Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Nicole Mitchell / Tomeka Reid / Mike Reed - Artifacts (482 Music, 2015)

This group is an all-star trio of younger members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) who came together celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization in a concert in Seattle early in 2015. Flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, and drummer Mike Reed opened their performance with the track “Composition 23B” which begins with fast flute and nervously tapped cymbals. Cello and drums set a wonderful solid foundation for Mitchell’s flute to fly over. Her swirls build to a speedy, choppy section and a short complex drum solo. Bouncy flute, cello and deft brushes send “Jo Jar” off on a light, dancing feel. Reid plays very well, first bowing then plucking his instrument and allowing every one to follow his lead in this pleasant, warm and melodic performance. “Have Mercy Upon Us” harkens back to the spiritual jazz of the 1960’s with the lower toned flute and cello backing Mitchell as she begins a ceremonial incantation. Long tones of flute are juxtaposed against Mitchell chanting the title phrase over and over in a hypnotic fashion. A solemn cello opens “BK” before drums and spritely flute brighten the scene, building faster, with the flute first chirping and then laying out streams and ribbons of sound. Then there is a nice section of collective improvisation before the final member of the trio gets his solo spot, and Reed makes the most of a solo that is lithe and subtle. "Munkt Munk" has a very angular light scattering sensibility, allowing a wonderful bowed section for Reid and the band as a whole to move through this unusual music with alacrity. Finally, “Light on the Path” opens with Mitchell’s flute playing in an unfettered fashion punctuated by short punchy breaths as the cello and drums are locked in below. This is a great solo that is flying high, calling out to the past masters and the new wave, trading phrases with Reid’s high pitches cello on her return to Earth. The compositions on this album were from older and often founding members of the AACM, and it is clear that tradition of the past has met innovation of the present on this album. This was the goal of the organization from the very beginning, this was a wonderful album and the institution is in good hands. Artifacts -

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Jon Irabagon - Behind the Sky (Irabbagast Records, 2015)

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon has had an excellent year: this is his second solo album in addition to two discs with the wonderful collective Mostly Other People Do the Killing along with high profile sideman appearances. This album takes a more traditional modern mainstream approach to jazz, showing yet another side of this multifaceted musician.  Joining him are Luis Perdomo on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Tom Harrell is a guest star on trumpet, flugelhorn for three tracks. “One Wish” opens the album with a contemporary jazz sound, bright and accessible, with a fully controlled mainstream vibe. There is a stable piano, bass and drums section that develops a choppy feel, before the leader’s saxophone returns in a confident manner adding a little more grit to his tone in the end. Fast quartet swing envelops “The Cost of Modern Living” which gives way to a very rapid and vibrant saxophone solo, which is non-stop in its excitement. After a quick interlude for the piano, bass and drums team, Irabagon slams back in accompanied by a deft drum section. “Music Box Song (For When We’re Apart)” is a ballad featuring lush saxophone and spare accompaniment building a dark lyrical feel that allows him to extrapolate a saxophone solo that develops in depth as well as sound. Trumpeter Tom Harrell joins the group on “Still Water,” and he adds an attractive, rounded tone to the proceedings. Beginning with minimal backing he builds his solo as the rest of the group folds in with led by nice buoyant bass before the leader reenters and offers a storming solo of his own with rolling drums and airy trumpet underneath. “Sprites” has Irabagon playing exciting swirls on a soprano saxophone, and the trio provides him a nice choppy foundation to improvise over. The piano trio’s own section is a touch slower, with choppy percussion building a fine rhythm, moving fast and strong and launching the leaders returning saxophone into orbit. Harrell joins the quartet again on “Eternal Springs” where his airy tone is met by punches of saxophone, and the full band comes together for some excellent ensemble play. “Behind the Sky (Hawks and Sparrows)” concludes the album nicely with Irabagon switching between tenor and soprano saxophones. Sections for both horns are nicely built, brick by brick becoming firmer until the group is going flat out. While much of the album examines grieving and the way we sadness, Behind the Sky displays Jon Irabagon at his most accessible yet still exploratory and witty. Behind the Sky -

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

John Zorn - Inferno (Tzadik, 2015)

The work of philosopher August Strindberg, a prolific writer during the turn of the twentieth century, inspires this album of John Zorn’s compositions. Performing these compositions is a trio consisting of John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar. The music incorporates jazz, fusion and heavy rock into a fascinating crucible. “The Dance of Death” opens the album with strong drums and heavy guitar, reminiscent of Tony Williams great Emergency band from the early 1970’s, but blasted into the here and now. The music becomes hot and very fast with the drums thrashing, the guitar grinding and the organ shimmering above it all. The music is epic, heavy and intricate. The heavy metal feel of the guitar continues on “Pariah” where Grohowski develops a fine backbeat allowing Medeski and Hollenberg to go completely over the top in their improvisations. “Ghost Sonata” uses big slabs of sound to develop an oppressive feel to the music that still allows the musicians to duck and weave around; using the sheer weight of the music they are creating to sculpt their improvisations. They are able to add elements of heavy metal to jazz with confident assurance. The centerpiece of the album is “Inferno” an epic piece of music running over twenty minutes in length. The music is patient and dynamic, beginning with a quiet opening, as if it was the beginning of a ritual that was being performed. This adventurous piece of music unfolds like a suite, with sections of lightning fast interplay and ferocious sound but also softer jazzier sections. They use silence as an instrument at one point, dropping out entirely before the full trio comes roaring back in with one of their densest improvisations. The performance is very impressive and quite a feat for the trio to perform. The remaining performances are much shorter, “Blasphemy” is barely two minutes, but lifts off immediately with super fast organ and an absolutely torrid guitar solo and drum interlude that packs a hard hitting wallop. “The Powers” has a brief solo drum opening then a fast and furious guitar solo that leads the trio through a section of high speed improvisation that is scarily good. Finally, “Dreamplay” offers a slower and more mysterious atmosphere, where Hollenberg’s guitar strings long tones of liquid sound before latching onto a riff that brings the band crashing down with it’s full monstrous weight thundering to the conclusion. With Zorn's endless curiosity and the power of these excellent musicians, the music here transcends most categorization, combining the power of extreme rock and roll with improvised jazz and unique compositions to create a very powerful statement. Inferno -

