Friday, January 18, 2019

Joe McPhee / John Butcher - At The Hill Of James Magee (Trost, 2019)

The story of the enigmatic artist James Magee and his eponymous hill is a fascinating one, and it is easy to understand how it would draw musical iconoclasts like multi-reed instrumentalists Joe McPhee and John Butcher to make the trek to record there. Their performance out in the open at the monument, using two microphones and battery powered equipment at times sounds like well done field recordings, but in truth it is two master improvisers taking inspiration from another artist to create a wonderfully spontaneous work of art. "Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No" is a sprawling nearly twenty one minute lead-off track, featuring long abstract tones of saxophones in space, evoking the enormous landscape they are playing in, by separating themselves and playing in two separate buildings simultaneously. Each saxophone is represented in a separate channel and we hear the musicians walk about the monument improvising, with the assembled audience between the buildings, quite an audacious experiment in sound and recording different for the live audience and record listener. The next four tracks are alternating solo statements from the musicians and the finale is a duet. Solo perhaps alto saxophone "Mine Shaft" has slow and mostly high pitched playing that is very spare and patient and thoughtfully played. It is presented to the listener as a narrative, a thematic offering with a melodic center that is accessible and absorbing. "Paradise Overcast" uses pops against the reed echoing through the microphone and creating a very interesting sound, one that is percussive, followed by long raw sounds which move in an all together different direction. Short, but exciting "A Forty Foot Square Room" uses a rising and falling scouring and exciting solo that moves in and out, forward and back, creating a sense of continuous motion and doppler like effect. "Torcello" sounds like tenor saxophone with brief honks juxtaposed against fast filigrees of saxophone improvisation. Sandpapery toned sounding real like life and the sum of a life's worth of knowledge with the use of space and patience creating long tones of circular breathing spiraling out as relativistic jets of pure sound. The two regroup for the final duet "St. Ida's Breath (Less Her Neck and Teeth)" using fluttering sounds and quiet percussive pops, questioning tones and delicate stray squawks. They eventually raise their voices into song, breathing deeply together in a parallel formation that leads to a much deserved round of applause from the audience. At the Hill of James Mcgee - Bandcamp

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade - Stomping Off from Greenwood (Greenleaf, 2019)

Alto saxophonist and composer Greg Ward has a new group called Rogue Parade featuring Matt Gold and Dave Miller on guitar, Matt Ulery on bass Quin Kirchner on drums. The group had the opportunity to perfect their approach during a Chicago club residency and Midwest tour prior to recording and it pays off in a vibrant and colorful album of modern jazz that excels both in imaginative compositions and spontaneous improvisations. "Metropolis" opens with fast drums and bubbling bass and guitar, the two guitars taking different approaches,  and the saxophone joins pulling together a medium sized cauldron of roiling sounds. Colorful full band sounds and improvisation result, adding bounding to waves of louder sound that wash across the length of the music, guitars in each stereo channel propelling the music forward. Ward's more evocative saxophone tone is at odds with the hyper kinetic drumming and provides an interesting balance of light and shade. Tight bass and drums set the mood of "The Contender" as confident horn playing with guitars extend the music further, creating a punchy and uptempo thematic opening. Developing a lighter saxophone tone for a nimble section that is fully in command, Ward develops complex and exciting solo, against  a quieter backdrop of guitars, bass drums. The guitars intertwine amid complex bass and percussion, creating a collective quartet improvisation, with more prominent bass and drums building toward the conclusion of the piece, cementing the episodic nature of the performance. "The Fourth Reverie" is spacious, with a noir like cinematic vibe, adding eerie and spooky creepy plunks of guitar and bass skittish percussion and curls of saxophone which build to cries as the music ends. This leads into "Let him Live" where there is some cool funky rhythm section playing, insistent yet light and pliable. Ward's saxophone adds to the urgency of the sound with repetitive notes, before moving into a bright toned solo, waxing and waning from fierce to calm to keep the dynamics high, and adding fast complex eddies of saxophone improvisation to push the excitement level even higher. "Black Woods" opens with a very impressive bass solo, both plucked and bowed, band enters darkly over two minutes in, playing dark shaded tones, heavy velvet draped and complex forming a jagged piece of music. Guitars break out into space with the rest of the band following into a medium up improvisation, saxophone then guitar muscling into solo space, trading phrases in a quick and exciting manner. The fascinating sensations of "Pitch Black Promenade" include shimmering golden sounding music, all aligned into a milder group improvisation as guitars pick out bright points of light against the drumming, and a quieter section for saxophone is vibrant among the bass with soft guitar and percussion framing, growing more labyrinthine as the piece moves on, as the lengthy interwoven composition is continuously interesting. Stomping Off From Greenwood - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Stephen Riley - Hold ‘Em Joe (Steeplechase, 2018)

