During my lunch break at work I wrote a nice post about transcendent concert performances and then promptly deleted it by accident. While I wallow in self pity, check out the excellent pictures posted on the albanyjazz.com web site of the Matthias Lupri Group with Chris Potter from the Lake George Jazz Festival on Sept. 19, 2004.
Walt Dickerson – Impressions of a Patch of Blue (MGM, 1964)
This record is music based on a Sidney Potier film is a curio in many ways. It is the only major label disc in vibraphonist Walt Dickerson’s discography; he recorded many albums for the Riverside family of labels in the 1960’s but has not recorded much since then despite remaining active as a composer and performer. Also this record boasts one of the very rare appearances of Sun Ra as a sideman. Ra’s idiosyncratic style and personality led him to seek his own path during his long career. Apart from his tenure with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in the 1940’s, most of Ra’s recorded work came at the helm of his “Arkestra” on his own Saturn label.
The music here is quite nice although rather subdued. This is actually a jazz interpretation of the film’s orchestral score and since the music is quite impressionistic, the title is apt. Dickerson gets an attractive ringing tone on his instrument, picking through the melodies and improvising with aplomb. Ra is quite supportive and never tries to upstage the leader. He plays rather Monkishly at times, laying down odd chords that nevertheless fit into the overall structure of the music. He also harkens back to his swing roots, which is interesting because Ra was leading one of his most avant-garde and experimental sounding Arkestra’s during this period.
This is an interesting disc that is well worth hearing. Verve brought this back as a special edition compact disc during the late 1990’s but chances are that it has fallen out of print once again. Hopefully a recent Jazz Times profile of Dickerson will bring this talented musician back into the studio.
Easytree can be a little weak on the blues at times, with people posting bittorrents of Jimi Hendrix and others in the "blues" category, but occasionally they'll turn up a real gem like this Albert King concert from Chicago, 1978. I read somewhere (probably AMG) that King had a limited number of licks that he used on the guitar, but that what made his playing so special was the little touches, the "English" as they put it that would make his solos so compelling and keep them from becoming repetitive.
This praise is certainly borne out through this concert as the leaders stinging guitar cuts through a volley of horns, an excellent example of this is "Tired as a Man Can Be" where King dispenses with the vocals early to move into an extended, well-paced solo. King was never a flashy player, but he knew how not to overextend himself and get the most out of every song. A couple of other King standby's get nice treatments here, King's classic "Born Under a Bad Sign" and the often covered "Blues at Sunrise." The band brings the funk as well with the greasy "You're My Woman." Great concert!
Joe Louis Walker - New Direction (Blues Bureau International, 2004)
Joe Louis Walker may just be the most consistently great bluesman of his generation. Year after year he makes albums that stand with the best music of that particular year, and 2004 is no exception. Walker has been bouncing around between labels since he was shown the door by Verve few years ago, but it has not affected the music he produces one bit. While this album may be titled New Direction, the music remains a mix of gutbucket blues and deep soul - the patented Joe Louis Walker sound.
The music is in a straight quartet format with Walker playing guitar and singing, backed with organ or piano, bass and drums. A storming boogie like "Custom Cars, Gibson Guitars" allows JLW to pontificate on the finer things in life - autos, music and women (what else is there?) While the slower-tempoed "Messed My Mind Up" allows Walker to delve into a deep soul bag - all of the years singing gospel have honed his voice to a deep honey sound and they express all of the emotion available in this song. Walker's gospel roots are never very far behind him as he implores people to put their hands on the radio and be healed on the gospel shouter "Soldier for Jesus." There's no nod and wink here, when JLW talkes about chasing the devil away with music, he really means it.
The storming instrumental "Mr. G's Boogie" and the ripping gutbucket "Ain't That Cold" round out the disc. Special mention must be made of keyboardist Ellis Blacknell Jr. whose swirling organ lays down a great foundation for Walker's stinging guitar and soulful vocals. This album is a wonderful example of modern blues and is highly recommended.
The new Downbeat Magazine has an interesting article entitled "Flowers for Albert: The Legacy of Albert Ayler" by John Corbett. The cover article is on the saxophone summit which brought together Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker and Dave Leibman.
There are a couple of interesting articles on the allaboutjazz.com web site as well, a long feature on guitarist Jacob Young who just released a new record on ECM, and then another on Bill Frisell, covering his new album, Unspeakable.
There have been a number of very interesting downloads available on bt.easytree.org lately.
John Zorn’s Tribute to Larry Young:
From the Knitting Factory in New York City, this is a tribute in spirit more than a literal tribute to the great organ master. This free-wheeling concert features John Medeski on organ, Marc Ribot on guitar, Ben Perowski on drums and Cyro Baptista on percussion. Actual compositions by Young aren't strictly represented, but what you get is two long improvisations with an encore. Medeski anchors the action as can be expected, sometimes in a standard soul-jazz groove but often in a post-bop and free mode, investigating some of the innovations that Young brought to the music. Zorn uses his honk 'n squeal type of saxophone playing but also breaks into some surprisingly Dolphy-ish alto. Overall, this is a very interesting concert. Zorn seems to enjoy drawing attention to overlooked musicians from jazz history like Young and Sonny Clark, so I hope he keeps it up and makes them available commercially so more people can enjoy them.
