Wednesday, January 18, 2023

This Week in Music 1/18

Earscratcher - Self Titled - A crack free jazz quartet develops fast tight collective improvisation, torrid interplay for bowed cello, piano, drums and saxophone. The group's use of dynamic shifts of space, brushed percussion and openness and layers of sound, coalesce into massive deluge of notes, where complex rhythms meet extended piano techniques playing inside the instrument alongside long bowed lines of cello. This creates a unique soundscape launching over the top saxophone squeals and drumming. Quieter sections emerge where instruments gradually fold together, brushes, lush piano and light saxophone, create a dreamworld before the music snaps back into focus to forge a strong tumbling free improvisation allowing choppy and angular extended techniques to engage swirling percussion. Withering speed and volume drop to quiet abstractions, with the electric cello developing spare sounds. The group gradually recovers power and speed, inner piano, sawing cello drums and driving saxophone to a potent finish. The first great album of 2023. Earscratcher

Patricia Brennan - More Touch - vibraphonist Brennan leads a fine quartet with bass, drums and percussion adding subtle electronics to her sound as well. The music uses well thought out and complex drums and percussion patterns with vibes, electronically altered for a very interesting sound. Sparkling showers of vibraphone notes around the ever shifting percussion floor. Brennan's use of electronics become more elaborate and frame the other instruments as the rhythms become more complex, it is a fascinating addition to her sound, and used in small doses as she does it is very effective.  The electronic and acoustic instruments work very well together on this album, leading to a very successful effort. More Touch

Soweto Kinch - White Juju - This is a very ambitious live album for saxophonist and vocalist Kinch vocals, combining a jazz quartet with the London Symphony Orchestra and sound clips from media sources. The quartet is light nimble, playing around the spoken politician platitudes, strings and keyboards broaden the sound considerably, it's well arranged, with some bombastic symphonic passages framing spoken messages. Nice instrumental sections with the larger band together interwoven with brass frame spoken word openings moving between conservative politicians and media, and Kinch's own rhymed response that fight the power. Both British and American demagogues are taken to task as strings swirl effectively around strong spoken declamations and brief scatting. There is a lengthy symphonic, anthemic piece with mournful saxophone set against against clips from politicians and media as saxophone grows in improvisation. The orchestra and quartet mesh  well at times with fine melodic sections, and this was clearly a labor of love for the bandleader, and he impresses as composer, arranger and musician. White Juju (currently download or streaming only)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

This week in music (1/14)

Francois Carrier - Unwalled
- The latest album from this protean Canadian alto saxophonist finds him in august company with Alexander von Schlippenbach on piano, John Edwards on bass and Michel Lambert on drums. The disc is maxed out with improvisations both long and short and the open ended nature of this allows for the fact that the band is not just just a fire-breathing free jazz unit but a group that has thoughtful melodic unity that allows for the use of dynamics which shapes this excellent and compelling album. Unwalled

Bob Weir - Ace / 50th Anniversary Edition - The initial 1972 busman's holiday for the rhythm guitarist and vocalist for the Grateful Dead, sees him stepping fully into the spotlight. This reissue contains a reissued version of the original Ace album, an excellent set of songs, many of which would find their way into future Grateful Dead live sets, in addition there is a contemporary (April 2022) concert by Wier's current band the Wolf Pack, which loses some of the snap and vigor of the early recordings, but makes up for it by adding unexpected violin and saxophone features. Ace 50

Ryley Walker - Primrose Green - This is an album that has enchanted me since I first heard it back in 2015, thinking that the only thing you could compare it to was Astral Weeks. Like that album, Walker brings a rock and folk sensibility to record with a group of openminded jazz heavyweights, and the music that evolves is by turns pastoral, picturesque and vividly improvision based. Chiming vibes playing along with guitar, developing soundscapes with subtle drumming and shimmering cymbals gives this album a greenhouse atmosphere all its own. Primrose

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Hedvig Mollestad and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra - Maternity Beat (Rune Grammofon Records, 2022)

