Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Bad Plus - Inevitable Western (Okeh, 2014)

The Bad Plus: bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and pianist Ethan Iverson have become such an established group on the jazz scene that it is hard to remember the controversy they engendered when they first started. They have grown in many ways since then, from rock covers to ambitious projects like The Rite of Spring, to albums like this which is composed of all original material. What makes their music continuously interesting is their use of dynamics, whether from song to song or within each song itself. On this album, the music begins with the low key and emotional "I Hear You" but then shifts gears for "Gold Prisms Incorporated" which has an urgent and percussive feel with each member of the group adding to the rhythmic nature of the performance. Many of the other songs on this album explore ways in which rhythm and tempo can affect music. So I think overall this album worked very well, the musicians have worked together long enough to build an empathetic trust to carry them through whatever comes their way. Inevitable Western -

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oliver Lake - The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note (Black Saint/Soul Note, 2013)

Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake has been one of the most talented yet underrated musicians of the post-Coltrane era. He is a charter member of the influential collectives The Black Artists Group and The World Saxophone Quartet, and lately the exciting group Trio 3. This collection focuses on the work he did as a bandleader for the Italian record labels Black Saint and Soul Note in the 1980’s and 90’s. The legendary musician Eric Dolphy is a huge influence on Lake’s playing and this is evidenced here on all the albums but especially the tribute albums Dedicated to Dolphy and The Prophet. On these you get to hear how he interprets Dolphy’s music, whether the angular “Hat and Beard” and “The Prophet” or the gentler “Miss Ann” and “Something Sweet, Something Tender.” Lake moves beyond being a mere acolyte, using the open mindedness of Dolphy’s music as a blueprint for the development of his own unique sound. The other albums on this collection are diverse and showcase Lake’s ability as a composer and improviser on a wide range of settings from the spare experimental duet with pianist Borah Bergman called A New Organization to the excellent small band session Expandable Language which uses piano and guitar along with bass and drums to develop a fully integrated sound. This is an excellent collection and it serves as a wake-up call to those who may have slept on these records the first time. Lake came up during a period where progressive jazz had a difficult time gaining purchase in the USA, and his travelling to Europe and beyond allowed him to display his skills in a wide variety of contexts. He is more active than ever these days, taking part in a Dolphy retrospective in Montclair in addition to an upcoming big band feature and week long residency at the Stone this fall. The Complete Remastered Recordings -

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Coltrane: a Biography by Cuthbert Simpkins (Black Classics Press, 1975)

There have been a great many biographies of John Coltrane since his death in 1967, but this is one of the most interesting. This is Simpkins' only book (he would go on to become a noted medical doctor) but he did very thorough research using third-party sources and in-person interviews. He also interjects his own poetry, ideas and commentary into the narrative which keeps things quite interesting. He begins by covering standard biographical material like Coltrane's childhood and beginnings as a musician, but things really begin to kick into gear after he turns professional, which provides many more sources for the author to draw upon. He takes Coltrane's spiritual aspirations very seriously, beginning with the religious epiphany that he experienced after renouncing drugs and drink in 1957 all the way through to the deeply spiritual free jazz he recorded in the mid 1960's. Many interviews are recounted where Coltrane gives praise to his "creator" as the provider of his prowess as a musician. Coltrane's spiritual quest was deeply meaningful to him and Simpkins writes about the research that Coltrane undertook not only about the religions of world, but into science and technology as well. As the narrative progresses into the 1960's we read about the formation of Coltrane's "classic quartet" and his close friendship and support of up and coming musicians of the period like Eric Dlophy and Archie Shepp. By the early 1960's, Coltrane's expansive musical output expanded exponentially, with records and concerts coming at a phenomenal rate. Push-back from critics and even longtime fans was tough, but Coltrane remained steadfast in his refusal to slow down, employing new musicians, new techniques, always searching for new directions in music. This was a very enjoyable book and any fan of John Coltrane will find it quite enlightening. The interviews and research are well presented and Simpkins own thoughts and narrative are lucidly stated. Coltrane: A Biography -

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

John Coltrane - Sideman: Trane's Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note, 2014)

