Ben Goldberg: "Everything Happens to Be."

July 2021

BAG Production BAG018
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I credit my father for indoctrinating me with a love for the clarinet. As a young man, long before my time, he immersed himself in the music of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw the way I would later cleave to Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman. And before either of those guitarists were making records, my father was filling my ears every Sunday morning with the sounds of Goodman, Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and others who had made the clarinet the equivalent of the Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul in his day.

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Vince Mendoza & the Czech National Symphony Orchestra: “Freedom over Everything”

June 2021

Modern Recordings
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

In a less-fragmented musical landscape, composer-arranger Vince Mendoza might be a household name on the scale of Burt Bacharach or Henry Mancini. After all, the 59-year-old has won six Grammy Awards (and been nominated for a total of 34) and worked with stars like Björk, Elvis Costello, Sting, and Joni Mitchell. As it is, Mendoza’s reputation is largely confined to the jazz community, where he’s made his name by furthering so-called “third stream” music with the Metropole Orchestra and soloists like trumpeter Randy Brecker.

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Jakob Bro, Arve Henriksen, Jorge Rossy: "Uma Elmo"

April 2021

ECM 2702
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I’ve never completely bought into the idea of a distinctive “ECM Records sound,” by which is meant an austere, spacious, dry soundstage developed by label head Manfred Eicher for the artists he records. For one thing, the ECM catalog is far too broad, and the studios and engineers they employ far too diverse, for there to be any such uniformity. Another argument against the concept is that Eicher is too much a believer in capturing the true nature of artists to impose a soundstage on anyone. That’s not to say that he isn’t known for imposing his opinions on his artists, but they are more about artistry itself and not sonic aesthetics.

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Mark Feldman: "Sounding Point"

March 2021

Intakt 354
Format: CD

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

There’s a truism in music that well-trained classical musicians can’t improvise or swing enough to play jazz, and that jazz musicians who read well can perform the classics but can’t sound authentic playing folk music like country or blues. It’s not really a knock against musicians; you wouldn’t want a brain surgeon to replace your hip, either. The fact is, the deeper you go into a specialty, the more constrained you are.

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Chris Potter: "There Is a Tide"

February 2021

Edition EDN1168
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
****

If history tells us anything about what we’ve all been living through in the past year, it’s safe to predict that millions of words will be written about the lasting effects the pandemic and our various forms of isolation will have on how we live. One of the most thought-provoking observations I’ve heard directly came from the gifted young jazz pianist Christian Sands.

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Sonny Rollins: "Rollins in Holland"

January 2021

Resonance 2048
Format: CD

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
****

Instrumental virtuosity can be a mixed blessing, even if some of us would put it in the category of “nice problem to have.”

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The Nels Cline Singers' "Share the Wealth" and Dave Douglas's "Marching Music"

December 2020

The Nels Cline Singers: Share the Wealth

Blue Note 0737079
Format: CD

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Dave Douglas: Marching Music

Greenleaf Music 1078
Format: CD

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Jimi Hendrix’s epochal “Machine Gun” in the time of Richard Nixon, the Clash’s unforgiving “Clampdown” in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, Bruce Springsteen’s elegiac “Long Walk Home” in response to George W. Bush: musicians frequently have created some of their best work in response to autocratic leadership and social oppression. Those artists who employ vocals can easily make their opposition known; for composers who work in instrumental settings, it’s a higher bar.

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Cindy Blackman Santana: "Give the Drummer Some"

November 2020

Copperline 105
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
***

At 60, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana has had an exceptionally varied career that has seen her perform at both massive arenas and tiny clubs. The former came courtesy of her long tenure with singer-guitarist Lenny Kravitz, whom she first played with in 1993, the latter from her long apprenticeship as a jazz musician. In an interview, she once told me that the primary difference was what happened before and after the shows.

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Ron Miles: “Rainbow Sign”

October 2020

Blue Note B003239502
Format: CD

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Jazz is both blessed and cursed with a creation myth, which is so oft-repeated that you might be able to recite it with me: born in New Orleans, it spread north to Chicago on the first waves of the Great Migration, and then east to New York City. Except, as jazz historian Mark Miller eloquently proved in his 1997 book, Such Melodious Racket, it’s not true.

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Matt Wilson Quartet: "Hug!"

September 2020

Palmetto 2196
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I heard about drummer Matt Wilson before I heard his music, and what I heard about him made me anticipate that first interaction as I had for few other musicians. What I heard about Wilson was that he brought intense joy to everything he played, along with a sense of curiosity, and technique that made him sound like no other drummer on the scene.

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