Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grant Green - Sunday Mornin' & John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

Grant Green - Sunday Mornin' (Blue Note, 1961) Guitarist Grant Green recorded scores of excellent albums for Blue Note in the 1960's in a variety of formats. This one had him fronting a trio with Kenny Drew on piano, Ben Tucker on bass and Ben Dixon on drums. The music on this album is a solid mix of spirituals, standards and ballads with Green's thoughtful and ripe tone cutting though all of the selections. The gospel tinged selections include a haunting version of "God Bless the Child" and his own original "Sunday Mornin'." The group develops a nice groove on Miles Davis's "So What" and on "Exodus" with a couple of more Green originals rounding out the playlist. Sunday Mornin' -

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1965) This is the great saxophonist John Coltrane's most well known and arguably finest LP, a musical manifestation of his deep seated spiritual belief. This is perhaps the high point of the recordings with his "classic quartet" with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. This beautiful four part suite has its beginning with "Acknowledgement" which has a gradual opening like a precious flower opening to the world, culminating with he invoking chant "A Love Supreme…" The extraordinary second movement of the suite, "Resolution"is simple astounding, with Coltrane's saxophone solo sounding crystal clear yet emotionally and physically overwhelming. The band is like a complete being breathing as one. The final two parts of the suite, "Pursuance"and "Psalm" track their spiritual journey even further folding in solo space for piano and drums before an epic Garrison solo ushers in the final haunting movement. A Love Supreme -

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo - Ancestors (TUM, 2012)

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith has already had a stellar year with the release of his monumental work for jazz group and string ensemble, Ten Freedom Summers. This duet album goes in an entirely different direction, featuring Smith on trumpet and percussion with the South African expat drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums, percussion and voice. Whereas the earlier album had a full and lush sound, drawing from the power of the civil rights movement, this album shows the musicians thrown into stark relief improvising patiently with each other and the silence that envelops them. Some of the improvisational sketches are dedicated to artists like “No Name In The Street, James Baldwin” and “Jackson Pollock - Action” where the trumpeter and drummer draw strength and inspiration from these artists and base their improvisation on the cadence and the color of their work. It is interesting to hear them work in such a wide open situation, because they are two veteran musicians that trust each other unconditionally and are willing to grant each other time and support to make the music successful. Culminating in the epic “Ancestors” suite, Smith and Moholo-Moholo honor those that came before them and stretch the boundaries of improvised music. Ancestors -

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

David Virelles - Continuum (Pi Recordings, 2012)

Up and coming pianist David Virelles performs with Andrew Cyrille on drums, Ben Street on bass and Roman Diaz on percussion and poetry on this unusual and interesting album. The great multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers said that his performances were often distillations of longer compositions, and the music here unfolds the same way, as if the individual pieces were parts of a larger and more cohesive whole that would be revealed over time. Virelles recently moved to New York to study composition with Henry Threadgill, so that goes a long way toward explaining his unique approach. On “Our Birthright,” the centerpiece of the album, the core group is joined by saxophonists Roman Filiu and Mark Turner, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson. This performance is strong and intense, recalling the early 1970's work of Pharoah Sanders with its spiritual intensity and torrid improvisation of horns with ripe piano, drumming and vocals. "Celebration" builds intense percussive piano to excellent effect while "Manongo Pabio" adds electronics and swirling drone to strong and powerful drumwork. The music on much of the album is inspired by Cuban music, but develops its own pace and structure rather than fall into any pre-defined "Latin Jazz" category. It's also interesting to note that the compositions on this album were inspired by paintings that Virelles saw during a trip to Cuba, since the short performances that make up this album have a strong vision based element. Continuum -

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lean Left - Live at the Cafe Oto (Unsounds, 2012)

