Saturday, February 27, 2021

Archie Shepp and Jason Moran - Let My People Go (Archieball Records, 2021)

There is a very interesting recent interview with Archie Shepp, where he talks about a conversation with his mother during his free jazz firebrand years in the mid 1960's which led him to take a different musical path, one leading to explore more melody, standards and blues. One aspect of this exploration was delving into the jazz repertoire with pianists like Horace Parlan, Mal Waldron and more. He revisits that format here, in the company of the excellent pianist Jason Moran, whose career has shown him playing everting from classic jazz to opera and free improvisation. These two musicians click right away and the music flows very well, as they play a wide ranging setlist that moves from gospel to well known jazz songs and beyond. The sacred performances are suitably reverent, like on the opening track "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" which is slow but not mournful, with the two instrumentalists paying homage to the melody and drafting a respectful improvisation before Shepp steps to the microphone and sings the longing lyrics in a hushed yet potent tone. "Go Down Moses" is performed in the same manner, sounding like a deeply hewn gospel blues with Moran providing spacious chords around which Shepp creates his own vision, and speak sings the biblical message of the composition. The centerpiece of the recording is a lengthy performance of the John Coltrane composition "Wise One" which sparks some more fiery playing from the participants with an inspired duo improvisation and a particularly effervescent solo piano section for Moran. Duke Ellington's "Isfahan" was originally a ballad centerpiece for the great saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and it works particularly well in this stripped down setting. Moran is able to provide the scaffolding of melody and rhythm, allowing Shepp to craft a patient and lilting solo characterized by the expression of the ballad saxophone throughout jazz history from Lester Young to Ben Webster on to Hodges and beyond. Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" is a fine choice for the duo, with Shepp's saxophone providing an experienced and unique reading of the melody, and leading them into an area ripe for improvisation as a duet or for Moran's crystalline and spare solo section, they explore the song in their own way making it fresh and thoughtful. This album worked quite well, with any difference in age and conception quickly falling away, leading to a combined approach that allows them to tackle the material with fresh ears and create in the moment with feeling and spontaneity. Let My People Go - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fire! - Defeat (Rune Grammofon, 2021)

Whether performing as a storming large ensemble or a smaller, more mobile and nimble unit, Fire! is always a fascinating and rewarding group to follow. Multi saxophonist Mats Gustafson is the erstwhile leader adding quite a bit of flute on this this album as well, along with Johan Berthling on bass guitar and Andreas Werlin drums. Joining them on this album are Goran Kajfes on quartertone trumpet, Mats Aleklint on trombone, sousaphone and horn arrangements. The trio plus brass gets a very interesting sound throughout the album, as the sousaphone and trombone add just the right amount of texture to allow the trio to improvise widely. The opening track, “The Random Belt. Rats You Out” uses Gustafson’s flute widely, developing a strong and fluid sound as the bass and drums build in. With the trombone entering, he moves to saxophone, playing in a raw and guttural manner, adding long peals of sound as the group riffs grandly behind him. “Each Millimeter of the Toad, Part 2” develops an excellent bass and percussion groove right off the bat, with subterranean saxophone and horns bubbling up, getting exciting as the saxophonist opens up with blasts of raw sounds against the ominous backdrop, molding this into a scouring solo funneled by punchy brass and elastic bass and drums. A lengthy section of excellent percussion opens “Defeat (Only Further Apart)” paving the way for the remainder of the instruments to fill in, thick bass and drums supporting a wall of brass and saxophone, bubbling and simmering through to the conclusion. This is an very good album that stretches definition, bringing together aspects of jazz, post-rock, experimental music and more into a demonstration of energetic freedom. Defeat - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Cecil Taylor - Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

