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Download Reviews

A Long List of Free Recordings for the Long Days of Summer

By Published: June 21, 2005
These may be the longest days of the year, but for some reason it doesn't seem like there's any extra time to catch up on the music scene.



The legal and free downloads keep sneaking onto my hard drive faster than I can listen to them, much less write proper reviews. So it's time for another "capsule" roundup of recent acquisitions of note for one reason or another. Mostly it's merit—and therefore there's more praise here than a random sampling.



Music purists and those who tape shows frequently upload material in various uncompressed audio formats, shuddering at the thought of how compressing them into MP3 and other formats will wreck the experience. However, since most consumers use compressed audio because it's quicker to download and usually what's compatible with their audio player of choice, such formats are generally the basis for these reviews. As such there's a tendency to be forgiving of audio quality, but notable problems—such as a severe dropout in the middle of song song—are mentioned.




Kaki King
Live at the Wakarusa Festival and the Avalon Ballroom





To borrow an old cliche: Wow. These solo guitar performances - along with videos demonstrating her furious two-hand fretboard technique where she also uses pads on the soundboard for percussion - are an immediate nominee for my top-10 downloads of the year. They were posted days before this article was submitted, so more shows may be available soon. A lot of solo players would benefit from listening to her, as she proves such music can be simultaneously soothing, intense and innovative. King revives memories of the late Michael Hedges with her percussion-filled backing of a variety of strum and note textures, but her compositions possess a more contemporary and often rock-influenced nature. Where Hedges did Beatles covers, one would expect King to adapt Coldplay if she were dong such things. The hooks are effective and she varies them well, although at times she relies on too much repetition of them to carry tunes. But the audio quality is very good and generally these remain worthy of listeners' attention from start to finish. The Wakarusa performance from 2004 is more accomplished overall, but is available only as a Shorten file, meaning many listeners may have to convert it to MP3 or another format (utilities are widely available free from sites such as www.download.com). The Avalon concert is available in multiple formats including MP3.


USAF Band Of The West
Jazz Heritage II - Music of Gordon Goodwin
(and at least 20 other albums)
http://www.lackland.af.mil/bow/audio.html

Finally, something "anti-military" liberals and "cut the government" conservatives can agree is a good use of tax dollars - if they're into jazz. Military bands may dredge up stereotype images of dated, cheesy music at parades and halftime shows, but the band's 12-member Dimensions In Blue ensemble is an entirely different animal. Expose skeptics to the R&B-drenched electric guitar and sax of this album's "A Few Good Men" and they're likely to delve into the substance of this diverse 12-song collection. Modern mainstream, Latin, vocal and other arrangements of Goowin's works are featured, nearly all with first-rate engineerings and commendable soloing. But this being government, one doesn't have to look hard to find fault. It turns out there's a huge number of USAF band postings in jazz and other genres, but they're poorly organized and finding some of them requires a lot of link chasing and Google searching. There is, to cite a random example, this site with several albums including a collection of Latin jazz and another featuring landmark jazz compositions. The easiest way to get a bunch of free files quickly may be this collection searchable by style and ensemble. A link to an "unofficial" site offering 20 full albums exists, but it requires a $20 donation to download files.




Samples from various artists
International Archives For The Jazz Organ

Listening to this collection raises a serious question: Is there a group of instrumentalists who consistently have more fun than organists? Nearly all of the nineteen downloadable songs at this German site are funky and full of tonal twists, whether they occur in quirky note runs or thick chordings. Various guitarists, horn players and other sidemen usually are equally adept at getting into the spirit, and the result is a tribute to the instrument Jimmy Smith would be proud of. The artists are sorted by country, with the main drawback being that only a few of the profiled performers have songs available, and then usually only one apiece. This means it will take some time and clicking to get everything, but at least there's a lot of interesting material to read along the way. Ultimately it's worth the effort as highlights are everywhere, such as Barbara Dennerlein's R&B modernism on "Funkish" and the sax/guitar interaction on "Shadow Of Your Smile"




Jaga Jazzist
Samples from various albums





Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen is a hot item as this is being written, earning nearly universal accolades for doing a lot (of intensity) with a little (in terms of notes) on his new album The Ground. But maybe the mentality is just a Scandinavian thing, as the ten-member group Jaga Jazzist squeezes more ideas and variety into a seven-song, 37-minute collection than some contemporary jazz artists do in a career. From the mellow contemporary guitar-and-flute smoothness of "The Penguins Of Bartlome" to the discordant electric freeform funk of "Lithuania," it's tough to imagine many bands doing a better job of capturing their evolution so concisely. Their work doesn't always feel top-tier - whether their move into electronica constitutes progress is something fans can debate at length - but it's hard to dispute most of it attempts to be creative and original.


Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Live At 17th annual DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival



Variations on the phrase "funk/jam band" appear in a lot of these download reviews, since that seems to be the chosen genre of many bands posting material online these days. So here it makes sense to mention one that is a cut above most. Led by Denson, former saxman for Lenny Kravitz, this sextet's June 7, 2005, concert in Wilmington, Del., possesses true jazz/funk roots - compared to many groups that are little more than garage rock instrumental jammers - and this set of originals is crisp and mostly clean- sounding. Songs drop more into ordinary R&B territory during the vocal portions of pieces like "Groovy Thing" (although "Bag Of Funk" is livelier, better sung and meshes better with the instrumentation). There's also a few recording hitches, such as a brief severe level drop-out in the middle of the engaging "Jam." doesn't slow down for "Flute Down" (although I swear the song is based on some funky TV theme I can't quite recall). Still, generally solid work and, while this is the only show posted so far for 2005, there's more than 100 more from the same site for those who enjoy this one.


Boston Horns
Various live performance tracks



This intense funk sextet blends world, blues and neo-Dixie stylings into consistent high-energy jams that are simply a lot of fun—in both the (mostly) good and bad sense. Much like Maceo Parker or Tower Of Power, it's easy to latch onto their work immediately and stay in a groove throughout, but there's also a lot of repetitive and somewhat predictable riffing to keep what's no doubt a sizable dance crowd happy. It's hard to find much weakness in their effort, however, and that's considerably more than can be said for many acts. The seven lengthy songs at their web site are better both in sound and quality than a show from the Internet Archive, with the latter likely to be of interest only to serious fans.






The Woodshed
Hallapalooza 2005 and live at The Bistro

It's tough not to like a band with this variety (from "Take The 'A' Train" to '60s rock to modern funk originals) and incredibly liberal file-sharing policies ("if anyone is interested in older shows (not posted) just sent us an e-mail and we'll send you a zipped copy"). The only problem: Performances are uneven and the sound quality is lacking, especially for recordings from the band itself. They're generally best on fusion/funk/jam songs like "Andorra," competent and interesting on "'A' Train" and terrible on off-key vocal pieces like "Take Me To The River." In short, this is a band whose development one roots for.



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