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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 17, 2014

Medeski, Martin & Wood + Nels Cline: Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2

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In retrospect, it was inevitable; why it took so long for veteran jazz jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood to get together with Nels Cline is anybody's guess. The über-guitarist has, since joining Wilco a decade ago, managed to significantly raise his visibility, but anybody who suggests that he's been “moonlighting" in the alt-country/alt-rock/alt-alt band to pay the rent hasn't been paying attention. Like keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood, Cline's career has been largely associated with jazz--well, before Wilco, that is; that's all changed now--through his lengthy association with Cryptogramophone Records and albums with his ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 15, 2014

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: American Adventure

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Sometimes an idea seems great on paper, but in execution doesn't exactly work out as planned. Other times, that same idea doesn't just look great, it actually exceeds already high expectations. When saxophonist Tommy Smith--almost single-handedly responsible for rebuilding a modern jazz scene in his home country of Scotland, where he returned after studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music in the 1980s and releasing a couple of well-regarded albums on Blue Note--brought his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to the United States in the summer of 2013 for a short tour, he came up with the idea of hitting Avatar ...

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INTERVIEWS April 14, 2014

Brian Blade: Fellowship - More Than Just a Word

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In the 21st century, few drummers have managed Brian Blade's kind of crossover success. Beyond playing in saxophonist Wayne Shorter's quartet for nearly 15 years, beyond being a first-call drummer for producer/singer/songwriter Daniel Lanois--whether it's for his own projects like Black Dub or working with everyone from Bob Dylan to EmmyLou Harris--and beyond also being on-call with some of the most important names in modern music (not just jazz, but music) like Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, John Scofield and Kenny Werner, Blade has forged a dual-career as both the co-founder of his more jazz-centric The Fellowship Band, and as an ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 13, 2014

Ola Kvernberg Trio: Northern Tapes

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It's been three years since Ola Kvernberg released the ambitious Liarbird (Jazzland, 2011), a studio document of his 2010 Molde International Jazz Festival commission where guest Joshua Redman was recruited for the live performance, but where, far more than a ringer for Kvernberg, Redman was clearly awestruck by this virtuosic young violinist/composer. It's not that Kvernberg hasn't been busy, either: in addition to being a featured soloist, the same year, with Motorpsycho's progressive rock-heavy collaboration with Supersilent/Elephant9 keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimsolistene string ensemble for another staggering live performance later documented on the even more impressive ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 12, 2014

Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration Deluxe Edition

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A star-studded show celebrating the music of Bob Dylan, televised around the world thirty years after the release of his first Columbia recording, 1962's Bob Dylan, could have been seen as swan song; after all, Dylan was in a period of songwriting inactivity that would last from 1990 through to his potent reemergence with 1997's Time Out of Mind (Columbia) and a less prolific but still impressive period ever since. But at the time, nobody knew if Dylan the songwriter was finished. In fact, nobody even knew if Dylan was going to show up to his own party at New ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 11, 2014

Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra: Habitat

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It may have been the title of her last album--Treelines, Christine Jensen's first large ensemble recording--but there was no song of that name on the 2010 Justin Time release. Instead, it's the lead-off to Habitat, Jensen's second album with her Jazz Orchestra, a commissioned work for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, its director, Dr. Paul Haar, looking for the Canadian saxophonist/composer to continue the strong work begun on Treelines. And why not? Treelines may have been the Montreal, Canada-based saxophonist's first large ensemble recording, but over the past 15 years she has gradually emerged as not just a saxophonist ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 9, 2014

Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band: Landmarks

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Four records in 16 years may not be prolific, but clearly Brian Blade and his longstanding Fellowship Band aren't about quantity. While a seemingly scant two years separated the drummer's leader debut (and inspiration for the group name), Fellowship (Blue Note, 1998) from its even more impressive follow-up, Perceptual (Blue Note, 2002), the group's next record, Season of Changes (Verve) came a full eight years later in 2008, and beyond a label change also reflected the trimming down of the Fellowship Band from its original septet to a sextet with the departure of pedal steel virtuoso Dave Easley.

