Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Bad Plus - It's Hard (Sony Masterworks, 2016)

The Bad Plus, bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and pianist Ethan Iverson, began as the “jazz trio that plays the rock covers.” They quickly moved beyond that trap with many great original compositions and projects. This album finds them back in the mode of interpreters, working their unique magic into a series of readings of pop music and more. “Maps” begins with an urgent pace, as Iverson’s repetitive low-end playing makes for a nervous and jittery atmosphere, echoed by King’s disjointed drumming. The band is able to deconstruct the source material they have and then make their own coherent statements from the parts they have uncovered. The music gets very intense with all three members driving the music hard. Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” gets an off kilter and funky treatment with ringing piano and thick stoic bass. They get into the meat of the song and weave a fascinating rhythmic romp from it. Several jazz musicians including Miles Davis have covered “Time After Time”, and the group’s version holds close to the well-known melody and provokes introspection. “I Walk the Line” is one of Johnny Cash’s most famous songs, and it is a great centerpiece for Reid Anderson, whose bass gets to the heart of the song accompanied by King’s brushes and Iverson’s filigrees. They stretch and twist tempo, speeding things up and then abruptly letting go. Saxophonist Bill McHenry’s "Alfombra Magica" get a lush and evocative reading, with the trio developing a lovely song that you can imagine them playing with an orchestral backdrop. "The Beautiful Ones," by the recently departed Prince, is taken with a light and breathing feel, open ended enough for each of the musicians to make a coherent statement. Excellent bass and drums with showers of piano notes make for evocative listening. One of the most persistent AOR ballads “Don’t Dream It’s Over” tries to escape the morose nature of the original song and it able to reach an emotional state of loss and longing. “Staring at the Sun” begins with haunting solo piano before the bass and drums fill in. There is a spare ballad performance of “Mandy” with beautiful deep bass playing and delicate piano. They play up the song with a lot of cymbal crashing and bright piano chording, approaching the edge of campiness but never quite spilling over. “The Robots” hints at the motoring Krautrock groove, developing tension and then releasing with clusters of music bursting forth. The music is fast paced and exciting, and allows the band to improvise using different dynamics and tempos. The return to jazz centered music with a beautiful version of Ornette Coleman’s “Broken Shadows” that has quietly deft percussion and powerful bass and piano interplay. This was a delightful album, and shows the depth and breadth of the bands vision, taking pop, rock and jazz compositions and putting their distinctive stamp upon them. The covers are not gimmicks, but grist for the mill of their improvisational aesthetic. It's Hard -

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro - Alegria da Casa (Anzic Records, 2016)

Clarinetist Anat Cohen joins with Trio Brasileiro members Dudu Maia on bandolim, Douglas Lora on seven-string guitar and Alexandre Lora on pandeiro and percussion for a spirited album of Brazilian tinged jazz. The album opens with “Murmurando,” which features nimble guitar playing and swooping clarinet with a delightfully woody and hollow sound. The guitar interplay sets up Cohen’s clarinet in excellent fashion. There is a choppy guitar rhythm to “Waiting For Amalia” to which is added a wistful clarinet melody that develops a brightly bouncing swing. “Alegria Da Casa” has fast and intricate guitar playing with subtle percussion. Clarinet and harmonica (Gabriel Grossi sitting in) add layers of sound to the music. High-pitched clarinet and the reedier harmonica play off each other very well. There is plaintive solo guitar to open “In the Spirit of Baden” before the full band strikes up led by taut, crying clarinet. Cohen raises the tempo of the music and interweaves her instrument with the strings in a very confident manner. “Engole O Choro” has bright and fast guitar playing and keening clarinet, which makes the sound of the music, become vibrant and alive. Percussion and guitar make way for light and dancing clarinet on “Sarue Latino.” The music develops a sense of boisterous joy, with the swirling clarinet flying over choppy strings and percussion. “Santa Morena” has subtle guitar that jumps quickly into gear, into a fast collective improvisation that has Cohen’s clarinet swirling overhead, leaving sections open for fine string interplay. This was an inspired meeting of the minds, since while Cohen is rooted in jazz and swing, she is continually looking for new challenges, and the Brazilian musicians meet her halfway, making for some excellent music. Alegria Da Casa -

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

AutorYno - Flauros: The Book of Angels 29 (Tzadik, 2016)

