Monday, June 17, 2019

Alice Coltrane Sextet ‎– Live At The Berkeley Community Theater 1972 (BCT Records, 2019)

Five years after the death of her famous husband John, there could be no doubt that Alice Coltrane had grown into a unique seasoned performer with a voice all her own. She had a commanding presence on piano, harp and organ, a unique skill in crafting arrangements that hinted at the spiritual psychedelia of the time without pandering to the remaining hippies and was producing a series of memorable records. This album is a previously unreleased soundboard recording of her band which contained Charlie Haden on bass, Ben Riley on drums, Aashish Khan on sarod, Pranesh Khan on tabla and Bobby W(?) on tambora and percussion. It is a very powerful performance and one that definitely deserves attention from fans of Impulse era spiritual jazz or jazz / world music crossover. Alice Coltrane is particularly impressive on the Wurlitzer electric organ, which strikes a remarkable balance between the more mellow Hammond B3 favored by most jazz musicians and the Farfisa organ sound made famous by garage rock bands worldwide. This gives her the power to cut through the ensemble and make her presence felt throughout these lengthy performances (each of the four an equivalent to a side of vinyl.) They begin with "Journey In Satchidananda" which was the title track of the record she had released the previous year. Influenced by her travels in India and what was then called Ceylon, the music has an exotic and beguiling sound to it as the drums and percussion develop cross hatching rhythms and the bass and sarod offer a droning counterbalance, leaving a perfect setting for Coltrane to launch into a lengthy eastern tinged solo on the electric organ. They develop a raucous performance, a collective improvisation that stretches at the very boundaries of the piece without ever losing the overall plot, Alice herself laying out at one point for a hypnotic section of tabla and sarod playing at a whirling speed, and leading to her returning on harp which she plays a brief solo upon before finishing the performance on the organ. The perform a fascinating interpretation of the “A Love Supreme” suite, teasing the melody from a distance, then stating it on the organ with percussive flourishes, they gradually beginning to meld the familiar music in their own way with this interesting array of instruments, setting a deep groove and allowing sparks to fly. The music is fascinating, evolving into a wall of drums and percussion along with the rolling organ and strings creating an unstoppable improvising force, until the band steps aside for a massive seven minute bass solo from Charlie Haden, showing dazzling technique and endurance under the spotlight. “My Favorite Things” becomes a feature for the sarod, employed slightly like a guitar, but giving the music an unusual characteristic that when employed with the tabla creates a very exciting and powerful sense of flow. After this scintillating introduction, the organ, bass and drums charge in creating a fantastic full band setup driving the music forward and you can just barely begin to pick out parts of the familiar melody in their extrapolation. They end with an epic version of John Coltrane’s “Leo” beginning with a phantasmagoric opening sequence, really pushing for the expansion of consciousness with kaleidoscopic organ sounds, and wave upon wave of percussion and bass creating undulating rhythms and astonishing speed. Drums and percussion get a section of their own with Riley leading the way, very exciting and displaying great power and strength in his execution. There is another fine section for sarod and tabla playing with amazing speed and dexterity, everybody is getting generous feature time during this last track and making the most of it. The band comes together for a fantastic blowing section, doubling down on the free jazz intensity they had built previously and wailing with the utmost intensity and conviction. This is an excellent album and well worth tracking down if you can find it, Discogs lists it as an unofficial release, with a limited edition 750 LP copies from Germany, and there are grey market versions floating around the Internet. Regardless, this music is hot and deserves a well remastered official release, because this is the real deal.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Le Rex - Escape of the Fire Ants (Cuneiform, 2019)

