Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Brad Mehldau - After Bach (Nonesuch Records, 2018)

I must admit that I know very little about classical music. My dad used to play it on the radio in the car when I was growing up, and I’ve read many interviews with musicians who speak about classical composers as inspirational figures. Like Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau is a musician the has the talent and inclination to co-exist in the jazz and classical realms, and this album comprises the pianist and composer’s recordings of compositions by Bach with each followed by an “After Bach” response piece written by Mehldau and inspired by each composition he covers, allowing him to develop a very interesting call and response format. Apparently Bach was an improviser in his own right, and this gives Mehldau license to state the original Bach composition, and then follow up with his his own original performance that allows him to improvise, not necessarily in the jazz tradition, but improvising in the European art music continuum. After Bach began with the work Mehldau first played a few years ago, when he was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, The National Concert Hall, and Wigmore Hall. He called his commission Three Pieces After Bach, and then entering the recording studio, he forged an album that is bookended by two original compositions. The album begins with and original composition  “Before Bach: Benediction” and ends with his own “Prayer for Healing” which provide a meditative and thoughtful intro and outro and gives the music as a who a powerful emotional resonance. Overall, this album worked well, the piano is recorded beautifully and the music rings out and resonates, with an excellent sense of touch and feel in Mehldau’s piano playing. The music is quite pretty and enjoyable to listen too, for both jazz and classical fans. After Bach - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky (Sony Legacy, 2018)

Guitarist, singer, songwriter, Jimi Hendrix is a galvanizing presence in rock 'n' roll, even nearly fifty years after his death. Like many famous people who died all too young, he left mountains of half-finished studio recordings and reams of bootleg and legitimate live recordings that belie the short time he spent on this planet and the even shorter time he spent as a rock 'n' roll star, flashing across the sky like a short lived but brilliant comet. After his death on September 18, 1970, there was a frenzy of activity, and with no clear line of succession, posthumous releases flooded the marketplace, and with the advent of the compact disc plus the progression to downloading and streaming, the frenzy became a veritable tsunami. Posthumous releases were both unauthorized and legitimate, often confusing the consumer. Executor Al Hendrix eventually licensed recordings to Sony through the family-run company Experience Hendrix LLC, and an effort was made to clean up some of the most egregious indulgences which resulted in a recent trilogy of recordings: Valleys of Neptune, People, Hell and Angels, and Both Sides of the Sky. This most recent album compiles music from 1968 to 1970, mixing released and previously unreleased recordings. It catches Hendrix in flux, moving away from the original Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, into a funkier out fit that included Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, called the Band of Gypsys, who would develop a deep funk workout here called "The Power of Soul" that became a linchpin of their resulting 1970 live album. He shows his blues roots on this album with very nicely done covers of the muddy Waters classic "Mannish Boy" which kicks off the album, and an emotional version of Guitar Slim's testimonial "The Things That I Used to Do." These two tracks along with an epic deconstruction of the blues classic "Hear My Train A-Comin'" which consists of a complete take rather than the composite track that was Frankensteined together on the 1994 album Jimi Hendrix: Blues. These particular tracks really inspire the musicians and ground the music deep in the fertile soil of the blues which create an excellent foundation for what it to come. Other tracks like a blistering "Lover Man" which represents the summation of Hendrix's attempts to mold the song (a live staple) into a studio version he was satisfied with. Steven Stills was a frequent jamming partner of Hendrix's after they met at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. They had each become enthused about the Joni Mitchell song "Woodstock" and in late September of 1969 they worked on the song until Stills moved to organ and vocals when the performance quickly took shape. They stayed in this configuration while cutting another Stills led piece, "$20 Fine." There are some interesting curios, like the duet performance between Hendrix (even incorporating some electric sitar!) and Mitchell that resulted in the atmospheric instrumental "Cherokee Mist" Overall this album works quite well, there are informative liner notes and some excellent photographs which round out a well designed set that will be a boon to Hendrix obsessives and classic rock fans in general. Both Sides Of The Sky - amazon.com

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The Yardbirds - Yardbirds '68 (Jimmy Page Music, 2017)

The legendary rock 'n' roll band The Yardbirds were on their last legs in early 1968 when these recordings took place. Jimmy Page, last in a long line of heroic guitarists in the group's employ had taken command of the music and it began to move away from the blues/pop foundation the group had been working on since their formation in 1963. Page wanted to move the band into a more confrontational heavy riff based music that he would eventually perfect with his next band, Led Zeppelin. (see also the Goldmine article about the Yardbirds to Zeppelin transition) Regardless, this is a very interesting collection, consisting of one disc of live material recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York City and a second disc entitled Studio Sketches, consisting of demo material recorded during this period. In addition to Page on guitar, the band consisted of Keith Relf on vocals, harmonica, percussion, Chris Dreja on bass guitar on backing vocals and Jim McCarty on drums, percussion and vocals. This music had been released very briefly on LP before being pulled, making this version curated under the auspices of Page himself with input from the other surviving band members the first official re-mixed, re-mastered release of the music. They may have been fraying at the edges, but the group remained a powerful live act, as seen by strong performances of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" which motors along relentlessly with raw drumming and soaring harmonica. A couple of their earlier singles follow, "Mr, You're a Better Man Than I" and "Heart Full of Soul" which develop dynamically within the traditional framework the band had built over the years. The first surprise comes in the form of an embryonic version of "Dazed and Confused" soon to become an exercise on self-indulgence as Page wowed arena sized crowds with his guitar bowing technique and performances would stretch out over fifteen minutes. They are still feeling their way through these songs, but you can sense Page chafing against the familiar patterns of the band. This all comes together on the concluding track, a ten minute blowout of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” including a few sub themes to boot. Everybody digs into this performance with a tough chugging groove with slashing guitar and taut bass and drums. They also rip through a few more of their popular singles, taking a fast packed and action packed approach to fan favorites “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes of Things.” The following disc of demos is short, but contains some treasures, such as the two versions of acoustic experiments like “Spanish Blood” and "Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)" another track that would find another life gets shortly. Overall, this is a valuable historical collection showing that the band was functioning at a high level and experimenting right up to the end. Yardbirds '68 - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk, 2018)

This is an excellent album of modern jazz from the quartet of Matthew Shipp on piano, Mat Walerian on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and clarinet, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The group will re-configure itself throughout the album, opening up interesting sections for solos, duos and trios within the full band framework. The album begins quietly with "First Step" as Shipp provides deep blue chords in open space for the saxophone to weave around amidst gentle bowed bass and cymbal play. The spare and beautiful piano that opens "Blues Addition" has a sense of melodic grace, as notes and chords ring and resonant in the air. After two minutes, the bass and bass clarinet are featured, keeping the meditative nature of the music intact, as piano and drums are absent, while "The Station" has long tones and quick swirls of clarinet unaccompanied in space, layering interesting textures in a solo statement, that is a great feature for Walerian's playing. The full band comes together at a faster pace on "Lines of Energy" which has a skittish and nervous flow to it. Their collective improvisation is rapidly streaming and exciting to hear, with raw saxophone weaving in between the taut rhythm and with pungent piano. Shipp's deep and strong piano playing is center stage for "Easy Flow" gaining volume and resonance as the music evolves through percussive jabs and lightning fast filigrees, creating a great solo piano performance. Tight bass playing lays the foundation for "The Problem of Jazz" which quickly adds short cells of slashing drums and saxophone, creating a very compelling narrative that is based on propulsive bass playing and bursts of free jazz noise. After the ringing introduction of "The Note," the piano, bass and drums unit takes command with a forceful "3 by 4." The music is fast paced and alert, careening forward in a compelling fashion, with Shipp's muscular piano colliding with the active bass and drums building deeply coherent energy where the three musicians play steep and fast, energetic, before the saxophonist joins them about halfway through and takes things to a thrilling new level with an explosive collective improvisation. "Cell in the Brain" returns to a more open ended feel with clarinet and subtle percussion carving a channel through the air with interjections from piano, plumbing the low end of the piano for a deeper atmosphere. The longest track on the album is the concluding "Sonic Fiction" which brings together all of the aspects of the prior performances into one long summation. The quartet plays thoughtfully, carving space within which to improvise, at times dense and passionate, while also blooming into open space, with the saxophone and piano leading the way, adding some excellent adding further depth and variety to the music, even dropping into some deeply swinging freebop sections as the piece develops. Sonic Fiction - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bad Plus - Never Stop II (Legbreaker Records, 2018)