Reputed to be one of the final installments of the epic series of compositions The Book of Angels by John Zorn, the baton is handed to AutorYno, an enthusiastic power trio and one of the most interesting bands in the French music scene. The trio consists of Bertrand Delorme on bass, Cyril Grimaud on drums and David Konopnicki on guitar. Their path is to take compositions from the Book of Angels and play them in a heavy rock context. Punk rock, heavy metal and Mahavishnu Orchestra like jazz-fusion come together in this hypnotic and powerful reading some of the strongest and strangest pieces out of the Masada repertoire. They play in a dynamic fashion that allows them to draw strength from the source material and use that is a springboard like on the opener “Carcas” which is one level a bruising rocker, but another listen reveals shifting tempos and rhythms that show that the group is in complete control of the situation. “Saelel” shows the band juxtaposing thick riffs with nimble ensemble play, recalling mid-1970’s King Crimson in the process. Konopnicki squalls mightily on guitar with the bass and drums with him every step of the way. Reverberating guitar and thick bass usher in “Uvmiel” and the music has a deep visceral presence. Guitar effects twist and turn the music into a hydra headed monster driving relentlessly to the finish line. Massive manic guitar and bass riffs and pummeling drumming develop throughout “Qaddisin” which the band uses to sculpt and mold the music to their will. “Abrimas” pushes the music forward dynamically with on a dime start/stop motions. It’s over so quickly that the music seems to have spontaneously combusted. Overall, this was a very successful recording, showing that while the Book of Angels may be nearing its conclusion, the compositions remain very strong and offer a band like AutorYno to really demonstrate the depth of their abilities. Flauros: The Book of Angels 29 -

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Various Artists - Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974 (Ace Records, 2016)

Inspired by the success of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, this various artists collection looks to present some of the music that may have inspired his album. Note that Washington had no involvement with this project, but is name-checked throughout the liner essay. The music collects “spiritual jazz,” music from the early 1970’s from primarily the Muse, Milestone and Prestige catalogs, which evoke a search for higher consciousness, peace and/or racial harmony. See also Soul Jazz Records long-running multi-volume spiritual jazz series. With those caveats out of the way, it’s important to stress that this is a well-done compilation with interesting music complimented by excellent notes and photography. Saxophonist Gary Bartz was performing with Miles Davis when he led his Afro-centric NTU Troop band for a series of albums on Milestone. The collection gets its title from Bartz “Celestial Blues” which features a deep groove, appropriately spacey vocals from Andy Bey and some fine soloing from the leader. “Fire” from Joe Henderson and Alice Coltrane works very well with Henderson’s deep tenor saxophone juxtaposed against Coltrane’s piano and harp and Michael White’s swooping violin. Inspired by John Coltrane, saxophonist Azar Lawrence was very active in the bands of Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis when he cut “Warriors of Peace” with a young Arthur Blythe on alto saxophone. They both take burning solos on this track making it one of the most exciting on the album. Charles Earland’s “Brown Eyes” is one track that sounds a little dated with period synth-strings but he also has Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard aboard for jazz cred in addition to contributing a solid organ solo. “The Free Slave” has a wonderful swinging groove, and no surprise since drummer Roy Brooks was a mainstay on some of Horace Silver’s finest bands. This is a great live recording with fine spots for Woody Shaw and George Coleman. The title track from percussionist Joe Chambers’ album “The Almoravid” is very interesting, a drum, percussion and rhythm oriented track with accents from vibraphone. There is nothing cliché about this, and it stands out as a highlight. There’s a funky groove to Carlos Garnett’s “Let’s Go (To Higher Heights) and be plays some burning saxophone, however his vocals do leave a little bit to be desired. With swooping vocals and electric keyboards, “Let It Take Your Mind” by Bayete Umbra Zindiko (Todd Cochran) is something of an acquired taste. The underrated pianist Hampton Hawes moves to electric keyboards on “Josie Black” and the track is surprisingly successful, in part to some fine horn work from Harold Land and Oscar Brashear. The collection is rounded out by a brash big band recording of Oliver Nelson’s “Aftermath” from the album Black, Brown and Beautiful. Google the very NSFW album cover if you need further evidence of his conviction. The music begins with a somber tone then opens up to some powerful saxophone, cinematic strings and brass. Celestial Blues - Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974 -

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Various Artists - I'm a Freak Baby: A Journey Through British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock (Grapefruit/Cherry Red, 2016)

