Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl Records, 2017)

The music of drummer and composer Kate Gentile is highly improvisational in nature with modern jazz intertwined with influences ranging from classical music to punk and metal. The team she brings together is more than capable with Jeremy Viner on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and electronics and Adam Hopkins on bass. They open the album with a soundscape called "Stars Covered in Clouds of Metal" which uses heavy and oppressive electronics and drumming to set an unusual and interesting mood. There is some tightly wound saxophone that emerges from the murk, but then is overwhelmed by the sheer massiveness of the sound. A choppy theme which is developed on "Trapezoidal Nirvana" is complex but engaging. The band weaves through a group of rhythmic ideas made up of discrete parts or elements. There is a section for piano led rhythm section that tumbles forward, leading to a section of spacious nearly free improvisation. They build back to a headlong rush of sound with the music growing in scale and power. "Wrack" features excellent bass and drums work, underpinning the piano and saxophone which push forward with a fast theme and variation. Viner solos nicely, getting different gradients of tone from his instrument, from breathy asides to stoic, sure footed blowing. Mitchell dances across the keys in a light and nimble fashion, zipping through a breathless improvisation with the bass and drums nipping at his heels. The blistering "Cardiac Logic" is a short collective improvisation for the quartet, with Gentile setting an memorable tone that allows for the use of electronics, woven into the performance, and an off-kilter rhythm that suits the nature of the music well. Crashing piano chords and deep thick low-end piano playing are present on "Alchemy Melt [With Tilt]" and Mitchell is very impressive setting an ominous tone for the music, with the drums and very subtle electronics moving in. There are cascades of notes, gradually opening into a quieter section, as the saxophone gradually folds in. This performance and the closing one, "Ssgf" are long and winding improvisations, that will envelop sub themes, and solos of varying length. This is handled very well, and it is to Gentile's credit that the music remains exciting and engaging throughout the album. Consisting of many different and connected parts, everything comes together nicely for a coherent and thoughtful album of modern jazz. Mannequins - Bandcamp.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble Feat. Vijay Iyer - Transient Takes (Ernest Dawkins, 2017)

Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins and his band the New Horizons Ensemble encompass the history of modern jazz within their playing with Dawkins on saxophones, Isaiah Spencer on bass and Junius Paul on drums along with pianist Vijay Iyer, who is a guest on this session. The music moves easily from tight hard bop to ecstatic free jazz with a clear sense of purpose beginning with "Dawkness" which comes on strong to open the album with ripe saxophone and potent playing from the rhythm section. They set up a very solid modern jazz improvisation, with the saxophone repeating figures to gain momentum and then launching into an impressive solo. Drums are muscular and pounding, driving the music forward in an exciting manner. As the saxophone drops out the rhythm becomes more pliant, developing a relaxed groove that works quite well. Dawkins comes back in with some urgency, pushing the music forward and developing a sense of propulsion the suits the music quite well, as he stretches the boundaries of modern jazz with overblowing, before fading to a stop. Yearning saxophone opens "And the Light" making for a heady atmosphere, building a punchy theme that has percussive piano and drumming setting the stage for the saxophone to leap into action with tart flurries of notes that are raw and scalding in their action. There is a fine piano solo, with Iyer pulling at the fabric of the music while it continues to swing. The steely sounding saxophone returns, enveloping the rhythm section and demanding more, taking the full band's improvisation into deeper and harsher terrain. "Simultaneous Realities Of A Parallel Universe" is a mouthful, but it is a wonderful performance with very fast paced piano, bass and drums adding an earnest and persistent quality; insisting that the music push onward with a riffing horns adding spice, and then rushing ahead to a powerful statement bracketed by pummelling drums and thick stoic bass. The sharply swinging "South Side Breakdown" encompases the brawny history of Chicago jazz with its swaggering rhythm framing another fine piano interlude played with great discipline and control. Lighter toned saxophone moves in, weaving around the soundscape, carving a very impressive furrow through the rhythmic foundation. The music drops out to a very impressive feature for the bassist, as the band shares the spotlight throughout this lengthy improvisation. "Transient Sounds" shows the band at their most out, with strident free playing making quite an impression, with the rawness of the saxophone meeting a skittering free for all accompaniment creating a collective improvisation of great nerve and stamina. It's a blowout of epic proportions, with relentless pummelling drums and squalls of torrential saxophone. This was an excellent album of modern jazz, and Dawkins is deserving of more attention as a saxophonist and bandleader, bringing together heavyweights with young burgeoning talent and creating excellent music in the process. Ernest Dawkins' Bandcamp Page.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter, composer and theorist Wadada Leo Smith has spent his life in search of new sounds and teaching and interpreting those sounds for the benefits of students, fans and mankind as a whole. Originally from Mississippi, he moved north, settling in Chicago, becoming active in the AACM, developing his own distinctive approach to composition and improvisation, eventually landing teaching jobs at respected universities and conservatories. One benefit of being in larger cities and musical communities was the ability to see other musical iconoclasts like Thelonious Monk in performance and to collect his records for future study. Monk's completely original approach to music became very important to Smith as his own performing and recording style developed, which eventually led to this solo trumpet meditation on the works of Monk as well as several Smith compositions written under the influence of Monk and his legacy. Trumpet must be one of the most difficult instruments to play unaccompanied, but Smith makes it feel completely natural, playing with a rich, golden tone that brings light to each of the performances on this album. The music is thoughtful and unhurried, sounding like the distillation of decades spent composing, playing, teaching and listening. This leads to a state of grace which imbues this recording with a nearly spiritual sensibility, an approach that works well on interpretations of Monk compositions like "Ruby My Dear" and "Reflections," which retain the rich wit and off kilter nature as the originals while using the trumpet to further interpret the music from Smith's own conception. His Monk dedicated originals, such as "Monk and his Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe" recalls the awesome live stand Monk held at that cafe with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. "Adagio: Monk, the Composer in Sepia - A Second Vision" and "Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium - A Mystery" take the form of short stories or vignettes which try to make sense of the man and musician who was often inscrutable in his methods and mannerisms. This album ends with a heartrendingly lovely version of one of Thelonious Monk's most well known compositions, "Round Midnight." The noirish sensibility of the music and the interpretation of the source material make for a fine summation of Smith's music on this recording. He draws the listener into a insular, personal world that not only makes you appreciate the the interpretive and compositional abilities of Smith, but makes you reevaluate the music of Thelonious Monk, taking this beyond a mere tribute into a treatise on the life and times of one musical great by another. Solo - Reflections And Meditations On Monk - amazon.com

