This collective band consists of Sabir Mateen on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Stefano Ferrian on alto and tenor saxophones, Luca Pissavini on bass and Andrea Quattrini on drums. This is a disc length album of spontaneous music which was recorded live at the Novara Jazz Festival in 2010. The music ranges from the farthest out free jazz to subtle moments of swing. There are some excellent exchanges of saxophone and clarinet on The Unexpected” while the scalding improvisation of “No Questions For Tomorrow” leads into the surprisingly lyrical “Smoking the Past.” All of these separate threads are woven together on “The Dewey Song” an epic improvisation packed with strong soloing and complex interplay that leaves the listener exhausted but wanting more. I was originally drawn to this disc by Sabir Mateen, who is one of my favorite musicians. He plays as brilliantly as expected, but so does the rest of the group who play all out and do whatever it takes in service of the music. The Unexpected - amazon.com
Coming on the heels of his excellent 2013 release Live at Smalls (one of my top ten albums from last year) pianist Harold Mabern seems ready to keep a good thing going by once again reuniting with John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums in a live setting. Mabern is a veteran musician and plays with absolute authority and the trio is well accustomed to each other. The program is a varied one, ranging from a deep and powerful version of "My Favorite Things" with Mabern's strong playing recalling McCoy Tyner's work on John Coltrane's famous version of the song. Be the trio is beholden to no one and makes a fine statement of their own on this performance. From this to the Laverne and Shirley theme song (!) "Making our Dreams Come True" is a wide leap, but you get the feeling that they could make do with almost any raw material. But it is the jazz standards that show them at their finest, like on a melodic version of "Seven Steps To Heaven" with Mabern pounding out a percussive version of the well known melody, before drifting into a fine improvised section. They wrap thing up with a blistering version of "Cherokee" and they run through the classic bebop standard with speed and mastery. This is a very fine album, and is highly recommended to fans of mainstream jazz. Right on Time - amazon.com
Buffalo, NY native saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has a conception of music that is as modern as tomorrow, while his gospel roots have a connection to the spiritual jazz of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane. He says that being paired with veteran downtown improvisers William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums was “a humbling experience” but he holds his own in admirable fashion. “Divine” opens the album with a personal saxophone sound that has a touch of the coarseness of Albert Ayler, a lonely haunted sound, but one that is also at home playing in a melodic fashion, fitting in well with the thick bass and light percussion. “Desensitized” features ripe trio playing developing a complex rhythmic foundation. Lewis builds a fine swirling pattern of improvisation and there is ample support from the unbeatable team of Parker and Cleaver. There are a couple of episodes of music with spoken word accompaniment where the trio performs with the poet Thomas Sayers Ellis on tracks “The Preacher’s Baptist Beat” and “Organized Minorities.” But the focus of the disc is on the trio and their interaction throughout the album. An excellent example of this is “Wading Child in the Motherless Water” where the raw and sharply pointed saxophone Lewis conjures is spun out at length, building with both power and grace. He manipulates repetitive blocks of sound until he has constructed his own launching pad that can blast him into mighty flights of improvisation. Following hot on its heels is “A Gathering of Souls” which begins with the band playing in a pliant and flexible manner. Patience is once again the key to Lewis’ success as constructs a lengthy solo with a firm raw nature and a white-hot flame over blazing bass and drums. This was a very well played album by a talented newcomer on the jazz scene. It is a pleasant surprise that a major label will support a truly progressive musician and allow him to record challenging music with a team as talented as Parker and Cleaver. Let’s hope this is a trend that continues. Divine Travels - amazon.com
