The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra (1968)

Categories: 1968 and Music.

Let’s put aside the ridiculous title for a minute. This is one of those ’60s efforts to try to bring free jazz into more conservative musical traditions. At least in conception, it reminds me a little bit of the [i]Symphony for Improvisers[/i]. There was definitely a group of musicians in the ’60s who wanted to use the language of the past to claim greater authority for their free jazz experiments. This one is pretty successful, the solos are about as out there for 1968 as you could imagine and even the band playing is pretty nuts at times. But the 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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn Babylon (2012) by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Categories: 2012 and Music.

FYI, I haven’t seen the accompanying visuals, so this is a bit like judging a soundtrack without seeing the film. Alas…I don’t believe this is actually jazz, though it is clearly heavily influenced by jazz (I figure much if not all of it is written out ahead of time) but that really doesn’t matter. This is a great album, even without whatever narrative is supposed to be conveyed by the visuals, especially for lovers of big bands. There is a lot going on here, almost too much to take in after only a few listens. There are numerous ideas and 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

A Single Sky (2009) by Dave Douglas, Jim McNeely, Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Categories: 2009 and Music.

This is pretty close to as good as it gets for orchestrated jazz. Some of the writing for the horn section is not merely outstanding but downright bonkers. The soloists are all pretty great, in addition to Douglas. The only thing keeping me from giving it high marks is that I know this is not exactly the most mind-blowing idea ever. It’s not like no one’s ever done this before. Still, the quality is pretty ridiculous and it is stuff like this that makes me want to perhaps exaggerate how great Douglas is as a leader. He can seemingly do Read More