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Follow the Red Line - Live at the Village Vanguard
Follow the Red Line - Live at the Village Vanguard
Price: $13.99
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, April 13, 2008
Chris Potter is one of my favourite saxophonists of all time. I'm also lucky enough to have seen a live performance (by another musician) at The Village Vanguard in NYC for myself. A friend took me there back in the 90s. I can thus easily picture in my head, what the gigs that led to this album might have been like. They must've been electrifying.

This six-tune set recorded live at the Vanguard over two dates in February of 2007, is fresh, exciting and bursting with energy and while not Potter's best album as far as I'm concerned (I personally prefer his studio sound), is definitely one of the best live jazz albums I've heard in a while. Apart from Potter himself of course, who plays tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and is always amazing, I am particularly impressed by Adam Rogers on guitar - unusually, he has a very individual sound that doesn't remind me of any of the better known contemporary guitarists - and Craig Taborn on the Fender Rhodes. Things sound a bit hectic here and there as they often do during live performances but most of the time, nothing but magic shines through. I love all the tunes (the Ed Blackwell-penned "Togo", the only one Potter didn't write incidentally, is my overall favourite) but I wasn't exactly overjoyed at the way "Pop Tune #1" morphed from a beautiful ballad into a so-so dance tune halfway through.

A minor quibble though, I suppose, with what is undoubtedly, an outstanding CD overall. Five stars.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2008 12:42 AM PDT

Lawn Chair Society
Lawn Chair Society
Price: $11.39
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Merits the buzz, April 12, 2008
This review is from: Lawn Chair Society (Audio CD)
There was a buzz about this CD online, in jazz magazines and here on Amazon, long before I finally decided to give it a try. I'd never heard of Kenny Werner before but I took additional heart from the fact that some of my favourite people are on this album - Dave Douglas on trumpet and cornet, Chris Potter on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Scott Colley on bass and most of all, my man Brian Blade on the drums.

I felt like a lot of previous reviewers did when I played it for the first time (I was like, what the..?) and by the time I'd listened to the first two tracks, I actually began to think that I'd made a huge mistake. They just sounded like computer-programmed gobbledegook. But then, "The 13th Day" started and I began to relax. Maybe this won't be so bad after all, I thought to myself.

After the tune finished, I actually went back and listened to "Lo's Garden" and "New Amsterdam" again and it might sound strange but I suddenly heard them in a new light. I found myself playing those two songs again and again and the more I played them, the more they made sense. By the time I finally got to "burble_burble_splerk", another computer-based intriguing number (that at 2mins 29 secs, was over before I could really get my head round it until I'd listened to it at least three or four times), it was as if a light had come on in my head and I finally got where Werner was coming from. This keyboardist (and computer programmer) has a very unique and totally unconventional approach to composition and improvisation but he's incredibly exciting once you get used to him. He seems to use the computer mostly to create sound effects, including voices. Give this a couple of listens and the magic in it becomes crystal clear. Now I know why he's held in such high regard in jazz circles.

It's not all experimental or avant-garde stuff though. There are a couple "traditional" jazz tunes - "The 13th Day" (12mins 25secs of pure rhythmic fun and a real head-nodding, toe-tapper); "Uncovered Heart", a beautiful ballad penned by album producer Lenny Picket; "Inaugural Balls", another joyful kicker of a tune (and the "voices", when they come in, are a really interesting idea); "Lawn Chairs (and Other Foreign Policy)", another beautiful ballad in two movements; "Loss" is as it suggests and "Kothbiro" is also slow and mournful, and like a jam session where all the musicians involved get to say something on the one song. A brilliant album closer.

I'm glad I picked this one up. It totally merits the buzz.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2008 12:12 PM PDT

Price: $13.99
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blade serves up another aural feast..., April 12, 2008
This review is from: Perceptual (Audio CD)
... more delicious even than 1998's Brian Blade Fellowship, at least to these ears. As much as I love that album - and gave it a full five stars - among other things, there's an urgent energy to this one, released in 2000, that elevates it just that little bit higher. From the first few minutes of the opening title number, Kurt Rosenwinkel's guitar was immediately seductive and drew me in closer, figuratively and literally. I actually went to sit down nearer the speaker to listen to the album, so as not to miss anything. I could've turned the volume up of course but I wasn't thinking straight. That's the effect the music had on me.

From beginning to end, I found this amazing music to listen to and Joni Mitchell even pops up to provide some vocals on "Steadfast"!

