Friday, January 31, 2014

The Fat Babies - 18th and Racine (Delmark, 2013)

In an era when modern jazz is king, you wouldn't think that there would be room for a band playing the songs of early jazz, works that were composed in the 1920's and 30's. But Bob Koester, head of Delmark records is a huge fan of that era of music and was thrilled to find a band of young musicians mining the fields of a bygone age. The Fat Babies have a growing following in Chicago perhaps not surprisingly since it was once the place where the likes of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and the Austin High Gang congregated back in the day. The band has worked hard and developed a following that has led to twice weekly engagements at the Green Mill and Honky Tonk BBQ in Chicago. The group consists of Beau Sample on bass, Andy Schumm on cornet, John Otto on saxophone, Dave Bock on trombone, Jake Sanders on banjo and guitar, Paul Asaro, piano and Alex Hall, on drums. Unlike Mostly Other People Do The Killing who did a loving send-up of trad jazz on their latest album Red Hot, this band takes the music very seriously, playing classic jazz and pop tunes of the day like "The Stampede", "King Kong Stomp", "Liza" and "Mable's Dream" in it's own quaint and pleasant way. 18th and Racine -

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ben Allison - The Stars Look Very Different Today (Sonic Camera Records, 2013)

Taking inspiration from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” allows bassist and composer Ben Allison to build a unique group that improvises like a jazz ensemble, has the volume of a rock band, and the ability to vary texture and hue that suggests something else entirely. Along with Allison on bass, he has a twin guitar lineup of Brandon Seabrook and Steve Cardenas and Allison Miller on drums. Each of the musicians has a wide range of experience in playing music of all kinds and that sense of openness benefits the music greatly. “D.A.V.E.” opens the album with finely integrated ensemble playing. Referencing the deadly computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the song has a decidedly modern flair. The idea of “song” is really the hallmark of Allison led ensembles, where each performance on the album is a self-contained entity, modules of music that add up to a cohesive whole when seen on a wider scale. “The Ballad of Joe Buck” was inspired by cinema and the melody came to Allison in a burst of inspiration. The use of banjo along with guitar gives the song a rootsier feel and an earthy, dusty bent. “Kick It, Man” shows the group moving into a higher gear, with guitars spiraling and the bass and drums tightly locked in. The buzzing and burning music that develops shows the band at its most progressive. A reprise from an earlier album, “Swiss Cheese D” gives the band the chance to push the envelope further without losing sight of the song form or the groove. This is a milestone for Allison who has been in subtle shifts been moving away from the “jazz” tag into something more personal. In a sense, it is not the destination that matters, but the journey that he has taken over the past several albums that is paying excellent dividends. The Stars Look Very Different Today -

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tom Tallitsch - Ride (Posi-Tone, 2014)

Tom Tallitsch is a tenor saxophone player working on the modern mainstream scene, recording as a leader and a sideman regularly. He is accompanied by Art Hirahara on piano, Mike Dease on trombone, Peter Brendler on bazz and Rudy Royston on drums. "Ride" opens the album with a strong beginning that builds to a boiling tempo and fine saxophone solo and an exciting drum solo. The David Bowie song "Life on Mars" was a surprise, but a pleasant one as Tallitsch steps back and plays a nice lyrical performance. "Rubbernecker" ramps the music back up to quick modern jazz, fast and loose with escalating and cascading waves of notes and rippling piano, bass and drums interlude. Tallitsch and Dease harmonize during the beginning of "The Giving Tree" staying taught before the leader's saxophone is able to break free with a well controlled solo underpinned by pulsating bass. It is a great solo with a waterfall of streaming sound. "The Myth" is a longer performance, opening calmly before worrying in some more nervous dynamics as the tempo of the performance increases and Tallitsch makes his solo faster and faster. Royston is excellent here developing rhythms that shift and change in an exciting manner. (March 4, 2014) Ride -

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ari Brown - Groove Awakening (Delmark, 2013)

