Friday, April 29, 2016

John Hicks Quartet featuring Bobby Watson - Naima's Love Song (DIW, 1988)

This very fine piece of straight-ahead jazz was recorded in Tokyo in April of 1988, with an excellent band consisting of John Hicks on piano, Bobby Watson on alto saxophone, Curtis Lundy on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. They produced a no-nonsense album touching on blues, bop and ballads and showing impeccable craftsmanship throughout. “Elementary, My Dear Watson” leads off the album with the group developing a nice easy swing tempo with strong bass playing and deeply hewn saxophone. The accompaniment of the group is excellent and Hicks takes a wonderfully graceful piano solo as well. Watson’s saxophone drifts over currents supplied by the trio on “Someday Soon.” The rhythm section keeps things clean and mellow, with rippling piano, elastic bass and swinging drums but things soon change as the pace is kicked up and Watson responds by launching himself into a killer solo that is fast, exciting and hard blowing. He bows out to Lundy who makes a fine statement of his own before the band pulls together once again to conclude a very fine performance. Mal Waldron’s ballad composition “Soul Eyes” is given a beautiful reading, with Watson achieving a beautiful saxophone tone and Hicks soloing with exquisite grace over subtle bass and drums. “On the One” charges hard from the beginning with Watson bowing super hard saxophone over taut piano, bass and drums. There is a strong percussively natured solo from Hicks accompanied by strongly pulled bass and thrashing drums. The bebop standard “Pent Up House” is a blast to hear, played fast and spikey with a ferocious forward momentum. The piano, bass and drums unit is a runaway freight train, but Hicks cedes much of the spotlight to Watson who definitely makes the most of it by soloing at light speed, playing face-forward bop on the alto saxophone in the grand Charlie Parker tradition. Finally there is a nod to John Coltrane in the closing title cut, “Naima’s Love Song” which is a beautiful ballad. Bobby Watson’s yearning saxophone cries and Curtis Lundy’s thick and powerful bass are the anchor of the recording, before making way for a stoic John Hicks piano solo. The album ends passionately with emotional playing from Watson framed by the subtle rhythm trio. Although opportunities may have been scant in the USA in this time period, musicians as talented as these men were found a home on many of the overseas labels that were very active during this period. This and albums like it are well worth seeking out. Naima's Love Song -

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Keefe Jackson / Jason Adasiewicz - Rows and Rows (Delmark Records, 2016)

The Chicago modern jazz scene is bursting with talent, from the AACM through younger musicians and their brand of tough talking, no-nonsense music is recognized worldwide. This is a duet recording between two Chicago stalwarts, Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. “Caballo Ballo” begins the album with a wonderful juxtaposition of light and dancing mallets and dark and probing saxophone. The instruments meet and converse and the saxophone gets choppy with the vibes riding the waves, moving through a great improvised section to a calamitous conclusion. A long and yearning moan from Jackson’s tenor saxophone ushers in “Questioned, Understood, Possessed” framed by vibes that glimmer as if in a breeze. There is an excellent saxophone solo, which is raw and delightful, wrapped in a shimmering gown of vibraphone notes. “Where’s Mine” features a darker horn, perhaps a bass clarinet, burbling against the clanging and discordant vibes. Clarinet and vibraphone work well together as a sound and it makes for an interesting combination. There are long tones of clarinet that develop as the improvisation builds and Adasiewicz’s vibes orbit around those tones before coming back to more traditional interplay in the conclusion. Swirling clarinet with light sharp vibes intertwine on “Swap” as the make their advance. Jackson’s cries open up the music and allow more of the available space to come into play, deepening the music, and keeping the music raw and very real. Quiet, subtle saxophone and vibes open “Rows and Rows” and the music is taken at a very wide angle with an improvisation in three dimensions plus time as Jackson pushes forward and Adasiewicz has gentle droplets of crystalline notes that fall like rain. “Putting it On, and Taking it Off” has strident but not overwhelming saxophone, and vibraphone in the background biding it’s time. Jackson’s saxophone playing is excellent here, it’s blustery and raw in what evolves into a free-ish ballad and he sounds something like a post-modern Ben Webster. Slow steps of ascending vibes open “Canon From the Nothing Suite” before Jackson’s saxophone enters adding a further mysterious air to the proceedings. The music has a strange alluring quality to it, especially when there is a raw burst of saxophone followed by a quick blast of vibes that sustains and hangs in the air like violence and regret before the music slowly fades out. This would be great music for a modern day film noir. This album worked very well, Keefe Jackson - Jason Adasiewicz made for an excellent duo team and I hope that Delmark is able to bring together members of the Chicago scene for duet sessions, it would make for a great series. Rows And Rows -

