Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dave Liebman - Surreality (Enja Weber, 2012)

Jazz saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist and scholar Lewis Porter are collaborating in two different ways, first on this album, where they are joined by Marc Ribot on guitar, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. The are also worked together on Liebman's biography What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist.(excerpt here) On this album they cover a wide range of music from fusion to avant-garde and beyond. The opening track "Olivier" harkens back to the time Liebman spent in Miles Davis's electrified ensembles of the early 1970's. Guitar and electric bass set a chugging groove for lighter textured soprano saxophone and electric piano to fill in and shade. Albert Ayler's "Omega Is the Alpha" is the highlight of the album, and just a wonderful performance. Marc Ribot is turned loose with some snarling electric guitar, digging deep into the music. Ribot leads an Ayler-based band called Spiritual Unity, so he is the perfect choice for this track. Liebman comes in on tenor saxophone, playing Ayler's spiritual-folk theme before taking the tune way out and leading a torrid collective improvisation. "Trigonometry" by Ornette Coleman has the leaders bouncy saxophone leading an intricate improvisation. Liebman's high spirited soprano saxophone moves back and forth in a swinging fashion and pushes through to another nice solo from Ribot. Dark piano opens the title track "Surreality" with bass and drums kicking in as guitar melds in and develops a powerful beat. The album wraps up with a haunting and beautiful rendition of John Coltrane's "Alabama" ushered in with deep bowed bass. Lewis Porter wrote a well received book about John Coltrane and Liebman counts him as his biggest influence, so there is a lot of pressure and poise here. The music is stoic and thoughtful, and builds to very powerful and emotionally wrought exclamations. Surreality -

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rez Abbasi - Continuous Beat (Enja, 2012)

Guitarist Rez Abbasi has spent quite a bit of time as part of the New York City music scene, but has toured all over as part of collaborative groups and as a bandleader. On this album he plays in a trio format with John Hebert on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. Abbasi was quoted as saying he was looking for music that “retains the warmth of the established trio sound but also employs electronics in order to expand the timbral palette, especially for the melodies.” He succeeded in that quest and the music is well played and thoughtful. “Divided Attention” uses a repetitive guitar motif to build tension and release to spring the music forward and gain momentum. Subtle percussion and probing guitar open “Major Major.” The trio centers around Takeishi’s drums before gradually building force with stronger guitar and bass. “Rivalry” is quite exciting, with a backbeat of drums and bass and Abbasi’s guitar streaking across the musical sky like shooting stars. Potent guitar and drums drive the music forward around the grounding of rock solid bass. It is really interesting to hear this group tackle the music of Thelonious Monk, as they do on their performance of “Off Minor.” The music sounds subtly fractured with the addition of electronics that probe and tease at the familiar melody. This was a very sharp sounding and exciting recording. While the music is still quite accessible, it is very fresh and thoughtfully produced. Continuous Beat -

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

7th Annual Jazz Critics Poll

I was very excited to be invited by Francis Davis to take part in the year end poll that he is conducting in collaboration with These were my entries in the poll:

2012's Ten Best New Releases
 1. Paul Dunmall and Tony Bianco - Thank You to John Coltrane
2. Matthew Shipp et. al. - Black Music Disaster
3. Vijay Iyer - Accelerando
4. Sam Rivers et. al. - Live in New York
5. Neneh Cherry and The Thing - The Cherry Thing
6. Steve Lehman - Dialect Fluorescent
7. Matthew Shipp - Elastic Aspects
8. Charles Gayle - Streets
9. Donny McCaslin - Casting for Gravity
10. Jon Irabagon With Mike Pride And Mick Barr – I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze

Top Three Reissues
1. Charles Mingus - Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-1965
2. World Saxophone Quartet - Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note
3. Don Pullen - Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note

Year's Best Vocal Album
Neneh Cherry and The Thing - The Cherry Thing

Year's Best Debut Album
Carmen Intorre Jr. - For the Soul

Year’s Best Latin Jazz Album
David Virelles - Continuum

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Jon Irabagon With Mike Pride And Mick Barr ‎– I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze

