Friday, November 29, 2013

The Thing - Boot! (The Thing Music, 2013)

One of my father's favorite films was the b-movie science fiction classic The Thing. Like the blood-thirsty creature from the movie, this particular Thing takes no prisoners in its amalgam of free jazz, punk rock and more. The band The Thing, who took their name from a Don Cherry composition, not the movie, consists of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. This album is the inaugural release of their new label, appropriately titled The Thing Records. After starting their tenure as a Cherry tribute band, they have evolved their sound through original compositions and interesting covers ranging from PJ Harvey to The White Stripes. On this album, they honor their jazz heritage by covering “India” by John Coltrane and “Heaven” by Duke Ellington. The Coltrane piece opens the album and works really well, providing a intoxicating drone, and allows Gustafsson to play some brawny but respectful tone, befitting a song by one of his great heroes. “Heaven” is equally interesting, demonstrating the group’s use of dynamics and drama as they build the performance from a quiet opening through a powerful conclusion. This is also the case on the burly “Re-Boot” which comes hard out of the gate, before waxing and waning like a strong muscle being flexed. The 14 minute “Epilog” ends the album in grand fashion, letting the band loose on a frenetic free improvisation that is both thrilling and terrifying. The Thing are one of the most exciting units in jazz and improvisational music. Whether playing with guests like Neneh Cherry or Joe McPhee, of developing their core sound, they are a band like no other and this is another fine entry to their growing body of work. Boot -

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Rolling Stones - Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (Eagle Rock, 2013)

I recently read a compilation of work by the great rock critic Lester Bangs called Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste. A couple of pieces he wrote about the Rolling Stones were from the early 1970’s and he thought that they were over the hill and nearly washed up. If he only knew… As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, the Stones reprised one of their most famous concerts, playing in Hyde Park, London to overflowing crowds. This 2CD/1DVD release commemorates these concerts, and shows the band is surprisingly good form. Much of the power and excitement of the band is retained and they are spurred on by the enormous crowd. The concert has the band strolling through anthems like “Start Me Up” “It’s Only Rock and Roll” and “Tumbling Dice.” The group has fully assimilated its influences whether it is country music, on “Honky Tonk Women” and the deep blues on “Midnight Rambler.” Keith Richards is featured throughout playing excellent guitar alongside Ronnie Wood and guest Mick Taylor. He also sings a couple of songs, the acoustic “You Got the Silver” and the uptempo “Before they Make Me Run.” So the audio CDs are excellent and the band plays splendidly throughout, but the real shock comes through on the DVD. The main players in the group are nearing 70 years old, and they still play like dynamos but it’s quite a shock to see them in hi-def. Mick Jagger still runs around like a maniac but his face is a pale gaunt rictus mask. Keith Richards as you can imagine looks like the life he’s led, and Ronnie Wood looks like he has a foot in the grave. But regardless, the music is what matters, and for the most part they can still deliver. Sweet Summer Sun -

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

King Crimson - The Road to Red (Panegyric, 2013)

