Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Chrome (Playscape, 2017)

This is the excellent second album by a trio led by bassist Mario Pavone in the company of Matt Mitchell on piano and Tyshawn Sorey on drums following 2015's Blue Dialect. The album was recorded in June of 2016 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT and opens with "Cobalt" which has a percussive and Monkish feel, and the music comes out bouncy and rhythmic. Thick bass and active drumming cradle bell like piano which offers cascades of notes in a very exciting improvisation, leading to a taut bass solo that is very impressive and muscular. "Glass 10" follows with a slapping bass rhythm leading the full trio into the performance, and keeping the feeling of the music elastic. The trio develops a pulsing and buoyant sounding improvisation, impish and upbeat, developing a unique character, while splashy piano and percussion colors outside the lines in a bold fashion. The three instrumentalists enter together with a fast and percussive sensibility on "Ancestors" with an emphatic tightness that binds the music together, then erupting into a bracing improvisation that drives the music relentlessly forward. Piano and drums crash around the fulcrum that is Pavone's rock solid bass. The music morphs into a skittish free sounding section that is punctuated with seismic rolls of drumming before everything comes together for a vital send off. There is another taut and resonant bass solo to open "The Lizards (For Jim Jarmusch)" before the piano and drums jump in with a bouncy and exciting manner. The music is bright and fun with rippling piano keeping pace with the bounding bass and drums. Entering with leaping strides, "Conic" develops into a dynamic tumbling, rolling collective improvisation creating music that is alive with creativity and promise, including a tight bass led trio feature. "Chrome" comes out hard with a blasting trio opening, articulated in a crisp and clear manner, moving relentlessly forward with a thrilling rumble. Drums and bass are hammering forward relentlessly while Mitchell's piano pounces like an excited cat, and a pulsing bass solo breaks out accompanied by subtle percussion. Finally, "Continuing" is bouncy and uptempo with a fine bass feature reaching out into ripples of piano and stretching and flexing drumming. There is a dynamic drop to a subtle medium tempo, before ending in a thoughtful and colorful fashion. This was a very well played album; the trio is tight and powerful in their playing and their improvisations were risk taking and adventurous. Chrome - amazon.com

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Joe Henderson - The Elements (Milestone, 1973/2017)

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson recorded a superb string of hard-bop jazz records in the 1960's for the venerable Blue Note label. But by the time the 1970's bloomed the ascendance of rock 'n' roll had fractured the jazz scene into small enclaves of free, bop, fusion and a form of spiritual jazz that grew out of the prior decade and the music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane's widow Alice, who melded her increasing interest in Eastern spirituality and wide open multi-instrumental improvisation. This mixture of the orthodoxy and the vanguard on this album might be a recipe for disaster, but the results are exactly the opposite, free and unfettered and very exciting. The band is a talented one, consisting of Henderson on tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute, Alice Coltrane on piano, harp, tambura and harmonium, Charlie Haden on bass, Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, Baba Duru Oshunand and Kenneth Nash on drums and percussion and Michael White on violin. The album consists of four lengthy tracks that are dedicated to the elemental forces beginning with “Fire” which shows Henderson and and Coltrane working very well together with his deep seated tenor saxophone juxtaposed against her lithe piano and harp and Michael White’s swooping violin, which gives the music wings and allows the lengthy performance to stay fresh and interesting. "Air" has the strong saxophone Henderson was known for reaching out over minimal backing, with Charlie Haden's thick, stoic bass playing at the forefront, and displays Henderson's playing moving into the upper register of the horn favored by Sanders and Albert Ayler, without losing his grounding in post-bop jazz. There is an interlude for spacious piano before Henderson's dark toned saxophone returns to close soaring over a droning backdrop. "Water" offers droning string instruments, with Henderson adding pinched tone, which uses echo to give the music an unearthly quality. This is the most experimental and spiritual selection on the album, perhaps taking some inspiration from the Miles Davis recordings of the period. The final track, "Earth" incorporates a spoken word interlude read by Nash, with music that allows itself to breathe, buoyed by complex rhythms of hand percussion. Long drones push the music into a more overtly spiritual direction, and Henderson's soulful saxophone is comforting and relaxed, playing in conjunction with White's emotive violin and gaining a more strident tone. A fine stringed solo serves as a transitioning point to a spare section of harp and flute, over which Nash begins to speak. Henderson returns to tenor saxophone for a majestic solo over a hypnotic beat and bubbling percussive background. The Elements - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Kjetil Møster / Jeff Parker / Joshua Abrams / John Herndon - Ran Do (Clean Feed, 2017)

This is a very interesting cooperative band consisting of Kjetil Moster on tenor saxophone, Jeff Parker on guitar, Joshua Abrams on bass and John Herndon on drums. The quartet was born out of Moster’s encounter with the talented Chicago music community, after a tour made by his band Møster in the United States. At this time he came into contact with members of that city's thriving and exploratory jazz and post-rock scenes. The music on this album is quite varied and interesting, incorporating aspects of abstract free improvisation and blazing free funk that wouldn't sound out of place on an early seventies Miles Davis recording. That part of their playing is most noticeable on the opening track "Orko" where the band comes out swaggering with snarling guitar, propulsive bass and drums and scouring saxophone. The develop large slabs of energy that moves around the soundascape of the performance, opening a wide field of view and incorporating blocks of guitar, raw bass and vital drumming that create a very strong rhythmic setting which is perfect for Moster's stoic saxophone playing and improvising. It's not all like that, and this heavy and bracing form of music is juxtaposed by "Annica" where the group takes a unique approach to the ballad form with Herndon making inventive use of brushes and open ended percussion techniques, while Moster plays light and breathy saxophone that moves between melody and abstraction, keeping everyone on their toes. They are framed by subtle guitar and bass which keeps everything within the frame and provides context for their ever evolving improvisation. It is also the longest track on the album unfolding in a dream like pattern, clocking in at over fifteen minutes, and providing plenty of time for the band members to explore the developing and morphing space and time that opens before them. This admirable sense of restraint carries on into the final track, "Pajama Jazz" which shows the group incorporating some swinging modern jazz into their musical vocabulary, and this allows them to provide further textures that are available for exploration, and it is the collective improvisation that develops out of this that is most impressive with everyone turning their shoulder to the wheel and creating a memorable performance. This was a rewarding album of modern jazz and an excellent cross-pollination of ideas between the fertile Scandinavian and Chicago jazz scenes. Incorporating ideas from post-rock of groups like Motorpsycho and Tortoise as well as the arena of post-bop and fusion jazz allows the group to have a wide arena of possibilities to explore, and they make the most of it. Ran Do - amazon.com

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Ivo Perelman - Heptagon (Leo Records, 2017)

