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

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

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

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

Popsicle Illusion (2000) by Joanne Brackeen

Categories: 2000 and Music.

Brackeen’s playing is accomplished and encompasses multiple styles. She incorporates much of jazz piano history into her style: at times she almost hearkens back to ragtime but she is fully capable of playing as avant garde as anyone else. Her cover of “Michelle” is the best jazz version of it I’ve ever heard and everything else here is strong too. Great stuff, and I’ll need to check out her other records. 8/10 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

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

The Door, The Hat, The Chair, The Fact (2006) by Ben Goldberg

Categories: 2006 and Music.

I love klezmer jazz – perhaps a little too much – and whatever the stuff that I refer to as ‘post free’ actually is. And this has both. Goldberg has written a fine set of tunes with features for every member of his band and there are opportunities for some strong unison playing as well. I always like it when composers / bands strike this balance; the balance between solos and ensemble playing that I feel is essential to most (but not all) great jazz. Goldberg stands out as an excellent clarinetist, and a composer who both understands how jazz Read More

Illusionary Sea (2013) by the Mary Halvorson Septet

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

Halvorson first came to my attention nearly a decade ago as a member of Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant. At the time I was absolutely blown away by her playing. But due to my somewhat expansive music tastes it has taken me this long to seek out one of her sets as leader. I think there is always an irrational fear that someone who is such an exceptional performer – is she the best guitarist in contemporary jazz? – will not be a great composer. There certainly seems to be an idea within the jazz tradition that great composers write well Read More

The Bad Plus Live at the Wintergarden Theatre, December 12, 2013

Categories: 2013 and Music.

I only knew the Bad Plus from their jazz covers of rock songs and I actually was completely unaware that they were doing their own material for some time. No matter; this band is incredible. I can’t decide who was the most impressive: their drummer was totally awesome – using his small kit in some really interesting ways and really making each “chorus” different from the last; the bassist was restrained much of the time but could really play when he soloed or filled. And the piano player, who I thought might have made a bum note or two, was Read More

Time and Time Again (2007) by Paul Motian

Categories: 2007 and Music.

I’m not sure I really have words to say how much more I like this second Motian-Frisell-Lovano collaboration than the first time out (this century). That felt to me like a re-hash of some cool cliches (for the first half anyway) and the whole thing just felt like it was dwelling in another decade. This is a lot fresher, a lot freer, a lot more interesting (to my ears). I still find Motian to be an impossibly busy drummer and I suspect that, were it not for Frisell and Lovano, that might drive me crazy. Frisell almost seems to inhabit Read More

Live (1991, 1995) by Bill Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, Joey Baron

Categories: 1991 and Music.

I think this live album embodies everything I think post-modern (or post-Hendrix) guitar playing should be: Frisell is all over the place within the same songs, throwing out all sorts of different techniques, tones, effects, styles totally arbitrarily. But he is just such a good player, and the band is so locked in behind him that it doesn’t matter that he does what he wants. This is what I want to hear: a talented guitarist doing whatever he wants, seemingly on whim. And when he returns to the song, the band play as if the song – rather than Frisell Read More

The Elephant Sleeps but Still Remembers (2006) by Jack DeJohnette with Bill Frisell

Categories: 2006 and Music.

I’m not really sure I understand this. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of using live tracks as the basis for studio tinkering – I’m not, some of my favourite prog rock was made this way. I just don’t always understand why it’s done. In this case, it feels like the “additional production” was added to give this set a greater unity, that it severely lacks. DeJohnette is clearly a talented guy, and I appreciate the attempt to do everything, but here he and Frisell are trying too much and not succeeding at enough. The studio touches feel Read More

Have a Little Faith (1993) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 1993 and Music.

This is one of those albums that is perhaps even more radical and important than it sounds – in fact it really doesn’t sound all that radical. Frisell and his band take on Americana, but they take on a very expansive definition of Americana: a Copland ballet – a sacred cow at that – some Ives, Dylan, Muddy Waters, Sonny Rollins, John Philip Sousa, traditional American pop, Stephen Foster!, John Hiatt…and Madonna!?!? And the rather incredible thing about it – after the incredible idea that all of this is on the same musical level – is that it sounds all Read More

Block Ice and Propane (2007) by Erik Friedlander

Categories: 2007 and Music.

