Jazz

Blurt “Beneath Discordant Skies” (Metadrone, 2015)

R-7711828-1447237295-8380.jpegThey’re back, though they never went away, really… Equal parts punk, noise performance and square-one rock racket, Blurt is a band that always has a pulse and it’s always pumping. For those that don’t know, Blurt is usually a trio run by sax player Ted Milton, and has been one of the most inventive groups to grace us from the late Seventies onward.

Normally this would be a capsule review of one record, but I have to touch on their self-titled LP and “Live In Berlin” because they are just so unique. In Manchester they were briefly on Factory and I dare say their records outshine the flashier groups like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the rest from that time pretty easily. Those records don’t sound the least bit dated. And as a live act, they were probably more rough and raucous than The Fall.

So here is the new one, with Ted as an old man, but he STILL sounds as inventive as ever. His playing is a unique spew and can’t be summed up as an Ayler/Ornette imitation. Lyrically he’s great and he always sounds wonderfully garbled. Longtime rhythm guitarist Steve Eagles is here. New drummer David Aylewood pumps along diligently. What more should I say? If you haven’t heard what some would call a post-punk gem, I’d give Blurt some attention. I’d also just call them a heck of a modern band. -Wade

Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” (Blue Note, 1966)

Speak_No_Evil-Wayne_ShorterFeaturing fresh members Herbie Hancock out of the Miles Davis Quintet and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne continues his ideas in hard bop that he had done so well in previous work. However, Miles influences rub off as much as Coltrane had previously on him… The music is still as modal as it was on “Juju” and reminds us of his work on classic Davis releases.

In fact, shades of more classic Miles and Coltrane make up much of “Speak No Evil,” while Davis and Trane themselves were going down more precarious avenues in the mid-Sixties. That’s no slight on Shorter though, who makes fine compositions. Elvin Jones drums here but he’s kept in check, anchoring the rhythm section diligently. Bassist Ron Carter comes from Eric Dolphy’s world and is a good foil for him.

Wayne delivers an extension on the sound that Miles was known for before his forays into electric music. This was also a few steps before Wayne would get more involved with fusion himself in Weather Report… “Speak No Evil” is a great sixties Jazz album, looking back but contemporary in the best ways, sporting a talented mix of players. -Wade

John Coltrane/Archie Shepp “New Thing At Newport” (Impulse! 1965)

John-Coltrane-New-Thing-At-Newp-450028The Classic Coltrane Quartet in fine form, by 1965 they were at the pinnacle. The New Thing in question was a mix of Avant and Free music that Trane and company waded into, not immersing themselves totally in atonality. On the official vinyl album, we here the twelve minute, “One Down, One Up,” which is well worth the price of the LP by itself…

But then there is the second track and second side, and while Coltrane’s music takes us higher throughout and expresses more in ascending spurts and rips, Archie Shepp’s music revels in mid to low-tempo vibraphone rhythms. Archie himself plays sax like he’s being suffocated by a pillow, or strangled. And he staunchly reveals political leanings in spoken word moments like “Scag.”

This is a sea-change moment in Jazz, and for Coltrane in particular. A great live album by itself, the expanded CD edition is also worth grabbing for an absolutely searing rendition of “My Favorite Things” that is totally joyous and leaves the crowd screaming for more. This is right up there with “Live At Birdland” and hints the coming days and tangents of Jazz to come through two unique sets. -Wade

Kalima “Four Songs” (Factory, 1985)

R-1549929-1227690914.jpegA mid-period release that didn’t seem to fit anywhere with their label-mates going House and Electro, Kalima were an interesting group… a tangent of flagship Factory band A Certain Ratio they might have been, but very much a stand alone act.

While ACR had a dark, brooding Velvet Underground meets Mutiny vibe about them, Kalima craned their ears to more sophisticated Jazz and South American pop. Members of ACR make up Kalima’s rhythm section and more, but the direction behind Kalima’s lush numbers comes from siblings Ann and Tony Quigley, who provide vocals and sax, respectively.

The “Four Songs” EP is a great introduction to this interesting Factory venture, not quite sophisti-pop (no electronic keyboards or drum machines), they come off as earnest practitioners of forms gone by, around a time in the U.K. when House music was coming into vogue. -Wade

Cecil Taylor “Unit Structures” (Blue Note, 1966)

MI0001843438Atonal to the nth, but Cecil Taylor was probably the most classically trained and proficient player in Free Jazz at the time. Miles Davis said reviewers were crazy for their rave-ups, and claimed they were drinking too much coffee. True, Cecil here isn’t in full tumult mode so much as providing foundations for his players at hyper velocity. And later recordings would have less players or have him solo, showing off the man’s real soloing potential.

That’s what we have in “Unit Structures” in most cases; grounding that appears as quickly as it’s replaced for his associates to blare across. It takes about half of the first composition “Steps” before room is given for Cecil to play in some negative space of his own, while two bassists give color to his building blocks of sharps and flats.

