Saturday, June 30, 2012

Metta Quintet - Big Drum/Small World; John Zorn - Templars in Sacred Blood

Metta Quintet - Big Drum/Small World (Jazz Reach, 2012) Big Drum Small World is the latest album from the Metta Quintet, a cooperative ensemble made up of Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano saxophones, Greg Ward on alto saxophone, David Bryant on piano, Joshua Ginsburg on bass and Hans Schuman on drums. This album is EP length with five songs in less than forty minutes, but works very well within those parameters, and the music never overstays its welcome. It’s best not to tamper with a good thing, and the modern jazz groove that the band settles into throughout this LP works very well with the saxophones intertwining  on soaring melodies and the rhythm section pushing the action forward in a light and nimble fashion. Definitely worth looking into for fans of modern mainstream jazz. Big Drum, Small World -

John Zorn - Templars in Sacred Blood (Tzadik, 2012) Something completely different is the latest entry in composer and saxophonist John Zorn’s Moonchild series, Templars in Sacred Blood. This version of the Moonchild band has Zorn’s compositions but no saxophone, Joey Baron on drums, Trevor Dunn on bass, John Medeski on organ and Mike Patton on vocals. This is a wild and interesting piece of work with Zorn’s lyrics and music detailing rise and fall of the Knights Templar (a powerful military and economic force, that was brutally disbanded by the King of France and Pope in 1307.) The music is fascinating as is it draws on drone, metal, jazz with the instrumental trio constantly shifting from ominous open space to bone crushing fusion. Patton is a revelation as well, developing his singing from near liturgical music all the way through growling and shouting in rage and pain. Certainly not for everyone, but it is fascinating how Zorn melds history, mystery and is able to find the right combination of musicians to bring his unique vision to light. Templars In Sacred Blood -

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wayne Shorter - The Classic Blue Note Recordings (Blue Note, 2002)

Saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter has been one of the leading lights on the post-war jazz scene as both a band leader and a sideman. This collection brings together some his best work for a compelling introduction to this important figure. The first part of this two disc set contains selections that Shorter recorded made as a leader during his run as a bandleader for the label from 1964-1970. Some of his most enduring melodies can be found here like the indelible “Footprints” which has since become a beloved standard. “Speak No Evil,” “Infant Eyes” and “Witch Hunt” come from his critically lauded album Speak No Evil, and the enigmatic and haunting music on that album has cast a long shadow. The incredibly burning tenor workout “Yes or No” and the title track “Adam’s Apple” come from powerful quartet recordings with Shorter holding court as the only horn. Disc two moves forward and back in Shorter’s musical chronology, pulling several tracks from his tenure in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers where he was musical director and a regular contributor of compositions. “The Chess Players” and the swinging Lester Young tribute “Lester Left Town” anchor an excellent collection of hard bop that also includes Shorter’s contribution to albums by Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Fast forward to the 1980’s to hear Shorter sitting in with the French pianist Michel Petrucciani. Although it doesn’t cover Shorter’s lengthy tenure in the influential jazz fusion Weather Report or the quartet he’s been leading since the early 2000’s, this is nonetheless an excellent sampling of Shorter's art both as a composer and as an instrumentalist. The Classic Blue Note Recordings -

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pat Metheny - Unity Band (Nonesuch, 2012)

Unity Band is Pat Metheny’s first album to feature a saxophonist since the 1980’s when he collaborated with Ornette Coleman on Song X and Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman on 80/81. This group has as its members: Metheny on guitars, Chris Potter on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Ben Williams on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. They achieve a strong jazz sound, sometimes tinged with fusion or folk music but always with modern jazz at the center. Highlights of the album include “Roofdogs” with opens with Metheny playing guitar synthesizer pushed my strong drumming. Potter’s fast moving saxophone joins the fray about two minutes into the performance, snaking and slithering amongst the bass and drums, keeping things moving along briskly. It is very interesting and exciting to hear the synthesized guitar and tenor saxophone intertwining on this song. Acoustic guitar and shades of bass clarinet open “Come and See” before Metheny and Potter switch to electric guitar and tenor saxophone. Long tones of saxophone are framed by shades of bass clarinet and the development of a liquid toned guitar solo. Potter delves into a strong tenor saxophone solo prodded ever forward by deep bass and drums, making a really strong and powerful statement. “Leaving Town” has a jaunty, upbeat melody with a nimble guitar solo over nice drum textures. Developing a fast trio section, they make way for a dramatic tenor saxophone solo. Finally, the concluding track, “Breakdealer” ends the album on a really high note beginning with a fast paced guitar and then adding quicksilver tenor saxophone to the mix. A powerful full band improvisation comes together with all four members of the group digging in deep in a full-throttle improvisation led by really impressive saxophone. Pat Metheny keeps some pretty heavy company on this record and that challenge brings out a very good record. While it may not appeal to the pop-jazz fans of the Pat Metheny Group, those looking for adventurous mainstream jazz should feel right at home. Unity Band -