Heptagon is an excellent quartet album of stellar modern jazz led by tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman in the company of Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Bobby Kapp on drums which was recorded in Brooklyn NY during May of 2017. All of these musicians are well known to each other and they jump into this collectively improvised album with no fear, developing a crisp seven part, forty-five minute album that moves through a wide range of tempos and feelings from the blistering free jazz of "Part 1" which has the quartet locked in together and navigating an exciting and very fast paced performance with Perelman's raw and powerful saxophone leading the charge. Kapp is perfectly suited for the music at hand, dancing across the cymbals and adding just the right touch of rhythmic sensibility to the music. Shipp and Parker are longtime Perelman confidants, showing their ease with the graceful and flowing "Part 2" which has crystalline piano chords and longing bowed bass that add an emotionally charged aspect to the music, leading to a performance that is mysterious and thought provoking. Journalist Neil Tesser writes in this album's liner notes about the concept of lyricism in Perelman's work and that is underscored here with long peals of wounded saxophone and arcs of bowed bass create a deep seated beauty within the music. Shipp's percussive and insistent piano work provides the momentum for "Part 3" and the scouring bass and light percussion are the perfect foil for Perelman's deep yearning saxophone tones, and he uses this finely honed technique to build to a towering conclusion of harrowing intensity, rising to impassioned squalls from the highest range of his instrument, using this raw and rending tone to build the music to a natural and organic conclusion. The music on this album develops further the deeper it goes, with the music pouring forth like a planned suite of tunes rather than a spontaneously improvised collection. Kapp is able to deftly switch to brushes for the intimate opening of "Part 5" which combines the risk taking free improvisation these musicians are known for with a textural and woven structure which is all the more impressive when you consider that it was constructed on the fly and played with an impressive combination of close attention to detail and devil may care spontaneity. The searing saxophone leads the band through to the conclusion of the album, making for a complete and constructive whole, and one of the most finely realized of the albums that Perelman has released this year. It's a gem, and open eared modern jazz fans shouldn't miss it. Heptagon - amazon.com

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sun Ra - Exotica (Modern Harmonic, 2017)

Exotica is a strain of music that draws from around the world, especially Brazilian, East Asian and Oceanic cultures and neuters those influences to make a form of early Muzak that was popular in the 1950’s and 60’s. Given his interest in the music of different cultures, it is not surprising that Sun Ra created at this time a form of exotic jazz that had some parallels but was more adventurous than the aural wallpaper of exotica. The use of flutes and hand is percussion with lush piano playing on tracks like “Space Mates (Abridged)” and many other of the early performances, create a cinematic mood music suitable for the space age bachelor pad, and the subtle use of bells or vibes add further color and texture to “Star Bright.” These songs are at a relatively slow tempo, but that changes with “Eve” which develops a small group swing, with shaded horns and gently propulsive piano from the leader. “Tiny Pyramids” has a hypnotic horn arrangement that is cascading over a heavy beat, as flutes break out and soar over the musical landscape, shaded by brass and percussion with Ra’s piano developing Monk like chords. He moves briefly to an electronic keyboard for “The Lady With The Golden Stockings” which has a bracing saxophone solo amidst the now customary flute and percussion. Ra’s beautiful piano (acoustic and electric) is at the heart of “Paradise” amidst a thicket of percussion and bass developing a spacious melody and then interpreting it with embellishments. “India” is the type of proto world jazz that Sun Ra thrived on, creating a slashing percussion pattern to boost the droning bass, horns and electric piano. Bounding drum sounds add further heft and Ra’s ripples of buoyant electronics keeps things fresh. “Ancient Aiethopia” is a kaleidoscope of color and rhythm with Ra’s Afro-futurist philosophy driving a fascinating performance with light flutes paring off against a stout horn arrangement and driving percussion and vocalizing. A previously unreleased version of “April in Paris” is a beautiful small group keyboard performance, with full blooms of notes, and soft hand percussion accenting the leader's playing. The lengthy “Island in the Sun” has slapping percussion underpinning saxophones and flute with an arresting rhythm. Ra weaves in and out of the thick bass and drums, adding further color to the arrangement. “Africa” is very interesting with baritone sax, harmonized vocalizing and ominous percussion creating quite an impression. The rattling drumming drives the music forward and offsets the light flute and dark baritone. Trumpet is featured on “Friendly Galaxy” with a tight solo sparking the tune, with Ra playing some poorly mixed keyboard alongside the requisite flute solo. “Cha Cha In Outer Space” is a riot with layers of percussion rattling around Ra’s percussive piano, they get into the spirit of things and create quite a racket of kitschy fun. The album ends with “Overtones of China” and and obvious gong blast to let you know it is an eastern pastiche. The horns strut a fine riff as Ra leads the rhythm section dropping heavy chords and notes amidst the hollow drumming. This was an interesting if overblown compilation, originally for Record Store Day, but now more widely available. Too much of the music has a similar sound and thematic format to last two hours, but a more tightly edited set would reduce the tedium and shine some light on an interesting period in Sun Ra’s career. Exotica - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Francesco Cusa Trio Meets Carlo Atti ‎– From Sun Ra To Donald Trump (Clean Feed, 2017)

The titles of the album and the tracks may betray a sly wit, but make no mistake, this is serious business, and the band which consists of Carlo Atti on tenor saxophone, Simone Graziano on piano, Gabriele Evangelista on bass and Francesco Cusa on drums are a rock solid modern jazz group. The meeting of the established trio with the impressive saxophonist allows sparks to fly, beginning with "Adam Smith Counts Every Penny" which opens spaciously with subtle bass and percussion and with gentle tenor saxophone completing the group improvisation. The track begins to get a little more feisty with tightly wound saxophone (pleasantly reminiscent of Steve Coleman in nature) leads the group into an exciting and fast paced collective improvisation. They stretch out nicely and develop a firm grasp on progressive improvisation, developing the tune as if it were a living entity. The music comes tumbling out on "Economic Boom And Stasis In The Capitalistic Illusion" with peals of saxophone arcing across fractured rhythm, marking a spontaneous unfolding of musical ideas. Atti's saxophone lays out and the rhythm section is fleet in his absence, before everything come back together for an episodic collective improvisation. The music weaves in and out of spacier sections confidently which allows the dynamic nature of the music to be felt, and the nearly sixteen minute long track never lags. "Deficit In The Economies Of The Black Jazzmen In The Sixties" is certainly a provocative title, and the band uses it as a springboard to look at post-bop jazz through a modern lens. Cascading notes of piano are met by long rending tones of saxophone, while a spiky rhythm flows through the heart of the performance. Piano chords dance lightly through a feature for Graziano, like bright raindrops, and the patient reentry of the saxophone is perfectly timed, weaving his sound gradually into the overall context. There is an engaging piano trio melody to "Delivering A Load Of Musical Boxes To Wall Street" that is warm and inviting, and they expand the palette of the performance by adding saxophone while keeping the light melodic structure of the composition. The rhythm section is playing very well, with a heart-on-sleeve eloquence that is quite appealing. The main event of the second half of the album is “Sun Ra vs. Donald Trump (Wrestling Bout, Refereed By Roland Barthes)” a performance that brings together all of the disparate strands of music the group had been weaving leading up to this point. The group develops an episodic almost suite like nature in the music which ebbs and flows, alternating squalls of fast and free music with the abstract development of space and solos popping up as the music evolves in a graceful manner. This was a very good small group modern jazz album, with the addition of a socially aware concept. Protest music in jazz goes back to “Strange Fruit” and beyond, and this album makes valid commentary available without taking away from the inherent power of the music itself. From Sun Ra to Donald Trump - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Joe McPhee, Pascal Niggenkemper, Stale Liavik Solberg ‎– Imaginary Numbers (Clean Feed, 2017)