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed, 2017)

Who says outsider music can't be fun? Cortex has become one of the best bands on the modern jazz scene and a personal favorite. (In fact, their Live in New York release was my album of the year for 2016.) The band consists of Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Kristoffer Alberts on saxophones, Ola Høyer on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums. The album's opening track "Grinder" develops confidently with brash horns and crisp rhythm, with a saxophone breaking out for an emotionally resonant solo, raw and acid toned, met by manic drumming that forces the music inexorably forward. There is crisp full band interplay, developing the music further, akin to the classic Ornette Coleman quartet and subsequently launching a punchy and powerful trumpet feature, blasting the music into the stratosphere. An urgent fanfare from the horns launches the track "Chaos" with the stop and go theme leading into a ripe trumpet and drums section that is thrilling in its intensity. Not to be outdone, Alberts takes off on an inspired feature of his own, with a deep toned and well articulated saxophone solo, reaching for ecstasy in the music of pure energy. The thick bass is the glue that holds them together as the rip into the choppy finale. "(If You Were) Mac Davis" is a fast and furious full band opening, a collective improvisation that is very loud and exciting, destroying everything in their path. The raw throated saxophone and punishing drums are particularly evident, with the full band as tight as the classic Masada line up, developing little snatches of themes that open wide lanes of inventive improvisation. There is a taut and powerful trumpet section then the two horns intertwine over propulsive bass and drums in a thrilling full band blowout. There is a stoic melody to "Disturbance" that develops lyrically with the horns harmonizing over a tight rhythm. A tightly coiled trumpet solo develops, crisply hitting the notes and interacting with the bass and drums. They come together for a loopy and fun conclusion, lightening the mood back to party mode. "Obverse / Reverse" develops a choppy and urgent theme with a deeply felt bass feature that ties everything together. Nilssen's drum solo is a personal statement that rolls forward dynamically and relentlessly like a force of nature. The closer is "Off Course" with some punishing drum work to open the piece. The bass and horns roar in with an exciting fanfare, letting loose a torrential saxophone solo, that has a paint-peeling texture to it. It sets up a blistering saxophone, bass and drums blowout that finally ebbs and everyone falls i together to stick the landing, closing out a superb album of modern jazz in grand style. Don't sleep on this, it's one of the best albums of the year, and this band is unstoppable. Avant-Garde Party Music - amazon.com

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind Recordings, 2017)

This album competes an excellent series of records which combine modern jazz with aspects of the music of guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi's south Asian ancestry. Accompanying him on this album are Vijay Iyer on piano, Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Dan Weiss on drums and guest Elizabeth Mikhael on cello. "Propensity" charges confidently out of the gate with fluid guitar playing and a complex yet accessible rhythm. Mahanthappa takes a very fast and exciting solo playing long, rippling sequences of notes that have a tart, citrus flavor. Abbasi's solo paints at the edges of the performance, gradually filling up space, urged along by percussive piano and thick bass and drums. Iyer plays a delicate solo that becomes very fine in texture and structure, leading the full band back to a rousing conclusion. There is as effects laden guitar solo on "Thoughts," with the unusual sounds creating a very interesting landscape. His tone becomes clearer on "Thin-King" leading the band into a lush and full sounding performance. The music is able to shift in tempo and volume, creating a dynamic tension that propels Mahanthappa to a short burst of saxophone, followed by the remainder of the band improvising together, with the lightning fast saxophone juxtaposed against the rhythm section, with a well played bass solo woven in for good measure. "Agree to Disagree" adds the cello for a peacefully rinsing opening statement that gathers speed quickly, as the band develops an expressive and imaginative improvisation. Thick bass with skittering drums and lush piano makes for a fine combination, the other half of the band re-joins them for music that is created and performed with spontaneity and vigor. There is another captivating saxophone solo, and a guitar feature that has with a particularly impressive quality. Finally "Dance Number" has a sultry melody that leads to music which is played with strength and vitality. Abbasi's guitar solo is intricate and graceful, leading to another fine saxophone feature, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape in a grand and impressive fashion. Dropping out to spacious piano and bass, the music moves forward in a elegant manner, regaining volume and stature in its conclusion. Overall, this album worked quite well, it was an admirable display of skill that is worthy of respect and widespread attention. Unfiltered Universe - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition - Agrima (rudreshm.com, 2017)

