Saturday, July 26, 2008

Johnny Griffin, The Little Giant (OJC/Riverside)

Let us bow our heads and raise our glasses... There are those for whom life was a promise, one that time (too little) could not keep. For others, though, time took its time. You knew what you needed to do, so you did it. In your own time. If the world does not see what you're doing, you go to Bordeaux. You need to do what you need to do. If the world is olive, you refract. If it doesn't refract, you ask Julian Priester to help you. Or Tootie Heath. Or Blue Mitchell. Or Wynton Kelly. Or Sam Jones. They always said you're hard. They always said you're fast. They're all wrong. You may have been fast, but you took your time. Life if long. Bop is hard. If you're an unsung hero, you're still a hero. If you're little, you're still a giant. Let us bow our heads and raise our glasses... To you, Hero, now somewhere, flying, between Venus and the Moon.

Suggested Wine Pairing: A prayer. Chateau Chante-Alouette la Roseraie, Premieres Cotes de Blaye 2005, GRAND Vin de Bordeaux (with the emphasis on the GRAND, my man).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cannonball Adderley, Somethin' Else (Blue Note)

After the rain... You want music for the first day of fall. Or not fall exactly, but that first day of fall just after summer. But not that exactly either, the first day of fall when it still feels like summer. Not summer exactly, that is, maybe the last day of summer when it still feels like summer and you can feel fall coming on in the air, when you can picture the change of autumn leaves. You've been walking around in t-shirts and flip-flops for months, haven't thought at all about all those sweaters in the closet. How the wool will embrace your skin on that first day of slight chill. What will you do? Maybe you'll pick Ania up from work early one Friday, take walk through Delaware Park just as the first leave are falling, go into the Albright-Knox and contemplate Clyfford Still for a while, all jagged yellow white and black until you notice a slight spot of blue that now jumps out at you. Suddenly it will occur to you that Clyfford's got a cool swing to his work, not unlike that of Blakey's ride or Sam Jones' bass, and how the eminently dignified Hank Jones always seems to strike the right key at the right time. Outside Miles Davis will be that first crisp wind of the new season, crystalline sunlight lends definition to vision, Cannonball Adderley that warmth of a wool sweater. You step over to Muse for a drink.

Suggested Wine Pairing: It's still summer, though, so you will need something else to remind you, full of summer sun on an autumn day yet-to-be: Bodegas Vino Piñol Ludovicus Tinto (Garnacha/Tempranillo/Syrah/Cab) 2005, Terra Alta Spain.

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Columbia)

It's been hot as hell and you just don't know if you're going to take it any more. The air's so thick with humidity that you have to cut it with a butter knife just to open your refrigerator door. Not that you need anything in there, it's just the only reasonably cool place to lay your head. But you can't do that forever, the machine would inevitably break down that way and you'd look like a fool standing there all day in your boxer shorts bowed down with your head stuck in your refrigerator. So you sit on the couch hoping not to melt. Then for some reason (voodoo? magnetism?) the air changes. Cold wind blows in from the north and hits the hot air of summer. Black clouds roll in and press down on the earth. Day turns to night during the day. When the rain starts it doesn't fall so much scream from heaven and slap the earth. The sheets of rain descend at such an angle against the ground grass pavement trees cars people, all polyphony and polyrhythm you've never quite heard that way. It's getting so dark now you can barely see out your living room window. Then suddenly. Silverwhite electric flash. Thunderroll, calling for all the colors of the prism to fill the sky once again.