The great progressive jazz musician Joe McPhee, here playing pocket trumpet and tenor saxophone, has been building partnerships with musicians from around the world for decades. On this album, which was recorded in Brooklyn in December of 2015 he is in the company of Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Stale Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion. The trio plays three lengthy collective improvisations which work very well, and the musicians are deeply in sync with each other beginning with "I" which is the lengthiest piece, clocking in at over twenty three minutes. They investigate the open field before them, taking tentative stabs into the darkness with thick declamatory bass and skittish drumming that frame McPhee's trumpet playing. This creates a vibrant synthesis that allows their improvisation to coalesce and move forward, and keeps the music in a state of flux throughout, never staying still. Niggenkemper moves to the bow, adding a low droning sound to the music that is met with spare percussion, and equally low toned trumpet. Creating eerie swathes of sound and incorporating a very interesting drum rhythm, which allows McPhee to switch to tenor saxophone and add long breaths of emotionally resonant sound to the proceedings. McPhee's tenor develops a raw, rending sound that weaves through the complex rhythm of bass and drums and adds an element of continuity to the group's improvisation, diving deeply into the extemporaneous nature of the music. Moving into "A Supreme Love (For John Coltrane)" they take that master saxophonists often overlooked later work as a license to create a spontaneous improvisation from the ground up with rattling and clanking bass and drums creating an unsettling feeling, and using the rapport and trust that they have built with each other to patiently develop a strong piece of music. McPhee majestically enters adding long stoic lines of saxophone, playing in an oblique manner, while gaining volume and intensity as they evoke the spirit of Coltrane without ever slipping into hagiography. Finally, "Zero" has unmoored percussion and bass providing a wide open foundation for the piece, with quick shivers of bass and percussive replies. McPhee adds smears of sound from his trumpet, accenting the bowed bass and drumming, while developing proper context for music that uses dynamic light and shade to good effect. The excellent timing of the musicians assures that these shifts occur seamlessly, with grinding bowed bass and spitfire trumpet at the fore, the music heads for the arena of raw sound. Moving out of this, the musicians develop a caustic free collective improvisation that is very exciting, pushing the limits of their instruments and reveling in the freedom that they obtain in the process. Imaginary Numbers - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp and Joe Hertenstein - Scalene (Leo Records, 2017)

Drummer Joe Hertenstein is part of the ever widening circle of excellent musicians that surrounds tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman. The saxophonist has played with a tight knit group of collaborators for years, especially pianist Matthew Shipp, but has recently developed contacts to further the reach of his music while continuing the aspects of his sound that has made him so successful. This is an album of collective improvisations, an album that develops over the course of ten relatively short, four to six minute, performances. Perelman and Shipp are a potent combination under any circumstances, but adding Hertenstein to the picture pours gas on the fire and makes the music even more exciting and edgy. "Part 1," the opening track of the album, develops at a very fast pace with kinetic drumming and piano playing combining with the gales of sharp toned tenor saxophone to make for a very exciting venture. The drummer is far from some wide-eyed rookie, having several albums of his own as a leader or collaborator, and having a lot of experience playing live and as an artist in residence. This is his first album with Perelman, but the trio clicks well, not only on the fast paced frenetic free jazz sections of the album, but playing with excellent restraint when the music becomes more open ended and abstract. Matthew Shipp as always is an absolute rock, creating in the moment superb squalls of spontaneously developed piano. Perelman is playing at a very high level, having consolidated a manner of playing that allows for the maximum amount of freedom, whether blistering fast paced free improvisation or slow and patient exploration that investigates texture and nuance. "Part 5" is one of the best examples of this trio working together for the greater good. Beginning with saxophone and piano probing the silence, it is the entrance of the drummer, playing a weighty rhythm, that causes the music to catch fire and then the group is off to the race with a deep and exploratory performance. Shipp bounds through the track, balancing light notes with darker heavier chords and Perelman plays ecstatic saxophone which paint swathes of bold color across the musical canvas their sounds develop. The near reverse pattern takes place on "Track 9" where the music begins fast and strong with explosive drumming, deep piano and scorching saxophone, but then slowly abates, leaving the musicians suspended in open space, and navigating their way out by constructing a fearless latticework of short filigrees of sound that builds a bridge to a satisfying conclusion. This was another fine Perelman album, one out of an embarrassment of riches that he has given to music fans this year. He sounds very excited at the prospect of playing with new people in addition to familiar faces, and this should ensure that he has many more surprises on the horizon. Scalene - amazon.com

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Jason Stein Quartet - Lucille! (Delmark, 2017)

Jason Stein specializes in the bass clarinet, the unwieldy yet beautiful instrument that Eric Dolphy popularized in the 1960’s. Stein’s work nods to Dolphy’s groundbreaking music, especially the angular beauty of his Out to Lunch album, but he has developed a unique and personal approach to the instrument that is all his own. He is joined on this session by Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, Joshua Abrams on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This is an excellent album of bracing modern jazz that mixes original compositions with thoughtful covers and cover a wide dynamic range from spacious and abstract through to blistering fire music. "Marshmallow" opens the album with tight bass and drum playing setting a fast pace for the two reed instruments to harmonize over and then to break out into solo formations. Stein plays a fast paced feature moving adroitly within the thicket of rhythm provided by the bass and drums. Jackson's saxophone is an excellent foil for the bass clarinet, making for an excellent full band improvisation and theme. There is a darker and more angular feel to "Halls and Rooms" with the group exploring the music at a medium tempo. The space allows the reeds to stretch out and offer interesting textures while being gently framed by bass and drums. The pace slowly grows toward a collective improvisation, then backing out for an expressive and emotional tenor saxophone solo. "Roused About" has an active and complex feeling with the clarinet and drums circling and engaging with each other, slowly raising the stakes before the band breaks into a strutting and memorable theme. The musicians build from the riff into a confident and witty bass clarinet feature, working with the other instruments to for an excellent performance. There is a patient medium tempo established on "Wow" that quickly moves into a complex and nimble thematic statement. This makes for excellent source material for the horns to improvise on and they do so in an admirable fashion. There is a muscular section on "Little Rootie Tootie" that was very exciting and unexpected, adding a dose of free playing to contrast against the memorable melody. The album concludes with "April," a thoughtful and carefully played melody, with a fine feature for Stein's bass clarinet, it shows how well rounded his music and this album is, encompassing melodies and rhythms that support the natural growth of the music. His conception of small group modern jazz is a fine one, and this album deserves to be widely heard. Lucille - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

5th Annual NPR / Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll Ballot

Your choices for this year’s 10 best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten. 
1. Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM, 2017)
2. Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed, 2017)
3. CP Unit - Before the Heat Death (Clean Feed Records, 2017)
4. Barry Altschul 3dom Factor - Live in Krakow (NotTwo, 2017)
5. Angles 9 - Disappeared Behind the Sun (Clean Feed Records, 2017)
6. Rodrigo Amado / Goncalo Almeida / Marco Franco - The Attic (NoBusiness Records, 2017)
7. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar - Escalator (NotTwo, 2017)
8. Ivo Perelman - The Art of Perelman - Shipp Volume 4: Hyperion (Leo Records, 2017)
9. Bobby Zankel and the Wonderful Sound 6 - Celebrating William Parker at 65 (NotTwo, 2017)
10. Francois Carrier / Rafal Mazur / Michel Lambert - Oneness (FMR Records, 2017)

Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order.
1. David S. Ware Trio - Live in New York, 2010 (AUM Fidelity, 2017)
2. Thelonious Monk ‎– Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records, 2017)
3. Jaco Pastorius - Truth, Liberty and Soul (Resonance Records, 2017)

Your choice for the year's best Vocal album
Jen Shyu - Song of Silver Geese (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Your choice for the year's best Debut album
Jamie Branch - Fly Or Die (International Anthem, 2017)

Your choice for the year’s best Latin jazz album
Richie Cole - Latin Lover (Richie Cole Presents, 2017)

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Nick Fraser - Is Life Long? (Clean Feed, 2017)

