Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Listening Booth: Reviews 2nd Quarter, April through June, 2014

With the summer vacation well and truly over, and the first reviews of the fall season already published this week, here is a belated overview of records reviewed from April through June, 2014. Additional notes on some notable releases I for one reason or another have not covered previously will be posted at some point later in the week. The first quarter overview can be accessed here. A list of my fave recordings from January to July can be found here.
  • Moskus: Mestertyven (Hubro Records) – 9* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 14th, 2014. 5,5 out of 6)
  •  1982: A/B (Hubro Records) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, May 12th, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (Rough Trade) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 2nd, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
  •  Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 23rd, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  •  Angles 9: Injuries (Clean Feed) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 23rd, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)

Monday, August 04, 2014

A belated, short Charlie Haden tribute


 Late in the evening on July 11, while vacationing on the western coast of Norway, I logged on to the web via my cell phone for one of the two daily web news updates I hade allowed myself. It didn't take many page views before I read that Charlie Haden had died. Suffice to say, I was deeply saddened. Few pieces of music has moved, shaped and formed me as much as the music Haden made with Ornette Coleman's early quartet, and although I wasn't as enthusiastiv about many of his later collaborations, almost everything he did seemed heartfelt and genuine, and his playing was always a joy to hear. I was lucky enough to see Haden with Coleman and drummer Billy Higgins at Battery park during a day of celebration of Ornette's muci in Battery Park, Manhattan, May 1st 2000.

I was contacted late that July night by Norwegian daily Dagbladet, asking for a comment on Haden and his music. Here's a translated (and slightly edited) version of what I wrote:

- [Charlie Haden] was a giant, a brilliant and distinctive musician, and from what I've heard by people who have been lucky enough to have met him, a humble and extremely friendly man.

- As a leading member of Ornette Coleman's quartet in the late 50s and early 60s, he was deeply involved in the development of jazz as an expression. Given Coleman's democratic principle that encouraged and allowed his fellow musicians to be more involved and gave them inceased musical freedom, Haden became more than just a sideman in the quartet, writes Monsen.

- His powerful yet warm bass tone was as often in the foreground as it was the music's heart and driving force, simultanously liberal and open, deep and vibrant.

- He was both frenetically energetic and thoughtfully lyrical, politically radical and heartbreakingly sensitive. His influence on modern jazz bassists is evident, both in terms of playing style and in the open minded approach to music. He also inspired punk and rock musicians (eg. Minutemen), and maintained a close relationship with the country & bluegrass music of his childhood.


R.I.P.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Fave music January to July 2014. Top 35 albums:

I never got around to posting a "first quarter" list. Truth be told, I never got around to doing a whole lot of things I should have done in the first half of 2014, but consider this an attempt to rectify some of that.

If the list is heavy on jazz, it may be partly because jazz has occupied more of my listening hours from January to July than any other type of music, but also because in my opinion there have been some very good jazz albums so far this year.

Having a soft spot for sax/bass/drum combos, I picked up and Washington, DC based tenor man Brian Settles and his fine loose, spirited and bluesy postbop record Folk (Engine Studios) early in the year. Even better was James Brandon Lewis' Divine Travels (OKeh/Sony); weaving gospel tinged melodies in loose knit avant-bop frameworks, the album is full of warmth in its stormy moments, and commitment in its quiet ones. Supported and colored by the soulful and authoritative bass of William Parker and the drumming of Gerlad Cleaver. A late discovery in the S/B/D trio format is Berlin based Canadian Peter Van Huffel's Boom Crane (Fresh Sound New Talent), who together with bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeff Davies whips up some very exctiting freewheeling and booming yet catchy and at times even funky postbop that has hardly left my stereo in week.

In the "other trios" category, bassist and composer Max Johnson, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and drummer Ziv Ravitz has ceated some highly absorbing, shape shifting and pulsating music on Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent), making it one of the stand out releases this spring. For piano trios, I've enjoyed both Kris Davis Trio's Waiting For You to Grow (Clean Feed), Danny Fox Trio's Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records) and Fred Hersch Trio's lyrical Floating (Palmetto Records), yet no album regardless of genre has grabbed me as much as Moskus' lovely little Mestertyven (Hubro), brimful of playful, brisk, eruptive and elliptical music.

