Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery (Manticore 1973; Razor and Tie, 2014)

In happier times, I fell hard for progressive rock, spinning the likes of King Crimson, Rush, Yes and even the reviled Emerson, Lake and Palmer. All these bands were quite popular in their heyday, but I was a little bit of an anachronism spinning them in the early 1990's. I recently rekindled my enjoyment of this music: after all, I am a nerd, and what self-respecting nerd doesn't like a little prog? Brain Salad Surgery was the culmination of several years of rugged touring that built the band an audience with some audacious (read: self-indulgent) performances and albums. Things really seemed to click with this particular LP, which is why it is continually re-released in a variety of formats. The stunning H.R. Giger artwork helped reel in new fans, but the songs and the virtuosic playing kept them listening. This collection is made up of three discs: disc one is a newly remastered and remixed stereo version of the LP, disc two is a collection of alternate mixes, takes and singles and disc three is a DVD-A with high resolution versions of the 2014 stereo mix and new remastering of the original LP. If this seems like quite a fuss for an album that originally clocked in at around forty minutes, you are right, but if you are a fan, there's quite a bit of fun to be had. The 2014 stereo mix on disc one sounds great, very bright and punchy, throwing into stark relief the bombast of the music, but also the surprising subtlety of the "Toccata" interpretation and Greg Lake's "Still... You Turn Me On." The ludicrous faux-cockney joke of "Benny the Bouncer" serves as a break between those songs and the "Karn Evil 9" suite that would make up the reminder of the album. Any classic rock aficionado will be familiar with Karn Evil 9 First Impression Part 2" Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends... That may serve as the band's highpoint: interesting sci-fi lyrics, pummeling bass and drums augmented by flashy keyboards, it is an arresting track. Disc two, entitled The Alternate Brain Salad Surgery works quite well, the alternate versions of the tracks of the final LP are not quite different but still flow well, and there are a couple of extras that weren't included on the original LP, plus quite amusingly, the music of a "felxi-disc" that was included in an issue of the New Musical Express that condensed the entire album down to three minutes! The final disc uses the extra space of the DVD to have high resolution versions of the 2014 remix and the original LP. Both sound quite good as can be imagined, with the only noticeable difference being that the original LP had a much more dynamic feel with the spacious bits very quiet and then swelling to crescendos that are more pronounced than the 2014 mix. It's a pretty exhausting set, but if you are a true sadist fan, then there is a super deluxe edition with a vinyl LP containing the original artwork, a surround sound disc and hardcover book. See Darren Lock's review of that edifice here. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and when all is said and done, that is what matter the most. Brain Salad Surgery - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ty Citerman - Bop Kabbalah (Tzadik, 2014)

Ty Citerman is a guitarist and composer who came to the attention of Tzadik label head John Zorn who recorded this album for his Radical Jewish Culture series. This album also features Adam D. Goldon drums, Ben Holme on trumpet, and Ken Thompson on bass clarinet. As you can understand from the title, this album combines traditional Jewish music with jazz. The mix of bass clarinet and trumpet is an interesting one and allows Citerman and Goldon to move freely through the music. "Snout" shows sad clarinet and prickly guitar probing open space before Citerman unleashes some guitar effects in the company if the full band. Holme's trumpet launches them into an exciting conclusion. A moody solo guitar opens “After All That Has Happened” before Citerman then begins to spit and snarl. The full band moves through a choppy section accented by squalls of clarinet and trumpet. Guitar and trumpet weave in and out, melodically but forcefully. Torrid guitar sections makes for an excellent example of Citerman’s skills as a player. “Talmudic Backbeat” has some interesting playing as Holme improvises over handclaps before the rest of the band folds in. “Exchanging Pleasantries With a Wall” is the album’s longest track, running over ten minutes. It weaves dynamically between open guitar layers and building blocks of trumpet and clarinet as the sound fills in. Citerman uses guitar effects to lead the band into the stratosphere, but things never get out of control. This album worked well, all of the musicians were tight and committed and the compositions and improvisations were lithe and memorable. Bop Kabbalah - amazon.com

