A note on the title – all these best of the year lists, but who really can hear all the great music put out in the same year it was released? Does anyone have the time for this? Or the money? So, I feel this is a better list – the albums can be from any year, any recording date, any release date, they’re just the best that I heard for the first time this year – otherwise, huge amounts of great music can’t be mentioned because I heard it a year or 2 late. So, here it is.

Mise en AbimeSteve Lehman Octet (Pi) – recorded
Gets my vote for album of the year. Lehman never fails to blow my mind, and this is thick, juicy, Martian-complex music played with vigor and beauty. As good as the first release of the octet was, this one sounds denser, tighter and more fluid. In some ways, the octet seems a modern extension of David Murray’s phenomenal and rarely mentioned (these days) octet from the 80’s – perfectly arranged modern music played with intelligence and intensity. I could happily take another dozen albums from this band.

MythologyMatt Brewer (Criss Cross) – recorded Feb 2014
Steve Lehman as a sideman is as rare as it gets – and it’s perfect to see Brewer – long a beacon bassist of the best of modern bands – make his debut with a who’s who of NY greatness. Lehman and Mark Turner orbit around each other in delicious fashion, with David Virelles the sparest and choicest of accompanists. Mostly mid-tempo tunes, it takes a couple of listens to get in the flow of it (not the rippin’ blow down I was expecting), but by then, I was completely sold on the compositions and playing.

Gone, But Not Forgotten Jonathan Blake (Criss Cross) – recorded Feb 2014
Two saxophone, no piano quartets – a lovely idea in my book. And this teaming of Chris Potter and Mark Turner is all swirling action and pounding solos. Blake and Ben Street pull the whole thing together with drive and focus. An album of compositions from recently departed musicians, Motion’s Circle Dance, Walton’s Firm Roots, Fambrough’s Broski and Miller’s New Wheels are all inspired takes with top notch tenor soloing and rhythmic inventiveness.

Anacappa David Binney (Criss Cross) – recorded Feb 2014
Binney has been putting out one fantastic album after another for years now – all seeming to somehow miss their much deserved recognition (are Criss Cross albums banned from Francis Davis’ year end Jazz Critics Poll? They are never there, despite top albums every year). This album is more electric, with 2 guitarists (Wayne Krantz being responsible for all of the good guitar solos, raw and edgy, with Adam Roger’s doing his usual unexciting, undramatic, too-mellow noodling) – and the 2 drummers fill out the typically complicated, rich rhythmic world Binney loves creating. But the real, constant treat here is Binney’s fierce and ferocious alto, tearing through tunes with hellish intensity. So good.

Wiry Strong Ralph Alessi (clean feed) – recorded May 2008
This Alessi band is a great one – and his earlier discs with the band (This Against That, Look) are phenomenal. No exception here. Been intending to get this for years, but only got around to it in 2014. Superb band playing and interaction – this is a tight knit group that knows how to play strong compositions with elements of freedom ranging throughout. Excellent writing too. Just how many of the top bands these days have Drew Gress in them? He’s everywhere. (album with Ravi Coltrane, Andy Milne, Drew Gress, Mark Ferber).

Live at the Village Vanguard Vol1 & 2Paul Motion Trio 2000 + Two (Winter and Winter) – recorded Dec 2006
It’s amazing it took me so long to listen to these discs. Both volumes are just fantastic. Always been a big Osby fan, and it’s a real treat to hear him in this live, open and very different setting (for him). The front line horns, Osby and Potter, come from a very different place with vastly different approaches and sounds, and together, they bring magic to the music making it varied and unpredictable. Motion’s style is so open and ranging that it’s the perfect vehicle for each horn to take the music where they want – and at times the varied soloing pulls at the music like its going to tear apart creating lovely tension and urgency. Add in consistently excellent piano playing (the annoying Jarrett-esqe alien whining aside), and this is beautiful music played with immediacy and intent.

Love And GhostsFarmers By Nature (AUM) – recorded June 2011
William Parker should be a National hero – however, we live in America, so he’s regulated to obscurity. On the fringe, right where the truly great artists always survive. This trio, a collective of Gerald Cleaver, Parker and the always brilliant Craig Taborn (if I look into my crystal ball, Steve Lehman and Taborn seem the next two most likely MacArthur Geniuses) has put out a couple of excellent albums. This is a delicious 2CD live album, recorded on consecutive nights and sounding nothing alike, and it is outstanding, challenging and modern trio music. Free, exploratory and adventurous, and also full of those tight interplay conceptions that makes current free jazz so modern and unique.

