Selected reviews


CDs and DVDs for review can be sent to the Ashford address under Subscriptions.  Do not send any other type of review material (e.g., books) but email for advice.

"Perfect marriage of form and improvisation"


All Of Time; Graylen Epicenter; Equality At Low Levels; Everglow; From This Far; Terrorists And Movie Stars; Same Stare, Different Thought; Home; Any Years Costume; Waking To Waves (73.50)
Binney (ss, as, v); Gretchen Parlato (v); Ambrose Akinmusire (t); Chris Potter (ts); Wayne Krantz (g); Craig Taborn (p); Eivind Opsvik (b); Brian Blade (d, 1-4, 6, 8-10); Dan Weiss (d, 1 ,5, 6, 9, 10); Kenny Wolleson (pc, vib); Rogerio Boccato (pc); Nina Geiger (v harmony on 10). Brooklyn, NY, 2010.
Mythology MR0008

Binney’s been around since he arrived in parallel with if not within the M-Base collective of the 80s, and a residue of M-Base angularity remains in his writing. I’ve been out of touch with his work and may have missed intervening triumphs, but this set, released in Binney’s 50th year, is a compositional masterpiece.

That’s quickly evident in the 10-minute All Of Time, where two or three themes are stated in 50 seconds or so and followed not by frontline soli but two minutes of double drum solo over a compelling ostinato - the sort of thing others might use as a finale.

The same creative contrariness is seen in the juxtaposition of a fairly stark harmonic landscape and whistleable melody. The Binney incantation that closes All Of Time is a case in point, his relatively small voice recalling the heartfelt expression of that other instrumentalist turned vocalist Chet Baker.

Binney’s arranging mastery can’t be overstated. Despite the density of the opening minute of All Of Time each instrument has its own space, the ingenious use of counterpoint and pedal point drawing out maximum textural colour. With themes and drum solo done, Taborn is suddenly in space, weaving a leisurely piano trio development of Binney’s themes.

I’m out of space and only one track discussed, so rich is the music. Binney seems to have thought of everything, yet nothing stifles in a perfect marriage of form and improvisation. If you like track one you’ll probably like the whole lot.
Mark Gilbert


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"Stylistic and technical landmark, essential to any Davis collection that aims to be either representative or complete"


CD1: (1) Tutu; Tomaas; Portia; Splatch; Backyard Ritual; Perfect Way; Don’t Lose Your Mind; Full Nelson (42.23)
CD2: (2) Opening Medley (Theme From Jack Johnson, Speak, That’s What Happened); New Blues; Maze; Human Nature; Portia; Splatch; Time After Time; Carnival (76.43)

(1) Collectively: Davis (t); Marcus Miller (elb, elg, syn, ss, bcl, d); Jason Miles (syn prog); Adam Holzmann, Bernard Wright (syn); Michal Urbaniak (elvn); George Duke (kyb, syn); Omar Hakim (d); Paulinho Da Costa, Steve Reid (pc). 1986.
(2): Miles Davis Octet: Davis (t, syn); Bob Berg (s); Robben Ford (elg); Robert Irving III, Adam Holzmann (syn); Felton Crews (elb); Vincent Wilburn, Jr (d); Steve Thornton (pc). Nice, July 1986.
Warners 8122797687

Tutu is the record in which Miles Davis most fully embraced the electronic. It’s important to distinguish between the amplified (in other words electric) guitars, bass, keyboards and so forth that Miles used from the late 60s on and the electronic synthesis on which Tutu relied. This was the first (and aside from its successor Amandla, perhaps only) Miles Davis record in which the backdrops were created largely (though not entirely) from synthesized sound. Tutu’s also often been compared with the records Miles did with Gil Evans in the late 50s/early 60s where, similarly, he played over the work of a single orchestrator in what were effectively jazz trumpet concertos.

The orchestrator and writer here was the gifted Marcus Miller, cousin to Wynton Kelly and bassist and musical fixer to Miles from around 1980. Using the latest synthesized sound and sequencing technology Miller produced for Miles backdrops which in their day were at the sonic cutting edge. Like many a revolution, the brassy, metallic stabs can sound dated now, reminiscent of Terminator movies. But the same ageing process afflicts Gil Evans’s orchestrations and they’re none the less revered for that. Miles sounds fragile yet spirited over Miller’s canvases and Miller himself adds bass fills that are nuggets of invention. Try Full Nelson, a brisk funk vehicle in the best tradition of Miller’s work for David Sanborn that provokes Miles into some of his most dynamic and creative playing of the period. There are also substantial solos from George Duke on Backyard Ritual and Michal Urbaniak on Don’t Lose Your Mind.

Like Herbie Hancock’s Rockit of similar vintage, the Tutu session is a stylistic and technical landmark and essential to any Davis collection that aims to be either representative or complete. With this generously enhanced edition Warners has given us the perfect reason to remedy any omission. Remastered in a stylish foldout digipak with valuable primary research (and a summary of the critical myopia of the time) from Ashley Khan, the package includes a bonus CD of previously unreleased material from the Nice jazz festival in 1986 featuring the rarely heard lineup with Robben Ford. Ford is well known as a blues player but he’s heard in pleasingly chromatic mode on the Fender Stratocaster. In addition, the late Bob Berg, who once complained to me that his solos rarely made it on to Miles records, gets well deserved exposure.
Mark Gilbert


Your Comments:

Posted by George Cole, 22 August 2011, 14:27 (1 of 1)

I just wanted to say how much how I enjoyed reading Mark Gilbert's balanced and perceptive review of Miles Davis's Tutu Deluxe Edition album. All too often, this period of Miles' music is dismissed by critics, so it was heartening to read that Mark considers the title track to be: "essential to any Miles Davis collection that aims to be either representative or complete." I also concur that it's great to hear the much-missed Bob Berg given some solo space on the Nice concert disc.
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"It ought at least to get Walker on a map extending way beyond his native Salford"


