Sunday, March 24, 2019

Van Morrison - The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition) (Legacy Recordings, 2019)

The Healing Game was a very good, but somewhat forgotten album, released a little over twenty years ago. This deluxe edition is composed of a remastered version of the original LP, bonus material from the studio sessions, particularly some fascinating duet material, and his set at the 1997 Montreux Jazz Festival. The album itself consists of all original compositions, and they are wide ranging and interesting in their depth, beginning with the opener, "Rough God Goes Riding" with its evocative spiritual imagery and lyrics about plight of victims and refugees. He comes out punching on "Fire in the Belly" asking for his driving wheel, and cutting a suave rhythm and blues groove as the horns riff over tight bass and drums. "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" moves back into spiritual territory, evoking Pan and adding flutes and acoustic guitars, showing that he is still a seeker, thirty years after Astral weeks. They bounce the tempo way up with the stomping "Burning Ground" which has an excellent arrangement for the horns that really carry the excitement of the song, before breaking in the middle for a spoken word exchange about the metaphorical dumping of sadness and personal weight before a strong and driving conclusion. "Sometimes We Cry" sheds a proud man's tear in a very striking way, with some excellent background vocals that frame the leader's own gruff mannerism, invoking singer Johnnie Ray in what turns into quite a devastating performance. The bonus tracks to disc one culminate with a fantastic acoustic version of "St. Dominic's Preview" with fiddle, acoustic guitar and harmonica giving the song a beautiful rustic feeling. Disc two is titled Sessions and Collaborations, delivering an interesting mixed bag of tracks, "The Healing Game (jazz version)" among the early ones showing the road not taken as it presents a few tracks from the album in a cabaret setting rather than the rhythm and blues one of the finished product. Some fun performances of ancient tracks like "Mule Skinner Blues" and "Didn't He Ramble" lead to the main event, the collaborations. "Don't Look Back" and "The Healing Game" with John Lee Hooker are mannered but never develop a spark, but Van and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins really hit it off. "Boppin the Blues'" "Matchbox," and "Sittin'" on Top of the World" are banged out with real feeling, and devil may care bonhomie. Perkins died not long after and more's the pity, because an duet album would probably have been spectacular. The live album on disc three is a fine demonstration of Morrison's live show of the period, but the music never takes flight like it did a few years previously when he recorded the A Night in San Francisco LP. That said it does present some highlights of the new album along with some nice medleys of earlier material like "Tupelo Honey/Why Must I Always Explain" and and epic set ender that culminates with a very slow "Burning Ground" then vaults to a horn driven finish. The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition) - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ivo Perelman / Mat Maneri / Nate Wolley - Strings 3 (Leo Records, 2019)

Well regarded tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman's first group of recordings of the year 2019 constitute four discs of encounters with different string instrument players. I was interested to learn from Neal Tesser's excellent liner notes that Perelman's original instrument as a child was the cello, of which he was regarded as a prodigy, and that he carried a particular affinity for instruments like this as he moved to tenor saxophone and developed his unique personal manner of improvisation. For this album he chose the viola player Mat Maneri who has a considerable reputation as a improviser and an open minded musical thinker as a leader and a collaborator. In the past, Perelman often shied away from using brass instruments in his projects before coming acquainted with trumpeter Nate Wooley, who rounds out the group for this album. The trumpeter's level of malleability and focus on the needs of the music over any showmanship quickly won over the saxophonist upon their meeting. It's good that these players are wired this way, because Perelman records in a very impulsive method, booking studio time and bringing the players together with no prepared music or arrangement. With certain musicians would certainly be a recipe for disaster, but these three are clear headed free improvisers who can make use of a blank slate and compose music spontaneously and create a lasting work of art. These three particular instruments are capable of taking notes and tones and carrying them over a long period, weaving within one another or clashing against one another, and this makes the the lengthy "Track 1" very interesting as the tones rise and fall and build complicated structures within the overall group sound. The group is able to get a wide variety of color and hue from their instruments and this is a theme that moves steadily and continuously as a current throughout the record, whether they are playing flat out ripping up section of "Track 9" or weaving together like a multi colored ribbon on a particularly well wrapped present on the deep and beautiful "Track 7." It will be interesting to see where this music will go forward, because as Tresser notes, Perelman has become more aware of exploring not just combinations of instruments, but combinations of people, or as he's quoted as saying "So I've been fooling myself, thinking that I'm experimenting with instrument types. "I've really been experimenting with individuals." It will be fascinating to see which individuals come together for the next project. Strings 3 - Leo Records

