Friday, April 30, 2010

Five Things Not To Do At A Jazz Club

Or My Big Annoyances

Last weekend I talked about a show I was at and how some in the audience didn't know what they were getting themselves into. So I was thinking what fun list could I put together for our friends and people who don't know how to conduct themselves at a jazz show. So here's what I came up with it.

1) Talking: Seriously. If you're going to a jazz club 98% of the people there are there because they wanted to see and hear the artist(s) on the bill. They do not want to hear a conversation about someones day other than their own or the artist. It's shows a lot disrespect for the artists, who trust me can hear but choose to zone you out. The rest of the audience can't do that. Talking at a rock concert is accepted only because the music is so loud you have to speak over it (if you need to speak). So if you're at a jazz club and the table next to you won't shut up, feel free to tell them to be quiet. Or always ask the host or wait staff. You paid good money to be there to hear some great music don't let someone spoil it for you.

2) Eating: Now there's nothing wrong with eating at a jazz club. Before it is annoying for other people to hear the clinging & clanging of silverware throughout a performance. The best thing to do is if you really want eat at the club (and there are quite a few that serve good food) is to get there early and try to order at least 45 minutes before the performance. This give you enough time to eat and have that first drink if you like and then you enjoy the rest of the evening.

3) Clapping After Every Solo: No this one is always up for debate. I'm not a big fan of clapping after every solo because it interrupts my own listening experience particularly on a piece that is complexed or very improvised. Also sometimes people are clapping at points in the tune that don't even make sense or aren't even a solo. Like I said this one is debatable but its how feel.

4) Violent Coughing: Now this one doesn't happen often. You usually have this at a play or musical where everyone is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. But every once in awhile you get some one who can't stop coughing but won't get up and go to the bathroom. It's okay, everyone will understand. As a matter of fact everyone insist that the people please go to the bathroom. Trust me this one has happened to me and I've rushed to the bathroom to recover. You'll feel better and will enjoy the show more.

5) Screaming Your Excitement During A Solo: Now don't get me wrong, solos are great and most time pretty awesome. But most times its pretty annoying to have someone all the way in the back of the audience screaming "Yeah!" "Uh Huh!" "Alright!" and whatever else has moved them so spiritually to scream out other descriptive. For me this like screaming "Freebird" at any rock concert. Not sure how much more I have to say about this one.

As always this is just my opinion. If you guys have any funny jazz club annoyances or stories please let us know. I hope these things don't annoy you as much as they do me but either way find a jazz club this weekend and go listen to some music. The artist will thank you. And you will definitely enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Karin Krog

Karin Krog (vocals; b. 1937)

Norweigian chanteuse, Karin Krog, is probably one of the most under-rated jazz vocalists on the scene. While she is immensely popular oversees her stature in the U.S. may be that of cult figure. I think this may be due to lack of good distribution of her albums. She has recorded some highly influential and incredibly brilliant albums since the 60s. For me she doesn't have a bad record in her catalog.

She has said that her career started after seeing the Billie Holiday performance in Oslo. This was probably the impetus but Krog has definitely created her own sound and vision over a five decade career. Just as fellow country-woman, Sisdel Endresen has carved out a career utilizing jazz, vocal and electronic experimentation, Krog has been a stylistic and brilliant interpreter of songs (her own as well as standards). She is a vocalists who is unique yet still contemporary. Similar to Betty Carter, Nina Simone or Abby Lincoln. Krog was for sure one of the few to experiment with various styles throughout her career.

She started like many performing Swing, moving into bop and then reaching beyond jazz by incorporating and experimenting with sound treatments and electronics with John Surman and Steve Kuhn among others. She has also worked with some of best musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, including Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Archie Shepp and more. She made her solo debut in 1964 with the album By Myself (Verve) and among the many fantastic Karin Krog albums that are worth seeking out I would choose Some Other Spring (Meantime Records; 1970) which features a great line up of European and American players (Kenny Drew, Dexter Gordon, Epsen Rud and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen). Also You Must Believe In Spring (Meantime) and Where You At? (Enja) worth the hunt as well.

If you choose to just absorb the best of bunch there are at least two compilations that would suit anyone fine. First, Jubilee (Verve) is a two disc set of her recordings from the sixties to the nineties and is delightful listen. Second and probably the more widely available is the collection Raindrops, Raindrops (Crippled Dick Hot Wax). Don't let the label name fool you--this is great stuff. Its a single disc so its cheaper and covers some stellar material spanning 1963 - 1985).

Raindrops, Raindrops features some great work with John Surman on a hauntingly funky and psychedelic "New Spring." Krog and her quartet (Steve Swalllow (bass), Jon Christensen (drums) and Steve Kuhn (keys)) show off some lovely Latin-tinged flavouring on "The Meaning Of Love." Her arrangement of "Maiden Voyage - Lazy Afternoon" is truly stunning, original and worth repeated listens. Raindrops, Raindrops is an absolutely essential collection if you'd like to get into the music of Karin Krog. Karin Krog just released a new album, Oslo Calling (Meantime) which continues her longstanding colaborative work with John Surman.

Karin Krog could easily be considered Norway's great jazz singer and these albums are just a short list of how true that statement is.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lars Danielsson

Lars Danielsson (bass; b. 1958)

Lars Danilesson might not be well known amongst many jazz fans but he is building an exciting and diverse portfolio of work. He has recorded over 12 albums and performed as a sideman on countless of other releases. The bassist has worked with Charles Lloyd, Eivind Aarset, Nils Petter Molvaer, Jack DeJohnette, Viktoria Tolstoy to name a few. His style while quiet is beautifully orchestrated. He had a constant quartet in the '90s that featured Bobo Stenson (piano), Dave Liebman (sax) and Jon Christiensen (drums) that recorded a string of astonishing sessions that only one is readily available Far North (Curling Legs). That quartet definitely helped shape Lars Danielsson compositional vision and I think is responsible for his more adventurous recordings of late for ACT Music.

