Adam Kolker’s Flag Day (on the Sunnyside label) is a knotty pleasure. It may leave your head in a coil (take two tracks of hard bop to unwind), but ride with the twists while they’re winding; it’s a soft-toned heady trip. Adam Kolker, who plays tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, is known mainly as a sideman, and he doesn’t try to get out in front of his bandmates on this session—John Abercrombie on guitar, John Hebert on drums, and the irrepressible Paul Motian on drums. I promised when I started writing this blog that I wouldn’t dwell excessively on any individual musician, but Motian is such a giant, I could write about him every day and not be rightly charged with excess.
Jaki Byard’s Sunshine of My Soul (High Note) has come to my attention a bit late, otherwise it would have made my Top 10 list at the end of last year. Yet another long-lost concert-tape dug out of the vaults, it takes us to San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in June 1978, where Byard is flying barrel-rolls solo. Byard—who died in 1999 at 77, gunned down on his doorstep for still-unknown reasons—was a pianist both virtuosic and rowdy. His left hand is rock-solid, his right hand fleet with fury. Imagine Willie “The Lion” Smith pressure-cooked by Mingus (Byard played in Mingus’ band through most of the ‘60s), and you get some idea. He was a teacher to Jason Moran and Fred Hersch, two of today’s most versatile jazz pianists, and you can hear much of his influence in their work as well, especially Moran when he cruises through stride licks.
What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t be self-indulgent now and then? So allow me to plug my new book, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power (Wiley & Sons). As the subtitle may suggest, it is not a biography of the Monkees but rather a journalistic dissection of why the United States’ global adventures and image have gone to hell in recent years. Some of you may know that I write a twice-weekly column in Slate about such matters. My book is not a compilation of my columns; it’s all new stuff. The official pub date is February 4, but it’s already in stock in many bookstores and on amazon.
I was listening to Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows. It’s really as great as all the rock critics say. More than that (from this blog’s angle), it’s as harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated as just about any work of modern jazz. (I’m not saying it’s like jazz; rather, that on any musical level, the purest jazz purist has no grounds for looking down on it.) The album sent me to my music closet to take another listen to Brad Mehldau’s cover of Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” from his trio’s 2005 CD on the Nonesuch label, Day Is Done. I listened through all 10 tracks—which include, besides two Mehldau compositions, Lennon & McCartney’s “Martha My Dear” and “She’s Leaving Home,” Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie,” Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and the title tune by Nick Drake.
In my last blog, I referred to “my friend, the pianist Frank Kimbrough,” so some of you may be leery when I tell you in this entry that Kimbrough’s new CD, and his first solo work, Air (on Palmetto Records), is a terrific piece of work, one of the half-dozen or so great solo piano albums of the past few years. If your suspicions keep you from checking it out, well, your loss.
I don’t know what Paul Motian’s doing, I don’t understand how he’s doing it, all I know is that it’s wonderful. I’ve just returned from seeing the Motian 3 at the Village Vanguard, a high-powered trio that consists of Motian, Jason Moran, and Chris Potter (and no bassist to hold the anchor). Moran, just shy of 33, is, as I’ve written many times, the most extraordinary jazz pianist around. Potter, 37, as I’ve noted a couple times, is a tenor saxophonist with a galvanic tone and fleet agility. But Motian, at 76 (older than both of his trio mates combined, playing topnotch jazz since his days with the Bill Evans trio a half-century ago, and more combustive now than ever), is the heart-racer.
The first two pressings from Music Matters Jazz arrived the other day. This is the new audiophile company that reissues classic stereo albums from the Blue Note catalogue on two slabs of 180-gram vinyl mastered at 45 rpm, packaged in a gatefold cover with not only a facsimile of the original cover but, inside, five finely reproduced photos from the session, taken by Blue Note’s masterly inhouse photographer, Francis Wolff. This is exciting stuff for jazz-loving audiophiles.
Boulder Amplifiers, named after the Colorado town where the company has resided since its founding 23 years ago, makes some of the most elegant-looking solid-state amps around. Chassis are anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum with rounded edges, machined and finished in-house. The two models reviewed here, the 810 line preamplifier and the 860 power amplifier, each have a sleek, compact build—stacked atop each other, the two stand just over a foot high—owing to extremely efficient packing of the circuitry inside. These are the company's "entry-level" electronics, but there's nothing cheap about them—the preamp retails for $6900, the amp for $8500—and for all their economical size, they look like luxury goods as well.
It occurs to me that, in my list-o-mania feature, I forgot one that I’d promised—Best Living Jazz Musician of Various Categories. So here they are: the best and the runner-up. These picks will no doubt raise hackles, catcalls, and fisticuffs. So raise them! Send in your choices!
Today in Slate (which, as some of you know, is where I do most of my writing, mainly on national-security politics), I lay out—as I have in each of the last five Decembers—my picks for the 10 best jazz albums of the year. Here are the best of 2007: