (trumpet)  Havard Wiik (piano)

The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone is The Vandermark 5's fifteenth album. For this outing Ken Vandermark takes the unique step of inviting two of his regular collaborators in his other projects, Magnus Broo (trumpet) and Havard Wiik (piano) (of the group Atomic) to sit in and it has some stunning results. The album features a number of tracks that appeared on the band previous two albums Annular Gift and Beat Reader.

It is rare to hear Ken Vandermark in any of his groups, with a pianist, let alone his mainstay V5. The other groups being Free Fall and the supergroup Atomic-School Days actually also include Havard Wiik as well as the full Atomic group.

The addition of the two Atomic member does add a bit more fire to the session. It seems Vandermark's material here is more challenging and each member has allot to counteract with throughout the recording. Things get started heavy with fierce opening number "Friction" where Wiik's heartpounding progression an intensity and urgency to band that I haven't heard in a few records. On the next piece, "Some Not All," the group subtle into a rhythm lead by the pianist and Tim Daisy on drums with some unbelievable work from Longberg-Holm on cello. The horn section led by Vandermark provides a wonderful battle like Godzilla vs all of Japan.

Wiik contributes to magnificent pieces to this set "New Weather" and "Green Mill Tilter", the latter featured recently on the Atomic live album, Theater Tilters (Jazzland). "New Weather" is nice and complex piece with the horn section leading the way in the early going and quietly giving way to some trio interplay by Wiik, Longberg-Holm and Daisy. Then returning to the horns for some rich, bold statements on each players part. Wiik has written a piece that suits V5 perfectly. Since each of the members have played with one another in very forms you have to except there is a great deal of knowing each others movements and strengths. Wiik and Vandermark have picked up on that perfectly throughout The Horse Jumps...

"Cadmium Oranage" begins with some swirling clarinet work by Vandermark that would make Jimmy Guiffre proud. The track becomes a melodic, avant funk workout for me reminiscent of Vandermark's work with another of his side projects, Spaceways. "Desireless" is beauty piece of avant garde in which Rempis, Vandermark and Broo have an interplay that uncanny drives the rest of the group forward. While Wiik's playing again standouts, its Kessler who is the glue that holds things together here. Kessler's propulsive work is the counterpoint rhythm that keeps the group in track.

And speaking of glue, "Cement' is another piece in which Daisy, Wiik and this time, Kessler lead the rhythm with the horn section coming in as cinematic response chords. It gets funky and it gets wild and before you know it--its over. This is amazing piece written by Vandermark which provides another set of opportunities for each member of ensemble to shine accordingly.

The final track "Nameless" hits you like a wildfire. The sheer ferocity of Rempis and Vandermark monumental playing here soon opens to a wall of distortion from Longberg-Holm and then returns to some quiet but humorous interplay between horns, piano and drums and finally a destructively perfect ending solidifying well rounded and accomplishing outing.

The Vandermark 5 as I have said before, are one of the few bands pushing jazz forward and beyond. The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone is no exception. It is a compelling and sprawling work that challenges everything in free jazz and shows this American quintet plus two to be in peak form. The Vandermark 5 get better with each record. And I have to say this is probably in my top three favourite V5 albums ever. HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brad Goode: Tight Like This

Brad Goode (trumpet; b. 1963)
Tight Like This (Delmark; 2010)

Brad Goode has been producing some elegant and seductive material for over 20 years now. I had originally first heard Brad Goode on Curtis Fuller's 2004 release, Up Jumped Spring (Delmark). I was floored by Goode's playing on that sessions. His skill is unquestionable. Goode has also worked with such legendary musicians as Von Freeman, Joe Henderson and James Moody.

His latest, Tight Like This (Delmark) provides some hard bop motifs in the vein of Clifford Brown, Woody Shaw and Donald Byrd. Goode delivers a fresh, excellent and easily accessible album of mostly originals and standards on Tight Like This that I think a large majority of audiences will enjoy.

The album begins with the title track, originally made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928. Goode gives its a very up tempo twist with some great funky rhythms, making it highly infectious. It's almost night and day from the original with a pulsating bassline from Kelly Sill and mood moving melody from Adream Farrugia on piano. Goode really turns this piece into his own.

Another wonderful standard Goode delivers early on is "Nightingale" (written by Xavier Cugat). Goode maintains the underlying Latin rhythms of the song but also adds some lines for his quartet to stretch out and make this more than just a by-the-numbers Latin cover. Drummer Anthony Lee is brilliant adding subtle touches to accompany Goode's romantic movements throughout.

