Her Point of View (1997) by Olga Konkova

Categories: 1997 and Music.

Konkova takes aim at a number of jazz standards and reinvents them and makes them her own. She makes them sound of a piece with her own compositions. And this is what I like about jazz: fresh interpretations of old music so that it sounds more modern, with plenty of improvisation to go around. (As one critic noted, Konkova doesn’t introduce the melody and then improvise – she starts improvising on these standards from the get go.) Read More

The Lee Konitz Duets (1968)

Categories: 1968 and Music.

Konitz presents a series of duets, plus some brief solo playing a one full band track, that explore a wide variety of jazz styles available in 1968. Konitz is excellent throughout and the guests are all great (even though not all of them are as famous). It works really well as a survey of jazz right at the dawn of fusion – the possibilities of what could be accomplished in the music before electrification (and with only a touch of editing) but with very few instruments. Really great stuff. 9/10 Read More

Subconcious-Lee (1955) by Lee Konitz

Categories: 1949, 1950, and 1955.

Because it was released half a decade after it was recorded, this album’s revolutionary status gets overlooked or ignored. Instead it’s Birth of the Cool this and Miles Davis’ Nonet that. And that praise is deserved. Those sides went a long way to establishing cool jazz, but this band was doing remarkably similar things at the same time. The one major difference is speed – Konitz and the other soloists play fast on a number of tracks, and that makes it sound more like bop (though if you listen to the rhythm section they sound significantly “cooler”) and so you Read More

Royal Toast (2010) by The Claudia Quintet

Categories: 2010 and Music.

We’re at a time when all genres blend together and bleed into one another. This record is a perfect example of that: there’s music that could be jazz-influenced chamber music, there’s music that sounds freely improvised, there’s music that sounds like jazz, but also sounds like it was completely written in advance (and rehearsed a lot). The music itself ranges from quite pleasant chamber music to lively, intricate, windy jazz fusion type stuff (albeit with very different instrumentation than is usual for jazz fusion), to pretty free stuff. It’s a great combination of stuff, showing off the versatility of the Read More

It’s Hard (2016) by The Bad Plus

Categories: 2016 and Music.

This is the first Bad Plus record in a while to be all covers. On some level, maybe that’s a retreat to their “safer” (albeit polarizing) earlier sound, routed in familiar melodies. And yes, I think this could be considered “fan service” to long time fans who maybe miss the nearly complete exclusion of the thing that made them popular in the first place when they come out and play their (usually more challenging) original material. But I don’t really care. The Bad Plus have returned to the thing that made me love them in the first place. It’s something Read More

The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Vol. 2 (1955)

Categories: 1954, 1955, and Music.

This is another excellent set of straight forward bop from the era, featuring perhaps the greatest jazz trombonist of all time, and an excellent supporting cast. The history of this recording is somewhat confusing – released first as a 10″, then a year later as an expanded 12″, then this disc which combines the two releases. Regardless, it’s an essential companion to the earlier releases of this band and, with that record, probably sets the standard for trombone playing in bop. Read More

Jay Jay Johnson with Clifford Brown (1953) aka The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson Volume 1

Categories: 1953 and 2001.

This is some extremely solid bop featuring all around great playing from a great trumpet player, a decent tenor (also plays baritone, which is cool) and the man some consider the greatest jazz trombonist ever. Johnson doesn’t get as much time as the reissue title (or his role as leader) would suggest, but his solos are still good and he’s ably assisted by the other horn players. Nothing to dislike here, for sure. 9/10 Read More

Facing You (1972) by Keith Jarrett

Categories: 1972 and Music.

I don’t know if this is Jarrett’s first “spontaneously composed” solo piano record, but it sure sounds like it to my ears (even though it’s not live). Putting aside Jarrett’s claims about his process, I’ve always found his solo piano recordings of this type to be rather incredible. He manages to skirt between extremely inventive playing and simple, easy melodies (some that sound piratically new-agey or, in the case of the opening track, that sound stolen from a Christmas Carol). If Jarrett wasn’t so damned talented, this would be a bad thing. But he is such a creative, beautiful player Read More

Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 (1998) by Ahmad Jamal

Categories: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1998, and Music.

This is an excellent survey of the live music of Ahmad Jamal and his trio in the late ’50s and very early ’60s. Jamal’s playing is so far from Monk – to my ears – that it’s rather incredible. His individuality in that sense is rather fantastic. Monk utterly changed piano playing and it must have been extremely tempting to play either in Monk’s shadow or to go back to pre-Monk playing. Jamal manages to do neither. And you can see the rather huge influence he’s had on other pianists, particularly cool jazz pianists. (And there’s an interesting chicken-or-egg question Read More

Break Stuff (2015) by Vijay Iyer

Categories: 2015 and Music.