Three Times ThreeAntonio Sanchez (CAM Jazz)– recorded Oct-Dec 2013
Sanchez is a badass, of course, and his discs and bands as a leader have been consistently excellent (the 2 horn, bass, drums a fav of mine). This 2CD release is three top-shelf trios playing 2 originals and one cover each. Disc one is a dream trio – Brad Mehldau and Matt Brewer. I’m a big fan of Mehldau’s trio, but I’m also a bit weary that he could be headed down the Keith Jarrett road (Jarrett, amazing, of course, would immensely benefit by playing with some young players eager to kick his ass into shape rather than the with the same, albeit awesome, trio decade after decade) – so I’ve been secretly wishing to hear Mehldau with Eric Harland/Marcus Gilmore/Tyshawn Sorey, or Antonio – add in the astounding Brewer and you have what I feel is the best Mehldau playing on record. Just spectacular, adventurous and unpredictable playing. The 2nd CD is no slouch either – a trio with John Scofield and Christian McBride that’s groovy, driving and the best Sco I’ve heard (and I always much prefer McBride on other people’s gigs – he’s too conservative on his own, but under another, more modern-bent player, he tears it up). And lastly, the dynamite, rippin’ Joe Lovano/John Pattitucci trio with ferocious energy. Fantastic music, all of it.

Banned In LondonAruan Ortiz-Michael Janish Quintet (Whirlwind) – recorded Nov 2011
Recorded live in London, and with Greg Osby and Ruby Royston, plus Raynald Colom, filling out the quintet, this is a rippin’ driving set of excellent modern jazz. Osby sounds great (does he ever not?) and Ortiz rips off a couple of just thrilling piano solos – but hand it to Royston for elevating the whole thing into the stratosphere with his boundless energy and ideas.

50th Birthday Celebration Volume 7Masada (Tzadik) – recorded Sept 2003
For me, Masada is the best thing John Zorn has done – the acoustic quartet has all the power and magic of his other ensembles, tied up with masterly musicianship, great tunes, tight interplay and just crazy energetic free playing (plus, you get the lovely treat of Zorn actually playing alto). It took me until this year (his 60th) to delve into the many volumes of Zorn’s 50th Birthday month at Tonic (I ended up getting most of the Volumes this year), and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this is one of the best Masada outings. Long a fan of Live At Tonic (the other one), which to me is the best Masada on record, this one is right up there – different, mellower in parts, but full of all the intensity and brilliance one could hope for.

50th Birthday Celebration Volume 11Bar Kohkaba (Tzadik)– recorded Sept 2003
Damn – a fantastic 3CD set of intense music played with simultaneous care and reckless abandon. This is possibly my favorite Zorn moment where he doesn’t play (I’m always a bigger fan of the disc he performs on). Joey Baron, as should be expected by now, just lights this album up with propulsion that could save NASA some money. Terrific and infectious tunes, this band has a completely unique sound and energy.

ConvictionKendrick Scott Oracle (Concord)– released 2013
Kendrick is a dynamite drummer, one with a full, clean sound and an orchestral approach (out of the Eric Harland school of modern drumming), and his band mirrors that with a tightly blended sound that is clear, clean and unique. This album really grows on you – the feel of it is something special. That said, it is also mandatory for me to skip over the minute plus of Scott’s blabbering at the start of the record, and likewise, a must to skip over the incredibly annoying “be water, my friend” yapping over the first minute 20 seconds of the final track. If you can manage to be ready to hop over these distractions, than the music actually flows quite a bit like water, clearly and tightly and beautiful played.

The Drop And The OceanRob Garcia (BJU) – released 2011
This was a surprise. Somewhere I have a bootleg of this quartet – a great band with Noah Preminger, Dan Tepfer and John Hebert – that completely underwhelms. Three of the top young players in NY together, so my expectations were high. But, it turns out the real magic is in the studio release (how often can you say that?). This is an excellent collection of tunes, playing and sound – with Preminger oozing out his singular and excellent tenor throughout. A very pleasurable listen.

10 – 10th AnnivsarySFJAZZ Collective (SFJAZZ)– recorded Oct 2013
Love this band – or, rather, all of its many incantations. Over the years, it’s been a slowly changing octet that saw it’s greatest firepower a few years back when, for a couple of seasons, they had Lovano/Dave Douglas/Zenon and Harland. All but Zenon are gone now, and as seemingly devastating of a blow as Harland leaving (his orchestral drumming sound is an integral, central sound to the band), the Collective survives with Obed Calvaire filling in nicely. The real treat here is the overall band sound and the incredible originals and arrangements. Being the 10th anniversary of the band, they, for the 1st time, dug back into the catalogue and revisited a number of their tunes. I would have preferred the complete 3CD set they usually release (I saw the band live several times, and they left a number of highlights off this selective disc) – but still, this has excellent performances of Union, Alcatraz, Frosted Evils – three of their all time best tunes. An excellent album from one of the premier bands in the music – they write just numbingly amazing tunes that are complex and perfect and that get better with continued listening.

