Improvijazzation Nation, issue # 68

# 68

Issue # 68 REVIEWS

FEATURED Zzaj Productions album samples

yzzaj ekat (collab with zzaj) Rotcod – A brand-new collaborative track with Vesa… jazzy sax & Rhodes sounds against some great guitar & drums!

RADIO DAYS – a quite interesting tune that features Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Zzaj & Eric Wallack

LIKE REAL CARTOON CHARACTERS AT THE LOCAL GROCERY – From the BRAND-NEW Pax Recordings/Z.P. grouping called The Neshama Alma Band

Check out th’ “new” Zzaj “diary

The Music of Tom McIntosh – WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE:  One of th’ joys of jazz is that it transcends time, & always brings back beautiful memories of times gone by.  I don’t mean that in a “sedimental” way, either… what really goes on when you hear a composer as masterful (& often hidden) as Tom (“Shaft”, “Mission Impossible” & “The Learning Tree” are programs his music’s been features on) is that you suddenly remember a moment, or a phrase that brings back that moment, that was highly charged with energy.  I’m sitting here (right now), as I listen to “The Cup Bearers”, pleasantly reminded of a downtown (outdoor) jazz cafe in Frankfurt (named the JazzStube, I believe)… high-powered espresso, scones & lots of “cool” ’60’s folks groovin’ to th’ same kind of “bouncy” track as this one is.  Just great jazz!  Ben Washer’s guitar just cooks this cut along, with a “guest” shot by Tom on trombone as well.  There is quite a lineup of great players on here, as well… Benny Golson & James Moody on tenor, Kenny Barron doing keyboards, as well as Stefon Harris on vibes, pianist Roger Kellaway, Frank Perowsky on sax & Jimmy Owens doing trumpet, bassist Richard Davis & drummer Ben Perowsky.  Great sets of pictures on the sleeves, so you can “get familiar” with (most of) the players!  The recording is excellent, but it’s the love for the energy inherent in well-played jazz that comes shining through to your ears!  A superb album that you’ll keep for many years to come.  If you’re a fan of the jazz that bridges generations & inspires future players/listeners, you’ll agree when I dub this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Check it out at   or via e-mail to    Rotcod Zzaj

Ann Austin – LOST IN YOUR EYES:  Debut CD’s are always (either) a drag or pure joy!  Ms. Austin’s initial release, fortunately for your ears, falls in the latter category.  Her vocals on th’ lovely title track will make you feel th’ blues (& if you can’t feel ’em after listening to her down-home rendition of this original composition; that get-down feeling is also most prominent on track 3, Ann’s cover of Rudy Stevenson’s “Aint No Use”.   I suppose it’s that picture of th’ FORD (pickup truck) that makes me think this is one “real” lady, but I can tell you that what actually creates that impression (more than anything else) is th’ passion for life & th’ living in her vocals. Ann handles th’ covers very well, too, but (as always) for me, it is the originals that bring th’ energy levels to high!  Th’ music has strong jazz orientation, but what shines through more than anything else is that any listener who loves a bit o’ fire & spark will dig this!  Ms. Austin has some strong players with her, too… Mark Pucci’s acoustic bass, Paul Good’s guitars, Rusty Russo’s drums, & John Harrison III’s keyboards all blend very nicely to support her spirited singing flawlessly.  This is a great recording that will give your ears (& your heart) many hours of pleasure in (repeated) listening.  A definite keeper, I give this a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, & advise that you keep your ears on Ms. Austin’s future recordings.  Contact via the site at   or via e-mail to    Rotcod Zzaj

Ghidra – STRAWBERRY SKINFLINT:  If you’ve never heard Bill Horist (guitar), Wally Shoup (alto sax) or Mike Peterson (drums) before, this is the best CD to start with!  I’ve always been a fan of Shoup’s, especially so (I suppose) since he invited me to play with himself, Davey Williams, LaDonna Smith & others down in Birmingham (back in about 1982 or so).  He outdoes himself on “Skinflint”, & considering that he’s gettin’ too old to “jump” anymore, that’s saying something!  I watched this trio perform at the Olympia Experimental Music Festival 2 years ago, & th’ music is even hotter on this recording.  Horist’s guitar adds a flavor of “punk” to the set, but it’s “free jazz” all the way.  Mike’s drums are crisp & punctual throughout, & th’ trio (as a whole) keeps surprise as their prime element.  Listeners who want to be lulled to sleep had better look elsewhere – these compz will give you the same level of “awakening” that a 14 day meth jag would!  A nice “added touch” is that all the titles are burned to the CD already, so you don’t even have to create your own playlist.  What’s so amazing about their collective compositional style (I think) is that it’s so “together”… one would think that this kind of music might frag out & die on th’ vine, but in a strange way, it’s much more “together” than more mainstream music.  This is (without question) th’ best free jazz trio work I’ve heard in 2004… gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, & the “PICK” of this issue for “best frag jazz”!  A really cool album for listeners who want more than “normal”!  Contact at or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj

Leslie Pintchik – SO GLAD TO BE HERE:  & you’ll be glad Leslie & her trio were here (on your stereo) as soon as you push play on this joyful jazz CD.  If you’re playing it on your computer, though, use ITunes… sounds better than WMP.  Leslie’s keyboards are solid throughout… several originals by Ms. Pintchik, as well as one by her bassist, Scott Hardy.  Another debut, so you know th’ energies will be clear & focused.  The trio is rounded out by percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, who does some wonderfully  subtle percussion… he is an excellent player, who knows how to apply just the right touch in all situations.  I can’t quite explain why, but my favorite track is “Terse Tune”, a Pintchik original; I believe it’s because all 3 players blended together so tightly.  Leslie’s left hand reminds me (often) of Horace Silver’s style, nice rhythmic chops… but that right hand is all her own style.  Some of my attraction to this cut could well be the percussion weave, super tight integration, or (even) th’ bass, which keeps a driving pulse running down under, with a nice solo stretch about mid-way through.  Dedicated jazz lovers everywhere will find this a most pleasant experience, though… highly energetic, with strong talent & love of music abundant.  This gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from our ears for jazzheads around th’ globe!    Contact through Leslie’s site, at  or via e-mail to    Rotcod Zzaj

