Header Quote

"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows

Everybody digs Bill Evans—the brilliant and tortured and massively influential jazz pianist whose playing from the late '50s through the 1970s was never anything less than beautiful and compelling. Though he is best known for his impressionistic approach to ballads, he was in fact a completely versatile modern jazz player whose rhythmic innovations was as strong as his use of harmonies picked up from Ravel and Debussy.

Here is a new two-disc set of three concerts in Europe, recorded perfectly in 1973, 1975 and 1979. The first finds him playing only with the melodic and brilliant bassist Eddie Gomez. The second puts him with Gomez and drummer Eliot Zigmund, and the third features his last trio (with drummer Joe LaBarbara and Macc Johnson on bass) alone and then with guest harmonica player Toots Thielemans.

My full review on PopMatters of Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows can he found HERE.

These recordings are flat-out terrific, showcasing everything that was wonderful about the great pianist. Evans is one of the handful of modern pianists who is most influential on contemporary players. Younger jazz fans will hear Brad Mehldau and many other great player's debts to Evans here. His takes on standards are always lovely and ingenious, and his original tunes could only have come from Bill. But the center of Evans' legacy is the way that his trios interact—though one player may be "soloing" at any one time, every player is in continual and nearly co-equal dialogue all the time. There is a rare balance in these bands.

It's great music, heard here for the first time. Thanks, Bill.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Short Story, "Birds"

Hey—I don't normally put up anything here at Big Butter and Egg Man that is not related to jazz, or at least music.

An exception, if you will indulge me.

I just had a short story published in BETHESDA Magazine.  Not the NEW YORKER, but still I'm happy with the story, "Birds," and perhaps you would like to read it HERE.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

Timmy flew to China. He loved the little packets the airline gave us, the ones with a tiny toothbrush in two put-togetherable pieces and the tiny tube of toothpaste. He used that toothpaste for a month, squeezing it tight with his 6-year-old fingers, eking out the last minty smudge.

But his flying days were over, he told us. Only two years later, his understanding of physics had dangerously advanced.

It's about a father and son, primarily, as the father slowly takes on his son's fear of flying.  It's not too long and it's a little bit about love, so what have you got to lose?

Literary stuff is nutritious for your soul.  Like music, but with words instead of notes.  Dig in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jamaaladeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette

This is one of the best jazz recordings of the year: Ornette Coleman's old Prime Time bassist playing again with the master himself in a large-ish ensemble that runs like free clockwork.

Jamaaladeen Tacuma has an original style on electric bass—funky and free but also supremely melodic and searching. Much like Ornette, with whom he first gigged when he was 19. Now they are much more equal footing. Most of the tunes are Tacuma's and the band is excellent: Coleman’s alto sax is joined by two other woodwinds in tenor saxophonist Tony Kofi and Wolfgang Puschnig’s flute and with Tacuma in the rhythm section are pianist Yoichi Uzeki, Justin Faulkner on drums and David Haynes on “finger drums”.

Check out my full PopMatters review of Jamaaladeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette right HERE.

Because Puschnig’s flute sounds distinctive on this kind of record, it’s worth noting that this particular tonal pleasure is reminiscent of the great Lenox Avenue Breakdown record by Arthur Blythe from 1979, where James Newton rode over a similarly funky ensemble. For the Love of Ornette, however, is a more probing set of performances, with a richer set of competing soloists. Breakdown was one of the very best jazz recordings of the late ‘70s, which means For the Love of Ornette must be one of my favorite recordings of 2011 so far.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dave Liebman: Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman

There are two dominant strains of modern saxophonic thinking—those of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Trane's concept was mainly harmonic, and Ornette's was mainly melodic. Dave Liebman is a Coltrane guy, by practice, admission, and clear inclination.

On his latest quartet disc, however, he applies his Coltrane-ishness to the music of Coleman, to fine and pleasing results. Read my full PopMatters review of Dave Liebman: Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman right HERE.

Liebman's method is primarily to have his excellent guitarist, Vic Juris, play explicitly the implies harmonies behind Coleman's melodies. As a result, a tune like "Bird Food" sounds like the bebop it always, kind of, was. Other tunes that already had a strong harmonic base, such as "Kathelyn Grey" (first recorded by Ornette with Pat Metheny), sound right at home.

The most intriguing transformation here is probably “Lonely Woman”, Coleman’s most famous and compelling melody. The original was beautiful but unsettling, a tune that seemed to grow organically, note by note, but in a direction that wasn’t expected. Liebman’s version is set against a space-aged drone of swelling electric guitar and atmospherics, then played on a wooden flute to give it the exotic flavor of the east. Listening to this “Lonely Woman”, you get the feeling that you are peering through a jungle canopy, into the mist. Is it a fair interpretation of Coleman’s music? Well, it’s rich with feeling, so: yes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revelator

Here, folks, is the best pop music of the summer: the first true collaboration between husband and slide guitarist Derek Trucks and wife and singer Susan Tedeschi. The tunes are classic pop and blues, the performances and syncopated and jammy without being aimless, and the whole package makes you want to put a spatula in your hand and head straight for the grill.

Revelator is outstanding in the extreme.

Everything is in place here. Kofi Burbridge’s keyboards are pitch-perfect in every small spot: a simple organ lick, a bed of Wurlitzer shimmer, the concert hall echo of acoustic piano. Background vocals around Tedeschi are sparingly used, but the duet elements of “Shelter” are a critical change of pace. Trucks never whips out his guitar prowess indulgently, instead choosing to serve every song, individually.