His current work on ACT has ranged from lush jazz orchestral dates to electronic influenced sessions (with help from Nils Petter Molvaer and Bugge Wesseltoft) and a beautiful, folksy, melodic duo recording with Polish pianist, Leszek Możdżer, entitled, Pasodoble. Pasodoble is probably the one I would recommend to most people as a good starting point. Its quite, spacious and lovely for any setting. With incredible and emotional interplay between the two musicians.

Another quintet release that might also be appealing is his most recent Tarantella. Tarantella is multi-dimensional and has a texture that seems to almost envelope the listener and carry you a delightful journey for an hour. Touching, honest and experienced, Tarantella shows serious growth from a bassist with two decades of experience working with some of the best musicians in jazz.

Just in the last few weeks Act Music released an amazing compilation spanning all of Danielsson's album on various labels. Entitled, Signature Edition (there are three other artists in this new artists specific compilation series), it may be more than the unitiated need but if you are familiar with his work which can be hard to find this is well worth getting. I found it on Amazon more else buy stumbling on to it--but I'm happy I did. There is a lot of material I couldn't find and most of it is included here. Signature Edition is a two disc set. There is a digital version but its only half the tracks.

Danielsson's seems to be able weave classical themes and jazz improvisation with incredible ease. Another reason why I find him an exciting proposition for anyone getting into jazz to check him out. I'm hoping that some time sooner rather than later everyone will get to hear Lars Danielsson.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nnenna Freelon

Nnenna Freelon (vocals; b. 1954)
Homefree (Concord Music)

Nnenna Freelon is one of those artists you really must see live. While her albums are exceptional it is the live performance that has always been the clincher for me. I have to admit, I hadn't listened to a Nnenna Freelon album in awhile but listening to the new record Homefree (Concord) I was reminded why I became a fan just under 20 years ago.

Freelon interprets soul, pop, jazz and the American Songbook with the versatility not seen in most singers today. For anyone who hasn't heard Nnenna Freelon before your first impressions may be Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan but Freelon has developed her own distinct voice over the last two decades. This is an artists that when you hear her voice coming through the speakers you know it and she commands your attention.

Homefree, Freelon's 7th studio album, is another beautiful reconstruction of the American Songbook with delicate and well crafted arrangements of "The Very Thought Of You," "You The Night And The Music," "Skylark" and more. One of most exciting and refreshing things I've always enjoyed about Nnenna Freelon is her ability to turn a standard into her own. Her arrangements are not what you immediately expect from a jazz singer. I sometimes think how Tony Bennett, Peter Gabriel and Bryan Ferry can rearrange a classic and make you think they actually wrote the song.

The band are another reason for Freelon's creative versatility. With some truly elegant work from Brandon McCune (piano), Kinah Ayah (drums), Wyane Batchelor (bass) and the rest of her ensemble Freelon takes the listener on luminous journey filled with emotion, passion and occasional swathes of funky soul that shines on every tune. From the funky opener "The Lamp Is Low'" to the one Freelon penned number "Cell Phone Blues", Homefree displays her rich gift as both a truly fascinating vocalist and original arranger.

The one startling number for me was towards the end with the standard "Lift Every Voice And Sing" which includes a rap by Pierce Freelon. It's a little jarring but on second listen it settles into the Freelon cannon as another interesting revision on a classic. As with such vocalist as Claire Martin and Mark Murphy, Nneena Freelon has always been a risk taker and appears to enjoy the challenge of re-imagining what can be done in the vocalists songbook.

Homefree is definitely a diverse and rewarding experience. If you end up getting this, you might also want to check out Better Than Anything (Concord) which is a compilation of her previous six albums and makes for the perfect companion piece to Homefree.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kevin Hays: Live At Smoke, NYC 24.4.2010

Kevin Hays (piano; b. 1968)

It was a brisk evening as I entered New York's Smoke Jazz Club. I wanted to check out someone new at my favourite jazz club in the city. I arrived and enjoyed a nice glass wine while waiting for the show to begin.

Sitting next to me were a quartet of individuals that were obviously only here because a friend told them it was a great play to hear some music. They really had no intention of listening to the music as the talked through the first two songs. After some deep thought I asked the hostess to tell them quiet down. They did but just barely.

Okay back to our originally scheduled program. Tonight's performance was from pianist, Kevin Hays. I had only heard Kevin Hays' name around the jazz circles but hadn't really investigated his music until this evening. Kevin Hays has recorded over a dozen albums in addition to recording and performing with an impressive list of artists including Bob Belden (composer, sax), John Scofield (guitar), Roy Haynes (drums) and Benny Golson (sax) among others. His quartet for tonight's performance featured three musicians with whom I was very familiar, either from their own work or other recording dates (Mark Turner (sax), Rodney Green (drums) and Doug Weiss (bass)).

Well, let's just say--Kevin Hays can really swing! His depth, range and improvisation were impressive and his arrangements for songs by Charlie Parker and Benny Golson during the set were fantastic. While displaying some clever improv-chops his subtle playfulness hinted to a bit of a Keith Jarrett influence but more recent comparisons (not influence) might be Brad Meldhau and Benny Green.

Hays' exchanges with Rodney Green and Mark Turner were outstanding. As the night went on, especially during the final two pieces, the three really took the reins off and were smokin' rhythmically. Mark Turner--a big adventurous player in the vein of John Coltrane and Wayne Marsh--was a bit subdued on this night but it fit Hays' style and didn't dominate the proceedings. Hays and Turner showed phenomenal artistry during Hays' reworking of the Benny Golson standard "Stablemates" (Hays remarked he was changing it to "Unstablemates"). Anyone who knows this midtempo classic, take a listen and then imagine it just a little tiny bit more upbeat. A nice crafty melody change by Hays.