Machine Mass is a very interesting experimental fusion band formed around core members Michel Deville on guitar and electronics and Tony Bianco on drums and loops. Joining them on this particular album is the well known jazz musician Dave Liebman, here playing tenor and soprano saxophones as well as wood flute. This album was recorded in Pennsylvania in 2012 live in the studio with no overdubs which is impressive considering the complex electronic and acoustic elements at play. The most obvious reference point for this music may be the electric jazz fusion of Miles Davis, especially when Liebman held down the saxophone chair in the Davis groups of the early 1970’s. This new version of the Davis/Joe Zawinul standard “In A Silent Way” touches on this, but in a very oblique way. With Liebman on flute along with electronics and subtle percussion, the group is able to touch on the enigmatic nature of the original recording. But they are also capable of rocking out with impunity, especially Delville, who can hold his own with anyone on the progressive scene with towering riffs and majestic soloing best exemplified on the opening tracks “Inti” and “Centipede” and the slow building “Elisabeth.” Bianco, who has helped craft two extraordinary John Coltrane tribute albums with Paul Dunmall acquits himself quite well here, driving the music along and using the looping technology to develop wider percussion textures. This album worked very well, coming off as both exciting and enjoyable, using spontaneous improvisation to create excellent music, most of which were first takes. Inti - amazon.com
Near the Oasis is a collaboration between pianist François Tusques and the criminally underrated alto saxophone and English horn player Sonny Simmons. Simmons was a contemporary of the great Eric Dolphy and used Dolphy's musical discoveries as a launching pad for his own unique style of playing. This album was recorded at the 16th Vision Festival, in the spring of 2011. The open with the lengthy track “Near The Oasis/L'Alexandrin Africain” which features Simmons’ English horn (Cor Anglais). They dig in deep soil turning over idea after idea before letting them loose. This is a rarely used instrument in jazz and it has a wonderfully evocative ancient and eastern feel, an exotic and biting tone and is carries this medley into unexpected and interesting places. They take on two Thelonious Monk compositions, “Round Midnight” and “Bolivar Blues” both of which work quite well. Tusques is in his element here, skirting the melodies and then referencing them in an unexpected fashion. Simmons clearly loves the possibilities that these songs allow him and responds accordingly. They even reference bebop with a performance of the Dizzy Gillespie standard “A Night in Tunisia.” It is noted on Simmons’ website that “He is a bop native, that’s where he comes from. Free-jazz was only an extension of the idiom, and, to his taste, still is.” This is a really fine performance and album. Simmons and Tusques are really focused in a simpatico fashion. Moving from free to bebop and remaining unpredictable throughout. Near the Oasis - Improvising Beings.
After guitarist Pat Metheny’s successful Unity album and tour, he keeps the crew from the last album intact, Chris Potter on saxophones, Ben Williams on bass and Antonia Sanchez on drums, but adds a few new wrinkles. First is the addition of his orchestrion contraption which allows him to fill out the sound further and can be used as an arranging tool to frame soloists. The second is the addition of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Giulio Carmassi, who adds a further dimension to the music. This works very well on the lengthy opener “On Day One” where the music builds and then unleashes Chris Potter for an outstanding saxophone solo, filled with vigor. The album as a whole is very good. I was a little skeptical at first, wondering why he would change a good thing, but clearly Metheny knew what he was doing. This could be a watershed album for Metheny, a middle ground where the more friendly and accessible sound of the Pat Metheny Group meets the strong modern jazz of the Unity Band and other jazzier Metheny albums like Rejoicing and 80/81. Kin - amazon.com
Drummer Franklin Kiermyer takes the legacy of the great spiritual jazz players like Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane and brings the sound into the 21st century with this excellent album of challenging and bracing jazz. Accompanying him on this album are Azar Lawrence on saxophones, Benito Gonzalez on piano and Juni Booth on bass. The music is akin to the wonderfully punishing albums McCoy Tyner recorded for Milestone in the early 1970’s Atlantis and Enlightenment, which were potent modal jazz albums that also featured a young Azar Lawrence. While it might not be entirely free per se, the music is extremely powerful and emotionally resonant. The band as a whole is a powerful machine, in both their solo sections as well as when they are collectively improvising. Lawrence in particular is a revelation. After keeping a low profile for a while, he has returned with a vengeance, plowing through these improvisations with great abandon. Kiermyer knows how to put together excellent bands that are tailor-made for his compositions, on his 1994 album he employed Pharoah Sanders and John Esposito to excellent effect on the album Solomon's Daughter and then on the follow-up Kairos, the very underrated Eric Person was featured. Franklin Kiermyer has only recorded sporadically over the past two decades, but when he has the music has been memorable. Hopefully this excellent album can spur renewed interest and more recordings. Further - Franklin Kiermyer.com.