Mike Wofford Trio – LIVE AT ATHENAEUM JAZZ:  We reviewed a beautiful CD (last issue) on which Mike played with his wife Holly Hofmann.  This trio set features the same bassist, Peter Washington, as well as Victor Lewis on drums.  This live set in San Diego is highly-charged, but in a laid-back sorta’ way on the opener, “My Old Flame”..  Wofford’s keyboards on “Take The Coltrane” bounce all over th’ jazz map, as you might imagine with a title like that.  They kept changin’ th’ pace, too, with cut 3, “Macedonia” settlin’ back into a superb “late-nite” kinda’ groove!  Mike’s trio is th’ first (& only) group to be recorded at “ATHENAEUM”, & as you listen, you’ll see why… superb energy & creative spirit are th’ highlights, & will make this album one of your favorite jazz CD’s for many years to come.  The recording is excellent, & done with only 3 mikes… no “electronic” gizmos to make it sound too tinny… the audience response is captured beautifully, & will blow you away!  This trio is exceptionally tight, & the instruments blend together seamlessly for a jazz experience you won’t soon forget.  This is some of the best work I’ve listened to this year, & it gets an immediate MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from our ears, as well as the “PICK” of this issue for “best jazz trio”!  Contact at Capri Records, POB 892, Bailey, CO 80421-0892, or through their site at    Rotcod Zzaj

Ian Yeager – MUSIC FOR GUITAR + COMPUTER:  If this recording weren’t from our friends at PAX RECORDINGS, we might be a bit skeptical… I mean, I figger we’ve heard just about all th’ variations that marriages between instruments & computers can have… & yet, Ian’s slow-paced fusions don’t sound nearly as offensive or “stilted” as some works we’ve reviewed along these lines.  There’s a strange sense of “comfort” inherent here, & it doesn’t get frenetic until around cut 6.  One drawback (I thought) is that there need to be some kind of track titles… I mean, that’s certainly not enough to make a listener intent on learning/hearing something new & exciting abandon it… but, my personal preference is that th’ player invest enough time to title th’ trax.  Minor complaint, of course.  It’s obvious that Yeager has honed his skills in the improv/experimental arena (he plays with some of th’ top improvisors on th’ San Francisco scene,  including Dina Emerson, Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Bob Marsh, Joseph Zitt, Rent Romus, Phillip Everett, and Matt Davignon), & his sensitive approach to “deeper” playing makes that obvious to the listener.  I’m impressed, & give this recording a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who want to expand their horizons a bit.  Contact at or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj

Steve Nieve – WINDOWS:  Not a terribly unique concept… DAT recorder pointed out th’ window, to capture th’ local sounds, then well-played piano/synth compositions blended together to give you an idea what Steve “heard” out those windows.  What is different/unique about this outing is that it is exceedingly well done!  Nieve has been playing with Elvis Costello & The Attractions since th’ late ’70’s, so this style of playing (definitely not punk) must be his “recreational” playing side.  Whatever it is, he does it very skillfully.  You must devote some attention to what is being played here… become absorbed… this isn’t “throw-away” music, & can’t be listened to “on-the-fly”… well, I s’pose it could, but you’d miss a lot.  Th’ further along I get into his “Windows” (in particulate, “Jackson’s Window”, which features some GREAT organ sounds), th’ more enchanted I become.  This is sorta’ like a tour “round th’ world in 80 minutes”… somethin’ like that, anyway, & though there are some pretty “standard” frames, there is high talent evident, & an air of mystery about th’ project that will hold the listener spellbound.  VERY NICE!  I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who want more than pap!   Contact at Valley Entertainment, 333 W. 52nd St., 9th Floor, New York, NY 10019, or on the site at     Rotcod Zzaj

Judi Silvano – VOCALISE:  When that walkin’ bass (Drew Gress) KICKS off, ridin’ along under Judi’s high-energy scat on “Bass Space”, all jazz lovers among you  will know yer’ back in jazz heaven!  Th’ title track features the same kind of high-energy interplay, but my favorite was “Space”, probably ‘coz it’s an original (& all who read this ‘zine know that I absolutely DIG on original!  There are plenty more originals in th’ 13 tracks, too, along with Judi’s own interpretations of some other great pieces, like Monk’s “Looking Back- Reflections”, & Duke Ellington’s “All Too Soon” & a really cool version of Mingus’  “Weird Nightmare”.  Silvano is a true master at vocal jazz, & if you haven’t listened to her before, “Vocalise” would be a wonderful place to start.  She flows back & forth between hop-scattin’ hard runs & sweet soprano balladry that others try for (but never will reach).  My favorite is Judi’s “At Home (Sweet Home)”, which showcases Judi’s range beautifully, while featuring the “experimental” side of jazz (without sacrificing “accessibility”).  Whatever you do, don’t try to pigeonhole this lady’s music, because she’ll turn right around & surprise you!  This gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us!  Contact at Judi’s site, at     (there’s an e-mail button on Judi’s page)     Rotcod Zzaj

Claire Ritter – GREENER THAN BLUE:  We reviewed Claire’s intriguing piano style (solo on “River Of Joy”) back in issue # 50)… this superb CD has much more of a jazz feel to it, perhaps because her keyboards are complimented by Stan Strickland’s great reed playing, along with Bob Weiner on drums/percussion & guest Todd Low’s viola & erhu.  There’s still a (somehow) “subdued” quality on her (all original) compositions, & it will haunt you for days/months/years to come. If you’re looking for some music that will “settle you out”, & help you focus on something other than “the race”, you’ll want to get this album right away.  If you want a lil’ “alley sneakin” bump music, check out my favorite track on th’ album, track 5, “Funky Feet”.  It’s definitely in th’ funk zone, but because of her compositional style, it doesn’t “hit you over th’ head” like a lot of walkin’ bass phunk-stuff does… this one will really stick with you!  All-in-all a very pleasant album that won’t get “buried” in th’ “non-play” stack… we rate it as HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Contact through  or email    Rotcod Zzaj

