Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jason Moran: Ten

Jason Moran (piano; b. 1975)
Ten (Blue Note; 2010)
Tarus Mateen (bass)
Nasheet Waits (drums)

Jason Moran--Artist and Innovator. While Thelonious Monk is an obvious influence, for me the spectre of the late Andrew Hill continually arises when I listen to Jason Moran. Like Hill, Moran explores everything within popular-art culture and what he eventually sends through the lens is something altogether special. Also like Andrew Hill, Jason Moran accomplishes this through developing big bold statements with each album.

With Ten (Bluen Note), Jason Moran has pretty much done it again. For me he continually produces exciting and challenging recordings that make you ask "why can't the others do this?" Well the others aren't Jason Moran. Ten is Moran's 8 album as leader. It finds him a jovial and creative mood with his longstanding trio of Nasheet Waits (drums) and Tarus Mateen (drums) and a celebration of just over 10 years with Blue Note Records. "Blue Blocks" opens with a nice dose of Sunday morning church roll call with very uplifting effect.

A number of the pieces on Ten were originally commissioned for concerts/exhibitions over the last few years. So its nice to hear some of this material for the first time on disc. "Feedback Pt.2" is one of those pieces and has loads of atmospheric effects mixed with Moran's classical side reminiscent of his material on the highly acclaimed Modernistic album. Moran also tackles one of his influences with an incredible reworking of "Crepusucle With Nellie" which for me makes this album worth owning out right.

For anyone not familiar with Jason Moran I would say this is the album to own. Jason's material while superior in every aspect is at times what I think most new listeners might want to investigate. The material is inviting while still challenging the order of things. This is evident of opus "Gangsterism Over 10 Years" which is probably the sequel to the related track from Modernistic "Gangsterism On Irons". It's uptempo and accessible yet still includes a complexed song structure.

Moran also extends tributes to two more influences, Leonard Bernstein on "Big Stuff" and "Play To Live". Both are dynamic in separate ways. "Big Stuff" is a pounding rendition from Bernstein's score for Fancy Free. "Play To Live" was co-written with the late Andrew Hill and highlights Moran's delicate touch on the keys and a quiet yet almost emotive backing from Mateen and Waits.

As I mentioned earlier Ten is probably the most engaging and accessible album for a new comer to Jason Moran. For the rest of us its more of the same brilliance he has brought over the last 10 plus years. This is highly recommended stuff that continually sets Moran apart from many other piano players of his generation. For me this is his second best record next to Modernistic, and definitely on my top five for the year.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Celebrating The Life Of Fred Anderson

Fred Anderson (sax, b. 1929 - d. 2010)

Fred Anderson, considered the father of the Chicago Free Jazz Movement, passed away this past Thursday. His influenced could be felt throughout not only Chicago jazz but also European jazz. He was a co-founder of AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) in Chicago. Anderson while a late contemporary of fellow saxophone free jazz legends, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp--never really reach to popular heights those artist did. That is until the last decade or so of his life.

I really did start getting into Fred Anderson until 1997 when I picked up a used copy of Fred Anderson and The DKV Trio (Okka Disk). The DKV trio was a side project of Ken Vandermark (sax), Hamid Drake (percussion) and Kent Kessler (bass). It was mesmerizing recording that forced me to seek out more music from Fred Anderson. At the time his material was extremely hard to find. If you were living in Chicago you probably didn't know about Fred Anderson let alone could find a record by him.

Fred Anderson also ran his own jazz club in Chicago called the Velvet Lounge. He recorded a large majority of his latter releases there. And live was probably the best way to hear him. The club was forced to shut down in 2005 but reopen with the help of fellow Chicago jazz musician in a new location and has thrived ever since.

Anderson's playing and vision was direct and powerful. He possessed a full body way of performing that was reminiscent of the aforementioned legends but he too would carve out a distinct path that made each of his record their own. In addition to the DKV Trio, Anderson also worked with Marilyn Crispell (piano), William Parker (bass), Kidd Jordan (sax).

I never got the opportunity to see Fred Anderson perform live. He played the renowned Vision Festival in NYC numerous times. Like an idiot I always felt my favourite artists would live forever, so there would be plenty opportunities to see him. How wrong I was. But Anderson leaves a wealth of music for new fans to dive into. Whether you're into free jazz or not you need to at least experience a Fred Anderson record to understand what a legend he has become and will forever be.

If you decide to pick up any of Fred Anderson's music, I highly recommend you go to order from Downtown Music Gallery (in NYC) or Dusty Groove (in Chicago). They both have the best selection of Fred Anderson material.

My essential Fred Anderson recordings:
Dark Day (Atavistic Records reissue from 1979)
Fred Anderson/DKV Trio (Okka Disk; 1997)
2 Days In April (Eremite; 1999)
Back At The Velvet Lounge (Delmark; 2002)
Timeless (Delmark; 2005)
Live At The Velvet Lounge 2007 (Estrad Poznanska)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Latin Jazz Week: Astrud Gilberto

Astrud Gilberto (vocals; b. 1940)

Many may know the name or if you don't you know the song she made famous,"The Girl From Impenema" by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. But that wonderful masterpiece is not the only statement she will leave on the cultural landscape of the music lovers.

