Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blue Buddha - Blue Buddha (Tzadik, 2015)

Blue Buddha is a special collective group consisting of Dave Douglas on trumpet, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Louie Belogenis on tenor saxophone and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The music was recorded live in the studio without edits or overdubs and that sense of "without a net" excitement pervades the disc. This group plays spiritual jazz of a unique nature beginning with “Purification” which is spacious, with the saxophone playing off against the trumpet and disjointed percussion. The music takes a long time developing but the payoff is well worth it with excellent drumming and cries of saxophone and trumpet. Belogenis plays some raw and rending saxophone to open “Double Dorje” and Sorey responds with open percussion, very free and unfettered with a Spiritual Unity feel. There is some really great saxophone and drum interplay, making for a wonderful match of musicians. “Truth of Cessation” has spacious breathy trumpet, playing quiet long breaths and longing peals of saxophone responding followed by open ended drumming and Laswell’s enveloping soundscape. Trumpet in free space sounding confident and making a statement, the kind of music Douglas used to make with groups like the Tiny Bell Trio. “Wrathful Compassion” is the band at its most ferocious and it is an absolute thrill ride from start to finish.  The full group comes out immediately playing fast and hard, making for a very exciting free jazz sound that is going for broke developing a swirling a mass of extraordinary sound, moving into sensory overload. The trumpet and saxophone are absolutely scalding while the bass and drums manhandle the rhythm. Bruised deft drums and baying horns give a haunted air to “Diamond Vehicle” followed by  hollow sounding electric bass. Beats of trumpet and rough grained sandpaper saxophone, bubbling bass percolate before things really start to move. Powerful jabs and peals of trumpet engage back and forth with Belogenis’ unrestrained saxophone. He has an amazing free sound that recalls Pharoah Sanders at times. Laswell’s supportive bass has an unusual sound throughout the record, buoyant and cavernous while Sorey’s facile drumming is fascinating throughout. “Lineage” ends the album with saxophone calling out with bare supplication, like a humble prayer. Gong like cymbals add to the spiritual feeling, delving into deep meditative thought and the bringing forth of hopes and dreams. Sorey gets more aggressive, again driving excellent drum and saxophone interaction. They move faster and more unfettered, reaching and digging in deeper and propelling themselves higher, for a superb conclusion. This music has a sacred vibe to it that runs from the great avant garde jazz of the 1960’s through to today. The music is luminous and open hearted, imposing yet quite accessible. Blue Buddha -

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Miles Davis - Live in Tokyo 1975 (Hi Hat, 2015)

Ten days before the recording of the extraordinary live LP’s Agharta and Pangaea, both recorded live in Osaka, Miles Davis was recorded in Tokyo for FM radio which makes up this release. His final band before going into seclusion saw him playing electric and acoustic trumpet and organ along with Sonny Fortune on saxophones, Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas on guitar, Michael Henderson on bass, Al Foster on drums and James Mtume on percussion. Miles Davis had left jazz far behind at this point (he hated the word anyway) and was producing massive slabs of free funk, anchored by the unsung hero of the band bassist Michael Henderson, whose electric bass throbs like a heartbeat throughout the concert. The music is one continuous flow only differentiated by hints of melody that allow for track markings on this two disc set. The album opens with “Prelude/Funk” which evolves into a massive molten explosion of music, the drum and two percussion pocket is amazing along with with effects laden guitar and Miles’s blasts of trumpet and jarring gusts of organ. “Maiysha” develops a little more subtlety with Fortune switching to flute, but still accompanied by the organic percussion and bass along with jabs of organ and slashes of guitar. This shows that the band wasn’t just a volcanic blast of pure energy, while they could certainly put the pedal down with thrilling results, they were also capable of quiet delicacy. Miles still had complete mastery of the trumpet as showed on “Ife” where he solos at length over the entire band who is laying down the most intoxicating electro-funk groove imaginable, so far ahead of its time. The guitars are like pointed laser beams, cutting through the thick edifice of loud organ and bubbling drums and percussion. The group then runs through a series of shorter themes, “Mtume” featuring the percussionist, with the drums and the percussion locking in the rhythm is a powerhouse. The band plows at a pulverizing tempo, with Miles punching through on wah drenched trumpet and smears of guitar adding texture, but it is the percussionists and drummer’s show and they make the most of it. “Turnaround Phrase” is jaw dropping and shows the band at their most hardcore with everybody playing as hard as they can and where Miles attempts to melt your face off with that wah trumpet, slashing like a third guitarist who is schooling the other two after which Cosey and Lucas take up the challenge, this is absolutely thrilling music. The concert concludes with an “Untitled Original” where they tone down the music to a hypnotic drone with Miles and Sonny Fortune playing beautifully at a medium tempo supported by subtle bass and drums. The music here is really beyond jazz, rock, funk or any pre-existing category. It’s Miles Davis music, sounds that have even farther from 1974’s Dark Magus, into a vortex all its own. It’s absolutely brilliant, any fan of electric Miles must consider purchasing it. Yes, Miles Davis stepped away from music not long after this show because of illness and addiction, but also perhaps because this is the logical end of the music he had been making for the past six years. From In a Silent Way to Agharta and Pangaea is an exhausting and completely groundbreaking run of music. But where could he have gone from there? How much more extreme could it have gotten? Burned out and exhausted after thirty years of ceaseless innovation Davis would leave music for five years after these recordings. Live in Tokyo 1975 -