Le Rex is an up and coming Swiss jazz quintet with an interesting lineup of reeds, brass and drums: Benedikt Reising on alto saxophone, Marc Stucki on tenor saxophone, Andreas Tschopp on trombone, Marc Unternährer on tuba and Rico Baumann on drums. This may put you in the mind of a New Orleans marching group, and that is a strand of their DNA, but they run the length and breadth of jazz leaning into progressive and free sounds as well. The opener “Escape of the Fire Ants” muscles in with strong riffing horns and crisp drumming, with the tuba admirably developing a bass like sound and the other musical instruments becoming stratified above it. The horns play together in an admirable manner, developing call and response sequences and solo flights that are enthusiastically supported. The drummer develops a nasty funk beat under one of the soloing saxophones that is very exciting and propels the performance forward. The group allows dynamism to come into play with a more open section that allows for spacious and thoughtful playing, bouncing up to the opening riff to give the performance an exciting conclusion. “Alimentation Générale” is whimsical in nature, developing a colorful weave of instruments, and the sound is very nice with individual instruments emerging from each channel of the stereo, creating an immersive sound that is compelling to hear as the trombone and drums develop some really interesting rhythms for the other instruments to solo over, creating sparks between the players that lead to excellent improvised sections. “Harry Stamper Saves the Day” hits with raw and exciting tenor saxophone and splashy drumming that is quite enthralling, the rest of the group comes in with strong and invigorating riffs and motifs that take the music in a little more light hearted and swinging direction. A ripe and brash trombone solo framed by drums and tuba holds down the middle section of the performance. There is a low and burrowing groove on “The Funding,” with quick bursts of fanfare popping off and leading into a sweaty club scene where the band is digging in deep and playing with style. “Ballad for an Optimist” begins in a forlorn manner with the horns paying their respects in a humble manner, gradually picking up the pace to another fine trombone solo at a medium up pace with the tuba and drums nipping at his heels and saxophones framing the action. Everyone is working together well to build an exciting performance with a memorable melody and well structured arrangements and playing. Overall, this was a very enjoyable album by a band that bears watching. There is a fine consistency in the quality of their playing, creating music of substance that is capable of wide gradations in sensation and texture. Escape Of The Fire Ants - amazon.com

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Great Voice of UGMAA - Why Don't You Listen? Live at LACMA, 1998 (Dark Tree, 2019)

Pianist, arranger and composer Horace Tapscott is one of the great unsung figures in jazz history. A bandleader and community activist in Los Angeles with a career that spanned the late fifties to the late nineties he founded the large ensemble The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra which featured future legends like Arthur Blythe, David Murray and Butch Morris. This particular album shows the group in performance with a vocal chorus, The Great Voice of UGMAA.. The opening track “aiee! The Phantom” was also the title of a trio album that Tapscott cut for the Arabesque label, but here it is a deeply swinging large group track. There is a deep earthiness and connection to blues and gospel at hand throughout this album, on the instrumental tracks as well as the vocal ones, with three bass players, drums and hand percussion developing a sumptuous rhythm that will percolate and shift throughout the performance. Tapscott has a powerful touch to the piano, in addition to conducting the group that also includes saxophone and trombone making this a powerhouse track that just doesn’t let up. Their approach to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” is particularly interesting, perfect for the leader to add just the right touches from the keyboard as the maestro did, and it’s the basses and percussionists that provide the textures and exoticism that Duke (and Juan Tizol) hinted at and allow them to develop slowly, as the reed and brass stretch out over the massive rhythm section that is ebbing and flowing like the sands of the desert. The death of the great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti led to the composition of “Fela Fela” and this invigorating piece envelops the chorus and the band singing lyrics in short riffs that are integrated into the band, leading to an opening for an excellent solos for soprano saxophone and trombone alongside crashing drums. “Why Don’t You Listen” has a beautifully melodic introduction for piano and choir, before moving into very impressive intertwining of voices stating the names of many of the greatest jazz musicians of all times and imploring that people listen to their sounds. There are short instrumental breaks for saxophone and drum features, leading into the finale, “Little Africa.” Opened by some thoughtfully spare piano and solo male voice performing quite movingly for several minutes, then joined by the remaining voices, basses and percussion instruments. There is an excellent midsection for the instrumentalists, and solos once again for soprano saxophone and trombone before everyone returns to conclude the concert on a classy and joyous note. This is a wonderful recording and an important one, shining much deserved light on this unjustly ignored master. There is a first rate booklet included with the CD version of the album that has informative liner notes, song lyrics great photographs, making this an exemplary package all around. Why Don't You Listen? Live at LACMA, 1998 - Dark Tree Records Bandcamp

