Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Daniel Carter / William Parker / Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University (AUM Fidelity, 2018)

This was a wonderful collective improvisation recorded live at Tufts University in Massachusetts during April of 2017. The trio of Daniel Carter on flute, trumpet, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones plus clarinet, William Parker on bass and Matthew Shipp on piano is made up of three of the most experienced and forward thinking musicians on the modern jazz scene. This three part long-form work is not the free jazz blowout that may be expected, but rather a subtle and nuanced performance that resonances, melding lyrical ideas with open ended improvisation. The music is fully collaborative, allowing each member to bring their own distinctive personality to the music and interact with their colleges with respect and dignity. "Part I" opens with beautifully lilting flute and piano chords and notes melding with emotional bowed bass creating quite a memorable sound, somewhat reminiscent of the early Eric Dolphy recordings with Ron Carter. The music is low in volume but shimmers with a quiet tension and creative impulse, with Parker deftly switching between plucking and bowing and Shipp adding dark and increasingly percussive chordal accompaniment. Carter moves to  trumpet, easing the flow of the music into a new channel, with ripe piano pushing the music forward, as taut bass courses underneath. This is a long track that ebbs and flows but remains vital, as Carter deftly switches instruments (much like the grand master Sam Rivers did during his trio concerts) and Shipp and Parker contribute unexpected rhythmic variations. The pianist takes a stellar solo at the midsection of the piece, creating constellations of notes and shapes that lead into Carter's return on tenor saxophone, taking a soft and supple tone along with Parker's elastic bass and Shipp's surging piano, as they use elasticity to stretch the form of the music in tone and temperament. They glide into "Part II" without stopping, showing that fertile ground that has sown between these musicians remains strong as the music opens up and breathes, and the playing is light and nimble. The music becomes gradually steeper, with cascading piano and the musicians merge into their improvisation an an sympathetic manner, coming to this music from that place outside of strict form and function. Parker's bowed bass playing is stunning, creating this very rhythmic orientation, aligned with the piano and light and airy soprano saxophone. Moving placidly into the closing "Part III," it is clear that these musicians have a deep connection and communicate on a near telepathic level. Carter's saxophone glows in the open space of the theater, with piano and bass soon joining in to create a fascinating musical journey, filled with imagination. The music calls forth a more humble and pure vision, one that is shared by all three men, and together they form an unshakable bond that shines forth from this excellent album. Seraphic Light (Live At Tufts University) - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Saxophonist, flutist and composer was inspired to form a new group and write new music by the conceptual art installation “The New York Earth Room” and the sculptures of Stephen De Staebler. These works must have been very thought provoking, as Threadgill formed this large ensemble with some of the core musicians he has worked with in the past, while also injecting new blood to create two suites that are steeped in nuance, using a wide range of color, light and shadow to excellent effect. "Dirt - Part III" is a wonderful example of this as the leaders lithe and gliding saxophone weaves around tuba, percussion and piano creating a very interesting musical concept that is able to build into a complex improvised section. This shifts to an interesting brass interlude, supported by percussive piano and drums, framed by wheezy harmonium. Cutting saxophone emerges to push the group further along with a strong solo section over complex background interaction. The large ensemble has instruments that weave in as out as the arrangement and conduction desires as evidenced on "Dirt - Part IV" where the palate of the music waxes and wanes, leading to short solo sections for differently tuned trumpets, moving over the thick tuba and drums. While the music can seem unconventional, it unfolds logically and rationally, and each of the compositions is a strong unit within the greater whole. "Dirt - Part VI" ends the first suite in a very exciting fashion with a complex arrangement of instruments opening the piece, before the colors branch out in a kaleidoscopic fashions with horns interacting with reeds playing with brass who are frolicking with drums, creating a multi-layered and complex setting that drops off unexpectedly for a section of spare flute playing. This moves seamlessly into "More Dirt - Part I" where spacious drumming sets the stage for the return of the other instruments which build a lightly toned theme with flute and other reeds taking charge. The