The period 1956-1957 was a transformative year in the life of John Coltrane.  He became clean of narcotics during this period, experienced a spiritual awakening and began his explosive rise to greatness that would mark the final decade of his life. This collection is bit of a misnomer as it places his name to the fore, when in fact he was a supporting actor in album by Paul Chambers, Johnny Griffin and and Sonny Clark. Concord took the same new wine/old bottles approach with their collection of Coltrane's sideman work for Prestige called Side Steps. This collection includes the albums Chambers' Music/High Step and Whims of Chambers Vol. 1 and 2, A Blowin' Session by Johnny Griffin and Sonny's Crib by Sonny Clark. What keeps it from being the complete Coltrane on Blue Note is the exclusion of the epochal Blue Train, the only album he recorded for Blue Note as a leader. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting collection, three discs that effectively chart Coltrane's rapid growth in his facility on the saxophone and his growing expansive conception of jazz as a whole. Coltrane had played with bassist Paul Chambers in the Miles Davis Quintet before making a less than graceful exit, only to return to the fold in the intervening year. They have a very empathetic relationship and became so close that Coltrane would later record "Mr. P.C." in his honor. Chambers himself is epic on these recordings, both with his fingers and bow he encompasses the entire hard bop medium. The session with Griffin is a fun jam with Griffin, Coltrane and Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, blowing through five solo laced performances in Rudy Van Gelder's studio. Finally, Sonny's Crib has become a classic of the form with the pianist Clark leading a group with Coltrane, trumpeter Donald Byrd and trombonist Curtis Fuller on the front line. This is a sold collection for those who do not already own the recordings already. While not the leader, Coltrane is a central figure on these records, and taken in context with his work as a leader and sideman with Prestige records and Miles Davis, provides a glimpse of a legendary figure in his formative years. Sideman: Trane's Blue Note Sessions (3CD)

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp (self produced, 2014)

If there were matches made in free jazz heaven, The Core and Matthew Shipp would certainly fit the bill. The musicians are Seth Paynter on saxophone, Joe Hertenstein on drums, Thomas Helton on bass with special guest Matthew Shipp on piano. But the key is that Shipp doesn't seem like a guest at all, he sounds fully integrated, like he was with the band from the beginning. The music reaches out for you from the get-go. It's one forty minute plus unnamed improvisation. Shipp's piano is deep and rich, taking the group into an urgent fast section to start. They are on a high wire over the abyss but never falter, moving through sections of bowed bass where large raindrops of piano notes and chords fall around. There is a thrilling section of music where Matthew Shipp is hammering down frightening yet thrilling massive jolts of piano as if he were some god of legend hurling thunderbolts at an unwitting populace. The clashes and contrasts of musical color keep the music continuously exciting and propel it forward. They break the music down and then reconstruct it, challenging themselves and the listener. Toward the end there is a section of bowed bass with probing saxophone, and then Shipp reenters with some lithe piano that even makes the music swing - truly they are covering all bases. Then the band moves to an excellent flourish to finish the album. This was a wonderful album, with each instrumentalist at the top of their game. The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp - bandcamp

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Downbeat Readers Poll 2014

Downbeat Magazine has opened it's poll for the 2014 reader's choices. Submit your ballot here and do not be influenced by my choices ;-)

Hall of Fame: Hank Mobley
Jazz Artist: Mary Halvorson
Jazz Group: The Thing
Big Band: Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album: Chicago Underground Duo - Locus
Historical Album: Miles Davis at the Fillmore
Trumpet: Charles Tolliver
Trombone: Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake
Tenor Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafssaon
Clarinet: Ben Goldberg
Flute: Henry Threadgill
Piano: Kris Davis
Electric Keyboard: John Medeski
Organ: Brian Charette
Guitar: Nels Cline
Bass: William Parker
Electric Bass: Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten
Violin: Jeff Gauthier
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion: Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument: Mats Gustafssaon - Bass Saxophone
Male Vocalist: Theo Bkeckmann
Female Vocalist: Leena Conquest
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: Slide Hampton
Record Label: AUM Fidelity
Blues Artist: Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: N/A
Beyond Artist: Dr. John

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Azar Lawrence - The Seeker (Sunnyside, 2014)

