Sunday, July 05, 2020

Bobby Watson - Keepin' It Real (Smoke Sessions, 2020)

Coming out of his experience with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson formed a similar group called Horizon that recorded regularly and toured widely in the 1980’s and 90’s. This album introduces an updated version of the band, called New Horizon. Watson’s current band includes Josh Evans or Giveton Gelin on trumpet, Victor Gould on piano, Victor Jones on drums and Curtis Lundy on bass. “Condition Blue” opens the album with the tight horn section stating the theme, and Watson stepping out for a well articulated solo over a swinging rhythm section of comping piano, elastic bass and cymbal heavy drumming. Handing off to a bright and punchy trumpet interlude that keeps the sound fresh and buoyant, the horns drop out for the rhythm team to shine, playing with with excellent camaraderie, leading the full group back for a rousing conclusion. An older Lundy composition given a fresh coat of paint, “Elementary My Dear Watson 2020” is led by some urgent piano playing and tight ensemble work, laying out an intricate melody. A finely played trumpet solo breaks out, constructing a logical and well thought out solo, leading to the Watson’s tart and recognizable alto sound, carving up the heavier drumming and thick bass playing, leading to an admirable feature statement, soaring high and far. The piano, bass and drums unit simmers, playing very collectively as a trio feature, sounding like there is a three way mind meld happening. The horns return for some interesting interplay as the tune fades from view. “My Song” has a crisp beat that lays the foundation for a swaggering post bop theme, with swirling alto saxophone and trumpet breaking from the dynamic opening, as Gould adds some electric piano shading. The choppy rhythm keeps things moving as Watson’s saxophone uses quick flurries of notes to navigate at high speed, while the trumpet solo glides gracefully, shadowed by the fender rhodes, and gaining volume as the drums push the beat ever harder. Their tone on Miles Davis’s “Flamenco Sketches” is a reflective one with deftly brushed percussion and beautifully restrained saxophone playing. The trumpet echoes the mood, playing in a melodic manner with spacious bass and light piano accompaniment. Overall, it is a classy and moving performance from the band. The album concludes with the fast paced “The Mystery of Ebop” ushered in with torrid drumming, and leading to a strong and supple track that shows what a tight and talented unit this band is. The horns develop a storming fanfare that leads to Watson soloing with scorching speed and facility, and handing off to the trumpeter who pushes even further over some boiling rhythm section playing. He steps aside for that rhythm team to really shine as they push and pull at the machinery of improvisation in grand fashion. This was a very good mainstream jazz album, and can sit proudly aside any of the Horizon records from the previous century. It’s a shame that this band cannot play live currently, because that would certainly be an experience. Fingers crossed. Keepin' It Real -

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Friday, July 03, 2020

John Coltrane Quartet - My Favorite Things: Graz 1962 (ezz-thetics, 2020)

This is the second half of the Graz, Austria concert, following on from last year's Impressions, presented thematically rather than chronologically. The music is lovingly remastered and sounding much better than the many bootleg versions that have circulated among collectors for decades. This is the "classic" John Coltrane quartet with the leader on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Coltrane was always in motion, but liner note writer Art Lange does a good job setting the scene, writing about how he was pressured by his label to produce more melodic content and how that grated against his relentless desire to explore. He manages to do a little bit of both on these four selections, beginning with "Mr. P.C." which tumbles out fast and pure with sparkling piano and shimmering cymbals leading to an excellent lengthy rhythm trio section. Coltrane re-enters, and picks up the pace, testing all of the logical limits of the composition. Jones steps up and really begins to hit hard, combined with Coltrane's complex playing and deep engagement with the drummer comes to the front as Tyner hangs back. Slashing cymbals and furious tenor saxophone leads to a wonderful two minute drum solo before the full band returns to the conclusion. "Every Time We Say Goodbye" is a sort palate cleansing ballad with Coltrane's tenor stating the melody in a patient and well structured manner. There is a light and nimble section for piano, bass and drums, then Coltrane returns leading everyone back to the theme. The leader uses a lighter tone at times during the lengthy exploration of "Bye By Blackbird" which is taken at a medium tempo that gradually gains momentum. The band gradually turns to the Coltrane - Jones conjunction, with Garrison providing a firm foundation. The rhythm section gets a fine opening with Tyner dancing lightly over Jones's cymbals before opening the door for a long and intricate bass solo. Jones and Coltrane come back strong as the band takes the tune out. The final track is a massive version of "My Favorite Things" with Coltrane moving to soprano saxophone, and the song's theme sounding like a clarion call no matter how many times you hear them play it. Tyner adds waves of flowing piano as the leader probes before bowing out for the rhythm section. They are wonderful here with Tyner playing gracefully and hypnotically astride stoic bass and cymbals with the occasional percussive surprise. Coltrane comes back midway through, once again stating the melody, and then extrapolating upon it. There is more intense full band playing with Jones driving the rhythm deeply, and Coltrane developing a distinctly Eastern sounding tone to his saxophone as they glide to the finish. This was a very good example of the evolution of John Coltrane and his famous quartet at the end of 1962, staying true to himself regardless of pressure or criticism. My Favorite Things: Graz 1962 -