In The Hall Of Mirrors Stephen Gosling Trio (Tzadik) – recorded Feb 2014
A piano trio playing John Zorn penned piano charts and the amazing rhythm team of Greg Cohen and Tyshawn Sorey improvising against it. An excellent blending of classical meets avant-guard modern jazz – and let’s face it, any and every appearance of Sorey is a cause for celebration these days. He plays with such force and fluidity you’d guess that he was the one playing prepared music – although then, it would never be as good or as raw and energetic as he is here.

The Invasion Parade Alfredo Rodriguez (Mack Avenue) – released 2014
Never been much of a Latin fan – something about the rhythms end up boring me to tears after a tune or two. But Alfredo is no mere Cuban player – he’s a ferocious talent that, live, in his trio, is one of the best things you’ll ever see. Simply amazing. The sad reality of major or semi-major labels (no idea what Mack Avenue is, but it ain’t Pi or Clean Feed) is they love making you doing projects. Hence, this album (nor his previous) ever come close to the live trio (and why exactly can’t he just release a 3CD live album?), but it is immensely listenable and enjoyable nonetheless. One note of caution – personally, it is an urgent must for me to skip track 3, the god-awful lullaby blabbering of Esperanza Spaulding (great bassist, happily I live avoiding her vocal pop crap) – do that, and the album rounds out really nicely. This is something that I keep coming back to – not a blow-yer-mind sort of disc, but the tunes and the musicianship and the overall playing is thoroughly enjoyable.

A note on the title – all these best of the year lists, but who really can hear all the great music put out in the same year it was released? Does anyone have the time for this? Or the money? So, I feel this is a better list – the albums can be from any year, any recording date, any release date, they’re just the best that I heard for the first time this year – otherwise, huge amounts of great music can’t be mentioned because I heard it a year or 2 late. So, here it is.

Wood Flute Songs William Parker Quartet (AUM Fidelity) – recorded 2006-2012
If I had to choose the 10 best CD’s of the year, this could be the top 8 discs. An amazing box set of Parker’s quartet (Rob Brown, Lewis Barnes, Hamid Drake) in a variety of live settings – four discs of just the quartet, then the quartet augmented with additional players. No matter which disc you pull, you’ll feel like you’re listening to the best one. Everything here is just tremendous, full of vibrant energy, rippin’ solos, great original tunes (and a nice variety of tunes too). A thrilling release. If only more bands would do the same – the best jazz is almost always live, and the world would be a better place with similar 8CD live box sets from Wayne Shorter, David Binney, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Steve Lehman. Well, you get the picture.

Shadow ManTim Berne Snakeoil (ECM) – recorded Jan 2013
When Berne signed with ECM, I almost cried. So many of ECM’s releases are watered down ballad albums from dynamite players that I’d rather see tearing it up live (always beautifully recorded though). But no way, Berne was clearly having none of that – and this is an almost evilly ferocious album. Berne is in top screeching form with his long, complicated tunes full of raw, free energy and insane soloing. This may be his best album – a tremendously enjoyable blitzkrieg of music. I can only imagine that it must have nearly blown up the ECM studios and their delicate soundboard.

Sabotage And CelebrationJohn Escreet (Whirlwind) – recorded Nov 2012
Escreet puts out excellent albums consistently. Sometimes they are marred a tiny bit by too many segue snippet tunes and not enough of the big meaty ones, but that’s nit picking since the playing and writing is always outstanding. And he pulls together excellent bands. Here, with Chris Potter and Jim Black, he’s made another densely intense and burrowing into the core of something very hard sort of music. The free playing section of the title track is nothing like it was in the 70’s – here it is very clear that the musicianship is driving the out playing and not some spiritual communication. Not that there’s anything wrong with talking with your imaginary friends, but the modern feel to it and the interplay is thoroughly enjoyable.

The Anton Webern ProjectJohn O’Gallagher (Whirlwind) – recorded Sept 2012
The album of the year, at least in my write-in vote, which most certainly got tossed. O’Gallagher is an intense alto player that never gets his due – and he tackles big ideas with excellent bands. Here, the Tyshawn Sorey rule comes into effect again (buy anything and everything the man is on) and his drumming is spot on driving and out. Russ Lossing plays outstanding piano here too. A wonderful band playing hard to imagine music in a modern jazz way – unmissable.