Stephen Riley is a mainstream jazz tenor saxophonist, who nods in the direction of the legendary Sonny Rollins by recording in an open ended format with only Jay Anderson on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. They play some of the music Rollins recorded in this configuration, along with a selection of American songbook and jazz standards, alternating between uptempo tracks and ballad performances. Riley has a confident and even tone to his saxophone, light and nimble and able to summon a range of emotional energies, beginning with "I Never Knew" which has a fast and breathy takeoff, soon joined by supple bass and crisp cymbal play. The music moves at a fast pace, but an accessible one, as the rhythm team creates a tight pocket, and Riley's improvisation is closely linked to the original theme of the song, with some excellent drumming sewn in throughout the performance, trading ideas with the saxophonist. The title track "Hold Em Joe" is a bright and happy sounding tune, with elastic bass and swinging cymbals supporting the well articulated saxophone playing, moving from the melody to a fleet extrapolation. A thoughtful bass solo, framed by cymbals and softly played saxophone holds down the middle, making way for a percussion feature that extends the rhythmic range of the music, before the group comes back together for a strong collaborative finishing statement. "Three Little Words" is fast and exciting track, with the band playing with a muscular grace that belies the lower volume. Bass and drums bubble and roil as the saxophone soars just overhead making for a solid collaborative improvisation that really cooks, but allowing tempo stop at the drop of a hat to make on the fly adjustments to the music and its constituent parts, keeping the dynamic range high and using it to stoke the engine of the overall tension of the performance. "Almost Like Being In Love" has melodic mild toned saxophone, joined by dancing cymbals, with flexible and adaptable bass playing allows the music to conform to any shape the musicians desire, in this case gently swinging medium tempo. The push the tempo a little higher and the music responds nicely, the improvisation developing in a way that is pleasing and attractive. A tune most clearly associated with Rollins, "I'm An Old Cowhand," has a more spacious feeling allowing the light tone of the leader to investigate the material around grounded bass and soft cymbal play. There is a bass feature in the middle, framed by percussion reminiscent of Shelley Manne's original playing, which gives them the energy to follow through to the end. Finally, "The Song is You" is a vivid and bold performance, with well defined bass and drums providing a firm foundation for Riley's light and agile saxophone to take a lengthy and high flying solo, also incorporating a drum solo and trading of phrases which shows readily imaginative interplay between the saxophonist and the drummer. This was a very solid modern mainstream jazz album, which makes clear its reverence for the past, while placing itself firmly into the jazz scene of today. Hold 'Em Joe - amazon.com

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Andrew Lamb Trio - The Casbah of Love (Birdwatcher Records, 2018)