It's a totally collaborative effort and the love and respect the musicians have for each other practically leaps out of the speakers and Blade avoids the jack-of-all-trades trap that many of his contemporaries fall into, allowing his band members to contribute a few of the songs. Keyboardist Jon Cowherd contributes three; "Perceptual", "Reconciliation" and "Crooked Creek" and he co-writes "The Sunday Boys (Improvisation)" with saxophonist Myron Walden.

Apart from Blade himself of course, who continues to astound me with his drum patterns (he also played acoustic guitar on "Steadfast", and also played acoustic guitar and performed the vocal on the album closer, "Trembling") and Rosenwinkel who I've already mentioned, a special shout out has to go to Myron Walden who played alto saxophone and bass clarinet with great heart and maturity. I'll be keeping a keen eye (and ear) out for him from now on!

Six stars out of five, no question.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2008 12:15 PM PDT

Dexter: Season 1
Dexter: Season 1
DVD ~ Michael C. Hall
Price: $12.99
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously dark, April 8, 2008
This review is from: Dexter: Season 1 (DVD)
Michael C. Hall moves as far away as he possibly ever could from his wonderful if somewhat flaky character in "Six Feet Under", and provides some very shocking moments indeed as Showtime's Dexter Morgan, the serial killer with a code. I absolutely adore this darkly comic series and it's one of many that had me glued to the TV last year. My summer vacation came up while the series was in mid-flow here and it was more convenient to just buy the DVD boxset than try to record the episodes I was going to miss while away and catch up upon my return. I'm so glad I made the purchase as I've watched the entire season through twice now and can't wait to watch it again, just before I get to see the eagerly anticipated second season.

Dexter is a forensic specialist with the Miami Metro police. Blood spatter is his area of expertise so there's lots of blood. Lots and lots. Dexter is handsome, charming, a snazzy dresser and has an evil glint in his eye. He's also severely damaged psychologically and has a need - a compulsion to kill. He's been 'trained' however, by his adopted father, to narrow his scope of potential victims to those who 'deserve it'; usually those who have killed themselves but have, in Dexter's eyes at least, evaded justice. Hence the aforementioned code.

The Miami police are hunting for a murderer dubbed the Ice-Truck Killer, so named for the way he leaves his victims. It's a relatively straight-ahead murder hunt story but the real meat comes from the rich but subtle subtext. Dexter is hot on the Ice-Truck killer's trail but it seems the killer is also hot on Dexter's. As the 12 episode series progresses and the cat and mouse game unfolds, we get closer and closer to finding out who the killer is. We also learn more about who Dexter is and it's not all pretty. Lines get blurred and I can only speak for myself but a point did come where the moral questions of the story - and there are many - began to seem less and less important. For all of Dexter's sociopathic (or psychopathic) tendencies, I found it strange to find myself rooting for him and even more strange to watch how he actually came across as the most sane amongst everyone around him - his neurotic girlfriend (and her abusive drug fiend of an ex-husband), his grasping, power-hungry lieutenant and his desperately emotionally needy sister, just to name a few - and it made me wonder who among us is completely sane, at the end of the day?

The season builds skilfully to an ultimate climax that had me literally at the edge of my seat, barely daring to breathe. It's all very cleverly done with great writing, even better acting, first rate direction, stunning Miami location scenery and crucial flashbacks.

Hall is the star, I guess, but the series really works due to the incredible supporting cast, including Jennifer Carpenter, Lauren Vélez (a favourite of mine from back in the days of "New York Undercover" and "Oz"), Julie Benz, James Remar, David Zayas, C.S. Lee and last but not least, the oh, so sexy Erik King as Sergeant James Noakes. He seems to be the only one around who knows that there's more to Dexter than meets the eye. I don't usually go for big & beefy but I'd make an exception for King (who was also in "Oz", by the way) in a heartbeat. In my dreams, naturally :)

If you haven't seen this, rush out and get it, watch it on TV now if it's showing in your area, whatever. If you can get past the blood and the cold-blooded killing, you'll be hooked. Highly recommended.