This one track album of pure excitement is a continuous blast of energy from Jon Irabagon on tenor saxophone, Mike Pride on bass and Mick Barr on drums. The first volume of this series was a shot of excoriating noise with just Irabagon and Pride and things are ramped up even further with the addition of Barr and his his thrilling and hyper-kinetic guitar playing. I hear echoes of classic performances from the end of John Coltrane’s career like “Vigil” and “Sun Ship” where the trio develops little motifs and then using those as springboards to to further their open ended improvisational search. Collective improvisation is the most important of the musical approaches here. Although any one of the instrumentalists could dominate the proceedings if they so chose, the results are remarkably democratic, with everybody working together to push the boundaries of exploration to its limits. Although this could be daunting to listen to: forty-seven minutes of uninterrupted loud improvised jazz, there is no sense of the music being some grim-faced, testosterone fueled blowing contest. Although the music is undoubtedly muscular, there is a sense of fun and joy that comes from the music and riches the musicians find along their quest. This thrilling album isn’t for the faint of heart, but its not a one-trick pony either. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface that make this a remarkable album. I Don't Hear Nothin' But the Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze -

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Rolling Stones - Grrr! (ABKCO/Interscope, 2012)

The Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary as the “world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band” in the summer of 2012, with rumors of reunion concerts, a splashy hardcover book and this compilation that covers their history as well as adding two new songs recorded specifically for this collection. This is an entry of the three disc version, but there is also a super deluxe version with bonus early demos and a 7” single. This collection runs roughly chronologically, beginning in their early years, enthralled by American blues and R&B and releasing singles of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” and Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.” Disc one tracks how the band assimilate the blues into their sound and developed their unique voice one some of their best known early singles like “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Under My Thumb.” Disc two is quite powerful, pulling songs from arguably the bands fines period, the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; classics from the Beggars Banquet LP “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy For the Devil” and from the Exile on Main Street LP, “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy.” This leaves the spottier albums of the late 1970’s to today for disc three. They are chosen judiciously, with familiar tunes like “Start Me Up” and “Miss You” mixed in with the likes of album singles “Mixed Emotion” and “Highwire.” The two new songs added at the end are quite good, particularly “Doom and Gloom” which rides an excellent groove and shows that the swagger can still be called upon when necessary. GRRR! -

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Grass Roots - Grass Roots (AUM Fidelity, 2012)

Grass Roots is an exciting modern jazz group consisting of Darius Jones on alto saxophone, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, Sean Conly on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. In the brief liner notes to this album it is written that the group and the music came together in a natural and spontaneous manner. That certainly sounds like the case as Taylor and Conly lay down an elastic and balanced groove while Jones's alto saxophone is raw and excoriating and feeding off guttural blasts from Harding's baritone. "Hotttness" opens the album sounding deep, stoic and very powerful. The saxophones trade staccato bursts of ideas. Building into a tight groove with the saxophones circling strong bass and drums before they once again open the throttle, erupting into free flight. "Lovelorn" has a nice contrast between the brawny baritone and the yearning alto, embracing the open space made available by the music. There is a torrid and exciting blast of music on "Ricochet" with Jones approaching a Pharoah Sanders like level of intensity and the full band rough & ready. Harding's "Flight AZ 1734" has a fast swinging opening for the saxophones together building a very upbeat and emotional tune. Alto and baritone take flight on fast and strong solos, playing tight and united. "Schnibbett" and especially "Hovering Above" are dynamic, with slow examination of quiet, probing at open space. This album worked well, straddling the line between strong modern jazz and free music. The contrast between the two saxophones tones drives a swirl of activity that is earthy and spontaneous. Grass Roots -

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ernest Dawkins - Afro Straight (Delmark, 2012)

Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins takes a break from the New Horizon Ensemble and the Afro-Heritage Ensemble, two larger bands he leads, to explore a different heritage, that of a few saxophone masters. Dawkins leads, playing tenor and alto saxophone along with Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Willerm Desilfort on piano, Junius Paul on bass and Isaiah Spencer on drums along with some additional percussion. The majority of the album consists of compositions written by or associated with John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. From the Coltrane songbook we hear "Mr. P.C.", "Central Park West" and "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise". The group executes these songs very well, expanding what were originally quartet performances to include trumpet and extra percussion. The two Coltrane originals are tough and agile, while the standard is stretched out a greater length, hinting at the melody before fully embracing it. Wayne Shorter's "United" and "Juju" harken back to his Blue Note period with strong blustery saxophone and ripe accompaniment. Also included are a couple of Dawkins originals particularly the title track which is a short blast of joyful music. The bebop anthem "Woody 'n' You" and an interesting organ washed "God Bless the Child" round out the performances. This was an enjoyable and well played album. The musicians revisit some familiar songs and play them with class and tact making for accessible and satisfying music. Afro Straight -

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Ben Allison, Michael Blake and Rudy Royston - Union Square (Abeat, 2012)

Bassist and composer Ben Allison has been at the center of the modern jazz scene as a bandleader and the driving force behind the Jazz Composers Collective which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. On this album he plays in a stripped down trio format with longtime collaborator Michael Blake on tenor and soprano saxophones and Rudy Royston on drums. The music on this album features great interplay and a patient and unforced conception. “Flapper” has a strong loping bass and drums combination and uptempo but rough hewn saxophone. Everyone works together for an concise and potent performance. Powerhouse bass and drums again drive “Lucky Man” where Blake gradually develops the pace of his saxophone playing to meet the frenetic rhythm that the trio builds to a furious conclusion. “Run Southern Boy” is enveloped in a dark feel, growing fast and strong with an undercurrent of unease. Blake’s raw and sandpaper-rough saxophone keeps everyone on edge and the music is urgent, powerful and edgy. Many years of playing together have allowed the musicians on this album to develop a level of trust that generates levels of yearning, emotional textures in the music and  a thoughtful evolution of their sound and improvisational conception. Union Square -

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gary Clark Jr. - Blak and Blu (Warner Brothers, 2012)

Guitarist and vocalist Gary Clark Jr. emerged from the potent Austin, Texas scene working the hard way, up through the trenches and gradually building a buzz that reached a fever pitch with the Bright Lights EP. It is easy to see why Clark has gained so much attention and major label support, he has a great package of skills: guitar playing, singing and songwriting in addition to being comfortable in any genre from contemporary rhythm and blues to gutbucket blues. Clark comes blasting out of the gate with some scalding blues rock on “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” and “When My Train Pulls In.” The latter is particularly impressive as it combines the time-honored blues motifs of being “born to lose” and train travel with a thoroughly modern slash and burn guitar solo. Clark switches to the other end of the spectrum with “Blak and Blu” and “The Life,” both of which are radio-friendly rhythm and blues performances that hint at hip hop at times. “Bright Lights” nods to an old Jimmy Reed song while making it all Clark’s own with ominous dark music and Clark threatening “you’re gonna know my name...” It’s a great performance, grabbing the listener’s attention in a darkly riveting fashion. But Clark can be an entertainer too, whether teasing Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” or blasting out roadhouse rock with a killer riff and a strong backbeat on “Travis County.” In lesser hands, this might seem like a schizophrenic exercise in genre hopping, but Clark inhabits all of the music evenly and with great skill. He has a wide range of music at his fingertips and plays it all with grace and power, on his way to what will hopefully be a long and successful career. Blak and Blu -

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Jon Irabagon's Outright! - Unhinged (Irabbagast Records, 2012)

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon is one of the busiest musicians on the contemporary jazz scene. In addition to taking plum sideman appearances with the likes of Mary Halvorson and Dave Douglas, he has found time to start his own label and release two albums this fall. Along with Irabagon, the core group on this album is Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Jacob Sacks on keyboard, John Hebert on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. There are also guest spots for individuals and even a large orchestra. The music is spirited and fun, covering a lot of ground, much like he does in the thrilling group he anchors, Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The music moves from short riotous blasts of manic joy, “Camp Douglas, 1-3” which sounds like bebop meshed with cartoon music - boisterous and cheerful, to the Latin music of “Lola Pastillas.” This track was particularly interesting, beginning with Sacks developing an angular motif on piano, before deftly moving to a syncopated pace that builds in the elastic Latin theme. Irabagon develops a powerful saxophone solo over staccato percussion to excellent effect. “Kremzeek” ricochets off into another direction entirely, with horns melding with electric keyboards to usher in a complicated introduction. The tune is lightning fast with the leader soloing over strong accompaniment of bubbling electric keyboards and bass, making for a thrilling performance. A snarling guitar solo envelops the music, before making way for spots for drums and trumpet. The version of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” is re-worked to the point of being unrecognizable, and Irabagon develops a deep stoic “Coltrane in ‘65” tone that adds a whole new dimension to the music, especially with Hebert’s epic bass solo. While occasionally rough and ready, it is the wit of Irabagon and the other musicians in this album that shines through the most. This is an accessible album that will appeal to a wide swath of jazz fans, comfortable in the hard swinging world of mainstream jazz and the abstract and ever inquiring world of the avant-garde. Not to be missed. Unhinged -

