Friday, June 11, 2021

Thumbscrew - Never Is Enough (Cuneiform Records, 2021)

Thumbscrew consists of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Michael Formanek on electric and acoustic bass. This album is made up of original compositions they recorded at the same time their album of Anthony Braxton compositions was recorded in Pittsburgh in 2019. The music is more organic and flexible than the the very complex Braxton material and allows them to continue the unique trajectory begun in 2014. The opener "Camp Easy" takes a more relaxed approach and manner for them, adding touch of melancholy to the proceedings, leading into "Sequel to Sadness" which has a march feel at times, getting heavy with very cool guitar effects and big chords. Fujiwara contributes an excellent drum solo, quite exciting as Formanek's bass joins in and the fun keeps going. "Never is Enough" features Halvorson playing mysterious guitar which echoes and ripples across light cymbals before a breakout into wild trio improvisation. Thick bass and skittish drums introduce "Through an Open Window," creating an intricate trio mesh, led by laser-like guitar effects developing a compelling collective performance. "Heartdrop" has gentle guitar chords and electronics and a beautiful bass solo with brushes and guitar framing, then an affable guitar lead. "Emojis Have Consequences" uses a choppier beat, with everybody in line for the theme and another fine bass solo with subtle playing all around. Mary Halvorson's guitar always does the unexpected keeps things interesting, and there is also an epic drum solo; with percussive sounds rolling everywhere. Urgent and nervous music tumbles over watery guitar as bass and drums stir up a tempest on "Fractured Sanity." With choppy chords then bass feature so classy and controlled, "Unsung Procession" uses delicate guitar playing, creating a quiet ballad, leaving space, using mallets, while the closer "Scam Likely" launches spare and abstract free shards of guitar around the disjointed drums. Thumbscrew is one of the best groups on the modern jazz scene today, each member is a band leader in their own right and has a unique approach to their instrument which clicks with each others. The compositions on this album are witty and memorable, and both the cooperative and solo playing is top notch. Never Is Enough - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 09, 2021

John Zorn - Heaven And Earth Magick (Tzadik Records, 2021)

John Zorn combines jazz and classical music on this album, writing music for an excellent band featuring Ches Smith on drums, Stephen Gosling on piano, Sae Hashimoto on vibraphone and Jorge Roeder on bass. The combination of notated sections and improvisation sets up the group for an energetic session beginning with the opening track, "Auto-da-Fe," which shows the group sounding wild, running free with great percussion and vibes playing vibrant and alive, as thick bass centers the music. Everything spaces out for a while, inaugurating a dynamic wax and wane. Vibes ring with long sustain, building space then the crashing loudness of a massive musical push enters including concluding drum solo. There is a stark loud vs. quiet dynamic on "Acephale," with bowed bass, short jabs from the other instruments, creating a sense of spare quiet, where piano and vibes evoke a calm, steady medium rhythm leading to pleasant full band interplay. The final movement of this performance unveils beautiful spacey bass playing, with vibes probing the scene, followed by a massive full band race to the finish line. "Asclemandres" is fast and intricate, with repetitive aspects, building to a frenzy. This band is amazing, playing this complex music without a hitch, flowing, slaloming and cascading at high speed through a challenging course. Turning briefly to open an piano and vibes centered area, the group pulls together again with a complex piano led push to the conclusion. Piano focused and free sounding but probably not, "Descent into the Maelstrom" uses vibes to shadow and comment, swathes of bowed bass sounding very cool, and a dynamic burst when you least expect it. Torrents of fast soaring music where the piano assumes control with percussive bursts. "Konx Om Pax" uses cautious piano tendrils with vibes framing, creating music of an abstract nature, but shocks the listener by ending in a full band blowout. Finally, "Casting the Runes" has a torrential / speed kills interaction with knotty full band play, creating a fantasia of piano and vibes, allowing the music to churn and rampage, incorporating a short drum and bass solo section, leading back to a chase like section for full band full out sprint, slowing down dramatically before the dramatic finale. This was a fascinating album, the combination of John Zorn's unique and original writing and the talent of the band to take this music into unexpected directions leads to a memorable combination. Heaven And Earth Magick - amazon.com

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Monday, June 07, 2021

Paul Bley - Touching and Blood Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