Riding high from his appointment at Princeton University as Director of Jazz and Musical Performance and a Downbeat Magazine cover story, alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa re-convenes his band the Indo-Pak Coalition with Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss on drums and tabla for their first release since the Apti album which came out in 2008. The music on the album takes its sound from the Indian sub-continent with the intricacy of modern jazz and a boost of rock energy to make for a unique and compelling sound. "Snap" has a twisting and turning saxophone melody with deeply rhythmic tabla/drums combination and guitar framing the performance. Mahanthappa's saxophone is altered by electronics at times, allowing him to create a wider range of sounds for his compositions and improvisations, and allowing the music to develop a hypnotic quality. These fusion aspects are understated and thoughtful, and never overwhelm the music. The title track "Agrima" has Weiss developing a funky beat under streams of electronically processed music, which acts as the foundation for the saxophone and guitar to lift off from. Their trio improvisation is quite colorful and compelling, driving forward while leaving space for the music to breathe and grow, amidst sections of saxophone led thematic statements. "Rasikapriya" is a absorbing and exciting performance, one that develops a sense of urgency with a rhythm that changes in position and direction, developing a sense of dynamism that allows the music to shift between well articulated solos and abstraction. The lengthy track "Revati" allows the music to emerge from electronically manipulated sounds into a three way conversation that gradually builds in volume and intensity. This album was very good and the changes which the group added including a modified drum/tabla setup and greater use of electronics allow the them to work with a wider scope in their compositions and improvisations. Agrima - rudreshm.com

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kyle Bruckmann's Degradient - Dear Everyone (NotTwo, 2017)

Combining sections of free jazz with electro-acoustic improvisation and and poetic recitation within a tight framework, Degradient features the leader, Kyle Bruckmann, playing oboe, English horn and electronics, Aram Shelton on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, Jason Hoopes on electric bass and Jordan Glenn on percussion with Weston Olencki on trombone and several people reading the poetry of Matt Shears aloud. "Overt? Sure" opens the album in a very spacious manner then blasts into sections of loud collective improvisation, using crushing drums and blistering horns, interspersed by brief pauses, and sections of spoken recitation. "Excisions, Autocorrections" is a brief track that uses powerfully played bass as it's foundation, supporting the weight of the horns and drums. A muscular saxophone solo develops with a tight and strident tone and approach, making use of the thermals provided by the bass and drums to really soar. There is a cacophony of voices on "Predictable Epiphanies" with curls of bass clarinet and electronics. The instruments weave within and frame these spoken word sections, which pile up upon one another as squeaks and squeals of the reeds play off against the voices. The instrumentalists re-assert control on "Things to Fear, Include" which has deep bass and drums interacting with meaty and substantial horn playing. It's a fine modern jazz blowout and serves as a much needed respite from the voices, anchored by a slashing drum solo and squiggly electronics. There is a funky blend of electronics and horns on "Sound Byte Culture" with the readers piling words upon one another. There are hints of call and response, and also of avant-garde music and spoken word experiments like "The Murder Mystery" by The Velvet Underground followed by a choppy instrumental ending. "Elements Include" have cut-up poetic recitation juxtaposed by pile-driving instrumental sections, and skittish percussion with electronics, while "Incursive Recursions" has deep booming bass and serious horns setting the tone for the track. Alarming electronics add further color to the soundscape, as the drums provide a massive beat and the horns blare. Declamatory poetry opens "Significant Details" with instrumental sounds popping up, ranging from a quickly played note to a short blasts of collective improvisation. "Despite the Facts" is a short and moody track, with languorous spoken word, the speaker seemingly broken by life, while "Poetry is Not Political" has growled and scatted sounds against bass and drums. "Eccretions/Arosions" has the full band back in play with an angular theme that recalls Eric Dolphy's work, leading into an impressive electric bass solo. The collective improvisation that follows in exciting and engaging. "Commissive Obpulsions" pumps up the electronics to distort and alter both words and music, with smears of sound offset by percussion and spoken word, creating an interesting performance. The album is concluded with "Recessional and Postlude," which develops a quiet and stoic, even ominous sound, framing the poetry with deep resonance. This is an occasionally exhausting double album, but it impresses due to its experimental nature and the hard work on behalf of the musicians and readers, and ultimately it is a successful project. Dear Everyone - amazon.com

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Brandon Seabrook - Die Trommel Fatale (New Atlantis, 2017)

