Sunday, September 15, 2019

Rob Mazurek - Desert Encrypts Vol. 1 (Astral Spirits, 2019)

Brass player and composer Rob Mazurek always manages to put together fascinating projects and this one is no different. He spent much of his career in Chicago and Sao Paulo before recently moving to Marfa, Texas. This album, the first of a series, is a suite based on his exploration of the desert around Marfa, and also explores his ongoing interest in the the natural world. It was presented in both written music and graphic scores for improvisation for an excellent group featuring Kris Davis on piano, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, Chad Taylor on drums plus Lynn Xu vocalizing one track. The music was recorded live in Marfa during Mazurek's own Desert Encrypts Festival in August 2018. Opening track “Encrypt II Spiral” has a bright swinging feel for quartet, developing an impressive intertwined melody, and the group initially works with a light sound like Taylor tapping dexterously across his drums while Davis lays carefully placed notes. The rhythm team is very tight and they play at high speed without a misstep, then making way for Manzarek to carve out a solo spot on piccolo trumpet. They come back together for an exciting collective improvisation anchored by excellent bass playing before returning to the delightful melody. The group glides gracefully into “ Encrypt II” with knotty rhythmic playing and longer lines of brass that arc across the more prominent drumming. Taylor is very percussive here, adding accents and asides to his drum work that are very cool and fit in well with the over all aesthetic of the performance. The piano is reserved and thoughtful, adding just the right burst of notes when needed, leading to a dark and stormy solo interlude. Davis also opens “Encrypt IV Bird Encrypt Morning Song” with a spare skeletal framework, with some electronics added creating a beautiful and evocative soundscape. The group joins four minutes in, furthering the majestic sensibility that she so brilliantly conveyed. Bursts of brass and drums echo forth, and the band comes together to take the music to an even higher plane, including a fine spot for soloing bass. “Encrypt IV Blue Haze” introduces Lynn Xu, in a track opened by subtle bass and electronics providing open space to be filled by her voice. Brushed percussion and spare piano frame her speaking, and there is the occasional burst of trumpet, before moving into a louder, freer improvisation. The full band comes together at high speed on “Encrypt 37,” creating a very appealing sound that is earnest, before dropping down dynamically for a spacious piano, bass and percussion trio spot, including another fine bass feature. Mazurek rejoins the action as the tempo increases toward a full boil, and everybody leans into the action. He sends waves of brass outward, met be urgent piano comping and powerhouse drumming, even vocalizing at one point. The final track on the album is “Encrypt 1” which uses electronic sounds to frame the piano, bass and drums, adding in trumpet and vocalization in a very free sounding opening. This is the most decidedly experimental track with the electronic aspect fully engaged with the acoustic instruments, before dropping out into a fully acoustic quartet. The group develops a medium uptempo track that is appealing and takes it further out with powerful gales of trumpet and a percussive rhythm section break incorporating a great drum solo. This album was very successful in capturing the band playing Mazurek's compositions in a focused and powerful manner. He has always been looking for new areas to explore and this album presents a new exciting development in a long string of forward thinking movements that have made up his career. Desert Encrypts Vol. 1

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Friday, September 13, 2019

John Zorn - Nove Cantici Per Francesco D’Assisi (Tzadik, 2019)

