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Reviews Written by
N. Jones "Nic The Pen" (Oxford, Great Britain)

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Offered by positivenoise
Price: £16.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The jamming didn't remain the same, 17 Dec. 2010
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This review is from: Seven (Audio CD)
By the time this album originally came out in October of 1973 Soft Machine had settled down, settled down to personify the specs and facial hair look beloved of contemporary Open University tutors that is. They'd done the same musically too. Gone was the creative tension that seemed to fuel everything the quartet consisting of Elton Dean, Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt did, to be replaced by a brand of jazz-rock in which brows were only infrequently furrowed and the odd gem rose to the surface to seduce the ears.

In this case the gem is "Carol Ann" a piece played exclusively on keyboards and Roy Babbington's six-string bass guitar. A thing sly of melody and irregular of interval, it is in the best sense music for staring out of the window and simply pondering to. It lasts for three minutes and forty four seconds, but if it lasted for forty four minutes and three seconds there's a good chance overkill would still be avoided. By comparison with it the rest of the set is.....all right.

Mike Ratledge's organ sound is as singular as it ever was on "Day's Eye" where the baritone sax of Karl Jenkins also makes its presence felt.

The slowly loping groove of "Penny Hitch" is quite persuasive, especially if the listener either has no knowledge of the earlier incarnations of the band's work or just takes it into no account. Drummer John Marshall, arguably the biggest asset this line up of the band had, demonstrates how without effort he could offset power with subtlety, but then he'd been doing that for years prior to the first release of this album and he continues doing it to this day.

So there's nothing to startle the horses here, but then neither is there any of the attributes of earlier incarnations of the band. By comparison with those this fare is both polite and restrained. But there's still a quality about it which distances it from the pack, even if it's not the stuff of innovation.

The Clarinet Of Archie Semple
The Clarinet Of Archie Semple
Price: £14.25

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unlikely disciple, 17 Dec. 2010
Edinburgh probably isn't the first city that springs to mind when it comes to the origins of clarinet players after the style of the great Edmond Hall, but Archie Semple goes to show how some people can be wrong-footed. A product of that city's fertile traditional jazz scene as it stood in the late 1940s Semple had no small measure of Hall's sheer drive and an ability to transform unlikely material into something joyous enough to put a smile on the face of a corpse. We should be smiling too, firstly because Doug Dobell's 77 Records label had the savvy to put out the original LP this CD is based around, and secondly because only a label like Lake has got what it takes to put out this welcome update.

Semple shows a fair degree of his transformative powers on "Goody Goody" a piece of hokum likely to defeat the creative powers of a great many musicians, but not him. He's aided in the endeavour by pianist Fred Hunt, of whom it would not be stretching a point to say that he was to Earl Hines what Semple was to Hall.

Trumpeter Dickie Hawdon, a man far from being a musical reactionary in that he could play with fire in both a setting like this and the contemporary John Dankworth band, shouts in righteous fashion on "77 Blues" while with his slightly woozy phrasing Semple gets as close to the spirit of Pee Wee Russell as he ever did on record.

But as with a lot of jazz of this vintage -and it has to be said that the style on display here was decades old even back in the later 1950s when the music was captured for posterity- the discussion of individual tracks is a not particularly insightful chore. What's arguably of more importance is the fact that these guys were so far inside the style that their love of it rings out in everything. Listeners who know it and their efforts are going to buy this anyway, although every time they listen to the music they might wonder where the contemporary players keeping such relatively venerable styles alive are.

Atom Heart Mother
Atom Heart Mother

5.0 out of 5 stars Once I hated Pink Floyd, 17 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Atom Heart Mother (Audio CD)
`I hate Pink Floyd' read the hopefully hand-scrawled slogan on Johnny Rotten's tee-shirt when he walked into Vivienne Westwood's shop. Malcolm McLaren happened to be there at the time, and the sight of the tee-shirt was enough to make him realise that the urchin he'd been looking for had just found him.

At one time hating Pink Floyd was on a par with hating `Lord Of The Rings' when it came to marking you out, but that was before the generation gap healed up on the floor of HMV and middle-aged one-time punks like this reviewer lost their zeal and mellowed, though thankfully not to the point where reading `Lord Of The Rings' seems like a constructive way of spending the time.

Anyway it was the pervasive `Dark Side Of The Moon' that made this reviewer set his face against `the Floyd' and that was because in those dark days of the second and third quarters of the 1970s the thing was everywhere in a way that wasn't true of `Atom Heart Mother' which for those who take a jaundiced view of the band might be the one of the ones to go for.

