Butcher Brown

In steady rotation

2013-12-15 12.11.16

As 2013 draws to a close, wellyouneedit celebrates its one-year anniversary. How did that happen? It’s been a bumpy road and I’m still not sure why I bother to put these thoughts out there. Oh well, for writing’s sake, I guess, which is a pretty good reason, isn’t it? Here, I want to thank my handful of faithful readers scattered around France and the globe. You know who you are.

The year-end lists are flooding the Internet. With a jazz-heavy listening and playing schedule to handle, I simply don’t have the time to check out the plethora of good “non-jazz” music released in this day and age. As a music fan, though, I like to think that this thing called jazz is not as insular and monolithic as the naysayers would have you believe. Today’s prominent improvisers tap into all kinds of music and extramusical sources to shape their path in the continuum. The result of that blending process doesn’t always work but it is integral to this art. As the aggressive debates raging on the Internet and the blogosphere show, the term jazz is very restrictive and contentious in many ways. Specifically, it doesn’t acknowledge the shape-shifting qualities at work in spontaneous collective improvisation, and it doesn’t do justice to the musicians who have continuously pushed the envelope to move the music forward. But for lack of a better and all-embracing term, we’re just going to have to stick with it for a while! If there’s anything to change about the presentation of jazz to the neophyte, it might involve defining it not so much as a music style per se as an approach to addressing and appropriating musical content – Duke Ellington or Bjork, it doesn’t matter.  The purists will take issue with that view, but the purists are wrong. Get real, purists! Trying to dictate what an art is and what it is not is a pointless struggle. The following list is a random and unrated selection of albums that played on a regular basis or caught my ear, here at wellyouneedit, in 2013. Inevitably, a lot of it is jazz, but in my book good music transcends category. Enjoy.

Dave King, I’ll Be Ringing you (2012)

With fellow Minnesotans Bill Carrothers and Billy Preston, the drummer revisits the standards with haunting introspection.  A well-tended fire smolders through this quiet record.  Huddle up, make some tea and kill the lights. And swing by the wynit archive for the short album review.

Brad Mehldau Trio, House on Hill (2006)

I finally decided which of Brad Mehldau’s albums I would take on a desert island. Right down to the enlightening liner notes (on Bach, Brahms and Monk), this one is a stellar document of the early trio (with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy). Strong compositions and high-caliber playing for all involved.

Orrin Evans, Flip the script (2012); Blessed ones (2001)

The ability of these tight trios (bassists Eric Revis and Ben Wolfe and drummers Nasheet Waits and Donald Edwards) to bend the swing tradition and honor it at the same time keeps astounding me. The demotion job on Autumn Leaves will have you scratching your head first time around but sound magically obvious after a few listens.

Matana Roberts,  Mississippi Moonchile (2013)

A powerful artistic statement from the great alto saxophonist and multidisciplinary artist. This beautiful suite is Roberts’ personal take on Black American history, specifically through her female lineage. The music is a seamless collage/conflation of the various strands of African-American music. The fascinating story continues.

The Bad Plus, Made Possible (2012)

Epic melancholia, joyful abandon, frantic energy and telepathic cohesion. The trio does make anything possible. In the words of drummer Dave King « this band contains some of the most punk energy I’ve ever seen or heard as a musician ». But make no mistake, this is unquestionably as tight and honest a modern jazz trio as it gets. Watch the EPK for their 2012 record and check out the amazing discography.

Vijay Iver Trio, Accelerando (2012)

The award-winning pianist has the critics divided. Undaunted, I listen to the staccato rhythms of bassist Stephen Crump and Marcus Gilmore and nod to the vibe.

Glenn Gould,  Bach English Suites , Inventions & Sinfonias (1982)

To think that all of Bach’s keyboard music was conceived for the harpsichord is confounding, especially when played by Glenn Gould on piano. Timeless.

Mark Turner, Yam Yam (1994), Dharma Days (2001)

Whether the album cover of Yam Yam was a wise marketing decision is a matter of personal aesthetics but the music shows off Turner’s tasteful lyricism and hugely influential voice on tenor. Dharma Days is the one to get. Features Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Reid Anderson (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums).

Eric Revis, Parallax (2012)

The potent bassist delivers a fine inside/outside jazz offering. Serious chops and burning grooves across the board. Features Nasheet Waits (drums), Jason Moran (piano) and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax and clarinet)

J Dilla, Donuts (2006)

The legendary hip hop producer probably owned a sizable record collection. This album splices together a nice selection of soul and rap cuts from the 60s onward. I usually play the first song and find myself listening through the album.

Geri Allen, The Life of a Song (2004)

In the company of such heavyweights as Dave Holland and Jack de Johnette, Geri Allen found sympathetic support to deliver her groove-packed set of originals and rearranged standards. There isn’t a weak moment in this program. Highly recommended.

Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Lieder (2010)

Smooth-flowing dialogue between two singular voices of free forms. Shipp’s dark low-end tones take on a welcome brightness against Jones’ honking enthusiasm.

Melanie De Biasio, No Deal (2013).

With the pared-down instrumentation of flute, drums and keyboard, Melanie De Biasio’s enveloping vocals push through the ether with grace and a sense of subdued drama.

Drew Gress, Black Butterflies  (2005)

Lush writing, infectious grooves and free blowing make up this alluring album.For Craig Taborn’s solo on the song Bright Idea alone, this one is worth a good listen. Features Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (Trumpet), Craig Taborn (piano), Tom Rainey (drums).

John Coltrane  The Classic Quartet – the complete Impulse studio recordings (1961-1965)

Immortal. What would jazz have sounded like if that quartet hadn’t existed? Eternally inspiring.

Thelonious Monk

Do I really have to drum the point home? You have to get with Monk. Period.

Craig Taborn Light Made Lighter (2001)

Taborn’s debut album amply demonstrates his versatility in the classic piano trio format. A good place to start.

Butcher Brown – A sides B sides

On their self-released and generously free (cop it on their website) debut, Butcher Brown make instrumental groove music that sounds oddly new despite the overt references to 70s funk. An ideal moodsetter that doesn’t sacrifice musicianship for chilling’s sake. Check it out.

Elmo Hope, Complete Studio Recordings

What a tragic life his was. It’s time to restore Hope’s profound contribution to modern jazz piano music. No less than Monk’s best friend and favorite player.

Julia Holter  Loud City Song (2013)

Wow. This one almost didn’t make my list. There is definitely more than ambient and pop to this music. But for now I’ll settle for uncategorizable.

And countless more to satisfy the music junkie’s appetite but that I’m too lazy to write a single word about.

Summer Vibe

HiRes

It’s hard to believe but it looks like summer is here, in France. I could probably put together a list of essential jazz recordings to pack into your beach bag and just throw it out there. But I got to thinkin’, who in their right mind would actually listen to, say, Cecil Taylor or Andrew Hill over margaritas and in sweltering weather…(hold on folks, the list comes at the end of the post)

Also, I needed to make amends and give some long overdue praise to Butcher Brown, a hip hop-funk band which I have been listening to pretty consistently this year, whenever I want to take a break from my daily hardcore jazz/improv diet. In fact, for all their beat-driven instrumentation, each member has some serious chops suggesting heavy backgrounds in jazz, especially the drummer. I had been waiting for this, musicians celebrating Blaxploitation-era grooves and funk with a fresh modern edge. The band does a great job combining the alluring slinkiness of the 70s  – having the Rhodes as a founding instrument makes the connection inevitable  (think Roy Ayers for example) – with the more recent hip-hop beat culture. But make no mistake, this is not your bland jazzy loungy outfit trying to sell you on the merits of instrumental music. Comprising guitar, electric bass, Rhodes, some vocals and drums, the group harnesses the best and most influential fixtures of Black American music – the groove, the rhythm, the soul – and makes fresh fully instrumental music out of it. There is definitely a jazz attitude in that kind of proposition, a desire to acknowledge the seriousness and diversity of modern beats and how they pervade a wide spectrum of contemporary music. I hear you, Robert Glasper fans out there. Many jazz musicians today are celebrating hip hop culture and incorporating its rhythmic potential into their adventurous compositions. It’s a powerful force and it makes sense that some of today’s jazz is catching on to those beats. But back to Butcher Brown. The band has a full album available for free download on their website, here. So, no lame excuses, if you haven’t checked it out yet, now is the time. I’m telling you, you’ll want to drive around (if you don’t own a car like me, you’ll enjoy it even better as a backseat driver) windows down, nodding to the vibe, wishing you had been 20 in 1975. With spacious guitar, tight drumming (man, that drummer is really good), rumbling bass lines and titles like “Starlight Starbright, Brotha Bossa Nova, Beauty or Original Gangsta Music”, what else do you need to chill out and still keep your ears sharp? This is laid-back music played with conviction and taste. When you feel rested enough, there are some badass improvisers putting out new records by the ton these days. Probably a sign that while music doesn’t have to be serious, our troubled times require serious creativity. Maybe more writing on these recordings when I have processed them all.

And happy summer to you

Random recommendations:

Butcher Brown, A-sides, B-sides (what? You haven’t checked that out yet)

J Dilla,  Donuts/Rebirth of Detroit. Now I understand the worship surrounding the legendary hip hop producer, some killing flow on this)

And now for something completely different”:

Eric Revis, Parallax (with Nasheet Waits, Jason Moran & Ken Vandermark). Revis is a new hero of mine on bass, period.

Craig Taborn, Light Made Lighter (with Chris Lightcap and Gerald Cleaver)

Orrin Evans, “…it was beauty” (with Eric Revis and Donald Edwards). Can’t wait to listen to the full album.

And a big merci to Dirty Grids for the post illustration.