NoBusiness Records is a small but scrappy music label based in Vilnius, Lithuania. They have grown over the past few years into into a major supporter of the avant-garde side of jazz, both in Europe and The United States, offering comprehensive reissues and contemporary projects on compact disc and LP. They can be reached by e-mail or through their website. This is a roundup of their most recent releases:
Daunik Lazro and Joelle Leandre - Hasparren This is a duet performance between Daunik Lazro on baritone saxophone and Joelle Leandre on bass. Recorded in southwestern France during 2011, this is very patient music that develops low textures over the course of a continually improvised performance that is nominally broken up into six parts entitled Hasparren 1-6. Just when they lull you into a false sense of calm, Lazro lets loose with a withering blast of sound just to keep you on your toes.
2° etage - Grey Matter This is a collective group made up of Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet and bugle, Christine Wodrascka on piano and Gerry Hemingway on drums and percussion. Recorded in France during 2012, the music has a quiet and subtle flavor, with barely perceptible brass and percussion and scattered piano notes. After setting the stage, the musicians are building the proceedings to a more complex and swirling swing of their very own.
Kidd Jordan, Alvin Fielder and Peter Kowald - Trio and Duo in New Orleans This is a wonderful recording of a avant-garde jazz super-group consisting of Kidd on tenor saxophone, Fielder on drums and Kowald on bass. Consisting of three different sessions, all recorded in New Orleans, and as the title indicates the group plays as a trio on some tracks but also breaks off into different duo couplings as the music progresses. The recording waxes and wanes between raucous free jazz passages and subtle sections to excellent effect.
Mikołaj Trzaska, Devin Hoff and Michael Zerang - Sleepless in Chicago This a taught recording featuring the collective group of Mikołaj Trzaska on alto saxophone, Devin Hoff on bass and Michael Zerang on drums. This is a limited edition LP (300 copies available) and consists of two side-long tracks: “Elastic” recorded in 2011 and “Skylark” in 2012, they have the opportunity to spin out into open space and allow their performances to develop organically. You would hardly know that the two sides were recorded a year apart.
YAPP - Symbolic Heads YAPP is a collective band consisting of Bryan Rogers on tenor saxophone, Alban Bailly on guitar, Matt Engle on bass and David Flaherty on drums. Recorded in Philadelphia during December of 2011, this is a limited edition LP (300 copies available) and a quite melodic album. The music flows quite naturally and gently, coursing along plot-lines derived by the musicians who make a quietly powerful statement.
The Magic Band is led by former members of the band of the great avant-garde rock musician Captain Beefheart, aka Don Van Vleit. Original members John "Drumbo" French, Danny "Feelers Reebo" Walley and Mark "Rockette Morton" Boston delve deeply into the Captain’s music in their own unique way. Recorded live in London on March 16, 2013, the band is involved in making a true musical statement of the legacy of the great Captain Beefheart. The album begins with some classics from the Beefheart canon like the wonderfully titled “My Human Gives Me Blues” and the absolutely stomping “Diddy Wah Diddy.” The music is quite angular but it remains accessible throughout, like on “Owed T’Alex” with shards of guitar and deeply rhythmic percussion. The ominous “When It Blows Its Stacks” is a revelation, with the band building the tension along with the haunting and disturbing lyrics Better watch out there’s a man eater around/Hide all the women in town/When it blows its stacks… Things build to a deeply coiled tension before a powerful release. Overall this is a well done album, and must have been a great show to attend in person. The Magic Band does a wonderful job of keeping the music and legacy of one of America’s most unique musicians alive and well. The Magic Band Plays the Music of Captain Beefheart - Live in London 2013 - amazon.com