Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thumbscrew - Theirs (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is the second album released this spring by the excellent modern jazz trio Thumbscrew. The band is made up of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass, and this is a collection that covers the works of other composers while the other album Ours, consisted of original works. They begin the album with the song “Stablemates” by Benny Golson, nodding to the funky hard bop roots of the original version, while adding sky accents of soaring guitar to the crisp and gently grooving rhythm. “Benzihno” by Brazilian composer Jacob Do Bandolim is a sharper edged uptempo performance, where the band is able to take the source material and make their own statement, molding it like clay into a powerful collective improvisation. Herbie Nichols was sadly ignored during his lifetime, but generations of jazz musicians have been enthralled by his his distinctive compositions and piano playing. The band takes his “House Party Starting” to new heights with a lengthy exploration of the song and its possibilities, loosening the strings that tie it to the jazz orthodoxy and building a free ranging improvisation, one that allows there to be solos and mighty trio improvisation complete with colorful guitar playing, firm bass playing and brisk and decisive drumming. Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" is a fine feature for guitarist Mary Halvorson, and she makes the most of it by demonstrating her unique approach to the instrument, one that is never flashy, yet uses notes and chords in a way that is unexpected, throwing off sparks while hewing to the underlying rhythmic construct of the performance. The choice of Wayne Shorter's composition "Dance Cadaverous" is an inspired one, since the mysterious, open ended nature of Shorter's writing suits the band very well. Without being deliberately enigmatic, the music stays fluid and conforms no fixed shape, bending to external ideas that the band members bring to the performance. Halvorson's guitar sneaks through the undergrowth and then emits qualls of neon tinted notes in the midst of tumbling percussion and taut bass playing. "Weer is een dag voorbij" by Misha Mengelberg is a perfect closer for this album, and they nod to the composer's impish sense of humor with a enlivening and decisive performance that is especially pleasing and attractive in the manner of playing that focuses on band unity and togetherness. The music of Thumbscrew is powerful and particularly interesting, as they have delineated their own personal sound, one that can approach an album of covers while maintaining their identity and delivering a remarkable performance. Theirs - amazon.com

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Thumbscrew - Ours (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is a double dose of good news with the excellent trio Thumbscrew consisting of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass reconvening for two albums on the great Cuneiform Records imprint which nearly shut down earlier this year do to financial constraints. This album focuses on the group's original compositions, beginning with "Snarling Joys," a track that opens with some taut bass playing and layered percussion, with subtle guitar playing adding color to the mix. There is a nimble melody that the musicians develop with the resulting improvisation becoming quite intricate, as the guitar adds slurred accents to the sharp picking and the bass and drums create a very interesting rhythmic counterweight. Their collective improvisation drops into a spacious bass solo with quiet cymbal tapping, allowing the music to be characterized by constant change and progress. The fascinatingly titled "Cruel Heartless Bastards" has an ominous rhythmic approach of lumbering bass and drums that occasionally sprint ahead, giving the music a slightly off kilter feel. When the guitar comes in, this sensibility of fractured music that is continuously changing shape is reinforced, with the music becoming more powerful after the halfway point of the performance as shimmering otherworldly sounding guitar sounds meld with shape shifting percussion and agile bass playing to excellent effect. Their trio improvisation is very impressive and melds elements of rock and electronic music into the improvised jazz context. "One Day" opens with spare and probing guitar work, in an unaccompanied solo that sets a mysterious vibe as the quiet bass and drums glide in. Their music never resolves like you think it might, keeping the listener on their toes with brushed percussion and thick bass playing and the patience and trust that the musicians have for one another, allowing the music to slowly and gradually evolve without rushing or forcing anything. The pace of the performance to gradually increases in volume and tempo as the music evolves in an organic manner to a fine conclusion. There is a gentler sensibility to "Words That Rhyme With Spangle" with a floating aspect to the music that develops into an anchoring beat, allowing the bass and guitar to range free and allow the music to shine with a soft tremulous light, with glints of electric guitar like shooting stars across the music's field of view. The band developed most of this music during a residency in Pittsburgh, which allowed them room to focus on composition and interpretation, with the payoff being the production of excellent and unique music. Ours - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Angles 3 - Parede (Clean Feed, 2018)