Astrud burst onto the jazz scene through the aforementioned Brasilian classic. Her soft yet uplifting bled of Brasilian and American accented vocals has always been an enchanting element in her arsenal. But also the combinations of musicians she has worked with over the years has made her lyrics and vocals something to be treasured. Her work with her husband Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz and later Gil Evans are among some of the best Bossa Nova recordings of the sixties.

Among her many later solo albums, she record an excellent duet with Chet Baker entitled, "Far Away" on the album That Girl From Impenema. Her albums during the seventies and eighties showed that she was more than just the girl we sang that famous samba launching an entire genre to the rest of the world. Astrud had become an "Artist".

While most of her material is pretty hard to find. And there is an overwhelming dearth of compilations of her '70s material--it is really hard to know where to start. I would have recommend the compilation Finest Hour (Verve). This compilation while leaning heavily on the obvious '60s material does provide a clear overview of Astrud's gentle and easily accessible "girl next door" vocals. You can fall in love very quickly with songs "So Nice," the legendary "Corcovado," "Wish Me A Rainbow" and the infectious "Crickets Sings For Anamaria".

Finest Hour is definitely what I would suggest to anyone who doesn't own an Astrud Gilberto album and wants to learn more. The songs on Finest Hour are truly beautiful and legendary. A worthy lesson in Latin/Brasilian jazz.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Latin Jazz Week: Badi Assad

This week JazzWrap will take a look at of artists, groups and albums that have shape Latin jazz as well as taking it beyond.

Badi Assad (vocals, guitar, percussion; b. 1966)
(photo: Christine Alicino)

Born in Rio de Janerio, Badi Assad has become one of the most uniquely gifted and respected talents of the last twenty years. She is a superb guitarist in addition to utilizing her exquisite mastery of vocal improvisation which is one the most attractive things for me. Her voice is not the typical smooth 'summer"-like' voice you might associate with other female vocalist. It's very inventive and demanding of your attention. Her playing at first listen may seem typically Brasilian, once you sit with it you realize there is something very special here. Assad has recorded 8 albums since 1989. She has also recovered from severe illness which kept her from recording during parts of the '90s.

Her early recordings consisted of a mixture of standards and originals but each glows with a confidence and a vibrancy of a talent ready to emerge. The early recordings are really wrapped up nicely on the compilation The Best Of Badi Assad (Chesky Records). Assad's most recent work Verde (Universal) and Wonderland (Universal) both keep the deep originality and beauty of her previous material while adding some better production. There is also a more upbeat tone to them (probably because of her physical recovery) that makes these two releases a good starting point. They are probably the easiest to find as well.

Verde opens with a lovely tune spoken in English, "With My Little White Top" before turning to the funky rhythms of "Nao Dianta" which also feature some vocal acrobatics by Assad. Fun, rich and exciting stuff to start throughout with "Viola Meu Bem" featuring more vocal experimentation. Verde closes of two romantic notes with "Valse D'amelie" and "Asa Branca". Verde is a heartfelt document of new Brasilian rhythms and probably my favourite of Badi Assad records and definitely a good starting point as mentioned before.

Wonderland (Universal) is a truly ambitious record with covers of Tori Amos and The Eurythmics, Antonio Carlos Jobim. It's not so much who she is interpreting its whats she has done with these versions which make Wonderland an stellar recording. She transforms these covers as well as her own material into soul-searching indictments of the human condition. The production work by Jacques Morelenbaum (recently off a successful collaboration with Ryiuchi Sakamoto) is dense and expansive giving each track a very enveloping and thoughtful feel. The arrangements on tracks like "Sweet Dreams," "A Banco Do Distinto" and "1000 Mirrors' are real evidence of how Badi Assad is reaching beyond the traditional Brasilian themes. Wonderland is an experiment that comes off really really well.

Badi Assad is definitely in a large pool of new Brasilian artists who are thinking of what the next direction for Brasilian jazz/pop can be. She is really worth your attention.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Jazzy Soundtracks of Serge Gainsbourg

Serge the boho hipster icon. Serge the kinky song stylist. Serge the lover of beautiful blondes. Serge the debauched poet. Serge the insatiable perve. Serge Gainsbourg is many things to many people. During his 30+ years in music, he was also a movie maker and movie music composer. This three-disc retrospective captures his soundtrack work for 34 films made between 1959 and 1990.
For anyone familiar with Serge's jazz and pop work -- through albums such as the masterpiece Histoire de Melody Nelson and compilations such as Comic Strip and Du Jazz dans Le Ravin, to name but a few -- it is quite apparent that Serge was a versatile music maker. His influence on pop music rivals that of the Velvet Underground (and rivals anyone in France). (If French is a language barrier, more hesitant listeners are encourged to hear Mick Harvey's English-translated cover albums Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants.)
Not surprisingly, Serge's movie music carries over from his pop work. After all, there are a few (just a few) tracks included that also appear on the Mercury/Philips collections (Couleur Cafe, Classe X, etc.) And while there are more instrumentals here than vocal tracks, the sense of Serge remains consistant.
Disc one (1959-1967), for films such as Strip-Tease and Anna, is the jazziest of the lot. Small group settings proliferate. Latin percussion, horns, piano, jazz guitar and vibes are put to good use. As is the case throughout the collection, vocal duties are split between Serge and female singers such as Juliette Greco and Jane Birkin.
Disc two (1967-1970), for films such as Slogan and Cannabis, is more stylistically varied. There is sitar rock, lush orchestral, proto raps, psychadelic afro-beat experiments, dancefloor ravers, baroque rock, you name it. If anything, this disc reinforces the idea that 67-70 was an incredibly fertile period for Serge.
Disc three (1972-1990), for films such as Sex-Shop, Je t'Aime Moi non Plus and Goodbye Emmanuelle, is also stylistically varied. In addition to rock and lush orchestral, Serge ventures into reggae, disco funk, new wave and -- dare I say -- soft rock. It could be argued that disc three is the least charming of the lot, but necessary for a complete picture of Serge's soundtrack output. This disc also includes some bonus tracks from as early as 1962.
In conclusion, casual fans of Serge may have little use for this box, but anyone who digs Serge's gift for moody melodies will love it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Latin Jazz Week: Baden Powell