Saxophone and clarinet player Ken Vandermark and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love met up for a live performance at London's Cafe Oto with Andy Moor and Terrie Hessells, guitarists from the Dutch experimental punk band The Ex under the collective name Lean Left. The music can be extraordinarily powerful, with two lengthy free improvisations allowing the group to blast off as well as to investigate more melodic and abstract features. "Koevoet" reaches a peak about 24 minutes in as the guitarists scour behind Vandermark who leans back with thrilling guttural wails. Nilssen-Love, who has been playing with Vandermark for years is right with the rest of the group stoking the fire. The music drifts off into hypnotic drones at times, long lines of sound that reverberate across the performance. "Drevel" is the concluding performance, coming out of the gate blasting ruthlessly are the twin guitars and drums, laying the groundwork for Vandermark's caustic tenor saxophone. Sounding for a brief second like some of the raunchiest music of The Stooges (L.A. Blues) the texture of the sound becomes frighteningly thrilling. They bring in some aspects of funk that Vandermark used in his sorely missed group Spaceways Inc. But the music surpasses any boundaries that may be presented by blues or rock and roll and is a magical exercise in the possibilities of freedom. Developing smears of sound that move the music dynamically through abstraction to full throttle excitement, the band has powerhouse qualities that are nearly overwhelming. They simply blast off into the cosmos on a kaleidoscope of pure sound. The music grows organically and the musicians are attuned to each other and the ebb and flow of the energy. Live At Cafe Oto - The entire album on mp3 costs $1.98. Beat that.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin - Live (ECM, 2012)

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin (translation: a samurai with no lord or master) has carved out a very interesting place in the jazz world over the past several years with albums on ECM Records. Their slow building bubbling and melodic music draws from a variety of sources including rock and pop, world music and of course jazz. The results are quite cinematic, and would in fact make the perfect accompaniment to an edgy independent film. The group consists of Nik Bartsch on piano, Sha on bass clarinets and alto saxophone, Bjorn Meyer or Thomy Jordi on bass, Kaspar Rast on, drums and Andi Pupatoon percussion. Broken down into modules instead of songs, the music can be quite dynamic as shown on “Modul 22” where a repetitive piano notion suddenly bursts into activity with bass and drums laying down a funky beat and bass clarinet bubbling beneath. The music ebbs and flows, developing hypnotic features as well as nearly hallucinatory sound worlds. Tension and release is a big part of the musical presentation here with the group setting up seemingly simple patterns only to embroider them and make them more complicated as their improvisations develop. “Modul 45” develops a delicate almost forlorn feel with bass and probing piano rippling through the silence. Peals of saxophone rupture forth keeping the music unpredictable, developing from  a minimalist setting through waves of stronger sound. The music is focused and thoughtful and cerebral, the group is very patient waiting for any payoff that might result from  a particular performance. This builds anticipation for the moments when the band does break free and proceeds to make them all the more thrilling. Live -

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Liudas Mockunas and Barry Guy - Lava (NoBusiness, 2012)

Lava is a wonderfully apt title for this duet between Liudas Mockunas on soprano, tenor and bass saxophones and Barry Guy on bass. The music was recorded live at Kaunas Artists House Concert Hall in Lithuania on the 2nd of April, 2011, and released in a limited edition run of 300 vinyl LP’s. Lava is the appropriate name for this music as it flows slowly and inexorably forward. Guy is a rock solid bassist who is a stalwart on the avant jazz and classical scene in Europe, and his skills are well used here, both as a soloist and a collaborator. Mockunas is very interesting as well, moving through his different instruments and allowing the music of the moment take him as the landscape or terrain would dictate the flow of lava. Although the title alludes to earth science, the titles of the improvisations reach for the cosmos beginning with the suite “Nebula 1-3” with its dreaming and haunting soundscape, the music adrift in the void before a short and wild ride through “Fumarole.” They head farther out into the cosmos on the second side of the record, delving deep into a musical black hole with “Singularity” and “Event Horizon” before emerging with “Dark Matter.” This was a fascinating and emotionally wrought album, with two excellent musicians creating in the moment and moving through space and time at will. Lava - NoBusiness Records

