Friday, October 30, 2009

John Abercrobmie: The Guitar Will Lead You

John Abercrombie (guitar)
Selected Recordings

John Abercrombie has recorded the most albums for the legendary ECM Records label. Most of his ECM catalog is now only available as high priced imports or selectively for download. With that in mind I wanted to recommend Selected Recordings (ECM) as a perfect introduction to one of the best guitarists in jazz. While not covering every album it does serve to give the listener a good overview of Abercrombie's delightful fusion of folk, classical, jazz electronic atmospherics and styles from both the West and East. Abercrombie's albums are very understated, leaving you to enjoy the beauty and effectiveness of the musicians and sound which they are creating.

Selected Recordings includes 10 tracks chosen by the musician himself. Most of the time this would leave the diehard fan scratching their head due to the choices. Not so on this collection. John Abercrombie has made the delicate balance of fan favourites, necessities and under-appreciated work seamlessly. For those who have only heard the name John Abercrombie and don't understand why there are so many records with his name on it, this is a great place to start. For anyone looking for lush, understated but inventive guitar dynamics Selected Recordings should definitely be your first choice.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mark Isham: Composer, Musician, Innovator

Mark Isham (trumpet)
Blue Sun

Many of you may not know Mark Isham but you have heard his music. Nowadays he is known for his film and TV music than his jazz recordings. Mark has done music for the films Crash (2005 version), Quiz Show, the superb jazz soundtrack Afterglow and the television series Chicago Hope to name a few. But for me it is his work as a jazz musician that still stands out.

Mark Isham began his career at the ethereal (some say originator of New Age music) label Windham Hill Records. His ability to create innovative and provocative beauty through electronics and his trumpet set him apart from many other musicians during the eighties. While some of his Windham Hill recordings seem slightly lightweight now, you could see the direction he would later take in recording the divergent Castalia for Virgin Records, which included Mick Karn and David Torn among others. He would also record the quiet yet very textured We Begin (ECM Records) in collaboration with pianist Art Lande in addition to session and touring work with David Sylvian.

While both albums and some of the Windham Hill releases are definitely quality recordings worth the adventure to buy, I would like to fast forward to his last original jazz recording for Columbia Records entitled Blue Sun. Blue Sun was a return to his melodic Miles Davis inspired work that had been hinted at for years. It was as a reminder to everyone that Mark Isham was not just the composer of film and TV scores but he is a passionate and delicate creator of soundscapes that is rarely seen in jazz musicians today.

Mark Isham's ability to shift between both soundtrack music and jazz recordings is rare (fellow trumpeter Terence Blanchard is the only other musician who has managed to do it well). It is his devotion to both act as the foundation on which he builds a layer of lush tones and dark melodies. This is something everyone should take the time to experience.

I was lucky enough to see and speak with Mark Isham once on tour for the Blue Sun album and he is extremely down to earth and enjoys talking about his recordings but prefers to talk even more about his fellow musicians and those with whom he has collaborated. This is the true sign of a musician who takes the art form more seriously than themselves. Mark Isham has only made one other jazz album since Blue Sun, the tribute to his ideal Miles Davis, The Silent Way Project (Columbia Records). If you can find any of these albums there is a great compilation that covers a decent amount of material called Pure (Legacy Recordings) which will satisfy you.

Mark just released Bittersweet (EarleTones) an album with Australian pop/jazz vocalist, Kate Ceberano. This is a great return to form for Mark and I've highly enjoyed it recently. Here's to hoping that this is the start of Mark Isham spinning new beautiful and haunting melodies in the jazz forum again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Benny Green: Testifyin' At The Piano

Benny Green (piano, b. 1965)

Working his chops in different bands with Betty Carter, Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard for years earned Benny Green a considerable reputation as a magnificent pianist. Wrapped in a style reminiscent of Oscar Peterson (with whom he would later record before the great pianist's passing) and Art Tatum, Benny Green has developed into one of the shinning lights of new composers in the last two decades. Very unknown outside of jazz circles, his performances on both record and live are worthy of wider recognition.

