Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ethan Iverson, Lee Konitz, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy - Costumes are Mandatory (High Note, 2013)

Pianist Ethan Iverson insisted on his blog that he was not the "leader" of this band, but rather it was a cooperative endeavor with Lee Konitz on saxophone, Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums. This statement is borne out by the two takes of "Blueberry Ice Cream" bracket the album, both with a confident sense of casual swing that exemplifies the music on this LP. All of the musicians are highly seasoned professionals, and play no-nonsense jazz, with nothing to prove other than the joy of making music. On "Try a Little Tenderness" the music begins with soft, lilting piano, before the rest of the band enters in a subtle fashion. Konitz's saxophone seems to be floating on air. The standard "It's You" is taken in two parts, first a fascinating introduction for Iverson solo, with percussive piano refracted back upon itself, then Grenadier and Rossy join to make for a swaying trio at medium tempo. Konitz enters halfway through the performance with a classy and nuanced solo. There is also solo space for Grenadier who adds a probing pulsating sound to the music. "What's New" has a soft and delicate piano opening, Konitz add a a lush, tempered ballad sound, an the music takes on a patient thoughtful feel. "317 East 32nd" develops a nice bouncy feel for the piano, bass and drums unit before Konitz slides in to offer artful commentary in the proceedings. The iconic song "Body and Soul" opens with just Konitz and Grenadier playing in a very intimate fashion. There is a deft bass solo to go along with the supple saxophone, both men are patient and completely in the moment. Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill" shows the band slowing down and elaborating on the familiar melody. "A Distant Bell" is a fast piano trio performance as is "Bats" and then there is a bowed bass and piano duet on "Mr. Bumi." Altered piano (?) gives a slightly ominous air to "My New Lovers All Seem So Tame." Gentle scat singing adds a sly wink to on "My Old Flame" before Konitz revels in another lush solo opportunity. This album was interesting and was interesting and widely varied. for from a "master meets younger musicians"type album, this is where all the musicians are equal in music that transcends genre and boundary. 

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Archie Shepp and the Full Moon Ensemble - Live at Antibes (BYG/Actuel, 1970, 2013)

Like many saxophonists and jazz musicians in general, Archie Shepp moved to New York City in 1959 in search of becoming a professional musician. Things moved slowly, but by 1965 he had performed with pianist Cecil Taylor and had made the acquaintance of several musicians in the burgeoning free jazz or "new thing" cadre. Most importantly was his relationship with the great saxophonist John Coltrane who recommended him for Impulse Records. Shepp recorded for about a decade with Impulse, but also for other labels like BYG/Actuel which released this concert featuring Shepp on tenor saxophone, piano and vocals, Clifford Thornton on trumpet and piano, Alan Shorter on flugelhorn, Joseph Dejean on guitar, Beb Guerin on bass and Claude Delcloo on drums. The album is taken from two concerts at the French jazz festival in 1970 with "The Early Bird: Parts 1 and 2" on the first disc and then "Huru: Parts 1 and 2" on the second disc. The music is very wide open and seems use piano as its anchor, with either Shepp or Thornton laying down massive slabs of dark keyboards that lock in with the deeply percussive bass and drums to give the music a haunting and hypnotic effect. Shepp takes a lengthy saxophone solo on "Huru: Part One" where he ranges from deep guttural moans to high energy squalls and howls. "The Early Bird" he incorporates vocals and shouts from his composition "Mama Rose" into the overall fabric of the performance. This is a very interesting and freewheeling set of music. It is a fine example of the way that jazz had evolved in the early 1970's. Incorporating elements of African music as well as the past and present in jazz, it makes for compelling listening. Live in Antibes -

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ron Aprea Sextet - Remembering Blakey (CDBaby, 2013)

Hat tip to JazzWax where I read about this LP. Saxophonist Ron Aprea leads an excellent ensemble featuring Joe Magnarelli on trumpet, Jerry Weldon on tenor saxophone, Cecilia Coleman on piano, Tim Givens on bass and Vince Cherico on drums. The music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers is certainly the inspiration for this album, but it is far from a stuffy tribute. The group uses his music as an inspiration for a fine album or hard bop, bebop and ballads. The opening tracks, “Flown the Coop” and “Minor Setback” set the pace of the album as they develop into sure-footed swingers a hint of swagger and bravado. The standard “My Foolish Heart” slows the pace to become a lush ballad and a tasteful solo bass spotlight for Givens. “Latino” comes out of the blocks hard with aggressive drumming driving the music forward. The band develops a strong and powerful beginning before Aprea branches out on a nice alto saxophone solo. A subtle mid-tempo swing ushers “In a Minor Funk” which develops a happy and breezy swing. Cherico gets another chance to demonstrate his talents on “Transition Blues” where his smashing drums give way to a set of scalding saxophone solos. “Andrea’s Delight” follows hot on it’s heels with a bright and strong opening giving way to a bop influenced alto solo, fast flurries of notes recalling Charlie Parker or Sonny Stitt leading the group through the equivalent of a white water rafting course. This was a really well performed album, that is frequently exciting. Fans of old-school hard bop shouldn’t pass it up. Ron Aprea Sextet - Remembering Blakey -

