Brian Eno: "Reflection"

February 2017

Warp 280
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Brian Eno is one of the rare figures in music who has preferred to work offstage and never claimed instrumental authority. Aside from a brief period with Roxy Music and even briefer forays with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, Eno has remained in the studio, turning out more than two dozen albums under his own name and, much more successfully, serving as a producer for U2 and Coldplay.

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BassDrumBone: "The Long Road"

January 2017

Auricle 16/17
Format: CD (2)

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

For both commercial and musical reasons, longstanding bands are rare in improvised music. The trio BassDrumBone, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017, is unusual, then, in terms of longevity, but even more unusual in instrumental makeup. Bassist Mark Helias, 66; drummer Gerry Hemingway, 61; and trombonist Ray Anderson, 64, were all up-and-coming young men in 1977 when they got together for the first time to play in New Haven, Connecticut. Hemingway, a New Haven native, was already teaching and developing a unique approach to codifying non-traditional percussion sounds. Helias was studying at Yale, and Anderson was a nascent member of Anthony Braxton’s group. Hemingway thought they might gel as a trio, and clearly they did.

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Keith Jarrett: "A Multitude of Angels"

December 2016

ECM 5702466
Format: CD (4)

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

David Mott -- baritone saxophone master, former music department head at York University, and martial artist -- once told me that the best musicians play without ego. By creating an unmediated flow of ideas, artists like John Coltrane channel something approaching the divine.

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Norah Jones: "Day Breaks"

October 2016

Blue Note B002520702
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I have a terrible track record for predicting which album will become a hit, but there were a couple of hints that Norah Jones’s 2002 debut release, Come Away with Me, would attract attention -- although, even then, I could not have predicted the eight Grammy Awards it garnered. I doubt if anyone anticipated that.

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Metalwood: "Twenty"

September 2016

Cellar Live 020116
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

By definition, improvised music lives in the moment, and jazz, the musical genre most closely associated with improvisation, is an art form obsessed with constant innovation. It is unusual for jazz to look backward, but two nostalgic trends -- both related to trumpeter Miles Davis -- broke with tradition and were surprisingly long-lived.

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Nels Cline: "Lovers"

August 2016

Blue Note Records 002505102
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

How you know guitarist Nels Cline might vary. You might know him as the leader of the archly named Nels Cline Singers -- a trio that includes no vocalists -- from his sonically expressive improvisational collaborations with a wide range of artists from Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore to action painter Norton Wisdom, or as a member of the rock band Wilco. In almost every setting, he is a disruptor: slashing shards of noise across a pleasant tonal environment here, cranking the volume there. Inspired by sources as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Andrew Hill, Cline has extraordinarily open ears and a deep set of technical skills.

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Paul Simon: "Stranger to Stranger"

Concord 39803
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

For centuries, some of the most important contributions to our understanding of social mores and manners have come not from historians, but from creative observers who have worked in various art forms. From Samuel Pepys to E.B. White, we have used the writings of people like these to go deeper into how life was experienced by those who lived through particular times.

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The Allman Brothers Band: "Live from A&R Studios, New York, August 26, 1971"

June 2016

The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company 1116
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
****

Few rock bands had the stylistic scope or instrumental prowess of the original Allman Brothers Band: guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, organist/vocalist Gregg Allman, bassist Berry Oakley, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson. From the spring of 1969 to October, 1971, the band grew steadily from an energetic-but-raw group of disparate forces to a highly disciplined-yet-uninhibited band of improvisers.

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Pat Metheny: "The Unity Sessions"

May 2016

Nonesuch 554569
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

While jazz has no shortage of solo performances, stemming from the European classical tradition of the virtuoso recital, it is primarily a collective music. Improvisation gains currency when one player takes inspiration from another, adding to what has already been played, while ensemble work is at the very core of what gives the music its power -- both in small groups and, most particularly, big bands.

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Wes Montgomery: "In the Beginning"

April 2016

Resonance Records HCD-2014
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
**

Overall Enjoyment
***

One of the few authentic things in Don Cheadle’s gangster-fantasy bio-pic of Miles Davis is the trumpeter’s insistence that jazz was, first and foremost, social music. In the years before, during and after World War II, in particular, jazz was the soundtrack of black American lives. Before the rise of urban blues and R&B in the ’50s, it was jazz that was played on commercial jukeboxes in bars, on record players at house parties, and by combos at live music venues. It was, quite literally, ubiquitous in the air, especially in the large, industrial centers. In Indianapolis, Wes Montgomery started strumming a four-string tenor guitar at the age of 12, and seven years later, in 1942 -- inspired by brilliant, young guitarist, Charlie Christian, who died around that time -- switched to a full-size electric guitar.

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