Saturday, December 08, 2018

Fred Hersch Trio '97 - @ the Village Vanguard (Palmetto, 2018)

Pianist Fred Hersch had played at the Village Vanguard as a sideman since 1979 but it wasn't until the summer of 1997 that he led a group at the famous venue with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This trio had been playing together for five years at that point and that experience shone through beginning with "Easy to Love," which opened the set at a nimble and fast pace, with deft brush work and strong bass playing grounding Hersch's dynamic leaping from loud flourishes to softer asides. The melodic nature of the music really takes hold, and however far they may roam in their improvisations, the melody remains the guidepost for the performance. The excitement developed by crashing, cascading chords and lightning fast runs down the piano is not to be underestimated, and the crisp play of the bass and drums is the perfect accompaniment and partnership. The bass and drums take a subtle bow of their own during the middle of the performance a subtle dance with light piano comping shifting the attention toward the rhythmic end of the performance. Surprisingly powerful drumming leads the group back into the melody and the final push to the conclusion of a delightful performance. Unfolding at a brisk clip, "Three Little Words" has a sense of lightness and danceability aided by the gentle percussion and pulsating bass and the careful way Hersch picks out the notes he chooses, even at high speed. The improvisation unfolds in a bouncy and bright manner, very accessible and forthright, the band playing very well together as they deconstruct the song and leave their own imprint upon it. Hersch bounds joyously over the upper register of the keyboard, trading phrases with the ever inventive Rainey, like two old friends having a witty conversation. "I Wish I Knew" has a subdued piano opening, solo is but soon joined with bass and drums which quickly liven up the emotional nature of the music, settling into a stately medium tempo. The trio swings grandly, gradually working the music into their own shape with the piano developing a deeper and more resonant sound, with elasting bass and drums allowing their trio improvisation to evolve in an impressive fashion. Hersch tumbles into "You Don't Know What Love Is" as the sets finale with wonderfully fractured sounding drumming allowing the music to stretch and breathe but keep its thematic center at the same time. Rainey is a wonder, subtly twisting the rhythm and changing things up, while the piano and bass charge ahead in a very exciting manner. There is a fine bass solo backed by fast light cymbal play, then the band coalesces once more before charging for the finish line. Trio 97 @ The Village Vanguard - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser (Columbia 1967, 1996)

Composer and pianist Thelonious Monk's Columbia Records recordings are occasionally disparaged as not being quite as vital as the records for Riverside and Blue Note that came before them. This is unfortunate, as it was Columbia that allowed Monk's stature to increase beyond musicians and die hard fans, gave him a chance to tour the world and appear on the cover of prominent magazines and add a stable income to what his heroic wife Nellie was bringing in. This album, not to be confused with the Monk documentary of the same name (which is well worth watching) this is the 1996 extended edition of the album originally recorded in November of 1966 and January of 1967 with his stalwart group including Larry Gales on bass, Ben Riley on drums and Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone. The 1996 version is markedly different than the original LP that was released in 1967, at that time, significant editing needed to be done to the performances to have them fit into the LP format. With the technological and format advances of thirty years later re-issue producer Orrin Keepnews (Teo Macero produced the original album) restored three titles to their unedited length and added two extra contemporaneously recorded performances to fill this compact disc to it's 1996 limit. The booklet contains a few period photographs of Monk, but it mostly given over to Keepnews' original 1967 liner essay and a new set of 1996 reissue liner notes. The music is a joy to listen to, being a mix of Monk originals (he wasn't writing as much new material at this stage, but was still producing) and his unique take on the music of Duke Ellington, some well worn standards and a very interesting extended exploration of a Japanese folk song. A lot of Monk material, notably on the live albums, but also studio sessions fell under the editor's blade, none more than "Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki)" which is restored to a near seventeen minute running time with the bass and percussion interludes included. It's necessary to hear the performance as a whole, to understand the organic level in which the whole group worked together to create their music. "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and the brief "This is My Story, This is My Song" are lovely unaccompanied Monk performances, Monk's angular approach makes even the oldest standard fresh, while keeping the melody and thematic story well in mind. Of the Monk compositions, one of his last, "Green Chimneys" is included as a bonus track, while the band delivers wonderful treatments of "Locomotive," "We See" and the title track, playing at an inspirational level as they as they are on the two takes of the Ellington number "I Didn't Know About You." There's a lot to unpack on this album, one of his last for Columbia and not long before he would fade from public view altogether. It's definitely worth checking out, the CD can be had for a song or through your streaming service of choice, and Monk's music is the gift that keeps on giving. Straight, No Chaser - amazon.com

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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Daniel Carter / Patrick Holmes / Matthew Putman / Hilliard Greene / Federico Ughi - Telepatia Liquida (577 Records, 2018)

This is a fascinating and well executed album by the collective group of Daniel Carter on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones plus trumpet, Patrick Holmes on clarinet, Matthew Putman on piano, Hilliard Greene on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. Recorded at the 2017 Forward Festival the concert opens with "Deluxe Light," which has a patient beginning where the musicians are getting their bearings, and developing a balanced and clear sound. The music is brought forth with passion and skill, with clarinet and trumpet balancing the crisp playing of the rhythm section. Carter is a wonder, cycling through his instruments as the music calls for them gracefully and playing each one with natural dignity, alongside cells of slashing percussion and vivid piano. There's a quiet open spot for clarinet and bass in a delicate duet, joined by spacious drums and saxophone that invoke the joy of the rising sun as droplets of piano notes complete the scene. They establish aspects of melody and then explore from there, ranging quite far afield, but never at the expense of creative expedience, as they approach the finish, the pace quickens, with cascades of notes and a subtle exhale. "Shine-a-Town" has a drum led beginning, with squalls of free jazz saxophone soon joining and the rest of the band falling in for a thrilling all out collective improvisation. The music adds space but maintains its freedom, the players invoking different shades of sound and volume, gathering like layers of cloud before an impending storm. Bowed bass along with the horns adds a sense of rawness and propulsion to the music which drives it forward, with propulsive piano and skittish drumming, they creating a very interesting and memorable overall sound. There is a yearning sound to open "Throne," with a relatively sedate piano trio flanked by crying horns, developing emotionally resonant music. Clarinet and saxophone meld well together creating a fine texture with the rhythm team to bring forth a beautiful collaborative feeling. The group is very patient, allowing the music to develop though its own fundamental means, and their resulting improvisation is compelling and enchanting, especially when listing to the way each instrument makes up a much greater whole. The music is fast and complex, but played with great refinement and poise, every note or passage has a meaning, and each is part of the crucible of creation. Telepatia Liquida - bandcamp.com

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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Myra Melford's Snowy Egret - The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12, 2018)

Taking inspiration from creators in fields from art to spirituality, pianist and composer Myra Melford wrote ten original pieces for her Snowy Egret group which features Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The intricate and thought provoking music works very well, and the sense of group dynamics and trust between the musicians is palpable on this very successful album. "Attic" has a wonderful percussion introduction with complex rhythms soon joined by bright piano, guitar and cornet. They move to a more complex abstract percussion led section which is quiet but still urgent, with the group alternating between these freer cells and more melodic, thematic material. The music begins to tumble and cascade faster and faster in a madcap and exciting collective improvisation that gradually ebbs as the group's loud/soft dynamic keeps the music fresh and allows space for a poignant cornet solo. The rhythm section develops a complex and ever shifting series of patterns as the track comes to a crisp and impressive conclusion. "Small Thoughts" has enticingly bouncy piano with a jaunty theme developed by the group at a quick pace with buoyant bass guitar and nimble drumming. Tight guitar notes and cornet add further color amid with cymbal splashes making this a continuously interesting and compelling track. The tempo of the music gradually increases to a simmering boil, where no one instrument dominates, but everyone is really pulling in the same direction and creating a fascinating sound landscape. Stretching over ten minutes "Living Music" unfolds slowly with percussive piano, drumming and choppy cornet setting the pace, as the group gradually fills in their sound which is nimble but not especially loud, with a spidery guitar feature, moving around the shape shifting percussion where the music flows in an organic fashion like a stream meeting the contours of the landscape. The group is capable of producing abundant variations of the themes they choose, allowing for a wide variety of sound and rhythm, untethered to traditional jazz roles, they can vary the pulse, hide it and play freely, creating and excellent and powerfully affecting performance. "Dried Print on Cardboard" has an undulating rhythm and with subtle cornet, creating a fine thematic statement, the music drops to near silence, where a dynamic pause that throws the performance into stark relief. Carefully gathering volume and speed the band's improvisation works well, and consistently deals surprises and a sense of the unexpected. The Other Side Of Air - amazon.com

