Music Review

Dixon's the One

bill-dixon-orchestraBill Dixon Orchestra 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity) Few jazz innovators or heroes of the avant-garde are as little known beyond the cognoscenti as Dixon. An utterly distinctive trumpeter who pioneered the use of extremely non-standard timbres on his instrument, he is also an improviser and composer of boundless imagination who applied that adventurous deployment of timbres to works of uncompromising artistry with a painterly sense of color and abstraction unlike anyone else's jazz. Read more »

End of Summer Review Roundup

tricky_knowle_west_boyI suppose I should have a clever theme to tie all these together, but the best I can do is that with one exception they’re all recent and I like them all (and I stick to popular genres -- no classical, jazz, blues, etc.). First up are six new releases, followed by one that’s two years old, followed by five reissues.

Tricky: Knowle West Boy (Domino)

Tricky's first album in five years, and his best in ten, or maybe even since Pre-Millennium Tension in 1996, is occasionally a return to his Maxinquaye/PMT style and definitely their mood, though the first track is as drastic a departure from any of his previous styles as you could imagine: jazzy, cool, laid-back. Read more »

The Leper Boy of Glam

jobriath-coverJobriath: Jobriath & Creatures of the Street (Collector's Choice)

Jobriath set out to be a star of stratospheric proportions; what he became, if he was remembered at all, was the leper boy of Glam. Excluded from features and books on the subject, he was written off, and written out of, the picture. The Bowie clone and wannabe, a parable of hype over content, he fell beneath the radar of the taste-makers and shakers. Maligned and marginalized, he died in obscurity; the man who never came back, but the one who sang in supper clubs in Manhattan for out-of-town tourists. A record industry joke that wasn't all that funny. Read more »

Theft As Ownership

jake-holmes-dangerousJake Holmes: Dangerous Times (Private Pressing)

That a new set of songs from Jake Holmes should have slipped without fanfare into the wider world is remarkable, a little sad, but of no real surprise. Holmes, not exactly a name of the household variety, hadn't released an album for thirty years. That Dangerous Times is superbly crafted, sounding like the sort of distinguished fare reviewers dust down their cliches for when delivered by young pretenders (Holmes was born in 1939) isn't a big deal either. Good records come and go, and as good things go, this one went nowhere. Read more »

The Force Is Strong in Metallica

metallica_death_magneticMetallica: Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

In a weird way, Metallica has kind of become like Star Wars. While the conventional wisdom dictates that both have lost their way, that they were better in their early days, true fans of both know this just isn’t the case. Sure, Metallica’s previous release, 2003’s St. Anger, wasn’t their best album any more than The Clone Wars was the best Star Wars movie, but both have some great moments. Read more »

Jazz Duo Spans Generations

joe-lovano-hank-jonesJoe Lovano & Hank Jones Kids: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (Blue Note)

I have often noted that saxophonist Joe Lovano, for all his greatness, does his best playing on other people's gigs. Well, he shares the billing here, but once again he achieves the unrestrained feeling I've mostly heard from him when someone else is in charge. Maybe here it's because Joe knew he could relax, secure in the certainty that everything was going to be taken care of without him worrying about it when the only other guy on the bandstand was pianist Hank Jones, who's always got twice as much experience as anyone else in the room (unless Barry Harris is in the room, but even then Hank has the edge).

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Giuffre-Tastic Jazz

wolfert-brederodeWolfert Brederode Quartet Currents (ECM)

Sixteen years ago, while working for a music magazine in New York City, a CD came across my desk that immediately caught my attention. The album was 1961, a compilation of two albums from the titular year, Fusion and Thesis, by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, a mid-'60s jazz trio whose line-up included bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley. But what caught my attention was that the group had no drummer, unusual for small jazz combos, and was led, also unusually, by a clarinetist named Jimmy Giuffre (who, I sadly noted while working on this review, passed away just this past April). Read more »

Night and Nostalgia on Piano

jenny-lin-insomnimaniaJenny Lin
InsomniMania (Koch International Classics)
Silvestrov: Piano Works Nostalghia (Hänssler Classic)

Jenny Lin has seemingly infallible piano technique, not merely in terms of velocity but also evenness of touch and beauty of tone. She also has an admirable devotion to modern classical music, with the majority of her releases exclusively concerned with the music of our time. On her newest CD, these are applied to a program built around the theme of "night": states of sleep, lack of sleep, dreams, nachtmusik, and more. Read more »

