Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Film: Blue Note Records -Beyond the Notes (Eagle Rock, 2019)

This is a film about Blue Note Records, which was founded in 1939 and despite a period of inactivity from the late 1970's to mid 1980's is still releasing jazz and some pop music to this day. This documentary moves back and forth between the present day (2018) with an all star band of younger musicians in the studio, playing and talking about the influence that the music of classic Blue Note Records have has upon them. We get flashbacks to the origin story of the label, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff were jazz loving German Jews who fled the Nazis, settling in New York and putting out their first records in 1939. Excerpts from a radio interview with the two men fill in the backstory somewhat, and there is a nicely done section about the label's relationship with Thelonious Monk. There is some fine footage and audio clips of label legends like Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan, and one of the last interviews with the famous engineer Rudy Van Gelder. But this film is not designed to be a label history, in fact it seems stuck much like the modern label itself between promoting the current roster and their connection to modern hip-hop while fostering reverence for past triumphs. Bruce Lundvall ran the label for twenty five years and gets a short snippet about signing Norah Jones, while current label head Don Was spews platitudes throughout the program. There are some warm and revealing interviews with legendary musicians like Lou Donaldson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The musical highlight of the film was Hancock and Shorter sitting in with their younger colleagues improvising on a skeletal arrangement of "Masquelero." This is worth checking out with reservations, the musicians are always genuine in their comments, and these are genuinely interesting, but the film is disjointed and the direction seems uninspired: is this a historical documentary, a promotional film about the present day label, or a music film? Trying to cram all of the above into a ninety minute movie leaves it feeling strangely empty. Blue Note Records Beyond The Notes - amazon.com

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Monday, January 27, 2020

Kuzu - Lift to Drag (Medium Sound, 2019)

Kuzu is a wonderful free jazz band consisting of Tyler Damon on drums and percussion, Tashi Dorji on electric guitar and Dave Rempis on saxophones. This is their second album in three years, with the third one due out soon. The first of two tracks, "Spilled Out" has slow percussion building to absolutely fascinating balls out free improvisation with torrid saxophone, loose drumming and flinty guitar playing creating a wonderful soundscape. Huge raw peals of sound arch around the instruments and create a full collective improvisation that shakes the heavens with speed and fury. Raw and guttural saxophone playing tempered or encouraged by choppy and slashing electric guitar and ever present heavy drumming makes for a very exciting and continuously interesting recording. There is a drum solo that simmers and stirs, with flashes of guitar framing it the percussion lashes out before whinnies of saxophone add to the further emotional energy of the performance, thunderous drums and industrial clanking guitar turns to a hellbent three way burnout with overblown saxophone joining in. Slow squeaks probe the available ground on "Carried Away," gradually carving out ground, and the band soon is sounding like an angry hive of bees ready to attack. The music soon resumes it's deadly march but with Rempis achieving a sharper, steelier tone to his saxophone, one that cuts mightily through the potent drumming and jabs of guitar. A second Damon percussion feature shows him digging deep into the firmament of the sound the trio has built and unearthing undiscovered gems, laying the foundation for Rempis's saxophone adding a tart and sour sound to the proceedings. This is an excellent foil for bent and twisted guitar notes and harsh drumming that holds together a remarkable free jazz trio improvisation that tumbles downhill at high speed reveling in the danger. There's a spacier section toward the end of the performance where the individual sounds of the musicians just seem to hang in the air, transposed and juxtaposed against one another, with skittish guitar playing off long tones of saxophone while Damon makes use of his entire kit performing somersaults of drums and percussion, leading to the finale of a truly excellent album. This album's original cassette run is long sold out, but it is available as a "name your price" digital edition through Bandcamp. Be generous, this is the real deal.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land (Blue Note, 1966; CD re-issue, 2003)