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Mathew Shipp comments about Keith Jarrett.
Classic interview with Hank Mobley. Prescient comment "I have about five records on the shelf. Blue Note had half the black musicians around New York City, and now the records are just lying around. What they do is just hold it and wait for you to die."
Essential Sun Ra.
Sun Ra live at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Marc Ribot performs in John Zorn’s Jazz Ensemble.

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Melodic Art-tet - Melodic Art-tet (NoBusiness, 2013)

This fascinating archival album captures a live in the studio performance by a collective group featuring Charles Brackeen on flute, soprano and tenor saxophones, Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet, William Parker on bass, Roger Blank on drums and Tony Waters (Ramadan Mumeen) on percussion. This performance was recorded in 1974 at the beginning of the loft scene in New York City and shows how the group takes a wide range of jazz history from hard bop to free jazz and melds it into a language of their own. There are four lengthy improvisations on this album, the third of which encompasses an ambitious five part suite (Time and Money>YAMACA>Open Pit>Chena In the Chapel With Cheer) which develops a number of individual motifs that give the players plenty of improvisational opportunities. Brackeen’s tone and playing are reminiscent of some of Albert Ayler’s quieter moments with his saxophone quivering and probing in space before developing a more cohesive improvisation. Abdullah makes for an excellent foil (as well as writing excellent liner notes for this release) and the rhythm team ties it all together. This was a well done archival release that explores a corner of the music scene that is not well mapped while at the same time shining much needed light on unappreciated musicians. Melodic Art-tet - NoBusiness Records.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lurrie Bell - Blues in My Soul (Delmark, 2013)

With his father the great harmonica player Carey Bell and godfather in another Chicago blues legend Eddie C. Campbell, it could be said that Lurrie Bell was born into the blues. Through a series of devastating personal events, he learned the true meaning of the blues first hand, and through sheer grit and determination, climbed his way back to the top of the blues scene. This album is a gritty affirmation about the power of the blues with Bell on vocals and guitar, aided by a crack band of Roosevelt Purifoy on piano and organ, Melvin Smith on bass, Wille Hays on drums, Matthew Skoller on harmonica and a three piece brass unit on a couple of songs. Bell's band has a classic gutsy Chicago sound, tough and sure, and their repertoire on this album draws heavily on the classic musical history of that great city. "I Feel So Good" and "She's a Good 'un" are excellent examples of the band proving that the blues is much more that hard times, with a swaggering sense roguish fun added to the music. "Hey Hey Baby" and "Southside to Riverside" make use of two trumpets and a saxophone to add some heft to the sound and the approach works well with these instrumental track "Southside" which allows the group to stretch out and Bell a chance to shine on guitar as the riffing horns frame his solos while on "Hey" they frame and his vocals. On his original "Blues in My Soul" he goes really deep inside himself with a harrowing meditation on heartache and pain. His jumping "24 Hour Blues" is dedicated to the great bluesman Magic Slim who passed away as this album was recorded. They pay tribute the the masters on the second half of the recording with tunes by T-Bone Walker, Eddie Boyd and Otis Spann, but they are all played in the Bell's own style, tipping his hat toward the legends in his own way. Fans of the Chicago school of blues shouldn't pass up on this album, Bell and the band are in crackling form, and his own story is as inspirational as the music. Blues in My Soul -

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sunna Gunnlaugs - Distilled (Sunny Sky Records, 2013)