"Reverse The Charges" is swinging and funky number that would fit perfectly on radio. That's not a bad thing. This is originally a number from 1945 by the truly under-rated and deserving of greater recognition, Freddie Webster (trumpet). Goode again creates an excellent arena for the band to hit some individual high points throughout.

On "Summary" and "Midwestern Autumn", Goode highlights his skill as writer with two bluesy ballads that have significant emotional resonance. Beautiful textured with luscious undertones.

"Bob's Bounce" is smokin' number where the quartet really let loose. This for me is where Goode could almost channel Woody Shaw. It's a blistering piece of work with a great bass solo midway through. This one of those pieces that even more sizzling in a live setting.

Tight Like This is diverse session that sinks on after a couple of spins and then really becomes a part of your daily rotation. I haven't been listening to Goode's material for long but I have been quite impressed with his progression. He has develop a highly creative pattern of deconstructing standards in addition to surrounding them with his own vibrant material. Tight Like This is no exception. For those looking for a great upfront, straight ahead hard bop record with solid performances and material--Tight Like This delivers everything you want.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Celebrating Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk (piano; b. Oct. 10, 1917 - d. Feb. 17, 1982)

Yesterday was Thelonious Monk's birthday. Now if you have been reading this blog for awhile you know I've written about Monk on numerous occasions. He is one of my favourite artists of all-time. So I won't go into much detail today (you can read previous entries). Today I wanted to celebrate his birthday by discussing three great compilations that give a very complete overview of his genius.

Each compilation covers a specific period and all are fairly inexpensive. You could easily get all the Monk you wanted in one shopping trip. That's not too say that albums like Brilliant Corners (Riverside Records), Criss Cross (Columbia) or It's Monk Time (Columbia) should not be purchased but in a environment where individual albums are becoming harder to find, some of you should at least know about the best collections that would served the purpose well.

The Best Of The Blue Note Years (Blue Note)

This album is also known as 'Round Midnight (in some countries) as well as a couple of other different titles. The track listings vary slight and the covers are definitely different but the history remains the same. These are recordings from '47 - '52 and feature Monk in sessions with Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins among others. Consider it "the artists as a young man" period. This is Monk delivering some of great skill on standards like "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "April In Paris" in addition to early versions of his classics (known standards) "Epistrophy," "'Round Midnight," and "In Walked Bud". At first listen it may seems slightly non-descript but once you have submersed yourself in the other two collections you will come back to these recordings with a sense of amazement.

The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside (Concord Records; 2CDs)

This recently released compilation is prime material from '52 - '60. It features a host of legends in sessions with Monk, including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Gigi Gryce, Sonny Rollins are more. It's two discs at an exteremely affordable price (at most places) and includes a large chunk of the classic Monk pieces, "Brilliant Corners," "Trinkle, Trinkle," "Nutty," and "Staight No Chaser". Monk's playing at this point was incredible. This is Monk developing into a very distinct voice on the scene and his compositions becoming more and more potent. His personality was emerging and everyone audiences and critics alike were taking notice.

The Essential Thelonious Monk (Columbia Records, 2CDs)

This technically covers the important works Monk recorded between '62 - '68. It also features some of Monk's finest groups (Charlie Rouse, Frank Dunlop, Butch Warren, Ben Riley) in phenomenal form. The collection includes live recordings, solo work and Monk's adventures into large ensembles. The Essential Thelonious Monk also includes versions of my favourite Monk pieces "Well You Needn't." and "Straight No Chaser". Monk was "on top of the world" at this point but also critically scrutinized. I guess that's part of genius and success. At this point Monk was on the cover of Time magazine and producing records of real quality and distinction (the aforementioned Criss Cross and It's Monk Time).

Many of you may already have one or two of these collections but for those who don't these three compilations would probably give you the best overview of Thelonious Monk you could have (outside of the individual albums and expensive boxed sets). But don't forget there are a treasure trove of live albums which highlight Monk's ability as entertainer, leader and great thinker that are worth seeking out. We have written about on the blog before as well. I hope that you get a chance to purchase any of the above records. You won't be disappointed. And here's to the live of one the great musicians ever. Happy Birthday Monk!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson (guitar)

So I have a problem. I'm addicted to music. When I getting into an artist (or someone turns me on to a new artist/group) I end up throwing my chips all in. Meaning I end up on the long excitable and excruciating journey of trying to find everything that artist has recorded (or played on). That is what is happening now with a great new talent from New York, Mary Halvorson.

