Saturday, November 15, 2014


Left to Right: Jansch, Thompson, McShee, Cox, Renbourn

In the late 1960s' there were a number of British folk musicians with wandering ears who began to incorporate other musical styles into their versions of traditional tunes.  Most, like the people who came to make up the bands Fairport Convention and Steeleeye Span,  brought in the electric thump of rock and roll.  One group, however, opted for the fluidity of jazz, Pentangle.

Pentangle formed around 1966 or 1967 with five members who came together from different directions. Bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox were part of the British blues-jazz scene, guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were acclaimed folk players, Renbourn more traditionally oriented and Jansch leaning more towards the blues, and vocalist Jacqui McShee sang in folk clubs. Together they had a uniquely supple sound with Thompson and Cox providing a frisky bottom, Jansch's and Renbourn's guitars bobbing and weaving in the middle and McShee's angelically high voice, with its occasional blue inflections, soaring above all.

The group's repertoire included traditional folk songs, American blues, original numbers and even, on their album Sweet Child, a couple of Charles Mingus jazz compositions that gave Danny Thompson the chance to show his stuff.  This is another of their jazzier tunes, "I Got A Feeling".  As Jansch hints, the tune is swiped from one of the best, Miles Davis' "All Blues".

Pentangle had a good run as a popular group in England, even scoring a hit single in 1969, "Light Flight".  They broke up more or less amicably in 1973, with everyone going off to solo careers.  They reformed a few times since then in various formations with other musicians.  In 1995 McShee actually had a band that went out as Jacqui McShee's Pentangle but from what I've heard of them, they had a bland New Age-y sound with none of the snap or fun of the original.

The original five did get together again in 2008 to play live and record again and they sounded just fine.  They continued on intermittently until Bert Jansch died of cancer in October 2011, and as far as I can tell, that brought a permanent end to Pentangle.  The music is still around though in the form a number of releases of live and broadcast recordings as well as their original records.  They had a fleet, relaxed groove unique even within the experimental crucible of the 60's British folk movement with a blending of voice, guitar and rhythm nobody else matched.

Here are more samples of their work. First, a TV performance of "Travelling Song" and "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" from 1968 that highlights McShee's and Jansch's vocal blend and also shows how much Thompson and Cox brought to the band.

This version of the traditional "House Carpenter", featuring Renbourn on sitar and Jansch on banjo, shows the Indian influence that also crept into their music.

The only thing I can say about this is that it's bloody amazing.

Finally, two versions of their hit "Night Flight", the first from a 1970 BBC appearance and the second from 2008 after their reformation.  38 years dimmed very little of their talent.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Return To Saturn

Mr. Ra

In the realm of jazz, there has never been anyone else quite like Sun Ra.  He was born Herman Blount in 1917 and his first substantial musical gig was working as an arranger and pianist for the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in the late 40s.  Somewhere in his early life Blount began to draw ideas together from science fiction, history, archeology, philosophy and other disciplines, and combining that with advanced musical concepts he worked on, he emerged as Sun Ra, visitor from the planet Saturn and leader of a big band he called the Arkestra whose music was a dazzling collage of Harlem nightclub swing, show tunes, blues, free jazz screaming and avant-garde concepts, including one of the first uses of synthesizers and electronic keyboards..  The band dressed in homemade costumes with capes and headdresses, danced on stage and played hair-raising, energy-filled music that sounded as futuristic as a spaceship soaring among the planets. His song titles alone sounded they had come from old science fiction pulp magazine: "The Satellites Are Spinning", "The Second Stop Is Jupiter", "We Travel The Spaceways", "Where Is Tomorrow?" "Strange Celestial Road", and "Angels And Demons At Play" being some of the more colorful ones.  Ra left this world in 1993 but the Arkestra has carried on without him. At first it was led by the group's legendary tenor player, John Gilmore, but when he passed, the reigns were handed to alto player Marshall Allen who still leads the band to this day.

This year marks Ra's centennial and for the occasion, a group of DC jazz promoters and enthusiasts got together and turned Halloween weekend into a Sun Ra festival with concerts and lectures by various folks keynoted by the Arkestra itself performing at the Lincoln Theater on Halloween night. This was not your average concert. I came out of the subway across the street from the theater an hour before things started and was lucky enough to catch the Arkestra parading down the street to the Lincoln chanting and playing and giving the usual U Street partygoers something different from the usual Halloween revels.

Inside the auditorium, on the movie screen in back of the stage (The Lincoln was once a movie theatre.) Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, a 1980 documentary on Ra, was playing as the audience filed in.  The show itself began with a large group of black women in colorful Afro-futurist regalia slowly marching down the theater aisles holding up a big picture of the great man while one of them slowly intoned "Raaaa!".  The music started with an improvised duet by local saxophonist Brian Settles and drummer Jeremy Carlstedt. Then Dr. Tom Porter read Amiri Baraka's introduction to a book of Ra's poetry accompanied by keyboard legend Bernie Worrell on synthesizer.  Then, since it was Halloween and a number of folks dressed for the occasion, a brief costume contest was held.

Finally the Arkestra came out resplendent in their usual brightly colored garb and tore into a fiery set of romping big band music full of the dancing fire that had always sparked the band's most thrilling moments.  They were enhanced by the presence of three female dancers who came out occasionally, shimmying, shuffling, break dancing, and gliding to the ferocious grooves. The dancers, like everyone else on stage, were dressed in spectacular party gear with veils and capes but there was one curvy lady with gold-braided hair and a gold top and pants whose moves seemed to defy both the laws of gravity and the human anatomy.

This version of the Arkestra is a combination of older and younger faces but it is no mere ghost band.  They still play this music, including some of Ra's most familiar tunes, like "Rocket Number Nine", "Saturn" and "Space Is The Place" with amazing energy and heat.  I don't know the names of most of the current members but as always, there is Marshall Allen.  Allen joined Ra back in 1957 and is now 90 years old. It would be a gross understatement to say he plays well for a man his age. He is playing extraordinarily for a man half his age, bellowing cascades of freakish notes out of his horn like fireworks.  His solo on "Cocktails For Two", alternating the screaming with smooth, old-school melody, was amazing.  He also played an EWI wind synthesizer, an electronic instrument that can sound horribly cheesy but which Marshall turned into a portable theremin,  using it to create booming and swooping effects which fit right into the band's cosmic cacophony.

