You, me, the music, and me.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


A&M SP-705 (1975)

Few jazz fans would disagree that Jim Hall is one of the most important and influential guitarists of this era. He's also one of the most versatile, as anyone who's heard his work with such artists as Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond, Ron Carter, and Pat Metheny can attest. Though the majority of his work falls within the (creative) mainstream, he's equally at home in avant-garde surroundings (listen to his "out" improvisations with Metheny on their album of duets).

Stylistically, Live! sits comfortably within the mainstream, though it has a loose, free feel. It was recorded at Bourbon Street in Toronto in June of 1975 with bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. Polite crowd chatter can be heard in the background, lending the album a warm, "you-are-there" intimacy. Hall's style of playing mainly in the middle register of his instrument blends well with the rhythm section; if Hall were a saxophonist, he'd probably play tenor. From the bluesy "Angel Eyes" to the elegantly contrapuntal "'Round Midnight" to the bubbly, bouncing "Scrapple from the Apple", each track showcases the trio's effortless creativity and empathy to each other's playing.

Here's a clip of Hall with an unidentified rhythm section; though it was recorded more than ten years before the making of this album, his tone and style are distinct and consistent, as they have been throughout his career.

Monday, July 10, 2006

MATERIAL Memory Serves

Elektra Musician XE1-60042 (1982)

Material is more of a musical collective than a band; like Anton Fier's Golden Palominos, they are a constantly changing group of musicians led by one person and their singular artistic vision. In this case, that vision belongs to bassist/producer Bill Laswell, and for Memory Serves, he assembles an all-star cast of avant-jazz and -rock musicians including guitarists Sonny Sharrock and Fred Frith, alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill, trombonist George Lewis, violinist Billy Bang, and many more.

Most of the tunes on Memory Serves serve up the dry, angular funk that was popular with the New York downtown art scene at the time; the title track and "Conform to the Rhythm" are edgy, danceable tracks that wouldn't sound out of place at most nightclubs (unfortunately, Michael Beinhorn's synthesizers and stilted vocals direly date these songs). "Upriver" is a techno-fiddle stomp featuring Bang's down-home, bluesy violin, and "Disappearing" spotlights Olu Dara's Miles-ish cornet playing. Best of all is "Square Dance", a driving funk-rock number that pits Frith's overdriven axe against an ascending, primal bassline by Laswell over Fred Maher's pounding drums and everyone else's squealing horns.

Like the Golden Palominos, Material's sound can vary widely from album to album (1982's One Down was a straightforward dance-pop album that on one track featured a young newcomer named Whitney Houston), so buyer beware. However, for listeners who want a taste of adventurous funk with liberal helping of avant-garde improvisation, Memory Serves will not disappoint.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

KEITH JARRETT The Survivors' Suite

ECM-1-1085 (1977)

The Survivors' Suite features pianist Keith Jarrett's classic seventies quartet of himself, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian. With the bulk of Jarrett's recordings of the last couple of decades made either by himself or with his Standards Trio, it's nice to reach back into his archives and listen to Jarrett improvise with horn, bass, and drums.

The album consists of the title track broken into two parts, one on either side of the album. "Beginning" opens with Jarrett playing a modal melody on bass recorder (he also plays soprano saxophone, celeste, and osi drums on this recording, in addition to piano) over muted percussion and shakers. Haden enters on bowed bass, alternating between low end drones and high end squeals. Redman plays the first theme, doubled by Jarrett on soprano sax and accompanied softly by Haden and Motian. The music builds in intensity as Jarrett shifts to piano and leads the group in the second theme, a lovely, circular ostinato that acts not unlike the secondary theme in a sonata-form symphony. Though largely improvised, the piece has a very definite overall structure that allows the musicians to improvise freely with a common goal in mind.

Next, Haden steps forward with a plaintive, plucked bass solo over a beautiful harmonic progression on celeste by Jarrett, then the band closes off the track with a slow ballad based loosely on previously played material. Side two's "Conclusion" opens fiercely with a fiery Coltrane-like riff that quickly dissolves into free improvisation, with Redman's tenor howling and sputtering and Jarrett invoking the spirit of Cecil Taylor with pounding tone clusters. The band eventually settles into a groove over a two-chord riff featuring a brief, bluesy solo from Jarrett, then Redman joins in on a melodic, almost pop-inflected theme which leads into another, more angular piano solo. The album closes with the reentry of the bass recorder, a brief statement of the theme from the beginning of side two, and an elegiac finale.

The Survivors' Suite is both challenging and entirely accessible; the perfect album to lend to your free jazz-fearing friend.