DVD extras include a 10 minute documentary about the work of a real-life blood spatter expert, called "Witnessed in Blood: A True Murder Investigation"; two episodes of the first season of another Showtime drama called "Brotherhood"; previews of other Showtime DVDs; biographies of the main cast and some more lovely stuff you can only access online by putting one of the DVDs into your computer. I'll be giving that a miss, myself.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2008 2:19 AM PDT

Homicide Life on the Street - The Complete Season 5
Homicide Life on the Street - The Complete Season 5
DVD ~ Richard Belzer
3 used & new from $37.46

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still lovin' it, April 8, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
What a firecracker this season of the Baltimore-based police drama is! Starring Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Reed Diamond, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, Max Perlich and Kyle Secor, it opens with a hostage situation at a Baltimore middle school and ends 22 episodes later with the investigation into a major character's murder and news of some major changes in the department in the coming year. In between, there's all manner of mayhem including a prison riot, an upsurge in drug-related murders, arson, a carjacking, a murder in a boarding school, an armed suspect who holes up in the headquarters of an African-American community group and the suspicious death of an Nigerian man who was transporting 72 heroin-filled condoms for a notorious druglord.

As always, the scenes are gritty and realistic; like its cousin, HBO's "The Wire", the show was shot on location in Baltimore. The cracking dialogue is authentic too: often it has nothing at all to do with moving the actual story forward, as is often the case in real life. There's tense action and innocent people sometimes die. But as always, for me, the most interesting aspect of this series - apart from the crime detection - is the interpersonal relationships between the various characters, especially between Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss (played by Braugher and Secor respectively).

All the familiar faces are back: Pembleton's return to duty raises a number of challenges, for him, his colleagues and even for his wife. Still recovering from the stroke he suffered last season, I think it's a huge credit to Braugher's acting skills that he's able to evoke sympathy for a character that has hitherto been so exasperating, if not just plain irritating. (But of course, that doesn't last). He attends marriage counselling with her later on in the season, which makes for very interesting viewing and Kellerman faces Federal corruption charges.

Directors this season include Ted Demme, Kevin Hooks, Kyle Secor and Clark Johnson. Guest stars include regulars like Zeljko Ivanek as Assistant State's Attorney Ed Danvers, Ami Brabson (Braugher's wife in real life) as Pembleton's wife Mary, Clayton LeBouef as the he-looks-way-too-young-to-be-a Captain Barnfarther and the achingly beautiful Granville Adams as beat officer Jeff Westby.

Introduced this season are Toni Lewis as narcotics detective Terri Stivers and raven-haired Michelle Forbes as the new Chief Medical Examiner, Dr Julianna Cox. Other big names to look out for include Edie Falco, Rosanna Arquette, Tate Donovan, Charles S. Dutton, Glenn Fitzgerald, Melvin Van Peebles, Mekhi Phifer, LaTanya Richardson, Eric Stoltz, Dean Winters, Elijah Wood and the show's executive producer, Barry Levinson (appearing as himself).

This season also sees the opening gambits of the Luther Mahoney saga with the smooth, cool & totally ruthless druglord excellently played by Erik Todd Dellums. That storyline is worth the price of the boxset all on its own and it runs into the following season.

DVD extras include audio commentary by writers James Yoshimara and Eric Overmeyer on ep. 9, film-within-a-film "The Documentary"; "Inside Homicide", an interview with David Simon and James Yoshimura; cast and crew biographies and scene selection. My only gripes with this boxset are the lack of subtitles and the absence of details regarding the music that was used in the series. They provided them on the boxset for season four so I'm a bit mystified as to why they couldn't let us have them here too.

With "The Wire" now gone, "NYPD Blue" a distant memory and the enduring "Law & Order" beginning to show its age after 18 years, it would seem that the era of gritty urban police dramas is slowly but surely coming to an end. We only have "The Shield" left.

Thank heavens for DVD boxsets.

One other thing: Considering the fact that this season was made and originally aired in 1996/97, it still looks incredibly fresh and contemporary today. Proof, if ever any were needed, that good art never gets old.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 8, 2008 9:59 AM PDT

Price: $14.99
40 used & new from $0.98

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A totally enjoyable album, March 29, 2008
This review is from: Yaya3 (Audio CD)
I enjoyed (and still enjoy) Joshua Redman's 2002 CD Elastic so much that I went scrambling around after listening to it, trying to find other projects where he, keyboardist Sam Yahel and drummer Brian Blade had collaborated on, as well as solo projects by the latter two. My search led me on to several albums, including Yahel's Truth and Beauty, which does bring the three together again, and Brian Blade's Brian Blade Fellowship, which does not. Both are excellent albums in my opinion.