Guitarist Brandon Seabrook is a very interested and multi-faceted musician, one who fits in no genre comfortable box, but that can contribute in any form, or lack thereof. He seems to be the most engaged when combining all types of music from folk to heavy metal and this particular laboratory experiment shows him blending the aspects of many different types of music in the company of Chuck Bettis on electronics and vocalization, Dave Treut and Sam Ospovat on drums, Markia Hughes on cello and Eivind Opsvik on bass. The music comes for the most part in unsubtle waves of torrential noise, with some spots left open for eerie and haunting abstraction. This album uses a great variety in its rhythmic presentation investigating the way in which these instruments can be used together when freed from their traditional roles. "Rhizomatic" is one of the more open ended and spacious of the performances with subtle brushing of the drums met by spare guitar and cello and spooky swirls of electronics. "Abscessed Pettifogger" has sampled and chopped up voice and electronics along with dynamic cello and bass moving in and out of phase while creating a wide palette of instrumental color. The full band engages in cut-up almost Naked City like improvisations at their harshest point, but like Zorn's group, they are off in a different ADD dimension before the dust can settle. The centerpiece of the album is the track "Shamans Never RSVP" which opens with quieter cello and guitar setting a mysterious feel while operatic sounds are barely heard circling around like a bad dream. Drums enter as the volume of the music begins to rise, exploding into an angular improvisation that lurches and claws its way forward, letting loose a ferocious drum solo toward the end. Part One of "The Greatest Bile" comes at a ferocious pace with Bettis' vocals adding an element of terror that is reflected by a scalding guitar solo and taut bass section. Part Two retains the funhouse feel, with garbled vocal sounds, and torrential band playing. Menacing and propulsive, there's little in contemporary music that sounds like this group. Their antecedents likely lie in the world of heavy metal or experimental noise, but this shouldn't discourage the open eared from checking out this unusual album. Die Trommel Fatale - amazon.com

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Friday, October 06, 2017

Matt Mitchell - A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Pianist Matt Mitchell has already made his mark on 2017 with an excellent album of solo interpretations from the Tim Berne songbook. This album goes in the opposite direction entirely, gathering a large ensemble of some of the finest talent on the progressive jazz scene for a wildly imaginative collection of music. Mitchell plays a wide range of keyboards and also develops solo electronic soundscapes on four occasions beginning with the opener “Bulb Terminus.” The music explodes vividly into color on the following track “Plate Shapes” which bursts into view with a fascinating opening that recalls some of Andrew Hill's most expressive work. Saxophonists simmer in the music while Mitchell adds urgent, percussive piano. There is a complex rhythm with percussion, vibes and bass which develops the foundation of the music and allows it to bring such unpredictable results. The ensemble passages get more dense as the instruments fill in with cries of saxophone and currents of percussion and drums. Some deep raw biting saxophone opens "Mini Alternate" giving the music a brawny swagger, and the rhythm section offers an interesting retort, building a choppy and muscular sensibility that pushes the music forward. "Brim" produces powerful colors and images with the full ensemble developing sounds that have varied hues and tones but which mesh perfectly. The dynamic nature of the music allows it to interweave sections of abstract tension into the overarching whole of the performance, creating music that is full of life and energy. Mitchell returns to the piano after a few more electronic experiments on "Gluts" with subtle bass and drums in support. Flute and quiet horns move in at the halfway point, melding with the piano trio and concluding the performance. "Heft" crashes in with a dramatic opening movement, and the passion of the musicians really comes to the fore, building a fantasia of sound and color that reaches the apex of their considerable creativity. This was a fine album of truly experimental jazz. The compositions and high quality playing of the band are very well aligned which allowed the music to reach its full fruition. A Pouting Grimace - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 05, 2017

Abdullah Ibrahim - Ancient Africa (Sackville/Delmark, 2017)

Abdullah Ibrahim (known early in his career as Dollar Brand) is an expatriate South African pianist, who was fortunate to escape the confines of the Apartheid government of that country, and to be sponsored by none other than Duke Ellington, who "Introduced" his first album. Ibrahim's distinctive piano style still retains aspects of township music, giving it an uplifting and joyful feeling, while hinting at jazz piano legends like Ellington, Monk and Powell. This is a disc of his solo playing, recorded in 1973, but released piecemeal in the succeeding years. The liner notes link him to Keith Jarrett, and there is some of the populist tone that Jarrett strikes in his early recordings, and Ibrahim also vocalizes with himself, albeit a bit more tunefully than Jarrett does. His playing can become deeply percussive, in the vein of McCoy Tyner, but overall he wears his influences lightly and develops a unique approach to improvisation that would in turn influence generations of musicians that followed him. The first two tracks on this album are actually multi-part suites, "Ancient Africa" and "The Aloe and the Wild Rose" and these performances were originally released on a Sackville Records LP called Sangoma they and are very impressive improvisations, which develop sub-themes as they go along, building the music logically and achieving an emotional resonance that is quite powerful. The third track on this album, "Cherry/Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro" was another LP side long suite, originally released on the Sackville Records album African Portraits. Presumably dedicated to Don Cherry and another close friend, Ibrahim uses bright and ringing chords to propel the music forward leading into a powerful improvisation that allows melodies to bubble up and move along as the performance sharpens into view. The final track on the album is the previously unreleased "Khotso" in which Ibrahim steps away from the piano, instead performing on bamboo flute and punctuating it with spoken word recitation. The flute has a haunting and spacious sound, punctuated by his soft and hypnotic voice which makes for a mysterious and thoughtful performance. This was an enjoyable album that consisted of music worthy of being re-issued and an outlier that will certainly captivate fans of Ibrahim's music. Ancient Africa - amazon.com

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Blue Note All-Stars - Our Point of View (Blue Note, 2017)