Guitarist Hedvig Mollestad has developed a considerable reputation as an electric guitar player and bandleader, equally at home in the spheres of jazz fusion and progressive rock. This album extends her range considerably with the inclusion of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra which allows her to demonstrate her composing and arranging skills, in addition to that of a potent improvisor. "On The Horizon, Part 2" opens with guitar snarls with taut bass and drums winding up the tension, as the horns and other instruments come in to flesh out the scene. Saxophones enter over a choppy rhythm, while the music develops into a deep blend of instruments swirling excitedly around each other, with an urgent energy always kept by horns or drums. Heavy drums augur a thundering complex theme for "Donna Ovis Peppa" as saxophone and guitar create a setup for intricate fusion/prog. The band adds a wry tease of "Salt Peanuts" which send the music into a different, more majestic direction. Swooping violin playing dodges electronics as some excellent and more subtle and colorful drumming is folded in. Mollestad's electric guitar gradually dominates the music as it evolves, with a guitar and violin section that nods to classic Mahavishnu Orchestra. "All Flights Cancelled" uses excellent guitar riffing to build a memorable theme, while heavy drumbeats and framing droning keyboards, ready the group for liftoff. The leader provides some exalted guitar playing and the group finds a seam and grooves really making hay. Mollestad steps back for nifty synth soloing patch with prodding bass and drums taking things into outer space on a prog rock flight, still but the band is still tight and not overblown. Slashing guitar chords shimmering in space open the finale "Maternity Suite" with keyboards and strong percussion. This very full sound with added instruments and voices, expanded band pushing a unique almost Magma like sound. The grandiose beginning opens for an electric guitar breakout, with riotous hand percussion changing as parts of the suite evolve, as if she Mollestad shifting the gears of a powerful muscle car. She takes a scalding guitar solo framed by strong drumming and keyboards before the band comes together for some collective blowing that has a wild and adventurous sound, everyone digging in and working for the team, leading to a strong and driving conclusion. This was an interesting evolution to Hevig Mollestad's music. She has played with other musicians in addition to her core trio in the past, but never to this extent. This is a very successful album, the arranging for the larger group is done well, and never overwhelms the powerhouse core that lies in the center. Maternity Beat -

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Monday, January 02, 2023

Bill Frisell - Four (Blue Note Records, 2022)

Guitarist Bill Frisell convenes a new group of players for this album, featuring Greg Tardy on saxophone and clarinet, Gerald Clayton on piano and Johnathan Blake on drums. He presents an all original program, returning to some earlier compositions and introducing some new ones as well. The title track for an earlier Americana tinged album, "Good Dog, Happy Man" has a drummer led opening before the wistful theme for clarinet and guitar brings the picture into focus. The music is light and breezy, and is among the most easy listening sounds that Frisell has made, with gentle and friendly cascades of notes providing the momentum. The group integrates their sounds well, meshing them into a fine subtle tapestry as the piece evolves. Saxophone and restrained backbeat introduce "Monroe," a bluesy mid-tempo piece, generating some slow and grinding juice that allows for energetic raw saxophone then a little bass clarinet for flavor. There is some welcome lively Frisell guitar weaving through the performance, and the band's collective playing really drives it home with focus. "Lookout for Hope" is another earlier title track, from all the way back in his ECM period. The music is mysterious and open with dark reeds and cymbals, the leader's guitar snaking through the music thicket of bass clarinet, lush piano, bass and drums, while beats of near silence are unusual and provocative. "Holiday" returns us to the present with the drummer creating a choppy march opening with hints of subtle swing, gathering the full band in tow. Frisell adds subterranean guitar lines, his tone uniquely his own, but not overwhelming. He's part of the band, not demanding of it, and the band plays the choppy theme with grace and makes it look easy. The promotional material states that this album is a meditation on loss, renewal, and friendship and the music bears that out. When Frisell records for a major label like Blue Note, the music tends to be very melodic and accessible, as he is here. The music is of a very high level and unlikely to spook any horses you may have around. If you find it lacking in a certain energy, he has been recording some very interesting projects for the Tzadik label lately. Four -

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Monday, December 26, 2022

Thelonious Monk Quartet - Live Five Spot 1958 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2022)

