Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979–1981 (Legacy Recordings, 2017)

Of all the periods of Bob Dylan's career, perhaps the most misunderstood and criticized was the brief period of time that he turned to evangelical Christianity, from 1979-1981, forsaking the older recordings that made him a legend and instead playing original compositions that focused on fire and brimstone gospel music, often prefaced in concert by long "raps," end-times preaching that shocked and angered longtime fans. The mandate of the bootleg series has been to either shed light on famous areas of his career, like the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert of 1966, and the Rolling Thunder Revue live performances of 1976, or to rehabilitate overlooked sections of his musical legacy as was done with the Another Self Portrait collection. This set falls clearly in the latter, with most fans only knowing the befuddling and poorly produced studio albums of the period: Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love. This expansive boxed set strives to provide more context for the music of the period with the first two discs presenting live recordings made from 1979-1981, followed by two discs of rare and unreleased recordings in the form of soundchecks, studio outtakes and live performances. There are two concerts presented in their entirety, Live in Toronto 1980 and Live at Earl's Court, London, June 27, 1981 followed by a bonus DVD with a documentary film and some odds and ends. The super deluxe version of the set available only on the Dylan website contains a further concert, from San Diego in 1979. Supposedly beginning when an audience member threw a cross medallion onstage during a lost and lonely period, Dylan fell in with a group of Evangelicals that guided him down this most unusual path. It’s not that Dylan wasn’t making good music during this period, he had a crack band anchored by the great drummer Jim Keltner, but the studio albums were so lifeless that when this patchy music came alive it did so during live concerts, or as part of epic studio sessions that didn’t see the light of day until this package was released. Dylan was on the road during much of this period, taking his message to the people, often quite literally. While he may have let the music do the talking on previous tours, he now launched into lengthy screeds that prophesied the end times, scolding the unbelievers and mocking their request for his earlier, classic songs which went completely unplayed during the lengthy 1980 tour. It was only in 1981, that he finally relented and began to perform some of his famous back catalog, but he still faced the incredulity the gospel material received from older fans. There is a lot of music that is of interest to only the hardcore Dylanologist, but restoring some of his finest songs of the period like the rocking track "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar," the quite beautiful hymn-like "Every Grain of Sand" and inexplicably unreleased "Caribbean Wind" to wider reception is admirable. All in all it’s an interesting place to visit and dip into judiciously, but becomes a slog over the long hall. Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 -

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Vinny Golia Wind Quartet - Live at the Century City Playhouse - Los Angeles, 1979 (Dark Tree, 2017)

This was one of the earlier albums in the lengthy and impressive career of multi-reedist and composer Vinny Golia. On this album he plays a wide range of instruments including flute, alto flute, piccolo flute, baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet and he is accompanied by John Carter on clarinet, Bobby Bradford on cornet and Glenn Ferris on trombone. With the lineup solely composed of reeds and brass, the music can produce a wide range of textures and dynamics that draws from classical and world music as well as jazz. This album was recorded live in May of 1979 in Los Angeles, California. Golia alternates between flute and baritone saxophone on the opening track "#2," and it is the demonstrative difference between these two instruments that provides the push and pull, the friction that drives the performance. The deep and brawny baritone and the light and nimble flute serve as a framework and an instigation for the other instruments to add their contributions. The collective improvisation is very impressive, the musicians fly in tight formation and then separate to make their own individual statements with the brass punching forward and the flute, clarinet and saxophone swooping and soaring over the course of a lengthy improvisation. You get a sense of the enjoyment of exploring the unexpected corners of music on "Views" the first of three lengthy performances, each around fifteen minutes in length. Golia sticks with the baritone saxophone on this performance and it makes for some very interesting textures with the relatively low toned baritone and trombone providing marked contrast to the cornet and clarinet. Golia has a serious graphic arts background, and he allows the improvisation to develop like a painter, spreading bold swathes of color around the soundscape. Carter and Bradford co-led a famous group and they bring their familiarity and thirst for adventure into this configuration. Moving into the second set of the performance, they take on a massive two-pronged performance, "Chronos, Parts I & II" which demonstrate all of the musicianship that this very impressive band has to offer. Both of these selections are over fifteen minutes in length but the music never seems padded or forced. On part one, Golia juxtaposes the high pitched piccolo flute with the dark and reverberating bass clarinet. Part two sees him moving to alto flute along with bass clarinet, leading the charge through the meat of this recording allowing themes to bubble up and be met with powerful extrapolations by each member of the band. Dedicating the final track "The Victims" to the heroic South African activist Steve Biko, demonstrates a deeply humanist streak from the musicians and their playing. This album as a whole shows great compassion for the musicians, their creations and their audiences. This was a very enjoyable and challenging recording that deserves wide attention. Live at the Century City Playhouse - Los Angeles, 1979 - Bandcamp.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Van Morrison - Versatile (Legacy Recordings, 2017)

As active as ever in his seventy-second year, Van Morrison has issued two albums in quick succession and has played a string of successful live dates in 2017. This is the second of the two LPs and the title is accurate, as he mixes original compositions with interpretations of music by jazz and soul heroes as well as playing renditions from the standard popular song repertoire. He's got a very good medium sized band accompanying him with stout horns riffing and framing his voice, which is in fine form, and a swinging rhythm section which keeps the music on point and moving along well. Morrison covers a wide range of material on this album, beginning with an uptempo original called "Broken Record" with a chant along chorus carried by the singer in a nimble and becoming fashion. Among the other original compositions on this are album is a version of an earlier Morrison song "I Forgot That Love Existed" which takes a philosophical and spiritual bent, while "Start All Over Again" develops an easy going loping groove with rippling piano, and a strong vocal performance making for a memorable statement and "Only A Dream" which uses jazzy guitar and a subtle rhythm to shade a vocal echoing romantic longing, and includes some impressive solos for guitar and saxophone. Some of the choices are quite interesting, with jazz standards taking up much of the remaining set list anchored by the inclusion of two Gershwin songs, including an appropriately moody version of "A Foggy Day" and a strutting version of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" which concludes the album on a defiant note. "Unchained Melody" is a bit of a surprise, beginning with Morrison singing over the sparest of backup, then allowing the remainder of the band to fold is he growls and slurs the words of the song into an unusual direction. Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" is an excellent choice, with Morrison stretching and pulling at the words to put his own individual stamp on the proceedings while the band takes a classy instrumental break to add further energy to one of the album's highlights. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" has been done by Tony Bennett and a host of others, and Morrison provides a stylish version of the song using quiet brushed percussion and jazzy guitar and piano chords to set the mood. Some stylish Hammond B3 organ bubbles up to take a brief nod then supporting a Wes Montgomery influenced guitar solo. Overall this album worked well, it was a solid combination of originals and standard material that shows Morrison and the band in a more jazzy light, which plays to the strengths of the vocalist and the band. Versatile -

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reflections in Cosmo - Reflections in Cosmo (Rare Noise, 2017)

Combining the improvisational nature of jazz with the emotional heft of rock 'n' roll has been happening thing from the 1960's to the present, and while the controversy of melding these two genres has thankfully ebbed, exploratory musicians like those in Reflections in Cosmo continue the quest for sonic glory. The band consists of Kjetil Moster on saxophones, Hans Magnus Ryan on guitar, Stale Storlokken on keyboards and Thomas Stronen on drums. The album begins with "Cosmosis" which features stomping saxophone charging in and leading the band which gets a huge and smothering sound. Snarling guitar is loud and vivid, as the drums and keyboards develop a complex rhythm that allows the group to build an impressive swagger, connecting with each other with buzzing and crackling energy.  This is quickly followed by "Ironhorse" which sets the pace with long toned shimmering guitar before the drums blast in, developing a heavy rhythm that the saxophone probes and answers with heady smears of sound. The guitar weaves a fine texture in conjunction with the strong rhythm and that leads to and increase in the pace of the music and the overall excitement, culminating in a blasting full band section where the group really bare their teeth. "Cosmic Hymn" has fast clattering percussion, developing a mysterious sound that is further enhanced by the guitar and saxophone which use a raw and guttural sound, snarling like a cat and unfolding in an unpredictable manner. They develop an impressive full band collective improvisation developing a fierce presence that tingles with electricity. Nimble keyboards and percussion lay the foundation for "Balklava" which builds a twisting and grinding heat, before blooming into a full fledged funky fusion feel. "Perpetuum Immobile" moves in a different direction, with a subtle and spare soundscape where the instruments echo ominously before the electric guitar breaks out with jagged shards of sound which are then met by heavy drums and organ that roll forward inexorably gaining momentum. This configuration suits the band well, building to a full improvised roar, and using all of the dynamism they have at their disposal. There is an area of riotous saxophone and heavy drums on "Fuzzstew," developing an all-out assault, creating a deep seated impact. This is heavy duty jazz fusion that is very exciting and develops in unexpected ways with big swathes of keyboards, which frame the strongly played guitar and heavy saxophone which are played with venom and malice aforethought. Finally, "Reflections in Cosmo" winds down the album with nimble drumming and whinnying saxophone coming into play with ripe keyboards filling out the soundscape of taut performance that develops a massive edifice of sound and fury. Overall this was a very well played album that enveloped aspects of high-energy rock 'n' roll into intricately improvised jazz, creating a heady brew that should impress aficionados of either genre. Reflections in Cosmo -

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Monday, December 25, 2017

DKV Trio - Latitude 41.88 (Not Two Records, 2017)

The DKV Trio is made up of Ken Vandermark on saxophone and clarinet, Kent Kessler on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. They have been playing together in this configuration since 1997, and over those many years have built up a nearly telepathic mode of cooperation with one another and their improvisations on this album bear this out, and this album is another excellent entry in their growing discography. Recorded in concert in December of 2014 by in Milwaukee, the album begins with "Faster Than It Would Be" which has raw saxophone colliding with powerful drumming to form a ferocious collective improvisation. The performance features deep and rending saxophone, rumbling bass and tumbling percussion, resulting in a very exciting and precision tooled free improvisation. Small motifs pop up that are expounded upon, clawing their way forward with thick bass and dark, sharp edged tenor saxophone leading the charge. They develop a funky section that seems to draw from Blue Note hard bop with lusty saxophone blowing hard over swinging rhythm. Drake moves to the front for a very impressive and always evolving drum solo, his playing as fresh and compelling as ever. This band is so attuned to the history of jazz, from swing to free, and are able to move with such grace, that they their sound grown gradually and almost imperceptibly, allowing the music to flow in a fluid and thoughtful manner. "20th Century Myth" features Drake's rolling and skittering drums to set the tone, played with lithe dexterity and making use of the entire drum set, developing a fascinating rhythm in a masterful and generous manner. Saxophone and bowed bass glide in respectfully, opening to an unaccompanied section for saxophone, sliding through the air in a quiet and graceful manner. The other two instruments return developing a symmetrical relationship between the players and their improvisation, building to a passionate group section lending their energies to a lean and muscular collective improvisation. Squalls of torrential saxophone are met with a massive foundation of undulating bass and drums, played with a malleability that allows for the maximum amount of freedom for the musicians. Vandermark moves to clarinet on "Uncontrolled Writer," playing looping passages that swoop like a gull riding the wind, with a sound is intricate and you can hear the drawing of breath and the movement of the air through the instrument, joined by subtle bass and drums in a quiet and spacious improvisation. It's an intimate setting with the gentlest rhythm and soft bass, proving they are as adept at playing quietly as loudly. Vandermark returns to saxophone and the pace starts to increase, while the volume is still relatively low. The level of interaction and listening is high, keeping the proceedings fresh and interesting during the long running length, which includes a spacious and well articulated bass solo. The trio reconvenes developing a fresh and forceful approach that pushes through to the conclusion of this very impressive and most rewarding album. Latitude 41.88 -

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Mars Williams Presents - An Ayler Xmas (Soul What Records, 2017)

Normally I find Christmas music sentimental and vile, but this was a very pleasant surprise. Saxophonist Mars Williams is leading a skilled team that incorporates some seasonal themes and grafts them on to melodies developed by the legendary saxophonist Albert Ayler. Ayler was famous for using short snippets of folk tunes, gospel ballads, even anthems and marching band sounds as grist for his ferocious free jazz mill. Williams has brought together a stellar squad, consisting of Josh Berman on cornet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jim Baker on piano, viola and Arp Synthesizer, Kent Kessler on bass, Brian Sandstrom on bass, guitar and trumpet and Steve Hunt on drums. This is a nimble and free spirited band that can tackle the themes and the free improvisation, beginning with "Ma'oz Tzur (Hanukkah) - Truth Is Marching In - Jingle Bells" a massive medley that melds the ancient music with the hyper-speed tumbling melody of Ayler's "The Truth Is Marching In" which was the glorious centerpiece of the classic Ayler album Live in Greenwich Village. There is a sudden and beautiful opening for piano with Baker developing ringing chords and grounding the music to a shared history. He is joined by trumpet and horns as the intensity of the music begins to ramp back up with skittish free playing and instrumental interplay, with everyone coming together led by raw and meaty saxophones which suddenly and almost comically break into the theme of "Jingle Bells." It's a moment of levity that shines a light on the group's wit, and gives them running room for the big finish with a section of furiously bowed strings which leads the group into the second medley "O Tannenbaum - Spirits - 12 Days Of Xmas." Again we see traditional carols used as frames for the Ayler theme in the middle, beginning with a slow ramp up by a stately reading of the first theme. The classic Ayler line "Spirits" is a bracing jolt which leaves a wide open playing field for the subsequent improvisation, led by Williams rough and ready saxophone charging through the ranks. The improvisation is harrowing and thrilling, and tumbles into the final theme, twisting and turning as the twelve days are blasted apart in a fun and loving fashion. Berman is given space for a fiery cornet solo aided by rolling drums and piano, with the full band folding back in and putting a lot of emotional heft into the music. There is subtle and ringing piano to open the closing medley, "Angels We Have Heard On High - Omega Is Alpha" shading the silence with droplets of crystalline sound, then adding storms of crashing chords to build the drama further. Horns gradually enter as the music turns to the Ayler theme, building a powerful and raw foundation, gradually developing into a  whirlwind of music that bursts forth with massive wails of unaccompanied saxophone. The brass builds in and the music reaches a startling crescendo that would have made the honoree proud. The theme is proudly restated and the band rips through the powerful conclusion of this most unexpected by highly recommended album. An Ayler Xmas - Bandcamp

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Francois Carrier and Michel Lambert - Out of Silence (FMR Records, 2017)