I feel like there is nobody who can touch Friedlander on the cello; he is the cellist of note in this day and age. And though that statement may merely speak to my musical ignorance, and not to Friedlander’s true stature – or lack thereof – I still think a record like this demands attention in terms of how we think of the instrument (even if it isn’t quite a solo cello record). Friedlander demonstrates the full range of technique – at least that I am familiar with that is possible on the instrument – and he has assembled a Read More

History, Mystery (2008) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2008 and Music.

There is a part of me that wants to go a little overboard on the acclaim here, and I think the only thing holding me back is something I always nitpick over: some tracks are performed by the bull band, and some are not. That’s pretty stupid of me, but I can’t help myself. So that aside…This is an incredible instrumental survey – almost an non-narrative or anti-narrative – of numerous genres from the United States and around the world that manages to be blended into one long sometimes-cohesive-sounding musical statement. It’s incredible and I should think it one of Read More

East / West (2005) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2005 and Music.

More like West / East. For some reason Frisell seems to have switched the dates around, so that we encounter the newer, harder set first. And that’s not a bad thing. Though both sets show it off to some degree, it is the “west” set that, to my ears, is one of those great statements of the wondrous possibilities of post-free jazz. Frisell and his band make music that both questions and adds to tradition, and there is a healthy influence of minimalism as well, at least in the longer pieces. The “east” set is more subdued and more in 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 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

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

It seems that finally some British jazz is getting its due after being completely ignored by American critics for ages and ages. And hopefully South African (or, in this case, South African and British) jazz will also get its due. Regardless of where this band came from, they are incredible. They same able to do anything and everything that constituted “jazz” in 1971. Some of their music could have been written in the previous decade (or maybe even earlier) while other pieces sound as out there as anything the avant garde was doing in the US at the time. (One Read More

United Front: Brass Ecstasy Live at Newport (2011) by Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstasy

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is what a live album should be. The playing is way more out there and way more intense than the studio stuff this band has made, and it’s the better for it in many ways. It’s too bad the set isn’t any longer because I could listen to this all day. Fantastic. 9/10 Read More

Masada Quintet Featuring Joe Lovano Plays Masada Book Two: Stolas: Book of Angels Volume 12 (2009)

Categories: 2009 and Music.

Despite the semi-ridiculousness of the title and concept (a band formed to play a songbook plays part of a songbook, but this is also part of another series name after a book etc) I must say I love this. Zorn’s Klezmer Jazz is, for me, one of the more interesting post-free, post-fusion areas of exploration. I can’t say that I have heard the original (or alternate – what have you) versions of these pieces, but these performances work for me. And though I may be giving the whole thing too much credit – this is hardly the first time we’ve Read More

Invisible Paths: First Scattering (Tzadik 2007) by Steve Coleman

Categories: 2007 and Music.

I like to think of these as sax sonatas but not in sonata form but since Coleman isn’t of that tradition. I guess that’s sort of a silly thing to do. The thing that’s pretty amazing about this is that this music sounds forward, but the vast majority of it isn’t particularly out there, it’s just that his melodies are awfully complicated (they take a few listens to get). Yes, he sings some notes (and a few bars of one) and he occasionally uses his instrument for percussion, and there’s the odd squeal or honk, but for the most part he is Read More

Dirty Baby by Nels Cline (Cryptogramophone 2010)

Categories: 2010 and Music.

A soundtrack to an art exhibition is certainly an interesting / odd concept. I like the possibilities even though I don’t know anything about the actual installations. The first disc actually stands alone as an album. I don’t really need to know anything about the art to appreciate the music, though it is neat to imagine it being played on continuous repeat as people toured the exhibition. It shows off Cline (and his larger than usual band) as a little more varied than usual. He comes across as a little more of a composer than merely my current favourite guitarist. Read More

Why it’s good when bands break up or have lots of side projects…

Categories: Music.

In the CD player: King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime by FNM (yes, I know…) I was just thinking, it’s amazing the number of other bands and artists and various other people I’ve been exposed to because of one band I really like. For example: Mr. Bungle I don’t really remember why I first bought their debut album. Certainly, I think I was fairly young. I must have bought it for “The Girls of Porn.” Anyway, not only did the album significantly expand what I thought could be considered music (they’re more chaotic than prog rock…) but I Read More