Monday, February 27, 2012

Brian Patneaude - All Around Us (WEPA Records, 2012)

Brian Patneaude is a saxophonist and composer from upstate New York. Originally influenced by Michael Brecker, he has evolved to build his own lyrical, flowing style of playing and writing. He has developed a network of musicians and fans over the years and was able to make use of this group of supporters by developing this project through the DIY funding website Kickstarter. He is accompanied on this album by David Caldwell-Mason on acoustic and electric piano, Mike DelPrete on bass, Danny Whelchel on drums. The album is filled with melodic, accessible mainstream jazz, typified by the two opening performances, "Lake Timeless" and "Too Vast for Malice." The band's traits are immediately heard - a laser focus on the music at hand a keen listening ability that allows them to shift tempo and focus at will. I was very excited to hear the title track of my favorite Wayne Shorter album, "Juju," on the album. The group takes full advantage of the freedom and complexity of Shorter's composition. Using some nice and subtle electric piano the band is able to tap into the enigmatic nature that makes Shorter's compositions so compelling. The original composition "Aimless Antithesis" builds an aggressive opening statement into a woven texture reminiscent of bassist and composer Ben Allison's multi-faceted work. The percussive vamping piano, and locked in bass and drums create an excellent foundation for creative and patient saxophone soloing, as well as a fine spotlight for Caldwell-Mason. This was a really well done album of modern mainstream jazz. The musicians were tightly focused and made the most of their time in the studio, producing a finely crafted music that develops and molds it's space and time to develop a coherent and well paced set of very enjoyable music. All Around Us -

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Books: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A co-worker and I always talk about Bukowski and Tom Waits (they just seem to go together, don't they?) I'd read a bit of Bukowski's poetry in college and liked it but was always put off by his unrepentant view of drinking and alcoholism. I was looking for something off the beaten path to read so I picked up this book along with some Jim Thompson (how about that combo!) while growing a bookstore in Princeton. An independent bookstore - the horror! But they have an in with the University, so maybe they're not so independent after all. This book begins with Bukowski (who really did work for the postal service) hungover and trying to drag himself into a job. He's a mail carrier. (John Prine was a mail carrier. So was Charles Mingus. I really liked the mailman who used to have my route. He died last year. When I was growing up, our mailman was a survivor of Pearl Harbor. The newspaper would interview him every year on the anniversary of the attack.) Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, stumbles (literally) into a part time substitute position that sends him all over the city with wild and often hysterical adventures involving wild dogs, seductive women, and a catastrophic flood that swamps his mail truck. All the while he is boozing full time and living it up with a floozy. The second half of the book shifts after the floozy walks out on him, and he lands a full time job sorting mail. Anyone who has ever held a municipal or government job will immediately recognize the kinds of crazed co-workers and sadistic bosses he describes. His alter character, Chinaski, gets wildly unstable, nearly burning the post office down (one of the funniest parts of the book) and having a string of luck at the racetrack that sees him eating at four-star restaurants. His luck fails after his latest girlfriend gives birth to his child and then abruptly leaves him. He falls into an alcoholic tailspin that seems to have no chance of reversal. Despite the dodgy subject matter, much of the book was actually quite funny, and was written with genuine imagination and wit. I was only a lengthy section of faux (or perhaps real) disciplinary letters from the postal service that things started to skid. Bukowski once wrote a story or anecdote where the protagonist rips a huge concrete phallus off of a statue and jams it through somebody's mailbox as revenge. It's hysterical. It's also not here. Try to find it though, it's a prime example of Bukowski's dark, mordant wit. Post office -

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Joe Morris Wildlife - Traits (Riti, 2011)

