Saturday, September 26, 2015

Words are not nearly enough

One thing you have to understand about jazz is that it is like fine wine.  It matters a lot what you are eating while you are drinking.  A great bottle of wine is only great in the right light over the right meal. 
I was reminded of this when I listened to Streams, by Alto Saxophonist Jarrett Gilgore and drummer Deric Dickens.  The album is a tribute to alto sax man Jimmy Lyons.  Lyons is best known for his work with Cecil Taylor, but this album is mostly influenced by his duets with Andrew Cyrille.  I have a lot of this work in my collection, so I would have been interested anyway. 
But it just so happened that I put in on just after I watched a short film entitled “Japanese Sandman”.  This thirty minute piece was a dramatization of a letter written by William S. Burroughs to Allen Ginsburg.  Burroughs was a gay junky.  Almost all of his writing and biography turn on those two descriptors.  Along with Ginsburg, he was one of the major Beat generation writers.  His chaotic novel Naked Lunch is his best known work. 
The film takes a letter written in Mexico and presents it as a short story.  It is wonderful.  Burroughs’ letters are masterpieces on their own.  He puts you right into the junk powered and junk sick world of a globetrotting homosexual addict, trying to cure the one thing and the other, or not.  All the while the Beat culture is oozing out. 
With that in mind, I listen to Streams.  It is an avant garde gem and, accidently it would seem, provided a soundtrack for my mood after I watched the film.  The dialogue between Gilgore’s sour sax and Dickens’ pleading percussion is so bloody spot on that one would expect to hear it bleating out if you Googled existential angst
This is modern music with the M writ large.  Only modern in this case came into focus on city streets just after the troops came home from Europe.  The center of the music is the sax/drums dialogue, but we also get Jamie Branch and on bass Brian Brunsman and Ross Gallagher.  These guys are drilling down to the mother lode. 
Don’t miss this one.  You might want to watch “Japanese Sandman” just before you put the ear buds in. 
I am playing cuts from this album and some Jimmy Lyons on my Live365 station. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Shape of Ornette Coleman

I have a vague memory of a reading (or hearing?) an interview with rock/blues guitarist Johnny Walker.  He was asked if he still practiced when he wasn’t performing.  He replied that he didn’t because there wasn’t that much he was interested in learning.  He was listening to Ornette Coleman.  All that is very vague memory and I apologize to Walker (whom I have loved and saw twice in concert) if I remember it wrong.  It did seem to me at the time that he just tossed out a name that meant something. 
What it meant was clear.  No one in jazz has been so identified with the last great jazz advance, the movement beyond bop into the avant garde.  How much credit Coleman deserves for opening the door to that vast and wonderful and treacherous landscape, I don’t know.  He certainly deserves a lot. 
I trace Coleman’s impact on my own listening by placing in the history of my jazz music collecting.  I acquired The Shape of Jazz to Come when I joined a record club many years ago.  I got three albums for joining, one of which was Kind of Blue.  I don’t remember the other one.  I immediately loved KOB, but couldn’t make sense of TSOJTC.  I started my jazz collection with Miles Davis Quintet’s Prestige recordings and for some time I was convinced that nothing was better than hard bop.  I honestly thought, at one point, that Eric Dolphy corrupted John Coltrane.  That is a pretty good illustration of the barrier that Ornette Coleman pushed through. 
I now find myself listening to as much avant garde as anything else.  I fixed breakfast this morning to Ceil Taylor’s 2 Ts for a Lovely T.  After a dose of that, ‘Lonely Woman’, perhaps Coleman’s best known composition, seems rather tame.  Yet I can still feel the chills I felt when it first sank in. 
A lot of Coleman’s recordings have that same purple wail that digs deep in ‘Lonely Woman’.  Or else you get the bing bing, bomp, bomp, of ‘European Echoes’ on the Golden Circle recordings.  Coleman was always chasing that deep fulcrum that would tilt the human heart in a new direction. 
In case you haven’t heard, Ornette Coleman passed away last Thursday.  Here was a man.  Fortunately, we won’t have to do without him.  His legacy includes the great Atlantic recordings collected in a box: Beauty is a Rare Thing.  If you don’t have it, you want to get it.  Another treasure is his trio live At The Golden Circle.  Another gem, and an excellent introduction to his genius, is his soundtrack for the film Naked Lunch.  If you are doubtful, watch the movie. 
I am playing pieces from all these collections on my Live365 page.  Enjoy. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Gil Evans Project Projects! Lines of Color

 I just downloaded this marvelous album.  Holy Cow!  What a great big band performance.  This is a smorgasbord of steamy jazz dishes.  Walk down the row and fill your plate.  I am reproducing the notes that they sent me below.  I am also playing the first cut on my Live365 station. 

