Music Review

Best Jazz of 2007

piano-vortexAs was the case with my best-of-2007 list of new rock, pop, and soul releases, most things on this list are on independent labels. Sadly, though, that's because the major labels (aside from Universal-distributed ECM) just don't bother with jazz's low-selling artists anymore. Even Blue Note is more interested in chasing the adult contemporary market in the wake of their success with Norah Jones, though their reissues are still a great boon. But in terms of musical quality (as opposed to sales numbers and promotion), does it make any difference whether a Dave Douglas album is released on RCA or on his own Greenleaf imprint? As long as we get it... Read more »

Best Recordings of 2007: Rock/Pop/Soul/etc.

dap_kingsAs the pop music mainstream becomes ever more corporate, lowest common denominator music aimed at mall-culture teens dominates. Outside the mainstream, though, diversity reigns and anything can happen. The most interesting part of this phenomenon is that it’s mostly happening on small labels. When you don’t have to sell a minimum of 500,000 (or whatever) copies of an album to hit your corporate goals – when 50,000 is considered a runaway success – a lot more interesting things can happen, or are allowed to happen. So there’s no need to lament the decline of your favorite genre, be it pop, rock, soul, because if you look beyond the flashy flavor of the month, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. Read more »

Best Recordings of 2007: Classical

songs_are_sungAny "death of classical" moanings can be safely dismissed merely by observing the continued profusion of classical recordings each year. Has it become more of a niche market? Yes. But the internet, especially the fine website (which has the best search engine), makes it easier to track down CDs on small labels - and big ones as well, in the wake of Tower's demise and the downsizing of the classical department at Virgin. And of course there's iTunes for those (unlike this writer) who don't fetishize the physical packaging. I don't pretend that this is a definitive list, but I am convinced of the lasting value of every item on it. Read more »

Last-Minute Gift Ideas

corner-sessionsThere are the obvious gifts that you’ve probably already seen recommended in many guides like this. Legacy’s completion of its series of Miles Davis box sets covering his Columbia studio sessions up to his 1975 sabbatical, The Complete On the Corner Sessions, is certainly another commendable entry, with six CDs documenting 16 1972-75 sessions that revolutionized jazz as much as anything else Davis had done – though this radical rethink certainly met more resistance at the time. But Miles fans already have a lot of it. Read more »

Joel Dorn April 7, 1942 - December 17, 2007

joel_dornEven before I met Joel Dorn, I felt like I knew him. The CDs his label 32Jazz issued almost always included his thoughts about and/or experiences with the musicians and music contained therein, sometimes reverent and more often witty. He could’ve had as great a career as a writer as he had as a producer. When I did meet him, it was to interview him for a now-defunct website. Alas, my tape recorder malfunctioned and I was unable to transcribe from it and thus wrote no article. I felt doubly guilty because he had been so warm and friendly. He had been in person exactly the man I had extrapolated from his writing. Read more »

A Rarely Heard Bird

tony_birdTony Bird: Tony Bird (CBS, 1976)
Bird of Paradise (CBS, 1978)

Born in 1945 and growing up in Malawi, Tony Bird might be expected to have absorbed some unusual influences, and indeed he did. Long before Paul Simon’s Graceland brought quirky African vibes to bear on Western folk, Bird created music of wonderful fusion and vibrancy. Read more »

He Shall Be Levon: Then and Now

rco_allstars.jpgLevon Helm and the RCO All Stars
Live at the Palladium NYC New Year's Eve 1977 (Levon Helm Studios)
Levon Helm Dirt Farmer (Vanguard)

Arguably one of the finest popular music groups in recent decades, The Band officially disbanded in 1976, its members having been on the road for almost twenty years commencing in the late '50s as Ronnie Hawkins’s band, on to notoriety as Bob Dylan’s backup and collaborators, then stardom on their own as The Band. Read more »

