Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro - Alegria da Casa (Anzic Records, 2016)

Clarinetist Anat Cohen joins with Trio Brasileiro members Dudu Maia on bandolim, Douglas Lora on seven-string guitar and Alexandre Lora on pandeiro and percussion for a spirited album of Brazilian tinged jazz. The album opens with “Murmurando,” which features nimble guitar playing and swooping clarinet with a delightfully woody and hollow sound. The guitar interplay sets up Cohen’s clarinet in excellent fashion. There is a choppy guitar rhythm to “Waiting For Amalia” to which is added a wistful clarinet melody that develops a brightly bouncing swing. “Alegria Da Casa” has fast and intricate guitar playing with subtle percussion. Clarinet and harmonica (Gabriel Grossi sitting in) add layers of sound to the music. High-pitched clarinet and the reedier harmonica play off each other very well. There is plaintive solo guitar to open “In the Spirit of Baden” before the full band strikes up led by taut, crying clarinet. Cohen raises the tempo of the music and interweaves her instrument with the strings in a very confident manner. “Engole O Choro” has bright and fast guitar playing and keening clarinet, which makes the sound of the music, become vibrant and alive. Percussion and guitar make way for light and dancing clarinet on “Sarue Latino.” The music develops a sense of boisterous joy, with the swirling clarinet flying over choppy strings and percussion. “Santa Morena” has subtle guitar that jumps quickly into gear, into a fast collective improvisation that has Cohen’s clarinet swirling overhead, leaving sections open for fine string interplay. This was an inspired meeting of the minds, since while Cohen is rooted in jazz and swing, she is continually looking for new challenges, and the Brazilian musicians meet her halfway, making for some excellent music. Alegria Da Casa - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

AutorYno - Flauros: The Book of Angels 29 (Tzadik, 2016)

Reputed to be one of the final installments of the epic series of compositions The Book of Angels by John Zorn, the baton is handed to AutorYno, an enthusiastic power trio and one of the most interesting bands in the French music scene. The trio consists of Bertrand Delorme on bass, Cyril Grimaud on drums and David Konopnicki on guitar. Their path is to take compositions from the Book of Angels and play them in a heavy rock context. Punk rock, heavy metal and Mahavishnu Orchestra like jazz-fusion come together in this hypnotic and powerful reading some of the strongest and strangest pieces out of the Masada repertoire. They play in a dynamic fashion that allows them to draw strength from the source material and use that is a springboard like on the opener “Carcas” which is one level a bruising rocker, but another listen reveals shifting tempos and rhythms that show that the group is in complete control of the situation. “Saelel” shows the band juxtaposing thick riffs with nimble ensemble play, recalling mid-1970’s King Crimson in the process. Konopnicki squalls mightily on guitar with the bass and drums with him every step of the way. Reverberating guitar and thick bass usher in “Uvmiel” and the music has a deep visceral presence. Guitar effects twist and turn the music into a hydra headed monster driving relentlessly to the finish line. Massive manic guitar and bass riffs and pummeling drumming develop throughout “Qaddisin” which the band uses to sculpt and mold the music to their will. “Abrimas” pushes the music forward dynamically with on a dime start/stop motions. It’s over so quickly that the music seems to have spontaneously combusted. Overall, this was a very successful recording, showing that while the Book of Angels may be nearing its conclusion, the compositions remain very strong and offer a band like AutorYno to really demonstrate the depth of their abilities. Flauros: The Book of Angels 29 - amazon.com

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Various Artists - Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974 (Ace Records, 2016)