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Return to Forever - The Mothership Returns (Eagle Rock, 2012)

Return to Forever is a legendary group among jazz fusion fans. The group was begun in the early 1970’s by keyboardist Chick Corea and a shifting cast of musicians. They were a staple of the jazz fusion scene throughout the 1970’s remaining a popular group until they became dormant in the late 1970’s. This is a collection of music from their second reunion tour, the music and video for this two CD/one DVD set recorded during the 2011 tour. The musicians on this particular formation of the group are Chick Corea on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Lenny White on drums along with Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Frank Gamble on guitar. The music is slick and well polished and the sound quality is bright and immediate. Pulling from the band’s earlier work with songs like “Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy” and “The Romantic Warrior” they juxtapose those group performances against solo spots like Corea’s beautiful jazzy composition “Spain” and Clark’s bass-popping, crowd pleasing “School Days.” The group plays well as a whole, working together to try to achieve an organic sound on some very lengthy improvisation. Corea works a bank of keyboards and synthesizers, and Ponty is an intriguing addition to the band, with his swooping and swaying violin developing key textures in the musical experience. There is also a DVD included as part of the package, featuring a couple of full length performances and a film taking viewers behind the scenes of the music. Fans nostalgic for the fusion era of the 1970’s will undoubtedly enjoy this package, the musicianship is first rate and the players are fully committed to the marriage of music and technology. This is sort of like “arena rock” for jazz with a strong, powerful sound that flirts with science fiction and other mythology in its makeup but strives to integrate the driving power of rock and roll with the subtlety and intricacy of jazz. The Mothership Returns -

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Henry Threadgill - The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note (CAMJazz, 2012)

The iconoclastic composer and multi-instrumentalist made several albums as a leader or as a cooperative member for the Italian Black Saint/Soul Note group of labels during the 1970's and 1980's. These albums gave Threadgill's fertile imagination free reign, and allowed him to experiment with many groups of instrumentalists and forms of music. As a part of the cooperative group Air, Threadgill plays alto saxophone and flute in tandem with Fred Hopkins on bass and Steve McCall on drums. On this set, they are represents by the albums Live Air, Air Mail, as well as Live at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Air Show Number One where they were billed as New Air, with some changes in personal. The music of Air is spacious and free, with the object of the improvisations and compositions being a reflection of the collective group rather then a collection of soloists with accompanists. Threadgill's solo work is represented here with two albums, Spirit of Nuff... Nuff, and Song Out Of My Trees. These albums show him stepping out of the rather austere feeling of the Air group and allowing his unique compositional sense to flow through a series of intricate compositions, using a palette of different instruments and musicians. Threadgill is one of the most non-dogmatic of jazz composers, if that label fits him at all, with his influences ranging from rhythm and blues to modern classical music, all melded through his own musical sensibility. Melding guitars, cellos and unusual instruments like accordion along with his saxophone and flute his original music is haunting and memorable. The final disc is an album called Flute Force Four by a collective group entitled Fluistry. Combining four flutes in a World Saxophone Quartet like feel offers some very interesting textural possibilities for the musicians to research, and the music has a a light and nimble sound. This was a really well done collection of Henry Threadgill's music. Showing him in a variety of contexts, you get the full breadth and width of his musical vision. The Complete Remastered Recordings -

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Books: A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke

A Morning For Flamingos (Dave Robicheaux, #4)A Morning For Flamingos by James Lee Burke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an early book in Burke's great Dave Robicheaux series, where the protagonist has reluctantly joined the New Iberia, LA police Department as a detective. While escorting two prisoners to death row Robicheaux's partner's callous disregard for procedure leads to a brazen escape that leaves him critically wounded and his partner dead. After healing his is lured into a DEA sting operation posing as a deep pocketed buyer looking to flush suppliers out into the open. The deeper he gets, however, the more complicated and ambiguous things seem. He reunites with a childhood sweetheart only to find that she is connected to a mob family. He infiltrates a crime ring only to find himself empathizing with the man who he is supposed to be taking down. Burke never takes the easy way out in his stories, and this one more than ever shows the moral grey areas that he is investigating. As always his descriptions of the people and the natural world of southern Louisiana are thoughtful and evocative and he contrasts the near poetry of these ruminations with the hard boiled violence that cuts through the book like lightning. A Morning for Flamingos -

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

David Kikoski - Consequences (Criss Cross, 2012)

This is a potent and muscular mainstream piano trio consisting of David Kikoski on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. Watts is well known for his playing with the Marsalis brothers as well as his own projects and contributes two of the most memorable compositions on this album. "Blutain" comes forth at a medium tempo rolling gait, breezy and bright with a supple bass solo and a strong drumbeat. "Mr. JJ" is the centerpiece of the album, blasting out of the gate with hard charging full bore collective improvisation. Kikoski achieves McCoy Tyner like speed and facility while McBride gets a hot strong bass solo over shimmering cymbals which Watts rides into his own solo section. The group returns to a full band boil before ending this most impressive performance. Two of Kikoski's compositions stand out as well. "Russian Roulette" is an uptempo song with bright sounding piano accompanied by thick bass and drums. The music builds to a dynamic and powerful trio improvisation. Piano and drums shadow one and other just before stepping aside for a fine bass solo. Some fast muscle flexing opens "Drama," not the show-off kind that might be implied by the title, but really nice inspired playing. After McBride develops a thick strong bass solo, piano chords frame athletic bass and drums. The group also plays a couple of slower pieces and ballads, and the disc ends on a ruminative note with a solo piano version of "Never Let Me Go," but the fast songs were the keepers for me. The sounded powerful, muscular and sleek, like taking a fine sports car through its paces. Consequences -

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

World Saxophone Quartet - Complete Black Saint/Soul Note Recordings (CAM Jazz, 2012)

The World Saxophone Quartet was and continues to be a potent force on the modern jazz scene. This boxed set collection includes remastered versions of some of their earliest albums recorded for the Italian Black Saint/Soul Note labels during the 1970s and 1980s. These albums feature the original lineup of Julius Hemphill on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, Oliver Lake on alto and soprano saxophones, Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone and alto clarinet and David Murray on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. This six disc set includes the albums: Steppin’ With The World Saxophone Quartet, W.S.Q., Revue, Live In Zurich, Live At the Brooklyn Academy Of Music and Moving Right Along. The band is very exciting and uses the different textures of its instruments and the unique voices of the members to create a memorable and distinguished sound that runs the gamut from gutbucket R&B through to outside free improvisations, and it was the balance of these disparate elements that made the band so interesting. Each musician was also a composer who brought something different to the table so there was a great deal of variety within the format. The ability of the musicians to peel off riffs that act as melodic statements and also support individual members on solo flights are particularly impressive. The WSQ became something of a sensation during the 1980s. eventually headlining festivals and securing a major label record deal. Not bad for a group of musicians who were scuffling on the loft scene a decade before. The Complete Remastered Recordings -

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Spectrum Road - Spectrum Road (Palmetto, 2012)