An experienced drummer and composer, Nick Fraser has played with a wide range of jazz luminaries in addition to leading his own projects. On this album he leads a quartet along with Tony Malaby on saxophones, Andrew Downing on cello and Rob Clutton on bass. The album opens with "Quicksand" which features long tones of saxophone met by droning bows and brushes, finally coalescing into a river of ominous sound. Malaby's saxophone becomes slow and mournful, as the cello and bass keep pace, before the group suddenly breaks into a fully improvised section, led by swooping and snapping strings. There is a cracking drumbeat and raw strings, with ripe and potent sax engaging them all in a collective dialogue that raises the pace and volume. This is followed by "Disclosure," riding thick bass and high pitched saxophone into the light, creating nimble interplay with quick flutters and bleats of sound, the instruments grinding and wheeling around one another as if it were a vast musical machine. The music finally breaks out into a scalding improvised section, with withering saxophone, taut strings and skittering drums. "Empathy" opens with strings playing in a stoic bowed fashion, accompanied by tenor saxophone, fleshing out Fraser's atmospheric composition, as the music moves gracefully forward. The full band come together as one organism, engaged in the music and the moods it is creating, as raw saxophone and bowed instruments stride aside fractured rhythm. There is a subtle melody with brushes strings and harmonizing horns on "Skeleton." Resonant bowed bass supports he group, as the cello dances between bass and percussion, constantly in motion and moving back to a thoughtfully presented quartet arrangement, one that allows a much deserved saxophone feature that Malaby lashes forward with strong intent. "Arachnid" presents music that is buzzing and grows via snappy drumming alongside tight saxophone and strings. Thick bulbous bass and clattering drumming add wit to the performance while the cello develops wry commentary. Malaby breaks out with another great blustery saxophone solo, his playing dark toned and fierce. There is a strong collective improvisation with space for cello to drop curtains of sound, sprinting to the finish. Finally, "The Predictor" closes the album, building a soft slight opening for spare light saxophone with feathery drumming in open space. The music is calm and spare, with the instruments in space evoking moans of cello and saxophone like lost spirits in the void. Soft saxophone swirls and eddies pivot around drums and strings, and the music develops in pace and volume making for an excellent improvised section, emotionally dense and packed with information. This was a very solid album, Fraser's use of cello and bass allows for the development of some interesting, wide ranging textures and the emotional resonance of Tony Malaby's saxophones makes for an excellent foil for the strings and drums. Is Life Long? - amazon.com

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Anthony Braxton - Quintet (Basel) 1977 (HatOLOGY 2000, 2016)

Anthony Braxton led one his most interesting bands on this exciting live recording. He plays sopranino and alto saxophone along with clarinet in the company of an all-star group featuring George Lewis on trombone, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Charles "Bobo" Shaw on drums. Braxton was at the height of his powers during this period, touring the world and recording widely in a variety of configurations. On this album Braxton negotiates four lengthy compositions and improvisations with fellow AACM luminaries Lewis and Abrams while Shaw and Helias take on the role of an imaginative rhythm section, allowing to music to move from blustery post-bop, to squalls of free jazz and abstract wide open improvisation. Braxton is a wonder, switching from alto saxophone, where you can hear how he fits in the legacy of the instrument from Charlie Parker to Eric Dolphy to Braxton, playing accessible jazz and avant-garde music with aplomb. The high pitched sopranino saxophone which is relatively rare in jazz provides a bracing blast of pure sound, which can pierce through the band or float freely over it. His clarinet moves in the same manner, demonstrating his grip on the entirety of the jazz tradition. The band is with Braxton every step of the way, and Lewis is a master improviser, playing sweeping swathes of sound, with brassy bleats and complex solos that allows the music to develop a complex web. The recently passed Muhal Richard Abrams is a wonder on this album, playing thoughtful, architectural piano to support the group and taking a bright and shining tone to his featured sections. Helias and Shaw keep the engine purring, weaving absorbing and complicated rhythmic patterns that take Braxton’s compositions and reflect them back keeping the possibilities of engagement with the music fresh and exciting. These are the contributions of the individual musicians, but it as a cohesive whole that the music is at its most powerful. It’s a band of leaders that gets behind Braxton’s vision of jazz and progressive music, and brings the compositions to life with clarity and develops impressive improvisational sections that are challenging yet accessible. The music is very impressive and complex but enjoyable to listen to and it flows seamlessly developing a variety of different tempos and feelings of consistency and substance. No matter how complicated or out the music seems be these compositions and improvisations remain grounded in the tradition and spirit of jazz.  Quintet (Basel) 1977 - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Live in Brussels (Leo Records, 2017)

The partnership of tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Earlier this year Leo Records released the seven disc collection called The Art of Perelman - Shipp which celebrated their music in many different configurations, and this fall there has been another batch release of six more excellent Perelman titles, five with Shipp on piano, including this excellent two-disc set recorded at L'Archiduc in Brussels in May of 2017. The music evolves over the course of two sets and a brief encore in a manner that befits two longstanding friends and collaborators, as they play with each other, at each other and occasionally around each other for brief unaccompanied segments. Opening "Set 1 Part 1" builds a graceful and spacious feel, as the musicians develop a deeply lyrical and thoughtful setting that allows Shipp to stretch out for a melodically grounded solo before rejoining Perelman to build the pace and structure of the music. They make the most of the open space, gliding across the surface of the music, while gradually increasing the intensity with Shipp extending his reach to encompass the entirety of the keyboard and Perelman casting shards of sound into the growing tempest. "Set 1 Part 2" delves deeper into the music, with percussive motifs and longer, more sultry and languid tones allowing the music to develop and breathe of its own accord. Perelman develops long crying tones of emotionally charged sound over Shipp's grounded and meticulous piano chords, and the music becomes deeply powerful and dynamic, before re-entering a section of mysterious quiet, leading to a nimble and thoughtful conclusion. The gentle opening of "Set 2" moodily seems to nod ever so slightly to Monk's "Round Midnight," developing a late night lonely feel before becoming more tart and cutting as the volume and intensity rises. Shipp plays deep dark chords, while Perelman responds with long peals of sound, wrenched from his very soul. The music is erudite and quite beautiful, as Perelman demonstrates by developing an unaccompanied section of tenor saxophone that stretches the jazz legacy from Lester Young to Albert Ayler and beyond to the stars. They return together as the music bobs and weaves, ebbs and flows like a river or stream of pure sound, roaring into the silence and carving it with passion and great dignity. This is another excellent album from Shipp and Perelman, they are a duo that never rests on their laurels, always challenging themselves and their audiences to reach for bigger and better things. Live In Brussels - amazon.com

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Film: Chasing Trane - The John Coltrane Documentary (10 Spot Films, 2017)

Chasing Trane is a good biographical documentary film about the legendary saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. It combines concert footage with some genuinely touching rarely seen home movies along with interviews of musicians who were his contemporaries and those of later generations along with family members and various luminaries and interested parties. Denzel Washington reads the words of John Coltrane with grace and reverence while former President Bill Clinton and the foremost collector of John Coltrane memorabilia (a Japanese gentleman whose name escapes me) stand in for the legion of Coltrane fans. The film examines his life in chronological order from his birth in North Carolina and move to Philadelphia where he began to play in earnest. Following a stint in the Navy, he began to play in as many groups as possible to gain experience and after a few years he found a home in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band. This was a great opportunity but it came with a price as he began to experiment with heroin at this time. There are some very interesting interviews of contemporaries Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson who comment on the talent and learning ability as well as Wynton Marsalis pontificating and Cornell West places Coltrane in a historical context. He joined Miles Davis’ band in 1955, relentlessly searching, only to be fired when the heroin overtook him. Through a herculean act of self will, he kicked cold turkey, as told in a heartfelt interview with his stepdaughter. After taking part in an apprenticeship with Thelonious Monk, he rejoined Miles has in 1957 and took off on the ferocious ten year journey that awaited him. At this point in the film there is more archival film footage that can be used of Coltrane with Miles and his own bands. The interview sessions with Santana and John Densmore are sincere, but the rock musicians add little to the tale as Coltrane reaches his creative peak with A Love Supreme. The last few years of his life saw him stretching further out into free jazz and while some of the interview subjects have trouble following him into that uncharted territory, fellow musicians like Golson and Wayne Shorter stand in awe of his trailblazing ability. The film ends on an elegiac note with him passing far to young, but with the understanding that his music and spirit will live on as long as humans have music. This was an enjoyable and well done biographical film, presenting a well rounded look at Coltrane’s life and achievements in a way that should satisfy long time fans and intrigue newcomers. Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Interesting Links 11/19/2017

