Thursday, April 08, 2021

Jim Snidero - Live at the Deer Head inn (Savant Records, 2021)

Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero got a rare opportunity during the cursed plague year of 2020, he was able to assemble a quartet for a safe, socially distanced performance at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA. Rounding out an excellent quartet with Orrin Evans on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, and selecting from a repertoire of standards, the group made the most of this opportunity. Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” is an excellent opener, with the musicians swinging hard on this uptempo bebop number. The band is tight, and the saxophonist is strong and agile. The group produces a pleasant version of standard “Autumn Leaves” incorporating an impressive bass solo, by Washington, who demonstrates an impeccable technique and sense of time. Snidero dedicates "Old Man River" to the Black Lives Matter movement and backs it up with a genuine and emotional performance shaded by gospel and blues. Orrin Evans, on a busman's holiday from The Bad Plus contributes a stellar piano solo to "Bye Bye Blackbird," where he is featured at length. Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" was indelibly featured on a 1965 Grant Green album of the same name, and this group does a fine version of their own, creating a great ballad feeling, quiet and spare with soft saxophone punctuated by curls of stronger sound, shadowed by deft brushes. "Who Can I Turn To" shows the leader playing his saxophone in a very melodic manner alongside elastic bass and very melodic bright piano. The group develops a fine uptempo performance, including a delightful bass solo framed by piano and gentle percussion. An elegant lengthy solo piano opening introduces "My Old Flame" which evolves into a tender ballad with longing sax, brushes and deeply felt bass. Snidero has lovely saxophone tone in his solo section during this patient ballad and short tag ending. The band concludes their set with a fast exploration of "Yesterdays" with the rhythm section providing the urgency as the three boil at a fast pace met by some ripe saxophone playing and a strident push to to the conclusion. This must have been a real treat for those who were in the audience, something that we may never take for granted again, four talented musicians coming together to play music in the moment live and in person. Live at the Deer Head Inn - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Ding Dong. You're Dead. (Rune Grammofon Records, 2021)

After releasing a more experimental solo album last year, Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad reconvenes her regular trio for another exciting exploration through the realms of jazz fusion and progressive rock. She is accompanied on this album by Ellen Brekken on electric and acoustic bass and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums and percussion. “Leo Flash's Return To The Underworld” comes crashing out of the gate in a raucous way, setting a grinding guitar tone with bludgeoning drumming, and Mollestad’s guitar tone bifurcating into a repetitive riff and snaking solo, over taut bass and drums. Hitting very hard with an all out full band segment that recalls some early seventies King Crimson vaulted into post-rock territory, the music is gritty and raw, impacting the listener in a visceral manner. There is a massive guitar solo that strikes out toward the end of the performance lighting the path for the end of the track. “All Flights Cancelled” has an insistent and urgent call to action. The initial repatitive theme drives the music forward with bass and drums quickly falling in line. Mollestad's guitar feature shapes and scours the available material into fascinating waves and forms, with supple shiifts and turns to the overall sound. The rhythm section is in constant motion with undulating bass, and riveting drums pushing the whole trio ever onward in a very exciting fashion. A piercing guitar tone anchored with stout bass playing sets the scene for “Magic Moshroom” where sparks fly from the guitar and drums as the musicians really dig into the sound, leading into a soaring collective section for the band to really demonstrate their identity as a true distinct unit. “The Art of Being Jon Balkovitch“ is an exciting and wild performance where the band grinds out a hard funk feel with embellishments, leaning on excellent bass and drum work as the guitar flies overhead in a killer solo, with towering long tones of pure sound falling back into the rhythm as the band swirls and shimmies into a warped psychedelia. This album worked well and should appeal to progressive rock fans as well as inquisitive jazz partisans. The band is tight and the performances are strong throughout the whole album. Ding Dong You're Dead - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

John Coltrane Quartet - Newport, New York, Alabama, 1963 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