Things were looking up for the great composer and pianist Thelonious Monk by 1957. His cabaret card had been returned, allowing him to play in New York City clubs again, and he began to get longer residencies at a small Bohemian club called The Five Spot. By the following year he was a staple at that location, recording two live albums for Riverside Records, Misterioso and Thelonious in Action with Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. The original LP's took tracks from a few different recording dates, but this disc focuses entirely on the August 7, 1958 recordings, giving the listener two sets of prime Monk. "Light Blue" opens the show in a slow and mellow fashion, where Monk chooses to stick close to the melody at a  comfortable medium tempo with little elaboration. Johnny Griffin stretches out on "Coming on the Hudson" and builds a solo faster with quicksilver twists and turns around Monk's falling blocks of chords. He lays out, as Monk plays mini cascades of notes over solid bass and drums. "Rhythm-a-Ning" has a fast rippling piano melody, launching Griffin on a very rapid and propulsive saxophone feature with Monk offering the spare chord for guidance, but the barn door is open and Griffin is just gone. At some point Monk has stopped comping entirely and you can just imagine him doing the little shuffling dance he did when one of his sidemen was red hot. Griffin finally runs out of gas and Monk takes up with bass and drums to add some unique pianistic styling that place a final emphatic mark on this special track. The wonderfully simple theme of "Blue Monk" leaves so much room for players to create, and Griffin starts his solo in a witty and engaging manner, as Monk allows him plenty of room to maneuver, backed by only bass and drums. Griffin's solo is one of complex tumbling notes that are played immaculately even at hyperspeed. Monk takes a lighter touch to his own feature, refracting the piece's light in a number of interesting directions, leading to a bass solo with Monk gently framing and a nice percussion interlude to conclude. "Evidence" has a knotty, complex theme which tests the players skills and offers much freedom, as shown by Grifffin taking the bull by the horns and leaning into another light and nimble feature, then stepping on the gas as the drummer provides heavier beats. The speed of Griffin's bebop flavored runs are fascinating, juxtaposed against Monk and the rhythm section who play the straight man. The sound of the pianist with bass and drums is another matter, not one of speed, but of a wellspring of ideas, adding just the right touch at just the right time to create beauty. "Nutty" has an angular choppy piano theme along side brushed percussion, as solid bass walks the line. Monk plays in a precise form, buoyed by his interaction with the bass and drums, opening up an interesting brief solo from Haynes who makes use of his entire drum kit. With a simple splash of color, Monk opens "Blues Five Spot" which Griffin picks up upon and amplifies, then breaks out into clusters of quick fluttery notes. He kneads the notes that come out of his horn, developing a thoughtful and unusual solo that evolves the music and plays against his type as "the fastest horn in the west" as he plays unaccompanied and throws in wry quotes. Monk adds subtle phrases amid bass and drums, allowing his sidemen (particularly Haynes) room to shine as well. The music is excellent throughout this album. Monk worked with many saxophonists including Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane in the 1950's but none quite had that "ride or die" attitude that Griffin did. Ezz-thetics worked hard on sound restoration and remastering, clearing up what have always been slightly muddy recordings, and including an essay from Art Lange for historical context. Live Five Spot 1958 Revisited - Squidco

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Sunday, December 25, 2022

2022 Reset - Top ten / three + honorable mentions

Jazz Top Ten (new releases)
1. Mary Halvorson - Amaryllis (Nonesuch) 
2. The Attic - Love Ghosts (NoBusiness) 
3. David Murray Brand New World Trio - Seriana Promethea (Intakt) 
4. Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity - Elastic Wave (ECM) 
5. Zoh Amba - Bhakti (Mahakala Music) 
6. John Zorn & Bill Laswell - The Cleansing (Tzadik) 
7. Secret People - self titled (Out of Your Head) 
8. Ballister - Chrysopoeia (Aerophonic/Not Two) 
9. Matthew Shipp Trio - World Construct (ESP-Disk) 
10. The Comet Is Coming - Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (Impulse!)

Jazz New Releases (honorable mention)

Akira Sakata / Takeo Moriyama - Mitochondria (Trost Records)
Francisco Mela and Zoh Amba - Causa y Efecto Vol. 1 (577 Records)
Tim Berne / Matt Mitchell - One More, Please (Intakt Records)
Avram Fefer Quartet - Juba Lee (Clean Feed Records)
Julieta Eugenio - Jump (Greenleaf Music)
Jon Irabagon - Rising Sun (Irabbagast Records)

Jazz Top Three (reissue / historical)

1. Don Ayler - In Florence 1981 (Railroad Town Music) 
2. Albert Ayler - La Cave Live Cleveland 1966 Revisited (ezz-thetics records)
3. John Coltrane, Favorites Revisited 1963-65 (ezz-thetics records)

Jazz Reissue / Historical (honorable mention)

Albert Ayler – Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings (INA / Elemental Music)
Charles Mingus - The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott's (Resonance Records)
Miles Davis Quintet - Live Europe 1960 Revisited (ezz-thetics records)
Andrew Hill - Point Of Departure To Compulsion!!!!! (ezz-thetics records)
Sam Rivers Trio - Caldera (NoBusiness Records)
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (Atlantic Records)
Ornette Coleman - Genesis Of Genius: The Contemporary Albums (Craft Recordings)

Non Jazz (new releases and reissues)