LINES OF COLOR: Live at Jazz Standard, the sophomore album from composer/producer Ryan Truesdell's award-winning Gil Evans Project, will be released on March 17, 2015 on the newly-formed Blue Note/ArtistShare label ( This highly anticipated release follows Truesdell's debut CD CENTENNIAL: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, which won a posthumous Grammy Award for Gil Evans and the New York Times called "an extraordinary album.”  LINES OF COLOR – the next step in Truesdell's endeavor to reveal hidden layers of Gil Evans' musical legacy – features some of New York's finest musicians including Lewis Nash, Donny McCaslin, Steve Wilson, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes, and Scott Robinson. The CD was recorded by Grammy award-winning engineer James Farber with the live engineering team of Tyler McDiarmid and Geoff Countryman.

LINES OF COLOR was recorded during the Gil Evans Project’s annual week-long engagement at Jazz Standard in New York City from May 13-18, 2014. It consists of six newly discovered, never before recorded works (including “Avalon Town,” “Can't We Talk It Over,” and “Just One Of Those Things”), two arrangements with previously unheard sections (“Davenport Blues” and “Sunday Drivin'”), and three of Evans’ well-known charts from his classic albums (“Time of the Barracudas,” “Concorde,” and “Greensleeves”). Throughout the engagement, the Gil Evans Project presented nearly fifty of Evans’ works, most of which were performed live for the first time. Truesdell decided to record live for the Gil Evans Project’s second album to honor the essence of Evans’ music that craves live performance. “It allows Gil’s colors and the overtones of the music to sound and blend in the room in a way that you can’t get from a close-mic studio recording,” says Truesdell. "Live recording captures this intangible energy that’s created when music is performed for an audience. It gives listeners a sense of the magic that happens when the notes are lifted off the page by these amazing musicians.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Twisted Taste for Avant Garde

Today I made up a quick playlist and enjoyed it on my way from Aberdeen South Dakota to Fargo North Dakota.  I am training for my 200 hour certification as a yoga instructor.  By chance, I listened to a brilliant horror story just before listening to 'Dogdays' from Nuclear Assembly Hall, a double CD by Atomic/School Days.

The story was 'The Ana Log', by Michael Gray Baughan.  It is available for free on my favorite podcast, Pseudopod.  This podcast presents weekly horror tales selected with what must be magic genius and read aloud by superb narrators.  If you like spooky tales, this is one for you.

This particular story concerns a series of video tapes which you watch at your own peril.  It is one of the rare stories that gives me the amazing sense of the otherworldly that I got when I first watched the great Asian Horror films such as Ringu or Juon.  It put me in that mood, let me tell you.

By chance, the next item on the playlist was that piece from A/SD.  Here is the lineup:

Magnus Broo — trumpet
Jeb Bishop — trombone
Fredrik Ljungkvist — reeds
Ken Vandermark — reeds
Havard Wiik — Piano
Kjell Nordeson — vibraphone
Ingebrigt HÃ¥ker-Flaten — double bass
Paal Nilssen-Love — drums and percussion 

I consider Vandermark to be one of the greatest living horn masters in jazz.  I could say much the same about Paal Nilssen-Love.  You can order this direct from Okka Disc.  The weird, chaotic music perfectly fit my mood.

This may be an accident.  Perhaps what I felt when listening to the music had nothing to do with the intentions of the musicians or the spirit of the music.  Or... maybe it is like a brilliant wine.  You can only appreciate it if your pallet is properly prepared.  I first got my wife to like a good stout by telling her to think of dark chocolate before she sipped it.  Now she's a beer snob.

I think that there is something deliciously twisted about the taste for good horror and the taste for avant garde jazz.  Just saying.  I am not playing this cut, but I did upload the next cut from the second disc: 'Light Compulsion.'  Enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kind of Blue Too

One thing I can never get enough of is Kind of Blue.  For all sorts of reasons, it is generally acknowledged as one of the best albums every produced.  It is certainly the best selling jazz album.  I first heard it after I joined the Columbia Music club.  Four free jazz albums!  I also got Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.  That was worth whatever I paid. 
Tonight I am reviewing Blue, a note by note reproduction of KOB by a group called Mostly Other People Do the Killing.  Here is some info:
The audacious project, first conceived by Moppa Elliott and Peter Evans in 2002, intends to challenge the way people listen to jazz. By transcribing and recording what is arguably the greatest jazz album of all time, Mostly Other People Do the Killing affirms the greatness of the original while questioning the direction of jazz in the 21st century. The thought-experiment-cum-album forces to listener to examine what makes jazz actually jazz and brings the non-notatable elements music to the foreground: timbre, articulation and the ineffable nature of tone and feel.
Standing in for Davis' classic band are Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto and tenor saxophone, Ron Stabinsky on piano, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums.
I am not sure about the “questioning the direction of jazz in the 21st century” part.  Maybe this is a protest against the hold that jazz classics have and the situation of contemporary artists in breaking through that glass ceiling.  I must confess, but my jazz station and this blog certainly are stodgy in that regard. 
So what if someone reproduced KOB so accurately that it is indistinguishable from the original?  Would that mean that the greatness of the album was a mere accident of history?  Maybe.  But history is not to be denied. 
I haven’t yet digested this recording, but I do wonder whether one could tell which was the real one and which was Memorex.  So give it a listen and let me know what you think.