Monday, January 3, 2011

Jazz is not dead, and neither is this blog.

Nope, I'm still out here...I've just been waiting for the right moment to stage my triumphant return to blogging. Is this it? Or will this just be a New Year's Resolution gone wrong? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I'm listening to Tony Williams' Spring, which sounds pretty darn brilliant. Wayne Shorter AND Sam Rivers? Almost too good to be true. The tunes are very loose and free, allowing for some really expressive playing by all involved. "From Before" is a personal favorite, with its ominous opening that ultimately leads into some melancholy yet adventurous piano playing from Herbie Hancock. Tony of course sounds great as always, particularly on his solo piece "Echo" which showcases his crisp sound and endless reservoir of ideas. He understands space, dynamics, and structure in a way that most drummers just don't. Rounding out the superb quintet is Gary Peacock on bass. I always particularly appreciate hearing Herbie in a free-ish setting like this where he really gets to throw out the rulebook. It's something he doesn't do as often on his own records, and I love it. Check out Sam Rivers' Contours for some similarly great work from him (and Sam, of course).

More to come, I promise...! :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Got Chops?

Recently I got to see an advance screening of a new documentary called Chops. It follows a group of students in a Jacksonville, Florida high school jazz band through their discovery of jazz and ultimately to the "Essentially Ellington" competition in New York City, where they face fierce competition against other high school jazz bands from around the country.

As a product of jazz education myself, I found a lot in the film I could relate to, but I think anyone interested in jazz, or in documentaries in general would enjoy this film. It actually reminded me of the movie Spellbound, which chronicled the journey of several teenagers competing in the National Spelling Bee.

It's refreshing to see a group of kids like this who are so dedicated and feel so passionately about what they're doing, especially when it's art form that so many say is dead. These kids are inspiring. And damn, they're good! The film does a great job of conveying the sense of excitement they have for this music. It made me want to pull out my instrument and some records, and to remember what that excitement was like for me when I was that age-- that excitement that we all tend to lose a little bit of as we get older.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and highly recommend it for jazz lovers and documentary lovers alike. If you have had any sort of jazz schooling you will probably find even more in the film that resonates with you. Whatever the case, you will end up rooting for these kids, and will ultimately realize that jazz and improvised music are alive and kicking, and in good hands.

You can learn more about the movie, and even sign on to attend or host a screening by visiting the Chops website.

Here's the trailer:

Chops Trailer from B-Side Entertainment on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jazz Recordings That Are Out Of Print But Shouldn't Be, Part 2

Monty Alexander/Ray Brown/Herb Ellis - Overseas Special
Ornette Coleman - Of Human Feelings
Chico Freeman - Spirit Sensitive
Jim Hall & Red Mitchell (Artists House)
Elmo Hope Trio
David Liebman - Trio + One
Ken McIntyre -
Stone Blues
Jackie McLean - Rhythm of the Earth
Sam Rivers - A New Conception
Archie Shepp - Fire Music

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dave Holland Quintet - Jumpin' In

This record was my introduction to Dave Holland. At the time I had been playing electric bass for about 6 years and was just learning how to play upright. I heard Holland's solo on the title track and it just about blew my head off. I had no idea you could play an upright bass like that. Just on a technical level it sounded to me like what he was doing was damn near impossible. But there was much more to it than that: not only was there an incredibly brilliant logic behind what he played, it was loaded with emotion and depth.

But that's just Dave Holland the bass player. Dave Holland the bandleader creates an open and fertile environment here for everyone to communicate and would probably be quick to tell you that this is not his show. Steve Coleman is on alto sax and flute, Kenny Wheeler on trumpets, cornet & fluegelhorn, Julian Priester on trombone, and Steve Ellington on drums, and they sound like old friends here, quickly exchanging stories, and a joke here and there. This is clearest in the collective improvisations, and there are many of these througout the record. The album is dedicated to Charles Mingus and his spirit is clearly present.

After opening with the raucous and free-form "Jumpin' In" (again, take note of the jaw-dropping bass solo as previously mentioned), we settle into "First Snow," a beautiful tone poem that truly sounds like its name. It occurs to me that you could play this tune for someone who isn't an avid jazz listener and they would still immediately get it. To me that's the sign of great music. All of the compositions here are Holland's with the exception of Steve Coleman's "The Dragon and the Samurai." It opens with a slightly twisted, sedate march feel and a unison line from the bass and trombone, until trumpet and saxophone enter with a somewhat mournful melody that fits right into the cracks. "Sunrise" is another Holland composition that describes its title in musical terms, and does so with stunning beauty. The closing "You I Love" is a clever melody written to the changes of Cole Porter's "I Love You" and it's a perfect ending to a perfect album.

The problem I have with some new jazz recorded in the last decade or so (and I won't name any names) is that it is all cerebral and technical with little to no real emotion and nothing to say. The Dave Holland Quintet was brilliant in that it managed to be cerebral and emotional at the same time. Not as easy as you might think. There is a palpable mood and feel to this record that is hard to capture in words, but it is definitely an emotional thing rather than a technical feat. Jumpin' In is a great place to start with these guys and is my personal favorite from this period (1983-84), but I would also highly recommend Seeds of Time and The Razor's Edge. Slightly different personnel on those, but outstanding records as well.

Visit Dave Holland on the web.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Blog: This Day In Jazz

Several years ago I put together a website that listed jazz recordings in order of the date they were recorded. I did this primarily for myself first, as I had searched for quite a while for a site like this and much to my surprise I could never find one. I thought it would be a cool idea to have them organized like this so I could easily check the list and pull out a record to listen to on the exact date it was recorded. Of course, this doesn't always work out perfectly, as some records were recorded on multiple days and you don't always know which tunes were recorded on which days. Still, frustrated that something like this didn't exist, I decided to put it together. The site has been up for a while at and I know several jazz DJs who use it to program their shows. I've now decided to turn it into a blog as well, so that people can subscribe to the feed, or check the site every day and see what was recorded on that day. Here it is:

This Day In Jazz


Bobby Hutcherson - Medina

This is my favorite jazz recording. Actually, it was originally two separate sessions: the CD reissue of Medina includes another wonderful album called Spiral from the same period and with the same killer line-up: Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, Harold Land on tenor sax and flute, Stanley Cowell on piano, Reggie Johnson on bass, and Joe Chambers on drums.

For about a year this CD didn't leave my player at all. For me, it's the perfect combination of incredible musicianship, innovative compositions, and emotion. This band clearly played a lot together and they're communicating on a level that I can only compare to Miles Davis' band from the 60s with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. Not that it sounds anything like that group, but the same spirit of adventure is there. As I mentioned, the compositions are excellent and the band takes liberties with them, finding freedom within the structure.

In my opinion, this album contains some of Hutcherson & Land's best work on record. Harold Land's burning tenor solo on the title track "Medina" is alone worth the price of admission. Not to mention the creative, forward-looking playing of Stanley Cowell and the fluid yet solid drumming of the great Joe Chambers. Joe is a gifted composer and contributes the incredible title track and three others: "Ungano," "Spiral," and "Ruth," one of the catchiest tunes I've heard in 11/4! Other highlights are Cowell's "Wedding March," Hutcherson's "Avis" and the stunningly beautiful "Visions," and Land's quirky and brilliant "Poor People's March."

Like all great recordings, this one is out of print (shame on you, Blue Note!) and the CD now fetches collector's prices. But don't hesitate to pick it up if you find it!