This three disc collection with the provocative name is a Nuggets like various artists compilation of mostly obscure British rock 'n' roll from the turn of the 1960's. Whereas Nuggets and its many offshoots looked at the garage rock aspects of psychedelia, this collection filters their trippy music through a hard rock, proto-metal filter with their touchstones being the emerging heavy riffing British bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. There are a few well known bands on this collection with Deep Purple's "Fireball" and The Yardbirds "Think About It" represented, but mostly it is made up of largely unknown groups that made just one LP, or in some cases just a few acetates of demo songs. The deep research into the music pays off, and the collection features far more hits than misses. The hippie aesthetic is clearly waning and the music is becoming quite visceral as can be heard on Hawkwind Zoo's (they would soon drop the Zoo) "Sweet Mistress of Pain" and the Deviants "I'm Coming Home", while the unknown Wicked Lady provides the compilation it's title with the formidable single "I'm a Freak." Some bands are in a period of transition as can be heard in The Move's "Brontosaurus" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" which move away from the pop and blues of their past into nearly progressive rock territory. Although it seems like every single seven inch from an obscure band must have been collected by this point this compilation does a fine job of providing a representative sample of the music of the UK underground in the period when the music was evolving from the psychedelia of the UFO Club and turning toward riff based hard rock that would dominate the rock 'n' roll scene for years to come. The set comes with a very extensive and well written booklet packed with information about the music and the evolving music scene it was springing from, and puts everything in context. For music fans looking to make a deep dive into the music of the period, this makes a fine starting point. I'm a Freak Baby -

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

John Coltrane - His Greatest Years, Vol. 2 (Impulse, 1972)

This is a two-LP collection that is long out of print, but easily obtainable secondhand at a bargain price. (My copy was $8.99 at Vintage Vinyl.) It is a sampling of the great saxophonist and composer John Coltrane’s work for the Impulse label for which he recorded from 1961 until his death in 1967. The album opens with the traditional standard “Greensleeves” which presents him in a large ensemble that gathered to record the Africa/Brass LP. This is a lullaby, played on soprano saxophone with gentle framing from the surrounding musicians. From there we move to a live recording of “India” from the famous Village Vanguard sessions of 1961. The music is an exotic blend of jazz and music from the east and the juxtaposition of Coltrane’s soprano saxophone and Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet is alluring, especially with two bass players holding down the bottom. The music moves chronologically forward on side two (it’s one of those annoying collections where side one and four are one disc and sides two and three on another) to an open sounding version of “Miles Mode” and a brisk version of “Big Nick” from the famous album Coltrane recorded with Duke Ellington. Much of this collection features Coltrane’s soprano work, with this side concluding with “The Promise” recorded live at Birdland in 1963. The collection then moves into some of his freer work, beginning with “Chim Chim Cheree” and then excerpts the first fifteen minutes of the “Ascension” (version 2) album with torrid large ensemble playing and epic solos from Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The concluding side of the album further demonstrates the extraordinary intensity of the music he was making near the end of his life. Presenting the opening section of “The Father and The Son and The Holy Ghost” from he Meditations LP with Coltrane and Sanders balanced by two drummers, Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones making for an extraordinarily deep, rhythmic performance. The most unexpected performance on this whole album is a molten exploration of a track called “Manifestation” from February of 1966. This is a relentless free improvisation, loud and proud and still bracing in its ability to instill awe even fifty years later. This may mot be well known because of it’s release as part of the much maligned posthumous album Cosmos, where Alice Coltrane controversially added overdubbing to some of the tracks. This deserves attention, especially in its unadorned form as an incredibly powerful performance. The album concludes with the short coda of “Ogunde” from one of his final recording sessions in March of 1967. Sadly he would pass away just a few months later. But as can be ascertained by listening to this album as well as the myriad of collection that have come out in the years following his death, the impact of John Coltrane’s music remains massive as he was one of the undisputed masters of the form. His Greatest Years, Vol.2 -

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Evil in Oslo (Rune Grammofon, 2016)

