Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse, 2019)

The London jazz scene is truly having a moment. While the avant garde regiment explores the outer limits at Cafe OTO, the modern mainstream section moves in a different direction adding elements of hip-hop, electronica and krautrock to modern jazz, creating a sensual, searching music in the process. The Comet Is Coming consists of scene regulars King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) on saxophones; Danalogue (Dan Leavers) on keyboards and synthesizers and Betamax (Max Hallett) on drums and percussion. Fans of straight ahead jazz have little to fear, if you enjoy the groovier side of Sun Ra or Archie Shepp, you will feel right at home here. On "Summon the Fire" electronic textures and rhythm are picked up by the saxophone and hard pummeling drums. Jabs of electronic hooks meet them in a pugilistic squall adding to a collective improvisation that is tight and powerful as peals of raw saxophone solo cover a crisp beat. Electronics frame the band going full bore, with a huge and all encompassing sound leading to repetitive saxophone figures over shifting beats and electronics. Featuring guest vocalist Kate Tempest, "Blood of the Past" begins with shimmering electronics swooping and grinding a crushing beat, meeting heavy saxophone and creating an oppressive atmosphere. After three minutes the sound opens up and Tempest's proud and declarative spoken word performance adds further fuel to the fire with meaningful lyrics focusing on "the scar on the soul of the world." After she steps away there is a torrid saxophone response leading to an excellent full band conclusion. This builds into "Super Zodiac" where soft, slightly wavering electronic textures seem to blow in the breeze, then break into a fast dance beat, soon met by powerful drumming and strutting saxophone playing that builds up the tension of the performance through repetition and release. The music is hot and fast, building to blinding speeds, sort of an EDM jazz that uses the virtuosity of the musicians to take the sound to unfathomable places. "Timewave Zero" works from an eerie cinematic soundscape, as fast percussion morphs into the mix and saxophone guilds in developing his statement block by block. The drummer cooks up a quick and alluring rhythm allowing the group to engage in a choppy improvised section playing together at a very impressive speed and showing the band has a firm grasp on their concept and use it to create vibrant and powerful music. Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery - amazon.com

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Sun Ra - Pathways to Unknown Worlds (Modern Harmonic, 2019)

Pathways to Unknown Worlds was one of the albums that eventually came through on a highly anticipated deal with ABC/Impulse that was doomed to fail. Released in a truncated format in the early 1970's with less then thirty minutes of music, this reissue presents restored tracks and additional selections from the session that was recorded in New York City in 1973. It's also the full Arkestra of the period with Ra playing a raft of electronic keyboards and featuring a horn section anchored by stalwarts John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, anchored by Ronnie Boykins on bass and Clifford Jarvis on drums. "Pathways To Unknown Worlds," the title track is a spacey Ra special, with the leader playing Yamaha YC-45D combo organ which allowed increased pitch and tone control, making this a long and droning space jazz track with bowed bass and mellophone, giving the music an unusual and fascinating sound. “Extension Out” has it's complete version on record for the first time, including the opening five and a half minutes that were inexplicably culled from the Impulse version. It's a wonderful performance, allowing the saxophonists to really stretch out with Danny Davis joining Marshall Allen on alto saxophone for raw and exciting solos and duos, as the band rumbles beneath them, and bass clarinet and oboe add further color to this vivid and exploratory performance. The last two tracks on this album originally came out on the Of Mythic Worlds LP, included here because they were recorded at the same session. “Intrinsic Energies” develops long tones of shimmering keyboard, drums and percussion, soon joined by stark and wrenched horns which play out over the sound stage, with ripe alto saxophone tart and citrus against the pastel toned keyboards. The juxtaposition of raw reeds and subtle keyboards is especially moving, while stoic bass (Ronnie Boykins in the secret sauce on this whole album) and drums keeps the music from flying off into infinity. Really interesting textures of percussion are at play on "Of Mythic Worlds,” with jabs of Ra's space organ and wonderful tenor saxophone playing from the incomparable John Gilmore. Seriously, imagine and organ and tenor jam session that instead of a Prestige blowing date (nothing wrong with those, mind you) it's a Sun Ra and John Gilmore free jazz blowout, and it's just as remarkable as you can imagine. After that mindblower, Ra takes a skittish caterwauling solo with wonderful bass support, before handing back off to the horn players who carry the group to a righteous conclusion. Pathways To Unknown Worlds - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Paal Nilssen-Love - New Japanese Noise (PNL Records, 2019)