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Audio One - The Midwest School (Audiogrpahic Records, 2014)

The Midwest School is the companion album to An International Report, both the inaugural releases on Ken Vamdermark's Audiographic Records. This crew of heavy-hitters includes Vandermark on saxophones and clarinet along with Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. Jeb Bishop on trombone, Josh Berman on cornet, Tim Dais on drums, Nick Macri on acoustic & electric basses, Nick Mazzarella on alto saxophone, Jen Paulson on viola, Dave Rempis on saxophones and Mars Williams on reed instruments. Whereas An International Report focused on Vandermark's original compositions, this album focuses on music written by his heroes. "C" and "The Hard Blues/Skin One" are by the great saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill. Hemphill grew up in Ft. Worth a generation after Ornette Coleman, but he retained that stubborn streak to sound like no one else. Vandermark is the same way and these are fine tributes with excellent arrangements and superb soloing. "The Hard Blues" was the culminating track oh Hemphill's LP Fat Man and the Hard Blues, an album written for 6 unaccompanied saxophonists. It is an excellent centerpiece for the saxophonists on this album who respond with wonderful ensemble and solo playing. Anthony Braxton's "6C" moves things into a much more angular direction, is is from Braxton's wonderful live album The Montreux/Berlin Concerts, some of Braxton's jazziest and most accessible music. I was thrilled to see "Theme de Yoyo" as the culminating track. When I was first trying to get into the music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago many years ago, this piece absolutely knocked me out and continues to do so today. It's a joyous and thrilling R 'n' B + jazz romp, and the group absolutely eats it up an explores all of the possibilities that it allows. Killer solos and raucous full band passages abound and it is hard to imagine a for fitting conclusion to this excellent album. Vandermark made a shrewd decision with this album, while it may be in a sense a "covers" album, he makes the wise choice of choosing some of the most accessible pieces of his chosen composers. It works extremely well allowing for an "inside/outside" manner of playing that is hard to beat. The Midwest School - Audiographic Records

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Audio One - An International Report (Audiographic Records, 2014)

Saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Ken Vandermark surely must be the hardest working man in the jazz business. In addition to booking tours with a multitude of groups he has somehow found time to start a new record label and introduce another group, Audio One. Consisting of some of the best talent from the fertile Chicago jazz scene, this is a ten piece band that swings and squalls like mad. "Encyclopedia of a Horse" leads off the album with vibes orbiting electric bass before a strong ripping bolt of saxophone courses across the sky. After an interlude of eerie viola the full band returns with a furious epic blast off. Heavy riffs introduce "Two Way Street" as smaller splinter groups trade punches back and forth. Vibes and percussion shine, building a deep rhythm made all the more poignant with the sustained ringing of the mallets. There is a area for different sections of reeds and brass before it all comes back to vault a scalding tenor saxophone solo that is gruff, fast, raw and over the top exciting. The epic "Atlas of Madness" opens with Vandermark's deep baritone saxophone plumbing the depths, then joined by more reeds, similar to one of his other bands, the equally wonderful Sonore. Soon the band moves in hard, directing traffic to and fro before stopping on a dime for a section of bass and vibes. Special mention must be made of vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz who is seemingly everywhere these days and is an integral part of this recording. He adds bright raindrops of notes, clearing the path for a caustic and thrilling saxophone solo which acts a cleansing for the soul. Funky electric bass heralds "The Floor" before the whole mass of iron hons stomp down shattering the scene with monumental riffs - imagine early Black Sabbath playing jazz and you get the idea. This mythic sludge-jazz launches some fantastic solos and shows that a full frontal progressive big band that can move from a massive booty-shake to a dynamic improvising unit at will. This was a wonderful album and introduces a very exciting band the succeeds in having a true discourse between composed and improvised music and has a grand time doing it. An International Report - bandcamp