The Blue Note label has put together some all star bands in the past, notably the New Directions group from 2000. This album as a new generation of players, featuring Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Robert Glasper on keyboards, Derrick Hodge on bass, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Kendrick Scott on drums and Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone. The focus is still the same, seamless ensemble playing and potent solo's on a mix of originals and label standards. "Cycling Through Reality" has a crisp beat, and the bright, well articulated horns fall into line, opening the path for fine solos beginning with a gutsy tenor spotlight, and cycling through to a strong trumpet feature. There are spots for synth solos that seem a little out of place but when the rhythm team takes command, they are very tight and power the music forward in a clean and direct manner. Wayne Shorter's classic "Witch Hunt" gets a massive seventeen minute plus blowout. The theme is instantly recognizable, and the musicians make the most of it, with the excellent group playing and range of declamatory solo statements making this the centerpiece and highlight of the album. "Second Sight" develops a relaxed mid-tempo swing, sounding for all the world like a classic Blue Note hit from the 1960's just tweaked a little for guitar and snappy drumming. They bring in a couple of ringers by the names of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter on "Masquelero" ramping up from a spacey opening with the horns easing in keeping the mysterious air to the music while teasing the melody. It's a very free sounding performance circa the '69 Miles Davis band, short solos bubble up throughout the performance, but the focus is on the arrangement. There is a nice piano introduction to "Bayyinah" that leads into some fender rhodes playing over subtly shifting drumming. It's another long performance with skittish percussion and lots of rhythmic development. A nice saxophone solo finally breaks loose after the five minute mark, straining to cut loose and succeeding in an impressive manner. This album works well all told, and these musicians are clearly a seriously talented bunch, but there is little showboating, and they produce a listenable and accessible modern mainstream jazz album. Our Point Of View  - amazon.com

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Woody Shaw - The Tour: Volume Two (High Note, 2017)

The talent of the great trumpeter and composer Woody Shaw was realized quite young as a sideman to the likes of Eric Dolphy and Art Blakey. He was comfortable with both the jazz tradition and the notion of freer exploration, which he would explore as a leader and valued accompanist. This set is a compilation of performances recorded in different European cities between 1976 and 1977. The band that Shaw co-led with the drummer Louis Hayes also employed Junior Cook on tenor saxophone, Ronnie Mathews on piano and Stafford James on bass. It is a very good live set that is energetic during both the ensemble passages and some very impressive solos that are woven into the performances. They cover a nice cross section of modern mainstream jazz and hard bop on this album, beginning with the standard “All the Things You Are” which bristles with energy and impressive playing both in the full band passages and in the individual solos which are well conceived and logical. Shaw is one of the great unsung trumpeters of post war jazz and he develops an admirable tone and conceptual framework that is vital to the success of this recording. “A Night in Tunisia” is an inspired choice for this group, recalling the classic Dizzy Gillespie original and the version by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The rhythm section is hot, developing a powerful motor that drives Shaw as a soloist and the band as a whole to new heights. There is a moody and thoughtful version of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” which lowers the place a bit and allows Shaw and the band to build a thoughtful narrative using Monk’s tools to develop an emotional framework the suits both his genius and their talents admirably. “Some Other Blues” is a nice blowing vehicle which blasts out of the gate with a fast theme, opening up running room for punchy trumpet and seriously swinging drums. After a sparkling piano solo, the group comes together for a muscular send off. A powerful rhythmic current drives “Invitation” and serves as an excellent foundation for rippling horns, and particularly a very impressive tenor saxophone solo. Cook stretches out nicely and spontaneously builds a potent statement of great clarity and endurance. Not to be outdone, Shaw takes the baton for a blistering solo of his own, playing with great physical stamina at a riveting tempo. There is a more subtle tempo to “What’s New” in which Shaw uses a softly polished tone to tastefully solo over brushes and spare piano. This ends the set in fine fashion, focusing the listener's attention less on the spontaneous blowing and as on the lyrical acumen that Shaw and the band show in interpreting these selections. Woody Shaw was on the cusp of recognition that he well deserved in the wake of this tour. He would be signed to Columbia Records, producing the classic Rosewood LP among others. This disc shows why Shaw was so admired as a musician, his ability to solo imaginatively at any tempo and power a full band with his ensemble work is on display throughout this recording. The only knock on this album is that the sound quality can get a little rough at times, but the performances are compelling which overrides any aesthetic complaints. The Tour Volume Two - amazon.com

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Dave Douglas - Little Giant Still Life (Greenleaf, 2017)

This is an interesting collaboration between trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas and the brass quartet The Westerlies who consist of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensleron on trumpet and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, and the band is rounded out with Anwar Marshall on drums. "Champion" opens the album with uptempo brass riffing which frames a trumpet solo, before adding a more abstract middle section. There is some breakout drumming with solid soloing and accompaniment. Clean and tight ensemble playing that is brawny and broad shouldered is on display during "Arcade" with complex horn patterns and groups of horns playing off of one another. The music downshifts to another drum feature, before the horns respond with a choppy cadence, then take the tune out. "Little Giant Still Life" progresses from a weary mid tempo melody, set to a tight backbeat powering a trumpet solo soaring over growling brass. The brass calls everyone to order on "Percolator" and then an appealingly funky rhythm builds in. Horns weave in and out of the soundscape and develop a tight sense of interaction. "Bunting" shows the band using punchy jabs of brass and drums to create an interesting feeling, with the horns harmonizing nicely, the a trumpet breaking out and playing over the rest of the band with a bright solo. Soft horns join together on "Swing Landscape," playing in a meditative state joined by subtle percussive rhythm. Brass solos with framing horns and steady beat from the drums as the music fills out as the horns swell, softly filling out the sound of the music. "The Front Page" has a quiet opening, with the horns playing in space, building an arrangement which fills up the space in an unhurried manner. It is a subtle performance that paints the spaces with gradients of sound as the brass envelops the listener. Developing a fast pace, "Colonial Cubism" builds the tension with punchy brass and fine rhythm, as a trumpet out in front with a colorful solo statement ably supported by the remaining horns, then a punchy pinched trombone joins the fray giving the music a kick. "Codetta" and "Worlds Beyond the Sky" conclude the album, developing a spare and reverent feel as the horns play softly, moving the music at a very gentle pace, thoughtfully understated horns grow more urgent, with buttery sections working at a strong pace. Little Giant Still Life - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Rempis Percussion Quartet - Cochonnerie (Aerophonic, 2017)

