Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"You Are There" Kills, Just Not in a Good Way

The death in the title does not refer to the career of either Roberta Gambarini or Hank Jones; they are both too well-established at this point for that, and the magazines seem to love this album. Nor does it refer to the Emarcy label; for what it is, this record will probably make a lot of money, maybe even get nominated for some grammies. The death in the title refers to my own death, due to boredom, about halfway through this record. I was jolted back by an energetic reading of "Suppertime," which, while incredible in the context of an album bogged down by so much painful cliche and balladry so flat as to be kosher for passover that not even the great Hank Jones can save it, would sound just as painfully cliched in any other context.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I have some sort of prejudice against vocal jazz (although, admittedly, I do); it's not so much that its a bad jazz album (which it is- especially terrible in light of 2007's great "Kids" duet album Jones did with Joe Lovano) but that it's a terrible, boring vocal jazz album. My girlfriend once called Brad Mehldau's "Art of the Trio Vol. 3" (I believe I've mentioned before that it is my favorite record of his) "good dinner music," which it is, and I think a lot of people will think of "You Are There" as good dinner music, which, I suppose, it is also. Gambarini's voice is pleasing, and Jones tinkles away at the piano like he always does, but don't get me wrong, this album is nothing more than dinner music.

There have been great recent vocal jazz records recently (Gretchen Parlato's self titled debut springs to mind, as does Herbie Hancock's Grammy winning "River," on which half the tracks had vocals), but this is not one of them. I'd buy this album if you plan on having a dinner party where people don't talk too loudly but still have no interest in paying attention to the music, or if you don't already have any album by, say, Diana Krahl, and think that the pleasing sounds of a female jazz singer singing the same way as any other female jazz singer could be therapeutic. If neither of these applies to you, avoid it like the plague.

Also: Jimmy Giuffre died a few days ago. He was a brilliant saxophonist and composer whose innovations with his trio helped pave the way for free music, albeit a quiet, lyrical strain of free music. If you are interested, there is a video of him with his trio (Jim Hall and Steve Swallow round it out) on youtube, and a well-written obituary can be found here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Free" is Just Another Word for "Nothing Left to Lose"

An odd development of the last twenty years or so has been the adoption of free jazz language into the vernacular of straight-ahead music, and of the adoption of a more straight-ahead approach to free music. After classics of totally free group improvisation like John Coltrane's "Ascension," free jazz musicians realized that there was no where left to go but back in as early as Charlie Haden's 1969 classic "Liberation Music Orchestra." Two recent releases, "Urban Mythology Vol. 1" by the Free Form Funky Freqs and "Door" by Fieldwork, and one reissue of a classic of 90s free jazz, Matthew Shipp's "Multiplication Table," explore the concept of structured free music at length.

"Urban Mythology" is the most fun of the three records, and ironically the band's members are the oldest; two of the three members (Jamaladeen Tacuma on bass and G. Calvin Weston on drums) have spent time in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time outfit, and the other (guitarist Vernon Reid) has worked with everyone from Ronald Shannon Jackson to Bill Frisell. "Urban Mythology" is a funky record with more in common with bluesy classic rock than free jazz, and partly for that reason something feels trivial about it. To me, at least, "free jazz party record" sounds like something of an oxymoron, and while the playing is uniformly good, tracks like "Chump Champ Chunk" and "Get Your Legs On" seem to be trying a bit too hard. That said, if booty bass, power chords, and free jazz pedigrees are your thing this one is worth checking out.

Fieldwork, something of a power trio of young musicians, including Vijay Iyer (piano), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and Steve Lehman (alto saxophone), is free mostly in the way these compositions were created: each member came in with works of their own, which were then reworked by the trio as a whole. This concept works surprisingly well; its impossible to tell which compositions are Sorey's, Lehman's or Iyer's without looking up the credits. Like The Freqs, the playing is all around excellent, but unlike The Freqs, it never sounds forced into a groove. Tracks only last as long as they have to, some ending after three minutes while others go on for up to eight. An interesting record by an interesting trio. Recommended.

