Rituals of Getting Acquainted

With the Brit avant-garde, rust-belt saxophone, Braxton standards, Dylan standards

Pick Hits

AMALGAM
Prayer for Peace[1969]
FMR

The authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz have a soft spot for the English avant-garde of their youth. Their highest rating is a crown, which they reserve for a few personal favorites: 74 in the seventh edition, out of more than 13,000 records surveyed. Yet they give crowns to six English jazz albums from 1968-72—a famous one by John McLaughlin and five others unlikely to be known by any non-obsessive. They are interesting records—that's why the Guide is so essential—but this one stands out. The sound has amazing presence, the bass hugging you while the drums ping off your bones and Trevor Watts's alto sax cuts right through you. When he shifts from the dirgelike intro to full metal screech you can feel the earth move, but the record never flies out of control and never loses its touch or its humanity. A classic, but who knew? A

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TRIAGE
American Mythology
Okka Disk

Sharp ears have pointed out that some of the most exhilarating sax on recent Vandermark 5 albums has come from Mars Williams's replacement, young Dave Rempis. He studied under Vandermark and is similar in tone and logic, but Rempis is, if anything, the more polished player. Where his Quartet album, Out of Season (482 Music), is full of promise but awkward, this trio with bassist Jason Ajemian and V5 drummer Tim Daisy is a tour de force. One example: "Rust Belt" starts with creaky percussion, develops through an unaccompanied soprano lament, then breaks open with a drum solo and pumping alto sax: the bustle of Chicago jazz emerging from the ruins of the steel industry. A

RAOUL BJÖRKENHEIM/LUKAS LIGETI
Shadowglow
TUM

Improvised guitar and drums, sometimes prepared, sometimes something else (tri-sonic steel guitar? electric viola da gamba? Chinese tam-tam?). Each piece is built around a trick, perhaps an exotic rhythm Ligeti picked up on his African travels. But Björkenheim doesn't just tease odd sounds from his axes: He knows his power chords, and forges his lines with a deeply metallic tone. A MINUS

ANTHONY BRAXTON
23 Standards (Quartet) 2003
Leo

Four CDs is overkill for others but with Braxton it's just a ritual of getting acquainted. His catalog is so huge that keeping up is impossible. One thing you can lose track of is what an extraordinary musician he is, but standards provide a handle to hear him by and proven melodies to exploit. On his recently re-released Charlie Parker Project 1993 (Hatology) the point seems to be to leave Bird in his dust, but here he takes everything at a nice leisurely pace: The pieces average over 10 minutes, leaving ample time for guitarist Kevin O'Neil and a rhythm section that, well, swings. A MINUS

CLAUDIA QUINTET
I, Claudia
Cuneiform

John Hollenbeck's pieces are all rhythm and tone: the former from drums and vibes, the latter from accordion and clarinet, all pastel-colored instruments that tend to blend together. The music doesn't swing, but it doesn't aim for minimalist repetition either. The pieces build up from basic patterns, evolve, and mutate: From such simple rules strange complexities emerge. A MINUS

DENNIS GONZÁLEZ INSPIRATION BAND
Nile River Suite
Daagnim

González acts locally but thinks globally. After teaching mariachi at a Dallas high school, he moonlights making avant-jazz records with no discernible folk elements other than a core belief in the magic of the universe. His theme here is the ancient river of civilization: The Nile runs through New York; the Nile runs through my heart; the Nile runs through us all. Featured is Rip Van Winkle bassist Henry Grimes, fit as his fiddle. Also inspiring are Sabir Mateen and Roy Campbell Jr. A MINUS

FRANK HEWITT
We Loved You
Smalls

Hewitt was one of countless guys who spent their lives playing in obscure dives, never lucking or bulling into the spotlight. For nine years up to his death in 2002 he worked and sometimes lived at Smalls, an after-hours club in NYC, garnering fans like Luke Kaven, who founded this label to right the wrong that Hewitt had never released a record. It's easy enough to guess why biz pros passed: Their ideal pianist is a young guy with a distinct edge—a Brad Mehldau or a Jason Moran. Hewitt sounds warm and comfy, like someone you'd cast for atmosphere before cutting back to the plot. But because he never gets corny or sentimental, he cuts himself a distinctive niche after all. A MINUS

JEWELS & BINOCULARS
Floater
Ramboy

Bob Dylan's lyrics and voice so dominate his songs that you rarely notice that they have melodies. Michael Moore, Lindsey Horner, and Michael Vatcher did, and set about exploring them, tapping a lyric fragment from "Visions of Johanna" for their group name. They've struck real Americana here: bits of folk, blues, and gospel that waft through the air on the light breeze of Moore's reeds—mostly clarinet. The first, Play the Music of Bob Dylan, is more experimental with more obvious songs. This one is more methodical. Both: A MINUS