Pianist Orrin Evans was an inspired choice (and if the Downbeat interview is accurate, the only choice) to replace founding member Ethan Iverson in The Bad Plus. Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King remain as the bedrock of the group, and the trio continues as before, creating witty compositions and pairing them with pithy improvisations. Leading off with the haunting and melodic “Hurricane Birds” which leads the group into the album, one that has a sense of melancholy that reflects the age. This sensibility is bookended by two bonus tracks that end the album, "Kerosene" and "Seems" which take on a floating fluidity that moves gracefully through their improvisations with a group nature that eschews soloing for an overall band sound. "Trace" kicks the pace up a notch with crisp drumming and thick sounding bass providing a firm foundation for Evans's piano to glide over. The music is not overtly loud, but it is played with a sense of urgency that keeps the tune moving along briskly. Their collective improvisation is very solid, and the trio works well as a group, interacting and sharing opportunities to support one another, and building to an exciting and satisfying conclusion that keeps the melody at the forefront. There is a sample of the bouncy wit that this group has been long known for on "Safe Passages" with Evans providing percussive piano chords over churning bass and drums that drive the music rhythmically forward. The music moves at a fast and interesting pace, with a high level of listening and empathy between the musicians resulting in a consistently interesting performance and album highlight. "Commitment" is one of the more dynamic pieces of music on the album, starting with a sense of velocity as all three members lean into a crashing, rhythmically dense configuration, with some excellent drumming taking the lead, and then everyone diving deep into a headlong improvised section. Rippling piano notes and deep muscular bass further develop the track, until there is an abrupt shift in tempo to a ballad configuration, with much open space and light touches on the instruments. This is a jarring change, but works to keep the listener off guard and apprehensive about what is to come. They return to the fast pace on the tumbling "Lean in the Archway" anchored by some stellar bass playing and thoughtfully challenging piano playing. The music develops a madcap cinematic feel, like the postmodern equivalent to instrumental accompaniment of silent films. The choppy rhythmic nature and ever changing consistency of the music keep it interesting and exciting. This was another fine entry in the discography of The Bad Plus. Evans is a superb instrumentalist and composer and deserves the wider attention he will find in this band, and he fits in seamlessly with King and Anderson and their musical conception. Never Stop II - amazon.com

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (Tri-Centric / New Braxton House, 2018)

Multi instrumentalist Anthony Braxton performing here on alto and soprano saxophone, flute, contrabass clarinet and piano put together a great band including Ari Brown on tenor and soprano saxophone, Paul Smoker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Misha Mengelberg on piano, Joe Fonda on bass and Pheeroan akLaff (most tracks) or Han Bennink on drums to interpret the music of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker in 1993. Although he is most widely known as a composer, teacher and ardent experimentalist, Braxton's roots lie in classic jazz (he is also an avowed admirer of the late alto saxophonist Paul Desmond) and has explored the music of Parker, Andrew Hill and others live and on record for many years. This monumental collection is the expansion of a two disc HatHut Records release and really shows how the band grew while playing this music over time. Some of the pieces are repeated in multiple versions such as the Parker composition "Klactoveedsedstene" which demonstrates how the band is able to take the source material and interpret it in many different ways, and that may be the key to understanding this set, as the band explores the freedom of bebop as an artform and the potential it offers for improvisers to this day. With Braxton's array of instruments and a unique approach to the repertoire the music is never the same way twice and he has a perfect foil on the person of Ari Brown, who has a more traditional approach to the saxophone allowing for the formation of interesting and intricate textures within the context of their improvisations. The iconoclastic Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg is an inspired choice for the group, his deep knowledge of the history of jazz and willingness to subvert it are the perfect qualities for this band. The strong brass playing of Smoker and the rhythm section of akLaff and Fonda offer another dimension to explore the music as the rhythms and pulses of the music push and pull as the past meets the present. They play excellent versions of Parker compositions like "Parker's Mood," "Koko" and "Scrapple from the Apple" while also exploring period pieces like Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night in Tunisia" and Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" and the music ranges from pithy and short treatments of the melodies and themes to lengthy explorations on tracks like a nineteen minute version of "An Oscar for Treadwell." But there is little flab on any of these recordings, and the pithy nature of the performances and the familiarity of many of the tunes go a long way toward increasing the accessibility and approachability of the music as a whole. An eleven disc set is a whopper to absorb, but the quality of the music remains excellent throughout and this is a band that deserves attention as one of Braxton's finest, so the idea of expanding to this length is valid. The quality of the music is excellent throughout and the playing is inspired with superb ensemble passages on the well known themes and a wide range of stellar soloing from each member of the group. Sextet (Parker) 1993 - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Azar Lawrence - Elementals (High Note, 2018)

Although he may be most well known as a sideman for McCoy Tyner (see Phil Freeman's podcast with Lawrence and excellent series about the 1970's LP's by Tyner for more information) and Elvin Jones, saxophonist Azar Lawrence has released several albums as a bandleader, first in a funky fusion mode in the mid-seventies, and most recently with a strong series of modern mainstream jazz albums. This is a fine LP that continues that trend with Lawrence playing tenor and soprano saxophone in the company of Benito Gonzalez on piano, Jeff Littleton on bass, Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. "La Bossa" is a strong and swinging opener with the bassist and percussionist providing a deep rhythmic foundation and Lawrence playing in a bittersweet fashion, with the piano grooving at a solid medium tempo. The group cooks together quite nicely, never forcing the pace with Lawrence soloing in a sleek and shiny fashion before stepping aside and letting the rhythm section say their piece which they do in grand style before the leader returns on soprano saxophone the lead the group to the finale. He stays on soprano for "Eye of the Needle" developing an appealing tone as the group takes a stronger stance, developing a faster and more strident pace, leading to an excellent section of collective improvisation, with the group developing a full rich sound, building to an exciting climax of powerful percussion and saxophone held fast by piano and bass. The title track "Elementals" is one of the most powerful on the album with strong piano comping and tenor saxophone over brisk rhythm accompaniment. There is a fast paced and muscular interlude for the band without saxophone, then the leader returns with a raw and deeply rooted solo statement of his own, taking the music into a personal and unique space. "African Chant" opens with a yearning unaccompanied tenor saxophone statement before the music jumps into a fast full band mode, adding some scatting vocals to further deepen the rhythmic sensibility of the sound. They develop a potent collective improvisation that swings very well, while allowing the band members to express themselves fully within the music. There is a fine piano solo, set up by undulating drums, percussion and bass, before the full band comes together for a fast conclusion. This upbeat nature continues on the fast paced "Sing to the World" where Lawrence develops a strong melody on soprano saxophone as the remainder of the band churns beneath him. He uses this theme as the basis for a strong solo, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape like a bird in flight. The group is really in their element with this brawny improvisation that is rooted in tradition, yet soaring to break free. This was a very good album, and continues a strong renaissance for Azar Lawrence, who has been making a habit of releasing one strong modern jazz LP a year for the past ten years with no sign of letting up. Elementals - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Jon Lundbom Quartet - Live at Monks (MonksLive, 2018)

