by Andrew Clevenger and Jimmy Nations
|| Mark Shim
"Mind Over Matter"
once asked Betty Carter, the venerable vocalist whose working band is
a finishing school for young jazz musicians, which of her alumni had
impressed her the most. After the obligatory "I love them all, they’ve
all meant so much to me," etc., one name came right up: Mark Shim. “He’s
the real deal,” she said of the young tenor saxophonist whose elegant
solos were featured prominently on her "I’m Yours, You’re Mine" album.
Ever since that benediction, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Mark Shim’s
first album as a leader, and now that "Mind Over Matter" is here,
I have to give Betty her props: the man can play. His debut is poised,
self-assured, and ambitious. The 24-year-old tenorman benefits from
some high-voltage support: Geri Allen on piano--the glue that holds
the various figures in this musical diorama together--fellow Carter
veteran Curtis Lundy on bass, David Fiuczynski on guitar, and Eric
Harland and Ralph Peterson splitting drum duty. The group’s sound
is raw, edgy, and angular, a perfect fit for Shim’s loose, moody compositions.
Much to his credit, Shim does not force himself upon his listener
by indulging in overlong solos or putting himself too far forward
in the mix. Instead, he hangs back a little, leaving plenty of room
for his colleagues--most spectacularly Fiuczynski--to roam free. Shim’s
subdued tone, vaguely reminiscent of Joe Henderson, is a far cry from
the big, biting attack that our ears have come to expect from listening
to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. It’s as if Shim doesn’t need to
shout to be heard, and given the crowded, noisy marketplace created
by the profusion of other young-turk tenors (Joshua Redman, James
Carter, Javon Jackson, and Davíd Sanchez, to name a few) this is a
very shrewd move. Shim’s strengths--imaginative phrasing, unpredictable
lines, rhythmic complexity, unorthodox harmonies--are like a favorite
vacation destination: tricky to find at first, completely different
from what you’re used to, and best when revisited again and again.
"Mind Over Matter" is an impressive debut. Shim’s sophomore effort
could use a few more memorable tunes, and I’m curious to see how he
handles more standards: the album's lone foray into the classic jazz
repertoire is a version of Mingus’ “Remember Rockefeller at Attica,”
a three-minute romp that involves “vocalist” Fiuczynski screaming
his head off while guitar and saxophone wail like banshees--arresting,
but hardly revelatory. Shim’s originals, especially the churning,
probing “The Chosen Ones” and the plaintive “Snake Eyes,” are thought-provoking,
but they are not as memorable as they might be. “Oveida,” a lovely
contribution from Lundy, provides more fertile musical soil for soloists
to delve into, and Peterson’s “Dumplin’” is eminently more hummable.
Shim forces the listener to meet him on his own turf: a bit daunting
perhaps, but very rewarding for those willing to accept the challenge.--Andrew
| Brian Blade Fellowship
"Brian Blade Fellowship"
Another young lion making his debut as a leader is 27-year-old drummer
Blade. Blade has already played with an impressive array of musicians:
Kenny Garrett, Wayne Shorter, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, and Bob
Dylan (on the Grammy Award-winning "Time out of Mind"). I first became
aware of Blade as the drummer on Joshua Redman’s excellent live double
CD, "Spirit of the Moment." On that outing, Blade proved himself an
extraordinary accompanist, steadily driving the music forward while
pushing the soloists to new heights.
As a leader, Blade is just as compelling. He assembled a cadre of
friends in Oxnard, California, and the "Brian Blade Fellowship" was
the result. The involvement of uber-producer Daniel Lanois--who has
also worked with Harris and Dylan--guarantees an excess of atmosphere,
and sure enough, as soon as I put the album on, the barometer started
rising. Marked by sonic density and hypnotic rhythms, Lanois’ projects
have a certain cinematic feel--I reckon' y’all remember he did the
soundtrack to "Sling Blade"--and "BBF" is no exception. It sounds like
the music that plays in all those stupid road/heist movies when the
Christian Slater/Ewan MacGregor drifter and the Patricia Arquette/Cameron
Diaz kidnappee stop bantering and lapse into moody silence, staring
out the car window as the miles roll by.
