The legendary composer, arranger and keyboardist Sun Ra carved a unique path though music for nearly fifty years, releasing scores of albums on platforms ranging from major labels to self pressed rarities. In addition to the LP format, he also released dozens of limited edition seven inch singles that covered a massive range of material from doo-wop to spoken word and instrumental jazz. Most of these 45s were only pressed in small runs and were sold at concerts and have since become extremely rare. There was a two-CD collection released in the mid-1990's by the Evidence Label, and this new release adds additional recordings, a new remastering of the music as well as new liner notes, interviews and photographs. The breadth of the music is astonishing with Ra and the band backing vocal ensembles like The Nu Sounds on the sugary sweet "Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lies" and the saccharine "It's Christmas Time" by The Qualities to an extended version of his epochal "Nuclear War" where Ra sings the unforgettable refrain "If they push that button, your ass gotta go! Whatcha gonna go without your ass?" In between there is classic Sun Ra Arkestra material like "Saturn," "Velvet" and "Medicine for a Nightmare" which showed not only Ra's skill as a composer and arranger, but the brilliance of the band and their ability to take the leaders raw material and shape it into indelible performances. As the group moved into the late sixties and beyond, Ra begins to incorporates a battery of electronic instruments, which bumped up the tempo on the thoroughly bizarre "I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman" and the futuristic synth and saxophones of "The Perfect Man." If you are a Sun Ra fan or a partisan of outsider music, this collection is a blast to hear. It is extraordinary that the diversity of this music could come from just one man, but considering that the man in question is Herman "Sonny" Poole Blount aka Sun Ra, the man from Saturn, it's not surprising at all, just inspiring. Singles - amazon.com
Piano Song is a trio album with Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums, and it may very well be pianist Matthew Shipp's last album, though he will continue to curate the Blue Series for Thirsty Ear Records. This is an excellent recording, where his unique percussive and dynamic style is on full display during "Cosmopolitan" and Shipp is excellently accompanied by Bisio's elastic and imaginative bass playing and Baker's open ended and thoughtful percussion. Both of these men take excellent solos on this selection, and it makes for a modern jazz powerhouse, accessible as the best mainstream jazz while as unfettered as the most vanguard avant-garde music. Soft and repetitive percussion becomes unnerving on "Blue Desert" as you get the sense of time running out and droplets of piano and subtle bass add to the atmospheric tension. You can imagine this performance accompanying a impressionistic noir film, where the dark wet streets are filled with a sense of dread. "Silence Of" develops a definite sense of space with gentle brushes and deft bass work offsetting Shipp's carefully chosen notes. The music is impressive in its restraint, making for something which is under control or within carefully chosen limits as it develops a cohesive narrative. There is a tight groove to "Flying Carpet" with thick bass and drums and explosive dark piano chords that ratchet up the tension and the dynamic structure of the music. "Scrambled Brain" has deep seated bass and cymbals setting the pace, intertwining together, and developing a tight and powerful groove. Shipp lays out completely and allows the other two musicians to create in real time, and allowing his accompanists to shine. He returns with a vengeance on the jaunty "Microwave" which mixes Monk with a march with exciting results. The trio improvises collectively in a very exciting fashion, and everyone is at the top of their game. The connective tissue of "Links" is a haunting solo piano excursion, where the notes seem to hang in space as if suspended there, and it exemplifies the nature of the music on this album, which creates thoughtful and mature sounds made by three musicians with great compassion and dignity, which is a generous gift in these uncertain times. Piano Song - amazon.com
Drummer Jim Black leads a subtle and interesting new band by adding electronics to his arsenal in the company of Oskar Guojonsson on tenor saxophone, Elias Stemeseder keyboards and Chris Tordini on electric bass. Despite the amped up potential of this group, most of the music is actually quite reserved and understated, with long breathy tones of saxophone, and discreet use of electronic instruments and percussion. The music came into focus during a recent European tour where the band experimented with structures and song forms, looking to develop their own sound. "Almost Awake" opens the album with some appropriately dreamy textures, before things start to grow organically and develop a stronger rhythmic foundation. Their sense of forward motion really begins to pick up and powers them through the rest of the performance. A splashy percussive sound in found during "Into the Pool" where Guojonsson's lighter toned saxophone weaves in and around the nervous rhythm and electronic shadings. The squiggles of the electronics are at the forefront on this selection, making for an interesting sound stage. "Just Turned Two" develops an atmospheric sensibility with ominous sounds swirling, before building to a sci-fi cinematic groove and the pace of the song waxes and wanes dynamically and unpredictably. There is an alluring choppiness to the rhythm of "Full Dish" with keyboards and bass swirling mysteriously around it, along with a soft breeze of saxophone. The music slowly gains momentum, with a galloping percussive sound juxtaposed against languid saxophone. "Plugged" has a funky groove that works well with some slashing drums and electronics and grounded saxophone that shows the band at their most effusive. The group came up with the idea of emulating mix tapes and playlists during their tour, taking an approach where the music would evolve rapidly, allowing them to structure improvisation and composition in a way that keeps the listener engaged and the band excited about the music. Malamute - amazon.com