After a run of several superb albums with his group Big Five Chord, guitarist and composer Jon Lundbom takes a different approach in a quartet format, playing a series of live dates in the company of Russell Haight on tenor saxophone, Sam Pankey on bass, and Jeff Olson on drums. The music they create is as fresh as ever, turning in stellar ensemble passages and white hot solos that would be sure to attract any progressive jazz or rock fan who might have the good fortune to hear this music. The music that the group plays is partly new compositions, warhorses from the Big Five Chord days and a few jazz classics thrown in for good measure. The band is more then up to the task of this wide range of material, embracing the challenging music head-on and pushing forward into the deep until a truly personal statement is made. Lundbom has recently relocated to the fertile Austin, Texas music scene and is sure to gain a swift following once his thoroughly modern jazz is unleashed upon the denizens of the city's music clubs and festivals, Keep Austin Weird, indeed. The venue Monk's is a DIY project providing pop up concerts and guerrilla art statements that are needed more then ever in these dark times. The music develops in a grand fashion, pulling in diverse aspects of modern jazz and progressive jazz as evidenced on the opener "So Sue Me" which was originally composed by John Scofield with aspects of groove that he is known for, but the music is subtly changed by this band. They incorporate a powerful and immediate guitar sound from Lundbom, before the hands the baton to Haight who plants his feet and really digs into a gritty and potent statement. Lundbom developed the original composition "Cereal" in collaboration with Bryan Murray (a.k.a. Balto Exclamationpoint) which takes the music in a much different direction. It is a deeply atmospheric performance, developing a unique soundscape, with an open endlessness that accentuates the slight echo and reverberation is provided by the venue. Originally recorded on Lundbom's previous live album, the very successful Liverevil album from 1993, "These Changes" opens with some subtle funky grooves from the rhythm section before Lundbom enters and pushes the intensity forward and locking in with the drummer to make sure the sparks are flying. They dip back into the Big Five Chord book for the composition "Trick Dog," which begins with a length solo guitar opening, presenting a statement of mission for the group to follow and they respond enthusiastically, inserting changes in time and allowing for excellent solo spots for tenor saxophone and bass. The Ornette Coleman composition "W.R.U." is an unexpected delight, where Height takes the reigns on a fast and fluid tenor saxophone feature, and Olson provides some thunderous rhythmic responses. The group breaks, and then opens their concluding set with the Joe Lovano composition, "Blackwell’s Message," dedicated to the great drummer. Olson has just the right approach for this, adding percussive accents that leads the group into their approximation of Latin jazz, "People Be Talking," which develops a slinky groove before Lundbom breaks out with a scalding guitar solo, keeping everyone on their toes. They hit another Ornette Coleman composition, "Law Years" which features some excellent bass playing from Parley before a meaty tenor saxophone solo returns us to the Earth. Clearly moving from strength to strength, this is another excellent album from Jon Lundbom, marking him as one of the most creative guitarists and bandleaders on the modern jazz scene. Hopefully there will be regular installments from this group as they continue to expand and grow. Live at Monks - MonksLive bandcamp

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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette - After the Fall (ECM, 2018)

When pianist Keith Jarrett traveled to Newark, New Jersey in November 1998, it was an auspicious occasion, marking his return to live performance after a two-year battle with debilitating chronic fatigue disorder. He joined by his longtime partners in the so-called Standards Trio, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They had been a group for fifteen years at this point, and had amassed a wide ranging book of popular songs and jazz standards which they delved into on this recording, beginning with a nearly sixteen minute version of "The Masquerade Is Over" which answers any questions of Jarrett's health with a powerful performance, combining texture, dynamics and the trust this band has built up over the years to rip though a lengthy high wire improvisation without missing a step. Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" is a joy to hear, as the revels in some storming bebop, making this a highlight of the recording, and creating a blasting trio improvisation which incorporates strong bass and drum solos. "Old Folks" is a ballad that features beautiful brush work from DeJohnette, creating a subtle and dreamy feel, and he is equally at home supporting a sublime bass solo. The melody of "Autumn Leaves" gets the crowd excited  and the band responds with a fast paced collective improvisation spinning their own textiles from the threads of the familiar song. This is rapidly swinging improvisation that only a profoundly talented group can achieve, akin to driving a luxury car as they cruise through a lengthy performance. Peacock's throbbing bass is the heart of the performance, the point of gravity around which the trio moves through space. But they really hit their stride with another bebop flag waver, Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" and they swing effortlessly at high speed from the melody as the piano sprinkles drops of gentle notes like a summer shower, leading the band to rip through the song at high speed slaloming through the tricky bebop in a very exciting manner. Jarrett fades back allowing a classy bass solo over a quiet but insistent cymbal beat before coming back to lead the group to a massively swinging conclusion. The Sonny Rollins composition "Doxy" has a jumping theme that the group embraces, with loping bass and bright piano and a foundation of crisp drumming. They drop into a medium tempo and swoop grandly throughout the performance. "I’ll See You Again" begins as a ballad with a bass feature backed with brushes, but the piece evolves into a mid-tempo performance with thick bass balancing the rippling piano and swaying drums. "Late Lament," however is a proper ballad, played with open space and symmetry, while "One for Majid" has a bright and bouncy medium percolation but can be a little grating on the ears as Jarrett's infamous vocalization becomes quite audible. A late highlight to the set is a performance of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" as the band creates an exciting and fast paced joyride with strong rhythm and keyboard driving the music forward with the drums swinging mightily as DeJohnette puts his indelible stamp on the proceedings. This album is another fine entry into the catalog of the Standards Trio, and Jarrett's discography as a whole. He was clearly inspired after regaining his health and this sense of inspiration led to a memorable concert. After The Fall - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 03, 2018

Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton - Music for David Mossman Live at the Vortex London (Intakt Records, 2018)

Saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Barry Guy, and percussionist Paul Lytton have been playing together for nearly forty years and this particular album is dedicated to David Mossman who was the proprietor of the Vortex Club in London where this album was recorded in July of 2016. They develop a four part suite of collective improvisation beginning with "Music For David Mossman I" starts with a quiet bass and percussion section that builds a massive power as Parker's tenor saxophone folds in, gaining momentum for a fearsome collective improvisation. Taut and sharp bass plucking with a tightly wound sound opens "Music For David Mossman II" that is spacious and open, and then begins to coalesce round saxophone and scattered percussion. The improvisation develops in a patient manner with a passionate three way improvisation building pacing and structure and towering tenor saxophone looming over undulating bass and percussion, then the wave crests to a spacious, stoic and steady saxophone and feathery percussion. They are dark and close as the pace rebuilds over slashing saxophone to a scalding free improvisation, creating a thrilling ride that is locked in and barreling forward. "Music For David Mossman III" is the longest track, clocking in at over twenty four minutes, popping and squeaking and building to a powerfully rhythmic foundation, with the dark and mahogany sound of Parker's tenor saxophone that is so well honed moving with blazing speed toward a more abstract section as the bass solos and the percussion develops skittish patterns. The saxophone re-enters with the waxing and waning nature of the music that keeps the tension and suspense high with the saxophone developing a circular pattern that gets faster and faster seemingly with centrifugal force, and a rattling and clanking drum solo  that is very impressive, developing a spontaneous rhythm that is complex and exciting, before returning to a collective improvisation for a ravishing conclusion. This album concludes with "Music For David Mossman IV" with deep and resonant tenor saxophone breathing in a circular pattern in magical patterns as if casting a spell. Bowed bass and percussion glide in aiding and abetting scalding saxophone building back to a frenetic three way improvisation racing forward and incorporating another quality drum solo. This was an excellent album and will appeal to fans of free improvisation. This unit has played together for many years and this experience has forged a hard won unity between them that is unique and special. Music for David Mossman - amazon.com