Inspired by the success of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, this various artists collection looks to present some of the music that may have inspired his album. Note that Washington had no involvement with this project, but is name-checked throughout the liner essay. The music collects “spiritual jazz,” music from the early 1970’s from primarily the Muse, Milestone and Prestige catalogs, which evoke a search for higher consciousness, peace and/or racial harmony. See also Soul Jazz Records long-running multi-volume spiritual jazz series. With those caveats out of the way, it’s important to stress that this is a well-done compilation with interesting music complimented by excellent notes and photography. Saxophonist Gary Bartz was performing with Miles Davis when he led his Afro-centric NTU Troop band for a series of albums on Milestone. The collection gets its title from Bartz “Celestial Blues” which features a deep groove, appropriately spacey vocals from Andy Bey and some fine soloing from the leader. “Fire” from Joe Henderson and Alice Coltrane works very well with Henderson’s deep tenor saxophone juxtaposed against Coltrane’s piano and harp and Michael White’s swooping violin. Inspired by John Coltrane, saxophonist Azar Lawrence was very active in the bands of Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis when he cut “Warriors of Peace” with a young Arthur Blythe on alto saxophone. They both take burning solos on this track making it one of the most exciting on the album. Charles Earland’s “Brown Eyes” is one track that sounds a little dated with period synth-strings but he also has Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard aboard for jazz cred in addition to contributing a solid organ solo. “The Free Slave” has a wonderful swinging groove, and no surprise since drummer Roy Brooks was a mainstay on some of Horace Silver’s finest bands. This is a great live recording with fine spots for Woody Shaw and George Coleman. The title track from percussionist Joe Chambers’ album “The Almoravid” is very interesting, a drum, percussion and rhythm oriented track with accents from vibraphone. There is nothing cliché about this, and it stands out as a highlight. There’s a funky groove to Carlos Garnett’s “Let’s Go (To Higher Heights) and be plays some burning saxophone, however his vocals do leave a little bit to be desired. With swooping vocals and electric keyboards, “Let It Take Your Mind” by Bayete Umbra Zindiko (Todd Cochran) is something of an acquired taste. The underrated pianist Hampton Hawes moves to electric keyboards on “Josie Black” and the track is surprisingly successful, in part to some fine horn work from Harold Land and Oscar Brashear. The collection is rounded out by a brash big band recording of Oliver Nelson’s “Aftermath” from the album Black, Brown and Beautiful. Google the very NSFW album cover if you need further evidence of his conviction. The music begins with a somber tone then opens up to some powerful saxophone, cinematic strings and brass. Celestial Blues - Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Various Artists - I'm a Freak Baby: A Journey Through British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock (Grapefruit/Cherry Red, 2016)

This three disc collection with the provocative name is a Nuggets like various artists compilation of mostly obscure British rock 'n' roll from the turn of the 1960's. Whereas Nuggets and its many offshoots looked at the garage rock aspects of psychedelia, this collection filters their trippy music through a hard rock, proto-metal filter with their touchstones being the emerging heavy riffing British bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. There are a few well known bands on this collection with Deep Purple's "Fireball" and The Yardbirds "Think About It" represented, but mostly it is made up of largely unknown groups that made just one LP, or in some cases just a few acetates of demo songs. The deep research into the music pays off, and the collection features far more hits than misses. The hippie aesthetic is clearly waning and the music is becoming quite visceral as can be heard on Hawkwind Zoo's (they would soon drop the Zoo) "Sweet Mistress of Pain" and the Deviants "I'm Coming Home", while the unknown Wicked Lady provides the compilation it's title with the formidable single "I'm a Freak." Some bands are in a period of transition as can be heard in The Move's "Brontosaurus" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" which move away from the pop and blues of their past into nearly progressive rock territory. Although it seems like every single seven inch from an obscure band must have been collected by this point this compilation does a fine job of providing a representative sample of the music of the UK underground in the period when the music was evolving from the psychedelia of the UFO Club and turning toward riff based hard rock that would dominate the rock 'n' roll scene for years to come. The set comes with a very extensive and well written booklet packed with information about the music and the evolving music scene it was springing from, and puts everything in context. For music fans looking to make a deep dive into the music of the period, this makes a fine starting point. I'm a Freak Baby - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

John Coltrane - His Greatest Years, Vol. 2 (Impulse, 1972)

This is a two-LP collection that is long out of print, but easily obtainable secondhand at a bargain price. (My copy was $8.99 at Vintage Vinyl.) It is a sampling of the great saxophonist and composer John Coltrane’s work for the Impulse label for which he recorded from 1961 until his death in 1967. The album opens with the traditional standard “Greensleeves” which presents him in a large ensemble that gathered to record the Africa/Brass LP. This is a lullaby, played on soprano saxophone with gentle framing from the surrounding musicians. From there we move to a live recording of “India” from the famous Village Vanguard sessions of 1961. The music is an exotic blend of jazz and music from the east and the juxtaposition of Coltrane’s soprano saxophone and Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet is alluring, especially with two bass players holding down the bottom. The music moves chronologically forward on side two (it’s one of those annoying collections where side one and four are one disc and sides two and three on another) to an open sounding version of “Miles Mode” and a brisk version of “Big Nick” from the famous album Coltrane recorded with Duke Ellington. Much of this collection features Coltrane’s soprano work, with this side concluding with “The Promise” recorded live at Birdland in 1963. The collection then moves into some of his freer work, beginning with “Chim Chim Cheree” and then excerpts the first fifteen minutes of the “Ascension” (version 2) album with torrid large ensemble playing and epic solos from Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The concluding side of the album further demonstrates the extraordinary intensity of the music he was making near the end of his life. Presenting the opening section of “The Father and The Son and The Holy Ghost” from he Meditations LP with Coltrane and Sanders balanced by two drummers, Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones making for an extraordinarily deep, rhythmic performance. The most unexpected performance on this whole album is a molten exploration of a track called “Manifestation” from February of 1966. This is a relentless free improvisation, loud and proud and still bracing in its ability to instill awe even fifty years later. This may mot be well known because of it’s release as part of the much maligned posthumous album Cosmos, where Alice Coltrane controversially added overdubbing to some of the tracks. This deserves attention, especially in its unadorned form as an incredibly powerful performance. The album concludes with the short coda of “Ogunde” from one of his final recording sessions in March of 1967. Sadly he would pass away just a few months later. But as can be ascertained by listening to this album as well as the myriad of collection that have come out in the years following his death, the impact of John Coltrane’s music remains massive as he was one of the undisputed masters of the form. His Greatest Years, Vol.2 - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Evil in Oslo (Rune Grammofon, 2016)

