Monday, May 30, 2016

Dave King Trucking Company - Surrounded By the Night (Sunnyside, 2016)

Drummer and composer Dave King is well known for his propulsive work in a number of different bands. In its third recording, Surrounded By The Night, the Trucking Company has solidified its identity with new material and a slightly changed lineup of Eric Fratzke on guitar, Chris Morrissey on bass, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet and Brandon Wozniak on tenor saxophone. The album opens with subtle “Delta Kreme” which has gentle percussion and sweet saxophone developing a yearning feel over quietly percolating guitar, bass and drums. There is a much more urgent rhythm to “Parallel Sister Track,” and the saxophones move together to the front as the music surges forward, showing great dynamics before slowly fading back. There is a mild toned saxophone solo from Chris Speed, with some heavy lifting from the guitar, bass and drums unit, and this is juxtaposed nicely by a more brawny toned tenor saxophone solo from Brandon Wozniak before the group returns to its dynamic shifting and closes the performance. The wittily titled “You Should be Watching (Art) Films” is as fun as its name, with riffing horns and swinging cymbals opening the music up and then Fratzke’s guitar offering some sparks. He bows back out and then there is a section of very cool sounding saxophone, bass and drums playing wide open in free space. “Glamour Shot” is fast and full sounding with a thick and true beat. The milder saxophone returns to soar and glide overhead, taking a beautifully improvised solo, before returning to the fray of slashing drums and saxophones. The swirling and swanky theme of “That Isn’t Even Worth Selling” makes room for an excellent bass solo from Chris Morrissey backed by King’s percussion and then moving on to add sultry tenor saxophone grinding against bass and drums on open space to excellent effect. The album ends with a blast, as “Don’t Be the Suspect of a Gift” lifts off with growling electric guitar and heavy drums, which in turn launch the saxophones as a countermeasure. This leads to a full out collective out collective improvisation that is a lot of fun to listen to as the band goes all out to the finish line. King began the Trucking Company to play song-based material, from jazz and the avant-garde but also rock, country and the blues, and it is the bands talent and endless curiosity about all of these forms that makes this album so successful. Surrounded By The Night -

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bob Dylan - Fallen Angels (Columbia, 2016)

When people think of Bob Dylan, they inevitably think of the genius songwriter with the unmistakable voice but not so often Dylan as a song interpreter. That is how he got his start, whether it was a teenage greaser playing the new rock ‘n’ roll sounds in the late 1950’s as he readied to leave high school, or as the folk troubadour of the early 1960’s who made the transition from someone who covered folk and blues tunes to someone who wrote them. The interpreter part never left him; in the early 1990’s he released two wonderful low-key albums of traditional folk songs and blues, and that was a springboard to resurgence in his work that would continue into the current century and has included some of his most lauded songwriting and finest performances. This most recent album and the one that preceded it are deftly made albums of American popular songs from the past – the so-called “Great American Songbook.” The songs are short, three minutes or less and many of us know the lyrics by osmosis over the years. But that is where he tricks you in. This is hardly some valedictory lap for an elderly hero, but thoughtful interpretations of these songs that are so common that we hardly truly “hear” them anymore. “Young At Heart” opens the album, taken at a stately pace, with a hint of yearning that is appropriate. But something hits you right away; Dylan is singing very well and clearly, now I have always loved his voice, and feel that it is as distinctive as his songwriting, but this clear distinct cadence, which is not necessarily crooning, is something that he employs all along though the album. I have forgotten where I read it, Greil Marcus perhaps, but when the Nashville Skyline album and “Lay Lady Lay” came out, people were very surprised at the smooth, mannered nature of Dylan’s singing, even though older confederates knew he could do this all along. The band is another thing and it makes this album work as well as it does by having arrangements for a tuned down rock and roll band with subtle brushed percussion, slide and steel guitar rather than strings and this allows the music to convey sentiment without being sentimental. Usually songs like this are crushed beneath a mountain of sappy strings, but here, the music is light on its feet, and has a purpose: this is not the time locked music of “ago” but played in this manner it still has something to say about today. Perhaps Dylan doesn’t have the range necessary to soar on “Skylark” but in a sense he his reclaiming these tunes as folk music, perhaps not like “Froggie Went a Courtin’” or “World Gone Wrong” but by saying these songs are just as much American folklore as anything else. The trickster really comes out at the end, after tipping his hat and giving a little soft shoe on “That Old Black Magic,” he moves into “Come Rain or Come Shine” and makes it into a subtle threat, sharpening the blade with the darkening tone of the music, and his gradually coarsening voice, the stalker tells the victim she has nowhere to hide, ending with a haunting guitar flourish that makes your scalp tingle. It’s the one true masterpiece on the album, and like the best salesmen he uses it to leave you wanting more. Everything culminates here, a song where he can uses all of his forces: the subtle band, voice control and the perfect song to show just how a pop ditty can be turned into a menacing folk parable with just a little twist. This album will undoubtedly be seen as a footnote in Bob Dylan’s discography, but it is definitely worth a spin or two, after all these years the grandmaster still has a trick or two up his sleeve. Also since the album is a sensible LP length it never overstays its welcome. One more thing musicians can learn. Fallen Angels -