Matthew Shipp Trio: Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear)

shipp_vortex.jpgWith this latest trio effort by pianist Matthew Shipp, we are led deeper into his dark, lyrical maelstrom. Slight touches of Tristano can be felt as Shipp caresses and brushes the keys in his usually offensive (as opposed to defensive) manner, as in the title piece, where he creates an inviting rather than threatening whirlwind, always on the attack, in his brutal love affair with his instrument. Here we are taken on short, sometimes bumpy rides, as with the Herbie Nichols-esque, off-kilter rollercoastering of "Key Swing." Read more »

Hank Thompson: 3 September 1925 - 6 November 2007

hank_thompson.jpgOne of the greats of country music is gone. Henry William "Hank" Thompson died at the age of 82 on Tuesday night at his home in the Fort Worth suburb of Keller after a short bout with aggressive lung cancer. With 29 Top 10 Country hits from 1948 through 1975, and over sixty million records sold, he earned induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the Nashville Songwriters HOF in 1997.

As a youngster, Thompson won radio station WACO's talent show so often that after awhile he was banned from competing, though they kept him around, first as a guest singer and then as a weekly show host (for which position he was dubbed Hank the Hired Hand). Read more »

John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (ECM)

abercrombie.jpgAbercrombie ascends and transcends on this disc, released earlier this year. The Third Quartet achieves a level of sublimity this ensemble flirted with on their previous two superb outings, Cat 'n Mouse (2002) and Class Trip (2003). Abercrombie, in pursuit of “a more acoustic” sounding band relative to his earlier units (he seems to re-invent his bands about every five years or three to four recordings) has evolved a spatial ambience inclusive of his quietest acoustic musings and the energy of his most bombastic electric playing with a stunning subtlety, with violinist Mark Feldman’s additional intuitive intertwining and creative violin contributing to the overall chamber jazz atmosphere. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Thelonious Monk Born 90 Years Ago

monk-fezBorn October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Monk was raised in New York City from 1922 on. He started playing piano at age nine and eventually applied his keyboard skills to playing in church and going on tour with an evangelist. His first studio recordings came with Coleman Hawkins in 1944, while his first recordings as a leader came for Blue Note in 1947. By that point Monk had already had a major influence on the development of bebop as the house pianist at Minton's Playhouse. Read more »

Rainbow Sighting

in_rainbows.jpgRadiohead: In Rainbows (online edition)

Expectation can make you crazy. And with the release of their latest effort, via a unique pay-as-you-wish internet scheme, Radiohead announced in more ways than one that they know the stakes. In Rainbows popped into my inbox at 2:22 AM New York time (I had opted for the fixed price deluxe set, which will be delivered in December, including vinyl albums!, but still got my download access) and as soon as I unzipped it I was pulled in by a magnet of sound. Read more »

Charlie Hunter Trio: Mistico (Fantasy)

charlie_hunter.jpgThe guitarist with two brains and four hands is back. Hunter is prolific and a restless advocate of changing things and mixing it up with a humor and skill that’s attracted a diverse fan base including the jam band crowd, jazz guitar buffs, and more. On Mistico, Hunter puts the twang back in the thang with energetic audiokinetics for nine original tracks. The loose, often jangling, borderline psychedelic-dream instrumentals tend to have a strong ’60s throwback vibe via effects and the stripped-down analog recording technique employed. Read more »

Joe Zawinul: A Musical Journey Through His Life (July 7, 1932 - Sept. 11, 2007)

joe_zawinul.jpgJosef Erich Zawinul, who died on Tuesday of skin cancer, was a major pioneer of jazz fusion. His best epitaph was written by Miles Davis in 1970 for the sleeve of the LP Zawinul: "In order to write this type of music you have to be free inside of yourself and be Josef Zawinul with two beige kids, a black wife, two pianos, from Vienna, a Cancer and Cliche-Free."

Born in Vienna, raised playing accordion, Zawinul was classically trained but came to love jazz and moved to the United States in 1959, working with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson (where he met saxophonist Wayne Shorter) and then singer Dinah Washington. Read more »

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