The input of Ron Geesin helps in no small part and while the extent of it might be open to question the fact remains that he puts a different patina on proceedings. The title track itself finds the band in a state of unexpected grace even in the midst of brass and choirs, while Gilmour's guitar solo has a lot going for it even if that doesn't include the power to calm rioting students.........

Rick Wright was an undervalued songwriter. "Summer `68" is from his pen and rife with the knowledge of harmony sense and more accomplished musical sensibility which serves to keep his efforts at arm's length from those of Roger Waters.

But it's not so much the individual contributions that make all the difference as it is the cumulative effect of them. On this one the band got outside of what they were growing accustomed to, which makes this a pleasing little anomaly in their back catalogue. That in itself is good enough for the former haters, or at least it is for this one.

Rock Bottom
Rock Bottom
Price: £9.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spinal Tap-esque in title alone, 16 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Rock Bottom (Audio CD)
This reviewer has a confession to make. When he was about fourteen years old -in 1975 as it happens- this album was one of the most frightening things in his relatively limited musical world. Why was this? Because it sounded like nothing else, and it's a tribute to Wyatt that it still doesn't, not even some other Robert Wyatt album.

Lyrically the themes are all over the place, or perhaps merely occupants of unique places. It's still difficult to decide which, which of course makes every listen as intriguing as the last.

Wyatt roped in as eclectic a bunch of session people as you could conceive of too. This accounts for why Mongezi Feza's delirious trumpet is all over "Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road" even though Ivor Cutler's recitation, at one and the same time strident and measured as it refers to lying in the road trying to trip up the passing cars, sounds like the contribution of a man who just happened to wander into the studio with a text in his hand. It all makes for something else anyway.

"Alifib" is something else again. Wyatt's keyboards are accompanied only by Hugh Hopper's bass guitar and the meditative air the two men conjure up is the combined effort of a duo with their eyes on some rarefied imperatives. Then Wyatt tops it off with nonsensical lyrics which are partly a paean to his partner Alfreda.

Gary Windo, the man with the tenor sax tone you could strip paint with, is on the following "Alife" on both that horn and bass clarinet. On both of them he scrabbles away at the margins of a song in which Wyatt again exhibits lyrical concerns outside of coherence.

"Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" is measured and intense, all at once. Cutler's back on it, this time with his baritone concertina in tandem with Fred Frith's violin. His recitation is disorientating enough in itself, but his cackle at the end suggests the whole thing has been some kind of absurdist prank when what the album is in reality is a work so free of influence that it joins that limited rank of `rock records' that simply has to be dealt with on its own terms, or not at all.

New Moon Daughter
New Moon Daughter
Price: £7.37

3 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An antidote to Norah Jones, if only she wanted to be, 16 Dec. 2010
This review is from: New Moon Daughter (Audio CD)
As far as those who can find nothing more constructive to do with their time than marketing are concerned Cassandra Wilson has a lot going for her. For one thing she's photogenic, which of course means she's pictured all over the packaging for this CD. The trouble is, at least from the point of view of those people, that she can do musical substance too, as opposed to soporific toss. This could make her an awkward proposition especially in an era when ear candy is the order of the day. Having said that the soporific does win out on this one, which is sad.

So she does "Strange Fruit" a song with a disquieting message anyway, as a piece of Gothicalia (new words for old descriptive purposes) her voice emerging through a low key mesh of steeled guitar and Graham Haynes's cornet.

The mood of the following "Love Is Blindness" -a U2 song for all the difference it makes- is bland to the point of being comatose, but Wilson's voice is such a sophisticated thing that she just about saves it.

Given the man's customary fervour she takes all sorts of risks in covering Son House's "Death Letter" and sure enough the whole thing is sophisticated in nearly all of the wrong ways. Again the guitars mesh and weave even while they flirt dangerously with the insipid, only for a few notes from Kevin Breit's tenor banjo to hint at what might have been if the instruments had been stripped right back and the remaining musicians had been simply instructed to play it wrong.

The least said about Wilson's rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" the better. It's backing music for dinner parties in the sense that if the volume was low enough the diners would have no problem at all with completely ignoring it.

"Last Train to Clarksville" is by comparison intriguing, and the fact that it is makes this album a frustrating listen overall.

At the time of this now fifteen year old release it seems that Wilson had no idea of where she wanted to go, musically speaking. `Jazz' probably wasn't a term she was bandying about despite the fact that she'd emerged as a member of the M-Base collective which promised so much and didn't deliver anywhere near as much a few short years before. Those years could have been decades for all the difference it made to most of this album.