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Van Morrison - Born to Sing: No Plan B (Blue Note, 2012)

For a performer so steeped in jazz and blues it makes sense that the great singer-songwriter Van Morrison would land on Blue Note Records, recording with a lean six piece ensemble and occasionally adding his own piano, guitar or saxophone as the music frames his vocals on ten original songs. As Morrison has aged, he has begun to construct a worldview that is somewhat bitter, seeing wannabes and backbiters everywhere he looks. "Going Down to Monte Carlo" exemplifies this viewpoint as he talks about about (Jean-Claude) Sartre saying that "hell is other people" but also gets in a good zinger about having to listen to "phony pseudo-jazz." "End of the Rainbow" delves deeper into the depression with panhandlers and carpetbaggers abounding. But there's a glimmer of hope with "Close Enough For Jazz" with its two minute instrumental opening, simple upbeat lyric and jazz saxophone solo. "Mystic Of the East" shows he's come a long way since Astral Weeks, as Morrison sounds older, wiser and much more skeptical about the metaphysical. He may be bitter and cynical, but he's far from finished and still has a few surprises up his sleeve. "If In Money We Trust" is a withering, scathing attack on the recent financial meltdown with Morrison riffing off of the dollar bill's motto with the lyrics "if God is dead, then in money we trust." The album ending "Educating Archie" goes even further, blasting the capitalist system and the corporate media and coming off like an Occupy Wall Street protester as organ and saxophone testify behind him. So there's still fire in the belly (as he once sang) of this aging legend. When he harnesses his melancholy and breaks out of his torpor, he shows the lion that still lives within. Born To Sing: No Plan B -

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Monday, October 15, 2012

James Falzone - KLANG: Brooklyn Lines... Chicago Spaces

James Falzone is a clarinet player and composer, part of the fertile Chicago creative music scene. His group KLANG features Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, Jason Roebke on bass and cracklebox and Tim Daisy on drums. Falzone combines the Chicago spirit with the music and vibe he picked up in Brooklyn during a recent visit. The music is angular and bracing, reminding me of one of my favorite albums, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. The fresh and invigorating quality to the music comes from the sharp corners supplied by Adasiewicz and Daisy, that supply a percussive foundation for the bass and clarinet to bob and weave around in interesting ways. John Corbett’s liner notes reference the work of Ornette Coleman and pioneering clarinetist John Carter and their work in developing bebop and blues into something that extended beyond both of them. The music moves through diverse patterns, developing the abstract lean corners of “Brooklyn Lines” and “Ukranian Village” which meld sharp metallic vibes with strong percussion and bass. In response to this challenge, Falzone loops and weaves through the thickets of sound. The group stretches out dynamically on “Ground” developing a captivating performance as the energy waxes and wanes in a rewarding fashion. More melodic material dominates the latter half of the album, on the gently swinging “Carol’s Burgers” and the cerebral “Sciuridae.” KLANG: Brooklyn Lines . . . Chicago Spaces -

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Anat Cohen - Claroscuro (Anzic, 2012)

This a wide ranging group of songs, where Anat Cohen plays mostly clarinet but a few on saxophone too. She is supported on this album by a large group consisting of Daniel Freedman on drums, Gilmar Gomez on percussion, Jason Lindner on piano, Joe Martin on bass, Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. The up tempo tracks pack the most excitement, "Anat's Dance" and "All Brothers" swirl and sway with her reeds developing a willowy essence ably supported by the rest if the band. "All Brothers" is particularly interesting as it seems to add extra percussion or stringed instruments to provide added textural depth for the music. The slower songs lose a bit if the momentum moving from the haunting "As the World Weeps" to the hokey "La Vie En Rose" where Gordon's vocals and the arrangement lead to a bit too much of a maudlin feel. The music is immaculately played, and if anything this album might miss out from simply being too ambitious. Flitting from old-time swing to modern jazz then nodding to different music around the world. The ballads overwhelm with a world weary sadness and with melancholy and aching songs drowning out moments of joy. Claroscuro -