Ezz-thetics Records continues is re-examination of John Coltrane's live work, moving from Graz 1962 to two concerts in America in 1963. For the Newport Festival concert, Roy Haynes sits in on drums for an ailing Elvin Jones, but the remainder of the album presents the "classic" quartet at its peak: John Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Beginning with the July 7 concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, the group sounds well prepared for a very exciting set beginning with a wistful "I Want to Talk About You" that opens the performance and is marked as truly special by incorporating some breathtaking unaccompanied tenor saxophone near the end. "My Favorite Things" was a staple of nearly every performance from this band, and it gets an extended seventeen minute plus workout here with ample solo space for McCoy Tyner. A long burning version of the Coltrane original "Impressions" follows with the leader sending wave upon wave of improvised saxophone to a delirious audience. It's fascinating to listen to Haynes here, he has a lighter and more fluid touch that is ideally suited to bebop, but he makes the transition well to the modal music and provides Coltrane with a much different foil then the thundering Jones. Elvin Jones returns for the Live in Birdland sessions recorded during October and November, and his presence is immediately felt in the live tracks, beginning with a powerful version of "Afro Blue" with a cruising rhythm section interlude before Coltrane returns to put the hammer down and develop a scalding collective improvisation that is felt as much as heard. "I Want to Talk About You" is repeated, once again adding a daredevil solo saxophone improvisation that is vibrant and thrillingly alive, and "The Promise" is the final live track, where Jones effortlessly develops beautiful rhythms, and Tyner sparkles aside Garrison's weighty bass and Coltrane's extraordinary soprano saxophone, which towers over it all. This re-issue was designed to focus on the live material, but Derek Taylor says in his fine liner notes that the remainder of the studio tracks, particularly "Alabama" were included as a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement and the drive for social justice that Coltrane exemplified. "Alabama," written after the racist church bombing in Birmingham killed four African American children. It is a sad, quiet tune, but the power and the grace that it represents goes far beyond the world of music and remains one of John Coltrane's towering achievements. This was a very well done re-issue, with like minded live mater grouped material giving a sense of the group's progress along side relevant studio material. The remastering is strong and the music is bright and vibrant, clearly produced with care. Newport, New York, Alabama, 1963, Revisited - Squidco

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Floating Points / Pharoah Sanders / The LSO - Promises (Luaka Bop, 2021)

A daring album that attempts to meld electronic sound, free jazz and orchestral music, Sam Shepherd, who performs under the name Floating Points has been working on this album for nearly five years. Shepherd's synthesizers and keyboards are met by the legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra. The music is a nine part unbroken suite with movement markers for navigating the piece. "Movement 1" begins with a probing electronic motif that serves as the basis for the suite and will repeat for its entire length, Sanders enters with a well worn tone that marks the earthly opposite to Floating Points sky and cosmos. They work well in the liminal space between composition and improvisation, electric and acoustic, Pharoah playing with the patience of someone who has spent a lifetime on the musical and spiritual path. The music broadens on "Movement 2" which incorporates a large curtain of strings with Sanders' gruff saxophone as a marked contrast. "Movements 4 - 5" are the centerpiece of the album, where the three disparate parts come together as vocalizing leads to long and longing tones of saxophone, like the setting sun, Pharoah's tone and approach to the instrument is instantly identifiable and unique. He moves to a lighter tone for "Movement 6" but the orchestra swells and quickly gains presence. Strings well up and take over, becoming shrill and fractal at the conclusion. Sanders returns on "Movement 7" playing with the soft beauty people often don't give him credit for, amid the shimmering electrons that creates an otherworldly fusion / krautrock fantasia, with Pharoah punctuating the performance with a fast and urgent blast of sound. They gradually come back to Earth on the final two sections, "Movements 8 - 9" where Floating Points develops a huge droning effect for electric keyboard and then rounds it out with a short swirl of orchestra. This was a fascinating album; while the three actors at play here seem to be Frankensteined together at times, when the combinations work, particularly sections where Floating Points electronics meet Pharoah Sanders' saxophone the resulting music comes close to a state of grace. Promises - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dr. Lonnie Smith - Breathe (Blue Note Records, 2021)

Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith was introduced to an unexpected collaborator for his latest album which became bookended by two cover songs featuring the vocals of rock icon Iggy Pop. The meat of the album though, comes from recordings made during week of live performances at the Jazz Standard in 2017. Smith is at the top of his game, playing the organ in a visionary manner and leading a crack band that includes guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, plus a horn section consisting on John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone, Sean Jones on trumpet, and Robin Eubanks on trombone. “Why Can’t We Live Together” opens the album with psychedelic washes of organ, and restrained near crooning from Iggy. Organ and drums own the mid section, picking up to a heady groove, each step a little louder, backing off for a nimble guitar solo, and Iggy's restrained vocals which float then fade. The strong full band opening with horns for “Bright Eyes” sets the stage; Smith really has a fine touch on the organ, soloing with energy and wit. The horns punch through at times to comment, and one of the saxophones branches out for a gutsy and raw interlude. "Track 9" is slow and slinky, riding a funky groove, probing saxophones and horns reaching out, as the drums snap, saxophonist taking thing way out sounds good. Free range trumpet fast with encouraging drums, saxophone enters where the other left off; all in all a great performance, fun and exciting. Heavy ominous drums and bass pedals open “World Weeps” with Smith's full organ opening up slowly, astride sad long tones of guitar, which Kreisberg weaves into a spare, patient and desolate guitar feature.  His guitar speeds up and soars, amid huge organ chords push it higher, then close;  leading to a sense of hope as spacious organ and percussion, swell dramatically to conclude. “Pilgrimage” begins with unaccompanied and then introduces the pleasant vocals of Alicia Olatuja, with gentle supporting playing behind her, including horns. There is a bright beaming guitar section, which bursts to bloom among blossoming horns and organ. Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” is a lot of fun with fine drumming setting the pace, and stabs of organ and horns glistening overhead. Smith's organ plays the memorable theme along with guitar, developing a collective improvisation that gets complex and adventurous. The groovy Donovan theme of "Sunshine Superman" with hand percussion and organ guiding the melody and  Iggy takes a low pressure stab at the lyrics, his deep baritone gliding under the organ.  After and excellent instrumental breakdown, there's a vocal reprise and out. A lot of the press has been about Iggy Pop and he sings well, but the focus should really be on the band, who really cooks throughout this well played and consistently interesting recording. Breathe - amazon.com

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Ken Vandermark / István Grencsó / Róbert Benkő - Burning River Melting Sea (Systems vs. Artifacts / Audiographic Records, 2021)

While many of the albums that involve the great multi-reed instrumentalist Ken Vandermark involve ferocious and high volume free jazz, there his another side to his music, one that is deeply collaborative, playing thoughtful and intricate low volume improvisations. This album is a beautiful series of duo and trio recordings, with six new compositions by István Grencsó on tenor and alto saxophones, b-flat and bass clarinets and flute and Vandermark on tenor saxophone and b-flat clarinet, performed in a duo configuration, plus five completely improvised trio performances that add Róbert Benkő on bass. The music itself flows very well and in a tasteful manner, with the two reed instrument players developing short performances that have an impressionistic, artistic sensibility. The musicians shift their instrumental array during nearly each performances which gives the music a wide range of color and hue. The emergence of bassist Benko grounds the music but also fills out the sound, allowing their collective improvisations to take on an elastic form that can bend and twist in alluring ways. This album worked very well as a whole, and considering that they have been performing only intermittently, the thought of the duo or trio returning to the studio or the road as performing opportunities increase is an exciting one. The trio has a depth of creative understanding that allows them to work together with respect and dignity befitting the music they play. Burning River Melting Sea - Bandcamp

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hafez Modirzadeh - Facets (Pi-Recordings, 2021)

Tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh engages in meditative and thoughtful duet performances with three fellow seekers, piano players Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey (well known as a composer and percussionist, but also a talented  pianist) and Craig Taborn. Modirzadeh experiments with different ways of playing his instrument, but it remains accessible with a pure and natural sounding tone that suits this project well. He also has the piano re-tuned in such a manner the musicians are freed to explore all of the musical possibilities available. The complex nuts and bolts preparation of the music is well beyond my ken as a casual listener, but will no doubt fascinate Modirzadeh's fellow musicians, and it is explained at length in the liner notes an on the label's website. On a deep listening level, the enjoyment comes from hearing these musicians work together in open space. There are a few purely solo performances, but the most interesting moments include Kris Davis Frankensteining together a couple of Thelonious Monk themes and improvising on them to create a new performance on “Facet 34 Defracted.” Vijay Iyer is quoted as saying about this album, “a collective meditation, an unlocking of forms and truths” which is really interesting, because we often talk about collective improvisation especially in regard to free jazz, but this idea opens a way for quiet improvisation as a way to explore inner space as much as fiery free improvisation explores outer space. So in the end I think this album works well as a thoughtful and involving listening album for jazz fans, and presumably a work that is worthy of study for musicians and students. Facets - amazon.com

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