Mark Sherman – THE MOTIVE SERIES:  Sherman’s vibe playing on this jazzy little CD will excite those of you who have already listened to his work (he’s been reviewed here for quite some time now), as well as new listeners.  I mean, this cat is all over it, & will have ya’ groovin’.  Th’ fact that Michael Brecker guests on tracks 2 & 4 doesn’t hurt matters, either, but Sherman’s original compositions (all except cuts 1 & 9)  are what captivated my ears more than anything else.  Mark is one of th’ absolute best vibraphone players on th’ planet today, & his crisp, straight-ahead compositional style is immediately attractive to any jazz listener who has even th’ slightest dose of hip!  There is fire shining from his (musical) soul, & it will be immediately apparent to your ears that you’re in the presence of a master!  This is th’ kinda’ music that melts th’ dastardly politicians’ games right out of your mind, & makes you realize that as long as th’ creative spirit survives (through music like this), things aren’t as bad as th’ power barons would have you believe!  It’s also the kind of music that inspires folks to do something with their own creativity… should be “required listening” from 3rd grade on, methinks.  This CD gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, as well as the “PICK” of 2004 for “best vibe jazz”.  Truly, this is one of the best albums we’ve heard this year!    Contact at Mark’s site, at  or via e-mail to    Rotcod Zzaj

String Planet – STRING PLANET:  Every once in a while, a CD rolls in here that inspires me to move to new levels (in my own playing).  This is one of those… I’ve been enchanted by the “Chapman Stick” ever since (my friend) Eric Wallack played it on one of our CD’s together.  It’s Larry Tuttle doing Stick on “String Planet”, as well as all the compz… Novi Novog’s viola is a perfect compliment to Tuttle’s spirited tunes, & when they blend in their world rhythm section (along with a couple of nice vocals), you’ll be amazed at their skills for generating excitement… I know I was.  Tuttle says that “there is no easy category to put us in”, & that’s entirely true…. phrases that come to mind, though are “grandly original”, “intuitively inspired”, “joyfully deep” & “wonderfully simple”.  It is true that they are difficult to “lump” together with any “brand” or “flavor” – but (in our readership, anyway), that is a great thing to have said about your music.  This is clear music with a message that masquerades most memorably as joy & jubilation… which, in my experience, is the only real music there is!  We are exceedingly happy to give this CD a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, & look forward to much more music in the future from this groovin’ little duo!   Contact via the site, at  or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj

Greg Segal – STANDARD:  Changin’ th’ rhythm up is absolute necessity for a reviewer… if you listen to th’ same style, everything you write will be th’ same!  Greg sent this rockin’ lil’ CD in a package late summer this year, & it definitely do change th’ pace!  As those of you who read here often know, we’ve reviewed a lot of Mr. Segal’s works.  This round features all solo guitar/loop/effect/electronics, & though th’ tracks are of short duration, they’ll have you wondering!  Titles like “Cyborg Factory”, “Unique, Just Like Everyone”, & “Living With The Expected” may give you some clue to the ultimate “strange” Segal pulls out of th’ ether, but until you sit down & listen through (& through again) to the odd rhythmic stops/starts & ideas (seemingly) pulled out of nowhere, you won’t truly grasp what he’s doing to yer’ head!  Preparation for when Arnold becomes president?  Dunno’, but improv rock fans th’ world over will grok this as soon as th’ first bar runs ’em through th’ wringer.  This gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from our ears!  Contact via Greg’s PAGES, , or via e-mail to  Rotcod Zzaj

Andrew Octopus – IN SEARCH OF JOHN TITOR:  Hey, Andrew must’ve expanded his listening horizons to include some of (one of my favorites) Bruce Cockburn… the opening trak sounds a lot (in scope) like some of Cockburn’s storyweaves, though I must make sure you understand that th’ stylings are purely those of Andrew Octopus.  Nice lilting lyrical style, but with th’ advent of trak 2, th’ “music” gets back in territory much more familiar to those who have listened to Andrew’s works before.  Great slice&dice, mix&match sampling that is truly turned on it’s head & comes out th’ end of th’ grinder sounding like – well, like Andrew Octopus!  What’s most interesting in this 30-track CD is that it represents a (sort of) “new genre”… th’ “non-genre”, if you will!  He pulls in bits & pieces of everything he’s heard, & runs thematic segues in & out of th’ sequences… you’ll hear little snatches of th’ familiar, be reminded of something you can’t quite remember – but in the end run, you’ll realize that though it’s a “recombinant”, it is (somehow) new & different!  So, what’s that do to it’s “rating”?  We give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who want to “experience the story” (of John Titor, internet time traveler), this is IT, volkz!  Too cool!    Contact at h  or via e-mail to  Rotcod Zzaj

Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin – RESOLVING DOORS:  (NOTE from the promoter:  “The CD title is “Resolving Doors” not “Revolving.”   It is of course a play on words with the intention of emphasizing the focus on resolution of musical ideas expressed” – I had, unfortunately, typed the title as “Revolving Doors”… ED) As is so often true with CD’s we’ve reviewed previously that have Joel & Ike on them, this is straight-ahead (& rockin’) improv!  I don’t remember hearing Fielder before, but his drumming is superb (another NOTE from the promoter – Alvin Fielder is a veteran avant garde musician who was one of the original charter members of the Chicago based AACM back in the 60’s.  He has performed frequently with Joel and legendary saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan out of New Orleans – our thanks, Michelle… ED.)!  The opening track “Spatial Odyssey, has Futterman & Levin heading right off into “outland”.  Joel’s piano on the intro reminds me a great deal of another improv pianist I love, Greg Goodman… all up/down/around th’ keyboard.  Levin’s tenor is no less intense, & he is playing at full bore!  “Third Ear”, a much shorter cut (3:38) than all the others is very nice, but it is track 4, “Atmospherics”, that scores th’ highest for my ears.  While none of these spontaneous creations can be called “calm”, this one fuses all the elements of good improv together, & the players seem totally conscious of where they “are at” (sonically) in respect to each other.  The recording is excellent, capturing every little nook & cranny of sound they explore together.  I strongly recommend headphones for the first couple of listens… keep it uninterrupted, you’ll be glad you did!  The “revolving door” theme will be evident throughout… constant movement, different views of the “drum & drummer”, every sonic second.  This is one of the best jazz improv CD’s we’ve heard this year… it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of “fluid jazz” around the planet!  Contact through or via e-mail to    Rotcod Zzaj

Derrik Jordan – TOUCH THE EARTH:  This album has a very “world” feel, probably because of heavy rhythm influences (from all kinds of cultures)… very powerful lyrics, excellent energies on th’ violin sounds & some distinctly upbeat kalimba passages.  Derrik displays talent far beyond the “average” composer, & that comes through clearly in th’ joy he is able to convey to the listener.  He describes his music as “positive pop and globally-conscious soul”… an apt description, & the soul influences percolate throughout each composition.  Th’ title track is the lead-in, & it’s easy to hear why he picked it to start the CD with…. but, th’ standout track is cut 8, “Standing Prayer”… th’ didgeridoo phase-in to a very guitar-oriented piece (along with some beautiful lyrical lines) that I fell in love with immediately!  I also just LOVED track 11, “Undying”… my only complaint was that it wasn’t (quite) long enough!  This is our first listen to Mr. Jordan’s work, & I can tell you, without hesitation – we WANT to hear MORE!  A really strong album with hypnotic lyrics & well thought-out musical compositions – listeners everywhere will agree when I declare this to be (definitely) MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Contact at  or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj

Tom McNalley Trio – TOM MCNALLEY TRIO:  This CD features Tom’s scorching guitar licks, solid bass underpinnings by Jonas Tauber & drums that just don’t quit by Ken Ollis.  Tom is a “younger player” (21), but he is ferociously talented, & you’ll hear that from the opening bar!  He is able to milk screams, as well as silence, from his stringboard, & knows right where to move with th’ rest of th’ trio.  In fact, that’s one of the most impressive features of this set… nobody is “steppin'” on th’ others.  One of th’ complaints I (frequently) hear about guitar players is that they (often) “take over” a set, whippin’ th’ volume up to overshadow th’ other players…. well, these guys are equally loud!  Heh! Heh!  & on this album, that’s a PLUS!  Improv fans th’ world over will groove out on this, but (even) straight “jazz-heads” will find lots to like as well, especially on the intro & first few sequences of the opener, “Reddog”, my favorite track on the album.  For more laid-back sounds, check out the last cut, “Loss” – very nicely put together, with an “smooth improv” feel (how’s THAT for coining a phrase?).  I certainly recommend headphones, a glass (or a snort) of whatever turns yer’ motor on & close th’ door so you won’t be interrupted.  There’s a “balance” throughout the sets (this sounds like it was recorded live… audience sounds & all that), & th’ trio clearly shows how “tight” they are together… which for an improvised gig is essential… NO “loose ends” on these tracks.  This one gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, especially for improv fans who like to hear music interspersed with their “wild & crazy”.  GREAT music!  GREAT fun!  Contact at    Rotcod Zzaj

Katahdin’s Edge – STEP AWAY:  Another “debut” CD from a great jazz band from Boston (MA) & Providence (RI).  It’s simply wonderful to hear fresh talent like this, because the energy is always so “raw” & clearly focused.  The title track is (in my opinion) one of the best illustrations of that… it’s my favorite cut, because it best represents what 21st Century jazz is all about… new views, & using tradition to build into a new era.  The players push the envelope a bit, taking jazz (far, FAR) away from F.Z.’s line about jazz “smelling funny”.  There seem to me to be some strong Middle Eastern influences in many of the originals (in fact, ALL of the pieces are original), but with clear roots in traditional jazz, so it stays very accessible for jazzheads.  If you’ve been (like totally, man) so embedded in “old” jazz (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you may find some of these compositions take a little getting used to… because, even though many start off with “groove”, they move in and out (like silk) of different structures than what your ears thought were going to happen.  I absolutely love this album, & give it our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  We want to hear MORE, folks… make sure we stay on your “reviewer’s list”, please!    Contact though   Rotcod Zzaj

Monk’s Music Trio – THINK OF ONE:  The second CD from this smashing jazz trio (unfortunately, we didn’t get th’ first one) hones in on features Si Perkoff on keyboards, Chuck Bernstein on keyboards, & bass by Sam Bevan.  Some great tunes, honoring Thelonious Monk with high energy & talent on ALL tracks.  Perkoff & Bernstein have been on th’ jazz scene for many years, Sam just joined them, & (under leader Bernstein), they play some of the best jazz I’ve heard lately (& believe me, I’ve heard a lot).  What’s most impressive (& you “old” jazzheads out there will know just what I’m talkin’ about here) is this kind o’ jazz is th’ kind that gets all over yer’ shirt at th’ Sunday B-B-Q… I don’t mean it’s “greasy”, folks, because it’s really “uptown” & sophisticated… but it will stick to your ribs, & you’ll keep puttin’ it back on th’ player.  those walkin’ & exploratory bass lines are H-O-T!  If you’ve never heard this trio before, & you’re a dedicated jazz fan, you’ve GOT to put this one in your collection.  It gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, without any hesitation!  Some of the best “Monk music” you’ll ever be privileged to hear.  Contact through CMB Records, 4714 Balboa St., San Francisco, CA, 94121, or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj

Spasmolodic Duo – SPASMOLODIC DUO:  Purely spontaneous improvisation from Noel Moscovich (guitar/sampler, bell, war-protest screaming) & Shane (trap set, saxophone, wind instruments, etc.  Their improvs are actually pretty interesting… th’ “screaming” gets in th’ way a bit (sometimes), but I’ve “been here”, & it’s often a necessary element of getting far enough “out” that you can transcend the political & begin to speak the true language – MUSIC!  Low-fi, to be sure, but not low energy!  I’ve been in duos like this, & th’ key thing (I believe) that determines “good” from “bad” in this kind of setting or group is – ARE they having FUN with it?  & “Spasmodic Duo” is unquestionably having a blast!  There are no comparisons that can be made, because these guys are in their own zone… I enjoyed listening to it, but gramma’ prob’ly wouldn’t.. in fact, SHE’d run ’em outta’ th’ garage!  In the overall, this is good (meaning fun) enough to rate a RECOMMENDED for those hardcore improv listeners who want something they haven’t heard before.  Contact via e-mail to   Rotcod Zzaj

Sandi Soyle and the CULTIVATORS – CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?:  This is one RAWK-in blooz lady!  It’s very clear that she knows somethin’ about those blues she belts out, & her vocal talents are high-end & just shine – whether it’s ballad or bust-em-up blooz!   The opening track, “That Ain’t Right”, is filled with th’ kinda’ energy I used to hear in those black club whiskey-bars,  way down in Alabama (oh, so many years ago).  Th’ guitar leads (Neal Grandstaff) & th’ harp (Harvey Wicklund) are downright wicked!  Th’ title track (cut 2) is a nice, laid-back, ballad that features some more of that sweet, sweet bluesy harp playin’, & “Cup O’ Blues” will have you jumpin’ right along with Sandi & this kick-butt band!  We’ve been lookin’ to get back into more of th’ blues for a while now, & we’re off to a really good start with albums like this.  In fact, this submission came directly from chats at IndieRadioLive (IRL)… if you haven’t been there, & want to hear (& chat with) players like Sandi, it’s a really cool place!  If you’re a fan of blues that get DOW-un & touch places in your heart you thought were long-buried, “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW” will do th’ trick!  One of the best female blues singers I’ve heard this year, “Sandi Soyle and the Cultivators” gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from our ears!  Contact through  (3 whole songs are available for you to download on broadband, too).   Rotcod Zzaj

The Yanks – DEEP WOOD:  I’m tellin’ ya’ folks, this “Indie” music scene is just hoppin‘  right now.  This H-O-T lil’ CD came in directly from conversations I was havin’ on INDIEHANGOUT … after talkin’ about it, I went right over to one of th’ radio stations (IndieRadioLive (IRL)) & caught a live show they were doin’ from Portland, Oregon.  Asked for a CD, & got TWO…. now, ain’t that cool?  The difference (from th’ old days) is that th’ music is VERY well recorded.  “Deep Wood” starts off with some down&durty blues riffs, moves in out of honky-tonk territory & winds up somewhere between th’ blooz & (to borrow a phrase from a player who sounds somethin’ like these guys – Elvin Bishop), “Juke Joint” jumpin’.  Th’ lead guitars (by Jamie, Dave, & Dan) are KICK-butt, but don’t “take over” & stomp out any of th’ other players.  Their blues compz are of th’ “totally greasy” category, ‘specially on tracks like the opener, “Gone For Good”, which is my favorite track on th’ album.  Th’ track that gave this album it’s final kudos (from my wife, believe it or not) was the leadout, “Earthly Burdens”… she said “I want that one for my car”.  & I’m tellin’ ya’ folks, that is the ULTIMATE high honor – there aren’t too many CD’s she picks, but once she picks ’em, they stay!  If you like rawk-in blues, & even a meaty “juke” tune or two, you’ll agree with me when I declare this to be MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  A great little CD (that would make a fine C-mas gift).  Contact through their site, at     Rotcod Zzaj

Maya & Sage – SPIRIT OF LOVE:  Pull aside the beads, step into the “Hookah room”, & rearrange your skirts for an hour or so… this CD features some very pretty chant & spirit songs, & you’ll want to be in the right frame of mind when you listen!  You might be tempted to “lump this in” with th’ regular “world beat” albums, & only spin it once – but you’d be doing your ears, & your inner energy, a definite disservice.  These folks have plenty of style, & their compositions are strong enough to set them apart from the bands that have only grasped the concept of “beat”!  There is no doubt that rhythmic tracks are a definite draw for (many) listeners today, but when the undercurrent energy is combined with talent like this, there’s no stopping what they can do.  The thing I like about Maya & Sage’s songs is that they’re not “syrupy” like so many of these (kinds of) bands tend to be… some VERY NICE lead guitars are interspersed throughout, & their flow is free, not suppressed in the background.  Excellent mix, great quality, this is a CD you’ll want to keep, & play often.  We’re impressed enough that we rate it HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Great album, high-energy spirit, & jubilance at the forefront.  Contact through the site at  or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj

The John Hart Trio – INDIVISIBLE:  This is th’ kinda’ jazzy blues that you can groove to with (either) a “long-neck”, or an (uptown) martini!  It sorta’ “goes both ways”, if you can dig what I mean.  John’s electric guitar is scorching, full of th’ kind of energy that will make ya’ get on up & move around!  His acoustic style is full-bodied, with sweet chord changes that will melt gently into your mind & come back days later.  One of my favorite tracks, “Clone Me” (cut 4) grooves on into somethin’ akin to “wah-wah” land, tho’ it actually has a more “sultry” quality to it.  The trio is rounded out by superb bass from Bill Moring, & drums/percussion by
Tim Horner
that just won’t quit!  They’ve got a definite funky groove goin’ on together here, & any jazzhead worth his salt will delve into this like th’ (jazz) delicacy that it is.  This is one of the tightest trios I’ve listened to this year… it’s not just that they’re always “on-time”, they also seem to have some kinda’ “jazz radar” for where th’ comp is going, & pull it off smoothly & stylishly every time.  “Techno Prisoners” is my favorite tune on the album, with beautiful transitions between the main phrases & great interplays between the 3 players, especially Hart’s electric guitar!  This is some of the “meatiest” jazz I’ve listened to this year, & merits our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating!  Contact at  or via e-mail to   Rotcod Zzaj