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Steve Lehman Octet - Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings, 2014)

Alto saxophonist, composer and researcher Steve Lehman is one of the most consistently interesting musicians on the modern jazz scene. Using aspects of spectral harmony, combined with jazz and improvisational techniques he makes music that is both haunting and exciting and perhaps most admirably, quite accessible. He is aided in this task by an exceptional cast of musicians: Mark Shim on tenor saxophone, Drew Gress on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jose Davila on tuba, Tim Albright on trombone, and Chris Dingman on vibraphone. The music avoids most of the conventions of traditional jazz where the melody is followed by individual solos, instead moving in a much more organic direction where soloists drift in and out and full band passages frame the solo opportunities. Lehman has a wonderfully sharp saxophone tone that allows him to slice like a sword through the complicated music of "Thirteen Colors" as well as the opener "Segregated and Sequential" which builds from a quiet beginning to a boiling pace. Vibraphonist Chris Dingman is particularly interesting throughout this album, as his his instrument frames the music and also interacts in away that is akin to Bobby Hutcherson's role on Eric Dolphy's classic Out to Lunch LP. Lehman studied with the great bebop alto saxophonist Jackie McLean quite a bit, and bebop, albeit in a very personalized form, is at the core of much of his music. Using this, he anchors the album to three compositions by the great bebop pianist Bud Powell and uses transcriptions of "Glass Enclosure", "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Autumn Interlude". Playing these compositions in this eight piece postmodern configuration sheds new light not only on Powell's music but on Lehman's conception of music as a whole. It grounds the music in jazz while showing that Lehman's musical theory, however esoteric it may seem, can take any musical material and spin it into something special. Mise En Abime - amazon.com

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

News and Notes

The passing of Charlie Haden and Horace Silver.
Jeremiah Cymerman interviews Nels Cline and Jamie Saft.
Party hard with Charlie Parker.
Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity at 50.
Tortoise's debut album, 20 years on.
Omnipresent vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz is profiled.

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Jason AdasiewiczJason Adasiewicz
Jason Adasiewicz

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Microscopic Septet - Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform Records, 2014)

After a lengthy hiatus during the 1990's, the vivacious little big band The Microscopic Septet has come back with a vengeance over the past ten years. With an approach that covers much of jazz history, they advance a methodology that begins with the territory bands of the 1930's and moves through the Knitting Factory heyday of the 1980's and then then lands gracefully in the post-modern jazz scene of today. The group consists of Joel Forrester on piano, Phillip Johnston on soprano saxophone,  Richard Dworkin on drums, David Sewelson on baritone saxophone, David Hofstra on bass, Don Davis on alto saxophone and Mike Hashim on tenor saxophone. The band's music is extroverted, friendly and accessible as exemplified on "Manhattan Moonrise" which develops a maddeningly jaunty and danceable riff and builds in an epic ear-worm. There a nice bass solo featured on this song, with the wailing horns swaying mightily. "Obeying the Chemicals" takes a meat and potatoes approach, building in the blues and playing roughly and energetically with a hard charging nature. With a wonderful title and sentiment, "Occupy Your Life" is sly and playful, prancing and dancing around excitedly. This a very fun and successful album; the musicians are very tight and play strong arrangements and use them as jumping off for fine solo statements. Manhattan Moonrise - amazon.com

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

New Podcast (Still Learning pt. 2)

The whole podcasting/streaming thing is very much a work in progress and something to do over a boring holiday weekend with no money to go anywhere. Here's the setlist:

Peter Brotzmann and Sonny Sharrock - Whatthefuckdoyouwant 4
Lean Left - Soul Sister
Eric Revis - Son Seals
Brandon Seabrook - Cabeza Spams and Aural Championships
Elias Haslanger - Adam’s Apple
Peter Brotzmann and Peeter Uuskyla - Dead and Useless Part One
Led Bib - New Teles
Walt Weiskopf - Night Vision
Joel Harrison - John The Revelator
Marc Ribot Trio - Sun Ship