Bassist (and guitarist, just not on this album) Joe Morris leads an exciting quartet with Luther Gray on drums, Petr Cancura on tenor saxophone on and Jim Hobbs on alto saxophone on this collectively improvised program. The band is assertive and communicative throughout combining energy music exemplified by the exciting free blowouts of "Howling" and Territorial" playing off against three more open and abstract performances. Breathing the air around them and exploring the music gracefully in the heat of the moment by creating spontaneously, the music is accepting of change and allows itself to flow organically as the members of the band pace themselves to build up the musical tension dynamically. Both saxophonists are by turns raw and graceful, spooling out lines of sound that are continuously moving while Gray prods them ruthlessly. With harshness and beauty coexisting side-by-side, Morris is the pivot around which all of this beautiful cacophony circulates, changing and adapting as the moment indicates. The music has heart and intellect and the balance between those two feelings gives much passion to its journey. Cooperation, not uniformity is the key to this very successful recording, with four distinctive voices joining as one to create powerful and heartening sounds. Traits -

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Tim Berne - Snakeoil (ECM, 2012)

The musical categorization on this album goes beyond jazz to include new music and contemporary classical. Alto saxophonist Tim Berne is joined by Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. The musicians play with a great deal of patience, allowing for musical development and a close relationship between the players. Unusual textures, unlike a lot of Tim Berne's other music, focuses the music on composition, developing a lot of open space and allowing things to flow free and unfettered. The music is non-confrontational, building slowly from open ended beginnings to more complex and stronger improvisational areas. Continuing to interpret and reinterpret the compositions with interesting tones like the one achieved by saxophone and clarinet melding together with an almost painterly aspect. The music moves beyond label, with the process of creating including a great deal of feeling. By challenging the listeners and revealing their secrets slowly, the musicians develop a mysterious sound that is haunting and beguiling and develops organically, beginning with the seed of an idea and developing a performance that continues to grow and evolve. There is a great deal of honed and coiled energy that is sometimes resolved and even more interesting when it isn't, allowing the music to hang suspended in space and time as the peaks and valleys of improvisation swirl on. Puling away from the idea of jazz in its established sense, the music is played with great refinement and patience, and the players are deeply committed to this unforgiving music. Snakeoil -

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Books: Ray Banks, Tom Piccirilli

Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks Originally, this story was begun many years ago as a collaboration between Banks and one of my other favorite authors, Ken Bruen. Two of my favorite writers working together: what could possibly go wrong? Well everything and nothing - the story is simply extraordinary, but because it didn't fit in any preconceived genre and contained a lot of British and Irish slang, it was deemed unpublishable and languished in a drawer for years until seeing the light of day as an electronic book. It's a crackling story, one of Banks' finest, the story of two old army pals, Cobb, a down but not out Englishman who just kicked a coke habit, but can't kick the habit of stealing from thrift stores and Farrell, an Irishman, who is on the trail of his girlfriend Nora who has split with 20,000 euros of Farrell's money along with his favorite jacket. Hooking up in Newcastle, they try to track down Nora and get the money back. This is where things go off the rails. Nora turns up dead outside of a trailer where Cobb and Farrell were holing up. Finding out that the mysterious Frank O’Brien, ex-con and drug dealer, was behind Nora’s death, leads the duo down the road to revenge. This was a very well told story, rife with dark yet hysterical humor. Banks splits the narrative into two first person accounts of the protagonists, showing differing views of the events and their bickering like an old married couple. Ray Banks has the total package here - a ripe story, memorable characters, dark humor and a rollicking pace that never lets up.

Clown in the Moonlight by Tom Piccirilli A teenager lies dead in the woods and soon becomes a morbid and lurid attraction for his classmates who file by the body. The unnamed protagonist is also a student, an abused outsider and loner who has served time in prison and psychiatric hospitals, and is irresistible to the girls. Learning that Ricky Kelso aka “The Acid King” is responsible for this murder, he allows himself to be lured to a drug fueled party where Kelso and his inner circle hold court in a blood and sex soaked bacchanal. After Kelso is arrested and commits suicide in jail, the narrative shifts. The protagonist is now a few years older, holding down a menial job after high school, when he falls for another femme fatale, one who is involved in a witches coven, one that practices bloody rituals by moonlight. Once again lured into a situation beyond his control, he has to fight for his very life and sanity in order to survive. Haunted (sometimes literally) by the ghosts of his past, he strives to make the best of himself delving into law enforcement and finally becoming involved in one of the most notorious cases in New York City history. The story was unusually choppy for Tom Piccirilli, who usually weaves together a very tight narrative. This one skips and jumps, then ends abruptly with a lot of unanswered questions. Perhaps this novella is the trial run for a full length rewrite of the story - it certainly has potential.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Magic Sam - West Side Soul (Delmark 1967, 2011)