Suggested Wine Pairing: Probably more conducive to smoking than drinking. (Check Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet.) In any case, all indications are that Oxumaré's preferred drink is mineral water.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity (ESP'Disk)

Why? The letter pre-dates human history. As in, if you are going to write history, you need something to write it with. That's logical. As logical as saying, if you want to recover history, you may need to shred books and libraries, stripping them down to the mere letter, since the letter is where history began. Why? As in, when Nirmala moved up to Michigan from New Orleans, she could never get over the fact that there were no ghosts up there. She needed to live with ghosts. I would have to agree. I remember Mexico City, how every time we got there my head would be swimming. My parents said it was the altitude, but looking back I now see something else going on. Centuries of souls buried in the ground percolating back up to the surface through the cobblestones of Coyoacán. You never see them, of course, they don't really exist (letters are symbols, with no material weight of their own), but nonetheless living with them is not always pleasant. As in, someone or something walks up behind you on Miguel Angel de Quevedo to nuzzle the hairs on the back of your neck. Turn around it's not there. Why? As in, the back of this record says it's a trio, but it's realy a quartet or quintet or big band. Ghosts on hand in the studio, covered in mud, dressed like poor sharecroppers and Union soldiers.

Suggested Wine Pairing: Bottles in some sense always hold ghosts of the past. As in the Morgante Nero d'Avola 2002, Sicily (dark like plums grown in volcanic soil, harvested by ancient Sicels).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Clark Terry, Color Changes (Candid)

Of anything with a soft glow, a list of my favorites: Ripe peaches, Pacific Ocean sunsets, EL34 vacuum tubes, a snifter of Calvados in your belly on an autumn evening, cheese souffle just out of the oven, chocolate souffle just out of the oven, novels by Machado de Assis, the texture of dark chocolate and/or strawberry jam, the coastal landscapes of Central California, Chile, Spain, or France (Rive Gauche preferably), the way Seldon Powell's flute plays off Yusef Lateef, the burly sound of Clark Terry's flugelhorn inset against Julius Watkins' french horn and Jimmy Knepper's trombone, as if a cluster of deep crimson rubies.

Suggested Wine Pairing: Only something as round and smooth as spreading jam on your morning toast: Grayson Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Paso Robles California.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cecil Taylor, Unit Structures (Blue Note)

Special Guest Posting (unconsciously so) by Jeffrey B. Wagman and David B. Miller, from "Nested Reciprocities: The Organism-Environment System in Perception-Action and Development" (Developmental Psychobiology 42 (2003): 317-334):

An additional primary tenet of the ecological approach to perception is that at the ecological scale, organisms and environments are both highly nested entities. Within a given niche, units are nested within units, and structure exists at all spatial and temporal scales. In the environment, for example, the movement of photons is nested within the reflection and absorption of light which, in turn, is nested within a leaf falling to the ground in the sunlight, and
so forth. Within a given animal, a process such as respiration is nested within the process of locomotion which is nested within the process of pursuing or evading prey, and so forth....

In development, expression of genes also is highly dependent on context. From the transactional perspective, this context extends well beyond the boundary provided by the organism’s skin. This context includes genetic, neural, behavioral, physical, cultural, and social influences. In short, perception and development are both context dependent, and both only occur in an environment. A fundamental consequence of this context dependency is the bidirectionality of development. That is, far from being unidirectional, development is necessarily (at least) a two-way phenomenon. The notion of sharply delineated critical periods in development is treated with skepticism from this point of view because it seems to require that development occur along a unidirectional and linear path. This is antithetical to the transactional view, according to which development can be both linear and nonlinear.

The responsibility for the regularity in the developmental process falls neither on an organism’s genetic endowment nor on its experiences in development. Both influences are necessary for development, and neither one alone is sufficient. Development is a continually evolving process that involves an ongoing exchange between factors both endogenous to and exogenous to the developing organism. Genes express themselves appropriately only in responding to internally and externally generated stimulation. Structures and behaviors continually emerge as a consequence of the synergetic combination of an animal’s internal and external environments. According to the transactional perspective, by virtue of its continually evolving relationship (and continual exchanges) with the environment, a developing organism is a ‘‘new’’ organism at each point in development.

In traditional accounts of development, organisms are passive recipients of instructions from the genes, and in traditional accounts of perception, organisms are passive recipients of stimulation patterns. However, in the ecological approach to perception and in the transactional approach to development, organisms are anything but passive. They play an active and circularly causal role in their perceptual experience and development. Animals neither perceive nor develop in a vacuum, but instead do so in a rich and structured flux of energy patterns and experiential factors.

