zaterdag 18 december 2010

Zappa rules at 70

He should have been 70 by now, as an excellent special edition of MOJO reminds us. But cancer decided otherwise, so Frank Zappa is no longer among us, and that is a pity, for his family and friends of course, but also for fans of truly original music.
Happily there's a release from 'the vault' once in a while. Although the quality of the ones that already came out since Frank's death in '93 is uneven (Joes' Corsage, Menage and Domage are pretty poor..., Qaudiophiliac and Wazoo are brilliant) I look forward to everything that 'vaultmeister' Joe Travers (also drummer in Dweezil's Zappa plays Zappa band) prepares for release.
So I was eagerly waiting for this three cd-offering of a concert in Hammersmith Odeon (London), since it was recorded in 78, the period I started buying FZ-records (starting with Sheik Yerbouti and never ending since then). Well: it delivers fully, for 100 procent. This must be the best FZ cd since he left us all much too soon.
The band is one of the best that FZ ever had: Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf on keys (the synths replacing the horns on Zappa in NY), Adrian Belew on guitar; Patrick O'Hearn on bass, Terry Bozzio on drums and Ed Mann on percussion (and of course on FZ on guitar (my god...) and vocals).
Three hours long, they give you their all, and FZ leads them through some very essential compositions of his, like Pound for a Brown (more than 20 minutes!!), Peaches en Regalia, Envelopes, a stunning 'prequel' to Watermelon on Easter Hay, The Black Page, Black Napkins (what a melody!!!!) and many more. The lecture FZ gives on why he wrote I have been in you is really funny. At least: I laughed out loud!  And these three cd's made me smile from beginning till end. From shere excitement, total enjoyment of so much beauty, so many creamy melodies, such great guitar playing (the solo in The torture never stops is overwhelming!).
I realise there's a big nostalgia-factor explaining why I love this so much. Since I got to learn this music when I was 16, 17, and life was easy...  But nevertheless I sincerely think that these three hours of excellent music illustrate that FZ was a highly original voice in rock music, and remains one of it's greatest composers till this very day.
Enjoy it while you can!!!
Thank you Frank!

zondag 21 november 2010

Whatever happened to..... Charles Brackeen?

Saxophonist Charles Brackeen (born 1940) produced some very fine records in the eighties, like Worshippers come nigh and Bannar, in a band with Fred Hopkins or Malachi Favors and the fantastic Dennis Gonzalez. He also appeared on records by Paul Motian and he was married to a great pianoplayer who still bears his name, Joanne Brackeen. But what has become of him? I can't find any cd's of him since the nineties. Anyone who knows, please let me know. I consider Mr Brackeen's contribution to jazz as very important.

