These are videos that I like: Linus – “Dit”

November 28, 2014


Linus - "Onland"Today’s featured video is from Linus, a duo collaboration of guitarist Ruben Machtelinckx and saxophonist Thomas Jillings.  They’re performing the song “Dit,” which is included on their 2014 studio recording, Onland.

It’s similar in sound to Machtelinckx’s recent release, Flock, which received a recommendation on this site just a week ago (LINK).

I’m really just getting underway in exploring Machtelinckx’s music.  This video is one step along way.

Your video personnel:  Ruben Machtelinckx (acoustic baritone guitar) and Thomas Jillings (tenor sax).


You can purchase Onland from the artists’ Bandcamp page (LINK).

Have a great start to your weekend!


These are songs I like: Bill Frisell & Billy Mitchell

November 27, 2014


A special Thanksgiving edition of These Are Songs I Like!

Two very blog-y entries, featuring songs by Bill Frisell and Billy Mitchell.

In the short time my site has been around, I’ve always tried to make long, blog-y posts on both Thanksgiving and Christmas days, full of music and memories and album information and recommendations… things of interest that celebrate the best things about music.  But also to give those of you who aren’t able to spend the holidays with family and friends something extra to read and listen to… a little something more.  I know what it’s like to not have anywhere to go on those two days, when it seems like the rest of the world does.  And, coincidentally, after ten wonderful years of having a place to go, I’m back to where I used to be.  So, I suppose, today’s column is directed at myself, too.  It’s nice to have distractions on a day like today.

In any event, alone or not, I want all of you to have a great Thanksgiving holiday.

Let’s begin…



Bill Frisell – “Egg Radio”

Bill Frisell - "Quartet"I was living in Denver, Colorado this particular Thanksgiving.  I was in a strange place at the time, though, honestly, I could pretty much preface most of my anecdotes with that phrase.  Anyways, I was kind of floating free at this point, having lost touch with many of my friends and acquaintances.  I had broken pretty much all of my routines, and so I wasn’t going to the same places and seeing the same faces whose names I could never recall.  I was getting to know a new part of Denver, one that was situated in the same spots as the Denver I was more familiar with, but the kind that stays invisible to a cursory glance when you’re not really paying attention.  I had quit my job a few months earlier.  I had saved up a nice bit of savings from it (which, back then, it was very easy to do; Denver had a very low cost of living).  I was going to spend that savings to finish up my first novel.  I had enough in the bank account to buy about six months of this lifestyle before I’d have to go get a new job.  By the end of the second month, I was working on an entirely different novel than the one I’d intended to complete and most of that budget was shot.  On the other hand, the local bars and liquor stores were having an unexpected uptick on their sales reports.

I had begun frequenting this seedy bar on 15th Street.  I can remember what it was called, and a part of me isn’t entirely sure it was on 15th Street and not 20th Street.  Doesn’t matter.  It was on the edge of downtown on one of those two-block stretches that looks completely out of touch with the rest of what was happening around it.  The kind of block where downtown shoppers would turn the corner and think they had suddenly walked into an entirely different part of the city, feeling vulnerable and nervous and immediately retracing their steps to safer territory.  That’s the kind of block I’ve always adored.  It was no surprise I drank there.  I can’t remember what the bar was called, and don’t even care enough to google it up.  It later became a pretty hip place for touring bands to play.  It may or may not still be there.  I’m positive it’s no longer the bar I grew to love.

A friend of mine at the time introduced me to that bar.  He was a grad student in economics at UCD and a great chess player and, like me, a person who probably drank way more than was healthy.  He was a good guy.  Anyways, he’d told me earlier in the week that this bar was open on Thanksgiving and would be carving up a turkey and offering a free dinner to its customers.  It was sort of a day labor crowd and assorted neighborhood burnouts, so these were regulars who, one, probably didn’t have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving and, two, could appreciate a good meal.  I wasn’t too far away from that point myself.  And I definitely didn’t have anywhere else to be.

It’s a weird thing having nowhere to go on a holiday that is commonly spent with family and friends.  There’s a collegial ambiance to the day, one that carries strongly on the breeze, sits in the air all about you, and when you’ve got nowhere to go, it’s not always easy breathing that oxygen in.  It always comes back out a little jagged on the exhale, too.  I thought I’d just spend the day writing and simply lose myself in a creative fugue.  I’d hoped that the day would be over before I even knew it, and, perhaps, be a good 8-15 pages closer to the finish line.  That hope was shot before noon.  I was just staring out my windows at the Rocky Mountains and the downtown skyline, hoping that a certain word or phrase or sentence would pop into my head, a bit of unexpected character dialog, and I’d get pulled right back into the novel.  It wasn’t happening.  I also didn’t want to go to that bar, even though I knew it was probably the only way I was going to break through.  I just didn’t want to go outside and have to breathe that holiday air.