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Joe Hertenstein - Future Drone (Jazzwerkstatt, 2012)

Future Drone is a raw and brisk trio album with Jon Irabagon on tenor saxophone, Achim Tang on bass and Joe Hertenstein on drums. Dedicated to the late drummer Paul Motian, the music is spirited, beginning with “Future Drone” which has an exciting angular improvisation. Jon Irabagon develops a very deep and full saxophone tone and Tang and Hertenstein are continually inventive and propulsive. Raw saxophone and thick bass usher in “Seven for Nothing” with the music developing a thrilling caustic tone moving to bowed bass and powerful drums. Everything is free of pretense and consists of in the moment mindful creativity. “Rotten Strawberry” is the highlight of the album with rough hewn saxophone, bass and drums advancing a stumbling funky groove. Irabagon is particularly powerful here, deep and darkly potent over the open ended bass and drums allowing for for three way conversation with subtle humor and a wildly thrilling collective collective improvisation. The music on this album blends the talent of three unique musicians in dramatic fashion, showcasing their captivating and climactic music. Future Drone -

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Omer Avital - Suite of the East (Anzic, 2012)

Bassist and composer Omer Avital moved to New York City from Israel in the early 1990’s during the height of the “young lions” era. He was signed to Impulse, but dropped before releasing a full album. Undeterred, he became an integral part of the New York City jazz scene based around the club Smalls and recording for a variety of labels. On this album, the lineup is: Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, Omer Klein on piano, Omer Avital on bass and Daniel Freedman on drums. Because of Avital’s compositions and arrangements, the band often seems bigger than it is, filling out space akin to a larger ensemble. “Free Forever” uses this larger sound to the groups advantage, developing an uptempo performance that is very colorful and dynamic, akin to Charles Mingus’s mid-sized ensembles. Several of the performances on this album are quite long and unfold slowly like flowers. “Suite of the East” develops an impressionistic palette that evolves over time, while “Song for Peace” has a swirling and exotic feel, developing lush and intricate full band passages. “The Mountain Top” features colorful piano and elastic bass and the song “Saini Memories” strips the group down to a piano, bass and drums trio for a haunted and melancholy performance. “The Abutbuls” swings back into a vibrant happier feel breaking into a rich uptempo vibe before Avital wraps things up with the ruminative “Bass Meditations.” Although there were some excellent individual spots, this album was more about the ensemble and the songs than about individual soloists. Songs that spooled out using color, texture and hue and were consistently interesting. Suite of the East -

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marc Johnson/Elaine Elias - Swept Away (ECM, 2012)

The husband and wife team of bassist Marc Johnson and pianist Elaine Elias are joined on this intimate jazz album by Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone and Joey Baron on drums. The music is melodious and peaceful, moving through gentle motifs with tact and dignity. “It’s Time” has piano, bass and drums developing a spacious feeling, slowly advancing the pace with a warm melodic feel akin to the mid-70’s Keith Jarrett records. After setting this up, the trio strengthens the pace, moving into a stronger, more driving improvisation. Lovano enters on “One Thousand and One Nights” moving lightly and probing at the song while being framed by soft bass and drums. “When The Sun Comes Up” has melodic piano and bass laying the groundwork for thematic development, before making space for subtle percussion and a delicate bass solo. “Midnight Blues” has a late night bluesy feel of darkened streets and lonely avenues before dawn. Lovano is excellent here, matching the quiet and longing pace with a tone of languidness and melancholy. “Moments” keeps the tone with a slow moving quartet ballad that develops a narcotic dreamy air. There is a haunted patience to this album that imbues the whole of the music presented here. Things develop at their own pace with no effort made to hurry or hustle, like the music has become disconnected from time to build its own bubble of spacetime. Swept Away -

