Playlist - 88 Jazz Place, 7/1

Song, Artist, Album

  • The Radio Tower Has A Beating Heart, The Bad Plus, Never Stop
  • Blue Blocks, Jason Moran, 10
  • Yearnin', Oliver Nelson, The Blues and The Abstract Truth
  • Healing Hands of Time, Diane Schuur, The Gathering
  • I'm An Old Cowhand, Sonny Rollins, Way Out West
  • Day In Day Out, Nat King Cole (Cut Chemist Remix), Re-Generations
  • Calling All Units To Broccalino, Calibro 35, Il Rittorno Della Calibro 35
  • Manah Manah, Cake, B-Sides and Rarities
  • The Robot's Attack, Spam All Stars, Contra Los Roboticos Mutantes
  • Bananna Splits Theme, King Clam, Channel Surfing
  • The Streetbeater, Mark Rapp's Melting Pot, Good Eats
  • Stir It Up, Monty Alexander, Stir It Up: The Music of Bob Marley
  • Four Folk Songs, Ben Allison & Man Size Safe, Little Things Run The World
  • Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself, Medeski Martin and Wood, It's A Jungle In Here
  • Blues for Buhania, Cedar Walton Sextet, The Art Blakey Legacy
  • Fingers, Negroni's Trio, Just Three
  • Eye of the Hurricane, Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage
  • The Impaler, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Citizen Tain
  • Avila and Tequila, Ingrid Jensen, Here On Earth
  • It Don't Mean A Thing, Lynne Arriale Trio, Inspiration
  • Jelly Roll, Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
  • Moose The Mooche, Joshua Redman, Wish
  • Frim Fram Sauce, Diana Krall, All For You
  • Dusk in Sandi, Chick Corea, Solo Piano: Standards
  • Sweet Georgia Brown, Django Reinhardt, Jazz Masters 38
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It, Gwilym Simcock, Blues Vignette
  • Walkin' My Baby Back Home, Oscar Peterson - Stephane Grappelli Quartet, Jazz in Paris
  • Well, You Needn't, Ron Carter, Mr. Bow-Tie
  • Cherokee, Wycliffe Gordon & Eric Reed, We
  • On Green Dolphin Street, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Easy Living
  • Blues for Nita, Cyrus Chesnut Trio, Nut
  • Stormy Monday Blues, Diane Schuur, Blues for Schuur
  • Multicolored Blue, Terell Stafford. This Side of Strayhorn
  • My Favorite Things, George Shearing, Favorite Things
  • Chim Chim Cheree, John Coltrane, John Coltrane Quartet Plays
  • Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Eli Degibri, Israel Song

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PN 157 - Diane Schuur - 'The Gathering'

The jazz great talks about singing -- and playing piano -- on her new album of classic country songs.

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Guest Host - 88 Jazz Place, 7/1

Ill be filling in tomorrow for morning host Frank Consola on 88 Jazz Place, bright at early at 7:00 am all the way to 11. It goes to 11. I'll be playing the usual mix of old and new, jazz, blues, and creative backbeats. In the 10:00 hour, I'll mix in some country-inflected jazz, including Sonny Rollins, Oliver Nelson, Ray Charles, Diane Schuur, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, among others. Tune in at 88.9 FM WDNA in Miami or online at WDNA.org.

PN Video Jukebox - Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

A fine selection of moving pictures with radiophonic sound from the great Western swing band, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

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Tirtha - Vijay Iyer with Prasanna and Nitin Mitta

Boundary-pushing pianist Vijay Iyer follows up on his bold 2010 release, Solo, with an engaging synthesis of piano, guitar, and tabla.

Iyer is joined by two musicians who come out of the Carnatic tradition of South India. Nitin Mitta provides percussion for the group on tabla, which, if you don't know, is actually a pair of drums – the smaller of which is struck with all parts of the hand, the bigger drum being more resonant and open to manipulation of pitch. 

On guitar – a standard Western-style electric guitar – we have the presence of Prasanna. I first heard some of Prasanna's work on the soundtrack of the Bollywood cricket-epic Lagaan. Other listeners might have heard bits and pieces of his collaboration with Victor Wooten or even tracks from the Jimi Hendrix tribute Electric Ganesha Land.  Both Mitta and Prassana, like Iyer, are world-class world music musicians, and their collaboration on Tirtha is worth sitting up and listening closely to.

The albums opening track, “Duality,” beings with tension, dissonance, and a layered sense of time that might represent the problem of mind and body, East and West.  After a frenzied start, the tune gives way to an Iyer solo in full conversation with Mitta, who demonstrates the versatility of the tabla.  Following this, Prasanna takes his guitar into a typically angular solo, grounded in a more dissonant sense of harmonics and, at times, a microtonal inflection that feels like a different kind of blues altogether.  It is a relentless track -- challenging and dramatic.