vrijdag 19 november 2010

Henry Threadgill

All praise be to Mosaic Records for reissuing historic jazz recordings, although most of their releases are outside my range of intrest. But the Anthony Braxton box was a pleasant surprise (his band with Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler and Barry Altschul!), and now this great Henry Threadgill reissue will serve the same strange people who love the bizarre sounds of avantgarde jazz...
Threadgill has been too silent for many years now (only two short cd's on Pi Recordings in eight years...), yet he remains to me one of the greatest artists on the music scene today. This box with eight cd's illustrates this perfectly.
The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air contains three albums by Air (his trio with Fred Hopkins on bass and Steve McCall on drums): Open Air Suit, Montreux Suisse Air and Air Lore. Then there is his special X-75-band, of which the Volume 2 included here was never released before. Then there is three albums by the notorious sextett (with two t's at the end, since it consisted of seven people...): You Know the Number, Easily Slip into another World and Rag, Bush and all.
Finaly, there's three records by the Verry Very Circus and Make a Move-bands: Carry the day, Makin' a move and Where's your cup.
The music on all of these cd's is never less than fantastic. When I got to know the work of Henry Threadgill in the early eighties, I considered him to be a postmodern artist, in that he summed up all iconoclastic avantgarde experiments that came before him (be it with respect to the early history of jazz), and put his very personal stamp on it.
But he is much more than that, really. His sense of adventure is never less than jaw dropping. Air is basically an 'ordinary' trio, consisting of a horn, bass and drums, but Threadgill organized it as a real group of equal partners. He was in that period very much influenced by the roots and early outings of jazz, such as ragtime, evidenced on Air Lore, on which the band plays pieces by Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton.
Hopkins and McCall are terrific partners. Especially Fred Hopkins is very underrated, I think. To my ears he has the most identifiable sound on acoustic bass ever. These three albums by Air included here are great, but the group recorded many more, and my favorite, 80° below 82, was on the label Antilles, so is not included here, unfortunatley.
The same is true of the sextett. I consider their first two albums as highlights in the history of recorded music, be it jazz, rock, classical or whatever. When was That? and Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket are brilliant from beginning till end. But they were released on the label About Time.
The Henry Threadgill Sextett is really an amazing band: who could ever have the idea of combining a frontline consisting of sax, trumpet and trombone with a cello, bass and two drummers?  The cello of Deirdre Murray is central in all recordings of this band. The sextett sounds like a fanfare, firmly rooted in tradition, but extremely modern in its sound. My god, I hadn't listened to this stuff for more than a decade, but I still love it so much.
Henry Threadgill allways uses strange instrumentation. On X-75 he used four (4!) basses. After the sextett broke up, he used electric guitars (but the soprano guitar of Brandon Ross surely sounds like no other guitarist), but it's probably the use of two tubas that is the most dominant sound of the Very Very Circus and Makin' a Move bands.  On Where's Your Cup, Threadgill also uses the accordion of South African Rony Cedras as the main voice, with the electric bass of Stomu Takeishi replacing the tubas.
Throughout all the work of Threadgill, there's a weird sense of humor. In the music itself, and in the crazy song titles like Let Me Look Down Your Throat or Say AhDirty in the Right Places or Those who Eat Cookies and The Devil is on the Loose and Dancin' with a Monkey.
And, last but least, and I almost forgot: HT is a virtuoso musician himself. I especially love his sharp sound on the alto saxophone! And his bands are full of interesting musicians like Ray Anderson, Rasul Siddik, Frank Lacy...
Those who love jazz but haven't heard anything by HT (and Ethan Iverson writes on his blog that such people do exist): please, eat these cookies!

dinsdag 5 oktober 2010

Michael Formanek The Rub and Spare Change

Most of the recent ECM releases can hardly be labeled jazz, but this one surely can. And it's a very impressive kind of jazz, I must say, by a group of four fantastic musicians, all of them leaders in their own right.
Though this really is Michael Formanek's date: he wrote all the tunes and surely organised the event. Formanek came to prominence in the nineties with some great stuff on Enja, but then stayed below radar for ten years or so. If Dr. Wiki tells the truth, then he must have devoted his time primarily to teaching at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. His sound on bass is as strong as ever. He is a perfect match for drummer Gerald Cleaver.
But it's the soloing of alto saxophonist Tim Berne and - especially - pianist Craig Taborn that gives this cd its unique flavour. Berne has never been recorded better, and I prefer these tunes of approximately 8 minutes to the lengthy, often fatigueing pieces he records under his own name.  Although there is one very long piece here also, Tonal Suite, which stands the test beyond doubt.
I don't know much of the work of Craig Taborn, though I was very fond of Junk Magic, mainly an electric affair. Taborn here only plays acoustic piano and he really sounds terrific. And very modern. And virtuosic. Listen to his solo on Inside the Box, one of the highlights of this cd.
The music could be described as - hmmm, let's say - very complex freebop with an avantgarde edge. Though it never gets too complicated, don't be afraid. To me this cd means a relief that ECM still produces great new jazz, apart from the inevitable Keith Jarrett. I admit I wasn't sure of that anymore, Manfred!

zondag 26 september 2010

Paul Bley pleasures

"The artists alone decide what you will hear on their ESP-disk." A label with such a motto should be cherished.  And I do, as all hardcore jazz fanatics should. But I guess Paul Bley didn't decide on the sound of this recording. Like all ESP-recordings I know, it sounds as if it was recorded under water or in a refrigerator or something.
But even then ESP (which started in the sixties when free jazz was invented and seems to have regained life in recent years) produced wonderful records. Closer is beyond doubt my favourite, since it got me to know Paul Bley, a wonderful pianoplayer, whose impact on jazz and improvisatory music cannot be over-appreciated.
Oh my god, I still remember hiring this record from the local discotheque when I was 17 years or something. I was completely stunned by the opening track, Ida Lupino (named after an actress, which I didn't realise until decades later). The track was penned by Carla Bley, then Paul's wife, although as far as I know their marriage didn't last too long. Carla wrote seven of the ten (short to very short) tracks here, and they are all terrific. Although none of the others are as melodic as Ida Lupino, I consider tracks like Start, Batterie and Closer as little gems, small pieces of art that deserve respectful accolades of all true music lovers. They are all classics to my ears.
Paul wrote one piece, and the remaining two were penned by Annette Peacock (if I'm not mistaken, Bley's partner after his marriage with Carla broke up) and Ornette Coleman, the man who changed the sound of jazz once he became member of the Paul Bley group in '58 (or was it '59?).
Bley's trio consists of Steve Swallow (then still on ACOUSTIC bass, although he's so badly recorded you can hardly hear him) and the wonderful Barry Altschul, an excellent drummer who was one of the key figures of free jazz, then disappeared for too many years, but now seems to have re-emerged on the scene.
My cd collection contains about 45 cd's by Paul Bley (and then another ten or so on vinyl), but I guess this one is still my favourite. Especially since the master himself decorated it with his autograph after a concert last year in Ghent, Belgium....
Thank you for reading this

