Friday, April 19, 2019

Michael Gregory Jackson Clarity Quartet - WHENUFINDITUWILLKNOW (Golden Records, 2019)

Something of a legend among fellow guitar players, Michael Gregory Jackson's interests go beyond jazz to include funk, rock and experimental music. All of these elements are at play on this fascinating album where he plays in the company of Niels Praestholm on bass, Simon Spang Hanssen on saxophones and Matias Wolf-Andreason on drums. “Clarity 6 (Dedicated to Fred Hopkins)” features funky bass and hyper active drumming which supports the heavy lifting as the guitar takes off and explores. The overall feeling is fast paced and exciting with guitar and saxophone jousting over the thick rhythm, building into a driving, squalling full band improvisation that is quite enthralling, blowing into a brief wicked fast shed section before retreating ever so slightly into brief cells if fast improvisation and then to the theme to close. “Spin (Dedicated to Baikida Carroll)” has thick bass and hollow drums setting the groove for Jackson's laser focused guitar to extrapolate a thematic statement, the guitar digging deep, while the drums and bass mine a pneumatic groove, and the guitar and saxophone perform an elaborate improved dance of funky jazz that recalls the seventies, but blasts them firmly into the Afro-futuristic realms of tomorrow. Hand percussion and slabs of bass keep the music simmering, and snarls of electric guitar bring it all back home. “Clarity 3” blasts off with all of the instruments setting a choppy and complicated theme, and then gradually picking it apart, as crisp drumming and well articulated bass playing supports Jackson's neon toned guitar as he spools out an impressive improvised statement. He adds further bite to the tone as the drums keep up an ever shifting and thoughtful narrative and the soprano saxophone enters the scene a little late, but providing an excellent foil for the guitar to grind and sting against, building to an excellent freewheeling full band improvisation as the group takes the time to really stretch out and play and ply their skills in a most productive manner. “Souvenirs (Dedicated to Jessica Hagedorn)” has another excellent full band introduction, before the guitar and saxophone emerge to swirl and fly in the air, doing daring maneuvers like stunt pilots at an airshow, supported by strong cymbal play and tight bass. Jackson lays it on the line playing his heart out and the group responds with some of their gutsiest playing on the album, creating a short but emotionally resonant track. This album worked quite well, Jackson honors his formative years playing with members of the BAG and AACM collectives with his commitment to fearless improvisation, tempered by solid teamplay and compositional forethought. Whenufindituwillknow - amazon.com

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Johnathan Blake - Trion (Giant Step Arts, 2019)

This is an exciting live recording led by drummer Johnathan Blake in the august company of Linda May Han Oh on bass and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone. The music is alternately muscular and nimble, at once recalling the classic live trio recordings Sonny Rollins made in the 1950's while at the same times sounding completely modern and as fresh as paint. “Synchronicity I” is a re-imagining  of the music of The Police, arranged by Potter, led by his evocative saxophone playing, solo at first, finding the band gradually folding in for what becomes a grand exploratory improvisation. Crisp drumming and dark hued stoic saxophone playing revolve around deeply rooted bass playing in an arresting manner, and their collective improvisation, pulling together in the direction of sheer performative power is amazing, this is top tier acoustic jazz playing at its finest. Taking something as banal as The Police (sorry Sting fans) and turning it into a seventeen minute powerhouse of imagination is a major accomplishment for this group. There's a beautiful bass solo, deft and nimble in the playing of the instrument, and an explosive trading of phrases between Blake and Potter. Quick bass and drum work opens “One for Honor,” soon joined by saxophone, creating a solid medium uptempo three way theme. Blake's cymbal accents frame the bass and saxophone well, keeping the music clean and centered, as Oh makes bounding leaps and Potter is a man possessed, playing quick successions of notes with a steely grace that is very impressive. Everybody just goes for it, upping the tempo even further and playing a music that is just out of sight in terms of speed and volume and the amount of control and trust that three people can have when they are this talented. Blake breaks out on a very intricate drum solo, loud and incredibly complex, but still accessible and fun to listen to. “Good Hope” gradually builds from an intricate drum rhythm, building to a trio performance that is quick and light in movement or action; and agile in nature. Potter's tone has a pinched element to it adding further texture, over Blake's complex rhythms and Oh's acrobatic playing. There was a deeply collaborative spirit on this double disc set, indicative of the albums title referencing atoms combining to form a single compound, which is an apt description for this highly attuned group where the spiritual tenets of mindfulness and being completely in the moment meet the science of sound and cognition, and result in exciting and powerful music. Trion - Bandcamp