Benny Green is a true talent who can swing fiercely with the best of them as heard on Oscar & Benny (Telarc). He can also become a gentle and delicate messenger of romance as delivered on his Blue Note Records debut Lineage. One of my personal favourites is a live album, Testifyin'! (Blue Note) recorded at the time with his then working trio which included Christian McBride (bass) and Carl Allen (drums). Testifyin'! encapsulates everything about Benny Green that you would love to hear in a jazz musician--technique, beauty and swing.

At the time of writing this entry, most of his 14 albums are available for download online. Many of the physical CDs are out of print but you can get lucky at a few used record stores. All are definitely worth seeking out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Euro Sexy Grooves of Piero Umiliani

The following is an excerpt from Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979 (McFarland Publishing, 2008) by Kristopher Spencer.

After making a few shockumentaries together
(see yesterday's post) filmmaker Luigi Scattini and composer Piero Umiliani made several sexploitation films, including three that feature the stunning exotic beauty of model-turned-actress Zeudi Araya. La Ragazza Fuori Strada (The Girl from the Street, ’71), La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna (The Sinner, ’72) and Il Corpo (The Body, ’74) all offer a satisfying mélange of funky grooves, sensual ballads, jazz-rock abstractions and fun-in-the-sun calypso ditties. The instrumentation is usually spare, making prominent use of the Hammond organ, choppy rhythm guitar, delicate acoustic guitar, repetitive bass figures and an assortment of drums and percussion. Some tracks are little more than solo piano or solo organ. Other tracks add fuller orchestration with strings, brass and woodwinds, but Umiliani — whose roots are in jazz — rarely resorts to a bloated orchestral sound. Taken as a set, this trilogy is a must for fans of the composer and will appeal to fans of Euro-skin cinema in general. All three titles have been reissued on CD by Easy Tempo.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mondo Lounge Jazz of Piero Umiliani

The following is an excerpt from Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979 (McFarland Publishing, 2008) by Kristopher Spencer.

Whenever Piero Umiliani teamed up with documentary and feature filmmaker Luigi Scattini — and they did on several occasions — the results were outstanding. Following his early mondo movies Sexy Magico (’63) and the Jayne Mansfield docu-comedy L’Amore Primitivo (Primitive Love, ’64), Scattini worked with Umiliani on a shockumentary Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso (Sweden, Heaven and Hell, ’68). The film documents the Scandinavian country’s lesbian nightclubs, biker scene, incidents of drug abuse and alcoholism, wife swapping and porn shops. Umiliani’s score elevates the subject matter from sordid to sublime on tracks like “Topless Party” and “Fotomodelle.” Soulful organ tones accompany fuzzy electric guitars, rumbling bass lines and an insistent rock beat. On other tracks, Gato Barbieri, who scored Last Tango in Paris (’72), joins the jazzy vibe. Sweden also features a tender vocal performance by Lydia McDonald on “You Tried to Warn Me,” and wonderful wordless vocals by the legendary Edda Dell’Orso as well as Sandro and Giulia Alessandroni on several tracks, most notably on the hit “Mah Na’ Mah Na’”. Pop vocal groups of the period frequently covered the latter song, which features a nonsense lyric and maddeningly catchy melody, and it even became popular in the U.S. thanks to its unexpected use on the children’s show, Sesame Street. The soundtrack’s reissue in the mid ’90s helped fuel the retro soundtrack renaissance.

