(9 out of 10)
For many people – especially in the United States – Neneh Cherry’s career began and ended with “Buffalo Stance,” which is why The Cherry Thing is being greeted like some sort of unexpected comeback. The thing is, Cherry never really went anywhere, and, more importantly, has spent far more time toiling on the experimental and interesting fringes of contemporary music than she ever did on MTV. The stepdaughter of Don Cherry was a bona fide founding member of the British post-punk/dub scene, working with both Rip Rig and Panic and the Slits, she released two albums after Raw Like Sushi that were incredible works of soul-pop perfection, she was a spiritual midwife to the Bristol trip-hop scene, she’s been working with her husband in the prog-funk group known as Cirkus, and, now, she’s collaborating with baritone saxophonist Mats Gustaffson’s free-jazz group, the Thing … a group that was named after, yes, a Don Cherry song. So while The Cherry Thing is definitely a new chapter, it’s in a book that Neneh Cherry’s been diligently writing for three decades now.
(2 out of 5)
Oh my. What on earth is this? In his own words, Iggy Pop “just got sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars,” so he — like so many other old men before him – decided to instruct a younger generation on the true definition of art. PRÉLIMINAIRES is his instructional manual, an electro-tinged, semi-ambient, quasi-jazzy song suite based on a 2005 novel by French author Michel Houellebecq. Let’s pause here to review: the bare-chested dervish of all that is holy in primal, visceral punk rock has made 1) a concept album, based on 2) a book originally written in 3) French, and that album is 4) jazzy, 5) drenched in electronics, and 6) pretty boring. No, it’s not Iggy Pop’s finest moment. This is a moment that is half jumping the shark and half “get off my lawn,” as it should have become clear to one and all that Iggy Pop is not too terribly concerned with his legacy at this point (see: his readiness to sign on to do commercials for whoever will sign the check). Sadder still, despite his lofty intentions, Iggy is thoroughly ill-equipped as a vocalist to handle the swinging/sleazy material he’s set out for himself here (channeling Tom Waits should only be done by Tom Waits), and his skills as an arranger and conceptualist are rudimentary at best. Like the nouveau-riche dirtbag that Iggy is, PRÉLIMINAIRES isn’t stylized or stylish enough to impress the snobs, nor interesting or vital enough to please the proles.
First appeared June 2, 2009 at Shockhound.com.
(7 out of 10)
It takes a little while for Making Love to the Dark Ages to get its improv groove going, but by the time the slow-burn introductory ten minutes of the 25-minute “Chains and Water” have morphed from atmospheric soul vocals and into fiery squeals of guitar, keyboards and brass, that groove is impressive indeed. Greg Tate has been a fixture on New York’s downtown music scene for years, straddling the multiple conjunctions of modern jazz, postmodern hip-hop discourses and the aims of the Black Rock Coalition, but it’s in his role as the leader of Burnt Sugar – conductor, if you will – that he most elegantly fuses those varied elements.
Employing the “conduction” techniques laid down by jazz icon Butch Morris, Tate leads this group through pieces that are bristling with electricity and densely massed improvisational flair, somewhere between jazz, blues, avant-garde classical music and straight-up electric funk. That group, made up of some of New York’s most impressive players (pianist Vijay Iyer, baritone sax player Paula Henderson, guitarist Vernon Reid and more than a dozen others) comes at the listener with all the force of an orchestra or a big band, an instantly crafted wall of sound composed of scores of intricate details.
The overall effect is an album that is as modern as it is evocative of the historical tapestries Tate intends to evoke with pieces like the expansive opener, the Wu-Tang-meets-Sun-Ra freedom of “Love to Tical” or the dizzying electricity of the title track.
Standout Tracks: “Chains and Water,” “Love to Tical”
First appeared April 23, 2009 at Blurt.