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Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Chad Taylor - The Daily Biological (Cuneiform Records, 2020)

Accomplished drummer Chad Taylor meets up with Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and Neil Podgurski on piano for an album that creates exciting and accessible music that unfurls in a focused narrative including lively bursts of improvisation. "The Shepherd" opens the album with a medium-up tempo performance which has a lightly funky feeling. There is a light and airy section of flowing piano moving gracefully throughout the tune. Taylor's drum solo mixes light and shade by alternating rumbling low tones and crisp rhythms. Nimble piano and drums come to the forefront on "Prism," with a lightly played melody that runs through the performance. The saxophone enters late, forming a thematic mid-tempo improvisation. "Swamp" comes on faster with a more defined and heavier rhythm, as Settles' unaccompanied saxophone probes at length. Piano and drums then move forward, driving the music faster in a section that becomes more aggressively complex. A circular pattern develops on "Resistance," with Taylor's drumming gaining strength and the tenor saxophone breaking out before an abrupt fade. "Matape" has very interesting interplay between the musicians, gradually building into a whirling convection of sound. Robust sounding saxophone and drums provide excitement, with raw bellows of sound and slashing cymbals playing in a complex and accessible manner. The tumbling theme of "Birds, Leaves, Wind, Trees" cascades through tight coils of tenor saxophone and light percussion, in conversation with fast free sounding piano and floating drums. "Untethered" has a more urgent theme that leads the group into action with darker piano that adds color and texture, leaning into a lean trio line that works quite well. The brief "Recife" and lengthy closer "Between Sound and Silence" concludes with a dynamic drum solo, followed by the band joining in as dark tones of saxophone engage in a free and open round of collective improvisation. The music winds down to a spare and elusive piano and saxophone section, with long tones of sounds leading to the conclusion. The Daily Biological -

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sam Rivers - Archive Series Volume 3: Ricochet (NoBusiness Records, 2020)

Recorded live on January 12, 1978 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, the most recent addition to the NoBusiness Records Sam Rivers archive is a brash and exciting recording of the Rivers trio at its peak. The leader plays tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano with Dave Holland on bass and cello and Barry Altschul on drums. Sam Rivers opens the performance on soprano saxophone along side thick bass cymbals, as fast swirling bounding bass links everything together. Warp speed jazz, fast and free, with taut saxophone, nimble bass and slashing percussion is very exciting. Holland witches to cello, playing stoic lines of sound, yearning and branching out back to bass. There is inherent freedom in the music played here, and following an epic bass solo, Rivers moves to piano, playing with a melodic glide that meshes with cymbals yoked together with elastic bass before moving further afield. The music becomes more free, approaching Cecil Taylor territory, fiery percussive piano, deftly mixing melody and freedom. Holland plays cello amid spare piano and percussion, then Rivers gracefully moves to tenor saxophone. Strong shrill peaks of tenor against long arcs of cello are some of the most thrilling moments on this disc, stretching out for a potent segment of improvisation. Altschul takes a lengthy drum solo, one that is expertly played, and Sam Rivers states his approval with a defiant howl and takes up his flute for the final section. A piercing blast clears the air and then he soars in collective improvisation with the bass and drums at a torrential pace. He plays the flute with such speed and facility but still in a graceful and appealing manner then trades short and witty passages with his band mates. The music is one continuous improvisation and it is a testament to the group that their energy and inventiveness never flags through the near hour long playing time. This was one of the best bands of their era, and its great that their music is finally getting its due. Archive Series Volume 3: Ricochet NoBusiness Records

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Friday, June 26, 2020

New York Contemporary Five - Consequences Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)

This is an excellent disc serves an important historical purpose, bringing together two sessions by The New York Contemporary Five, an admirable and unheralded unit that pushed the boundaries of the "new thing" in jazz in the early to mid 1960's with some of the freshest talent of the era. The first half of this collection is called Consequences Revisited and it was recorded in August of 1963 in New York City, with Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Don Moore on bass and J.C. Moses on drums. "Sound Barrier" has raw and thrilling tenor saxophone and boiling drums, with Cherry's punchy trumpet building and intriguing statement. The music is kept at a hot uptempo throughout sounding unique and original, especially Archie Shepp, who sounds genuinely alive. A choppy rhythm introduces "We Wo" giving the music a free nature that makes the most use of the band's talented front line. Shepp responds with an emotional growling tenor solo, while John Tchicai's tart alto saxophone and Cherry's potent flight add further texture and depth to the music, leading to an excellent bass solo framed by shimmering cymbals. "Consequences" has a fast, fleet opening, very much like the Ornette Coleman music of the period, and Cherry makes the most of his tune with an explosive trumpet solo played at a super fast tempo. Shepp throws in a pop song quote and then dives in enthusiastically, with raw squalls of tenor. Tchicai's alto has a snake charmer's allure with a hint of Eric Dolphy, encouraged by agile bass and drum work. Shepp's "Rufus" has a complex full band theme, with very interesting rhythms, including thick bass woven through the drumming. The horns get plenty of of room to improvise in space, developing some very impressive solo sections with the less frenetic tempo. Part two of the disc, Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary Five were recorded in Newark in March of 1964 with Shepp on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket cornet on the final track, Ted Curson on trumpet on two tracks, John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Ronnie Boykins on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. On tracks like Shepp's "Like a Blessed Baby Lamb" and "Where Poppies Bloom (Where Poppies Blow) you really see the that difference between the saxophonists is really one of the most fascinating aspects of this disc, with Shepp's large brash tone based in the blues and Tchicai who plays in a more angular and slashing manner. When they exchange solo sections it is a fascinating dichotomy, much like changes brought by the muscular trumpet of of Curson and the punchy, witty small brass of Cherry. This is a very distinguished compilation that shows the development of the jazz avant-garde at a time when it was evolving at lightning speed. Pulling from the music of the past and opening it up to the innovations of their present time ,while looking to the future allowed this group to expand the boundaries of jazz. Consequences Revisited - Squidco