Listening to this, “Conquistador” or any material to come later, it puts a grin on my face to think he played for President Carter in the White House. What a treat! -Wade

Acker Bilk “Stranger On The Shore” (Columbia, 1961)

mr_acker_bilk_with_the_leon_young_string_chorale-stranger_on_the_shore_s_1The title track on this 7” was written in a taxi cab, concerning a French girl walking down a beach in England. This perfect piece of clarinet-led pop, easy-listening used in a popular BBC serial, was also taken to the moon and enjoyed by the crew of the Apollo 10. English Clarinettist Acker Bilk worked with the Leon Young String Chorale to create the sweet and sensuous mood, as welcoming as a lit wood-fire stove, long after the sun has set on your fondest beach memory…

The b-side is a moodier affair thanks to the addition of a slow, driving waltz pattern accented by an unchanging high-hat. No drums are to be found in the title track, and so the feeling of unbridled infatuation wasn’t grounded. “Take My Lips” has Acker still leading his Chorale, but coupled with the locked drumming, his group creates a feeling of want less innocent than “Stranger…” more like pent-up desire than innocent passion.

This single can touch the heart with its simple pop arrangements, and it’s classical/jazz components are placed with sophistication. Scour the 7” bin for this one! -Wade

Buster Smith “The Legendary Buster Smith” (Atlantic, 1959)

Legendary_Buster_SmithPlaying with the great Count Basie and hailing from the same Southern locale as sax-savant Ornette Coleman (Fort Worth, TX), Buster Smith was one of those jazzmen who kept blues and jazz traditions together as tight and coarse as jute rope.

Unlike Coleman who ventured further out nationally while exploring free territory, and later amplified acts like Prime Time, Buster remained a Southern treat and and had his own way of delivering standards alongside great conventional numbers; a purist. His barebones “September Song” variant, a glum pop standard, goes well before original “King Alcohol,” featuring tumbling drums acting hardly more than brash timekeepers with Buster’s grainy blues-sax spillage upped on top. Get me a drink…

On side two “Kansas City Riffs” has some of the best interplay on the disc, and everybody makes a modest solo, even the seldom heard piano that only appears on half of the cuts. “Late Late” sounds like what could reasonably aftermath of “King Alcohol” and is as expected, a downer. Buster even switches from sax to blues guitar and shows he has chops on a six-string. For fans of Basie, Charlie Christian and even Charlie Parker with whom he affiliated, Buster Smith’s only official release is of definite interest. -Wade

Minnie Riperton “Adventures in Paradise” (Epic, 1975)

220px-Adventures_In_ParadiseA modest album after some initial direct hits, Minnie was one of those up and coming R&B divas set to rival Aretha Franklin. After losing Stevie Wonder as super-producer however, this ’75 release instead opted for an even softer and smoother production, bringing it into the fold of Quiet Storm, the pristine music reflecting the promise of Black middle-class quality of life that was expected to stick around.

The entirety of the album isn’t made up of slow-jams, however… “When It Comes Down To It” has some popping bass lines and sharp instrumental work, while “Minnie’s Lament” showcases real signs of life vocally on top of, what seems to me, like a Xenakis “Rebonds A” sort of drum loop. Really! It’s no wonder Quiet Storm and sophisticated R&B are the next forms up for assimilation by our current musical underground. On one level, the hippest kids are more empathic than ever before and are less likely to dismiss it for classy connotations, and on another, the form is still ripe for mining outside of Hip Hop. It seems only natural that people like Sade and Minnie are new points of reference for genre-appropriating youth. This stuff is reactionary socially and at times, it’s otherworldly sounding.

But how about at the time of release? Of course this was an important album to those whose young lives were being enriched by hopes of a better home and life, an opportunity to raise a family, more cosmopolitan integration. That’s what makes this release so beautiful. It’s an album about love on deeper levels. The most recognizable track drifting through Adult Contemporary stations could be “Inside My Love,” which should be noted, isn’t about sex…“will you come inside me / do you wanna ride inside my love?” But to get back to Black upward mobility, Minnie’s popular album track for radio play, “Love and it’s Glory,” was never released as a single. Yet it had massive air play and it’s message bounded out:

It’s a lonely world my children
You’ve got to do the best you can
If you’ve found a chance to love
You’d better grab it any way you can -Wade

Arto Lindsay “Invoke” (Righteous Babe, 2002)

51MuII-GVFL._SY355_A culmination of noise, Bossa Nova and The Face have wrought the career of “pop musician” Arto Lindsay. He made a big splash as one of New York’s favorite noisemakers in the three-piece of DNA. His Latin roots set in more firmly later on, when he fronted Ambitious Lovers and began work on his solo albums.