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was riding high in 1964, with a hit album in The Sidewinder and some advertising dollars in his pocket, he wanted to show people he wasn't just one trick pony. While not avant-garde by any means, this album was fresh and modern compared to the boogoloo jazz Blue Note was looking for and therefor sat on the sidelines for two years before being released. Morgan assembled an astonishing band of young musicians for a program of originals, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Grant Green on guitar, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums and proceeded to record a classic of post-bop jazz. "Search for the New Land" is a long and episodic performance, with an opening that evokes mystery, followed a beautiful Wayne Shorter tenor saxophone solo, Individual features seem to bubble up from the ether of the melody, such as Morgan's first solo, which is stoic and thoughtful, interacting with the rhythm section and showing a clear tone and purposeful approach to improvisation. Green's deliberately chosen notes soon build into a web of intricate guitar sounds, played with the utmost tact and dignity. The swinging yet restrained rhythm section percolates, leading the group into the final fanfare to close the piece. Led by a brash and proud theme that marches out of the gate, "The Joker" has Shorter emerging over swinging accompaniment to solo in an angular manner followed by Morgan, who sounds at the height of his powers blowing with strength and vision. The great theme surging in at the end to prompt a wave of sound from the whole group. "Mr Kenyatta" is an edgy and fast paced performance, with the horns building a complex theme and the drums boiling underneath. Morgan bobs and weaves like a fighter in the ring with quick jabs and longer punches of crisp sound. Shorter's response is nimble and fleet with a manic piano, bass and drums team goading him on. Grant Green picks his spots, but each is golden, as he adds just the right seasoning to this roiling strew and then solos by weaving through the horns and drums as does Hancock who follows. Slower paced, with brushes and a subdued theme, "Melancholee" is a ballad with the music seemingly hanging suspended in the air. The trumpet and bass engage slowly with brushed percussion, playing patiently and gracefully amid the open space. Hancock is perfect for this setting, adding ethereal asides and spare support for Shorter's tenor saxophone. "Morgan the Pirate" has a punchy and memorable theme and variation setup that works well, and the leader steps out for a bold sounding solo that is articulate and imaginative, playing with muscular grace. Green pokes through with his unique playing adding sharp needles of notes, that set up Shorter for a wonderful solo. Hancock, Workman and Higgins are the engine room that makes it all go, and for their disparate musical personalities they come up huge here, setting the table for Lee Morgan to make one of his finest albums. Search For The New Land - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Jeff Davis - The Fastness (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2019)

This is an excellent album combining modern jazz with elements of fusion led by Jeff Davis on drums and vibraphone, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophones, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Russ Lossing on piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano and Hammond B3 organ and Eivind Opsvik on bass. They are able to conjure a wide range of sounds on this well paced album on tracks like "Go Away Glasses" where there is gradual buildup and atmospheric smears of electric piano and guitar and these instruments reverberate in space, creating a fascinating soundscape. Malaby solos on soprano saxophone, and the music retains a sense of mystery with sections of spaciness and collective playing that is strong and vibrant. "Obvious Nemesis" has upbeat tenor saxophone and drums framed by gritty sounding keyboards. The bass and drums really push hard, driving Lossing's keyboard forward and allowing him to achieve a unique sound and attack. The saxophone returns leading to a strong full band section with pulsating drums and scalding saxophone. Saxophone develops a yearning sound on "Wednesday Shirt" with the guitar adding atmosphere and the music turns menacing, as the full group comes together and breaks out into a roar. There is a loud and fast takeoff with an epic guitar and drum interaction, as organ and sax snarl together creating an epic ride. "Bird Monkey" takes the music in a different direction, with a fast complex acoustic piano introduction, using agile clusters of notes amid thick bass and nimble drumming. Tenor sax adds fuel to the fire the trio has created, completing a powerful and impressive acoustic improvisation and including a short crushing drum solo for the leader. The full band opens "New Good Brother" at a fast and dedicated clip, with shards of electric guitar breaking out and showering notes over the keyboard, bass and drums unit. This is an excellent feature for Goldberger's guitar playing followed by raw toned tenor saxophone that pulls the music into a tense spiral. The Fastness - amazon.com

