Monday, November 30, 2009

Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway, David Mott: Live, 1999

Although today's recording was captured ten years ago at Canada's notable Guelph Jazz Festival in Ontario, it has the in-the-moment relevance of any inspired improvisational gathering. Part of that has to do with the excellence of the musicians. Bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway have been involved in many of the most creative improv outings for many years, with colleagues too numerous to list. David Mott's baritone has been the subject of a number of posts on this blog page, and though his location in the Canadian firmament may sometimes cause a certain amount of neglect from the other media centers, he is no less vital for all that.

Reunion Live . . . at the Guelph Jazz Festival (Intrepid Ear) contains the 48 minute set in its entirety. This is free improv that has a fully three-way presence. Mott, Dresser and Hemingway dig in and explore the vertical heights of sound color and the horizontal terrain of musical event creation with controlled abandon. Those not familiar with David Mott's playing will find much to appreciate; those who are will have another reason to value his logical yet impassioned approach. And Dresser and Hemingway are in very good form. Recommended!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Albert Ayler's Clangorous "Bells," 1965

Albert Ayler's mature phase freaked more than a few listeners when heard in 1964-65. His folksy march tunes and quasi-spiritual heads were played with a kind of over-the-top vibrato and exaggerated zeal that were rather unprecedented in the music. His solos of course reveled in a kind of "speaking in tongues" frenzy, where the sound of his tenor may have seemed to some like the ravings of a madman but in fact were quite deliberate and controlled. He expanded the boundaries of the modern jazz saxophone vocabulary in revolutionary ways. Cries, shouts, multi-phonic blasts and rapidly undulating passages of "freak" notes were his normal playing mode. In some ways he took the expressive, soulful climax tones of Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet and the bar walkers and extended their range and frequency as a consistent part of his solo lexicon. That flipped more than a few people out but also gained him a solid underground following.

It was ESP Disk who recorded and released the lion's share of his classic work in those few short years during the mid-sixties. That included the one-sided LP Bells, apparently the best half of a 1965 NYC Town Hall appearance. By this time he was working with an expanded ensemble, the quintet with brother Donald on trumpet, a young Charles Tyler on alto, and Louis Worrell and Sonny Murray on bass and drums, respectively.

Bells may not be his absolute best recording but it captures well the extended pandemonium of the new group in ways that the contemporaneous Impulse live set did not. New York Eye and Ear Control and Spiritual Unity (both on ESP and available again) might be better choices for your desert island Ayler take-alongs. Bells remains a thorough blast, however. Literally. And figuratively. (I said the same thing about another recording the other day. That was a blast too. I must be having a blast, no?)

There's a new limited collector's vinyl edition available on 180 gram virgin transparent vinyl with the Bells art silk screened onto the reverse side of the record. Go to to find out about it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A New Recording of Messiaen's "Poems pour Mi"

Olivier Messiaen was an extraordinary composer by any standard. His was an exceptional talent; his music combined an extra-sensory sensitivity to the orchestrated potential of the music in his head with a harmonically and rhythmically unique stance that make his music immediately identifiable as coming from his pen and no other.

His music evolved over the many years of his career. There are the first works, which established his reputation and found him developing his musical vocabulary in a number of different directions simultaneously, from the highly contrasting modern mystical rhapsody meets music hall meets world music a la Messiaen of his Turangalila Symphony to the probing mysticism of Poems pour Mi. The second period corresponds to his intense interest in bird song and its transformation into brilliantly orchestrated, sublime stutters of sound. Then there is the final period, where he simply reaches an almost other worldly mastery of mystical utterance and achieves a gloriously terminal synthesis of stylistic traits with a complete command over the forces at hand. His orchestrations were always superb. In the end they have an almost uncanny presence.

Each period is totally worthwhile in its own right. With that in mind we turn to the latest Naxos release in their Messiaen series, Jun Markl conducting the Orchestre National de Lyon in a recording of the aforementioned Poems pour mi as well as Messiaen's first published orchestral work Les offrandes oubliees and a lesser known, rather brief later work, Un sourire.

