Michael Toland began scribbling about music in 1988 for the photocopied ‘zine FHT Music Notes. He’s since written for various print and online publications, including Pop Culture Press (for whom he was reviews editor for several years), Texas Music (of which he was a founding editor), Trouser Press, Sleazegrinder, Sonic Ruin, Amplifier, Goldmine, Austin Citysearch the Austin American Statesman, Blurt and the Austin Chronicle. He was also the creator and grand poobah of the music-obsessive web site High Bias (2001-2006). He lives in Austin, Texas and works for public television.
Though he’s not invoked as much as he used to be, it’s worth remembering that Ahmad Jamal is a major jazz figure, both in terms of popularity and cultural impact.
The Los Angeles singer/songwriter/guitarist has made it to album #14 without causing much of a ripple on the surface of popular acclaim, and given the high quality of his work, that’s both a shame and a mystery.
Though not as focused as the Sonar records or as risky as the string quartet album, in some ways Thelen’s Fractal Guitar series represents his aesthetic at its most pure.
As both men favor melodic construction over unrestricted blowing, together they create a program that, while technically impressive, is more purely musical than anything else.
It’s hard to keep up, let alone find the brightest diamonds, so here’s a quick round-up of some of the best of their recent releases.
Trumpeter/keyboardist Nicholas Payton is that rare musician who knows exactly how to balance two callings – reverence for the ancestors and the urge to move forward and keep the music’s evolution going.
The quartet made three albums of punky, fuzz-banged power pop that deserved more than to be relegated to the dollar bins.
Though probably best known for his work with Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Louis Hayes and Trey Anastasio, bassist/composer Dezron Douglas is a fine bandleader in his own right.
Guitarist Bruce Licher continues rolling out the reissues on his re-galvanized Independent Project Records label with the release of archival material from his much beloved band Savage Republic.
Filtering their sunny birthplace roots through the hard rocking urbanity of their current hometown, California-to-Detroit immigrants Hayley and the Crusher kick the appropriate jams out on fourth LP Modern Adult Kicks.
Fefer comes up with strong tunes that take advantage not only of his full-boded, almost creamy tone, but the special skills of his quartet.
Mata Atlântica is a rainforest on the coast of Brazil, and is one of the most species-rich biotopes on Earth – as well as one of the most endangered, with 90% of it already destroyed. Mata Atlântica is also a musical project assembled by co-producer and co-composers Mathias Derer and Markus Reuter.
His run with the Trio sadly came to a sudden end with his 2008 death via a scuba-diving accident, but it turns out his musical career wasn’t over yet. Discovered in the music he left behind was a fully recorded and mixed solo piano album.
There can be something magical about stripping music down to just an instrument and a voice, without the enhancement (distraction?) of a full-blown arrangement.
Entropy is the Mainline to God is the first full-length album under the Veldt name since 1998. And it’s a doozy.
Never one to rest on his laurels, guitarist Bill Frisell follows up not just 2020’s excellent Valentine, but also his consistent work as a sideperson and bandmate, with the new quartet record Four.
Though trained in jazz, with a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, guitarist Olli Hirvonen doesn’t confine himself solely to bebop on his fourth album Kielo.
Vocalist/songwriter Sarah Elizabeth Charles exists in a creative space in between genres on her solo album Blank Canvas.
Sort of a summit of jazz professors, Another Life puts pianists and composers Dan Cavanagh and James Miley together with drummer John Hollenback to see what happens.
Bassist and composer Timothy Norton doesn’t stint on ambition for his first album as a leader: Visions of Phaedrus is inspired by Plato’s Phaedrus.
What’s the difference between a jazz band and a jam band?
Legendary drummer and bandleader Paul Motian cast a long, long shadow with his eclectic work over the course of his sixty-decade career.
The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism is a masterful piece of work that reminds us that great composers still draw nourishment from their inspirations.
Two generations of Cuban jazz pianists come together for Front Street Duets.
Saxophonist Ivo Perelman is one of the most prolific players in music, any music. Not only does he record frequently, but the results are often multi-disk sets.
Inspired equally by bebop and an eighteenth century French Christian cult, Seances puts the players through Dunn’s paces on a set of knotty, dynamic compositions with a new twist.
Veteran Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen is well known not only for his expert, tasteful playing, but also for his extraordinary compositions. For Affirmation, however, he’s taking a different road.
The duo’s sixth LP together, The Strange Case of Persephone Nimbus is their most ambitious yet. (Just look at the cover.)
For Anime Mundi, Nagano strips her support down to a trio, but without stinting on the space-filling sound she essayed last time.
Ron Carter is undeniably one of the titans of jazz. Though best known for his stint in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quartet in the 1960s, the bassist has racked up hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings and performances with jazz musicians far and wide, including dozens of his own albums as a leader.
Joined, as usual, by pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Brandon Lopez, Dickey adds a new face to his ensemble: saxophonist Tony Malaby.
Russian/Ukrainian composer *Evgueni Galperine*pulls his artistic sources from a few different areas – the advanced harmonics of Shostakovich, the dramatic tension of Tchaikovsky, the lush minimalism of Arvo Pärt – and molds it into his own distinctive point of musical view.
Eschewing power pop, Barr looks to different, more sophisticated forms of American pop music as inspiration.
Guitarist Doug Wamble has always had one foot in jazz and the other in the blues, and his latest album Blues in the Present Tense continues his successful crossbreed.
Born in Berlin and based in the U.S., pianist Benjamin Lackner has led several ensembles throughout the years, including his eponymous trio.
As with the originals, the Montreal-to-New York musician keeps the performances riff- and tune-oriented, using his prodigious technique for short bursts of feeling, just like a good blues guitar solo.
Former (?) Connection singer Brad Marino has spent the last couple of years conquering the power pop world, but for Basement Beat he’s going for something slightly different.
There are a few reasons to be excited about Songs of Ascent, the latest project from jazz trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas.
As both a leader and a prolific session musician, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson has had a long and productive career since attending the University of Miami at the same time as Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorious.
Portuguese jazz singer Maria Mendes finds a distinctive blend that combines elements of her past and her present on Saudade, Colour of Love, recorded live in Amsterdam.
Born in New Jersey and based in Montreal, pianist Taurey Butler plays in a style that bespeaks a couple of other locales: New York and New Orleans.
Amazingly for a jazz pianist, John Escreent has recorded eight previous albums, but Seismic Shift is his first with a trio.
Originally released at the turn of the Reagan years, Dead Kennedys’ incendiary debut Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a certifiable American punk rock classic – no question.
For bassist and composer William Parker, the term “universal tonality” means, simply, “if we’re all breathing together, we’re singing together.”
Consistency, thy name is Thumbscrew.
Recorded in 2011 at Roulette’s as part of Thomas Bruckner’s Interpretations series of events, Evocation features a trio of master improvisers embodying the essence of spontaneous composition.
Due to contemporary superstardom, musicals based on their work, frequent licensing in movie and TV shows, think pieces that continue to pop up, endorsement by musicians with whom they have nothing in common stylistically, and constant radio play over the decades, it’s safe to say that ABBA never really went away.