ArrsProject – ARRSPROJECT:  All the way from Poland comes this splendid little jazz-oriented Indie CD… some really laid back compositions, from a basic quartet.  Andrzej Rejman on piano, Rafal Smolinski on bass, Sebastian Soldrzynski doing trumpet, & Klaudiusz Klimiuk on drums.  I really like Rejman’s keyboards, on both electric & (what sounds like) acoustic, though it may be an electric board (not sure), are full of both talent & raw energy.   They have some very interesting weaves, at times sounding like a “different” (kind of “slowed down”) version of “The Crusaders”, even snatches (it’s the horns, man) of Chuck Mangione.  There are some very interesting drones going on “behind the scenes” in the recording… makes me wonder exactly how it was recorded… live mikes, or direct ins through a mixer?  The thing that stands out the most is that this group shows high creative energies, & plays very well together.  A couple of the tracks have wonderful acoustic piano introductions, & remind me (often) of some of the improvisational scenes I’ve been involved in myself, with players like John Alkins & Harlan Mark Vale (just to name a couple)… seemingly “unfocused”, but what you find as you listen to the compositions is that their journey through etherspace has demonstrated a very clear “group sense” of what the direction was in the first place.  This is one of the best independently-produced jazz CD’s I’ve heard this year, & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us.  Contact via their site, at  or via e-mail to  Rotcod Zzaj

Jody Sandhaus – A FINE SPRING MORNING:  The word that comes (immediately) to mind on the first few bars of the (lead-in) title track is “bubbly”… you know, as in full of bright energy & vivacity.  On Jody’s 3rd CD (don’t believe we got the first 2), she is genuinely impressive… my favorite track is “Deed I Do”, the second cut, probably because it’s got some really funky jazz underpinnings by Pete Malinverni on keyboards, Todd Coolman on bass, & Leroy Williams on drums.  A sweet jazz experience that both old-time jazzheads & “newbies” will both find attractive; super recording with crystal clarity.  This seems to be a great year for female jazz vocalists (we’ve been getting a lot more CD’s like that this year, it seems), & Jody is clearly a standout in that league.  Her voice has a quality that can only be described as “shine”… it kind of “glimmers”, & you’ll fall in love right away!  Many of the other cuts are ballads… very, VERY pretty material that will make this CD a “keeper” for many jazz fans.  It definitely gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from our ears!  Contact at     Rotcod Zzaj

Nora Hoffmann – ANGEL PEAK:  “Spontaneous Compositions on Solo Violin” is how Nora describes her works on this most interesting CD… an apt description; listeners enchanted by the magic of an instrument that (often) allows the listener to “fill in the gaps” will fall in love with Ms. Hoffmann’s works immediately.  Much less frenetic in style than (perhaps) my friend LaDonna Smith’s playing, Nora clearly understands the constructs of the etherspace… & knows that the more the “spirit” is involved in the playing, the more interaction there will be between her playing & the listener’s imagination.  Her approach to these spontaneous compositions shows skill in both arts… “playing” and “listening”.  I particularly liked track 9, “Bridge Overtones”… it does require that you be in a listening space where you won’t be distracted… because you need to be able to relax enough to visualize the aural images she paints for you… but, I can tell you, it’s well worth the extra effort.  One suggestion would be to ensure that the track titles get “buried” on the CD next time, using WINAMP, or whatever.  That is a minor critique, of course, but it helps, I think.  OTOH, I really like the idea that she has put titles for the tracks (on the jacket)… many players just leave them as Track 01, lending no “meaning” to the piece.   This is a CD full of energy,  life & soul, & gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us!  Contact at  or via e-mail to   Rotcod Zzaj

Richie Hart (with Rick Petrone-bass & Joe Corsello-drums) – BLUES IN THE ALLEY:   Well, these sound more like “uptown” alleys… not th’ nitty-gritty, down & dirty passageways I used to travel (for the most part) through after th’ witching hour.  That doesn’t detract from th’ soulful renderings on th’ more trad pieces, or the (couple of three) originals; they still show heav-ee talent & sheer love for playing that you want to hear.  As always, it seems (to me, anyway) that the originals will capture your ear more easily, if only because of the high energies displayed… in fact, my favorite track (partially because of Pete Levin’s masterful organ chops) is Richie’s original, the title track!  The guitar strings sound (almost) liquid in his hands, & this piece comes on full-throttle!  Supercharged organ, & really jazzy blues interplay between all the instruments.  “On A High Note” comes in a close second for my favorite, though it features acoustic piano (rather than organ).  The true “feature” throughout the album, though, is Mr. Hart’s shimmering guitar leads… snatches of Wes Montgomery come to mind, & Richie says (in the liners) that Montgomery was “his idol”.  A very talented group of musicians who know how to enjoy playing; they make listening a pleasure, too.  This gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us!  Cool stuff!  Contact at   or via e-mail to     Rotcod Zzaj



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ALL artists!  I am very, VERY happy to announce that IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION is ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS again.  I have been granted a (possibly long-term) stay of execution for my trip to Iraq.  I will still  be traveling all over the U.S., so new issues may be a little less timely, but (as always), we will review your materials as soon as possible after we receive them.  Look at the guidelines for submission below, please:


MUSIC:  All formats accepted.  Snail mail to:  Zzaj Productions, c/o Dick Metcalf, 5308 65th Avenue, Lacey, WA 98513  The only criteria for music you submit is that it MUST HAVE high performance energy… if you submit lacklustre material, it will be reviewed accordingly

POETRY:  Poems are accepted for publication ONLY via e-mail.  Poems submitted in any other fashion will NOT be published.  Poetry that includes some reference to music is granted first priority for publication.

