Sunday, December 16, 2018

Howard Riley - Live in the USA (No Business, 2018)

The British pianist Howard Riley spent time studying, teaching and playing in the States as well as in his home country, and it is this nomadic spirit that allowed his playing and technique to develop continuously throughout his career. Riley notes in the brief liner section that he was experiencing a period of transition when these solo performances were recorded in New York City and Buffalo during the mid 1970's. The sound of the album is crisp and clear allowing the listener to hear Riley explore the entirety of they keyboard, beginning with the opening track where he frames his improvisation by playing inside the piano for a bit, creating unusual sounds that are then absorbed by his more conventional piano playing. Conventional doesn't mean stilted though, given the strength and the imagination that Riley can call upon in developing improvisations that are capable of building hypnotic narrative structures and sections of freedom that can last twenty minutes or more. The music is somewhat reminiscent of the fully improvised solo piano albums and concerts which Cecil Taylor used to perform, like Silent Tongues or For Olim. The warm accessible sections will be mixed with bracing cascading cells of freely improvised piano, and the dynamic nature of these yin and yang opposites provide the locomotion that drives the music relentlessly forward, or spontaneously composing, using the length and breadth of the instrument. The second two performances show the exciting exploration of a musician who is in the process of refining his talent, approach to the keyboard and the arts of composition and improvisation, allowing him to adjust his performance by extending and expanding his personal approach to the instrument. His skill and technique are at a very high level, but they don't overwhelm the listener and the music remains thought provoking throughout the disc, with a sense of narrative which seems to propel the sound, texture, and shading of his music. Riley is a channel for the musical information and technique to flow, refining his music as both a concept and a language, and is is fascinating to hear. This is a minimally designed package with a brief statement from Riley and discographical information. The music contained within is memorable, that of a major player during a period of growth and renewal. Riley's music is complex but never overwhelming, and fans and students of modern improvised piano should take note. Live in the USA - No Business Records

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Wadada Leo Smith and Sabu Toyozumi - Burning Meditation (No Business, 2018)

This is a sublimely beautiful duet recording featuring Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, koto, bamboo flute, voice and percussion and Sabu Toyozumi and drums and percussion. It was recorded in Yamaguchi, Japan in March of 1994 and saw a limited release at the time before being picked up by No Business for a wider release in 2018. It does not take long for the music to elevate to a high degree of clarity with Smith's excellent trumpet playing meeting Toyozumi's stellar drumming on the opening selection, "Creative Music -1- Red Mountain Garden, Wild Irises and Glacier Lines" a very lengthy selection, like the following performance, "Burning Meditation – Uprising" selections which are are played with a strong sense of creative consciousness, even when the music is at its most intense it is never shrill or overbearing. The music was composed spontaneously, but proceeds with a sense of grace that is ever present in their music. Smith is mostly known for his trumpet work and justly so, but it is fascinating to hear different sides of his musical personality come into play on tracks like "Don Cherry, A Silver Flute Song" where he plays large and small bamboo flutes. Like Smith, Cherry was originally known for his trumpet playing with Ornette Coleman, but toured the world, adding flutes and many other instruments to his repertoire. Smith plays quite beautifully, improvising with a light, dancing sense of fluid elegance that carries into the next track, "There are Human Rights Blues," where he sings, chants, and speaks with a shy yet authoritative voice allowing pauses for breath and to allow Toyozumi's evocative percussion work to weave its way into the performance making for a powerful and memorable duet that leads into their final track, "Stars, Lightning Bugs and Chrysanthemum Flowers." This is an excellent album, and it is wonderful to have it more widely available, with new liner notes in English and Japanese from the original record producer and some nice period pictures included. The remastering is excellent, this is a delicate album, one you want yo get close to, and the transparent warmth of the sound makes that possible. Burning Meditation - No Business Records

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Nick Millevoi / Desertion Trio w/ Jamie Saft - Midtown Tilt (Shhpuma, 2018)