Poemes pour mi has been recorded numerous times and there are many versions still in print. I am not familiar with some, but the Boulez/Cleveland version and the Messaien-conducted version are both definitive. On the other hand Markl's version is quite worthy. Soprano Anne Schwanewilms has an almost operatic intensity to her interpretation that puts this recording towards the top of the pile for me. The orchestral balance is very good and Markl brings out the mystical transparency of the score quite well. His Les offrandes oubliees revels empathetically in the alternatingly quiet rapture and turbulent outbursts of the score. Un sourire has meditative moments and some of that extraordinary blinding light of punctuated percussiveness typical of the late period.

In short these may not be the most definitive recordings out there, but they are close and offer prime Messiaen masterworks of the earlier period. The addition of Un Sourire and the Naxos price tag makes this volume especially attractive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pianist Julio Resende Puts A New Shine on Mainstream Jazz

In recent months thanks to Cleanfeed, Ayler Records and the kindness of Rodrigo Amado, I've gained a new appreciation of the Portuguese jazz scene today. It's vital. Julio Resende's new CD Assim Falava Jazzatustra (Cleanfeed) brings that home once again in a direct and exciting way.

Julio leads a fine quintet on this recording and they do a series of originals and a cover that provide much interest and variety. The music is in a freebop-and-beyond vein with the riffing rockish drive of "Don't" to the mesmeric "Ir e Voltar " (with superior guest vocalizing from Manuela Azevedo) and much in between to spark the senses and stimulate the ears. A big surprise is a bluesy balladic solo piano cover of Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" that works perfectly.

Resende reflects the influence of early- to mid-Jarrett but uses that as a springboard to what is hard driving and contemporary all the way. As a soloist he is a clone of nobody and shows pianistic subtlety as well as formidable linear thrust. Alto saxophonist Perico Sambeat and tenorman Desiderio Lazaro are also strong soloists and with Resende's imaginative improvising form a consistently revelatory triumvirate. Doublebassist Ole Morten Vagan has moments to shine as well and acquits himself with some very lively discourse.

When a session like this (recorded live incidentally) works well it does so for the pieces, the soloing and the push of the rhythm section. Assam Falava Jazzatustra comes through with all of those elements in place. Is Resende the Zarathustra of jazz? I don't know and it is only an encapsulating idea to get you pondering at any rate.

This is a blast to hear! I recommend that you do so!

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Music from Mario Diaz de Leon

Composer Mario Diaz de Leon ignores the boundaries between modern concert-classical, electronics, free improvisation, metal and noise. His recent Enter Houses Of (Tzadik) shows this clearly, albeit with the emphasis on the first two categories. It is a music that has a narrative flow. What he ends up with is all his own.

For this recording a nine piece chamber-oriented group, the International Contemporary Ensemble, matches sonorities with de Leon's electronic manipulations of timbre. The pieces juxtapose related musical events in ways that keep the ear refreshed.

Winds, strings, and percussion-piano, respectively, tend to occupy the forground at various points, with the electronics often entering the blend to create sprawling amalgams. De Leon seems to conceive of the music as moving event-blocks. The focus is on the achievement of distinctive sonorities that have an improvisational looseness but a keenly contrasting brilliance of sound design. They mark the time passing like various cloud formations drifting across the horizon on a briskly windy day.

This is not music that overwhelms. It invites you into its world and then does not hurry to express everything it has to say. That takes time. In the end the visit is worth the trouble.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is John Zorn's New Music "Easy Listening?"

John Zorn is a musical rebel. Throughout his career he has had a certain restless view of genre, never content to get pigeonholed as a writer-performer in "X" category. So he has created music in the concert modernity, the avant garde, bop, improv, free, modern Jewish music, death metal, and others besides.

One of his new recordings, Alhambra Love Songs (Tzadik) for piano trio (Rob Burger, Greg Cohen and Ben Perowsky) seemingly has yet another immersion in unfamiliar (for Zorn) genres. The notes on the cover of the CD announce that the music contained within is "in an easy listening mode," then go on to mention Vince Guaraldi, Henry Mancini and Ramsey Lewis.

