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Top 20 Jazz Discoveries of 2009

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 31, 2009 | Comments (2)


Larry Young – Contrasts
One of those breathtaking releases from the purgatory between soul jazz and free fusion in 1967. Young wears a paisley shirt on the cover; the entire band’s astrological signs are proffered in the liner notes. Makes the jazz organ a punk rock instrument. This burns hard.

 


Sunny Murray – Hommage to Africa
I loved the Big Chief reissue this year, and his appearance at Yoshi’s was utterly memorable—if not fully illuminating of his vast talent. The A-side is 18 perfect minutes of rich African roots-jazz with Alan Silva, Lester Bowie, Archie Shepp and Roscoe Mitchell.

 


Booker Ervin – The Blues Book
Somehow years of listening to Mingus left me without discovering Ervin’s own records. Everything good about “Live at Antibes” is compacted into this wonderful outing, a post-bop masterpiece. Must find the others in the “Book” series.

 


Raccoo-oo-oon – S/T
Often thrown in the noise camp, this Iowa City collective played a house party in Santa Rosa a couple years ago, all blaring clarinets and saxophones along with a tape recorder. Finally picked up this LP and Behold Secret Kingdom, and they’re both on another plane.

 


Johnny Mathis – Open Fire, Two Guitars
Yeah, I know. Is it jazz? Since interviewing Johnny Mathis earlier this year, his records have occupied a lot of time on the turntable. I would be a purist and pick his first LP, with Milt Jackson and Connie Kay. But this one sets a mood that’s sublime and irresistible.

 


Dewey Redman – Coincide
I fell in love with Tarik, but then found this one, which is the entire versatile range of jazz on one record, almost. Imagine being Joshua Redman and growing up around this huge variety of influence. A life of study and wisdom in seven parts.

 


Jaga Jazzist – The Stix
Electronics in jazz has until recently been mostly confined to Eddie Harris’ electric saxophone and the occasional pedal effect. What about a meeting of electronic(a) and free-form playing? The Bad Plus is nice, but this feels more like the actual future of jazz.

 


Gil Melle – Tome VI
Which reminds me: this strange little record, billed as “the first album of electronic jazz,” was an early experiment to mesh jazz and electronic instruments with names like the “Electar” and the “Doomsday Machine.” Results sometimes scary. Worth picking up.

 


Lucy Ann Polk – With the Dave Pell Octet
Lucky Lucy Ann on Mode is still her best, but I was fortunate enough to find this 10″, a session of mostly standards arranged in part by Shorty Rogers. Is there any sound more breezy than Polk’s voice? An exhaustive biography of Polk has been thanklessly compiled here, if you’re interested.

 


Jerri Adams – It’s Cool Inside
Just a nice, smoky album from this “tall, dark and comely” singer from Cincinnati. She would be 79 by now. Frankie Laine discovered her and signed her to Columbia, but she’s got a voice that’s the opposite of his excited yip, thank heavens.

 


Squarepusher – Music is Rotted One Note
Unlike anything else in the Squarepusher catalog. Basically a meticulous tribute to fusion-era Miles. It works, if imitatively.

 


The Tony Williams Lifetime – Emergency!
When this got reissued on CD, there was a note from the engineer that said, in essence, “Don’t blame me – they requested this album to be recorded so it sounded like shit.” It’s in the red, beginning to end. With John McLaughlin and the aforementioned Larry Young.

 


Solidarity Unit, Inc. – Red, Black and Green
St. Louis in 1970. Oliver Lake and crew. Recorded on the day that Jimi Hendrix died. Nice and messy in a lo-fi way.

 


Shirati Luo Voice Jazz Band – Kenyafrica!
Longer, deeper and more meditative than most highlife stuff. I think about what band practices must have been like. Vocal arrangements by serendipity and chance. I’d love to personally hand-craft a trophy for the bass player.

 


Jeri Southern – Southern Breeze
Marty Paich was just so wonderful as an arranger, especially for female singers. This record is like vocal morphine for California beach parties. That languid, relaxed sound for after you’ve listened to the Tony Williams album too many times.

 


Reflections in the Sea of Nurnene – S/T
I have no idea who this is, except it’s on Tribe, it was recorded in San Francisco the year I was born and it belongs to another world.

 


Bill Evans – Quintessence
Interplay gets a lot of credit for presenting Evans in a larger-then-trio setting, but this album, with Kenny Burrell and Harold Land on guitar and sax, respectively, is just plain better. Ray Brown and Everybody Digs Philly Joe Jones hold down the rhythm. Really excellent stuff from 1977.

