Monday, October 24, 2016

Angelika Niescier / Florian Weber - NYC Five (Intakt, 2016)

Looking to re-create the excitement of New York City’s vibrancy in music, the group consisting of Angelika Niescier on saxophone, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Florian Weber on piano, Christopher Tordini on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, create colorful and spirited music on this album. “The Barn Thing” opens the album with choppy horns and spirited rhythm accompaniment. The full band interplay is fast and intricate with heavy drops of piano and rapid drumming. The leader’s saxophone comes into the frame, soloing and keeping the fast pace going. There is an excellent quartet section with everyone just playing lights out, made even more intense by the entry of Alessi’s trumpet. The music is relentless and very exciting and the group runs full tilt to the finish line. Swirling saxophone and trumpet keep the music moving briskly forward on “And Over” and the group brings music forward in waves, before it crests and Weber’s piano takes over, casting the music in a more delicate and thoughtful manner. Light and nimble saxophone is added, and the trumpet joins in adding lyrical qualities to the proceedings. The music drops dynamically to spare piano and cymbals before coalescing at the end. “Invaded” slows things down a little bit with a open ballad type feel. There is gentle and light toned saxophone over spare piano, bass and brushes. They develop a melancholy air to the music, which changes markedly on “The Liquid Stone” where the leader’s strutting saxophone is framed by trumpet and cymbals and cultivates music that is characterized by nervousness and unease. There is a spacious interlude for the rhythm section that gradually gathers steam aided by smears and sparks of brass that enter the stream of the music. The strong drumming and piercing trumpet are very impressive, and Niescier engages with her fellow musicians setting up a powerful collective group improvisation. “Parsifal” brings the intensity back down to a simmer, with light trumpet and spacious rhythm accompaniment. Saxophone and trumpet gently probe the music while delicate brushes and bass provide a subtle backdrop. The swirling brushes plus the thick and ever present bass provide a quiet focus for this track. The concluding selection “Für Krefeld” sees the band opening together nicely with the saxophone building over piano, bass and drums with trumpet riding shotgun. The horns push the tempo over taut rhythm of strong piano and drums and stoic bass. The piano and drums are very strong and exciting, making for a complicated and interesting rhythmic foundation allowing the horns to blast back in and enjoy the fun. This leads to an exciting saxophone and drums based conversation, before Alessi takes the baton and drives home a very powerful statement of his own. NYC Five -

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now (Motema, 2016)

Taking the lessons he learned from playing on David Bowie’s Blackstar album and applying them to his own music, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin enlists longtime colleagues Jason Linder on keyboards, Mark Guiliana on drums and Tim Lefebvre on bass to build a well crafted electric jazz fusion album. “Shake Loose” opens the album with hard hitting modern jazz, and while the extensive use of the keyboards may eventually date the music they do nothing to blunt the hard charging tenor saxophone and strong complex rhythms which are timeless. Multiple keyboard and electronic textures are used on “A Small Plot of Land,” and strong stoic vocals are added to the mix. McCaslin comes in about halfway through and whips up a storm. “Beyond Now” has a subtle and probing opening where the music evolves in a patient fashion, becoming sharper and more focused as time goes on. The electronics rise up buoyed by powerful drumming and slashing saxophone weaving in and out of the electronic force field. The intensity is white hot with ripe saxophone and wailing drums putting the music over the top. “Bright Abyss” opens with a silky beat and predatory saxophone looking for an opening, moving in slowly amidst the electronic backdrop. The music develops a deeper identity, and surges forward. McCaslin’s saxophone starts climbing steps from low to high and then taking flight amid mysterious electronic sounds with sharp drumming, which leads to a majestic full band conclusion. There is fast and true tenor saxophone blasting over muscular drumming on the surging “Faceplant.” Shards of electronics buttress the storming saxophone with rhythm and thick electric bass, and then the full band charges ahead like a beast. “Warszawa” is a David Bowie original from his Berlin period. There is a haunting air to the music and McCaslin makes the most of that playing yearning saxophone which cuts across the moody backdrop. His saxophone gains gradient and strength with buzzing electronics and scattered drumming. Cymbal taps and piano with electronics frame mellow saxophone on “Glory.” Acoustic piano provides a respite from the electronic onslaught before the leader’s strong saxophone edges back into the spotlight for a powerful drum propelled solo. “Remain” ends the album with low tones and probing saxophone. Things are pretty mellow, but there is a groove building and the saxophone slowly rises in intensity and soon the drums are crashing in, hitting cymbals hard leading into a distinguished full band buildup. The once in a lifetime opportunity to record with David Bowie has really galvanized Donny McCaslin, simultaneously opening new vistas to explore and focusing the unique electric jazz he has been honing for the past several years. Beyond Now -