9 LevelsGreg Osby (Inner Circle Music) – recorded Aug 2008
Not the easiest album to find. Osby is one of my favorites, but it still took me a while to hunt this album down. It is typically brilliant. Osby hasn’t made anything less than a fantastic album since he had rappers on them and their covers looked like they were designed by Punky Brewster. This is very much of a piece – the whole album sounding unified and driven toward a certain sound and feel. Excellent modern music.

HaymakerNoah Preminger (Palmetto) – released 2013
Preminger has a unique voice – modern and original, but along completely different lines than most of the modern players out there. He sounds fantastic in eerie, swelling ballads and emotionally dripped tunes of medium tempo. His sound is warm, full and the soloing is not primarily rhythmic, at least not in the way a lot of modern players are. Like all of his releases, the albums grow on you with more listening. This is a nice collection of tunes with some excellent playing. A very enjoyable album that never tires.

MysteryLucian Ban Elevation (Sunnyside) – recorded Jan 2010
A delightful surprise. This album of Ban’s band recorded live in New York grows with continued listens. Or, rather, most of the album does. Abraham Burton’s tenor solos need no growing – they are ear grabbing and standup and listen sort of stuff right from the moment you hit play.

The SirensChris Potter (ECM) – recorded Sept 2011
Not often a big fan of Potter’s albums as a leader – he seems to often push his drummers into backbeats and away from the polyrhythmic tirades that make so much of modern jazz amazing. It undercuts his own excellent playing, I think, making his solos sound less thrilling. Hiring Eric Harland was therefore a stroke of necessary genius. Harland is a rhythmic revelation and his complex drumming, along with just wonderful piano by David Virelles and Craig Taborn, make this a masterful album, and Potter’s best to date (by far).

ChantsCraig Taborn Trio (ECM) – recorded June 2012
Taborn has really come into his own of late. For years (and years) he has been outstanding in the bands of Tim Berne, David Binney, James Carter, well, a huge list of bands. This trio, which has been together now for a while now, shows Taborn in a different light. Like much of his music as a leader, it is full of his driving, collective grooves, headed out and full of vamping. A trio made up of modern masters play a delicious set of trio music. Outstanding.

Ethnic Stew And Brew Roy Campbell Pyramid Trio (Delmark) – recorded Oct 2000
There are those discs that you know you need to get for years, but it just takes time. This is one of them – and it was a surprise just how excellent it was once I finally got to it. A trumpet trio with the terrific complex groove and free rhythm team of William Parker and Hamid Drake – a solid album with tunes that has influences from everywhere, but it all boils down to one excellent stew of out-tinged jazz.

A note on the title – all these best of the year lists, but who really can hear all the great music put out in the same year it was released? Does anyone have the time for this? So, I feel this is a better list – the albums can be from any year, any recording date, any release date, they’re just the best that I heard for the first time this year – otherwise, huge amounts of great music can’t be mentioned because I heard it a year or 2 late. So, here it is.

Exception To The Rule John Escreet (Criss Cross) – recorded Jan 2011
Escreet’s album Don’t Fight the Inevitable is a classic of modern jazz – knotty and complicated lines played with joy and flare and breathtaking ease mixed in with fiery solos – all of it over modern drumming that never hits a beat. This, his latest, is a tad less complicated, but still completely wonderful. With David Binney as the sole horn and Nasheet Waits drumming in his crab-legs movement, this is great modern jazz. Like a lot of Escreet’s albums, this one blends full tunes with interludes and expressionistic passages that stand as short, in-betweeners. I prefer the full tunes, largely because it’s almost impossible to get enough Binney these days with the way he’s playing.

Oblique ITyshawn Sorey (Pi) – recorded June 2011
Finally, the great Sorey album as a leader (This/Not being half outstanding and half, well, interesting). This is an excellent band with Loren Stillman on alto and John Escreet on piano leading the way through a collection of out tunes, structured in fascinating ways. I only wish this band would release oodles of more albums. (with Chris Tordini on bass, Todd Neufeld on guitar)

Dialect FlurescentSteve Lehman Trio (Pi) – recorded Aug 2011
His albums, like Steve Coleman’s, are titled like PhD theses. But the music is always purely enjoyable. His last disc, Travail, Transformation and Flow , is a classic of the modern era – an octet with extremely unique and modern harmonies. Here, he’s striped down to a sax trio and it’s almost a blowing session (well, as close as Lehman will probably ever get). There is still the precise rhythmic structure, but it’s underneath like a secret language that you can never quite grasp. The real beauty is how the combination between the fiery soloing and the complex, intriguing mystery of the rhythmic structure keeps you coming back for more. This is a disc I found myself listening to quite a bit this year – and his covers of Coltrane and Jordan’s “Jeannine” are original and excellent.

