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Archive for June, 2010

[image by Jos Knaepen on Flickr]

Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the recipients of its Jazz Master Fellowship for 2011.  Among those receiving the nation’s highest honor in jazz are Hubert Laws, David Liebman, Johnny Mandel – and the Marsalis Family, marking the first time a group award has been presented in the program’s 29 years.

I’ll say this:  Wynton’s an accomplished speaker/presenter and performer, but we’re not always on the same page.  I found his record with Willie Nelson, Two Men With the Blues, to be a lively and refreshing entry into the man’s discography.  Others despised it.  More collaborations like this, please.  I’ll take it any day over Blood on the Fields or Portrait of Wynton Marsalis.

Perhaps what’s even more controversial or debatable (to some) is the programming he’s curating just a few hours north of here at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but I’m not gonna go there now…

I did have the opportunity to meet Ellis Marsalis once, and hear him perform solo at the American Jazz Museum’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, perhaps the highlight of the whole event.  An Open Letter to Thelonious is a solid record.

I also dig Branford Marsalis’ Romare Bearden Revealed, which also features brothers Delfeayo and Jason, as it thumps along nicely with tunes like Ellington’s “I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue (With the Sole of My Shoe),” “Jungle Blues” and “Carolina Shout.”

Ironically, my favorite cut on the record is the one without Marsalis – or any other musicians: guitarist Doug Wamble’s solo take on “Autumn Lamp,” where he coaxes some of the most earthy, bluesy tones out of a resonator I’ve heard.

Regardless of my mixed reception of the Marsalis’ work, it’s nice to see the whole clan honored.  But they’ll have to split the $25,000 Fellowship Award five ways…but again, people aren’t in the business of jazz for the money, are they?

[see the Marsalis family take on “Struttin’ With Some BBQ” below]

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[image taken from AACM Chicago website]

Fred Anderson, owner/operator of the Velvet Lounge and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), passed away June 24 at age 81.  Thankfully, the tenor saxophonist’s mission of nurturing creativity and his devotion to developing original music will carry on through the work of the countless musicians in Chicago and beyond whom he mentored.

I first learned about Fred through my former colleague, Kansas City-based saxophonist and educator Dennis Winslett, a former ringleader at the Velvet Lounge jam sessions under Anderson’s tutelage.  Earlier this year, I reviewed 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash Live at the Velvet Lounge for popmatters.com (also viewable under ‘Published Work), in which I unleashed my affinity for alliteration when describing Anderson’s playing at his birthday gig.  Whether or not you can stomach long-form improvised pieces in the vein of this release, to quote myself, “to burn as intensely as Anderson is something for all musicians to aspire to—whether they’re 18 or 80.”

Anderson’s life and legacy will be celebrated by many.

A video interview with Fred Anderson is featured in the Chicago Tribune’s excellent tribute.    Video trailers for Fred Anderson’s 21st Century Chase and Timeless are embedded below.  NPR also posted a tribute to Anderson.

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[image swiped from jazztimes.com]

Arguably the best jazz piano couple out there, Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnesappropriately married at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2007 – both boast incredible resumes, stellar recordings and a long list of notable collaborators.  While I’ve yet to see Charlap on the stage, his 2007 recording Live at the Village Vanguard was a delightful recording deserving of its Grammy nomination.

Rosnes I’ve seen live, with the SFJAZZ Collective in 2007 on their 4th Annual Concert Tour, performing the music of Thelonious Monk, which included Rosnes’ [for lack of a better word] brilliant arrangement of Monk’s “Brilliant Corners.”

The husband/wife duo’s first joint recording on Blue Note, Double Portrait, was released last week.  Simultaneously shimmering and playful, quiet and haunting, Double Portrait carries a slight air of classical in its nine tracks but also grooves gently with Brazilian rhythms.  Standouts include Wayne Shorter’s “Ana Maria,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Double Rainbow,” Gerry Mulligan’s “Little Glory” and Rosnes original “The Saros Cycle.”

I’ve yet to find an EPK or video footage of the two performing together, but the couple were featured on NPR last week and on The Checkout on WBGO at the beginning of June.  I’m going to file this next to Alone in San Francisco.  Select tracks are available on Rosnes’ website.  Click on the image below.

EDIT: select tracks also available on Bill Charlap’s website.

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RP favorite Ben Harper unveiled the video this week for “The Word Suicide” off of his excellent 2009 album White Lies for Dark Times with his new band Relentless7.  Shot exclusively on a Flip camera, the occasionally dizzying video shows silhouettes and close-ups of Harper singing lyrics, bits of performance footage and scenic shots from the road, with emphasis on dark, cool colors to match the hazy, swirling tune and Harper’s trademark electrified Weissenborn.