BOOKS:  We will review some books; books about music are PREFERRED.  We will NOT return any books submitted for review.  Snail them to the address listed above for MUSIC.

DIY Announcements:  We will post your (e-mailed) ad about DIY projects, regardless of genre or medium… HOWEVER, this is ONLY for INDEPENDENTS… if you are a corporation, don’t even BOTHER sending stuff… it will be marked and reported as SPAM!


Rochelle Hope Mehr
Ground Zero:  3rd Anniversary
Parents and grandparents
Enunciating names
Slow, deliberate articulation
Restitching together threads
Irrevocably severed
Gesticulating to heaven
Their souls above
Rest above
Flower’s bloom
Uncontainable in soil
Remember flush of youth
Cry to open sky

Rochelle Hope Mehr
I heard the silences and they shook me,
More than the tessitura of the age.
I stood back and felt the overtones rage —
The implicit took me out of my cage.
The trial and the error of my ways,
Haunting metaphors not to be assuaged,
The open book hooking me deep within,
The curious fancy set on the page.
Between the commonplace and genius lies
A neutral ground.  Could it be anchorage?
Rest on the meridian and time dies,
Light flies, but where is the umbrage?

Rochelle Hope Mehr
Small signs
and wonders
emboldened me
and made me think
there might be something there
beyond the ordinary
I peeked
through the crack
in the pavement
my plodding feet
had dug themselves
right into
Heaven’s abyss
What sort of
plants you
beside the wino
on a seedy street
Where is your winged Pegasus?
Have you only a winding-sheet?
Look away
Avert your gaze
Surely something good
Will arise
From Medusa

Rochelle Hope Mehr
At the Italian Restaurant
I wanted so much
to believe in something
good and pure and simple
the gleam of sheer delight
emanating from the three-year-old
perched on her father’s lap
the expectation of bliss
awaiting her vanilla ice cream
as we all crooned
“Happy Birthday!”
in a restaurant
a public place
she had us all
eating out of the palm
of her hand
as she licked and licked

Rochelle Hope Mehr
Give this old war horse a sop
For he has become a drudge.
He no longer clips air.
No longer rises to the moment.
He hems and haws.
Throttles the last swine
That jams his way.
Lives one more day.

Rochelle Hope Mehr
False Expectations
I sat there trying to convince myself
it meant something to be published in the
poetry anthology along with
all of the eminent people who
wrote their own biographical sketches
in the back.
I sat there and tried and tried
to convince myself
it meant that I had arrived
but then I started reading the poems
and wondered
why they lied.

Rochelle Hope Mehr
A not-so-pleasant discovery
I made about myself:
I want to be in complete control
of my destiny.
Nothing unforeseen
should happen to me.
Even something good.
The unfamiliar frightens me,
Shakes me up through my roots.
I want to hang on to the familiar.
I don’t want to be uprooted.
I don’t want to be shaken up.
I want to dig deep into the good earth.
Resist everything but inertia.

Rochelle Hope Mehr
To an Old Friend
You are still shunning me
If you disapprove of me
In my nightclothes
Take off your glasses
And see me
As I really am.

Rochelle Hope Mehr
Sick and crapped up
For the moment
I’d still rather be myself
Than any one of those I’ve spoken to
Judging me
With their propped-up propriety,
Their regal highnesses
Putting me in my place.
Sick as I am
I’d still rather be myself —
Lonely and afraid,
Chiseled and frayed.




INTERVIEW with Mike Milillo



Zzaj:  We’ve discussed a mutual like (& admiration for) Frank Zappa’s work.  Where did that come from (for you)?  Is his music & compositional style a big influence on your own compositions?



Mike: Frank is the very reason I write music today! I can’t believe the elements he’s used. He’s encompassed just about everything. I want to be as multi-dimensional as possibly. I’m not into writing the same old redundant crap that the media has force fed me with. As for love songs, I simply cannot write a song about some poor girl who is crying on her bed because she found out her boyfriend likes to hump water buffalo…Not for me…I need to be true to this art form because this art form is who I am. I exude sound….



Zzaj:  Since the Internet (& other technologies) have made music-making so accessible to so many, there is a LOT more music available on the net; does this lower the quality of music available, or is that only a “percentage” thing?


Mike: Well as far as lowering the quality, that’s an objective/subjective thing. Whose to say what music is lower or not? I never get into percentages. That’s so irrelevant to me. We’re talking about arranging sound intervals into a personal logical sequence. It’s a personal thing. I would have to get up inside each person to truly understand what they’re doing. I don’t think in terms of a lower element in terms of musicianship…Just an inadequate way of bringing the point across…



Zzaj:  I’ve noticed (in some of your posts) strong leanings towards Buddhist thinking.  How did that come about, & how strong an influence is it in your music/life?



Mike: I have always questioned things. Like my existence for example. When I began to experiment with LSD, this really opened up my thinking, but it did create a bunch of different questions. Through cause and effect I was fortunate to find the book The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda who was a Hindu Yogi/Avatar…Well without getting into detail, because it would take me a week from today to elaborate, Yogananda answered every question I ever had. Now if my practice will ever become fruitful, well that’s another issue…Not an easy thing to do and say as the master does…



Zzaj:    How interested are you in “signing” your music?  Would you turn down a “big company” record exec if they made an offer?


Mike: Well I have said in the past that I don’t really care. But yes I would. Even if they wanted to change my music as originally written. I know in my heart how I write and I will always continue to do that as I’m doing now. At this point in my life I will do anything to get out of my current job. I don’t like it at all and it is a direct antithesis of who I am…For me to turn down money because of my artistic integrity is actually a bunch of bullshit…

I know in my heart what music means to me. And that’s all I need…


 Zzaj:  Do you believe your music, & the talent you have for it, is here to heal “you”, or to (help) heal others?   Both, or neither?