The Icelandic pianists' most recent album is a trio recording with Porgrimur Jonsson on bass and Scott McLemore on drums. It explores a melodic landscape where folk-like melodies and motifs shift in a manner reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s albums made in the 1970’s. “Momento” opens in an interesting way, with clattering percussion keeping the melodic and mid-tempo bass and piano on their toes. After a fine bass feature for Jonsson, the group ramps up slightly and then closes. The trio has a lot of fun on “Switcheroo” developing a tumbling tempo they gather momentum culminating in some excellent collective improvisation, led by dark toned piano. “Gallop” was one of the highlights of this album, and the band lives up to the title, taking no prisoners playing with a strong percussive feel. The group likes to work at unhurried medium or ballad tempos which develop dynamically as they move forward. “The New Now” is a fine example of this, as the music begins by developing subtle textures and then picking up to an abrupt finale. This was a fine album, which should appeal to a broad swath of mainstream jazz fans. Gunnlaugs is an excellent pianist with the crystal clear sound and a very democratic bandleader who develops an interactive trio concept. Distilled -

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jonathan Finlayson and Sicilian Defense: Moment and the Message (Pi Recordings, 2013)

This was a complex and interesting album where the band's name was taken from a popular opening chess gambit. Chess is a fine analogue for this album, because the band is in constant strategic movement, developing well designed compositions and improvisations that remain quite accessible to the average jazz listener. The band consists of Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Damion Reid on drums, David Virelles on piano and Keith Witty on bass. Some of the musicians here have worked closely with saxophonist and conceptualist Steve Coleman and his knotty ideas have clearly rubbed off. The song “Carthage” has some very intricate guitar playing with its lattice work supported by percussive piano and drums. “Tensegrity” opens with subtle acoustic guitar suspended in space, before the rest of the band joins in at medium tempo. There is a nice delicate acoustic guitar feature in the middle. A subtle piano filigree opens "Le Bas-Fond" before the music jumps forward, with an uptempo feel. There is a strong piano, bass and drums interlude, before Finlayson returns with a punchy trumpet statement. "Tyre" is a spry uptempo, with the instruments weaving together closely, while "Fives and Pennies" has a slow and spare opening with piano and bass probing the darkness. Finlayson plays long lines of trumpet in the open spaces. The music continues to grow and evolve with insistent piano chords and sharp trumpet. Okazaki  breaks out for a quicksilver guitar moment before being overtaken the the piano trio which build a more consistent feel. "Scaean Gates" finishes the album with a nicely hewn piano, soloing and supporting fine architecture of the performance. This was a well done and consistently interesting album. Finlayson didn't rush to make his first album, and it shows in the patience and thoughtfulness on display.Moment and the Message -

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Little Women - Lung (AUM Fidelity, 2013)

Little Women is a very exciting collective group featuring Travis Laplante on tenor saxophone, Darius Jones on alto saxophone, Andrew Smiley on guitar and Jason Nazary on drums. They combine free-jazz cacophony to progressive rock power to create a wholly unique and well developed sound. Consisting of one LP length track, which was amazingly recorded in one take, the music on this album is ominous and daunting, beginning with sounds of labored breathing that develop an eerie feeling, and resonate at certain points throughout the track. The sounds build episodically, from sections of anticipatory calmness to those of all out hair-raising collective improvisation taken at a furious pace and packing a brutal whallop. Dynamics are the key to this album’s success. Whereas 2010’s extraordinary Throat album hit you with a full frontal sonic assault, Lung takes a much more insidious approach, with loud - soft contrasts that confound expectation and give an air of uneasy tension to the album. The band is capable of unleashing a massive wave of noise, with Jones and Laplante honking and screaming epic waves of sound while Smiley sparks lightning bolts of superheated plasma and Nazary pounds maniacally. On these free, pedal to the metal sections, the closest analogy would be the cinematic work of John Zorn’s like his Goddard/Spillane album. Little Women also draws from the energy and passion of metal and alternative rock as well as jazz. Lung -

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kikoski, Carpenter, Novak & Sheppard - From the Hip (BMF Jazz, 2013)

This is a fine mainstream jazz album by a collective group consisting of David Kikoski on piano, Bob Sheppard on tenor saxophone, Dave Carpenter on bass and Gary Novak on drums. They focus on jazz and songbook standards and play them very well. "Star Eyes" opens the album with a medium up swinger that cooks nicely. The band has a nice time on the Cedar Walton tune "Bolivia" as they sway gently and takes solos. "How Deep is the Ocean" is opened by a well paced medium piano solo. The remainder of the band builds in gracefully. There is a bright piano trio interlude before Sheppard’s sax returns. "My One and Only Love" is another ballad featuring luscious saxophone tone with tender piano and drums. The well played standard “Autumn Leaves” is one of the highlights of the recording, with an uptempo saxophone trio improvising into the melody, followed by a fast and melodic piano, bass and drums interlude. Carpenter is highlighted with a sharp and strong bass solo accompanied by piano encouragement. There is also space for some nice drum action before coming back to the familiar melody. Chick Corea’s “Tones for Joan’s Bones” features light toned sax and a springy piano trio. They develop confident swirling classy stuff that is complex but attainable. John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” begins with Kikoski’s bass notes of the piano building into a melodic themed solo. His piano sets the melody which is then joined by Sheppard's saxophone which takes off with a restrained and thoughtful solo. Fast piano trio improv moves into strong drum solo thrashing joyfully before the band comes together to string out the melody and closes a wonderful performance. The musicians on this album alternate between swinging uptempo and patient ballads of accessible mainstream jazz. This live LP was clearly deeply appreciated by the audience as it will be by any mainstream jazz fan. From The Hip -

