Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: "Morphogenesis"

July 2017

Pi 69
Format: CD

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Alto saxophonists Ornette and Steve Coleman share more than their instrument of choice and surnames; the younger Coleman was the first major bandleader since his namesake to make music that moved mind and body in equal measure.

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Valerie June: "The Order of Time"

April 2017

Concord B01MF9RD6H
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I celebrated my 60th birthday by catching one of the best concerts I’d seen in a couple of years. Consider the context: as someone who reviews music for a living, I see a lot of live performances. Yet this one still resonates, and it wasn’t just the monumental anniversary that made it memorable.

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Delbert McClinton & Self-Made Men: "Prick of the Litter"

Hot Shot 001
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

It’s easy to see the humor through the world-weary cynicism when Texas-born singer Delbert McClinton half-drawls lyrics like “I gave up drinking / I gave up pills / I gave up everything that gave me a thrill / Nothing salty and nothing sweet / I skip it all, from milk to wheat / I got a trainer and a diet guy / Sprouts and protein shakes, that’s all I buy.”

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Brian Eno: "Reflection"

February 2017

Warp 280
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Brian Eno is one of the rare figures in music who has preferred to work offstage and never claimed instrumental authority. Aside from a brief period with Roxy Music and even briefer forays with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, Eno has remained in the studio, turning out more than two dozen albums under his own name and, much more successfully, serving as a producer for U2 and Coldplay.

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BassDrumBone: "The Long Road"

January 2017

Auricle 16/17
Format: CD (2)

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

For both commercial and musical reasons, longstanding bands are rare in improvised music. The trio BassDrumBone, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017, is unusual, then, in terms of longevity, but even more unusual in instrumental makeup. Bassist Mark Helias, 66; drummer Gerry Hemingway, 61; and trombonist Ray Anderson, 64, were all up-and-coming young men in 1977 when they got together for the first time to play in New Haven, Connecticut. Hemingway, a New Haven native, was already teaching and developing a unique approach to codifying non-traditional percussion sounds. Helias was studying at Yale, and Anderson was a nascent member of Anthony Braxton’s group. Hemingway thought they might gel as a trio, and clearly they did.

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Keith Jarrett: "A Multitude of Angels"

December 2016

ECM 5702466
Format: CD (4)

Musical Performance
*****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

David Mott -- baritone saxophone master, former music department head at York University, and martial artist -- once told me that the best musicians play without ego. By creating an unmediated flow of ideas, artists like John Coltrane channel something approaching the divine.

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Norah Jones: "Day Breaks"

October 2016

Blue Note B002520702
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I have a terrible track record for predicting which album will become a hit, but there were a couple of hints that Norah Jones’s 2002 debut release, Come Away with Me, would attract attention -- although, even then, I could not have predicted the eight Grammy Awards it garnered. I doubt if anyone anticipated that.

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Metalwood: "Twenty"

September 2016

Cellar Live 020116
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

By definition, improvised music lives in the moment, and jazz, the musical genre most closely associated with improvisation, is an art form obsessed with constant innovation. It is unusual for jazz to look backward, but two nostalgic trends -- both related to trumpeter Miles Davis -- broke with tradition and were surprisingly long-lived.

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Nels Cline: "Lovers"

August 2016

Blue Note Records 002505102
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

How you know guitarist Nels Cline might vary. You might know him as the leader of the archly named Nels Cline Singers -- a trio that includes no vocalists -- from his sonically expressive improvisational collaborations with a wide range of artists from Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore to action painter Norton Wisdom, or as a member of the rock band Wilco. In almost every setting, he is a disruptor: slashing shards of noise across a pleasant tonal environment here, cranking the volume there. Inspired by sources as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Andrew Hill, Cline has extraordinarily open ears and a deep set of technical skills.

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Paul Simon: "Stranger to Stranger"

Concord 39803
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

For centuries, some of the most important contributions to our understanding of social mores and manners have come not from historians, but from creative observers who have worked in various art forms. From Samuel Pepys to E.B. White, we have used the writings of people like these to go deeper into how life was experienced by those who lived through particular times.

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