Pianist and composer Paul Bley was reaching an early peak in his career when the album Touching was made for Charles Mingus's artist run record label Debut in 1965. Recording in Copenhagen, he is playing with his regular trio featuring Kent Carter on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. The opener, "Cartoon," has a jaunty and fun feeling with witty trio interaction, keeping the music at a medium tempo but in constant motion especially from the drums. The trio develops a very progressive sound leading to a bass solo and feathering drum feature. Tumbling and cascading speed is the feature of "Start" with complex interaction between the instruments. There is brilliant drum work on this track and it is fascinating to hear their improvisation develop in a holistic way. "Mazatlán" has an impish sound, sporting a great melody leading Bley to play surprisingly bright piano amid a bed of alluring bass and drums. Bley's own "Closer" has a spacious and mysterious vibe with droplets of notes as the music floats through the air seemingly unmoored in space and time. "Both" is much faster with slashing cymbals, frantic but never out of control. With rippling piano and surprisingly muscular drums and anchoring bass they develop a powerful performance. The trio keep their foot down on the closer "Pablo" with more heavy handed piano and percussion and thick bass offering a potent strum, showing that the group is really going for it. This is jazz improvisation of an extremely high order, incorporating a deft bass solo and an energetic drum feature leading to the conclusion. Added to this disc is near nineteen minute extended live improvisation "Blood" with Mark Levinson replacing Carter on bass, recorded one year later in The Netherlands. The group must have been a sight to see as they really strike out for the territory with deeply percussive and powerful piano and drums with stoic bass holding the keyboard and percussion to task. This is a truly excellent disc, and an early contender for one of the year's best historical reissues. Paul Bley's music is often a cipher to me, but this album was a revelation in terms of musicianship and improvisation, and was also another excellent ezz-thetics production with crisp remastering and thoughtful liner notes. Touching and Blood Revisited - Squidco

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Saturday, June 05, 2021

Joel Harrison - Guitar Talk (AGS Recordings, 2021)

The newest collection from guitarist Joel Harrison is an album of close up duet recordings with some of his favorite fellow guitarists, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, Pete McCann, David Gilmore, and electric bassist Steve Swallow. He wrote short melodic songs that would allow the guitarists plenty of room to engage and improvise. The music is quite pithy and thoughtful, not nearly the shredding competition you might expect when a bunch of guitarists get together. This made clear on the beginning track "It Falls on You" where Harrison, Cardenas and Monder create a tranquil, gentle guitar ballad, where the music develops a sense of calm and peace. "Saturday Night With Vic," a dedication to Vic Juris, sees Harrison and McCann up the ante just a bit, creating a medium tempo weaving together of two guitars, in an intricate mesh like fashion. Ben Monder joins in for "Autumn in Olivebridge" where his unique style of spare guitar with effects really stands out. The guitarists develop sharper notes playing against space and time, adding snarls for dynamic range for texture. "Rebound" is another track with Pete McCann, where one guitarist develops a rhythmic foundation while the other extrapolates, nod to early jazz guitar duos but in a modernized manner. Surprisingly enough "Song for Steve Swallow" welcomes the famous bass guitarist, and he and Harrison unite to create a clam and thoughtful performance for guitar and bass, with nice well integrated interaction. Monder returns for "Winter Solstice" which definitely affirms the cold vibe, with icy chords and notes still retains momentum and pacing, under Monder's distinctive laser like focus. With bass guitarist Steve Swallow, on "I'm Still Asking the Question" Harrison is able to create a crisper sound with bass guitar and the performance has a Bill Frisell like mysterious alt-Americana bent. Jazz guitarist David Gilmore leans into darker bluesier sounds juxtaposed against brighter chords, trading off, waxing and waning, threatening to break out. with great tight interplay, between the instrumentalists. The final solo piece, is Harrison's take on "America the Beautiful" creating light sparks of sound in space, using some startling electronics to fill out the soundstage, playing aside and around the pedals in a very interesting fashion. All tracks were recorded with two amps in a room, no overdubs so it is pretty hard to get more intimate than this. The musicians play very well and with remarkable restraint, leading to a melodic and graceful album that should be attractive to fellow guitarists and jazz fans as a whole. Guitar Talk - bandcamp

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Thursday, June 03, 2021

Ralph Peterson - Raise Up Off Me (Onyx Music, 2021)