Umiliani also scored Scanatti’s Angeli Bianchi Angeli Neri (White Angel Black Angel or The Satanists or Witchcraft, ’70), a shockumentary about the occult fad that bubbled up during the counterculture revolution in the late ’60s. Although the film did not focus on sex per se, it wasn’t shy about showing beautiful nude young women participating in orgiastic satanic rites. Musically speaking, this is one of Umiliani’s most spellbinding efforts, mixing lushly orchestrated “Italian recordings” with spare, percussion-filled “Brazilian recordings.” From the very first track, “Sweet Revelation,” the score transfixes with melodies that suggest a romantic film rather than a documentary. Umiliani’s swinging arrangement provides perfect accompaniment for Shirley Hammer’s unbridled vocal performance. “La Foresta Incantata” maintains the magic, building from a shimmering intro to combine a Nora Orlandi-led female chorus with lush orchestral swells, backed by throbbing bass and uncluttered drum patterns. If there is one track anywhere that captures the romanticized hippie notion of pagan witchcraft this is it in spades. Although the score couldn’t possibly get better than its first two tracks, it delivers even more unexpected pleasures in the catchy pop numbers “Now I’m On My Own” and “The City Life” (performed by Mark David and Forever Ember, a short-lived British psychedelic group). The aura of pagan witches run amok intensifies on the ritualistic abstraction of “Streghe a Convegno” (featuring Alessandro Alessandroni’s modern chorus) and becomes downright whimsical on “Magical Children” (featuring a multi-tracked psychedelic vocal by Hammer). Umiliani’s clear affinity for acoustic folk (particularly brightly strummed 12-string guitars, chiming harpsichord and harmonica) becomes apparent on the aptly titled “Folk Time.” Even as the score increasingly turns to sparely orchestrated Brazilian percussion numbers, Umiliani still surprises with imaginatively loose interpretations of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” As diverse in style as it is rich in melodic invention, Angeli Bianchi… Angeli Neri nearly outshines the excellent Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso.

For Scattini’s Questo Sporco Mondo Meraviglioso (This Dirty Wonderful World, ’71), which was co-directed by Mino Loy, Umiliani continued to capitalize on his stylistically limber scoring style. While there aren’t any tracks as emotive as “Sweet Revelation” or as catchy as “Mah Na’ Mah Na’,” Umiliani continues to work wonders with both melody and arrangements. On the title track, Umiliani employs a soaring, sentimental melody to exploit his gift for lush pop romanticism. Elsewhere, Umiliani explores the country folk sensibility on several tracks by highlighting lively acoustic guitar (“Western Melody” and “Old Rock”), harmonica (“Young Time”) and high-toned “whistling” organ lines and bluesy electric piano (“La Nuova Frontiera”). There’s even a jaunty fiddlin’ cowboy variation on “Mah Na’ Mah Na’”. While Questo is certainly a little bit country, it is a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, too. For potent proof, check out the sexy, reverb-drenched “Love In,” ultra funky psycho beat variations on the theme (“Dove Và Il Mondo” and “Mondo Dove Vai?”) and the quirky blues funk of “Moderato Grottesco and Cantabile.” Another side of this wildly inventive yet casually executed score gives Umiliani the opportunity to stretch into easy, breezy Latin jazz on tracks like “Pepito,” “Luna di Miele” and “Holiday Inn.” Overall, Questo doesn’t enjoy the fame of Svezia and fails to deliver a killer vocal track like those found on Angeli, but it’s still an immensely enjoyable “mondo” score. Umiliani went on to score six more Scattini features during the ’70s — mostly exotic erotic dramas. More on those tomorrow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Weekend Of Music And Why It's Important

WFMU Record & CD Fair 2009 (New York City)

This weekend I attended the annual WFMU Record & CD Fair. WFMU is a local radio station in NYC that plays an eclectic blend of music that will make you remember why you listen to music in the first place.

The fair is the largest record & CD convention in the northeast (possibly the country but not sure on that one). It is held in a pavilion about the size of a high school gymnasium. There are hundreds of independent record dealers with booths selling music and memorabilia. A large chunk of the music is on vinyl. Nowadays its easier to transfer vinyl to digital as we discussed in a previous post. This has made this year's fair more enticing for any visitor, including Yours Truly. I did refrain from going overboard but managed to pick up a few things that I will write about later in the week.