Suggested Wine Pairing: After all that, you may ask?!? I think you need a wine of a different fruit: Oban 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. And gird yourself for Cecil Taylor's cluster bombs.

Matthew Shipp, Matthew Shipp's New Orbit (Thirsty Ear)

Someone said the piano player's got history in his hands. And I've got no qualms with that assertion. Some times it's hard not to hear Cecil Taylor or Keith Jarrett or Andrew Hill (especially Andrew Hill), and once you've heard that it's hard not to pull it back to Monk and then Tatum and then Jelly Roll, and then all of a sudden you're in some tavern hearing ragtime circa 1878. In the age of mechanical reproduction, however, the experience of this history is always repeatable, by which I mean it's always immediate (mediated, of course, but immediate) and present. Such matters are better analyzed as flavors, undertones on the palate. As in, the space in-between the members of this quartet has a certain nose of licorice to it, and finishes a bit smoky. William Parker is carrying a bundle of oak, but Wadada Leo Smith balances that on trumpet with some tart blackberry. And Matthew Shipp is all about the color, an unworldly hue of purple-blue. History is synaesthesia.
Suggested Wine Pairing: For that color, Don Miguel Gascón Malbec 2006, Mendoza Argentina.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mal Waldron (w/ Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, & Ron Carter), The Quest (Original Jazz Classics)

I've never cared about the thing in-itself, because the thing-in-itself has never existed. Some thing is always next to something else. The relation in-between them may be volatile, mutable, hard to handle. But the in-between is always that mysterious space of change, where things can happen, where they begin to hold interest. One night in the "old town" of Warsaw we happened into a dark restaurant. I've always admired the attachment of the Polish people to the forest. Even in the city you feel you could just take a walk in the forest (usually you can) and kick up some borowiki. The forest is not some dark forbidden place full of wolves and red riding-hoods, but rather an inhabitable space that provides for you. The tree line is not a wall or gestalt, but rather the passageway between one room of your house and the next. On this night in Warsaw I started with venison tartare, and then moved on to roasted goose stuffed with forest mushrooms. You could have any one of those things separately if you wished. The question is why would you wish for some thing like that? As Ania, Jurek, and I talked we began to dance a Fire Waltz. I believe the ghosts of Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin (such distinct voices!) were conversing while we ate, with Ron Carter on cello and Mal Waldron whispering commentary on the side.
Suggested Wine Pairing: A pairing for goose and mushrooms can be very good, or it can be very bad. The line in-between good and bad is thin. You need something temperamental as a result: a Burgundy or other Pinot Noir. Yes, that's it, the Castle Rock Pinot Noir 2005, Edna Valley California.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dave Holland, Critical Mass (Sunny Side)

But enough with history. We get enough history as it is. What is the sense of things? The groove or vibe that does nothing, produces nothing, but most definitely is. Time was in the not-so-distant past you were out back on the deck in late summer. The sun had pounded all day and it was so humid that you felt like you were boiling in a thermo-sealed bag at the bottom of some pot you couldn't jump out of. You took another shower with water as cool as you could stand, changed your clothes, and went out to the back porch with your closest friends, the ones who understood you even when they couldn't understand you. And now the sun has fallen and the blue sky is slowly dissipating into starlight. The atmosphere lifts ever so slightly so that a slight breeze can cool your soul. (vibes trombone sax and a rhythm section that grooves) Of a sudden the fireflies rise up from the ground and float there. Oh yes, one last thing... You've just fallen in love with the most beautiful person in the world, and she's right there by your side.
Suggested Wine Pairing: What's that, kochanie? The Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Marlborough New Zealand? Yes, that's right my love.