Laugh Lines; Clockmaker; When You Hold Her; You Won’t Be Around To See It; Wallenda’s Last Stand; Gwil’s Song; Play The Game; Sure Would Baby (63.35)
Mike Walker (g, elg); Gwilym Simcock (p, mel); Steve Swallow (elb); Adam Nussbaum (d). Ardingly, West Sussex, 20-21 July 2010.
Basho SRCD 36-2

This distinguished transatlantic lineup was the idea of undersung Mancunian guitarist Mike Walker. It draws together Swallow’s distinctive picked electric bass (he was some kind of pioneer in switching exclusively to the elec- tric before extroverts such as Pastorius brought it into the jazz mainstream), the fluent and lissom piano of Simcock, the solid NY beat of Nussbaum and in Walker one of the UK’s classiest post-Sco/Metheny guitarists.

They work out of a mixed bag of modern originals (four by Walker, three by Simcock and one by Nussbaum). The harmony (eg, Clockmaker) and sound (eg, Simcock’s melodica and Walker’s mellow guitar on the 7/4 samba Wallenda’s Last Stand) of Pat Metheny are often prominent but there’s also European romanticism in much of Simcock’s playing (especially his Satie-ish intro to Walker’s tender When You Hold Her), shades of Bernstein’s Cool in Simcock’s edgy You Won’t Be, and the blues (from Walker’s guitar when in dirty-toned, Scofieldian mode and from Nussbaum’s Sure Would Baby, a 7/4 take on the Mississippi crawl).

The familiarity of the stylings precludes a strong or, indeed, novel musical identity, but the superb all-round playing and the numerous passages of improvisational brilliance (mostly from Walker, who’s at his most exhilarating on Simcock’s Play The Game) make it a CD to be checked and the Impossible Gents a band not miss if it plays near you. It ought at least to get Walker on a map extending way beyond his native Salford. He should, of course, have been there right after A Big Sky (1994) but was anybody listening?
Mark Gilbert


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"Affable loveliness and tranquillity in the age of A minor to F major"


The Sound Of Silence; Cherish; Alfie; Pipeline; Garota De Ipanema; Rainy Days And Mondays; That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be; Slow Hot Wind; Betcha By Golly, Wow; And I Love Her (55.55)
Pat Metheny (g). 2011.
Nonesuch 527912

Metheny represents that generation of jazz and jazz-related players who grew up with modern pop and the tail-end of the American songbook years plus Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, so his palette of influence is concomitantly broad. He told me about 10 years ago that we live in the age of A minor to F major – in other words the era of modal pop rather than the directional harmony of the II-V-I cadence. Not a bad point, and it’s reflected in the pop repertoire here.

That’s not to say songbook harmony doesn’t appear – it’s in Garota De Ipanema, at the least. But the sound isn’t jazz guitar. There’s no archtop but rather the sound of the folky flat-top steel in the form of his baritone guitar and his custom 42-string instrument – and to a lesser extent the nylon string classical. There’s not much, if any, swing, little or no blues and not much chromaticism – which could be superimposed on these types of pop tune.

So, barely a jazz record, but it is a pleasant, reflective listen and a display of technically able and sensitive guitar playing. Some might call it quite supermarket music, but if it is, it’s of superior brand. Like so many of Metheny’s records this has an affable loveliness and sense of tranquillity that would probably soften the most sceptical of jazz hearts.
Mark Gilbert


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"The O-word shouldn’t frighten mainstreamers: Mintzer draws on the best traditional chord sequences and rhythms in the book"


Somewhere Up There; Bebop Special; Papa Lips; Bugaloo To You; Thaddeus; When I Fall In Love; Improv #3; Road Well Travelled; Truth; Mr. Fonebone; Improv #2; Canyon Cove; Improv #1 (68.35)
Mintzer (ts, bcl, f); Larry Goldings (org); Peter Erskine (d). Plus Judd Miller (EWI on Improvs #1-3). California, 2010.
Pony Canyon/Cheetah

After a varied, four-decade career (Thad Jones, Stone Alliance, Yellowjackets, big-band arranging) Bob Mintzer must have trouble finding unturned stones. It’s surprising then to read that this is his first organ record.

Mintzer’s known best as a hard-bop tenorist but he’s also fluent on bass clarinet (eg, on the pell-mell Bebop Special) and doubles flute and reed (eg, bcl+f on Bebop and ts+f on Papa Lips). On something as jolly as Thaddeus the flute-sax combination can recall Hush Puppies and 80s sitcoms such as Terry And June but the execution and solos are exquisite.

Thaddeus is a tribute to the writing of Thad Jones and is one of nine original Mintzer compositions here. The O-word shouldn’t frighten mainstreamers: Mintzer draws on the best traditional chord sequences and rhythms in the book. This doesn’t, however, exclude individuality. Some will spot hard-bop clichés in Mintzer’s playing but they are expertly recombined in fresh ways.

Erskine provides a stream of imaginative percussive colour. His cymbal shuffle beat adds demotic warmth to swingers such as Mr. Fonebone, and on Papa Lips he develops Latin percussion with the skill of a master orchestrator. Goldings is an inventive last-minute replacement for a stranded Joey DeFrancesco.

The title track - dedicated to Emerson, Lake & Palmer - is named after Mintzer’s Californian address, formerly home to Arnold Schoenberg. Any clairvoyant have Arnold’s reaction to the heavy grooving going on there today? This highly recommended, numberless CD is no doubt more easily elicited from

Check out the killer vibe of Papa Lips here. As one of the 40k-odd viewers says, "It doesn't get any hipper..."
Mark Gilbert


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