So what of the music? Does it makes sense or does it even matter that this could be called easy listening music? OK, it is not difficult listening. It certainly has something about it that reminds of the Guaraldi trio and others like him: very melodic, lyrical, yet rhythmically engaging.

What matters is that the music is in fact a delight to hear. There are odd time signatures, catchy melodies, rock and jazz combinations a la Medeski, Benevento, the Bad Plus and others lately prominent. And there is no small amount of improvisation involved--in the Guaraldi-early Jarrett mode for the most part.

The trio does a capital job creating a trio presentation out of Zorn's pieces, and in the end it's the capacity to delight that puts this disk over the top. Enjoy, and call it anything you like.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rodrigo Amado's Tenor Sax in Free Flight

Rodrigo Amado came to my attention via a recent Dennis Gonzalez recording I reviewed on these pages (see September 30th posting). I'm sure I should have come across him sooner, but what I heard on that recording impressed me mightily for his sound, his inventive spontaneous lexicon, and his fabulous feel.

Mr. Amado read the review and very kindly forwarded me a few of his recent CDs, which I'll be reviewing on these pages.

First up is his latest, Motion Trio (European Echoes), which features Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on the drums. What I liked about his playing on the Gonzalez record is present in abundance on this one. The tone and phrasing hit me right out of the box. They seem so naturally idiomatic, like he could play "The Farmer in the Dell" and it would be hip. It is a sound that is bright, with a hint of Rollins perhaps, and has real poise in the matter and manner of attack and release.

This is a free date with the emphasis on linear momentum. Mira and Ferrandini have a pungent, pointed collective role on these sides and they help things pop. Ferrandini's drum set has interesting sound qualities and he makes full use of them in interesting ways. Mira's cello crystallizes and projects where the standard upright might boom and this helps accentuate the percussive attack that Rodrigo capitalizes on with short, stabbing phrases and longer lines.

Motion Trio is a study in contrasts of soul and abstraction. It manages to make the rarefied sound comfortably communicative. That's quite an achievement. Most of all it shows that Rodrigo Amado has remarkable sensibility and musical throughput. I would have to say he charts in the top handful of new free tenors I have heard lately. Take a listen to Motion Trio and see if you don't agree.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

David Mott in A Solo Baritone Sax Outing

A review last August of Baritone Saxophonist David Mott's excellent The Standard Line (see below) prompted a reader and myself to wonder what he has been doing since that time. David kindly hipped me to a number of his recent CDs which we will be covering in the next few weeks.

First up is a rather stunning recital for solo baritone, A Sky Ringing in An Empty Bell (York Fine Arts). This is another excellent outing, one which combines freedom with conceptual thinking of a high order. Like some of Roscoe Mitchell's solo alto sax performances, especially those on Nonaah (Nessa), Mott uses circular breathing and a fine command over his instrument to create distinct exploratory pieces (nine of them), moments in an overall matrix, that concentrate on timbral and technically specific approaches to unify each event and give them thematic distinction.

For example the opening piece, "Paganini Flies with the Dragon," makes good use of a rapidly ascending and descending motif that continually adds and subtracts harmonics as it drives furiously forward. The contrasting "Regarding Starlight" quietly articulates harmonics and falsetto register long tones for an ethereal sound as impressive for its control of the baritone as it is for its rather cosmic impact.

The recording continues in this vein with singular vignettes that flow together nicely and show excellent command and imagination. Solo saxophone records sometimes can be self-indulgent and perfunctory, but not so here. Just the opposite in fact.

A Sky Ringing in an Empty Bell gives notice that David Mott is a baritonist and musical conceptualizer that needs to be widely heard.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Drummer Charles Rumback and his Freely Mellow Quartet

Charles Rumback has a new quartet recording out on CD called, interestingly enough, Two Kinds of Art Thieves (Clean Feed). He is joined for this session by Jason Ajemian on bass, Joshua Sclar on tenor sax and Greg Ward on the alto.