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bobby Bradford, Frode Gjerstad, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love - Kampen (NoBusiness, 2012)

Brass player Bobby Bradford may be most well known for his association with fellow Texan Ornette Coleman. But he has had quite an admirable career on his own as a bandleader and an educator. His profile has been rising lately with the recent release of an excellent Mosaic Select consisting of the recordings of the band he co-led with clarinetist John Carter, and new recordings. This album is a collaborative effort with Bradford on cornet, Frode Gjerstad on clarinets and alto saxophone, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. This is a collectively improvised album recorded live in concert on November 17th, 2010 at Kampenjazz, Oslo, Norway. The improvisation is broken into four parts wittily titled "This Is", "A Live", "Recording From", "Kampen, Oslo." The music is quite exciting and recorded in a way that shows the four musicians interacting in a deep seated and powerful fashion. Bradford and Gjerstad make for an inspired front line, swirling and sputtering while long time partners Haker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love are a superb rhythm team, stretching and kneading time as necessary. This is a limited edition of 300 records, so turntable owning improv lovers shouldn't wait. Bobby Bradford, Frode Gjerstad, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love - Kampen

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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Donny McCaslin - Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf, 2012)

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin has become gradually more adventurous in his playing and musical surroundings over the past few albums, embracing elements of electronic instruments and fusion to create new avenues for expression. On this album he is joined by Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums. The electric textures are right up front on the opening "Stadium Jazz" which kicks in urgently with keyboards, bass and drums. McCaslin's saxophone gradually rises in intensity to meet the other instruments and after a drum solo, the music develops dynamic ebbs and flows. Choppy saxophone and strong electronics usher in "Says Who" which moves into a funky section of bubbling bass and electric piano. The leader's saxophone digs in and builds against the grinding electronics. "Tension" has uptempo spooling saxophone over electronics and bass. Strong saxophone builds the pace with heavy resolve, driving hard to the finish. Guiliana contributes excellent percussion on "Prala Grande" moving along with progressive rock like electronics to frame the saxophone soloing which develops in power and intensity. Uptempo and caffeinated, "Bend," features strong ripe saxophone soloing over a shifting musical landscape, developing raw accents along with the swirling electronics. This album was very interesting and consistently engaging. The group really sounds excited to have the new tools and freedom to work with and develops music that remains jazz at its heart but draws fresh inspiration from other avenues of contemporary music. Casting for Gravity -

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Books: Fuckin' Lie Down Already by Tom Piccirilli

Fuckin' Lie Down AlreadyFuckin' Lie Down Already by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tom Piccirilli is going though some very serious health problems so I'm trying to buy as many of his books as I can to support him. This short but explosive novella will raise your hair, but is an excellent example of Piccirilli's wild imagination and masterful skill. Clay is a New York City police detective who has been tracking a Mafia family for four years, slowly trying to put together a case against them. When he gets home from work one evening, he is met with a horrible sight: his wife and infant son murdered, and the killer blasting him through the gut with a gunshot. But Clay's not going to go down easy, he's going to make the mob family pay before he cashes out. This is where it starts getting weird. Clay, weakened and delusional, dresses his wife and son and puts them in the car. Holding his guts in with one hand, with his dead wife riding shotgun, they drive off in search of vengeance. He tracks the killer to a motel in Saratoga Springs, nodded out on heroin he bought with money from the hit. Clay gives him a hot shot and loads his gibbering body into the fly strewn car along with the dead bodies of his family and some roadkill he picked up along the way and heads back to Brooklyn for the final showdown. When he meets up with the mobsters the revenge is biblical. This novella is an absolute thrill ride from start to finish. Piccirilli began as a writer of horror fiction before gradually moving into crime fiction and noir. He draws on all of those genres here and the effect is mesmerizing. Please help out with Tom's medical expenses if you can.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Jason Robinson - Tiresian Symmetry (Cuneiform, 2012)