zaterdag 18 september 2010

Tony Malaby

Last year I spent a week in New York. I not only had the pleasure of visiting the Village Vanguard (David Sanchez), the Blue Note (Odean Pope, James Carter, even Stanley Clarke) and the tiny Barbès in Brooklyn (Tom Rainey, Ingrid Laubrock, Mary Halvorson). But the very best concert I saw during that week was in the beautiful Cornelia Street Café in the heart of the Village.
The band playing there was a quartet led by Tony Malaby (with John Hébert, Ralph Alessi and Billy Drummond). Beyond doubt Malaby's one of the most interesting saxophonists on the present jazz scene. On the same trip, I bought loads of cd's in the Downtown Music Gallery (go there when you're in NY!), and Adobe is definitely the one I listened to the most.
It's a "classic" sax trio, recorded in 2003, with the rock solid Drew Grass on bass and on drums Paul Motian, still incredible after all these years. Malaby, who wrote four of the nine tunes, shines on tenor and on soprano. His reading of Ornette Coleman's Humpty Dumpty , the excellent opener, sounds very fresh. His tone on sax sounds very modern, firm, full of vision, with an open mind and an avantgarde edge, though he never loses himself in extensive squeaking or growling.
As excellent as Drew Gress sounds, it's Paul Motian who makes this cd a special success. His sound is so recognizable, and he propels the music to a higher level.
I know there's been plenty of beautiful saxtrio-cd's recently (the ones by Donny McCaslin and J.D. Allen come to mind), but this one will neither disappoint the avid fan of real present-day jazz.

vrijdag 17 september 2010

Jeremy Pelt

How to play hardbop and still sound fresh and modern? Listen to this cd and Jeremy Pelt gives you the answer. The trumpeter had already published some very strong cd's, some with an electric feel, like the well received Shock Value: Live at Smoke on MaxJazz.
But this all acoustic quintet is his band of choice since the excellent previous cd, November (MaxJazz). This quintet consists of Dwayne Burno (bass), Danny Grissett (piano), J.D. Allen (tenorsax) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). With the exception of Burno, they are all leaders in their own right. But this not an 'all stars' affair. This is really a group effort, and the sound is that of a quintet full of interaction, with musicians listening to each other, with an almost telepathic feeling of how their colleagues will react.
 Like Dave Holland, Jeremy Pelt gives each member of his group the opportunity to bring along a composition, and this works fine. The sound is definitely reminiscent of the second great Miles Davis Quintet, although Pelt has a sound that differs from the Great Master of the Understatement.
Pelt is beyond doubt a virtuoso, and he is very lucky to have next to him in the frontline J.D. Allen, who is a rising star on saxophone. Listen to J.D.'s trio-cd's, and you will agree.
Men of Honor (this time on the HighNote label) should be the breakthrough of a major jazz band. Hope you like it!

zondag 12 september 2010

Steve Lehman

For those of you who are tempted to think that in jazz everything has been done before, please keep your ears open, and you will definitely come across the sound of the unexpected. Like the sound of the Steve Lehman Octet, which is definitely something you have never heard before.
Surely Lehman's sound on alto sax has traces of Steve Coleman or Greg Osby. But the music he writes for this exceptional instrumentation (two saxes, trumpet, trombone, tuba, vibes, bas and drums) is something really modern, with elements of all kinds of jazz (inlcluding the hard avantgarde stuff) and modern classical music nicely intertwined. The rhythm is very complex (which brings us to... Tyshawn Sorey, who is again shining on drums), the five piece frontline plays strong melody lines, with the tuba intervening as an extra bass, and the soloing is real intense. Mark Shim on tenorsax, Joathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tim Albright on trombone: they are all impressive.
Like his mentor Anthony Braxton, Steve Lehman doesn't limit himself to jazz alone. He also writes for large orchestras and chamber ensembles. Well, this octet sounds like a very contemporary jazz chamber ensemble.
This cd (with an enigmatic title...) is out on the very interesting Pi Recordings. An excellent label, which documents the present day innovative jazz scene as the Italian Black Saint-label used to do in the eighties and nineties. Much to my liking.