OdeBrad Mehldau Trio (Nonesuch) – recorded Nov 2008; April 2011
Mehldau released two new albums in succession this year – Ode, an album of originals, and Where Do You Start, an album of covers. As good as the covers disc is, this is certainly the better of the two. It’s difficult to say exactly why – their playing as a trio is always excellent and the tunes selection is great, but on Ode, the band is in some sort of telepathic groove that is hard to match or pinpoint. Just one of those days where everything they play sounds amazing (and they have a lot of days like that). Great variety of tunes here too. Few bands reach this sort of togetherness – and no matter how many albums Mehldau releases, it just never seems to sound anything but fresh and new.

Brain DanceCarlo De Rosa’ Cross-Fade (Cuneiform) – recorded Feb 2009
Wasn’t familiar with De Rosa when I found this at Amoeba, but impossible to pass up thanks to the band (Mark Shim/Vijay Iyer/Justin Brown). And it is a fanrtastic modern album with driving, complex tunes. De Rosa heads the whole thing off, leading them through knotty and cool music. Great stuff (and there is a bootleg of this band live that is just dynamite).

Snuck InDavid Weiss Point Of Departure (Sunnyside) – recorded March 2008; June 2008
Weiss is an excellent trumpet player, despite looking quite a bit like Ed Rooney. Here, he has a great band of young players tearing it up live. Excellent, thick and layered covers of “I Have A Dream” and “Black Comedy” get the album off to a driving start. JD Allen on tenor is always a pleasure to hear, and outside of his dynamite trio and in a flushed out band, he sounds wonderful. Nice driving and modern drumming from Jamire Williams.

Unrehurst, Vol 2Robert Hurst (Audio &Video Labs ) – recorded March 2007
I much prefer Vol 2 to Vol 1 since, well, I don’t have Vol 1. I’ll have to work on that. This was a very pleasant surprise. It can’t be that easy to make a piano trio playing “I Love You” and “Monk’s Dream” sound so fresh and new, but this wonderful live gig is full of long, involved tunes that are completely that. With Robert Glasper letting loose and Chris Dave playing a jerking and swinging beat, this is a completely enjoyable listen.

AccelerandoVijay Iyer Trio (ACT) – recorded Aug 2011
Iyer’s trios are modern affairs in the best of ways – tight, focused, complex and earthy. I slightly prefer the quartet albums, but this being my favorite of the trio disc with it’s excellent interplay and tunes.

Silent Z Live Pete Robbins (Hate Laugh Music ) – recorded Dec 2008; Feb 2009
The Tyshawn Sorey rule has been driving my purchases for a while now (buy anything and everything he plays on). And it continually proves to be a great way to buy albums. This is an outstanding live band, whipped into a frothy intensity by Sorey’s drumming. Robbins is a clever alto player – nice sound, nice concepts, some very good albums under his belt (and little recognition). Here’s hoping to him getting more attention.

Line Of SightJohn O’Gallagher’s Axiom (Fresh Sound New Talent) – recorded Jan 2004
A ferocious and brainy alto player that puts out continuously interesting albums. Here, teamed up with the excellent Tony Malaby in the front line, they put together a tight, challenging album of music. One that really grows with continued listens.

Before The Rain Noah Preminger (Palmetto) – recorded 2010
Preminger’s discs really grow on you – they have a haunting quality that is beautiful and eerie. This, his 2nd, is one full of wonderful ballads and mid-tempo tunes that play tight and relaxed but are somehow driven with a secret urgency. Very enjoyable player and album.

Rye EclipseKris Davis – (Fresh Sound New Talent) – recorded June 2007
The presence of Tony Malaby on this earlier Davis disc is such a pleasure. The title track and Black Tunnel are just ferocious tunes with outstanding tenor playing that it outshines much of the rest of the disc – though all of it is very good.

Ulysses.  Chapter 1

I always loved this first sentence. It’s grand, funny and rich with the things to come. I checked what the insane Frank Delaney had to say about it (insane because his 148 podcasts of Ulysses but still only on chapter 3 is, in many ways, a pretty complete definition of the word insane – in the best sense). It’s the only podcast of his I’ve heard, and though I really like it (he is an impressively thorough fella), I think there’s much missing to his take on it. Anyways, to Joyce;

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

And so it begins. There is indeed the word play and the humor Delaney mentions (Stately vs. plump and Buck), but there’s real depth here too. First – the pacing and meter of the sentence is just lovely – that’s an esoteric comment, but it’s true. Read it aloud and just feel the lovely musical beat of his language. But onward.

Ulysses is a book, among other thing, largely about Dublin, the city and the state of it, as well as about the individual lives of the commoner in it. Stately is a great word to begin this with – it has the two suggestions in it – the larger sense, the ‘state’ of Dublin and its affairs and politics and physical reality of it. And there is the stately part too – the stature and way the individual holds himself and stands alone. This individual against the overall is all over this sentence, as well as the book.