MYLAB
Mylab
Terminus

If a jazz auteur can play orchestra, why not computer? Producer Tucker Martine and keyb man Wayne Horvitz started with samples of old folk melodies, then built up these musical tableaux by adding whatever struck their fancy—banjo and viola, sax and flügelhorn, church organ and electro blips, but mostly rhythm, supplementing Martine's beats with Bobby Previte's drums. A MINUS

CHRIS POTTER QUARTET
Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard
Sunnyside

Potter's studio albums have always been too slick and too complex. Perhaps too conservative, too. But put him in a club with an all-name quartet and the songs stretch, the solos spread, rough spots break the pace, and chops overcome the damage. This may be why jaded fans swear the only real jazz is invented on the fly. I don't buy that as a rule, but Potter needed some way to take the shine off and let his talent hang out. A MINUS

STEVE REID
Rhythmatism [1976]
Universal Sound

Not the fusion drummer. The one who did studio work for Martha & the Vandellas, James Brown, and Fela before drifting into avant-garde obscurity, mostly with Charles Tyler, and recording four DIY albums in the late '70s. His groove on this one is irresistibly snappy, but the main reason for noticing is a wild and woolly Arthur Blythe, in peak form shortly before his major-label debut. A MINUS

LISA SOKOLOV
Presence
Laughing Horse

When she opens up on "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" you are reminded not of dewy sunshine but of what Robert Jungk dubbed "brighter than a thousand suns"—something that envelops you in radiation and kisses your ass goodbye. She follows that with "You Do Something to Me" and "Chain of Fools"—the "ch-ch-chain" torqued up as in "ch-ch-chainsaw massacre." Her own songs are filler, but her covers are so audacious that she's found a new dimension for jazz singing: shock and awe. I've never heard anything like it—not even Sokolov herself on Gerry Hemingway's delectable Songs (Between the Lines), where she hews to the twisted contours of the music. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET
Eternal
Marsalis Music/Rounder

The front shows an isolated waterfall, the sepia tone leached of all natural color, far removed from the urban world of Buckshot LeFonque. The back cover shows Branford on the lonely end of a garden bench, looking bored out of his fucking skull. The record starts slow and pretty, then slows down, then slows down some more. Built around band originals, it isn't really a "ballad book"—just a personal meditation album, or a marketer's idea of one. It isn't inept, but this playa was meant to have fun, like on A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam. Here, he doesn't. B MINUS


Additional Consumer News
Honorable Mention

E.S.T.
Seven Days of Falling
215 Records

Scandinavia's Bad Plus, raised not on Nirvana but on Blur and Oasis, the weltschmerz articulated as texture.

SCOTT HAMILTON QUARTET
Live in London
Concord

He makes tenor sax seem like the easiest thing in the world to play.

YEAH NO
Swell Henry
Squealer

The Claudia Quintet's flip side, with Chris Speed working back from the textures instead of forward from the beats.

PATRICIA BARBER
A Fortnight in Paris
Blue Note

Crashing the keyboard, challenging the White World, speaking French.

GREG WALL
Later Prophets
Tzadik

The folklore around Ezekiel's bones sets the table, but sax transcends ancient roots.

NILS PETTER MOLVAER
Live: Steamer
Sula

Molvaer plays trumpet, but the samples, the loops, and the vinyl DJ Strangefruit abuses are why he matters.

RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA
Mother Tongue
Pi

But isn't the real mother tongue Coltrane? And isn't Vijay Iyer its Tyner?

JACOB YOUNG
Evening Falls
ECM

Norwegian guitarist runs the backcourt, sets up plays for trumpet and bass clarinet to score.

HENRY GRIMES TRIO
Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival
Ayler

The sound doesn't favor the return of Ayler's long-lost bassist, but David Murray and Hamid Drake do.

GORKA BENÍTEZ
Sólo la Verdad Es Sexy
Fresh Sound New Talent

Warm sax is sexy—not that there's anything wrong with truth.

JESSICA JONES QUARTET
Nod
New Artists

Family values: Wife and husband play tenor sax, and let their kids, who aren't ready for the AACM yet, sing one cut each.

THE FLIP PHILLIPS QUARTET
Live at the Beowulf [1977-78]
Arbors

One reason they don't make 'em like they used to is that all the JATP jousters have passed on.

JIM BLACK
Habyor
Winter & Winter

Rock band plays modern jazz with chameleon reed man Chris Speed—dense and skewed.

EVAN PARKER
The Snake Decides[1986]
Psi

Amazing harmonics and modulations within the stark limits of solo soprano saxophone.

JACOB FRED JAZZ ODYSSEY
Walking With Giants
Hyena

Badder than the Bad Plus, but that's because they cheat with gadgets to project the bass like a horn.


Duds

MILES DAVIS
Birdland 1951
[1951]
Blue Note

FRED HERSCH ENSEMBLE
Leaves of Grass
Palmetto

MOUNT ANALOG
New Skin
Film Guerrero

MARIA SCHNEIDER ORCHESTRA
Concert in the Garden
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