For those who have never been to a record fair, it's a great event to experience at least once. If you love music, its cool to be around other people who have the same passion as you. There are discussions about the rare 45, album or CD you may have purchased in addition to meeting up with friends you haven't seen in a long time. It's the kind of gathering you may have had when you visited your local independent record store (really not that long ago). An experience you really can't have anymore thanks to the demise of the record store.

The WFMU Record & CD Fair lasted the entire weekend and was worth every penny. If you enjoy music and can't find a convention like this in your city, try to find a local record store in town and spent just a few minutes hanging out, I hope you can have a similar experience.

If you didn't check out our entry on where to buy and where to see, have a read now. This is why music should be a part of everyone's life. Happy Listening.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One For All: The Band Everyone Will Love

One For All (group)
Eric Alexander (tenor sax)
Jim Rotondi (trumpet)
Steve Davis (trombone)
David Hazeltine (piano)
John Webber (bass)
Joe Farnsworth (drums)

Often compared to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (a comparison the group admires), One For All is the ultimate collaboration effort of six stellar musicians performing in distinct unison since 1997. If you only a own couple of jazz albums or if you only want to own a couple of jazz albums, make one them from One For All.

The members of One For All perform separately with their own groups; Alexander, Rotondi and Hazeltine being the best known leaders, but together the band is as tight as any of the veteran rocks groups you would go to see. Influenced by the greats of the classic Blue Note Records era, One For All is a straight ahead hard bop group which can produce fierce and electrifying performances both live and on record. The group also brings a wonderful bluesy balladry to their arsenal led by the delicate stylings of David Hazeltine on piano. Eric Alexander and Jim Rotondi both can scorch the field with tonality on the sax and trumpet respectfully.

This is the type of group you expect to see when you go to a jazz show and this is the type of band that delivers on both record and on stage--Something that is extremely rare in today's environment. One For All has recorded over 15 albums (including rare Japanese sessions) and I could recommend them all but to make your journey to the record store (or online) a short one, you should check out their current album Return Of The Lineup (Criss Cross), or even an earlier album Upward And Onward (Criss Cross). Both albums showcase One For All's ability to shift from lush romanticism to blistering counterpoints within minutes.

A group that remains focused with their own projects, yet somehow comes together very frequently to consistently make sizzling and sophisticated records as group is a band that will be around for a long long time. You must check out One For All. They don't tour together often but if you see them or their separate groups coming to your town please go. In the meantime you should get one of their albums. I know you'll love them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

JazzWrap Hiatus

Dear Readers,

JazzWrap will be on a brief hiatus. We will return soon. There are great entries to read if you are just following us now. Please feel free to peruse the search bar for interesting articles. You might be surprised by many of the topics we have covered over the last few months.

Happy listening...

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Discoveries

Frank Hewitt (piano, b. 1935 - d. 2002)

Frank Hewitt was born in New York. He played bop piano in the style of Bud Powell, Earl Hines and Elmo Hope. While some of you reading this may not be familiar with these names, they are true giants among jazz fans. If jazz fans remember the Living Theater film The Connection you may recognize Frank Hewitt. Frank Hewitt is one of those musicians who never got the recognition he richly deserved. A fixture on the jazz scene in New York he performed regularly (mainly at nightclub called Smalls) but never recorded album until late in his life.

He has become a major influence for fellow New York musicians including guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. Unfortunately Frank never got to see any of his albums released. He passed away shortly before the beloved club he performed at for almost a decade began releasing his albums.

These are fantastic discoveries should you choose to pick them up. While the CD's are highly coveted by New Yorkers you can download them online as well. Each of the five available albums are phenomenal and you will wonder how such a big fish stayed in the small pond for so long without being noticed. Now its time for everyone to discover Frank Hewitt anew.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

John Zorn's Masada: Keeping The Faith

John Zorn/Masada (saxophone/group)
Dave Douglas (trumpet)
Joey Baron (drums)
Greg Cohen (bass)

For some, the name John Zorn may be unfamiliar. He has been a mainstay on the New York and European jazz scene since the late 70s. John Zorn's influences range from all forms of pop culture, Japanese cult films, television and oh yeah, jazz. He has practically created his own idiom within jazz. Zorn has utilized his saxophone is various groups of his own creation including the avant-punk outfits Painkiller, Cobra and Naked City.