Other jazz albums of note are Steve Lehman Octet's intriguing, multifaceted and groovy Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings), Sarah Manning's nature and folk inspired Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone Records), Microscopic Septet's Manhattan Moonrise, and Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek and Thomas Fujiwara's heavy, almost progish Thumbscrew (both Cuneiform Records). There have been other notables too, of course, and I'm still not finished sifting through some promising 2014 realeases.

For pop rock, Dagens Ungdom's sophisticated lyrical wit may not easily translate into English, but their melodies should to anyone attuned to preppy and jangly British or Kiwi guitarpop from the 80's. Paul Heaton, himself a veteran of the 80's, has returned rather triumphantly with Jacqui Abbott. On the rock side of things, Wussy has followed up the great Strawberry with what might be an even better album with the quiet majesty of Attica!. Withered Hand finally won me over with New Gods, and Bob Mould has made his best Sugar record since, well, Sugar with Beauty and Ruin. Post-punk veterans Nightingales grins and snarls on the witty vinyl only For Fucks' Sake, and while I prefer their jumpier previous effort, Sunbathing Animal still showcases Parquet Courts as probably the smartest songwriters currently active in "indie" rock. And Miranda Lambert's rocks as much as all of those on Platinum, which sounds more and more like a winner with each spin.

I do wish I'd heard and connected with more hip hop releases, 'though, but the year's not over yet, and hopefully the summer will give me time to not only catch up, but discover new releases too. Without further ado, the list as of now:
  1. Moskus: Mestertyven (Hubro)
  2. Wussy: Attica! (Damnably)
  3. Max Johnson Trio:  The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  4. Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville)
  5. Peter Van Huffel, Michael Bates & Jeff Davis: BOOM CRANE (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  6. Withered Hand: New Gods (Foruna Pop!)
  7. Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings)
  8. Dagens Ungdom: Dagens Ungdom (Metronomicon Audio)
  9. Bob Mould: Beauty and Ruin (Merge Records)
  10. James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (OKeh Records)
  11. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (Virgin EMI)
  12. Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersounds)
  13. Kris Davis Trio: Waiting For You to Grow (Clean Feed)
  14. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?)
  15. The Nightingales: For Fuck's Sake (self-released)
  16. Microscopic Septet: Manhattane Moonrise (Cuneiform)
  17. Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess)
  18. Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown)
  19. Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask:Bite My Blues (Clean Feed)
  20. Big Ups: Eighteen Hours of Static (Tough Love / Dead Labour)
  21. Made to Break: Cherchez La Femme (Trost)
  22. Danny Fox Trio: Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records)
  23. Sarah Manning: Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone Records)
  24. Brian Setles Trio: Folk (Engine Studios)
  25. Fred Hersch Trio: Floating (Palmetto Records)
  26. Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures: Nightshades (Clean Feed)
  27. Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (Bloodshot Records)
  28. Max Johnson: The Prisoner (No Business Records)
  29. Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters (In De Goot Recordings)
  30. Against Me: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble Music)
  31. Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Thomas Fujiwara: Thumbscrew (Cuneiform Records)
  32. Afghan Whigs: Do the Beast (Sub Pop Records)
  33. Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (mixtape)
  34. Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Liverevil (Hot Cup Records)
  35. Rich Halley 4: The Wisdom of Rocks (Pine Eagle Records)
If the above list doesn't resemble the list on the 2014 page as of now, it's because that one hasn't been updated in ages.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Listening Booth: Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

I'v usually only posted short notes or even just grades for my already published reviews, but at the request of a few English speaking friends, I thought I'd try to translate an entire review and posted it here. We'll see if I can find time to do this more often. First out, Parquet Courts' Sunbathing Animal, originally reviewed for Musikkmagasinet, Klassekampen and published June 5th, 2014.


Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (Rough Trade):
When Brooklyn based Parquet Courts came rambling full of zest and determination and presented Light Up Gold in 2012, it was good news for those of us with a hankering for brisk if rough hewn rock, where snarls soon give way to grins and then back again. Their 2011 debut had snuck under the radars of many, yours truly included, but one wonders if that very fact may have given the band a chance to hone their craftsmanship.

Because Light Up Gold was the sound of a band who appeared to have found their voice. Molded from the drone rock of the Modern Lovers and The Feelies, but more rattling and full of character. "I'm master of my craft," Austin Brown, one of the band's two singers, asserted on the album's opening track, seemingly on behalf of the quartet. A slacker band whose stories often concerned not falling into the slacker trappings, but rather fighting against writers block and a squeezed labor market, for self-assertion and, lets not forget, trying to sate the appetite post Mary Jane inhalation.