This album is a suite of music John Zorn composed for the Frick Gallery to commemorate the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Played by the acoustic guitar trio of Bill Frisell, Gyan Riley and Julian Lage, the music has a sense of understated and meditative beauty unique among Zorn's oeuvre. "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" opens the album with gentle intertwined guitars playing at an open ended medium tempo, demonstrating deft acoustic guitar playing, leading into "Admonitions" which has a lonely and elegiac feeling to it, as the music seems to be tinged with regret. The guitars play across and above each other, creating a sense of depth, and allowing the notes an chords to ring out in a sonorous manner. "Nativity" has a spare and open cinematic climate, creating a fresh sound where jagged sparks of notes can shoot outward creating interesting dynamic shifts. There is a bright and bouncy sensation to "Laudes Creaturarum" with a happy sounding and memorable theme that builds a full sound played at a louder volume. "Poor Clares" is quiet and open with fewer notes, with a ballad like sense of longing as the clear notes ring out in a spare and subtle fashion. More pointed and craggy sounds announce "Sister Death" with sharp edged notes and chords that cut through the air. The music is palpably darker and more foreboding than what has come before, with swift bursts of notes and chords as one guitarist supports the others in the building of the imposing narrative. "Mother Earth" begins with careful probing of the available space, leading to a guitar combination of gentle melodicism, using chiming chords and quiet notes. The combination of instruments is subtle and free from ego and competition, creating a warm cohesive sound. Bass like note hold the foundation on "Le Laudi" with lighter chords strumming over the top. They build to a faster performance that pushes forward with propulsive clear notes juxtaposed against choppy chords to create a sense of forward motion and a colorful and exciting performance. "Fioretti" builds in a subtle fashion, with complex interplay between the musicians creating twists and complex angles which reflect and refract the shape and speed of the music. The album concludes with "Meditations" which is quiet and haunting, delighting in the atmospheric spaciousness as the instruments are playing together. This album worked very well as a whole, the musicians are extremely talented and the compositions that John Zorn gave them to interpret played to their strengths. The music is humble and restrained, and the personnel give of themselves for the success of the whole. Nove Cantici Per Francesco D'Assisi - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Book: Red Hot and Blue: Fifty Years of Writing About Music, Memphis, and Motherf**kers by Stanley Booth (Chicago Review Press, 2019)

Stanley Booth is most well known for his book about The Rolling Stones, which covered their 1969 tour that eventually ended in the disastrous concert at the Altamont Speedway. But he did much more than that, writing for a wide range of periodicals. Much of his reportage was based around Memphis, Tennessee, a city with an at times thriving music scene and never any shortage of characters to write about. He begins the book with a series of pieces about famous pre-war blues and jazz musicians like "King" Joe Oliver, more well known today as the mentor of Louis Armstrong. But he was a massive talent, who came to a tragic end just as the world was coming into the idea of recorded music. Ma Rainey was a force of nature, singing in tent shows and revivals all across the south at the dawn of the blues, and Booth composes an epic and compassionate portrait of this musical pioneer. Equally illuminating are the articles about guitar masters Blind Willie McTell and especially Furry Lewis who  the author knew and wrote an excellent two part series on his life and music. It wouldn't be a book about music in Memphis if there weren't a few stories about Elvis, and Booth includes three, one while the erstwhile King was alive in 1967 isolated amid a huge money making machine, then the story of Presley's doctor who took the majority of the blame when his patient died ignominiously on the toilet and finally a taketown of the ultra-tacky Graceland. Being a tried and true southerner, he could get right to the nitty-gritty with fellow southerners like Mose Allison and Bobby Rush, jazz and blues lifers who have seen it all and have excellent stories that can be coaxed from them by the right interviewer. He's equally well off at writing about the doomed figures as well, such as Graham Parsons who went from wealth and privilege to Harvard and eventually playing with The Byrds and The Rolling Stones before dying as an addict with people fighting over his corpse. Not every entry in this collection was a home run, but by far the most of them were excellent and leave a lasting impression. Booth has a perceptive nature that allows him to absorb the music and the people of Memphis and convey that to the reader in a compassionate and thoughtful manner. Red Hot and Blue: Fifty Years of Writing About Music, Memphis, and Motherf**kers - amazon.com

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book: CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young by Peter Doggett (Atria Books, 2019)