tuba, central to so much of Threadgill's work, solos in a clean and pure fashion adding the bottom, but also fresh ideas to the proceedings. The collective improvisation is fast and intricate as one of the pianists stretches out over insistent percussion and melded reeds, and then takes a brief unaccompanied solo. This is the longest track on the album and it unfolds episodically as cells of musicians are called upon to improvise and interact within the performance itself. "More Dirt - Part III" is a short and light feature for flute and other reeds, taking flight and fluttering rapidly like a group of hummingbirds in search of nectar. The interplay is complex and intricate, but always accessible to the listener. This was an excellent album, with a very talented ensemble led by one of the most iconoclastic performer on the modern jazz scene. Henry Threadgill's work is unique, inspiring and completely unpredictable. Dirt... And More Dirt - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book: Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by Steven Hyden (Dey Street Books, 2018)

Hyden presents an entertaining look at his journey through the mythology and reality of classic rock, beginning as a teenager listening to the radio and collecting tapes. He winkingly likens it to the heroes journey, beginning with his adolescence and yearning to understand the music he loves, but he is not blind by the limits and foibles of the genre. While people bemoan the loss of the stature of rock music in the modern day pop structure, the author is willing to cast a critical eye as people of color, women and LGBT fans are left at the threshold which is seemingly stultified with aging while males only. His obsessions with particular musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen echo the love of many suburban fans, but the author is able to dig deeper into the search for literary meaning in Dylan and the nature of class and poverty in Springsteen. That isn't say this is a dry academic book, far from it, Hyden is a journalist and this is a general interest book that has wit and charm. He delves into into the lives of aging rock stars and the phenomenon of "dad rock" and the interest people carry into such "uncool" bands as Phish, who he feels actually represent a portion of the classic rock continuum in the form of guitar solos, instrumental virtuosity and honoring their ancestors through the elaborate staging of concerts covering the entirety of a classic rock LP. Finally, he asks what will happen when all the classic rock heroes have passed away? Not with a sense of morbidity, but with clear eyed eventuality, and the possibility of carrying the torch of classic rock into that distant future. This was a fine book to read, Hyden is a very good writer with some interesting ideas, making this book well worth your time. Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sun Ra - The Cymbals​/​Symbols Sessions: New York, 1973 (Modern Harmonic, 2018)

After a long time scuffling and building an audience, the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was finally recognized with a major label contract in 1973. His agreement with Impulse! Records, was supposed to release a wide range of material, but it was curtailed after just a few years. This is a two disc set, has the album Cymbals on the first disc and previously unreleased material from the same sessions on the second. Cymbals was never released by Impulse!, but it did come out on Evidence as part of the The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums package (along with Crystal Spears.) Regardless, this is a very good session with Ra playing his own open ended compositions with his group playing in quartet and sextet formations. "Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light" is the longest track on the album, and it offers thick acoustic bass and splashy cymbals amidst Ra's electric keyboard and riffing horns. Gritty tenor saxophone branches out for a distinctive solo framed by the organ and keyboards and strong rhythmic support. The great saxophonist John Gilmore gradually takes his solo farther out, testing the boundaries of the music, while maintaining the raw soulfulness at the core of his sound. He really hits his stride about six minutes in with torrid runs of emotionally resonant sound that is something to behold. Ronnie Boykins' bass playing is the lynch pin of this whole session, and he is utterly unperturbed by the chaos around him, as he anchors the music to the ground. Sun Ra adds swaths of organ crystallizing around hand percussion and bass, while punchy trumpet from Akh Tal Ebah emerges late in the piece, increasing the tempo and leading to the fade out. "The Mystery of Two" has epic grinding organ that prog rockers could only dream of as Harry Richards's cymbals slash underneath. Strong bass and trumpet fill out the sound and create a strong edifice that supports a relentless trumpet solo over swelling organ, drums and stoic bass. The shorter "Land of the Day Star" initially sounds like Chicago era Sun Ra with the wonderful bowed bass and riffing horns, but it's the leader's