Saxophonist Azar Lawrence came of age playing in the excellent bands of Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner in the early 1970's as evidenced on albums like Enlightenment and Dark Magus. He has been something of a journeyman since then but has lately released a string of fine albums. On this live LP he is accompanied by an excellent group consisting of Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. This group gives great support to Lawrence's strident and potent saxophone playing. The first track, "Ghandi," captures the band in full flight with Lawrence setting the tone with some muscular playing, followed by an excellent piano/bass/drums section. The leader storms back in with fiery runs that hints at John Coltrane's ecstatic playing, while still maintaining his own musical identity. Equally strong is "Lost Tribes of Lemuria" which has the full band stating the strong theme before Lawrence yields the floor for some fine trumpet and piano playing. He switches to soprano saxophone for "The Seeker" where his swirling playing is matched by melodic trumpet playing before the music builds sharply to a full band blowout. "Rain Ballad" is a quieter interlude that seems to reference John Coltrane's "After the Rain" in spirit, followed by "Spirit Night" and the concluding "Venus" both of which incorporate strong and proud tenor saxophone and build to dramatic conclusions. The spiritual jazz of the late 1960's and early 1970's is still a deep vein in jazz that can be mined by a thoughtful musician like Azar Lawrence who's potent yet humble music nods to past glories with moving full speed ahead into the future. The Seeker -

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity 50th Anniversary Edition (ESP, 2014)

Saxophonist Albert Ayler was one of the most controversial musicians of the free jazz/new thing era. His strident and powerful tone and unique way of improvising divided fans, critics and musicians alike. although he wasn't there to see it (he died under mysterious circumstances in 1970) history has been much kinder to him, and this was the album that led the reappraisal of his work. On this album, Ayler was joined by like minded musicians Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. One of the things that is easy to miss when hearing about Alyer's fearsome reputation, is that he was a great composer of memorable melodies. Taking folk forms and developing them into launching pads to hair raising improvisations was a big part of his M.O. and you can definitely hear it on this album in the two versions of "Ghosts." Ayler's haunting tone on saxophone and the earworm melodies show that this wasn't some serendipitous blowout, but that he had premeditated ideas of what he wanted the music to sound like and used that blueprint to carve out a remarkable album. "The Wizard" and "Spirits" follow with the group blasting hard thought the former and leaving space in the latter for bowed bass and hypnotic percussion. The concluding version of "Ghosts" brings all of the threads that make up this album together, where a keening melody, sense of spatial dimensions and torrid improvisation come together with a sense of wondrous joy. There is a bonus track, "Vibrations" that was also recorded at the session - it's quite good and contains a theme that Ayler would return to throughout his career. But it seems like something of an interloper here, tacked on as an afterthought to 30 minutes of sublime music. Spiritual Unity - downtown music gallery

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP - Return the Tides (excerpt)

Music Matters: Art Blakey and Joe Henderson

 Music Matters is a small company that licenses classic jazz recordings from the Blue Note label and releases them as high quality vinyl LP's. They began as an audiophile label releasing limited edition albums to be played at 45rpm - presumably the wider and thicker groove allowed for the better processing of data, but they have recently begum releasing standard 331/3 vinyl LP's at a more reasonable price. These two LP's are from that series and are quite beautiful with a glossy finish to the new gate-fold LP featuring photos from the session and the original liner notes.

Art Blakey - Moanin' (Blue Note, 1958) This is one of the most well known and best albums of drummer and band leader Art Blakey's career. He always had an eye for great young players and composers, and that is on display here. The band is Lee Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jamie Merritt on bass. This group was together for a very short time, but with some of the best hard bop composers on board, they made excellent music. Bobby Timmons wrote the title song that begins this album starting with an unforgettable section of piano and horns, before the whole group kicks in for an excellent round of solos. Benny Golson is a suburb jazz composer, and both "Blues March" and "Along Come Betty" are prime examples of hard-bop and mainstream jazz in general. On "Blues March" the rest of the band falls in behind Blakey's lead into a stuttering melody, before falling out for solos and ensemble sections. "Along Came Betty" is a soulful piece that really shows the deep down funkiness that this band could achieve.

