Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alice Coltrane - The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop, 2017)

Alice Coltrane is most well known to music fans as the wife of the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, but Alice was a formidable multi-instrumentalist and composer in her own right. She held the piano chair in John Coltrane's band from 1965-1967 and also issued a wealth of solo material on Impulse! and Warner Brothers in the years following her husband's death. One thing that she shared in connection with John was a relentless spiritual yearning and this became the focus of the rest of her life, when she founded an ashram in California, took on an unpronounceable Sanskrit name and devoted herself to spiritual pursuits. But she never gave up music entirely which we are to be grateful for because she was a protean force on several instruments in addition to piano like the electric organ and harp, which gave her jazz based music such interesting and memorable flavor. From 1983 - 1995, Alice Coltrane published several private press cassettes of devotional music that received little coverage and were not well known to the outside world. This is where this collection comes in, bridging the gap in her musical evolution between her retreat from the wider musical world in the early eighties to her surprising reemergence in the jazz setting with the Translinear Light album and a few public concerts before she passed away in 2007. This album takes selections from those cassette only releases, remasters them and presents the music in a digital or vinyl format with photos and liner notes from Coltrane scholar Ashley Kahn. The music is quite unlike anything else we had heard from her, although the is a lengthy revisiting of one of her former spiritual jazz pieces, "Journey in Satchidananda." While matters of the soul were never far from her jazz work, this is another thing entirely, with much of the music consisting of chanting, singing including Alice's own vocals and hypnotic percussion. The instruments most associated with her are heard with washes of organ and shimmering harp on some pieces, but the most surprising aspect of the music was her embrace of synthesizers and the possibilities this technology offered for her devotional music. She uses the technology in a very unique way, framing the vocals, in conjunction with percussion and developing melodic lines. This isn't the cheesy 1980's synth you may be dreading, it's light years away from any pop sensibility, and it's closest analog may be some of the mellower works Sun Ra was creating with similar technology during this period. Overall this is an interesting look a well known musician that turned away from jazz to focus on her spiritual life and looked to make a contribution in both arenas. Listeners searching for music that is similar to her 1970's jazz albums will likely be flummoxed by the music on this collection, but embracing it with an open mind can lead to interesting results. World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Turiya Alice Coltrane - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Interesting Links 5/24

A look at income inequality among jazz musicians.
Phil Freeman's roundup of recent jazz releases and some interesting thoughts about cut-price box sets.
Bandcamp interviews saxophonist and composer Oliver Lake.
New Music Box interviews Rudresh Mahanthappa.
The Observer interviews Nels Cline.
A lengthy NPR podcast about the new archival Alice Coltrane release.
Pop Matters on the real birth of the blues.
Matt Lavelle on the astrology of Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and touching base with Giuseppi Logan.
Bandcamp on Joshua Abrams work in jazz and soundtracks.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio - Smokin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (Resonance Records, 2017)

Guitarist Wes Montgomery had joined in with the The Wynton Kelly Trio once before, creating one of the most famous jazz guitar albums, Smokin' at the Half Note in 1965. This sees a reprise of that effort with Montgomery sitting in with pianist Kelly, with Ron McClure on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. This previously unreleased music was recorded for radio at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle, WA on April 14 and 21, 1966. There is a mix of tracks with only the trio and with Montgomery sitting in, beginning with the trio tracks "There Is No Greater Love" and "Not a Tear." The former is a nice spirited performance that is fast paced and seriously swinging. There is a solid bass solo with subtle percussion along with rippling piano and trading of short sections between the piano and drums. The latter is a medium tempo piece with subtle bass and percussion anchoring the piano. The jump dramatically a little ways in, ramping up the pace quickly and mining a strong and deep vein of sound. Montgomery finally joins the group on "Jingles" which is a compact performance that begins with a tight, choppy theme before moving into a storming improvisation with the guitarist launching flinty shards of tone with fine trio accompaniment. They cruise in fine fashion, with a balanced and finely honed sound. The following tracks, "What's New" and "Blues in F" are also quartet performances, the first one developing a slower pace, with patient and thoughtful work from the trio along with probing guitar. Montgomery's dexterous and expressive playing is very impressive here and on the blues where they blast into a fast tempo with everybody playing at a high heat. This music is delightfully presented, buoyant and joyous with a group that just clicks, playing without pretense. Unfortunately, the music fades out before the conclusion. The trio is back in the spotlight for "Sir John" and "If You Could See Me Now" with the opening track becoming nicely stretched out with the musicians developing a deep pocket with elastic bass and grooving piano and drums. McClure is featured with a solo and then the closing track, a showbiz standard that gets a lush and ornamental opening, becoming an elegant ballad with brushes and gently spacious playing. Montgomery is featured on the final three tracks of this album, beginning with "West Coast Blues" which dives straight into his familiar melody, and then breaks out into a colorful quartet improvisation. They play thick slabs of music, solid and substantial stuff that is very exciting. "O Morro Não Tem Vez" and "Oleo" wrap things up with the Jobim tune given some nice rhythmic accents by Cobb and develops a nice bossa feel for guitar and percussion. The music is relaxed yet finely crafted with the guitarist's complete command of his instrument on full display. Finally they rip into the Sonny Rollins composition with some epic guitar chased by the roiling trio... only to have the music fade out infuriatingly after just two minutes. Such were the whims of radio recording during that era, but it leaves you wondering what might have been. Smokin' In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp



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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Catching up with Paal Nilssen-Love

Paal Nilssen-Love and Peter Brotzmann - Levontin 7 Tel Aviv 30th March 2015 (Catalytic Sound, 2017) The great Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has played on many occasions with the legendary German reed instrument master Peter Brotzmann, and this is an excellent entry into the annals of their partnership. Taking off at an appropriately blistering pace with Brotzmann's scalding tenor saxophone clearing a path like a bulldozer, the music barrels forward relentlessly. Nilsson-Love's drums roll in a deeply rhythmic manner, crashing and throbbing, keeping the music grounded and providing even further momentum for the proceedings. This album is one long spontaneous improvisation, and the musicians are able to flex the sense of time and space, with Brotzmann moving through the gamut of instruments he uses which provides a wider range of hues and textures for their performance and the drummer meets him every step of the way, and it is the interaction that they develop that is the most special part of the music, and the two men are egoless in placing the music before themselves and develop a startling and vibrant performance. Bandcamp

Paal Nilssen-Love, Claude Deppa and Peter Brotzmann - Cafe Oto London 9th April 2013 (Catalytic Sound, 2017) Nilssen-Love and Brotzmann are joined by trumpeter Claude Deppa and this trio will carry their improvisations in a different way than on the previous album. Deppa has a more fragile and lighter approach to his instrument that makes him a perfect foil for the other two musicians who have a very strong and powerful manner of playing. Instead of one lengthy performance, the trio's collective improvisation is broken into four sections, with the first one being the longest, over twenty minutes in length, where the group gets right down to business with deep and penetrating music that is powerful and fully present. There is a dynamic downshift after that with the music developing in open space, before building back up to a very exciting and fast paced conclusion that wraps the performance up nicely. Bandcamp

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Van Morrison - The Authorized Bang Collection (Sony Legacy, 2017)

The story of Van Morrison's earliest solo recordings is a fascinating one. Bert Berns, a hustler, songwriter and record producer for his own Bang Records brought Morrison to the United States to record after his tumultuous tenure fronting the Belfast based rhythm and blues band Them. The poppiest material of Morrison's career, the Bang recordings encompassed his love of blues and soul, and the music they recorded had a claustrophobic small band feel, occasionally using female background singers in a call and response format. "Brown Eyed Girl" is the song that everyone remembers, it's a masterpiece of giddy pop music that was a top ten American hit during the summer of 1967. That wasn't the only excellent piece of music recorded at these sessions, and the first disc on the collection is the strongest, comprising the master recordings for these sessions. The harrowing song "T.B. Sheets" about trying to deal with a friend who is dying from tuberculosis, which stretches out to over nine minutes and an early version of his iconic songs "Beside You" and "Madame George" show the path he would take into his career to come. "Midnight Special" is a traditional folk song that was associated with the great songster Lead Belly, who was a formative influence in Morrison's youth, and here they move into a joyous setting with the background singers and tight band pushing the music forward relentlessly. Experiments with a Latin tinge on "Spanish Rose" and the chunky rhythm of "Chick a Boom" show that Morrison and Berns were willing to try a wide range of music in search of another hit. Disc two takes a deeper dive into these sessions, which place alternate takes of the master recordings and use snippets of studio chatter to frame the songs. Some of the tracks like alternate take of "T.B. Sheets" are quite different, and the disc ends with several takes of "Brown Eyed Girl" showing how the hit was painstakingly put together. The third disc is the most controversial, thirty one no-effort contractual obligation songs recorded for Berns's widow after his sudden death and Morrison was desperate to escape the Bang contract to move to Warner Borthers. Morrison felt he was being exploited and turned in songs like "Blowin' Your Nose" and "The Big Royalty Check" to fulfill his contract and be sure there was nothing that could be released for profit. The material has been bootlegged over the years, but this is the first time it has been legitimately released. For the serious fan of Morrison's work, this is an excellent collection and highly recommended, but for the less devoted, the Bang Masters album remains in print. The Authorized Bang Collection - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jon Irabagon - Axis (Rune Grammofon, 2017)

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon is joined by guitarist John Hegre and drummer Nils Are Drønen, on a very well played and exciting album that was  recorded on two separate locations in 2014 and 2015. The album consists of two long tracks that move between quieter melodic passages and and flat out free jazz. The first half of the opening track "Berlin" is long and spacey, but jumps startlingly after the nine minute mark to a full blowout of barreling drums, spirited saxophone and heavy guitar. The music becomes an absolutely thrilling batten down the hatches type of collective improvisation, where everybody playing is full bore sounding like a force of nature with nothing held back. The concluding track "Fukuoka" takes its time as well, beginning with probing saxophone popping and honking along with tempered guitar, looking for an opening into the music along with skittish percussion which pushes ahead and the music slowly gains momentum. The proceedings develop an imposing strength, which is unpredictable and forward thinking. Long tones of saxophone, washes of guitar and fractured percussion, sneer with a sense of danger and malice as the volume rises on torrents of stark saxophone and drums with flinty guitar moving in between. They step up to full howl and the effect is very impressive. The band surges toward a mighty finish playing a lights out collective improvisation that is nearly frightening in its withering intensity. Axis - amazon.com

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