Though the great drummer Ralph Peterson passed away this year after a courageous battle with cancer, he left us this wonderful parting recording, a final gift, one of many he gave during his very successful career, beginning as a protégé of Art Blakey and then as a respected bandleader in his own right. On this album he teams up with Zaccai Curtis on piano and Luques Curtis on bass, with special guests Jazzmeia Horn and percussionist Eguie Castrillo, and this album was recorded at Peterson’s own studio in Massachusetts during December of 2020. "The Right to Live" has a percussive group start setting a deep pocket, becoming more melodic with aggressive drumming. Piano and drum interaction is quite strong and powerful, pushing each other ever higher, showing impressive skills all around. Peterson's drum solo is deeply rhythmic and very impressive and beautiful to hear. "Bouncing With Bud" is a joyous nod to bebop, with everybody on board and sounding like they are having a blast. The pianist has an excellent touch and hearing Peterson on brushes is a treat, soon the two of them are dancing over their instruments with some fine bass holding things together, leading to a well earned bass solo followed by fine subtle brush solo from the leader. "Blue Hughes" develops exciting and complex rhythms from the drums outward as the piano and bass seem to ride on the huge sonic waves that Peterson is producing. He introduces Latin elements to push the music into a different direction, louder, faster and more exciting. This was a very good and diverse recording that covered the bases of mainstream jazz with skill and wisdom. Orrin Evans writes that the title Raise Up Off Me refers to the crises of 2020, the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, but also Peterson's vibrant will to live and continue to teach and play and carry on the tradition. Raise Up Off Me - amazon.com

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Monday, May 31, 2021

Anna Webber - Idiom (Pi-Recordings, 2021)

The very talented Anna Webber wears many hats on this on this album, displaying her skill as a multi-reed instrument player as well as composer and arranger. The music is split between two discs, first is a very exciting trio recording with Matt Mitchell on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums. Without a bass to ground them, the music soars in a distinctive and kinetic manner, with Webber moving between flute and saxophones, and her colleagues interpreting and improvising her music with aplomb. The second disc is a collection of music for a thirteen piece ensemble, where she has developed her compositions around unique unexpected  improvisational approaches for saxophone called extended techniques which were then applied to the larger group as a whole, and for certain instrumentalists in solo features. She is able to use the crucible where written and improvised music meet to produce large swathes and movements for the large ensemble to explore. The results are continuously interesting, enveloping sweeps of classical like sounds and dynamic shifts from near silence to soaring and majestic full band outpouring. The two discs in this collection clearly demonstrate that Anna Webber is at the forefront of modern, forward thinking music. While the methods she uses may sound a little obtuse, the results are anything but, resolving into clarity regardless of the complexity, and her techniques allow for a surprising amount of color and texture which create appealing sounds. Idiom - amazon.com

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas Ewart / Mike Reed - Sun Beans of Shimmering Light (Astral Spirits Records, 2021)

An archival recording from 2015 that is getting a well overdue release is this meeting between Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Douglas Ewart on saxophones and flute and Mike Reed on drums and percussion. The music is gallant and pure throughout, opening with "Constellations and Conjunctional Spaces," which is a lengthy piece that moves from austere quiet to quite exciting improvisational fervor during the course of its near sixteen minute length. Smith dominates the early portion, patiently creating from scratch in an almost painterly fashion, an oblique yet compelling section that is representative of his mastery of the instrument and the idiom. There is an excellent burst of sopranino saxophone from Ewart that sends the track into a completely different direction, where the pace is quickened to that of nearly a whirling dervish, the juxtaposition between the two sections is most impressive. Ewart proves his status as an all-around player on "Sun Beans of Shimmering Light" by moving to flute, which provides another layer of color and texture to the music, much like Sam Rivers did when he switched instruments on the fly. It fits in well, soloing and shading the music being presented by Smith and Reed. "Super Moon Rising" shows the drummer and trumpeter developing an excellent duet section, moving dynamically and allowing a sense of freedom to permeate all that they do. Ewart joins them about halfway through the performance, to build a complete collective improvisation and sharing of ideas that sees them through until the end. Finally, on "Unknown Forces," Smith builds a patient and beautiful unaccompanied solo to begin this track, soon joined by the droning and keening playing of Ewart, and Reed's spacious, thoughtful percussion that gives the music the appearance of a personal and private ritual or procession. The musicians play very well together on this album, creating music that is deep yet accessible, as their insatiable curiosity leads them through four performances that are striking and full of energy. Sun Beans of Shimmering Light - Bandcamp

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