HatOlogy is reissuing a number of classics in underground improvised music (look out for reviews of Paul Bley's "12 (+60) In a Row" and John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and George Lewis's "News for Lulu" if I can get my hands on them), but the stand-out is Matthew Shipp's "Multiplication Table," a classic of post-modern 90s free jazz. Shipp violently tears apart a number of songs, both standards and originals, but the best performance on the album is his nearly five minute solo piano intro to "C Jam Blues," drastically reharmonized and battered out by Shipp as if his life depended on it. Later on in the track, as Shipp is joined by drummer Suzie Ibarra and bassist William Parker, the song is given a trio treatment. Parker's playing on "Zt 1" and "Zt 2" is also particularly notable; his extended bowing technique on upright bass creates a creepy effect.

Next time I'll post reviews of the new Gregg August record and possibly the Hank Jones and Roberta Gambarini collaboration "You Are There."

Return to Return to Forever

About a week ago when I read the news of Return To Forever's most popular line-up (Chick Corea, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White) reuniting for an extensive summer tour and possible new album, I initially thought about writing a lengthy sarcastic rant. But, it turned out, a page later in Downbeat's "The Question Is" section Cuong Vu had put it perfectly:

"Is it being put together because there's a new musicial direction and concept in place that only these musicians can realize? Yeah, right... It's not going to be the same, kind of like seeing all those upper-30-something women get into a frenzy for a Duran Duran reunion tour."

That's right, that was Cuong Vu, a young trumpet player who gained notice from playing with none other than the Pat Metheny Group attacking Return to Forever for selling out.

The next post on this blog is going to contain substantive reviews of new albums by The Free-Form Funky Freqs and Fieldwork, I promise.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Vijay Iyer Reimagines The Jazz Quartet With "Tragicomic"

Alright, it's over. Robert Glasper and Jason Moran- both of whom brilliant young piano players- should know this already; Glasper's only released three albums as a leader, and Jason Moran hasn't come out with a new disc since early 2006's "Artist in Residence." In case there was ever any kind of question, this is Vijay Iyer's decade, much like the 90's belonged to Brad Mehldau. Ever since 2003's "Blood Sutra," Iyer has released a string of brilliant albums ("In What Language," "Reimagining," "Still Life With Commentator," "Raw Materials," and now "Tragicomic), of which there is no "best;" each one is different from the last but also more similar to the others than to anything else in jazz (or pop for that matter). The fact that "Tragicomic" belongs on a level with those other six albums is only proof of how great it is.

Out of all of those albums, "Tragicomic" has the most in common with "Reimagining," which should be no surprise given the fact that "Reimagining" is also, for the most part, a quartet album, albeit one with a handful of trio tracks, and a single tune on solo piano. That said, "Tragicomic" is a much darker, freer, and more violent record than "Reimagining," and brims with the topical anger of "In What Language" and "Still Life with Commentator" (one of the songs on "Tragicomic" is called "Macaca Please," after Virginian George Allen's now historic slur). A key to Iyer's success, like on all of the other albums, is alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Mahanthappa plays the saxophone the way a rioter uses a cinder-block; he plays it angrily, loudly, and violently. Just listening to his playing on "Macaca Please," or "Machine Days," or on "Without Lions," in which he trades lines with Iyer much like the duo's collaboration on the "Raw Materials" album, sends chills down my spine.

The one solo piano track on "Tragicomic," "I'm All Smiles," begins as a jaunty waltz, and ends in a much darker territory; the first few choruses sound like a lost standard from Bill Evans' Village Vanguard sessions, but Iyer finishes by pedaling a tone with his right hand while his left hand moves through the murkier lower range of the piano. All in all, the track is a good microcosm of the album in that passages of staggering beauty are all eventually consumed by violence; the ethereal opener "The Weight of Things" is followed by the frenetic "Macaca Please;" "Threnody," a song I've already blogged at length about, moves from stately solo piano to freely moving beautiful chords to a brilliant spastic freakout by Mahanthappa.

"Tragicomic" may well be the best jazz album of the year. I know its too early to call something like that, but it will probably take much more than a Wynton Marsalis song cycle ("He and She") based on the relationships between a man and a woman or a Return to Forever reunion record (if it materializes; soon to be blogged about) to beat it, and heavy hitters like Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel have already laid their cards out on the table. Iyer is a force to be reckoned with, and he proves that for the seventh time this decade with "Tragicomic."