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

John Scofield / Steve Swallow / Bill Stewart – Swallow Tales (ECM, 2020)

Guitarist John Scofield makes a barn burning straight ahead jazz album, performing the music of his friend and colleague, bassist and composer Steve Swallow, with the drummer Bill Stewart rounding out the trio. Spontaneously recorded in one afternoon in New York City during March of 2019, the trio makes these compositions come alive, and Scofield sounds absolutely inspired, playing driven and powerful solos. "Radio" is a sweet and swinging number with graceful bass and drums and a medium uptempo flavor. Scofield digs deeply into the theme of the tune, using the material to craft a short but memorable solo statement while Swallow's electric bass grooves along beside him, taking a brief solo of his own while Stewart plays lightly on his cymbals. There's a choppy introduction to "In F" with a lot of room for Stewart's agile drumming, and the band explores the territory in an interesting fashion, playing in tight formation, Swallow soloing while keeping low to the ground, and everyone returning to a fine sendoff. "Eidertown" was apparently Swallow's first composition, and they really go to town on it, stretching out with a powerful guitar solo from the leader where the overall interplay between the band members is very impressive and a fine drum solo is included to boot. There is a knotty theme on "Portsmouth Figurations" for the trio to work with, allowing them much room to move, with Scofield showering sparks on the flowing bass and drums. "Falling Grace" allows light and fleet movement throughout the melody then branching out, with Scofield adding shards of crisp notes that are very well articulated, as the bass and drums simmer too. He uses a wonderfully sharp and stinging tone at times that is a real attention grabber, as is Swallow's own solo stance patient and thoughtful, framed well by the two other musicians. "She Was Young" begins gently and in a touching manner with light brushes and soft guitar tone. The music gradually develops in pace and structure, as they stretch out their improvisation at a fine medium tempo that allows for a lot of creativity. This was an excellent album of modern mainstream jazz, with inspired playing and improvising and superb communication and empathy between the musicians. Swallow Tales -

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Chicago Underground Quartet - Good Days (Astral Spirits, 2020)

Chicago Underground has assumed a number of guises over the years from duo to orchestra, all with cornet player and electronic musician Rob Mazurek at its center. This is an excellent entry in their discography, combining the accessibility of modern jazz with far reaching visions of free improvisation, synthesizers and electronics. This version of the band features Mazurek on piccolo trumpet, electronics and bells, Josh Johnson on synth bass, organ and piano, Jeff Parker on electric guitar and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion. The album was recorded in Long Beach in 2018 and 2019,  beginning with "Orgasm" a composition by Wayne Shorter's trumpeter brother Alan. The music develops a tight rhythm while allowing Mazurek's cornet to solo over the churning beat and create a powerful and far reaching performance. Thick bass and tight drums allow the cornet to reach out with the theme of the piece and then take off, gaining speed and agility as the performance develops into powerful improvisation, with scorching brass, and a free and potent response from his band mates. The music is rapid fire and bathed in electronics creating a wonderful and exciting sound.  "Batida" cranks heavy bass and light touch drumming to set the scene for soaring cornet, while taut guitar, thick bass and drums dredge out the bottom end. There is a light and agile beat to “Unique Spiral,” with flowing cornet along with guitar and space filling keyboards. The band creates a complex and alluring texture with rippling, echoing cornet, spare guitar and forthright sounding drums. The music arcs out under Mazurek's clarion call, soon answered by Parker's cool toned guitar along with fine drumming, keyboard and bass accents. "Westview" is a treat, one with slamming bass and drums along side harmonizing guitar and cornet. Parker's guitar shoots beams over the crisp beat, and the brass is gnarly and strangled by electronics, piercing like Dark Magus Miles, then riding on the loping bass and drums into battle. Taylor lays down a crushing beat, and Parker's guitar solo is well thought out, jabbing along side the heavy drum bombardment. These musicians have played together in different contexts for many years, and that sense of camaraderie and shared desire to explore imbues the strong and memorable music on this album. Good Days -

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