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Dave Rempis / Brandon Lopez / Ryan Packard - The Early Bird Gets (Aerophonic Records, 2019)

Recorded in March and June of 2018 at Elastic Arts in Chicago, this is an excellent document of the working trio consisting of Dave Rempis on saxophones, Brandon Lopez on bass and Ryan Packard on drums and electronics. Beginning with “Crypto Vo Lans” the music quickly develops around the bass and drums, with the saxophone and drums whirling around the center of taut bass with squeals of saxophone and crisp drumming. They develop a fast and propulsive improvisation with a whirling dervish of sound, leading to a fine interlude of bass and crushingly rhythmic percussion. Rempis comes back with a tart, arresting tone from his saxophone, leading all three off into the sunset. Deep tuned saxophone saxophone with rumbling bass and skittish percussion open “Raho Navis” which drifts into a spacey slower section of plucked bass and cymbals. The pace changes with a snap as they burst into collective improvisation with sharp interplay of strong saxophone and cruising bass and drums. The trio's sense of dynamism allows them to be potent at any speed including a heavy hitting drum solo. “Archae Opteryx” uses long breathy tones of saxophone to set a mood, aside bowed bass and brushed percussion creating and abstract and haunting setting. Electronics add to the music developing huge slabs of sound that fly by framed by the quieter sections of brushes and spare bass. Heavy bass, crashing saxophone and drums usher in “Confucius Ornis” breaking out into a strong, virile and fast paced performance. After that statement of intent, they downshift, opening space for bass and spare cymbals before the pace picks back up and the gruff saxophone piles on at mid tempo. What's amazing about this group is how they can start and stop on a dime, with fast cymbals and driving bass pushing the saxophone to new heights, leading to powerhouse collective improvisation at its best. “Yan Ornis” has bowed bass scraping long tones soon met by squeals of deeply held saxophone tones creating an arresting sound that moves farther into freedom as the percussion enters. The dark toned tenor saxophone, sweeping bass and percussion work very well, building to a scouring three way improvisation that peels paint with searing saxophone and pummeling drums creating over the top goodness. The concluding track “Gansus” opens with excellent bass playing, soon joined by a swirling vortex of saxophone and drums. Their full band improvisation is out of sight and the band is like a fine automobile shifting through the gears. This is another example of the group's limitless power as the cascading drums, soaring saxophone and nimble bass playing becomes the hallmark of the trio and the music they makes. This was an excellent album from wire to wire, the musicians are at the top of their game and this album is sure to be under consideration when the best records are tallied up in December. The Early Bird Gets - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy (ECM, 2019)

Guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan had an excellent run at the Village Vanguard in New York City in December of 2016, playing as a simpatico duet, performing standards, popular songs and originals before an appreciative audience. This part of the recording is based around the classic Thelonious Monk composition "Epistrophy," and they play a beautiful version of it, gradually easing into the familiar melody, and then unhurriedly branching out into a knotty improvisation, bobbing and weaving in a congenial manner. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is a medley that consists of "Wildwood Flower / Save The Last Dance For Me" where a gentle spacious melody is effortlessly stated at first before moving into the rhythm and blues cover that is unexpected but quite welcome. Frisell's guitar carves up the tune expertly, adding just the right amount of emotion and longing to an expertly performed suite of music. With everything on the table, part of the fun is the wide ranging setlist, where they can develop well articulated jazz standards like "Pannonica" and "Lush Life" into quietly blossoming melodic gems, and juxtapose them against a quirky yet very enjoyable romp through the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice." It wouldn't be a Bill Frisell album if they didn't dip into Americana themes on "All in Fun," "Red River Valley," before quieting down once again and wrapping up the album with a delicate and beautiful version of "In the Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" where their intricate interplay works well, as they can play slowly and quietly allowing the individual notes to hang in the air like tears from a broken heart. As a whole, his album worked quite well, and Frisell and Morgan are a formidable team, developing a close sense of empathy that allows them to create delicately spun music in this intimate environment. There may not be many sparks flying, but the melodic and thematic development of these songs and the craft on display in their performance more than makes up for it. Epistrophy - amazon.com