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Interesting Links

Keith Jarrett returned to Perugia, but not without some controversy.
The New York Times has an interesting profile of Smalls Jazz Club and their innovative web streaming plan.
Spare a thought for the great saxophonist Arthur Blythe, who is dealing with serious medical issues.
John Zorn is profiled in conjunction with his 60th birthday.
Clifford Allen interviews the saxophonist Ivo Perelman

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt - God Bless Jug and Sonny (Prestige 1973, 2001)

Saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt were a dynamic duo from the 1950's through the seventies, playing meat and potatoes bop based jazz while touring widely and recording regularly. This recording is from Baltimore in 1973 and was one of their last as Ammons passed shortly after. There is a first class rhythm section in effect here: Cedar Walton on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. There are two massive blowing pieces to begin, the bop anthem "Blue n Boogie" and their own "Stringin' the Jug" which set the pace for relaxed bluesy improvisation with some unison passages and lengthy solo spots. This isn't so much a tenor battle (Stitt plays alto saxophone as well) but more of a cooperative endeavor where they a simple riff or phrase and take turns expanding and elaborating upon it. Each of them gets a solo spotlight on "God Bless the Child" which Ammons takes with a gospel furor and Stitt on an taut and concise version of "Autumn in New York." Everyone comes back together to take in the excellent Walton original "Ugetsu" and then an epic crowd pleasing blowout on"Bye Bye Blackbird" to wrap things up. Stitt and Ammons may have been scuffling a little bit during this period with acoustic jazz seemingly waning and jazz clubs closing. But this live album proves that they had quite a bit of energy to spare under the right conditions. God Bless Jug and Sonny -

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Oliver Lake Big Band - Wheels (Passin' Thru Records, 2013)

Saxophonist and composer Oliver Lake has had a fascinating career, helping to form the Black Artists Group in St. Louis to working in the Loft Scene and the World Saxophone Quartet. He’s also led an active solo career, recording in a number of formats, including this disc, a large ensemble album. The arrangement and solo spacing on this album is quite snappy, this is far from some retro big band but a hard charging group of musicians playing in the moment. After the introductory “Drum Thing,” the music builds in the powerful “Is It Real” where ascending horn patterns ramp up the energy before making way for some springing saxophone solos. It’s a gas when the whole group comes back together, weathering squalls of potent collective improvisation. “Philly Blues” takes a relatively simple idea and embroiders it with a taut alto saxophone solo and fine spots for brass and tenor saxophone. “Wheels Suite” ties all of these divergent threads together in a lengthy performance that ebbs and flows from strength to patience and from solo spotlights to group movements. Fast and punchy “Clicker” takes a choppy motif and builds a complex tapestry of music. “The Whole World” opens the music up to a swinging strut with riffing horns and percussive darting piano setting the stage for individual statements. This was a very solid record and should be definitely kept in mind for fans of a progressive big band sound. Wheels -

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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Ben Goldberg - Unfold Ordinary Mind (BAG, 2013)

Released at the same time as the Particle album, this one is even better, with an excellent cast that includes Ben Goldberg on clarinets, Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth on tenor saxophone and Ches Smith on drums. "Elliptical" opens the album by building up slowly over time before cutting Nels Cline loose for a stinging guitar solo, which he then uses to lead the full group into excellent uptempo improvisation. A circular saxophone pattern brings the full band into deep conversation on "Parallelogram" and after about 2 1/2 minutes they develop a slinky swing pattern where ripe sounding tenor saxophones intertwine. Snaking electric guitar is framed by riffing after which a nice collective improv develops, moving the music back to the original melody. "XCGF" has a clarinet solo opening before the full band enters at mid-tempo. The build in a slow, almost luxurious feel with the twin saxes again creating texture and Nels Cline developing processed guitar which moves through the looking glass adding further adornment. "Lone" begins with twin saxophones melding in space sounding melancholy and careful with a little added guitar for spice. The group hits harder on "I Miss the SLA" building a strong opening of saxophones and powerful drums. Gnarly and angular, Cline tosses thunderbolts of electric guitar which scour the landscape and complex horn and drums scramble to respond. "Stemwinder" may be the highlight of this very good album. Horns meld and harmonize while guitar and drums kick in bringing some funk elements into play. There is a nice confident guitar solo making way for hearty tenor saxophone. Goldberg asserts his authority with an open and hollow clarinet soloing deftly over the band, moving into a wonderful collective improvisation. Things develop into a wild ride toward the end making for a fine conclusion. Unfold Ordinary Mind -