Alto saxophonist and Chinese oboe player Francois Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert make for a powerful duo on this album, playing riveting free jazz that is improvised in real time in London during June of 2015. They have played together in many different configurations and develop a shared musical consciousnesses that allows them to transcend any boundaries that form and function attempt to apply to them. Using a blend of modern jazz and free improvisation, the group is able to create space for spontaneous and soaring interactive playing. The opening track "Out of Silence" is aptly named, as the flag drops and they are off and running, with Carrier developing a tart and acidic tone on his saxophone and Lambert's crashing and rolling percussion making for a combination that is really arresting and exciting. They approach a "Chasin' the Trane" level of intensity by moving dynamically through a number of textures and tempos and they keep the music continuously interesting, performing exploratory jazz that continuously evolves as it proceeds, building layer upon layer of rhythm upon one another in a very exciting fashion. There are quick flutters of sounds and beats on "A Thousand Birds" as the musicians use rapid fire bursts of sound that flow together and begin to tumble with unstoppable momentum. "Soul Play" allows the duo to stretch out at length again, with an eleven minute improvisation that develops an almost giddy sense of excitement, as the two instruments are bounding around and engaging with one another, twisting and turning in ways that are always unexpected and very impressive. "Happy to You" ends the album on an upbeat and progressive note, with Carrier adding accents of the exotic sounding Chinese oboe to frame their improvisation by adding a further injection of texture and color. This was a and excellent album of free modern jazz, which should pique the interest of not only to for free improvisation fans, but modern jazz fans in general. The contrast between the saxophonist’s supple and muscular playing and the clambering drums makes for an bracing performance. They travel beyond strict musical boundaries creating settings of their own that are challenging yet accessible. Out of Silence -

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Pan-Scan Ensemble - Air and Light and Time and Space (PNL Records, 2017)

The Pan-Scan Ensemble (Bandcamp; You Tube: Cafe Mir, Kongsberg) is an improvising big band that makes the most of the possibles of a stellar crew of musicians including Anna Hogberg, Lotte Anker and Julie Kjær on saxophones and flute, Paal Nilssen-Love and Stale Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion, Sten Sandell on piano, Emil Strandberg, Goran Kajfes and Thomas Johansson on trumpet. It is a very talented group which is able to take a dynamic approach to their music, moving from abstract improvisation to thrilling all-in blowouts. The album was recorded live in Oslo during December of 2016, and it is split into two tracks, beginning with "Air and Light" which shows how contrasting texture is the key to the album's success. Subtle percussion gives a sense of openness to the beginning of the performance, creating connections to rhythmic concepts that will serve the group as a whole as the music progresses. The two percussionists open a thoughtful dialogue, enriching the conversation with unusual patterns, as the remainder of the band begins to fold in. Piano ripples manically while taut trumpet sparks the music to greater speed and depth. The full band comes in with the weight of the horn section carving out an exciting collective improvisation, shifting nimble shades of sound which adds further color to the music, developing in space as the percussion lays out, with snarling sputters of saxophone juxtaposed against arcing wails of trumpet. This is followed by the thirty-three minute plus "Time and Space," a performance that takes those notions seriously and searches for musical meaning within that context. The sound is inclusive, welcoming each member of the group (who are often leaders in their own right) to make a contribution to the artistic whole. Warm droplets of piano are cast amidst brass and percussion, weaving in and out of near silence then creating a buzzing hive of abstract sound, that builds to an imaginative collective improvisation which gains speed and power in a majestic fashion, creating a very exciting and colorful peak by inspiring a sense of in the moment interaction. The music upends the traditional roles of the jazz ensemble by staying away from predictable forms, and allowing freedom the reign supreme within the textures and sounds. Flute and trumpet enter into an interesting dialogue, spiraling around each other in open and unencumbered space, then the proceedings begin to build up for a larger grouping of instruments, engaging with each other in a creative fashion, swelling into a living berating organism with everyone straining forward. The music blooms into an exciting interaction between tenor saxophone and drums, both slashing across the sound stage in a vital and bracing manner, creating one of the high points of the album. Further textures are woven between the percussionists and the ever shifting horn section, everyone comes together, building the conclusion to hair raising level and placing an indelible stamp of quality and passion on the album. Air And Light And Time and Space -

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

King Crimson - Official Bootleg. Live in Chicago, June 28th, 2017 (DGM, 2017)

Since the venerable progressive rock band King Crimson resumed its improbable journey in 2013, there has been a steady stream of live material in the form of official bootlegs like this one and more planned out compact disc and video releases. This version of the band has grown to an octet, with three drummers, two guitarists, bass, reeds and Robert Fripp, the benign dictator, ruling over it all. This is a "warts and all" soundboard recording from their summer tour of the USA, so you get the occasional yahoo yelling out for their favorite song, which does nothing to dissuade the band from performing their chosen set which by this time incorporates material like "21st Century Schizoid Man" through to newer tracks like the intricate song "The Errors" and the blistering "Meltdown." They even incorporate some Adrian Belew written material, a controversial move until a detente was reached between Belew and Fripp. The band carves up "Neurotica" and especially "Indiscipline" but vocalist (and guitarist) Jakko Jakszyk seems a little uncomfortable singing the material, opting for a tentative half-spoken approach. He is much more comfortable interpenetrating the 1970-1972 music of the band that has been somewhat overlooked prior to the release of this years epic Sailors' Tale boxed set which reviews that period of the band in exhaustive depth. "The Lizard Suite" is a surprise, carving off some of the most dynamic bits of the original twenty-three minute side long monster. The title track to "Islands" is quite beautiful, featuring subtle piano from Bill Rieflin and tender flute from Mel Collins. Collins is an unsung hero throughout the album, he was in the band in the early 1970's and brings a clutch of reed instruments to the party, deftly finding the right one for each occasion. There is a devastating version of "Pictures of a City" which allows the band to move from delicate a introduction to a cro-magnon stomp over the course of ten exciting minutes. The group hits their stride playing songs from the band's 1973-74 glory years, including the subtle and dynamic "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part One" which is then following up with it's proto heavy metal evil twin "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part Two" along with the exhilaration instrumental "Red." The inclusion of the Red era album track "Fallen Angel" is a pleasant surprise, incorporating strong vocals and powerful swelling music to excellent effect. The inclusion of the anthemic David Bowie track "Heroes" was a fine choice, giving a much deserved nod to a fallen compatriot, and allowing Fripp to reprise the memorable guitar solo he took on the original recording. Overall this was a fine concert and another quality entry into the bands large discography. By incorporating material from their near fifty year history, they are able to give the fans their favorites while challenging themselves and keeping the music fresh. Official Bootleg: Live In Chicago, June 28th, 2017 -

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Irreversible Entanglements - Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem, 2017)

Irreversible Entanglements are a socially conscious free jazz group featuring the voice of Camae Ayewa with Keir Neuringer on alto saxophone, Aquiles Navarro on trumpet, Luke Stewart on bass and Tcheser Holmes on drums. The create an album that is a harrowing indictment of modern day race relations, creating protest jazz that takes the power of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and the We Insist album by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln and brings it into the post-modern world. The album opens with "Chicago to Texas" which develops the foundation of the music with heavy foreboding percussion, and horns which build in heralding the spoken word which has defiant lyrics evoking aspects of religion and slavery over a powerfully resonant rhythm. There is a thick bass line that adds elasticity to the music, creating greater depth to frame the haunting refrains of the vocals. "Fireworks" opens with taut bass and nimble percussion, and declamatory words that draw from a deep reservoir of power. The full band blows hard adding gales of sound to reinforce the power of the words, building to a fast and exciting collective improvisation. Wild horns circulate through "Enough" with fast flurries of sound around the wordless scream of Ayewa's voice, sounding pained and hurt over crushing drums, as if her spirit is being mauled by the injustice and neglect of society. She regains her composure, sounding unbowed by her words as the horns arc overhead and the deep resonant bass holds everything together. Acidic alto saxophone develops a cutting solo and the trumpet cries as the names of the dead are read... Travon Martin, Micheal Brown, and too many more. The epic "Projects" concludes the album with drums slashing across the soundstage, leading the full group into a powerful and resilient performance, which cleaves space for the defiant vocals, speaking truth to power as clearly as June Tyson did when she sang with the Sun Ra Arkestra. It is a tale of the lost and lonely, put out on the streets and trying to survive in a cruel and violent world. It is a savage tale of economic inequality and haunting fear that is all to common. The story is given further wright by a raw interlude of saxophone and drums that drives home the imagery of the lyrics. This was a tremendously powerful and poignant album, one that mixes defiant words of social protest and fantastic instrumental interplay. This is a very important album that has much to say about contemporary America, it deserves your attention, and is very highly recommended. Irreversible Entanglements -