This is free improvisation of a decidedly vital yet introspective nature. The two sax interplay of Ward and Sclar is quite interesting and effective. They work together well; the two weave lines in tandem in ways that show they are keenly listening to one another and responding in kind.

This is not music that overwhelms with its intensity, nor is it meant to be. What it does do is create an atmosphere of somewhat somber, sensitive group music making. It will not overawe you. But if you approach it on its own terms it will offer a world of meditative improvisation that many will find quite attractive.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Commemorating Thanksgiving With Charles Ives

No one but Charles Ives could be Charles Ives. HE created incredibly idiosyncratic collages of marching bands, pop tunes of the day and hymns, rustic largos of great beauty, and tremendous cacophonies of orchestral sounds, all patched together in his barn as studies in striking contrast. His was a boldly advanced music that now is considered unmistakeably a high point of early 20th-century American culture.

I read an amusing sci-fi novel of time travel many years ago. I think it was called Hot House Flowers. I forget the name of the author. In it a visitor from the future travels to turn-of-the-(last)-century America and mentions the music of Charles Ives to those he meets, thinking that everyone would know the name of what had become in the future America's greatest composer. Of course no one has ever heard of him. One hundred years later we may not be doing much better in so far as the general public is concerned. Yet his music continues to speak to those who listen to it with open ears.

Right in time for the holidays Naxos has released a very appealing volume of his music, with James Sinclair conducting the Malmo Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus. It is a nicely paced program of vintage Ives, including some previously unrecorded orchestral arrangements of Ives' "The General Slocum" and "Overture in G Major" along with some other rather underplayed miniatures. But it is the last three movements of his "New England Holidays Symphony" that form the backbone of the program. Movement Four, "Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day" comes at a particularly opportune time, and could form a part of your holiday listening if you have a family that is open to substantial and advanced fare along with their cranberry sauce.

Sinclair's renditions are some of the best on record. He lets the idiomatic quotations shine forth with gusto and a certain Victorian naivety, his largo passages are both mystical and pastoral, and the cacophonous huzzahs of anarchic sound clashes are breathtakingly vital.

This is Ives interpretation at its best!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jazz Bassoon? Daniel Smith Plays the Blues!

When I think of the bassoon I alternately think of the lighthearted or macabre passages written for it in the orchestral repertory--Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, Dukas' Sorcerers Apprentice, the theme song from the Alfred Hitchcock show (now what classical piece was that? Something by Gounod, right?)

Jazz bassoonists are as rare as the fish attracted by my lures when I went fishing as a kid. I just can't think of any at the moment. Except Daniel Smith, who has a CD coming out this January. It's Daniel with a cooking quartet and sometimes quintet, playing the blues. Blue Bassoon (Summit) is the sort of oddity that also happens to be a substantial musical experience.

Mr. Smith really can play. He digs into some classic jazz-blues numbers with spirit and soul. Mingus, Cannonball, Horace Silver, Trane, BB King, Robert Johnson, Wayne Shorter are all represented by some classic numbers and Smith and company pull it off with style and sweat in equal proportion. Young pianist Martin Bejerano sounds very good and everybody swings.

A blues-bop bassoon in the hands of most would turn out to be a lumbering affair. Not so with Daniel Smith. The sound has weight, as you'd expect from the instrument, but it has a fleet gait too.

Blue Bassoon is a bit of a hoot and a half. It covers classic material with real charm. It's a treat!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jelly Roll Morton Lives Again Through Anthony Coleman!

Jelly Roll Morton was one of the 2oth Century's greatest composers. Jazz composers. It took Charlie Mingus's "My Jelly Roll Soul" to remind some of us, way back in the late '50s, that though he died a has-been, Mr. Jelly left us a body of work, compositions, recordings, that places him in the invisible pantheon of killer music makers.