After more than a decade of struggle: for respect, for equality, for even a chance to perform or record his groundbreaking music, this collection demonstrates pianist Cecil Taylor finally getting a chance to record for major labels, to perform at large festivals and hopefully attract a wider audience. The first chance was for Impulse Records in 1961, as one half of a split LP, something not often seen in jazz but would become much more common as pop music evolved into rock ‘n’ roll, particularly punk. A punk on his own right, Taylor’s music was met on the flip side with the immaculately arranged big band music of Gil Evans, whose name and image were placed prominently on the cover of the album to Taylor's detriment. Three excellent tracks from this session presented, but in particular, the performance "Mixed” where trumpeter Ted Curson and Roswell Rudd on trombone were added to the core band of Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Henry Grimes on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. This lengthy track brings everything together, the newness of free or atonal playing, melded with swing, bebop and deep blues. Five years later, he brought a similarly sized group to Blue Note Records to record the Unit Structures LP with Lyons and Ken McIntyre on alto saxophone, Eddie Gale on trumpet, Grimes and Alan Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. The four performances on this album are challenging in the sense of asking deep engagement from the listener, but reward so widely where improvisation flows forth without fear, allowing the musicians to strike out for the territory and forge ahead, widening the scope and breadth of jazz. The spirit of freedom and inquiry that Taylor brought to his music is on clear display on this collection, which was been very well remastered and given a new set of liner notes by jazz authority Brian Morton. Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited - squidco.com

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Juozas Milašius, Tomas Kutavičius, Dalius Naujokaitis and Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra - Live at Willisau, 1993 (NoBusiness Records, 2020)

This is an unusual an interesting album, a collaboration between Juozas Milašius on guitar, Tomas Kutavičius on piano and Dalius Naujokaitis on drums along side the Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra: Vytas Labutis on saxophones plus cymbal, clapping, trampling and Vilija Naujokaitienė, Vaidas Urmilevičius and Gintarė Skėrytė on vocal, cymbal, clapping and trampling. The opening track, "String Walker," is an excellent feature for guitarist Milašius as he develops grinding friction sounds on his instrument, picking up speed like a revving motorbike leading to an over amped electric improvised section. Piano enters with vocalizing on "Sailor's Nightmare," adding skittish guitar and percussion; the music tumbles and bounds freely, nearly stopping entirely before adding waves of guitar, with dynamic shifts from heavy darker playing to lighter whimsical moments. Multiple vocalists and saxophone really up the ante in an exciting way with both ensembles truly powered up, and including lengthy percussion interludes. A spare piano outlet shakes free, trading with near tribal percussion, leading to a scouring full group section at warp speed, sounding completely unpredictable. "Play Me" dispenses squalls of harrowing free jazz right from the start, as the saxophone cries and drums thrash, creating a maelstrom that is something to behold. Just when you think it cant get any more intense, the music falls off a cliff, dropping to an unearthly quiet using only the barest of sounds, tones of guitar with peeps and squeals, finishing with the antithesis of the heat that came before. Concluding with "Reflection Nebula," there is a graceful piano opening as group begins to assemble, soft saxophone entering as the drums try to push a little but the tempo remains languid. After a solo piano coda, the group is rewarded with well deserved rapturous applause. This album worked quite well, it was an excellent meeting of the minds between an established trio of veteran jazz musicians and a quartet of up and coming students in the crucible of live performance at a major jazz festival. Everyone acquits themselves well, making for a powerful and continuously surprising collection of music. Live at Willisau, 1993 - NoBusiness Records

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Katarsis4 - Live At The Underground Water Reservoir (NoBusiness Records, 2021)

This interesting and unusual album was recorded live in September of 2019 in an underground water reservoir in Vilnius, Lithuania. The band consists of Arminas Bizys on alto and baritone saxophone, Algirdas Janonis on alto saxophone and hornpipe, Danielius Pancerovas on baritone and alto saxophones and Kazimieras Jušinskas on soprano, alto saxophones. The group presents two lengthy improvisations that meld together into a single performance that flows though their horns and the reverberation of the reservoir, beginning with a frosty and cold sensation which sees the instruments gradually building in from silence as if they were quietly emerging from the water of the reservoir itself. The music develops slowly, creeping up on you, juxtaposed with grinding industrial sounds, and surprising snaps of loud noises, sounding almost like gunshots. Sounding at times like a soundtrack for a dystopian film, the musicians are building an ominous and atmospheric musical edifice through great patience. Part Two of the performance takes things even further, stretching time and space as the sounds of their instruments are transformed by the reflection and refraction of their playing within the special atmosphere of the reservoir. Playing together, they scale heights of volume and intensity and then drop back down, using the dynamic rise of creating surprisingly raw and emotional sounds in the open space, followed by fall of the music into near silence push their sound forward, This was a courageous and well played album, with the group aware of the surroundings, which expand their possibilities and using extended and advanced techniques on their instruments to create a unique sound world all their own. Live At The Underground Water Reservoir - NoBusness Records