Plays Jimmy Giuffre Arrangements
Plays Jimmy Giuffre Arrangements
Price: £10.78

4.0 out of 5 stars It shouldn't work, but it does, 16 Dec. 2010
Not without justification Sonny Stitt was saddled with the New Bird tag because his alto sax work had a discernible similarity to Charlie Parker's. Feeling perhaps unable to live this down he switched to tenor sax in the later years of his career, but on this one the Parker comparison is not without validity, especially so in view of the essentially cool nature of Jimmy Giuffre's arrangements. Despite that quality it's true also that on the basis of this evidence Giuffre knew more than a thing or two about dynamics.

It all comes through on "Laura" where Stitt's fervour contrasts with the dreamy nature of his accompaniment. The resulting tension is released very nicely through mutual understanding the depth of which ensures that the soloist never overwhelms his setting, or vice versa.

"Singin' in the Rain" is taken to places Gene Kelly might never have imagined but it's clear from everything Stitt plays that he's relishing what he's doing. Giuffre's arrangement hints at the rarefied music he went on to produce later in his career, but again there's no denying that the two base elements of the music coalesce in convincing fashion.

The two bonus tracks feature a quintet headed by the two principals both on tenor sax on the amiable "Uptown" while Stitt reverts to the alto sax for "Down Country" On the latter Stitt gets to preach in a way that arguably only he could. Perhaps not surprisingly Giuffre isn't the most convincing blues player on the same thing, but again it's the very contrast between the respective approaches of the two men that makes the crucial difference.

All the music has ease of listening in common anyway, but there's an added dimension for students of the saxophone and anyone with an insatiable ear.

To end on a practical note, this review is for the reissue on the Fresh Sounds label, not the one on the American Jazz classics label, hence the discussion of two different bonus tracks.

Blues Singers & Hot Bands 1924-1929 On Okeh
Blues Singers & Hot Bands 1924-1929 On Okeh
Price: £15.48

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shoutin' it, 16 Dec. 2010
Joe `King' Oliver had a lot going for him. He was just unfortunate in that he didn't have that combination of charisma and personality that his protégé Louis Armstrong did. The sheer size of the shadow that Armstrong cast might mean that Oliver remains but a footnote in jazz history but that takes nothing away from the sides collected on this CD.

Okay so Sippie Wallace's "Morning Dove Blues" lyrically amounts to nothing other than a veiled discussion of sex, but the gravity of her vocal and Oliver's shouting cornet raises it to the level of art, perhaps vocally even rap half a century or more before the term became common currency.

As a member of pianist Clarence Williams' Blue Five Oliver contributes in no small measure to the exquisite musical proceedings. The counterpoint formulated by him, his fellow cornet player Ed Allen and clarinettist Arville Harris for this reviewer constitutes an example of chamber jazz long before that label had any cachet. For good measure the same band recorded the other side of the 78 -Okeh 8584, incidentally- on the same day, 23rd May 1928. It also puts a smile on the face too, especially as it reminds the listener of how sophisticated this supposedly primitive music could sound when the right people were taking care of business.

White guitarist Eddie Lang felt he had to adopt the alias Willie Dunn to make himself sound more black before he went into the studio with the likes of Oliver and fellow guitarist Lonnie Johnson on 1st May 1929, which says a lot about the era but gives no clue whatsoever to the sublime music the band which came to be known as Blind Willie Dunn's Gin Bottle Four produced. Of the two sides they produced "Jet Black Blues" has the edge in this reviewer's estimation. The guitars of Lang and Johnson are in their way as close as Oliver and Armstrong's cornets were, and just for good measure Oliver shouts the blues in a fashion which can't fail to remind the listener that an on form Oliver could turn it on with the best of them.

The Frozen Borderline: 1968-1970 (International Release)
The Frozen Borderline: 1968-1970 (International Release)

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a distance from the perfumed garden, 16 Dec. 2010
Nico had fame thrust upon her in a way that most of the wannabes of today would probably saw a limb off to replicate. This was thanks in part to Andy Warhol, the John the Baptist of the image over substance scene. But then she went and made the two albums brought together in this set just to prove how she had something that mere fame could never contain. Precisely what that was remains elusive to this day, but it's that quality of elusiveness that makes these two albums thoroughly -compellingly- enigmatic.

`The Marble Index' is the first of them. It's hardly contentious to say that there's nothing else quite like it anywhere. The sub-aquatic guitars and tinkling keyboards which open "Lawns of Dawns" are enough in themselves to contrive an atmosphere of complete unworldliness, but when the woman herself comes in on voice and harmonium the listener has no choice but to suspend every expectation, especially as a nasty little sound not unlike that of Mr McHenry's car in the original Magic Roundabout figures in the disconcerting music that follows.