And that they master their craft they proved, so any major tinkering with the formula shouldn't really be necessary. On the other hand, if you have something new to say, some change to the scenery could strengthen the impression. Perhaps that is why the title tune, "Sunbathing Animal", was the first thing most of us got to hear from the new album. Harder and even more snarling than what they had on offer last time around, propelled by a motoric beat in full gear. "This manic pace I cannot slow," as Adam Savage verbalizes it towards the songs end. Lively and fresh.

But whereas the mellower tunes at the previous juncture had a gently rocking feel to them, in slower tempos here they seem to trudge. They do indeed seem slack, and the lyrics – whether observational or quirky stories, as always articulately written – are not enough to grab my attention alone. That said, I did chuckle at the "NO" outburst in "Dear Romano", which seemed like a nod to Televison's Marquee Moon classic "Venus".

On the other hand, Sunbathing Animal sparkles when the band switches on and the riffs spring link they do on "Black and White", with its tumbling bass line imitating the narrator's naked decent down the stairs, and hand claps intensifying the songs gleeful abandon. This and the album's title track, the bouncy "What Color Is Blood", "Vienna II" with its twirling guitars, and the stomping "Back In Town" prove that Parquet Courts are still masters of their craft. When they can be bothered. – 7 (originally 4,5 out 6).

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Listening Booth: Reviews 1st Quarter, Jan. through March, 2014


An overview of records reviewed from January through March.
  • Arild Andersen Trio: Mira (ECM) – 6* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 20th, 2014. 4 out of 6)
  • Tord Gustavsen Quartet: Extended Circles (ECM) – 5* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 20th, 2014. 3,5 out of 6)
  • Barbara Manning: Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone Records) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, February 3rd, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  • Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen February 24th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  • Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note) – 6* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, March 31st, 2014. 4 out of 6)
  • James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (OKeh) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen March 31st, 2014 5 out of 6)
  • Nils Petter Molvær: Switch (OKeh) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen March 31st, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)

* Grades adjusted for the PS scale.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Fave jazz of 2013

I have previously stated my reluctance to post end of year lists until sometime into the new year, as even at this stage of the year, I'm still sifting through some of the releases that have been sent to me, or ones I have picked up myself along the way, yet not had time to listen to yet. Plus, there are late releases that just haven't accumulated enough plays to register properly, and may not until sometime into the new year; Brian Settles Trio's Folk and Ben Allison's The Stars Look Very Different Today, both sounding very good the last time I played them, being two recent examples. However, I've gotten used to the deadlines for Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll – which asks pollsters to consider albums from around Thanksgiving the previous year to Thanksgiving the year in question, rather than strictly releases from the year that still has almost a month to go – and similar polls, so I'm comfortable enough to post an end-of-year list now (which, as it happens, is very much near the end of the year), while considering the late-comers for a later day. In the case of Settles, Allison and others like them, these should be eligible for the Jazz Critics poll for next year anyway, and so hopefully will not be forgotten by the time we get there.

Anyway, here are my 25 fave jazz albums of 2013. There were several more worthy records this year, and as I mentioned up top, even more may pop up over the coming weeks, but I had to stop somewhere and 25 seemed like a decent number.

  1. Eric Revis Trio feat. Kris Davis and Andrew Cyrille: City of Asylum (Clean Feed) – Those who knew the remarkable and boundary crossing bassists Eric Revis only from (fairly) straight-ahead settings with the likes of Branford Marsalis, have been missing out. As his work with Avram Fefer, the post post-bop (you read that correctly) group Tarbaby, and his previous outing as a leader for Clean Feed have proven, Revis is a musician well-versed in the jazz's outer reaches too, but equally important, capable of blurring the lines between the traditional, the modern and the avant-garde. For City of Asylum, Revis teamed up with the equally talented pianist Kris Davis and veteran drummer Andrew Cyrille, mostly improvising a series of loose-knit themes ranging from the graceful to the ominous, creating suspenseful tension, deconstructing a Monk tune and relaxing a stiff-legged Keith Jarrett original along the way, in the latter case the the result was the most moving piece of music I heard in 2013.

