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.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Listening Booth: reviews 4th quarter, October and November, 2013

Considering year-end lists and requests for poll participation are already popping up, and I need to send in one ballot by the end of the week, I thought I'd post an overview of my published reviews from October through to November. All things going well, I'll post short notes on more albums of note, many of which date back to late summer/early fall, throughout the week.


  • Adam Lane Trio: Absolute Horizon (No Business) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, October 14, 2013. 5,5 out of 6. I also wrote an alternative write-up for the Black Friday Special, hosted by Tom Hull, which can be accessed here.)
  • Pixel: We Are All Small Pixels (Cuneiform) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, October 28, 2013. 4,5 out of 6)


  • Mopti: Logic (Jazzland Recordings) – 6* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, October 28, 2013, 4 out of 6)

  • Ralph Alessi: Baida (ECM) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 18, 2013. 5 out of 6)
  • Tim Berne: Shadowman (ECM) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 18, 2013. 4,5 out of 6)
  • Ola Kvernberg Trio: Northern Tapes (Jazzland Recordings) – 6* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 25, 2013. 4 out of 6)
  • Karl Seglem: NyeSongar.no (NORCD) – 5* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 25, 2013. 3,5 out of 6)
  • Gisle Torvik: Tranquil Fjords (NORCD) – 4* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 25, 2013. 3 out of 6)
* Grades have been re-adjusted for the PS scale.


Saturday, November 09, 2013

(New) Air live in the 80s

As many live jazz videos that have been uploaded to You Tube, coming across one of Air or even (New) Air (heck there aren't even one of Henry Threadgill's great 80s Sextet(t)), have proven a fruitless. That is, until yesterday.

While the video was uploaded a year or so ago, it was buried several pages into a search for "Threadgill" that I conducted last night. The video is taken from a film called A Place For Jazz, filmed live at the 1369 Jazz Club in Somerville, Ma., as part of a documentary on that venue, which closed in 1988. There is more info on the club and the documentary here:

Andrew Cyrille joins Henry Threadgill and Fred Hopkins here, which suggests this was filmed sometime around 1986, when Cyrille also joined Hopkins and Threadgill for gigs in Europe under the name (New) Air (Pheeroan AkLaff had taken over the drum stool after Steve McCall left in 1982).

It's a short clip, and not one of the band at their most ferocious or, *ahem* killing, but a gem nonetheless.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

R.I.P. Ronald Shannon Jackson


Albert Ayler, Charles Tyler, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, James Blood Ulmer, and again with Ulmer in The Music Revelation Ensemble, Last Exit with Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock and Bill Laswell, Power Tools with Bill Frisell and Melvin Gibbs, John Zorn, and not least his very own The Decoding Society.

That's some resumé. And those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head, just after the incredibly sad news of Ronald Shannon Jackson's passing ticked in via Vernon Reid on Twitter last night. Reid was a follower, fan and friend of Jackson, and played with him in The Decoding Society. I think it's fair to say that some of that experience seeped into Reid's music with Living Color, too, which indicates that Ronald Shannon Jackson's legacy is not solely tied to the realm of the avant jazz/rock/harmolodic funk/noise amalgam that he had helped shape ever since he supported Albert Ayler's spiritual cries some time in the mid '60s.

Jackson's playing was both joyous and ferocious, mirrored in his music as well as that of his collaborators: from Coleman's harmolodic masterpiece Dancing In Your Head to Last Exit's violent and confrontational skronk. His discography contains many highlights: Albert Ayler Quintet's Live at Slug's Saloon, recorded in 1966 and released on various labels over the years, Ornette Coleman's aforementioned Dancing In Your Head (Horizon/A&M Records, 1977), Cecil Tayor's Cecil Taylor Unit (New World Records, 1978) and 3 Phasis (New World Records, 1979), James Blood Ulmer's Are You Glad to Be InAmerica (Rough Trade, 1980), Music Revelation Ensemble's No Wave (Moers Music, 1980), Eye On You (About Time, 1980), Nasty (Moers, 1981), Man Dance (Antilles, 1982) and Decode Yourself (Island, 1985) with his The Decoding Society, Last Exit's self titled debut (Enemy, 1986), John Zorn's Spillane (Elektra Nonesuch, 1987), Power Tools' Strange Meeting (Antilles, 1987). And yet we've only scratched the surface.

Below are a few videos of Jackson with various collaborators, most of the uploaded to an account attributed to Ronald Shannon Jackson (whether the account was genuinely his or merely set up in his honor, I do not know).

 Ornette Coleman & Prime Time

Ronald Shannon Jackson & The Decoding Society


Power Tools (Ronald Shannon Jackson, Bill Frisell & Melvin Gibbs)

Last Exit

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Listening Booth: reviews 3rd quarter, August and September, 2013

Not many album reviews published in this quarter here, partly due to Musikkmagasinet taking July off, and me covering parts of the Oya Festival and Oslo Jazz Festival instead.


  • Superchunk: I Hate Music (Merge) - 8 (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 19, 2013. 5,5 out of 6)*
  • Mary Halvorson Septet: Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12) - 8 (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 9, 2013. 5 out of 6)
  • Lars Vaular: 1001 Hjem (Mer Musikk/Universal) - 7 (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 16, 2013. 4,5 out of 6)
  • Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors – Ornette Live at Prince Street (BGP/Ace) - 9 (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen,  September 30, 2013. Not graded)

Additional published writing:
  • Alabama Shakes – live at Øyafestivalen, August 7th, 2013 (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 12, 2013. 5 out of 6)
  • Haim – live at Øyafestivalen, August 10th, 2013 (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 12, 2013. 5 out of 6)
  •  Reports from Oslo Jazzfestival, 2013 (program overview and live reviews, no grades. For Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 26, 2013)
* Grade slightly adjusted for the Perfect Sounds scale.
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