The end of the sentence has many references. There is the priestly visual of it – Buck Mulligan, in his robe, coming from the top of the stairs like a priest to Mass. The Catholic debate is everywhere for Joyce – that wrestling of the intellect and knowledge and profanity of live versus the Irish upbringing and the sacred indoctrination of the Church. It’s the single most pronounced ‘issue’ in all of his works. And it’s here, lovely stated – plump Buck Mulligan versus the ritual. The sacred ritual versus the bowl of lather. But the end of the sentence, I think, really has a nice contrast in. The mirror and razor lay crossed – the obvious religious cross, of course, but why these items? On one level, there’s a great physicality to a razor – it’s an instrument that speaks of the body, the surface, the physical (violence too, but again, it suggests a physical violence). A mirror is the etherial – the spirit, that reflected image of reality. They lay crossed because it is the theme in general – the wrestling, or crossing, between the physical exterior and the spiritual interior. Additionally, Stephen Dedalus mentions (or is referenced) three times in the first chapter that ‘the cracked lookingglass of a servant is the symbol of Irish art.’ So here also, the mirror is symbol for culture, art, things of the mind – of the ‘highbrow’, opposed to the physical nature, the violence, the ‘lowbrow’ of the razor. So already, three times in the first sentence, this juxtapositioning of the sacred and the profane (the three times being the word ‘stately’, the image of the priest and plump Buck, and the mirror and the razor). Not bad for 22 words.

Alright, so I am finally getting down to a project that I’ve wanting to do for some time now – read, simultaneously, The Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve read them both before, years ago, but to sort of link them up, chapter by chapter, seems like a good way to see the similarities between them. This could go nowhere, or be a big ol’ waste of time, but what the hell, it’s worth the attempt.


Berkeley Arts

2133 University Ave, Berkeley, CA

November 4, 2012



This was a Goldberg show entitled ‘Come Back Elliot Smith” – all the music written for Mr. Smith or inspired by his music. I don’t know anyone in the band except for Ewell, a very good bassist I’ve seen in the past, and Wiley, who I’ve seen a couple of times as an alto sax player (which I like), and I’ve heard that he’s playing a lot of drums these days, but this was my 1st chance to hear him do so. It was a double bill thing, so I stuck around to hear Positive Knowledge just for the heck of it – but more on that later.

Berkeley Arts – was just there last night for the Tony Malaby gig (well, John Ettinger). Thought I’d go check this out too. Goldberg’s a, well, you know, a clarinet player, which is nowhere close to one of my favorite instruments (too clean and all), but that said, he is an excellent player and can sound great esp. when he surrounds himself with edgy players. The band had a great sound to it, rich, moody music that had a nice combo of arrangement and imrpov to it. Cressman knocked out a couple of excellent trombone solos – earnest and searching and full of effort, he impressed me taking a long, bluesy and Dixieland to edgy and out solo on The 2nd Interlude. Nice set of music and playing. Goldberg even read a poem in the gap between songs – a funny and good poem from What Narcissism Means To Me.


BEN GOLDBERG – clarinet                                    KASEY KNUDSEN – alto sax

JEFF CRESSMAN – trombone                              ROB REICH – accordion, piano

DAVID EWELL – bass                                             HOWARD WILEY – drums


Berkeley Arts (Duende sponsered)

2133 University Ave, Berkeley, CA

November 3, 2012

Tony Malaby week continues – concludes, actually. Great band – Hart, Sickafoose, Malaby . . . Never heard Ettinger before, but with a band like this, he must be good. And he is – great sound to the band, nice, unique instrumentation. And good writing – the tunes all with a distinct mood and element. This was supposed to be a show at Duende – but due to construction delays, it had to be moved. Same story as the Shuffleboil show – which means even though Duende doesn’t really exist yet, it is like the best concert promoter in town – 2 for 2 – and with Yoshis like a carnival of terrible these days, I can barely handle the wait until Duende opens. First time I went to Berkeley Arts (which is where it was moved to, thanks to Philip Greenlief)  – a very nice sounding room – think I’ll go back tomorrow night for Ben Goldberg.

The music – 1st tune and the 1st soprano Malaby’s played all week – and damn! he rips it up on that too – excellent edgy sound to the usually thin and boring instrument. Sickafoose is a man that basically never swings – he plays a modern bass style, all grooves and interaction – a beastly player in his way. Two sets of music – all very good. The 2nd set had 2 high points – Amdigato (or something like that) had a vicious, way out Malaby tenor solo with Hart all busy and interactive underneath. Sickafoose kept giving these funny looks where he would look from Malaby to Ettinger and back, like he was checking if the crazy ass stuff coming out of Malaby’s horn was acceptable or not. Indeed, it was the best music of the night. Torrential train-wreck tenor playing. Love it.