The story of CSNY is a microcosm of rock and roll in America in the sixties and seventies, beginning in a burst of camaraderie and goodwill and ending in acrimony and spite. Doggett focuses on first five years of the group's existence 1969-74, but begins by providing a thumbnail biography of of each member leading up to their prior brush with stardom. David Crosby spent three years with The Byrds, singing and playing guitar on some of their biggest hits, while Stephen Stills and Neil Young were twin guitar leads in Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash had a long term in the successful British pop group The Hollies. No one quite remembers how they came together (most suspect Cass Elliot to be the catalyst) but soon they were demonstrating their harmonizing to anyone who would listen and after scrambling to work out the logistics of contracts, they signed to Atlantic Records and released their self titled debut record in 1969. It was a massive hit, but Stills felt something was missing and with the backing of label boss Ahmet Ertegun, Young was added to the mix for the group's first second concert before the untold thousands at Woodstock. They toured festivals throughout the year including the doomed Altamont gig, and went on to record their first album as a quartet, the massively successful Deja Vu. But success doesn't always breed contentment as egos fueled by copious amounts of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol began to take their toll. The 1970 tour was lucrative, but also marred by band friction, fired sidemen and fans boycotting over high ticket prices. Atlantic scraped together a live album called 4-Way Street, which would have to tide fans over as the sniping and backbiting led to a series of solo albums, Stills putting out solo work plus his band Manassas, Crosby recruiting members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to create an unheralded masterpiece in If I Could Only Remember My Name and Neil Young mining a massive seam of brilliance from the pop friendly Harvest to the bleak beauty of On the Beach. By 1974, the money became too big to ignore, and the four re-grouped to perform a massive stadium tour, despite the fact that stadiums aren't the most conducive environments to acoustic guitars and close harmony singing. Young and Stills would battle it out on electric guitars during the plugged in section of the performance, with complaints that staying in tune or in key going by the wayside. Self indulgence, egotism and excess doomed the tour which finally sputtered to a halt in London, where the narrative leaves off. Doggett did very well presenting this story, telling the facts of the band's existence, the ups and the downs, leaving out some of the most salacious gossip, and trying to keep the music in focus when there are four very different characters moving in different directions. CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - amazon.com

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Saturday, September 07, 2019

Brötzmann / Schlippenbach / Bennink - Fifty Years After... (Trost, 2019)

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the recording of Peter Brotzmann's infamous Machine Gun album at the Lila Eule in Bremen, this trio of legendary progressive jazz musicians gathered to perform live. With Brotzmann on tenor saxophone, b-flat clarinet and tarogato, Alexander von Schlippenbach on piano and Han Bennink on drums and percussion, they created a stellar performance that ranks with that classic album in terms of intensity, but also displays all of the hard won knowledge and wisdom that fifty years in the musical trenches can instill. “Fifty Years After” opens the album with raw saxophone, ripe piano, crisp drumming sounding free, full, boisterous and thrilling, with Brotzmann's magisterial saxophone sending billowing clouds of sounds aloft met by riveting piano and Bennink's always unpredictable percussion. The music builds to a withering intensity, easily matching the ferocity they achieved in their youth. Space is made for a piano solo, spacious and crystalline, with drums framing and jostling, building faster as the off kilter duo improvisation is filled with dynamic shifts and surprising turns. Brotzman returns with withering sounds playing off Bennink's crushingly loud drums, then leaving him room to expound in open space with a massively raw and scouring tone. They come together into a towering collective improvisation that is loud and thrilling with each member full represented in the texture of their sound, weaving in and out of more spacious sections that allow Bennink to feather his drums beautifully, and support another stellar Schlippanbach piano solo. They re-group for “Frictional Sounds” with Brotzmann shifting to the exotic sounding torogato which has such a beguiling tone, with the piano and drums gradually turning up the heat to a boiling level and creating a wonderful setting. Their improvisation is fast, nimble and very colorful with Bennink using his cymbals to great effect and Schlippenbach providing showers then storms of well articulated notes. The trio shows a tremendous amount of stamina, spooling out these long and intense spontaneous performances, with Schlippenback and Bennink slipping out into an impish Monk inspired duo section, before Brotzmann returns on tenor saxophone, booting the intensity back up to a head spinning level as peals of saxophone arc out over rumbling drums and dark piano, driving the music to a ferocious finish. “Bad Borrachos” opens with some wonderful drumming, developing a fascinating rhythm that seems to be everywhere at once. Soon joined by piano and then Brotzmann on b-flat clarinet, the group builds a supple improvisation of widely varying textures and colors. It grows faster with squalls of reed, and crashing drums and piano and Brotzmann taking the clarinet to places it has seldom scene. Bennink is all over his cymbals as Brotzmann squeals with delight, pushing the clarinet ever higher in a great reed and drums duet. Schlippenbach is is given space at the start of “Street Jive” and responds with some of his distinctively dark and fractured playing in conjunction with Bannink's enveloping percussion. Brotzmann barrels in completing the circuit and the electricity really flows through the unit, coursing through a stark and powerful performance that exemplifies the significance of the music that these men make together. Schlippenbach hammers the keys in a percussive fashion as Bennink dances on the cymbals and Brotzman blows massive waves of tenor saxophone. The brief concluding track “Short Dog of Sweet Lucy” has a torrid drum introduction, then scalding tenor saxophone matching the fast pace as they are pushing things into the red before drifting to a quiet and stately finish, leaving an astonished and delirious crowd in their wake. Fifty Years After... - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Rich Halley - Terra Incognita (Pine Eagle, 2019)