Chicago is such a strong city for music that even some great players can drift under the radar. Ari Brown plays tenor and soprano saxophone (occasionally at the same time) as a leader infrequently but toured with Elvin Jones among other jazz luminaries. On this album, he is supported by Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums and Dr. Cuz on percussion. “One For Ken” opens the album and introduces Brown’s sound on tenor saxophone, a steely strong Dexter Gordon like sound, gutsy and classic. He uses the double horn simultaneous form on “Groove Awakening.” This type of playing is most commonly associated with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and like his playing this technique is no gimmick but completely in the service of the music. “Veda’s Dance” shows Brown building in a rippling muscular tone accented by hand percussion and concluding with some multi-horn playing. His arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament” is quite unusual with Kirk Brown’s piano developing something of a Caribbean/reggae groove. This makes the music sound a little less somber than the original but keeping true to the melody. He takes a little more traditional approach to Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” with a tempered solo saxophone opening, and then the band comes in for a stately summation of the melody. The improvisation moves along in a lyrical fashion with a fine bass solo and saxophone solo. “Wayne’s Trane” gives you an indication in the title of the music to follow. The musicians develop a deep mid-tempo groove, with Brown’s dark hewn and sweeping saxophone leading the way, digging deep and pushing into caustic territory before making way for a nice piano, bass and drums section aided by hypnotic percussion. This was a solid album, Brown has a fine traditionally minded sound, but he takes a few liberties and makes the music sound his own. Groove Awakening -

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Raoul Björkenheim - Ecstasy (Cuneiform, 2014)

Electric guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s new band is an all-Finnish ensemble with Pauli Lyytinen on saxophones, Jori Huhtala on bass and Markku Ounaskari on drums. The band communicates on a very high level and revels in bringing the exciting spiritual jazz sound of the late 1960’s into a thoroughly postmodern setting. “El Pueblo Unido” opens with a blast of raw saxophone and cathartic guitar in an exciting Sonny Sharrock-esque manner building to a thrilling conclusion. Stomping saxophone and choppy rhythm usher in “SOS,” the complex tune featuring fast, snaking saxophone accented with shards of guitar. After slowing down for a bass solo the full band races to the end. “No Delay” jumps out fast where swirling saxophone and drums meet up with elastic bass, while Björkenheim sneaks up from behind to ratchet up the sound. Sharp edged guitar and garrulous drumming ties everything up for a heavy finish. Solo bass opens “As Luck Would Have It” and then guitar, saxophone and drums fill in the picture, picking up the pace and making space for Björkenheim’s breakthrough solo for the album. On much of the album he is very generous in giving space to his band mates, but he takes the wheel and stomps on the gas here spraying gravel all over the place, in a thrilling feature. The full band returns still white hot, bringing the song to a close. “Threshold” is a ballad where soft bass and saxophone set the foundation for a shower of guitar notes. Percussion enters and the pace slowly begins to build, but never out of control. “The Sky is Ruby” powers the album to an excellent finish with saxophone and guitar coming out fast and strong. Lyytinen gets a lengthy feature and he makes excellent use of it, spooling out a lengthy solo that is very exciting and well built, hopefully we will be hearing more from him soon. Björkenheim succeeds him, spraying hot metal notes and combining with Ounaskari’s drums to develop an overpowering sound thats ends this excellent album in glorious fashion. Ecstasy -

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Aram Bajakian - There Were Flowers Also in Hell (Aram Bajakian, 2014)