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Chrome (Playscape, 2017)

This is the excellent second album by a trio led by bassist Mario Pavone in the company of Matt Mitchell on piano and Tyshawn Sorey on drums following 2015's Blue Dialect. The album was recorded in June of 2016 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT and opens with "Cobalt" which has a percussive and Monkish feel, and the music comes out bouncy and rhythmic. Thick bass and active drumming cradle bell like piano which offers cascades of notes in a very exciting improvisation, leading to a taut bass solo that is very impressive and muscular. "Glass 10" follows with a slapping bass rhythm leading the full trio into the performance, and keeping the feeling of the music elastic. The trio develops a pulsing and buoyant sounding improvisation, impish and upbeat, developing a unique character, while splashy piano and percussion colors outside the lines in a bold fashion. The three instrumentalists enter together with a fast and percussive sensibility on "Ancestors" with an emphatic tightness that binds the music together, then erupting into a bracing improvisation that drives the music relentlessly forward. Piano and drums crash around the fulcrum that is Pavone's rock solid bass. The music morphs into a skittish free sounding section that is punctuated with seismic rolls of drumming before everything comes together for a vital send off. There is another taut and resonant bass solo to open "The Lizards (For Jim Jarmusch)" before the piano and drums jump in with a bouncy and exciting manner. The music is bright and fun with rippling piano keeping pace with the bounding bass and drums. Entering with leaping strides, "Conic" develops into a dynamic tumbling, rolling collective improvisation creating music that is alive with creativity and promise, including a tight bass led trio feature. "Chrome" comes out hard with a blasting trio opening, articulated in a crisp and clear manner, moving relentlessly forward with a thrilling rumble. Drums and bass are hammering forward relentlessly while Mitchell's piano pounces like an excited cat, and a pulsing bass solo breaks out accompanied by subtle percussion. Finally, "Continuing" is bouncy and uptempo with a fine bass feature reaching out into ripples of piano and stretching and flexing drumming. There is a dynamic drop to a subtle medium tempo, before ending in a thoughtful and colorful fashion. This was a very well played album; the trio is tight and powerful in their playing and their improvisations were risk taking and adventurous. Chrome -

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Joe Henderson - The Elements (Milestone, 1973/2017)

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson recorded a superb string of hard-bop jazz records in the 1960's for the venerable Blue Note label. But by the time the 1970's bloomed the ascendance of rock 'n' roll had fractured the jazz scene into small enclaves of free, bop, fusion and a form of spiritual jazz that grew out of the prior decade and the music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane's widow Alice, who melded her increasing interest in Eastern spirituality and wide open multi-instrumental improvisation. This mixture of the orthodoxy and the vanguard on this album might be a recipe for disaster, but the results are exactly the opposite, free and unfettered and very exciting. The band is a talented one, consisting of Henderson on tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute, Alice Coltrane on piano, harp, tambura and harmonium, Charlie Haden on bass, Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, Baba Duru Oshunand and Kenneth Nash on drums and percussion and Michael White on violin. The album consists of four lengthy tracks that are dedicated to the elemental forces beginning with “Fire” which shows Henderson and and Coltrane working very well together with his deep seated tenor saxophone juxtaposed against her lithe piano and harp and Michael White’s swooping violin, which gives the music wings and allows the lengthy performance to stay fresh and interesting. "Air" has the strong saxophone Henderson was known for reaching out over minimal backing, with Charlie Haden's thick, stoic bass playing at the forefront, and displays Henderson's playing moving into the upper register of the horn favored by Sanders and Albert Ayler, without losing his grounding in post-bop jazz. There is an interlude for spacious piano before Henderson's dark toned saxophone returns to close soaring over a droning backdrop. "Water" offers droning string instruments, with Henderson adding pinched tone, which uses echo to give the music an unearthly quality. This is the most experimental and spiritual selection on the album, perhaps taking some inspiration from the Miles Davis recordings of the period. The final track, "Earth" incorporates a spoken word interlude read by Nash, with music that allows itself to breathe, buoyed by complex rhythms of hand percussion. Long drones push the music into a more overtly spiritual direction, and Henderson's soulful saxophone is comforting and relaxed, playing in conjunction with White's emotive violin and gaining a more strident tone. A fine stringed solo serves as a transitioning point to a spare section of harp and flute, over which Nash begins to speak. Henderson returns to tenor saxophone for a majestic solo over a hypnotic beat and bubbling percussive background. The Elements -

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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Kjetil Møster / Jeff Parker / Joshua Abrams / John Herndon - Ran Do (Clean Feed, 2017)

This is a very interesting cooperative band consisting of Kjetil Moster on tenor saxophone, Jeff Parker on guitar, Joshua Abrams on bass and John Herndon on drums. The quartet was born out of Moster’s encounter with the talented Chicago music community, after a tour made by his band Møster in the United States. At this time he came into contact with members of that city's thriving and exploratory jazz and post-rock scenes. The music on this album is quite varied and interesting, incorporating aspects of abstract free improvisation and blazing free funk that wouldn't sound out of place on an early seventies Miles Davis recording. That part of their playing is most noticeable on the opening track "Orko" where the band comes out swaggering with snarling guitar, propulsive bass and drums and scouring saxophone. The develop large slabs of energy that moves around the soundascape of the performance, opening a wide field of view and incorporating blocks of guitar, raw bass and vital drumming that create a very strong rhythmic setting which is perfect for Moster's stoic saxophone playing and improvising. It's not all like that, and this heavy and bracing form of music is juxtaposed by "Annica" where the group takes a unique approach to the ballad form with Herndon making inventive use of brushes and open ended percussion techniques, while Moster plays light and breathy saxophone that moves between melody and abstraction, keeping everyone on their toes. They are framed by subtle guitar and bass which keeps everything within the frame and provides context for their ever evolving improvisation. It is also the longest track on the album unfolding in a dream like pattern, clocking in at over fifteen minutes, and providing plenty of time for the band members to explore the developing and morphing space and time that opens before them. This admirable sense of restraint carries on into the final track, "Pajama Jazz" which shows the group incorporating some swinging modern jazz into their musical vocabulary, and this allows them to provide further textures that are available for exploration, and it is the collective improvisation that develops out of this that is most impressive with everyone turning their shoulder to the wheel and creating a memorable performance. This was a rewarding album of modern jazz and an excellent cross-pollination of ideas between the fertile Scandinavian and Chicago jazz scenes. Incorporating ideas from post-rock of groups like Motorpsycho and Tortoise as well as the arena of post-bop and fusion jazz allows the group to have a wide arena of possibilities to explore, and they make the most of it. Ran Do -