Spectrum Road is a jazz fusion “supergroup” consisting of Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, Vernon Reid on guitar, John Medeski on organ and keyboards and Cindy Blackman-Santana on drums. This group formed to pay tribute to Lifetime, an influential jazz fusion band that drummer Tony Williams led during the 1970’s. Bruce was briefly a member of the band, all others are unaffiliated except by influence. This band first performed in December 2008 in Tokyo and then toured and recorded in 2011. The music is fast and strong but the sound of the band differs enough to save anyone the trouble of accusing the current group of simply imitating the original group. Vernon Reid slashes and burns throughout the program notably on the opener “Vuelta Abajo,” but is also capable of great subtlety as demonstrated on “Blues for Tillmon.” Bruce and Blackman-Santana make for an interesting rhythm team, with both members, though separated by a generation, coming from a diverse musical backgrounds that allows them to continually drive the music forward. For the most part this was a successful disc that should appeal to fans of jazz-rock fusion. Occasionally Bruce’s vocals became a little overwrought, but since most of the music is instrumentally based it does not pose a significant drain on the music. Spectrum Road -

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Captain Beefheart - Bat Chain Puller (Vault Native Records, 2012)

This is a “new” issue of a lost record by the musical iconoclast Captain Beefheart that was recorded in the mid-1970’s but was eventually shelved in the wake of a dispute between musical frenemies Beefheart and Frank Zappa. Ironically this album is being released by the Zappa estate’s own web based label. The music is the patented mix of the Captain’s love of poetry, deep blues, free jazz and rock ‘n’ roll energy. Several of the tracks that appear here would eventually be re-recorded for succeeding Beefheart albums like (Shiny Beast) Bat Chain Puller and Doc at the Radar Station. Some of the spoken word passages “81 Poop Hatch” and “Ape-Ma” while quite bizarre clearly show his love for wordplay while the title track “Bat Chain Puller” demonstrate Beefheart’s extraordinary vocal range and the dynamism of the band. Aficionados of the Captain’s music are are sure to enjoy this disc with previously unreleased music well remastered and presented with some lengthy liner note essays that put the music and recording sessions into clearer context. Bat Chain Puller - Barfkco-Swill.
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thollem/Parker/Cline - The Gowanus Session (Porter Records, 2012)

This was an interesting and unusual trio improvisation with Thollem McDonas on piano, William Parker on bass and Nels Cline on guitar. There was no sense of soloists on this album, rather a collective improvisation that was named upon completion. The three musicians brought unique backgrounds and sensibilities to the recording. McDonas, the nominal leader, alternates between ominous and rumbling lines of low piano occasionally sparking into caffeinated blasts of notes and chords. Cline is particularly interesting in this scenario, revelling in the open space and painting the scenes with squalls of feedback and sharply jagged notes. Parker is the planet around which they gravitate, his bass playing is solid and free, and who uses the bow very effectively in conjunction with Cline’s guitar and thunderous piano on “In the World.” The epic “Lives” is the centerpiece of the album, with sprawling feedback and rumbling piano, building in and out of space, creating an ominous and haunting song world. The Gowanus Session -

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Henry Threadgill Zooid - Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp

Composer and musician Henry Threadgill has been getting some much deserved recognition over the past year with the release of two large retrospective boxed sets of his earlier material and the reconvening of his band Zooid to record a new album on Pi Recods where this mercurial composer/musician has hound a supportive home. Zooid features Threadgill on flutes and alto saxophone, Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums, and Christopher Hoffman on cello. This is an album of knotty compositions and exciting improvisations, and one thing that really impressed me was the intricate nature of the interplay between the musicians and the improvisations. The broad range of colors offered by the music and the complexity of the compositions offer an endless supply of possibilities and the interesting makeup of musicians and instruments keep the album consistently compelling. The lengthy performance “Ambient Pressure Thereby” really bore this conception out with the music moving in waves, never doing the expected, but allowing the musicians to fully create within the moment and bring Threadgill’s vision to fruition. The leader shifts back and forth between flutes and saxophones, developing a signature sound on each instrument. The use of acoustic guitar and acoustic bass along with cello and tuba create a really fascinating sound unlike anything that is being made in jazz today. This was an exciting and original album from one of the neglected masters of the music. Threadgill has long been an iconoclastic trail-setter and this is another example of his unique conception of modern music. Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp -

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rich Halley 4 - Back From Beyond (Pine Eagle Records, 2012)