They closed with Kissinger In Space a really cool tune that went from thick groove to spacey out and back – sort of. On its return it felt all fractured and altered as if space twisted HK’s mind a bit. Great deal at the booth – all 3 Ettinger cd’s for $15 – that, I like. A great show, modern and excellent.

1st set

1. Shunyata

2. August Rain

3. Just Like Tomorrow

4. Dogleg 

5. Better Angels

6. Dual Diagnosis

2nd set

1. Talking Leaves

2. Ambigato

3. Harper Lee

4. The Doors Are Closing 

5. Kissinger In Space


TONY MALABY – tenor and soprano sax

JOE PREUSS – guitar


LORCA HART – drums


Kuumbwa Jazz, Santa Cruz

November 1, 2012


The second show in my self-proclaimed “Tony Malaby Week” – my own festival grouping Taramundo, this and (hopefully) John Ettinger Group in Berkeley on Sat. I drove down after leaving work early – not a bad trip, and entirely worth it for a show like this (or Vijay Iyer/Hafez Modirzadeh, which I saw a month age) – even got a $3 burrito at happy hour down the street. Really excited that this band was coming  – I love his album Deluxe – and why not to Yoshis? Because Yoshis is evil these days (with the throw-back to old days exception of the wonderful Roscoe/Tyshawn show last week). 

Ches Smith is a player that I’ve never seen but his name is popping up with a lot of the out players these days (the likes of Tim Berne and Darius Jones) – he’s a good player – nice drummer with good sound and involved ideas. The two tenor frontline was awesome. An unusual choice, but a great one – they played beautifully together, in long unison lines and in some sort of modern counterpoint with one playing a melody of sorts and the other trilling or squealing or playing against the tune. Just very cool, good stuff.  Malaby has an enormous tone – so rich and dominating that it wasn’t really that easy, at first, to hear Bishop in the mixup (a player I haven’t heard before).  But he took  a couple of great solos – building really well up from sparse to modern clusters and wailing. Good player.

Lightcap is a great writer – I really like the tunes that he writes, and most of the concert  was new, unrecorded tunes written for NYC, with 2 late tunes from Deluxe – Silvertone and The Clutch. Seen Mitchell a few times recently – a very good player, he played a lot of Rhodes here, and quite well, really popping off that dissonant, glassy sound.

Malaby plays like a fast approaching train – all these huge wailing onslaughts of sound with a side-to-side rocking feel. He plays what sounds almost like non-solo solos, where the solo doesn’t build in phrasing or twisting intricacy, but in wailing walls of thunder. With a band like this, playing great tunes, it sounds very cool indeed.

The last tune, well – it seems this set was being recorded for npr’s ‘Jazzset’, and then also for npr’s Toast of The Nation, their New Year’s show where they travel around the country with jazz clubs on New Year’s Eve – so, after the show, we had to pretend it was New Year’s Eve, with the countdown and all, and they ripped a rockin tune – no idea what it is, though it sort of sounded familiar – possibly from Deluxe with an Ornette-y horn line. Fairly hilarious in its random events – and my kind of New Year’s Eve – great music and no one even knows it’s a holiday.


1. 9 South

2. Arthur Avenue

3. Epicenter

4. Whitehorse

5. Down East

6. Fort Triumph

7. Stillwell

8. Silvertone

9. The Clutch

10. New Year’s Encore (sort of) 

TONY MALABY – tenor sax

ANDREW BISHOP – tenor sax

MATT MITCHELL – piano, Fender Rhodes


CHES SMITH – drums



Yoshis, Oakland

October 28, 2012

After thinking that the only way I’d ever see Tyshawn was if I headed to NY, this, amazingly, is the 4th time I’ve seen him this year. Never thought that possible. And in a variety of setups too. Saw Roscoe and Tyshawn earlier this year in the 2nd set of Tyshawn’s house concert – and I’m fairly sure that was the 1st time they ever even met since before the set they were introducing each other to each other (I don’t think that’s how that should be worded) and afterwards, patting each other on the back. Apparently they liked each other enough since only a few months down the line, they’re here again. And, to boot, it’s the 3rd time seeing Roscoe this year (he also had a Yoshis gig a couple of months back). Plus, this was like a throw back to the glory days of the once great Yoshis – an amazing club that barely even shows jazz anymore (a trend that pisses me off to no end) – but every once in a while, there is something right with the world.