Postcards in the Fall

marsha_malametMarsha Malamet: Coney Island Winter (Decca)

Some records are evocative and wistful, conjuring with just the right amounts of longing and loss. One such artifact is Marsha Malamet's 1969 LP Coney Island Winter. A small chill of abandonment runs through this brief and hauntingly expressed affair. Where Summer footfalls and romance would have filled the air, this is a record of intense, short evenings and the intimation that what was once a cause for celebration has become a source of sighs and reflective glances. Read more »

A Fabulous Wind

clive_kennedyClive Kennedy: Clive Kennedy (UK)

Glam was a peculiar time in popular music. It allowed the genuinely weird to posture, albeit briefly, whilst forcing the sadly mundane to look like trainee drag queens. The New York Dolls got it genuinely and alarmingly right, as did Marc Bolan. Bowie claimed the era as his pilfered kingdom, but the sad buffoonery of the Glitters and Stardusts were hot on his heels as also-ran competitors. Early Roxy Music were divine Glam at its most arch. Eno, all feathers, finery and ambient soundtracks; Ferry like the decadent space-age spiv, a routine that would finally entomb him as a lounge lizard fossil. Read more »

French Vintage Sparkling Jazz

martial_solal_longitudeMartial Solal Trio: Longitude (CamJazz)

Because he's (Algerian) French, many American jazz fans have overlooked Martial Solal, but as he moves into elder-statesman status, that may be changing, as is certainly due one of the greatest living pianists. Thanks be, his albums are appearing more regularly here than they used to. Here's the latest one, with twins Francois and Louis Moutin on bass and drums, respectively (one of the great current rhythm sections). Read more »

Teaching a Tea Boy Guitar & Other Stories

craig_daviesCraig Davies: Groovin' on a Shaft Cycle (Rough Trade)

If an artist of the nature of Craig Davies were to surface today, he would earn superlative plaudits for his eclecticism and genuine verve. As it was, he emerged into the flashing strobes of the late '80s, when you couldn't give singer/songwriters away. Everything that didn't begin with an 'e' was passe, hedonism was all, and introspection was a dirty habit best indulged in behind closed doors. His two Rough Trade albums are rare escapades, forays of excellence into enduringly unique territory. Read more »

Johnny Griffin R.I.P. (April 24, 1928 - July 25, 2008)

johnny_griffinAn excellent tenor saxophonist of my acquaintance was once putting down another excellent tenor saxophonist for moving away from free jazz and playing on changes. "He couldn't stand on stage with Johnny Griffin and get away with that," he said (or words to that effect; this conversation was around 15 years ago). I retorted, "Who could? You're setting the bar awfully high there." For Johnny Griffin, whose death Figaro is reporting yesterday, was arguably the greatest bebop tenor saxophonist ever. The only way to take tenor beyond what he did with it was to go beyond bebop itself, as John Coltrane did. Read more »

The Familiar Stranger Gets Expanded

stranger_30Billy Joel: The Stranger: 30th Anniversary Edition (Columbia Legacy)

If you live in New York, it has been impossible to avoid mention of Billy Joel lately. On July 16 and 18, the semi-retired Piano Man played the last two concerts at Shea Stadium (scheduled to close at the end of the current baseball season). A week earlier, this set appeared, and if you want to know why the fanfare for Joel’s own reappearance is so loud, well, The Stranger is the reason why. This is not, in the opinion of this writer who was a Billy Joel fan before The Stranger was issued, Joel’s best album. That would be Turnstiles (and The Nylon Curtain is arguably second best). Read more »

A Venue Grows in Brooklyn

crystal_antlerPerfect summer weather, a just-eclectic-enough lineup, and a cooperatively breezy and un-pungent Gowanus Canal combined to form a sort of axis of righteousness on Saturday, July 12. Uber-promoter Todd Patrick (with Derek Impose and Lio Kanine) brought over fifteen acts from varied corners of the country to the new-ish outdoor venue The Yard, situated directly next to the canal off Carroll Street. The lot accommodates both fist-pumping front row types and the picnic table, white wine in Dixie cups crowd. When the stage antics lose your attention, The Yard's weedy overgrowths and shaded gravel trails reward exploring. Read more »

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