Bernie Worrell added his funkified keyboard squelching to a couple of numbers and "Space Is The Place" served as the backdrop for a fashion show displaying the works of a local clothing designer who had actually made capes for Ra in the past.  The show ended with the band playing the grand, swooping waltz, "Love In Outer Space" as they left the stage and marched through the aisles before going backstage.

Sun Ra's universe is a bit eccentric for some tastes but he has come to be generally recognized now as a visionary musician and philosopher who created a towering body of work that merged the past and future of jazz.  His influence has been passed down to many and the musicians who are currently in the Arkestra carry on his cosmic message impressively.

For those of you not familiar with any of this music, here are some video samples:

First, part of an interview with Ra that shows bits of his philosophy. This was done in Helsinki, Finland in 1971 and is interspersed with clips of the band in performance:

Then the Arkestra makes a very rare appearance on American television in 1989 on the show "Night Music".  Marshall Allen takes the first sax solo and the second is by John Gilmore, an influence on John Coltrane:

Finally a bit of the current-day Arkestra led by Allen.  They are doing "Angels At Demons At Play" at a 2012 festival in Poschiavo, Switzerland.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce (1943 - 2014)

When I woke up this morning, I never dreamed I'd be writing the above words today. I just heard that Jack Bruce, one of my favorite musicians, has passed away.  I discovered him through the band Cream in 1970,  about the time I really discovered rock music in general.  I loved his playing and singing on all the Cream albums but then I bought his first solo LP, Songs For A Tailor, and that became my entry point to an entire new world of British jazz-rock through investigating the musicians who backed him there, like Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum and Chris Spedding of Nucleus.

With his lyricist partner, poet Pete Brown, Bruce wrote a number of excellent songs over the years.  The best known, of course, were the Cream hits, "White Room" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" but others like "Rope Ladder To The Moon" and "Theme For An Imaginary Western" have been kept alive by various other musicians.  What I loved most about Bruce is that he was always willing to experiment. He would turn up in all sorts of situations,  usually with musicians who were as eager to explode boundaries as he was.  He was one of the lead vocalists on Carla Bley's epic concept album, Escalator Over The Hill, participated in many of the jazz-Latin-rock-funk stews cooked up by composer Kip Hanrahan, played with Frank Zappa in that brief period when FZ was making Top 10 records, and was one of the members of the pioneering jazz-rock band, The Tony Williams Lifetime.  His own records could explore blues, big band jazz and fusion or just be an excellent collection of rock songs. For all his experiments though, every few years he seemed to go back to the exhilarating format of a guitar, bass and drums trio jamming out alongside guitarists like Leslie West, Vernon Reid, Gary Moore and Robin Trower, which seemed to inevitably lead to getting back together with his Cream mates, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, to play reunion concerts in 2005. Just last year he was joining heavy hitters like Reid, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman-Santana in a Lifetime tribute band, Spectrum Road.

Bruce had an expressive voice that could croon romantically or bark with fury. His music was deep, fiery and magical.  I started looking around for clips of him to post and I was very surprised to see how many different contexts and bands he appeared in.  Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised at all. I apologize in advance for the quality of some of these clips, but a few are so rare I had to include them, no matter what.

First, "There's A Forest" from 1980. Jack's band is Clem Clempson on guitar, David L. Sancious on keyboards and Billy Cobham on drums.

This is Jack with one of Kip Hanrahan's overstuffed, rhythm-heavy ensembles live in 1985 at Washington, DC's 930 club.  I know this show well because, believe it or not, I was there. The other musicians include Andy Gonzalez on acoustic bass, Milton Cardona on percussion, Arto Lindsay and Steve Swallow on guitar and John Stubbefield on tenor sax. This video is in two parts.

Here's Jack on piano doing "Theme From An Imaginary Western".

And for something completely different, this is Jack singing the dark music of trumpeter-composer Michael Mantler, specifically a setting of the Edward Gorey story, "The Hapless Child":

At the 930 concert mentioned above, the band encored with a certain song Jack played many times back in his Cream days. In fact he probably played it thousands of times in his career with almost every group he played with.  Here it is in its most familiar form, performed by Bruce, Clapton and Baker at the 2005 Cream reunion concerts:

Jack Bruce, R.I.P.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ran Blake

It's probably safe to say that there is no other pianist in the jazz world who sounds quite like Ran Blake.  His music is all about atmosphere, a combination of melancholy, uncertainty and shadows that bears only passing resemblance to conventional jazz piano.

Blake was born in Springfield, MA in 1935 and began his musical career in the late 1950's in New York City.  In 1959 he met educator and composer Gunther Schuller who became his mentor and introduced him to the concept of Third Stream Music, a hybrid genre that draws equally from the worlds of jazz and classical music. Schuller helped get Blake a position teaching at the New England Conservatory and he eventually became the Chair of the Third Stream Department, a position he still holds though the school's name has changed to the Contemporary Improvisation Department. Blake has taught and influenced many musicians, like Don Byron and Matthew Shipp, in that capacity.

In addition to all this he has enjoyed a long performing and recording career playing music that draws from inspirations like European folk music, gospel, classical and film noir as well as classic jazz sources.  His playing is measured and deliberate, single, icy notes alternating with dissonant chords and rich bursts of melody.  This creates a musical universe of woozy darkness that creeps along with the dread of an Edgar Allan Poe short story.  Here is he working his magic on "Over The Rainbow".

Blake has always worked in small configurations, mostly solo or duo with saxophonists or vocalists though of late he has been working with a guitarist, David "Knife" Fabris.  In the sax world, he has worked with melodic, big-toned players who contrasted well with his sparse frameworks such as Clifford Jordan, Houston Person, Ricky Ford, Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton. The vocalists though have been his most memorable foils.  The sound of a haunting female voice singing against Blake's dissonant chords is mesmerizing.  Over the years he has worked with singers like Christine Correa, Dominique Eade, Sara Serpa and Chris Connor but his landmark statement came in 1962 when he recorded the album The Newest Sound Around with socialist Jeanne Lee.  Lee's husky, powerful voice was the perfect compliment to Blake and their work together still sounds like nothing else even after all these years.

This is a rare 1963 clip from French television of Lee and Blake performing "Something's Coming" from West Side Story.

And this is a more recent piano-voice pairing with the Portuguese-born Sara Serpa. The song is Blake's composition, "Vanguard".

