Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Bill Shoemaker
Fred Anderson/
Hamid Drake/
William Parker
Blue Winter
Eremite MTE 047/048

You don’t have to witness dozens of performances by tenor saxophone titan Fred Anderson to notice two traits: especially for someone in their seventies, he bends considerably at the waist and knees when the music heats up; and he is always ready, if not eager for one more blow at the end of a set. Undoubtedly, Anderson was crouching within minutes of the opening 45-minute work out that comprises the first of this excellent 2-CD concert recording. Drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker, widely regarded as the premier rhythm team in creative music, immediately lay down the type of infectious groove that is conducive to Anderson’s deliberate development of streamlined motives and his subsequent rigor in building and sustaining intensity. Given that the second disc has equally engaging tracks of 37, 13, and 14 minutes, it’s easy imagining Anderson motioning “one more” to his colleagues at least once. Blue Winter is a welcomed reminder of Fred Anderson’s greatness.

Bik Bent Braam
Growing Pains
BBB CD 6/7

Michiel Braam
Michiel vs. Braam

Michiel Braam is one of the more precociously talented composers and pianists on the Dutch scene. “Mugging” is an apt double-edged description of his impeccably crafted writing for the 13-piece Bik Bent Braam on Growing Pains, as his usage of pre-bop jazz idioms and his occasional forays into funk and modernism are alternately slap-happy and subversive. With every section of the band full of such fluent, like-minded soloists as cornetist Eric Boeren, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, and reed player Frank Gratkowski, Braam is able to sustain a roller-coaster pace over the course of two CDs. Braam reinforces his compositional erudition on Michiel vs. Braam, a solo piano set, and airs out some monster chops in the process. Braam courteously includes lead sheets on the solo CD.

Art Blakey and the
Jazz Messengers
Drum Suite
Columbia Legacy CK 93637

Three tracks featuring five percussionists set Drum Suite apart from the bulk of Art Blakey’s enormous recorded output. An intense Afro-Caribbean vibe permeates this ‘56 session, with the hand drumming of Candido Carnero and Sabu Martinez meshes with the traps of Blakey, Jo Jones and Specs Wright to create driving polyrhythms. There is a noticeable absence of horns on the date; but pianist Ray Bryant and bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford more than fill the void with fiery solos. The bluesy grit of Pettiford’s cello solo on “Oscarlypso” is intensified by its distorted amplification, making the instrument sound like a cross between a doussn’gouni and a cheap electric guitar. This reissue is rounded out by two other ‘56 dates, featuring Blakey at the helm of two editions of the Jazz Messengers: the original LP featured the line-up of Jackie McLean, Bill Hardman, Sam Dockery and Spanky DeBrest, while the bonus tracks feature Donald Byrd, Ira Sullivan (on tenor), Kenny Drew and Wilbur Ware.

Greg Burk Trio
Nothing, Knowing
482 Music 482-1037

Back in the day, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bob Moses were one of the best rhythm sections in jazz, propelling the great late ‘60s Gary Burton Quartet with Larry Coryell. They have too rarely teamed up since, so the idea of them working with a pianist who looks like he is less than half their age warrants attention. It only takes a few seconds to realize what they hear in Greg Burk: he’s explosive and lyrical at the same time; he mixes idioms with the finesse of someone decades older; and, he has an ear for open structures that allow him, Swallow and Moses to go full tilt without overloading the listener. It is doubtful that Swallow and Moses have a prior tour de force performance like the nearly twenty-minute “Truth be Bold” in their shared discography. Give Greg Burks props for that, and more.

Graham Collier
Cuneiform Rune 213/214

John Surman
Way Back When
Cuneiform Rune 200

Cuneiform’s combing of vaults, archives and collections for Brit Jazz rarities has yielded some real treasure, particularly The Brotherhood of Breath’s Travelling Somewhere. Both Graham Collier’s Workpoints and John Surman’s Way Back When are comparably significant.