Kevin Hays' most recent record is a collection of pop/jazz standards entitled You've Got A Friend (Jazz Eyes), which actually is a really good introduction to his work if you haven't heard him before. Don't be hesitant, these covers are expansive, different and well worth the listen (especially The Beatles "Fool On The Hill" and Thelonious Monk "Think Of One").

Overall, not a stellar "I'm blown away" evening but definitely a welcomed and enjoyable night of music. Also a nice discovery of a musician I should have listened to a long time ago despite the knuckleheads next to me. (Next time: Five Things Not To Do At A Jazz Club)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dave Bailey: One & Two Feet In The Gutter

Dave Bailey (drums; b. 1926)
The Complete One & Two Feet In The Gutter Sessions (Lone Hill Jazz)

Curtis Fuller (trombone)
Clark Terry (trumpet)
Bill Hardman (trumpet)
Juinor Cook (sax)
Charlie Rouse (sax)
Frank Hayes (sax)

Horace Parlan (piano) / Billy Gardner (piano)
Peck Morrisson (bass) / Ben Tucker (bass)

Originally this album was only one album--One Foot In Gutter (which came out on Epic Records in 1960). This is one of those smokin' jazz dates that every music fan can enjoy. Seriously you don't need a lot of history on date. Dave Bailey has been an under-appreciated yet phenomenal drummer before he recorded this stellar sessions. He has since retired and is teaching jazz in New York, I beleive.

Dave Bailey spent his formidable years working with in the legendary Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Big Band. He went on to record first the fantastic live date One Foot In The Gutter featuring superb solo work from Curtis Fuller (trombone) and Clark Terry (trumpet). The band also included Horace Parlan (piano), Peck Morrison (bass), Junior Cook and Thelonious Monk Quartet mainstay, Charlie Rouse sitting in on sax--all in truly rich powerful form throughout. The first session features a number Clark Terry numbers that really should be play loud and louder on your stereo to get the full encompassing effect ("Evad Smurd" and "One Foot In The Gutter"). There's also a great interpretation of Monk's "Well You Needn't" spotlighting Horace Parlan, and while Parlan can't match the majesty of Monk he does demand respect for re-imagining some of the parts. Parlan does for obvious reason seem more at home on the bluesier number "Blues For J.P." --mostly because Parlan wrote it. The band also close out the evening with a killer 21 minute opus of Clifford Brown's "Sandu". Absolutely beauty stuff.

The early 1960 session went so well that later the following year Bailey reconvened with new sextet to record the sequel, Two Feet In The Gutter. This session starts of with some hard driving interplay from Bailey and Billy Hardman (trumpet) on "Come Home Baby". This sextet had a lot to match compared to future legends that were recruited for the 1960 session but they do hold their own admirably. The title track "Two Feet In The Gutter" is a little more blues-ish/soul but has some great solo work from Frank Hayes (sax) and Bill Hardman.
Hardman and Hayes do very well in matching the quality of Terry and Rouse. The material does suit them for this more subtle bop date. The entire band do let loose as evident of "Lady Iris B". At the end of all this hard bop magic over the course of two years you will notice that Dave Bailey while letting his band do allot of the talking he is still the driving force as to where each tune goes and he is the glue to keeps the sessions together.
Only in the last five years have these two session really come back into circulation (as The Complete One & Two Feet In The Gutter Sessions) and thank god they did. It also includes an addition three tracks from a late 1961 session with Grant Green (guitar) entitled Reachin' Out. The In The Gutter Sessions are one of those deep treasures that jazz fans have been looking for but its also a two disc set that is worth it for fans of any music genre.
So if you are looking for something out the traditional big names you should seek out Dave Bailey's Complete One & Two Feet In The Gutter Sessions. Complete 1 & 2 Feet in the Gutter Sessions is available on import,  but if you want just the first date One Foot In The Gutter check it out at Amazon and take a listen. I'm pretty sure you're gonna dig it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

John Coltrane: OM

John Coltrane (saxophone)
OM (Impulse)

Derided by many as a wall of noise, OM (Impulse) just happens to be one of my favourite John Coltrane records. This also happens to be the very first Coltrane album I ever heard. I can't remember how old I was but I do remember raking the leaves the in the backyard and hearing a cacophony of noise coming from my neighbors yard two house down. I went down to find out what this strange beauty noise was and I was entranced with John Coltrane ever since.

OM was released in 1965, at time when many of best musicians in jazz were experimenting with what was now known as Free Jazz. For me, essentially OM is one long spiritual journey in the framework of the Divine Comedy. In this case, Coltrane (as Dante) travels through the chaotic frenzy that is hell, through the ambivalence of purgatory and then ending in the enlightenment of heaven.

OM begins with all guns blazing as Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders exchange counterpoints on saxophone while Elvin Jones (drums) Jimmy Garrison and Donald Garrett (bass), Joe Brazil (flute) and McCoy Tyner (piano) keep some semblance of rhythm deep in the background. This is a session which is completely unlike its predecessors, Ascension (Impulse), Kulu Se Mama (Impulse) and the landmark A Love Supreme (Impulse). While each of those albums contain a specific theme and balance within beauty OM seems like some kind of catharsis for the band.

OM is heavy, dense and aggressive throughout but as you reach the conclusion you finally feel you've reached that nirvana that Coltrane was constantly seeking throughout his recordings on Impulse. It's definitely and I mean definitely not for everyone. This is one long piece (almost 30 minutes) but if you can handle the aural assault on the senses you will genuinely be rewarded at the end. OM is a difficult record created by one the most innovative musicians in music history along with the albums that proceeded it all have become a benchmark for avant garde artist of this current generation. An album worth the experience. Even if its just one listen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Miles Davis: Decoy

Miles Davis (trumpet)
Decoy (Columbia; 1984)

Everyone (including me) loves to talk about Miles Davis' 60s and 70s albums which span from great promise to truly innovative. But what is sometime overlooked is Miles' material during the late 80s. This was generally a new, fresh and commercially popular period for Miles. His music gained a mass worldwide audience and he tour quite regularly. This popularity was no more evident then on the 1985 album, Decoy (Columbia). Now let me first say, not everyone likes this period for the exact reason mentioned--popularity. The music is sometimes a little generic and very electronically programmed (as was most of the jazz during this period). But I have to say I still really love this record.