Originally planned as a blues record, Aram Bajakian's new album shape-shifted into something a little different over the course of recording with bassist Shazhad Ismaily and drummer Jerome Jennings. The moods and modes began to expand and he drew on the experience of playing with musicians as diverse as Lou Reed and Diana Krall to create an album that encompasses a wide range of emotional expression. They absolutely blast out of the gates with the most blues influenced track on the album, “Texas Cannonball.” It’s a wonderful in your face stew of rock/blues/twang guitar with a furious bass and blues backbeat. Imagine one of Freddie King’s great instrumental shuffles blasted into orbit and you get the idea. This segues into Bajakian’s tribute to his former boss Lou Reed, “Louish.” Developing a droning and buzzing tone like Reed often used as a signature guitar technique, the trio moves into a spacier meditation, before returning to the vibrating drone to end the performance. “Requiem for 5 Pointz” slows things down to an atmospheric and elegiac tone poem that has some sparks of energy shooting like comets against the evening sky. Going in the opposite direction entirely, “Orbisonian” takes off for some breathless fun with snarling guitar arcing over loping bass and drums. They mine a funky groove on “Rent Party” digging in and getting dirty and gritty, channeling blues musicians who played real rent parties in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s like John Lee Hooker, stomping hard and clearing the floor to dance. “Labor on 57th” is a very interesting performance as the trio balances two different grooves: one a spare, spacey feel that is juxtaposed against a faster paced section that sounds like the theme of an TV show from another dimension. Finally on “The Kids Don’t Want To Sleep” there is some serious heavy metal grinding with wicked percussion and snarling heavy stomp. Bajakian brings it all back home on the closing track “For Julia.” An emotional solo guitar performance, he ends this album with a touch of mystery and mindfulness that bodes well for the future.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Soft Machine Legacy - Burden of Proof (MoonJune, 2013)

Soft Machine in its original form was a British pop/rock band that evolved from the late 1960’s psychedelic scene of London’s UFO club to a progressive rock/jazz fusion outfit in the early to mid 1970’s. This album pays tribute to the jazzier side of the band and features John Etheridge on electric guitar, Roy Babbington on bass guitar, John Marshall on drums and percussion and Theo Travis on tenor saxophone, flute and Fender rhodes piano. The nature of the music is to have longer performances in the 5-6 minute range broken up by snippets that are a minute or so in length. Saxophone and guitar harmonize well on the opening track “Burden of Proof” while “Voyage Beyond Seven” develops a quieter saxophone led section, amidst a spacey back drop. “Pie Chart” has Travis blasting out on tenor saxophone with a strong backbeat behind him. “Pie Chart” has some spiky guitar and raw, brawny saxophone. Drums come wailing out like a dervish on “The Brief” with bursts of saxophone trying to get a toehold amidst the thrilling onslaught, this wonderful short duet is one of the album’s highlights. Then the music shifts to a heavy guitar riff on “Pump Room” acting as a pivot grounding the rest of the band as they revolve around it. Etheridge then takes off on a strong solo of his own to take the song out. This was a solid album that clearly demonstrates that the band has left its psychedelic Canterbury roots far behind and has embraced muscular progressive jazz fusion. Burden Of Proof -

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sarah Manning - Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone, 2014)

Sarah Manning is an alto saxophonist and composer, whose new album, Harmonious Creature features her in the company of Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. The album was recorded in Brooklyn about one year ago and consists of several original compositions, and some interesting covers, particularly “On The Beach,” the title track of one of Neil Young’s finest and most neglected albums. Under Manning’s control, the song is alternatively brooding and scalding, allowing the musicians to really stretch out and play with a lot of room for textural development. Some of the tracks develop a dreamy feel like the Gillian Welch and David Rawlings country folk song “I Dream A Highway” and the opening original song “Copeland on Cornelia Street.” where the circular patterns for band members slowly evolve into improvised sections. “Floating Bridge” heads in the opposite direction developing an aggressive attack for three short inspiring minutes. “Don’t Answer the Question” engages the full band in developing a fast and potent theme and then sparking off improvised sections from it. The use of viola and guitar on the album offer a larger range of emotions to draw from and Manning succeeds admirably as a composer and arranger in developing her musical vision to match the instrumentation and the players. Harmonious Creature -

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Friday, January 17, 2014

William Hooker - Heart of the Sun (Engine, 2013)