No, this is not a set of piano jazz covers of Nu Metal, yuk yuk yuk. Rather, it’s stuff about breaks in music, sudden breaks in playing, as it were. And it’s so refreshing to hear a pianist like Iyer who doesn’t sound like he’s stuck in the tradition. Sure, some of tracks sounds very much of the jazz piano tradition, and some of his solos and fills do too, but a lot more often he sounds like he isn’t really a pianist, he just happens to be playing piano. (And this makes sense as, apparently, he’s not a trained Read More

Grupo Irakere (1978)

Categories: 1976, 1978, and Music.

So much of what I’ve read about this band focuses on their Grammy-winning North American breakthrough, as if the first time North Americans heard this music was the first time it was really vital and worth listening to. And I do understand that distribution was a different beast in the ’70s, but still, it’s a little rich to tell everyone that the first album Columbia released by this band is their “best.” Anyway, I bring this up because, in searching for their North American debut, I found, instead, this gem, their second release. (Their North American debut was either their Read More

Epitaph by Charles Mingus, conducted by Gunther Schuller, Live at Walt Disney Concert Hall, May 16, 2007

Categories: 1957, 1958, 1959, 1962, 2007, and Music.

What the hell do we do with Epitaph? Epitaph is a “jazz symphony” Mingus assembled in the late ’50s and attempted (and failed) to perform in 1962. I say ‘assembled’ because it contains multiple other Mingus compositions that he recorded individually multiple times (and performed numerous times) and because it contains music inspired by and quoting other composers’ music. And one of the reasons he failed to successfully perform it in 1962 is because the piece is monumental (that’s usually the word used to describe it): 4,235 measures long, which sounds like an awful lot. (I’ve also read somewhere that Read More

Friends Seen and Unseen (2004) by The Charlie Hunter Trio

Categories: 2004 and Music.

This band plays pretty traditional jazz for the 21st century – sure, there hints of more radical stuff, including odd syncopation and some relatively out playing by Ellis. But, for the most part, this is pretty mainstream jazz., primarily rooted in the blues. What makes it more interesting is Hunter, who is a phenomenal player who manages to play both bass and rhythm or lead at the same time (on his custom guitar). Ellis’ range of instruments also helps create a wider variety of experiences for us. So this is basically just above average mainstream jazz. It’s good, but it’s Read More

Kelan Philip Cohran and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Categories: 2012 and Music.

This is some great, funky progressive big band stuff is more about the groove than it is about doing anything radical. The horn writing is really solid and the music The band (who I’ve never heard before) is joined by their father (seriously, I’m pretty sure he’s the father of most of the guys here…think I read that somewhere) as featured soloist. He’s an old Sun Ra player, and you can tell, as this album feels very much in that legacy (which is a good thing). This won’t change your life (unless you’ve never heard this style of jazz before, Read More

Meltframe (2015) by Mary Halvorson

Categories: 2015 and Music.

Halvorson’s first solo guitar album is everything I could have wanted: radical re-interpretations of famous and not-so-famous tracks from jazz’s past – from all over that past, actually – played in her signature style which, in this case, at times borders on the volume of hard rock, and, at other times, can be quite peaceful. For me, she continues to be the most interesting jazz guitarist I’m currently aware of and I continue to look forward to all her ventures. 8/10 Read More

Synovial Joints (2015) by Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance

Categories: 2015 and Music.

Though Coleman has been making music for my entire lifetime, I only came upon him about half a decade ago, thanks to one of his solo albums, the excellent Invisible Paths. And now, confronted by this strange amalgam of many different ideas from the jazz tradition, and which pairs supposedly spontaneously improvised sax lines (and other solos) with a string quartet, Latin percussion, and other unexpected instruments, I find it rather hard to contain my enthusiasm. This record reminds me, at times, of Mike Westbrook’s Citadel/Room 315, not in how it sounds, of course, but in how it seems to Read More

Azimuth (1975) by Azymuth

Categories: 1975 and Music.

I have a problem. For the last 18 years or so, I have been keeping track of what music I want to listen to. The list is now gigantic. But that’s not my problem. I know I will never listen to everything on the list. It’s an aspirational list not a practical one. The problem is that I didn’t track [i]when[/i] I added particular albums to the list. So I might have added something last year or 17 years ago. And the problem with that is my tastes have changed. (I would say they’ve matured.) And so some of the Read More

The Missing Link (1979, 1984) by Fred Anderson

Categories: 1979, 1984, and Music.

Anderson apparently got lots of exposure in the ’60s as part of the AACM but never got an album as leader until this one, and then this wasn’t released for five years. Listening to this music, it’s hard to understand why that was. Anderson plays relatively straight-forward (and often slower) lines for a “free jazz” saxophonist, and the title appears to allude to the space he seems to have found between traditional blues saxophone and free jazz. Like a number of free players, he seems interested in connecting free with tradition, rather than just trying to explode are traditions. But Read More

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman

Categories: 2015 and Music.