Robin Verheyen Starbound

The Belgian jazz scene is blooming and booming, with many young players pushing the envelope. Pianist Jef Neve is realising an international breakthrough thanks to his intimate cd with the excellent singer José James. Jef has a new cd out this september with his pianotrio, and it will certainly please those who are fond of EST or Brad Mehldau.
But perhaps the most talented Belgian guy is saxophone player Robin Verheyen. He has been living in New York for a couple of years now, where he plays with avantgarde musicians like Ralph Alessi, Jeff Davis or Tom Rainey. His most recent cd, Starbound on the German Pirouet-label, may be the best 'Belgian' jazz cd I ever heard.
It features Robins quartet, with Bill Carrothers on piano, Nicolas Thys (who lived in NY for seven years but returned to Brussels) on bass and Dré Pallemaerts (very active on the French jazz scene) on drums. They play nine originals by Robin, one by Nicolas, and the standard I Wish I Knew. The result is very satisfying. Robin has a mature tone on his sax, especially on soprano. I'm not the only one who says so: Branford Marsalis invited Robin several times on stage to sit in with his band and praised his soprano sound in particular.  And a Brazilian website ( ranked him as best soprano player of 2009, before Dave Liebman and Jan Garbarek.
Robins compositions are very entertaining, opener On the House being my favorite. This is modern jazz I really like. It certainly has an avantgarde flavour to it, but it is still very accessible. And the band is terrific.
Robin has a new cd out his autumn, with another band. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

zondag 5 september 2010

Jeff Beck Emotion&Commotion

Time for some assorted candy, isn't it? Well, here it is: Jeff Beck. 'Oh my god, you don't really like this, do you?' Well, I do, and Downbeat gave this cd four and a half stars, so I'm definitely not the only jazz freak who digs this.
I admit: some of this stuff is on the verge of sentimentalism. But this is candy, as I told you. The opener, Corpus Christ Carol by Benjamin Britten (!), Over the Rainbow (yes, that one!) and Elegy for Dunkirk (from the film Atonement) are the musical equivalent of sweet pies with loads of cream on top of it. My god, I like it! But the most sugared piece of candy is beyond doubt track number 8, Nessun Dorma, yes indeed, the aria by good old Giacomo Puccini. But this is not Luciano Pavarotti singing, this is Jeff Beck on electric guitar! And believe me, this track makes me laugh and brings me to tears at the same time. Now how much music is there that makes your flesh creep? Bravo for Jeff Beck!
The guy invented instrumental rock, remember? Mostly with covers. I've only recently discovered that Cause we've Ended as Lovers, his signature track on his most famous record Blow by Blow, is actually a Stevie Wonder piece.
Beck wrote only two of the ten tracks here, and they are both excellent. His keyboard man Jason Rebello wrote some stuff, with the powerful There's no other me standing out. This track reminds me of Massive Attack, and is sung by Joss Stone, who sounds like a young Tina Turner here. Stone also sings on I Put a Spell on You, another cover of an oldie brought to life by this British gentleman of 66 years.
Need I say that Beck's guitar is a constant joy from beginning to end? Emotion&Commotion? Only 41 mintues, but never a dull moment.

By the way: the answer to the question in the previous post is yes. They are engaged to be married...