Also, I made a deal with my friends Sarah and Eric that if they plugged me on their blog or radio show I'd plug them on mine, so here goes: if your inclination is indie pop, check out broken loveseats; if your inclination is sound representation through colour, check out synesthesia vacation on Fridays from 12-2 pm.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Downbeat: Branford Proves for At Least the Tenth Time Since "Ken Burns' Jazz" That Wynton Isn't the Only Arrogant Jerk in the Marsalis Family

I'm sitting here, watching "Tonight's the Night-" the episode of Doogie Howser, M.D. where Doogie and Wanda finally (almost, at least) get it on- trying to get the bad taste from this month's Downbeat out of my mouth, and let me be honest; its not working. And I really, really want to get the image of Branford Marsalis egotistically grinning at me on the cover out of my head.

The Marsalises are sort of like the Doogie Howsers of the jazz world; they became very prominent figures at a very young age, and, like Doogie Howser, decided not to have sex in their teen years and thus have spent the time since being tight-assed, arrogant shmucks, espousing their "genius" (much like Doogie) to anyone who'll listen. Granted, the metaphor only holds up for so long- I don't think anybody left a baby on Wynton's doorstep, and that the baby's mother is smokin'- but I think you see the point. When Branford supplies the name of his own article in Downbeat, and the article is called- this is not a joke- "WE DO THINGS BETTER THAN ANY BAND OUT HERE," I like to think its important to note Doogie Howser's assurance to a patient that "you could get an older doctor, but he wouldn't be as brilliant as me."

First of all, I'd like to know what exactly the Branford Marsalis Quartet does better than any band out there (I guess it does cover "A Love Supreme" better than any of those other bands, but then again the rest of them don't have the hubris to try); does anyone honestly believe that Marsalis' band can hold a candle to other small combos like Dave Holland's Quintet, or the Wayne Shorter Quartet, or the long running incarnation of the Paul Motian Trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano? I mean, Branford does a great job of sounding like Coltrane, or Sonny Rollins, whenever he wants to, but musical impersonation is hardly all there is to being a great saxophone player.

Branford needs to learn that the novelty of being a 16 year old doctor- excuse me, the novelty of being the brother of a 16 year old doctor- wow, I've just got my foot in my mouth today- being the brother of a child prodigy messiah figure trumpet player who really wasn't that great to begin with- has worn off, and that he's going to have to find his own sound and stop it with this tomfoolery. Those of you who watched Ken Burns Jazz probably remember him calling Cecil Taylor's music "self-indulgent bullshit." Why Ken Burns gave the Marsalis brothers a soapbox beyond Lincoln Center still confounds me, but as far as I'm concerned people like Burns and Ted Panken (the Downbeat writer behind this article) are enablers. Maybe if Branford stopped constantly being told how great he was he (and gratuitous pulitzer prize winning Wynton) would actually fulfill on his promise and make some good music.

To paraphrase the film critic Roger Ebert from his brilliant review of "Southland Tales," if you thought that was just a rant as opposed to a real entry, you are correct. Next time I promise there will be more record reviews (I would have reviewed Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic," but my local CD store hasn't shelved it yet). In the mean time, don't buy anything by Branford, or his Quartet. Don't encourage him.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Guitar Heroes

Warning: this post is intended for mature audiences only; it contains coarse language for the sake of conveying emotion. So, you know, if you don't know what "fuck" means or find it insulting, get out of here. Also, you can find my review of Lionel Loueke's "Karibu" here.

Generally, it is the job of a critic to use words and phrases like "stellar," "magnificent," "brilliant range of tone," "emotionally interesting," etc. to talk about the art on which they are an expert. I just saw a concert that was so good I can't even think of a way to describe it in those terms; I've been waiting for a concert this good for a while. In the last two months I've seen the SFJazz collective, which was about a step away from being terrible, and Miguel Zenon, who was terrible. I didn't realize how bad these concerts were until the other night because I desperately wanted to enjoy them.