Joe Henderson - Page One (Blue Note, 1963) Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson's debut album as a leader shows a very confident musician, who is supported by a crack band playing wonderful compositions. What more could you want? Trumpeter Kenny Dorham is critical to this album, not only as an instrumentalist, but as something of a mentor as referenced in his wry liner note essay. McCoy Tyner on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Pete LaRocca on drums round out the group. This album was recorded near the height of the bossa-nova craze, and the band makes good use of the form on the opening track "Blue Bossa" by Kenny Dorham, and Henderson's own standard-to-be "Recorda Me." They are both excellent, the music is open and breezy without being derivative and LaRocca makes very good use of rhythm and time. The rest of the album is excellent hard bop. "Out of the Night" is another distinctive Henderson original, you can really hear him developing his own sound, one that would make many excellent recordings for Blue Note in the years to come. "La Mesha" is the album's ballad and makes fine use of the form and allows the musicians to improvise widely at a slower tempo.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

News and Links

The Sonny Rollins “humor” post that started it all and the great man’s response. More commentary from Marc Myers and a different take from Phil Freeman.
More potshots: “Jazz is boring” in the Washington Post, rebuttal by Peter Hum and Marc Myers.
Hank Shteamer on jazz, controversy and music that transcends boundaries and criticism.
Allaboutjazz interviews trombonist Steve Swell.
How do you like your Blue Note: mono or stereo?

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Thing - Boot! (The Thing Music, 2013)

The Thing is a force of nature free-jazz and more band consisting of Mats Gustafsson on bass, baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on electric bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Developing unshakable empathy after years of relentless recording and touring, the band is fearless and uncompromising and the music follows suit. John Coltrane's "India" opens the album, and the exotic melody is stated before the band takes off with snarling saxophone, over-amped bass and amphetamine laced drumming. The dinosaur like stomp continues on "Reboot" but after the wailing and pummeling interlude, there is a more spacious interlude of malleted drums like the eye of a hurricane, before everyone comes back together building faster and faster, wildly exciting and developing an edifice of pure sound. Duke Ellington's "Heaven" has a opening of probing saxophone and cymbals - these guys do not need to be reminded of their power and they use it judiciously here. They are still playing fast, but the intensity level is just taken down a notch. "Red River" has an outburst of noise from the trio.The group is really locked in around Haker-Flaten's strong bass which holds things together even when they move into the most over the top free-jazz/noise-rock. The title song "Boot!" is heavier but at the same time more spacious and they take their time before they "put the boot in" as it were. Finally, "Epilog" (their spelling) features shards of musical glass shattering, and the music delivers mounting tension seeking release in slabs of saxophone and electric bolts of bass over nimble, yet pummeling drumming. Pure catharsis comes as wave upon wave of noise rolls in, obliterating all that comes before it. This was a wonderful album, a cleansing experience for the listener (this one anyway) blasting away all of the sadness and hopelessness of everyday life and replacing it with a lean attitude imbued with the idea that you still have power, whatever your circumstances may be. Music is power and empowering. Boot! -

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Zion80 - Adramelech: Book of Angels 22 (Tzadik, 2014)

Led by guitarist Jon Madof (podcast) Zion80 is a large band that covers a wide range of music, but have really come into their own on this album. Using compositions from John Zorn's Book of Angels songbook, the band takes the music into wild places that are ceaselessly entertaining throughout. What makes this album so interesting is the symbiosis of the compositions, arrangements, musicians and their improvisatory instincts. Tzadik's website compares the music that of the great musician and activist Fela Kuti, and the similarity is there, along with music of the middle east, and a warm summer night street party. In addition to Madof and the horns, Brian Marsella's keyboards, particularly his swirling organ is the key to the success of the music, giving a soul jazz and rhythm and blues edge to the proceedings. If you are under the impression that a lot of the albums associated with the Masada songbook are overwhelmingly sombre, this music might surprise you. The vibrancy and depth of musical color on this album shine through wonderfully and should appeal to any open-minded listener. And open a few closed-minded ones too. Well done. Adramelech: Book of Angels 22 -

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Rich Halley 4 - The Wisdom of Rocks (CD Baby, 2014)

Saxophonist Rich Halley may be a little bit under the radar, as he lives in works in Portland, Oregon (which has a fine jazz scene in it's own right) rather then a more traditional hotspot like New York City. But he makes world class jazz as can be heard on this album. Accompanied by Michael Vlatkovich on trombone, Clyde Reed on bass and Carson Halley on drums, they make very a very exciting amalgam of hard bop with freer sections along the lines of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet. Horn led openings to tracks like "Atoll" and "A Brief Note" make for exciting powerful launchpads for riffs and twined interplay. 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 well done improvisations. Saxophone, trombone, bass and drums are in for the ride throughout making for an excellent modern jazz LP. Wisdom of Rocks -

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