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Ivo Perelman - Heptagon (Leo Records, 2017)

Heptagon is an excellent quartet album of stellar modern jazz led by tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman in the company of Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Bobby Kapp on drums which was recorded in Brooklyn NY during May of 2017. All of these musicians are well known to each other and they jump into this collectively improvised album with no fear, developing a crisp seven part, forty-five minute album that moves through a wide range of tempos and feelings from the blistering free jazz of "Part 1" which has the quartet locked in together and navigating an exciting and very fast paced performance with Perelman's raw and powerful saxophone leading the charge. Kapp is perfectly suited for the music at hand, dancing across the cymbals and adding just the right touch of rhythmic sensibility to the music. Shipp and Parker are longtime Perelman confidants, showing their ease with the graceful and flowing "Part 2" which has crystalline piano chords and longing bowed bass that add an emotionally charged aspect to the music, leading to a performance that is mysterious and thought provoking. Journalist Neil Tesser writes in this album's liner notes about the concept of lyricism in Perelman's work and that is underscored here with long peals of wounded saxophone and arcs of bowed bass create a deep seated beauty within the music. Shipp's percussive and insistent piano work provides the momentum for "Part 3" and the scouring bass and light percussion are the perfect foil for Perelman's deep yearning saxophone tones, and he uses this finely honed technique to build to a towering conclusion of harrowing intensity, rising to impassioned squalls from the highest range of his instrument, using this raw and rending tone to build the music to a natural and organic conclusion. The music on this album develops further the deeper it goes, with the music pouring forth like a planned suite of tunes rather than a spontaneously improvised collection. Kapp is able to deftly switch to brushes for the intimate opening of "Part 5" which combines the risk taking free improvisation these musicians are known for with a textural and woven structure which is all the more impressive when you consider that it was constructed on the fly and played with an impressive combination of close attention to detail and devil may care spontaneity. The searing saxophone leads the band through to the conclusion of the album, making for a complete and constructive whole, and one of the most finely realized of the albums that Perelman has released this year. It's a gem, and open eared modern jazz fans shouldn't miss it. Heptagon -

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sun Ra - Exotica (Modern Harmonic, 2017)

Exotica is a strain of music that draws from around the world, especially Brazilian, East Asian and Oceanic cultures and neuters those influences to make a form of early Muzak that was popular in the 1950’s and 60’s. Given his interest in the music of different cultures, it is not surprising that Sun Ra created at this time a form of exotic jazz that had some parallels but was more adventurous than the aural wallpaper of exotica. The use of flutes and hand is percussion with lush piano playing on tracks like “Space Mates (Abridged)” and many other of the early performances, create a cinematic mood music suitable for the space age bachelor pad, and the subtle use of bells or vibes add further color and texture to “Star Bright.” These songs are at a relatively slow tempo, but that changes with “Eve” which develops a small group swing, with shaded horns and gently propulsive piano from the leader. “Tiny Pyramids” has a hypnotic horn arrangement that is cascading over a heavy beat, as flutes break out and soar over the musical landscape, shaded by brass and percussion with Ra’s piano developing Monk like chords. He moves briefly to an electronic keyboard for “The Lady With The Golden Stockings” which has a bracing saxophone solo amidst the now customary flute and percussion. Ra’s beautiful piano (acoustic and electric) is at the heart of “Paradise” amidst a thicket of percussion and bass developing a spacious melody and then interpreting it with embellishments. “India” is the type of proto world jazz that Sun Ra thrived on, creating a slashing percussion pattern to boost the droning bass, horns and electric piano. Bounding drum sounds add further heft and Ra’s ripples of buoyant electronics keeps things fresh. “Ancient Aiethopia” is a kaleidoscope of color and rhythm with Ra’s Afro-futurist philosophy driving a fascinating performance with light flutes paring off against a stout horn arrangement and driving percussion and vocalizing. A previously unreleased version of “April in Paris” is a beautiful small group keyboard performance, with full blooms of notes, and soft hand percussion accenting the leader's playing. The lengthy “Island in the Sun” has slapping percussion underpinning saxophones and flute with an arresting rhythm. Ra weaves in and out of the thick bass and drums, adding further color to the arrangement. “Africa” is very interesting with baritone sax, harmonized vocalizing and ominous percussion creating quite an impression. The rattling drumming drives the music forward and offsets the light flute and dark baritone. Trumpet is featured on “Friendly Galaxy” with a tight solo sparking the tune, with Ra playing some poorly mixed keyboard alongside the requisite flute solo. “Cha Cha In Outer Space” is a riot with layers of percussion rattling around Ra’s percussive piano, they get into the spirit of things and create quite a racket of kitschy fun. The album ends with “Overtones of China” and and obvious gong blast to let you know it is an eastern pastiche. The horns strut a fine riff as Ra leads the rhythm section dropping heavy chords and notes amidst the hollow drumming. This was an interesting if overblown compilation, originally for Record Store Day, but now more widely available. Too much of the music has a similar sound and thematic format to last two hours, but a more tightly edited set would reduce the tedium and shine some light on an interesting period in Sun Ra’s career. Exotica -

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Francesco Cusa Trio Meets Carlo Atti ‎– From Sun Ra To Donald Trump (Clean Feed, 2017)

The titles of the album and the tracks may betray a sly wit, but make no mistake, this is serious business, and the band which consists of Carlo Atti on tenor saxophone, Simone Graziano on piano, Gabriele Evangelista on bass and Francesco Cusa on drums are a rock solid modern jazz group. The meeting of the established trio with the impressive saxophonist allows sparks to fly, beginning with "Adam Smith Counts Every Penny" which opens spaciously with subtle bass and percussion and with gentle tenor saxophone completing the group improvisation. The track begins to get a little more feisty with tightly wound saxophone (pleasantly reminiscent of Steve Coleman in nature) leads the group into an exciting and fast paced collective improvisation. They stretch out nicely and develop a firm grasp on progressive improvisation, developing the tune as if it were a living entity. The music comes tumbling out on "Economic Boom And Stasis In The Capitalistic Illusion" with peals of saxophone arcing across fractured rhythm, marking a spontaneous unfolding of musical ideas. Atti's saxophone lays out and the rhythm section is fleet in his absence, before everything come back together for an episodic collective improvisation. The music weaves in and out of spacier sections confidently which allows the dynamic nature of the music to be felt, and the nearly sixteen minute long track never lags. "Deficit In The Economies Of The Black Jazzmen In The Sixties" is certainly a provocative title, and the band uses it as a springboard to look at post-bop jazz through a modern lens. Cascading notes of piano are met by long rending tones of saxophone, while a spiky rhythm flows through the heart of the performance. Piano chords dance lightly through a feature for Graziano, like bright raindrops, and the patient reentry of the saxophone is perfectly timed, weaving his sound gradually into the overall context. There is an engaging piano trio melody to "Delivering A Load Of Musical Boxes To Wall Street" that is warm and inviting, and they expand the palette of the performance by adding saxophone while keeping the light melodic structure of the composition. The rhythm section is playing very well, with a heart-on-sleeve eloquence that is quite appealing. The main event of the second half of the album is “Sun Ra vs. Donald Trump (Wrestling Bout, Refereed By Roland Barthes)” a performance that brings together all of the disparate strands of music the group had been weaving leading up to this point. The group develops an episodic almost suite like nature in the music which ebbs and flows, alternating squalls of fast and free music with the abstract development of space and solos popping up as the music evolves in a graceful manner. This was a very good small group modern jazz album, with the addition of a socially aware concept. Protest music in jazz goes back to “Strange Fruit” and beyond, and this album makes valid commentary available without taking away from the inherent power of the music itself. From Sun Ra to Donald Trump -

