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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Delmark DVD's

Nicole Mitchell's Black Unstoppable - Live at the Velvet Lounge; Ari Brown - Live at the Green Mill (both Delmark, 2007)

Flautist and composer Nicole Mitchell has been a rising star on the Chicago jazz scene for several years now. Recording for Dave Douglas's Greenleaf label and now the quintessential Windy City label Delmark, she has made her breakthrough. Her music is a unique mixture of hard bop and free jazz, seasoned with some rhythm and blues and gospel. It is accessible and enjoyable and it is clear that the live audience is enjoying it considerably. She is served very well by the DVD, as the band (including Chicago scene stalwarts Jeff Parker on guitar, and Josh Abrams on bass) is always in motion and fun to watch. "The Creator Has Other Plans for Me" checks a classic Pharoah Sanders composition, but takes it in a different direction as percussion propels the music forward. "Thanking the Universe" and specially "Life Wants You to Love" feature the vocals of Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, who sings powerfully and well. Mitchell has become quite active in the AACM and is easy to see why by watching this DVD, her open ended and questing music is grounded by a sense of history and deep respect for the blues.

Saxophonist and composer Ari Brown leads a powerful sextet on his DVD. Heavily influenced by John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and other luminaries of the 1960's, the band is steeped in the history of African American music, but are in no way a nostalgia group, the music that the performon this disc is strong, powerful and vital. Brown plays tough, gritty tenor and soprano saxophone and spars in a friendly manner with fellow front line musician, trumpeter Pherez Whitfield. The rhythym section of Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef ben Israel on bass, Avreeal Ra on drums and Dr. Cruz on percussion carves a deep pocket for the music to groove on. This band is all business throughout, playing classy strong acoustic jazz. But don't miss Brown channelling a little Rahsaan Roland Kirk on "Two Gun V" by playing two saxophones simultaneously.

Both of these discs come with extra commentary tracks from the musicians which are quite revealing about their art and lives, and there are well written liner note essays included as well. Delmark has hit on a successful formula in their DVD releases. The camera work and editing is pretty bare bones, but that allows the musicians to do the talking without being overwhelmed by any technical wizardry. Recording in small local venues around Chicago also gives uniquer insight into the vibrant music scene of that great city.

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Various Artists – Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab (Blue Note, 2008)

This rather spurious collection brings together some of the tracks recorded for Blue Note records that have been most widely sampled by the hip-hop community. There’s some good music to be found here, especially in the grinding organ and sweet alto saxophone solo found on Lou Donaldson’s opener “It’s Your Thing” and on the Brother Jack McDuff organ groover “Oblighetto.” I have a soft spot for the funk Grant Green recorded during his second tenure with Blue Note, and “Down Here On the Ground” has some fine guitar playing. But none of these good tracks can make up for the disaster of Donald Byrd’s disco debacle “Think Twice”, a horror show of sickeningly sweet vocals, and cheesy stings. It’s no surprise that Blue Note’s music is revered by hip-hop practitioners, all thoughtful music fans have a special place in their hearts for the music made by this historic label. That feeling of affection would expand even more if they would stop releasing unnecessary collections like this and instead spend their time and money promoting young, talented and living musicians.

Send comments to: Tim