This has been a banner year for the legendary progressive rock band King Crimson. With the settling of guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp’s lawsuit against Universal he was able to announce that a new iteration of the band would be forming in 2014. Their re-issue campaign continues apace with 40th anniversary re-issues of the albums Red and USA. Then there is this epic present to the fans: The Road to Red features 20 CD’s of live music, chronicling the band’s 1973-1974 tour of the United States along with a DVD and two blu-ray DVD’s of concerts in high definition. This version of King Crimson was one of the most powerful, with Fripp on guitar and keyboards, John Wetton on bass and vocals, David Cross on violin and keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. The booklet accompanying the set features Fripp’s tour diaries and recalls how tenuous the bonds were holding the group and the music together. The group would disband shortly after the tour ended and King Crimson would then go on hiatus until 1981. The music is uniformly excellent, focusing on the staples of the band’s repertoire at the time like the scalding rockers “Easy Money” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II” and dynamic pieces like ”Starless” and “Lament.” Each concert would contain one or two sections of pure improvisation used to link two songs together or to simply explore in their own right. It’s hard to pick concerts that stand above the normally high quality, but discs 2 and 3 from the Stanley Warner Theatre in Pittsburgh on April 29, 1974, is an amazingly torrid performance, incredibly powerful and deeply locked in together. Wetton has comparatively few vocals but he makes the most of them singing powerfully on the majestic “Starless” and the stomping Crimson classic “21st Century Schizoid Man.” There is an extended version in blu-ray that throws this concert into even more vivid relief. Few groups have gone out with such extraordinary thunder as this one. Their final concert recorded on a bootleg cassette from Central Park in New York City on July 1, 1974, distills all that make this group so important. Opening with their usual set closer “Schizoid Man” they throw all caution into the wind and channel an almost supernatural level of energy. Fripp’s guitar solo on this track is like Thor hurling thunderbolts from on high. They continue in epic fashion before ending their reign with superb performances of “Starless” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II.” The official live album from this tour, USA, and the subsequent studio album, Red, are included in several different mixes and format, bringing this exhaustive collection to its logical conclusion. For fans of the band this is the mother lode, providing the ability to follow this excellent band in great detail as they change the landscape of rock music forever. Road to Red -

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yes - Close to the Edge CD/DVD (Atlantic 1972, Panegyric 2013)

For a band thas is closing in on their 45th anniversary, there has been a significant amount of Yes product moving through the bins. Earlier this year was the High Vibration boxed set, a very pricey SACD remastering of their recordings from 1969-1987 and later this year (just in time for the holidays) will come the comparatively inexpensive (!) Studio Albums 1969-1987 in “regular” CD format. Considering the breadth and depth of these particular doorstops, this package might be just what the doctor ordered. Steven Wilson, the go-to man on progressive rock releases lends his particular re-mixing/mastering mojo to Yes’s most complete statement as a band and one that would continue to loom large in their live performances even this year as they toured casinos and other venues playing a note perfect versions of this album and a few others. Close to the Edge is an interesting album for both the band and for progressive rock as a whole. Recorded long before the era of digital manipulation the music was recorded to tape and then carefully spliced into its finished form. The herculean effort was worth it, drummer Bill Bruford even decamped for King Crimson as the album was released, believing that the it was their ultimate statement and could not be bettered. Consisting of only three lengthy tracks, the music packs quite a punch on the (LP) side long title track, moving through a suite of sub passages of dynamic beauty and powerful rocking. “And You And I” was the second suite of the album, also dealing with cosmic themes before giving way to the rollicking “Siberian Khatru” as the finale. The group also issued a single cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” which works surprisingly well with excellent vocal harmonies. So, this set is broken down into two discs, first the stereo remaster of the original album while the DVD contains a plethora of material including 96kHz/24bit mixes, surround sound 5.1 mixes, the new stereo mix, the original stereo mix, singles and studio outtakes. And if that isn’t overwhelming enough for you, there is also a blu-ray dvd version that includes *even more* including a “needle drop” of the original LP. There is a nicely done booklet with an essay, photos and discography. If you are into prog rock, it is definitely worth the investment. Close to the Edge -

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Miles Davis - The Original Mono Recordings (Legacy, 2013)

This is a nine disc boxed set that covers the early acoustic jazz albums that Miles Davis recorded for Columbia, along with a booklet containing a short essay and comments from the engineer involved in remastering the music and some period photographs. Apparently mono is where all music is produced through a single audio channel and this was the default way this music was originally recorded before being remixed into stereo for subsequent reissues. The producers and engineers interviewed for this project claim that this will produce a clearer, more lifelike sound. The certainly seem to sound very good to my untrained ears and would probably pack even more punch if played on a nice audio system. The larger group recordings, collaborations between Davis and arranger Gil Evans like Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain seem to have a fine texture to them, providing greater detail in the ensemble and more presence for Davis’ solos whether on flugelhorn or trumpet. Small band recordings like the epochal Kind of Blue along with Round Midnight, Someday My Prince Will Come and Milestones receive the right amount of punch and clarity. Two additional recordings are included, Jazz Track which features the Davis improvised score for the French film Lift to the Scaffold, along with three small group recordings circa 1958. Miles and Monk live at Newport is a split LP of live performances by the groups of Davis and Thelonious Monk. It should be noted that these albums are presented as they were originally released at the time, with cover art restored on replica LP card stock, including original liner notes in case you happen to be in possession of a research-grade microscope since the font size is approximately 0.1. Also be aware that there are no “bonus cuts” as there may have been on previous reissues of this material. The idea of this boxed set seems to be a glimpse back in time replicating the original recordings as they were released in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s with original art, running order and monaural sound mix. The Original Mono Recordings -