This week JazzWrap will take a look at of artists, groups and albums that have shape Latin jazz as well as taking it beyond.

Baden Powell (guitar; b. 1937 - d. 2000)

Born in Rio de Janerio, Baden Powell was one the most influential Latin guitarists. He could play and almost reinvented/re energized every Latin genre he performed, Samba, Bossa Nova, Latin, etc. Baden Powell was classically trained and it shows throughout his recordings. His strong yet beautifully dynamic style of playing and composing really came to prominence around '55 when after seating as guitarist for a number of local bands Powell began to write his own material. In 1956 he would write the now famous "Samba Triste" which has since become a jazz standard, made famous by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.

You may not know him as part of the wave of Bossa nova that sweep through music in the'60s by Jobim, Gilberto, Milton Nascimento, Joyce, Marcos Valle, Sergio Mendes and others, because at the zenith of the movement, Baden left for Europe where he would set his own pace, vision and history. He become immensely popular in Europe. Baden's style while powerful was verisitale in that he could create a down to earth atmosphere within just a few chords after lifting you into the heights of joy.

A great document to start a lesson on Brasilian jazz from Baden Powell would be O Universo Muiscial de Baden Powell (Sunnyside Records). O Universo Musicial covers a significant period and highly creative period in Powell's career ('64 - '77) including a lovely rendeniton of "Girl From Impenema," "Afro-Samba," "Berimbau," "Samba do Aviao, and a touchingly heartfelt version of "Round Midnight."

This collection is the best I've found that represents Powell peak period the best. Powell's music goes beyond the normal Brasilian jazz many people are familiar with, which is what has always been something I've found exciting. If the Brasilian stardards he turns slightly on its head to make something different. O Universo Musicial de Baden Powell is an absolutely perfect primer for anyone interested in Brasilian jazz and a must have if you are already of fan of Baden Powell.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Jazzy Soundtracks of Sven Libaek

Chances are you've never heard of Sven Libaek, the Norwegian jazzman-cum-Australian film music composer, but you owe it to yourself to become acquainted with his warm jazzy vibes and spacey grooves. Luckily for you some of his work has been collected and/or reissued.

Cueing up bleakly titled tracks as "Dark World" and "Fate of Life" the last thing you'd expect to hear are the beautiful, life-affirming sounds that greet your ears. Libaek shows a knack for writing impressionistic music, arranging it for crack session players and producing it like a psychedelic soundtrack. Some might be tempted to call it easy listening from the Age of Aquarius, but don't be too quick to judge. One thing's for sure though — it's easy on the ears.

A Trunk Records compilation called Inner Space offers a good sampling of Libaek's film work, but it'll only whet your appetite for the soundtrack that shares its title and cover art for Ron & Val Taylor's Australian undersea documentary, which is available from Votary Records. While the Trunk Records CD captured four of this album's best tracks, the Votary release catches all 16 tracks of Libaek's brilliantly mellow, psychedelic jazz.

While certainly attention-grabbing, the photo of the fierce great white shark on the cover isn't particularly appropriate imagery for this soundtrack. The character of the music would be better represented by a school of colorful tropical fish in a dreamy technicolor coral reef. Lilting Brazilian rhythms and echo-drenched production beckon one to dive deep within Libaek's entrancing modal jazz grooves.

Basically, the strength of this soundtrack of '73 lies in its pedigree. First, Libaek provided haunting melodies, then the Norwegian hired the cream of the Australian jazz scene, including Johnny Sangster (vibes and percussion), Derek Fairbrass (drums), Eric Boff Thompson (trumpet), Ron Spillet (bass trombone), Don Burrows and Errol Buddle (flutes), George Golla (guitar), Col Nolan (organ) and others.

Highlights are numerous. "Main Title Theme" and "Inner Space" get the groove flowing effortlessly with an insistent bass line, rippling action on the piano and flowing flute lines. "Music for Eels" beautifully blends wah-wah electric guitar and vibes. The sweet, breezy "Sounds of the Deep" is practically a love letter to ocean life. Other tracks, like "Danger Reef" and "Seasnakes" and "Dark World" tend to be more sinister, but still sound gorgeous and never unpleasant. There isn't a bad track in the batch.

As Sven himself points out in the liner notes, ever since American film director Wes Anderson used a couple of tracks from Inner Space in The Life Aquatic, there has been considerable demand for this reissue. Thanks to Votary, Inner Space can now be enjoyed in its entirety without having to pay top dollar for the now rare LP.

