Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fave Jazz of 2014

Below you'll find my top 30 list of fave jazz albums of 2014, with additional comments for the top 3. I'll add that there were more jazz records released in 2014 than these that I have enjoyed and would recommend. Those can be found or will eventually be added to the full 2014 favorites list. At any rate, this is a list of 30 new jazz albums I have listened to and enjoyed so far in 2014, plus three reissues.

New albums:

1.    Moskus: Mestertyven (Hubro): Anja Lauvdal (piano), Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (bass) and Hans Hulbækmo (drums) have taken a major step towards a more distinctive expression since their more structured debut (Salemsykkel, 2012), and grown into a rather unique piano trio. Mestertyven does admittedly have nods to jazz history -- traces of Thelonious Monk and Paul Bley Trio pop up here and there -- but it is chock full of personality, bubbling with ideas and eruptive whims. Fresh, quirky, experimental, and simultaneously alluring and even funny.

2.    Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (Relative Pitch Records): Jemeel Moondoc has been relatively active in recent years, but on this release, he emerged with the best band he's lead in a long time, with contributions from Matthew Shipp (piano), Steve Swell (trombone), Hilliard Greene (bass), Newman Taylor Baker (drums) and the late trumpeter Roy Campbell. Performing alternately as a trio, quartet and quintet, they stir up a riveting and delightful mix of rough-hewn avant-blues and hard-swinging free-bop, reminiscent of the music Moondoc became known for in his time with Muntu and in varous projects throughout the 80's, yet additionally colored by his artistic adventures from then up until now.

3.    Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist/composer Max Johnson was involved as a leader or co-leader in three very interesting and distinctive albums in what seemed like something of a break-out year. The Invisible Trio was the first of to emerge of these releases, and remained a firm favorite throughout the year. A uniquely sounding trio with Johnson plus Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Ziv Ravitz on drums, they expertly glide, sprint, and jump through intriguing and subtly shape-shifting patterns.

4.    Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records)

5.    Peter Van Huffel, Michael Bates & Jeff Davis: BOOM CRANE (Fresh Sound New Talent) 

6.    Mary Halvorson: Reverse Blue (Relative Pitch Records)

7.    James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (OKeh Records) 

8.    Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings)

9.    Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi Recordings)

10.   Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Erta Ale (PNL Records/Catalytic Sound)

11.   Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer: Wiring (Intakt Records)

12.   Kris Davis Trio: Waiting For You to Grow (Clean Feed)

13.   Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform)

14.   Tarbaby with Oliver Lake & Marc Ducret: Fanon (Rogue Art)

15.   Marc Ribot Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi Recordings)
16.   Rodrigo Amado: Wire Quartet (Clean Feed) 

17.   Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (ECM)

18.   Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft & Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (RareNoiseRecords)
19.   Ross Martin, Max Johnson & Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (NotTwo Records)

20.   Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (NCM East Records

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)

Henry Butler & Steven Bernstein: Viper's Drag (Universal Music)

25.   Fred Hersch Trio: Floating (Palmetto Records)

26.   Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures: Nightshades (Clean Feed)

Angles 9: Injuries (Clean Feed)
28.   Max Johnson: The Prisoner (No Business Records)

29.   Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Live in Ljubjana (Clean Feed)

30.   Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: Double Windsor (Tzadik Records)


1.   Horace Tapscott Quintet: The Giant is Awakened (International Phonograph Inc.)
2.   Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Innerconnections (2CD, NoBusiness Records)
3.   Sun Ra:  In the Orbit of Ra (2CD, Strut)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Listening Booth: Reviews 3rd Quarter, July through September, 2014

July was more or less a month free of writing, seing as Klassekampen's music supplement takes a break throughout that month. I did, however, write some reviews for Jazznytt, Norway's premier jazz monthly, which was relaunched this September.

Several of the records reviewed during these months had been out for a while when my write-ups hit the streets, the exception being my review of the latest Spoon which was published the week the album came out, as well as this week's review of two recent Wadada Leo Smith albums, both of which were released this September.

Speaking of the Leo Smith discs, they are both very good albums that share some common themes: change, particularly over long periods of time, and open spaces. On the brilliant The Great Lakes Suites, Leo Smith hooks up with Henry Threadgill on saxophone and flutes and drummer Jack DeJohnette, in addition to long-time partner John Lindberg on bass. This is stunning, expansive music that is both calm, restrained and patient, yet in bursts volatile and throbbing. This is in line with Smith's vision of the lakes and their importance to the surrounding areas: huge, flat surfaces that at a glance seem peaceful, but with pockets of bustling activity, they're scenes for both recreation as well as commerse and growth. Here, Threadgill plays some of his most touching saxophone lines in years, pensive and careful yet firm and assertive, particularly on the majestic "Lake Huron", equaled by Wadada's longing and piercing trumpet tones, while Lindberg and DeJohnette create supportive frameworks, quietly rumbling and suspensefully bubbling. It is a lovely album.

Red Hill was recorded with a slightly younger generation of musicians: Jamie Saft on keys, Joe Morris – perhaps best known as a guitarist – on bass, and Balasz Pandi on drums. It contains three compositions named after rock formations, and one that shares its name with the Roman diety Janus, a symbol for change, among other things. Rock too, of course, has been formed over long periods of time. With this in mind, the tunes too take time to develop, yet are comparatively busier once they get going. It is intriguing and thrilling music, and in comparison to Great Lakes..., it is equaly cerebral music, yet not quite as emotionally stirring.
  •  Spoon: They Want My Soul (Lomo Vista) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 4th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  •  Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (Relative Pithc Records) – 8* 8Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 25th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  • Peter van Huffel's Gorilla Mask:  Bite My Blues (Cean Feed) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 8th, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
  • Peter van Huffel, Michael Bates & Jeff Davis: BOOM CRANE (Fresh Sound New Talent) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 8th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 29th, 2014. 5,5 out of 6)
  • Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft & Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (RareNoiseRecords) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 29th, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
Additional reviews:

(These were reviewed for the September 2014 issue of the relaunched Jazznytt magazine, who operate without a grading system)
  • Håkon Stene: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal (Hubro) (Tentative grade: 6)
  • Ross Martin, Max Jonson & Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (NotTwo Records) (Tentative grade: 7)
  • The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform Records) (Tentative grade: 7)
* Grades adjusted for the PerfectSounds scale.

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)
* Grades adjusted for the PerfectSounds scale.

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.


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.
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