Blake's repertoire over the years has come from everywhere, film themes, traditional gospel, folk songs and the Great American Songboook.  He has recorded full-length ttributes to George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Horace Silver and select compositions of jazz legends like George Russell, Stan Kenton and Ornette Coleman. He's also recorded many of his own pieces over the years, none more haunting than "The Short Life Of Barbara Monk".  During his early days in New York Blake hung around Thelonious Monk quite a bit to the point where he actually baby sat for his two children, Barbara and T.S.  Barbara died of breast cancer in 1983 aand afterwards, Blake wrote a composition based on a dream he had of her ice skating  as a child.  That piece sounds like a theme from a lost film noir, sweet and childlike but filled with an uncertain dread.  This version is from an album on the Soul Note label named after the piece. It's the only record I've ever seen where Blake recorded with a full quartet. Ricky Ford is the hard-nosed tenor saxophonist.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Julie (Driscoll) Tippetts

Julie Tippetts, jazz vocalist

A lot of musicians shift their approaches over their careers but Julie Tippetts changed her music far more than most.  In the 60's she was one of Britain's leading pop singers. In the decades since she's been one of the pillars of the British avant-jazz community.


Julie Driscoll, pop singer
Tippetts, one of my all-time favorite singers, started her musical career in 1963 under her maiden name, Julie Driscoll, and by 1965 she had joined Steampacket, an r'n'b band that included Long John Baldry and some guy named Rod Stewart as her co-vocalists and Brian Auger on organ.  When that group broke up she joined Auger's new trio, Brian Auger and the Trinity.  From the period 1967-1969 this group was very popular with Driscoll also working as a model and actress.  Driscoll was blessed with a voice unlike any other female pop singer of the period, a forceful siren wail indebted to Nina Simone and Bessie Smith.  Matched to Auger's wild, expressive organ the group had several big hits covering songs by major rock musicians of the time like Donovan ("Season of The Witch"), Bob Dylan, ("This Wheel's On Fire") and Richie Havens ("Indian Rope Man").  Here is a live TV performance from the band of David Ackles' "Road To Cairo" including a German host doing his best Dick Clark imitation.

In 1969 she left Auger to pursue a solo career but on her own she went in a different direction, leaving the pop songs behind for self-written material that merged folk with progressive jazz as shown on her solo records, 1971's 1969 and 1974's Sunset Glow. This is "Those That We Love" from 1969.

Travelling in these circles she met up with jazz pianist Keith Tippett and began to contribute both vocals and lyrics to his groups like the improvising quartet, Ovary Lodge, and the 50-piece jazz-rock orchestra, Centipede.

Eventually Driscoll and Tippett were married and as Julie Tippetts, the singer has continued to work in the jazz/improv field for the last 40 years, performing with her husband in various small and large groups as well as working with others like pianist-composer Carla Bley, saxophonist Martin Archer, fellow free vocalists Maggie Nicols and Phil Minton and the free improvisation group, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble.  She's also made occasional returns to the rock world, a reunion album with Brian Auger in 1978 and a collaboration with Working Week, a politically progressive rock-soul-jazz band in 1984.  In 1992, she even re-recorded her old hit, "This Wheel's On Fire" as the theme song for the TV show Absolutely Fabulous.
Today she is recognized as a major figure in the European jazz world, her slinky, elastic voice immediately distinctive whether chirping over her husband's tinkling piano or blasting over a roaring big band.

This is a clip of the Tippetts performing in 2007 with saxophonist Paul Dunmall.  I apologize for the fuzzy visuals but this was the best clip I found to display the range and expressiveness of Julie's voice.

And this presents the Tippetts along with South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo and an Italian big band, Canto General, performing an excerpt from the Centipede magnum opus, "Septober Energy".  Keith wrote the music and Julie wrote the lyrics. The soprano sax player duetting with Julie is Roberto Ottaviano.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Time Enough At Last

I've been keeping this blog going since 2007 and frankly, I've done a pretty half-hearted job of it to this point.  My major problem has been that my job sucked up the majority of my energy and time to the point where I was only sporadically focused enough to write anything of substance here.  The few times I was ambitious enough to try a series of posts I could never get it together to get very far.
At the end of August that excuse went away.  I retired from my job back then and now, as Rod Serling once put it, I have "time enough at last" (and hopefully my glasses won't break).

So what now? I've been thinking over the past few weeks about just what I want to do with this blog.  I want to continue what I've been trying to do in various forums for a long time,  tell the world about all the cool and fascinating artistic things out there that fly under most people's radar.  I plan to keep writing about whatever interesting music, films, and TV shows I come across but more regularly and in depth than I've been doing,  no more just throwing up YouTube videos like I was doing a few years ago.

My main love is music so that's what I plan to concentrate on.  I want to write about people from every genre I know, not just jazz and deal with what I know and love about their work.  There will be the occasional movie and TV show mentioned but I won't be trying to write about every one I see. I honestly don't have that strong an opinion about some of them.  For the record though here are all the significant ones I've seen in theaters, on Netflix and from other sources since Nymphomaniac Part 1 back in April:  Under The Skin, Locke, The Romantic Englishwoman, The Past, I Want To Go Home, The Hurt Locker, Make Way For Tomorrow, Juan Of The Dead, Scarlet Street, Snowpiercer, Barry Lyndon, The Hunt, Raw Deal (1948), Tokyo Decadence, Proof (1991),  Wish Me Away, Concussion, A Most Wanted Man, The King's Speech, Glenda (AKA Snake Dancer), Calvary, The Tall Target, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, The Big Combo, Heat Lightning, Sexual Chronicles Of A French Family, On Approval, The Drop, Frances Ha, Compulsion (2013).

To go along with the rebirth of this blog, I've decided to give the look a major overhaul.  You should now be seeing a complete redecoration with new colors, pictures and even a new title.  Since I'm now going to explain everything I talk about I'll start there. "The Real Folk Blues" is the closing title theme to the celebrated Japanese anime series, Cowboy Bebop, a noir-science fiction-comedy-drama blend with an amazing and varied Miami Vice like rock and jazz score by composer Yoko Kanno.  The phrase "real folk blues" actually comes from a series of albums Chess Records did in the 60's that repackaged the early recordings of their top blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf for a white college audience clamoring for authentic folk music.  Beyond all that, the Bebop song is a stone killer.  Here it is...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Youn Sun Nah

I still haven't officially restarted this blog yet, but like last weekend I just saw a show that I have to write about:

Youn Sun Nah in action

So there I was Saturday night going through the Fall Arts Preview Section of the Washington City Paper not thinking I'd see much of interest coming over the next few months that I didn't already know about.  Then I turned to an ad for the Howard Theater and read the listing "Youn Sun Nah - Ulf Wakenius Duo, Sept. 14".