Referencing styles as diverse as heavy metal, progressive rock and jazz-fusion, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio are a very impressive entity. On this live album they culminate the music that has been brewing over their last few studio LP’s and consistent touring to make for a very impressive live album. This is an instrumental group consisting of Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen on guitar, Ellen Brekken on bass and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums, the group keeps much of the album on the heavy side but also endeavors to use a wider range of dynamics delving from spacey post rock to massive riffing and jazzy interludes before jumping into more free and open improvisational landscapes. There are four massive side-long slabs of music on this album, ever changing like shifting sand from waves of feedback before slowly developing some heavy guitar riffs that pile above the bass and drums like a coming storm. They suddenly kick into a faster raw trio section that is very exciting, and opens for some excellent bass and drums interplay. Sparks and snarls of guitar return almost lazily, setting up another dynamic turn perfectly. The music develops sharper edges with spikes and claws emerging, then letting up as the band moves into droning space rock territory. The album is a rush, showing the trio rocking out in a heavy formation at a very fast tempo. The group drifts into a more open and spacey section toward the middle of some pieces, developing the music dynamically, as their sound arcs and fades within the wider vistas. Things are brought back up to speed as the trio approaches the conclusion, with sparks of wicked electric guitar flying over heavy bass and drums. There are fast and heavy beginnings as the group puts forth a massive edifice of sound, with Mollestad’s guitar twisting and turning like a snake. They move into a spacier and more abstract sections where Mollestad weaves gently chopped guitar against waves of heavy cymbals. They conclude the album in fine fashion with thick bass providing the foundation for Mollestad’s guitar to dart to scalding and abrasive heights like a spaceship being launched into the great beyond. The trio’s music is seemingly motivated by hard rock like Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, but it also includes and eclectic mix of musical ingredients like avant garde jazz, progressive rock and psychedelic music. It is a heady brew regardless of the ingredients and should be of interest to fans of both jazz-fusion and head banging rock ‘n’ roll. Evil in Oslo -

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Rempis/Johnston/Ochs - Neutral Nation (Aerophonic Records, 2016)

This is a very interesting recording of the ongoing collaborative horn trio of Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophones, Darren Johnston on trumpet and Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones. The music was recorded live in Buffalo, NY during their May 2015 North American tour. This album is very dynamic and textural, moving from a whisper to a scream but also using the breadth and width of their individual instruments to create a very unique sound environment. Calling their approach to music spontaneous composition rather than free jazz, they move into areas that are significantly more extensive while still employing the same core focus. There are two very long performances, "Pierce Arrow" that is nearly one-half hour in length, and "Seven Little Buffalos" that is just over twenty minutes long. These long running times allow the musicians to explore the sounds they are creating at length, with persistence, interacting with each other and the space that surrounds them. Moving from subtle slurs to raw squeals, the music remains unpredictable throughout the album. The instruments are all on a level playing field, working together for a greater good. There are some passages for individuals, and they carry them off very well showing many ideas, but group interaction is the focus with the trio coming together again and again with raw and circling improvisation. Dynamics move from hard to soft and from fast to slow, keeping the music unpredictable as the waves of sound build structurally as strong hard blowing encourages the whole band coalesce. Fresh powerful saxophones cry out emotionally, culminating in massive full throttle playing followed by a drop off to circular wails of saxophone and trumpet. The trio moves with fortitude, and exploits the available space, waiting for the right moment to shift the dynamic field of the music, with group interaction at the forefront. As the musical process develops, the trio uses a seemingly endless variety of musical approaches, in which quiet and soft passages dissolve into whispers, which then shift into snarls and screams of sound that build up to a very powerful and provocative sensibility. On other occasions, all three members of the trio show the ability to swoop and swirl like birds or insects, coming together, and then dropping off individually like planes in formation suddenly splitting apart. Meanwhile the rough and tumble emotional sounds of the saxophonists often gruff but tender sounds mix with the trumpeter’s method of approaching improvisation, creating a large musical map to explore. Neutral Nation - aerophonic records.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book: Pretend You're in a War: The Who and the 1960's by Mark Blake (Aurum Press, 2015)

