Monday, March 30, 2015

Matthew Shipp Trio - To Duke (Rogue Art, 2015)

Conventional wisdom states that Matthew Shipp is a “free-jazz” or “avant-guard” musician. But in truth he is a wide ranging and thoughtful pianist and composer who as Duke Ellington himself would undoubtably say is “beyond category.” This is a thoughtful and quite beautiful tribute that takes his well known melodies with a hint of reverence, but then moves beyond them to to create pithy personal statements. He is ably supported by longtime colleagues Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. After a short introduction called “Farewell to Duke” the trio dives into some of the most well known compositions of the Ellington canon. Shipp’s deeply percussive attack and use of the entire piano makes him uniquely qualified to place a personal stamp on the music. “In a Sentimental Mood” is re-imagined as a mysterious performance where the whole trio flirts with the melody, and then takes liberties from the inspiration that it provides. The jaunty melody of “Satin Doll” is nearly danceable before the group begins to gleefully deconstruct it. There is a great sense of the band having fun, like the Ellington tunes are old friends that they can celebrate with shared knowledge and trust. This sense continues on the chestnut “Take the A-Train” with some wonderfully fast paced bass work from Bisio and hard-charging piano from Matthew Shipp, playing the low end of the piano very hard to give the music a forceful percussive feeling that drives the music forward. “Mood Indigo” quite subtle with Dickey switching to brushes as the trio gently swings the ballad. Shipp returns to the ballad form on "Prelude to a Kiss" taking this as a solo piano feature and playing the song with grace and tact. "Sparks" comes barreling out of the gate with storming trio interplay. Elastic bass and drums stretch and pull as necessary and allowing Shipp to fly free in his torrid improvisational exploration. This is a very wonderful and consistently exciting album, where the listener is consistently surprised with the way that the trio interprets and deconstructs this well known standards. Duke would be quite proud. To Duke -

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Atomic - Lucidity (Jazzland, 2015)

Atomic is a stalwart modern jazz band from Scandinavia featuring Havard Wiik on piano, Fredrik Ljungkvist on saxophone and clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass and Hans Hulboekmo on drums, replacing Paal Nilssen-Love. The music is their trademark free-bop, beginning with “Laterna Interfult” which opens with a mysterious melody before diving into some more powerful improvised sections, where the music stutters and sways, and the horns weave and joust around each other. Ljungkvist breaks lose on saxophone, before stopping on a dime, moving the music back to a more passive position. There are sections of faster, choppier collective improvisation which are quite exciting as is the nimble way that everyone can drop out to give Haker-Flaten a well deserved bass solo. The full band returns for a rousing and swinging conclusion. More beautiful bass playing is featured on “A New Junction” which patiently adds instruments developing a slow simmer. Spacious and spare, there is room to move for trumpet and clarinet, then involving droplets of piano. “Lucidity” jumps out of the gate hard with the full band firing on all cylinders. A punchy trumpet solo from Broo, is kicked in the pants nicely with Hulboekmo’s heavy pulse. They ramp down to a more abstract section, before Wiik gleefully leads them back into the back into the fray with trumpet and saxophone reaching for the sky about the powerful rhythm team. Flute like trumpet from Broo along with open ended piano draws subtle shades on “Start/Stop” before they jump up with a more complex group improvisation including a nice section for clarinet and bass, followed by very heavy hitting piano and drums accented by trumpet squeals. “Major” has a noir-ish haunted opening, Things spring to life with throbbing fast bass (IHF is just epic throughout the whole album) pushing Broo’s trumpet ever higher. The full band comes together, rocketing into orbit with an excellent collectively improvised section. Atomic has been around for a while now and their music continues to evolve, moving from jazz to free improvisation and back. The band is a group of very talented individual musicians, but when the come together, the whole is definitely better than the sum of its parts. Lucidity -

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book: The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones 30th Anniversary Edition by Stanley Booth (Chicago Review Press, 2014)