Epic drummer and musical explorer Paal Nilssen-Love brought an incredible crew to the 2018 Roskilde Festival, including Akira Sakata on alto saxophone, Bb clarinet and vocals, Kiko Dinucci on electric guitar and Kohei Gomi and Toshiji Mikawa on electronics. The sound they created was staggering, a triumphant amalgam of free jazz, noise rock and unrecognizable chaos that is an absolute joy to hear. "Stiff Upper Lip Jeeves" opens the album with savage drums and raw scouring saxophone, a massive sonic outpouring with electronic squiggles framing the over the top bombardment as the guitar adds further sparks to the developing vortex of pure sound. At times the noise stratifies into layers, while during others, it mixes into a mad psychedelic free for all, with Sakata playing in typically excellent fashion wailing saxophone atop the tumult. Spaciousness opens on "Up the Line to Death," where the saxophone improvises freely supported by crashes of percussion and clanks of guitar. The sound of the piece will fill and fall back in a manic fashion hinting at dynamic power around a madly strummed guitar feature. "Eats, Shites And Leaves" initially throws a feint with Sakata moving to clarinet backed by brushed percussion. The group plays a quieter, more abstract improvisation through the first half of this lengthy performance before turning up the heat in a major way. The overall sound grows through smears of electronics, plus some all encompassing drum set playing which are then enveloped by fierce and violent guitar squalls leading the piece to conclude as over the top noise rock. Sakata takes to the vocal mic for "The Bone People," vocalizing in growls and barks and speaking in Japanese, as roaring guitar and powerful drums fly around him. It's just mad stuff, he's howling, the entire band is erupting his gruff deep vocals are just so heavy - he could be singing about teddy bears riding unicorns and it would still sound like a man trying to open a portal to hell with just the power of his bowels. Sakata is 73 years old and this track sounds like a group of next level free improvisers is playing My War era Black Flag. I Love It. Where can they possibly go from here? "Birdsong" is a three minute finale that works pretty well encapsulating what makes this band so great, Sakata back on saxophone, at his free jazz best, PNL crushing the drums as shards of deadly saxophone and guitar battle it out while being strafed by drums and electronics. New Japanese Noise - PNL Bandcamp

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Larry Grenadier - The Gleaners (ECM, 2019)

There have been innumerable solo albums by every conceivable instrument in jazz, most notably piano, but the acoustic upright bass, despite (or perhaps because of) its unwieldy nature has seen relatively few. But those have been quite memorable, career milestones from the likes of William Parker, Dave Holland and Peter Kowald have expanded the role of the instrument in jazz, taking it far from the role of timekeeper into the world of improvisation and composition. Larry Grenadier is a veteran bassist, who came up in the explosion of modern mainstream jazz talent of the early 1990's developed over a longtime collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau among many other talented musicians. This album is a thoughtful and impressive album for solo double bass, mixing originals by Grenadier, along with well thought out interpretations of numbers by George Gershwin, John Coltrane and Paul Motian. On tracks like the centerpiece "Compassion - The Owl Of Cranston" he appears to ask himself questions like how do you interpret a person through music? How do you evoke their being through sound, timbre and feel? Putting together compositions by legendary figures like John Coltrane and Paul Motian is an audacious idea but it works very well, creating a medley that is challenging and stimulating, while presenting itself to be worthy of careful consideration and attention. He is able to inhabit the whole of the instrument, playing the length and breadth of it and keeping the music continuously interesting. There is an introspective aspect to the music as there would be with any solo performance, but it never devolves into an exercise in navel gazing or playing for its own sake, but the music is constructed to engage the attentive listener as well. Aspects of classical music and jazz appear at times, as he displays a great deal of technique without trying to be overwhelmingly flashy, like on the wonderful bowing on "Vineland" which flows continuously without a break from beginning to end. The fascinating mixed version of Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" brings everything together, with a fraught bowed introduction and a deep plucked improvised middle section, giving the timeless standard a fresh and supple reading. All things considered this is a humble and well played offering, displaying all of the talents that Grenadier has developed over the course of has career, distilled into distinctive and commanding album. The Gleaners - amazon.com

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Interesting Links

Dave Douglas invites Tomeka Reid to his most recent podcast.
Drummer Dan Weiss's band Starebaby was featured in Bumhuis Radio.
Bandcamp Daily profiles NoBusiness Records.
Issue 66 of the web journal Point of Departure is available.
The New York Times asks: Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy interview with Buddy Guy.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Cecil Taylor - Silent Tongues (Org Music, 2019)