Arto became comfortable making sultry Brazilian music and made exception to cover Prince’s “Erotic City” plenty of times in the 90’s. “Invoke” shows Lindsay treading new ground away from his jet-setting idea of soul and into cerebral mood music of sorts… With his newfound confidence in sampling abilities, he plays with these forms as much as he did earlier with Brazilian crooning and detuned guitar. It’s a pretty tall order, but in Lindsay’s hands these styles come together well. Not that he’s some fancy fashioner; Arto remains earnestly self-taught and his stints in North and South America lead to genuine results and a modern, international sound.

The real standouts seem to sound as lush as luxury in NYC. “Ultra Privileged” and “You Decide” are bright tracks of mood music. Arto’s signature guitar work has been subdued from terrible noise to playful chirps, asserting itself into many song rhythms. More a studio effort than a document of his live abilities, “Invoke” is, in short, an Arto album to hear while drinking wine and wearing silk pajamas, particularly with a hip lover. -Wade

John Coltrane “Ascension” (Impulse! 1966)

albumcoverJohnColtrane-AscensionOh boy, don’t let the opening blowout scare you, there is plenty of great form and “fun” to be had listening to this transitional album from Coltrane. Since the members recorded here run a list as long as my arm, I’ll just let you know that this was a big band of all-stars veering into free jazz like a great ship running through a tropical storm.

Crewman here can obviously play, and every last one of them went on to do great things (apart from one young trumpeter who, apparently not long after this recording, lost his mind). The album itself is made up of two long takes, two sides only. It’s the same piece performed with some solo changes. When the ensemble is working together it’s often claustrophobic, difficult finding room to breath, but just as often solos open up for a minute to two, giving each member a chance to grate their timbres.

And once in the midst of a beautiful solo from Hubbard or Tyner, or in the final duet between Davis and Garrison, you may find your own footing and wonder how you arrived where you are. A feeling you get when your overstressed mind finally makes a realization that whatever the challenge, it’s all just noise and it’s all of no real consequence. Tension and release. It’s what makes this music so appealing to those that charge on. -Wade

Miles Davis “Live – Evil” (Columbia, 1971)

Miles_Davis_Live-Evil

Ah, the magic of 70’s Miles is timeless. And while some would claim “On The Corner” to be his best disc produced by the ace Teo Macero, I’d voice that “Live – Evil” has got it beat by a mile. Cut up from a number of performances in a seamless fashion, maybe inspired equally by the Dead and Hendrix, Miles and company plus John McLaughlin produce spacious skeletal rhythms, full-on extended funk medleys, feedback tinged segments that never meander and short, affecting balladry.

Opening track “Sivad” spills out immediately in a gush of percussion and slows down a touch to show off the new bastardized, amplified direction of Miles work. “Little Church” and “Selim” go solo-less, with each track being surprisingly pastoral, melancholy. Those last two cuts are by Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, who went on to play with Davis, and they stand as some of the best highlights on this disc.

Also worth mentioning is the great panoramic interplay between McLaughlin and Davis on the side one closer “Gemini / Double Image.” Sounds like a walk home from a particularly hard night and not far off from what today’s noiseniks might try to emulate (with a bit more high end), only by way of swapping instruments for an array of effect pedals and industrial clangor…

Go on? James Brown might be cited just as much as Hendrix for influence on “What I Say” or “Funky Tonk,” syncopation minus the vocal commands. Miles is really modern and on top with this piece, he runs the voodoo down and his synthesis of styles works well… Critics of the day wouldn’t call it jazz; but who needs a label for it when it’s so ahead of it’s time? Miles ahead, as usual. -Wade

 

Nina Simone “Nina Simone and Piano” (RCA Victor, 1969)

f01d45705f1de5c9d8bfb7d72e7f7339In Sartre’s “Nausea” there is a moment when the protagonist, disgusted by the emptiness of life, snaps back to reality while hearing a beautiful voice on a jazz record; it grounded him and he felt flush with relief to live back in the moment, where life and love still exist.

That existentialist paperback was published about thirty years or so before Nina Simone put out “Nina Simone and Piano,” but I’ve always synced the two together, since this disc has some of the most touching arrangements I’ve heard pressed under her name, or ever really. She chooses to play skeletal arrangements of Randy Newman and Johnathan King… It’s the stark instrumental work she shows and the sureness of her voice that makes these pieces work so well.

And while on the topic of existentialism, “Who Am I” and “Another Spring” will make even the most devout unbeliever sit on the edge of their seat. This is not an album to play in the background; more like something you take, like a pill, to ensure a more healthy life. “Another Spring” in particular is a roundabout of emotion, brought on by an elder faced with winter and possible death, feeling for the moment she will emerge to the warmth of the new season. It ends joyously.

The album itself comes to a close with a rare bit of overdubbing on “The Desperate Ones,” all whispers, talk of moths near flames, sunsets and the dreams that fall behind with them. A real treat for those looking to reconfirm their purpose or validate their lives, “Nina Simone and Piano” may give more affection than you have ever allowed yourself to receive… -Wade