But this is the one I've really been looking for. Released the same year as "Elastic", none of the funk of that project is evident but it's still essentially got the same vibe. The soul and passion that made it so gratifying are definitely both here. My guess is that jazz purists would prefer this album of the two, as it's, well, much more 'jazzy' and much less 'smooth'. Once again, Redman plays tenor and soprano saxophones, Yahel plays the Hammond B-3 Organ and Blade of course, is on the drums. Blade contributes two of the songs - both ballads - "The Spirit Lives On" and the album closer (and one of my favourites here), "Confronting Our Fears". Redman writes the lively "Switchblade", "Two Remember and One Forgets", a slightly bossa nova number that reminds me of "Girl From Ipanema". Yahel writes the most on here - five in total - the album opener, the soulful "Slow Orbit", the winding "One More Chance", "Hometown" (another immensely soulful number), "Aeolio" and "The Scribe".

Produced by Yahel, Redman and Blade, I find this a totally enjoyable album. I especially find it astonishing that they could make the music sound so full without the benefit of a bass player. I really hope I come across something else soon, that these three worked on together. They make a brilliant team.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2008 7:45 AM PDT

American Boy Pt. 1
American Boy Pt. 1
9 used & new from $8.34

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irresistable, March 26, 2008
This review is from: American Boy Pt. 1 (Audio CD)
I've always had a soft spot for UK singer/rapper Estelle. Her song Go Gone from her 2004 debut album The 18th Day, is one of my favourite tunes ever. Her lead single Wait a Minute featuring, from her upcoming new album Shine (scheduled for release here in the UK at the end of March and in the US at the end of April) was never going to get pulses racing and hardly anyone noticed it. I certainly didn't.

This follow-up however is in a different league altogether. It's such a happy, catchy tune it's little wonder it barged its way straight to the #1 spot on the UK Top 40 singles chart last weekend, knocking the seemingly untouchable Duffy down to #2. Singing about her love for her American boy (and her desire to be taken places by him) over a fizzy beat by producer, with elements of pop, funk and hip-hop, infused with a techno/disco edge, and supported by Kanye West who spits a few bars with a UK twist on the intro and in the break, I personally find the song irresistible. I very rarely buy or review singles but I am more than happy to make an exception here. The video is awesome as well - and no, it's not just because Estelle parades a collection of incredibly good-looking American boys in front of the camera; the woman herself looks absolutely stunning in it too. She's always sexy but never sleazy.

She's now signed to John Legend's new label, Homeschool Records (they worked together on Estelle's debut, even before Legend himself was signed) and I saw her with Terrence and Rocsi on "106 & Park" the other day, so doors are definitely being opened for her all over the place. I sincerely hope this translates into success for her over the pond, as with this particular song, she so absolutely deserves it.

And by the way, despite the lyrics of the song, Estelle assures us British boys that she still has nothing but love for us. I should hope so too.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2008 2:55 AM PDT

Don Juans Reckless Daughter
Don Juans Reckless Daughter
Offered by Japan's Finest Selection
Price: $35.80
32 used & new from $0.23

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Recklessness, March 18, 2008
Once I heard that this album featured performances from people like Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Larry Carlton, Alex Acuña (called Alejandro here), Don Alias and Chaka Khan, I just knew I had to have it. Mitchell was reportedly coming to the end of her contract with Asylum records when she made the record and figured she could be as experimental and loose as she pleased. She didn't hold back and the album mainly deals with themes of recklessness, destructive relationships, alcoholism and despair. Not that you'd know this at first listen as musically, Mitchell manages to keep things sounding relatively upbeat.

As anyone familiar with the work of Pastorius might expect, there are lots of yawning (and thumping) bass lines and they are coupled with plenty of guitar riffs, African-inspired rhythms (Haitian maybe?), a sprinkling of jazz manoeuvrings and multi-layered vocals. It's interesting. The glorious 16mins 21secs long "Paprika Plains" sounds like the score to a movie and the booming title track is simply breathtaking. Mitchell plays a mean guitar.

Pastorius and Shorter were both members of Weather Report at the time this album was made and the band was then at the height of its powers. Pastorius went on to play alongside Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays and Michael Brecker on Mitchell's 1979 live album Shadows and Light. (He'd played on Metheny's brilliant debut, Bright Size Life, the year before THIS album was made). Shorter went on to become a frequent Mitchell collaborator. All songs were written by Joni Mitchell, except for "The Tenth World", which is by Joni Mitchell, Don Alias, Manolo Badrena, Alejandro Acuna, Airto and Jaco Pastorius.

"Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" was released in December 1977 to mixed reviews, but peaked at #25 on the Billboard charts and attained gold record status within three months, which isn't to be sniffed at. I'm guessing though, that the album is much more appreciated now than it was when it was first released. Every Joni Mitchell CD I've experienced so far has offered something fun and something different, with her joyful voice and rich lyricism remaining the one constant. She's a unique talent indeed; no wonder she's revered as much as she is.

As much fun as this one is, I'm already looking forward to my next Joni Mitchell album.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2008 1:14 AM PDT

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars She's simply sublime, March 17, 2008
This review is from: Blue (Audio CD)
I've got quite a few Joni Mitchell CDs in my collection now - every one of them treasured - but I've only just gotten round to buying this one, even though I've known for some time that it's considered far and wide to be one of her best albums (if not her best album ever).

Well, I'm already in love with it. What struck me the most about the album, after just a few listens, is how intimate it sounds. For the most part it is just Mitchell singing along to guitar (sometimes performed by James Taylor, sometimes Steven Stills) with some percussion by Russ Kunkel on some songs, and to piano (presumably performed by Mitchell herself) on others. I so got into the intimacy of the music that when some songs (like "Carey") that introduced backing vocals, and others (like "California" and "This Flight Tonight") that introduced Pedal Steel came along, I almost found the extras intrusive. (I got over it eventually, of course).

It's probably totally ridiculous but it was almost as if I felt she was singing just to me, FOR me, in a space that was occupied by just the two of us. I loved how that felt and still feels, every time I play the disc. Her singing style is amazing and amazingly unique. She sounds as free as a bird, going high and going low seemingly at will and seemingly without effort. I imagine her songs would be very difficult to cover, so much respect to the singers who performed on the Herbie Hancock CD I reviewed prior to this one. She sings of simple things yet her lyricism is as rich as a fruitcake. She's simply sublime.

The only other thing I'd like to add is this: if people are still buying and talking about your album 37 years after it was first released, you ought to know you've done something right. If it's a non-jazz album then as far as I'm concerned, you've accomplished something phenomenal. This album is phenomenal. Every home should have one.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 3, 2008 12:59 PM PDT

River: The Joni Letters (with Bonus Tracks) - Exclusive
River: The Joni Letters (with Bonus Tracks) - Exclusive
27 used & new from $5.66

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well deserving of the Grammy, March 16, 2008
I've been a huge Herbie Hancock fan for years but have been a little disappointed with his 21st century output so far. I finally gave up on him after the dire 2005 album Possibilities. (I mean, come on. Christina Aguilera? Joss Stone? Really?). Anyway, as much as I love anything by the iconic Joni Mitchell, I didn't even look twice at this tribute album until it shocked everyone - including Herbie himself, it seemed - by snatching the 2008 Album of the Year Grammy away from people like Kanye West, who, as usual, assumed that it was his for the taking, and from Amy Winehouse, who seemed genuinely surprised that she'd been allowed to win anything at all. I was thinking two things as I placed my order: one, it's about time a jazz album won that award; and two, let's see if the album lives up to the accolade. The sound clips were promising enough but you just never know. Especially with jazz.

Personally, I think it does. It's absolutely stunning and Hancock obviously put it together with a lot of love, care and respect for Mitchell and her music. He only plays piano on this one and as brilliant as I think he is on electric piano, mini-moog, vocoder and all those other gizmos he uses so well, personally, I love Hancock's sound best when he's on regular grand piano. It's all very mellow, all very coffeehouse, but this is no smooth jazz album by any means. Hancock totally ups his game as he's joined by other legends like Wayne Shorter on soprano and tenor sax, Dave Holland & producer Larry Klein on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Lionel Loueke & Dean Parks on guitar and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion. Able vocal support is lent by Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Corrine Bailey Rae ("River"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), Leonard Cohen (spoken word on "The Jungle Line") and from Lady Mitchell herself on "Tea Leaf Prophecy". All songs are written or co-written by Mitchell, except for the Duke Ellington tune "Solitude" and Wayne Shorter's classic "Nefertiti".

I'm really happy I picked this one up and I'm obviously glad Hancock won the Grammy as I might not have picked it up otherwise. Definitely his best work in a long while and well deserving of the award - in my opinion, of course.

PS. I highly recommend this 'Exclusive Special Edition' of the album because the two bonus tracks; the instrumental "A Case of You" and "All I Want", featuring a brilliant vocal performance by Sonya Kitchell (on probably the most Mitchell-esque song on here), are both well worth it.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2008 1:03 AM PDT

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