If you enjoy that you'll most definitely enjoy Libaek's Solar Flares, one of the most coveted library music albums ever recorded, which is available on CD thanks to Vadim Music. Like all library music albums, it was recorded for use in radio, TV and film productions and not released commercially. Because of its rarity, Solar Flares has been highly sought after by collectors of jazzy, experimental pop grooves who typically pay top dollar for vintage vinyl.

For this 1974 Peer International Library recording Libaek, a Norway-to-Australia transplant, assembled top shelf talent from the jazz scene Down Under (such as Johnny Sangster, Don Burrows and others).

As collectors know, library grooves are very much a thing of their time (usually a good thing!) and Solar Flares is no exception. Being from the late psychedelic era of funky fusion and progressive rock, the album has its fair share of wah-wah guitar rhythms, Moog keyboards, bubbling bass lines, funky beats and groovy horn arrangements. Plus, Libaek has a legitimate gift for haunting melodies.

Some of these tracks (such as the proggy, energetic "Quasars" and the spacey, sophisticated title track) have turned up on library compilations in recent years, and rightly so. They are outstanding examples of Libaek's ability to juxtapose hard-edged sounds (fuzz-toned guitar) with softer sounds (vibes) in a surpremely cool and laid back sonic world.

Reviews previously appeared on the author's site www.ScoreBaby.com

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Phil Ranelin

Phil Ranelin (trombone; b. 1939)
Sounds From The Village: The Phil Ranelin Anthology (Blue Interactions)

Phil Ranelin may be one of the most under-rated trombonist of them all. He is widely known in the jazz circles as one of the co-founders of the TRIBE movement out of Detroit, along with Detroit native Marcus Belgrave (trumpet). The Tribe was a collective which included a magazine, music label and more. But Ranelin's unfortunate infrequency of recording has probably contributed to the lack of notoriety of his superb albums and live performances. Ranelin while influenced by J.J. Johnson probably owes more to trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard, with whom he has worked with on numerous occasions, in addition to the spiritual influence of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.

Ranelin's first recordings, Message From The Tribe, The Time Is Now and Vibe From The Tribe (all reissued under Hefty Records) are bold and improvising in the realm of late Coltrane and Dolpy records. These albums were wonderful microcosms of 70s jazz. Tracks like "Sounds From The Village," "For The Children," "Black Destiny' and "Time Is Now" all incorporate psychedelia, blues, poetry and African themes, which show Ranelin while influenced by the great legends was also beginning to find his voice. Ranelin would record sporadically throughout the latter 70s and 80s in addition to doing some teaching.

Ranelin returned to recording in the 90s with a series of albums which still included touch of heavy grooves and began to appeal to the underground soul jazz circuit. Albums such as Close Encounters Of The Very Best Kind, Love Dream and Inspiration all demonstrate a distinct voice, growth and well structured vision from the trombonist.

Ranelin recently recorded his first live album, Reminiscence (Wide Hive Records) which spans tour dates from 2002 and 2005. Featuring mostly original material and a few covers of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington as well as his sublime tribute to Eric Dolphy entitled "Shades Of Dolphy", Reminiscence is a killer live album well worth checking out.

Overall, if you are interested in finding other creative trombone players in the same vein as Curtis Fuller, J.J. Johnson and Steve Davis, Phil Ranelin should definitely be on list of artists to seek out. A really great place to start is a Japanese compilation called Sounds From The Village: The Phil Ranelin Anthology (Blues Interaction Inc.; 2004). Sound From The Village covers all the albums above excluding Reminiscence. It's an awesome compilation which really does touch on all the important tracks from his solo records.

Ranelin is still one of those underground artists deserving wide recognition and I hope at some point more people get a chance to hear his records. Ranelin has a voice and vision that really needs to be experienced.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Geri Allen: The Year of Perfection

Geri Allen (piano, b. 1957)

It's been awhile seen I last listen to Geri Allen, the Detroit native with I would call the female equivalent to Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk or Bud Powell. While some might say the obvious comparison might the great Mary Lou Williams, whom was an incredible pianist in her own right, Allen has shown a deep capacity for far ranging themes and ideas with each recording.

Allen has worked with a wide array of the best jazz musicians on the planet. Arguably her most famous association is a series of albums she did with the trio of Charlie Haden (bass) and Paul Motain (drums). If you stumble across any of these albums you should definitely pick them up. They are becoming rare (even though they have been reissued in the last 10 years) so I would highly recommend them as excellent documents of what a real trio can do at the peak of its powers.

Geri Allen has recorded over 16 albums over the last 25 years. Her albums are challenging in their concepts (gospel, spirituality, legendary tributes, Afro-American themes and more) but always deliver in a subtle manner that listeners can enjoy the experience while sometimes taking on journey through American culture.

It has been four years since Geri Allen's last record Timeless (Telarc). She has done a bit of session work during that time most notably an avant garde date with Trio 3 (Reggie Workman, Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrile). But in 2010 she has released two albums in quick succession. Both are welcomed additions to the best albums of the year.

Flying Toward The Sound (Motema Music) is a solo piano suite inspired by some of her influences; Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner. Flying Toward The Sound is beauty improvisational work that brims with creativity track after track. "Red Velvet In Winter" dedicated to Herbie Hancock but sounding nothing like. It is deep and wide in scope--almost classical--but important in vision. This a mastery of the piano at its finest. The manner in which Allen scales the keys here is astounding. The epic piece "God's Ancient Sky", obviously spiritual but powerful in its beauty and structure. There are very few jazz pianist who can make a stretch a piece like this through various emotional passages and still leave you wanting more. Flying Toward The Sound is by far one the best and comprehensive Geri Allen albums in years. If you enjoy solo piano works this is well worth your time.