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill (Reprise, 2012)

Neil Young has nearly 50 years in the music business, and now is busier than ever, releasing his autobiography this year along with two albums. This is the second one, a rambling double disc affair that covers a lot of ground. Playing with his long time backing band Crazy Horse, the music has a loping, lumbering groove that lays a comfortable foundation for Young's distinctive guitar and vocals. "Driftin' Back" is a massive slab of music, clocking in at nearly a half an hour. The lyrics make a great companion piece to Young's book, Waging Heavy Peace, as both are rambling, occasionally fascinating and resolutely non-linear. There are two versions of the title track "Psychedelic Pill" both short, driving rockers that are as concise as the jams are loose. The nostalgia of "Born in Toronto" gives way to the lengthy "Ramada Inn" which starts bright and sunny before turning progressively darker as the tale of a man struggling with a drinking problem. "She's Always Dancing" develops a swirling, hypnotic groove akin to "Mansion on the Hill" from his great Ragged Glory LP. Finally, "Walk Like A Giant" has echoes of nostalgia in its lyrics, but the music is much more taught despite spooling out for over sixteen minutes. Neil Young is famous in the music world nearly as much for his idiosyncratic nature as his great talent. This album shows aspects of both. As soon as you think he has gone off the rails of self indulgence, he takes a guitar solo or sings a lyric that snaps everything back into focus. Psychedelic Pill -

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sam Newsome - The Art of the Soprano Vol. 1 (Sam Newsome, 2012)

Saxophonist Sam Newsome broke through during the "young lions" era of jazz in the early 1990's. He played in the band of trumpeter Terence Blanchard among others. During the mid-90's he began to concentrate solely on the soprano saxophone as his main voice and over the past couple of years has released some highly regarded albums of unaccompanied saxophone. This is a solo album as well with an ambitious playlist that runs the gamut from jazz classics to world music inspired originals. What really impressed me when I was listening to this album was the sheer range of sounds that Newsome can get from his instrument. From percussive pops to swirls of air and reverberating drones, he gets a much wider palette than I would have thought possible. It is impressive to hear him play the entire suite of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," a somewhat audacious step for solo saxophone, but carrying it off quite well and taking that familiar and reverent music from an entirely different angle. Three Duke Ellington compositions are represented, "In a Mellow Tone," "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Caravan" and all if these tunes are handled well from the exotic touches of "Caravan" through the gentle ballad of "In a Sentimental Mood." Finally, three short songs that reference the African continent show Newsome's ability to conjure divergent rhythm and texture which keep the music both technically impressive but also a joy to hear. Art of Soprano Vol. 1 -

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Chris McGregor - Sea Breezes: Solo Piano - Live in Durban 1987 (Fledgling, 2012)

South African expat Chris McGregor left the stigma of apartheid behind to move to Europe with an extraordinary small band called The Blue Notes. He would go in to form his own record label and lead the great progressive big band The Brotherhood of Breath. This album goes in another direction entirely showing him in a solo piano setting in a small and intimate club. Echoes of Monk and Ellington reflect through the music, with the music seemingly just waiting like scaffolding for larger arrangements to hang. "Sweet As Honey" is in fact dedicated to Thelonious Monk, having been written on the day the great pianist and composer passed away. Monk's spirit is in the air here as McGregor stabs at the keyboard, working through knots of melody, hinting at stride, and bringing it all together logically. The lush ballad "Maxine" was dedicated to McGregor's wife, developing slow waves of thoughtful and intricate music. Finally, the recital ends fittingly with a lengthy performance of Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss." Working through ebbs and flows if music, and then weaving the familiar melody into the texture of the music, McGregor is able to tell a story with the music, one that works well and makes for a successful conclusion. Sea Breezes: Solo Piano Live in Durban 1987 -