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Francis Davis - 8th Annual Critics Poll

I am honored to be chosen by the esteemed jazz critic Francis Davis to take part in his 8th annual critics poll, hosted by NPR. Full results will be posted at NPR Music in mid-December and the individual ballots will be posted on Tom Hull's web site. The Poll consists of the ten best new releases, three best re-issues, along with top vocal, debut and Latin recordings. Alas, I don't listen to much Latin Jazz, so I chose to opt out of that category. Here we go:

New Releases
1. Bill Frisell - Silent Comedy (Tzadik)
2. Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Slippery Rock (Hot Cup)
3. Paul Dunmall & Tony Bianco - Tribute to Coltrane (Slam)
4. Harold Mabern - Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
5. Ivo Perelman - Serendipity (Leo)
6. Mary Halvorson Septet - Illusory Sea (Firehouse 12)
7. Kikoski, Carpenter, Novak & Sheppard - From the Hip (BMF)
8. Peter Brotzmann & Steve Noble - I Am Here Where Are You (Trost)
9. Rob Mazurek Octet - Skull Sessions (Cuneiform)
10. Ches Smith and These Arches - Hammered (Clean Feed)

1. Miles Davis - The Original Mono Recordings (Legacy)
2. John Coltrane - Sun Ship: The Complete Sessions (Impulse)
3. Matthew Shipp - Greatest Hits (Thirsty Ear)

Vocal Album 
John Hollenbeck - Songs I Like a Lot (featuring Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry) (Sunnyside)

Debut Album
Matt Mitchell - Fiction (Pi)

Latin Album 

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Claudia Quintet - September (Cuneiform, 2013)

The Claudia Quintet is an always interesting group that combines jazz improvisation with thoughtful composition and a myriad of influences that range from pop music to contemporary classical. The unusual instrumentation of the band is part of their unique appeal. At this time the group consists of straw-boss John Hollenbeck on drums and compositions, Red Wierenga on accordion, Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Matt Moran on vibraphone and Drew Gress or Chris Tordini on bass. “September 20th Soterius Lakshmi” is an excellent opening to the album, developing a great percussive feel that pulls everyone along in its wake. This sensibility continues and is expanded upon during “September 9th Wayne Phases” where the opportunity to stretch out is taken and the texture of group allows for broad based improvisation. The band slows down on some of the more emotional material like “September 25th Somber Blanket” and the 9/11 prayer for peace “September 12th Coping Song.” One of the more interesting performances on the album is “September 29th, 1936 "Me Warn You"” where the sampled voice of Franklin Roosevelt giving a speech about the social programs of the New Deal is juxtaposed against the group’s deeply rhythmic sense of motion. This is multi-faceted music that often deviates from the expected and is filled with the personalities of its creators making for compelling listening. September -

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Who - Tommy Deluxe Edition (Geffen, 2013)