  2. Barry Altschul: The 3Dom Factor (TUM Records) – Barry Altschul's first record as a leader in 28 years, where he re-examines several compositions from his past and adds three new ones. In collaboration with the bustling sax of Jon Irabagon and the meaty bass of Joe Fonda, Altschul whips up playful, loose and at times refreshingly humorous free spirited jazz. Melodies, always central here, spin out of purposefully tumbling yet resolute and pivotal rhythms as the musicians expertly straddle the rowdy and the buoyant.

  3. Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias (Pi Recordings) – Although Steve Coleman has always made intriguing music, this is his best album in a while, full of pulsating zig-zag funk rhythms with complex and thrilling, twirling and leaping melodic lines and thematic ideas.

  4. Adam Lane Trio: Absolute Horizon (NoBusiness Records) – Bassist Adam Lane and altoist Darius Jones have long seemed like kindred spirits, both having a penchant for raucous and spirited avant leaning yet thematically focused jazz, infused with rough hewn blues and groovy acoustic funk, among other things. On this exciting, fully improvised set, the two together with drummer Vijay Iyer explore open landscapes of musical ideas, taking tentative steps in one direction, then another, only to dive into grab-the-reins thrill rides at the drop of a few notes, the twists and turns so expertly executed you'd be forgiven to think it was composed.

  5. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock (Hot Cup Records) – While 2007s Shamokin!!! remains my fave MOPDtK album, I've loved every record these über jazz spass-makers have released since, Slippery Rock being no exception. Billed as main man Moppa Elliott's attempt at channeling smooth jazz through his own musical language, this showcases yet again the quartets free spirited inventiveness, keen musicianship as well as their knowledge of jazz' heritage, with the added punch of an almost rock like sound, exemplified by Kevin Shea's booming drums and Elliott's often chugging bass.

  6. Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head (Amulet Records)

  7. Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert & Gerald Cleaver/Book of Three: Continuum (2012) (Relative Pitch)

  8. Ralph Alessi: Baida (ECM)

  9. Dr. Kay & His Interstellar Tone Scientists: Dr. Kay and the Search for True Happines (Bangles & Brass Records)

  10. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter 2: Mississippi Moonchile (Constellation)
  11. Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (Northern Spy)
  12. Nate Wooley Sextet: (Sit In the Throne) of Friendship (Clean Feed)
  13. Peter Evans Trio: Zebulon (More Is More)
  14. Mary Halvorson Septet: Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12)
  15. Kris Davis: Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed)
  16. Atomic: There's a Hole in the Mountain (Jazzland)
  17. The Necks: Open (Northern Spy)
  18. Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch & Soul Searchin' (HopScotch Records)
  19. Michael Pride's From Bacteria to Men: Birthing Days (AUM Fidelity)
  20. Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies (Accurate Records)
  21. Tarbaby feat. Oliver Lake and Ambrose Akinmusire: The Ballad of Sam Langford (Hipnotic Records)
  22. Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (Pine Eagle)
  23. Mark Dresser Quintet: Nourishments (Clean Feed Records)
  24. Scott Neumann Neu3 Trio: Blessed (Origin)
  25. Rodrigo Amado Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet (Not Two Records)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 2013 Jazz Critics Poll - The results are in

For the 3rd year running, I participated in the Francis Davis run Jazz Critics Poll, this year (and hopefully for the coming years; it looks rather good, I'd say) hosted by NPR Music. The results were posted last night. Can't say I'm that surprised by the winner – artist as well as label name recognition and reverence playing its part, maybe. Though I too liked Wayne Shorter's album fine, I didn't and still don't find it worthy of a spot in my top 25, let alone top ten jazz releases of the year.

Five of my picks made the top 50, Steve Coleman's Functional Arrythmias (5) Barry Altschul's The 3Dom Factor (18), Matana Roberts' COIN COIN Chapter Two..., Eric Revis Trio's City of Asylum (44) and Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Slippery Rock (45). Glad to see Mary Halvorson's Illusionary Sea, another album I enjoyed this year yet didn't include in my votes, in the top ten. My full ballot can be accessed here, and you'll be able to access the other ballots via that link too. I'd also urge you to read Davis' accompanying essay.

Addendum: as I've mentioned in previous years, the reissue category is somewhat hurt by the fact that not everybody is sent or can access box sets by such labels as Mosaic. Their release of Clifford Jordan's The Compete Strata-East Sessions could very likely have made my ballot, based on the music I'm familiar with from that set, yet I couldn't bring myself to vote for a release I hadn't had the chance to hear in its entirety.
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