If you have any doubts, or if scratchy old 78s keep you from appreciating what he contributed, there's a new CD that will convince you. It's a solo piano album by Anthony Coleman, called Freakish (Tzadik). What do you get? Anthony Coleman's lovingly ungarnished versions of Jelly Roll's compositions as he played them on the piano, in clear, bright, beautiful modern sound. But no, these are not transcriptions. Anthony Coleman has much to add in terms of nuance. After all, Mr. Coleman himself is an adventuresome pianist in his own right and you would not expect him just to act as a medium for Mr. Jelly's re-emergence among the living. He does not do that.

The title tune "Freakish" was one of Morton's more daring pieces, harmonically and rhythmically, and it forms a centerpiece to the whole program. Anthony gives you a "straight" rendition at the start of the CD, then returns to it towards the end to freely interpolate the piece and its implications. That's a very nice touch, since it relates the music to the present day piano improvisational scene.

In between you get some fabulous music, the ragtime, the Spanish tinge, the unexpected twists and turns in Morton's musical thinking.

This is a beauty. Whether you know Morton's music or you don't, there is much to be gained by studying Coleman's renditions. Morton is brought back to life. And it turns out that he sounds refreshingly wonderful today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eric Alexander and Some Hard Blowing Tenor, 1997

In the spring of 1997 Eric Alexander was around 27 years old when he went into Riverside Studios in Chicago to record Mode for Mabes (Delmark). An excellent group was assembled for the date, especially with the presence of piano master Harold Mabern, one of Eric's mentors and of course a giant of the hard swinging approach to modern jazz. It was a sextet with Jim Rotondi's trumpet and Steve Davis' trombone to flesh out the front line with that classic full sound that Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, for example, brought to the music.

Allusions to Blakey's ensembles seem appropriate, since Mode for Mabes hits the ground hard with a set of kicking tunes that are in the lineage of the best of the tradition Art was most associated with. And so also Mr. Mabern, of course.

The title cut (co-written by Eric and Jim Rotondi) gives notice that this is most certainly NOT going to be a set to send you off to dreamland. They are here to play, and that they do. From the appealing originals to the standards and a version of Trane's "Naima," the music locks in and stays there.

It is amazing how accomplished Eric Alexander was by the time these sides were cut. To mix metaphors, he had ground down the rough edges of his technique and harnessed a fertile inventive imagination to create a tenor style with its feet planted firmly in modern tradition, but with the indelible stamp of Alexandrian panache. He's in good company with the terrifically limber solos of Mabern, Rotondi and Davis.

More than ten years later we can listen to Mode for Mabes and recognize the classic nature of the music. It sounds wonderful today and surely has to be counted as one of the milestones of Eric Alexander's recorded output. Get it and groove!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chad Taylor and his Cohorts Turn in Vibrant Piano Trio Jazz in a New Release

Chad Taylor, who if you recall made an important contribution on Fred Anderson's 80th birthday album (see below), shows his versatility as a player, bandleader and writer of music on his new album Circle Down (482 Music).

This is a piano trio date, with Angelica Sanchez on the keys and Chris Lightcap on the upright bass. The objective is to create a group music that is contemporary and ventures into free territory in a loose way. They succeed. The song form foundation of the music always keep things moving in a forward direction. Each group member contributes a number of originals and they are varied and not uninteresting.

Chad's drumming throughout exemplifies the sensitive combination of pulse with free implosions that inspire Lightcap and Sanchez to be inventive and engage in discursive crossplay. I like Angelica's subtle, anti-showboating pianism. It bears close listening and I hope I get a chance to hear more of her in the near future. Chris Lightcap does everything he should in this kind of an intimate setting. He isn't out to overpower you with technique. Again, it's the group effort that he aims for.

Circle Down has that sleeper quality. It perhaps could be easily passed by. That is until you listen closely. Then you find the refined, thoroughly modern qualities which must be attended to for a true appreciation. I hope Mr. Taylor's trio records again soon. This is a group that I suspect can only get better in time. It's already quite good and they give you a very interesting and enjoyable program of music on the current disk. To the future!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Drummer Mike Reed Helps Define Modern Chicago Jazz

Today, more interesting new Chicago jazz, this time headed by drummer Mike Reed and his People, Places & Things ensemble. About Us (482 Music) brings to light the second in a projected three disk trilogy covering a kind of homage to Chicagoland's rich jazz history.