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz (Atlantic Records, 1961)

Subtitled A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, this remains on of the most contentious of Coleman’s early Atlantic Records catalog, inspiring the pre “hot box” Downbeat Magazine to print simultaneous five star and zero star reviews. It remains a bracing and thrilling album to this day and the Jackson Pollock painting that originally graced the cover is the perfect visual analogue to music contained within. Bringing together a jaw-dropping group of musicians, Coleman split them into two quartets, recorded in a such a way that their music would come from one of two channels in the stereo format. In the left channel there was Coleman himself on alto saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Scott LaFaro on bass and Billy Higgins on drums; while in the right channel are Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. The original album consists of one continuous track, “Free Jazz” which had a fade in the middle in order to fit the music onto a standard LP. Modern digital versions of the album has that track presented seamlessly in addition to “First Take” a valuable addition to the Coleman canon showing that the more famous piece didn’t develop in a vacuum, but was was one that evolved in the studio over time, allowing soloists to be cued and ensemble passages to be worked out. Each of the musicians in the ensemble gets a solo section, in addition to collectively improvised full band sections that take surging sub-themes and use them as launching points for the group collaborations. The first side of the original LP focuses on ensemble passages and solo sections for the horn players, led off by Dolphy’s unmistakable bass clarinet, and the leader’s own blues drenched searing alto saxophone. The brass players are contrasted between Cherry’s pinched pocket trumpet and Hubbard's powerful blowing, proving that he was equally at home in the avant-garde as he was playing swinging hard bop. The second half of the original LP has ensemble passages connecting solos from the bassists and drummers, showing the nature of rhythm and pacing with a free context. It’s fascinating to compare the doomed virtuoso Scott Lafaro with Coleman mainstay Charlie Haden, and Higgins and Blackwell would alternately hold the drum chair until the leader’s son Denardo was ready to take over in the late sixties. They have unique yet complementary approaches to to music which are fascinating to hear and provide further fuel to the fire of the group’s extraordinary sound. Much of Coleman’s Atlantic Records output has been so fully absorbed into the language of modern jazz to the extent that they don’t seem all that revolutionary in retrospect today. No so this masterpiece, with an octet of hall of fame worthy talent set loose an atmosphere of supportive freedom, the results are seismic, and would echo through the ages to landmarks like John Coltrane’s Ascension, Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun and beyond. It is a towering achievement and one of the most important albums in jazz history. Free Jazz - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 01, 2018

Daniel Levin / Chris Pitsiokos / Brandon Seabrook - Stomiidae (Dark Tree, 2018)

Stomiidae is a devastating and thrilling avant-garde jazz album from Daniel Levin on cello, Chris Pistiokos on alto saxophone and Brandon Seabrook on electric guitar. All three of these men are well known in jazz and free improvisation circles, so their coming together under one banner is a cause for celebration. This music was collectively improvised and recorded in April of 2016 at Firehouse 12 in Connecticut. The results produced by this group is a caustic and bold melding of sound and body, but in the best manner possible. The swirling scouring action provided by the cello and guitar lock horns and provide a powerful jolt that can be ridden or joined by the acidic toned saxophone. These episodes of arch freedom are matched by sections of eerie calm where the instruments arc across a larger soundscape where the saxophone can mine circular motifs as on the opening track "Photonectes Gracilis" and the guitar and cello can add pointillist commentary gradually filling in the available space, building to a section of alarming sounds before dynamically dropping down to near silence. This is followed by  "Eustomias Trewavasae" which has raucous fast paced chirping that develops into a frantically bowed and blown improvisation. The group uses their instruments to make sounds that you would not normally associate with them, creating a wide range of textures and hues that are very impressive to hear. There is a very exciting and frenetic collective improvisation developed on "Neonesthes Capensis" with extremely fast paced bowing and picking met by flurries of saxophone, not necessarily at high volume but with a sense of forward motion brought about by the speed of the playing. Wild sounds that are akin to a mis-tuned radio open "Opostomias Micripnus" throwing the music into varying degrees of light and shade with ominous squeals and clicks adding to the overall atmosphere of the music, before moving into a more conventional if not any less intense conclusion to the piece. The finale "Echiostoma Barbatum" pulls together all of the aspects of the recording with raw and unfettered free improvisation broken at times with spacey open interludes. This is a fine conclusion to a very good album of challenging free improvisation. The playing of the instrumentalists is first rate and they are completely locked in and engaged with the material at hand. Stomiidae - Dark Tree Bandcamp

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sonny Rollins - Way Out West ]Deluxe Edition] (Craft Recordings, 2018)

Tenor saxophone legend Sonny Rollins was at the height of his powers in 1957 when he recorded this titanic classic of modern jazz, a famously relaxed session with Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums that started around three in the morning and really started cooking as the sun came up. Like his equally famous recordings from the Village Vanguard, Rollins plays with just bass and drums, allowing him considerable freedom to shape the music, and the rhythm team of Brown and Manne are very sympathetic to the cause. You really hear the wit and sagacity that is present in Rollins' most famous recordings (not to mention the cover photograph which is one for the ages,) beginning with the clip-clopping beat to the opening track "I'm an Old Cowhand" that makes perfect sense given the context and the leader's love of classic western films. This and adds a scent of humor without ever resorting to cheese, and provides just the right push that guides the band into making a iconic performance. Manne adds aspects of this beat to the track "Wagon Wheels" which is a lustrous mid-tempo performance, that really accentuates burnished beauty of Rollins' tenor saxophone sound, which is absolutely glowing throughout this record. The beautiful ballad "Solitude" is a very patient and impressive performance, with Manne playing subtle brushes and Brown adding slow and resonant bass notes while Rollins glides around the music with a sense of stately grace. "Come, Gone" amps the tempo back up to a steaming three way improvisation, with Brown loping gleefully on bass and Shelly Manne swinging madly on cymbals, before taking an excellent solo of his own as Rollins spools out a seemingly endless array of variations on the theme. This new reissue adds some of the studio chatter, in which Rollins discusses the need to understand the lyrics of a standard or pop song in order to fully inhabit it. This was a trait that he shared with other famous tenor saxophonists like Lester Young Dexter Gordon who would often preface a live performance with a short recitation of a lyric before launching into an alternate take to "I'm an Old Cowhand" that runs nearly double the length of the original released performance. They discuss renaming a song (with a slightly bawdy wink) in order to give Rollins an original composition and some royalties, and the alternate version of this song "Come, Gone" is once again stretched out past the ten minute mark. These extra tracks are not filler, they are really interesting to listen to, and show how the band would construct their performances and how Rollins could create spontaneously out of thin air like a magician. This collection is available in digital form, but the two LP record really goes to town with re-mastered sound, old and new liner notes and photographs and other ephemera. Regardless of how you find it, this is a classic of post war jazz and deserves to be in every jazz fan's record collection. Way Out West [Deluxe Edition] - amazon.com

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Friday, February 23, 2018

The Heat Death - The Glenn Miller Sessions (Clean Feed, 2018)