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse, 2019)

The London jazz scene is truly having a moment. While the avant garde regiment explores the outer limits at Cafe OTO, the modern mainstream section moves in a different direction adding elements of hip-hop, electronica and krautrock to modern jazz, creating a sensual, searching music in the process. The Comet Is Coming consists of scene regulars King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) on saxophones; Danalogue (Dan Leavers) on keyboards and synthesizers and Betamax (Max Hallett) on drums and percussion. Fans of straight ahead jazz have little to fear, if you enjoy the groovier side of Sun Ra or Archie Shepp, you will feel right at home here. On "Summon the Fire" electronic textures and rhythm are picked up by the saxophone and hard pummeling drums. Jabs of electronic hooks meet them in a pugilistic squall adding to a collective improvisation that is tight and powerful as peals of raw saxophone solo cover a crisp beat. Electronics frame the band going full bore, with a huge and all encompassing sound leading to repetitive saxophone figures over shifting beats and electronics. Featuring guest vocalist Kate Tempest, "Blood of the Past" begins with shimmering electronics swooping and grinding a crushing beat, meeting heavy saxophone and creating an oppressive atmosphere. After three minutes the sound opens up and Tempest's proud and declarative spoken word performance adds further fuel to the fire with meaningful lyrics focusing on "the scar on the soul of the world." After she steps away there is a torrid saxophone response leading to an excellent full band conclusion. This builds into "Super Zodiac" where soft, slightly wavering electronic textures seem to blow in the breeze, then break into a fast dance beat, soon met by powerful drumming and strutting saxophone playing that builds up the tension of the performance through repetition and release. The music is hot and fast, building to blinding speeds, sort of an EDM jazz that uses the virtuosity of the musicians to take the sound to unfathomable places. "Timewave Zero" works from an eerie cinematic soundscape, as fast percussion morphs into the mix and saxophone guilds in developing his statement block by block. The drummer cooks up a quick and alluring rhythm allowing the group to engage in a choppy improvised section playing together at a very impressive speed and showing the band has a firm grasp on their concept and use it to create vibrant and powerful music. Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery - amazon.com

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Sun Ra - Pathways to Unknown Worlds (Modern Harmonic, 2019)

Pathways to Unknown Worlds was one of the albums that eventually came through on a highly anticipated deal with ABC/Impulse that was doomed to fail. Released in a truncated format in the early 1970's with less then thirty minutes of music, this reissue presents restored tracks and additional selections from the session that was recorded in New York City in 1973. It's also the full Arkestra of the period with Ra playing a raft of electronic keyboards and featuring a horn section anchored by stalwarts John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, anchored by Ronnie Boykins on bass and Clifford Jarvis on drums. "Pathways To Unknown Worlds," the title track is a spacey Ra special, with the leader playing Yamaha YC-45D combo organ which allowed increased pitch and tone control, making this a long and droning space jazz track with bowed bass and mellophone, giving the music an unusual and fascinating sound. “Extension Out” has it's complete version on record for the first time, including the opening five and a half minutes that were inexplicably culled from the Impulse version. It's a wonderful performance, allowing the saxophonists to really stretch out with Danny Davis joining Marshall Allen on alto saxophone for raw and exciting solos and duos, as the band rumbles beneath them, and bass clarinet and oboe add further color to this vivid and exploratory performance. The last two tracks on this album originally came out on the Of Mythic Worlds LP, included here because they were recorded at the same session. “Intrinsic Energies” develops long tones of shimmering keyboard, drums and percussion, soon joined by stark and wrenched horns which play out over the sound stage, with ripe alto saxophone tart and citrus against the pastel toned keyboards. The juxtaposition of raw reeds and subtle keyboards is especially moving, while stoic bass (Ronnie Boykins in the secret sauce on this whole album) and drums keeps the music from flying off into infinity. Really interesting textures of percussion are at play on "Of Mythic Worlds,” with jabs of Ra's space organ and wonderful tenor saxophone playing from the incomparable John Gilmore. Seriously, imagine and organ and tenor jam session that instead of a Prestige blowing date (nothing wrong with those, mind you) it's a Sun Ra and John Gilmore free jazz blowout, and it's just as remarkable as you can imagine. After that mindblower, Ra takes a skittish caterwauling solo with wonderful bass support, before handing back off to the horn players who carry the group to a righteous conclusion. Pathways To Unknown Worlds - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Paal Nilssen-Love - New Japanese Noise (PNL Records, 2019)