exotic keyboard that makes it thoroughly of its time, as saxophone billows out and drums push the music forward. "The Universe Is Calling," a quintessentially Ra title, mines a nice organ groove with taut and citrus alto saxophone from Danny Davis stretching out into the cosmos, increasing the elasticity of the continuum of music that the band explores. Ra opens up, riding the bubbling bass and percussion as Elmoe Omoe's bass clarinet burbles underneath. Sci-Fi keyborards and a full compliment of horns clear the path for "Space Landing" with raw saxophone and strong drums making this one of the freest performances on the album, looking to transcend the boundaries of jazz and improvised music. "Of Otherness" develops a bright and bouncy feel, with Ra's organ pinwheeling around the band, threatening to cheese out but then always pivoting in a direction you don't expect, and the track "Myth Evidential" takes this even further. Ra's mines the possibilities of the electronic keyboards for all they are worth, moving from krautrock to post-bop and beyond. It's classic Sun Ra, and the restlessness and refusal to be categorized that makes it so appealing today, is probably what doomed it to be unreleased in its time. Regardless, this is an excellent album with some relatively unknown players joining Ra stalwarts to create some very memorable music. The Cymbals - Symbols Sessions - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Akira Sataka - Proton Pump (Family Vineyard, 2018)

Alto saxophonist Akira Sakata is one of the most famous members of the Japanese free jazz scene, with a unique scouring tone and an unfettered and exciting approach to the music. On this album he adds clarinet, vocals and percussion to his repertoire in the company of Masahiko Satoh on piano, Chris Corsano on drums and Darin Gray upright bass and percussion. This album was recorded live at the Pit Inn, Tokyo in October 2015 and opens with with the title track, the roaring “Proton Pump” which shines a light on Sakata's raw and righteous saxophone playing. The band falls in behind him, hurrying to keep pace and developing a wide open rhythmic approach. There is a top notch collective improvisation, with Corsano's rolling and clattering drums matching up with Gray's stoic bass and the unpredictable piano playing of Satoh. The music moves forward at a burning clip, ratcheting up to a very exciting level of volume as Sakata digs in deep and soars against the powerful backdrop, before laying out for a sparkling area for the rhythm section to explore. Satoh is featured and he has a very interesting approach to the instrument, reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. Sakata returns with a stark and yearning solo to minimal accompaniment, with the band coming together for a bracing race to the crashing and cunning finish. "Bullet Apoptosis" follows with Sakata swirling on clarinet, probing and looking for an opening. The music is open and breathable, with taut bass playing meeting crisp drumming and punchy piano chords to create a balanced atmosphere. I'm not really familiar with Sakata's clarinet playing, but he just owns it, leaping gymnastically around the soundstage as bright piano and raucous drumming give chase. after a breather he cruises back in with neon toned clarinet swooping and swaying joyously through the relentless thicket of sound making for a nearly overpowering full band improvisation. "Chemiosmotic Coupling of Acorn" has spacious bowed bass and Sakata's vocalizing - this is something of an acquitted taste, but he's all in and clearly feeling it as he bellows and cries over subtle bass and percussion. The piano glides in as the volume gradually increases with close interplay, and Sakata scats with bravado and the music flows forth effortlessly. He returns to saxophone in duet with his old compatriot Satoh, before the bass and drums roar in and take the music to another level of thrilling all out free jazz collective improvisation, this is just mind melting stuff on par with any Brotzmann or Vandermark unit. The concluding track "Voyage of the Eukaryote" is a spacious clarinet, bass and percussion track, with the sound slowly building around Skakta's quicksilver playing. They create a fast paced and interesting improvisation that is the perfect conclusion to a stellar album that all open eared music fans should keep an eye out for. Proton Pump - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tim Berne / Matt Mitchell - Angel Dusk (Screwgun Records, 2018)

