Sunday, December 27, 2015

El Intruso - The 8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2015

The Argentinian jazz website El Intruso asked me to participate in their year end poll. Much like the poll in Downbeat, the poll was broken down by instrument. Here were my submissions:

Musician of the year: Jon Irabagon
Newcomer Musician Kamasi Washington
Group of the year: The Bad Plus
Newcomer group: Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano’s Soundprints
Album of the year: Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth - Epicenter
Composer: John Zorn
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Acoustic Bass: Joe Fonda
Electric Bass: Bill Laswell
Guitar: Mary Harvorson
Piano: Kris Davis
Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: John Medeski
Tenor Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa
Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Trumpet/Cornet: Rob Mazurek
Clarinet/bass clarinet: David Murray, bass clarinet
Trombone: Steve Swell
Flute: Henry Threadgill
Violin/Viola: Mat Maneri
Cello: Erik Friedlander
Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz
Electronics: Fred Lonberg-Holm
Others instruments: Mats Gustafsson, bass saxophone
Female Vocals: Leena Conquest
Male Vocals: Mose Allison
Best Live Band: Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Orchestra
Record Label: Cuneiform

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Pharaoh Sanders - Jewels of Thought (Impulse, 1969)

Tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Pharoah Sanders was most well known for playing with John Coltrane from 1965 – 1967, but he really came into his own as a solo artist in 1969, when he recorded his most well known solo LP, Karma, which featured the iconic song “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” This album follows the same route with Leon Thomas again singing, chanting and yodeling along with Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Cecil McBee and Richard Davis on bass and Idris Muhammad or Roy Haynes on drums. Everyone in the band also contributes hand percussion making for a much larger sound. Thomas encourages those in the studio to join in counting time and chanting the title “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” before launching into lyrics invoking peace and togetherness. As Thomas moves into his trademark spooky yodeling, the improvisation moves into deeper territory, and Sanders tone develops the harsh and guttural tone that he is most well known for over a deepening thicket of percussion and quite beautiful piano from L.L. Smith. Sanders takes things higher, but levels off, allowing the music to develop organically rather than trying to force it. There is an open ended feel to the near half-hour long “Sun in Aquarius” with bells, percussion, flutes and rumbling piano beginning what sounds like a dark procession into the unknown. Pharoah comes out screaming with all he has got, trying to hold back the tide of thundering percussion, bass and piano, he is blowing over the top. There comes a brief respite of calm, led by Smith’s wonderfully melodic piano playing (he’s really the unsung hero here) and Pharoah reels things back to a quieter more centered pace, leaving an opening for the shaking of bells and the warbling of Leon Thomas. There is a nice interlude for a much deserved duet between the two very talented bass players. Out of nowhere, Pharoah blasts his most harrowing tenor saxophone solo on this record, unleashing piercing cries of pure emotion that are amazing to behold. He rears back and howls like he is shaking an angry fist at heaven for being wronged and the music threatens to engulf and immolate him in a pyre of fiery passion. Things do calm down from that ecstatic high and return to melody almost triumphantly with Thomas yodeling and chanting and Sanders playing off of him. While some of the music, particularly Leon Thomas’s vocal acrobatics and lyrics seem dated and of a particular time, most of the music holds up quite well. Lonnie Liston Smith is a gem when given a chance and the bassists and drummers were fine as well. But it was Pharoah Sanders’ record, and he puts his indelible stamp upon it with some of his finest playing: sections of attractive melody juxtaposed by areas where he takes flight and refuses to be denied. Jewels of Thought -

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Michael Musillami Trio - Zephyr (Playscape Recordings, 2015)