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Cecil Taylor - Great Paris Concert (ORG Music, 2019)

Originally recorded in The City of Light during November 1966, this concert has been released on a number of labels over the years. This most recent one has been remastered by Infrasonic Mastering, and is presented across two 180 gram white color LPs, with photos and new liner notes. Regardless, it's an extraordinary entry into the great pianist Cecil Taylor's discography, including a great band featuring Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Alan Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums and percussion. “Student Studies Part 1” finds the group playing against type, not quite the all destroying free improvisation behemoth that they were made out to be. The music is choppy and intricate with extraordinary bass playing that when plucked provides extra propulsion to an already powerful unit, but when bowed is done in a virtuoso fashion echoing that of a viola or a cello. There is space in this performance for Lyons to blow unencumbered and he adds thoughtful notions to this powerful piece of music. This is immediately followed by “Student Studies Part 2” which keeps the energy moving briskly with swirling bowed bass and lush piano playing, alternating between crushing chords and ripping runs up and down the keyboard. The saxophone muscles in about half way through, pushing hard and helping to develop a true full band improvisation that is wonderfully exciting. “Amplitude” is the most percussion focused track on the album, with a spare opening that uses a whistle and Art Ensemble like “little instruments” to set the mood. Soon lashing drumming takes effect with booming deep end piano and saxophone yearning for release in the cracks between the harrowing energy being developed by the piano and drums, but try as Lyons might it is the stark fascinating interplay between Taylor and Cyrille that is the centerpiece of this section of the concert. Finally “Niggle Feuigle” is the track that could be called “free jazz” in the expected sense, as the four members of the group collide right off the bat for a superior blowout that is a wonder to hear, as Lyons's horn wails alarmingly and Taylor kneads the piano with a great sense of urgency. As the piece develops, the piano and percussion cascade in a magnificent fashion, creating an epic sound world that is all encompassing and unflinching in its willingness to infuse all of their power and majesty into their music. Great Paris Concert - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

David Berkman - Six Of One (Palmetto, 2019)

For several years now, pianist and composer David Berkman has been investigating the musical possibilities of a medium sized jazz band. The colors, hues and rhythms are  achieved in conjunction with his excellent band, consisting of Danya Stephens, Billy Drewes and Adam Kolker on saxophones, Chris Lightcap on bass, Kenneth Salters on drums with Tim Armacost on saxophone and Rogerio Boccato on percussion sitting in. This album begins with “Blowing Smoke” which has a classy and warm theme, with subtle piano playing and understated bass and percussion creating a nice pocket. Tenor saxophone glides in an builds a solo around the foundation built by the earlier sounds, soon joined by a second saxophone and crisply articulated drumming,then the group reconvenes to develop the robust theme around Berkman's piano outro. There is a more urgent melodic statement developing on “Cynical Episode” as the music undulates around deep bass clarinet and the horns riff before an electronic wind instrument drifts out unexpectedly, moving amid the bass and drums adding texture and depth to the performance. Deftly adding piano, Berkman leads the rhythm team though their paces at high speed, playing with grace before the horns return and split into solo sections first for clarinet and soprano saxophone swirling high in the sky as an exotic hand percussion rhythm develops beneath him. “Blue Poles” has a probing solo piano opening, leading the other instruments into the song as they develop a theme using ribbons of sound. There's a warm alto saxophone opening up over some fast paced drumming keeping the music fresh and foreword facing, and soon the whole band is playing very quickly and Berkman takes center stage with an excellent piano feature, building and cascading with waves of notes in a very impressive manner. There is a drum solo of merit, before the rest of the band cruises in for a mighty finish. Light and swirling horns are featured on “Billy” along with supple bass playing, meeting some jaunty support from the remainder of the band with well played soprano saxophone giving this springtime like ditty real lift. The leader takes over with a spirited piano solo framed by supple bass and drums allowing the music to grow in an organic manner. Darker saxophone takes a more pointed solo over the furrowed ground before coming back to the fold and helping to close out this short and sweet tune. “Kickstopper” has a swaggering melody right out of the gate, building intricate modern hard bop, then letting loose sweet saxophones to solo over supportive and fast rhythm which give the music a warm feeling. There's excellent contrast between the deep toned tenor and the light soprano as they joust for supremacy, finally fleeing the field for an authoritative piano feature set up with no nonsense support from the bass and drums. “Restoration” sets the theme on piano, and the saxophones glide out of the shadows adding to the narrative of the performance, lighter toned soprano saxes reach for higher vistas, and a fully formed piano feature that adds further emotional content to the song. This album worked very well, providing a wide variety of colorful compositions and spirited playing on behalf of the band. Six of One - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Prince Lasha / Eddie Gale / Marcus Shelby / David Boyce / Howard Riley / Darrell Green - 6x6 (Unsound, 2019)