Saxophonist Rich Halley has produced a series of excellent progressive jazz albums with his own coterie of fellow travelers on his Oregon based Pine Eagle Records. This time he changes things dramatically, flying to the east coast to play with some of the brightest lights of the New York scene, Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. The summit meeting was quite a success with six well built tracks that offer a lot of room for both individual and group expression. "Opening" is subtle and free, with Baker's probing cymbals laying the groundwork for the group's entry, as Shipp and Halley swirl and offer notions before delving deeper into the available sound. Halley has a raw and unadorned tone to his instrument recalling the great new thing tenor players, and Shipp's engagement with him is excellent adding heavy low end chords and colorful notes to the overall tapestry. Baker has a lighter touch, playing all over the soundscape with shimmering cymbals and taut drumming, while Bisio's bass anchors the music together. Halley steps aside for an excellent interlude for the piano, bass and drums group coalescing around Bisio's driving bass, then the saxophonist re-enters, propelling the narrative of the music even faster, pushing to the conclusion with a storming collective improvisation. Baker builds an excellent rhythmic foundation on "Centripetal," setting the table for the rest of the group to come storming in at high speed. Halley is peeling off fast short sections of exciting raw toned saxophone neck and neck and with Shipp's boisterous and percussive piano playing and Bisio's propulsive bass. The group is thrilling to hear when they are locked in like this and improvising at high speed, as they complement each other and can anticipate each other, creating a surprising and continuously energetic sound. Halley accents his playing with over the top flourishes that work well to keep is playing fresh, and the band shifts the dynamism of the piece, gathering momentum and using it for further explorations. The title track, "Terra Incognita," has Shipp and Halley weaving their sounds together framed by bass and feathery percussion, slowly gathering speed and greater structure while retaining an open texture that works well with the improvisational nature of the music. The focus of this track is patience and genuinely exploring a new land, expanding the group's sound the fill the available territory, Halley reaches deep and builds from longer harsher saxophone sounds, with tones that are gritter and more in contact with the Earth. A very nice section for bass and percussion develops building a conversation in quiet tones that still manage to convey quite a bit of information, leading to a gentle conclusion. Overall this album worked very well, Halley's busman's holiday on the east coast was very productive, falling in among a sympathetic group of musicians to create a very impressive piece of work that will stand out among a discography already crowded with triumphs. Terra Incognita - amazon.com

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