Because of the saturation of classic rock radio, it's easy to forget how innovative The Who's "rock opera" Tommy really was. Guitarist an principal songwriter Pete Townshend, emboldened by a spiritual conversion and a desire to move beyond the three minute pop song, developed this 2LP suite which was groundbreaking at the time for both form and content. The story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy Tonmy may seem trite at first, but deeper reading of the lyrics (fully printed in the booklet along with a small essay) shows remarkably thoughtful lyrics about child abuse, spiritual epiphany and much more. Despite its length and age the album still holds together quite well. Also included is a very strong concert performed in Canada in 1969, showing the band developing its fearsome live performance that would culminate in the classic Live in Leeds LP. This us a nicely done package, the sound quality of the principal album is excellent and detailed while the live disc is raw and immediate. This is definitely worth consideration by both Who fans and partisans of rock 'n' roll in general. Tommy (2013 Deluxe Edition)

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Saturday, November 16, 2013


I'm too broke to buy any new music, so I ruthlessly culled my collection & did a big trade the the Princeton Record Exchange. FYI, been a little down lately, so blogging may be sporadic. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait and Switch - Comeuppance (NotTwo, 2013)

Bait and Switch is an interesting jazz ensemble that produces a very compelling and exciting sound which is based on dynamics that unfold from from fast and loud to quiet and intricate. I have been listening a lot to the 1973-74 version of the rock band King Crimson lately and this band would be right at home covering Crimson staples like “Fracture” and “Starless” which build from relative quiet to ferocious segments of improvisation. The band consists of Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, Aaron Bennett on saxophones, John Finkbeiner on electric guitar and Vijay Anderson on drums. “Le Crab” begins the album with strong drums and muscular saxophone coming out of the gates hard. Bennett is very interesting on this track where he uses a coarse and primal sound to excellent effect. The action drops drastically in the middle of the track with bass and light percussion, before the full band comes back together. “Cruciferous” is one of the high points of the album, with knotty guitar leading a deeply textured improvisation that slowly develops into scalding electricity and pummeling drumming. Again, the group turns on a dime into an open section at the halfway point. Bennett’s saxophone fills in beautifully, with his saxophone growing to a wail in front of a grinding band which moves into a howling collective improvisation. “Las Hormigas Rojas” is also very exciting, opening with angular shards of guitar and bowed bass. There is a hypnotic smearing of of sound color and feel, before some strutting saxophone surges forth with a brawny tone, building tension to the breaking point and then releasing in an ecstatic way, followed by excellent guitar that develops a kaleidoscope of sound. Comeuppance -

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin (Legacy, 2013)

The Jimi Hendrix documentary Hear My Train A Comin' does as well as can be reasonably expected in concentrating the great guitarist's life into the space of two hours. It traces his life, quickly moving through his childhood and short hitch in the army into his dues paying years working the "chitlin circuit" as a sideman for a number of rhythm and blues performers. "Discovered" by the Animals bassist Chas Chandler, he is bundled off to England where his meteoric rise begins in full. He began to attend jam sessions in London, picking up momentum as he gained approval of luminaries like Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and other movers and shakers on the rock and roll scene. Developing his most famous band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix would soon reach heights few musicians of any genre would ascend to. There is some really great footage of their American breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival culminating in Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire and then kneeling before it like a shaman. Later important gigs are chronicled like the performance at Woodstock with a larger ad hoc band that produced his extraordinary version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Behind the scenes, the film chronicles his obsession with recording, one which was aided and abetted by the building of his own studio, Electric Lady. Much of the commentary is taken from a black and white interview of Hendrix in repose as well as a revealing conversation from the Dick Cavett show. Friends and fellow musicians round out the profile of a supremely gifted man obsessed with music and always looking over the horizon for new things to come. Hear My Train A Comin' -

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

John Coltrane - The Impulse! Albums vol. 1 (Verve, 2007)