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Offshoot - Charybdis (Bruce's Fingers, 2015)

The performance recorded on this album seems to be one of the happy coincidences that do spring up from time to time. Musicians collected in London to put together different projects and this set was recorded at The Vortex in November of 2007 with Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Sarah Gail Brand on trombone, Joe Morris on guitar, Simon H. Fell on bass and Steve Noble drums. “Usclatx” opens in an enigmatic fashion with probing and low key saxophone and brass coloring the edges as bass and drums skitter about in the undergrowth. The pace picks up soon, the music is crowded, but still orderly with faster rolling drums and streaming saxophone leading a strong and fast collective improvisation. The sax and drum interplay is excellent and leads into some equally fine electric guitar, which takes charge with strobe like blasts of light. The music remains thoroughly dynamic dropping off to a quiet percussion area and moving through portions of loud/soft and fast/slow that are akin to breathing. The swirls of Brene’s saxophone and the moans of the brass echo the many emotions that are in play with this music, and this first track ends with the horns echoing sirens calling forth a warning in the night. The final track, “Blubberhouses” begins with cacophonous all out free jazz collective improvisation and it is very exciting to listen to. With that out of their system, the group drops to near silence, with Fell’s cymbals washing across the silence like the tide. There is a dark of night vibe that is fascinating and the musicians are patient to take their time and see where things go. Strummed guitar throws off prickly notes and low tones of saxophone deepen the atmosphere, before the page turns entirely and the intensity of the music ramps up quickly with a strong blast of saxophone and gales of drumming. Fell is a blast to listen to, he is seemingly everywhere, mixing rhythm and speed, and as this track nears it’s conclusion he enters into a great dialogue with the always inventive Joe Morris leading which takes things through to a rousing finish. It always fascinates me that musicians can just meet in a club and improvise at such a level as this. The amount of practice and dedication to developing their skills is phenomenal. The music here may be “free” be it has its own logic and reason that the musicians developed in real time with each other. This is excellent music, and it is highly recommended. ($1.99 mp3) Charybdis -

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Akira Sakata/Giovanni di Domenico/Roger Turner/John Edwards - 15.01.04 (OTOROKU, 2016)

Born in Hiroshima in 1945, Akira Sakata combined time as an in demand free-jazz saxophonist with a rewarding career as a marine biologist. He flies to the Café OTO in London for this very exciting free jazz concert, recorded with Giovanni di Domenico on piano, Roger Turner on bass and John Edwards on drums. “Kaigara-Bushi (Cafe OTO version)” is the main event, a thirty-eight minute collective improvisation that alternately raises the roof and walks in the shadows. It begins with a drone, making for an ominous start with saxophone and drums skittering through the air. There are droplets of piano too, as everyone looks for their opening, and then some fine swirling piano and saxophone to build up tension, which is broken emphatically by Edwards drums. It is interesting the way the group is able to move between aspects of post-bop jazz and way out free improvisation, which gives them a wide and deep space to create in. The music moves into a section of collective improvisation that is very impressive as the quartet weaves a bold tapestry of sound led by the howling and excoriating sounds of Sakata’s saxophone. The music is dynamic in nature and will drift off into surprising places that Sakata will punctuate with vocal shouts and the music is never in one place, pivoting to blasting drums breaking free to duel with the leader’s saxophone as heavy, loud piano notes rain down. They head back to a scalding free jazz area with pounding piano and drums, taut bass and wailing sax. The musicians allow the sounds to fade gradually, and now we are left with subtle percussion moving like a forward infantry scout in this patient and abstract portion, while the rest of the band is lying in wait before bursting through. Sakata now punctuates his saxophone playing with singing, groaning and yelling, as he is completely emotionally attached to the music and the moment. Massive swells of piano, bass and drums crash through, washing, cleansing and quieting before the soft breathy sound of Sakata’s saxophone and brushed percussion end this epic. The encore “Tornado” is aptly named, with the rhythm trio charging out of the gate with a torrential rain of piano notes led by thick bass and epic drumming. The leader’s saxophone enters with a ripe and powerful sound and you get an excellent collectively improvised section with peals of saxophone and monstrous drumming, capping off an excellent and thoroughly recommended free jazz session. SAKATA / DI DOMENICO / TURNER / EDWARDS 15.01.14 - OTOROKU Records