Angles 3 is the stripped down trio version of the great medium sized modern jazz bands Angles 8 and Angles 9 who have put out some of the best progressive jazz of the past several years. This version of the group consists of Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums and percussion and Martin Kuchen on tenor and soprano saxophone. It adds up to a stellar album that was recorded live in Parede, Portugal during November of 2016. They distill the essence of their music from American free jazz and European free improvisation, leveraging ferocious playing with snatches of bop like themes delivered with passion and grace. "Equity and Death (Mothers, Fathers, Where Are Ye)" opens the album with bass and drums developing a foundational beat, with the saxophone probing at the edges as the group gathers strength and inertia. The trio builds to an exciting and scouring brand of free improvisation, with dynamic shifts and crushing cymbal beats. This leads the band back to cruising speed, like a fine motor building velocity through gear shifts. The raw and rending tenor saxophone that Kuchen achieves is arresting and adds a deeply compelling feeling to the band's performance. "Satan in Plain Clothes" has a Håker Flaten solo bass opening that is patient and well articulated, with the tenor saxophone and drums diving in, keeping things fresh, as the rhythm section and ripe saxophone develop a powerful collective improvisation. They build from a medium tempo to a loud roar, with yelps of encouragement to take things ever higher. The rolling drums and imperturbable bass bring the noise as the saxophonist briefly lays out before returning for a mighty conclusion. The epic near twenty-three minute track "Francisco / By Way of Deception" has thick waves of high intensity trio improvisation pushing forth, being totally in the moment, as Kuchen switches to soprano saxophone changing the nature of the improvisation as he gains a personal pinched sound for an unaccompanied solo section followed by a grand exploration of space and time by the full trio. This is very exciting as the soprano saxophone carves a narrow twisting path through the broad bass and drums. The rhythm section pummels mercilessly in a thrilling manner before dropping into a towering trio conclusion. The concluding track is "Don't Ruin Me / Love Flee Thy House (In Breslau)" which is a sprawling seventeen minute masterwork where the low and subtly playing bass and drums catch fire and begin to burn with rough hewn saxophone adding fuel to the fire. They build a dynamic loud / soft way of playing that is very effective in ramping up the tension, leading to another very effective bass solo, and stick the landing with a high powered trio improvisation proving a vehement conclusion to this wonderful live album. Parede - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Dave Holland - Uncharted Territories (Dare2, 2018)

The great bassist and composer Dave Holland may be best known from the compelling mainstream quintets he has lead, and by his early association with Miles Davis. But he has vast experience in the more experimental realms, in associations with Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton and most importantly for this album, saxophonist and free improvisation pioneer Evan Parker. This is a fascinating two disc studio album that brings Holland together with Parker, percussionist Ches Smith, and pianist Craig Taborn. They shift and move into varying configurations to keep in the music fresh, and they results are positive, playing experimental jazz with confidence and authority. "Thought on Earth" opens gradually with bowed bass and vibes creating a hushed atmosphere, with Parker's saxophone playing soft melodic swirls. Spare piano and the switch to plucked bass gradually changes the music as it becomes louder and more frenetic, coalescing into an exciting collective improvisation. There is a spirited and quickly moving aspect to "Q and A" with vibes playing off against piano as the saxophone makes filigrees of its own, buckling down into a fast and nimble three way improvisation, that darts in unexpected directions. "QT12" has long tones of saxophone paired with gentle and evanescent piano playing and thick elastic bass. Things evolve quickly however, and we are soon faced with a very exciting quartet improvisation that is fast and loud, moving into classical free jazz territory in a fresh and interesting way, with Holland's muscular bass powering the band and allowing Parker to take flight when needed with ample support. The outlier "Organ Vibes V1" is quite interesting in developing unexpected textures from the two instruments which aren't often found together. The music slowly comes together across a drone from the organ as the vibes chime patiently, developing a sustained ringing sound that is ceremonial in nature, before they come together for an eerie and haunting duet section. "QT5" has the band developing a sound of freedom and spare interaction that gradually grows more intense pith the piano bass and drums offering an ever shifting complement to Parker's swathes of saxophone. The spaciousness that is at the heart of this improvisation allows the musicians to move in their own space and interact with each other as their roles overlap. The duet "Tenor Bass W1" is a highlight of the album, with these two veteran musicians showing their masterful tones and command of their instruments in a sympatico improvisation. "Piano Bass Percussion T2" allows the rhythm section to take the stand and explore in a wide open arena, that makes for scattered and skittish rhythm where the results ebb and flow showing the way in which three instruments have an effect on each other in an almost Newtonian sense. The album is wrapped up with "QW1" a ten minute summation that progresses slowly by degrees, with spare notes and tones hanging in open space, which ever so slowly gets filled in with resonant bass, shimmering cymbals and long arcing tones of saxophone, finally resulting in a collective improvisation of rare grace. Uncharted Territories - amazon.com