Decoy I'm pretty sure is not among the favourite album of this time period either. Some of the history around Decoy is slightly irrelevant to the recording but this was recorded during a Canadian tour which Miles famously dissed the upcoming young turk named Wynton Marsalis. This was the part of a long running fued between the two confident trumpeters. The ironic part to all of this was that Wynton's older brother, Branford Marsalis plays on Decoy. While there is a reliance on keyboards and Miles seems a little distant throughout the session there are still some fine performances from the band including John Scofield (guitar), Mino Cinelu (percussion) and Robert Irving (and Miles Davis!) on keyboards.

Decoy is great mixture of funk, blues and rollicking fun as evident on the title track, "Freaky Deaky," "That's Right" (with some great solo work from the young Branford, and "What It Is". Don't get me wrong, on first listen for some this might sound very 80s and very dated but I really think the whole of Miles' 80s output needs to reexamined. The material during this period while immensely popular for the masses still has saw Miles trying to push jazz forward. There obviously not as great as the previous thirty years but albums such as Decoy will give you an insight into what Miles was thinking and how far he would take it.He would later absorb more influences of the day (even hip hop in the 90s and the famous are rare sessions with Prince--yes, "Purple Rain" Prince). Decoy is in a series a albums from 81 - 85 that you should check out with an open mind.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Celebrating Guru (Gangstarr and Jazzmatazz)

The Intersection: Keith Elam (aka Guru) (vocals; b. 1966 - d. 2010)

The news today that one of favourite lyricist, Guru, passed away today from cancer (Rakim, Chuck D and Black Thought being the others) is crushing. He along with DJ Premier were among a handful of innovators during the late 80's and '90s as Gangstarr. Guru's solo career was just as innovative with the creation of the collective Jazzmatazz.

Jazzmatazz was arguably the first jazz/hip hop hybrid (granted Branford Marsalis tried it as well with Buckshot Lefonque a year later) that established a critical and creative foothold in the musical culture during the '90s. Gangstarr had collaborated with Branford Marsalis on a great track from Spike Lee's little appreciated jazz movie Mo' Better Blues (Starring Denzel Washington) on the track "A Jazz Thing". Guru took a brief hiatus from the band after their third album and went into the studio with a treasure chest of ideas and closet full of legends to help him execute it. The result was one of the best fusions of hip hop and jazz ever.

With the help of Branford Marsalis (sax), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Ronny Jordon (guitar), the incredible Roy Ayers (vibes), Lonnie Liston Smith (keyboards) and a list of soul, R&B and jazz vocalist, Guru showed everyone that jazz and hip hop could take the next step forward creating a new evolution for both genres. The first album, Jazzmatazz Vol. I (Chrysalis) (a series of four to date) deals with the usual issues of the streets but the skill and delivery of both vocalists (including Guru) and the jazz legends makes this a real heartfelt affair and no matter whether you like jazz or hip hop this Jazzmatazz Vol. I really sticks inside you like glue.

Standout tracks like "Trust Me" featuring N'dea Davenport of jazz/soul group Brand New Heavies and "The Good, The Bad" featuring one of my favourite hip hop artists of all time, MC Solaar capture soulful essence of hip hop and easy coalesce with hard bop rhythm backed up by the jazz legends Guru has recruited. This is an album that satisfies both sides of the jazz/hip hop fence and if you haven't heard it you really need to check it out. The truly groundbreaking session. While this is a sad day for music, we should celebrate the legacy Guru has left us. Play It Loud.


Supersilent (group; 1997)
Arve Henriksen (trumpet, electronics, drums)
Helge Sten (guitars, electronics)
Ståle Storløkken (keyboards)
Jarle Vespestad (drums)

Deconstructing everything we know about jazz, Norwegian band Supersilent have taken jazz and literally blown it apart and don't seem to want to put it back together. With elements of Miles early '70s fusion work, the dense introspection of Karlhienz Stockhausen and a true belief in "whatever happens on stage or in the studio, happens" improvisation, Supersilent has emerged as one of the most challenging and adventurous bands on the scene today.

Not unlike Australia's The Necks, Supersilent can start off a piece either with sheer cacophony or quiet beauty. Either way, the end results are quite mesmerizing. The band utilize a mixture of both acoustic and electronic instruments to create a densely pack world of soundscapes that would make Miles Davis proud. The band functions as one without a real leader and almost never rehearsal session. There first three albums simply titled 1, 2 and 3 respectively, are packaged together and transmit the same theme of sparse, atmospheric, eclectic adventure. 2 does features some pieces with slightly more song structure or rhythmic patterns but for the most part the albums 1 - 3 are an excursion in sound but well worth the journey.

Album 4 sets a similar course to album 2 with what feels like nods to King Crimson in the way there is a full frontal assault on listener but you it is interesting to hear the subtle nuances through each piece. Albums 5 and 6 are quieter affairs, exploring more of an ambient path with keyboards and electronics more the focus for this outing. There are ethereal moments in which Henriksen's trumpet are audible making for nice transcendent arrangements. Fans of King Crimson, Spring Heel Jack, Jon Hassell, Seefeel and My Bloody Valentine might look to 6 as a nice starter.

Album 7 is actually a live DVD and is worth the money. I have since Supersilent twice and it is truly an experience in sound and order. Albums 8 and 9 maintain the ambient theme but you continue to get a great insight into the group dynamic. Everyone in the band handles electronics so its at times difficult to determine who's playing what but its more about the improvisation and emotional output of Supersilent that finding the individual characteristics.