So, without any further adieu, Lionel Loueke's Trio performance at Oberlin Chapel in Oberlin, Ohio was fucking incredible. When was the last time you went to a jazz show where the band did two encores? Lionel Loueke did, and during the first encore (a performance of the song "Nonvignon;" you can hear it on "In a Trance" and "Karibu") he implored the audience to sing along. When was the last time you went to a jazz show and were asked to sing along? I'm going to fashion a guess and say never; not because jazz is inherently audience-inaccessible, but because the artists think of themselves as artists, not performers. Lionel Loueke thinks of himself as an artist but first as a performer, which explains why his concert was so good, and why Miguel Zenon's was terrible. Seriously, if Lionel Loueke can play a concert in which the simplest meter (as far as I could hear) was 7/8 ("Body and Soul"), and make it sound not only easy, but fun in the giddiest way possible, there's hope for jazz.

Kurt Rosenwinkel's new album is also live, and is also great. Rosenwinkel's aesthetic is very different from Loueke's- his music is much more opaque, and not nearly as joyful- but as far as I can tell from this live record, he still puts on one hell of a show. "The Remedy" documents a live performance of his band from The Village Vanguard in 2006, and the band (which includes Mark Turner and Eric Harland) is on fire. While all the tracks are great, my favorite is the title track, which grooves with more energy than anything else on this album. As opposed to building from solo to solo, Rosenwinkel lets the soloists find contours within his chord changes; Turner and Rosenwinkel have the most energetic solos, but there's something to be said for Aaron Goldberg's no less technical, prettier work on keys.

While I don't have to use the F-word to describe how happy I am about Rosenwinkel's new album (All of Kurt Rosenwinkel's albums are great; this new one may well be my second favorite after "Heartcore"), it doesn't change the fact that it happens to be a killer album, and thus I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Anyway, though, next time you can expect even more album reviews; at least a review of the Brian Blade Fellowship's new CD, but also hopefully one of Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic" if I can get my hands on it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Do So Many Good Records Come Out in April and May?

That was a rhetorical question. But seriously, there are potentially game-changing records by EVERYONE that have either come out recently or are coming out in the near future, and at the moment at least, I can only listen to a small handful. So expect a flood of album reviews in the near future. For today, at least, I'm gonna try and write short reviews of "The New Crystal Silence," the first collaboration between Chick Corea and Gary Burton in a while, "Diaspora Suite," the new Steven Bernstein record, and Marian McPartland's "Twilight World."

The original "Crystal Silence" was an ECM classic if there ever was one, and rightfully so. It was a brilliant piano-vibes duet album and has clearly informed every other piano-vibes record that Gary Burton has done since, whether with Makoto Ozone or Herbie Hancock. "The New Crystal Silence" is not as good as that milestone, but at least the second CD is a great showcase for Burton and Corea, two brilliant instrumentalists who are still in their prime, to play off of eachother. "Waltz for Debbie," unexpected because this duo has never done standards together, is a particularly gorgeous and welcome surprise. The first CD is the more interesting one of the two (anyone who has ever heard Burton and Corea know what they're getting into with the second disc), featuring string arrangements of tunes familiar to Burton and Corea ("La Fiesta," "Duende," the title track) written by Tim Garland and played by the Sydney Symphony. I personally think that these tracks are beautiful, but there is no question in my mind that its a matter of personal taste. I usually don't like strings, but I think Garland's arrangements are pretty, if not necessarily subtle, and that they add an extra level of bombast to an already larger-than-life duo. Recommended to people who like Corea/Burton collaborations or strings.

When he isn't busy hovering near the top of Downbeat's annual Rising Star on Trumpet critics' poll or making free jazz fun again with Sex Mob, Steve Bernstein has been working on a series of CDs, the most recent of which is "Diaspora Suite," that explore what happens when you mix Jewish music with more contemporary forms. Granted, lately it seems almost impossible to throw a rock without hitting an album whose intent is to do this (Check out virtually anything with Anat Cohen's name attached, or John Zorn's Masada projects), but you can always count on Bernstein to do something interesting. This new one is great, featuring luminaries from California, including Nels Cline on guitar and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax. My two favorite tracks are "Simeon (Yis May Chu)," a Jewish funk extravaganza, and the closer, "Benjamin," a klezmer-flavored heavy metal freakout which showcases Cline's guitar chops. While this album definitely is not to everyone's taste (if you think the word "purist" applies to you, I'd take a pass on this one) I would recommend it to listeners with open ears, or listeners who already own and like any of the other "Diaspora" titles.