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book: Henry Rollins - Get in the Van (2.13.61, 1994)

Henry Rollins was the contentious vocalist for the pioneering hardcore punk band Black Flack from 1981-1986. This book is made up of diary written during their long tours around the United States and occasionally Europe. Rollins' writing is as controversial and your face as his lyrics and on stage personae. Like much of the hardcore scene the band lived hand to mouth and on the margins of society, playing in the most rundown clubs where violence was away of live and the threat of police brutality was omnipresent. Rollins misanthropy and self-imposed isolation is a major theme of the book, when he is off the road, he lives in a shed in guitarist Greg Ginn's backyard, and on the road he will avoid fans and fellow bandmates to the point of belligerence. There are some fascinating aspects of the book that diverge slightly from the nihilistic narrative. The brilliant and disturbing flyers drawn by by Raymond Pattibon, make the case for him as the R. Crum as the hardcore scene. There are also a number of fine pictures of the band at action and at rest. But the hate simply streams from the book, advocating the killings of pigs (police)and their entire families and the (justifiable) loathing of skinheads. At it's best, the book describes the sheer rush and freedom that hardcore offered the musicians and the fans. Wasting away in your house isn't the answer; even if leaves you alienated from much of society. He fights loneliness and self-hurt (psychological and physical) and uses that to create energy for is ferocious stage performances. The revelation that the idea of not fitting in is not failing and that no one is at fault resonated with the audience and gave them hope when the "real" world is full of backstabbing, lies and unreasonable expectations. Rollins and Black Flag were true outsiders with an us vs. the world attitude that drove them relentlessly forward to record and tour at an insane pace, and create amazing music inside a crucible of pressure and pain. Get in the Van -

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tisziji Munoz - Alpha Nebula Expanded: The Monster Peace (Tisziji Munoz, 2015)

Originally recorded in 1997, this album by guitarist Tisziji Munoz has been remixed and expanded with the edition of newly recorded piano by keyboardist John Medeski. The remainder of the band consists of Ra Kalam Bob Moses and Franklin Kiermyer on drums and percussion and Don (Yaka) Pate and John (Chait) Lockwood on bass. The instruments are brought forward and have a great sense of immediacy and the music has a very hot sense of burning free fusion. “Burnsign of the Arisen” begins the album in an uptempo fashion with extended electric guitar playing in an imaginary world where Sonny Sharrock was melded with Jimi Hendrix. Drums keep pace, but Munoz overwhelms all else before a final section of rippling piano. The scorching spiritual jazz on “Goodbye Sweet Mother” makes the music particularly emotional with shimmering cymbals pushing the strapping guitar further and further out. Munoz will introduce short riffs and then with spin them out relentlessly until there seems to be a light addition of piano at the end. “Creating Gentle Fierceness” builds quickly with electric guitar and drumming and splashes of keyboard garnishing the top. Grinding sections of guitar trio are played off of lighter sections of piano trio, with everybody exploring the lower ends of their instruments and the dark sides of their music. Unaccompanied electric guitar sparks fireballs across the sky to begin “Stillness Before Ascent” before bass and drums come crashing into give it the modern version of the sixties new thing spiritual kick. The whole band is just killing it, creating fires by sparking off of one another to the point of becoming too fast, too strong and too much. Since it is not possible to get any more intense than the prior piece, “Angelic Origination” begins as a ballad that has sad sounding, longer tones of guitar along with light bass and drums. They ratchet the temperature up slowly until it is approaching a boil before breaking into a heavy sound and improvising freely around it. The short but incredibly powerful “Fearlessness” opens with some subtle piano before there is a quick count off and the sound of the massive guitar trio hitting the ground running and taking the music into ecstatic territory nearly immediately. The zero to orbit speed is jarring even to the musicians since someone is screaming in the background. Well worth it though, since this track is short and staggering. “Mastering the Seed of Creation” has the bass and drums unit setting the scene for laser like bursts of guitar. Short spikes repeating with some piano notes bubbling up but nearly overwhelmed by the volume of the trio and the blazing fast speed of the band which is clearly feeling the spirit. This was an excellent if a little exhausting double album, and fans of electric guitar in either a jazz or rock setting will be thrilled. Medeski’s contribution is somewhat limited, but he does make his presence known, and this effort of modern spiritual jazz is highly recommended. Alpha Nebula Expanded: The Monster Peace -

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