Each member of the band has their own highly successful solo careers (Arve Henriksen recent release on ECM and Ståle Storløkken in collaboration with Thomas Stronen as Humcrush) when this band gets together to record or perform live it is truly an event. If your taste gravitate to rich, dense sound and experimentation than I highly recommend exploring Supersilent.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Peter Thomas' Spy '60s Crime Jazz

Jerry Cotton — FBI's Top Man
Peter Thomas
All Score Media / Chris' Soundtrack Corner

Anyone who was around for the first round of retro spy soundtrack reissues in the late '90s will tell you that one of the best releases was Crippled Dick Hot Wax's collection of Jerry Cotton music, simply titled
100% Cotton. It's a 2CD kaleidoscope of Peter Thomas' eccentric crime jazz — swinging big band numbers peppered with scat vocals, wailing organ and crash-bam-boom sound effects.

So, what the heck is
Jerry Cotton — FBI's Top Man? Well, with 100% Cotton out of print, All Score Media and Chris' Soundtrack Corner have seen fit to put "FBI's Top Man" back in action with a 28-track single CD sampler. It borrows cover art from one of the original LP releases from the '60s and adds some rarities to sweeten the deal.

Who is this G-man — Jerry Cotton? Like Hollywood's Derek Flint and Matt Helm, this German creation was an opportunistic response to the spy craze sparked by James Bond. There were eight Jerry Cotton movies made in five short years ('65-'69). Frankly, they weren't up to the standards of the 007 series or even the Flint and Helm flicks, and have rarely been seen since outside of Germany.

But these barely b-movies have great jazz scores by Peter Thomas, who also scored the Edgar Wallace "krimi" potboilers, the sci-fi TV show
Space Patrol (aka Raumpatrouille) and later paranormal cult classic Chariots of the Gods? and sexploitation flicks.

Thomas' Cotton soundtracks tend to have more in common with Henry Mancini's swinging crime jazz scores for
The Pink Panther movies than John Barry's bombastic 007 scores, but that generalization hardly does them justice. They're completely unique, bizarre, amusing and infectiously hummable. Thomas' giddy hustle-bustle arrangements call to mind an era of relative innocence when a blend of brassy instrumentation and early rock 'n' roll energy made crime-busting sound like carnival thrill-ride.

Interestingly, this reissue appears to be timed to take advantage of a new German-made Jerry Cotton movie (see fourth video below) that seems to poke fun at the original series while delivering the sort of sexy, violent high-octane thrills that modern movie audiences expect these days.

Review originally published at

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sankorfa: In Between Instruments

Sankorfa (group; formed 2004)
In Between Instruments (Greater London Records)

Michael Allen (drums, percussion)
Zands Duggan (congas, percussion)
Ruth Gomez (drums, percussion)
Scott Wilson (vibraphone, drums, marimbas)

Hailing from London, Sankorfa (African saying: looking backwards to move forward) is an incredible new quartet that uses percussion as the main thrust of their vision with wonderfully futuristic results. The band uses vibraphone, drums, congas, marimbas to create a beautiful blend of earthy rhythms that hold the listener in its sway and suggest a deep interest in exploration.

One of the first things you’ll noticed when listening to Sankorfa is the influence of minimalist composer Steve Reich. The emotional content, however, is a key differentiator for Sankorfa, and promises huge potential for future development. While each piece sounds like it originated from one member, the group’s sound definitely speaks to the potency of their collective vision.

Not unlike fellow London jazz experimentalists, Portico Quartet and Outside, Sankorfa explores Eastern and Western aesthetics with a classical approach, but combines it with a youthful spirit of adventure that I haven't heard in quite awhile.

On their new album In Between Instruments, Sankorfa explores sub-Asian and African rhythms. The opening tracks, “A Ok” and “Enough Already,” favorably remind me of the collaborations between legendary Punjabi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and genre-hopping musician/producer Michael Brook, as well as drum legend Tony Allen.

The quartet also displays an appreciate for trance on the infectious “Inside The Oyster,” which starts innocuously but finds a drum ‘n’ bass groove at the three-quarter point that Roni Size might be proud of.

On “Great Ocean Road,” Sankorfa creates a samba-meets-minimalism vibe worthy of both Reich and vibraphone innovator Gary Burton, and, man, that’s a pretty cool combination.

“Kloshing” offers some magnificent ambient atmospherics with a hint of drum ‘n’ bass propulsion that pulls you along, while its seductive harmonics tug on the cerebral side of the groove.

Don’t think for a minute that it’s all percussion grooves and Eastern atmosphere going on here. My favorite track (this week at least) is the closing number, “Trouble So Hard.” Quiet and bluesy, it brings the journey to a peaceful finish, and leaves the listener wowed.

In Between Instruments is an album you will want to hear over and over again. I enjoyed discovering this record during the past week and highly recommend it. Visit Sankorfa's web site to learn more and if you really need more convincing, check out their latest non-album cut “7 Minutes (In The Hurt Locker)” available through the Sankorfa Myspace site as a FREE DOWNLOAD. In Between Instruments comes out on Monday. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tomasz Stanko Live At Birdland

Tomasz Stanko Quintet
Live At Birdland 14.4.2010
(Hey it's not the best picture in the world but I tried.)

A dark, melodic, roaming evening with the new Tomasz Stanko Quintet the iconic jazz club, Birdland in New York. The "jazz corner of the world" was about 2/3 filled as the legendary Polish trumpeter approached the stage in support of his new release Dark Eyes (ECM). The band went through a series of short pieces that highlighted each of Stanko's new members exquisitely. For me, Jakob Bro (guitar) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums) where the major standouts. Bro's interplay throughout the earlier pieces was sublime. Louhivuori's time changes were delicate and inventive. Tomasz Stanko's playing picked up towards the final two pieces as he finally let loose with some vintage work.