Author Stanley Booth had an opportunity that a writer would never have has before or since, a chance to be part of the Rolling Stones as they toured the United States successfully in 1969 and then crashed and burned at the infamous Altamont Festival. Booth chronicles everything from the ever present drugs to groupies, managers and hangers on. He does stall the narrative on a few occasions to talk about his own problems of getting his book deal and advance, but for the most part stays on topic. He will juxtapose the narrative of the 1969 tour with vignettes of the Stones early tours, where they were mobbed by fans, some of which are beyond belief as fans are driven to near-psychosis, attacking band members and their entourage for any scrap of memento that they can get their hands on. Also portrayed is Brian Jones, the ill-fated founding member of the group that went from rising star multi-instrumentalist to drug casualty with an early death. It is fascinating the way that drugs are handled back then too, as the police raid the members homes and they face multi-yrear jail terms for the possession of marijuana. But in the end it comes down to the music, and Booth's portrayal of the tour from the inside is fascinating with a hard to beat lineup that featured the Stones along with B.B. King and Ike & Tine Turner. Booth had full access to the group and the behind the scenes banter is fascinating as well, with the band members talking about their musical influences, recording sessions and aspects of their personal lives that were never before revealed. But then it all went wrong: the band liked the idea of playing a free concert like many of the American west coast bands like the Grateful Dead had done, and settled on the Altamont Speedway in California for the event. This is one of the most famous events in rock & roll history and Booth is right there to cover it all - the madness of the Hell's Angels as they kill a man right in front of the stage and savagely beat and maim others. The band's desperate and eventually futile attempts to calm the crowd, a restless mass of over 300,000 people in a truly anarchic state of tragic lawlessness. In the end the book works quite well, and the first-person narrative carries a lot of the weight of this heavy time very well. Despite some flaws, this is a must-read from rock & roll fans. The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones -

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Anat Cohen - Luminosa (Anzic Records, 2015)

Using Brazilian music as a jumping off point, multi-instrumentalist Anat Cohen plays a wide range of music on this balanced set of mainstream jazz. She is joined by Jason Lindner on keyboards, Joe Martin on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums, Romero Lubambo and Gilad Hekselman on guitar and percussionist Gilmar Gomes along with special guests. The album begins with “Lilia” which has a slow and patient opening, building to a mid-tempo clarinet solo that smears long slippery notes over piano, bass and drums. Joyful clapping percussion introduces “Putty Boy Strut” which wouldn’t sound out of place at a New Orleans street party. Cohen responds with upbeat, dancing clarinet. The word “strut” accurately describes this song as the buoyant playing carries it all the way through to the end.  “Bachiao” is enveloped by hollow sounding clarinet and gentle guitar making for a bossa nova feel. Satiny sounding guitar picks up the pace in the middle and the interplay on this duo selection works quite well. Slow and haunted acoustic guitar in conjunction with elegiac clarinet usher in “Cais.” The music has a slow and mournful ballad feel with light percussion and just a hint of keyboards framing the piece. The rhythm section glides in to pick up the pace, giving the music an episodic feel. Cohen’s clarinet becomes more urgent over percussive piano as she includes crying wails from her bass clarinet. “In the Spirit of Baden” has some medium tempo percussion with a hint of gentle guitar while the clarinet caresses the melody. Keyboard notes fall like a gentle shower while acoustic guitar and gentle percussion hold the groove. The music moves to a rather complex but beguiling conclusion. “Espinha De Bacalhau” has a very jaunty feel with accordion adding to the guitar and clarinet. The music is fast and impassioned but also light on its feet, truly music to dance to. There is a rolling feature for the clarinet, carrying the music through to the finale. She ends the album by playing tenor saxophone on “The Wein Machine” with the band swinging well at a medium boil. Thick bass and drums underpin a catchy groove with a hint of keyboard. Using compositions from musicians as diverse as Flying Lotus and Milton Nascimento as well as her own originals on this album keep the music varied. There is no pretentiousness to the music and it is played in the spirit of fun, sincerity and open emotion. Luminosa -