The Rempis Percussion Quartet is a very exciting modern jazz group consisting of Dave Rempis on alto, baritone and tenor saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass and Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly on drums and percussion. This album was recorded in October of 2015 in Chicago and opens with the track "Straggler" which is a massive half hour plus performance with bright saxophone and thick bass supported by rattling percussion. They are eager to bust out and soar, but allow the music to develop organically, with raw and powerful saxophone employing a gritty and immediate tone that has a great potency to it. The two drummers produce an epic racket, seemingly at the brink of chaos, but always keeping the rhythm at hand. Haker-Flaten's bass works as a lubricant between the saxophone and drums, allowing the group to rev up to fearsome heights. This creates angular passages of free improvisation with towering and imposing saxophone leading the tumult at full volume. Group interplay is the focus of the track, and the musicians interlock with one and other very well, allowing the dynamics of the peace to dictate the volume and speed and adjusting accordingly. The performance moves through several sections, alternating quieter passages of bass and slight percussion to freely improvised cells that gradually transform into gales of torrential free jazz, as the horns buzz and soar and the rhythm section is complex and abstract while also earthy and grooving. There is a more spacious feeling to "Green and Black" with light saxophone echoing through space, and spare percussion keeping pace. There is taut bass on this track, allowing some groundedness while the music develops. The music is low in tone and ominous, like thunder rolling across the landscape. "Enzymes" picks up the pace with tart saxophone against rumbling drums, pushing forward relentlessly. Tight, intense sounds begin to flow, sounding like a massive wave of potential energy has been released in a powerful surge of collective improvisation. There is some very immersive playing, full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination. Space opens for a quieter but no less intricate section of bass and percussion, before Rempis rejoins the band in a thrilling sprint to the finish. This is vital, bracing music that is pushing the boundaries of modern jazz. It is full of energy and enthusiasm, and highly recommended. Cochonnerie - bandcamp.com.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

James Blood Ulmer and The Thing - Baby Talk (Trost Records, 2017)

The venerable Scandinavian free jazz supergroup The Thing consisting of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on electric and acoustic bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion has kept their music fresh though building some excellent meetings with fellow musicians and this meeting with the legendary guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer is another feather in their cap. "Interview" starts somewhat quietly with guitar and bass probing the silence, the drums build in as does some raw and exciting saxophone as the track takes flight. They build a muscular collective improvisation, that is very impressive. Ulmer played with Ornette Coleman early in his career, so he fits right in with The Thing and their conception of music. Vivid and sonically powerful guitar with rolling drums and ripe electric bass opens "High Yellow" with a great trio segment before Gustafsson's saxophone accelerates the performance into the stratosphere. He produces waves of guttural sound that infuses the music with even more energy. The band at full bore is spine tingling, and sets up a dynamic range of possibility that is perfect for this group, and gives their sound a powerful impact. The title track "Baby Talk" is opened with subtle and patient guitar and bass before the group comes together with a tight groove around Haker-Flaten's buoyant electric bass and framed by Gustafsson's uncompromising saxophone playing. The group develops a wide range of sounds which produce powerful a sense of strong, vivid instrumental colors. The album concludes with "Proof," another exploratory piece that allows Ulmer to set the pace with some starkly played guitar. Saxophone and bass sidle in, with waves of baritone saxophone and acoustic bass developing a uniquely stark feeling of a building storm. They move forward with a directness of purpose, as the combination of voices comes together to connect everything that has come before. This was an excellent collaboration and is was clearly a group effort, creating modern jazz that really shines. The music was very well conceived and it was executed at the highest level. Baby Talk - amazon.com

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Chris Speed Trio - Platinum on Tap (Intakt Records, 2017)