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bret Higgins Atlas Revolt - Atlas Revolt (Tzadik, 2015)

Led by bassist Bret Higgins, Atlas Revolt is a band that combines a myriad of influences into an interesting and cohesive whole. Moving from groove based music to more adventurous settings they keep listeners on their toes. Higgins is accompanied by Aleksandar Gajic on violin, Robbie Grunwald on electric and acoustic pianos, Tom Juhas on electric guitar and Joshua Van Tassel on drums and percussion. Opening with the title track, “Atlas Revolt” begins with funky feeling drums while folding in electric guitar and violin. Some electric piano muscle in accompanied by a heavier drumbeat and a snarling electric guitar solo. A mysterious rhythm is developed on “El Metate” as dark toned violin and guitar produce a moody atmosphere. Juhas’s guitar has sharp bite and adds a dark tone to the enigmatic music that surrounds it. Shimmering electric piano and low tuned ominous drumming herald “All About The Starry Dark” before a wall of guitar noise bursts through, opening a path for solid bass and piano, setting a desert like scene for bolts of electric guitar to arc across the horizon. “Zagazig” shows the admirable rhythm group of bass, drums and electric piano locked in together, building an increasingly faster pace before the guitar bursts loose, keeping things from getting to serious, playing zipping sounds against the rest of the band’s backdrop. The leader’s beat is just excellent on this song, allowing the band to flare like fireworks in the sky above him. On “Sanan” there is a cool setting for strings and percussion, and then the guitar takes over, drawing everyone out, pushing and pulling the music at will. The music howls faster and then drops to a cool melody for the conclusion. Slower and heavier with dominant drums, “Meat For Dogs” has the bass and drums shouldering the brunt of the music as the guitar flints sparks across the scene trying to set fire to the tinder. “Vorticism” has a glistening, sunrise like beginning, moving in space and time as the fire gains growth through propulsive bass and percussion. There is some ripe guitar that keeps the proceedings moving apace and excellent bass filling up the openings and allowing the music to move confidently to the finish line. The album works well as a whole, the songs are well written and allow for musicians to make their mark with original statements and yet it is the ensemble playing that is the highlight of the album. This is a band album, and works well in its entirety. Atlas Revolt -

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Orchestra - Galactic Parables, Vol. 1 (Cuneiform, 2015)