I saw these guys just the other night and found them significantly more traditionally jazzy than a few years ago. With Redman, they appear to be forced into playing more conventionally. That’s not to say that this is all that conventional jazz, but they do seem to stay far more within tradition this time around. That’s not a bad thing: they move from post bop so ballad-heavy and melodic it’s borderline cool to moments that are borderline avant garde. Most of the rock influence appears gone, but it’s not a bad thing that they are changing their tune this far Read More

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman Live at the Wintergarden Theatre, Toronto, Occtober 15, 2015

Categories: 2015 and Music.

The last time I saw the Bad Plus they blew me away. But with Joshua Redman they are significantly more jazzy. Far more within the tradition than I was expecting. It’s not that their old music wasn’t within the tradition – jazz musicians have been covering non-jazz songs since jazz began – but their older, rockier music was decidedly difficult to pin down, even if it was, at times, more accessible than much contemporary jazz. With Redman, they are far, far more of a conventional jazz group than they used to be. I don’t mean that in a bad way Read More

Prism (2013) by Dave Holland

Categories: 2013 and Music.

This is some pretty excellent jazz fusion. Before I get to the album, I must say that I am embarrassed to admit that, all this time, I just though Kevin Eubanks was Jay Leno’s band leader for 15 years or whatever, and that’s it. And here he is, shredding. Huh. Holland mostly stays out of the way of his soloists, and that’s to his credit. And when he does solo, it’s a nice contrast to decidedly more fusion guitar solos and keyboards. The compositions are strong: knotty things that show off the abilities of all involved, and which lack any Read More

Piano Man! His Greatest Recordings (1995) by Earl Hines

Categories: 1928, 1929, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1945, 1995, and Music.

This is collection of 25 recordings featuring Earl Hines – solo, leading his orchestra, with Armstrong, Bechet and some other, less famous bandleaders.  It jumps around a little too much… The title track appears to be the 1939 “Piano Man” (there are four, confusingly) and it’s more of a celebration of Hines’ legend than anything else. It’s basically the overture here. “Fireworks” is an absolutely classic Armstrong Hot Five from 1928. On a track like this you can hear why Hines was known as “Fatha” (when he gets his solos). “Skip the Gutter” is another Hot Five from the same Read More

Point of Departure (1965) by Andrew Hill

Categories: 1965 and Music.

This is an aggressively “avant” post bop / hard bop (and modal!) album that skirts the edges of bop so much that you could almost mistake it for free (even though it is decidedly not). The compositions are ambitious, as is the band itself (substituting flute and bass clarinet for sax at types). And the solos are as out there as possible without going quite so far as to be completely free. It’s great stuff. It’s certainly dense stuff too, and it might take me a few more listens to fully decide what I think about it. But it’s hard Read More

Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I need to see hyped movies either right away or years later when I’ve forgotten about them. Inevitably, whenever I see a hyped movie after I’ve been inundated by hype but before I’ve forgotten the hype, I am disappointed. I understand that this film is not supposed to be realistic but something about this really bugs me. I don’t think a teacher like this would ever be tolerated. A band leader maybe…maybe in the ‘50s (Mingus was supposed to be like this). As a bit of a jazz snob, I find all of this preaching about how you can be Read More

RIP Ornette Coleman

Categories: 2015 and Music.

I am not the man to write an obituary about Ornette Coleman, but what the hell, I’ll try to tell you what he meant to me anyway. If you don’t know him, Ornette Coleman ostensibly invented free jazz, that is the style of jazz that abandoned the previous rules of jazz and embraced free improvisation (i.e. doing whatever you want). Initially, this was just in the solos, deviating from the conventions of the genre which said you had to stay in certain ranges and keys during your solo. Coleman’s early quartet, fearturing him on alto (a plastic one!), Don Cherry Read More

Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (1992) by Joe Henderson

Categories: 1992 and Music.

People are weird. Apparently Henderson toiled in relative obscurity for decades and then one day, in the early ’90s, people lost their shit over him, though stylistically he is, you could argue, a pre-Trane player, or a least one who never followed Trane through the door when Trane finished removing the frames around it. So, the good: Here are some imaginative covers of Strayhorn’s work, many of which rethink the originals in new and exciting ways. The band clearly reinterpret the music; they are not content, like so many others, to replicate the tracks and just change up the solos. Read More

Ken Burns Jazz (2000) by Fletcher Henderson

Categories: 2000 and Music.

This is a decent one-disc compilation of Fletcher Henderson’s big bands, which are more notable for the featured performers than for anything Henderson did (with an exception or two). Like all single disc compilations of a productive artist, it doesn’t give us the greatest picture of his work. But what it does function as is an interesting little introduction to the changes that large jazz ensembles went through between the early ’20s and 1940. And that’s pretty cool to hear with a band led by the same guy. That’s probably the main reason for picking this up over the separate Read More