Andrew Lamb is originally from Chicago and briefly studied with AACM, before moving to New York and embarking on a very active career as a leader and as a sideman. On this album, he plays tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet and flute, with longtime collaborator Tom Abbs on bass and cello and Ryan Jewell on drums. The music begins with "The Casbah Of Love" featuring tart toned saxophone, soft but insistent percussion and tight bass, coming together for an excellent collective improvisation driven by the punchy saxophone attack which is fearless and raw. Drums shimmer and slide all over the sound of the recording, offering a large rhythmic area to explore, and firm grounding bass anchors everything as Lamb's saxophone has a stark and powerful approach. "Wonders of the Morning" is a solo saxophone performance, probing and gaining strength, repeating a circular motif to gain momentum and then embarking on a free and open improvisation with high pitched squeals juxtaposed against low growls. With a foundation of deep bass and drums, "Nights and Miracles" uses bellowing saxophone developing a strong and brawny sound, moving through the air in a physically strong; muscular manner. Lamb punctuates the music with high register wails, giving the music a hypnotic, kinetic sensation, as the drums roil and the bass takes root. They allow space to enter their sound, giving their individual and collective approaches more weight, and a haunting unresolved conclusion. "Intergalactic Parables" builds a bass heartbeat and interesting rhythm from the drums, while Lamb uses multiple horns or over blowing of some sort, to create an arresting sound. Tight bursts from the horns along the regulars bass pulse and drum sounds, sounding like their own on Sun Ra's music from the early sixties. Another solo feature, "The Third Shadow," opens the clarion call of the solo saxophone, a call to arms, deep and clear like a flowing stream which is able to change through improvisation in an elegant and graceful way. The sound of Lamb's saxophone is compelling, demanding attention and admiration, firmly holding the attention of the listener. "Embrace of the Twin Ponds" features beautiful gentle flute playing, a fluttering warm tone aligned with soft brushed percussion and light bass playing. The music moves forward in a quietly exploratory formation, offering plenty of space for the trio to examine their surroundings. Quietly rumbling bass and drums provide stark contrasts to the lighter toned flute and provider further energy to this lengthy and successful performance. The Casbah of Love - amazon.com

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Francois Carrier / Michel Lambert / Rafal Mazur - Beyond Dimensions (ColyaKoo Music, 2018)

This exciting and spontaneously composed album was recorded live in May of 2016 in Romania by a group consisting of Francois Carrier on alto saxophone, Michel Lambert drums, and Rafal Mazur acoustic bass guitar. This trio has been performing together for years, playing with intuition and imagination in many settings. Their performance opens with the massive near half hour long improvisation "Open Dreams," it is a towering free jazz blowout, beginning with a stellar collective improvisation melding the sounds of caustic saxophone, bubbling bass and interweaving drum patterns building a complex and fascinating conversation. "Namagiri" is more subtle, with the acoustic bass guitar prominent creating an interesting sound environment for the performance which Carrier makes the most of building an exotic snake charmer type tone on his alto saxophone, giving the music an unusual spin that is very appealing. This leads into "Unseen" which is aptly named as the musicians focus their improvisations on the gradations of light and shade using brushwork that is deft and quick, allowing the saxophone to flutter around it in a birdlike manner. The bass playing is just epic on this track, developing a really interesting tone and attack that is complex and fits in naturally alongside the growing percussion. The title track, "Beyond Dimensions" wraps things up with another excellent episodic lengthy improvisation that evolves organically over a lengthy period of time. Loud and potent alto saxophone reaches out in an emotionally resonant manner, keeping in constant motion, kneaded by the bass and drums as they wax and wane and engage the saxophone in deeply empathetic interplay. The music can become a firestorm of depth and vigor with acid tongued saxophone and urgent bass guitar meeting skittish percussion. The music opens up to a section of lighter bass and drums stretching into a duet improvisation, the music developing a fluid feeling, and Carrier returning to add warm, melodic comments to the proceedings. The three pull together for the big push to the end where the elastic sounding bass stretches as needed and the drums are supple and agile, leaving the horn room to paint the soundscape in vivid colors demonstrating grace and vision. Beyond Dimensions - Bandcamp

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Wendy Eisenberg - The Machinic Unconscious (Tzadik, 2018)