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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Ben Goldberg - Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (BAG Records, 2013)

This is the acoustic album with the wonderful title that alludes to both Bob Dylan and high-energy physics research. Goldberg plays clarinets in various settings supported by: Devin Hoff on bass, Ches Smith on drums, Scott Amendola on percussion for a few tracks, Joshua Redman on tenor saxophone and Ron Miles on trumpet. The album has a bit of a swing feel to it, as the music drifts out into duos, trios and full band pieces. Everyone seems to work well together and no one overplays or dominates. “Who Dies and Where I Moved To” has a deep dark mournful clarinet sound resonating against probing tenor saxophone and bass, before the drums mor in and the horns start riffing a happier feel. Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues -

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

King Crimson - Frame By Frame: The Essential King Crimson (Caroline, 1991)

Frame by Frame was released during the first initial rush of boxed sets in the early 1990’s as bands and record companies rushed to cash in on the digitization of their back catalog. This was one of the finest, and the way King Crimson developed from 1969-1984 was ideally suited to this format. The band had three distinct periods of activity during this period: the initial rush of brilliance with their first classic album, In the Court of the Crimson King was followed by a rotating cast of characters (the only member to remain stable during the whole affair was founder and patriarch, guitarist Robert Fripp) as they released several albums from 1969-1972 trying to catch lightning in a bottle once again. This period is captured on disc one. The band stabilized briefly from 1973-75 (disc two) with an extraordinary unit featuring Fripp, bassist and vocalist John Wetton, drummer Bill Bruford, percussionist Jamie Muir and violinist David Cross. Over the course of three studio albums and one live LP they were one of the most impressive bands on the rock scene, combining the thunderous power of heavy metal and the delicacy of a classical ensemble or the improvising power of a jazz band. Fripp disbanded the group in 1975, feeling that they had achieved all they could muster, only the dust off the name in 1981 with another excellent group anchored by himself and Bruford along with guitarist and vocalist Adrian Belew and bassist and stick player Tony Levin. This was a group that was much more dedicate to song structure and rhythm combining the best of new wave music with Crimsonesque power and complexity. This group also recorded three very good studio studio albums and toured widely as reflected on disc three of this collection before the ever mercurial Fripp disbanded the group once again. King Crimson was always known as a stellar live unit and the final disc of this collection features live performances from a variety of incarnations of the band. This is quite a lavish package and contains a very lengthy and extensive booklet that has many excellent pictures and tells the bands story in excerpted press reports and interviews (not all of them favorable.) This is a fabulous boxed set, now out of print but widely available used for a reasonable price. Any fan of the band or progressive rock in general should check it out. Frame By Frame:The Essential King Crimson -

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Barry Altschul - The 3Dom Factor - (TUM, 2013)

Drummer Barry Atlschul never really left the progressive jazz scene but after he was quite active in the 1970’s with Sam Rivers and Chick Corea, he spent a couple of quieter decades teaching and working in collaborative groups. His profile started to rise once again a few years ago with an excellent duet disc with saxophonist Jon Irabagon called Foxy and a widely revered reunion concert release with Sam Rivers and Dave Holland, Live in New York. On this album, he reunites with Irabagon and bassist Joe Fonda for an exciting and freewheeling trio date. The group presents a wide range of material from free jazz, to funky beats and ballads. The title track “The 3dom Factor” gets the album off to a rousing start with Irabagon’s stringent saxophone playing off against meaty bass and rolling drums. “Papa's Funkish Dance” and “Be Out S'cool” keep the music moving forward briskly. The trio is very well integrated with one another which allows solos, collective improvisations and breakout trios to organically evolve. In this sense, the music is somewhat reminiscent of the great Rivers/Holland/Altschul trio of the 1970’s but with some differences. Irabagon sticks to saxophones only and the leader is much more aggressive than he was in the earlier trio. Regardless, the music here is top notch and should not be missed. The 3dom Factor

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