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 8, 2014

Arve Henriksen: Chron | Cosmic Creation

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Despite the suggested evidence of 2008's Cartography (ECM) and 2013's follow-up, Places of Worship (Rune Grammofon), trumpeter Arve Henriksen's career has not only been about the intrinsic--and deeply personal--lyricism that defined those recordings, as well as the three Rune Grammofon recordings that preceded them--2007's Strjon, 2004's Chiaroscuro and 2001's Sakuteiki, those three recordings collected in the beautiful limited-edition vinyl box Solidification (Rune Grammofon, 2012). It should not be neglected that Henriksen remains a founding member of seminal noise improv group Supersilent, whose last release, the vinyl-only 11 (Rune Grammofon, 2010), was culled from the same sessions as 8 (Rune Grammofon, ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS April 6, 2014

Jaco Pastorius: Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions

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1976 was, for electric bassists, the year where everything changed. Jaco Pastorius hadn't quite emerged from nowhere, and the few prior recordings on which he could be found may have provided some hint of what was to come, but it was the quadruple punch of fellow legend-in-the-making Pat Metheny's leader debut Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976), singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell's classic Hejira (Elektra/Asylum, 1976), fusion super group Weather Report's Black Market (Columbia, 1976) and, most notably, the bassist's own Jaco Pastorius (Epic, 1976), whose opening track--a duet look at Charlie Parker's “Donna Lee" with percussionist Don Alias that spoke of instrumental ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS March 23, 2014

Tom Guarna: Rush

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With his five recordings on Steeplechase since 2005's Get Together, it's hard not to think of him as a dyed-in-the-wool mainstreamer, but Tom Guarna's extracurricular activities tell a completely different story. He may love big fat hollowbody guitars and the Great American Songbook, but Guarna's work with George Colligan on Realization (Sirocco, 2005) and the stylistically broader Runaway (Sunnyside, 2008) demonstrate a purview reaching farther afield than his admittedly fine straight-ahead recordings as a leader. Even more revealing is Guarna's work with Lenny White on Anomaly (Abstract Logix, 2010)--taken even further in performance with the fusion drummer at ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS March 21, 2014

Miles Davis: Miles at the Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3

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By the time Bitches Brew (Columbia) was released in April, 1970--and despite receiving a 5-star review in Downbeat Magazine--trumpeter Miles Davis was already under fire from mainstream jazz critics as having “sold out," despite the densely constructed, improvisationally unfettered music being as unapproachable to an audience looking for accessible music as anything he'd done with his increasingly liberated second great quintet of the 1960s. Sure, there were rock rhythms and, perhaps more disturbingly to the delicate ears of its detractors, rock energy and volume, but if anyone was thinking “sellout," it certainly wasn't Columbia Records, who had no idea what ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS March 12, 2014

Hutchinson Andrew Trio: Prairie Modern

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If Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are the only places in Canada considered, in any way, as hotbeds for jazz, the prairie provinces are, with the exception of the annual Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, pretty close to the bottom of the list of other Canadian cities that have small but aspiring jazz scenes. If anything, the Alberta-based Hutchinson Andrew Trio (also going by the name HAT) is clear evidence of not existing jazz scenes in Edmonton and Calgary, but damn good ones. Where pianist Chris Andrew, bassist Kodi Hutchinson are positioned in the food chain of their ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS March 12, 2014

Brad Mehldau / Mark Guiliana: Mehliana - Taming the Dragon

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First impressions shouldn't necessarily be the lasting ones. Despite, according to the press sheet, having played together for several years, über-pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Mark Guiliana only began touring as Mehliana in 2013, and one of the heavily electronic duo's early performances at the 40th Vossa Jazz Festival in Voss, Norway was, sadly, eminently forgettable. But a year has passed and, in the interim, the duo has clocked a lot of road time, and with the released of Taming the Dragon, it's a pleasure to report that plenty has changed since that Vossa Jazz date...and all for the better. ...

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EXTENDED ANALYSIS March 10, 2014

Vijay Iyer: Mutations

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There are times when it's possible to chart an artist's success through his association with record labels. Vijay Iyer--who, over the past 20 years, has built a reputation for genre-defying, forward-reaching music--spent the early part of his career on independent US labels including the highly regarded Pi Recordings, Savoy Jazz and Sunnyside Records. But it was with his move to Germany's ACT Music label and a series of trio and solo recordings, including the Grammy-nominated Historicity (2009), that the pianist began to garner even more attention. Still, as good as his four ACT recordings were, looking at the label's overall ...

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