Wendy Eisenberg is a guitarist who delves into a wide range of music from free to metal and she is joined by the equally open minded team of Trevor Dunn on bass and Ches Smith on drums. This album was recorded just this past summer in beautiful New Jersey, and is exemplified by a track like "Parataxis" that has funky bass and drums setting up the guitar, which develops a bright and metallic sheen, gathering steam for a powerful and searching solo. The playing is dynamic and fully integrated with the rhythm section, while throwing off scorching asides which keeps the performance moving continuously forward. Raw and grinding guitar is at the forefront on "Kiln" giving the music a deeply visceral feeling, driven by waves of sculpted electrical feedback. The bass and drums act as a fulcrum for Eisenberg to construct her improvisation, before the music opens up into a more intricate trio improvisation. The pace picks back up with long tones of guitar carried across the bass and drums, building to a strong crescendo and conclusion. "Dangerous Red" is the anchor of the album, a ten and a half minute powerhouse with snake like guitar tendrils and potent drumming and pulsating bass playing making for an epic improvised journey. The guitar slashes across the the soundscape of the music, driving deeper and deeper into the firmament, heading into freer territory, shedding sparks without weakening or losing intensity. This leads into "Kin Kin Diza," which is a short and exciting blast of noise, freely improvised between the trio, building enough energy to lift them airborne, in a fun and thrilling demonstration of their capabilities at full throttle. "Mycoaelia" has an open minded use of feedback and electronics to develop a large sound palate, giving the group a wide field of possibilities from migraine threatening sound pulses, through to psychedelic grooves that bubble up from underneath. "6J" has some heavy drumming that lifts Eisenberg's guitar skyward, allowing her to slash vibrant chords and devastating waves of electronic distortion, held aloft on waves of cymbals and some bass that's heavy in its own right. They make for a scalding trio, leaving notions of fusion, experimental and free at the door and revelling in making music for the sheer idealistic audacity of it. The Machinic Unconscious - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Joe McPhee and Hamid Drake - Keep Going (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2018)

Recorded in Chicago during February of 2018, this was the second duo album between Joe McPhee on alto saxophone and pocket trumpet and Hamid Drake on drum kit and hand percussion after 1999's Emancipation Proclamation on Okka Disk. Dedicated to heroic civil rights leaders, the album opens with "Keep Going" which begins slowly with Drake's reverential drum playing, and McPhee speaking the words of Harriet Tubman after a few minutes, his voice stoic and moving. He picks up his saxophone and plays long emotional lines of sound across Drake's percussion, as the music becomes raw and real like the harrowing search for freedom evoked by Tubman's message. The duo's improvisation is stark and  bare in appearance, stripped of any ornamentation, it speaks to the soul as McPhee further punctuates the music with verbal exultation. The title of "Lord Don't Let 'Em Drop Them Goddamn Nukes On Us Lord" may nod at Mingus, but the music is pure in the moment free jazz. McPhee stays on saxophone, and Drake is a whirlwind on the drum set, taking the music into a very energetic state, echoing the randomness of the modern world. McPhee digs in deeply, his saxophone full of life and energy, and Drake is his ideal partner, his arrangement of rhythm and pacing precipitates the ever changing improvisation. Each musician develops a solo track, and Drake's "Endangered Species" has subtle and gentle percussion, patiently evolving in an organic fashion, like a heartbeat, or waves lapping at the shore of a distant ocean. Drake's rhythm gradually fills in and becomes more complex and louder, but never unnecessarily so, developing a lengthy narrative over the course of ten eventful minutes. "Time Was (For President Barack Hussein Obama)" sees McPhee switching to trumpet and engaging Drake's open ended percussion in a thoughtful manner, using longer tones of warm sound and crisp drumming to make for a memorable performance. "Morning Star (For Lucy Stone)" is a powerhouse improvisation for alto saxophone and drum kit, with both musicians leaning into the urgent theme, dedicated to the prominent abolitionist, and suffragist, and developing into into a boiling Albert Ayler tinged saxophone led performance. Finally, "Makes Me Wanna Holler (For Representative John Lewis)" is a taut trumpet and drums creation, with McPhee adding scatting glossolalia, creating an exciting and moving ending to a powerful and impeccably played album. Keep Going - amazon.com

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