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

John Zorn - The Mockingbird (Tzadik, 2016)

This album was inspired by the character Scout from the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird and shows John Zorn’s compositions at their most subtle and graceful, floating across the divide between literature and music. The trio has become a regular group that Zorn has convened to interpret some of his more understated compositions, featuring Carol Emanuel on harp, Bill Frisell on guitar and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and chimes. “Scout” opens the album with shimmering vibes which are met with some snarling guitar sounds (Zorn always brings out the best in Frisell) and there is a near chamber sound to some of the music, like on “Riverrun” where the harp glistens and the chimes twinkle, before things take a darker turn, hammering sounds and then pulling back to show their dynamic muscle. The milder “Child’s Play” builds through Wollesen’s melodious ringing sounds, which take center stage as guitar and harp hold back. He develops an interesting rhythm his own for this entire piece. Gentle guitar that sounds like it may come from an old time ballad opens “Porch Swing” and that deep emotional feeling that Frisell is able to conjure deepens the emotional resonance of the music as the harpist gently orbits around with gentle strums and the vibes further frame the music. Wollesen makes his mallets spritely dance as the trio joins together for the conclusion. There is a sweet and haunting melody to “Innocence” that the trio builds louder chiming together, then like a fairy tale gone wrong, the music turns progressively darker and spectral, as the heavy handed vibes become more urgent in their tone. “A Mystery” is a great track and really lives up to its title by having a quiet unsettled aura before Wollesen comes in with heavy clangs and lashes of metallic vibes sounding like the cry for help of a lost soul that deepens the mystery even further. His excellent playing allows the music to cover a range of emotion, and the wailing sound of the vibes and electric guitar is head filling and unforgettable. There is a lighter and defter movement to the music on “The Mockingbird” and while the vibes stay urgent to give the music a propulsive forward movement, the harp and guitar are in fine mettle. As the hard vibes ring out, taut guitar moves in with glistening harp to develop fine concluding textures. This is their sixth album and one of their best, presenting quiet and subtle music touching upon themes of hope and fear, sadness and courage with great tact and dignity. Mockingbird -

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Peter Brotzmann and Heather Leigh - Ears Are Filled With Wonder (Not Two, 2016)