Epic drummer and musical explorer Paal Nilssen-Love brought an incredible crew to the 2018 Roskilde Festival, including Akira Sakata on alto saxophone, Bb clarinet and vocals, Kiko Dinucci on electric guitar and Kohei Gomi and Toshiji Mikawa on electronics. The sound they created was staggering, a triumphant amalgam of free jazz, noise rock and unrecognizable chaos that is an absolute joy to hear. "Stiff Upper Lip Jeeves" opens the album with savage drums and raw scouring saxophone, a massive sonic outpouring with electronic squiggles framing the over the top bombardment as the guitar adds further sparks to the developing vortex of pure sound. At times the noise stratifies into layers, while during others, it mixes into a mad psychedelic free for all, with Sakata playing in typically excellent fashion wailing saxophone atop the tumult. Spaciousness opens on "Up the Line to Death," where the saxophone improvises freely supported by crashes of percussion and clanks of guitar. The sound of the piece will fill and fall back in a manic fashion hinting at dynamic power around a madly strummed guitar feature. "Eats, Shites And Leaves" initially throws a feint with Sakata moving to clarinet backed by brushed percussion. The group plays a quieter, more abstract improvisation through the first half of this lengthy performance before turning up the heat in a major way. The overall sound grows through smears of electronics, plus some all encompassing drum set playing which are then enveloped by fierce and violent guitar squalls leading the piece to conclude as over the top noise rock. Sakata takes to the vocal mic for "The Bone People," vocalizing in growls and barks and speaking in Japanese, as roaring guitar and powerful drums fly around him. It's just mad stuff, he's howling, the entire band is erupting his gruff deep vocals are just so heavy - he could be singing about teddy bears riding unicorns and it would still sound like a man trying to open a portal to hell with just the power of his bowels. Sakata is 73 years old and this track sounds like a group of next level free improvisers is playing My War era Black Flag. I Love It. Where can they possibly go from here? "Birdsong" is a three minute finale that works pretty well encapsulating what makes this band so great, Sakata back on saxophone, at his free jazz best, PNL crushing the drums as shards of deadly saxophone and guitar battle it out while being strafed by drums and electronics. New Japanese Noise - PNL Bandcamp

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Larry Grenadier - The Gleaners (ECM, 2019)

There have been innumerable solo albums by every conceivable instrument in jazz, most notably piano, but the acoustic upright bass, despite (or perhaps because of) its unwieldy nature has seen relatively few. But those have been quite memorable, career milestones from the likes of William Parker, Dave Holland and Peter Kowald have expanded the role of the instrument in jazz, taking it far from the role of timekeeper into the world of improvisation and composition. Larry Grenadier is a veteran bassist, who came up in the explosion of modern mainstream jazz talent of the early 1990's developed over a longtime collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau among many other talented musicians. This album is a thoughtful and impressive album for solo double bass, mixing originals by Grenadier, along with well thought out interpretations of numbers by George Gershwin, John Coltrane and Paul Motian. On tracks like the centerpiece "Compassion - The Owl Of Cranston" he appears to ask himself questions like how do you interpret a person through music? How do you evoke their being through sound, timbre and feel? Putting together compositions by legendary figures like John Coltrane and Paul Motian is an audacious idea but it works very well, creating a medley that is challenging and stimulating, while presenting itself to be worthy of careful consideration and attention. He is able to inhabit the whole of the instrument, playing the length and breadth of it and keeping the music continuously interesting. There is an introspective aspect to the music as there would be with any solo performance, but it never devolves into an exercise in navel gazing or playing for its own sake, but the music is constructed to engage the attentive listener as well. Aspects of classical music and jazz appear at times, as he displays a great deal of technique without trying to be overwhelmingly flashy, like on the wonderful bowing on "Vineland" which flows continuously without a break from beginning to end. The fascinating mixed version of Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" brings everything together, with a fraught bowed introduction and a deep plucked improvised middle section, giving the timeless standard a fresh and supple reading. All things considered this is a humble and well played offering, displaying all of the talents that Grenadier has developed over the course of has career, distilled into distinctive and commanding album. The Gleaners - amazon.com

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Interesting Links

Dave Douglas invites Tomeka Reid to his most recent podcast.
Drummer Dan Weiss's band Starebaby was featured in Bumhuis Radio.
Bandcamp Daily profiles NoBusiness Records.
Issue 66 of the web journal Point of Departure is available.
The New York Times asks: Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy interview with Buddy Guy.

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