This is a very good album by the trio of Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Chris Tordini on bass, and Dave King on drums. The album was recorded live in Brooklyn in March of 2016 and opens with "Arrival High" which has an understated drum rhythm, and painterly strokes of saxophone and bass. There is spaciousness of sound, and whispers that gradually become more voluminous, transforming the music into  a dynamic partnership. Subtle bass and drums underpin "Crossfade Cradle" while Speed concocts a memorable melody with diverse sounds suitable for improvisation, leading the trio to proceed in an interesting performance. The trio works well together, responding to each other's movements with a cat like quickness that allows the music to shimmer with the percussion encircling the soundstage and bass and saxophone reacting to the changes in rhythm. "Crooked Teeth" shows the trio playing in an unfettered fashion, not quite free, but wide open,with exciting drumming and thick bass interacting with Speed's saxophone which has a slightly muffled and scratchy tone and allows tension to flourish within the improvisation. There is a raw undercurrent to this performance, a spontaneity that suits it well as it builds to an exciting conclusion. The brief "Torking" spins a interesting tale at a medium-up pace, with the character of the music coming through and they dive into a deeper more abstract section. The music becomes darker and denser, weaving it's way to a strong and supple finish. There is a very thoughtful version of Albert Ayler's "Spirits" to finish the album on a high note. This tight three way performance, which shows how deeply ingrained the musicians are, recalling the great Ayler-Peacock-Murray trio of the past while putting their own distinctive spin on the music. This album works very well, with the compactness of the compositions and playing demonstrating the qualities of coherence and sharpness of this talented trio. Platinum on Tap - amazon.com

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book: Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium by John Corbett (Duke University Press, 2017)

This book is a collection of Vinyl Freak columns that jazz scholar and record label owner John Corbett wrote for Downbeat Magazine from 2000-2012, about the rare vinyl records in his collection complete with color thumbnails of the albums in question. There is a short introductory section where he details his formative years as a teenager catching the vinyl bug and his years as a college radio DJ. The columns themselves are presented in chronological order with Corbett adding a postscript to each entry about whether the album in question had been reissued and the detailing the unexpected resurgence in popularity of vinyl records which rapidly increased as his column progressed. Corbett writes well, and he has done admirable research for each entry, noting the musicians involved in each album and details about the recording sessions, and short biographical sketches of the musicians. There is a whiff of snobbishness, but he’s earned it, and his collecting stories and enthusiasm for the music which is mostly, but not exclusively, free jazz and European free improvisation shines through. There is a chapter of capsule entries of some of the more obscure and valuable items in his collection (both monetarily and culturally) and then he concludes the book with the story of how he was able to come in possession of a huge cache of rare Sun Ra material from the estate of longtime Ra confidant Alton Abraham. Half jazz scholarship and half Storage Wars, it’s quite a yarn and brings together all of Corbett’s passions and ties up all of the books themes of collection, obsession, and giddy excitement in a fine conclusion. Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium - amazon.com

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Omri Ziegele Where's Africa - Going South (Intakt Records, 2017)

This is an interesting band led by Omri Ziegele on alto saxophone, Uzbek flute and vocals, accompanied by Yves Theiler on keyboards, reed organ, melodica and vocals and Dario Sisera on drums and percussion. The songs on this album flow freely, playing with time and space to good effect. "Afreaka" opens the album with some funky keyboards and bright saxophone over a nimble rhythm. Ziegele stretches out with a strong saxophone solo, which gets more intense as it develops, powering through the music and pushed on by thrashing drums and overdriven keyboards. They space out to nearly complete silence before returning to the theme and concluding. This is followed by "Make Me Mad" which builds a choppy melody with rippling saxophone that develops a happy and upbeat feeling. There is a brightly colored saxophone feature over taut rhythm, with Ziegele getting more strident in tone but never changing the upbeat mood of piece. "Laughing Your Tears Away" is buoyed by thick and full electric keyboards with light and mobile saxophone and drums. The saxophonist solos against the light backdrop in a straight up modern jazz fashion, playing in a fleet and confident manner. Ziegele moves to flute for "Will You Marry Me After So Many Years" and it is a nice change of pace with gentle percussion and keyboards setting a spiritual vibe. Shimmering cymbals and brushes frame the scene and set up a quiet improvisation for the trio. After a couple of tracks that feature vocals and spoken word, "The Milkman Always Paid My Rent" has a gentle opening for mid-tempo saxophone, accompanied by the rhythm section. The improvisation bobs and weaves, leading to some intensifying saxophone that gets stronger, offering swells of sound, making it the most memorable solo on the album. "Ithi Gqi" concludes the album in fine fashion with soft pastel tones of electric piano, and a bubbling rhythmic foundation, creating a very interesting township/calypso feeling. There is a lengthy section for keyboards and percussion, before Ziegele reenters to take the tune out. This was a very enjoyable album, the music had a light and funky feeling to it, tinged with hints of African music that was well suited to the songs presented here. Going South - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shardik - Shardik (Tzadik, 2017)