He received critical success and wider recognition among the jazz community with his 1984 album The Big Gundown (Tzadik), a large ensemble recording which encapsulates John Zorn entire oeuvre. The album features such luminaries as Bill Frisell, Fred Firth, Vernon Ried (also of the rock band Living Colour), Joey Baron, John Patton and more. This is definitely an album you should hear eventually but I would like everyone to focus on one of John Zorn's newest groups--Masada.

Masada seems to be born out of Zorn's Jewish heritage. The studio albums were album named after each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That's only the beginning. The studio albums while essential pale in comparison to the series of live albums that would follow the ten studio creations. The live albums show the energy, creativity and highly technical balance of a band that has been together since 1993. To some this might sound like a klezmer band finally put in a room with Miles Davis' classic quartet featuring John Coltrane. But you have to listen further and then it will hit you how amazing and rich this band is live. Some have compared it to experiencing a Frank Zappa show where craziness and creativity meet in rapturous cacophony but finally win over even the harden of skeptics.

Masada is easily Zorn's most accessible group. Masada live is definitely the place to start with John Zorn. I would suggest First Live 1993 (Tzadik). Don't be afraid. Take a listen. Its worth the adventure.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ornette Coleman: Why He's Important

Ornette Coleman (sax, b.1930)
Arguably the most important figure of the avant garde movement, Ornette Coleman is both revered and reviled for what he did to push jazz forward in the 60s. He developed a theory of playing he called "Harmolodics" which I still only barely understand. Ornette Coleman experimented with varying modal structures along with Paul Bley, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman, among others, years before even John Coltrane would branch into his experiments with Eastern rhythms.
Coleman would make a string of highly influential recordings in the '60s that represent the benchmark of avant garde jazz for current artists such Ken Vandermark, Branford Marsalis and even trumpeter Roy Campbell.
Among those would be The Shape Of Jazz To Come and Change Of The Century (both on Atlantic Records). Both are worth listening to if you want to learn some of the origins of avant garde. They may sound harsh and deconstructive at first listen but as you gradual into the world of Orenette and his then consistent quartet of Charlie Haden (bass), Don Cherry (trumpet) and Billy Higgins (drums) you begin to see why these two record cause such a seismic shift on the jazz scene at the time. Together they stand up as the classic albums of the jazz history.
Another album Live At The Golden Gate Vol. I & II (Blue Note) is truly essential and are a nice balance of bop and avant garde.This live date included an new trio (David Izenzon, bass; Charles Moffet, drums) that would later record slew of sensational live recordings including Live In Paris 1971. These two gig were recorded in Sweden during a European tour 1965 and captures the trio at the height of their powers. A magnificent performance that is dark but pack with technical brilliance.
If you enjoy any of these I would also recommend the following as a next purchase.
Live At The Hillcrest Club (Gambit)
Free Jazz (Atlantic)
Live In Paris 1971(Jazz Row)
Science Fiction (Columbia)
Colors (Verve)
Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
For those looking for just the snapshot you might want look out for a compilation called Introducing to Ornette Coleman (Rhino). It only covers the Atlantic years but it does a good job of what the titles says.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Felonious Funk of J.J. Johnson

Jazz trombone great J.J. Johnson composed and played on a number film and television soundtracks during the feloniously funky 1970s, ranging from blaxploitation potboilers such as Shaft (with Isaac Hayes) and Trouble Man (with Marvin Gaye) to episodes of TV's Starsky & Hutch and The Six Million Dollar Man.