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Peter Brotzmann/William Parker/Hamid Drake - Song Sentimentale (Otoroku, 2016)

You might think with a title like Song Sentimentale, that this album could be a victory lap for three of the most important players on the free jazz scene, Peter Brotzmann on tenor saxophone, B flat clarinet, tarogato, William Parker on double bass, guembri, shakuhachi, shenai and Hamid Drake on drums, vocals and percussion, but there is little sentiment on display here. The musicians are very familiar with one another, and their paths have crossed many times over the years, particularly on the superb double album Never Too Late, But Always Too Early. The music on this album is strong and focused, creating a free jazz set that becomes suite-like due to the near telepathic interplay of the musicians. The music develops organically on “Shake-A-Tear” with very powerful tenor saxophone, bass and drums advancing a powerful collective improvisation. As the music moves into “Stone Death” and particularly the concluding "Dwellers in a Dead Land,” which is the longest track on the album, their aptitude shines through with a near incandescent light. The very long concluding improvisation begins with Drake developing a subtle rhythmic foundation and vocalizing in a hypnotic manner. Parker plays an exotic string instrument and Brötzmann, moves to the Hungarian reed instrument tarogato, and the music is completely fascinating at this point, moving away from traditional free improvisation into cutting edge world music. Brotzmann will move further out into his clarinet and tarogato, Parker will move into improvising on his exotic instruments and Drake provides further inspiration with voice and ever shifting rhythm. The texture of the music on this album is ever shifting like sheets of rain and sand on a distant shore. This is an excellent album from three masters that have nothing to prove. They pursue a greater goal and succeed grandly in making excellent music. Song Sentimentale -

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Arthur Williams - Forgiveness Suite (No Business, 2016)

Little seems to be known about the leader of this recording, trumpeter Arthur Williams. He played with a wide range of musicians in New York City in the 1970’s including Steve Reid, Ahmed Abdullah and in the great band Muntu with Jemeel Moondoc. On this rare recording, a limited edition of 400 records, he is joined by Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, Peter Kuhn on bass clarinet, William Parker on bass and Denis Charles on drums. The music was composed by Arthur Williams and was recorded on December 19, 1979 at WKCR in New York City. The first part of the “Forgiveness Suite” features bubbling horns and reed, with percussion forming the frame which surrounded it. The music is subtle and thoughtful, with low key bass providing support and a brief solo. The players embrace the music, developing a strong thematic structure. There is a move to bowed bass adding solemnity, while trumpet and saxophone pushing across it along with tumbling percussion creating an appealing message. They press ahead and then lay back, developing a fine dynamic feel and rhythm. Waves of trumpet and clarinet surge forth, followed by open sections for bass and percussion. Parker is the unsung hero of the group and plays brilliantly throughout both bowed and plucked. The horns improvise very well, playing in a controlled and at times melodic fashion, this is far from a free jazz blowout, it’s a meeting of equals playing and improvising over interesting themes. Williams develops a potent solo over bowed bass, using a strong, muscular tone to lay the groundwork for his fellow musicians to join him in a collective improvisation. Kuhn takes a raw toned and deep solo on bass clarinet, with sawing bowed bass along for the ride. They expand a powerful improvisation that leads to the end of the first section. Part two of “Forgiveness Suite” is reverent and almost prayer like with dignified horns and respectful bass and drums. The whole group rises as one, getting louder and exclaiming their message with great strength. Williams’s trumpet playing is raw and coursicating, and he delves into a duet with William Parker. He sounds great, growling and playing with guttural heat, with Parker supporting every step. The whole band comes in for a theme statement punctuated by Charles’ excellent percussion. Kuhn’s bass clarinet bursts forth and Parker takes a patient and thoughtful solo. This is excellent music, with a memorable theme and some fantastic improvisation both in the group and individual format. There is an epic collective improvisation that is thrilling to hear as the band really goes for broke, moving into a stoic form which takes the music into a quiet percussion feature, before regrouping for a strong finale. The album clocks in at barely a half an hour, which leaves the listener wanting more. Hopefully there is another trove of music out there to shed further light on this talented and enigmatic musician. Forgiveness Suite - No Business Records.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Bobby Bradford, Hafez Modirzadeh, Mark Dresser, Alex Cline – Live at the Open Gate (No Business, 2016)