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jim Snidero - Main Street (Savant, 2015)

Jim Snidero is a veteran alto saxophonist and composer with several albums to his credit. On this album he leads a fine mainstream jazz band consisting of Fabian Almazan on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Snidero tours widely, and that is relevant to this album as the song titles presents a travelogue of sorts. I grew up not far from there so “Post Time Saratoga” rings a bell, with a fast paced feeling evoking the famous racetrack and the strong swing of the song reflecting the excellent jazz scene of that area. “Duluth at Noon” leads of the album with a strong and efficient groove, with Linda Oh and Rudy Royston expanding and contracting their playing like a living being and allowing Snidero and Almazan to range freely through the music. “Las Vegas” has a lush opening for solo piano, before subtle bass and drums fold in with slow and stately saxophone allowing the rhythm to carry the music. “Oxford Square” has a patient and supple sound, allowing for Snidero’s ripe saxophone to make a positive statement ably supported by the rhythm unit. The well know standard “Autumn in New York” is presented as a stately ballad, yearning in its emotion and a bit melancholic. Snidero thrives at this tempo, not rushing or forcing, but allowing the melody to carry him and his elaborations on it. A fine bass feature opens “The Streets of Laredo” before the rest of the band comes charging in, building a strong uptempo foundation. The music is fast and hard and develops into a ripe situation with Snidero circling and swooping while Rudy Royston drives the music relentlessly forward and is rewarded by taking an excellent drum solo. This is the highlight of the album, and everybody gets a turn in the spotlight including Almazan who shows powerful mastery of the keyboard, before everybody comes together for a storming conclusion. This is a fine middle of the road jazz LP that should appeal to a wide range of fans. The music is well played and the musicians are fully engaged creating in the moment. Main Street -

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

King Crimson - Starless (Discipline Global Mobile, 2014)

A massive love letter to fans, this walloping twenty-seven disc boxed set is the kind of love that stares in your windows and goes through your trash. This version of King Crimson was one of it’s most revered with leader Robert Fripp on guitar and mellotron, John Wetton on bass and vocals, David Cross on violin and keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. The box covers the band’s 1973-1974 tour of Europe from Scotland to Germany. Setlists were relatively similar night to night, with the staples being the fan favorites like the crushing “Easy Money” and “The Great Deceiver” to the ethereal “Starless” and “The Night Watch.” What makes each of the concerts unique was the manner that the group brought the each performance, and the quality of the collectively improvised sections that bridged the songs. Each member of the group was a master of their instruments, and the improvised sections rival The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever or any other jazz-fusion band of the day except for the massive electric funk groups of Miles Davis. Of particular interest are the so called “blue tapes” which are very high quality recordings and make up the heart of the set. There are several mixes of the original Starless and Bible Black studio album, both in stereo and surround sound, mastered by Steven Wilson, and there is high quality DVD-A and Blu-Ray material that presents certain concerts and studio recordings in higher fidelity. There is a lengthy booklet included with excellent photographs, diary entries and comments by the band members and an essay that puts the music in historical context. There is also a set of ephemera like replica concert posters and tickets and magazines to round out the package. But it all comes down to the music, and if there is one band that deserves this outrageous treatment it might very well be this one where the songs, improvisations and performances make for a titanic achievement. Starless (Deluxe box set) -

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Captain Beefheart - Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970 to 1972 (Rhino/Warner Brothers, 2014)

Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) was a seminal figure in rock and roll from the late sixties to the early eighties. What he may have lacked in popular music sales was more than compensated for with a completely unique musical conception and a massive influence on generations of musicians. This boxed set collects the work immediately following his seminal masterwork Trout Mask Replica, containing the albums Lick My Decals Off Baby, The Spotlight Kid, Clear Spot and a disc of alternate takes and rarities. Lick My Decals Off Baby is closest in spirit to Trout Mask Replica, with the caustic spirit of tracks like “Doctor Dark” and the leadoff title track juxtaposed with Beefhearts Dadaist humor on “I Wanna Find A Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go”, “The Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig)” and the concluding “Flash Gordon’s Ape.” The material on The Spotlight Kid has a little bit more conventional melodic content on “Blabber ‘n’ Smoke” but the Captain was a ferocious as ever on “I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby” and the wonderfully ominous “When It Blows Its Stacks.” Clear Spot continued this trend with the melancholic “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains” and “Her Big Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles” balanced with the humorous “Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man” and the ferocious “Big Eyed Beans from Venus.” The fourth disc is a grab bag of alternate takes and instrumental tracks of interest to diehard fans and collectors, but they do offer a peek behind the curtain at one of the most unusual, fascinating and enigmatic musicians in rock and roll history. Sun, Zoom, Spark:1970 to 1972 -

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Tisziji Munoz and Marilyn Crispell - The Paradox of Independence (Anami Music, 2015)

The pairing of pianist Marilyn Crispell and electric guitarist Tisziji Munoz is a curious one, but in the end it works quite well. Both musicians have individual approaches and tones that they get from their respective instruments that meld and contrast in interesting ways. This album was recorded live in Marlboro, NY on July 4, 2014 and the group is rounded out with Don Pate on bass and Ra-Kalam Bob Moses and Tony Falco on drums. Opening with “No Self, No Thought, No Mind” a title that seems to inspire the thought of creative spontaneity, the call is answered by a strong section of piano, bass and drums, developing a flurry of activity. Munoz’s guitar joins in, seemingly elated to be in the company of such challenging musicians. He is playing fast and loose over the deep foundation of the rhythm section developing a sense of flying high above the clouds. There is a subtle drum conversation before the music closes. “Shenai Letticia” builds in a suite like manner, opening with Crispell playing piano without accompaniment, devoted to the entire depth and breadth of the instrument, playing that is spacious and full sounding. Munoz edgy guitar enters after her lengthy solo section, with an inner logic developed over years of playing and conceptualizing. He moves ever faster as the piano seems to drop out, allowing him to soar with the deeply rhythmic bassist and drummers at length in a well coordinated and exploratory manner. Crispell then returns to provide a thoughtful and poignant conclusion. Inspirational and spirited piano opens “Fatherhood” building a spiritual jazz notion that is added to by Munoz’s subtle and colorful guitar playing, like painting a sunrise in the distance. This music moves quite quickly to a fast and grinding section for electric guitar, driving the quintet through its paces. “Goodbye Dear Sweet Mother” does start in an elegiac fashion, but the music moves into free territory, entering the realm of Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Sharrock and other fellow travellers that used music as a spiritual quest. This was a very well played and well recorded performance. Munoz has been on a tear recently, releasing several albums of consistent quality and this one is no different. The Paradox of Independence -

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

Hypercolor - Hypercolor (Tzadik, 2015)

Hypercolor is an excellent jazz-rock trio consisting of Eyal Maoz on guitar, James Ilgenfritz on bass, and Lukas Ligeti on drums. They match their powerful ferocity with poignant lyricism making for a consistently interesting sound. The album opens with “Squeaks” which is a fast and fun opener, rocking hard, developing touches of funk and intricate interplay. “Chen” has a medium tempo with thick bass and powerful drumming. Pyrotechnic guitar ratchets up the music to a higher level. Slower and thoughtful, “Forget” builds up the tension with a strong rockish feel but still yearning, while electric bass bubbles up and plays off the other two instruments. “Ernesto” features strong drumming that is continuously moving and probing guitar looking for an opening. They take a medium-up tempo, with Maoz producing liquid drops of guitar tone. A more abstract song is “Glowering” where squiggles and chimes pick up the pace with some slashing guitar and heavier drums adding to the mix. “Palace” is a fast juggernaut of frenetic guitar and drumming with Ilgenfritz’s bass prodding everyone along. Nothing is held back as the band takes on a relentless slash and burn approach. The trio comes out of the gate hard again on “Transit” building a metallic funk feel with shards of guitar against shifting bass and drums. There is a loose midsection, and then the music moves through a well played bass led section, concluding with a collective improvisation that is strong and hard. The final performances on the album “Little” and “Quixotic” slow the pace down a bit allowing the music to open up and breathe, quieter and mysterious, building to a melodic majesty, like a longing for something lost. This is a very well played album by a very exciting band. It is accessible for both fans of rock and modern jazz, and hopefully there will be more music from this trio to come. Hypercolor -