Mary Halvorson guitar work is well known inside the free jazz scene as a result of her association and performances with the legendary Anthony Braxton (sax), Elliot Sharp (guitar) and with Marc Ribot (guitar). She has also recorded and performed with Matana Roberts, Tom Rainey, Ingrid Laubrock, Jessica Pavone among others in the NY scene. Her style might be a combination of Marc Ribot, James Blood Ulmer, Thruston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Joe Morris. In short, she's fucking amazing! Halvorson's playing is gentle and fluid but you can feel the harder edge she gives the material. It's owes more to indie-rock than jazz at times. But that is also what sets her apart from her contemporaries and mentors--a fresh, bright harder edge. It is something different that we haven't heard in a long time.

Mary Halvorson has recorded on over 25 albums but only twice as leader. The first album, Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12 Records; 2008), is an invigorating and audacious work showcasing her diverse skill as composer and performer. The work of her regular trio consisting of Ches Smith (drums) and John Hebert (bass) is dazzling. "Momentary Lapse" and "Sweeter Than You" both illustrate Halvorson's ability to construct a stop/start world of soundscapes with moments of sweet emotion and relentless frenetic pace that keep the you on edge throughout the recording.

The title track starts with Ches Smith whipping through a fierce solo before Halvorson quietly joins in and the two deliver a scintillating tet-a-tet that is augmented slightly with John Hebert quietly underneath. Dragon's Head closes with an post jazz/indie-rock curler of "April April May", a tune that Halvorson shifts patterns dramatically but inventively--all the while still managing to be intriguing. Dragon's Head, while not being her debut recording, still delivers a sculpture well shaped in composition and harmonics that make it truly unique, original and far superior than most of her contemporaries today.

Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 Records; 2010) finds the same trio now expanded into a quintet with Jon Irabagon on sax and Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet. This adds a little more body and rhythm to some of the recordings. But it doesn't interfere with free flowing atmosphere of the original group. In fact I think it gives the musicians more strength and room to breath or expand on different themes. Halvorson is still the leader but allows the band to do some of the talking as on "Mile High Like" which Irabagon, Finlayson and Smith rip through notes while Halvorson's floats above and sometimes just underneath the rhythm. This is one the best examples of how this quintet melds together beautifully throughout Saturn Sings.

"Crack In Sky" and more importantly "Moon Traps In Seven Rings" are almost ballad-esque, with a loose abstract construction from Halvorson. Finlayson is the standout on "Moon Traps In Seven Rings" until about two thirds of the way in when Halvorson takes a Marc Ribot like solo and the group returns to the original melody. This is a great piece of writing. "Crack In Sky" sees Irabagon and Halvorson interplay beautifully--displaying Mary Halvorson can combine tradition and avant garde into something magical (similar to her mentor Anthony Braxton).

"Sea Seizure" again expresses the more indie-rock leaning side of Halvorson. It's a groove-laden track with aggression and agitation that could sit alongside anything Sonic Youth or Praxis could write. The title track, "Saturn Sings" opens with marching order-like quality led by Halvorson and Smith, only to return to a wonderful group dynamic played out by the rhythm section. Saturn Sings is an album that is another step up for Mary Halvorson in song writing, leadership and performance.

I have to say it again--I'm glad I was turned on to Mary Halvorson (by the guys at Downtown Music Gallery by the way). It has been a revelation. Her playing is devastating and really marks the coming of a true talent on the scene. Still impossible to believe that out of all the albums she has recorded on, these are the only two in which she is truly the leader. But I am now in search of everything. A bad addiction but its worth every spin of the disc. Hope you get addicted to Mary Halvorson too.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Atomic: Theater Tilters

Atomic (group; formed 2000)
Theater Tilters (Jazzland; 2010)

Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax; clarinet)
Magnus Broo (trumpet)
Havard Wiik (piano)
Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass)
Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)

Atomic along with The Vandermark 5 are probably the two most important free jazz groups around today. The similarities are obvious. Each has a unique sound world that embraces both structure and freedom. But in the case of Atomic, the Swedish/Norwegian quintet utilizes a little more subtle melody, thanks to the inclusion of Havard Wiik on piano.

Theater Tilters is the groups second live album (a two disc set) and as with the first live (included in the three disc set Retrograde from 2008), Atomic prove they are growing increasingly innovative and versatile. The album was recorded over two night in October of last year.