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Feldman - Time Gone Out (Intakt, 2019)

Sylvie Courvoisier is an award winning pianist, composer and improviser, and her husband Mark Feldman is no slouch either, playing violin in every imaginable setting, particularly when associated with the Tzadik label and the works of John Zorn. This duet album is quite interesting, investigating the melding of American and European forms and styles of music from a new angle at the intersection of improvisation, composition, tradition and modernity. The album was recorded at the Oktaven Audio Studio in New York during September 2018 and the music itself strikes a remarkable balance, shrugging off familiar references and searching for new forms of communication and expression. "Eclats for Ornette" has swooping and diving violin met by nimble and impish piano, in a light and delicate performance that develops short cells of ideas and strings them together into thought provoking phrases. They resolve into a fast and lithe collective improvisation, like a chase scene, building drama as the performance develops. The dedicatee, Ornette Coleman played violin at times during his concerts and on record, and Feldman retains some of the heart on the sleeve emotion that the Texan brought to his music. The title track, "Time Gone Out," is a massive, nearly twenty minute long performance, a trapeze routine where each musician having absolute trust in the other is required because there is no net below. The length of time allows the music to evolve gradually and explore a wide range of ideas and motifs, with notions from contemporary classical music and free improvisation, and patches of wide open space allowing for careful thought and spontaneous connectivity. It is clear by listening to how this performance develops that the two musicians have developed a unique and intuitive way of playing together, adapting to each other's style of improvisation and sense of dynamics along the way. "Cryptoporticus" evolves in a more abstract manner, with long lines of violin interacting with deep bass notes of piano, with sections of near silence, allowing the music to find its own level in a completely free manner, with a bright and swarthy section for solo violin, then icy tendrils of keyboard slowly growing like frost as the piano begins to dominate the performance, using shades of light and darkness to further carve out its own space. "Not a Song, Other Songs" has some of the most powerful piano heard on this album, chords blasting out and sustaining in a shocking manner, as the violin steps wearily around, like a fencer looking for an opening. The dynamics of the nimble midsection of the improvisation is fascinating with showered of piano notes and swaths of delicate violin, then Courvoisier drops one of those massive chords, just when the listener is getting complacent. This was a very well played and fascinating album, it doesn't seem to fit anywhere, is it jazz, or it it some type of amorphous improvised music? Once the idea of labels of released and the music is approached on its own terms does it really open up to the listener and present its gifts, and those are well worth the struggle necessary to get there. Time Gone Out - amazon.com

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Elephant9 - Psychedelic Backfire I (Rune Grammofon, 2019)

