Reviews: Todd Bishop Group, River Cow Orchestra, Phronesis & More


Review of Todd Bishop Group Little Played Little Bird, and Tiny Reviews of River Cow Orchestra, Phronesis, and more.



Todd Bishop Group – Little Played, Little Bird

Taking ownership of a series of obscure Ornette Coleman songs, drummer Todd Bishop shines them through a facet of his own view of the music, while leaving the beating heart of the originals intact, not a scratch upon them.

Most strikingly, the album is an easy listen.  Not in the sense that it’s straight-forward, but instead, Bishop doesn’t needlessly complicate matters.  Due to his inventiveness, Coleman’s music already comes with its dangers and pitfalls, wrapped with a bow on top.  Bishop doesn’t try to out-free Coleman, instead, just takes the music as it is, and then plays it his way.  That’s a big reason why this album works.  It’s an impressive music statement to sound both personal and referential, to create music that feels In The Now and simultaneously nostalgic.

Your album personnel:  Todd Bishop (drums), Richard Cole (bass clarinet, baritone & soprano sax), Tim Willcox (tenor & soprano sax), Weber Iago (piano & Wurlitzer), and Bill Athens (bass).

Apparently the Old English translation of Ornette’s name is “Little Bird,” the source of that part of the title.  The “Little Played” portion relates to the relative obscurity of the tracks comprising this album (aside from “Lonely Woman,” a popular Coleman composition which Bishop has been performing for years and wanted to include “concept be damned.”).  Most of the songs were originally released on Coleman albums with dates 1969 and later, and many are still not sold digitally.  To hear the originals, one would either have to get lucky finding something on youtube or, as I did, stare interminably at personal CD shelves while grumbling about not having kept them organized while frying the pupils looking for Ornette’s name on jewel case spines.

Even as Bishop performs the music in his own voice, there’s still no confusing this music as originating from anyone but Coleman.  Album opener “Mothers Of the Veil” has the classic whippoorwill thrusts of woodwinds quickly rising and descending.  “Feet Music” has that classic funky strut of 60s-era hard bop, and “Comme il Faut” remains as patternless as snow drifts in a shifting breeze.

But there are plenty of divergences as well.  The album closer “Strange As It Seems,” is a brooding skewed ballad, contrasting with the cracked mirror refraction from blues gospel fusion of Coleman’s original.  And on “Check Up,” Bishop plays the tune closer to the vest, a sunny jaunt through the park, and in contrast to Coleman’s original which was a ball of yarn perpetually threatening to become unwound and tangled.

Amazingly, Bishop has negated the requirement of actually needing to like Coleman’s music to enjoy Little Played Little Bird, without extinguishing the heart of the source music, and thus, making this an album accessible to Coleman enthusiasts, too.

Released on the Origin/OA2 label.  Jazz from the Portland, Oregon scene.

You can stream the album, and purchase it, on Bishop’s bandcamp page.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3


River Cow Orchestra – Going Softly Into the Good Night

Kansas City, MO outfit, the River Cow Orchestra, slips some theater into their music while subscribing unequivocally to a focus on group improvisation and the solemnity of the first take.  Trumpet takes the lead throughout, and perpetually maintains a birds-eye view of the music.  Keyboards and effects keep a fuzzy groove going.  Some occasional spoken word and general music caterwauling.  Some moments of humor, though in that deadpan variety that leaves one unsure if they’re being serious or not.  Playful, energetic, and unbounded.  A discography worth exploring.

Your album personnel:  E.E. Pointer (trumpet), Allan McGinty (bass), Michael LaGrega (violin, synthesizer), Don McCarter (guitar), Greg Field (percussion, drums), and Brent Bowman (keyboard).

Released on the FieldInfoServ label.  Jazz from the Kansas City, MO scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: MP3


Phronesis – Walking Dark

Phronesis is a piano trio with feet firmly planted in the modern jazz soil.  Staggered rhythms, frenetic melodies, and unafraid if their jazz rocks out from time to time.  For people who like that New Piano Trio tension a la Esbjorn Svensson Trio.  What they’re doing here is pretty fashionable these days for a modern piano trio, but Phronesis is doing it better than most.  Bassist Hoiby really gets his instrument to sing, so the bass isn’t getting lost in the background, nor is it incessantly begging for attention.  Eger keeps a nice chatter going on the drums.  Neame puts in a workmanlike performance; his is a name that I’m increasingly finding in the liner notes of solid albums.

All three musicians are part of the thriving new generation of the UK jazz scene and worth the time to follow.  Speaking of those musicians…

Your album personnel:  Jasper Høiby (double bass), Ivo Neame (piano), and Anton Eger (drums).

Released on the Edition Records label.  Jazz from the UK.

Available at eMusic.


Other Albums of Interest:


Solid! – Visitor

Solid! is an organ trio imbued with the introspective Norwegian jazz sound of their homeland. Very little of the groove one might assume, and more of a focus on melodies. Addition of first-class tenor man Seamus Blake adds nice texture. Organ, guitar, drums, and Blake’s tenor sax.

Artist site Link.  Available on eMusic.


Dan Cray – Meridies

Nice straight-ahead set of tunes featuring former Chicagoan Dan Cray on piano leading a quartet that includes new sax wunderkind Noah Preminger.  Nothing groundbreaking, just decent jazz.  Album ender “March of the Archetypes” sends the album off on a terrific note, and has me intrigued to see where Cray goes with his next recording.

Download a free track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label (Origin).

Artist site Link.  Available on eMusic.


Red Trio + Nate Wooley – Stem

Engaging free jazz session with Lisbon-based Red Trio and Brooklyn’s Nate Wooley.  Wooley’s trumpet arcs overhead, warning of danger, as the piano trio sometimes spurs the rhythm the ahead, sometimes prowls menacingly after it.  Growls, jangles, screeches, and breaks down the door.  For those who like ferocity in their jazz.

Artist site Link.  Available on eMusic.


Sinouj – Here

Sinouj describes their music as “Afro-Mediterranean band which bases its music on Magreb and Middle Eastern traditions that they mix with contemporary jazz, funk, as well as African musics.”   Or said differently, it’s world jazz that you can party to.  Joyful, lively, and all types of groove for the bounce addicts.  So glad I ran into this one.

Your album personnel:  Pablo Hernández Ramos (alto sax), Larbi Sassi (violin), Sergio Salvi (keyboards), Pablo Alfieri (bass), and Akin Onasanya (drums).

Artist site Link.  Stream the album on their bandcamp page.  Available on eMusic.



The Todd Bishop and River Cow Orchestra reviews are original to Bird is the Worm.  However, portions of the other reviews were originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

“New Arrivals Jazz Picks“ and “New Arrivals Jazz Picks“, reprints courtesy of, Inc.
© 2012, Inc.

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