This is a very impressive collective group consisting of Bobby Bradford on cornet, Hafez Modirzadeh on alto saxophone, Mark Dresser on bass and Alex Cline on drums. The album was recorded live on March 3, 2013 in Los Angeles as part of the Open Gate Theatre concert series. “Steadfast” begins the album with gentle bass and brushes. The brass enters slowly with a rending sound over skittering percussion, and they develop a longing and intensely personal sound as they gaze across the musical landscape. The horns climb in intensity, and intertwine in great control of their sound. There is a stronger sound to “Facet 5” with the saxophone and cornet taking a raw angle over the nimble bass and drums. There is a nice section of collective improvisation with the two horns weaving into the rhythm, and the louder and richer sound suits them well. “Facet 17” opens with a fast and choppy feel to it, with Modirzadeh improvising with the bass and drums, developing a solid Ornette Coleman type feel. Bradford’s cornet bursts in and plays very well, adding fine contrast to the deep blue tone of the alto saxophone. Bradford takes command with an excellent solo statement of his own, finally aided by swirling saxophone over delicate percussion. “Dresser Only” is a feature for the bassist, who plays an open, thick and resonating solo. His instrument is very well recorded, making this one of the most intimate moments of the album. The full band returns with a collective improvisation on “For Bradford,” with a clarion call of cornet leading the way. Subtle bass and drums keep the pace steady as there is a handoff to the saxophone which is featured over fast tapping percussion. Modirzadeh makes a powerful solo statement on saxophone before everyone returns and and ends this excellent performance as a team. “HA^BB” is a short interlude for scatted vocals and horns improvising in open space. Horns swirl around one another on “Song for the Unsung” playing patiently and developing themes. Well thought out ripe saxophone and strong cornet lead the charge, over very good rhythm accompaniment with siren like saxophone met with slender ribbons of bass. “Reprise” concludes the album with low toned cornet and saxophone keeping a loose feel, pushing the air about them while shimmering cymbals frame the horns. Live at the Open Gate - No Business Records.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book: Bitches Brew by George Grella Jr. (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Bitches Brew, the seminal double album by Miles Davis, was a watershed moment in jazz and rock 'n' roll history. In this compact volume, Grella charts the development of the recording, taking the long view describing the development of Davis's career, and his approach to making music. Critically, this changed toward the end of the 1960's, when Davis began moving from the traditional way of recording jazz in the studio, with full takes of the songs included warts and all with little editing, into the format that was favored by pop and rock recordings, one of many cuts, and overdubbing to make for the best take possible. Grella describes the manner in which Davis and producer Teo Macero took in the studio where they allowed the musicians to play at length with minimal direction, and then cut and spliced the album together in post-production, making for a full document that surprised even the musicians that played on the sessions. The actual sessions are described in great detail, with the "nuts & bolts" data may apply more to fellow musicians, like the time signatures and keys the musicians were playing in during sections of the session, Grella never gets too bogged down in the minutiae and makes this book enjoyable for non-musicians as well. He is also able to place the album in the overall context of jazz and popular music of the period and this makes for a welcome addition. Miles Davis' Bitches Brew -

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Eri Yamamoto Trio - Life (AUM Fidelity, 2016)

Pianist and composer Eri Yamamoto has developed a strong following among jazz fans and critics with a series of interesting releases and a residency she has held together for the past seventeen years at Arthur's Tavern, one of the longest running jazz clubs in New York City. This has given her ample opportunity develop her original material which she unleashes on this album that was recorded live at the Systems Two Studios in Brooklyn in June of 2015. The music on the album is presented in the form of two virtual sets, much like the trio's live performance format. As the album title suggests, the material moves through a far range of emotional evocation, from ebullient to thoughtfully introspective, reflecting the absolute vibrancy of her long-time adopted home, New York City, and the importance of finding space within the perpetual motion of the city for moments of reflection and meditation. The music works quite well throughout the album, with excellent interplay between the musicians who make the most of the material and the experience that they have built up while playing together for so much time. On this album she is joined by bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi whom have worked with her for a long time and fully support her musical statements. The music the three make is very thoughtful and patient, and you can tell by listening that they spent a lot of time honing their material. The opening track “I Love” is quite fascinating with cascades of piano notes, and taut and understated bass and drums, and is juxtaposed by some of the lighter and airier material. "New York Time" and "Ground" have a good natured swing and while there is a touch of melancholia to the music at times, on tracks like "Remembrance," the music is emotional resonant throughout, emotionally reminding the listener about the possibilities of the piano trio. Life -

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