In early 2016 at the behest of John Zorn, multi-reedist Ken Vandermark curated a week long series of concerts at the experimental music landmark The Stone, in New York City. Calling his residency New York/United States/Europe, Vandermark gathered a group of old friends and a few new faces, and this boxed set gathers six of the twelve sets presented during this series. This collection focuses on the groups that were brought together for the occasion beginning with a set featuring Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Chris Corsano on drums and Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones. It is an inspired meeting, with two lengthy improvisations allowing Vandermark to move to clarinet at times, and his tone is nicely complimented by Laubrock's tenor and soprano saxophone. The piano and drums work wonders, pushing and framing the music which is well paced and thoughtful. The trio of Vandermark, Joe McPhee on tenor saxophone and Mat Maneri on viola struck out for more abstract terrain by moving away from a set pulse and allowing their music to develop freely and organically over the course of six spontaneously improvised pieces. The heat is turned back up, at times way up, on the following set where Vandermark is joined by Ned Rothenberg on saxophones, Havard Wiik on piano and Tom Rainey on drums. Theirs is a three part set, each progressively shorter than the last, and there is a lot of fiery and exciting interplay between the musicians as the reed players streak across the sky and the piano and drums alternate between torrential bursts and moody streams. The concert featuring Vandermark with Ikue More on electronics, Joe Morris on guitar and Nate Wooley on trumpet moves in a different direction. Over the course of one long improvisation, the musicians explore a wide range of territory with the unpredictable sounds of live electronics adding tone and shading and the always interesting guitar of Morris skittering and scurrying into the nooks and crannies of the music. Wooley is the ideal partner for this music, complementing Vandermark's statements with short bursts and long tones of sound. The powerhouse quartet of Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Steve Swell on trombone and William Parker on bass makes for thrilling improvisational music that breaks down any differentiation between front line and rhythm section, by melding into a very exciting collective unit that has decades of experience in situations like this and makes the most of it. The final group was a fascinating one with the leader in the company of Christof Kurzmann on ppoll and electronics, Marina Rosenfeld on turntable and electronics and Okkyung Lee on cello. Over one long improvisation, the musicians develop a sound that waxes and wanes with the electronics and cello making for a great canvas for Vandermark to solo over as well as engage with as a whole. Each disc on this collection has its own distinct feel, presenting six individual journeys within the whole. All of the musicians are acutely aware of their surroundings, and the inspiration that they drew from one another was palpable. Momentum 1: Stone - Audiographic Records.
Originally from the Soviet Union, pianist Simon Nabatov has built a very successful career, with many interesting projects as a solo pianist, collaborator and educator. This album consists of two solo recordings made eighteen years apart, the first a selection of Thelonious Monk compositions from 1995, the second a concert from 2013 in which Nabatov first employed electronic instruments in performance to create a doppelganger of the piano. There is an interesting dichotomy with the pieces from different instruments and time periods interspersed within one another. Nabatov has a natural and rich approach to the piano, beginning with an infectious version of Monk's "Skippy" that dances and sways, easing the listener into the pianists conception of music. There are four untitled tracks called "Electroacoustic Extension" which are his experiments into electronics. These can vary from using the electronics to develop a clipped rhythm, to selections that offer the sounds of a player piano in outer space. Nabatov isn't afraid to experiment, and if those selections start to intimidate the listener, he is quick to add further Monk interpretations, whether the more obscure "Oska T" to the familiar compositions "Epistrophy" and "Pannonica" where he draws on the melodic strength of the source material to create very appealing improvisations of his own. Monk warped space and time with his unique musical interpretations, and Nabatov does the same on his electronic experiments, bending and warping the fabric of the music and looking for new ways to approach sound. Moving back and forth with each approach can be startling, but it jars the listener out of complacency forcing them the take stock of Nabatov's approaches to both the familiar and the challenging sides of music. Monk 'n' More - amazon.com
The Chicago jazz scene has a wonderful history of mentorship, whether via the AACM or venues like The Velvet Lounge and the Empty Bottle; the city's experienced musicians take the young ones under their wing and the music grows because of it. Alto saxophonist Ernest Dawkins founded the nonprofit Live The Spirit Residency to encourage young musicians to share improvised music with economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. On this album he is joined by four of his musical progeny: Isaiah Collier on tenor saxophone, Alexis Lombre on piano, James Wentzel on bass and Jeremiah Collier on drums.The music is a joy to listen to, running the gamut from blues and ballads to outre exploration, beginning with "Blues in Tyne" which has a soulful rhythmic foundation supporting ripe saxophone which becomes fast and emotional. Everyone gets a turn in this long performance and the music never lags. Taken at a subtle medium tempo with lush piano playing, "Before You Go" features a deft bass solo which anchors a solid swinging tune. The saxophones pick up the pace, leading the music to a great slashing conclusion. "June 11" has some raw, fast saxophone leading the charge, building to a white-hot fervor. After a fine drum solo for Collier, the band returns to take this steaming performance out. They channel the spirit of John Coltrane on "Crash" with raw boned saxophone and lightning fast rhythm accompaniment. The music quests relentlessly forward with scalding interplay between the reeds and rhythm section. "Heath's Groove" is brash and open with the band developing coiled potential energy, and the saxophones and drums develop a deep groove before the piano, bass and drums unit calms before everyone returns for the final flourish. Finally, "Racing Minds" opens with a quiet meditation before some rattling percussion kicks things into gear. The full band develops a strong collective improvisation, ending the album with a vibrant and epic crescendo. This was an excellent album of modern jazz, and Dawkins is to be commended for bringing these excellent young musicians to our attention. Coming Of Age - amazon.com