Now most people wouldn't have paused at that but I did an instant double take.  I knew the name. Youn Sun Nah is a Korean jazz vocalist well-known in Europe and her native country whose work I knew and had been listening to just a few days ago.  I had no idea she was doing a US tour, let alone stopping in DC. Once I gathered my senses I realized that the 14th was the next day, so I instantly 86'ed any other plans I had and schlepped my way to the Howard Theatre Sunday afternoon.

I thought the show might be sparsely attended since this is a singer completely unknown in the US but my aging brain overlooked a couple of facts. One,  Washington, DC is the capital of the United States and has a lot of buildings called "embassies" and  something called a State Department where a lot of folks who are from other countries or know foreign cultures work.  Two, this area has a sizable Korean population, much of it concentrated in Fairfax County where I live. Suffice it to say the theater was packed.  In fact I now count myself lucky that I was able to walk up to the box office 45 minutes before the show started and buy a ticket.

The concert itself was great.  Nah has a remarkable voice that ranges from a low growl to a roof-shaking soprano and her repertoire includes folk songs from all over the world,  rock songs, singer-songwriter tunes from the likes of Randy Newman and Jackson C. Frank and a standard or two.
Her lone accompaniment was her long time musical partner, Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius who played an amplified acoustic guitar with sensitivity,  speed and dexterity that matched the storms and calms of her singing.

On record Nah is impressive but live she's amazing.   She whispered a version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" 180 degrees different from the iconic Johnny Cash treatment but just as affecting and sang "My Favorite Things" as a lilting lullaby accompanying herself on thumb piano.  At the other extreme when the music got loud, it boiled over.  Nah went from a rapid-fire scat duet with the guitar to hair-raising banshee wails on Wakenius' flamenco-flavored "Momento Magico".  The British folk song "A Sailor's Life" was a fierce blend of rocky guitar and Nah's powerful British-style plain singing which electronic enhancement turned into a chorus of voices at one point.  "Ghost Riders In The Sky" (!) was a riot of glassy slide guitar with a touch of Ennio Morricone by Wakenius while Nah's singing went from a Joan Jett-like growl on the verses to an operatic soprano on the chorus.  After all that she ended with a simple and touching rendition of a Korean folk song that was warmly appreciated by the mostly Korean audience

Youn Sun Nah is a remarkable talent, a fearless singer who can either coo softly or raise her voice to extremes of pitch and volume, yet still sound melodic and human within that range.  She is a star in Korea and Europe with good reason. It would be nice if someday she got that kind of acclaim here among us non-Korean-Americans.

Here are a couple of videos of her work. First, "My Favorite Things"...

And Metallica after a major makeover...

Monday, September 8, 2014

My All Jazz Weekend

I'm still in the process of figuring exactly how I want to revamp this blog but in the meantime I wanted to get down my impressions of all the music I saw this weekend:

I retired from my job on August 29 and although I didn't plan it that way I ended up celebrating  after a fashion by seeing live music all this weekend, something I wouldn't have dared done while I was working.

Friday I went to a concert in  the Capitol Bop DC Jazz Loft series, something that's been going on for a couple of years but which I had never attended before at their home base in DC's Northeast market/warehouse district.  The lead performer was Todd Marcus, a bass clarinetist who plays that instrument with amazing facility and skill and led a quartet that also featured a fire-breathing saxophonist in Gregory Tardy.

The eye opener for me at that show though was the opening act, pianist Dwayne Adell who was amazing. Adell plays with astonishing speed and dexterity in a style that combines stride bass, classical ornamentation and gravity coming off like some mad cross between Art Tatum and McCoy Tyner.  His hands flew along the keyboard at 100 miles an hour with improvisations that seemed incredibly complex but always had weight, drive and logic to them.  Even more impressive he chose to do this on mostly standard fare like "Stella By Starlight" and a Jobim bossa nova from Black Orpheus. The man's playing was scary.

Saturday I went to the Rosslyn Jazz Festival, an outdoor event that usually comes up with one or two acts every year that I want to see.  This year the heat was so intense I couldn't hang for the whole show but I did manage to see Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra,  a unit of New York players that plays the music of jazz bands from the 20's and 30's.  They dig deep into the repertoire unearting pieces by the likes of Tiny Parham, Fess Williams and Don Redman and play the work with modern panache and a touch of anarchy coming from banjo player Brandon Seabrook and a tuba player and violinist whose names I didn't catch.

On their most recent CD the orchestra went up the timeline a bit and played "novelty" pieces from the 30's and 40's by composers like Raymond Scott, Reginald Forsyth and Alec Wilder.  I was a little disappointed that they didn't pull out any of that work live but what they did play went down nicely.

That brings us to Sunday and a show I had been circling ever since I heard about it months ago, the
Laubrock and Rainey
Ingrid Laubrock Quintet at Bohemian Caverns.  Laubrock is a German-born player who spent a few years as part of the London scene before moving to New York.  I'd seen her twice before in groups led by Anthony Braxton and Kris Davis and was impressed both times by her mastery of all facets of the tenor saxophone.  Here she was the leader and her composing turned out to be ferocious as her playing.

The group consisted of herself on tenor sax, Tim Berne on alto sax, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba and Tom Rainey on drums.  Laubrock's work uses a wide spectrum of sound ranging from high-pitched squeals to static low drones.  She often broke down the band into subunits of two or three with the two saxophones bubbling together or Gerstein blaring and roaring all over Rainey's endless carpet of rolling rhythms, something he created as often with his bare hands as his drum sticks.  Berne played lovely flowing lines with his usual energy,  Peck was constantly keeping the bass part going and Gerstein made hair-raising sounds, especially when he attached a reed to his trombone mouthpiece and made very un-trombone like wails,  but the most commanding figure was Laubrock herself.  She has a unqie way of playing that utilizes barks, whinnies and other wild sounds, sometimes even taking off the entire tenor mouthpiece and blowing right into the metal horn.  She particularly sounds simpatico with Rainey, who it so happens is her husband.  Their rattling and thumping sounded like a hailstorm.  Then in the middle of all that sturm und drang she laid back and played a stretch of lovely pure melody thsat sounded like the sun coming out after a downpour.

The first set was taken up completely by a suite that traveled all over the place and the second had some bits of time playing, ending up in a parade march rhythm playedjmostly straight by Rainey and the brass while the saxes flew around frantically throwing monkey wrenches into the groove.

Ingrid Laubrock is one of the most exciting composers and saxophonists around today and Tom Rainey is a criminally underrated drummer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Public Notice



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Look On My Works, Ye Mighty..."