John Mooney - New Iberia, LA 1/24/04:
From the Slyman Theatre for Performing Art in New Iberia, LA 1/21/2004 This one finds bluesman John Mooney in a solo electric setting, playing a nice mixture of Delta standards and original tunes. This is a crisp radio broadcast and the sound quality was excellent. Mooney studied with the legendary Son House while growing up in Rochester, NY so he covers a number of House tunes as well as those by House's cohort Willie Brown. Mooney is in excellent voice and his slide guitar sounds great. There's also an interesting short question and answer section with the radio announcer. Some of the numbers that really stand out are the Mooney original “Sacred Ground” which features his slide guitar playing and the old country blues like “Pony Blues” and “Wish I was in Heaven Sitting Down” that show how he brings a modern spin to older material.
Burton Greene was active in the creative music scene during the 1960's, recording for the ESP Label among others. The live album finds him in a solo setting performing live in the studio. The first track has Greene getting a strong, full sound on the piano. Pounding bass in his left hand anchors the high register work in his right. The second piece moves into more abstract territory, with Greene gently playing the high notes with shaken percussion and bells added. The third piece brings us back to the "full bodied" piano sound, this time with a fast-paced improvisation making use of the entire piano. Four begins with a heavy Cecil Taylor like intro, before moving into a fast upper-note solo, which is repeated with variations. The fractured theme and improvisation inject some humor and personality into the proceedings.
Five opens a little more rhapsodically, with a melancholy improvisation edging out into abstract territory once again before returning to the yearning theme. Seven leads off with some very percussive fractured notes, once again heading into Taylor-ish free territory. Greene makes use of some dramatic pauses in his playing as he changes gears. Eight starts out with elegiac, melancholy chords - there is near classical feel to the music. It doesn't "swing" in a traditional sense, but there is deeply felt emotion present. Fans of free jazz piano and of cadaverous music in general will find this disc interesting. Greene makes use of the entire piano, and his improvisations never become stale. While the music is daunting, it is worth the effort.
Narrell’s joyous and swinging steel pans make this a fun disc to listen to. Steel pans haven’t been used all that often in a jazz setting, Oliver Lake leads an ensemble that includes the instrument and Jaco Pastorious used to include it some of his big band projects, but that’s about it. Though much of the music has an upbeat and joyous feel, the band is also comfortable with medium tempos and ballads. Narrell’s solos are constantly interesting and a tip of the hat must be given to Michael Brecker who contributes his usual gun for hire scene stealing solo.
Sunnyland Slim – 1949 – 51 (Classics, 2002)
Sunnyland Slim was about halfway through his epic career when he cut these sides, pounding the piano and singing over a wailing tenor saxophone as he recounts the tales of the women who have done him wrong. Some tracks the sax is replaced by some tasteful but still intense electric guitar playing or harmonica. Regardless, Classics has done a great service to blues listeners by bringing together this fine collection of early Sunnyland.
B.B. King has put out a number of live albums over the course of his long and distinguished career, ranging from the epochal Live at the Regal to the overrated Live in Cook County Jail. This particular album was recorded live in 1967, and has become somewhat lost in the shuffle in King’s large discography which is a shame, because it’s a superior document of King and the band in a live setting and in full flight.
While King’s economical and distinctive guitar playing are often the focus of his work, on this record it’s his superior singing ability that really shines. Wringing every ounce of energy out of a slow boiling blues like “Gambler’s Blues” or “Night Life,” King’s emotional vocals add a deep dimension to the music and the lyrics. Of course, he and the band get the opportunity to cook as well, blasting solos abound in “Buzz Me” as well as the nasty low-down blues “Don’t Answer the Door.”
Then as now, when B.B. King and the band were inspired, the results are magical as this record shows. The combination of the master’s guitar and vocals, driven by a blasting band is hard to beat and no fan of the blues should pass this record by.
I had a pithy and intelligent (joke) review of the new Fruteland Jackson record all set to go this morning, but for some reason Blogger couldn't digest it. I'll try again later, but in the meantime, here's an article from the Toronto Globe & Mail about Roswell Rudd.
Fruteland Jackson is a soulful singer and guitarist with an unusual name. Originally from Mississippi but now based in Chicago where he is active in music education. This is his second album for the Electro-Fi label – an acoustic based record that features Jackson’s vocals and songwriting.
The opening and closing tunes from this album are the best examples of Jackson’s songwriting art. In the title track that leads off the album, he styles himself as a “modern day slave” being driven down buy the newly styled pencil-pushing bossman. On the concluding track “The Lonely Traveler,” a dejected and downhearted bluesman takes his own life. It’s a bleak way to end an album, but the song is harrowing and genuine and the performance is first rate.
The rest of the tunes operate in more familiar blues territory – from an update of Bo Carter’s double-entendre “My Pencil Don’t Write No More” to the rather hackneyed ode to menstruation “Moon Man Rag.” Jackson has a good thing going, he has a strong voice and solid instrumental talent and the potential to be a dynamic genre-busting songwriter. He’s someone to keep an eye on.
