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.
A bassist and composer of some twenty-five years’ standing, Ben Wolfe has attracted as much acclaim for his compositions as for his playing, with a career in chamber music alongside his jazz work.
One of the hidden jewels of the urban Northeast, the Royal Arctic Institute returns with From Coma to Catharsis, a sequel of sorts to its prior EP From Catnip to Coma.
Though better known around his home base of Baltimore than in the rest of the world, guitarist Skip Grasso clearly commands respect.
Dismissing any notion of the conglomeration being a one-off, the quartet returns, with Scott Robinson in place of Allen Lowe, for sophomore effort No Subject.
Scottish drummer Sebastian Rochford was inspired – nay, compelled – to write the music for A Short Diary after the loss of his father, poet Gerard Rochford.
With a ton of jazz veterans and soul luminaries on her resumé, it’s no surprise Lakecia Benjamin comes across as assured and confident in her abilities and her message on Phoenix, her fourth album as a leader.
Though it’s been disputed, it’s said that composer Johann Sebastian Bach preferred the clavichord over the harpsichord or the piano as an instrument for his compositions.
Over the course of forty-odd minutes, the duo make all kinds of noises, from pick scrapes and mouthpiece burps to rumbling fret taps and haunting legato – but rarely do they descend into straightahead noisemaking.
For its fiftieth anniversary, groundbreaking collective Art Ensemble of Chicago staged a special concert in a country near and dear to their hearts.
On Mercy, Cale brings his classical training and avant-garde sense of pop music into the 2020s, collaborating with younger artists and generally making it clear he’s paying attention to modern music without jumping on trends.
Tyler Mitchell may be a longstanding member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, but the bassist also leads his own bands, often with his Arkestra boss Marshall Allen in tow.
Part of the new generation of ECM players taking the label tradition down new trails, Mette Henriette presents her second album.
At 79, piano great Kenny Barron has been around long enough to let over forty years pass since the last time he did an unaccompanied solo album.
While Leibson naturally carries most of the melodic load, Yang interjects her own low-thrumming harmonic ideas, and Cleaver makes his presence felt outside of mere beat-keeping.
His harmonic sophistication and distinctive chord voices take responsibility for the shape and feel of each tune, with his bandmates following his standard.
If there’s a jazz saxophonist more prolific than Ivo Perelman, it’s unclear who that might be.
Baker entered a prolific creative period in the old world, including an ongoing collaboration with German vibraphonist Wolfgang Lackerschmid.
When musicians from disparate genres come together, you never know what you might get.
There are lots of multi-instrumentalists out there in Musicland – that’s no surprise. But how many of them are experts in a pair of instruments as disparate as the guitar and the trumpet?
Barbeau lets it all hang out here, both musically and emotionally, and it leads to Stranger being one of his very best records.
Guitarist/singer/songwriter Richard Dawson is part of a long line of British eccentrics.
In a way the West Coast counterpart to Boston’s Rum Bar Records, Burbank’s Big Stir also pledges its troth to gimmick-free guitar pop and rock & roll, with an emphasis on the former.
The pair hit it off when working together as part of drummer Tim Horner’s group, and their chemistry, both with each other and with Cuenca, is evident in this relaxed set of songs.
Working with producer Alicia Vanden Heuvel, Janko and her band make a record that sounds utterly out of time, with a simple, stripped-down arrangement style that eschews production slickness for soul.
The term “chamber jazz” has fairly wide-ranging connotations – just check out the catalog of ECM Records. But Chamber Made, the latest album from clarinetist Darryl Harper, takes the sobriquet literally.
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.