The centerpiece of the 2-CD Collier collection is a disc-long 1968 concert featuring the four-part “Workpoints,” which holds the distinction of being the first jazz composition to be commissioned through a British Arts Council grant. The volatile specter of Mingus looms over Collier’s work-part work, which juxtaposes frequently poignant scored passages and seam-ripping improvisations, punctuated by hollering riffs and ensemble eruptions. The bassist’s 12-piece ensemble includes several enduring heavyweights of British jazz, including Surman, Mike Gibbs and trumpeters Harry Beckett, Henry Lowther and Kenny Wheeler. Two musicians who would later join forces in Soft Machine are also essential to the proceedings: Karl Jenkins deepens the colors of the ensembles on saxophones, oboe and piano, while John Marshall provides the requisite Dannie Richmond-like pulse. The second disc features a ’75 sextet concert built around another LP-length composition, “Darius,” and is a welcomed opportunity to hear the criminally underheralded saxophonist Art Themen in a free-ranging setting.

Dating from 1969, Way Back When was Surman’s last session before he left the UK. Presumed lost for over 30 years, this date with Marshall, pianist John Taylor and bassist Brian Odgers (the latter two playing electric instruments) is a prime example of how well a simmering Miles-inspired groove meshed with the English melodic lilt with which the saxophonist is closely identified. Still well within the long shadow of John Coltrane, Surman’s quicksilver soprano dominates the four-part title piece. On the final two tracks, Surman switches to baritone and goes heads-on with the explosive alto saxophonist Mike Osborne.

George Crumb
Complete Crumb Edition,
Volume Nine

Bridge 9170

With the exception of the string quartet “Black Angels,” “Ancient Voices of Children,” a song cycle with texts by Frederico Garcia Lorca, is perhaps George Crumb’s best known work. 35 years after its premiere, it is still capable of astounding listeners with its innovations and captivating them with its stark beauty. A new, composer-supervised performance leads off the ninth volume of Bridge’s ambitious and laudable Complete Crumb Edition. The score, which features bold sounds from interior piano and a musical saw, the exotic blend of oboe and mandolin, a trio of percussionists, and often spellbinding vocalese, always yields new surprises and pleasures, and does again here. But, the real news here is the debut of “Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik,” a nine-movement solo piano rumination on “‘Round Midnight.” Crumb’s approaches the Monk composition as material, denuded of its iconic status in jazz. The results are illuminating for anyone who thinks they’ve heard the piece more than enough for a lifetime. Anyone unaware that the work is thoroughly notated may occasionally mistake pianist Emanuele Arciuli’s pellucid performance as improvised. Therein lies one element of Crumb’s genius: he can vividly convey the roaming nature of thought through notated music. The CD concludes with “Madrigals, Books I-IV.”

Ernest Dawkins’ Chicago 12
Of A Delusion
Shades Of A Charade

Dawk Music #04

Any discussion of the AACM on the occasion of its 40th anniversary is incomplete without the inclusion of Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. The leader of New Horizons Ensemble and an integral member of Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, the composer-saxophonist is a leading exponent of what could be called the populist wing of the AACM, in that he is fully committed to music that testifies to the ongoing creative potential of the music commonly called jazz, and its ability to uplift and enliven ordinary folks. However, such a characterization should not suggest a lack of social and political consciousness in Dawkins’ music. Subtitled “Celebrating The 35th Anniversary Of The Chicago 7 Trial,” this album-length work (recorded at Paris’ Son d’hiver Festival) is as stinging in its social critique as it is musically riveting. Dawkins’ ensemble rips through a rich variety of materials, ranging from sleek boppish lines to grease-dripping struts and slinky Latin grooves, fueled by self-described “disco poet” Khari B’s indictments of plastic American culture and a menacing State. The name Chicago 12 is particularly interesting, given that only 11 musicians are credited: It’s impossible to tell if there is a Bobby Seale-like phantom on the bandstand. Outside of trumpeter Corey Wilkes, drummer Isaiah Spencer and bassists Josh Abrhams and Harrison Bankhead, Dawkins’ crew is comprised of musicians with little to no profile outside of Chicago. Subsequently, there are several strong voices to be discovered by most listeners: pianist Justin Dillard, trombonist Norman Palm III, and saxophonists Aaron Getsug, Kevin Nabors and Greg Ward. This artist-produced CD may be difficult to find – is the best bet – but it’s well worth the search.