Geri Allen's second album this year is a live quartet recording. Geri Allen & Timeline Live (Motema Music) is Geri's first full length live album and it delivers something completely opposite to the solo Flying Toward The Sound--Geri Allen as band leader. Live demonstrates Allen's ability to craft and guide a group through her complex recordings and incorporating something most people will have no knowledge of on record at least---tap percussion. The quartet consists of Maurice Chestnut (tap percussion), Kassa Overall (drums) and Kenny Davis (bass). Chestnut's tap (yes tap dance) percussion on the vibrant and powerful opener "Philly Joe" and its successor "Four by Five" are unique and powerful introductions to the evening.

Live is Geri at her most fierce. Her work her is killer and the rhythm section support and follow her with amazing ease. It is as if she has had this band for decades not a few years. The groups performances throughout are raw and infectious. On "Embraceable You/Loverman", Allen deploys her softer touch to the keys, allow the listener to become enveloped sound and emotion. The band join along with Chestnut's tap percussion join in midway, turning it into a lovely number by candlelight. We've had to wait 25 years for a live Geri Allen album and its been well worth it. I almost wanted to cry after listening to this. Highly Recommended.

Geri Allen is one of the few pianist today (Jason Moran for me would be the other) that continue to come up with new and challenge ideas. I hope they continue and hope you will get a chance to follow along. Geri Allen is definitely required listening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Undiscovered Soul: Matt Deighton

Matt Deighton (vocals, guitar)

For many the name Matt Deighton may mean nothing. For some it may be vaguely familiar as the guy who took Noel Gallagher's guitar spot for a couple of Oasis' 2000 European tour dates, starting in Paris. For another set of people, Deighton may be familiar as a session/touring member of Paul Weller's (circa Heavy Soul) band.

But for the rest, he was the lead singer of a desperately under appreciated folk/acid jazz band called Mother Earth. Mother Earth were a combination of Sly Stone meets Terry Callier mixed with (the band not the person) The Marc Almond band (check your music history books).

Anyway, Mother Earth were signed to the famous English label Acid Jazz. They released three albums--to mostly positive acclaimed during the nineties. Mother Earth were a weird stepchild for label. They were never funky enough (say Brand New Heavies, Corduroy, et al.) to gain the exposure they deserved to break into the mainstream. But they also embodied the rock spirit of Sly Stone which may have kept them from reaching the soul-jazz audience.

The most famous was their second album, The People Tree (Acid Jazz; 1995) which also featured Paul Weller on a number of tracks. Tracks such as "Jesse," "Mister Freedom" and "A Trip Down Brian Lane" all highlighted the swirling rich soulful beauty in Deighton's voice and the tightness of the rest of the band. Mother Earth were definitely well ahead of their time with The People Tree album but elements of the album could be since in Deighton's future solo work.

After one more Mother Earth album and a live album, Deighton would move forward with what has become a quit but solid solo career. I think because of the lack of a stable label he has again not found the larger audience he deserves.

Matt Deighton's first solo album, Villager (Focus; 1995) is fantastic. It is a folksy-jazzier affair, that sees Deighton combing his lyrical poetry with acoustic instrumentation to produce an album that is similar in many ways to the recent work of Terry Callier. "Good For Us," "Get Out The Road," "Jesus Loves The Rain," and "Pure English Honey" are all stellar tracks that would anyone's summer Sundays a real delight.

Soft spoken, understated and under appreciated, Matt Deighon continues to record sporadically. His most recent album, Part Of Your Life (50:50) is another acoustic gem. I have tried to hunt down the psychical CD but have had zero luck. I finally decided to break down and buy the digital version. I still completely satisfied but would love to find the actually CD. That's just the collector in me. Matt Deighton has recorded five solo albums since '95 and all of them are quite good. A real undiscovered soul-jazz artist you should definitely check out.

(Update: Part Of You Life was only available online. It appears to no longer be available. I haven't seen it in a few years unfortunately. But if you do find it--it is a must have.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Intersection: Elephant9

The Intersection is an occasional feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by none other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On The Corner and Bitches Brew).

Elephant9 (group; formed 2008)
Ståle Storløkken (organ, synths)
Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen (bass)
Torstein Lofthus (drums)

Elephant9 is a new trio established by Supersilent/Humcrush keyboard master, Ståle Storløkken. Ståle Storløkken as a vital part of both the aforementioned groups, becomes the focal point of his own trio in Elephant9. With incredible support from Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen and Torstein Lofthus, Elephant9 have created a retro-world influenced by Miles Davis' electric era led by Hancock and Zawinul, Weather Report, OM, Can and psychedelic swirls of German and Italian sexy horror flicks from the '60s.

Where Storløkken utilizies keyboards and other electronics in Humcrush and Supersilent, for Elephant9, Storløkken mainly focuses on his work with organ. And that organ drips with a heavy dose of Zawinul and possibly Larry Young.