This is a solid jazz session that uses the free-bop of the mid-1960’s Blue Note era as a jumping off point for a series of modern improvisations. The band consists of Rich Halley on tenor saxophone, wood flute and percussion, Michael Vlatkovich on trombone, percussion and squeak toys(!), Carson Halley on drums and percussion and Clyde Reed on bass. They have a good wide open feel and there is much space for the musicians to investigate the songs they play. Particularly interesting were “Spuds” which has a fast pace, with the band playing strong, aggressive hard-bop. After a thick, throbbing bass solo, drums enter into a duo configuration before Vlatkovich’s trombone comes forth to improvise over the rhythm. The following “Section Three” features a strutting full band stating the theme, before probing saxophone and trombone move in space they have a lengthy dialogue with growling saxophone giving way to a bass interlude. “Continental Drift” is quite exciting with a strong storming full band introduction morphing into a near funky interlude for trombone, bass and drums. Halley’s strong powerful saxophone keeps the brawny improvisation at a boil. After the short and mysterious “Broken Ground” which sounds like something Don Cherry might have recorded in the 1970’s featuring flute and shaken percussion getting an exotic feel, the group dives back into free-bop with “The Mountain's Edge” which has a powerful beginning followed by a lengthy angular saxophone solo over propulsive bass and drums. Trombone and saxophone then swirl and sway over the accompanying rhythm. Back from Beyond -

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Matthew Shipp, et. al. - Black Music Disaster (Thirsty Ear, 2012)

Harkening back to the great Blue Series of “jazztronica” recordings that Thirsty Ear released around ten years ago, this is a fantastic collaboration between musicians of different backgrounds coming together to perform an epic improvisation that stretches the very nature of space and time. Consisting of Matthew Shipp on Farfisa organ, J. Spaceman and John Coxon on electric guitar and Steve Noble on drums, this is the jazz equivalent of The Velvet Underground’s organ drenched epic “Sister Ray.” I had grown accustomed to Shipp’s unique piano technique, so hearing him on garage-band style organ was a revelation. He begins this performance solo with ominous drones and swirls of noise building in intensity until crashing drums and screaming feedback guitar enter the picture and develop the music into a storming and palpable wall of sound. About the 9:30 mark of this continuous performance, the music builds to an outrageous intensity. Snarling guitar and powerful drumming drives the sound inexorably forward developing a pulsating, hypnotic and psychedelic groove, all anchored around Shipp's dramatic and dynamic organ playing. This excellent album is not to be missed by any fan of free jazz or indie rock. Black Music Disaster -

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sonote - OTO (Trost Records, 2011)

Consisting of three veterans of avant garde/free jazz, Ken Vandermark on tenor and baritone saxophone and b-flat clarinet, Mats Gustafson on tenor and baritone saxophone, Peter Brotzmann on alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet and tarogato. I really liked the way the three musicians play together, whether in unison or supporting a soloist. The music blends together well, somewhat akin to the World Saxophone Quartet, although the musicians are willing to take the music farther afield and away from definable melody. The textures and densities of the music are in constant flux, shifting like grains of sand across a desert landscape, always keeping the listener on their toes. The first performance, “Fragments for an Endgame” is a short one, almost whetting the appetite for the lengthy improvisations to come. Things really kick into gear with two long improvisations, “(I Was Arranging Her) Arms” and “Le Chien Perdu” which feature improvised texture and free thinking comprehension about how roughly similar sounding instruments can blend together to make coherent and exploratory music. Swirling swaths of saxophone are key here, whether improvising together or breaking out for an individual solo. This disc was recorded during the taping of the BBC Jazz on 3 radio show, and shows how both powerful and delicate the music can be. Oto -

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Linda Oh - Initial Here (Greenleaf Records, 2012)