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New Podcast (Still Learning)

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro - Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain Records, 2014)

Trumpeter, alto clarinet player and blogger extraordinaire Matt Lavelle has studied informally with the great jazz legend Ornette Coleman for several years. Coleman's complex metaphysical and musical theory of harmolodics rubbed off on much of his playing, and on this project he is joined by percussionist and vibraphonist John Pietaro and uses the harmolodic theory on a set of songs by the great jazz composer Thelonious Monk. The Monk tunes are really well suited to this type of exploration since they are filled with spaces and jagged cliffs of sound that musicians can use to rappel from one slope to another. That is the thing about Thelonious Monk's compositions, thought they have been played many times over the years, when musicians approach the songs with an open mind they are able to see within themselves and use that confidence to explore deeper. Songs like "Let's Cool One", "Monk's Mood" and "In Walked Bud" keep the jaunty nod and wink feel of the originals, darting too and fro, while the moodier performances like on "Round Midnight" are filled with empty spaces, as if they are filled with longing and sadness. Harmolodic Monk - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Peter Brotzmann and Sonny Sharrock - Whatthefuckdoyouwant (Trost, 2014)

Just in time for the fourth of July is an album filled with fireworks of the best kind, a wonderful archival release whose music is as audacious as its title. This is an eleven movement collective improvisation, with Sonny Sharrock on electric guitar and Peter Brotzmann on his usual coterie of reed instruments: alto, tenor and bass saxophones and tarogato. These two musicians made up half of the great free-jazz outfit Last Exit, and that special pairing works here as well, where they use the momentum of each others sound to slingshot them into greater and greater feats of improvisation. Throughout the lengthy duet improvisation we hear Sharrock shooting out jagged shards of sounds, and laser like bursts of energy. Near the middle of the set he goes into overdrive, shredding his instrument with a speed and a force that would certainly be an inspiration to many heavy metal musicians lucky enough to hear it. Peter Brotzmann barrels into the fray as only he can, and his tenor saxophone playing in particular is a force of nature. As he cycles through his instruments, they lead to different textures and colors in the music. These guys can certainly can blow the house down and do at times, but they are also capable of waves and tones of music that might surprise the jaded fan. This in an absolute must for fans of free-jazz and avant-rock, it is a glorious carnival of madness to submerge yourself in. Whatthefuckdoyouwant - iTunes.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Lean Left - Live at the Area Sismica (Unsounds, 2014)

I don't know if Sismica has anything to do with earthquakes (since the cover has two guys climbing a lava flow), but the band on this album is a force of nature in their own right. This killer group consists of Terrie Ex and Andy Moor of the Dutch anarchist punk band The Ex on guitars,  Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Ken Vandermark on various reed instruments. It's a great lineup: the guitar players throw rough, sharp points into the mix as Nilssen-Love acts like a whirlwind moving too and fro at will. Vandermark is excellent as always: patient in the slower one and explosive and truly exciting when things hit the fan. The "South Sister" is the most face-melting where the music moves toward their most outrageous improvising on record with the guitarists moving from jagged shards to outright mayhem with Nilssen-Love hot on his heels. This is the centerpiece of the album, stretching out for twelve minutes of ecstatic free jazz, aiming for liftoff and achieving orbit. Epic free jazz waves of sound washing over you. They will move into more abstract Territory like on "Cleft Segment" where longing foghorn sounds of saxophone meet scrapes of guitar and cymbal manipulation in an eerie spooky manner. Moving from that slong to the scalding "Gada Ale" gives you some idea of the dynamic range of this band. One of the guitars may act as another horn at times, shadowing and engaging Vandermark who is at his most inspired, clearly having a blast as are all members of the group. If you are into free jazz or avant-rock, do not pass this one by, it is a keeper and then some. Live at Area Sismica - amazon.com

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