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Jim Black Trio - Reckon (Intakt Records, 2020)

This was an album that takes the standard piano trio format and really runs with it. With Jim Black on drums, Thomas Morgan on bass and Elias Stemeseder on piano, their imagination is really the limit. Recorded quickly over the course of two days, it's clear that the band was inspired by the company and the content and it shows in the results. "Astrono Said So" features nimble, intricate bass and drums, where the piano enters gradually, building a close knit three way conversation, and develops a ever faster flow. The music becomes quite open and free sounding with thick elastic bass yoking the propulsive drumming and piano playing, becoming slightly frayed at the end, and returning to the original opening. Spare and subdued, "Tripped Overhue" offers music that floats with a gentle melodic sensibility, becoming gradually more forceful as the performance develops, waxing and waning with snappy bass playing, drumming and fluid keyboard playing. "Tighter Whined" has expressive drumming and bass playing in a very forceful manner with piano chords adding to the urgency of the piece. The sound builds from darkness into differing shades, flashing fast and exciting like an experimental black and white film. Gliding gracefully at midtempo, "Spooty And Snofer" works interesting tones with bass and piano notes falling like droplets from the sky, and an industrial, motorik beat underneath. This has the feel of a Bad Plus performance from when Ethan Iverson was in the band, eventually moving to a fine bass feature leading to a graceful conclusion. "Next Razor World" guides a crisp slapping beat against playing from inside the piano. Large bass notes frame this unusual and strange sound, very free and experimental, with strumming inside the piano building an almost West African sound then moving back to the traditional keyboard. Space, bass and inside playing are hallmarks of "Dancy Clear Ends" which suddenly flashes into light with a fast paced trio improvisation, where short cymbal crashes accent the fluid piano playing and bass pulses. The music becomes freer but still hurtles ahead leading to another excellent bass solo, and finale. "This One And This Too" uses slow motion sounds, picking and playing the piano dexterously, giving the music a much wider sonic palette, then darting around excitedly over a backdrop of solid bass and encouraging drums. There is a wildly exciting group improvisation takes them into the outer limits and back just as quickly, bringing them to the end of an album that was both engagingly accessible and courageous in its atmospheric experimentation. Reckon - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Muriel Grossmann - Reverence (Dreamlandrecords, 2019)