This is so true that it’s hard to believe that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are darlings of the jam band scene. Though it combines players from both leaders’ bands, this new group plays like a crack studio band with heart. On the one hand, these tunes are handcrafted like perfect miniatures, but on the other hand, these players have the instincts and the chops to craft solos that really tell a story.

Read my full review of Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator, right HERE.

Revelator, as much as anything, makes you wonder why the Tedeschi Trucks Band took so long to come together. Susan Tedeschi’s six-album career has been terrific but always just one star away from stellar. And the Derek Trucks Band had a tendency, perhaps, to feel too much like the Allman Brothers or too much like a “Man, you’ve gotta hear ‘em live” kind of band. Though they have toured together before and guested on each other’s discs plenty, this true collaboration brings it all together. Trucks is less of a Pure Player here than he is a bandleader, and Tedeschi seems less like a Great Voice than someone who is crafting memorable original songs just for your ears.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy

Joey Calderazzo has been playing the piano in Branford Marsalis superb quartet since about 1998, when Kenny Kirkland died and left a gaping hole. Both as a composer and as a pianist, it has been a period of great development for the pianist. On Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, Calderazzo shares composing credits with Branford, and they deliver a frequently delicate program of crystalline duets. The influence of classical music is particularly strong here—something that is rare in jazz, and rarely pulled off with grace and ease.

Marsalis plays mostly his soprano saxophone here, and he sounds great—graceful, emotional, and perfectly in tune. Wayne Shorter's "Face on the Barroom Floor" (from the Weather Report album Sportin' Life) is the only non-original song, and it reminds us the degree to which Branford has continued Shorter's legacy on soprano—the younger player sounds a great deal like the composer here, yet he also finds his own sound. Mostly, however, these sides are fresh and non-imitative. Calderazzo and Marsalis find ways to play uniquely as a duet, not just comping and soloing but truly playing as two interlocked voices.

The set is ballad-heavy, to be sure, but the more uptempo songs are thrilling. Marsalis's "Endymion" is composed in a Keith Jarrett mode, and it surges forward with great momentum and excitement. Calderazzo's opener, "One Way" is built on a funky/Monk-ish piano figure that allows Branford's tenor to get dirty on top.

My full review of Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy can be found here.

On the slower songs, the duo is explicitly classical in style and intent, even playing Brahams's "Die Trauernde". This means that the piano will be playing a specific line in contrast to the saxophone rather than just rhythmic chords and that the articulation of both instruments is less likely to be swinging and urgent than delicately placed and tonally pure. It's unusual to hear jazz musicians make these choices so explicitly, but why should it be? It's a refreshing direction for a pair of wonderful players.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

JAZZ TODAY: Jazz is Not For Amateurs!

A few weeks ago, I received by mail the debut CD from a young jazz singer. A very young jazz singer. Normally I wouldn't bother listening to something recorded by a 13 year-old, but the title of the disc, Scattin' Doll, was so awful . . . I had to dip my toe in the water.

Now, I don't normally set out to be a cranky jerk in my role as music critic. I'm here to promote the best of the music, not strut about as if I'm superior. I'm certainly not. But someone needs to cry foul when a talented girl who is barely a teenager is being promoted as if she was already the real thing. This CD had been produced by the girl's dad, with his pals playing in her rhythm section. She was, a bit like the young Nikki Yanofsky, a carbon copy of Ella Fitzgerald, but without the impeccable time and intonation. Very good for a 13 year-old? Yes. Good enough to have a CD being promoted and sent to critics? Noooooooo way.

Here is my JAZZ TODAY column about all this, an open letter to the father of young Claire Dickson: Sorry, Parents of All Those Little Prodigies Out There, Jazz is Not for Amateurs.

Sorry to be such an asshole but, unlike singing "Baby, Baby", jazz requires more than enthusiasm and some moxy. Claire, I hope to give you a good review in another eight or nine years.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

David Foster Wallace: THE PALE KING

While this space is usually reserved for my writing about music, I also write about books. I just finished reading the final (and unfinished) novel by the late David Forster Wallace. It is a book that is frequently brilliant and beautiful. It contains Wallace's virtuoso sentences, filled with music and drama, and it features just enough of his ecstatic humor too. But mostly it's an extraordinarily sad book, as he surely intended it to be.

The Pale King is not a book about his death, as so many have been tempted to suggest. But it is obsessed with his own obsession about the disease of self-consciousness, about the dilemma of being trapped inside one's own head, inescapably caught up in one's own do-loop of fears and fears about fears.

The book is set in an IRS Regional Examination Center in the 1980s, and it features a large cast of IRS employees who struggle with the tedium of their jobs. There is even a character referred to as "the author" and named David Wallace who swears that the book is a memoir crafted as a novel for legal reasons. We see these characters stumble through a transition period for the Peoria, IL, REC as new supervisors arrive and begin to implement some kind of change. There's plenty of boring tax talk (which, Wallace makes clear, is purposely boring for you, the reader) but there is also a good amount of mystery and intrigue, not to mention ghosts who haunt the place and long, fascinating stories from the characters' childhoods. Honestly, the book is a mess in many ways—literally cobbled together by Wallace's editor after it was found scattered around his study after his death—but a frequently glorious one.

Read my full PopMatter review of The Pale King HERE.

I miss David Foster Wallace. But it's questionable whether I'll read The Pale King a second time, like I did his masterpiece Infinite Jest (twice). Still, thanks for leaving us a little bit more, Dave.