Johnson worked with Bobby Womack on one of the best blaxploitation soundtracks ever, Across 110th Street. It opens with all the drama and soul one could ever hope for in a title theme. If it were the only good track, it would still be worth the price. Thankfully, it isn't -- this is a well rounded score. From there you get Johnson's funky instrumentals ("Harlem Clavinette"), mellow soul ("If You Don't Want My Love"), wise-ass dialogue ("Punk Errand Boy"), catchy up-tempo soul ("Hang on in There" vocal and instrumental versions!) and righteous blues ("Do It Right").

Johnson's score for Cleopatra Jones is funky, soulful and memorable, featuring instrumentals and songs sung by Joe Simon and Millie Jackson. This score's soulful groove never lets up. Most importantly, there's a great theme and great chase music, featuring the wah-wah rhythms, brash brass, jagged string arrangements, rolling bass, fatback drumming, funky keys, heavy flute.

J.J. Johnson also delivered a soulful and riveting score for the pimptastic Willie Dynamite in 1974. Featuring four vocal performances by Martha Reeves & The Sweet Things, Willie Dynamite strikes the ideal blaxploitation balance of soul and funk. While the vocal tracks are fine but not particularly essential, Johnson's action-packed instrumentals are the real attraction. Cuts like "Willie Chase," "Willie Escape" and "Parade Strut" combine big band brass with dynamic percussion, wailing organ solos and unusual harmonica effects.

All three killer scores place Johnson alongside such the blaxploitation masters as Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and Curtis Mayfield.

Friday, October 9, 2009

David Sylvian: Jazz Futurist

David Sylvian (vocals, multi-instrumentalists)

For many, the name David Sylvian will be unfamiliar. David Sylvian started in the ''new romantic" (early eighties term for alternative) band Japan, which in itself was a rip off of the rock band Roxy Music. The band evolved into one the most influential and experimental bands of the mid-eighties. They incorporated various Eastern aesthetics into their music which allowed each member (David Sylvian (keyboard, piano, vocal), Mick Karn (bass, sax), Steve Jansen (drums), Richard Barbieri (keyboards)) to branch outward in their own directions. David took the path over the course of 9 albums towards more innovative jazz experiments.

His recent albums (Dead Bees On A Cake, Blemish and Snow Bourne Sorrow) have all combined his spiritual values with his appreciation for avant garde jazz. In recent years, Sylvian has also worked with avant garde guitarists Derek Bailey and Robert Fripp and trumpeter Jon Hassell and it definitely shows on the aforementioned albums.

The new release, Manafon (Samadisound) feels like the culmination of the previous two albums with its ethereal electronics and melodic accompaniment work from avant garde jazz musicians Evan Parker (sax) and Otomo Yoshihide (guitar) as well as excellent piano work from John Tilbury.

If you are a fan of ECM label, whose artists include Keith Jarrett, Evan Parker, Steve Tibbetts and David Torn among others, David Sylvian is someone you might want to check out. If Manafon doesn't whet your appetite you might want to check out the earlier compilation Everything And Nothing (Virgin Records) which will provide nice insight into his vocal and instrumental material over the last 30 years. Happy listening.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

John Coltrane: Side Steps

John Coltrane (saxophone, b. 1927 - d. 1967)

There is a new John Coltrane boxed set released this week entitled Side Steps (Prestige). It chronicles Coltrane's work as a sideman. All the material on this set is exceptional and highly recommended. Side Steps is a massive but modestly packaged 5 disc set (mainly for the diehard fan/collector). What I find special are two sessions included in this box that you can buy separately and would be an excellent addition to your music collection.

The first is an album by the great pianist Elmo Hope All Star Sessions (aka: Informal Jazz). All Star Sessions was a session which pitted Hope's elegant styling against Coltrane's burgeoning dominance on the jazz scene. The elder statesman, Hope and the young buck, Coltrane combine for a wonderful date that has John Coltrane placing his stamp on many of the standards on the release. In addition, Hope's playing is exceptional as always and he leads the rest of band through a great performance. This is truly an underrated album from a hugely underrated pianist. While most will gravitate to Coltrane's performance, I recommend you pay close attention to the direction from Elmo Hope.