Their first album, Dodovoodoo (Rune Grammofon, 2008) was exciting and a fiery blast out of the normally somber electronic work from this great label. Tracks like the funk-punk of "Dodovoodoo." "Directions" (Miles Davis/Joe Zawinul penned piece) and "I Cover The Mountain Top" all show how Storløkken has been influenced by the best of 70s era fusion. The album sparkles in it dense, moody, post-prog approach. While obviously paying homage it does demonstrate a 21st Century structure that few groups can master at the moment.

The new album from Elephant9 is Walk The Nile (Rune Grammofon) and delivers a heavy, funkier tone as demonstrated by the opener, "Fugl Fonix" and "Hardcore Orientale" which rips through your ears with blistering pace. While led by Storløkken's organ work, for me Hængsle Eilertsen's funky, chaotic bass steals the proceedings. "Aviation" while settling things down (a bit) still keeps the focus fast paced and in your face with some great electronic manipulation. Lofthus' timing throughout Walk The Nile is incredible. His work makes this much more than just a crazy prog meets jazz album. "Habanera Rocket" is another gentle giant of a track. It builds slowing on the interplay between Storløkken and Hængsle Eilertsen until it reaching a cacophonous conclusion that really takes on rock status. Walk The Nile is a great advance forward for the band.

Elephant9 is rock inspiration for the fusion jazz crowd. Elephant9 is also a avant garde jazz introduction for the rock crowd. This is heavy stuff and fun to listen to angry and even sober. Enjoy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stacey Kent: Reconte-Moi

Stacey Kent (vocals)
Reconte-Moi (Blue Note)

Stacey Kent is one of my favourite jazz vocalists alive today. I put her right up there with Claire Martin and Karrin Alyson. They all have roughly about the same amount of material available. But each has stake a different path. Martin tends to experiment with various composers--treating them with her own brand of arrangements. Alyson tends to explore genres all with a very unique and delicate touch of jazz. Kent has always stayed with the Great American Songbook as well as developing her material.

On her previous effort and debut for Blue Note Records, Breakfast on the Morning Tram (Blue Note; 2007), she broke up from her "standards" moniker and place some heavy attention on her own material as well bows to Latin and french composers (specifically Serge Gainsbourg). Breakfast on the Morning Tram was a nice departure and a new beginning for a vocalists I think deserves a lot more recognition.

The addition of Gainsbourg tracks on "Breakfast..." was definitely adventurous. I have heard Stacey perform French live and I was always taken a back but then realized, "hey this actually isn't all that bad" and "great for her for trying something a little different". So flash forward a few years and what do we have in a stereo today--Stacey Kent Reconte Moi (Blue Note), an album of all French material. And guess what. It is absolutely delightful!

Reconte-Moi isn't Stacey Kent turned Astrud Gilberto but she has carved a nice mark in the pavement to state her case. As always the music is beautiful and tightly orchestrated by her husband and saxophonist, Jim Tomlinson. But the work by Graham Harvey (piano) and John Parricelli (guitar) carry Reconte-Moi to a different level than on previous Kent albums. Stacey Kent and her band have stepped up tot the challenge and created a rich, lush, emotional record that brims with love on a summer day. Kent has chosen not to do the standard French covers here either--making Reconte--Moi even more exciting. She has included a couple of Benjamin Biolay numbers in addition to a lovely version of "Les Vacances au bord de la mer" by Michel Jonsaz and Pierre Grosz. Other standout for me are the title track where Parricelli is truly sublime, "Au Coin du monde." "Jardin d'hiver" and "Mi Amor".

Reconte-Moi for me is a near perfect record. It's definitely one of the best Stacey Kent records in years. You don't have to understand French to enjoy this album. Kent's interpretations are all you really need. The knowledge will help but music is about emotion and the moment. So enjoy this moment and the emotion will endure for a long time. Reconte-Moi is brilliant.

Friday, June 11, 2010

JazzWrap and The World Cup

Well everyone things are about to get a little hairy for JazzWrap. The 2010 World Cup has begun. Our posts may be sporadic and chaotic as we try to balance agony, excitement and sleep. But we will do our best over the next few days and get the balance right. Hang with us...

Charles Mingus In Europe 1964

Charles Mingus (bass)
The European Tour 1964
Eric Dolphy (sax)
Johnny Coles (trumpet)
Clifford Jordan (sax)
Jaki Byard (piano)
Dannie Richmond (drums)

For most jazz heads, 1964 is probably the most well documented period of the legendary bass player. He was just reaching the peak out his powers. Always challenging and demanding more from his fellow musicians, Mingus was beloved and revered.

Mingus was already at the peak of his powers but he was also at a point of soulsearching and financial chaos. He was coming off the phenomenal 1963 recording, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Verve) in addition to various business forays that collapsed (including his own record label) with almost everything to prove (to himself and his admirers). The year itself was politically charged as well with it being an American presidential election year and the civil rights movement if full swing. And to top things off, Beatlemania hit in January.

Charles Mingus was already effected by the political climate as shown in his recordings, "Meditations on Integration" and "Fables of Faubus"--the latter written about the Arkansas Govenor Orval Faubus who tried keep kids segregated in 1957.

In the spring of '64 Mingus took a sextet which was probably one of his most formidable (includng Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard and Clifford Jordan) to Europe for a three week stint. The tour dates were amazing and the sets cosnsisted of the aforementioned pieces as well as Mingus lovely tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller, simply titled "ATFW". For all Mingus' personal complexities he always would somehow show a real side of beauty, especially on this tour with "ATFW," his tribute to Charlie Parker "Parkeriana" and "So Long Eric" decicated to his saxophonist and so to legendary, Eric Dolphy, who had announced to Mingus that after the European tour he was planning on staying in Europe.