In San Francisco during late October 2008, two of unsung heroes of progressive jazz entered a studio and met four up and coming members of the local scene. Each musician came up with their own piece of music for the group to collaborate on, with one full take, no overdubs or retakes. The band consists of Eddie Gale on trumpet, flute and piano, Pince Lasha on reeds and percussion, David Boyce and Howard Wiley on saxophones, synth and percussion, Marcus Shelby on bass, and Darrell Green on drums. Gale was prescient, predicting the upcoming election and providing a respectful nod on the opening track “This is for Obama.” He opens and closes the track with a chant honoring the president to be and in the middle is a very impressive and lengthy performance. The rhythm section is strong and true keeping this fast paced composition in constant motion and providing a launching pad for the solo flights. The horns work well together providing waves of deep sound, and then individual members take flight for logical and memorable solos, on tenor and soprano saxophones and Gale's trumpet plus a wonderful section for bowed bass and drums. “Kennedy's African Playground” is by bassist Marcus Shelby, with a warm sound incorporating thick bass and flute and delicate percussion, creating an alluring sound. The saxophones come in, deepening the sound of the music as a fine tenor saxophone emerges and patiently develops a scouring and enlightening statement over deep percussion and trilling flute. All of the instruments come together for a colorful and potent collectively improvised section, and then dropping out for some excellent bowed bass and flute framed by bells and percussion setting a deeply spiritual atmosphere. Shelby is a powerhouse here, plucking or bowing he is the engine a the core of this performance's success. “Sub Atomic Musik” offers bird sound like flutes and saxophone creating a unique atmosphere, settling into a series of tones, electronic synth playing off against the saxophones and drums with ominous vocalization leading us into uncertain and nervous territory. The music builds to a breakout free improvisation, with the saxophones wailing handsomely and Gale's trumpet powering though it all as the rhythm section chugs mightily. “Howard's Hues” kick's off with a blast as the full group comes out swinging with crisp drums and bass, and the horns building ever higher creating a solid edifice of golden sound. Gale takes a potent and strutting trumpet solo over surging bass and drums, handing off to tenor saxophone for a swirling, snaking turn in the open space, then the relay moves to a snake charmer soprano saxophone solo. It's a great blowing vehicle and everyone comes together with a strong full band statement, before there is another big tenor breakout leads the horns into a cacophonous jam that is very exciting to hear, before pulling it together for a fine conclusion. Sadly, Prince Lasha would pass away a few months after this recording, but he went out on a very high note because this is an excellent and highly recommended recording, everyone plays well, and it is wonderful meeting of the older masters and younger musicians on the rise, finding common ground in open minded jazz music. E-mail Eric M. for details.

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