This is the classic electric blues album from Magic Sam originally released in 1967 and remastered here with an extra alternate take added along with expanded liner notes. Unfortunately, Magic Sam wasn't fated to be on the Chicago blues scene very long, passing from heart failure just a few years after this album was released. He cut a number of early singles for the Cobra and Chief labels in the late '50's and early '60's before moving to the Delmark label to record two full LPs, West Side Soul and Black Magic. Magic Sam was the full package, a superb guitar player and a wonderfully emotive vocalist and all of that comes through here in an album that runs the gamut of human emotion from love to jealousy to pure joy. The environment that this album was recorded in develops a melding of the gutbucket style of Chicago blues with a soulful rhythm and blues style building an energetic and boisterous combination. The emotional vocals resonate and make the album accessible, from the forlorn and foreboding nature of "All Your Love" and "Our Love Will Never Die," to the jubilation in the band's playing on the standard "Sweet Home Chicago" where they build a relationship with the old song that brings their own energetic and exuberant feelings to the forefront. This new edition of a well respected album adds extra liner notes that help place the music in the context of its place and time. The music remains fresh and deeply powerful, down through the years it still resonates. Music reflects life changes and experience and these men were not too proud to show their vulnerability. Extraordinary musicianship and singing make this album and enduring classic. West Side Soul -

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Charles Gayle - Streets (Northern Spy, 2012)

Tenor saxophonist (and occasional pianist) Charles Gayle has had an extraordinary journey since leaving his home in Buffalo, NY as a young man to pursue his musical vision in New York City. He spent many years living on the sidewalks and the abandoned buildings of New York as part of the unseen homeless that populate every city. These experiences have helped to mold his musical alter-ego "Streets" where Gayle dresses partly in clown makeup and is free to step outside of himself and let his musical exuberance truly fly free. On this album it definitely flies, in a wide open trio setting, well supported by Larry Roland on bass and Michael TA Thompson on drums. Gayle concentrates strictly on tenor saxophone on this album, building wave upon wave of energy music born of the "new thing" but molded and tempered until achieving a tone that cuts like stainless steel. "Compassion I" sets the pace of the album with painfully raw and honest tenor saxophone ripping through time and space, excellently supported and encouraged by bass and drums as Gayle tries to reach the ideal state of the title by bearing his musical soul for all to hear. Charles Gayle is devoutly religious and the lengthy "Glory and Jesus" is the centerpiece of the album. Waves of scalding tenor pour forth with the fervor of a hellfire preacher with a hallelujah chorus of bass and drums riding point. "Tribulations" wraps up the album by taking all of the varied experiences that Gayle has faced: the ups and downs of life on the street, the day by day struggle with music, spirituality and life itself and lays everything on the line. This was an excellent album, perhaps Gayle's finest since the epochal Touchin' on Trane LP. It is hard to believe that a 73 year old man who has lived such a hard life can play with such an extraordinary amount of passion, but Gayle proves that power and commitment to vision and spirit are timeless virtues. Streets -

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Books: Tom Piccirilli

The Dead LettersThe Dead Letters by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just a few years ago, Whitt had the perfect American life: complete with a successful job, a beautiful wife and a wonderful baby daughter. This came to an end when his daughter was murdered by a serial killer given the nickname Killjoy by Whitt because "he has killed my joy." Now Whitt, leaner, more cynical and much more deadly lives in a small apartment supported by his father in law and former employer while his wife is institutionalized for chronic depression and self-destructive tendencies. All Whitt has left in life is one goal: to find Killjoy and settle the score. He turns to the police, is reluctantly aided by the FBI, becomes entangled with a doomsday cult of murderers along the way before finally finding his nemesis where he is least expected. All the while, Whitt is taunted by letters from the killer. Clearly mad, the killer his invented his own twisted mythology, using made up science and theology as reasoning for his killing and his later repentance. Many of Tom Piccirilli's novels have a dark hue to them, but this may be the saddest. While the trademark humor is still present in some passages, the all encompassing grief and sadness of Whit's personal life and his single minded obsession with revenge make for a pretty grim tale. This isn't to say it's something to be avoided, far from it, this story is exceedingly well written and takes the crime/thriller genre in a haunted and truly noir direction. The Dead Letters -