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Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog - YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy, 2018)

Guitarist and songwriter Marc Ribot acts as the conscious of social justice within the modern music community, with his passionate avocation for the rights of musicians. Ceramic Dog is his most provocative and political of his many bands, and on this disc he is responsible for guitars, keyboards and vocals with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and keyboards and Ches Smith on drums, electronics and vocals. The music has a DIY punk aesthetic that pushes the boundaries of rock, jazz and social commentary. They plant their flag in the ground right away with "Personal Nancy" declaring that the rights and privileges of American citizens are vital, no matter who is in power, and the lashing, slashing music makes the band's commitment is laser focused. There is a slinky groove to open "Pennsylvania 6 6666" but the lyrics make clear things are not as idyllic as they may seem, with racism, violence and intolerance bubbling just below the placid surface. Mauricio Herrera guests on congas with Doug Wieselman sits in on flute, developing a rhythmic powerful sensibility. They build a great fast paced groove with the extra musicians and adding some horn accents to the mix. Things get gnarly on "Agnes" with snarling guitars and pounding bass and drums with distorted vocals. The music courts danger, and the players are challenging themselves with the proggy synth smears, and funhouse vibe. "Oral Sidney With A "U" is an instrumental that has a gritty city connection to it, shot through with veins of electronics and experimentation. The thick electric bass and subtle drumming show the group developing an innovative style. The title track "YRU Still Here?" has a surprising acoustic quality, with world weary vocals, as the band fills in the soundscape gradually keeping the hint of the blues while framing the vocals and their sense of exhaustion, that takes off toward the end of the performance with some majestic electric guitar playing. The protest song "Muslim Jewish Resistance" is an absolute powerhouse with riveting music and chant along vocals that wouldn't sound out of place in a socially conscious hardore band. The vow of "never again" is particularly powerful when framed by squalls of free jazz and their opposition to and refusal to accept the status quo. The lengthy and atmospheric "Shut That Kid Up" is strong, no nonsense improvisation, aggressively swinging and finding a common ground where the Mahavishnu Orchestra meet Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society. "Fuck La Migra" is their most aggressive track, with the classic line stating that the "president is dumber than an artichoke." The album is a bracing jolt of energy that defies easy categorization moving from prog to punk and raucous electric jazz. YRU Still Here - amazon.com

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Friday, June 08, 2018

Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming (Nonesuch, 2018)