Much like now, Bill Frisell’s Quartet was a big deal for me.  Something about the music on that album affected me so profoundly that it could shift massive emotions like kicking up sand at the beach.  I put the album in, just to see if it would kickstart me.  It did.  When the song “Egg Radio” was underway, I went and grabbed my boots and was out the door as soon as the song ended.  I was calm and I was feeling better about my particular place in the world at that moment.  All music has the potential to affect me that way, and some songs, some albums achieve that potential to a remarkable degree.  I walked from my Capitol Hill apartment to that bar, with “Egg Radio” in my head the entire way.  I hummed the melody to myself, happily remaining in the moment of when the song first came on.

It was a great night.  My buddy was there.  That turkey was awesome, as was all the fixings.  I sat at the bar and ate that great meal, appreciating it possibly more than any other Thanksgiving meal I’d ever had.  I was surrounded by others, like me, who had nowhere else to go and just seemed so happy to be where they were at.  The air had become much easier to breathe.

I spent the evening shooting the breeze with the other regulars, enjoying buck-fifty draws of Bud Light, and listening to their (really good) jukebox.  In the theme of this column, a quick shout-out to the Smashing Pumpkins and their song “Hummer” (from Siamese Dream).  I distinctly remember a huge surge of happiness hit me that evening while that song was playing on the jukebox, and now it’s forever associated with this memory right there along with Frisell’s “Egg Radio.”

I got home late that evening and cranked out four pages of solid writing.  And I wound up finishing that novel a few days short of six months.

Bill Frisell’s site –> LINK

Bill Frisell’s Quartet on Amazon –> CD/MP3



Billy Mitchell – “J&B”

Billy Mitchell - "This Is Billy Mitchell"I wasn’t familiar with Billy Mitchell at the time I scooped this album up.  The Detroit-based saxophonist had appeared on a couple albums I owned previously, notably The Magnificent Thad Jones, a classic Blue Note release.  But Mitchell’s wasn’t a name that was entrenched in my memory.

I only purchased his 1962 recording This Is Billy Mitchell because the sticker on the CD told me to.  It said (something like), “You need to have this CD.”  I was back living in Chicago and browsing the shelves at this nifty little music store down the street from my regular neighborhood bar (L&L Tavern), where I worked a bar stool as both a regular drinker and employee.  The music store, located on Belmont (and hopefully still there), was called Groovin’ High, named after a Dizzy Gillespie song.  The owner looked like he had been a beat poet back in the day, and he definitely knew his stuff about old-school jazz.  He was the kind of guy you could shoot the breeze with and learn the name of a cool album or musician or just what was going on in the neighborhood.

Anyways, I took that CD up to the counter and asked him if he’d put that sticker on it.  He said “yes.”  I promptly paid for it and took it home for a first listen.  I rarely purchased blind like that, but this was one of those people you could trust.  I wasn’t sure if I’d like the CD or not, but I knew it would be good, and I don’t mind having albums like that sitting on my shelf.  “Like” changes from moment to moment, but “good” is always good and if I don’t like it now, I’ll probably come around on it at some point.  There’s a special kind of happiness at discovering that your new favorite album has been sitting on your shelf all along just waiting for you.

The whole album is great, but the first track “J&B” was the clincher.  Those opening moments of bass humming resonantly, the gentle tap of cymbals and then Mitchell entering with delicate phrases that gripped the melody strong… In under sixty seconds, I knew that sticker had told the truth- I did need to own this CD.

I listened to the album all the way through twice.  Then, full of the kind of energy and excitement that a great new album can elicit in a person’s heart, I headed out the door.  I was living on Chicago’s north side, in a little neighborhood called Buena Park, located near Montrose Harbor.  I had found the last cheap apartment building in a neighborhood that had gone completely condo, except for the houses marked with historical designations.  It was a tiny tiny apartment, smaller than most dorm rooms, but it was cheap to live there and I was a block from the lakefront.  I crossed under Lake Shore Drive via the pedway tunnel off of Peace Garden, then headed over to Montrose Harbor.  That was my starting point for a long walk down the lakeshore park system, the downtown Chicago skyline off in the distance, getting closer the longer I walked, that song “J&B” playing in my head the entire time.

I did the same thing not long after on Thanksgiving of that same year.  I was out the door before noon, already cheered up by Billy Mitchell’s excellent album, no longer caring that I was spending the day alone.  Besides, I had just come out the other side of a very tough stretch and was feeling positive about things, hopeful that life and me were gonna do some wonderful stuff together.  As it turned out, I was right.  But on that day, all I needed was this song and this album and the Chicago lakefront.  It was a great day.

Here’s a Wikipedia page on Billy Mitchell –> LINK

Billy Mitchell’s This Is Billy Mitchell on Amazon –> CD/MP3



That’s it for today’s column.  I had planned to write about a few more songs and anecdotes, but didn’t intend to crank out nearly 2,000 words on just the first two.  I’ll save the others for next year.

