Call it jazz or call it a zucchini sandwich, many CDs of improvisational music and books about that subject have exposed themselves in the last few months. It would be a crime not to cover some, and we are not criminals.
Norman Granz‘ JATP, Carnegie Hall, 1949 (Pablo). Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Navarro, Sonny Criss, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Shelly Manne — remember the names of these young players, because you’ll be hearing a lot from them. This guy Parker in particular, an alto saxophonist, blows with such simultaneous ease, fire, melodic inventiveness and harmonic challenge, he‘ll rip you a new pair of ears. Criss, another alto man, blasts through precise blues arabesques that will absolutely terrorize your soul, though he does run out of ideas at times. All in all, Carnegie Hall heralds the freshest sounds in ages. One correction: Though this live concert showcases breakthrough ideas that have yet to make a noticeable impact on 21st-century music, the title implies that it was recorded over half a century ago. Hard to imagine how such an obvious error could have escaped unnoticed.
Adam Rudolph, GO: Organic Orchestra 1 (Meta). Those attending the Venice (California) concert at which this CD was recorded got a sense that something great was transpiring. The music, performed by a large ensemble of wind and percussion players, rose like vines from hand drummer Adam Rudolph’s written instructions and hand signals. And it truly is organic — a blend of gentle sustained dissonance, heaven-crashing rhythm jams, and individual improvisations, including the wordless wails of Dwight Trible, who‘s perfect in this context. No joke: a startling and involving development in roots music, with more to follow.
Yusef Lateef, So Peace and Earriptus (YAL). Rudolph’s friend and mentor Lateef continues to document his progress past age 80 in unexpected ways. An essential member of his team on both of these recordings is Matt Abidh Waugh, whose mixes, cut-ups and electronic augmentations add new dimensions to the poetic fragments that burst from Lateef‘s wind instruments. The music has a thinking-out-loud quality to it, and when Dr. Lateef is the thinker, you get resonant perspectives on everything from prehistoric blues to the avant-garde. Rare artifacts you won’t find on Amazon.com. (YAL Records, P.O. Box 799, Amherst, MA 01004)
Guillermo E. Brown, Soul at the Hands of the Machine (Thirsty Ear). Brown, who drums with labelmates Matthew Shipp and David S. Ware, does his own thinking out loud here. If he lacks the depth of Lateef and the focus of Shipp or Ware, he brings a street-based rhythm consciousness and a playground studio flair that could tweak the ears of the young and stoned.
Michael Blake, Elevated (Knitting Factory). This is about the most loving, inspirational, expertly executed and just plain beautiful piece of recycling you‘ll ever hear. Saxist Blake, who’s already shown a gift for travelogue snapshots, now establishes a tone and sticks with it. Drawing mainly from early-‘60s Coltrane and the subsequent African-American rhythm jazz of Pharoah Sanders, he boils his roots down to a riff and a groove for each composition, then tops ’em with summery melodies for just as long as you want him to (four-five minutes). If Elevated had come out in 1970, it‘d be a classic.
Cassandra Wilson, Belly of the Sun (Blue Note). You’ve got to be a really, really good singer to make it sound this easy: song as dusky front-porch conversation. A couple of acoustic guitars. A little percussion. Some warhorses by The Band, Jobim, Jimmy Webb and Robert Johnson that become yearlings when Wilson rides them. This may be the best thing she‘s done. Produced by Cassandra Wilson.
Trespassing Borders (Between the Lines). The chamber-jazz aesthetic displayed in this German compilation is largely perceived as European — not because we don’t do this stuff in the USA (Trespassing Borders even includes Americans such as Bill Dixon, Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano), but because playing it here is practically illegal, whereas the product of the rigorously selected, conceptually packaged Between the Lines label is “made possible with the support of Deutsche Structured Finance.” Rhythmic or unrestricted, pretty or steely, the sounds of Oskar Alchinger, Franz Koglman, John Lindberg and the rest are united by little except intelligence and lack of preconceptions, yet they make good mates, especially when they‘re bound together in a CD-size book with essays, plus artworthy pictures of rocks and drinking vessels. Reason enough to discover that, as DSF’s Paul Steinhardt writes, we need not think “music has to be painful,” even when it‘s German. (www.amazon.de)
Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma & Antler, The Tropic of Nipples EP (Off). Meltzer gave me this brand-new emerald-green-and-tarnished-bronze-colored 7-inch 33 13 rpm circular vinyl thing for my unbirthday, and except insofar as more than one was pressed, it’s unique. Which is not a sideways compliment; Tropic is surely the pointy horns of the Apis bull. Writer Meltzer and drunk Guided by Voices singer Pollard alternate rantingsinging their poetry while, in true Beat fashion, the fuck-all musical ensembles Smegma and Antler respectively improvise walls of quite creditable electro-acoustic torture simulations. Pollard: “I‘ll support your life systembut you gotta do your partand hold me open the door.” Meltzer: “I’m gonna go to one of thosegood places ‘n’ get some . . . GOODNESS.” (Off Records, P.O. Box 82614, Portland, OR 97282)