Referencing styles as diverse as heavy metal, progressive rock and jazz-fusion, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio are a very impressive entity. On this live album they culminate the music that has been brewing over their last few studio LP’s and consistent touring to make for a very impressive live album. This is an instrumental group consisting of Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen on guitar, Ellen Brekken on bass and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums, the group keeps much of the album on the heavy side but also endeavors to use a wider range of dynamics delving from spacey post rock to massive riffing and jazzy interludes before jumping into more free and open improvisational landscapes. There are four massive side-long slabs of music on this album, ever changing like shifting sand from waves of feedback before slowly developing some heavy guitar riffs that pile above the bass and drums like a coming storm. They suddenly kick into a faster raw trio section that is very exciting, and opens for some excellent bass and drums interplay. Sparks and snarls of guitar return almost lazily, setting up another dynamic turn perfectly. The music develops sharper edges with spikes and claws emerging, then letting up as the band moves into droning space rock territory. The album is a rush, showing the trio rocking out in a heavy formation at a very fast tempo. The group drifts into a more open and spacey section toward the middle of some pieces, developing the music dynamically, as their sound arcs and fades within the wider vistas. Things are brought back up to speed as the trio approaches the conclusion, with sparks of wicked electric guitar flying over heavy bass and drums. There are fast and heavy beginnings as the group puts forth a massive edifice of sound, with Mollestad’s guitar twisting and turning like a snake. They move into a spacier and more abstract sections where Mollestad weaves gently chopped guitar against waves of heavy cymbals. They conclude the album in fine fashion with thick bass providing the foundation for Mollestad’s guitar to dart to scalding and abrasive heights like a spaceship being launched into the great beyond. The trio’s music is seemingly motivated by hard rock like Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, but it also includes and eclectic mix of musical ingredients like avant garde jazz, progressive rock and psychedelic music. It is a heady brew regardless of the ingredients and should be of interest to fans of both jazz-fusion and head banging rock ‘n’ roll. Evil in Oslo - amazon.com

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Rempis/Johnston/Ochs - Neutral Nation (Aerophonic Records, 2016)

This is a very interesting recording of the ongoing collaborative horn trio of Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophones, Darren Johnston on trumpet and Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones. The music was recorded live in Buffalo, NY during their May 2015 North American tour. This album is very dynamic and textural, moving from a whisper to a scream but also using the breadth and width of their individual instruments to create a very unique sound environment. Calling their approach to music spontaneous composition rather than free jazz, they move into areas that are significantly more extensive while still employing the same core focus. There are two very long performances, "Pierce Arrow" that is nearly one-half hour in length, and "Seven Little Buffalos" that is just over twenty minutes long. These long running times allow the musicians to explore the sounds they are creating at length, with persistence, interacting with each other and the space that surrounds them. Moving from subtle slurs to raw squeals, the music remains unpredictable throughout the album. The instruments are all on a level playing field, working together for a greater good. There are some passages for individuals, and they carry them off very well showing many ideas, but group interaction is the focus with the trio coming together again and again with raw and circling improvisation. Dynamics move from hard to soft and from fast to slow, keeping the music unpredictable as the waves of sound build structurally as strong hard blowing encourages the whole band coalesce. Fresh powerful saxophones cry out emotionally, culminating in massive full throttle playing followed by a drop off to circular wails of saxophone and trumpet. The trio moves with fortitude, and exploits the available space, waiting for the right moment to shift the dynamic field of the music, with group interaction at the forefront. As the musical process develops, the trio uses a seemingly endless variety of musical approaches, in which quiet and soft passages dissolve into whispers, which then shift into snarls and screams of sound that build up to a very powerful and provocative sensibility. On other occasions, all three members of the trio show the ability to swoop and swirl like birds or insects, coming together, and then dropping off individually like planes in formation suddenly splitting apart. Meanwhile the rough and tumble emotional sounds of the saxophonists often gruff but tender sounds mix with the trumpeter’s method of approaching improvisation, creating a large musical map to explore. Neutral Nation - aerophonic records.

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