This is the second sprawling triple album that Clean Feed has released this year, and it works equally as well as did the impressive Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity three CD set. This particular group consists of Kjetil Møster on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Martin Kuchen on alto saxophone and flute, Mats Aleklint on trombone, Ola Høyer on bass and Dag Erik Knedal Andersen on drums. I'm not sure what the connection is to the instrumental pop of the Glenn Miller band, because this is state of the art modern and free jazz, played with power and energy to spare. The album opens with parts one and two of a longer work called "The Myriads of Space" which makes more sense because the music is spiritually connected to The New Thing jazz of the 1960's, and this group takes the questing nature and the search for freedom that was inherent in that movement, and expands upon it mightily, with huge expanses of collective improvisation that is played at high speed and volume, giving the overall sound of the band a brawny bravado that works quite well. They sound bigger then a five piece group, partly due to the multi-instrumental nature of the reed players, moving between different saxophones, flute and clarinet can vary the hue and context of the pieces allowing for a great range of variety and negating any feeling of fatigue that the listener may feel when taking on a three hour plus collection of avant-garde jazz. There is a humor to the music that provides further levity, as can be seen by some of the other titles in this collection, "The Unservable Jazz Soup," "Towards the Uncool" and "The Clandestine Jazz Operation" which shows that the group doesn't take itself too seriously while at the same time creating music that is simultaneously accessible and experimental. Each of the five musicians is very talented in their own right, Moster leads a self-named group while Kuchen has played with and collaborated with a wide variety of musicians both on the fertile Scandinavian scene and beyond. The rhythm team of Hoyer and Knedal is more then up to the task, providing strong beats when necessary and also accenting and framing the improvisations in such a way as to ensure maximum creative freedom for the group as a whole. The addition of Aleklint on trombone is crucial to the music's success, adding another solo voice as well as a brassy heft to the ensemble and collectively improvised sections, giving them the feeling of a little big band at times, but while still maintaining the nimble shift on the fly small group identity. Overall this is a fine collection of modern free jazz and should be gratefully accepted by fans of such music. The music is strong and virile, adding just the right amount of dynamic range to keep it interesting over the long haul. The Glenn Miller Sessions - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Peter Kuhn Trio - Intention (FMR Records, 2018)

Bass clarinetist Peter Kuhn came back in style a few years ago with an excellent re-issue of classic material and an accompanying album of fresh new material. This album is one of two new records that continues his renaissance with Kuhn playing b-flat and bass clarinets, Kyle Motl on bass and Nathan Hubbard on drums.  Like his colleague Abbey Rader, there is a spiritual dimension to Kuhn’s music as well, manifesting itself in the Buddhist traditions he has studied and the high level of understanding and cooperation within the music that allows for kinetic collective improvisations within the structure of well designed frameworks. The creations on this album are optimistic and exciting, and it consists of nine short to medium tracks which all feature pointed and powerful improvisations where Kuhn really makes a mark on the bass clarinet developing a deep woody and resonant sound that gives the music a distinctive stamp. The title track "Intention" opens with a light and nimble setting for clarinet, skittish percussion and elastic bass, frolicking around in a free and unfettered manner. The tempo is fast but the weight of the music is not overbearing, developing in an accessible manner, and stays rhythmically interesting throughout. "ChaWang" has Kuhn moving to bass clarinet which he has a unique mastery of and puts him in the company of fellow travelers like Eric Dolphy and David Murray. This track develops in a more caustic and nervous manner, with fast slashing percussion and rumbling bass meeting the hollow and sweeping sound of the bass clarinet. The music continues in a dynamic fashion, dropping into dark and mysterious places, before fluttering back up into the light. There is an open ended approach to "Perception Deception" which has a freely improvised section for bowed bass and bass clarinet with percussion, that creates a very earthy and grounded performance, with the context of the music providing its propulsion into raw feelings and scouring voids where meditative haunting sound play out. "The Path" is particularly exciting with all three musicians going for broke including deep resonant bowed and plucked bass, powerfully rhythmic drumming and ecstatic clarinet. They keep the past fast and frenetic, developing a powerful collective improvisation that drives the music forward relentlessly. The interplay between bowed bass and clarinet is particularly impressive on "Arise" an the texture that these two instruments are able to achieve in cahoots with the excellent drumming is very impressive. Overall this was a very good modern jazz album with a fine balance between thematic material and free improvisation all buoyed by excellent instrumental prowess. Intention - peterkuhnmusic

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Abbey Rader - Ritual (ABRAY Productions, 2017)

Master percussionist Abbey Rader is a deeply spiritual man, and this album is aptly maned as it brings in the questing nature of classic new thing jazz of the late sixties and early seventies and combines that sensibility with a thoroughly modern approach to improvised music. Rader is joined by Kyle Motl on bass and Drew Ceccato on tenor saxophone, and they open the album with "Circles Drawn" which has taught and fast bass and percussion, recalling the spirit of loft jazz and similar freedom oriented approaches to music with Ceccato entering with stoic and energizing saxophone lines. He is an exciting player out of the free jazz tradition, who blows with great strength and power, adding squalls of wound and and creating some of the densest music possible in a trio setting. The suppleness of the Rader's drumming and and Motl's bass playing go a long way in securing the success of this musical approach and their collective improvisation is thrilling and eye opening, played with an unflagging intensity and spirit. There is some more space added to the music on "Ritual," with arcs of raw sounding saxophone flying over the subtle rhythmic core of the music. This gives the track a yearning and thoughtful tone, and allows the bass to range widely while maintaining a central gravitational point for the saxophone and drums to rotate around. Ceccato's blistering high pitched tones add further energy to the proceedings, guiding the music into freer space, where the is room for very good bass and percussion solos. His strong saxophone tone melds with ominous bowed bass and lithe percussion from the leader to finish the performance on a high note. Abstract bass and percussion open "Interiority" joined by long slow breaths of air, creating music that is skittish and very free sounding, excitable and easily startled. The music evolves slowly and carefully, with Ceccato developing a very pleasing deep and cohesive tenor saxophone sound, and this depth is a reflection of the band’s overall goal, taking the freedoms inherent in modern jazz and exploring it in a fearless manner. There is a thick and meaty bass feature to kick off "Conjurations" gradually folding in bells and chimes and recalling some classic Art Ensemble of Ensemble of Chicago approaches to improvisation. The saxophone probes cautiously, melding with the bowed bass to produce an exciting drone effect that is quite arresting with Rader stepping back and allowing the space to widen and encompass a bowed bass and saxophone duet that soon becomes a thrilling cauldron of freely improvised sound. "Circles Broken" is the culminating track on the album, with the leader reasserting himself with brisk percussion against acidic bowed bass as Motl bows dark and cavernous lines that are met by gradually entering tenor saxophone. The trio delves into a very exciting collective improvisation that weaves many textural elements into a cohesive whole. This is indicative of the album as a whole, with the music evoking a strong sense of unity among musicians and igniting within them a common interest and each providing mutual support within the group. Ritual - ABRAY Productions Bandcamp

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wayne Escoffery - Vortex (Sunnyside, 2018)