Although this album is credited to William Hooker and he plays splendidly, it is hard not to hear this as a testament to the extraordinary power of the recently departed trumpeter Roy Campbell. Rounded out by David Soldier on violin, guitar and banjo, the trio is a potent and thrilling unit. This is a wonderful collectively improvised performance recorded at Roulette in Brooklyn in February of last year. Campbell lays out for the first part of “Rainwater” before entering with a stoic tone and excellent timing. Strong drumming and wordless vocal scatting add to the tension. It is perhaps the penultimate track on the album. “Reflector of Truth” sets the stage for this album, with excellent trio interaction, Soldier is able to use his different instruments to good effect, reflection the mood of the music and allowing Campbell an excellent foil for his improvisations. William Hooker is simply a force of nature throughout the album, allowing shades of rhythm to dictate the flow of the music. There’s really not much more that can be said about Roy Campbell. Through the course of his musical life he developed as a wonderful player and on this album, he unveils a secret weapon, the flute. His flute playing is unexpected and quite beautiful. He uses it sparingly and strategically adding swaths of color and texture where needed. So while each of these men is a formidable talent in their own right, it is when they sublimate their egos and allow the music to combine and flow, the result is a sterling album of progressive jazz. Heart of the Sun -

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Joe McPhee - Nation Time: The Complete Recordings (Corbett v. Dempsey)

What time is it? Nation Time! So begins the clarion call of Joe McPhee’s classic album of the same name. From an album pressed in a very small quantities in an upstate New York town to a four CD boxed set is quite a journey and the music presents McPhee growing in his musical vision over the course of 1969 and 1970. The set consists of a remastered copy of the original album, along with his second LP Black Magic Man (the first album for the influential Hat Hut label) along with a disc of outtakes from the session and a concert recording. There is also a well written booklet with an interview with McPhee along with liner notes from the original LP. The music is quite interesting throughout, McPhee has no problem reaching for the outer regions with blasts of saxophone but he could also navigate calm areas and blow like an rhythm and blues bar-walker if that’s what it took, as seen in the band’s take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.” All in all, this was a very well done archival project. Joe McPhee would go on to become a guiding force in modern avant-grade jazz and it is fascinating to hear where it all began. Box Set: Joe McPhee's Nation Time: The Complete Recordings (1969-70)

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Arild Andersen/Paolo Vinaccia/Tommy Smith - Mira (ECM, 2014)

This particular group had a wonderful performance on the album Live At Belleville from 2009 where the group of Arild Andersen on bass, Tommy Smith on tenor saxophone and shakuhachi, and Paolo Vinaccia on drums where they gave an explosive performance that made my top ten for that particular year. This album goes completely in the other direction, with a quiet and meditative studio recording. "Bygone" opens the album with an atmospheric bass and saxophone duo building a hushed free floating sound exploration, while the following track is one of the best of the album. "Blussy" features Smith striking hard in the open space of the trio setting developing a raw and caustic solo propelled by strong thick bass. Slows saxophone probes darkly on "Rossetti" through pensive bass and drums Smith's saxophone punches hard followed by a nimble bass solo and a softer saxophone close. "Reparate" follows in much the same fashion with very spare bass soft saxophone and barely perceptible drums. The pace picks up halfway through when ominous saxophone combines with dark swirls of bass and drums. "Eight and More" is notable as well with soft, subtle drums and saxophone keeping a low profile. Andersen's lush and drums play off against each other in a subtle manner with sparks of saxophone, Smith asserts himself a little more raising the temperature a bit, but sadly he is never allowed to take off and soar. It's just not that kind of album.The music throughout is slow and meditative and may resonate well with listeners with pateience and attention to detail. All three musicians are fluent on their respective instruments but their srared langiage and low voltage make for a quiet sound environment and philosophy. (Release Date Jan. 28) Mira -

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Andrew Hill - Solos: The Jazz Session (Original Spin Media, 2010)

Although he may not have had such a high profile as some of the other musicians of his generation, pianist and composer Andrew Hill left an indelible impact on jazz that continues to this day. The Jazz Solos series, released both on CD and DVD are quite interesting in premise, as the musicians not only play but speak about themselves and their craft. I am not sure the date that this was recorded, but it may have been toward the end of the pianists life. Hill is quite self-effacing about his work, talking about his background in vague terms, and then beginning to play haunting and reflective music on “East Ninth Street” and “Bent Forward.” He then speaks about some of the more technical aspects of his musical worldview before performing “Tough Love” a very lengthy meditation that finds Hill at his most hypnotic. Finishing with a few words at the end of the recording, the music is over all too soon, but serves as a welcome reminder of the unique place in jazz that Andrew Hill held.Andrew Hill - Solos: The Jazz Sessions -