The Village Voice profiles saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders.
Phil Freeman offers recommended jazz of 2017 in Stereogum.
The Guardian asks: Free improvisation: still the ultimate in underground music?
The Guardian also investigates the so-called demons and obsessions of jazz genius Thelonious Monk
NPR looks back at the classic recordings that Sonny Rollins made at the Village Vanguard.
NPR also provides a thoughtful eulogy for the departed pianist and AACM leader Muhal Richard Abrams.
Hank Shteamer celebrates guitarist John McLaughlin's final tour of the USA.
John Corbett pans a lengthy article about one of his favorite subjects, Sun Ra.
The Quietus reports on a recent performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Ethan Iverson writes about Thelonious Monk on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Charles Gayle / Giovani Barcella / Manolo Cabras - Live in Belgium (el NEGOCITO Records, 2017)

This is an exciting free jazz album featuring Charles Gayle on tenor saxophone and piano, Giovani Barcella on drums and percussion and Manolo Cabras on bass. The music presented here was selected from the live concerts in Brussels in January 2015. At nearly eighty, Gayle is playing as strongly and inventively as ever, blowing swift winds of raw tenor and rippling piano over ripe bass and drums. The album opens with "Chiaro Sguardo" which is an excellent track where taut elastic bass and a strong rhythmic sense give Gayle the support he needs to take flight in a blustery and immediate tenor saxophone solo. Gayle has led a difficult life from Buffalo to the streets and then to a hard won respect as an elder statesman of modern jazz, and that pain, strife and grace all come through in his playing. The music plows forth in an exciting fashion with rolling drums and scouring saxophone held together by excellent bass playing. There is a direct and uninhibited sensibility to their playing and the act of improvisation, a connection to each other and the act of spontaneous creation. "Tears" shows Gayle playing in a slow and scouring mode, showing kinship with the early sixties recordings of Albert Ayler, and he plows this fertile soil amidst fractured and uncertain bass and drums which allow him the freedom to express himself in such a way. The music is deeply emotional, it cries and sobs in a harrowing manner, but maintains a deeps sense of dignity throughout. The trio comes out hard again on "Di Piccola Taglia," returning to a fast paced collective improvisation, and it is an exciting meeting with their combined energy propelling the musicians, as a full band forward as they play aggressive free jazz, with Gayle encouraged by Cabras and Barcella to really dig in. Tenor, bass and drums rhythmically connected in the fray, setting off wildly screaming tenor saxophone solos, before Gayle steps aside for a nice drum interlude to end the selection. He takes to the piano on "Dimmi" playing in a spiritedly nimble manner that works well with snatches of cymbals and deeply rooted bass playing. Gayle is a natural at the piano, and indeed it was his first instrument as a young man. The influence of Bud Powell, Monk and Cecil Taylor bubble up in his sound, but it is clearly his own vision that leads the group into perilous open territory and through the other side in grand fashion. "Steps" hints at the John Coltrane classic "Giant Steps" in the theme Gayle establishes on saxophone, but he quickly moves into a driving improvisation, pulling the bassist and drummer with him into the slipstream. Gayle roars into the mix, and the trio makes for a perfect vehicle for exploring this fast paced modern jazz, grounded in a classic form. There is a frenetic interplay between the saxophone and drums, creating a very exciting rhythmic framework. The musicians are deeply committed to their art and the cooperative approach keeps the music intact, and this leads to a fine conclusion of a very exciting and rewarding recording. Live in Belgium - bandcamp.com

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Friday, November 17, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 (Audiographic Records, 2017)

The third in a series of albums performed by Elisabeth Harnik on piano, Didi Kern on drums and Ken Vandermark reeds, collectively known as the DEK Trio. This album was recorded at Divadlo 29 in the Czech Republic, in March of 2017 and like their previous recording, this one has the format of two long, wide ranging improvisations and then a shorter palate cleansing closer. This album opens with the bracing "Cold Water Shock" where Vandermark plays alarm like saxophone in an excellent circular breathing pattern chased by shards of piano chords and fractured drumming which makes for a very exciting improvisation. They are a really tight and truly collective band with the tenor saxophone and drums turning up the heat, and the piano leading the group into a spacious middle ground against spare saxophone with popping accents and ghostly percussion. Vandermark leads the charge out of this relative quiet, drawing on a reservoir of power and strength framed by rippling piano and drums. The final passage of this performance has an arresting rawness to it, moving to a very exciting conclusion, which features blasting saxophone along side a boiling cauldron of piano and drums. "Accident Technique" takes a different approach, with subtle pops of bass clarinet (?) brushed percussion and prepared piano hanging in space. Long soft tones of reed hang in the air amidst subtle keyboard and spectral drumming. Returning to saxophone (I think) Vandermark offers swirls and squeals against the strums from the inside of the piano, making for a unique and unusual sound. The music draws in on itself like a figure skater spinning faster and faster through centrifugal force, gaining momentum for a very exciting final movement of this piece with some very interesting percussive piano holding its own against primal saxophone and drumming before the music drops off suddenly to conclude as quietly as it began. The album finishes up with "Falling Technique" which begins as a spacious three-way conversation which then flares up and disappears mysteriously. There is a great section of focused and intense improvisation with peals of cutting saxophone against stark shards of piano and percussion before gradually winding down and then out. This was another excellent and challenging album from the DEK Trio, their fourth in under a year. They create stimulating, interesting, and thought-provoking music that has an abundant amount of power and grace. Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 - Audiographic Records.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

R.E.M. - Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Craft Recordings, 2017)