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Phronesis - Parallax (Edition, 2016)

Phronesis is a band whose sound should be familiar to fans of The Bad Plus or the sadly lamented Esbjorn Svensson Trio. They take a modern approach to the time honored jazz trio, adding some oomph to the proceedings while remaining an acoustic jazz band. The group consists of Jasper Hoiby on bass, Ivo Neame on piano and Anton Eger on drums. Things get off to a fast start with “67, 000 MPH” that has Eger’s drums leading the trio into the fray fast and deep while developing an interesting and complex rhythm. Things get very fast and very exciting, and the trio is able to move the music dynamically to keep it from being locked in one place for too long which adds to the intensity. Neame really makes his presence felt as he sends waves of rippling piano notes over the elastic bass and drum interplay. “Stillness” shows the group operating in another manner entirely, with rattling drums forming a pensive sound, and the entire first half of the track toys with a sense of atmospheric foreboding. The trio then locks together into a cool unadorned rhythm, with a light fluttering percussion sound played against strong bass and driving piano for a powerful collective improvisation. The short “Just 4 Now” has a funky breakout with the group acting light on their feet and sections of solo piano being stitched within the larger fabric of the song. There is a light and nimble bass solo, and then everyone meets to stride together to the finish line. “Manioc Maniac” comes crashing down with a huge wave of music, which then allows the music to breathe with shades of light and dark, as the speed and complexity of the music twist and turn. With the fast speed and the complex rhythm, the music just goes whizzing by. Finally, “Rabat” has Neame developing a repetitive figure of piano notes, before the trio comes together to plow a thick and powerful groove. The repetition builds tension and is release unleashes a very fast improvisation that has a section of ascending piano over great bass and drum dialogue that is very exciting. That Phronesis managed to record this album in a single day is a testament to how in tuned with each other the members of the band are. They have a simpatico relationship with one another and the music that they create that allows the band to use speed and complexity to achieve their musical goals. Parallax -

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Melissa Aldana - Back Home (Wommusic, 2016)

Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana may be deeply influenced my Sonny Rollins’s classic trio albums of the 1950’s but who’s to say that is a bad thing? Certainly not Mr. Rollins, who clearly approves of her in this recent conversation they had for Burning Ambulance. Supporting her on this recording are Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums. “Alegria” leads off the album with strong drumming and swirling saxophone that makes great use of the open spaces that the trio format allows, with the music simmering at a medium-up tempo and Aldana soaring into a solo after probing the space and time around her, with bass and drums in clearly articulated support. The comfortable medium pace returns at the beginning of “Obstacles,” but is quickly discarded for a quietly intense performance. This track features some particularly fine bass playing from Menares, who is subtle, yet persistent throughout. The music has a strong internal flame that is building within the core of it, allowing for a subtle bass and drums interlude and then Aldana’s saxophone returning, leading the music to a logical conclusion. ”My Ship” is a standard ballad, played with a sense of languor or gentleness, opening with breathy saxophone and delicate bass. There is almost the sense of overhearing a whispered conversation with the words lilting in the breeze. Stealthy bass and drums clear a path for Andala’s ripe saxophone on “Servant #2.” The music is fast and spacious, developing a fast and complex rhythm of thick, taut bass and choppy drums leaving an excellent path for the leader’s saxophone to weave in and out of. “Before You” also catches the trio in their element, keeping the music quietly forceful. They do not need to add harsh sounds to their repertoire to make their statement, Aldana’s tight and confident saxophone tone along with the rock solid bass and drums are enough. She does dig in to push toward the end, carefully adding measured accents to the music, and the trio drives harder and faster toward an impressive conclusion. The happy upbeat swing of “Back Home” seems the most Sonny-like song on the album and Rueckert’s deft switch from brushes to sticks shifts the beat and makes this into a joyous blast of modern jazz. Bass and drums get a chance to trade sections before Adlana comes back to claim final victory on this fine album. Back Home -

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