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

David Murray - The Complete Remastered Recordings Vol.2 (Black Saint/Soul Note

The second boxed set of remastered albums from saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray which includes the albums Sweet Lovely, Morning Song, I Want To Talk About You, The Hill, A Sanctuary Within, Body And Soul and Windward Passages. While the previous set focused on Murray’s lauded octet recordings, and this collection ranges from duo to quartet settings, showing Murray’s range in different areas. A couple of albums are still held back, so hopefully there will be a third set coming down the road. Sweet Lovely is a trio recording with Fred Hopkins on bass and Steve McCall on drums. This album shows Albert Ayler's influence on Murray, recalling at times the classic Ayler album Spiritual Unity. The music is very open ended, especially on the middle performances, “Corozon” and “The Hill.” The album titled The Hill is one of Murray’s finest, where he is in the company of the incomparable Richard Davis on bass and Joe Chambers on drums. This is a varied and consistently thrilling album where Murray seamlessly melds his avant-garde Ayler influences with those of swing era titans like Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves. The trio is a completely integrated unit, rolling through Murray’s own “Santa Barbara and Crenshaw Follies” and “The Hill” but also swinging beautifully on “Take the Coltrane” and "Chelsea Bridge." I Want to Talk About You is seen in some places as the runt of this particular litter but the group including John Hicks on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Ralph Peterson on drums does manage some funk on “Red Car” and a launching pad for a torrid Murray solo on “Morning Song.” An album in its own right, Morning Song has a cracking band with Murray and Hicks and then Reggie Workman on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. The play together nicely whether on Murray originals or the standards “Jitterbug Waltz” and “Body and Soul.” The Body and Soul LP has Murray sharing the stage with Sonelius Smith on piano Wilbur Morris on bass and Rasheid Ali on drums. The title strong is played in a relatively straight-forward manner with a female vocalist added. This album also features Smith’s composition and ends with the blowout “Cuttin’ Corners.” A Sanctuary Within is a lengthy quartet album where Murray meets another legendary free-jazz drummer, Sunny Murray, along with Tony Overwater on bass and Kahil El'Zabar on percussion and vocals. El’Zabar and Sunny Murray lock in nicely and there is a great rhythmic nature to the music that propels Murray forward to great heights. Finally, there is an unusual setting for Murray, placing him in a duet setting with pianist Dave Burrell on the album Windward Passages. They are quite sympathetic to each other, playing a wide ranging setlist, ranging from originals by both musicians along with two versions of the classic John Coltrane ballad “Naima” and a nice performance of Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Crave.”

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Friday, January 03, 2014

The Wrong Object - After the Exhibition (MoonJune, 2013)

Drawing from inspirations ranging from Frank Zappa to progressive rock and jazz fusion, the group The Wrong Object meld a wider variety of influences into a unique whole. The group consists of Michael DeVille on guitar and electronics, Antoine Guenet on keyboards and vocals, Marti Melia on tenor and bass saxophones and clarinet, Francois Lourtie on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones and voice, Pierre Mottet on bass and Laurent Delchambre on percussion. Benoit Moerlen sits in on vibes and marimbia on several tracks. The opener “Detox Gruel” works well with powerful drums and saxophone making way for snarling electric guitar. Other tracks of note include “Frank Nuts” where the two saxophones open politely only to have the rest of band come storming through like a group of barbarians led by a roiling organist. “Flashlight Into a Black Hole” has a nice groove for electric bass and drums, while saxophones and electric piano enter and tenor saxophone breaks free for a potent solo over the hard charging group. This was a solid album from a coherent and thoughtful group and may appeal to fans of forward looking progressive rock or electric jazz. After The Exhibition -

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