Music Review

Alice Coltrane 8/27/1937 - 1/12/2007

alice_coltrane.jpgAlice Coltrane, second wife of John Coltrane and revered by avant-garde jazz fans as a great artist in her own right, has died of respiratory failure at age 69.

Born Alice McLeod in Detroit, she began classical piano lessons at age 7. Her mother was a singer and pianist in the Baptist church, and bassist Ernie Farrow (best known for his tenure in Yusef Lateef’s influential quartet) was her half brother. Later Alice performed in church and jazz groups, playing with such greats as Lateef, Kenny Burrell, Lucky Thompson, and Terry Gibbs. At that time, her style wasbebop (she took lessons from Powell in France in 1959). Read more »

Best Jazz of 2006, And More

jarrett.jpgThere's a lot of bias at work in this list. That's true of everyone's year-end lists, but I'm being upfront about it. For instance, there are three solo piano albums here. And, of course, I'm emphasizing jazz quite a lot  it's all jazz until the last two items, though arguably Arrington de Dionyso is better categorized as "Avant-garde Improvisation." The way this list is set up, it looks like my favorite folk album (entirely instrumental) and my favorite world music album (as sophisticated and complex as anything in any other category this year) are afterthoughts, but nothing could be further from the truth. Read more »

James Brown 5/3/1933 - 12/25/2006

jamesbrown Soul Brother #1, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, taught us many things in his life. His last lesson: don't die at 1:45 AM on Christmas Day, or your only obituary that day will be a piece of hackwork that's been sitting in the Associated Press files for years, slowly accumulating paragraphs detailing embarrassing brushes with the law, health problems, etc. without granting much space to what made him noteworthy in the first place: his music. If all you knew of James Brown were to be gleaned from the AP obit, you'd think his music was mostly important for inspiring disco and hip-hop.

No. Not even close. Brown's music is its own reward, and remains superior to most of what it inspired in later decades. Read more »

Ahmet Ertegun 7/31/1923 – 12/14/2006

ahmet“Ahmet bey, Effendi” was how I always greeted him -- terms of affection and respect.

Ahmet passed away on the 14th of December. He was 83 years old and, after a past series of accidents and health problems, was in great shape. He should have been around quite awhile.

At the Beacon Theatre in N.Y.C., the Rolling Stones were giving a concert for Bill Clinton’s birthday. Ahmet was backstage, where he tripped, fell on his back, and hit his head. That was on the 29th of October. He never came out of a coma. Read more »

Sharon Lewis: The Hour Lilies (2006)

hour_liliesSome albums make you fall in love with them, and should arrive with much adulation and applause, but all too often they creep into the waiting world with no fanfare, and quietly remain there, mysterious and rare. The delightful and haunting The Hour Lilies by Sharon Lewis is one such experience. A small masterpiece of English sophistication on par with Nick Drake and Kate Bush, it is accomplished and audacious, but also reflects the sad fact that not all excellence gets noticed. Self-financed and released in minute quantities to sell at gigs, and from her website, it deserves to be more widely cherished. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Jackson Browne's The Pretender released 30 years ago

pretenderWhen one of the most upbeat songs on an album is entitled "Here Come Those Tears Again," obviously there's not a lot of happy material therein. That didn't stop The Pretender from taking Jackson Browne, poster boy of the introspective singer-songwriter movement, to a new level of popularity at No. 5 on Billboard's album chart. The Pretender appeared in November 1976. Eight months earlier, Browne's wife Phyllis had committed suicide. Small wonder that this is Browne's darkest, most personal album. Read more »

Robert Lockwood Jr. March 27, 1915 - November 21, 2006

lockwoodThe short list of living blues legends became shorter Tuesday, November 21st with the passing of Robert Lockwood Jr. of complications from a stroke suffered earlier in the month. At 91 and still performing up to the time of the stroke, Lockwood was a member of a small cadre of over-90-year-old still-active legends, including James "Honeybo" Edwards, also 91, and piano legend Pinetop Perkins, 93. Most elder blues artists of their age coming from the Delta south had a passing encounter with uberlegend Robert Johnson, but none could claim the relationship Lockwood had. Johnson was the young Lockwood's stepfather for ten years. Read more »

Chamber Jazz

Chamber JazzOn October 12, Merkin Hall presented one of a series of concerts held under the intriguing banner of Chamber Jazz of which this particular night's program fit rather neatly if not a bit abstractly into, though as far as concepts go, this evening was more chamber and less jazz. It was billed under the confusing title of Cecil Taylor + 2 followed by a triple space, then Mark Feldman violin Sylvie Courvoisier piano. We all of course assumed, and I mean everyone I spoke to, that Cecil was playing with a trio and Mark and Sylvie were doing a duo. As it turned out, the latter was true but the former, completely unexpectedly, was a solo performance (my favorite Taylor setting.) Read more »

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970 (Reprise)

FillmoreSix tracks (one previously released), just 43 minutes playing time, but there’s not a Neil Young fan in the world who won’t run out and buy this immediately. This is Neil and Crazy Horse when guitarist Danny Whitten and keyboardist Jack Nitzsche were in the band.