Reed is joined by Greg Ward on alto, Tim Haldeman on tenor and Jason Roebke on bass, capable players all. This is music with a pulse, freebop excursions made to jell by Mike Reed's compositional vehicles. Three cuts feature some prominent guests: "Big and Fine" highlights the playing and writing prowess of tenorist David Boykins; "Big Stubby" brings in trombonist Jeb Bishop to the same end; and "Days Fly By" spotlights the guitar and pen of Jeff Parker (who we have recently encountered in Fred Anderson's 80th birthday recording--see below).

With or without the guests, Reed's gathering delivers potent, excitingly spontaneous improvisations with an incandescent rhythm section foundation. If someone were to ask me, "What is going on in Chicago jazz today?" I would unhesitatingly refer them to this recording, among others. It is a joy to hear.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Appealing Raw Avant Freebop from The Other Tet

The Other Tet? Yes. It's Bill Lowe (perhaps aptly) on the bass trombone and tuba, diving into the murky depths of those instruments with a burry sound that provides atmosphere as well as soul. On the tuba, a modern-day Ray Draper comes to mind; on the bass trombone he plays with raw poise. Taylor Ho Bynum works the trumpet and flugelhorn. He has the flurry of a modern day Don Cherry and has established himself as one of the first-call out trumpeters these days. Joe Morris walks and prevaricates on the upright bass in just the right combintion. Drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng has a marvelous sounding set and evokes swing and exuberantly out percussiveness in alternation.

All this can be heard to good advantage on their recent self-titled CD on Engine. It has the direct appeal of some of the early "new thing" recordings made around New York in the mid-sixties. There's nothing slick here. It assumes the swingingly hard bopping quartet, then dismantles each playing role in such a congregation by creative deconstruction.

All the tunes have some good gritty torque, with the exception of "Cold Day Cup," which overworks the two-line motif but goes along nicely between those head segments.

All in all this is fine freebop. It churns, blusters, gives out with a belly laugh, then sets the studio on fire, only to go on to dampen the flames for a thoroughly musical clean up. I hope they record and gig together often. They have a nice sound.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ben Perowski and the Moodswing Orchestra

Drummer Ben Perowski has been around. He's worked with Steve Bernstein's irreverent Sex Mob, Elysian Fields, Uri Caine and "a host of others," as the saying goes. Just now he's gotten the chance to express his wider vision of what music sounds in his inner ear. That has resulted in the Moodswing Orchestra (El Destructo) CD. It is highly interesting, rather unclassifiable, and sonically epic in its proportions.

There are all kinds of people coming in and out of the aural landscape, Bernstein, for example, some compelling vocalists, and electronics-turntablist Markus Miller. It has a rock-funk beat underpinning most of the time. But what's on top is continually shifting in an ingenious collage-tapestry of ambiance and sound palletry.

So what is it? Post-jazz, post-rock, post-post? There is a downtown flavor, certainly, and that in its best sense of "anything is possible so anything goes." Perowsky comes through with fascinating arrangements and combinations of elements. Here I am on my fifth listen as I write these lines, and I still can't get my cognitive ears wrapped around the whole of it. Now that is a good thing, I think.

You want to embark on a new trip? Sick of formula? Here you go. The Moodswing Orchestra will give you a new turf to ply.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fat Cat Big Band's Third

Guitarist, jazz composer and arranger Jade Synstelien has a big band named Fat Cat. They've now released the third of their trilogy of CDs, Face (Smalls), and it is a good one. For reviews of the other two in the series check out the postings on my other site at

This is not a hearkening back to the old days of the big bands, nor is it particularly avant garde. Rather it has a twisty-turning nubop-nobop take on things. That is to say, it has been informed by developments in jazz from bop and after onwards, yet there is no copycat simulacra presence on their agenda.