Automatic For the People absolutely slayed me when I first heard it in college, and it has continued to be a touchstone recording in the succeeding years. It is rare in two respects, one being that it is one of the very few recordings in rock 'n' roll (or jazz or blues for that matter) that is improved by the subtle use of strings. The string arrangements were actually written by by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and they add subtlety and refinement to the record without sapping the raw emotional power of the lyrics, which are frequently heartbreaking tales of death and loss. This is a "mature" record that isn't stultifying, a ballad heavy album that thrived in the era of MTV with songs like "Everybody Hurts" and "Try Not to Breathe" broaching universal subjects of grief and pain that were rarely approached so honestly, in a fully developed manner that draws the listener and creates a very personal, intimate experience. They were still a rock band and the riveting political punk blast of "Ignoreland" spoke truth to power for both politicians and media outlets decades before the national nightmare of so-called "fake news." Throwing a nodding wink toward some American iconoclasts, the giddy "Man on the Moon" references comedian Andy Kaufman and the driving "Monty Got a Raw Deal" looks unflinchingly into the life and death of closeted screen legend Montgomery Cliff, much like The Clash did on their very own masterpiece, London Calling, with the song "The Right Profile." If there is any song that can hold a candle to The Kinks "Waterloo Sunset" as the most lovely popular song of 20th Century rock 'n' roll, it could be "Nightswimming" where singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by Mike Mills on piano, and the delicate and mysterious string section, weave magic using a minimal setting and a perfect song, they raise goosebumps. Here's something you might never hear me say again: this is a perfect album, flawless in material and execution. Which leads to the elephant in the room, this perfect gem of a recording is disc one in a three (four if you get the DVD) disc set in the 25th Anniversary Edition. It seems de rigueur in this day and age that any album that reaches a marketable anniversary is stripped bare and laid out on the autopsy table so we can weigh the brain and dissect the subject's last meal like we are in some kind of music based police procedural. Sometimes this works very well and adds a new level of enlightenment for the music it focuses upon, but sometimes perhaps discretion is the better part of valor (I adore King Crimson, but the Sailors' Tales box set is twenty-seven discs long and I will only hear it if some generous benefactor gifts it to me.)  In this case the package includes an period R.E.M. concert called Live at the 40 Watt Club 11/19/92. Now R.E.M. could be a dynamic live band but they seem oddly muted on this disc, which is further dragged down by long pauses between some tracks, Stipe stumping for a political candidate in a race long past due and Peter Buck complaining about the use of guitar capos. It was apparently a benefit concert, and it does have much of the music from the original album which is played well if a little bloodlessly. Most R.E.M. reissues have pared a concert with the original album, but there was surely a more exciting performance in the can than this one. Even more questionable is the nearly eighty minute long disc of album demos, and while this can be interesting (particularly for musicians)  and maybe the first time around for die-hard fans, there is something of sausage factory essence to the music (do you *really* want to see how it's made, or do you just want to enjoy it?) Songs are stripped bare of strings, and other trappings of production and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" has an alternate title "Wake Her Up" as they stretch to bring the song in for a landing. Guitarists will find "Arabic Feedback" and "Bill's Acoustic" interesting, but for every revelation there seems to be two or three instances of padding, snippets that were never meant for public consumption but were parts of the creative process that heralded a greater whole. This will excite some people but for me it seems to drain the whole, taking some of the magic away and making a flawless forty-nine minute record into a three hour long exercise in exhaustion. Your mileage may vary of course, and I didn't see the DVD or accompanying liner notes which may have added needed depth and context to the project. I think it is important to consider how the modern re-issue industry approaches classic material, and how it is presented. In short, if you don't already have it, get the original album, it is an absolute landmark. If you are a die-hard fan, and can get the box at a decent price (the list price is north of seventy dollars) then have at it. Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Deluxe Edition)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Albert Ayler Quartet ‎– European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (HatOLOGY, 2016)

This is a nicely remastered version of some of free jazz legend Albert Ayler’s finest live recordings, with perhaps his best working group consisting of Ayler on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums and percussion. The first six tracks were recorded on Hilversum, The Netherlands, while he final three were recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. He develops the short folk like themes on this album, and they allow the group to take these short motifs and use them to lift off into unbridled exploration of the nature of the avant-garde stream of jazz that were being codified by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Unlike the caricature, Ayler’s improvisations were often thematic, and developed a narrative that the group can follow. Some of Ayler’s most well-known themes are present on this album,  like “Ghosts” which has a quavering, vulnerable melody that is less about freaking out than developing form from chaos, often over short concentrated bursts. It’s this vulnerability that sets Ayler apart from John Coltrane, Coleman and Taylor and the other free jazz pioneers of the era. While their relentless and herculean improvisations are thrilling and innovative, Ayler’s were focused around all too human themes and his egalitarian bandleading style really cut to the core of what not only jazz but freedom really means. Two versions of “Spirits,” one from each session look at the impact of spirituals on jazz, which would come to be called “Spiritual Jazz” and give birth to hundreds of compilation albums in the digital age. Ayler was able to distill the essence of spirituals, anthems and folk songs and use them to ground his music in simple, memorable themes that were the sugar that helped the medicine of free improvisation go down. The only non-Ayler composition on this album is Cherry’s “Infant Happiness” where the music isn’t about infantilism, but rather that childlike wonder of tabula rasa freedom. Cherry came up with Ornette Coleman in one of the most (in)famous bands of the era, and he knew that a lot of Coleman’s appeal came from his pithy and memorable themes he wrote like “Lonely Woman” “Peace” and “Focus On Sanity.” This allowed Cherry to fit right in with Ayler and bring his hard won experience to Ayler’s music. Now, they can put the pedal down and wail too, if necessary. “Vibrations” is a bracing performance with Sunny Murray’s percussion, freed from its traditional role, develops cascading pulsation along with Peacock’s beating heart bass to carry the music through in a thrilling headlong rush. This is an excellent and important re-issue of genuinely valuable music, that fits in with Ayler’s acknowledged classic Spiritual Unity and another recent Hatology re-issue Copenhagen Live 1964 to give a comprehensive view of Albert Ayler’s contribution to jazz at its most creative. European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 - amazon.com

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp and Jeff Cosgrove - Baltimore (Leo Records, 2017)

The lucky audience members who were in attendance at An Die Musik in Baltimore, Maryland on June 25, 2017, saw a particularly fulfilling performance from tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Jeff Cosgrove. Considering the quality of excellent music that Perelman has released this year, that is really saying something. This album consists of an uninterrupted fifty-one minute collective improvisation simply called “Second Set” that is absolutely thrilling to listen to with each member of the trio going all out to spontaneously create very exciting and potent music in real time. Perelman has one of the most immediately recognizable tenor saxophone tones in modern jazz, recalling the bold swaths of sound that were once employed by Albert Ayler and and the early recordings of Gato Barbieri, he can move from a whisper to a scream, and his ability to pace himself and develop a form and narrative seemingly out of thin air is one of his most impressive attributes. Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a frequent improvising partner and foil of Perelman’s, and it is easy to understand why they work so well together. Shipp makes use of the whole breadth and width of the piano, and he makes up for the lack of a traditional bass player on this album by adding blasts of low end piano chords which provide depth and structural integrity to the music, while also stretch out to add gentle chords when the music opens up, allowing light and space to flood into the proceedings. Jeff Cosgrove has made a couple of albums with Shipp in the past but this may be his first encounter with Perelman and he acquits himself to music very well, playing a rippling rhythmic current that fits in very well, switching between blistering stick playing and subtle brushwork in a nimble fashion. These three musicians take all of these qualities and combine them in a collective improvisation that flows naturally and organically, enveloping sections of blistering free jazz and juxtaposing them against some soft and velvety areas which are moderate in tone and effect, creating an interesting departure from the harsh or severe portions of the performance. This was an excellent album and one of the highlights of Perelman’s most productive year, because the musicians use the language of jazz and free improvisation to codify their sound in distinctive and impressive fashion. Baltimore - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams (ECM Records, 2017)