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Manu Katche - Manu Katche (ECM, 2012)

Drummer and percussionist Manu Katche became well known by some in the music world in the mid-1980s mostly thanks to his successful contribution to pop music albums of the era by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Sting. Katche has carved out an interesting niche since then, combining instrumental jazz with aspects of popular music and production. The musicians on this album are: Jim Watson on piano and hammond B3 organ, Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and loops, Tore Brunborg on tenor and soprano saxophones and Manu Katche drums and piano. My favorite tracks on the album were "Short Ride" with an organ drone underpinning horn riffs, and Brunborg's saxophone solo showing some spark. "Beats and Bounce" has strong saxophone with a backbeat over repetitive piano. This song has another sweet spot for saxophone at a medium tempo as the musicians come in together in a well arranged performance. Sultry saxophone, bright piano and subtle and persistent beat all come together from a fine performance. Other interesting tracks include "Loose" which develops a subtle organ and percussion groove with electronically enhanced trumpet that adds a darker hued layer to the proceedings giving way to Katche's only drums solo of the album. "Walking by Your Side" has the full group coming together at a medium tempo with electronic effects developing a kaleidoscope of musical color with organ and saxophone. This album did not immediately grab me, but repeated listening drew my attention to the structure and texture that was the underlying foundation of the work on this album. Manu Katche -

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

John McLaughlin - Now Here This (Abstract Logix, 2012)

Guitarist John McLaughlin has turned 70 this year, celebrating many years in the music business stretching back to the 1960’s. The musicians on this album are McLaughlin on guitar and guitar-synthesizer, Gary Husband on keyboards, Etienne M'Bappe on bass guitar and Ranjit Barot on drums and Indian percussion. The music can be quite complicated, developing many fast and intricate rhythms that are complex and dizzying in their speed and variety. The music works quite well, developing a very light sound with McLaughlin’s guitar and electronics dancing through the bright keyboards and bubbling bass. “Trancefusion” is the opening track and really sets the pace for the rest of the album. Drums and percussion build a hypnotic and labyrinthine rhythm while Husband and M’Bappe build the pace from the ground up allowing McLuaghlin an ample launching pad for a spirited solo. The aptly named “Guitar Love” is a feature for the leader, whose lightning fast playing hasn’t mellowed a bit since the days of his early solo work on Extrapolation and his days playing with Miles Davis and Tony Williams. This is a treat for fans of jazz fusion or progressive rock, the use of high-energy complicated music keeps things moving along briskly and the the music exciting. Now Here This -

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Living By Lanterns - New Myth/Old Science (Cuneiform, 2012)

Ironically I was working on this post when Sandy came barging into the Jersey shore. So, while I didn't have any lanterns handy I did live by candle and flashlight for a week. New Myths/Old Science is an album by a collective group put together to write and perform music based on an archival collection of material by the great jazz iconoclast Sun Ra. The group consists of Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Tomeka Reid on cello, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, Joshua Abrams on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums and Mike Reed on drums and electronics. The group is a varied and diverse one, drawing on different aspects of the progressive jazz scene. Adasiewicz is particularly potent over the course of the the album with a ringing metallic sound that drives the uptempo numbers like the superb set ending "New Science" and allowing for a softer malleted approach during the mysterious slower performances. While the album is primarily an opportunity for the ensemble as a whole to shine, there are spots where the individual musicians peek through. Reed and Fujiwara develop a widely varying and interesting sense of rhythm between them, akin to Sun Ra, as the bandleader often used multiple percussionists in some of his compositions. Mary Halvorson is also able to pick out a spot for a challenging and snarling electric guitar solo. This album shows that the influence of Sun Ra is still potent on the modern jazz scene with modern musicians drawing from both his music and his philosophy as inspiration. New Myth/Old Science -

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