This is an extremely comprehensive look at the great rock 'n' roll band The Who and their activities in the 1960's as they moved from a scrappy mod band to a group of pop music superstars. The book begins with an overview of the childhoods of each of the four principal members of the band as well as a deep dive into the lives of their managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. There is a description of London in the 1950's and early 1960's as a grey place, all stiff upper lip and steady on. The introduction of rock 'n' roll via records, film and radio was a clarion call to the young people of the country to look for something different. The members of the band came together like many rock 'n' roll bands through the art schools and colleges that were a magnet to those young students who were outsiders either by nature or by choice. They adopted the mod style of fashion early/mid 1960's and were able to get a devoted following of like minded youths to come to their gigs in sweaty clubs across London. Coalescing as The Who in 1965 they began to release a series of popular singles and slowly built a larger following that stretched beyond their mod beginnings. The book really catches fire here, describing a band that was at each other's throats, but still managing to thrive on the chaos to grow ever larger. Their managers would pull stunts to draw attention to the band and guitarist and principal songwriter Peter Townshend could not keep his mouth shut, delivering audacious commentary to any journalist that would listen. The fascinating thing is that everything was on the verge of falling apart at every moment: members would quit, brood and then rejoin, money was always in flux, and Townshend was a nervous wreck trying to bridge the gap from mod to psychedelia while having a spiritual awakening and pledging allegiance to an Indian guru who hadn't spoken to his followers in decades. Somehow it all started to snowball, and the idea of a "rock opera" was floated to managers, band members and journalists. Taking his spiritual awakening and melding it with long repressed sexual trauma Pete Townshend gradually pulled together music that would become the double-LP concept album Tommy, an album that would launch the band into the stratosphere for good and for ill. This was a very well written book, although it was an exhausting read at times, because of the sheer depth of the narrative. Blake delves deep into each member of the band and their managers, and shows how the personal, the political, the poetic and the insane came together to make this incredible band. Pretend You're In A War: The Who and the Sixties -

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Interesting Links

Pop Matters looks at the famous Miles Davis Soundtrack Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows.)
BOMB Magazine features an interview with Wadada Leo Smith by John Corbett.
Bandcamp looks at Rob Mazurek’s Universe of Sound.
Music Aficionado - What Is Jazz? Jason Moran Weighs In...
Music Aficionado - How Larry Young Changed The Shape Of Jazz
The Guardian - Lonely Middle Aged Men Love Vinyl (I take offense)
Tom Hull - Links for his Downbeat Readers Poll ballot and Music Week.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Nova Express Quintet – Andras: The Book of Angels Volume 28 (Tzadik, 2016)

Nova Express is one of John Zorn’s most interesting and unusual groups, an mellow and atmospheric quartet. This is the group’s first album of compositions from the Book Of Angels, and they add percussionist Cyro Baptista to create an even deeper rhythmic foundation. In addition to Baptista on congas and percussion the group consists of Joey Baron on drums, Trevor Dunn on acoustic and electric basses, John Medeski on organ and piano and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone. “Meresin” opens the album with vibes and percussion, while the organ swirls around in an atmospheric fashion. There is a medium up-tempo pace established which builds to an epic organ solo with the vibes and percussion developing a nice rhythm. The group establishes a mellow and slinky feel to “Yofiel” with soft piano, bass and drums framed by shimmering chime-like vibes. “Sabiel” has an understated organ and percussion groove as the vibes glide over the surface of the music. Subtle hand percussion helps the music to develop an evocative rhythm, and the group becomes akin to a very refined percussion ensemble. There is a haughty melody to “Hemah” almost like a procession, before the band switches on a dime to a swinging piano, bass and drums trio, followed by Wollesen’s vibes which saunter in and make a fine light statement. The indirect groove and rhythm of “Sahiviel” gives the music a mysterious feel that the band carries into “Ramiel” which is a swaying and swirling performance that is very pleasant with like cymbals play over a grooving organ to make a very deep pocket. Quiet organ and cymbals washing like waves and develop in “Ithuriel,” making a haunting melody moves into an oppressive emotional atmosphere. “Kakabel” has mysterious shimmering vibes with bass and light drumming. The vibes have a sustained ringing with organ burbling organ making for an eerie air. After the spare piano based ballad “Huzia” before the band finishes with the interesting song “Tatrusia” with haunting organ that picks up to a percussive feel. The music thickens with the gradual addition of thick bass and drums locking in with the organ and grooving to the finish. Andras: The Book of Angeles Volume 28 -

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Sifter - at The Stone, NYC - August 4 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Kenny Garrett - Do Your Dance (Mack Avenue, 2016)

