Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I was wrong & putting 2006 to rest

I was wrong: much as I love the intriguing and flexible interplay of his trio on Zero Degree Music, Adam Lane's New Magical Kingdom with his Full Throttle Orchestra is better. I've mentioned Mingus and rock, but I also hear David Murray's Ming in the mini-big band's monstrous riffs, and even some traces of Ellington ca. the underrated Afro-Eurasian Eclipse.

Don't know how much more I will add to and edit the 2006-lists. Sure, if for some reason I missed a top 10 record I might, but I don't think I'll bother with lower entries.

Best live shows of 2006? Off the top of my head: The Wrens at Øya, Girl Talk at the Mercury Lounge, the Thermals at Rockefeller. I may have forgotten some.

Best night out: The eve before Halloween at the Annex. Marie Antoinette was there, I swear.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Penguin Guide to Jazz

When I started to really get into jazz some 10-12 years ago, I wanted to find a resource to help me in my search for great records. Now, this was before I had easy and daily access to the web, so I was by and large looking for books. I shifted through a good few, but eventually ended up using The Penguin Guide to Jazz (abbr. PGJ) as my main point of reference. The reason? Well, a few: the sheer amount of records covered, and I also thought the writing by Richard Cook and Brian Morton was crisp and funny. But more than anything it was because some of the records I already liked (e.g. The Shape of Jazz to Come and Out to Lunch) were given thumbs-up, so there was a common base to work from, and also because of their use of the "Crown" in their rating system, which was reserved for a very few records. This appealed to me because it was a sober overview of their favorite records, and because their choices did not lean too heavily on the superstars of jazz. There were, and still are, enough resources out there telling you how great and essential every Miles Davis record is. Not that I don't like Miles, but I had no need for that. Thanks to Cook and Morton, I discovered such favorites as Charles Gayle's Touchin' on Trane, Papa Celestin & Sam Morgan, Mingus' The Black Saint & the Sinner Lady, Sun Ra's Jazz in Silhouette, and many more.

As my knowledge about jazz and the confidence in my own ears grew over the years, my liking and use for the PGJ lessened. I took issue with their occasional nit-picking over packaging - while I understand it from a purely consumer point of view, my main interest is the music itself even if the record comes in a brown paper sleeve with just the name printed on the front (though I agree it is important and helpful with extensive and well written booklets and sessionography when it comes to career overviews such as collections and box sets). The fact that they only cover records that are in print was also starting to bug me, and I began to notice that my taste often differed quite a lot from theirs (as is to be expected, and that in itself is not a reason why it should not remain a good resource).

In the last few editions of the PGJ, Cook and Morton have added to their "Crowns" a Core Collection, which I guess is supposed to be a more objective collection of records to balance with their subjective "Crowns". If you're looking for a quick view into these, Tom Hull (who I nowadays trust much more in terms of taste) has a list of them here. I own and love many of the records in the Core Collection, but some of their choices seem to me to have been picked - because of their "in print only"-policy - to cover for records that are no longer in print. I mean, you want an Air record in your collection (you actually want more than one Air record in your collection), but would you really pick Air Time over Air Lore?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Reading, not writing

Apologies for the lack of updates on the blog. I've been caught up in reading, primarily Allen Lowe's That Devilin Tune (included as part of the CD-set), and I've been lacking the inspiration and motivation to comment on both mix-tapes and the fact that people elsewhere have discovered something most Norwegians have not, that Margaret Berger makes good pop music.

I have some things in the pipeline, though.

Also thanks to LeDrew of Destination: Out and Mwanji Ezana of be.jazz for linking back to my blog, more specifically my Jazz faves of 2006. (A side note: the Jazz record section has been only sporadically updated lately, but I'll try to do some work on it soon).

Finally, an interesting piece from PopMatters regarding Anthony Barxton.

Monday, January 15, 2007

This Moment in Black History

It isn't fair to try and cram the album I've been enjoying the most during the first few weeks of 2007 into my 2006 list just because that is when it came out (although it was realeased late in the year). Therefore, this terrific whirlwind of human anger and energy - as oppsed to male brutality, which took the fun out of hardcore a long time ago - sharp guitars, bashing rhythms, and smart but barely decipherable political slogans it is easy to agree with, will currently hold the top spot for favorite album of 2007.