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

John Zorn - Hen to Pan (Tzadik, 2015)

This album is a selection of chamber music composed by John Zorn and performed by the group of Steve Gosling on piano, Jay Campbell and Michael Nicolas on cello, Chris Otto on violin and Tyshawn Soreyon drums. These musicians play in different groupings from duo on up and Tzadik’s website touts this music as visceral, intense and powerfully emotional. The album opens with “Ouroboros (trio version 1)” which begins with drums and wild strings, developing an uneasy feel with slashing strings and drums. The music is very exciting and unnerving, ranging from abstract section to music of a more violent nature, both dynamic and untethered. “Occam’s Razor” comes alive with droplets of piano notes playing off against bowed strings. The music is able to move from a whisper to a scream in ways that are by turn dark and foreboding. Sawing bow and string plucks usher in “Ouroboros (duo version)” before moving into a bowed section of astonishing speed, fast as possible before dropping off on a dime. The sweeps of acoustic noise and the coiled tension is equally hypnotic and telepathic. “The Aristos” moves through cutting strings and piano before dropping into sections of anxious silence then climbing to the heights of complexity and then cutting off abruptly. The concluding piece is  “Ouroboros (trio version 2)” where Sorey’s confident and evocative drumming moves against wickedly fast strings before crashing into abstraction and then rebounding and driving to an intense and heavy conclusion. I do not know much about chamber music (as this post no doubt makes abundantly clear) but it really lives up to Tzadik’s claim that this is “chamber music as you have never heard it before.” Dense, visceral and at times a little frightening this is music that demands your full attention. Hen to Pan -

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Friends and Neighbors - Hymn For a Hungry Nation (Clean Feed, 2014)

Friends and Neighbors is a Norwegian jazz quintet that took their name from an obscure Ornette Coleman LP which is appropriate since they have a wonderful Ornette like sound that combines post-bop jazz with sections of free improvisation. The band consists of Andre Roligheten on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Oscar Gronberg on piano, Jon Rune Strom on bass and Tollef Ostvang on drums. The opening track, “Hymn For a Hungry Nation” is fast paced and full bodied with a propulsive free section of piano, bass and drums followed by confident horn riffing and a spitfire trumpet solo, and brash saxophone section. They go to the source with “John’s Abbey” setting up a probing and yearning saxophone section, followed by fractured bass and drums which keeps everyone on their toes. Bowed bass and clarinet give a different feel to “Give Me Jarrison” the music develops a sense of disorientation and lack of resolution. “Skremmerud” shows the band charging out of the gate with a choppy theme, making way for twisting and turning openings for trumpet, before things get a little spaced out in the middle, moving toward an abstract section with bowed bass and rattling drums. The longest tune on the album “Vocals on the Run” which changes from a fanfare melody to a nice bass feature for Strom, before wide roving drums move the performance to another level with rippling percussive piano and peals of trumpet. There is an impressive free section for the entire band to improvise collectively, before powering back to the original theme and concluding. Finally, “Heading South” is a ballad, languid and emotional with heavy drops of piano flowing against broken rhythms with long tones of saxophone and trumpet making for a sense of anxiety, before they let up and return to the lush melody. This was a fine album from an exciting band. The nod to Ornette Coleman is prevalent throughout the music but only as a jumping off point, this band has much to say on their own. Hymn for a Hungry Nation -

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