The new quintet has a vibrant attitude that is definitely a contrast to his previous quartet led by Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums) which feature more introspective and emotional detail. Dark Eyes sizzles with Jakob Bro's almost Abercrombie-esque atmospherics and the rest of the bands subtle exuberance making the album truly fresh in quality. Live the quintet are still working through a number of new directions but it's a journey worth jumping aboard--impressive and open. An all around thoughtful evening. (The following videos are not from the show last night.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dan Berglund's Tonbrunket

Dan Berglund (bass)
Tonbrunket (ACT Music)

Dan Berglund starts his solo career after a decade in the highly influential Swedish trio E.S.T. (Esbjorn Svensson Trio). The untimely death of his close friend and co-founder Esbjorn Svensson obviously still has a profound effect on him and it shows in his new quartet Tonbrunket (Swedish expression for factory).

Tonbrunket is an album that is definitely different from what Berglund did with E.S.T. It is an album fueled by jazz, folk and rock experiences of its members. The album is calmer and more ethereal all around than most E.S.T. outing as well. The band's catalyst may actually be Johan Lindstrom (guitar) who's dreamscapes on guitar seems to meld perfectly with Berglund's always impressive and adventurous use of distortion on bass. The aforementioned fuel of the album is very apparent on the opener "Sister Sad" in which Lindstrom sets the tone for the entire session with some powerful atmospherics that for me are reminiscent of Michael Brook, Pink Floyd and Bill Frisell.

Tonbrunket moves so freely between the genres that you at times almost forget its essentially a jazz album. "Salior Waltz" is where Berglund shows his uncanny beauty over the bass accompanied by Martin Hederos on piano. It is a piece that will have the listener encompassed in its subtle emotional warmth and elegance. The album does have its big cacophonous moments driven by Lindstrom and drummer Andreas Werliin (the tracks like "Stethoscsope", "Monstrous Colossus" and "Gi Hop") but these are welcomed and fit marvelously within the mellow, bluesy and folksy jazz oriented pieces. "Wolverine Hoods" is another track that breaks for tradition sounding almost like an instrumental from a Mazzy Star or Opal album with hazy effects and trippy organ work from Hederos.

"Song For E", while most people who didn't know of E.S.T. will find it a lovely piece, its definitely emotionally gut-wrenching and a thoughtful tribute to his friend. Tonbrunket's closing tracks "Cold Blooded Music" and "Waltz For Matilda" are again both evocative and exploratory. The haunting percussion's, pedal effects and bass distortion leading the way of "Cold Blooded Music" into the journeys end with a smoothly and gentle return under the guidance of Berglund and Lindstrom's almost alt-country ballad magic of "Waltz For Matilda".

For those who are E.S.T. fans like myself its has been a difficult year and a half to reconcile not hearing any new E.S.T. music ever again but trust me Dan Berglund's Tonbrunket is a great way to start a new chapter for us. This is album of year quality hands down. If you've never even heard E.S.T. don't worry you can start here and work your way backwards if you like--you will be satisfied.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (voice, b.1948 - d.1997)

Everyone has their all time favorite musician or band. For me it's John Lennon, Thelonious Monk, Bob Marley and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Nusrat as you will hear and see, has one of the most distinctive voices in all of music.

He is revered by musicians from all genres as well as an inspiration to all his fans. The music which he performs is known as quwwali. Quwwali originated in Northern Pakistan over 500 years ago. It is consideration an ancient Sufi spiritual music that many listeners believe could transport them to a higher state of mind during the experience. While there are many South Asian performers who still perform Quwwali, its popularity in the Western world has been mainly due to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

While he has over 150 recordings--many of which are bootleg live recordings of extremely high sound quality--a number of studio recordings were released by Peter Gabriel's Real World label during the nineties. These recordings while great were sometimes washed out by slight overproduction, they are still worth buying or downloading as they are easier to digest for new listeners. I would recommend either Mustt Mustt or Devotional and Love Songs, both on the Real World label. Of the more traditional albums I would recommend downloading either The Final Studio Recordings (American Recordings) or The Best Of Khan (Oriental Star).

For jazz and reggae fans Nusrat can be an easy transition if you have listened to Bitches Brew or Agharta by Miles Davis, OM or Love Supreme by John Coltrane, and Exodus by Bob Marley. The same spiritual nature that these albums exude can be heard and felt in Nusrat's music. It's an acquired taste for sure but if you are willing to take the time and open your world fully you will find out why so many people, myself included find Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to be one of the most import voices of all time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Christian Scott: Now For Something Different

Christian Scott (trumpet; b. 1983)
Yesterday you said Tomorrow (Concord)

Just a short entry today. I'm writing this one with very little knowledge, so if you are a fan please feel free to give us some feedback. I've been listening to the new Christian Scott album Yesterday you said Tomorrow (Concord). I don't own any other Christian Scott's albums and I wanted to check this one out because I've heard a lot about him. Christian Scott is one of a new legion of young jazz musicians with some serious chops and great vision. I haven't seen this much excitement surrounding a trumpeter since Roy Hargrove came on the scene a little over 20 years ago. He has been compared to Miles Davis which even he feels is a little overboard. I can hear some similarities within his compositions.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow is an eclectic blend of jazz, rock and funk themes that one first listen seem to be all over the place. When sat down with it again it really hit. Yesterday you said Tomorrow starts out emotionally deep with some terrific interplay between Scott, drummer, Jamire Williams and guitarist, Matthew Stevens on "K.K.P.D." The album highlights vision and complexity of society at large from the eyes and horn of Scott. His playing is touch-notch throughout, especially on my favourite track "Jenacide" which at times feels like I left a Keith Jarrett trio album on in one room and E.S.T on in another. This is gritty, thought provoking stuff.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow was a really cool discovery for me this week and now I'm really excited about checking out his previous albums and I think you should all do yourselves a favour and take a listen.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Celebrating Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet; b. 1938 - d. 2008)

This week would have been Freddie Hubbard's 72nd birthday (April 7th). Yes, I probably should have written this early but things happen...