“Tribal Wisdom” begins with Mitta talking in accompaniment to his drumming -- mirroring his playing so you might more clearly hear how he speaks through the instrument.  Driven throughout by a low vamp, the song works best in its closing minutes, when Mitta has the tune all to himself.  The title song, "Tirtha" (a Sanskrit word that literally means a ford, or shallow part of a body of water that may be easily crossed, but has figurative meaning in terms of reaching nirvana), takes a dynamic approach, starting in open, lyrical voicings and moving to more percussive and quick phrases, finding a sort of conclusive peace in the resolution. 

Particularly effective is the song, “Abundance,” taken at a meditative tempo and built around a gorgeous set of changes, and which offers some of Prasanna's finest playing, accompanied at points by the guitarist's relaxed singing. Other highlights on the album include the brief "Gauntlet," a gamelan reminiscent of King Crimson's fourth lineup, and the album's closer, “Entropy and Time," which, despite its audacious title, may be the song come the closest to both jazz and through-composed music on the release.

Although Tirtha may challenge listeners who don't yet have the musical vocabulary to hear all that is going on in the playing, the easiest way to find the way home is to remember that Iyer is still playing the piano, and Prasanna is playing the guitar. They are simply so skilled at their instruments and across a range of traditions that, at times, the music sounds so fresh and interesting.  Hopefully, for most people, that will be the most exciting of prospects. Confident, original, and engrossing, Tirtha is yet another example of Vijay Iyer -- in good company, time around -- continuing to build bridges toward a richly global music.

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Reader's Notes - On Not Reading Novels

Philip Roth dropped a line recently that he no longer reads novels, and the comment has sent ripples of grumbling through literary circles (see also V.S. Naipaul and Jonathan Franzen).  As the always insightful Laura Miller writes in Salon, Roth may be more typical of older writers than one might suspect.  Is there something about aging (or experience) that makes fiction less palatable -- particularly for writers of fiction?

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Reader's Notes - Google Plus

For those of you who want to give Google Plus a tryout, you could get yourself a Google profile and surf on over to my profile site.  I've been using Google Buzz -- which (sort of)  is now Google Plus -- for over a year now.  Let's just say that The Plus is very much like the Facebook "Like" button, but with all sorts of Googly energy attached.  Why another social networking site?  I'm not sure. Perhaps the people at Search Engine Land can explain it more effectively.

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Undead Notes - I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Although its title and marketing are sensationalistic, the 1943 film I Walked With A Zombie, produced by Val Newton and directed by Jacques Tournier, is a compelling narrative that offers understated mystery, intriguing characters, and a thoughtful exploration of a tropical setting.

The plot, based on a magazine article by Inez Wallace with dramatic improvements taken from Jane Eyre. Canadian nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is assigned to care for the invalid wife of Paul Holland (Tom Conway), a wealthy sugar planter on the Caribbean island of St. Sebastian. When ingenue Nurse Betsy comments on the beauty of the islands, Holland has a cheerful response about destruction and decay brought about by the tropics. “Everything good dies here,” he grumbles.

True to the dynamics of Jane Eyre, Holland comes off as a prick, while his half brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison), manager of the sugar refinery, seems charming and attractive. On the island, the descendants of slaves are more respectfully depicted here than in other films of the period, with a few black roles developed into actual characters – most notably Alma (Teresa Harris) , a kind servant in the Holland household who looks after Betsy. The patient, Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), isn't exactly the madwoman in the attic, but she has a building to herself, where Betsy, a doctor, and the servants attend to her. Mrs. Holland, the beautiful blond woman in white, suffered a tropical fever that badly damaged her nervous system. As Alma says, “She went mindless,” a sleepwalker who can never be awakened.

Betsy's day off with sweet Wesley complicates matters. After Wes has a few too many rums at the local cafe, he passes out – but not before a local calypso singer (played by the legendary Sir Lancelot) lets drop the truth in the lyrics to one of his songs: Before she became zombified, Jessica was about to leave Paul Holland and run off with Wesley. Betsy sees that Wes is a drunk, and learns that Jessica may have been an unfaithful wife. As the days pass, Betsy, who begins to see her boss Paul Holland as a victim and has had glimpses of his softer side, decides that she will try to help Jessica recover. When a new scientific treatment fails to restore Mrs. Holland, Betsy takes Alma's suggestion and slips away one night to take Jessica to the hounfort – he voodoo temple – to see if the houngan and mambo (priest and priestess) can cure her.