A longtime veteran of trumpet great Tom Harrell's group, tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is also an effective bandleader. On this album, he is joined by David Kikoski on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums with additional percussion from Kush Abadey and Jacquelene Acevedo. "Baku" has a bright and bouncy uptempo feeling with crisp playing from the rhythm section and strong, swinging tenor saxophone from the leader. The piano, bass and drums stretch out with a solid interlude before Escoffery returns with a spirited solo of his own with impeccable timing, driving the band into more progressive territory before dropping out for a fine bass solo. There is a taut rhythm that provides the scaffolding for "To the Ends of the Earth" with piano comping evocative of McCoy Tyner, and Escoffery branching out into a billowing tenor saxophone solo, that develops a strong tone and complex performance, arcing up into strong and serious blowing. The interlude for the rhythm section is handled in a brisk manner, keeping the forward momentum of the piece intact, with crashing piano chords and lightning fast notes. The saxophone returns adding to the intensity of the piece, keeping the mainstream accessibility while pushing forward with a powerful statement. Escoffery moves to soprano saxophone for the mysterious sounding "The Devil's Den" with extra percussion and thick bass setting the pace, creating a reflective openness for the group to build upon. The saxophone spirals through the rhythm, creating a thoughtful improvisation that makes the most of the setting, swirling and swaying through the insistent percussion. He drops out for a quieter piano, bass and drums interlude which moves gracefully, before re-entering with a gritty solo that takes the performance to another level, with active percussion and potent saxophone creating a dynamic atmosphere. "Acceptance" is another lengthy and well played track with powerful drumming and tenor saxophone framing tight piano and bass. This supplies a tight and simmering groove to the music, that allows it to stretch out at length while still retaining interest. There is a short but potent performance on "Judgement" with Escoffery really digging in on tenor saxophone in a Coltrane like mode, making a connection with his accompanists, and playing in a stark yet soulful manner. The title track "Vortex" is aptly named as it is a very fast and complex performance with lightning fast saxophone and agile drumming driving the music forward along with tightly wound bass and drums. Escoffery plays with fluid grace even at high speeds like this, punctuating the music with higher register screams and gutsy growls. Solo sections for piano and percussion are well handled, and the leader comes back with a vengeance to complete the tune. Vortex - amazon.com

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Sun Ra Arkestra - Kosmos In Blue: A John Gilmore Anthology, Vol. 1 (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2017)

John Gilmore was a great jazz saxophonist who spent most of his career with keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra. He was a superb and unique player, equally at home playing music from swing to free, and would probably have become much more well known if he struck out for a solo career. This album is a collection of mostly small band Sun Ra performances from the mid fifties to sixties that feature Gilmore in a soloing context, and it is a fine collection, demonstrating not only his prowess as an instrumentalist, but also serving as a pithy introduction to Sun Ra's music as a whole. "Search Light Blues" concludes the album with a thoughtful mid-tempo performance, with Sun Ra playing piano with bass and drums, and setting the stage for a beautifully lyrical saxophone solo. This may be one of the purest distillations of Gilmore on record, patiently building a solo filled with heart, soul and gritty determination. The standard "Sometimes I'm Happy" begins with an unusually florid Ra introduction on piano, but when the song licks into gear it allows Gilmore to stretch out and take a lyrical and spirited solo, one that shows his roots in bop and blues, but never gets bogged down in cliche. Ra bounces out, leading the core trio through a swinging interlude with taut bass and snappy drumming, before Gilmore glides back in easing the song to a fine and thoughtful conclusion. The title track "Kosmos in Blue" builds a powerful rhythmic sensibility with Ra locking in with the percussive bass and drums to carve a solid foothold that Gilmore is able to use in his own solo, one that comes nearly three minutes into the performance but is worth the wait. He develops a steely tone and slices through the accompaniment and less than optimal sound quality like a duelist looking for his next opponent. The full quartet takes a spirited collectively improvised section, making the most of one of Ra's more open ended themes and allowing a nod to the bassist and the drummer, before the saxophonist re-emerges to take the tune out. "Space Aura #2" has a larger horn section which Gilmore quickly lifts off from weaving from lumbering section play to quicksilver soloing in a dynamic fashion. He trades phrases with another saxophonist, probably Marshall Allen, creating a very exciting texture for the mid sized band to elaborate upon. One of Ra's more well known themes is "A Call For All Demons" with its memorable melody and riffing horn section that disgorges Gilmore for a short but memorable solo. The thick bass and Ra's percussive piano playing are equally well played on this track. All in all, this is a fine addition or beginning to a Sun Ra collection, and also serves as a much needed reminder of Gilmore, who John Coltrane famously said "got the concept," of playing rhythmically and melodically at the same time. Kosmos in Blue: John Gilmore Anthology, Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Roscoe Mitchell and Matthew Shipp - Accelerated Projection (Rogue Art, 2018)

This album was taken from a concert recorded at the Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardinia in 2005 with Roscoe Mitchell on alto and soprano saxophones and Matthew Shipp on piano. These two great musicians have played together many times in a wide range of contexts but this improvised seven part suite pushes and challenges their musicianship to an even higher plane. "Accelerated Projection I" opens the concert quietly, as both men feel out the path before them, with Shipp gently raining down droplets of piano notes as Mitchell glides around, gradually gaining volume and speed. The music really begins to lift off as Mitchell gets pinched swirls of sound that penetrate the piano and the engagement of the two musicians is confident and thorough. The music emanates in waves that ripple out from the two musicians and this is shown even more clearly on "Accelerated Projection IV" where the music is more strident and forceful, and the two really lean into their respective instruments, creating a chaotic maelstrom of sound that is very exciting to hear. Mitchell is relentless on alto saxophone, playing with a power and sustained level of effort that is very impressive. Shipp responds beautifully with complex runs of notes and chords that cover the length of the piano and add fuel to the fire of an explosive improvisation. The music is taut and immediate with Mitchell's sharp and acidic saxophone underpinned by Shipp's mastery of the low end of the piano. The music they create is alarming and arresting, never resting on their laurels but continuously in search of the next adventure. Mitchell is simply a is a force of nature, taking the saxophone to the highest levels of improvised sound, as Shipp provides thunderous accompaniment and encouragement. "Accelerated Projection VI" has percussive piano shards opening their improvisation, and this leads to their longest performance on the album at over thirteen minutes. They trade notes and phrases, gradually building a structure and context for the performance, and developing a unique rhythmic setting. There is an intricate section for fluttering saxophone and skittish piano, which is very fast and develops an intriguing latticework of collective improvisation. Mitchell's soprano saxophone playing is astonishing, with the breadth and depth of sound which he is able to create, like a whirling dervish of otherworldly sound, relentlessly playing without stopping, and Shipp is the perfect foil, creating an ever changing landscape of piano alongside him. This was an excellent album, with two masters of their instruments perfectly matched, and creating vital music live and entirely in the moment. Accelerated Projection - amazon.com

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018)

The Swedish trio Fire! consists of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werliin on drums. They stake out a twilight area of music where free jazz meets heavy metal, with thick sludge being punctuated by blasts of raw unadulterated power. "The Hands" opens the album with huge slabs of grinding sound taken at a fast tempo, as a crisp drumbeat echoes against arcs of electronic feedback. The saxophone comes in after a minute, pushing a huge column of air before it, adding it's weight to the music making the whole sound feel like a force of nature. Squalls of higher pitched saxophone are juxtaposed against lower end rumbles. Some distorted dialogue with an ominous beat develops into "When Her Lips Collapsed," which has a low metallic crushing weight, intensified by the addition of saxophone casting further shade into the proceedings. Raw bellows and roars are heard across the soundscape, like a giant lumbering across a meadow, creating an atmosphere of dread. "Touches Me with the Tips of Wonder" continues in this vein, slowly gathering in volume and scope with light brushes and spacious nature of the music. Long tones of saxophone meet the subtle percussion and bass, giving the performance a dreamlike countenance. The wonderfully titled "Washing Your Heart in Filth" picks the pace back up with tight bass and percussion getting a fast and nimble rhythm going, and allowing the saxophone to blow taut gales of sound across the action, engaging with it, framing and commenting in due course. Raw, rending sounds add to the excitement of the track, pushing the collective improvisation further into the red, with excellent and frenetic drumming driving the music forward. The full band lurches forward on "Up and Down" which has a fast paced full band improvisation that is very good, with the group creating a full thick post-rock sound that is further enhanced by the ferocious saxophone that really digs into the meat of the performance, and the relentless drumming that gives the music structure and coherence. The guitar and bass create an appropriately heavy atmosphere, but ultimately it is the titanic saxophone and percussion meeting that defines this performance, ending eerily with fractured and garbled dialogue. At nine minutes, "To Shave the Leaves. In Red. In Black" is twice as long as any other track on the album, and unfolds gradually until there are massive gales of saxophone over an unnervingly static backdrop with bellows and roaring sounds aplenty. "I Guard Her to Rest. Declaring Silence." concludes the album is a dreamy and moody fashion with a quiet beat, thick bass and low mournful saxophone. This is an excellent album that defies categorization, melding elements of jazz, rock, metal and more into a crucible of energetic freedom. The Hands - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