Bassist and composer Linda Oh’s debut album, Entry, made my best of list of 2009, and her new album is equally as good, developing a more diverse range of music and colors to build from. Linda Oh plays both acoustic and electric basses, along with Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Fabian Almazan on keyboards, Rudy Royston on drums and Jen Shyu singing on one track. The album leads off in an ebullient fashion, with the opening tracks “Ultimate Persona” and “Something's Coming/Les Cinq Doigts” building a strong sense of modern swing with powerful uptempo full band playing. The original “Mr. M” and the cover of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” are taken at a slower pace, with the former developing a feeling that is majestic, dreamy and spacious, with the latter is played in a reverential fashion. “Deeper than Sad” also demonstrates the band’s accomplished acoustic ballad playing featuring Stephens developing a wounded and bruised saxophone tone. “No. 1 Hit” is a lot of fun, with the song’s title showing some wry humor while the pastel colored electric piano and thick bass develops a medium tempoed, well-textured groove. As the song continues, there is section for nicely swinging upbeat saxophone, and a well developed bass solo with electric piano and a rapid fire bass and drums section. “Thicker Than Water” takes the music in an altogether different  direction with Jen Shyu singing poetic lyrics and the leader playing over-tracked bass as well as bassoon. “Little House” and “Deeper Than Happy” return to the electric groove with swirling fender rhodes piano and Oh getting a nice and dexterous voice on the electric bass. There’s a well done section for rhodes and saxophone to trade ideas on “Little House” and bubbling electric bass feature on “Deeper Than Happy. Almazan develops an interesting tone on “Desert Island Dream” that sounds like ringing chimes, lending an interesting sound where his shadings frame strong saxophone and cool bass. This was a well done and thoughtful album. Linda Oh is clearly full of ideas and the variety of music on this album along with the high quality musicianship make it quite memorable. Initial Here -

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Peter Brotzmann, Massimo Pupillo and Paal Nilssen-Love - Roma (PNL, 2012)

This is a  trio of Peter Br√∂tzmann on alto and tenor saxophones and tarogato, Massimo Pupillo on electric bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, recorded in a torrid performance at the Casa del Jazz in Rome in  December of 2008. “Roma 1” Comes storming out of the gate with a strong and fast trio improvisation. The electric bass and drums simply drive the music forward relentlessly with Brotzmann riding the wave with gales of saxophone. The trio develops passionate collective free improvisation with Last Exit style power. Overdriven bass and drums take center stage with heavy-metal panache, as Brotzmann takes a breather. He re-enters swirling out long wailing tones over the unrelenting bass and drum work. This thirty minute plus work is a powerfully grueling improvisation. Nilssen-Love takes a drum solo, strong on cymbals and quieting the tumult somewhat. Brotzmann switches to a different instrument (tarogato?) to continue a dialogue with Nilssen-Love. The trio comes back together at full throttle hitting the finish line with pile-driving sound. “Roma II” opens with skittish drums and haunted electric bass moans. Strong peals of saxophone add to the cacophony building into a torrid free collective improvisation. Brotzmann takes a snake-charming unaccompanied section, probing and swirling against the silence. The full band kicks in briefly before going to a bass and drums section, rampaging with prog rock meets free jazz energy, then developing a spacious and edgy nature. Everyone returns in a swirl of manic strength, invigorating, if a little frightening. There is a very interesting slower and rawer section, akin to the spiritual power of the final movement of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, but building in a pained and bruised fashion like low clouds forming before the storm. “Roma III” also opens with a drum solo, rolling and shifting rhythmic measures. Bass builds in with buzzing, gurgling exploration, and finally Brotzmann enters after several minutes of duo improvisation and things really kick into high gear. Building this excellent album to a powerful crescendo of noise and tension.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Carmen Intorre Jr. - For the Soul (Random Act Records, 2012)

Currently performing with the great jazz guitarist Pat Martino, drummer Carmen Intoree is a native of Buffalo, NY who went to school at the Institute for Jazz Studies at the Juilliard in new York City, before breaking out as a leader and a sideman. The group on this album features Intorre on drums and percussion, John Hart on guitar, Jon Irabagon on tenor and alto saxophones, and Pat Bianchi and Joey DeFrancesco on organ and keyboards. The band covers a wide range of musical material from the opening track, the funky "Too High" by Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan's "Josie" which features excellent some excellent guitar along with the jazz standard "Steps" by Chick Corea and the swirling jazz fusion of "Black Market" by Weather Report. The organ group format works really well, sort of updating the Blue Note organ groove of the 60's into a modern sounding platform. Irabagon, who is associated with more free playing groups like Mostly Other People Do the Killing and the Mary Halvorson Qunitet acquits himself very well here, his soloing is tart and forceful, while retaining a sense of soulfulness. This album is a nice mix of jazz and funk that carries the entire band through a thoughtful and compelling performances. For the Soul - Random Act Records