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Mars Williams Presents An Ayler Xmas vol. 2 (Soul What Records / ESP-Disk, 2018)

I abhor Christmas music with a vehemence usually saved only for climate change deniers and Cowboys fans. But yoke it to the indelible melodies of Albert Ayler and infuse is with the free jazz improvisations of some of the best musicians in Chicago and Vienna and I can be convinced to grant a reprieve. Band leader Mars Williams is a saxophonist who's work has ran the gamut from the AACM to rock and pop, but we're clearly in the free jazz realm here and he is right at home. "Xmas Medley" opens the album, with guest Jeb Bishop sitting in on trombone, the music has the ragged joy that Ayler drew from traditional tunes, but applied to seasonal fare, and then torn asunder with powerful muster. Cello saws mightily, aside threshing percussion and horns, and Williams leaps out with a very impressive saxophone solo, pushed hard by the surging band. Blustery brass and crushing drums take up the mantle and push the music even further forward in a very exciting interlude, before the music drops to a dynamic quiet for strings and bells. The horns gradually fill in, developing an excellent sounding texture with the strings, they embark up on another melody, with the horns taking point, regaining the volume and force, charging ahead and repeating the theme faster and faster to the conclusion. "O Tannenbaum/Spirits/12 Days of Christmas" has stoic bowing, bass and vocals leading the group into the performance, which then explodes into an Ayler like theme and takes off into a powerful collective free improvisation. The Vienna group is a tight five piece band and they absolutely soar with the bass and drums locked in and the horns flying overhead and subtle electronics adding heft. A sparkling trumpet solo leads the group into another powerful collective improvisation, incorporating snatches of the themes into their muscular playing as they power through a roaring performance. Williams picks apart the "12 Days" theme with a blustery upper register screech, then the band returns to slam the door on the performance. The short "Love Cry/Christmas Wrapping" is a blast, combining one of Ayler's most memorable themes with a hit by a rock band Williams played in, The Waitresses. The horns invoke Ayler's music and then tear it open, unleashing a performance that could rend space and time with the power of the horns, and the crushing rhythm. "Carol of the Drum/Bells/O Come Emanuel/Joy to the World" opens with fractured rhythm section playing, and the music gradually pulls together as the horns enter and state a theme and the full band falls in behind it, moving into Ayler's own martial like theme "Bells." The group weaves deft improvisation with the themes presented in this medley, creating a powerful group sound that resonates throughout this lengthy performance. Charging ahead and then slowing dramatically, the music is a dynamic force to be reckoned with, as raw scalding guitar rakes the ground along with rampaging horns, and a raucous conclusion. Finally "Universal Indians/We Wish You a Merry Christmas" has the band riffing on a bright Ayler theme to begin, led by Williams strident saxophone playing and some taut electronics and trumpet. They gracefully shift gears into the holiday song, even singing a greeting as the music leaves a genuine and pleasant farewell. An Ayler Xmas Volume 2 - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Francis Davis / NPR 2018 Jazz Critics Poll Ballot