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Joe McPhee, Pascal Niggenkemper, Stale Liavik Solberg ‎– Imaginary Numbers (Clean Feed, 2017)

The great progressive jazz musician Joe McPhee, here playing pocket trumpet and tenor saxophone, has been building partnerships with musicians from around the world for decades. On this album, which was recorded in Brooklyn in December of 2015 he is in the company of Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Stale Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion. The trio plays three lengthy collective improvisations which work very well, and the musicians are deeply in sync with each other beginning with "I" which is the lengthiest piece, clocking in at over twenty three minutes. They investigate the open field before them, taking tentative stabs into the darkness with thick declamatory bass and skittish drumming that frame McPhee's trumpet playing. This creates a vibrant synthesis that allows their improvisation to coalesce and move forward, and keeps the music in a state of flux throughout, never staying still. Niggenkemper moves to the bow, adding a low droning sound to the music that is met with spare percussion, and equally low toned trumpet. Creating eerie swathes of sound and incorporating a very interesting drum rhythm, which allows McPhee to switch to tenor saxophone and add long breaths of emotionally resonant sound to the proceedings. McPhee's tenor develops a raw, rending sound that weaves through the complex rhythm of bass and drums and adds an element of continuity to the group's improvisation, diving deeply into the extemporaneous nature of the music. Moving into "A Supreme Love (For John Coltrane)" they take that master saxophonists often overlooked later work as a license to create a spontaneous improvisation from the ground up with rattling and clanking bass and drums creating an unsettling feeling, and using the rapport and trust that they have built with each other to patiently develop a strong piece of music. McPhee majestically enters adding long stoic lines of saxophone, playing in an oblique manner, while gaining volume and intensity as they evoke the spirit of Coltrane without ever slipping into hagiography. Finally, "Zero" has unmoored percussion and bass providing a wide open foundation for the piece, with quick shivers of bass and percussive replies. McPhee adds smears of sound from his trumpet, accenting the bowed bass and drumming, while developing proper context for music that uses dynamic light and shade to good effect. The excellent timing of the musicians assures that these shifts occur seamlessly, with grinding bowed bass and spitfire trumpet at the fore, the music heads for the arena of raw sound. Moving out of this, the musicians develop a caustic free collective improvisation that is very exciting, pushing the limits of their instruments and reveling in the freedom that they obtain in the process. Imaginary Numbers -

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp and Joe Hertenstein - Scalene (Leo Records, 2017)

Drummer Joe Hertenstein is part of the ever widening circle of excellent musicians that surrounds tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman. The saxophonist has played with a tight knit group of collaborators for years, especially pianist Matthew Shipp, but has recently developed contacts to further the reach of his music while continuing the aspects of his sound that has made him so successful. This is an album of collective improvisations, an album that develops over the course of ten relatively short, four to six minute, performances. Perelman and Shipp are a potent combination under any circumstances, but adding Hertenstein to the picture pours gas on the fire and makes the music even more exciting and edgy. "Part 1," the opening track of the album, develops at a very fast pace with kinetic drumming and piano playing combining with the gales of sharp toned tenor saxophone to make for a very exciting venture. The drummer is far from some wide-eyed rookie, having several albums of his own as a leader or collaborator, and having a lot of experience playing live and as an artist in residence. This is his first album with Perelman, but the trio clicks well, not only on the fast paced frenetic free jazz sections of the album, but playing with excellent restraint when the music becomes more open ended and abstract. Matthew Shipp as always is an absolute rock, creating in the moment superb squalls of spontaneously developed piano. Perelman is playing at a very high level, having consolidated a manner of playing that allows for the maximum amount of freedom, whether blistering fast paced free improvisation or slow and patient exploration that investigates texture and nuance. "Part 5" is one of the best examples of this trio working together for the greater good. Beginning with saxophone and piano probing the silence, it is the entrance of the drummer, playing a weighty rhythm, that causes the music to catch fire and then the group is off to the race with a deep and exploratory performance. Shipp bounds through the track, balancing light notes with darker heavier chords and Perelman plays ecstatic saxophone which paint swathes of bold color across the musical canvas their sounds develop. The near reverse pattern takes place on "Track 9" where the music begins fast and strong with explosive drumming, deep piano and scorching saxophone, but then slowly abates, leaving the musicians suspended in open space, and navigating their way out by constructing a fearless latticework of short filigrees of sound that builds a bridge to a satisfying conclusion. This was another fine Perelman album, one out of an embarrassment of riches that he has given to music fans this year. He sounds very excited at the prospect of playing with new people in addition to familiar faces, and this should ensure that he has many more surprises on the horizon. Scalene -

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Jason Stein Quartet - Lucille! (Delmark, 2017)

Jason Stein specializes in the bass clarinet, the unwieldy yet beautiful instrument that Eric Dolphy popularized in the 1960’s. Stein’s work nods to Dolphy’s groundbreaking music, especially the angular beauty of his Out to Lunch album, but he has developed a unique and personal approach to the instrument that is all his own. He is joined on this session by Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, Joshua Abrams on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This is an excellent album of bracing modern jazz that mixes original compositions with thoughtful covers and cover a wide dynamic range from spacious and abstract through to blistering fire music. "Marshmallow" opens the album with tight bass and drum playing setting a fast pace for the two reed instruments to harmonize over and then to break out into solo formations. Stein plays a fast paced feature moving adroitly within the thicket of rhythm provided by the bass and drums. Jackson's saxophone is an excellent foil for the bass clarinet, making for an excellent full band improvisation and theme. There is a darker and more angular feel to "Halls and Rooms" with the group exploring the music at a medium tempo. The space allows the reeds to stretch out and offer interesting textures while being gently framed by bass and drums. The pace slowly grows toward a collective improvisation, then backing out for an expressive and emotional tenor saxophone solo. "Roused About" has an active and complex feeling with the clarinet and drums circling and engaging with each other, slowly raising the stakes before the band breaks into a strutting and memorable theme. The musicians build from the riff into a confident and witty bass clarinet feature, working with the other instruments to for an excellent performance. There is a patient medium tempo established on "Wow" that quickly moves into a complex and nimble thematic statement. This makes for excellent source material for the horns to improvise on and they do so in an admirable fashion. There is a muscular section on "Little Rootie Tootie" that was very exciting and unexpected, adding a dose of free playing to contrast against the memorable melody. The album concludes with "April," a thoughtful and carefully played melody, with a fine feature for Stein's bass clarinet, it shows how well rounded his music and this album is, encompassing melodies and rhythms that support the natural growth of the music. His conception of small group modern jazz is a fine one, and this album deserves to be widely heard. Lucille -

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

5th Annual NPR / Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll Ballot

Your choices for this year’s 10 best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten. 
1. Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM, 2017)
2. Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed, 2017)
3. CP Unit - Before the Heat Death (Clean Feed Records, 2017)
4. Barry Altschul 3dom Factor - Live in Krakow (NotTwo, 2017)
5. Angles 9 - Disappeared Behind the Sun (Clean Feed Records, 2017)
6. Rodrigo Amado / Goncalo Almeida / Marco Franco - The Attic (NoBusiness Records, 2017)
7. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar - Escalator (NotTwo, 2017)
8. Ivo Perelman - The Art of Perelman - Shipp Volume 4: Hyperion (Leo Records, 2017)
9. Bobby Zankel and the Wonderful Sound 6 - Celebrating William Parker at 65 (NotTwo, 2017)
10. Francois Carrier / Rafal Mazur / Michel Lambert - Oneness (FMR Records, 2017)

Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order.
1. David S. Ware Trio - Live in New York, 2010 (AUM Fidelity, 2017)
2. Thelonious Monk ‎– Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records, 2017)
3. Jaco Pastorius - Truth, Liberty and Soul (Resonance Records, 2017)

Your choice for the year's best Vocal album
Jen Shyu - Song of Silver Geese (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Your choice for the year's best Debut album
Jamie Branch - Fly Or Die (International Anthem, 2017)

Your choice for the year’s best Latin jazz album
Richie Cole - Latin Lover (Richie Cole Presents, 2017)

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Nick Fraser - Is Life Long? (Clean Feed, 2017)

An experienced drummer and composer, Nick Fraser has played with a wide range of jazz luminaries in addition to leading his own projects. On this album he leads a quartet along with Tony Malaby on saxophones, Andrew Downing on cello and Rob Clutton on bass. The album opens with "Quicksand" which features long tones of saxophone met by droning bows and brushes, finally coalescing into a river of ominous sound. Malaby's saxophone becomes slow and mournful, as the cello and bass keep pace, before the group suddenly breaks into a fully improvised section, led by swooping and snapping strings. There is a cracking drumbeat and raw strings, with ripe and potent sax engaging them all in a collective dialogue that raises the pace and volume. This is followed by "Disclosure," riding thick bass and high pitched saxophone into the light, creating nimble interplay with quick flutters and bleats of sound, the instruments grinding and wheeling around one another as if it were a vast musical machine. The music finally breaks out into a scalding improvised section, with withering saxophone, taut strings and skittering drums. "Empathy" opens with strings playing in a stoic bowed fashion, accompanied by tenor saxophone, fleshing out Fraser's atmospheric composition, as the music moves gracefully forward. The full band come together as one organism, engaged in the music and the moods it is creating, as raw saxophone and bowed instruments stride aside fractured rhythm. There is a subtle melody with brushes strings and harmonizing horns on "Skeleton." Resonant bowed bass supports he group, as the cello dances between bass and percussion, constantly in motion and moving back to a thoughtfully presented quartet arrangement, one that allows a much deserved saxophone feature that Malaby lashes forward with strong intent. "Arachnid" presents music that is buzzing and grows via snappy drumming alongside tight saxophone and strings. Thick bulbous bass and clattering drumming add wit to the performance while the cello develops wry commentary. Malaby breaks out with another great blustery saxophone solo, his playing dark toned and fierce. There is a strong collective improvisation with space for cello to drop curtains of sound, sprinting to the finish. Finally, "The Predictor" closes the album, building a soft slight opening for spare light saxophone with feathery drumming in open space. The music is calm and spare, with the instruments in space evoking moans of cello and saxophone like lost spirits in the void. Soft saxophone swirls and eddies pivot around drums and strings, and the music develops in pace and volume making for an excellent improvised section, emotionally dense and packed with information. This was a very solid album, Fraser's use of cello and bass allows for the development of some interesting, wide ranging textures and the emotional resonance of Tony Malaby's saxophones makes for an excellent foil for the strings and drums. Is Life Long? -

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Anthony Braxton - Quintet (Basel) 1977 (HatOLOGY 2000, 2016)

Anthony Braxton led one his most interesting bands on this exciting live recording. He plays sopranino and alto saxophone along with clarinet in the company of an all-star group featuring George Lewis on trombone, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Charles "Bobo" Shaw on drums. Braxton was at the height of his powers during this period, touring the world and recording widely in a variety of configurations. On this album Braxton negotiates four lengthy compositions and improvisations with fellow AACM luminaries Lewis and Abrams while Shaw and Helias take on the role of an imaginative rhythm section, allowing to music to move from blustery post-bop, to squalls of free jazz and abstract wide open improvisation. Braxton is a wonder, switching from alto saxophone, where you can hear how he fits in the legacy of the instrument from Charlie Parker to Eric Dolphy to Braxton, playing accessible jazz and avant-garde music with aplomb. The high pitched sopranino saxophone which is relatively rare in jazz provides a bracing blast of pure sound, which can pierce through the band or float freely over it. His clarinet moves in the same manner, demonstrating his grip on the entirety of the jazz tradition. The band is with Braxton every step of the way, and Lewis is a master improviser, playing sweeping swathes of sound, with brassy bleats and complex solos that allows the music to develop a complex web. The recently passed Muhal Richard Abrams is a wonder on this album, playing thoughtful, architectural piano to support the group and taking a bright and shining tone to his featured sections. Helias and Shaw keep the engine purring, weaving absorbing and complicated rhythmic patterns that take Braxton’s compositions and reflect them back keeping the possibilities of engagement with the music fresh and exciting. These are the contributions of the individual musicians, but it as a cohesive whole that the music is at its most powerful. It’s a band of leaders that gets behind Braxton’s vision of jazz and progressive music, and brings the compositions to life with clarity and develops impressive improvisational sections that are challenging yet accessible. The music is very impressive and complex but enjoyable to listen to and it flows seamlessly developing a variety of different tempos and feelings of consistency and substance. No matter how complicated or out the music seems be these compositions and improvisations remain grounded in the tradition and spirit of jazz.  Quintet (Basel) 1977 -

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Live in Brussels (Leo Records, 2017)

The partnership of tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Earlier this year Leo Records released the seven disc collection called The Art of Perelman - Shipp which celebrated their music in many different configurations, and this fall there has been another batch release of six more excellent Perelman titles, five with Shipp on piano, including this excellent two-disc set recorded at L'Archiduc in Brussels in May of 2017. The music evolves over the course of two sets and a brief encore in a manner that befits two longstanding friends and collaborators, as they play with each other, at each other and occasionally around each other for brief unaccompanied segments. Opening "Set 1 Part 1" builds a graceful and spacious feel, as the musicians develop a deeply lyrical and thoughtful setting that allows Shipp to stretch out for a melodically grounded solo before rejoining Perelman to build the pace and structure of the music. They make the most of the open space, gliding across the surface of the music, while gradually increasing the intensity with Shipp extending his reach to encompass the entirety of the keyboard and Perelman casting shards of sound into the growing tempest. "Set 1 Part 2" delves deeper into the music, with percussive motifs and longer, more sultry and languid tones allowing the music to develop and breathe of its own accord. Perelman develops long crying tones of emotionally charged sound over Shipp's grounded and meticulous piano chords, and the music becomes deeply powerful and dynamic, before re-entering a section of mysterious quiet, leading to a nimble and thoughtful conclusion. The gentle opening of "Set 2" moodily seems to nod ever so slightly to Monk's "Round Midnight," developing a late night lonely feel before becoming more tart and cutting as the volume and intensity rises. Shipp plays deep dark chords, while Perelman responds with long peals of sound, wrenched from his very soul. The music is erudite and quite beautiful, as Perelman demonstrates by developing an unaccompanied section of tenor saxophone that stretches the jazz legacy from Lester Young to Albert Ayler and beyond to the stars. They return together as the music bobs and weaves, ebbs and flows like a river or stream of pure sound, roaring into the silence and carving it with passion and great dignity. This is another excellent album from Shipp and Perelman, they are a duo that never rests on their laurels, always challenging themselves and their audiences to reach for bigger and better things. Live In Brussels -