Melding genres and subgenres into a melting pot of fascinating music, this group consists of Nick Millevoi on guitar, Johnny DeBlase on electric bass, Kevin Shea drums, Jamie Saft on organ and Ashley Tini on vibes and shakers. Using the kaleidoscopic fantasia of psychedelic rock and the intricacy of highly improvised jazz, the group creates a very successful and unique amalgamation of sounds and imagined images. Opening with the title track, "Midtown Tilt," which has a genteel almost country-ish feeling from the guitar and keyboard, like something The Band would jam on as the music swells and relaxes before finding its level as the group reaches out to explore the groove it has created with tendrils of organ and lashing percussion clearing the path for some snarling guitar leads. The music reaches a powerful crescendo coming in great waves before breaking into final surge to an epic conclusion. "Numbers Maker" has a tight and slinky groove for the organ and percussion, and the addition of grinding guitar pushes the music further along, into spacey cinematic territory. The insistent organ with the bass and drums carry the groove allowing the guitar to act at will, soloing across hypnotic, repetitive keyboards and slashing drums, or gliding along an organ groove into inner space. "Jai Alai Noon" comes across like the theme to a spaghetti western of the mind, as the group cuts an ever changing groove through the dusty desert sand, with long waves of organ anchoring slashing electric guitar and rumbling bass, creating music that would be just as much at home at the Fillmore in 1968 or the Vision Festival in 2018. Millevoi cuts loose in a devastating guitar solo, Neil Young by way of Sonny Sharrock, and the rest of the group teases such bands as Lifetime and Love Cry Want. Saft takes on the trickster role throughout the album, playing the organ with authority and devastating wit. Rocking hard, "The Carideon" comes out blazing, the full band tightly wound as the group looks for new vistas to explore led by spindly guitar and waves of droning organ, while thick bass and slashing drums stoke the fire. A strong electric guitar solo is seen really pushing the group outward, beyond boundaries out into space and beyond, with colorful organ lighting the way, Saft takes over with a passionate display of keyboard technique and interplay. The band returns for a driving collective improvisation to the finish line of this excellent and highly recommended album. Midtown Tilt - amazon.com

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Charles Mingus - Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden (BBE, 2018)

2018 has given jazz fans a wealth of interesting historical performances, from a long lost John Coltrane studio session to stellar live sets from Milford Graves and David S. Ware. This is a sprawling 5-CD collection of the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus, selected radio broadcasts drawn from a week long residency at the Strata Concert Gallery in Detroit recorded during February of 1973. The Mingus band at this time was made up of John Stubblefield on tenor saxophone, Joe Gardner on trumpet, Don Pullen on piano and Roy Brooks on drums. Mingus had gone through an intense period of personal hardship and mental illness in the late 1960's and early 1970's, but was on the comeback trail, recording with Columbia and Atlantic before finally passing away far too young from ALS in 1979. He sounds tired and somewhat subdued in his spoken introductions for the band on these recordings, but belies that with the stamina that still existed in his performing ability, as his thick and resonant bass is the fulcrum around which the band revolves, remaining as massive a presence as he had been since the 1950's. Pullen is a joy to hear on these recordings, and a perfect selection for the group (his confederate George Adams would replace Stubblefield on the Changes One and Two Atlantic LP's.) His knowledge of and ability to tap into the entirety of of jazz history with an unusual technique made him something of a modern update of Jaki Byard's post in the classic 1964 Mingus band. Another surprise is that longtime confederate Dannie Richmond had temporarily split from Mingus, so the talented hard bop drummer Roy Brooks (who is also interviewed at length) keeps the rhythm percolating. The repertoire that the band plays over the course of the recordings draws predominantly from Mingus original material, with two versions of his groundbreaking composition "Pithecanthropus Erectus" which musically depicts the rise and fall of mankind. The two versions here clock in at twenty five and nearly twenty minutes apiece and allow the musicians to explore the arrangement, and allow for excellent solo space for Stubblefields's gruff tenor and Pullen's cascading piano. Two takes of the Gillespie nod "Dizzy Profile" show the group experimenting with waltz time and feature stellar and patiently constructed trumpet features. "C Jam Blues" takes the Ellington piece into the stratosphere, playing off of the famous riff and developing into a series of explosive improvisations and developments, particularly a brawny section for Stubblefield and Brooks to throw down with Mingus and Pullen framing the action, before Brooks takes over for a hell raising drum solo. Overall, this is an excellent collection, the music may be familiar in its melodies, especially for Mingus fans, but the musicians relentlessly improvise and explore creating creating new ground as they grow. For a brief time you are a fly on the wall at a small club gig from one of the music's finest ever practitioner's. It's hard to turn that down. Jazz In Detroit / Strat Concert Gallery / 46 Selden - amazon.com