Silent Tongues is one of Cecil Taylor's most compelling albums, which is saying something considering his wide ranging and voluminous discography. A tremendously well received live solo piano recording from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974 drew widespread critical acclaim, including Downbeat's album of the year the following year. This album release has gone through several iterations from Arista Freedom to 1201 Music, and this particular one is a vinyl version remastered at Infrasonic Mastering and pressed on audiophile-grade vinyl at Pallas Group in Germany. The release was previously available as Vinyl Me, Please exclusive via ORG Music. The music itself is an explosive five section suite along with two encores. Listening to this recording is best if the listener gives themselves over to it, as the music comes in waves of complex chords and lightning fast runs of notes. Taylor's famous notion of the piano as a set of "eighty-eight tuned drums" can really be heard on this recording which is clear and vibrant with a you-are-there kind of feeling that can be nearly overwhelming at times. While Taylor played with many ensembles ranging from duet settings to the largest big bands, it is his solo work that has always has the emotional resonance for me with works like For Olim, Live in Willisau and others developed a lifelong thread of continuous exploration on piano. Some of the more accessible sections of the suite will be mixed with bracing and 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, whether this can be considered spontaneously composing, or freely improvising Taylor is using the length and breadth of the instrument to create thunderous and vibrant waves of sound that is full of energy and boundless enthusiasm. His skill and technique are at the highest level, but he carries the listener with him and the music remains completely original throughout the album, with a sense of connected events which seems to fuel the sound, texture, and shading of his music. Taylor is a conduit for the sound and amazing technique to flow, where he refines and channels his music as unique concept and a language. The two encores are met with rousing and rapturous applause, as short cells of improvisation, they are the icing on the cake the and a perfect ending to a recording of rare skill and energy that stands as one for the ages, a recording of great significance and value. Silent Tongues - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Matthew Shipp Trio Invites Nicole Mitchell - All Things Are (Rogue Art, 2019)

This is a wonderful and overdue meeting of the minds between Matthew Shipp on piano and Nicole Mitchell on flute and alto flute, with Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Recorded one hot summer day in Brooklyn it's a masterful session, each recording a first take and demonstrating the unique symmetry of this group of musicians."Elements" has spare piano with bass and percussion with spacious flute entering and gradually integrating itself within the performance. There are dark undertones to the music, and the pace picks up with percussive piano playing, whirling flute and crashing drums before dynamically downshifting to crystalline piano and flute weaving through trills and full breaths leading to a cascading improvisation finale for the full quartet. Piano and flute converse in a mid tempo dialogue on "Well Spring" and Mitchell's flute flutters as Shipp hits bass end chords on the piano, leading to an organically evolving improvisation, adding long tones of flute and gentler keyboard resonance. "It" has flute holding notes in space, amid slight percussion and bowed bass, developing a very affecting and appealing sound. The piano sits out allowing the sound to open further, giving room for the evocative bowed bass and free sounding drumming, and the long tones of flute and arcing bowed bass compliment each other particularly well. "Void of Ground" features bounding piano, bass and drums tempered by a hint of darkness. The flute blends in and works from a repetitive figure, and Shipp alternate between crushing low end chords and urgent comping, creating an explosive dynamo which helps to power a fast paced flute improvisation. The juxtaposition between the lighter sounding flute and the heavier piano, bass and drums is very present, and one of the driving factors in the success of the performance. Quiet tones of flute with piano are at the center of "Water and Earth" as Shipp's notes just seem to hang in the air. The music is very free sounding, adding the slightest brushed percussion, the group plays with great patience communicating gracefully together. "Fire and Air" develops from ripples of percussion and mysterious sounding flute, jumping and diving in a bird like fashion, and building to a spellbinding solo with melodic elements. Full bodied piano with thick bass move in tandem on "Blossom" driving forward and pushing the tempo further upward as Shipp's piano becomes more percussive and develops a more linear approach, leading to a wonderful conclusion. Finally, "All Things Are," features bowed bass with flute and piano in a dark and ominous yet fascinating improvisation, building ever stronger through the application of muscular drums and piano, Mitchell is undeterred, flying through and around, finding spaces in the huge structure and soaring right through them leading to a righteous unaccompanied flute conclusion. All Things Are - amazon.com

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