Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut (Thirsty Ear, 2011) Fresh as paint modern jazz with Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Joe Sanders on bass and Damion Reid on drums, the musicians reveling in the open space the the powerful dynamism that the saxophone trio format can offer. Coming on like a hypersonic update of the great Sonny Rollins trios of the 1950's and Kenny Garrett trios of the 1990's, the music is fast and furious and at times infused with a rock or fusion energy despite being straight up acoustic jazz. The opening track "Above Ground" sets the pace with a no holds barred rhythmic assault, that remains impressively controlled regardless of the speed. That they are able to keep the pace and stamina up for long performances is impressive, and even better is that these tunes like the eleven-minute "Velvet Lounge Shut-In" never flag in their ideas, as the improvisatory volley of ideas continues unabated. This is tough, gritty and strong music that deserves an audience; it's potent stuff. Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut - amazon.com
David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole en Espanol (Emarcy, 2011) Saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray has become increasingly interested in investigating the music of Caribbean cultures, particularly Cuba during recent years. This new album makes an interesting conceit, taking the music of pianist and crooner Nat King Cole, and melding it with a Cuban groove. Te result is something of a mixed bag. Murray takes a step back, rarely bleating the high squeals of saxophone that have become his trademark since breaking into the loft scene in the 1970's. The percussion and feel of the Cuban musicians is excellent, lending an exotic, yet familiar groove to the proceedings like a lilting island breeze. On thing that tends to hold things back a little bit is that string arrangements are added to many of the performances and that combined with a couple of slippery, slinky vocals sometimes give the music a retro lounge groove. Murray actually plays quite well throughout this album, the arrangements keep his occasional self-aggrandizing moments in check, but they are also the album's greatest drawback, keeping the band from breaking free and explore; chaining the music to a very polite, mannered feel. David Murray - amazon.com
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