Monday, June 22, 2020

CD Review: Tim Berne & Nasheet Waits - The Coandă Effect / James Brandon Lewis/ Chad Taylor - Live in Willisau

Tim Berne & Nasheet Waits
The Coandă Effect

Although 2020 is going on record as one of the worst years ever (at least in my lifetime), Tim Berne is having a good year, artistically speaking. During the Covid 19 pandemic, he has managed to drop several new albums and remastered one from the '90s. Those release came after some activity in the early part of the year when his group Snake Oil moved from ECM to Intakt and released The Fantastic Mrs. 10. That disc features some of the best group interaction and writing that Berne has released in quite some time. Along with a solo alto disc, Sacred Vowels, he also released The Coandă Effect during the spring. Like Mrs. 10, it captures him in a fully inspired clip, with a drummer that many might not expect to be on Berne's shortlist of collaborators.

Nasheet Waits' resume includes a few albums as a leader and numerous other sessions with other musicians. Probably best known for his tenure in Jason Moran's trio, he has also worked with the late Andrew Hill, the group Tarbaby and Christian McBride. Ergo, he might not seem like a player Berne would work with, but his wide-ranging experiences make him an ideal fit. 

The Coandă Effect was recorded live last October at Brooklyn's Sultan Room and consists of two tracks: the 39-minute "Tensile" and the nearly 10-minute "5see." The former feels like a suite, with Berne introducing some melodic themes that he methodically pushes into various shapes. Waits helps build up the excitement behind him, working all over his kit and helping to direct the music into those multiple directions. Both players listen attentively to each other, reacting to and spurring each other on. Things get propelled constantly, with neither sounding like they needed to stop and consider where to go. They're on their way forward the whole time. When they come back down on the theme at the end, the dynamic drop feels as exciting as the freer moments. 

"5see" begins as more of a sound sculpture moving into a more grounded series of alto ideas, with Waits on brushes. Before it's over, the drummer coaxes Berne to build up the dynamics yet again. 

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor
Live in Willisau

With a great deal of humility, I have to say I'm a little late to the James Brandon Lewis party, having heard good things about the tenor player but not getting around to his music yet. Live at Willisau, recorded just a month earlier than The Coandă Effect at Switzerland's Jazz Festival Willisau, gives several indications of what I've been missing and why it's time to catch up. Lewis and drummer Chad Taylor engage in some deep discussions, which even seems so bowl over the saxophonist himself, if his between-song talk offers any indication.

Their 67-minute set almost comes off like a dissertation on all the elements that make modern jazz so vital to players that want to push it forward. In addition to several original compositions, they interpret Duke Ellington ("Come Sunday"), Mal Waldron ("Watakushi No Sekai") and Dewey Redman ("Willisee"), the latter a piece that Redman played with drummer Ed Blackwell on the same stage in 1980.

Then there's the rapport between these too, which is the real selling power of Live in Willisau. Lewis tears into the music with focus and enthusiasm, building "Twenty-Four" on a simple riff which he continuously states and reshapes. The piece references John Coltrane but the clipped line also feels like a fragment of Roland Kirk's "No Tonic Pres" although could be due more to Lewis' rapid delivery that recalls Kirk's opening salvo from Rip, Rig and Panic. Either way, it's the perfect thing to yank you into this set and never stop listening.

Taylor works freely over his kit on this piece and during the whole album. But there are times when he also turns a corner and gets some grooves going while Lewis continues down his solo path. These shifts elevates the music further. When he switches to mbira, it brings out the delicate beauty of "Come Sunday," as it also does in the original "With Sorrow Lonnie."

Normally, I'd post links to the labels that have released these albums. This time I opted to post links to Bandcamp since many people are doing their music shopping there, and it's also a way to preview music. Go there and check out both of these duo sets. Also, I just reviewed the Chad Taylor Trio's The Daily Biological for JazzTimes. That review can be found here.

Friday, June 19, 2020


I spent the early part of June thinking a lot and writing a big article for JazzTimes about ESP-Disk'. In a way, it was six months in the making because I did my first interview for it back in January. For four months, I just thought about it, without really picking up until May. At that point, I conducted some follow up and support interviews and started writing. When I have an opening scene/paragraph in my head, I'm set. So I dug in and, in a remarkable display of organization, I turned the piece in the weekend before it was due.

Considering the state of the world lately and how screwed up things are, and the lack of strong leadership anywhere, it's been hard to get much done. So I was happy to finish that. It was a rare situation where I forced myself to write long - go over my word count - and pare it down over the course of several days later. Even with a 2500 word count, I still find things that I would like to include but can't. Having those extra days helped you come to the conclusion of what is really needed and what can be left out.