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Albert Ayler Quintet - Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (HatHut Records, 2011)

It's a fascinating idea to think of Albert Ayler playing on a package tour with the likes of Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz, but there he was in 1966 touring Europe representing the "new thing" in jazz. This is a fascinating an valuable document of that tour that had Ayler with one of his finest groups featuring Donald Ayler on trumpet, Michael Samson on violin, William Folwell on bass and Beaver Harris on drums. Both of the concerts presented here have roughly the same setlist, with “The Truth is Marching In” and “Omega” introducing the crowd to some of Ayler’s most resonant themes and the audience accepting it quite well. "Omega" almost all melody, it’s a near-classical composition with a soft beauty that Ayler hasn't really been given credit for. “Infinite Spirit/Japan” is a very interesting medley: where the group has previously mined American folk and gospel, this branches out into an Asian theme which has a great delicate sound. Attaching “Our Prayer” to familiar Ayler themes like "Bells" and “The Truth is Marching In” works really well, combining accessible melodies with fierce improvisations. There is some beautiful melodic interplay here between the horns and violin as Samson had become an integral part of the group by this point. What is fascinating about this performance is how the band is able to hold it’s fire and milk the most out of the melodic material that is available with quite a bit of patience. The heavy lifting kicks in quite often with torrid tumbling improvisation, but the band picks its spots and the music is all the more powerful for the restraint they show. This disc shows that Ayler's group was an excellent ambassador for American free-jazz. With the abundance of theme and melody, this makes an excellent introduction to Ayler's music to those music fans that are curious, but wary of his fearsome reputation.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Steve Turre - Woody's Delight (High Note, 2012)

Trombonist Steve Turre played in the band of the great trumpeter Woody Shaw for several years during the 1970's and 80's. On this album he pays tribute to his former boss with this solid hard bop album dedicated to the trumpeter's memory. The perception of Woody Shaw has been growing recently with deluxe limited edition re-issues of his Columbia recordings, as well as the recordings of Dexter Gordon in which he was at the center of the band. The goal of this recording was to bring attention to Shaw's music and legacy, and allow the band to improvise on familiar compositions and like minded originals, by transitioning, taking Shaw's musical concepts out of the past and bringing it into the present. Growth and experience have allowed the band to interpret the music, introducing it back into the canon. Going back to a familiar location with a resilient application of the past. The track "Manny's Mambo" exemplifies this approach having excellent mobility with extra percussion pushing the music forward. On the ballad tracks, the spaciousness of the musical arrangements allows the air to flow through and around the music naturally with mind and body becoming one in the moment. The music is familiar and accessible with the autumnal nature of the musical colors showing that the music has a sense of life flowing through it. The band makes a statement and is focused on the music and very supportive and works together as a team. The power of the group is the collective energy presenting a forward looking view of the musical legacy of Wood Shaw. Woody's Delight -

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Joe Louis Walker - Hellfire (Alligator, 2012)

Guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker has recorded with many record labels over the course of his career, but to my knowledge, this is his first album for the venerable Alligator Records label. It is not surprising that he found a home with this label, purveyor of "genuine houserockin' music." While Walker can certainly rock the house, his approach moves beyond this one dimensional nature to display a toolbox of skills, showing him to be proficient in gospel music and R&B as well as traditional electric blues. Before he turned to the blues, Walker was a full time gospel artist as a member of the Spiritual Corinthians group. This grounding comes through in the opening track "Hellfire," which although presented as scalding electric blues, traces the artists' struggle between the Devil and the divine, a theme in the blues going back to the times of Son House and Robert Johnson. "Soldier for Jesus" is a more overt gospel tune, in which Walker encourages his listeners to "lay their hands on the radio" and be healed like an old-time evangelist. R&B and soul come into play with the funky "Black Girls" which recalls the deep soul music coming out of Philadelphia and Baltimore in the early 1970's. He shifts back to topical blues with "Too Drunk to Drive Drunk This Time," a fiery party track with a serious message. Aimed at people in a live club audience, its wisdom can be applicable to any situation where safety is at stake. This was a well done set, allowing Walker to play to his strengths as both a singer and a guitarist. Hopefully Alligator will provide him a supportive home for many albums to come as Joe Louis Walker is one of the premier blues artists on the scene today. Hellfire -