The second album from the Side Steps box I would recommend you seek out is Soul Junction from Red Garland. Red Garland was another great pianist, probably more well known than Elmo Hope but also his association with the young John Coltrane at the time did elevate both the session and their future works. This session is accentuated by the very lengthy sets (the tilted track clocking in at 15 minutes). The set is a really smokin' blend of midtempo blues and also includes standout performances from Arthur Taylor (bass) and Donald Byrd (trumpet).

Both Soul Junction and All Star Session distinguish themselves from each other through the strength of the leading men and the way they utilize John Coltrane's youthful inventiveness. You will definitely enjoy listening to these two underrated pianists as they mix it up with an up and coming John Coltrane as he is developing his own voice. If you don't have the money for the big box set I would suggest checking out these two albums.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Last Exit: Beauty Of The Beast

Last Exit (group, 1986 - 1994)
Sonny Sharrock (guitar)
Bill Laswell (bass)
Peter Brotzman (reeds)
Roland Shannon Jackson (drums)

Last Exit was nothing more than a fierce behemoth that roamed jazz clubs and finally rock clubs leaving only the brave in their wake.

This was a supergroup but a supergroup that recorded very frequently during their almost decade together. They never really recorded a complete studio album. The majority of their albums are all live and all call on you to use the one thing you don't like to use sometimes when listening to four improvisers--patience.

This is a band that sounds like a construction site but if you listen closely to Sharrock's guitar you can find the lead. They performed with the true "I don't care about you" "F@&# you" attitude and it worked. Most of the time they drove their original jazz audience away but as a result gained a massive alternative and punk audience through the reputation of their gigs and the stature of Laswell as a musician and producer who floated between jazz, rock and alternative.

Last Exit disbanded in 1994 after the death of founding member Sonny Sharrock. If you fear music this is not for you. If you want your brain splattered across the floor, please take a listen to them. I would recommend any of the following Last Exit (Enemy), The Best Of Live (Enemy) and The Noise Of Trouble (Tokuma) which are all available online for download if you are interested.

Here's a small taste of Last Exit performing "Discharge" from their first album Last Exit. I wish I was there!!!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Before Kind Of Blue

Miles Davis (trumpet, b. 1926 - d. 1991)

L'Ascenseur pour l'echafaud. So the only Miles Davis record you have is Kind Of Blue and you ask yourself "What Miles album should I get next?" Well I would suggest looking at what Miles was thinking before he recorded Kind Of Blue. Most critics and jazz fans would suggest Milestones (Columbia, 1958).

While that is the conventional wisdom, I would like to take a look at the record that came just a few months before Milestones entitled L'Ascenseur pour L'echafaud (Lift To The Scaffold) (Verve Records, 1957). This was a soundtrack Miles recorded while in Europe but did not consist of his then current band which would record Milestones. Lift To The Scaffold was a very challenging record for Miles in that he had to write and record material to accompany a film (something he hadn't done to this point). This challenge helped Miles focus on his lyrical style and his direction for his musicians in the studio.

The manner in which this richly crafted album flows would again be recreated on Kind Of Blue. You can hear similarities in the atmosphere of the both recordings on tracks like "Nuit Sur Les Champs-Elysees" and "Generique" with Kind Of Blue's "So What" and "Flamenco Sketches".

The film has been re-released on DVD and is fantastic with the combination of Miles' music. A compelling, dense and transcendent album, L'Ascenseur pour L'echafaud sounds more like a jazz album than a soundtrack which makes it a brilliant and timeless recording 52 years later. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

E.S.T.: The European Standard

E.S.T. (group; '93 - '09)
Esbjorn Svensson Trio
Esbjorn Svensson (piano, electronics)
Dan Berglund (double bass, electronics)
Magnus Ostrom (drums, electronics)

Hailing from Sweden, E.S.T. have been the benchmark for European jazz groups since their appearance on the scene with their 1993 debut album When Everyone's Gone (Dragon Records). The group experienced the unexpected tragedy of their founding member Esbjorn Svensson earlier this year.