Somewhere along the way of writing that article, I decided to skim the comments left on this blog. It used be that I would get an email whenever there was a reply posted. Not anymore. So I totally missed the comment that appeared at the end of last October's post about buying an original copy of Erica Pomerance's ESP album which came from......... ERICA HERSELF!! (Fanboy warning.) I realize there were some things in the post that might leave her miffed but hopefully you can tell that I was over the moon when I got the record. But the fact that she would find me, read the piece and comment....I felt so flattered.

Correction: I felt like a dope that it took me two freakin' months to see it. (She commented at the end of March.) By that time she was probably long gone and she's probably forgotten about me. Oh well, she knows I'm out here.

Then, just when there seemed like there might be a break in the dark mental clouds, at least for a moment, a tree fell down in our yard Tuesday night. I came home from work and Jen and Donovan were watching Some Like It Hot. I had a little something to eat and eventually joined them in front of the t.v. (I have never seen the film all the way through.) At first I thought some animal was running across our roof, which happens occasionally since our roof abuts the neighbor's yard. But the sound kept going and all of a sudden there was a loud crash. I was worried for a second that the big dead tree had fallen into our house. But what happened was a tree in our neighbor's yard had fallen across our yard, taking out our tool shed in the process. Just what you want to hear at 11:45 at night.

The good news is there was no major damage and no one was hurt. The bad news is, it was just hard to deal with yet another thing weighing on my mine. And the idea that there is something else in nature that could mess up our house (besides rain and the slim chance that critters might get in). It's an irrational feeling I get, but it's a feeling that can be hard to shake.

Thankfully, the tree is gone now. The day after it happened - the first of my two days off this week - I got a tree guy out to look at it, Then he had his crew get rid of it yesterday. They did pretty quick work of it, truth be told. Now I just need to get the shed out of there. But I had a guy come out and take a look today.

This was going to be a short intro to a review, but I think the review will just come later.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

CD Review: Nina Simone - Fodder On My Wings

Nina Simone
Fodder On My Wings

Only Nina Simone could take a song as maudlin as Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" and rework it to explain her troubled relationship with her recently deceased father. Accompanying herself on piano, Simone's new lyrics spin a confession that arguably ranks with John Lennon's "Mother," laying everything out candidly. The difference is Lennon faded out of his song screaming, never finding peace. Simone, on the other hand, reaches closure 

Early verses confess how she "despised this man" who she is "glad to say, he's dying at last," after years of resentment. With classical flourishes dropped in between verses, a synthesizer swell appears midway through, acting almost like a cinematic cue for redemption. In the final verse, she admits that "I loved him them and I loved him now," and how his passing broke her. Parental bonds can do that to a person, no matter how fractured the relationship.

The centerpiece on the reissue of an obscure Simone album from 1982, "Alone Again (Naturally)" didn't even appear on Fodder On My Wings when it was initially released in France. It and two other tracks were added to a few reissues in the late '80s and early '00s, and they are here on Verve's new edition. The album was made while Simone was living in Paris, her mental illness getting worse while, at the same time, she was feeling artistically inspired by African musicians she met in her new country. 

This duality can be felt throughout the album. Opening track "I Sing Just to Know That I'm Alive" sounds empowering, especially with the African vibe of the band. In "Liberian Calypso" she sings about going to a club and dancing to American music, all done over the melody of Louis Jordan's "Run Joe," which is clear when the shout chorus comes around.

But her darkness is always at arm's length. "I Sing" is followed by "Fodder In Her Wings," from which the album's variation on the title comes. A song that Simone recorded several times, it puts all of her despair front and center, as beautiful as it is melancholic. "I Was Just A Stupid Dog To Them" has an Afro-Latin groove, complete with slapped bass, but the message is clear her too. It even has some Cecil Taylor-esque fills underneath for extra emphasis.

But even if she wasn't in the best frame of mind, Simone still sounds like she's enjoying herself. The brief "Color Is a Beautiful Thing" reveals a humorous streak. "Vous Etes Seuls, Mais Je Désire Etre Avec Vous" could have been a bit shorter, but the chorus of voices offers some healing, as does "Le Peuple En Suisse," which is bolstered by some organ swells and trumpet blasts. "Heaven Belongs To You," which she introduces as an African song her father sang to her, is another repetitive song with an infectious groove. 

Throughout the album, Simone's voice often sounds rough, especially on the sustained notes, but the rawness does nothing to impact her delivery. In fact, it helps. Throughout her life, Simone was an artist with many layers and Fodder On My Wings adds to that fascinating complexity.