Saxophonist and composer Jason Robinson approached this project by thinking about ancient Greek myths and the music of Henry Threadgill. It made for some pretty potent inspiration, because the nine piece band he put together for this album is volatile and exciting throughout. Drummers George Schuller and Ches Smith, bassist Drew Gress, tuba player Marcus Rojas, Bill Lowe on tuba and bass trombone, JD Parran and Marty Ehrlich on saxophones and clarinet and guitarist Liberty Ellman make up the group while Robinson leads on flute and saxophones. “Stratum 3” opens the album with drumming and tuba creating a nice foundation before a exciting and intense tenor saxophone solo is followed by smears of tuba, both of which are excellently supported by the tandem drummers. The full band develops a mysterious sound on “Tiresian Symmetry” with saxes bubbling and boiling, and the music home to many detailed nuances. After a bass solo, one of the saxophonists leads the music back up with shades of guitar adding texture to the intensifying music. ‘Radiate” has the unusual pairing of tuba with squiggles of saxophone, which are drawn together and propelled forward by the drummers, culminating in a wild full band collective improvisation. “Elbow Grease (Introduction)” and “Elbow Grease” have a raw saxophone opening rolling into the full band's entry led by tenor saxophone playing loud and true. Swirling and wailing this becomes a visceral experience as the musicians reach deep for their best efforts. Tiresian Symmetry -

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Bad Plus - Made Possible (Entertainment One Music, 2012)

The Bad Plus, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King were briefly the most controversial group on the jazz scene with their innovative rearrangement of rock and roll songs for jazz trio. Gradually though, the group developed its own identity and all three members emerged as composers as well as daring interpreters of large scale works such as The Rite of Spring. The music the group makes is always forward looking and on this album of all original compositions they create dynamic music, adding subtle electronics on a few tracks for shading and texture. My favorite tracks from the album include the fascinating and propulsive “Wolf Out” which creates a percussive groove that drives the music relentlessly forward. “Seven Minute Mind” uses the uses the dynamism the band is famous for by setting up an uptempo feel only to juxtapose against it a slower, more gradual conclusion. “I Want to Feel Good Pt. 2” is a short blast of joyful trio interplay, with King and Anderson deeply locked in, allowing Iverson to glide effortlessly above their foundation. The lengthy performance “In Stitches” develops in a suite-like nature over the course of fourteen minutes. Beginning in a slow and meditative fashion, the music slowly ramps up its power and energy, developing a cohesive storyline that changes as the music converges on a lyrical conclusion. The final track “Victoria” comes as something of a coda or a postscript to the album. Iverson plays spare and contemplative piano which is gently supported by drums and bass. The song is deep and introspective, providing more questions than answers and leaving the interpretation of the music up to the listener. The music on this album moves in a connected narrative arc, with action, drama and pathos evoking a wide range of emotions. Made Possible -

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Medeski Martin and Wood - Free Magic (Indirecto Records, 2012)

This album finds keyboardist John Medeski, Chris Wood on bass and Billy Martin on drums continuing their jam-funk based jazz, but with a twist: this album is played solely on acoustic instruments as opposed to the electric jam fusion for which they are most well known. It’s an interesting departure, allowing for more depth and nuance to come out of the group’s music. There are certainly some surprises to be had including right off the bat, with Medeski playing melodica before switching back to the piano. Their jazz bona fides come through in the thoughtful and emotionally wrought “Blues for Another Day” and a very cool set ending pairing the Charles Mingus lament “Nostalgia In Times Square” with Sun Ra’s unearthly “Angel Race.” In between is the dynamic “Where’s Sly” which features an excellent Martin drum interlude, and the fascinating free-form medley of “Free Magic/Ballade in C Minor” which develops a fantasia of angular shards that change and shimmer in the musical light. The group really shows a lot of depth on this recording, flashes of their funky side, along with blues, impressionistic jazz and soul. Free Magic -

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