From the opening track, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (the title track of the then-new LP Young was touring to support), the spirit and energy of this band are apparent. Read more »

An American Pink Moon

silent_song.jpgFor a debut album, Louisiana-born Ron Davies’s Silent Song through the Land (A&M, 1970) is a world-weary and somber affair of startling economy. The brevity of the arrangements and the unadorned quality of delivery marks this out as a minor American stroke of genius.

Had Nick Drake gone into an emotional tailspin and then sat around a campfire in Texas, this is how his final album might have evolved: dark, stark, and full of angst. On eight songs in fewer than twenty-five minutes, Davies delivers diverse moods and tones. Read more »

R.I.P. Snooky Pryor 9/15/21 – 10/19/06

snooky_pryor.jpgLegendary octogenarian blues harmonica player and singer James Edward “Snooky” Pryor passed away on October 19. Despite his role as one of the architects of the post-war amplified blues harp sound, the media response has been shamefully lacking.

Mr. Pryor was born in Lambert, Mississippi in 1921. His inspiration for becoming a blues harp man was the blues cornerstone Rice Miller (Sonny Boy II) whom he met in Vance, Mississippi in 1927. Pryor busked around the South before being drafted during WWII. As a musician in the service, he played bugle calls on the camp public address system. It was here that he got the idea to blow his Read more »

Eliane Elias: Around the City (RCA)

eliane_elias.jpgSao Paulo-born, NYC-based vocalist/pianist/composer Eliane Elias is one of those musicians who, stylistically speaking, has something for almost everyone. She’s a virtuoso instrumentalist with a well-deserved global reputation - she was Tom Jobim’s musical director at the age of 17, and last year her beautifully eloquent piano on husband/jazz bassist Marc Johnson’s Shades of Jade was vital in elevating that release to classic status.

Elias’s newest album is a very radio-accessible, pop-skewed collection that pulsates seductively through hot covers and finely realized originals. Elias ventures further into vocal territory here, though her signature keyboard still manifests in rewarding bursts. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Kansas' Breakthrough Album Leftoverture Released 30 Years Ago

leftoverture.jpgProgressive rock was largely a British phenomenon, but Kansas, a sextet named for its native state, is a prominent exception. On Leftoverture, its fourth album, Kansas took giant steps forward in quality and popularity. The LP, released in October 1976, sold over three million copies and peaked at No. 5 on the album chart, and the single "Carry On Wayward Son" broke the group out of cult status and into mainstream notice the following year, reaching No. 11 on the singles chart. The musical ingredients of Kansas, an interesting mix of art rock sophistication with American energy and emotiveness, are at their peak here. Read more »

Symphony for Improvisers

roy_campbellA Living Tribute to Don Cherry: Dave Douglas and Roy Campbell Perform Symphony for Improvisers
Merkin Hall, Saturday Sept. 16, 2006
Special event presented by the Font Festival

Played to a full house, this concert, dedicated to the late great Don Cherry, showcased his compositions as well as tunes dedicated to him.

Two quartets lead respectively by Dave Douglas & Roy Campbell (co-founders of the festival) occupied the first half of the program. Douglas’s group, up first, included J.D. Allen on sax, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Henry Grimes. Read more »

Al Di Meola: Consequence of Chaos (Telarc)

aldimeolaFifty-two-year-old virtuoso guitarist Di Meola is firmly ensconced in the pantheon of the greats. The unavoidable accompanying hype can, of course, get a bit thick. His assertion that Larry Coryell (a profound inspiration to Di Meola) is the ultimate “godfather” of fusion is debatable: the seminal Jerry Hahn and, perhaps most worthy of the accolade, John Abercrombie, are two that come to mind in sharing responsibility with Coryell. And then there’s John McLaughlin. Influences and opinions aside, Di Meola ascended to lofty pinnacles of success and acclaim via a formidable body of work.

Fusion’s heady entry into the commercially viable arena came via 1969’s Bitches Brew. Miles’ Read more »

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