I haven't written about Breaking Bad in a while but I started watching the final episodes when they came to Netflix. I've just watched  the third to last show, "Ozymandias"...

I know that "binge watching" where you devour a entire season worth's of TV episodes in a day or two is the thing these days, but if anyone could watch that program and merrily race ahead to the last two episodes, they have no soul.

This series is full of gruesome and shocking scenes of violence but one of the most gut-wrenching moments just concerns a simple phone call.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Story Of ()

Let's get one thing straight. Director Lars Von Trier is completely barking mad but in a good sort of way.  You have to be out there to conceive of a three-hour version of the Brecht-Weill song "Pirate Jenny" filmed on a bare stage like his Dogville or present the end of the world as positively as he did in Melancholia.  I've just seen the first half of his latest opus, Nymph()maniac. I don't know yet if the entire thing matches up to his most audacious feats like Dogville, Breaking The Waves and Melancholia but so far it's in the ballpark.

The film opens on a woman named Joe who lies beaten and bleeding in a city alley. A man named Seligman finds her and takes her back to his small apartment to heal, rest and get something to eat. While there, she starts telling him the story of her life, which has been mostly about a quest for physical pleasure since she was a little girl that has led her to sleeping with innumerable men without having any real feelings for them. As Joe talks she keeps telling Seligman what a terrible person she is for doing these things stories but he persists in seeing the rational and positive side of her lurid tales.

The film does contain nudity and explicit sex but not as much as some of the publicity would lead you to believe.  At heart it's a conversation between two modes of living, an orderly, cultured life and one driven by natural instincts. In their discussion  they begin to realize that Joe's life of random sexual adventure does have underlying order to it and their lives have something in common.  Von Trier covers this ground while weaving in strands on nature, the Fibonacci Sequence, fly fishing, Edgar Allan Poe and Bach's organ music.

The film actually reminds me a bit of Louis Malle's My Dinner With Andre which was similarly a conversation between someone who had led an adventurous, globe-trotting life and someone who was content with order and monotony but with a lot more nudity and genitalia. Joe's stories play out in flashback and tilit widly between wild comedy and stark drama as befits the subject matter. In one of the most intesne sequences, one of Joe's married lovers suddenly shows up at her door ready to move in but his wife (played by Uma Thurman) and their three kids come right behind him and cause a commotion that quickly goes from soap opera parody to raw drama.  The section where Joe spends time with her father in a hospital watching his mental deterioration as he dies is pretty brutal as well.

Von Trier is totally on his game here and makes this tale totally compelling.  Stellan Skasgaard is convincingly objective  and compassionate as Seligman and Charlotte Gainsbourg has a chilling matter of factness as storyteller Joe. Her younger self in this part is played by Stacy Martin who runs a broad gamut of emotions from despair to joy to numbness. This half ends with Martin screaming " I don't feel anything" as the one man she seems to love plows into her.  Then some brief scenes from the second part play alongside the credits which promise the film getting even wilder and darker. I cannot wait to see  Volume 2.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stalker (1979)

(I've been doing a lot of recalibrating in my life the past couple of weeks but I'm now back to blogging for a while...I hope.)

There was something of a kerfuffle in the movie critic world in 2011 when Dan Kois, a writer for the New York Times, did a piece about on how some films are "cultural vegetables", meaning people watch them because the critical establishment tells them they are worthwhile and enlightening, not because they are enjoyable in any sense. One of the films he criticized in his piece was Stalker, a 1979 Russian science fiction film by director Andrei Tarkovsky.  I've just seen this movie and honestly, I have no idea what the man was talking about.  Yeah, it's long and brooding  but to me it was a deep and compelling film that went by faster than its supposed 165 minutes.

It is set in an unnamed country where some years earlier something from outer space landed in an wooded area and transformed it into an overgrown wilderness full of traps and false trails that was since cordoned off by the authorities and named the Zone. In the center of this place exists a room that will grant anyone who walks in their fondest wish. The central character is a man who makes his living taking people on trips into the Zone and guiding them through all the dangers to reach that room . The film follows one particular trip he takes with a professor and a writer who have different motives for entering the Zone.

First of all the film looks beautiful.  The scenes in the everyday world are in sharp, almost tactile black and white that gives a sense of the oppresive weight and dirt in this landscape. Then when things shift to the Zone, the movie apes The Wizard Of Oz and changes to color, not overly bright but a darker, muted color that fits the overall mood of the story.

There is a constant mood of suspense through the trio's journey conveyed largely by the guide's wary demeanour. He has the haunted yet resigned look of a man who's seen dreadful things happen to others in this place and is trying not to become its next victim.  Then about two-thirds of the way through the picture, something completely unexpected happens which turns everything we've seen to tht point on its head and presents the entire story in a different light. Near the end when things seem to have settled into their new pattern, another surprise occurs which turns the tale in yet another direction and wipes away any thought of easy resolution.

Stalker is really a debate about faith and scepticism cloaked in a science fiction plot with people who believe in the fantastic set against those who don't want to dream. Its slowness presents an aura of creeping dread that really draws you in  and holds your attention without relying on dead bodies or special effects to keep the suspense going.  Heavy? Yes. Brooding? Definitely.  Dark? To a point.  When all is said Stalker is an excellent film well deserving of the exalted reputation it enjoys in the film world. Sometimes vegetables can taste pretty damn good.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio

It's always fun to go to a concert not knowing quite what to expect and being pleasantly surprised about what you hear. That was my response to seeing Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio at Bohemian Caverns last night.
     The trio consists of Crump on bass, Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Jamie Fox on electric guitar.  Before last night I knew Crump from Vijay Iyer's trio, had heard Ellman's name in a couple of places and didn't know Fox at all.  Together they played jazz that was flowing and rhythmic in complex lines without distortion or effects. They could be delicate or swing mercilessly. I was reminded of other modern guitar sounds like the clean chording of the late Jim Hall and the thoughtfulness of Ralph Towner. On a lazy blues called "Memphis" Fox even bent a few notes in the direction of B.B. King.
     All three men had ample chance to show what they could in solo turns and Crump particularly impressed me with his drive and imagination. Not only does he have three CDs out with this group, he's also done a duo disc with a very different sort of guitarist, Mary Halvorson. I'll love to hear how he deals with her abrasive chords and melodies.
     You don;t hear anything about the Rosetta Trio, even in modern "out" jazz circles but they are definitely worth investigating, just one great example of the infinite beauties found in the jazz world today.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Jazz World: The Cool

The Birth Of The Cool

In the 1950's there was continued investigation into the idea of exploring advanced harmonies and textures in jazz music. The most significant attempt at this came from a group of young musicians who met together repeatedly at the New York apartment of arranger and composer Gil Evans in the late 1940's.  These men, who included Miles Davis, John Lewis, Lee Konitz, Max Roach and Gerry Mulligan, looked at bringing in instruments not used in jazz often like French horn and tuba to create a larger unified sound and took cues from the work of French impressionist composers like Ravel and Debussy.  What emerged was a style of jazz that worked at a lower intensity than bebop but was still sophisticated and swinging, a style that came to be known as "Cool Jazz".  The results of this work were recorded by a nine piece group under the leadership of Miles Davis, sessions that eventually came out as an album entitled Birth Of The Cool.