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Jerry Granelli - Let Go (Plunge Records, 2011)

On his web site, drummer and composer Jerry Granelli wrote of approaching this recording from a mindful and in the moment perspective: “Let go of what you want it to be. Let go of how you think it should be. Even let go of your vision. And so we began by bringing in compositions and tearing them apart to find out what worked. This recording is a crystallization of that process.” You can definitely hear the organic nature of the music and the time they put into preparation was well rewarded. The nature of the music is patient, unhurried and open with the improvisations taking on a moody and slow nature. The group includes Jerry Granelli on drums, Simon Fisk on bass and Danny Oore on saxophones .Highlights of the album include “Dango” with its bowed bass and whimsical saxophone opening slow and poignant without drums. Taken at a medium tempo, the music moves slowly, propelled by elastic bass (both bowed and plucked.) A languorous tempo also pervades “Solaria” with yearning saxophone over autumnal bass and breathy saxophone making way for the guest vocals of Mary Jane Lemond. This lengthy track moves through several different phases and tempi over the course of nine minutes. By packing away any preconceived notions and allowing the power of the music and the trio to come through as a living-breathing unit, the band was able to guide themselves to a successful recording. Let Go -

Frode Gjerstad and Paal Nilssen-Love - Side By Side (CIMP, 2012)

This is a special meeting of prominent Norwegian jazz musicians Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The duo format really seems to suit them well, as they lock into each others wavelength immediately and keep the energy high for the remainder of the session. “Downtown” opens the album beginning with some spacious saxophone playing, probing the silence. Nilssen-Love enters and the music picks up to a frenetic pace with growling and shrieking saxophone over rolling drums. There is a dynamic presence to the music which shifts between loud and soft sections. Strong drums and saxophone usher in “Metropolis” which soon becomes a full bore collective improvisation and the playing is very fast and potent. They throttle back to a softer drum pattern with swirling saxophone but remain in constant exciting dialogue. The intensity of the duo is reminiscent of the great John Coltrane - Rashied Ali duo album Interstellar Space on “Redwood,” with squeaks and squeals communicating over rapid drumming. The musicians enter a more abstract vein on “Casa” featuring high pitched saxophone or clarinet playing off against rattling percussion, making for a skittering chase like scene of high performance energy. Nilssen-Love’s drums open up about two-thirds of the way through the performance, playing his way through a near backbeat for the benefit of Gjerstad’s sputtering reeds. “Rough Idea” is an improvised sketch with a drum solo and swaying clarinet. There’s a quiet section too, where the group shifts the tempo to high pitched squalls over nervous drums. Rapping the album up is another highlight (and a great way to end the album) “Beachland,” which is fourteen minutes of go for broke duet improvisation of barreling hell for leather drums and lightning saxophone. This is an excellent sequel to the musicians 2010 album, Gromka. Fans of the European free-improv scene will really like this album, as it was a very exciting meeting of two of the leading lights of the European free jazz scene. Nilssen-Love's drumming is hypnotically beautiful throughout, and Gjerstad has a conception of structure and freedom that makes for a continually interesting album. Side by Side - iTunes

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Miles Okazaki - Figurations (Sunnyside, 2012)

This live album is the third in a series that have come out every three years. As you can gather, numbers and ratios and mathematics are a big part of Okazaki’s musical direction, possibly an offshoot from his studies with Steve Coleman who is fascinated by numbers and numerology. In addition to Okazaki on guitar, the band consists of Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, Thomas Morgan on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. The compositions are long and complex, shifting through many variations of their material, yet still remain accessible to the sharp eared listener. The album opens with “Dozens,” an uptempo composition with complex percussion. There is some nice alto saxophone soloing, with nimble and subtle guitar and drum breaks. The lengthy “Wheel” opens with slow and probing guitar and yearning saxophone combining to create an air of mystery and suspense. Zenon takes a searching and probing saxophone solo that plumbs the depth of his instrument with Okazaki’s guitar complimenting him underneath. Quick dynamic changes in rhythm and speed are a hallmark of this performance, with the saxophone giving way to the leader's guitar playing over bass and drums, developing subtle shading with a sound that is liquid toned and neon hued. Probing guitar and lightly blown saxophone shadow each other on the title track ”Figurations,” setting up a late-night vibe to the proceedings. The pace of the music picks up to a stronger tempo, with fast runs of guitar and saxophone building to a fine crescendo, before slowing back down to a gentle conclusion. I liked this album quite a bit, it is well played and thoughtful modern jazz performed by very talented musicians. Hopefully it will get some more attention and allow this band to stick together and create more albums in what will be an ongoing series. Figurations -