Have a great day, everyone!


Recommended: Reto Suhner & Fabian M. Mueller – “Schattenspiel”

November 25, 2014


Reto Suhner, Fabian Mueller - "Schattenspiel"An enchanting duo collaboration between saxophonist Reto Suhner and pianist Fabian M. MuellerSchattenspiel possesses a level of virtuosity to where improvised statements appear to be strategically coordinated, and where the free flow of ideas can sustain a composed, coherent dialog.  It’s why this album can be supremely engaging and yet so damn sublime.

Some tracks, like album-opener “Labyrinth of Time,” hint at serenity, but twitter with life just enough to upset the state of tranquility.  There’s also the gorgeous melody of “Arcanum,” ephemeral and mysterious as a curl of smoke and “Crux,” which sees Suhner singing a simple song to the accompaniment of Mueller’s ominous tone.

Motion plays a big role in many of the album tracks.  What begins as a peaceful state will suddenly ignite with an impassioned volatility, and what opens with sharp, decisive actions might conclude with a long, flowing glide.  “Le Coq” is a tiny frenzy that ends with a peaceful sigh, “Blaze a Trail” darts about with a determined insistence, and “Cascade,” starts as a tangle of unconnected threads and ends as a lovely confluence of melody.

The album ends with “Das Schattenspiel,” a sublime tune that shifts gears throughout, and illustrates that the essential quality of Schattenspiel‘s conversations is revealed in the words, not the tones.

Just plain beautiful.

Your album personnel:  Reto Suhner (soprano & alto saxes) and Fabian M. Mueller (piano).

Released on Between The Lines Records.

Jazz from the Zürich, Switzerland scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3



Some other stuff you should probably know:

Augur Ensemble - "The Daily Unknown"Pianist Mueller is also a member of Augur Ensemble, whose 2013 release The Daily Unknown falls into similar territory as Schattenspiel.  Beautiful music that is both heartbreaking and cerebral.

Read my recommendation here –> LINK.

Recommended: Friensemblet – “El Aaiun – Across The Border”

November 24, 2014


Mathilde Grooss Viddal - "El Aaiun Across the Border"Recorded live at Vossajazz 2013, Friensemblet, a large ensemble headed up by Mathilde Grooss Viddal presents El Aaiun – Across the Border.  A free jazz ensemble performance at its heart, the music not only springs from the creative well of pure improvisation, but the influences and jazz sub-genres it touches upon elicits a traveler’s sense of adventure.  It also makes for one of the more thrilling albums of 2014.

Opening track “Night Song” has the moody disposition of a Nordic Jazz tune.  The comforting toll of vibes, the wistful melodic sighs of wind instruments, the rattle of percussion… it’s a touch of old school ECM Records, of folk and jazz in a mesmerizing synthesis, of Don Cherry’s heartbreaking cries on Dona Nostra.  It’s a tribute to the art of dreaming.

“Morning Song” is its opposite.  After an introduction that carries forward the end of the previous track, the ensemble employs the same mournful melodic phrase at the jumping off point for a wind sprint finish.  The rhythm unit of vibes, drums and percussion develop a riveting chatter while wind instruments continue to build the original melody skyward as guitar snarls below.  It’s the way in which the motion of the music becomes both increasingly free and increasingly catchy that qualifies as its most arresting feature.

An appealing dissonance of percussion, strings and electronics open “Diagnossisten.”  The sizzle and blip gradually gives way to wind instruments digging tenaciously into a groove and then jumping in and dancing playfully about, a potent mix of ferocity and whimsy.  It’s a similar start to “Kali & Vossavatn,” but this time the ensemble go roaming far and wide.  A Hardanger fiddle cries out a folk tune, a gaggle of voices engage in word play, percussion hits upon a vein of Indian music, wind instruments howl melodies from the top of a Norwegian mountain range, and then, with a deft sense of spontaneous coordination, they begin switching roles, places, and poetry.

The title-track ends the album with its biggest show of adventurism.  A low drone and a high sigh like the wind whistling through a low valley.  A chant.  It’s a spiritual moment that recalls Alice Coltrane’s unguarded soul-on-the-sleeve work of the early 1970s.  The drone becomes a murmur, the darting motion of flute, the slow groove of drums, the growl of wind instruments making their presence increasingly felt.  And then a melody breaks from the fold, revealing the Indo-jazz tune at the heart of the matter.  This, too, shifts influence, as trumpet carries it from jazz back to folk, where strings and flute leverage their weight.  The song ends with thick harmonies decaying at the edges and shouting up to the heavens… the same wild abandon and boundless creativity that typify this excellent recording.