David Murray featuring Saul Williams - Blues for Memo (Motema Music, 2018)

The great tenor saxophonist and bass clarinet player David Murray combines talent poet Saul Williams on this interesting and successful meeting of improvised jazz and spoken word. They employ an excellent band featuring Orrin Evans on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums with additions from Craig Harris on trombone, Jason Moran on keyboards, (Murray’s son) Mingus Murray on guitar, Aytac Dogan on Qanun and Pervis Evans on vocals. "A Mirror of Youth" has strident spoken word with bright piano chords and active percussion. Murray’s saxophone bobs and weaves amidst the stream of words, getting progressively stronger but keeping a groove going aside strong rhythmic drumming. This creates a full band performance with vocals well integrated into the whole. There is bass integrating with words on “Cycles and Seasons” strumming in a percussive manner, plus droplets of piano notes, developing a choppy rhythm and cadence allowing Murray to shade and frame the music while biding his time, building a tight full band outing with strongly comped piano and gritty saxophone solo.  “Blues for Memo”has mysterious plucked guitar strings creating a haunting opening that becomes a more mellow mid tempo track with added brass. The music is spacious sounding, and members respectful of others' space as Murray enters midway through with patient and probing solo. The uptempo instrumental playing on “Obe” meets the socially conscious poetry head on, with cascading piano and percussion and steaming tenor saxophone driving the music forward with subtle brass commenting. A torrent of words and drum rhythms emerges with lyrics evoking the late arranger Butch Morris. Guitar with bass clarinet and words open “Citizens” with a choppy start stop rhythmic structure and trombone accents adding heft and depth to the performance, with a lush and flowing piano section aside bass and drums support. Bowed bass and sung lyrics then bass clarinet blows with quiet grace, taking the piece out. “Red Summer” features soulful a gospel sound, and heavy lyrics about the Charleston shooting, and shootings of unarmed black people in America. The song evokes civil rights and and Martin Luther King backed by piano trio. Murray breaks through like a ray of sunlight with a powerful tenor saxophone solo that is very moving then frames and accents the singing. There is an excellent and unexpected Sun Ra cover, “Enlightenment,” sounding bright and bouncy, and Murray and pianist sound inspired by this choice. Trombone arcs across the music like a shooting star, hinting slyly at “Space is the Place” before the full band brings it home nicely, adding a bass and drum solo for good measure. Blues for Memo - amazon.com

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Gregory Lewis - Organ Monk Blue (Self-Produced, 2017)

Hammond B3 organ player Gregory Lewis began playing the instrument while in college at the New School, developing an affinity for the it while backing singers and jamming at the 55 Bar and Minton’s. His love of the music of Thelonious Monk has led to a series of self-produced albums including this one which features Marc Ribot on guitar and Jeremy Bean Clemons on drums. Monk's "Green Chimneys" opens gradually with reedy sounding organ meeting a subtle drum beat and guitar comping. Waves of keyboard thicken the sound adding a slightly overdriven feel, enveloping all that comes before it then dropping out for an interlude of soulful guitar and drums, which add a gently funky feel to the proceedings, reminiscent of Ribot's Young Philadelphians project, after which Lewis leads the group back to the melody and brings the piece to a close. On "Raise Four" Lewis states the melody a light speed, while Ribot lends fractured commentary framing the organ and drums with heat. The group develops an improvisation that mixes swinging jazz that drives forward from the organ and drums streaming ahead while offering a break to offer Ribot to dig deep with a snarling guitar solo, one that gets heavy without ever losing sight of the original goal. They return to the wicked fast melody, driving hard to the conclusion. "Misterioso" has a more respectful reading of the melody, with the group taking it's time delving into Monk's secrets, using a gradually ascending groove from the organ amidst crisp drumming and guitar playing. Ribot's guitar solo is extra soulful, drenched in the blues and hinting at soul jazz master guitarists like Grant Green and Boogoloo Joe Jones. Lewis also makes the most of this funky mid-tempo, carving an impressive solo of his own that makes use of all the organ has to offer, allowing the band to get a full rich sound that is very impressive. The longest track on the album is "Blue Hawk" which fades into volume with the trio establishing a funky groove that they can extrapolate upon. They develop a deep and soulful groove, and are patient enough to let that set their direction as Ribot breaks out for a sharp and pointed guitar solo that would sound at home on a steamy club date, before taking the group into the stratosphere. Lewis steps up next with a very interesting solo, adding choppy clusters of notes and longer organ drones to the fine rhythmic structure provided by Clemons. "Blues Five Spot" has a solid melodic sensibility, with Ribot adding bright clean notes to the improvisation, gradually gaining speed and fluidity, and Lewis responds by taking a solo grounded in the work of the past masters like Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff, before returning to the original melody. One of Monk's more complex tunes, "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" ends the album in a fine fashion, with the trio calmly reconstructing the music in their own manner, jamming as a trio, with Ribot adding sly commentary and Clemons laying a firm foundation for the music's success. Organ Monk Blue - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Julian Lage - Modern Lore (Mack Avenue, 2018)

Julian Lage is a jazz guitarist from California, one that was recognized early on as an emerging talent who began recording after graduating from the Berklee College of Music. He has made some interesting collaborations with the likes of Nels Cline, in addition to leading a trio which is featured here with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. This album adds a more angular sensibility to his music, incorporating aspects of rock and roll, developing a strong rhythm sense which creates well articulated music for the trio. "The Ramble" kicks off the album off in fine fashion with a bright uptempo swing, tossing a respectful nod to Bill Frisell's "Rambler" and developing a nice fast paced rhythmic structure with the bass and drums. Lage develops a stinging solo amidst nimble cymbal play and taut bass, slinging waves of notes and snarling chords into the air. There is a tidy bass solo before the band finishes the song with a flourish. There is a quiet strut to "Atlantic Limited" nodding to blues and roots music, before ramping up slowly to a textural fullness and slightly edgy guitar tone. "General Thunder" is the longest track on the album (although still rather short at 5:26) and it benefits from a solid drum beat that provides a firm foundation for the music, with ebbs and flows of guitar lapping at the shore of the overall sound. The music takes flight on a strong improvised section led by flinty shards of guitar, and framed by the steady rhythmic nature of the percussion and bass. There is a tight intricacy to "Look Book" which has sharp guitar notes and slashing cymbals creating a fine texture as the bass bubbles and simmers underneath. There is an interesting collective improvisation as the band digs in deep together at high speed, and the leader takes a very rapid solo section with excellent rhythm section support. "Earth Science" is the most progressive track on the album, a short and powerful blast of music that is anchored by thick bass and strong bowing and ever changing percussion textures that allow Lage to really step out and play heavy electric guitar that is fast and furious. Overall this album works quite well, the trio was very tight and the songs were thoughtfully designed. Mainstream jazz fans and aficionados of the electric guitar should find a lot to like here. Modern Lore - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Thelonious Monk - The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection (Prestige, 2017)