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Monday, December 10, 2018

John Zorn - Salem 1692 (Tzadik, 2018)

One of the darkest yet most fascinating eras of American history was the brief, incandescent burst of mass hysteria known as the Salem Witch Trials. Composer John Zorn taps an excellent quartet consisting of Trevor Dunn on bass, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg and Julian Lage on guitars to play his evocative music based on this event. "The Devil Bid Me Serve Him" opens the album with a rush of barbed wire guitar and bass and explosive percussion, the music thrives on the tension that it can build and resolve with fast paced and complex music that is intricate yet still carries the heaviness of the most powerful fusion or progressive rock. Scalding guitars meet relentless drumming which takes the performance unto overdrive, in a very exciting and passionate manner. "Tituba" was one of the first women to be accused of witchcraft, race hatred and misogyny represented by powerfully heavy riffs, and slashing drums, that evoke some of the madness of the period. Fast and very complex interplay between the four musicians take the guitars showering sparks as  they cut through the thicket of bass and drums. Blasting drums solo and in consort, erupt into a mind bending dialogue with the other musicians take the music into psychedelic overdrive. "Witness to an Invisible World" keeps the pace fast and frenetic as the music plows relentlessly forward. Scalding fast guitar over bubbling bass and overloaded drums push everything into the red, and the music will shrift into different sections with a beat of silence between each one, but the main theme of the performance remains faster, harder and it is very impressive to hear. A witch hunting manual, "Malleus Malleficarum" is led by ferocious drumming and a domineering and vicious overall attack by the musicians at their loudest and most brutal. The amps may be cranked, but there are still interesting sub-themes and riffs that are present throughout the performance that give the group energy to burn as they roar through the short but memorable track. Tracks like "Dark of the Moon" and "Spellbound" show the band creating quieter, ethereal and appropriately haunting music evoking specters and creatures from realms beyond, while, "Under and Evil Hand" is a blistering jazz-metal track that shows the harsh and often arbitrary punishment given to the accused. The band builds monstrous riffs along with slashing cymbals, with guitar that sounds like the rending of souls. A memorable line from witness deposition is the title of the final piece, "I Will Not Write in Your Book Though You Do Kill Me!" and the trio echoes the this defiant statement with crashing, deeply focused waves of sound that seem to break upon a rocky shore like a tempest, with cyclonic drumming and layer upon layer of guitar riffing. Salem 1692 - amazon.com

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Saturday, December 08, 2018

Fred Hersch Trio '97 - @ the Village Vanguard (Palmetto, 2018)