The remaining members of the band are still deciding what to do. In the meantime, their current label Act Music have released a compilation simply titled, Retrospective. I believe this is probably the perfect way for you to experience one of the best groups of the 21 century.

I have to admit I really didn't get into them until a few years later when I heard an American compilation, Somewhere Else Before (Columbia). While the compilation pulled together a number tracks from their previous six albums, it was slightly contrived. It focused more on alternative crossover capability than their more balanced improvisation and love of Thelonious Monk.

I decided to go back to discover those albums and was significantly blown away by the ingenuity of their pieces and how each album improves in quality. They would go on to record 11 studio albums and 3 live albums.

In Europe they are held as the torch bearers for jazz. A lofty goal, but they were truly worth it. This year E.S.T. released their 11th album, Leucocyte (ACT Music) which was a departure from recent release with a real clear direction of improvisation and high experimentation that they only hinted on in previous efforts (one song here, one song there). Leucocyte showed again that E.S.T. were again ready to move Europe forward. E.S.T. won numerous awards in Europe and the US (including the famous Downbeat critics poll).

Fans and critics still talk about E.S.T. and their influence on European and North American jazz(mainly on the trio format) and it is all justified. I think everyone who doesn't know about them--should. Find out about them now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Indo-Jazz Anyone?

Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone)
Knowing my deep love for the Indian, Pakistan and the Asian subcontinent, a friend of mine turned me on to Kadri Gopalnath, an Indian saxophone player. He does an unbelievable job of melding Eastern culture into a Western instrument and making it still feel very Indian.

I have to admit I don't own allot of his music but I have delved into enough that I can say if you are looking to spread your wings and listen to something really new and different, than Gopalnath is a wonderful musician to check out. Kadri discovered the saxophone while on a trip to England. Upon returning to India he modified the instrument in order to accompany his Carnatic music style (spiritual vocal music of India). The results are quite interesting. It is quite jarring to hear a saxophone in Indian music but after just a few minutes you realize how amazing the combination is to your ears and how spiritual it can be. As with the voice of Pakistani artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the saxophone of Kadri Gopalnath can be very intoxicating.

There are at least 60 albums available and no I don't own all of them but I can recommend a few that are cheap and worth downloading.

Saxophone Vol. I - III (Vani Recordings, 1999)
Gem Tones (Ace Records, 2000)
Saxophone (Geethanjali, 2006)

A very loose connection could be made with John Coltrane's latter work which was very influenced by Indian tradition. So if you are familiar with the Coltrane albums Ascension, Interstellar Space and Sun Ship etc., then I would suggest you check out Kadri Gopalnath. And to everyone else--take a few minutes and open your mind to whole new experience. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Melody Gardot: The Next Big Thing?

Melody Gardot (vocal)

I have to admit when I first heard about Melody Gardot I was really excited. Finally, a vocalist that could compete with Norah Jones--excellent. The first album, Worrisome Heart (Verve Records) while enticing for its freshness compared to everything else at the time--felt a little underwhelming. I guess my expectations were too high. This year brought the follow up My One And Only Thrill (Verve Records). It took a few listens but now it's finally won me over.

My One And Only Thrill is a jazz record, unlike Norah Jones which to me, is really a pop record dressed up as a jazz record. Melody Gardot will never convince the jazz stalwarts of her credentials but My One And Only Thrill is a steady and stronger statement than its predecessor. The songs are well written (most by Gardot herself) and she is backed on most of the numbers by a big band which does compliment her rich sultry voice. Tracks like "Baby I'm A Fool" and the title track bring the term "late night cocktail" to mind. But I would say, after you dig deeper into this album you will definitely be listening to this record day and night, weekend after weekend.

Melody Gardot has been compared to Joni Mitchell at times which I would agree. Her lyrics and vocal styling while introspective also utilize jazz as the launching pad. Melody Gardot may not reach the same notoriety as Norah Jones but I do think she is someone you should give a chance and look out--the third album may be the charm.