The first of two live albums from the band Elephant9, consisting of keyboard player Ståle Storløkken, bassist Nikolai Hængsle and drummer Torstein Lofthus and guest guitarist Reine Fiske, with the music being recorded during a four day residency at the Kampen Bistro in Oslo. This is an excellent melding of open minded jazz and groove based psychedelic rock. Their use of loud drones and storming keyboards and rhythm work well, beginning with "I Cover the Mountain Top" featuring graceful keyboard and bass and subtle percussion, finally breaking out in a shocking manner driving the volume into the red and adding the guitar scouring across heavy drumbeats. The dynamism works in their favor, moving from moody and cinematic to overt rock quickly, and their psychedelia is not the incense and peppermints hippie variety, but a post-modern smearing of sound and technique to alter perception in a wholly different way, blasting the version of the Tony Williams Lifetime with Jack Bruce fifty years into the dystopian present. Heavy, slamming chords introduce "Farmer's Secret" using some dirty and raw organ playing and funky bass and drums to excellent effect, grinding out a deep and gnarly Root Down era Jimmy Smith groove. "Habanera Rocket" keeps a subtle ground level beginning, throbbing and bubbling along, flowing and pulsating as the music gradually gains volume and tempo in a trance inducing manner. The music becomes harsher and heavier of beat, flirting with progressive rock, but never giving into cliche. Laying massive keyboard chords and showboating runs, they have turned the formerly introspective piece completely on its head, to joyous crowd approval. Adding some cool echo effects to a guitar and keyboard feature keeps this eighteen minute monster from bogging down, driven with consistently excellent drumming to a mighty conclusion. This leads directly into "Skink/Fugl Fonix," played fast and loud, very powerful and brawny, with no nonsense muscular drumming and swirling keyboards and throbbing bass. The music played at this speed is quite thrilling, and even more impressive is that they are able to develop varying textures and hues from within the maelstrom, adding touches of exotica and calliope sounds for variety. "Actionpak1" hits hard with massive industrial bass and drums pulverizing moving into buzzing electronics and crisp beats at a very high speed, swooping and diving with cells of harshly driven keyboard playing against a relentless drumbeat. Closing with "Dodovoodo" the band unites to create a free and frenetic soundstage, with motoring bass and drums laying down a thick carpet for the keyboards and choppy guitar to explore at will. Long droning tones build atop one another shimmering over the percolating percussion, with shards of guitar accenting the sound. Psychedelic Backfire I - amazon.com

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Hat in Hand

Apologies for taking a time-out for a bit of seriousness. As you might be able to tell from reading the last few months worth of posts, I have been going through a particularly difficult time. Financial difficulties have made it difficult for me to keep up with my regular visits to my health care professionals and timely renewing of prescriptions, and unwise juggling of bills have made my living situation precarious. I deeply regret being on the treadmill of shame, but if anyone is able to make a small donation, I would be greatly appreciative. (palpal.me link) Regularly scheduled blogging to resume shortly, hopefully with more coherent reasoning, not to mention grammar, syntax and structure. All the best -- Tim.

Angles 9 - Beyond Us (Clean Feed, 2019)

Angles 9 is the largest iteration of the wonderful Angles meta-band, one that has recorded very successfully in trio, sextet and octet forms as well as the nonet setting. Clean Feed compares the music to the likes of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and there is a lot of truth to these analogizes. But at their best, I hear them as a logical continuation of the music of Charles Mingus, with hearty themes and emotionally resonant soloing and full band playing. This allows them to develop a wide range of possibilities, from swing to free, like on the title track "Beyond Us" which eases in on a carpet of piano and vibes, followed by waves of horns broadening the soundstage along with deep drumming. Raw saxophone breaks out, juxtaposed against the crystalline vibes, as the riffing horns build a massive edifice of sound that allows them to use the textures of large ensembles while maintaining the nimble mobility of solo and small combo sections. The final selection of the album is the joyous composition "Mali" with bright and vibrant horn riffing and elastic rhythm that gives the music a lighter almost danceable air. Short and pithy solos, and powerhouse full band playing keep the music moving briskly to a very exciting conclusion. This was another good entry into the Angles series, also proving that there is room for an improvising modern large ensemble that isn't tied to recreating the works of a long dead great. Gathering a nice sized group of excellent musicians and letting them loose on interesting open ended compositions is an idea that never gets old. Beyond Us - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 09, 2019

Mette Rasmussen / Julien Desprez - The Hatch (Dark Tree, 2019)