This is a sample of that wotrk, a Gerry Mulligan composition called "Jeru":

Gerry Mulligan

I'll talk about Miles Davis and Gil Evans in later posts but for now I want to concenrtnate on Gerry Mulligan.  Mulligan was known first as an arranger but he later gained fame for his effortless way with the unwieldy baritone sax.  He took the Birth of the Cool ideas to the West Coast where an entire movement of cerebral, easy-swinging players would emerge, men like Shorty Rogers, Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Chico Hamilton, and Jim Hall.

Mulligan's biggest innovation was in putting together a small group without a piano, just two horns and a rhythm section. Jazz without the harmonic bridge of a piano was virtually unheard of at the time but Mulligan pitting the low sound of his baritone against the trumpets of either Baker or Farmer or the valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer gave his band's sound a flowing freedom that would resonate in different forms through later years. Here is a 1957 Mulligan quartet with Brookmeyer playing "Open Country":

Jimmy Giuffre

Jimmy Giuffre was not part of the "Birth of the Cool" sessions but he had ideas along the same lines. Adept at a number of reed instruments, he first played and wrote for big bands, most famously composing the saxophone section workout "Four Brothers" for the Woody Herman Orchestra but he soon developed his own concept of quiet, unusual instrumental combinations, working in trios with bass and either (again) Bob Brookmeyer's trombone or Jim Hall's guitar.  He did a lot of work with simple blues and folk forms in the Fifties before eventually going more abstract in the mid-60's. Here he is on various reeds with Hall and Jim Atlas on bass in 1957 doing his composition "The Train and The River".

The Modern Jazz Quartet

John Lewis was part of the "Cool" sessions but his main interests turned out to come from the past, the baroque music of Bach and his contemporaries. Lewis had been pianist in Dizzy Gillespie's big band and during their concerts, he and the rest of the rhythm section, Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Ray Brown on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums, would play a few numbers to give the horn players a break. Eventually that quartet would go out on its own as the Modern Jazz Quartet with Percy Heath replacing Brown and Connie Kay replacing Clarke. The group was originally co-led by Lewis and Jackson but eventually Lewis took over the sole reigns and began to explore in depth merging classical music and jazz. The polite elegance of his piano and the bluesy gravity of Jackson's vibes made a stark but sexy contrast, distinctive enough to make the Modern Jazz Quartet last through five decades, playing all over the world, collaborating with symphony orchestras and in their own way,  presenting an image of the black jazz musician as a dignified serious artist, something that looking back was a powerful statement for its time.  This is a studio recording of one of their most popular tunes, Lewis' "Django",  a piece that strongly states their classics/jazz dichotomy.

Dave Brubeck

I wrote a post about Brubeck when he passed away but I can't leave him out here. He was another musician who brought classical influences to jazz, experimenting with advanced harmonies and unusual time signatures.  After trying out an octet in the late 40's, he began a partnership with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond that lasted over twenty years. Brubeck's driving, angular playing mixed with Desmond's sighing, liquid sax was a perfectly balanced combination and with Eugene Wright and Joe Morello in the rhythm section they were the most popular jazz group of their day, even managing a Top 10 pop hit in "Take Five". After the quartet broke up in 1967 Brubeck continued to work with other quartets as well as composing extended orchestral works and played almost up until his death in 2012. Some people in the old days complained that Brubeck's music didn't swing enough but by the time he died he was universally regarded as one of the finest musicians in the music's history. Here is the classic Brubeck quartet doing "Blue Rondo A La Turk" on one of Hugh Hefner's Playboy TV shows. Cecil Taylor has always cited Brubeck as a favorite player. His solo here clues you in as to why.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Jazz World: Composers and Theorists

Moving on to a few more of the music's great post-war composers, the first stop has to be my single favorite jazz musician...

Charles Mingus

Mingus was a singular figure in an universe full of them, a man who wrote music with both classical ambitions and gutbucket passions, who could turn the blues into all manner of soaring, aching shapes. Much of his work reflected his environment, deep-souled love songs, tributes to past masters like Lester Young, tone poems that asked big questions about life, and works that dealt with the civil rights struggles of the Fifties and Sixties in pieces like "Fables Of Faubus" and "Meditations On A Pair Of Wire Cutters".  No matter what the subject matter, Mingus' bands with his booming bass in the lead, swung murderously.  This is one of his greatest works, 10 minutes of soul shouting on the topic of prehistoric man, "Pithecanthropus Erectus":

Mingus had the benefit of having some extraordinary musicians in his band over his career like saxophonists Clifford Jordan, Eric Dolphy and George Adams, trumpeters Johnny Coles and Jack Walrath, pianists Jaki Byard and Don Pullen and his almost constant rhythm mate, drummer Dannie Richmond.  This is a live clip of a 1964 Mingus group that included Coles, Byard, Jordan and Dolphy doing the Ellington-Strayhorn classic, "Take The 'A' Train.  The most notable parts are Byard's romping stride piano spot and Dolphy beaming in from another planet on bass clarinet:

Lennie Tristano

Lennie Tristano was a blind pianist who emerged in the late 40's with a methodology akin to bebop.  He rolled out long streams of improvisations on the chords of standard tunes but with nods in the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach and atonality, creating more openly experimental music than what Parker, Gillespie and their cohorts were doing.  A number of great musicians studied with Tristano, the most prominent being saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.  In 1949, they were part of a Tristano recording session of pieces called "Intuition" and "Digression" which were completely improvised with no use of prearranged melodies and harmonies. These works are now considered the first examples of Free Jazz.