Finally, Marian McPartland turned 90 years old a month ago, and "Twilight World," her newest offering, was recorded about five months before that. "Twilight World" does not sound like the work of a 90 year-old woman, to put it lightly. Having come up as one of the warhorses of the fifties bop-flavored "mainstream jazz" movement with artists like Oscar Petersen, it should come as no surprise that Marian McPartland has chops, and that her sense of melody is as strong as ever. However, it will come as a surprise (at least to those who don't regularly listen to her "Piano Jazz" show on NPR, where she's spoken with everyone from Petersen to Kenny Werner) that she records not one, but two Ornette Coleman tunes, "Lonely Woman" and "Turnaround," on "Twilight World." These two tracks are fascinating, as McPartland never sounds out of place and manages to make both songs her own. She understands, as anyone from that era would, that lyricism is just as important in free music as it is in music with changes; for that reason these two tracks work just as well as any of the ballads (which include "Alfie" and "In the Days of Our Love"), and fit in. Highly Recommended.

I know people read criticism to see records get panned (believe me, I think it's funny too), but I couldn't really find anything about these three records that could prevent me from liking them. I just saw Lionel Loueke live last night (it was brilliant), so you can expect a review of that next time. After that I'll hopefully be able to review some of the other billion or so big releases this month (Vijay Iyer, Brian Blade, Kenny Werner and Roseanna Vitro, Miguel Zenon, Ambrose Akinmusire and Kurt Rosenwinkel all recently had albums released).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Brad Mehldau?! Live from the Village Vanguard?! Only For Like, the Fourth Time

All snarkiness aside, though, this record is pretty damn good, at least the second best of the four (I like "Art of the Trio: Volume Four" the most out of Mehldau's hundred thousand live recordings with his trio). It has pretty much everything you would expect from a Mehldau album, a number of pop covers from well-worn 90s alternative rock sources (no Radiohead this time; "Wonderwall" and "Black Hole Sun" fit the bill though), some unexpected treatments of jazz standards ("The Very Thought of You," "Countdown"), and a handful of originals (my favorite this time around is "B-Flat Waltz"), all treated beautifully by himself, his bassist Larry Grenadier, and his Drummer Jeff Ballard.

Now, I know I shouldn't, and I hate it when critics do this when reviewing this particular record, but I'm going to bring up the 1000 pound elephant in the room: Jeff Ballard. For those of you who don't know, Jorge Rossi played drums in this trio for 10+ years, and left a couple years ago to hang out with his kid; On "Day is Done," Jeff Ballard, an extremely capable and energetic drummer, filled his shoes. The reason I hate it when critics bring this up is that everything that can be said about the difference between the two drummers was said when "Day is Done" was released; Jeff Ballard is more "energetic," he's "invigorating."

I'd call him "a tad less subtle than Jorge Rossi" (here's hoping they quote that in the press section of Ballard's website), but I don't necessarily understand what use that statement has, or whether that's a good thing or a bad thing: it's simple, Mehldau's trio just has a different aesthetic with Ballard. The drumming on "Black Hole Sun" during the middle section (You'll know what I mean) probably exemplifies this aesthetic more than anything else on the album; the music is much more free rhythmically, but yeah, its also a hell of a lot less subtle.

Suffice to say, Mehldau and Grenadier (and Ballard) all play brilliantly, even though the brushes aren't happenin' the way they were on, say, "Art of the Trio Volume 3" (full disclosure: that's my favorite Mehldau album... I know I know, I'm an evil purist). That said though, I'd recommend this album heavily; its more of the same from the trio that did "Day is Done," as if that's a bad thing.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic" Drops a Week from Tuesday

You read right everybody, Vijay Iyer's new record with his quartet comes out a week from Tuesday, and since I think of them like a preteen girl in 1964 thinks of the Beatles (I almost fainted when I went to a clinic by Rudresh Mahanthappa), you can expect me to be camping outside my local record store Monday night like one of those Star Wars fanatics.