This is another fascinating combination between the legendary German reedist Peter Brotzmann, here playing tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and taragato and an unheralded and unexpected musician, in this case Heather Leigh a pedal steel guitar from the United States now living in Scotland. It is a great combination, one you may not initially think would work, what with the pedal steel normally associated with country music and the blues, but like another steel player, Susan Alcorn, Heather Leigh is really making a bold and powerful statement and holding her own with one of the heaviest of the heavyweights of freely improvised music. The music is an unbroken twenty eight minute stretch, and it unfolds like a suite, with Brotzmann at turns blustery and raw which is how we know him best, but how we might not be prepared to hear him is as a thoughtful, patient and thoroughly empathetic partner that is allowing the music to build to scale, whether that needs blasts of deep dark tenor saxophone, eerie moans of bass clarinet or the haunted exoticism of the mysterious taragato. Leigh is a sympathetic and thoughtful partner, engaging Brotzmann offering up new musical textures that allow for collective improvisation and conversation on a very high level. The album is short, but it is really as long as it needs to be, it retains the sound of surprise throughout, allowing new vistas and possibilities to open up in the way the individual instruments meld and clash and the way the individual people interact and improvise. It shows that one can never stop learning, never stop exploring, because when you continue to search with passion and deeply hewn emotion, the next state of grace could be right around the corner. Ears Are Filled With Wonder - (album excerpt) (live clip)

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ivo Perelman - Soul (Leo Records, 2016)

This album was recorded in a burst of creativity in February of 2016. Just a week after recording the duet record Corpo with his longtime friend and colleague pianist Matthew Shipp, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman decided to strike while the fire was hot and convene a quartet project with Shipp returning on piano, Matthew Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. “Metaphysical” opens the album with rich piano and saxophone developing a supple sound as drums and bass quietly shade around the edges. Shipp builds tension slowly from the piano, with the bass and drums in tow. Perelman’s saxophone returns for the ending of the song, sounding both pensive and emotional. There is a choppy and nervous sensibility to “Crossing” with exciting ripples of piano playing off against skittish saxophone and drums. The music is never still, but moves like shifting sand along desert dunes as Shipp sends out dense chorded information and there is a great reaction from the saxophone and cymbals which dig in and play well in conjunction with strong piano and bass. “Eyround” is open and abstract with smears of dark sounding piano and stark silences that Shipp is the master of. The music is taut and impressionistic, and the dynamic between sound and silence is jarring. “Fragments” opens with Dickey developing very interesting textured percussion that skitters lightly across the music while saxophone and piano quietly enter and Bisio’s bass probes for an opening. There is a very interesting section where Shipp lays back allows wide open space for saxophone, bass and drums to improvise in collectively. Thoughtful piano, bass and shimmering cymbals lay down beautiful patterns for Perelman’s yearning saxophone on “Belvedere.” His saxophone playing is deeply emotional and resonant, never resting, always searching for more. Soulful saxophone and piano are suspended in space for the beginning of “Landscape,” bowing gracefully and dancing before subtle but fast bass and percussion who arrive to pick up the pace. There is an excellent section of fast collective improvisation that shows superb control of the dynamic edge of a performance, and of a group playing as one united whole. There is spare and beautiful solo piano on the beginning of “Soul” and Pereleman enters with long exhalations of breath through his instrument making for a dreamy atmosphere. The leader breaks free with a beautiful solo, one which seems to gleam with energy, like the golden sunlight of a beautiful autumn day, and the music is played with blissful patience that borders on timelessness. On “Joy,” saxophone and bass work into the higher registers of their instruments and the duet beginning works well, as they set the stage for the full bands improvisational section where everyone kicks nicely up to speed as Perelman’s squalls of saxophone are ably matched by driving piano, bass and drums. “The Unknown” is the culminating track on the album, with Perelman leaping out free and unfettered, playing excited circles of sound along side Matthew Shipp’s luscious piano. The music is fast and hypnotic, yet the musicians are able to stop on a dime and move in a different direction, evoking spare wide open spaces. The leader’s horn weaves amongst deep bass and nimble piano and drums to the conclusion. In Neil Tesser’s liner essay, he notes that Perelman took several months off from the studio in late 2015 to reconnect to classical music. Through study and practice, he developed a “muscular yet relaxed” method of playing that he compared to tai chi. On this album you definitely hear the fruits of this intense period of woodshedding, because Perelman’s sound is natural and individual. He retains the strength that he has always played with, but there is no sense of forcing the music, rather it flows organically, fitting in perfectly with his longtime colleagues to produce an excellent album and great enthusiasm over what might be on the horizon. Soul - Leo Records.

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