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Ames Room - Bird Dies (Clean Feed, 2011)

The Ames Room is a collective improvising jazz group consisting of Clayton Thomas on bass, Jean-Luc Guionnet on alto saxophone and Will Guthrie on drums. On this album they craft a wildly exciting 42 minute continuous live improvisation that morphs, evolves, dreams and cries like a living creature. The liner notes name-check Sonny Rollins trio recordings and classic AACM experiments, and while those influences are certainly there, what I hear most from the single improvisational blowout "Bird Dies" is the monstrous lung power of Rahsaan Roland Kirk from his 'Saxophone Contcerto" on the album Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle and the epic trio improvisation that saxophonist Jon Irabagon recorded last year on the album Foxy. Recorded at the end of a two week tour, the band launches into "Bird Dies" with reckless abandon, worrying less about solo statements than collective improvisation: creating music that warps the very fabric of space and time itself. The trio is consistently excellent and plays with an empathic grace bordering on the paranormal. Whether you choose to read this album as a commentary on modern jazz since the death of Charlie Parker or as up to the moment modern jazz, anyone interested in exciting high powered music will certainly want to check this out. Bird Dies -

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Books: Matt Lavelle, Tom Piccirilli

New York City Subway Drama, And BeyondNew York City Subway Drama, And Beyond by Matt Lavelle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Musician and philosopher Matt Lavelle collects his posts for various blogs over the past couple of years in this very interesting and insightful book. Alternately funny, sad and thoughtful, Lavelle runs the gamut of emotions as he describes in vivid detail living a day to day life navigating the New York City transit system. Using the transport as a model, his discusses life and the madness that can sometimes ensue living in New York City. He also describes his life as a working musician, trying to scrape by playing avant-garde jazz while working at Tower Records and the Sam Ash music store. After describing studying with the great saxophonist Ornette Coleman, the final section of the book contains heartfelt and thoughtful tributes to musicians who have influenced him, like Eric Dolphy, Clifford Brown and Paul Gonsalves. Lavelle writes in an engaging "from the heart" style, taking liberties with grammar and syntax like an expressionist he develops his own unique and engaging style of storytelling. His observations are thoughtful and validate his attentive intimate knowledge of New York City's life and music. New York City Subway Drama, And Beyond -

Headstone CityHeadstone City by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When army veteran Dane aka Johnny Danetello is released from prison after a two-year stint, surviving attempts on his life after being held responsible for the death of a mob bosses daughter, he knows his life will be a fight to survive when he returns to his old stomping grounds, a section of Brooklyn known as Headstone City. Upon release, the mob turns up the heat, trying to take Dane out at every turn. Taking a job with a limo company, Dane drives the neighborhood, living with his grandmother while he tries to figure out how to bring the confrontation to a conclusion. The Brooklyn mob is falling apart at the seams and their attempts on his life are futile. Dane was close to the mafia family before the death of the daughter and now his former best friend Vinny has become his arch enemy. But he and Vinny are linked in more ways than one - as young men they were involved in a serious car crash that left them both with head trauma, and a glimpse into the unknown. Dane is now able to perceive the ghosts and spirits that surround him, while Vinny experiences himself in three different parallel realities. This touch of the supernatural adds a slight element of horror to the book, and psychological drama to the narrative. As the clock ticks down and Dane moves toward the final confrontation, the plot quickens to a feverish and unexpected conclusion. This thriller combines the traditional crime novel with elements of supernatural horror. Tom Piccirilli melds these elements deftly and uses the supernatural scenes to further define parts of Dane's complex character. This was a very well done story, and the descriptions of Brooklyn were particularly evocative, with the claustrophobic neighborhood setting intensifying the feeling of the narrative. Headstone City -

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Abdullah Ibrahim - Sotho Blue (101 Distribution, 2011)

The pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim reconvened his band Ekeya with Belden Bullock on bass, George Gray on drums, Cleave Guyton on alto saxophone and flute, Keith Loftis on tenor saxophone, Andrae Murchison on trombone and Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone. The “little big band” format allows him to add dimensions of color and texture that make this ballad centered recording compelling. “Calypso Minor” begins the program with horns strutting slowly around a thick bass line, with languorous saxophone to trade sections with trombone at a languid tempo. Light piano accompaniment provides a gateway for flute to enter and swirl with pulsing bass and the feel of a humid tropical night. Very light and subtle shades of horn with soft brushes pervade “Sotho Blue” making way for a smoky night-time tenor saxophone solo and flute adding a night bird song. Subtle, breathing saxophone with gentle piano accompaniment display the thoughtful texture and shading at work. After the solo piano interlude of “Abide,” “Nisa” follows with shaded horns riffing as the piano, bass and drum unit glides in underneath like the approaching tide. There is a tenor saxophone solo taken at a stately medium tempo, before Murchison’s trombone swaggers in proud but humble. After another well grounded saxophone and bass solo, the full band crescendos and finishes. Dark piano chords alternate with probing horns make for a fascinating re-animation of Bud Powell’s “Glass Enclosure.” The horns harmonize with with a rich controlled feel, and then drop out entirely for darkly hued piano chords from the leader giving the music a sense of being unmoored in space and time. “Star Dance” moves back to the hushed evening feel with crystalline drops of piano bass and brushes clearing the decks for smoky saxophone and flute. This was a very interesting album as the compositions and arrangements took center stage, and the bandleader stayed mostly in the background directing the pace with great patience and humility. The arrangements are uncluttered, bearing the hallmark of one of Ibrahim’s champions from his early career, Duke Ellington. It’s a sound world that envelops the listener with fluid vibrations of rhythm moving through the air. Sotho Blue -

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ted Rosenthal Trio - Out of This World (Playscape, 2011)

Pianist Ted Rosenthal came to prominence as an early winner of the Thelonious Monk competition for piano, and then moved on to an impressive career as a bandleader, sideman and educator. On this particular album, he has chosen to re-interpret a program of jazz and popular standards, molding and shaping them into new forms and dimensions, like an artist working with clay. In this endeavor, he is joined by Noriko Ueda on bass and Quincy Davis on drums. The goal of the recording is not to dwell on past interpretations of these familiar songs, but to be mindful and improvise in the moment spontaneously, creating in real time. Opening with the title track "Out of This World," the music develops rapidly with thick sounding bass and agile drumming, that push and probe throughout, allowing the music to build to a fast and strong conclusion. "So in Love" matures as a subtle, open spaced ballad. Lush piano and supple bass build in the romanticism before a push-pull dynamic between the musicians begins to create friction, heating things up to a finish featuring rippling piano and throbbing bass. The pace builds back to a fast simmer on "Have You Met Miss Jones" developing gracefully where he piano and percussion trade off phrases along with loping bass. "Prelude No. 2" slows things back down with fluttering drums that envelop the slow ballad in an uncrushed pace that allow the musicians to probe at will. I really enjoyed the sound of Udea's bass here (and throughout the album as a whole) and she is given some fine solo space in this track. Ballad playing is also the order of the day on Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom," opening with unaccompanied piano, the music seems unmoored, floating and drifting which ever way their muses will take it. Davis is impressive here, developing a light swirl of brushes that well suits the mood of the performance. "Cry me a River" is given a makeover that begins ominously with chattering drums moving into a fast swinging section that alternates with dark stormy chords. Things ramp up with a lightning fast piano solo followed by a rapid drum response. This was a fine, well rounded album that achieved its goal of making well known music sound fresh while not sacrificing the melodic content that made it memorable in the first place. Out Of This World -

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