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Archie Shepp - Blase And Yasmina Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

1969 marked a fascinating year in music as some of the most talented African-American avant-garde jazz musicians took leave of the racism and political divisiveness of their home country to move to Paris, where performing and recording opportunities were more plentiful, and they were treated in a more respectful manner. Saxophonist Archie Shepp was one of these expatriates, taking a break from his Impulse Records contract to record several albums for European labels, two of which are represented on this compilation. His 1969 BYG/Actuel album Blase is presented in full and it is a fascinating project. Vocalist Jeanne Lee is particularly brilliant, showing incredible range, moving from smoldering soul of the title track to the gospel of “There is a Balm in Gildead” and the gentle swing of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” Shepp is generous in his arrangements, including the harmonica player known only as Chicago Beau and offering him quite a bit of space on “My Angel” and “Blase.” Beau adds a rootsy sounds and deepens the overall texture of the music, as other players flit in and out of individual tracks, Dave Burrell adding touches of piano, and Lester Bowie adding trumpet and flugelhorn. The final track on Blase is the scalding "Touareg" where Shepp meets Malachai Favors from the Art Ensemble of Chicago on bass and veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones on drums. The music is fast and powerful, as Shepp doubles down on his tenor saxophone playing pushing the tempo forward. Philly Joe may have been rooted in swing and bop, but he was game for anything, and he locks in with the two younger men for an excellent performance. The final track on this compilation is a very exciting twenty minute blowout entitled "Yasmina" where Shepp leads an excellent nine piece band on tenor saxophone and urgent voice, really pushing the envelope. Recruiting members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago like Roscoe Mitchell on powerful and stoic bass saxophone, Lester Bowie on trumpet, along side the masterful Sunny Murray on drums making for a potent and viscerally exciting modern jazz performance. This was a well done compilation, presenting some of Archie Shepp's best work for BYG/Actuel, remastered in such a way that it brings out the nuances of the music and the personalities of the players that performed it, the CD also includes a well written essay from Bill Shoemaker that puts the music into historical context. Blase And Yasmina Revisited - Squidco

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Friday, February 05, 2021

Steve Swell - The Center Will Hold (Not Two Records, 2021)

This is a very exciting and well articulated modern jazz band, with an interesting range of instruments that allows for a rich and varied palette of sound. The group is made up of the leader and composer of the tracks, Steve Swell on trombone, Jason Kao Hwang on violin, viola and electronics, Ariel Bart on harmonica, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics, Robert Boston on piano and organ and featured musician, Andrew Cyrille on drums and percussion. With a couple of the members doubling on electronics, the music has a wide ranging and continuously developing atmosphere, where the proceedings certainly are anchored in jazz and free jazz but willing to go anywhere their electro-acoustic improvisations took them. The entire group as a whole is excellent, but I was particularly impressed with the harmonica player, Ariel Bart. I am used to hard hitting Chicago blues harp playing, and often find jazz harmonica playing limpid and uninspired. Bart on the other hand is surprising throughout the recording, whether in support or soloing, with strong technique and deep imagination. But really, the whole recording works like a charm from Swell’s blustery trombone leads to Lonberg-Holm’s always unpredictable cello and jolts of electronic work. Holding it all together is the legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille, playing in his unique loose and multi rhythmic style that supports and encourages the music from beginning to end. The Center Will Hold - amazon.com

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