Whit Dickey
In A Heartbeat
Clean Feed CF037CD

Steve Lantner Trio
Blue Yonder
skycap 018

Natural History
skycap 021

Joe Morris is one of the most original guitarists to hit the international jazz scene in the past twenty years. Morris provides much of the muscle that keeps drummer Whit Dickey’s In A Heartbeat pumping. Featuring a fine quintet rounded out by trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr., alto saxophonist Rob Brown and bassist Chris Lightcap, the album includes four Dickey originals and a welcomed, energetic take on Carla Bley’s “Calling.” The album is loaded with Morris signatures: elliptical, incessantly rhythmic lines crammed with harmonic information. And, his approaches to mediating between the horns, bass and drums are consistently bold and sensible. This begs the question: Why is spending so much time playing bass? On the basis of his work with Natural History (with tenor saxophonist Joe Sexton and drummer Corix Galipault) and pianist Steve Lantner’s trio (with drummer Luther Gray), the short answer is: He’s gotten quite good. With Lantner, who, on the title tune, plies clusters, staccato octaves in the bass and dissonant, yet bluesy figures in a manner that recalls pre-Blue Note Cecil Taylor, Morris demonstrates that he can lay down a determined 4/4 groove, using well-chosen notes instead of flourishes to get the job done. With both groups, but particularly in the freely improvised spaces frequented by Natural History, Morris has a knack for the incisive line that doesn’t limited the options of his cohorts. Though his arco work has a ways to go, Joe Morris is becoming a true multi-instrumentalist.

Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio
/Billy Bang
Live At The
River East Art Center

Delmark 566 (CD Version)
Delmark 1566 (DVD Version)

Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio has undergone big changes since its inception in 1981. Both of the percussionist’s co-founders -- Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors Maghostut -- have passed. Yet, there is much history among the musicians in the current line-up. Yosef Ben Israel frequently filled in for Favors during the ‘80s, when the Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist was on the road. Saxophonist Ari Brown has been with the RT since ‘89. And, violinist Billy Bang is more than a special guest; even though this is his first album with the group since ‘94’s Big Cliff (Delmark), he’s more like an adjunct member. All of that comes across vividly on Live At The River East Art Center -- even on the CD version; and on the DVD with the sound down.

El’Zabar’s basic recipe for the RT is deceptively simple: begin with a heartbeat-steady kalimba figure or drum pattern; add a rock-solid bass line and a horn line that conveys strength and finesse; slow-cook the ingredients until they’re saturated with flavor. But, he has many variants that keep it fresh. He’ll change up the proportions, taking a more insistent bass-drums hook-up and a harder-edged theme to a full boil. Or switch spices to give the groove more bite. Since the RT has been at it for so long, they achieve a rare level of consistent, empathetic interplay. The net result is convivial music that stops the meter of the American reality ticking down to zero, at least for an hour.

The DVD is also recommended for its interview with the musicians, which is particularly instructive for non-Chicagoans in terms of explaining the geographic proximity and the family and social relationships that are woven into the AACM fabric.

Simulated Progress
Pi P116

On their debut, this collective trio demonstrated an uncanny rapport in nailing complex, rhythmically charged compositions and blowing the roof off with ferocious improvisations. So, the replacement of saxophonist Aaron Stewart with Steve Lehman is cause to closely scrutinize this second album. Lehman, who has recently led impressive recordings with the likes of Pheeroan Ak Laff and Mark Dresser, turns out to be a fine fit for pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee. His alto has much of the Threadgill-like edge as another frequent Iyer collaborator, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and he shows a command of difficult reed effects on sopranino. His provocative compositional style also meshes well with his cohorts. Subsequently, the trio doesn’t miss an odd-metered beat on Simulated Progress, which is brimming with pounding motives, zigzagging themes and mutable rhythms that speed up, slow down, and are alternately sleek and choppy, often in a matter of several bars. Iyer Quartet drummer Tyshawn Sorey has since replaced Kavee, a promising development that will, hopefully, be documented soon.