Saxophonist and composer Joshua Redman is joined by Brian Blade on drums and percussion, Scott Colley on bass and Ron Miles on trumpet for an album inspired by his father Dewey's band, Old and New Dreams. That band was inspired by their mentor, Ornette Coleman, continuing acoustically as Coleman moved on into a new direction od electronic music. "New Year" begins the album with an exciting and fast paced full band opening theme and melody opening, followed by fast but well controlled saxophone with crisp rhythm accompaniment, and a strong and punchy trumpet interlude, along with bass and drums trading short sections. The jaunty theme has echoes of classic period Coleman lines and Redman and Miles jettison the rhythm briefly for some Ornette / Done Cherry freestyling. There is a brisk harmonized horn opening on "Unanimity," with the bass and drums dropping in and out, before laying down a firm foundation for Redman's exploratory saxophone solo. The trio moves at a very fast clip with Blade's active drumming driving the music ever forward. A choppy re-statement of the theme launches Miles into a solo slot, where he plays with grace and fluidity along with thick bass and rolling percussion. The band comes together nicely for a freebop collective improvisation that carries them through to the conclusion. "Haze and Aspirations" develops a thoughtful and spare bass solo that leads the group into a winsome theme framed by subtle brushed percussion, as the horns play melancholy lines that are attractive and appealing within the context of the overall theme. The horns have a light touch and play together very well, before branching out for individual medium tempo solos. Colley is at the center of this whole performance and his playing is delicate and precise throughout, with a deep tone and understated virtuosity.  There is slow and steady approach to "It's Not the Same," leading to music of depth, as the horns twist and turn around one another like a double helix and minimal percussion and bass keep the groove open to any possibility, leading into "Blues for Charis" which has a bluesy saxophone opening soulful and genuine feeling. The other musicians gradually fold in, starting with bass, then drums and trumpet, with everybody pulling together for a memorable and evocative theme. The quartet's improvisation grows much more strident and free, reaching deep within themselves for music of great impact. The horn solos continue this trend, with tight bass and drums complementing them the whole way, before the music moves back to the moody theme for the final finish. "Playing" has resonant bowed bass under thoughtful saxophone and trumpet, beginning in a pastel and painterly fashion, before insistent drums move in and change the pace of the performance entirely to a fast wide open improvisation that takes the theme and uses it for a wide ranging improvised section for the whole band together focusing on the unit as a whole rather then individual musician within. Fluid music that comes in dynamic waves is the nature of "Comme II," sounding open in scope but tightly controlled with bowed bass textures and yearning horn playing reaching to a scream that has an intense feeling of longing, evidenced by some of Redman's most intense playing on record. Finally "The Rest" concludes the album with stark and moody playing and an elegiac setting, one that gradually rises in volume and intensity, cultivating an emotional middle section that is characterized by intense feeling, that fades to silence before returning for a blistering trumpet line and echoing almost dub saxophone, creating a coda that is at odds with the majority of the music on the album. Although this album was inspired by the great Old and New Dreams records on Black Saint and ECM, they are far from a repertory unit. This is a very talented modern mainstream jazz band that uses the totality of post-bop jazz as an inspiration for a finely crafted musical statement. Still Dreaming - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Thing - Again (Trost Records, 2018)