Alto saxophonist (and occasional pianist) Kenny Garrett's Do Your Dance is a wide ranging mainstream jazz album featuring Ronald Bruner and McLenty Hunter on drums, Rudy Bird on percussion, Vernell Brown on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass. Garrett noticed that several audience members were spontaneously getting up to dance during his live performances and elected to compose for this album with that idea in mind. The album is bookended by tracks that show Garrett and the group at their finest, playing modern hard bop at a very high level and at a fever pitch. "Philly" begins the album initially in a reflective mood before bursting into a ferocious improvisation that reminds me of the time I saw him live and he nearly blew the roof off of a small theater on the Princeton University campus. When playing this kind of post bop Garrett has a thrillingly tart and biting tone that makes this and "Backyard Groove" really burn, keeping the music streaming forward in an exciting fashion before things take an abrupt turn with "Wheatgrass Shot (Straight to the Head) where the music takes upon a subtler tone to allow hip-hop artist Mista Enz to develop a spontaneous rap over the music. It's a bit of a shock, but Enz's forcefully spoken declaration meshes admirably with the music. Garrett and the group then take the music in a milder direction, with the undoubtably danceable "Waltz (3 Sisters)," "Bossa" and "Calypso Chant" before returning to the great hard hitting modern jazz of "Chasing the Wind" which ends the album in a very exciting fashion. During his interview with Downbeat for the September 2016 cover feature, Garrett noted that he has been evolving musically to a more accessible approach which can certainly be seen over his last several albums as he has gradually moved from the extraordinary post-modern jazz of albums like Triology and Pursuance to albums like this one where he attempts to reconcile the urge to relentlessly explore with a more tempered groove oriented approach that can appeal to a wider more mainstream audience outside of the jazz cognoscenti. Do Your Dance! -

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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

This is Embarrassing

I apologize for breaking away from the musical content, but I have a favor to ask of my readers. Those of you have been following me for a while may already know, but I suffer from bi-polar disorder, and I am currently on medical disability. Recently things have not been going well and I apologize if I sometimes go several days without a blog post. I am going to try to write shorter posts more often to keep things flowing a little more smoothly. What I am very embarrassed about is that bills, medical and otherwise, have overwhelmed me and I am in serious financial trouble. I have tried to monetize the blog in the past a few times and many years ago someone actually advertised ugg boots of all things on my blog. I tried to start a Patreon account earlier this year, but that didn't work (thank you to the person who did sign up, though.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that if any of my readers could make a small one-time donation to my paypal it would be a huge help. In return, I'll make sure to have musical content every day on the blog. My paypal is tied to my e-mail address, Thank you from the bottom of my heart to anyone that can contribute and my sincere apology if I have embarrassed anybody by writing this post.

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Sunday, August 07, 2016

Carate Urio Orchestra - Ljubljana (Clean Feed, 2016)

While the Carate Urio Orchestra isn’t really a big band, it can sound like one. The group is a septet, consisting of Joachim Badenhorst on reeds, Eirikur Orri Olaffson on trumpet and electronics, Sean Caprio on drums and guitar, Brice Soniano and Pascal Niggenkemper on basses, Frantz Loriot on viola, Nico Roig on guitar and members of the group sing and vocalize on some tracks as well. The music was recorded live at the 2015 Ljubljana Jazz Festival in Slovenia, and “Winterthur/Accords dans L’air” opens the album with a loud and full sound from the group with strong brass setting the stage before they take a deep dive into a lower dynamic array and speak in mumbled tones amidst sprays of spacious horns. The energy range is constantly shifting, making for a funhouse mirror type reflection where all is not as it seems. The smears of sound build an interesting landscape, before the band ramps up the volume for explosive horns, deep rhythm, electronics and guitar. They build toward a fascinating white noise state, sculpting the sound as they go. Like the title says, “Epic Silent” is a mostly quiet piece for the basses and soft saxophone to communicate, before a spare reed opens “Amemasu” with hollow sounding clarinet that stays predominantly quiet and steady over a drone like backdrop. Sparks of static noise give the proceedings an ominous and creepy feel, and the pace slowly ramps up giving the music an overall cinematic horror movie type air. There is a short connecting improvisation of chimes and bells called “Elecreiki” before the band comes in vocalizing on “Chhia-Cham” with the general sound conveying a dark and haunted scenario, and Sean Caprio’s emotional lead singing deep and heartfelt. They music builds in a more majestic fashion as electric guitar and electronics build in. “Turning Inward, Like a Glove” develops a brassy sound with guitar slithering and skittering around the edges. Everything builds nicely off of the feelings established by the vocals from the previous track and some echoing guitar constructs a snarling and potent solo, as horns frame the music in the background. The band plays a wide range of music, one piece can go from the most honeyed setup where all the musicians sing to extreme noise music, with several shades in between. Their meaning is self-evident, that in today’s creative music, every idea is not only acceptable but also necessary. Ljubljana -