The Tristano clip below requires a little background. Look Up and Live was an anthology program of religious drams that ran Sunday morning on CBS from 1954 to 1979.  In the summer of 1964, as the host explains, they took a break to explore the performing arts, which in this case meant, filming Tristano's quintet, including Konitz and Marsh, during a gig at New York's Half Note club.  There is an attempt during the show to tie the music to religious/philosophical themes, but think about what's being presented here. Can you imagine any sort of religious broadcast today just letting a jazz group play on air for a half-hour? For that matter, can you imagine any TV show today doing such a thing?  This was one of the beautiful by-products of Jazz being part of mainstream adult culture way back when:

George Russell

George Russell's major contribution to Jazz was not a composition but a theory. "The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation" proposed a new musical system where chords replaced scales as the basis for improvisation giving musicians a greater range of options to play with.  Russell gives a thumbnail sketch of his ideas in this interview excerpt from a 1958 TV show, The Subject Is Jazz: 

Russell's work would be absorbed by a number of restless young musical minds including Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, which right there makes him an influence on the next several decades of Jazz.  He led small groups through the 50's, working with players like Eric Dolphy and Don Ellis, and spent some time in Europe during the 60's, making the acquaintance along the way of a group of young Norwegian musicians including Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal who would go on to long and productive careers. Russell's later composing stretched to longer form works that included electronics, rock rhythms and even lashings of go-go and funk.  I couldn't find a copy to post here but he did a version of "You Are My Sunshine" with Sheila Jordan on vocals that is amazing.

This is one of Russell's classic early compositions, "Ezz-thetic":

And this is an excerpt from one of his later works, "Listen To The Silence", featuring members of his Norwegian crew like Garbarek, Rypdal and Bobo Stenson.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Inside on the Outside

Out in the cold again.
I have some brief thoughts on the Oscars. The main talk about the nominations right now seems to be that while the vast majority of a large group of excellent films got some love, a few didn't, like The Butler, Fruitvale Station, and Inside Llewyn Davis. The last named was my favorite movie of the past year and I thought it would get a lot of nominations, in part because Joel and Ethan Coen have been Academy darlings in recent years. It got snubbed for all but two minor awards and thinking about it, I can guess why.

Like it or not, Davis is a niche film. I'm a huge music fan and I'm familiar with the 60's Greenwich Village folk scene, but how many other people in the greater audience are?  All the publicity for the film mentioned that it was inspired by the life and career of Dave Van Ronk.  How many people out there had even heard the name Dave Van Ronk before this movie came along?

Davis' narrow, self-defeating version of "artistic integrity" may resonate beyond the period but you had to get beyond references to Peter, Paul and Mary, novelty songs about the space program and other period names and places to get there. It was a movie where the protagonist meanders between different peoples' apartments, takes a fruitless trip to Chicago and ends up in the exact same place where he started. It was expertly told but had no forward movement at all, unlike the heavily nominated and equally striking small film Nebraska where another futile trip at least leads to some character development and growth.

The understated, somber mood of this film isn't like the goony, crowd-pleasing humor of the Coens' other more celebrated "folk" musical, Oh, Brother Where Are Thou? It's more like their dryly humorous take on Hebrew traditions and the story of Job, A Simple Man and that was no Oscar bait movie either. In other words I cannot bring myself to be mad about Davis' Oscar snubbing.  Heck, there was another great film about a later generation of New York folksinger that came along this year, Greetings From Tim Buckley and almost no one is championing that.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mike Vraney (1957-2014)

I found out yesterday that Mike Vraney passed away from lung cancer on January 2 at the age of 56.  This doesn't mean anything to the vast majority of the cult movie/pop culture geek world but it should.

Vraney was the founder and owner of Something Weird Video, a home video company that specialized in releasing obscure exploitation and genre films of all types. There are several companies out there that deal in that stuff but no one has done it to the depth of Something Weird.  They've released the usual sorts of horror and science fiction schlock from the Hollywood fringes but also European spy films, sword and sorcery movies, anti-drug films, cartoons, rare TV pilots and innumerable other ephemera.  Their most significant work has come in bringing the great era of exploitation cinema back to light. With the help of legendary exploitation producers David Friedman and Barry Mahon, they've uncovered hordes of softcore nudie films, striptease shorts, peepshow loops, and burlesque films and introduced them to generations of new fans. The only two feature films Bettie Page ever made? Something Weird put them out.  A promo reel of animated commercials by legendary artist John Hubley with music from Dizzy Gillespie? That too. Burlesque features featuring striptease legends like Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr plus baggy pants comics doing ancient vaudeville routines? Correct and present. The works of notorious adult film directors like Herschel Gordon Lewis, Doris Wishman and Roberta Findlay?. Yep. That plus compilations of female wrestling, classroom anti-drug films, softcore and hardcore sex film trailers, striptease acts, drive-in intermission ads and much more.

As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan of Something Weird. I've rented and bought their stuff for years.  What Vraney and his staff did was film excavation very different from what entities like the American Film Institute and Turner Classic Movies champion.  They didn't work with lost classics or B-level studio programmers. The company specialized in movies from the bottom of the food chain, the stuff shown as come-ons in storefront theaters and carnivals, or triple features in rundown urban grindhouse theaters, movies where any cockamamie thing imaginable went on so long as a naked girl showed up on the screen every so often. Then there are the movies that weren't intended for the public at all, industrial films intended to be shown to retailers and salesmen that pushed everything from milk to whiskey, classroom films designed to scare teenagers straight about everything be it drugs, drinking, sex, fast driving, cheating or personal hygiene. Beyond the entertainment value these works are remarkable little time capsules of what people cared about way back when, what turned them on, what behaviors were either encouraged or frowned upon, what was considered burning issues once upon a time. Among the delights of their intermission compilations include ads campaigning against Pay TV (the ancestor of cable) and Daylight Savings Time.  

Other organizations work on bringing many other types of movies back from oblivion and into the public light like rare silents or Japanese samurai films. All that is important work but what Mike Vraney did was really important as well because the things Something Weird has preserved shouldn't disappear from history. I actually met Mike Vraney once. It was at a local nostalgia convention and he was at a Something Weird table with David Friedman selling his tapes. Friedman was telling a young couple stories about his producing adventures and I just went through the tapes on sale and bought a couple from Vraney. I don't think I said much to him but now I wish I'd said "Thanks". I now appreciate the great work his company did.

This is a link to a tribute to Vraney on the Something Weird website:

And this is the wonderful introduction that opens every Something Weird disc, full of the glories of their amazing catalog:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Jazz World: Piano Masters

With the end of the year stuff out of the way, it's time to get back to my little chronological jazz survey. I left off with two of the greatest icons of the bebop era, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I'll continue with some pianists and composers who began in that era.