The legendary free jazz powerhouse called The Thing consists of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on electric and acoustic basses and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. After a dozen plus albums and collaborations, the band sounds as fresh as ever, opening with "Sur Face," composed by Gustafsson, which is a sprawling, brawling twenty-one minute performance that opens in classic Thing fashion as rolling drums meet scouring saxophone and stoic bass for an unbeatable combination. The opening minutes offer full bore free improvisation, bracing and thrilling stuff with the robust toned tenor saxophone, hyperkinetic drumming and elastic bass playing coming to the forefront. The long piece will wax and wane proceeding to an acoustic bass solo played deftly and patiently, both plucked and bowed, creating subtly designed intricate textures. The trio comes together with quiet grace, painting with sound in long tones of sandpaper gritty saxophone and strokes of bowed bass with subtle percussion framing the action. Roiling drums gather pace, extending in ever widening undulations, building to a stellar solo spot, alternately pulvering and polyrhythmic. The group comes back together, hand in glove, and turns up the heat in a memorable collective improvisation, causing great enthusiasm and eagerness within their interplay. Great gales of rending tenor saxophone and thick bass aided by complex drumming lead into The Thing's signature sound, bass and drums drop out as Gustafsson takes an unaccompanied spot powering through a muscular solo, punctuated by his own screams. Things ebb again to a subtle ghostly interplay, easing to a quiet if uneasy conclusion. Reflected and refracted spooky sound opens "Decision in Paradise" composed by the great saxophonist Frank Lowe, enveloping patient bass and saxophone, as the music eases forward and welcomes the trumpet of guest and oft-time Thing collaborator Joe McPhee whose passion for modern jazz is an inspiration. His puckered sound is an excellent foil for the saxophone and makes the most of the open space available. Cymbals shimmer as McPhee pushes forward gaining momentum, taking the band on his shoulders as the intensity reaches as boil for a four way improvised section of exciting and stirring power. Håker Flaten moves to electric bass for his own composition, "Vicki Di," adding a cool sound for the band to use, with the saxophone and drumming soon giving chase. This leads to a thrilling free for all with the unperturbed bobbing bass at the center of the action. Saxophone and drums lay out for an outrageously exciting Hendrixian electric bass solo filled with fireworks and massive drones. Everyone piles on for a intense blowout that will set your hair on end, and leave the listener giddy with excitement. The Thing (plus honorary member McPhee) are masters of their respective instruments and this allows them to make such continuously interesting albums. There is always a sense of exploring the unknown, that need to know what is over the next hill, that drives their wonderful music. This is an absolute must for free jazz fans as the group is at the top of their game throughout this stellar album. Again - amazon.com

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Monday, June 04, 2018

Marty Ehrlich with John Hebert and Nasheet Waits - Trio Exaltation (Clean Feed, 2018)

It appears that Clean Feed Records is focusing on trio recordings during this release cycle, and this session is a high quality one, featuring Marty Ehrlich on alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and wooden flutes, John Hebert on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. All three were men played together Andrew Hill's last group, and adhering to his influence, the music is open and flexible, with Ehrlich cycling through his instruments to add differences and varied textures, along with wonderfully rhythmic playing from the bass and drums. "Dusk" is a track from their time with Hill and it opens with spare bass and drums leaving plenty of room for the saxophone to swoop and swirl, with the trio works very well together. They complement each other's playing gracefully, keeping a medium up tempo accented with sharp citrus flavored alto saxophone, and incorporating a well articulated bass solo before the trio takes the music to an adventurous conclusion. Scouring saxophone and bowed bass usher in "Senhor P.C.," which is a nod to Pedro Costa of Clean Feed Records and it develops an unsettled atmosphere, with the music unfolding in unexpected ways, swelling in volume and tone, then receding like the tide, while the raw saxophone, swiftly bowed bass and snappy drumming create a memorable sound that is all their own. "Dance No. 5" has Ehrlich switching to clarinet, where he achieves an appealing hollow and woody sound amidst the moderate bass and percussion accompaniment. The music evolves organically with the rhythm stretching and re-shaping as the improvisation develops, engaging the clarinet in an attractive and interesting manner. A shorter piece, "Stone," is a nimble collective improvisation for saxophone, bass and drums, with Hebert's thick, taut bass tone both bowed and plucked, driving the music forward, amidst sudden sudden squalls of saxophone and drums. The centerpiece of the album is the heartrending tribute "June 11, 2015 - Memorium Ornette Coleman" which carries a sense of yearning and loss, but also a stark form of beauty, echoing Coleman's vast contribution to the jazz idiom. Ehrlich's tone on alto has a clear Coleman influence, and the band uses this as a pivot point to create an improvisation that is characterized by intense feeling. Ehrlich moves to flute for "Spirit of Jah No. 2" getting an exotic flavor and leading the music into a new lighter and more nimble format. The music on this track is quick and light in movement, and the band as a whole shows great agility. The album concludes with "Reading the River" which is a fine medium tempo performance for clarinet, bass and drums. The music has a breezy feel, with the clarinet moving in a twisting or spiraling pattern, over ever changing rhythm, and svelte bass solo. This was a very good album of modern jazz, where the veteran musicians incorporate the music of the masters like Hill and Coleman in creating a unique and uplifting statement. Trio Exaltation - amazon.com

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