Freddie Hubbard was one fiercest hard bop players around. As some may know he was heavily influenced by the great Clifford Brown and Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. But Hubbard would develop his own voice very quickly and would become a major influence on a new generation of trumpeters today (Ryan Kisor, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, et el.).

Freddie Hubbard performed with a host of legendary jazz musicians including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock to name just a few. Hubbard's style was robust, exuberant and well rounded; much more so than many of his contemporaries. When he played you knew it. I was lucky enough to see one of his last concerts and while he had definitely lost allot of his chops--due to a serious lip infection/injury during the 90s--you could still feel the powerful and energy in his performance. Freddie Hubbard like many of the legends of the '50s and '60s hard bop era played in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers before branching out on his own to record some stellar work for Blue Note Records.

Freddie Hubbard's first album, Open Sesame (Blue Note; 1960) is must have for any fan of jazz. It features some fantastic phrasing from Hubbard but also incredible performances from fellow greats McCoy Tyner (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Clifford Jarvis (drums) and the highly under-rated Tina Brooks (sax) who wrote two wonderful tracks, "Open Sesame" and "Gypsy Blue". Hubbard contributed the lovely closing piece "Hub's Nub which features some exciting solo work that for me is staggering ever time I listen to it.

You could say the Blue Note years saw Hubbard at his peak--you might be wrong. In the 70's Hubbard signed with the CTI/Epic Records after a brief unsuccessful period with Atlantic Records in the late 60s. The albums he produced for CTI would become some of his most commercially successful of his career.

One of the critics and my favourites is Red Clay (CTI; 1970) is a double-edged sword. It can easily be seen as a response to the direction jazz was going in after Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and even some of the work of contemporary Donald Byrd with the collision of funk, soul and jazz. It can also been seen as the trumpeter really taking to the new sub-genre and making it his own in one session.

There's a host of killer performances on this album including the interplay between Joe Henderson (sax) and Hubbard. The album also featured a who's who of jazz greats: Herbie Hancock (piano), Stanley Turrentine (sax), Johnny Smith (organ), George Benson (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Lenny White, Billy Cobham (drums) and Airto Moreira (percussion)--all I have to say is wow! The album is obviously highlighted by the funky almost psychedelic blues of the title track but you can solid mixture of his crisp Blue Note playing in an updated more rhythmic arena. This isn't completely a funk record by "funk/soul" standards. It's an album built on the soul of the musician with some terrific grooves laid in by his friends.

While the 80s were sporadic for recording and the injury to his lip finally took its toll on the legend, Freddie Hubbard's final two albums still show he could play in with the young cats. The albums, New Colours (Hip Bop) and On The Real Side (Four Quarters) both feature Hubbard running through some previously recorded material but with the help of a new generation which included Kenny Garrett and Javon Jackson (sax) Steve Davis (trombone), Joe Chambers (drums) and Russell Malone (guitar) among others. These two album are not essential in the canon of Freddie Hubbard but they are well worth listening to after you've experience some of his others.

His love of the trumpet and playing never die and it always should right up to his final days. Freddie Hubbard was a remarkable musician with a catalog that stands up against many of the other legends in jazz and should not be overlooked. Happy Birthday Freddie.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jimmy Giuffre

Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet, sax; b. 1921 - d. 2008)

The Texas born, Jimmy Giuffre is sometimes a mythical figure even amongst jazz fans. He was classically trianed on clarinet--learned and perfected counterpoint (harmonic structure of two different musical lines which function together) which would be make his work standout high and above many of his contemporaries.

With well over 30 albums to his credit, he is widely known for his pianoless/drumless trios from the 50s/60s. These groups were unprecedented and highly inventive (saxophonist Gerry Mulligan also had a pianoless quartet) are recorded a series influential albums over the span of 10 years. The trio feature Jim Hall (guitar) and Ralph Pena (bass) and later a second trio with Hall and Bobby Brookmyer (trombone). The two trios performed some absolutely beautiful folksy and blues influenced jazz sessions during the mid to later 50s.

The bulk of these are extremely hard to find individually but Jim Hall/Ralph Pena sessions can be found on a great import collection entitled, The Origial Studio Recordings (Gambit). This contains some stellar material including the wonderful "Train and The River". The Brookmyer sessions can be found on a very expensive boxed set, The Complete Capitol & Atlantic Recordings (Mosaic Records). This also includes some killer performances of "Blue Monk" and "Pickin' em Up and Layin' em Down". A later Giuffre trio featuring would create another influential trio with Paul Bley (piano) and Steve Swallow (bass) which would record series of even more influential records.

The most famous sets were 1961 (ECM) (aka the two albums Fusion and Thesis) and Free Form (Columbia). These were part of what Giuffre were early experiments in Free Jazz. Unlike what some would associate with Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy or even John Coltrane, these sessions were introspective yet adventurous for their use of space. It is a melodic session were Bley, Swallow and Giuffre each explore different aspects emotionally. This is a landmark recording in jazz history and well worth seeking out.

Giuffre would record and teach throughout the 70s and 80s but made a return to recording during the late 80s and 90s and even recorded two more sessions with Bley and Swallow which saw the three still in top form after a twenty year hiatus. Jimmy Giuffre's lineups may sound complete out of left-field for the uninitiated but when you hear them (jazz fan or not) you will be spellbound at how powerful and creative the groups could be.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Intersection: Nicola Conte

Nicola Conte (guitar)

Nicola Conte, the Italian deejay, jazz guitarist and label impresario (Schema Records), is a thoroughly modern musician who records both traditional sessions of Latin lounge jazz as well as groove-based acid jazz and dance remixes.