Except that "BBF" actually has some depth to it: rather than representing
vacuous introspection, it is exploratory and meditative. Blade’s drumming
style--which involves playing the beat on the cymbals, thereby freeing
the drums for more dynamic statements--has the same thrilling effect
as Elvin Jones’ work with Coltrane in the early 1960s. Blade, bassist
Christopher Thomas (who also played on "Spirit of the Moment"), and
keyboardist Jon Cowherd create a foundation that is at once light-handed
and rock-solid, and the other instrumentalists range far afield. The
rest of the lineup includes two saxophones (Melvin Butler on soprano
and tenor, Myron Walden on alto) and two guitars (Jeff Parker on electric
and acoustic, Dave Easley on pedal steel), an excess of rhythm instruments,
with wide-open expanses for soloing. Blade’s buddies make the most
of it, especially Butler and Walden, whose swirling lines mesh and
intertwine until they become almost indistinguishable.
Blade--who composed all the songs except one--doesn’t take a proper
solo until well into the album's third number, “Folklore,” which begins
with a mesmerizing polyrhythmic chant that could be a Native American
ritual, and then moves effortlessly into a restless, searching mode
reminiscent of “Blue Trane.” His solo is concise, compact, and exciting:
one gets the sense that Blade is a man who listens more than he talks.
Fortunately for him, "Brian Blade Fellowship" speaks volumes.--Andrew
"Rollin' & Tumblin'"
(Bong Load Custom Records)
Did somebody say "git down?" Because that's exactly what you'll
do when you spin RL Burnside's new disc. Who would have thought a well-respected
septuagenarian on the critically purist Fat Possum Label would end up
having his Mississippi raunch blues remixed into a dance record?
Produced and remixed by Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, this CD5 features
the added organ work of Plastilina Mosh's Alejandro Rosso and beats
by Joe Ranieri. The raw material was taken from the Fat Possum/Epitaph
release "Mr. Wizard" and features three remixes of "Rollin' & Tumblin',"
a remix of "Going Down South," and a story told by Burnside with accompaniment
entitled "Sht Bug."
I was skeptical when I played this record for the first time, but
after another listen I was hooked. After all, dancing and blues music
have always gone together, and Tom Rothrock has done a fine job of
interpreting Burnside's style into a club music format. This CD could
break down some barriers and expose a new audience to the blues--hey
it's possible, I've never owned a techno record in my life and now
I have one. If I ever entertain some club kids, this is what I'm going
to put on.
The first remix of "Rollin' & Tumblin'" starts off with a classic
bass drum beat with several loops of RL's & Kenny Brown's slide guitar
work and the haunting echo of RL singing "you gotta move..., " and
then moves into a '70s disco beat with the original version still
pretty much intact. The AJM3 remix has some funky organ contributed
by Alejandro Rosso. This version is more cut and dry, with a disco
beat and additional Latin percussion by Joe Ranieri. Burnside's and
Brown's guitars were taken out and the vocals were treated with some
special sauce including several "hey, heys" (picture some arm waving)
and repeatedly sampled phrases. "Going Down South" has some great
beats on it, finally letting Cedric Burnside's drumming come through.
This is the best track in my opinion because Cedric Burnside is such
a solid, soulful drummer. More keyboards and vocals overlaid on top
of each other give this version a trippy effect. "Sht Bug" is one
of the tall tales RL is famous for and he can be heard laughing hysterically
at his own humor. This has slowed-down backing music on it and cricket
noises, which I could do without. Finally, the best comes last: the
original version of "Rollin' & Tumblin'." This is complete funk and
there's no better song to dance to. The only flaw I found was in the
liner notes, where they credit the drums to Joe Ranieri--it is clearly
RL's grandson, Cedric Burnside laying down the beat on the original
I highly recommend this to dance fans looking for something new
and to open-minded blues fans, but I doubt that Burnside himself will
be welcoming the X and spandex crowd to sit on his porch anytime soon--Jimmy
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