The live recordings from this period a in abundance and all have quite good to excellent sound quality. The most readily available is The Great Concert (Verve) recorded on April 19th, which is famous for two reasons--first, the concert was dedicated to Johnny Coles (trumpet) who collpased during the previous date, from what would later be diagnosed as an ulcer. His trumpet was placed on the stage in tribute by Mingus. Secondly, these would be a few of the final live dates for Eric Dolphy as he would die from complication of diabeties in June of '64.

Recently a set of reissues of the gigs prior to the Great Concert recording have been released and while not shedding a great deal of new light on the proceedings, are just great to have from a chronological order perspective. The Complete Live In Amsterdam (Jazz Collectors) recorded April, 10th, includes an insightful interview in the booklet with Eric Dolphy right after the gig in which he discusses his playing, influences and creative vision.

The Complete Bremen Concert (Jazz Lips Records) recorded April 16th, is the last full concert for Johnny Coles prior to his accident. The performances from Jaki Byard on "ATFW" and Dolphy on "So Long Eric" are rich and stunning. Well worth the find and money. The following night would be the first of two Paris perfomances.

The Salle Wagram Concert (Jazz Collectors) has been pretty widely available but does include a nice but short version of "Peggys Blue Skylight" which doesn't feature on any of the other dates. Nice but not necessarilly essential. And finally you get to the The Great Concert recorded at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. This is a powerful performance considering all that had happened prior and what would happen following. The tracks "Meditation..." and "Orange Was The Colour" are a couple of my favourites from this date.

Overall, if you only find The Great Concert you are still listening to a excellent piece of jazz history. But for a nice weekend listen (and a large dose of jazz overkill) the entire dates of April 10 - April 19th are perfect opportunities to experience one of the legendary figures in jazz along side one of his best groups in prime form during a truly developing time in American history.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Necks: Another Live Download

The Necks Live Music

For those who missed out. Australian jazz minimalists played two phenomenal shows back in January of this year. The Necks and the venue the performed at The Issue Project released a free download of the one of the sets a few months ago. Just recently The Necks and Issue Project again release a set from the following night. This is again available as a Free NECKS LIVE Download. If you haven't checked out the necks before this is a good way to get into them for free. And then once you're hooked you can spend your weeks paycheck hunting down all their albums.

For more on The Necks check out the JazzWrap archives.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Intersection: Little Red Suitcase

Little Red Suitcase
(duo; 2004)
Johanna Borchert (piano,     vocals)
Elena Setien (vocals, violin)

With the abstract, quirky beauty of Robyn Hitchcock mixed with the delicate romanticism of Blossom Dearie, Jane Siberry and Kate Bush and a last dash of early Kronos Quartet, Denmark's, Little Red Suitcase is a blast of refreshing cool air in 2010. Hard to categorize, Little Red Suitcase span the spectrum of jazz, alternative and avant garde. Utilizing unfamiliar song structures and vocal dynamics, the duo layer their music with delicate touches of both improvisation and straight forward emotion--all resulting in an amazingly interesting and different listening experience.

Those of you not familiar with Kate Bush might also reference Tori Amos (I am no Tori Amos fan but the comparisons might help). Little Red Suitcase's use of improvisation definitely stems from their work in jazz and classical circles of Denmark.

They have recorded two albums, the most recent, Temporarily Out Of Order (Suitcase Records) is a fine blend of minimalism abstract poetry and sad demented love song. "Sailor's Song" is a beautiful tribute of one waiting for their lost love to return played with delightful genre bending brilliance. "Today I Woke Up" and "Rainy Holidays" are both examples of Little Red Suitcase's quirky, whimsical lyricism and perfect pitch musicianship. Both Borchert and Setien were classically trained and it is shows throughout Temporarily Out Of Order. Little Red Suitcase delivers (I think) some sleek feminist quirkiness on the puzzling, funny, yet very inventive "Before It's Gone" which demands that woman follow their dream.

Temporarily Out Of Order follows builds upwards and out from the duo's debut, They'll Learn Much More Than We'll Never Know, which is also worth seeking out. Little Red Suitcase may not be for everyone but they deliver something that at least more lyrically and vocally eclectic than most of what's out now for music fans. The video below is a little rough and raw (all I could find) so you might want to check out there myspace page to listen to more. Little Red Suitcase is well worth discovering.  If you are in the U.S. (at least on the east coast) you might want to check them live. I think seeing them will be even more convincing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dave Stapleton: Between The Lines

Dave Stapleton (piano)
Between The Lines (Edition Records)
Ben Waghorn (sax)
Jonny Bruce (trumpet)
Elliot Bennett (drum)
Paula Gardiner (bass)

I haven't heard Dave Stapleton's previous albums (two to be exact) so I hope my thoughts here are somewhat on the mark. Stapleton's classical training and a strong dose of Herbie Hancock is apparent throughout his new release, Between The Lines (Edition Records). The album starts with the melodic drone of "October Sky" and then really kicks into gear with the funky psychedelic rhythms of "Horn" obviously the focal point for the Bruce and Waghorn, whom both shine brightly on here and throughout Between The Lines. "Horn" is really killer and set a perfect fresh and exciting tone for the rest of the session.