donderdag 2 september 2010

Reut Regev This is R*time

Women in jazz: it used to be a topic, because there weren't any, except for vocalists. But now we have dozens of excellent female jazz muzisicans: Matana Roberts, Ingrid Laubrock, Tineke Postma, Lotte Anker, Mary Halvorson, Sylvie Courvoisier, Regina Carter, Marilyn Crispell, Esperanza Spalding, Teri Lynn Carrington, Cindy Blackman (by the way: is she really Carlos Santana's girlfriend?)... They play saxophone, guitar, piano, violin, bass or drums and most of them are definitely part of the avant-garde jazzscene. But a female trombone player?
Yes, way back when there was Melba Liston, who did some nice work (also as arranger) for Randy Weston until she died in '99. But on the present jazz scene?
Well, be prepared for a nice suprise, because here comes Reut Regev! Don't be misled by the cover of her debut cd, that looks like a Christmas album (I've noticed that on the cover is slighty different...), because this is going to blow your mind. Regev is Israelian but has been living in New York for more than a decade now. That the likes Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris and Dave Douglas have employed her for tours or recordings, gives you an idea of what to expect.
But don't be afraid: this music is not the kind of hardboiled avant-garde some of these guys are famous for. This is R*time is very listenable indeed, with the music (all originals, some cowritten with drummer (and husband) Igal Foni) shifting between jazz, heavy rock (due to the excellent electric guitar of David Phelps), and both Eastern and African world music. This cd is really a joy from beginning till end.
The sound of Regev is very modern, a bit like Ray Anderson, but then more dry. She has definitely listened to a lot of trombonists. And she has a great band, with David Phelps on electric guitar, Brad Jones on acoustic and electric bass, and Igal Foni on drums. Percussionist Eddie Bobé guests on two tracks.

vrijdag 27 augustus 2010

Steve Coleman is back

Steve Coleman seems to be back at the forefront of the jazzscene, albeit with a new cd that was recorded almost four years ago. Maybe the explanation for his absence is the sad end of the French Label Bleu, for which Coleman recorded extensively the years before.
But the music of Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (on the excellent Pi Recordings) sounds very fresh, even if it had to wait a couple of years to be released. This is a totally acoustic outing, but nevertheless the musical atmosphere is very reminiscent of the funk of the electric version of Five Elements. Very dominant are the wordless vocals of Jen Shyu. Her voice is used as an extra instrument, and I can imagine some people will be irritated by the special flavour of it after a while.
Coleman's alto sax is liquid as ever with his bittersweet sound recognisable as ever. But the real star of the recording may be Tyshawn Sorey. He is beyond doubt the most talked about drummer of the moment, but even four years ago his style was spectacular, as proves this recording.
Bass player is Thomas Morgan (another young talent) and the excellent trombone of Tim Albright is also very prominent in the group sound.
The compositions are inspired by Ramon Lull, a Spanish writer and philosopher of the 13th (!) century,  with a special intrest for mathematic and statistics. Coleman's compositions may be structured according to his principles -  refers to it in the liner notes - and the music sounds indeed tightly structured. But hasn't this been Coleman's signature since many years?


woensdag 25 augustus 2010

Roscoe Mitchell and the Sound Ensemble

Roscoe Mitchell probably would file under the label 'freejazz', provided there are any cdshops left. I guess for many people (even jazzfans) their intrest would end right there. But why don't they listen to this little gem from 1980, Snurdy Mc Gurdy and her Dancin' Shoes, on the Nessa label.
The cover gives a clue: a beautiful young girl (Roscoe's daughter?) dancing or simply jumping around. This is going to bring some joy. Hell it does. The opener Sing/Song starts with the bowed bass of Jaribu Shahid, followed by the most beautiful trumpetsound of Hugh Ragin playing a nice line. What follows then is a frenetic shift of melodies, with a nice solo from guitarist A.Spencer Barefield and culminating in a joyful coda with a highly sensitive solo by Roscoe Mitchel himself on alto saxophone. In short: a brilliant opener.
The rest of the cd is equally brilliant, but quite different in feeling. CYP and Round are sound poems reminiscent of Roscoe's work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. March is a cover of an early Anthony Braxton-piece (tell me who would cover Braxton today?), hmmm, a march indeed.
But two pieces stand out, since they are unusually melodic for an avantgarde icon like Mitchell. On Stomp and the Far East Blues the band really rocks (Jaribu Shahid shifting to electric bass) and Roscoe plays tenor (exceptional for him), but the very same piece ends as a sonic exploration, a mood piece.
 The title tune is the second surprise of the album: what a joyful melody, with again Hugh Ragin shining on trumpet and Shahid, drummer Tani Tabbal and guitarist Spenser Barefield playing like a teenage rocking combo. But what an emotional altosolo by Roscoe!
This record is 30 years old and I had neglected it for many years now. But upon listening to it again, I can only conclude that it hasn't lost anything of its initial attraction to me. Enjoy it!
Roscoe made other records with the Sound Ensemble, worth checking out, but not as surprising as this one.

zaterdag 21 augustus 2010


Music is the best, Frank Zappa said. Well, it certainly brings profound pleasure, doesn't it? The purpose of this blog is to share thoughts about music. Mainly jazz, but - as you might have guessed - also assorted candy.
Yours Truly