This is an interesting album of jazz/world fusion made by a classy band consisting of Anouar Brahem on oud, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and percussion and Django Bates piano. They make a smooth as silk sound that is comparable to music that bands like Codona and Oregon made for ECM in the 1970's. Brahem is originally from Tunisia, but is based mostly in France and he gets an appealingly warm tone from his instrument, which isn't used all that often in jazz, apart from the Lebanese born Rabih Abou-Khalil. The album starts out in excellent fashion with the track "Opening Day" with the subtle oud setting an exotic foundation for the music, followed by DeJohnette's subtle percussion primarily on cymbals. The oud has a character or quality of musical sound that is distinct from that of a guitar, and it fits in well with the remaining instruments, especially Bates' gentle and spacious piano which allows the music to ebb and flow in a graceful manner. "Bahia" also opens with unaccompanied oud, resonating in open space, along with subtle vocalization. After about two and a half minutes the remainder of the band gradually enters, with beautiful bass playing from Holland acting as the perfect counterweight to the other stringed instrument. DeJohnette plays a very light and nimble rhythm that suits the music very well, while Bates seems to sit out for most of the track. Silence frames the opening of "Bom Dia Rio" as Brahem carefully plucks out quiet notes and places them carefully in the open space. After a couple of minutes, the keyboard, bass and drums enter, filling out the sound nicely, but never overwhelming it. Bates frames the music with well articulated notes and chords, while Holland and DeJohnette engage Brahem directly. The group develops a fine full band improvisation that has a delicate and precise groove that provides the forward motion. Bates' cascade of notes are capable of making fine distinctions within the music, and Holland steps out for a very impressive bass solo which is delicately complex and understated. Brahem solos over the bass and drums, making use of clever and indirect methods to achieve success, with a sound that is sharp or penetrating, while perceive or recognizing his role in the music. This was a very interesting album and a fine example of how jazz and world music can successfully collaborate and draw inspiration from one another. Blue Maqams - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Christoph Erb, Jim Baker & Frank Rosaly - ...Don't Buy Him a Parrot... (hatOLOGY, 2017)

It's hard to believe that this was only the second meeting of Christoph Erb on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jim Baker on piano and Frank Rosaly on drums, but they just click like they have been playing together forever. This is a very well played album of modern jazz with the Swiss born Erb fitting in very well with the pianist and drummer, who are stalwarts on the fertile Chicago creative music scene. The album begins with "...Don't Buy Him a Parrot..."  which develops raw and visceral circular motifs of saxophone that are well met by the piano and drums, swirling and gaining strength, building to a kaleidoscopic improvisation that takes the brawny Windy City groove and splices in just enough European free improvisation to make for a healthy and vigorous performance. "Parrot, Figuring..." begins with a gentle and melodic opening statement, but becomes more abstract with spooky smears of reed noise and probing piano. With Rosaly's entrance the music tips the balance to a hard bitten collective improvisation. The music stretches and expands to meet the needs of the musicians and as the volume increases and the tempo gets faster and more intense, the nature of the trio's intuitive interplay adds strong robust character to the music. Low pitched reed with piano slowly gains momentum on "For Canaries, Career Opportunities in the Mining Industry" as the percussion enters leveraging the excellent and thoughtfully played narrative improvisation with guttural whinnying saxophone and bright piano chords soaring over the wonderful drumming. The final track "It Isn't Hard to Follow a Man Who Carries a Bird Cage With Him Wherever He Goes " develops slow from loose pops and crackles of puckered sounds and abstract reeds, fractured piano and drums. Erb builds bird like trills and calls, moving into a sizzling sound as the trio begins to pull together, devoted to the act of spontaneous creation in their collective improvisation. This was a very well played album, potent modern jazz played with wit and energy that was inspired by technological innovator and gadfly Richard Stollman whose insistence on on radical freedom flows through this music. Don't Buy Him a Parrot - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Tomas Fujiwara - Triple Double (Firehouse 12 Records, 2017)

Tomas Fujiwara is a New York City based drummer and composer who has created a wide variety of music both as a leader and as a sideman. His new band Triple Double features Gerald Cleaver on drums, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. The music they create is complex and exciting with the twin guitar, brass and percussion setup offering a great template for the playing of Fujiwara’s compositions. “Diving for Quarters” is the opening track and the longest on the album, establishing their bona fides with scratching and scrambling guitars, and smears if brass with ever shifting percussion underpinning it all. Halvorson and Seabrook are an explosive combination but one that works well together, as do the trumpet and cornet in the following track “Blueberry Card.” It is interesting to hear the instruments weave in and around each other, making bracing and challenging music, while managing not to step on each other’s toes. “For Alan”, is a drum duet and it is framed by clips of conversation between a very young Tomas Fujiwara and the legendary jazz drummer Alan Dawson, who was his teacher. This works well by placing Dawson’s wisdom alongside the leader showing just what he learned from his mentor and putting that into action. Family is very important to Fujiwara and he takes inspiration from his ancestors which leads to more melodic and thematically centered material such as "Love and Protest" which uses a yearning statement to develop a stern and serious performance where the drums rumble ominously under the stoic horns. Shimmering, ghostly guitar comes through to take the performance in a new direction, reverberating throughout the improvisation, providing shading and color. Powerful brass and percussion interplay takes over, making for a potent improvised section, leading to a collective blowout that is as exciting as it is impressive. "Decisive Shadow" follows, with skittish guitar and drums creating interesting rhythmic patterns before the horns enter with a burnished fanfare. The brass stretch out against the full band with interesting solo statements, then fascinating spidery guitar playing takes over from there, urgently pushing the music into faster and more idiosyncratic territory, with declamatory horns framing the frenetic improvisation leading to a riotous conclusion. This is a very interesting group that makes the most of the unusual configuration of instruments by developing a confident group identity and a unique manner of performing. The music often changes so suddenly that it seems to be in continuous motion, and it's impressive in its complexity and quite immersive as each member of the band is focused on the spontaneity of the others. Triple Double - amazon.com

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Monday, November 06, 2017

Rights - Schnellertollermeier (Cuneiform, 2017)

Rights is an interesting band, one that combines progressive rock, minimalism and jazz fusion into an alluring and compelling sound. These three musicians, Andi Schnellmann on bass, Manuel Troller on guitar and David Meier drums attended jazz schools in Switzerland and Scandinavia and have been working together as a band for more than ten years. They use sections of repetitive sounds to build up the drama of their opening piece "Rights," which gradually draws from that power to become darker and more imposing as the performance proceeds into the arena of grinding prog fusion. The pressure is high, and the band concentrates their sound to make the music lunge forward like a venomous snake, before backing off into the hypnotic repetitive figure that began the piece. They haunt the middle ground of the performance gathering strength, regulating the intensity of their sound with nuanced precision, adapting their source material, taking it apart for clues on how to proceed. The trio is gradually increasing the volume and dynamic power of their music by alternating short blasts of percussion with intricate guitar and bass. Subtle cymbal play ushers in "Piccadilly Sources" which has aspects of minimalism in its opening stage, and their hard won experience and expertise allows them to take the riff that they develop and use it for a range of variations that may not be jazz, although you could certainly see it from here. This music is hard to put your finger on, and that aspect of their sound keeps their music open for a a range of theme and variation sections that become quite compelling especially after they blast into a King Crimson (circa '73-'74) takeoff, adding a section of blistering drums that carries them through to the conclusion. "Praise/Eleven" has a gentler oping for guitar developing colors and shading with the remainder of the band gradually folding into an intricate and complex rhythm. They take a musical form and then develop an idea that will allow them to and play it through and see where it leads. This track allows them to investigate light and shade, and how they can use these concepts in their music. After a period of navel gazing they are able to kick the music up to another level, making powerful, imposing sounds that reverberate with purpose. "Round" is the concluding track on this album, developing a complex interwoven rhythm immediately that winds itself tighter, building up forces that are released with spasms of pure energy with strands of theme and melody woven into the fabric. The speed builds faster and faster to a frenetic level and then they blast off with the full force of the band playing powerful prog rock/fusion at a grand volume. The band regulates the intensity of their sound by dropping off of the heavy music to sections of whirling rhythm allowing the listener to hear concise, repetitive patterns which are the true DNA of their musical organism. This album worked quite well and it is clear that the band has been working hard at their craft. While it might not appeal to a jazz audience, those interested in intricate rock and roll that is played with integrity and concentration will find much to admire. Rights - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Myra Melford Trio - Alive in the House of Saints Part 1 (Hatology, 1993, 2001, 2017)