A few days ago I posted an interview with saxophonist Sonny Simmons from allaboutjazz.com. In part of the interview, he complains about small record labels that do not have the resources to promote him properly. This elicited the following response from CIMP records owner Bob Rusch:
For too long I have read Sonny Simmons' disingenuous remarks (see interview) about the labels that go to bat for him and offer an uncompromised canvas for his artistry. In the July issue (AllAboutJazz-New York, pg.34), he refers to his current labels as little outhouse labels with no distribution in Europe. I am familiar with those labels (i.e. since 2002: Boxholder, BleuRegard, Arhoolie, Marge) and they are not outhouse labels. And they do have availability in Europe as well as Japan, etc. In the past, I have been on the receiving end of Mr. Simmons' lies, distortions, and hypocrisy, and I can tell you firsthand that just about the only time Sonny Simmons is credible is when he has his horn in his mouth. We all know what one does in an outhouse and the fact is, Mr. Simmons' best work today is on those smaller labels who are willing to recognize artistry over profits and ignore Mr. Simmons' record of antisocial behavior. Judging from the body of Mr. Simmons' recordings, it could be argued that he has done his smelliest business with the biggest labels (Warner Bros.). But, like most professional victims and bullies, he drops all his crap on the little guys. Thankfully, it is those outhouse labels that can separate the man from his music and leave the stench where it belongs.
R.L. Burnside – A Troubled Mind (Fat Possum, 2004)
While I like jazz that’s explorative and knows no boundaries, I have to sheepishly admit that I am something of a reactionary when it comes to the blues. The best blues is like a refreshing shower on a hot and sultry day, it cuts away all that is dreary and superfluous and puts everything in perspective. Raw gutbucket blues, that is – doesn’t matter whether it’s electric or acoustic. In short, “real blues” sounds like… R.L. Burnside. Most of the time, that is. Burnside’s late career success on Fat Possum has been interesting to follow – on the one hand it has brought him a chance to record regularly and make some great records (particularly Burnside on Burnside and Too Bad Jim) but there have also been some regrettable experiments with the Jon Spenser Blues Explosion and some remix experiments.
This album is one of the remix experiments, looping Burnside’s vocals and guitar, as well as adding distorted electronics and extra vocalists and rappers to the mix. “My Name is Robert Too” features Kid Rock (!) in a cut and paste job which interjects him into a previously recorded Burnside performance and “Someday Baby” has a remix and vocals from the hip-hop artist Lyrics Born. There’s a brief reprieve on the completely acoustic “A Bird Without a Feather” which sounds even more stark as a solo acoustic number adrift in a sea of electronics and remixing. Speaking of remixing, on “Stole My Check” we hear Burnside intoning “That motherf---er stole my check!” again, and again… and again. The track goes nowhere, as if it’s stuck in some Stephen Hawking time loop that cannot be escaped.
I’ll grudgingly give Fat Possum some credit for trying to come up with something new and different, they are still the preeminent label for raw gutbucket blues and they have had a little success with these types of electronica-blues experiments before with Little Axe and Bob Log III, but I’m afraid this one just doesn’t cut it. Let Burnside be Burnside, I say!
Shipp/Parker/Brown - The Trio Plays Ware (Splasc(h), 2004)
As William Parker states in his brief liner notes to this release, most people think of David S. Ware as a fire-breathing saxophonist rather than a composer. But the members of this trio, Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums, who have been playing with Ware for years hear another aspect to his music and have recorded this CD to draw attention to his compositional skills.
Parker’s bowed bass anchors the opening song “Manu’s Idea” as Matthew Shipp slowly builds up the emotional feeling of the music. “Godspellized” is the title track to Ware’s Penguin Crown winning album. There is a slight gospel tinge to the music, and Parker takes a nice plucked solo before Shipp restates the theme and takes the music out. “Dinosauria” starts with Brown’s drumming, soon he is joined by the rest of the group in a spacious melody which turns into an abstract improvisation led by Shipp using the low end of the piano to give the proceedings a dark foreboding flavor.
“Lexicon” is a fast moving collective improvisation with Shipp balancing low bass notes with sprightly runs. The improvisation gets quite intense at times until Parker evens things out with a fleet fingered solo. “Reign of Peace” begins with Parker on bass, then Shipp comes in with some beautiful and very melodic playing – Brown gently keeps time for him on the drums while Parker backs Shipp’s subtle exploration of the melody. A spare opening from Shipp begins “Dao Forms” and the meditative feel is kept up throughout the length of the performance with light backing from the bass and drums. The meditative nature of the music stays well within the boundaries of this aptly named song. Brown leads off the final song, “Mystic March” with a martial solo before the band joins in. Parker uses his bow again, adding tension to the music, which has a very profound feeling. It’s a little difficult to describe – Parker saws away at the bass while Brown keeps up a military beat and Shipp throws dark notes and chords into the mix.
This disc works very well to both call attention to the talents of the musicians involved and also to give David S. Ware some overdue credit as a composer. While Shipp gets the lions share of the attention on this CD, the trio as a whole plays very well and the music is surprisingly melodic and emotional.