Of all the groups that sprung to life from the fevered loins of Miles Davis’ 1970s fusion experiments – from the grinding prog rock of Tony Williams’ Lifetime to Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters – Return to Forever was the wonkiest. This titanic collision of hyper-proficient players produced overly complex tunes that tried gamely to be both funky and propulsive, but often sounded like music-school experiments. This reunion tour brings together the so-called classic lineup of Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, but Corea’s trademark angularity chisels away any of the fluidity one would expect from White, while enabling Di Meola and Clarke to engage in the worst kind of notes-per-second gamesmanship. Now that these guys are all old men … sorry, respected elders, it’s more than likely that this reunion tour will evince even more of those tendencies.
First appeared July 31, 2008 in Orlando Weekly.
In 1969, after leaving Miles Davis’ group, Tony Williams took up the acid-soaked rock/jazz fusion gauntlet laid down by Miles and debuted his own group, the Tony Williams Lifetime, a power trio featuring Williams on drums, Larry Young on organ and John McLaughlin on guitar. The group’s first album was Emergency!, a smoking slab of rough-edged and rocking psychedelic funk that connected itself to jazz only through the players’ pedigrees and the improvisational flair they displayed. Oslo-based Scorch Trio – headed up by guitarist/composer Raoul Björkenheim – evokes, more than any of the other artists frequently namechecked in reference to the band (Zappa, Band of Gypsies), the powerful, free-form sound of Williams’ Emergency! album. This is primarily because the group is, like Lifetime, clearly immersed in the jazz tradition, but also moving decisively away from it in favor of sprawling, rockist jams that allow the players to freely fly off their respective handles. In keeping with Scorch’s analog fetishism (like their other releases, this one was recorded and mixed on analog tape), the 2-LP vinyl version of Brolt contains four extra tracks.
First appeared in the June 2008 issue of Reax.
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The first thing one notices about Live at Newport ’58 is the sound quality. In a jazz world defined at the fidelity extremes by pristine Rudy Van Gelder remasters of legendary studio sessions and near-bootleg-sounding live performances listenable due only to their rarity, this previously unreleased concert from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival is shocking indeed. With stunning clarity that articulates every inventive move that Silver’s hands make at the piano, the release of this disc would be notable if only for the audiophile standard it sets. But there’s far more value to this four-song concert than its stereo-calibrating ability. Silver was a masterful improviser, but he thought that concerts should be left in the performance hall and that recording studios were built for a reason. As such, he was notedly disdainful of the idea of live recordings, and the only concert he authorized to be released before this one was 1961’s Doin’ the Thing. It’s hard to imagine, though, that upon hearing both the strength of this performance and the fidelity with which is was captured, it took much convincing to get him to sign off on this one. The 40-minute set consists of but four songs, including “Cool Eyes,” “Señor Blues,” and its equally swinging (and somewhat obscure) single flipside, “Tippin’.” Also worth noting is the presence of all-but-unknown trumpeter Louis Smith in one of his few recorded appearances.
First appeared March 12, 2008 in Broward-Palm Beach New Times.
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Skilled musicians Chick Corea and Gary Burton used to make challenging and experimental jazz albums that verged on the avant-garde. These albums eschewed the spastic joy of the free-jazz movement for a more studied approach, and both artists entered the early days of the fusion game with high-minded artistic ideals that resulted in panoramic, engaging, and sometimes difficult records.
It’s been a long time since the music of either Chick Corea or Gary Burton has been called “difficult.” Although Burton has maintained a reputation as a gifted traditionalist working on a rather nontraditional instrument (the vibraphone), most of Corea’s work since the late ’70s has been the very definition of the pallid, synthetic smooth jazz that makes even the mildest jazz snob crinkle his nose in disgust. There have been moments, though, in which both artists have displayed the spark that enlivened their early work. This particular tour, on which Corea and Burton revisit their groundbreaking 1973 duet album Crystal Silence, promises to provide some of that spark. Though muted in tone, Crystal Silence was the first of several phenomenal collaborations between the two and stands today as one of the finest discs to emerge from the ECM label’s early days.
First appeared March 12, 2008 in Broward-Palm Beach New Times.