I regret not catching Harper + R7’s appearance in Baltimore earlier this year.  They’ll be in Europe the remainder of the summer.  The two Harper concerts I saw in Kansas City (with the Innocent Criminals) were some of the best I’ve seen.  And mysteriously, about 1/2 of both concerts were played in the rain, same venue.  That’s another story…

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Derek Trucks is best heard live.  Live at Georgia Theatre never left my car in 2004 when it was released.  I was hooked on Trucks’ phenomenal slide playing and his band’s ability to seamlessly slip between rock, boogie, blues, jazz, Indian music, soul and funk.  While they contain impressive playing and sound production, the group’s studio recordings just don’t deliver the same punch.

Roadsongs, the group’s second live effort, showcases a band that’s tighter and even more powerful than the one heard on record six years ago.  The musicianship here is top-notch.  Mike Mattison’s smoky vocals provide a strong counterpoint to Trucks’ playing, and the arrangements are tightly constructed – yet also bust open at the seams at the right spots to unleash Trucks’ stinging guitar, punchy horns, sharp organ fills and groovy percussion.

The “crunchy clarity” of Trucks’ slide work, as I like to call it, is the kind of guitar playing that hits you right in the gut.  From the funky horns and organ of opener “I’ll Find My Way” and the hard-hitting soul of “Days is Almost Gone” to the 14-minute take on John Coltrane’s “Afro Blue” and the deep blues of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” Roadsongs, to steal a phrase from another Trucks album title, makes a joyful noise.

I just hope it’s not the last we hear from the Derek Trucks Band “proper.”  The bandleader has joined forces with his wife Susan Tedeschi (a top-notch guitarist/vocalist in her own right) to create a new group, retaining some of the DTB members – although I can’t imagine they’ll sound like the group heard here.  But if it is, it’s one hell of a way to go out.

Now I’m trying to decide if I’m willing to make the four-hour trip to Roanoke, VA for the Down by the River Festival, the closest gig Trucks is playing to my current location.  There’s a band called Bebop Hoedown on the bill.  Who’s not intrigued as to what that sounds like?

Stream Roadsongs in its entirety at derektrucks.com.  Roadsongs EPK + video for “Down Don’t Bother Me” included below.

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An alternative weekly (if you can really call it that) from my hometown of Kansas City, INK, reported that Kansas City hip-hop artist Tech N9ne was arrested yesterday in Lee’s Summit.  Full details on the arrest can be found via the link below.  Apparently the charge was failure to appear to face charges for hanging posters in unauthorized areas of Blue Springs.  He was picked up riding in a friend’s new Ferrari while testing its 0-to-70 abilities.

I’ll hand it to him – Tech N9ne has one of the most effective street teams out there,  even thought it may be annoying to see his face omnipresent on the streets when he’s got a new album coming out.  I remember driving around Kansas City last year and seeing posters for his then-to-be-released album, Killer, plastered on every corner – and I mean every corner.  And to take the outdoor advertising a step further – there’s nothing like driving down I-35 outside of downtown Kansas City and seeing this splashed up on a billboard.

So as not to put my toes in my teeth like my last post about Tech N9ne, I ask, what other artists in Kansas City have gone to this length to promote a new record?  Has anyone been arrested for hanging posters before?

Oh – and the way the story ends reminds me of another reason why I love my original stomping grounds in the Midwest: Culver’s ButterBurgers.  Nothing takes your mind off of an arrest like a gooey cheeseburger and custard. Read about Tech N9ne’s arrest here.

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I’m intrigued by the new release from David Karsten Daniels and Fight the Big Bull.  It’s arty and ambitious, layered and complex – but I’m drawn to the jarring arrangements and sudden detours.

Largely conceived through web correspondence and a week’s worth of in-studio rehearsal and recording, I Mean to Live Here Still sounds like a weird collision of  folk-pop in the vein of Mason Jennings and Ryan Adams with a nine-piece big band, where a muted trumpet gurgles over a roots-rock groove and a woody-toned clarinet cuts in and out of the mix.

Accessible songs like the “The Funeral Bell” and “Though All the Fates,” a gentle country shuffle peppered with New Orleans-style horns, are offset with atonal passages and strange drones woven throughout the ten tracks.

Needless to say, this disc is packed with a lot of ideas, and is bound to please some and completely baffle others.  It’s an approach worthy of further exploration.  I just hope the results are far more pleasing to the ears than Fight the Big Bull’s website is to the eyes.

Give it a listen – select tracks available now at MySpace.

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