Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano - Compassion: The Music Of John Coltrane (Resonance, 2017)

Originally recorded during 2007 in New York City for BBC Radio 3's program Jazz on 3, this album features Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano on saxophones, clarinet and flute, Phil Markowitz on piano, Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Nodding to the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane's premature death, the music is respectful and well played, beginning with "Locomotion" which is from the 1958 John Coltrane album Blue Train, and it sticks to the hard charging hard-bop of the original recording with the saxophonists playing strong riffs and keeping the theme of the performance moving inexorably forward. It's a taut and powerful performance, with a no nonsense approach and driving rhythm. This is followed by a medley of "Central Park West" and "Dear Lord" notable for the ease in stringing together themes from different periods of Coltrane's musical and personal development. The former is one of his most well known and recorded songs, but the latter is from the extraordinary posthumous Transition LP and it is a theme of hard won spiritual growth closely related to A Love Supreme. "Ole" was a sidelong exploratory piece in its original configuration, one of of his earliest performances to include music of different cultures and lands. Liebman uses some haunting flute to set the mood in an exotic hue, before the music returns to strong classic jazz improvisation with tight playing from the rhythm section and solid saxophone solos. There is some more beautiful flute along with clarinet on the thoughtful version of "Reverend King." Another composition from Coltrane's Atlantic Records period is ""Equinox," presented here with a stoic feeling for harmonizing saxophones, and some slashing cymbal play from Billy Hart making way for some interesting solo statements. John Coltrane's "Compassion" was featured on the Meditations LP (later on First Meditations for Quartet) and this also gives Hart space for some excellent percussive work, setting the stage for the group as a whole to come to grips with the musical and philosophical ramifications of the composition. It may lack the go for broke intensity of the original, but like the album as a whole it presents a respectful and thoughtful summation of the influence that this music has had on modern jazz. Compassion - The Music Of John Coltrane - amazon.com

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Monday, August 21, 2017

King Crimson - The Elements Tour Box 2017 (DGMLive, 2017)

When the venerable progressive rock band King Crimson began their 2017 tour, they offered fans another helping of unreleased tracks and rarities, a two disc set containing a mixture of extracts from rehearsals, new live recordings, clips from studio recordings, alternate takes and studio tomfoolery. It's an interesting and compelling set, not one for the uninitiated, but the cognoscenti will be pleased if occasionally flummoxed by the selections. A brief clip of Greg Lake's vocal track from the original "21st Century Schizoid Man" segues into the most recent edition of that band playing an edited version of that iconic song in 2015. Instrumental edits of "In The Wake Of Poseidon" and "Islands" show some rethinking of the band's past, while a crushing live versions of "Easy Money" and "One More Red Nightmare" also from 2015 shows how the current band is reinterpreting the music of the groups past and bringing it fully into the present. There is a nice balance between historical recordings like a manic run through of "The Great Deceiver" and scalding improvisations like an edited version of "Asbury Park" from 1974 and some highlights from the Adrian Below period of the band featuring Steven Wilson's alternate mix of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and live versions of "Heartbeat" and "Sleepless." The second disc goes into a different direction entirely, featuring all four parts of the "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" composition, and presenting the four in live performances that date from 1975 - 2015. These tracks are interspersed with extracts from a session reel entitled "Keep That One Nick" that show snippets of the band in the studio experimenting with motifs and arrangements. Rounding out the second disc is a pounding version of "THRAK" and a fine contemporary version of "Level Five." I found this to be a very interesting and enlightening compilation, with some excellent examples of the band throughout the years although it is not meant to be a historical compilation (that might best be served by the Frame By Frame box set. While it may feel a little little dated, it is a fine overview of the band's work 1969-1991.) But this particular album should please the fanbase, with a mix of unreleased tracks, live recordings and studio chatter, it goes a long way in helping you understand this most inscrutable band. The Elements Tour Box 2017 - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Film: Thomas Chapin - Night Bird Song