Conte first hit the scene in 2000 with Jet Sounds, a Schema release later reissued by Thievery Corporation's label Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL) as Bossa Per Due, followed by the remix platter Jet Sounds Revisited in 2002.

Both releases are classic examples of Conte's early approach to bossa nova (the title track), samba ("The In Samba"), exotica ("Missione a Bombay") and soundtrack-influenced ("Dossier Omega") acid jazz that blend home grown samples with genuine musicianship. Not only did Conte grab the attention of ESL and lounge revival fans, luxury carmaker Acura used "Bossa Per Due" in a TV commercial.

Two years later, however, Conte returned with Other Directions for Blue Note's European subsidiary, an impressive release that eschews samples altogether in favor of polished live group performance, with and without male and female vocals. Here, Conte, a classically trained musician, demonstrates his gifts for composition and arranging and his love of bossa nova in particular. He's tapped the creme de la creme of the Italian jazz scene who clearly share his sophisticated swinging sensibilities. Stand-out numbers include the title track, "The Dharma Bums," "Kind of Sunshine" and "A Time for Spring," but the whole album is solid. It's a shame Blue Note didn't release it domestically, because Other Directions is very accessible without alienating jazz aficionados.

In 2008, Conte delivered Viagem, the first of two collections of '60s Brazilian bossa nova and samba nuggets (for Far Out Recordings) as well as another platter of original jazz for Schema called Rituals. Again, this ensemble recording demonstrates Conte's composition and arranging skills more so than his guitar playing, which he, as producer, has relegated to a purely supportive role. Five male and female vocals get the spotlight on many of the tracks, and they prove quite capable. The mood throughout is light, breezy and romantic. It's another solid set that deepens Conte's interest in ethnic percussion and exotic moods while offering a pleasingly laid back vibe that will appeal to both jazz lovers and people who normally shy away from it. Among the standout numbers are the title track, "Karma Flower," "Like Leaves in the Wind" and a vocal version of Duke Ellington's classic "Caravan."

In late 2009, however, came the release we've all been waiting for: The Modern Sounds of Nicola Conte: Versions in Jazz-Dub, a winning double CD collection of the various side projects, remixes, singles and EPs that Conte's put out over the past decade. From his Latin cover of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer's movie theme "Charade" to his reworking of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes' classic "So Danco Samba" to his Gil Evans' inspired remix of Re:Jazz's vibrant "Quiet Nights" Conte solidifies his vision for a modern jazz sound that appreciates its traditions but doesn't neglect the modern music fan's love of a danceable groove. Just get it already.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ralph Alessi

Ralph Alessi (trumpet)
This Against That (RKM Music)

Classically trained, Ralph Alessi is a fixture in the New York free jazz scene. He has worked with Jason Moran (pianist), Uri Caine (pianist), Charlie Haden (bass) and Ravi Coltrane (sax) to name a few. The most striking thing about Alessi that sets him apart may be his adventurous compositions. He has an ability to his style of the avant garde feel effortless and easily accessible through what are some interesting and yet still complex arrangements. With just five albums under his belt and a number of outings as a session member, Alessi is establishing himself as an in-demand trumpet. His material may be similar in vein to Dave Douglas but where Douglas tends to morph into whatever concept he is experimenting with, Ralph Alessi builds and creates new frontiers with dazzling results.

His second album, This Against That (RKM Music; 2002) (also what would become the name of his current quintet) really captures his classical training and free jazz aesthetics perfectly. From the intricate yet brief opening march of "Oversoul" and its companion piece "Haw Hee" through the lovely ballads of "Elaine" and "Expectations". My favourite track, "Telepathic Voyeur" is an awesome venture of modal blues and with some subtle touches of free bop. Alessi's playing is definitely fresh and highly inventive.

He has also circled himself with such luminaries as Don Byron (clarinet), David Gilmore (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums), all of whom feature prominently throughout the recording. This Against That is really fantastic stuff. It's a pretty easy record to find as well. Well worth checking out if you're looking for something new and very creative.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Intersection: Alog

Alog (group; formed 1997)
Espen Sommer Eide (percussion, trumpet, electronics)
Dag-Are Haugan (guitar, electronics)
(photo: Thor Brodreskift)

A few weeks ago I downloaded an ep by Norwegian band, Alog. Only to find that when I went over to my record collection, I had two of the major tracks already. While a little gobsmacked at my lack of awareness of what was in my collection I decided to go back and listen to all my Alog records again. I was deeply moved by dark hues and resonance of the music. More so than when I originally discovered them.

For me, Alog (technically a duo) have been incorporated the electronic soundscapes, found noise, percussion and guitar for over a decade. Alog have a similar hypnotic drone vibe to Robert Fripp/Brian Eno ambient soundscapes, spaced out worldly craftiness of Can and Philip Glass technical repetition. This is for a very concentrated listener. While their is definitely a reliance on electronics both are focused on making their acoustic instruments prominent through each piece.

The group have fours albums, a compilation of unreleased tracks and various eps all of which are quite fascinating to experience. I'm not quite sure which is really my favourite since I listen to each quite often now but I would say if you haven't listened to Alog before you might want to give Red Shift Swing (Rune Grammofon; 1999) a try. Red Shift Swing is obviously the foundation for which the later albums expand the boundaries. A lovely combination of atmospherics, subtle vocals and acoustic instrumentation. Tracks like "Drifting West," "Expanded Heart" and the title track show and band experimenting with their influences while creating some intriguing new ideas within the genre. A formidable debut that would only evolve and expand as
they continued to record.

Their most recent album Amateur (Rune Grammofon; 2007) goes even further with the use of instruments that they created themselves probably even more a reference to the album title. Amateur features some stellar moments like the single "Son Of King," "Learning Curve" and "The Future Of Norwegian Wood". An all around solid session that if you've listened to the previous albums seems like the perfect next step in their development. Alog could be a tough listen for some but I think if dig exploration of new found sounds this is a great band to catch up on.