Mike: I have no idea what it’s purpose is. Like I said, I’m just fascinated that I have this ability to organize sound any way I want. There are no boundaries to it. In sound, I am totally free. Hey if it helps someone, sure that’s great. I just like when I’m writing and I come across something really wonderful. Well, that just makes me sit back and smile…So yeah, it helps me not want to be a politician or an attorney or some other gray position that some people strive to be…Hey these people produce sound, but aren’t aware of it…

The difference between them and me is I am aware of sound and it’s possibilities…


Zzaj:   As you probably realize (by now), I’m not especially fond of “political animals”… what would your approach be if you had been commissioned to write a score for a movie designed to help “soothe” these beasts & get them to slow down enough to realize the damage they are doing to the world?


Mike: Well I wouldn’t want to soothe them…I would play 12 tones simultaneously incessantly. I want revenge! I would round up all these mental misfits and put them all in a room and let them listen to all 12 tones for hours. I guarantee they won’t be bothering us anymore…This brings up a point of Weapons of Mass Destruction…Sorry to deviate here…Doesn’t any government know they have the most powerful weapon in the world? That’s sound. Sound could kill and maim… Am I the only one who realizes this? Oops! I let the cat out of the bag…


Zzaj:  You’ve taken a pretty firm stance against drugs in some of our exchanges on Indiehangout.  Is that because your own experience dictates that drugs are a bad thing, or because enlightenment has made you realize how false the drug experience can be?  Or, is it even an important issue for a musician?


Mike: Well for myself, LSD has been one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. I just don’t advocate this particular drug for it’s permanent mind altering ramifications. If your not a secure person to begin with, don’t touch the stuff. And that goes for the other drugs that produce various echelons of euphoria. I don’t advocate anything that a person is in no mental shape to get involved in. Be very careful out there…Be very discernable…


Zzaj:  Seems you are very much multi-instrumental.  What is your favorite instrument to play?


Mike: I’m not multi-instrumental at all. I do play the saxophone, but that’s it. I use the Piano/keyboard to write music, but in no way shape or form am I a piano player. I know a pathetically low number of note organizations with the harmonica.


Zzaj:  What big musical projects (if any) do you have coming up?  Do you approach these projects from the standpoint of “big”, or are they (like mine) just “improvised”, with little planning?


Mike: My classical compositions are not improvised, but are battled with. They’re friggin hard to write! I do go in with an idea and then one idea allows my brain to tell me that this next thing is what I should write. But yes, I do battle all the time and sometimes I agonize over it. I’m a perfectionist. It has to be as perfect as I could get it. I have spent as much as an hour on one measure! I like the sax portion of my writing for the improvised nature of expression. I do have an alter ego because I don’t like to add my sax with my classical. Maybe one day the two will meet. I usually like to come up with an idea and then translate that thought into music. I’m very much a spectator in this life and I see so much to write about. I’m sort of a reporter…For instance I know this wonderful man  from the IndieHangout we call Thumper. His name is Robert Glutch. Well he has such a weird way to write posts. He’s not the best typist in the world, but it is very interesting. I hear rhythms and melodies in everything. Well I always heard sequences in his posts. So I had to write a piece called THUMPER’S TEXT…That’s how I usually approach my writing. Through life’s experiences, no matter how trivial they may seem to another individual…


Zzaj:  This is a question we ask all indie musicians… what are your “words of wisdom” for players (young or old) who are “just starting”? 


Hey it’s very simple. Be truthful to your craft. There is nothing like expression through music. It’s the highest form of expression in my eyes. Show integrity in this art form. I don’t care if your using two notes to do it. It has to come from your heart or it’s meaningless…



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Well, th’ world ain’t a totally LOST CAUSE yet… if you listen to Internet Radio, you’d better head on over to IndieRadioLive I’ve been in there over th’ last months, & they’ve picked up tracks (of mine) in mid-show & played ’em!  Of course, they won’t do that every time, I’m sure, but it’s awfully nice when you can get that level of interactivity.  If you go in their CHAT room, you can talk right to the DJ’s (I’m talkin’ to DJ Wallybob, th’ coolest DJ there, as I write this rant), as well as to many players.  It’s really quite nice, & they really support the artists!  A far CRY from th’ rotgut commercial/payola/crapola stations that abound (still) today. 

     Another site I’ve begun hanging my hat in is the INDIEHANGOUT – this is one of those sites that has (some really great) artists on it, & you can post tracks, as well as get feedback from those other players in there.  I quit “lists” quite some time back, because there were too many “flame” wars… as well as “wannabes”, but that is DEFINITELY not what happens at this site.  You can count on strong support, & not just the “it’s wonderful” variety… the other artists in there won’t hesitate to tell you what you need to do to “tweak” a tune!  Good, solid & constructive criticism that can help you grow as an artist.  I’ve also hooked up with a couple of folks who are into collaboration, & turned out about 4 tracks (thus farly) with a guy named VESA… cool players, cool people, & a great place for INDIE musicians to “hangout”.

     Lastly, there’s a really cool NEW site where you can post tunes… it’s called MIXPOSURE & has some excellent features… almost instant feedback on the tracks you post – plus, the startup is offering free “MIXPRO” acocunts for folks who review the most tunes (that means you have to post at least 15 reviews before the end of December… & how hard is that)?  I’ve been posting my .mp3’s on SOUNDCLICK for at least 3 or 4 years now, & while it’s a wonderful site (they’re very, VERY supportive), they don’t have that “instant gratification” loop plugged in quite as well.  I’ve already got a lot of feedback on my tunes, much of which will enable me to tweak them & make even better music!

     What’s all this trying to say?  Basically, that there are most encouraging signs on th’ net right now, as far as INDIE music is concerned.  I’m happy to be able to say that things look a little better than they did a few months ago!  SHIP your TUNES into these places & see what happens!


Till next time…,



Rotcod Zzaj