After successful stints as a bandleader with the Prestige and Atlantic record labels, John Coltrane's tenure with the Impulse! label began with a very impressive large ensemble ensemble recording entitled Africa/Brass. He added to his quartet a range of horns to play arrangements by Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner. The resulting recording was a dark and powerful statement of the fascinating track "Africa" which was offset by the melodic sensibility of "Greensleves." Live at the Village Vanguard was quite controversial at the time with allegations of "anti-jazz" were levied against both John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. In retrospect, these feelings were clearly misplaced, and Coltrane was simply moving forward at a breathless pace. The exotic "India" was followed by the standard "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" but then the entire second half of the original LP was taken up by "Chasin' The Trane" which was one of the most thrilling Coltrane performances ever recorded. An incredibility powerful statement, it was composed entirely in the moment, and was a map for the music to come. This map took a detour when stung by the criticism, Impulse! placed Coltrane in some more accessible settings on the next few albums. The Ballads LP reels in the length of the individual songs to short statements that left little room for improvisation, but focused on the melodic and lyrical side of Coltrane's work. The decision to pair John Coltrane with Duke Ellington was an inspired one, based of the great mutual respect the musicians has for each other.While Coltrane the perfectionist asked for multiple takes of each performance, Duke insisted for a much looser atmosphere, culminating with the wonderful track "Take the Coltrane." The final LP in this collection is the eponymous Coltrane album, which brings the focus back to the "classic quartet" with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Although a transitional album, you really get the feeling that this album showed the band really coming into their own especially on tracks like "Tunji" and "Soul Eyes." It should be noted that this collection is made up of CD reproductions of the original albums, shorn of any alternate takes or additional music. The music and the accompanying notes reflect the way the music was presented in 1961-62. Impulse Albums Vol. 1 -

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Suphala - Alien Ancestry (Tzadik, 2013)

Suphala is a tabla player who has studied under a number of classically trained Indian masters, as well as playing with a number of pop and jazz musicians. This album weaves a wide range of music with a large group featuring Vijay Iyer on piano, Amir Elsaffar on trumpet and Bill Laswell adding his unique mojo to the proceedings. Suphala’s tablas develop a simmering feeling of incantation throughout the music. Bubbling and shifting and reshaping the rhythm with a sense of continual motion. Horns join in at times, developing a beguiling swirl, or horns, clarinet, oud and percussion. The fast paced rhythm of the percussion is tuned at times so instruments resemble percussion that rings and resonates. Vijay Iyer makes his presence felt a few times on piano which adds further melodic flavor to the cascading percussion. It is the amazing sense of rhythm that is the most impressive thing about this album, Suphala has seemingly internalized everything and then developing the music in hypnotic fashion and at a dizzying pace. The texture and fabric of the music is constantly changing, with Laswell playing master of ceremonies, mixing the music and adding subtle hints of electronics and a near danceable sensibility. The melding of Indian music along with jazz and forms of improvisation are consistently interesting on this album. It is a central meeting place where diverse influences are combined together in a crucible of passionate music. Alien Ancestry -

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Adam Lane Trio - Absolute Horizon (NoBusiness Records, 2013)

Bassist Adam Lane has been quite active of late, releasing three albums on the past few months, in addition to playing with his Full Throttle Orchestra. On this album, he is in the excellent company of Darius Jones on alto saxophone and Vijay Anderson on drums. This is the first album Lane has done to date that was totally improvised in the studio and it provides the group with a large canvas on which to create their music. This format definitely plays to their strengths as they display on “Stars” where whirlpools of sound descend like wild dervishes with saxophone and bowed bass leading the charge. "The Great Glass Elevator" moves dynamically through raw blowing and subtle bass playing, while “Run to Infinity” develops from a cautious beginning to a torrid collective improvisation. “Apparent Horizon” develops patiently at length, featuring billowing saxophone, rolling drums and thick elastic bass. There is a spacious midsection fraught with tension, waiting for the finale which is a long blowing emotive saxophone and drums. “Bioluminescence” adds subtle electronics to the mix, as if the music had begun to glow itself. This is an experimental track that works well, with bass and drums building an excellent foundation. Raw saxophone weaves through the maelstrom, deep and powerful. “Light” finishes the album with a  fast paced trio improvisation, developing very nimble bass and drums with flurries of saxophone gliding overhead. This was a gutsy move for Adam Lane to develop a totally improvised LP but it works very well. The musicians are locked in deeply and support each other throughout. Absolute Horizon - NoBusiness Records.

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