Pianist Fred Hersch had played at the Village Vanguard as a sideman since 1979 but it wasn't until the summer of 1997 that he led a group at the famous venue with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This trio had been playing together for five years at that point and that experience shone through beginning with "Easy to Love," which opened the set at a nimble and fast pace, with deft brush work and strong bass playing grounding Hersch's dynamic leaping from loud flourishes to softer asides. The melodic nature of the music really takes hold, and however far they may roam in their improvisations, the melody remains the guidepost for the performance. The excitement developed by crashing, cascading chords and lightning fast runs down the piano is not to be underestimated, and the crisp play of the bass and drums is the perfect accompaniment and partnership. The bass and drums take a subtle bow of their own during the middle of the performance a subtle dance with light piano comping shifting the attention toward the rhythmic end of the performance. Surprisingly powerful drumming leads the group back into the melody and the final push to the conclusion of a delightful performance. Unfolding at a brisk clip, "Three Little Words" has a sense of lightness and danceability aided by the gentle percussion and pulsating bass and the careful way Hersch picks out the notes he chooses, even at high speed. The improvisation unfolds in a bouncy and bright manner, very accessible and forthright, the band playing very well together as they deconstruct the song and leave their own imprint upon it. Hersch bounds joyously over the upper register of the keyboard, trading phrases with the ever inventive Rainey, like two old friends having a witty conversation. "I Wish I Knew" has a subdued piano opening, solo is but soon joined with bass and drums which quickly liven up the emotional nature of the music, settling into a stately medium tempo. The trio swings grandly, gradually working the music into their own shape with the piano developing a deeper and more resonant sound, with elasting bass and drums allowing their trio improvisation to evolve in an impressive fashion. Hersch tumbles into "You Don't Know What Love Is" as the sets finale with wonderfully fractured sounding drumming allowing the music to stretch and breathe but keep its thematic center at the same time. Rainey is a wonder, subtly twisting the rhythm and changing things up, while the piano and bass charge ahead in a very exciting manner. There is a fine bass solo backed by fast light cymbal play, then the band coalesces once more before charging for the finish line. Trio 97 @ The Village Vanguard - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser (Columbia 1967, 1996)

Composer and pianist Thelonious Monk's Columbia Records recordings are occasionally disparaged as not being quite as vital as the records for Riverside and Blue Note that came before them. This is unfortunate, as it was Columbia that allowed Monk's stature to increase beyond musicians and die hard fans, gave him a chance to tour the world and appear on the cover of prominent magazines and add a stable income to what his heroic wife Nellie was bringing in. This album, not to be confused with the Monk documentary of the same name (which is well worth watching) this is the 1996 extended edition of the album originally recorded in November of 1966 and January of 1967 with his stalwart group including Larry Gales on bass, Ben Riley on drums and Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone. The 1996 version is markedly different than the original LP that was released in 1967, at that time, significant editing needed to be done to the performances to have them fit into the LP format. With the technological and format advances of thirty years later re-issue producer Orrin Keepnews (Teo Macero produced the original album) restored three titles to their unedited length and added two extra contemporaneously recorded performances to fill this compact disc to it's 1996 limit. The booklet contains a few period photographs of Monk, but it mostly given over to Keepnews' original 1967 liner essay and a new set of 1996 reissue liner notes. The music is a joy to listen to, being a mix of Monk originals (he wasn't writing as much new material at this stage, but was still producing) and his unique take on the music of Duke Ellington, some well worn standards and a very interesting extended exploration of a Japanese folk song. A lot of Monk material, notably on the live albums, but also studio sessions fell under the editor's blade, none more than "Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki)" which is restored to a near seventeen minute running time with the bass and percussion interludes included. It's necessary to hear the performance as a whole, to understand the organic level in which the whole group worked together to create their music. "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and the brief "This is My Story, This is My Song" are lovely unaccompanied Monk performances, Monk's angular approach makes even the oldest standard fresh, while keeping the melody and thematic story well in mind. Of the Monk compositions, one of his last, "Green Chimneys" is included as a bonus track, while the band delivers wonderful treatments of "Locomotive," "We See" and the title track, playing at an inspirational level as they as they are on the two takes of the Ellington number "I Didn't Know About You." There's a lot to unpack on this album, one of his last for Columbia and not long before he would fade from public view altogether. It's definitely worth checking out, the CD can be had for a song or through your streaming service of choice, and Monk's music is the gift that keeps on giving. Straight, No Chaser - amazon.com

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