They swing and execute like the Dickens, they have some very good soloists (like Sharel Cassity on alto) but it's Synstelien's charts that really make the band something hip.

He has a most eccentric vocal style which he unleashes on several numbers. It is an acquired taste. I've acquired it.

The rest are hard charging instrumentals and a balladic interlude or two. This is one of the most interesting big bands to emerge in recent years. I am rather taken with Mr. Synstelien's music. You might be as well. The only way to know for sure is to listen!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Percy Howard's Meridiem in a Third Outing

Percy Howard and his Project Band Meridiem has two CDs out there, one from 1998, one from 2000. I have not yet heard them. However his third, A Pleasant Fiction, Meridiem Volume Three (Voiceprint/Pangea) has been grabbing my ears for a week. It is time to report in on it.

Percy gathers together a fairly large group of musicians for this current volume, most notably Vernon Reid, Bill Laswell and Buckethead. Percy Howard does most of the vocals and he has soul. I believe it is Jill Tracy that is also a vocalist here and she contrasts Percy well. There may be others vocalists appearing too, but I don't know and it doesn't matter, really.

What we have is a musical trip that circumnavigates all kinds of progressive, alt and metallic-fusion realms. There is a story line that threads its way throughout and it has a romantic flavor. It is the well-crafted and excellently performed songs that musically stand out. The ensemble is top notch, guitar work notable and everything gels in a way conducive to the ears of 2009. I am sometimes reminded of Kip Hanrahan's imagery of love on the hot griddle. This is in Percy's own bag, though.

The songs are sophisticated and complicated enough that a single hearing does not do them justice. (And I sometimes wonder what reviewers think they are doing when they react to a recording based on a single listen, if there are any out there who still do that. OK if you know the music more or less beforehand. Not OK for a virgin slab of music.) Repeated listening reveals the content and puts the songs firmly in the memory. They are the sort of things Carla Bley, Mike Mantler and others pioneered in the '70s, art-rock songs, if you will.

Anybody who wants something with a lot of thought and care put into it, who likes rock but doesn't like the more banal versions, who looks for the edgier forms, would do well to hear this CD at least two or three times, or ten. . . .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fred Anderson Celebrates 80th with CD and DVD

Free Jazz Tenorman Fred Anderson has been a mainstay of the Chicago music world since the '60s. A founding member of the AACM, he has been on numerous recordings and has held sway at the head of a variety of bands at his own Velvet Lounge (and all over the world too).

This year he turned 80. That in itself is not particularly remarkable. Of course other people do this all the time. What is important is his playing. It is the fiery blast of tenorism that it was when he first came up, only it's tempered by years of interacting on the bandstand. It's better than ever in many ways.

In March of this year, Delmark set up their recording equipment at the Velvet Lounge to record the birthday celebration. A CD and DVD came out of this, 21st Century Chase, and it is a fine example of what a well attuned ensemble can achieve when left to their own resources.

First, the band. Of course there is Fred on the tenor, joined by co-vet tenorist Kidd Jordan. Anderson and Kidd are in great form and the two together provide powerfully moving interactions that rival some of the classic tandems of recent jazz history. Harrison Bankhead provides an infinity varied and powerful bass ground for it all. He shows how important imagination and technique can be in the free blowing situation. Jeff Parker, increasingly well known as a guitarist of choice in the Chicago avant world, provides contrast and intelligence in his understated comps and delightfully enigmatic soloing. And Chad Taylor swings and pummels like a human drumming dynamo.

The sound is pristine and well balanced, and the DVD gives you the option of a surround sound version. Three long improvisations comprise the set (with a bonus track on the DVD that brings in the comeback bassist Henry Grimes while Bankhead switches to cello). It is music that goes around more than one block. They get into a number of compelling free grooves. The DVD is visually interesting and reproduces the club atmosphere and the excitement of in-the-moment spontaneity.

Either way, CD or DVD, there is much excellence. It is a fitting tribute to a tenor titan that has not always received the recognition he deserves. Happy 80th Fred Anderson!