Guitarist Michael Musillami wears many hats: label chief, producer, composer, and he combines all of those aspects with aplomb on this album, the eighth with his trio, which features Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums. The compositions are inspired by events in Musillami’s life beginning with “Loops” which has a quiet light touch to its opening, with his guitar building in and adding luminescence to the music. Fonda’s bass has a rich, full bodied sound which he uses to great effect during a solo spot supported by light drums and guitar. The focus moves back to the leader, who takes control with a nimble sounding solo over understated bass and drums. “Pacific School” has a quietly probing nature, allowing for some nice brushwork from Schuller and the trio uses repetition to build momentum to take off into their improvised section. Their tightness as a unit, crystalized over many years of performance allows them to develop dynamic waves of music that rise and fall as the music demands it. Musillami’s lengthy guitar solo is played with confidence and grace, with no unnecessary showmanship. Fonda solos once again, in a beautifully melodic fashion then giving the band the boost to come together for the conclusion. There is a tension like a coiled spring running through “Zephyr Cove” with a cool neon beam of guitar tone setting and alluring, mysterious theme. The music unfolds in a complex but not inaccessible fashion, which is quite understated as Mussillami leads by example with bass and drums in close support. His tone moves into slightly darker territory, slithery, moving at will in an unexpected and exciting manner. “Environmental Studies” has a snappy melody, which the trio uses to snarls of guitar and crackling drums over elastic bass. Schuller swings mightily while Mussillami’s guitar floats and Fonda’s bass keeps everyone tethered. With brightly colored chords, a supple bass solo and rolling mischievous drums this makes for one of the highlights of the album. This album worked very well – there is a quiet confidence that the musicians have in each other and in the music that they are playing that is evident, and they are able to distill their music to a core that needs no adornment but simply is. Zephyr -

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Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll Results

The results of the Jazz Critics Poll hosted by Francis Davis and NPR music have been posted and the individual ballots of the participants can be seen at Tom Hull's website.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Michael Zerang and Blue Lights - Songs from the Big Book of Love (Pink Palace Recordings, 2015)

For the past several decades, Chicago has been an epicenter of experimental jazz, whether with the AACM, or the scene that grew around the Velvet Lounge with musicians like Fred Anderson and Ken Vandermark in the more recently. This spirit of exploration remains strong today with groups like Michael Zerang & The Blue Lights. Led by Zerang on drums, the group consists of Mars Williams on alto and tenor saxophones, Dave Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, Josh Berman on cornet, and Kent Kessler on bass. This album was recorded live in early 2014 and opens with “Dancing for Cigarettes” which features vigorous and fierce saxophones and drums developing a strong riff. There is an alto saxophone solo that melds with the ferocious drumming to lead the full band into a proud and imperious improvisation. Williams takes the baton and uses his tenor saxophone to spout snarling lines of sound over protean accompaniment. Zerang develops a funky drumbeat to underscore “To Tu” where the two saxophonists layer their voices atop one another and one may break out and solo before returning to fold, tagging the other to take their place. The musicians in the band are relentless in support of one another, allowing one of the saxophonists to fly close enough to the sun to offer forth an overblown howl of pure emotion. “Bright Lights and Saucy Tights” is a wailing and happy sounding tune led by a fine Josh Berman cornet excursion. He dabs and swirls musical paint like an artist, using color and pressure to vary his approach to the music. This is followed by the two saxophones entering into a collective improvisation that is a wild and fearless flight into the unknown, before returning to the original rollicking beginning. Torrid saxophone and drumming egg each other on in a riff – solo – repeat format that is very exciting. The baritone saxophone of Dave Rempis anchors “The Third Pythia of Flin Flon (for Shirka)” and its grinding strength allows many possibilities for the rest of the musicians to expound upon. Berman solos against what seems like a physical form, a granite edifice of deep sound that has a majestic, yet ominous presence. He breaks out to burst against to this canvas, blowing hot, scalding lines of brass. “Chicago Rub Down” ends the album in riveting fashion with massive high stakes all out saxophones and drums pummeling and howling. There are epic sections of horn riffs powering the drums and then the percussion returning the favor. This is a fine ending to a truly excellent album of Chicago jazz. It is brawny, tough, a little bit free, and all heart, and shouldn’t be missed. Songs From the Big Book of Love - Pink Palace Recordings.

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