Thomas Chapin was one of my musical heroes when I was getting deeply into jazz in the 1990's and his death in 1998 was a shocking loss of one of the most interesting and joyful voices in progressive jazz. This documentary film goes a long way in demonstrating to people who might not be familiar with his work what a protean voice he was on saxophone and flute, and that he was an original composer to boot. He recorded a remarkable series of albums for the Knitting Factory label, each one one audaciously adventurous than the last, anchored by his legendary trio with Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin, one of the finest working groups of the post-war era. Whether playing in the trio format, or adding strings or brass to augment them, the music has a sense of spiritual discovery with each recording, a sensibility that wasn't forced, but one that came from the sheer act of creation and improvisation. As the documentary shows, he embraced the idea of jazz as a "big tent" as Jackie McLean, one of his mentors would put it, anything from swing through free jazz was fair game and was played with equal grace and fire. He was the bandleader for the Lionel Hampton big band for many years in the 1980's and further demonstrated his mainstream jazz credentials with albums for Arabesque and Brazilian jazz experiments. The film is able to take a holistic view of his life and career, moving through his years at music school and then interweaving footage of him in concert, especially some electrifying trio music from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1995, with revealing interview segments with friends and colleagues. There is a very touching interview with his wife, detailing how they met after he stopped her in her tracks while playing flute in Grand Central Station, and then his lengthy trip through Africa, through to his diagnosis and eventual passing away from leukemia. But this isn't really a memorial film, it is a celebration of a remarkable musician and person who made the most of his incredible talent in the short time he had available. Thomas Chapin Film Project

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Harriet Tubman - Araminta (Sunnyside, 2017)

Named after the hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman consists of Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and JT Lewis on drums. On this album, they are joined by the legendary trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and it was an inspired invitation, making this a strong and vital album. "The Spiral Path To The Throne" opens the album with bouncy fuzz distortion, creating stark relief for the trumpet's soaring sound, focused by light subtle drumming which opens space for trumpet and electric guitar accents. The group creates a wide spectrum for trio and trumpet, developing fast tempo and pushing hard in the final minute, with a ripe guitar solo leading the way. Bass and drums create a fractured funky rhythm for "Taken," with strong trumpet lashing and prowling, using the space to develop a strong track that has shards of guitar, blasts of trumpet and an unusual rhythm that anchors it all. Smith's tone and technique allow him to fit in and thrive, developing a real rapport with the trio. "Ne Ander" has wild overdriven electric bass and guitar with crushing drums clearing the way for Smith's trumpet. Thumping rhythms and unrestrained guitar and effects create a very hot trio improvisation, stratospheric music, improvising through cosmic jazz as Smith rejoins and blasts the music to new heights with an epic trumpet solo. They head for home with snarling and distorted bass and guitar with a thudding beat, framed by sparks and swirls of trumpet. There is a respectful opening with golden tones of trumpet on "Nina Simone," slowly filling the space with melancholy sound, stark yearning trumpet framed by subtle electronics and cymbals. This is a tribute created on its own terms, thoroughly modern and as mysterious as the dedicatee. "Real Cool Killers," named after an excellent Chester Himes novel starts out in an appropriately noirish fashion before unleashing gritty bass and drums with smears of distorted guitar piercing the air around them, playing loud muscular power trio music. There were definitely some more avant-garde things at play, but the music remains very accessible. Smith returns on the fast and exciting performance "President Obama's Speech At The Selma Bridge" with stoic trumpet and fast paced drumming unfolding into a powerful statement with strong guitar and bass along for the ride. There is a definite electric Miles vibe here, with Ross firing off Pete Cosey level blasts of guitar, met with sections of throbbing bass and drums. "Sweet Araminta" concludes the album on a thoughtful note, opening space for electronics, deleting a reflective coda for what has come before. This was an excellent album of wildly exciting music that combines many aspects of modern music, and focuses them into a concentrated and powerful set of performances. Araminta - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Max Johnson - In the West (Clean Feed, 2017)