While the rest of the British jazz community is stretching the boundaries of the avant garde, Dave Stapleton is using the tradition and improving upon it. This is really, really compelling stuff from a band that has definitely been together awhile and knows each other inside and out. "Socks First" shows the delicate nature of the band some truly exquisite simpatico as each member features prominently. The titled track, "Between The Lines" starts with some lovely playing by the rhythm section and some understated piano work from Stapleton. A lovely number for those you wishing for a glass of wine with your jazz.

Lots of funky interplay take place on "Wig Wag" between Paula Gardiner (bass), Jonny Bruce (trumpet) and Ben Waghorn (sax) which could be placed along side some of the better moments of Jools Hollands or mid-period Branford Marsalis works. Fun, exuberant exchanges with lots passion built into ever note. "Under The Cherry Tree" is the band performing a lovely ballad in the vein of Keith Jarrett and Sonny Rollins and moves with great ease taking the album to a wonderful conclusion with "Images" a sparse romantic number highlighting Stapleton's classical tradition on piano and again some great work from Waghorn.

Between The Lines is definitely a contemporary masterpiece among a vast array of Miles Davis, John Zorn, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor influenced avant garde that permeates British/European jazz at the moment. For American audiences Between The Lines is a fresh and exciting and you might not find something this well structured yet adventurous from a band in the U.S. all year long. Highly, Highly Recommended.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Brian Eno: Discreet Music

Brian Eno (multi-instrumentalist/composer; 1948)

Many artists from rock to world to jazz owe a huge debt to Brain Eno. Brain Eno is mainly known for his collaboration/production work with David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, James and more recently Coldplay, but he was also an original member of the late 70s rock band, Roxy Music. Eno arguably, single-handedly created the genre "ambient". The term refers to the relaxing almost ethereal nature of the music as it surrounds or envelops you.

Almost 35 years on from his groundbreaking album Discreet Music (Virgin), his fourth studio album at that point, his influence can felt and heard throughout jazz. Discreet Music utilizes his already superior use of electronics as well as classical training to form an album of free flowing texture and beauty.

Just as Miles Davis' experiments during the late 60's and '70s cast a large shadow over every jazz artist since, Eno's theories and techniques have spawned a new generation of artists to push the boundaries before they even step into a studio to record. Artists such as Arve Henriksen (trumpet), E.S.T. (group), Ken Vandermark (saxophone) and Brad Mehldau (piano) all while not completely influenced by Eno have combined aspects of his "Oblique Strategies" into their music.

Discreet Music is one of those records that is considered a cornerstone of modern music today and it's definitely reccommended listening. Below is an interesting interview that will give you insight into Brian Eno and what he means to music and multimedia.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kenny Kirkland

Kenny Kirkland (piano; b. 1955 - d. 1998)

Unfortunately known mostly as a session man (mainly with Wynton Marsalis and then Branford Marsalis' bands), Kenny Krikland was one of the most sought after pianist of the 80s and 90s. Highly regarded for adding a big dynamic to the aforementioned groups, Kirkland was influence by fellow piansts, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Kirkland got his start in the mid-seventies playing with jazz violinist, Michael Urbaniak and then later with ex Weather Report bassist, Miroslav Vitous.

Kenny Kirkland began playing with Wynton from '81-'85 providing providing many exquisite moments to Wynton's earliest recording (including Wynton's self titled debut and the classic Black Codes). Kirkland left Wynton's band to join former Police lead singer, Sting on touring and for the recording of Sting's first solo record, The Dream of Blue Turtles. The band also included Wynton's older brother Branford. While his association with Sting was brief it obviously raised his profile immensely. Kirkland and Branford both left the band shortly after a massive world tour in support of the release.

Returning back to the jazz scene, Kirkland would join Branford Marsalis permanently from '86 onward. The miraculous and unbelievable thing is Kirkland after all these years had never recorded an album as leader. It wasn't until 1991 that Kirkland would release, Kenny Kirkland (GRP Records). While long in coming it was a fantastic and beautiful album featuring mixture of self penned numbers and covers (Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter). The album starts with the formidable "Mr. J.C." with some great work from Branford (sax), Charnett Moffett (bass) and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums). The albums was a supergroup of nineties jazz talent; in addition to the aforementioned, Christian McBride (drums), Jerry Gonzalez (percussion), Steve Berrios (drums), Andy Gonzalez (bass), Don Alias (percussion), Roderick Ward (sax) and Robert Hurst (bass) all featured on selected tracks.

Another track "Chance", a trio piece with McBride and "Tain" displays the tonal beauty of Kirkland on the piano. Kirkland also tackles the Monk standard, "Criss Cross" with some interesting Latin arrangements that works surprisingly well if at first seems a little jarring. The album does cover a lot of ground, mixing different themes (bop, straight ahead contemporary and Latin) but it does show the breathe and depth of Kirkland's thinking.

This wonderful debut would be Kirkland's only album. He would continue to do session work and playing in Branford Marsalis' band throughout the nineties. In the winter of 1996 Kirkland was found dead in his apartment in New York. It was a devastating blow for the jazz community. Branford would later record and dedicate the album Requiem in Kirkland's honor. Kenny Kirkland was an amazing young talent who was only beginning to come into the peak of his power but his self-titled debut is well worth seeking out as a document of what he provided jazz history.