By dint of title alone "Frozen Warnings" could provoke words on the glacial tones of the woman's voice, but there's something which language just can't capture here and it's her artistic temperament, here stated so clearly and indeed starkly that this can be considered as her first album and the comparatively ditzy "Chelsea Girl" which preceded it regarded as the work of a woman doing someone else's bidding.

If it wasn't for the fact that there clearly was no formula for `The Marble Index' `Desertshore' could have repeated it, especially as the music was played by the woman and John Cale, just as it was on the earlier release. But the songs -and to describe the pieces as such is to saddle them with a hopelessly inadequate description- are to put it glibly a little lighter. `My Only Child' for example features harmony vocals which aren't so much a musical necessity as they are a sop to anyone trying to get a handle on such uncompromising music.

So let's face it, Alexandra Burke -to name just one of those `performers' for whom the middle of the road is oddly the least dangerous place in the world- could never conceive of this kind of thing, let alone be granted the leeway to record it, which kind of sums up the difference between then and now.


11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting to the heart, 16 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Expectations (Audio CD)
So much has been written about Keith Jarrett over the years that it's difficult to get at the straightforward matter of the man as a musician. Ian Carr's uncritically gushing tome on him has been no help at all in this matter, while the way in which the ECM label has gone about marketing his music only makes life more difficult for anyone interested in the substance. As if that wasn't enough Jarrett's often overbearingly precious attitude towards his art has had the effect of making him appear like an individual so far up himself that the avoidance of his work could be more like an attempted corrective than a conscious decision based on reasoned judgement.

This double album was however recorded at a time before such irritants were part of the baggage that the man carries. It's therefore easy to appreciate his pianistic originality on something like "The Magician in You" for all of the piece's gossamer lightness.

On "Common Mama" it's the work of undervalued tenor sax player Dewey Redman which catches the ear. His take on free playing, which found such a convivial home in Ornette Coleman's small group, here sounds like the work of a man with far deeper musical concerns than Jarrett. This is why he sounds so at home on "Roussillion" where the presence of bass player and stalwart of the early Coleman groups Charlie Haden has the effect of making Jarrett seem like a special guest at his own session.

By dint of more than sheer length "Nomads" forms the most significant music on the second disc. Jarrett at this stage in his career was a sly, perhaps innovative arranger and this is the piece that makes the point most forcefully. On organ he offers us real insight into what Miles Davis heard in his playing, while as a pianist his persuasive way with long, obviously deeply contemplative yet still spontaneously fresh sounding phrases gets as close as anything here to highlighting just what all the fuss was about, and perhaps still is.

To end on a trivial point, throughout this set Jarrett indulges in hardly any of those irritating wordless vocal asides which were to figure in his later work on record. Whether or not that was a sign that his primary concern was musical before he started to believe in his own myth remains open to discussion.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2011 6:30 PM BST

At The Jazz Band Ball: 1938-1940
At The Jazz Band Ball: 1938-1940
Offered by westworld-
Price: £6.98

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little means a lot, 16 Dec. 2010
When he began his musical career Bobby Hackett was a violinist and guitarist, but by the time the first of the miscellaneous sessions brought together on this disc rolled around he was a trumpet / cornet player accomplished enough to have been landed with the new Bix Beiderbecke tag. There was something of Beiderbecke about his playing -his purity of tone and line for example- but to coin a phrase he was his own man even if by the later 1950s he was making a healthy living out of soloing over beds of often syrupy strings.

Given the freewheeling, breezily insouciant nature of the Eddie Condon / Chicago school of traditional jazz it's perhaps surprising that Hackett fitted right in with it, but that's just what he does here on "Poor Butterfly" from November 4th, 1938. Even at this relatively early point in his career the unhurried quality of his work stands out whilst his sound is that of a man so secure in his musical identity that he's got nothing to worry about.

The vocal rendition of "I Surrender Dear" by one Claire Martin -or perhaps that should be `the other Claire Martin' given that one of the glut of contemporary jazz singers out there at the moment has the same name- gives Hackett the chance to show what he could do both as an accompanist and soloist, but in view of the fact that his art fundamentally never changed there's little point in further discussion.

So if Hackett's art is so easy to define, how come so few musicians have accomplished anything similar since? Well of course the bebop `revolution' ensured that his worked was locked in time, but such is the rate of evolution in jazz that paradoxically his singular work is a byword for individuality. With every note he played he gave the impression of knowing that the music was going nowhere once it started sounding anonymous.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2011 9:37 AM GMT

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