These are the choices I made for the upcoming Francis Davis / NPR 2018 Jazz Critics Poll. The usual caveats about me being a fan/enthusiast and not a critic apply. Thanks to Davis and Tom Hull for putting this together, and a special thank you to all of the musicians and music writers who continue to make life bearable.
  • Choices for this year’s 10 best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.
1. Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness (Hopscotch)
2. Andrew Cyrille / Wadada Leo Smith / Bill Frisell - Lebroba (ECM)
3. Full Blast - Rio (Trost)
4. Daniel Carter / William Parker / Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University (AUM Fidelity)
5. Jon Irabagon - Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (Irabbagast)
6. Mia Dyberg Trio - Ticket! (Clean Feed)
7. Rodrigo Amado - A History of Nothing (Trost)
8. Angles 3 - Parede (Clean Feed)
9. The Thing - Again (Trost Records)
10. Chris Pitsiokos CP Unit - Silver Bullet In The Autumn Of Your Years (Clean Feed)
  • Top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order
1. Milford Graves - Babi (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
2. David S. Ware - The Balance (Vision Festival XV +) (AUM Fidelity)
3. Charles Mingus - Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden (BBE Music)
  • Choice for the year's best Vocal album
William Parker - Flower In a Stained-Glass Window and The Blinking of The Ear (AUM Fidelity)
  • Choice for the year's best Debut album
Adam Hopkins - Crickets (Out Of Your Head Records)
  • Choice for the year’s best Latin jazz album
David Virelles - Igbo Alakorin: The Singer's Grove Vol. I & II (Pi-Recordings)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Harriet Tubman - The Terror End of Beauty (Sunnyside, 2018)

Harriet Tubman was a larger than life American Hero and it's understandable how she could be a guiding light for the trio that invokes her name. Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and JT Lewis on drums seamlessly meld jazz, rock and dub reggae in an original fashion, and use a telepathic sensibility in their improvisations honed over many years performing together. The album opens with "Farther Unknown" which builds through crisp drumming and stinging guitar playing, to develop quite a sense of momentum that bursts into a strong improvisation with shards of feedback, deep and resonant bass and muscular rhythm. Their trio improvisation is a majestic flight above the clouds buoyed by gale force updrafts of soaring guitar and and ever shifting bass and percussion groove, reaching apogee and gliding quietly for a spell with spare guitar in space, taking in the view before landing. "3000 Words" has bass building a rock solid foundation for the drums and guitar to slash the air around them like samurai locked in combat. The music is heavy and visceral, inhabiting a tight space, with large bounding notes of bass guitar taking up physical space and strong backbeat with the producer adding mysterious loops and effects. There is some great funky drumming on "The Green Book Blues" where Lewis is just in the zone, as the heavy bass and the electronics and effects swirl around him like a fever dream. Bass and guitar power through, making this track into more of an intricate and experimental soundscape, filled with fun house mirrors that reflect the sound through loops and pedals, before releasing a powerful electric guitar solo, that is eventually swallows up by the maelstrom of sound that surrounds it. “Unseen Advance of the Aquifarian” has a powerful full band theme with shimmering sparks of guitar, thick bass and slashing cymbals. The music picks up pace to a very impressive and exciting collective improvisation, as the band powers forward relentlessly, all for one and one for all, invoking the fusion of Lifetime or the Decoding Society as they reach for the cosmos in an explosive performance. Their version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is fascinating, swathed in electronics and backward sounds, the melody is hinted at and the song is played with reverence, with stark guitar reaching out, melding and sculpting the theme along with the bass and percussion, as the song is played with a stoic and defiant beauty. "The Terror End of Beauty" has a mellow beginning of strummed guitar, which quickly grows with the addition of bass and drums, with the dynamism building energy as the volume and pace grow exponentially and the band lifts off into a powerful collective improvisation that is thrilling to hear. Ross is shedding at a Sonny Sharrock level and the drums are apocalyptic, only to have the band pull back into a bass anchored melodic section where they regain their bearings and race for the finish line. Engineer Scotty Hard was important in helping the band achieve the sound they were looking for, and this shows how committed the band is to forward movement, their songs and playing are first rate on this excellent and commendable album. The Terror End of Beauty - amazon.com

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