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Film: Chasing Trane - The John Coltrane Documentary (10 Spot Films, 2017)

Chasing Trane is a good biographical documentary film about the legendary saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. It combines concert footage with some genuinely touching rarely seen home movies along with interviews of musicians who were his contemporaries and those of later generations along with family members and various luminaries and interested parties. Denzel Washington reads the words of John Coltrane with grace and reverence while former President Bill Clinton and the foremost collector of John Coltrane memorabilia (a Japanese gentleman whose name escapes me) stand in for the legion of Coltrane fans. The film examines his life in chronological order from his birth in North Carolina and move to Philadelphia where he began to play in earnest. Following a stint in the Navy, he began to play in as many groups as possible to gain experience and after a few years he found a home in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band. This was a great opportunity but it came with a price as he began to experiment with heroin at this time. There are some very interesting interviews of contemporaries Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson who comment on the talent and learning ability as well as Wynton Marsalis pontificating and Cornell West places Coltrane in a historical context. He joined Miles Davis’ band in 1955, relentlessly searching, only to be fired when the heroin overtook him. Through a herculean act of self will, he kicked cold turkey, as told in a heartfelt interview with his stepdaughter. After taking part in an apprenticeship with Thelonious Monk, he rejoined Miles has in 1957 and took off on the ferocious ten year journey that awaited him. At this point in the film there is more archival film footage that can be used of Coltrane with Miles and his own bands. The interview sessions with Santana and John Densmore are sincere, but the rock musicians add little to the tale as Coltrane reaches his creative peak with A Love Supreme. The last few years of his life saw him stretching further out into free jazz and while some of the interview subjects have trouble following him into that uncharted territory, fellow musicians like Golson and Wayne Shorter stand in awe of his trailblazing ability. The film ends on an elegiac note with him passing far to young, but with the understanding that his music and spirit will live on as long as humans have music. This was an enjoyable and well done biographical film, presenting a well rounded look at Coltrane’s life and achievements in a way that should satisfy long time fans and intrigue newcomers. Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary -

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Interesting Links 11/19/2017

The Village Voice profiles saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders.
Phil Freeman offers recommended jazz of 2017 in Stereogum.
The Guardian asks: Free improvisation: still the ultimate in underground music?
The Guardian also investigates the so-called demons and obsessions of jazz genius Thelonious Monk
NPR looks back at the classic recordings that Sonny Rollins made at the Village Vanguard.
NPR also provides a thoughtful eulogy for the departed pianist and AACM leader Muhal Richard Abrams.
Hank Shteamer celebrates guitarist John McLaughlin's final tour of the USA.
John Corbett pans a lengthy article about one of his favorite subjects, Sun Ra.
The Quietus reports on a recent performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Ethan Iverson writes about Thelonious Monk on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Charles Gayle / Giovani Barcella / Manolo Cabras - Live in Belgium (el NEGOCITO Records, 2017)

This is an exciting free jazz album featuring Charles Gayle on tenor saxophone and piano, Giovani Barcella on drums and percussion and Manolo Cabras on bass. The music presented here was selected from the live concerts in Brussels in January 2015. At nearly eighty, Gayle is playing as strongly and inventively as ever, blowing swift winds of raw tenor and rippling piano over ripe bass and drums. The album opens with "Chiaro Sguardo" which is an excellent track where taut elastic bass and a strong rhythmic sense give Gayle the support he needs to take flight in a blustery and immediate tenor saxophone solo. Gayle has led a difficult life from Buffalo to the streets and then to a hard won respect as an elder statesman of modern jazz, and that pain, strife and grace all come through in his playing. The music plows forth in an exciting fashion with rolling drums and scouring saxophone held together by excellent bass playing. There is a direct and uninhibited sensibility to their playing and the act of improvisation, a connection to each other and the act of spontaneous creation. "Tears" shows Gayle playing in a slow and scouring mode, showing kinship with the early sixties recordings of Albert Ayler, and he plows this fertile soil amidst fractured and uncertain bass and drums which allow him the freedom to express himself in such a way. The music is deeply emotional, it cries and sobs in a harrowing manner, but maintains a deeps sense of dignity throughout. The trio comes out hard again on "Di Piccola Taglia," returning to a fast paced collective improvisation, and it is an exciting meeting with their combined energy propelling the musicians, as a full band forward as they play aggressive free jazz, with Gayle encouraged by Cabras and Barcella to really dig in. Tenor, bass and drums rhythmically connected in the fray, setting off wildly screaming tenor saxophone solos, before Gayle steps aside for a nice drum interlude to end the selection. He takes to the piano on "Dimmi" playing in a spiritedly nimble manner that works well with snatches of cymbals and deeply rooted bass playing. Gayle is a natural at the piano, and indeed it was his first instrument as a young man. The influence of Bud Powell, Monk and Cecil Taylor bubble up in his sound, but it is clearly his own vision that leads the group into perilous open territory and through the other side in grand fashion. "Steps" hints at the John Coltrane classic "Giant Steps" in the theme Gayle establishes on saxophone, but he quickly moves into a driving improvisation, pulling the bassist and drummer with him into the slipstream. Gayle roars into the mix, and the trio makes for a perfect vehicle for exploring this fast paced modern jazz, grounded in a classic form. There is a frenetic interplay between the saxophone and drums, creating a very exciting rhythmic framework. The musicians are deeply committed to their art and the cooperative approach keeps the music intact, and this leads to a fine conclusion of a very exciting and rewarding recording. Live in Belgium -

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Friday, November 17, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 (Audiographic Records, 2017)

The third in a series of albums performed by Elisabeth Harnik on piano, Didi Kern on drums and Ken Vandermark reeds, collectively known as the DEK Trio. This album was recorded at Divadlo 29 in the Czech Republic, in March of 2017 and like their previous recording, this one has the format of two long, wide ranging improvisations and then a shorter palate cleansing closer. This album opens with the bracing "Cold Water Shock" where Vandermark plays alarm like saxophone in an excellent circular breathing pattern chased by shards of piano chords and fractured drumming which makes for a very exciting improvisation. They are a really tight and truly collective band with the tenor saxophone and drums turning up the heat, and the piano leading the group into a spacious middle ground against spare saxophone with popping accents and ghostly percussion. Vandermark leads the charge out of this relative quiet, drawing on a reservoir of power and strength framed by rippling piano and drums. The final passage of this performance has an arresting rawness to it, moving to a very exciting conclusion, which features blasting saxophone along side a boiling cauldron of piano and drums. "Accident Technique" takes a different approach, with subtle pops of bass clarinet (?) brushed percussion and prepared piano hanging in space. Long soft tones of reed hang in the air amidst subtle keyboard and spectral drumming. Returning to saxophone (I think) Vandermark offers swirls and squeals against the strums from the inside of the piano, making for a unique and unusual sound. The music draws in on itself like a figure skater spinning faster and faster through centrifugal force, gaining momentum for a very exciting final movement of this piece with some very interesting percussive piano holding its own against primal saxophone and drumming before the music drops off suddenly to conclude as quietly as it began. The album finishes up with "Falling Technique" which begins as a spacious three-way conversation which then flares up and disappears mysteriously. There is a great section of focused and intense improvisation with peals of cutting saxophone against stark shards of piano and percussion before gradually winding down and then out. This was another excellent and challenging album from the DEK Trio, their fourth in under a year. They create stimulating, interesting, and thought-provoking music that has an abundant amount of power and grace. Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 - Audiographic Records.

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