David Murray, Live at "Sweet Basil" - Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Black Saint)

I felt bad about ripping on Wynton earlier on, and though my rip was right on the money (if I do say so my bad-self), the only way I could make it up was a double-review. Proof positive that I don't hate the 80s - I love the 80s, just not the VH1 docu-smut version of it. The David Murray 80s. Who knew back then that while we were wearing our day-glo Gotcha's and saving our pennies for the next SST record, that Murray was saving jazz as we don't know it? Nobody knew, 'cause even though he was throwing down classic albums fast and loose, nobody's been able to find them until now. These two live sessions of the 12-piece big band from 1984 are not the absolute greatest Murray records, which means that they're still great, just not as transcendant as "Ming" or "Home." Nevertheless they may be the missing link between old-school and free jazz. There's a lot of noise on these records, horns bouncing off one another like crazy, and lots of circular breathing. (Olu Dara's clarinet solo on "Bechet's Bounce," christ, the run's just don't stop.) But these performances also swing like crazy. You could put "Sweet Basil" albums comfortably on the same shelf as Ornette's Science Fiction for large-scale mayhem. And they would rest just as comfortably next to 30s-era Count Basie or Bennie Moten or, of course, Sidney Bechet. This is history taken out of the museum and put where it belongs - in the club with ample amounts of beer and whiskey. Not the museum/mortuary school of preservation. The living constitution, rather. Crouch claims there was lots of sweat in the room during the Wynton band's stint at Blues Alley. On these "Sweet Basil" albums, the sweat literally drips off the tracks themselves.
Suggested Wine Pairing: A big Australian bloke comes into the room and knocks you on your ass. A Thorn-Clark Terra Barossa Shiraz 2005, Barossa Valley South Australia (with a high enough alcohol-content to withstand the rack of Kansas City ribs you just ordered). Better order two or three of them.

Wynton Marsalis, Live at Blues Alley (Columbia)

I recently saw a late-night re-run of "A Different World," that spin-off from the Cosby Show circa 1987 or 1988 about the historically black college. I was surprised that it wasn't totally awful. It had its heart in the right place, a good message (tolerance, self-respect, compassion), and say what you will about him, turns out Sinbad isn't that bad an actor. All the same, I couldn't help but feel that the characters were really cardboard cut-outs. (I met a sax player who worked in DC in the 80s and met the presidents then. He said Bush had evil in his eyes, but at least you could tell there was some thinking going on there, however evil it was. Shaking hands with Reagan, though, was like shaking hands with a carboard cut-out.) You can't disregard it as if things were so much better now, it was just part of the zeitgeist of the times, a wish for a different world. Not that people really wanted to go back to 1962, they just wanted cardboard that made them feel like they were back to the future from 1962. There's not a single dropped note on this Wynton album, the entire band is spot-on perfect. The lines are all as clean as the ones on Wynton's suit on the cover. All the same, I can't shake the feeling that this is a museum of jazz LPs meticulously protected in glass cases. You've preserved the actual album, but all you get to do is a look at the cover, a very pretty cardboard cut-out. The liner notes by Crouch don't help.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Dude, I'm sorry to say this, because Wynton is not to be trifled with. But it's a bottle of Lancer's Rose (probably doesn't taste all that bad (maybe it does), but a relic of marketing campaigns from bygone era nonetheless.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (Impulse)

Late night. You came back from the party exhausted. Something hadn't gone quite right. You ran into someone you didn't expect and didn't want to see (an ex-lover? a colleague from work? an obnoxiously drunk pro-life republican?). And though it wasn't a complete catastrophe, some times you just feel like life just gives you a glancing blow to remind you not to get too excited about it. Even John Coltrane can't manage his usual fireworks. But this is how it should be, just so not to get in the way of Johnny Hartman. A reminder for a bit of restraint. Maybe tomorrow you can pick up the pieces again. Tonight's not going to get any better.
Suggested Wine Pairing: The best tawny port you can get your hands on, maybe the Taylor-Flatgate Vintage Porto (doesn't matter what vintage, there's not a bad one).