Theater Tilters opens on a lovely violent and discordant note of "Green Mill Tilter" (possibly named after the famous Chicago jazz club) and never lets up. "Green Mill Titler" slides into a groove led by Wiik and Haker-Flaten and some battling between horns and drums. And then all-stop. We are then treated to probably the most melody friendly track of the proceedings "Andersonville" which sees Fredrik Ljungkvist leading the way on clarinet. This is a wonder piece with nice balance of free jazz and almost classical themes. It's a tasty piece of work and also the longest track over both discs. "Bop About" (originally featured on the bands third album The Bikini Tapes) closes the first disc sheer tour de force for all the members and definitely in the Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp realm of frenzied rhythms and patterns. A perfect way to end the side one.

One of my favourite Atomic tracks that I could listen to everyday opens disc two, "Roma" (which also opens the band forth album Happy New Years) is blistering six minute piece that shows each member adding fuel to an already rampant fire of an evening. Wiik's forceful movement on piano are countered by Nilssen-Loves pulsating cacophony on drums. Broo and Ljungkvist add some scintilating treatments to make these a white noise affair but one that you will fall in love with quickly. Things between to calm down a bit with "Snguine" and "Edit" as Broo takes a more of the lead with some beautiful coloring reminiscent of Enirco Rava. These two tracks bristle with freedom and romanticism all the while holding a creative European edge.

Theater Tilters finally closes with the perfect example of the bands freedom and individuality "Two Boxes". "Two Boxes" features some fantastic interplay that really does go "out there" and back. Killer stuff from Ljungkvist, Haker-Flaten and Wiik with the rest of band closing in like climax of a horror movie.

Now as with The Vandermark 5, The Thing and Supersilent, Atomic are not for the faint at heart. This is an attack on the senses but the melody is there once you let the sounds envelope you. Theater Tilters is just another in the amazing cannon of one Europe's finest jazz groups. This is not my first choice for the Atomic uninitiated but if you want adventure in your music--Atomic is a great band to start with. Enjoy...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms

Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone; b. 1977)
Sun Rooms (Delmark)
Nat McBride (bass)
Mike Reed (drums)

If you don't already know the a name, Jason Adasiewicz, you need to. Hailing from the increasing fertile and creative Chicago Underground scene which has also produced the Lucky 7s, Exploding Star Orchestra, Ken Vandermark and Jeb Bishop, Jason Adasiewicz is fast becoming one to of the most important exponents from the windy city. His newest release, Sun Rooms (Delmark) is only his third album as leader but he has been making his presence felt on a number albums as a session member for almost ten years now (including some the aforementioned).

While Adasiewicz previous releases, Rolldown (482 Records) and Varmit (Cunniform) both show a growing creativity on vibes and in writing, Sun Rooms is incredibly spacious and inventing. At times Adasiewicz feels more like a pianist moving effortless along the scales. Some comparisons to Bobby Hutchinson (circa Blue Note) or the Dave Pike Set might seems logically but don't necessarily fit. He has sited Andrew Hill as an influence which does come out at times in the complexity of his pieces.

His trio which includes Nate McBride and Mike Reed take Adasiewicz's compositions and envelope them with warm abstract tones. This is accompanied by Adasiewicz's delicate but forceful rhythmic structure. This is evident of the cover of Hasaaan Ibn Ali's "Of My Back Jack" and the wonderful version of Sun Ra's "Overtones Of China."

But its not just the covers that make this a really supreme step up from his previous albums. The material Adasiewicz has written for Sun Rooms shines with quality. "Get In There" and "Life" show intricacies and playfulness that Thelonious Monk would love. Fast paced and hard hitting "You Can't" shows some forceful interplay between McBride and Adasiewicz with Reed keeping the rhythm fresh and subtle in the background.

There is a hypnotic nature to these pieces that after the first spin you really can't get the rhythms out of head. That to me is the sign of a great record. Jason Adasiewicz is definitely a fresh nice voice from a avant garde scene that reveals New York in every way. Sun Rooms is a record that should not be overlooked by jazz fans.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Jazz On Sunday: John Coltrane

John Coltrane (sax)
The Gentle Side Of John Coltrane (Impulse, 1975)

Just a quick small entry for today. For me Sunday is a John Coltrane day. What better way to start of a morning than pulling out a Trane record and sitting with a nice cup of coffee (or tea). A few weeks ago I pulled out rarely talked about compilation, The Gentle Side Of John Coltrane (Impulse). The Gentle Side is as the title says a collection of the more mellow, ballad-centric recordings. While most Coltrane fans will have these songs on the individual albums or even other Coltrane compilations, this collection is nice put together from a listening perspective.