The duo of Mette Rasmussen on alto saxophone and Julien Desprez on electric guitar recorded this experimental duet album in France in September of 2016. (Live performance from same month) The music is raw and exciting, melding sharp cries of saxophone with alternatively percussive blasts and torn screams of guitar, creating sounds which are for the most part freely improvised, but still quite accessible and well rounded. Their approaches are diverse, yet complementary, as Rasmussen works within the realm of improvised music, drawing from a wide range of influences, spanning free jazz to soundscapes, she is free to take liberties exploring her instrument, expressing what extremes the saxophone can produce in terms of sound, both prepared and unprepared. Desprez in turn explores free form music in a physical manner, providing a synthesis of technique on the instrument itself and a wide array of effect pedals, taking inspiration from the performance of tap dance, it allowed him to approach the possibilities of the whole ecology of the instrumental system of strings and pedals in a novel way. “Roadkill Junkies,” the opening track on the album, demonstrates how their individual approaches to sound creation and manipulation are quite compatible. This piece begins the album in an approachable free jazz / free improvisation setting that works quite well, giving the musicians a place to stretch out at varying speeds and sculpt a piece that is tense without devolving to chaos and providing stability and a platform for the music that will follow. The following track, “Clay on Your Skin” shows that the duo is adept at developing textures and allowing them to work into the overall sensibility of the music, allowing them to grow and alter the forms they develop with greater variety, branching further afield as the improvisation develops. As this track broadens, they begin to use long droning sounds to push the music relentlessly forward, with the deep and scouring sound of the saxophone calling out fearlessly against the waves of electric guitar, tearing it apart into a chaotic wilderness. This was a gathering of like minded musicians that was successful in achieving its goals, creating spontaneous performances that integrated the aesthetic approaches of both musicians allowing them to take the initiative to make their own individual and collective artistic statements with a form and texture of their choosing. The Hatch - Dark Tree Bandcamp

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Thursday, June 06, 2019

Evan Parker and Kinetics - Chiasm (Clean Feed, 2019)

English saxophonist Evan Parker remains a protean force in progressive jazz and freely improvised music. (hear him on a recent 5049 podcast) He was born at the tail end of the World War II and became enthralled by John Coltrane as a young man, building his name as a man to hear in the fertile experimental music scene in London. Since then his stature has only grown worldwide, allowing him opportunities to perform with groups like Kinetics which consist of Jacob Anderskov on piano, Adam Pultz Melbye on bass and Anders Vestergaard on drums. These tracks were recorded in London and Copenhagen in early 2018, and show that this isn’t a group with revered guest type of situation, but a setting where the musicians melded together and allowed their ideas to flow freely. “London, Pt. 1” opens the album with bowed bass and a fractured sound from the trio as the piano enters and the drums increase the pace and Parker comes in completing the construction of a killer collective improvisation. Deep plucked bass and drums play behind towering saxophone probing deep space, while rippling piano completes the scene. The group dips into a quieter section with flutters of saxophone and bass framed by spare piano and cymbals. Parker’s saxophone gradually rises in tone and volume as deep dark piano chords add an ominous touch along with anxious percussion. Anderskov unleashes a thunderous piano feature, harsh and scouring, before finally dropping off to a quiet finish. Swirling sounds from the group are heard on “Copenhagen, Part. 1” as they invoke a fast collective improvisation with everyone weaving their sounds together in a fast yet dynamic flow. Vibrant piano and drums are met by bowed bass and crisp passages of saxophone that cut the air in a pithy manner. “Copenhagen, Part. 2” uses probing piano with drumming both developing a percussive fast and splashy sound as Parker enters with quick flutters of sound as a fast and light improvisation ensues, moving in a nimble fashion, and the playing between the instruments is quite intricate. Parker turns to a loud and impressive repeated motif through circular breathing, a sound that is so arresting and unique that it draws in the rest of the group like the gravity well of a black hole. Finally, “London, Pt. 2” sees Parker offering tones and sounds that come together in an unaccompanied solo with more impressive breathing techniques as the piano builds in providing an almost drone like backdrop, creating an impressive and unnerving sound. The bass and drums enter building a full band performance that is dark and menacing before gradually heading off with cymbals and a sense of eerie calm. This was an excellent album, the match of the veteran saxophonist and the tight knit group ensured that sparks would fly and the air of mutual respect would fuel excellent teamwork. Chiasm - amazon.com

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