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

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

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

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

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

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

Swiss Movement (1969) by Les McCann, Eddie Harris

Categories: 1969 and Music.

The myth-making goes to hilarious extremes in the liner notes – with the writer denying the band had ever played together before this date before then detailing how they played together before the date – but that’s something that’s quite common to jazz (and to music in general) and this band still sounds fantastic for a band that hadn’t rehearsed much (and which was tackling a song they just learned that day). McCann’s band brings the soul jazz and Harris (and Bailey, to a less extent) bring the modern sensibility. This is a strong record because the marriage of two Read More

Colors of a Dream (2013) by Tom Harrell

Categories: 2013 and Music.

This is a surprisingly bold “modern jazz” recording, featuring two basses, three horns and plenty of competing influences – more progressive post bop, R&B via Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, and some other things. Though it is absolutely mainstream jazz, it has a lot going on, more than I was expecting. When I read about Harrell I was worried I was getting into something I wasn’t going to like. But I find myself pleasantly surprised. This is a unique record that manages to sound not that much like the mainstream which it is firmly part of. 7/10 Read More

Family (1995) by Roy Hargrove

Categories: 1995 and Music.

This albums starts out a lot cooler than what I’m familiar with from Hargrove. But by the third track it gets hot again, briefly, which is, for me, a good thing. On the plus side, Hargrove is writing all his own music now, instead of relying on standards and other tunes which have been done to death (and often done better). But he is still stuck in this worship of the very old which makes him so much less interesting than someone like Dave Douglas, at least to my ears. His band is arguably stronger at this stage than it Read More

Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Our Time (1993)

Categories: 1993 and Music.

This record should really be called the Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Another Time or the Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Our Parents’ Time. I didn’t know Wynton had discovered Hargrove; had I, I wouldn’t have borrowed six of his cds from the library. Oops. At the time of this record’s release, Hargrove was 24. But his guests: Griffin was 65, Henderson was 56, Turrentine was 59; only Brandford and Redman are of Hargrove’s generation. And it’s notable that the elders here are all pretty much pre-Trane tenors. (Yes, they were his contemporaries but they never Read More

Camouflage (2004) by Acoustic Ladyland

Categories: 2004 and Music.

Coming at an artists backwards is always a big of an issue. Not only as it’s sort of unfair to the artist – we get our notions of what the artist sounds like when they are “mature” and try to apply that to their early work – but also as it’s unfair to the listener, often, because we don’t have a chance to grow with the artist, to learn from whatever journey they’re on. For example, I had no idea Acoustic Ladyland actually started out as an acoustic band performing Hendrix covers. I mean, I did know that intellectually, but Read More

Jim Hall and Pat Metheny (1999)

Categories: 1999 and Music.

I am not a fan of Metheny, though I’ve never really given him a chance beyond his debut. But I like Hall, now that I know him. And the two fit really well. Someone made a point about how the improvisations sound as “organized” as the standards and originals, and its kind of true. And that’s very impressive. And I like that Metheny keeps switching up his instrument so it keeps things from getting too monotonous, but they do anyway. That’s the one criticism: despite their clearly distinct styles, the whole thing manages to sound rather blah over the course Read More

Live! (1976) by Jim Hall

Categories: 1976 and Music.

Jim Hall is an excellent guitarist. I had never heard him before, but he’s fantastic. And, on this date, he’s backed by a great band, again made up of two guys I don’t know. And they are excellent as well. And the whole thing is fantastic. But I can’t shake one feeling, and that is that this record was made in 1975 and this is absolutely, totally bop. (Well, if I’m being honest, I guess it’s post bop, but you get my meaning.) And it’s the mid seventies. And he’s doing his thing, and his thing is great, but it’s Read More

Songs We Know (1998) by Fred Hersch and Bill Frisell

Categories: 1998 and Music.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. I am not familiar with Hersch, but I am now very familiar with Frisell and I am sort of awed at how conventional this all is. Pretty much every song in this set has been done to death by various jazz bands throughout the last half-century or so. And the question for me is, why record them again? I know the answer, it’s because they wanted to. But that’s not enough for me. For the most part these don’t really go anywhere you wouldn’t expect, and though there are moments of Read More

This Meets That (2007) by John Scofield

Categories: 2007 and Music.

The title is indeed apt: this is an eclectic record, covering all sorts of styles. And that is all well and good. But it leaves me wanting something a little more. I feel like this is pretty mild-mannered – almost polite – eclecticism. Everything is tasteful and well-executed but there’s nothing here that shocks me or moves in the way that it should. I don’t feel particularly compelled to write anything about it, which is probably everything that needs to be said about how I feel about. 6/10 Read More

I Have the Room Above Her (2005) by Paul Motian

Categories: 2005 and Music.