Galactic Parables Vol. 1 is the beginning of an epic space opera by cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek, which is the musical equivalent of the works by great science fiction writers. The Exploding Star Orchestra is made up of some of the finest musicians in Chicago and beyond. They develop their own cosmic vibe, mixing socially conscious poetry and spoken word lyrics with progressive big band playing. The music is edgy and provocative: space may indeed be the place, but on earth the human race is still stricken with race hatred and un-avenged death. The early music on this album recorded live in Italy and moves from a deep eerie feeling of heavily reverberated sound, shifting abruptly to solo piano interludes. Spoken word and song bubble up from the music with the mix of recorded and live speech becoming quite powerful. This leads into “The Arc of Slavery #72 (Part 2)” which has very powerful and exciting drumming with electronic zaps arcing across the music, and a break for piano and guitar. “Helmets in Our Poisonous Thoughts #16/Awaken the World #41” features poetry over mysterious percussion and electric guitar as the brass swells majestically, higher and higher to the point of shrillness. The poetry and chanting return, but the voice is distorted electronically developing an ominous drone over which Mazurek plays a mournful trumpet. The strong full band underpins a floating clarinet solo on “Collections of Time,” and the group develops a rich percussion texture throughout the performance, shifting and swirling like the desert sand. The brass section is split, coming from different angels of the soundstage making for a disorienting feel before the percussion and clarinet move back in with some singing at the end. Poetry in distorted voices is supported by the music moving in waves on “Free Agents of Sound” the music is a haunted warning for all that comes before it. Guitar, bass and drums develop a subtle pocket groove, which builds as the remainder of the band surges underneath the guitar feature. Mazurak asserts himself again, playing his cornet over that wonderful bed of percussion which develops the rhythm of a tribe all their own. “Collections of Sound” opens with confusing buried speech before opening space for the music where cornet and piano play against looped speech. Drums move in with a deep, rolling cadence, supporting a strapping tenor saxophone solo. There is a delicate section for piano on “Make Way to the City” with bass and drums, which shimmer in and out of the music in phase with the light sound of clarinet and flute. The music opens to an extraordinary wide open vista, and the band plays one of their longest performances on the album, moving dynamically for delicate crystalline music to driving spiritual jazz. While Sun Ra’s orchestra may be the easiest (laziest) comparison for this band and album, they are completely modern and truly of their time. The music that is played is thoughtfully composed and improvised upon and the poetry and lyrics are deeply felt and thought provoking. Galactic Parables: Volume 1 -

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Paul Dunmall and Tony Bianco - Homage to Coltrane (Slam, 2015)

Over the past five years saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Tony Bianco have produced some of the finest interpretations of the music of John Coltrane available by developing some of his most famous themes and crafting their own unique improvisations out of them. Their momentum reaches critical mass with this astonishing double live album where they have simply outdone themselves. They open with the majestic theme to one of Coltrane’s most towering achievements, “Ascension,” developing epic roiling saxophone and thrashing drums, with Dunmall blowing over the top as a testimonial to this extraordinary music. Peals of saxophone and rolling drums celebrate the joy of freedom. “Resolution,” a key point in A Love Supreme has the duo making a humble reading of the opening section before digging down into the deep and fertile soil of the music. Bianco’s nimble drums meet flurries of saxophone, and they are able to improvise at length, reveling in the open space that they are able to create. “Central Park West” is an earlier John Coltrane composition, written and recorded during his tenure with Atlantic Records in 1960. They musicians take the melody into a yearning and emotional space, building their own story upon it, before moving to a raw and fast improvisation. Their momentum carries them through the music with great strength.  One of my favorite John Coltrane performances is “Transition” and Dunmall and Bianco do it proud, coming out boiling hot with the saxophone sailing up and down, shortening and narrowing their music into a focused beam, carving their own path through the music. The hard won spirituality of “Pslam” concluded Coltrane’s epic masterpiece A Love Supreme. The duo takes the haunted reverential sound of the original and spins their own improvisation out at great length, starting slowly and thoughtfully, contemplating the seriousness of the song, but then gaining speed and approaching full blast, making way for a very impressive drum solo before Dumnall’s saxophone returns to the solemnity of the feel and concluding the piece. Disc two begins with a medley of “Ogunde>Ascent” which is very free, as the drums push as hard as they can with potent saxophone running point buy his side. Things move ever more powerfully as the music is taken way out on a high wire as Dunmall plays up and down the length and breadth of his instrument while Bianco’s drums pummel ecstatically, making for a truly heroic performance. Another early classic, “Naima” is taken much faster than the original, it is hard to tell, but it seems like a radical re-imagining of the song. It is fascinating to hear them to develop a punchy improvisation and then state the melody at the end of the performance rather than at the beginning. “The Drum Thing” from the Crescent LP is a monster performance, developing a feeling of intense longing as the drums build potency and loud cries of saxophone linger in the air. Bianco’s drum solo gives a respectful nod to Elvin Jones before developing his own rhythm, faster and louder, relentless and when Dunmall returns the music is simply overpowering and transcendent, sounding like a full band with just two people. On the Slam Records website, Dunmall is quoted as saying "with the release of my 3rd tribute CD to Coltrane I feel my wonderful journey focusing on his music is complete. It has been a very joyful experience and given me a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction." I hope this is not the case, but if it is indeed true, they have gone out at the highest point imaginable with this staggering album cementing their unimpeachable legacy as one of the greatest of all Coltrane interpreters. Homage to John Coltrane -

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