In the most effective sequence in the film, Besty leads Jessica through the cane fields at night, down a complicated network of paths, marked here and there by totems of dead animals and guarded at the crossroads by the towering, zombie sentry Carrefour (Darby Zones). Carrefour is easily the most frightening figure in the film – bony, expressionless, shambling, and dead-eyed in the best zombie tradition. At the hounfort, the houngan determines that Jessica is in fact one of the walking dead, and hence belongs with the those who practice voodoo, and not with the whites. Betsy, with the help of the mysterious Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) is able to take Jessica back to the Holland compound. But the voodoo-people are going to want that pretty white woman back, it seems.

There's much to enjoy in I Walked With A Zombie. First and foremost, Frances Dee is appealing and engaging as the principled Betsy Connell, and her performance is controlled and pitched perfectly for the screen. Some of the other actors are a bit too polished and stagy, even for the period. As mentioned before, there's also a range of roles for black actors – not all of them stereotyped or patronizing. The film is beautifully lit in the way that only black and white films, and director Tournier makes wonderful use of foregrounding and tracking shots. Made as it was in the heyday of the Motion Picture Code, the filmmakers were limited in what they could show and what events they could relate. All in all, I Walked With a Zombie is more suspenseful than terrifying, more mysterious than shocking, but it's nevertheless engaging as a take on the voodoo-zombie world in the days before eaters of flesh.

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Listener's Notes - From the CD Stack

It's the time of year for me when my civilian job eases up and I can take the time necessary to listen to all the music that comes to the home office.  We've been backed up since January, so consider the CD Stack pieces and review of the next few weeks to be my takes on what I liked of the new stuff so far in 2011.

 40 Acres and a Burro, from Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra (Zoho), documents one of the very best and most versatile jazz ensembles on the planet playing a full range of material in styles from all over the Caribbean and Latin America.  There's even an Irish tune thrown in here for good measure, a collaboration with Heather Martin Bixler, violinist and wife of band member David Bixler.  With guest appearances by no less than Paquito D'Rivera (on clarinet) and Gabriel Alegria conducting, listeners will have a full tour of what this outstanding group is capable.

From the European label Pirouet, pianist Marc Copland is in fine company with Doug Weiss on bass, Victor Lews on drums, and Greg Osby on alto for an album entitled Crosstalk. At times, the Pirouet artists can focus a bit too exclusively on compositions by their own artists -- and the result is a somewhat uniform style from track to track.  But Copland pens three tunes of the nine on this release, and lets his bandmates bring their own material to the mix as well.  One of the strongest tunes is a saxophone showcase, "Ozz-thetic," by the bassist Doug Weiss.  This is a strong release from a band whose international personnel works well together.

Serving up a savory, fun mix of tunes is Mark Rapp's Melting Pot on their new release Good Eats (Dinemec).  For my taste, you can't go wrong with a classic organ trio -- deployed here in the form of Joe Kaplowitz (keys), Ahmad Mansour (guitar), and Klemens Markti (drums) -- and trumpeter Rapp handles himself expertly on a fine selection of songs.  Six of the eleven tunes on Good Eats are compositions of Lou Donaldson, so there's a lot of soul in the mix.  With all the Donaldson tunes, it's all the better that saxophonist Don Braden is a featured quest.  The sentimental favorite tune for me is the winning Quincy Jones song "The Streetbeater," better known as the theme song to Sanford and Son.

Up next is a notable release from Brian Lynch, Unsung Heroes (Hollistic MusicWorks), as the cover reads, "a tribute to some underappreciated trumpet masters. Those trumpet masters, you ask?  Tommy Turrentine, Idrees Sulieman, Louis Smith, Claudio Roditi, Kamau AdilifuJoe Gordon, Ira Sullivan, Donald Byrd, Howard McGhee, and Charles Tolliver.  Straight ahead and thoughtful, Lynch's takes on (and tributes to) the work of all these trumpet masters are outstanding, particularly when he sticks to recording compositions by those artists -- as he does most of the time.  If you like this release, you can check out more music and material -- Volumes Two and Three, as it were -- through Hollistic Music Works.

A complex, rich album that rewards multiple listenings is saxophonist David Binney's Greylen Epicenter.  Mixing a full range of textures and styles, Binney flexes his compositional muscles across a range of compelling, clever songs that offer many memorable passages and plenty of imaginative improvisation.  The work of Ben Allison most clearly came to mind as a point of comparison.  The tune "Terrorists and Movie Stars" is a particularly high point on the album.  For those who prefer a more straightforward approach, check out Binney's work in his sextet on last month's Barefooted Town.

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