Saxophonist Muriel Grossmann's latest album was influenced by the music of Africa, looking at the source of rhythm from the continent and it's implications in modern jazz. She is joined by Radomir Milojkovic on guitar, Gina Schwarz on bass, Uros Stamenkovic on drums and Llorenç Barceló on organ. "Okan Ti Aye" opens the album with rolling drums and percussion creating a deep and exciting layering of potential energy. Organ and guitar gradually enter with saxophone following adding a spiritual jazz flavor and the band is coming together with a common goal. Nimble guitar, sounding tightly wound, steps out, with a well played solo over the percolating band. Saxophone and drums drive forward keeping pace with one another and offering a strongly rhythmic presentation, stretching out in a very exciting manner. Bass and harp like strings with percussion set the stage for "Union" and Grossmann's soaring soprano saxophone. The music is very open and free sounding, moving over the available space patiently, framed by subtle waves of organ. It gradually gathers volume and intensity as the players develop a cohesive group improvisation. "Water Bowl" uses a quality guitar rhythm with swirling organ and saxophone to open a fantasia of possibility, light and flowing in tone as the music is in constant motion. There is strong saxophone soloing over a deep groove set up by the rest of the band, handing off to the guitarist who strikes sparks of his own against a crisp cymbal beat. Organ, bass and drums keep up the deep groove with some keyboard flourishes attached. Gentle harp like strings and soulful tenor saxophone open the ballad "Sundown" with some keyboard asides. Soft ballad tenor saxophone and gurgling keyboards with gently playing rhythm section moves ahead. But the track works best with saxophone and glowing organ and harp, providing echoes of Alice Coltrane. "Chase" has a much faster and urgent rhythm, drums and bass pushing, saxophone and guitar surging ahead fast and furious. Stamenkovic is riding the cymbals like a jockey and Grossman's saxophone is played with speed and grace. Their collective improvisation is powerful and full speed ahead, stopping on a dime for a more open section of strings and percussion. Steep percussion and dexterous guitar bring the group back out of meditation, and the leader joins back in and uses her saxophone to take the group to a strong conclusion. A nearly funky opening for the rhythm team sparks "Tribu" with strong ribbons of saxophone flowing forth across the base of the music and a ripe guitar solo that keeps the piece moving forward briskly. Long melodic lines of saxophone keep this performance accessible and enjoyable with everybody chipping in to keep the flow going. "Afrika Mahala" has stark heavy percussion and complex string playing, balanced by dark toned tenor saxophone, with Coltrane overtones. There is a darting guitar solo, played well adding shards of sound as notes break off and fly. The saxophone soars back in with slashing drumming along side for an epic duo focused section absolutely crushing it before returning to a full band segment to round out the piece. Finally, "Morning" closes the album with unusual percussion and string sounds giving an exotic flavor, then coalescing into a fine rhythm filled out with sound and deep pulsing tenor saxophone that sounds warm and whole, with elastic bass and thick rhythmic accompaniment. The music blooms organically with keyboards and guitar furthering the cause by adding ideas as the music ebbs and flows according to whim and wisdom. The music on this album is quite successful and is reminiscent of the African influenced records of the Seventies like McCoy Tyner's Sahara or work by Gary Bartz's Nu Troop. If you are a fan of that music, you will find a lot to like here. Reverence - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker – Little Common Twist (Thrill Jockey, 2019)

This is a very interesting and creative album from two musical free spirits, drummer Charles Rumback and guitarist Ryley Walker. Rumback is a first call percussionist in Chicago's excellent free jazz scene and Walker first made his name as a singer / songwriter, particularly on the wonderful Astral Weeks like album Primrose Green. This album was recorded in spontaneous sessions over the course of a few years, and works quite well. The opening track "Half Joking" uses acoustic guitar and brushes, sounding gentle and melodic, with percussion feathering around the guitar as they gradually build stronger cells of pace and volume. After "Self Blind Sun" uses space and probing brushes and guitar, "Idiot Parade" comes in, feeling more ominous, with Rumback using drum sticks, and Walker adding electronics or electric guitar drone sounding cool and almost ritualistic as the track builds to a soundscape of drone and crisp percussion."And You, These Sang" uses brushes along side dark somber sounding guitar, achieving a cinematic music vibe, while "Menebhi" unleashes a menagerie of different sounds layered upon each other, swaths of electronics, scattered drums and percussion, all of which are developing in an interesting and experimental manner. "Ill Fitting / No Sickness" displays Walker's excellent acoustic guitar playing, recalling Richard Thompson's virtuosity, playing very crisp and articulately, fast and propulsive. The drums enter midway through adding a complex rhythm and taking the performance to new heights. There is an abstract ambient opening to "If You're Around and Down," with cymbals adding to the sound and playing off against the soundscape with subtle drumming and shimmering cymbals, achieving a subtle overall sound of electronic ambient with subtle percussion."Worn and Held" fades in to shimmering guitar and framing percussion, with the music evolving patiently over time becoming louder and faster but remaining well controlled. it has an appealing atmospheric feeling that fills up the available soundscape with waves of guitar and percussion in a strong but not overpowering fashion. This album worked quite well, with the musicians working as equals and stepping away from regular rhythmic sensibilities to create an artistic statement that flows across genres and should have a broad appeal. Little Common Twist - amazon.com

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