Your album personnel:  Mathilde Grooss Viddal (soprano & tenor saxes, bass clarinet), Safaa Al-Saadi (darbouka, nay, vocal), Britt Pernille Frøholm (Hardanger fiddle, violin), Tellef Kvifte (laptop, electronics, keyboard), Dag Stiberg (alto sax), Gunnar Halle (trumpet), Per Willy Aaserud (trumpet, electronics), Øyvind Brække (trombone), Knut Kvifte Nasheim (vibraphone, percussion), Siv Øyunn Kjenstad (drums) and Ellen Andrea Wang (double bass).

Released on Viddal’s Giraffa Records label.

Cool cover art by Brita Dagestad.

Jazz from the Oslo scene.

Available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon MP3


Micro-recs: Azar Lawrence, Franklin Kiermyer & Nat Birchall

November 23, 2014

Sunday edition of Micro-Recs!

Today’s recommendations are directed at John Coltrane fans.

Featured:  Azar Lawrence The Seeker, Franklin Kiermyer Further, and Nat Birchall Quintet Live in Larissa.



Azar Lawrence – The Seeker

Azar Lawrence - "The Seeker"Some combination of nature and nurture has resulted in Azar Lawrence becoming one of the standard bearers in the post-Coltrane era.  Yes, having spent his earlier years collaborating both with Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner is sure to have had a pronounced influence on the saxophonist, but there also must be isolated traits coming from within the musician himself that has allowed him to echo the sound of Coltrane while simultaneously developing his own personal sound.  This live performance, recorded at NYC’s the Jazz Standard, has Lawrence leading a quintet through a set of music that recalls classic Coltrane Quartet recordings with a voice that sounds as fresh and clear as today.  Lawrence is joined by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Essiet Essiet and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.  If you enjoyed Coltrane’s hard bop to spiritual jazz transition period on the Impulse Records label, you really just need to hit the download button on The Seeker asap.

Released on Sunnyside Records.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon CD/MP3



Franklin Kiermyer – Further

Franklin Kiermyer - "Further"Further offers up a series of ferocious tempos and solos that charge ahead with a head full of steam, but from within that environment are revealed some mesmerizing melodic interludes and harmonic washes.  Drummer Franklin Kiermyer is very much in synch with later-period Coltrane, when avant-garde met spiritual jazz.  The track “Beyond Joy and Consequence” shows how meditative states can be achieved within the heart of a hurricane, whereas “Bilad el-Sudan” and “Astrophysical” has Kiermyer’s quartet taking on the role of that hurricane and “Supplication” has it sitting squarely in the center of the hurricane’s peaceful eye.  Overall, the tracks express more of Coltrane’s free period, when volatility was the key ingredient to expressing spirituality.  Considering Kiermyer’s prior collaboration with Pharoah Sanders, an essential component of Coltrane’s later work, this quality of Further isn’t terribly surprising.  It’s also terrifically evocative.  Joining Kiermyer are saxophonist Azar Lawrence, pianist Benito Gonzalez, and bassist Juini Booth.  Just a powerful recording.

The album is Self-Produced.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3

You may also download the album directly from Kiermyer’s site.  He offers it at NYOP (Name Your Own Price), which includes the option of free or, if you wish to make a donation so that he can continue making more music, you can download the music in a higher quality file format.



Nat Birchall Quintet – Live in Larissa

Nat Birchall - "Live in Larissa"Live, double-disc set from saxophonist Nat Birchall, who I typically recommend when someone says they’re a Coltrane fan and want to hear something from a modern musician.  Birchall certainly does seem to channel that sound on his tenor sax, and his embrace of the spiritual jazz form adds to the similarities.  That said, Birchall has compiled an impressive set of recordings under his own name and anchored to his own sound, and Live in Larissa just adds to the existing goldmine.  Bichall is joined for this session by frequent collaborators pianist Adam Fairhall, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Paul Hession.  Birchall hits upon some original tunes from past studio albums (“World Without Form, “Sacred Dimension”) as well as some terrific covers, like Alice Coltrane’s “Journey to Satchidananda” and the Bill Lee composition “John Coltrane,” a song originally minted by Clifford Jordan’s Magic Triangle back in the 1970s.  When Birchall solos, it’s with a powerful voice that loses none of its clarity when the intensity shoots upward.  It’s a big reason why this album is so easy to connect with.

Released on Birchall’s Sound, Soul and Spirit label & Kudos Records.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon MP3/Vinyl



Note:  Micro-recs (or micro-recommendations) used to be called Tiny Reviews.  I switched the name because, really, they weren’t reviews, but simply synopses with a recommendation to purchase.  I feel like calling them recs is more accurate.  That’s how it will be going forward.


Some of this material was used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic and Wondering Sound, so here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz recordings…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks” & “New Arrivals Jazz Picks,” reprints courtesy of, Inc.
© 2014, Inc.

As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.