Bill Evans, Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside/OJC)

Many fantasize about cars or money, but on Sunday I dream of breakfast. Before opening the paper I compile a list: bread (bolillos or pão francês), butter, red currant jam, smoked fish, chopped liver, poached eggs, tomatoes, fresh peaches, yogurt (Polish or Dutch), farmhouse gouda. Ania brews a pot of coffee, grabs some cups and wine flutes from the cabinet, and decides that we are not doing anything today. I put down the paper because there is no news and nothing is happening anywhere in the world anyway. We eat up, but we never feel overly stuffed and we don't gain any weight (as if the thought even crossed our minds). A slight breeze outside, but otherwise all is stillness. Bill Evans plays the wind. The only twinge of sadness is the ghost of Scott La Faro and what could have been.
Suggested Wine Pairing: The day has a certain texture if you dig my meaning: a cava, perhaps the Segura Viudas NV Brut Reserva, Penedès Catalunya, 2007. (One may also have orange juice on hand, but please keep them separate.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tomasz Stanko, From the Green Hill (ECM)

This might be an odd choice for a first entry on Stanko. The group is a unique assemblage: trumpet, bass clarinet, drums, bass, violin, bandoneon. The result can only be described as a hybrid of Piazzola milongas, Dvorak quartets, and Gil Evans-era Miles, with a small dash of Mingus Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. In fact, this album is an extended meditation on breath control, and not just from Stanko's trumpet and Jon Surman's clarinet, but strangely also Dino Saluzzi's bandoneon... and stranger still Michelle Makarski's violin. Saluzzi's double take on Komeda's "Litania," played as a tango porteno, clearly positions both Stanko and Saluzzi on an ex-centric border of jazz tradition, itself ex-centric. Perhaps this double-crossed double-exile is why it all sounds so comforting and foreign at the same time. Note the opening phrase on "Domino": the impossibility of separating trumpet, bandoneon, and violin (each of which should be so different in timbre from the others) all playing in unison.
Suggested Wine Pairing: A difficult choice indeed, but I would go with an Ocaso, Malbec, 2005, Mendoza Argentina. The Argentina connection, of course, but one that drives the idiosynchracies of the malbec to a place that feels warm, like home.

Duke Ellington, At the Alhambra, Recorded in Paris, 1958 (Pablo)

Everything about this album is exquisite, from the cover image of Duke set against the arabesque, to the clarity of the recording itself, to every note that comes from Clark Terry's flugelhorn and Sam Woodyard's drum solo on "Hi Fi Fo Fum." But what grabs me every time is the Duke himself. Most everyone thinks of him only as a composer and conductor, but his piano (esp. on the opening of "Rockin' in Rhythm") is, though somewhat minimal, perfectly precious. And his voice in between songs! There is only one American who has ever been more elegant and sophisticated than the entire city of Paris and the entire country of France. "All the kids in the band want you to know that we do love you madly..."
Suggested Wine Pairing: As elegance is of paramount importance here, might I recommend a Chateauneuf-du-pape, preferably one that is well primed. I've heard good things about Domaine Grand Veneur 2001, for instance. And while this may pinch at the pocketbook, after all we are listening to the man from whom all jazz as we now know it has sprung.

William Parker, The Peach Orchard (Aum Fidelity)

Love of wine is only properly expressed in its sharing-with-others, in its bringing one together with friends/family at one moment for a brief duration. The wine is the tactile, sensory embodiment of the relation in-between individuals, by which a society (social consciousness) emerges. But the wine does not solely exist in the duration of the now; it is also the living embodiment of the past. It has a history that grows from the dirt, changes form into liquid, into barrels, and into a process by which the full palette of flavors emerges. And hands. Hands planted it, waited for it, picked it, smashed it, fermented it, bottled it, moved it, sold it. And now that we're talking history, we're also talking about the whole history of agriculture and technology since the invention of the plow. You drink the wine now, but that relation of "in-between" you drink brings with it great difficulty. On the one hand, there is man's connection to the living earth, sustinence, farms, vineyards, orchards. On the other hand, man has extracted value from the earth - extracted product, extracted labor, extracted profit, manufactured pain. I will say this for William Parker, though. Dude's relentless, in his obligation to take the earthly ugly and transform it into the eternal now.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Although much in "The Peach Orchard" suggests wine, one must never drink wine with it. Only water, from as pure and natural a source as possible.

Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners (Riverside)

Things have a way of falling together if you let them. Like the time you were in New Orleans (post-Katrina, with a hole in your heart) and you walked down Magazine Street with Ania and Jenny Alonso. You dropped into a wine store just to see what they had there, picked up a bottle South African Petit Chenin. You had the salesgirl there put it in the refrigerator as the three of you went up the street to order a pizza for take-out. In these circumstance you must always have spinach and feta on your pizza and so that's what you did. And you came back to the wine store, pulled out the bottle (well-chilled by now), and had pizza and wine at a sidewalk table much to the admiration of the passerbys. A gentle nudge of lemon and lime against the spinach. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have Brilliant Corners playing in the background. Maybe Monk dancing around your table in circles.
Suggested Wine Pairing: As if you had to ask, it's a Ken Forrester Petit Chenin, 2006 ('07 also acceptable), Stellenbosch South Africa (because lemon is an anagram of melon and happenstance is always circular, like the tympani on "Bemsha Swing").

Krzysztof Komeda, Astigmatic (Polish Jazz)

A singular achievement of 60s jazz, Astigmatic stands with E.S.P. and Out to Lunch and yes, I'll say it here, A Love Supreme as one of the best albums of the decade. Compared to those discs, Komeda crafts psychoanalysis jazz based on refracted structural images. Vague ideas float in from a haze, cut at acute angles, then come into focus and dissipate back into the ether. Compositional structure breaks down and then is transferred back into useable form. And two young lions - Namyslowski on sax and Stanko on trumpet - tug away at the composer (and each other) like Eros and Thanatos. The overall effect is rather Wagnerian, yet underneath beats the repetitive thud of some infant beating pots and pans and pining away for his lost Jocasta. And no resolution. But perfect balance. I wish I could cry.
Suggested Wine Pairing: One requires something far more analytical than wine for this one, so here's what you do: One happens to have a dinner party where the conversation grows particular intense over the course of the evening, without, however, becoming difficult or negative in tone or manner, preferably a discussion of aesthetics or philosophy, but nothing (directly) sexual or political. This then requires two key elements to take the edge off of things without disrupting the flow: Astigmatic and a new bottle of Chateau de Polignac cognac. Make that the X.O.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia)

OK, let's just get this one out of the way. Greatest ever. If you haven't heard this album, then stop reading now. No point conversing. For the rest of us, this is where we started and remarkably, it stands to infinitely repeated listenings. A true blue friend, and while it might not always excite you (sometimes it does) it's always there when you need it. And the Bill Evans liner notes are precious. This one is a river of crystal petals. This is where we started.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Chateau de Lavagnac, Bourdeaux Superieur, 2005. (Most perfect day-in/day-out, on your table or on your shelf whenever you need/want/desire, bang and buck, everyday.)

Freddie Keppard, The Complete Set 1923-1926 (Retrieval)

Where to start READ:JAZZ? The obvious choices would have been Louis Armstrong or Miles, but this shouldn't be about the obvious. I like this Retrieval set of Freddie Keppard because I don't know it that well, having just bought it this morning. Good that way, since I don't have any critical attachment to it, and no one needs yet another jazz critic. (There will never be anyone better than Amiri Baraka, so why try?) So here no analysis or historical context, or any firm understanding of what I'm listening to, imagine the thrill. Dude sounds like he's the source, and that's probably because he is. Jazz is popping, but no hard edges like you here on the 5s and 7s or King Oliver. Just smooth horn. Dude's definitely the source.
Suggested Wine Pairing: '53 Chateau Lafitte (a very good, yet not totally memorable vintage, so you're not quite sure what to expect, the bottle's old and the wine slightly corked, but you can still taste the complexity buried deep down and it's still clearly great.)