Chris Forsyth - Evolution Here We Come (No Quarter Records)
S.G. Goodman - Teeth Marks (Verve Forecast Records)
The Black Keys - Dropout Boogie (Nonesuch/Warner Records)
Neil Young - Citizen Kane Jr. Blues [Bottom Line 1974] (Shakey Pictures Records) 
The Paranoid Style - For Executive Meeting (Bar/None Records)
The Rolling Stones - El Mocambo 1977 (Rolling Stones Records)
Rich Ruth - I Survived, It's Over (Third Man Records)
Neil Young - Noise and Flowers (Reprise Records)
Dungen -  En Är För Mycket och Tusen Aldrig Nog (Mexican Summer)
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Super Deluxe (Nonesuch)
Brim - California Gold (Royal Oakie Records)
Pink Floyd - Animals 2018 Remix (Pink Floyd Records)

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Friday, December 23, 2022

Andrew Hill - Point Of Departure To Compulsion!!!!! (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

Pianist and composer Andrew Hill was at one of the peaks of his relentless creativity in 1964 and 1965 when these sessions were recorded resulting the the lauded Point of Departure album and the lesser known but equally fascinating Compulsion!!!! Jazz at this point had reached an uneasy peace with the more explicitly avant-garde players paving the way for groundbreaking musicians like Hill who had mastered the past forms of the music while looking for his own vision of the future. Recorded in March of 1964, the lineup on Point of Departure is staggering in retrospect. In addition to Hill on piano, we have Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Richard Davis on bass and Tony Williams on drums. A virtual murderers row of titans with the ability to play any compositions Hill gave them. And he gave them some wonderful tracks, beginning with the epic "Refuge" with the horns stating the urgent theme, eventually leading to a simmering area for the piano, bass and drums. Gem like solos unfurl for Dolphy on alto saxophone, Dorham, Davis, Henderson in turn before Williams who leads the group back into the theme and out. "New Monastery" has a complicated and rich theme and melody for the band to contemplate. They unfurl that knot, leading to a Dorham trumpet feature, turning into a startling Eric Dolphy mini solo. The rhythm section carries the tune for a while leading to a dignified Joe Henderson solo putting paid to this performance. Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet provides the foundation for the theme of "Spectrum" another brilliant multi-layered Hill melody. The pianist takes the lead moving through the complicated tune with bass and drum support. The horns enter in a stratified manner then allowing Dolphy's brilliant playing to shine through, before moving onto the other instruments. Davis has a rich solo segment before Dolphy soars above minimal accompaniment. He turns to flute to add texture, and the music has a sense of open ended splendor. The brief "Flight 19" features a propulsive theme built from the ground up as bass and bass clarinet provide a firm foundation for Dorham's trumpet and Hill's lush piano. The sounds weave in and around the pianist, but he is unperturbable, as is Davis, whose thick sound fills out the remainder of the track. Finally "Dedication" opens in a very emotional fashion with all of the instruments adding vibrant colors to the performance, the making room for a stellar solo by Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet. Hill's piano is lush and filling expanding to engulf the available space, the melody returns to this sad and elegiac closer. The Compulsion!!!! LP was recorded in late 1965, but wasn't released until early 1967 with Hill on piano, in the company of a very interesting band: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn, John Gilmore on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Cecil McBee and Richard Davis on bass, Joe Chambers on drums and Renaud Simmons and Nadi Qamar on percussion. The music is tough and poignant on the opening track "Compulsion" with the hand percussion combining with the drums and Hill choosing to use a much stronger attack in terms of his piano playing. It's a heady mix, with long lines of stout trumpet joining as Hill leans into his instrument in a free like manner. Gilmore joins late on saxophone, but has a lot to say, developing the ideas and pushing them further afield. The shortest track is "Legacy" which is built from percussion, piano and thick bass the music simmers with heat but never boils over. The horns lay out for the length of the track allowing Hill to develop the music among the thicket of percussion and bass. "Premonition" has a stoic opening for trumpet, and prominent bass, leading to a fine bowed bass and brass feature. Hill returns, plunging deep into his instrument, dropping depth charges of low end piano notes and chords. Gilmore enters on bass clarinet, laying out for some more excellent bowed bass before joining the band for a return to the stern theme. The final track "Limbo" is much more colorful with both horns engaged, amid cascading percussion leading to a fine punching, growling trumpet solo full of fire. Hill leads the rhythm team into more abstract territory, before ceding time to McBee who plays yet more excellent bass. Gilmore shows up near the end on tenor saxophone, pushing the band over the top and into the final lap. This pairing of Andrew Hill albums from the mid 1960s works very well, joining one of his greatest achievements, Point of Departure, which jazz fans may be acquainted with with an unheralded but more than worthy companion in Compulsion!!!! Ezz-thetics has re-mastered the music to a high level, and includes a well written essay from jazz historian Bill Shoemaker, putting the whole package into historical context. Point Of Departure To Compulsion!!!!! - Squidco

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