This is a very interesting duet album featuring Tim Berne on alto saxophone and Matt Mitchell on piano, continuing a collaboration of several years which has seen Mitchell perform in Berne's groups and record an album of the saxophonists compositions for solo piano. This album has them collaborating as equals, starting with "Perception/Reception" during which the phrases the two musicians develop slowly and engage one another, building forth as raw and exciting saxophone and crystallize droplets of piano, coalescing in a rending, yearning improvisation as Berne's saxophone moves from light to darkness dramatically and the music grows organically in a near suite like formation. This is followed by the short and very sweet "Not Too Two" which blasts out of gate fast and furious with low piano chords supporting the strong saxophone, turning this into a powerful collective improvisation, one that doesn't letup as they race for the finish line in an exciting and vital fashion. "Exception/Pest" expands an open ended and spacious yearning feel in which the musicians weave a story that gradually gathers pace, beginning with rounded melodic material, moving mysterious eddies of sound. The music comes into focus as a powerful duo improvisation as thrilling ripe squeals of saxophone combined with compelling piano chords. Pinched saxophone in a solo configuration sets the tone for "Conception" as Mitchell's spare piano frames the expressive reed playing, going more deeply engaged as the music develops. The music grows faster on "Starfish Blues" where deeply hewn chords of piano meeting unfettered saxophone playing in a very appealing fashion, pulling together with a great force of effort. "Chance" is lighter and more open, with the piano breaking through like rays of sunlight, which builds a gentle glow that pervades the piece. They come together and increase the music's heft to a powerhouse conclusion. "Snail's Pace" has an atmospheric spare sound to the piano, soon joined by stark saxophone as the music becomes edgy and restless, developing acute angles that keep the the improvisation fresh and interesting. The music reflects as if off of a funhouse mirror, raw and scouring saxophone glinting off of ripe piano playing. The album concludes with "Petulance" where the musicians develop a rippling and muscular interplay, interacting in a nimble fashion, flexing their musical knowledge in a riveting performance that really moves the air. Berne and Mitchell are inspired throughout this album with the taut saxophone and colorful piano making for an inspired match. There is a great devotion to the music that is captivating to hear and makes this a must-hear for fans of progressive jazz. Angel Dusk - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circles (Blue Note, 2018)

The newest version of NEA Jazz Master pianist and composer Kenny Barron's band features new edition of the Kenny Barron Quintet with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. They create a very appealing modern mainstream jazz LP that displays excellent ensemble playing and some spirited solo statements. "DPW" opens the album with a brightly swinging full band romp, with the horns framing the rhythm section and everything meshing well together. A nice saxophone solo shakes loose, followed by a probing trumpet interlude, with Barron's piano leading the bass and drums through their paces in a rapid and rhythmic trio section, as boiling drums simmer to the end of the performance. This rich rhythmic foundation continues in the undercurrent of "Blue Waters," setting a medium pace for the horns to glide into. They ease into a bouncy rhythm that is quite pleasant, setting up a strong trumpet feature, which develops a punchy and propulsive solo, before passing the baron to Stephens who develops an intricate statement of his own. Barron's own centerpiece is rich and patient, allowing the music to breathe and interacting well with the bass and drums. "Von Hangman" has a fast paced rhythm and is arranged to have a little big band feel to the opening portion of the performance. This leads to a string of impressive solo statements, beginning with Stephens, whose tone is engaging and hot enough to keep pace with the opening. Barron's piano playing is masterful, as he lopes grandly through the thicket of bass and drums, then bringing the horns back to take the tune out in fine fashion. The group establishes an engaging mid-tempo setting for "Baile" with Barron taking the reins for an intricate and slightly exotic melody that is embellished by the saxophone and trumpet, in solo and conversational configurations. Kitagawa's rich tone on the bass anchors the group and provides a firm foundation for the trumpet and saxophone to trade inventive short phrases over. The rhythm section bubbles in an enticing fashion with Barron's bouncy and buoyant piano leading group in a congenial manner. "L's Bop" has a rapid and intricate melody with the musicians intertwining with one another and then setting Rodriguez loose for a fast paced and well articulated solo with the rhythm team pushing hard, and Stephens taking over and engaging with loping elastic bass to good effect. The band swings briskly, allowing the appealing melody and the story of the bebop idiom to flow as Barron effortlessly demonstrates a lifetime's worth of polishing his craft in a wonderful feature. "I'm Just Sayin'" develops a sly and spirited groove that allows much room for excellent ensemble playing and soloing, with a bluesy hard bop feel permeating the whole performance. Barron concludes with a solo version of Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" that ends the album on a thoughtful and gracious note. Concentric Circles - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.