Bud Powell

Bud Powell was to the piano what Parker and Gillespie were to their instruments, a player of incredible dexterity and speed who gobbled up time like nobody before him. Recurring health problems meant that he didn't always perform or record at his sharpest but he did leave a number of great recordings and fine compositions behind him. This is one of his finest, "Un Poco Loco", with Max Roach doing the amazing percussion work.

And this is a live clip of him playing "Get Happy" with Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke:

Thelonious Monk

Then there's Monk. He emerged in the bebop era but he didn't sound like any of the other players of the time. He is still one of the music's most unique figures. His music was off-centered and dissonant mixing tempos and working off its own peculiar logic. Many people in the 40's and 50's thought he was either crazy or a fraud. Even when they admitted there was something to the nooks and crannies of his compositions they thought his piano playing was amateurish. Today Monk's compositions are integral parts of the jazz repertoire. Several musicians have based projects, if not major parts of their careers, on exploring his music and Monk is regarded as one of the greatest composers this music ever produced and also a hell of a piano player.

His most popular composition is the ballad "Round Midnight". Here he is playing it in his own unique way:

This is his quartet live in Japan with Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, Butch Warren on bass and Frankie Dunlop on drums doing his composition "Epistrophy". Monk's piano playing may look odd but listen to how it sounds:

Herbie Nichols

Herbie Nichols was a pianist and composer who did not have the high profile of the previous two gentlemen. He went his own way in the New York scene, playing in all kinds of bands and writing music that worked in aspects of swing, Caribbean music, Dixieland and classical dissonance. He died at the age of 43 and only released a handful of records, all in a piano trio format. Later avant garde players picked up on what he did and kept his music alive with Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg and trombonist Roswell Rudd, one of Nichols' actual friends, being the biggest champions of his work. Rudd has even recorded several albums of compositions Nichols himself never got to record. This is just one example of the lively eccentricity of his music, "Step Tempest":

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Favorite Music Of 2013

This is the first year in a long time where I have not had to assemble any kind of Top 10 CD list for Cadence, so I've decided to put one up here. Since I've doing it on my own I'm going by my own rules and making this a list of my favorite CDs released in 2013 whether they're new or a reissue and regardless of genre. Most of these are jazz releases but there's also some prog rock and by way of Elvis Costello, a little hip-hop.  I don't have the resources that go into a lot of other lists I've seen online and in print. I don't get promo CDs directly like professional critics. I'm basically limited to the stuff Cadence sends me and what I can buy on my own, so there are a few of the same discs everybody else is listing here and some that no one seems to have discovered.

First though here are my favorite live performances of the past year:

Charles Lloyd's 75th birthday concert at the Kennedy Center
Dawn Upshaw and the Crash Ensemble at the Kennedy Center
Gregory Porter at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival
Mike Reed's People Places and Things at Bohemian Caverns
Kris Davis' Capricorn Climber at Bohemian Caverns
Janel Leppin's Ensemble Volcanic Ash at Bohemian Caverns
Luciana Souza at Atlas Arts Center
Newspeak Ensemble at Atlas Arts Center
Jack Dejohnette: Special Legends Edition Chicago at the Chicago Jazz Festival
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Chicago at the Chicago Jazz Festival
...and a late add, Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O turning seasonal songs of all types every which way at the Atlas a couple of weeks ago

And here are my favorite CDs of the year in alphabetical order:

Ralph Alessi/Kris Davis/Tom Rainey/Ingrid Laubrock, LARK, (Skirl)
Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Shadow Man, (ECM)
Andy Bey, The World According To Andy Bey, (HighNote)
Ketil Bjornstad, La Notte, (ECM)
Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow, Trios, (ECM)
Dave Burrell, Conception
Gary Burton, Guided Tour, Mack Avenue
Elvis Costello and the Roots, Wise Up Ghost, (Blue Note)
Kris Davis, Capricorn Climber, (Clean Feed)
Miles Davis, Live In Europe 1969 - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2 (Columbia/Legacy)
Kaja Draksler, The Lives Of Many Others, (Clean Feed)
Shayna Dulberger, Ache and Flutter, (Empty Room Music)
Fire! Orchestra, Exit!, (Rune Grammofon)
Gerry Gibbs, Thrasher Dream Trio, (Whaling City Sound)
John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts, (Partisan)
Mary Halvorson Septet, Imaginary Sea, (Firehouse 12)
David Haney & Bernard Purdie, Selling It Like It Is, (Cadence Jazz)
John Hollenbeck, Songs I Like A Lot, (Suunyside)
William Hooker Quintet, Channels Of Consciousness, (No Business)
Ernie Krivda, At The Tri-C Jazz Fest, (Cadence Jazz)
Marty Krystall Quartet, Moments Magical, (K2B2)
LAMA & Chris Speed, Lamacal, (Clean Feed)
Adam Lane Quartet, Oh Freedom, (CIMP)
Greg Lewis Organ Monk, American Standard
Low, The Invisible Way (Sub Pop)
Rebecca Martin, Twain, (Sunnyside)
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom, No Morphine No Lilies, (Foxhaven)
Billy Mintz, Mintz Quartet, (Thirteeneth Note)
Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Red Hot, (Hot Cup)
Chris Potter, The Sirens, (ECM)
Sao Paulo Underground, Beija Flors Velhoie Sujo, (Cuneiform)
Wayne Shorter, Without A Net, (Blue Note)
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO, Occupy The World, (TUM)
S.O.S., Looking For The Next One, (Cuneiform)
June Tabor/Iain Ballamy/Huw Warren, Quercus, (ECM)
Craig Taborn Trio, Chants, (ECM)
The Whammies, Play The Music Of Steve Lacy Vol. 2, (Drift)
Steven Wilson, The Raven That Refused To Sing and other stories, (K-Scope)

A few words about some of the lesser known discs.  Veterans Andy Bey and Dave Burrell had strong efforts, Bey just with his voice and piano, Burrell in a trio with sax and drums that spotlighted his unique ragtime-to-free piano playing. The Gerry Gibbs one is a fine trio CD featuring drummer Gibbs dueling with Ron Carter and Kenny Barron.  John Grant is a singer-songwriter with a beautiful baritone who did a chillingly lovely electronic-laced CD in Iceland. Kaja Draksler is a young pianist from Slovenia who made a interesting solo disc and singer Rebecca Martin does an endearing type of jazz-laced folk singing that more people should know about. My favorite songs of the year were Grant's "G.M.F." and Steven Wilson's "The Raven Who Refused To Sing".