The great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk recorded five ten-inch vinyl LPs for Prestige Records from 1952 to 1954, and this re-release makes them available on vinyl or digital download, allowing fans to experience a resurgent Monk playing with fire and verve. The first LP, simply entitled Thelonious is a crackling trio recording with Gary Mapp on bass and either Art Blakey or Max Roach on drums. It is a fine recording, mixing Monk compositions with standards and developing several excellent performances like on the composer's own "Little Rootie Tootie," "Bye-Ya" and "Monk's Dream" where the leader's own highly percussive and compelling piano playing syncs in well with either drummer while the bassist holds the line. Thelonious Monk Quintet Blows For LP adds brass for a particularly knotty version of "Friday the 13th" and shorter versions of "Let's Call This" and "Think of One" With Sonny Rollins and the French horn of Julius Watkins filling out the sound. Thelonious Monk Quintet puts Frank Foster in the tenor saxophone hot seat with Ray Copeland on trumpet and Art Blakey on drums, creating a lush and swinging session. Thelonious Monk Plays returns to the trio setting with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey developing a simpatico relationship with Monk that yields particularly impressive versions of "Blue Monk" and "Nutty." Finally, Sonny Rollins And Thelonious Monk ends the collection on a very exciting note. Monk had special relationships with saxophone players like John Coltrane and Charlie Rouse and Rollins was no different, reveling in the idiosyncratic nature of Monk's compositions and approach to improvisation, blowing lustily on the standards "The Way You Look Tonight," "I Want to Be Happy" and "More Than You Know." The music on this collection has been released and re-released many times since it's inception, but given its historical context, this is an interesting way to experience it. The technology of recorded music was undergoing a big shift during this period, with the three minute limit of the 78 RPM record on the way out, being replaced with the ten and eventually twelve inch LP which was a massive boon for jazz musicians, allowing them to stretch out and improvise on record like never before. It was a transitional time for Monk too, having lost his cabaret card denied him gigging opportunities in New York City, and these LP's allowed him to document the progress he was making. Oh yeah, the music is absolutely stellar too, Monk at the height of his powers flanked by some of the greatest musicians in jazz history, what more can you ask for? Complete Prestige 10'' Collection - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wes Montgomery - In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording (Resonance, 2018)

The great guitarist Wes Montgomery was at the height of his powers when he embarked on his only European tour in 1965 (he was terrified of flying) which culminated in this often bootlegged show from Paris where he was in the company of Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass, Jimmy Lovelace on drums and special guest Johnny Griffin sitting in on tenor saxophone for three tracks. It is a gem of an album sitting comfortably with Smokin' at the Half Note and Full House (which also featured Griffin) as one of the guitarist's best live albums. The core quartet opens with two barnstorming uptempo selections, Montgomery's own "Four on Six" and John Coltrane's "Impressions," both of which feature exhilarating ensemble playing and soloing. Mabern is an excellent foil with his soulful piano playing adding a further sense of buoyancy to this uplifting music. Montgomery is magisterial throughout on these dynamic pieces where he drives the band forward with powerful single note soloing and these amazing slashing chords that meet the propulsive rhythm section head on. The subtle balladry of "The Girl Next Door" changes the tone dramatically, with Montgomery taking an unaccompanied opening solo of delicate deeply melodic beauty, and the band enters with quiet brushes adding depth to the music. This moves into "Here's That Rainy Day" which gets a nice rhythmic boost from the drums and Montgomery and Mabern harmonizing on the melody. The group keeps a solid medium tempo and rides the groove it provides into a fine improvised section. Things really pick up again on "Jingles" and "To Wane" which absolutely fly, and it is a pleasure to listen to this locked in group take to the air and really soar. Montgomery's playing is so fast, yet flawless and well articulated. He's never a flashy player, keeping the song and his fellow musicians in mind, but it is that very selflessness that makes his playing so powerful, it's highly complex yet completely accessible. Mabern is particularly impressive on the latter (his composition) with forceful comping and lightning fast soloing. The addition of Johnny Griffin takes this to another level, beginning with "Full House" which is a fine medium tempo vehicle for superb soloing from both Griffin and Montgomery, then moving into a version of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" where one of them scats the melody, getting a laugh and showing the easy camaraderie that the group shared. "Blue 'N Boogie/West Coast Blues" is a medley bridged together with a spellbinding Griffin tenor solo, encompassing his bop roots, tossing off snippets of pop songs with casual glee and getting a lengthy unaccompanied section where he plays with tremendous grace to rousing applause. Not to be outdone, the quartet sans Griffin returns for an encore of "Twisted Blues," allowing everyone the chance to stretch out and blow, play for the sheer enjoyment of it. This was an excellent album, really a major find and addition to Montgomery's discography. The whole band plays with wonderful exuberance, and the leader (and Griffin) are just jaw-dropping. This album is highly recommended to fans of mainstream jazz or any jazz really, it's top shelf stuff all the way. In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording - amazon.com

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D'Agala (Intakt Records, 2018)

Dedicating her compositions to a wide range of inspiring individuals allows pianist Sylvie Courvoisier to create another excellent album with shades of mood and nuance that draw from jazz, classical music as well as other non-musical artforms. While this album plays tribute to those who have recently passed, it is far from morose, rather a celebration of life and accomplishments. Rounding out her trio with Kenny Wollesen on drums and Wollesonic and Drew Gress on bass, the opening track "Imprint Double (For Antoine Courvoisier)" has an arresting beginning section of low toned piano playing with a brisk though light beat, which develops a propulsive and open sounding groove. The shading of light and darkness encapsulates the title and works very well, providing a push - pull dynamic of friction that powers the music at varying levels of tension. A warm toned bass solo anchors the middle section, framed by subtle piano and percussion, before moving to a more full bodied conclusion. The bright and nimble "Éclats For Ornette (for Ornette Coleman)" is a simmering track that allows the trio to engage in some very exciting uptempo collective improvisation that even hints at the blues which were at the core of Coleman's own work. The music cascades in a very impressive way, channeling freedom without losing its inherent melodicism. There is a fine albeit short drum solo embedded into the larger work, one that focuses the rhythm of the piece and it's dedicatee. "Pierino Porcospino (For Charlie)" has a supple and interesting rhythmic structure that uses softly played but very active percussion, along with swift and skittish piano playing to create a very interesting and intricate performance. The speed the trio builds to is very impressive, but never reckless, and the general lightness of tone and volume is very interesting. The title track "D'Agala (For Geri Allen)" is the longest performance on the album, and one of its most emotionally resonant. The passing of Allen at a relatively young age was a shock to the jazz community of which she was a mentor and an inspiration. The music begins with reverent quiet of lush piano and bass with subtle and unexpected percussive sounds. There is a beautiful and patient bass solo that anchors the music amidst the larger soundscape that Wollensen provides. "Circumbent (For Martin Puryear)" goes in the other direction, taking a short and punchy approach to the music with the instruments bouncing off of one another and creating new and unexpected sounds as a result. Fast ripples and slashes of piano and percussion meet stoic and grounded bass, building a powerful dynamic that drives the music along nicely. Bowed bass and feathery percussion meet bursts of piano on "Fly Whisk (For Irène Scheizer)" allowing the music to lunge forward and then rock back upon itself like a predator stalking prey. Moving to plucked bass, and settling in with the drums, Gress provides some superb playing on this track, as the piano briefly lays out for a fine duet section. The leader returns and takes the music into a fast paced and exciting turn with everyone playing in a percussive and rhythmic manner. "South Side Rules (For John Abercrombie)" is a closing nod to the great guitarist that conveys a sense of mystery and potency that was present in his best work, with the development of a thoughtful melody into a powerful and prominent trio improvisation. D'Agala - amazon.com

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