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Friday, August 05, 2016

Made to Break - Before the Code: Live (Audiographic Records, 2016)

Made to Break is one of multi-reedist and composer Ken Vandermark’s most exciting ensembles, one where he is in the company of Tim Daisy on drums, Christof Kurzmann on laptop and electronics and Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass. This album was recorded Klub Dragon in Poznan, Poland on November 5, 2014. The opening track, “Dial The Number: live (for Agnes Varda),” opens with strong saxophone playing and persistent electronics. The raw saxophone and thick electric bass are excellent, with the drums kicking in and driving the music hard. Vandermark sounds particularly inspired in his saxophone playing with an ebullient solo before the pace of the music drops considerably. There is a quieter section of ominous electronics, smears of saxophone and bubbling bass. Stadhouders takes a bass solo against the spacey drones of the electronics. Chirpy saxophone and thudding bass build the dynamics back up making room for further percussion and saxophone soloing. “Off-Picture No. 119: live (for Joshua Oppenheimer)//Window Breaking Hammer: live (for Rainer Werner Fassbinder)” has light toned saxophone with spare electric bass and percussion. They develop an excellent three-way improvisation, before the strident electronics sweeps in under a heavy beat. Things get even wilder with the electronics mounting an organ/synth sound that is the perfect backdrop for Vandermark’s raw saxophone along with thick electric bass and storming drums. There is an short intermission at the halfway point for group introductions and they return to the fray quietly. There is light, feathered drumming with subtle reed and melodic bass. The group takes the dynamics way down to near silence before buzzing electronics build in developing hypnotic swirls of noise. Things ramp up with powerful saxophone playing against a heavy and ominous tone. The music becomes fascinating with jets of electronic sound juxtaposed by ripe saxophone as the band hits full power and pins its ears back, driving to the conclusion. “Dragon Improvisation” is a short coda, which has patterned electronics, and light pitched saxophone circling before enveloping the stage with screaming noise, in and urgent free improvisation. This was an excellent album with the music remaining very exciting and compelling throughout. Ken Vandermark has led many ensembles in his career, but Made to Break is becoming one of the most memorable. Before the Code: Live - Audiographic Records.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Joe Lovano Quartet - Classic! Live at Newport (Blue Note, 2016)

This album was recorded on August 14, 2005 at the Newport Jazz Festival. With the title and the raucous crowd noise, you’d think Blue Note was trying to liken this to the famously lauded 1956 Newport performance from Duke Ellington. While this album doesn’t quite reach those dizzying heights, it is very impressive in its own right with Lovano’s brawny tenor saxophone accompanied by Hank Jones on piano, George Mraz on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. “Big Ben” is a rousing up-tempo opener, and Lovano’s huge tenor sound is the perfect vehicle to honor Ben Webster, with a deep, dark tone supported by the rhythm team playing in a very classy manner. The music swings delightfully, with the blustery saxophone juxtaposed by the nimble and swinging rhythm. Everyone’s bebop bona fides are proved on “Bird’s Eye View” with a steaming performance of swaggering saxophone pouring out notes over an irresistible backdrop. This is jazz in its most  archetypal form, distilled into a crystalline performance. “Don’t Ever Leave Me” is calmer and more of a groove centered performance. Jones sets the pace and Lovano follows suit, in a well-controlled and precise solo statement, floating above the meticulous rhythm accompaniment. They develop “I’m All For You” into a full-blown ballad, with very lush and romantic chords from Jones guiding Lovano to a luxurious and classical sound. It may be jazz from central casting, but the music played is of the highest order. The simpatico relationship between Lovano and Jones is on display here but so is a beautiful bass solo and wonderfully feathered brushes. The finish the album with the barn burning “Six and Four” where an imperious groove from the rhythm section sets Lovano free to take an epic solo that covers blues, bop and beyond in a particularly crowd pleasing fashion. Nash is also featured, taking an impressive drum solo and trading phrases with the leader. This was a fine album, and it’s hard not to share the crowd’s enthusiasm for an extraordinary group playing at the peak of their powers. Classic: Live at Newport -

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