I'm sure to a lot of you that sounds like hyperbole (Granted, I'm not actually planning on camping out outside of my local record store Monday night), but Vijay Iyer is worth it. For those of you who don't know his music, I suggest you run (don't walk!) out and buy both "Re-imagining," Iyer's most recent quartet date, and "In What Language," his first project with Mike Ladd (They've since made "Still Life with Commentator," which is also stellar, but not as representative). I could go on for the rest of this post about how "In What Language" represents the culmination of the alternate jazz history started in the mid-eighties by Steve Coleman, but I'll wait for a dry spell in news and releases to do so.

More importantly, two tracks off of "Tragicomic" can be heard on his myspace, and both are absolutely killin'. "Machine Days" is spastic, and extremely cool, but the better of these two tracks in my mind is "Threnody," which begins as a solo piano track and turns into a display of Rudresh Mahanthappa's saxophone pyrotechnics (the song reminds me of a ticking time bomb up until Mahanthappa's solo). I had the luck to hear Iyer explain the thought-process behind this track at a masterclass a few months ago; the song is broken up into two sections, a "free" section before Mahanthappa's solo, and then a vamp during it. The "free" in "'free' section" is in quotation marks because while the harmony is free, the harmonic rhythm is not. Chords change when they're supposed to, just not to the chords you expect (Iyer plays a non-predetermined triad on top of Stephen Crump's non-predetermined bass note, creating unexpected chords).

So basically, I'm excited. Also, some time in the near future you can expect a review of Brad Mehldau's new "Live;" You can hear his version of Wonderwall here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Record Reviews: "Karibu," "Enjoy"

I don't think there's any question that Lionel Loueke is probably THE guitar player working right now (or at least THE post-Rosenwinkel, post-big three guitar player). I suppose Mike Moreno is trying to make a claim at that, what with all of his sideman work for Josh Redman, Nick Payton, Greg Osby, and too many others to mention, but Loueke's legend is much better-known: after an audition for the Monk Institute (during which Loueke played "Footprints," no less), Wayne Shorter stood up and exclaimed Loueke his African brother, and Hancock hired him on the spot to be in his working band.

Loueke has just released a new record, his fifth overall and first for Blue Note, and like a number of recent Blue Note debuts by young artists (Robert Glasper's "Canvas" from a few years back comes to mind), this album is buried under annoyingly glossy production and features appearances by Loueke's more established friends. Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter both show up on this album, to it's detriment; the tracks with Shorter and Hancock break the flow of the record, and the tracks they appear on are formless. Additionally, the chorus effect that shows up on a few tracks ("Karibu," "Nonvignon") takes urgency away from Loueke's performance.

That said, however, there is a lot to like about this album. Loueke's originals are as good as ever, as is his guitar playing. And while performances of songs that he has already played before on numerous occasions don't compare to the other versions ("Benny's Tune," "Nonvignon"), they show that Loueke is always looking for different ways to play his songs. I'd recommend this album, but tepidly; the songs and performances could have been great if only they weren't mired by the production.

"Enjoy," the first effort by Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, is a very interesting record. If you can imagine a combination of the big band pop covers of the late sixties ("Mercy Mercy Mercy" by Buddy Rich, "Basie's Beatle Bag") and Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra circa 1982 ("Song of the Fallen" is a great record that no one ever listens to) that is solely devoted to the repertoire of Bjork Gudmundstudder, you can imagine what Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra sounds like.