Never seen Ragin before, or heard him in such a free setting, but he sounded great. Right from the start too – he opened with a nice rich tone and some nice quiet playing – it faltered a bit into breathy free non-notes for stretches, still good but without the nice bluesy edge to his tone when he blows full. This was the last in a 4 nights-in-a-row string of shows – Ron Carter at Yoshis on Thursday, random Broken Shadows drop in at Awaken Café on Friday, Tamarindo last night and then this. As Keith Cuderback said (at the shows the last 2 nights) “probably the most intense, out back to backs I’ve ever done” – and it’s true – not often does one get consecutive nights of intense way-out free jazz, not to mention the chance to see William Parker and Tyshawn Sorey back to back (can they play together someday . . . please?).

“Tonight’s performance is dedicated to Malachi Favors and Lester Bowie”-announced Roscoe at the start. There was a death-clown on stage too, rummaging, for like 45 minutes. No clue what he was there for – he did nothing (except plug in a blinking light).  This was a completely free slab of music – like 1 ½ hours nonstop, just invention. And it was basically ‘music without notes.’ RM played a lot of percussion (there was a huge cage of small perc stuff for him to play around in). Tyshawn played a lot of piano – which I was happy to see – I heard he was a good piano player, but never heard him play it – he has chops, and approaches it with the same driven intensity and lunatic ideas (for long stretches of times, he threw and flapped towels, played his shirt sleeves, blew into the bottom of his snare, slapped around a loose snare string, he even punched his cymbal so hard he knocked it right off the stand).

The music was quite varied dynamically, and had long stretches of near silence and just bells, or whistles, or Tyshawn tossing towels – but it was all fun and certainly unique. The high points for me where basically anytime Roscoe stuck the bass sax or the soprano in his mouth – the bass an amazing deep, Yoshis-rumbling sound, played at times in 10 minute circular breathing fits, and his soprano screeching in long circular lines. Tyshawn had 2 or 3 complete hurricanes on the drums, amazingly doing this one hand roll on the snare so fast you wouldn’t believe it. His psycho drumming was amazing. Another high point was a beautiful somber and dark, very slow 2 chord (strange chord too) figure that Tyshawn played on the piano while Roscoe built his circular bass sax lines into a long building vamp – TS slowly built the piano intensity, then reached over with his mallet and started playing the drums while still perfectly playing the low chords. Very cool (and funny – the man’s insane). Overall, it was a long, sometimes boring, sometimes silent, weird as hell and downright awesome chunk of music that could never be played again.

ROSCOE MITCHELL – soprano sax, bass sax, tenor sax, flute, PVC sax-thing, percussion

HUGH RAGIN – trumpet, French horn, pocket trumpet

TYSHAWN SOREY – drums, piano


Swedish American Hall, SF

October 27, 2012


The first night in what could be Tony Malaby Week, if I do as I should.  He is in the area all week, playing 3 shows with different bands – very exciting. I’ve been making my own mini-festivals these days. This was part of SFJAZZ festival, and I’ve been excited about this one since long before they even announced the schedule and Randell Kline told me they were coming when I was harassing him in Yoshis at the James Farm show. No Nasheet, but still all great players. Ferber I’ve seen with Ralph Alessi in the past, and he’s a great player, but I was surprised to see him in such a free setting. He played great though.

The show was just 2 huge slabs of music running between what apparently were songs (I overheard William Parker giving out the set list afterwards) – and, oddly, they had sheet music, which they even occasionally turned, even though I could find nothing in here that would have needed to have been read – I mean, this was FREE people. You composed this? Really?

David S Ware just died like a week or so ago, and both Keith Cuderbach and I, separately, felt they were channeling him a bit – I personally was hoping for an encore of Mikaro’s Blues, but nope – no encore. Still, there did seem to be a subtle undercurrent of DSW’s music here, especially in the torrential Malaby playing. TM was a force. He has just a gorgeous full tone and never fails to use it – plus, he spend huge amounts of his time playing split-tones, squeals, honks and scronks and just generally all-around noisy music – but it was great. Like a lot of freely improvised music, it has its moments, both good and bad – and although there was nothing even approaching bad, there were longeurs, and then there were stretches of tremendous intensity and wonderful playing. This is music that ranges widely and deeply over all sorts of terrains.

WP is so good – no one really plays the bass like him, or CAN play the bass like him – it’s like putty in his hands, and he molds it into all sorts of things, but always that rich, ringing, beautifully full and deep tone (although this hall is not the best sound-wise – esp for drums and bass). The four night mini-fest continues tomorrow night with Roscoe Mitchell, Tyshawn Sorey and Hugh Ragin. There’s been a couple of weeks like that recently – a wonderful thing.

TONY MALABY – tenor sax