The Gentle Side starts out with the beautiful recording written by the highly underrated pianist Mal Waldron, "Soul Eyes" and then proceeds through a lovely journey of romanticism. Even latter tracks such as "Wise One" and even "Welcome" (from one his last albums Transition) sit perfectly along side the earlier Impulse pieces. This is an album that really highlights the lyricism and versatility of John Coltrane. The great duets with Johnny Hartman "My One And Only Love" and Duke Ellington "In A Sentimental Mood" are also included showing Coltrane wonderful collaborative spirit. One of my favourite Trane recordings "Alabama" is also featured and while it is a very short studio version it is still pretty stellar to listening experience.

Essentially if you only own one or two John Coltrane records or even if you own everything, The Gentle Side Of John Coltrane is still a great little purchase. A wonderful companion piece to any Trane collection or a nice starter collection for new fans. The Gentle Side Of John Coltrane is a beautiful and emotionally inspection of one the major figures of Jazz. And as I mentioned before its a perfect Sunday album.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Soweto Kinch: The New Emancipation

Soweto Kinch (sax, vocals; b.1978)
The New Emancipation (Soweto Kinch Recordings)

Ok so this is the part where I say, "this is going to be one my albums of the year." While let's just say 2010 has been a really good year for jazz. Mainly new stuff. New and creative stuff. I can tell everyone right now that my number one and number two albums, er, uh--well, why don't we wait a few more weeks for that. Today I did want to talk about what will definitely be on my top albums for year.

The long and arduous return of the jazz-hip hop alchemist, Soweto Kinch. I've discussed, London based, Soweto Kinch's incredible qualities before but I think on his new album The New Emancipation (SK Recordings) he has finally achieved the promise and hope that some many of us who have followed him over the years have been waiting for. The New Emancipation is sheer brilliance for a new century.

Early in his career, Soweto Kinch was guided by current British jazz legends Gary Crosby and Courtney Pine. After receiving a nomination for the UK press coveted Mercury Prize and critical acclaim for his debut, Conversations With The Unseen (Dune; 2003). Conversations... as with its follow up A Day In The Life of B12 (Dune) were both commentary on struggles of black British youth. But they can also be observed as the struggles of everyone in lower to middle class around the world. The great thing about powerful music is that the themes when communicated right, stand the test of time. And with Soweto Kinch, I think we may have found another great communicator of the urban theme.

After a great one off single Jazz Planet (Dune), some legal wrangling with his former label and the still unreleased sequel to A Day In The Life titled Basement Fables, now on shelf (hopefully not forever) Soweto began releasing music again in 2009. The Live At iTunes Soho release and an amazing hard hitting hip hop/jazz mini album War In A Rack (SK Recordings) signaled that Soweto was back and stronger than ever.

Now this month with the release of The New Emancipation, Kinch has probably designed the best and clearest document of his vision of Jazz and Hip Hop to date. While the album is based on Soweto Kinch's recent studies on slavery, The New Emancipation is also about the not accepting the pressures that try to hold us down. It's about our efforts to learn and break free from conformity.

Opening with the complex, dichotomy of artist, record label, celebrity and making it rich, "Trying To Be A Star" and moving into the bristling hard bop of "A People With No Past"--very reminiscent of Branford Marsalis circa Crazy People Music. In the first two full tracks Kinch has made his case that Jazz and Hip Hop an coexist within the same sphere. The influence of both someone like Branford, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McClean and Hip Hop artists Mos Def, KRS-One and Black Thought (of The Roots) can be felt throughout Soweto's discography. This is good shit people.

"Suspended Adolescence" is a nice straightforward post bop piece which shifts perfectly into soulful rhythms of "Help" which bases itself in some gospel themes slowly dives into rolling, frenetic Kinch solo. Kinch has embraced his influences and produced some astounding material on The New Emancipation.

"Trade" is another piece of post bop brilliance that put Kinch up there with many of his American counterpart as his skills on the alto begin to flourish beautifully. "On The Treadmill" is a slice of New Orleans funeral jazz funk that sees Kinch and his band having a delightful interaction.

The New Emancipation balances the Hip Hop and Jazz tracks to perfection. This lyrical delivery of Soweto Kinch has never been more clear than now. But also his playing has become more mature and focused. This is an statement of our culture as well as deconstruction of what Jazz and Hip Hop should be.

The New Emancipation is by far one of my albums of the year. I hope everyone gets a chance to hear this because its absolutely brilliant.