It must be an absolute thrill for musicians – even musicians as well-traveled as Frisell and Lovano – to play with a musical legend. I can imagine that a set like this is probably a personal highlight. But Motian seems stuck in another era. That makes sense, I mean Motian earned his fame from that era, but personally I don’t want to listen to 21st century jazz that makes me think it’s the ’60s. That may be slightly harsh – Frisell and occasionally Lovano sometimes remind me that I am not listening to an old jazz record with spectacular sound Read More

Out of the Cool (1961) by the Gil Evans Orchestra

Categories: 1961 and Music.

I have this strange issue where I claim to absolute love jazz and the spirit of jazz – and therefore improvised music – and yet I can really get excited about orchestrated / arranged “jazz”, something that potentially can be the polar opposite of the “spirit” of the genre in the wrong hands. It’s really hard to know where to draw the line, especially on a track like “Where Flamingos Fly”; was that solo written completely by Evans? If so, is it still jazz??? But such concerns are silly and unnecessary. Regardless of how it was created, this is a Read More

The 1960 Birdland Sessions (1992) by the Bill Evans Trio

Categories: 1992 and Music.

As much as this contains some pretty great music from one of the era’s greatest piano players, I have to think it is only worthwhile for devotees. The music is great but the sets are short – and there is a great deal of repetition between them – and there is an absolute ton of background noise. It doesn’t really take away from the pretty awesome music, but it is distracting. 8/10 Read More

Out Front! (1965, 1994) by Jaki Byard

Categories: 1965 and Music.

I must say I was at least a little interested to see what Byard would do on his own as I am a big fan of his work with Mingus. And so far I can’t say I’m all that impressed. This is, for the most part, very traditional stuff for 1965. The covers are pretty standard and most of the originals are attempts at reviving past jazz genres. There is a variety of those genres, which keeps things from getting boring, but it is still safe stuff. And the fact that he plays with different combinations – and even includes Read More

Monterey ’66 (1966, 1994) by Randy Weston

Categories: 1966 and Music.

This is an entertaining set that fails to distinguish itself among the more radical jazz of the era. That being said, the set contains great showcases for Booker Ervin – which shouldn’t come as a surprise – Big Black and Lenny McBrowne – who really surprises on “Afro Black” – as well as the leader. These moments are spread throughout what is otherwise pretty run of the mill post bop with “African” influences. The closer is the best thing here and the one time the band really sounds out there.  Solid, but it won’t change your life. 7/10 Read More

Far East Suite (1967, 2003) by Duke Ellington

Categories: 1967 and Music.

This is a great piece: it’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s remarkably varied and it does sort of feel like a grand statement. But I can’t help but feel like it’s a statement made 3/4s of a decade too late. Though Ellington’s ability to make himself relevant again and to build upon people who built upon him – there is a definite Mingus influence here – is remarkable, there is also the fact that jazz musicians had been flirting with far more radical “eastern” influences for some time. I am thinking specifically of Trane but also the severely under-appreciated Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Read More

Dusk (2000) by Andrew Hill

Categories: 2000 and Music.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but at first I was a little disappointed by this. I guess I was expecting it to be a little more out than it already is. But I have moved passed that and realized that attitude was a little silly. This is very solid stuff, but it doesn’t exactly change how I think or feel about this type of music. I like it, I appreciate it, but I’m looking for something to grab me a little bit more in 2000. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means. It’s very good, it’s Read More

The Gate (2011) by Kurt Elling

Categories: 2011 and Music.

Full disclosure: I do not like vocal jazz. I don’t think most of it qualifies as “jazz” – or at least doesn’t have enough jazz elements to qualify as jazz – to really warrant serious attention. But I have heard Kurt Elling is different.Things appear to get off to a good start – so I think – with the King Crimson cover. Unfortunately, it sounds pretty much exactly what I would think a “pop jazz” cover of early ’80s King Crimson would sound like, which is not a good thing. But the record definitely improves from there: Elling shows some Read More

The Traveller’s Tale (1990) by Marty Ehrlich

Categories: 1990 and Music.

This is a really inventive and interesting album that helps develop the sound of ’80s “New York” jazz (for lack of a better term). It’s certainly as accessible as anything “avant garde” could be. It’s interesting how there is a very faint hint of Klezmer but for the most part it is more of a tinge than an obvious reference point. 9/10 Read More

Ezz-thetics (1961) by George Russell

Categories: 1961 and Music.

Too avant garde really to be post bop but too obviously bop / modal (too often) and too traditional to be truly considered part of the “new thing” (i.e. free), this one really defies categorization. But that’s okay. The playing is excellent on all accounts and this sort of feels like a direction a lot of modern players are attempting – post bop that is aware of, and inclusive of free – despite the fact it was released in ’61. Pretty wonderful stuff. 10/10 Read More