 


Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble – Drum Dance to the Motherland
Philadelphia in 1972. Dogtown. Songs titles like “Cosmic Echoes,” “Breath of Life,” and “Inner Peace.” Self-released, of course. Further proof that free-jazz guys in Philly were the progenitors to ’80s DIY indie labels.

 


Joe Henderson – Power to the People
I used to talk mad shit about 1970s jazz, but looking down this list so far, I guess I’m getting into it. I’ve always said that one of the greatest things about being alive is the ability to change one’s mind.

 


Carmell Jones – The Remarkable
A trumpet player from Kansas City who shines here with Harold Land and Gary Peacock. He made another album later on with Gerald Wilson that’s about as good a trumpet/big-band record can be. He disappeared, it seems.

Sunny Murray Still Misses That Girl

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Jul 1, 2009 | Comments (0)

Early last week at Yoshi’s Go Left Fest, drummer Sunny Murray—easily one of the most important stickmen in 1960s avant-garde jazz—came out on stage, sat down at his kit, and started calling out for a woman he once dated in San Francisco 40 years ago. No one answered.

“You’re just hiding because you got remarried,” he proposed, directing his next comments to the imaginary husband of the absent woman. “I was going to kill her first husband, you know. Sun Ra gave me a .38. I love guns, I’ll shoot your ass, boy.”

With this, he laughed. “I’m not gonna kill you,” Murray added. “I’ll just shoot your kneecaps off.”

Murray, who established his career by drumming on famous sessions alongside Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Alan Silva, Archie Shepp and a host of other breakneck pioneers, then picked up his sticks. He is 73, and his drumming has slowed but not entirely abandoned propulsion. His trio, Positive Knowledge, played one steady stream of music for over a half hour, combining reeds, gongs, poetry and noise. For an avant-garde festival, it felt strangely behaved.

At the end, Murray was still thinking about that beautiful woman from 40 years ago who got away. He approached the microphone. “She was half Filipino, from San Francisco,” he told the crowd. “My wife took one look at her and said ‘Why’d you leave her for me?!’”

“I told her, ‘Because I love you, motherfucker!’”

Then he walked off the stage.

Go Left Fest: Sunny Murray, Marshall Allen, Roswell Rudd and More Coming to Yoshi's

Posted by: Gabe Meline on May 9, 2009 | Comments (0)

I was plenty thrilled that Abdullah Ibrahim is coming to Yoshi’s in San Francisco (June 5-7), but today’s announcement from hit-the-ground-running Artistic Director Jason Olaine officially blows away worrisome reports of booking more mainstream fare like Joan Osborne and Bruce Hornsby.

Attention, free jazz fans: The inaugural Go Left Fest, two days of avant-garde legends at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, is coming on June 22 and 23.

It’s crazy enough that Marshall Allen, the 85-year old Sun Ra cohort and torchbearer, is part of the festival. It’s insane enough that Roswell Rudd, whose New York Art Quartet and New York Eye and Ear Control are essentials, is appearing too. Throw into the mix author Ishmael Reed, pianist Matthew Shipp, pianists Myra Melford and Mark Dresser, bassist Joe Morris, clarinetist Beth Custer and saxophonist Oluyemi Thomas, and a joyful noise unto the rock of our outer planes is guaranteed.

The cause of my personal hysteria? The drummer on the dates, Sunny Murray. I picked up Eremite’s deluxe reissue of Murray’s hailed-but-impossible-to-find 1969 album Big Chief recently, and it’s as blistering and intense as a hailstorm of roofing nails. (Limited to 600 copies—laminated cover, pressed at RTI, 180 gram, the whole bit. Dusty Groove seems to still have some in stock.)

I assumed Murray, pictured above, was living as a hermit these days in some out-of-the-way neighborhood in Paris, stockpiling newspaper clippings and watching static on TV sets and baking bread or something. I’m glad to know he’s still playing—after an incredible career backing up key Cecil Talyor and Albert Ayler dates, along with leading his own groups.

Murray’s classic album An Even Break (Never Give a Sucker), on BYG Actuel, is a must-have, but Murray is unlikely to see any royalties from it, according to this stellar interview by Clifford Allen. Most record companies are shady, but BYG Actuel made it an art—it turns out that BYG Actuel’s contracts were presented to American musicians drafted in French:

I made three albums, Archie made four; we were like children in a candy field. And we signed contracts, but Archie was the only one who understood a little French. And like you said, the contracts are so artificial. Like one of the lines, they said they owned the music for infinity. [laughs] It’s impossible! I showed my lawyer and he laughed, and we didn’t know what to say.

The Go Left Fest at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, which should hopefully toss some money in Murray’s bank account, is on June 22 and 23. There’s one long show each night, at 8pm; tickets are $40 each or $65 for both days. You can buy tickets here.

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