The album has some great contemporary big-band arrangements, calling to mind Dave Holland's work in the idiom to a degree, and everyone's playing (the band includes Alan Ferber, Ben Monder, Sullivan, and another fifteen people) is pretty killer. The stand-outs are "Hyperballad," "Alarm Call" and "Hunter," but each arrangement has something to recommend about it. In all honesty I was surprised at how well this record worked. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Notes on Blue Note's Notes

There was a recent press release from Blue Note about upcoming albums (on March 5th, to be specific; you can read it here), so I figured I may as well give my thoughts on it. Wynton Marsalis has two new records coming out, each highlighting one of his two sides; one is a set of (surprise!) "blues and standards," I suppose to show that he still plays the same hard-bop/post-bop that he always has, while the other, highlighting his more pretentious blues-and-standards-player-as-auteur side, is a "romantic themed conceptual album of original music based on a poem by Wynton." I didn't even mention that the first record, tentatively called "Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis" features Willie Nelson on "Django Reinhardt-inspired guitar." The second record will hopefully be just as good as his last effort into all original material and poetry, "Wynton Raps-" er, "From the Plantation to the Penitentiary..."

The most interesting-looking record mentioned on this press release, however, seems like an afterthought in the midst of the two new Marsalis albums and the "70th Anniversary All-Stars" album, the first solo album from Aaron Parks, who you probably remember as the keyboard player on, well, practically everything from the Monk Institute crowd (Walter Smith III's "Casually Introducing" features him prominently, if you don't have it already, get it, it's great). Parks is killer, and while I don't believe anything on this album is out yet (you can hear a track on his myspace, but I'm pretty sure its not from the record) I'm excited to hear it whenever it comes out; according to the press release Parks will be mastering it next week, so hopefully that's soon.

Next time I'll post a review of Lionel Loueke's Karibu, a few tracks from which can be heard here.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Herbie Hancock Wins Grammy; Has No Problem with Continuing to Make Crappy Music

For those of you haven't seen the new "Yahoo! Nissan Live Set" of Herbie Hancock's, don't. It's probably the best example of great musicians making terribly cheesy, pandering cross-over music since "Future 2 Future," or at least "Possibilities."

The tracks with Joni Mitchell ("Tea Leaf Prophecy" and "Hanah") are the best of the bunch, but even those are just barely listenable (albeit very new age, with Marcus Miller doing his best impression of Jaco at his most pornographic-sounding). Perhaps the reason for this is that these are the songs that sound most like Hancock's most recent album, the grammy-winning "River: The Joni Letters," an undeniably interesting (and not very crossover) album of (mostly) Joni Mitchell covers. The record is great, having more in common with Wayne Shorter's quartet than Hancock's more pop-oriented music, but this particular live performance is not.

All of the band members have impeccable pedigrees, and have made their fare share of good music. However, this fact barely serves as a legitimate excuse for the version of Chameleon (hyperlink at the top of this blog) played here, which is so corny that not even Lionel Loueke's guitar work can save it. Hancock doesn't seem to have realized that the novelty of a "Keytar" (if there ever was novelty to begin with) has worn off since Jan Hammer's "Theme from Miami Vice." To make matters worse, after finally sitting down and playing piano (after five minutes of keytar wanking), Hancock starts playing the synth-horn setting on his keyboard during Loueke's solo.

Can't Herbie Hancock afford to play with a real horn section? Does he even want to? Does he actually have so much contempt for the average listener that he thinks a keytar will make a non-jazz audience take his music seriously? While the answer to the last question seems to be a resounding "yes," the jury is still out on the first two.

I was serious at the beginning, if you didn't already click on the link at the top, don't. It isn't worth it. Go out and listen to "River" instead.

First Post

Hello all, I figured before I actually got into anything I may as well write a quick explanation of what this blog is, why you should read it, and how it's going to make me the premier music critic in America, and possibly the world.

First off, this is a blog of music criticism and news with a concentration on jazz (or at least the capacity to pay attention to it; which is more than I can say for any other major news source on the subject).

Second, you should read this so that you don't accidentally stumble across a CD, or online video, or live performance (granted, its hard to stumble upon a live performance that already happened) that sucks. You don't want that to happen, do you? I know I don't want that to happen to you.

Third, I don't know how this is going to make me, Callum MacKenzie- the "jazz monster" for the purposes of this blog- the premier music critic in America, but its going to happen. And when it does you can say "wow, I read that guy's blog while he was in college, he sure deserves to be the premier music critic in America!"

Anyway though, the next entry will have substance. I promise.