And I'm gutted I missed them at CMJ.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Favorite Jazz Albums of 2006

I had initially planned this to be posted on the Norwegian blog as a response to the increasingly narrow scope of Norwegian Jazz critics - this year exemplified by Dagsavisens Roald Helgheim choosing to flag an all Norwegian top 10 (enough of the self-congratulations already). I guess the lack of space afforded to Jazz in the dailies, plus the few records that companies do send, limit what the critics can write about. But I would hope that love and appetite for music would make them search for new music as well, and not just sit back and take whatever is handed to them. Maybe they do search, but if so that doesn't show in their columns, reviews, or top ten lists. They are usually filled with familiar faces, not to speak of the same record labels (most notably ECM). There is nothing new about this situation, though. I had qualms last year too. Anyway, Zoilus's call for more Jazz top lists prompted me to post mine on the regular page, so here goes:

1. Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)

Ornette's tone and sense of melody is as strong and beautiful as ever. Coleman's themes, which sound fresh and new yet oddly familiar at the same time, are given added color by the use of two basses; Tony Falanga playing melodies with his bow, Greg Cohen providing as steady a pulse as Charlie Haden once did. Ornette's kid Denardo bangs the drums. Not only my fave jazz record, but my overall favorite of 2006.

2. Adam Lane Trio - Zero Degree Music (CIMP)
Punkish Jazz. Bassist and band leader Adam Lane has many projects going, but this trio recording is my favorite. Lane's bass lines are assertive and prodding, and he is augmented by the excellent saxophone of Vinny Golia, who goes from a whisper to a scream at the drop of a hat. Vijay Anderson is just as solid behind the drum kit (originally released in 2005).

3. Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra - New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed)
Swings like a motherfucker. It is easy to hear Lane's debt to Charles Mingus, but where Mingus used politics to fuel the energy of his music, Lane uses his love for avant rock, hence the guitars. Powerful stuff.

4. The World Saxophone Quartet - Political Blues (Justin Time)
The Quartet is augmented by James Blood Ulmer and a backing band to help them bring the outrage, blues style-e, as they pick a fight with the current administration . But they also bring the funk, much thanks to Jamaladeen Tacuma's bass. Inspirational verse: "I've got the political blues, now we're stuck with Bush, Cheney and Rice / I've got the political blues, the Republican Party is not very nice"

5. Ben Allison - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)
Another young bassist and leader, and yet another small big-band with guitar for added chops - and it works. Allison is Haden to Lane's Mingus, which helps explain his somewhat mellower approach both as a bassist and as a songwriter. This doesn't mean they don't "rock out" when it's called for, and Allison's not too fond of "Tricky Dick" Cheney either.

6. Odyssey the Band - Back in Time (Pi Recordings)

7. Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, William Parker - Palm of Soul (AUM Fidelity)

8. Bobby Previte - Coalition of the Willing (Ropeadope Music Entertainment)

9. Mario Pavone - Deez to Blues (Playscape)

10. Atomic - Happy New Ears (Jazzland)
Honorable mention:
  • Adam Lane Trio - Music Degree Zero (CIMP)
  • Nels Cline - New Monestary: A Journey Into the Music of Andrew Hill (Cryptogramophon)
  • Jon Faddis - Terranga (Koch)
  • Erik Friedlander - Prowl (Cryptogramophon)
  • Sonny Rollins: Sonny Please
  • Trio 3 (Lake, Workman, Cyrille) - Time Being (Intakt)
  • David S. Ware: Balladware (AUM Fidelity)
For all my gripes about the Norwegian press, you'll probably be able to find patterns in my choices, too: Four of the records were led by bassist; three records were explicitly political in titles and imagery or even words; James Blood Ulmer was involved in two of the records in the top 10; nine - 9! - of the records were by American artists. Well, there you go.
For other lists of Jazz records from the year that went by, head over to Jazzhouse's list section here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Jackin' Pop 2006 results

Wow that was fast, especially since the votes were due just before Christmas. But I guess they had to get it out as quickly as possible if they were to compete in any way with Village Voice's Pazz & Jop.

I'm still a bit surprised by the consensus over TV on the Radio's latest as the best album of 2006. It seems to have grown on a lot of people during the year, but I hasn't grown on mean me. I like it somewhat, but for all it's supposed smartness, I think it sounds more intelligent than it is. But we can't agree on everything.

Happy to see Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar finish quite strongly, for a new jazz album, at no. 45. Also glad to see The Thermals' record at 27, another one that has seemingly been attracting more interest during the last few months, no doubt helped by their excellent live shows. Their record is proof, to me at least, that a seemingly direct approach can easily be combined with intelligence, even in 2006.

Special mention to Marit Larsen, whose Under the Surface clocked in at no. 113 above the likes of Guillemots, who received much love by the Norwegian press, and Bonnie "Prince" Billie, whose self-pity seemed to have lessened somewhat last year. Still don't like his yelps, tho'.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

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