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Orrin Evans - Flip the Script (Posi-Tone, 2012)

Orrin Evans is a young pianist and composer, well known for his work in the Captain Black Big Band and his solo work as a leader. On this trio album, he is accompanied by Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards drums. There are echoes of past masters like Andrew Hill and McCoy Tyner on this album, but Evans is definitely his own man and his own spirit and vision shines through on this recording. “Question” opens the recording with the trio achieving a bright uptempo sound of rippling piano over taught bass and drums. Strong Tyner-ish piano is the hallmark of “Clean House” where Evans’ muscular piano offsets a subtle dynamism that pervades the music. The deep nature of the music continues on “Flip the Script” where strong dark chords mix with propulsive bass and drums to make a fast and potent brew. The highlight of the album for me was the storming composition “A Brand New Day” which shows the trio firing on all cylinders. Strength, speed and power all come together here in a very potent performance. Another excellent performance was “T.C.’s Blues” which has a dynamic start-stop feel with strong piano and drums buoyed by by elastic bass with space for self-expression. Flip The Script -

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Ralph Bowen - Total Eclipse (Posi-Tone, 2012)

Saxophonist Ralph Bowen has carved out a fine niche for himself on the mainstream jazz scene as an educator at Rutgers University, and as a recording artist. This is a fine mainstream jazz hard-bop recording where Bowen is performing with Jared Gold on organ, Mike Moreno on guitar and Rudy Royston on durms. Switching to the organ format makes for an interesting album, focusing the music on meat and potatoes mainstream jazz is the order of the day here, and straight-ahead jazz fans should be quite satisfied by this offering. Fellow Posi-Tone recording artist Jared gold keeps the organ bubbling and purring and under-rated guitarist Moreno plays very well. Royston keeps the beat moving throughout, keeping everybody on track and pushing and pulling at will. Bowen has a patient and reverent sound on tenor making for a very impressive performance. Fans of solid mainstream jazz will enjoy this quite a bit, Bowen has an excellent pedigree as a leader and a sideman with the like of Horace Silver and many others, and this is another fine addition to his discography. Total Eclipse -

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Books: Not My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman

My Cross to BearMy Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Musician and occasional actor Gregg Allman sure packed a lot of living into his sixty-five years, and this tell all biography lays bare a true to life tale of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Starting as a fatherless youth smitten with rhythm and blues music, Allman bought his first guitar as a teenager and never looked back. Soon bypassed by his guitar prodigy brother Duane, Allman switched to the organ and began to sing in a series of bands that played across the Southeast United States. After floundering in California for a while he struck gold with the formation of the Allman Brothers Band, one of the most popular bands of the 1970's and soon to become a staple of classic rock radio. Their success was tinged by tragedy though, with the loss of Duane Allman and another band member to motorcycle accidents. The band soldiered on and ironically reached their peak in popularity just after the accidents with a well received live album and a double LP that went to #1 on the pop charts. At this points tempers started to fray and the band would suffer intermittent break-ups and personnel changes to the present day. Allman discusses all of the bands machinations in detail as he does his increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol. His series of six marriages is almost unbelievable especially his tabloid heavy marriage to Cher during the 1970's. Allman's years of heavy drinking and drug abuse not only took a heavy toll on his music, but left his health in tatters. He describes in detail his decent and the subsequent series of very serious operations he had done to try to repair the damage. This roller-coaster ride of a book ends on an up note, with the reunited Allman Brothers Band playing a yearly set of shows and Allman's release of a popular solo LP in 2011. My Cross to Bear -

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