This is third edition of one of pianist and composer Myra Melford’s most highly regarded albums, and the sparkling remaster of this album done in 2017 brings the crispness and clarity of the music to the forefront. This album was recorded live in Germany in 1993 with Lindsay Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums, and they transcend the usual expectations of a piano trio, developing an organic interplay that serves them well in the four lengthy performances found on this disc. It is easy to understand why this album is so revered, with the music developing a bright and percussive sound that really carries the listener along with like a wave. There are four lengthy performances beginning with "Evening Might Still" which shows the band locked in together with Melford's bright and percussive piano playing building gradually into a headlong rush of piano, bass and drums. The music isn't necessarily free per se, but it is very wide open and confident which allows the music to develop organically with each of the instruments supporting the rhythm of the music but also allowing for individual features. In this track and the follow up performance "Now and Now 1" allude to the classic piano music that Don Pullen made during his brilliant career with Charles Mingus, George Adams and his own solo album. Melford's exiting cascades of notes are in the Pullen mode but are also her very own as she has an a unique way that she interfaces with the instruments, working in tandem with the bassist and drummer to compile an elastic groove that can ground the music in blues a bop, but has the ability to stretch into more outsider territory. The lengthy performance "Between Now and Then" shows the mastery that the trio has over space and time, with the proceedings developing their own individual cadence which leads up to a portion of near silence, showing the patience and stoicism that allows the music to proceed in an unexpected direction. The concluding track "Parts 1 and 2 Frank Lloyd Wright Goes West to Rest" brings together all of these disparate portions of the band's manner of approaching improvisation and interaction over eighteen kaleidoscopic minutes that takes an appropriately architectural approach to the performance, setting up a scaffolding of melody and rhythm and using that as a setting off point for a powerful and exciting collective improvisation. This was an excellent album, featuring a trio that had it's own unique sound and trust in one another and using that to create potent and thoughtful modern jazz that has stood the test of time. Hopefully a remastered version of Part 2 of this collection is in the pipeline, because more music from this great trio would be very welcome. Alive in the House of Saints Part 1 - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Ivo Perelman - Octagon (Leo Records, 2017)

Considering the wealth of great music that tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has released this year, this album is one of his most unique. Not only is his regular partner, pianist Matthew Shipp, taking a breather for this keyboard-less quartet session, but it marks only the second time that Perelman has recorded with another horn, and the first time with a trumpeter. When he first heard trumpeter Nate Wooley for this first time, playing with Shipp, he was knocked out by the trumpeter's vision and skill, and vowed to make a record with him. It took a little time for the schedules to line up, but this album, rounded out with Brandon Lopez on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums was finally recorded in June of 2017 in Brooklyn. The results are well worth the wait, as the music unfolds over the course of eight improvised performances, with the quartet playing at a very high level, incorporating aspects of free jazz and incorporating some interesting spontaneous motifs that develop as the music progresses. Wooley is a ideal foil for Perelman, and his ability to coax a wide range of sounds, textures and colors out of his horn fit in perfectly with the saxophonists open ended aesthetic. The combination of trumpet and tenor saxophone has been part of jazz since the beginning of the music's history, and has been featured in groups that set the standard for modern music such as the bands that Miles Davis led with John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. While respecting this history, Perelman and Wooley strike out for deeper territory, rarely jumping out as soloists, but interacting almost like visual artists, applying light and shade, and using the full range of each of their instruments to create unique soundsacpes that are well suited to the natural flow of their improvisations. Guttural sounds made in their instruments are played off against high pitched bursts and squalls making for a very robust, and exciting interaction. Lopez and Cleaver are also excellent in this setting, maintaining free and open pacing and rhythm that allows the music to breathe and the members of the group to develop their own unique statements. The music moves seamlessly from modern jazz to free improvisation and the individual tracks on this album move from abstract and ethereal through to flat out blasting collective improvisation. All in all, this was an excellent meeting of the minds and a very well played album, filled with realized potential. Octagon - amazon.com

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raoul Bjorkenheim's Ecstasy - Doors of Perception (Cuneiform, 2017)

Finnish/American guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim's band Ecstasy is a tight and exciting jazz fusion outfit featuring Markku Ounaskari on drums, Jori Huhtala on bass and Pauli Lyytinen on saxophones and flute. The band has been together for over six years and the experience shows on this crisply played album. The album opens with "The Ides of March" which has an apprehensive air, with grinding guitar, thick bass and skittish saxophone. The group's collective playing develops a groove that moves about vigorously, making for a murky but alluring full band sound. "Answer It" on the other hand has shards of prickly electric guitar, sparking across the soundscape like heat lightning, with a fractured rhythmic beat from the drummer. It has a tight and claustrophobic feature for guitar and drums that works well, with added heft from the bass that enters into the mix. Raw saxophone makes the music even more potent and the musicians are patient enough to allow their improvisation to develop organically. "Buzz" develops an ominous repetitive groove that is framed by strange sounding saxophone and insistent cymbal playing. The music is alarming and arresting, with some overcaffeinated interplay that builds through a number of short cells. Lyytinen moves to flute for "Surf Bird" with subtle rhythm in support with the band allowing a lot of open space to envelop the the performance. They move into a mysterious and interesting performance that has an exotic tinge to it. "Elemental" has guitar chording that moves gracefully forward with dancing cymbals and bass in support. Light and airy soprano saxophone joins the group as they develop a sleek full band improvisation, with the saxophone taking flight in a nimble fashion and the leader slashing bright groups of notes behind him. The music progresses in a twisting or spiraling pattern that works quite well and holds the listener's attention. Popping and hooting saxophone and crashing drums add swagger to "Talkin' to Me?" which is met by gnarly electric guitar lurching forward in a harsh and grating fashion. They develop the dirty and raw Taxi Driver vibe even further, developing strong and undisguised jazz fusion. There's a break into a section of savage saxophone over cruising bass and drums before Björkenheim’s guitar screams back in, creating some delightful mayhem. Light bass and drums usher in the title track "Doors of Perception" which seems to refers more to Huxley than a certain LA rock band. The quartet makes interesting music with low toned strings and light cymbals creating a unique feel, as the saxophone gradually folds into the proceedings. The music is being created spontaneously, with the sense of an ongoing conversation which develops into an intriguingly disorienting sensation. "Jitterbug" is an uptempo track that has a fun and frolicking feel to it as the group plays with a tight groove and making short work of the themes that percolate, and sharp strident guitar and saxophone leading the charge. There is a subtle flowing sensation on "Sunflower" with the gentle taps of Ounaskari's cymbals meeting the shimmering guitar and low toned saxophone, to create a colorful almost psychedelic performance, leading to the expansion of consciousness that the album's title alludes to. The album concludes with "Ecstasy Dance" which is an exciting, highly charged performance with a driving tempo and soprano saxophone that has an intense, vivid color or a swirling abstract pattern. Bjorkenhem's snarling guitar then takes the lead and performs a very exciting solo backed by driving bass and drums, leading the band into the home stretch. This album worked quite well, with the experienced and polished ensemble stretching the textures and rhythmic and melodic narratives in an exciting and enthralling manner. Doors of Perception - amazon.com

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