Bassist and composer Max Johnson has had a wide ranging musical career, performing with luminaries from the jazz, rock and bluegrass world in addition to developing an excellent series of albums as a leader in the progressive jazz vein. This album has a very interesting setting, featuring Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, Kris Davis on piano and Mike Pride on drums. Pulling from a disparate variety of sounds, this group moves through four diverse compositions, beginning with "Ten Hands," which builds in a suite like configuration, continually shifting the focus of the music and its inherent improvisation as it develops and expands motifs as well as solo sections and duo pairings within the overall structure of the piece. Whether it is percussive piano, droning steel guitar and bowed bass or a rattling drum feature, the music remains vibrant and colorful. "Greenwood" uses a large amount of space and takes its time in development, bringing about a spontaneous creative environment with spare piano framed by light guitar, bass and drums. There is a sense of freedom and drive that is further advanced by the performance by increasing volume and adding complex rhythm, with touches of piano notes and chords meeting ropes of steel guitar and shimmering cymbals before fading back to a quiet conclusion. Piano and percussion percolate and flutter against the steel guitar on "Great Big Fat Person" eventually opening the music to a wide range of ideas. Subtle but complex themes are built and extrapolated upon, and interesting details brought into the foreground. Drops of golden sounding guitar accents the frenetic pace of the piano and drums leading to a powerful collective improvisation. “Once Upon a Time in the West” is the only non-original, having been composed by Ennio Morricone for the classic western film of the same name. Here the song is re-arranged by Johnson, but it retains the dynamic and cinematic outlook, over an impressive twenty-one minute length. Incorporating mournful bass bowing which leads to an excellent free sounding improvisation where all the instruments are deep in conversation. This track also resolves itself over several sections, such as ones for spare piano or bass and others for the full band, and builds to a large and wide ranging soundscape. The group is able to evoke the huge landscapes and wide vistas of the American southwest over the course of the album, drawing on the rich musical, cinematic and artistic history of the area to develop a compelling statement. In the West - amazon.com

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Interesting links 8/13/2017

Rolling Stone re-examines the impact of The Beatles on the crimes of Charles Manson and his Family.
Hank Shteamer reviews the early to middle 1970's work of Deep Purple.
AAJ features an interview with modern jazz musician Craig Taborn.
Henry Rollins takes a rueful look at his burgeoning record collection.
Phil Freeman takes an interesting look at the 1970's recordings of pianist Keith Jarrett.
Jim Knipfel reflects on the music of Sun Ra.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey carves a very interesting path on this album, investigating the areas in which jazz improvisation, classical music and modern composition mingle. He is joined on this album by Cory Smythe on piano, toy piano and electronics and Chris Tordini on bass, and they make their way through this shadowy music with tact and dignity. "Cascade in Slow Motion" is the opening track, featuring subtle and spacious percussion using both brushes and sticks, along with spare piano and bass. The music waxes and wanes, but retains an air of mystery throughout. The concept of space and comfort with it are the hallmarks of the second performance, "Flowers for Prashant" which blurs the line between composition and improvisation, and melds them together allowing the music to develop its own language and cadence. Tordini's bowed bass matches the quiet, soft piano which uses slow tumbling notes that probe at the silence, creating motion that lingers just beneath the exterior. Smythe's piano rings and reverberates moments of crystalline beauty which fracture and disperse the path of the music, storing potential energy, and then releasing it to open into a deeper meaning. "Obsidian" develops eerie strokes of sound, and mysterious subtle manipulation of the music with electronics adds a new dimension to the proceedings. Dark piano chords, skittering over the keyboard and scattered percussion allow the musicians to investigate a wider musical soundscape. The group is able to use repetition to build the tension in the music, which is a hallmark of Sorey's music that goes back to his first album, That/Not, which used aspects of minimalism and non jazz techniques. This music utilizes a wide array of percussion, combined with judicious use of electronics to explore a wider textural soundscape, allows for flexibility in interpreting the music, which develops into a faster undercurrent of anxiety with thick bass and alarming chords focused by circling rolls of the percussionist which succeed in building an ominous sense of foreboding.  "Algid November" and "Contemplating Tranquility" are each massive performances that investigate the nature of silence and quiet within the music. It sounds like the instruments are in a large empty room and trying to close the gap between them. This is an apt metaphor for the music as a whole, a deeply meditative experience that allows ideas of deep substance to be conveyed with the utmost restraint. Verisimilitude - amazon.com

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