Shardik is an exciting new extreme jazz/post-rock group made up of Matt Buckley on drums and percussion, Matt Hollenberg on guitar and Nick Shellenberger on bass and synthesizers. Hollenberg also plays in the powerful jazz fusion group Simulacrum and like that group, this trio melds avant-garde jazz, speed metal and haunting ambiance into a brash and potent combination. Hollenberg is the primary composer of these intricate songs and leads this power trio in a very successful manner. "It Is What It Isn't" opens the album with some scalding electric guitar and rumbling bass over chopping and rolling drums. They stretch out and develop a complex rhythm that suits the volume and dynamics of the performance. Choppy riffs and figures abound before opening an eye wall into a calmer and more spacious flavor of music. Subtle synth and guitar glide into sight before the group recovers to a driving conclusion. They absolutely blow the doors off of "Inner Dimensions" sounding like a post-modern Mahavishnu Orchestra, with the torrid collective improvisation leading to the introduction of choppy, sharp riffs that cut deeply, interspersed with moments of uneasy calm. "Faustian Bargain" works sharp angles into the music, with the start-stop nature of the music giving things an edge, while the pacing and rhythm appears to unfold gradually. "Past Lives" develops a cool almost surf music theme, before blasting that out of the water with heavy slabs of guitar and pummelling drums, while there is a lighter feel to "The Great Attractor" which skips gingerly around the theme before they open up with some nice elastic bass and nearly swinging drums. "No Arrival" kicks things back into gear with turbocharged guitar and drums that interweave pockets of near silence which are used to frame the 'fire in the hole' blasting sections. The trio puts things over the top on "Vorga T:1339" with scalding guitar, playing fast interchanging sub-themes, like something you would hear on the Naked City album, cutting and juking like an unstoppable force. They use abrupt and jagged rhythms with a brutal attack, and deep imagination. The concluding "La Douleur Exquise" opens with an unexpected jazzy, cinematic feel, with spacey synth added for color, and the group forming a tight narrative. They switch gears suddenly and return to the loud and primal energetic setting which is their bread and butter while riding the dynamic nature of the track to its conclusion. While much of this album is contains blasts of raw power, there is subtlety to be found in passages throughout the record. The group is far from a one trick pony and makes a very impressive statement throughout the album. Shardik - amazon.com

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Ross Hammond and Jon Bafus - Masonic Lawn (Ross Hammond, 2017)

Masonic Lawn is a wonderful melding of the primary strands of American music, and you can hear the blues, country music, folk, jazz and more bubbling up within it. Moving far beyond any hackneyed idea of pastoral "Americana," the music has a stark honesty to it, reflecting the blood, sweat and toil that makes up the music of the American working class. On this album Ross Hammond plays various types of guitar: resonator, twelve string resonator and lap steel with Jon Bafus on drums and percussion. This album was recorded in December of 2016 in Sacramento, CA and achieves a very intimate feel where the duo focuses on collective improvisation and communication to create music in the moment as a cohesive unit. The two musicians work very well together and create a haunting, eclectic music that is quite unique. "Like Being Kissed by God Herself" opens the album with a shimmering golden glow, one that the duo is able to elaborate upon, taking their original malleable motif and stretching and pulling it in order to create a fast moving and powerful performance. They touch on hillbilly music, and stir that element into the powerful blend that is served up. The title track "Masonic Lawn" has a darker sensibility, with the music moving across a spare, dusty terrain. Sparks of slide move the music into more slippery territory, where all is not as it seems. There's a nervous caffeinated shuffle on "Subterranean Doom Coffee" which sets a perfect foundation for the longer arcing tones of guitar to complement and use as a jumping off point for a fine exploratory excursion. "New Life in the Old Cherry Tree" has some dark toned guitar developing a motif that you could imagine hearing on a Mississippi back porch, and the guitar and percussion work well together to advance the music at a fast clip, gaining an intense feeling that plows onward without pretense or ornamentation. This album was excellent the whole way through and deserves a widespread audience. Hammond and Bafus develop a deeply rhythmic sensibility by mining the history of roots and blues music and channeling that into their duo improvisations. By melding of the various strands of American music, they show that the idea of diversity and community in music and art bring out the best in all of us. Masonic Lawns - Bandcamp

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Andrew Lamb - The Sea of Modicum (NoBusiness Records, 2017)

This is an excellent free jazz album featuring Andrew Lamb (a.k.a The Black Lamb) on tenor saxophone, Warren Smith and Arkadijus Gotesmanas on percussion, and the album was recorded live in of October 2016 at the Vilnius Jazz Festival. The rhythmic foundations that the percussionists develop make for a fascinating foundation for Lamb's strong and strident saxophone tone. Lamb studied with the AACM before moving to New York City, and embarking on a successful career in the music and arts world. The album is broken down into three lengthy tracks, "The Sea of Modicum," "Kindred Spirits" and "The Angel of Lithuania." The music on each track develops in an appealingly organic fashion, with the drums and percussion of Smith and Gotesmanas developing a wide range of patterns and textures, beginning with soft feathering of their instruments on the side long title track, developing soft cymbal touches and a stealthy rhythmic structure which blooms into full force after a lengthy build up creating tension before Lamb finally enters on saxophone, blowing with force and conviction across the rumbling rhythm. They patiently develop an exciting and potent collective improvisation, with Lamb's arresting and raw saxophone gliding over and working within the percussive framework. He drops out at one point with the percussionists just simmering at a low boil, which leads into the second track. "Kindred Spirits" is an apt description for this trio, as Lamb inserts an urgent circular motif and the drummers crash into action making for a loud and bracing improvisation. They are stretching the boundaries of the music in their own way that is personal and powerful, continuing a long tradition of exploration that goes back to the free jazz pioneers like Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. The concluding track has patient hand percussion setting the pace, moving in waves, with Lamb not entering until halfway through the performance. His clarion call is met with crashes of cymbals heralding in the next phase in the improvisation. He moves through the scene, adding splashes of color and sound, leading to a solid conclusion. This album will be a limited edition LP release, and fans of free improvisation are urged to jump on it while supplies lasts. The Sea of Modicum - NoBusiness Records.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM, 2017)

Expanding from his previous duo and trio outings, keyboardist and composer Vijay Iyer commands a sextet of exciting and forward thinking musicians including Graham Haynes on cornet, flugelhorn and electronics, Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Mark Shim on tenor saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. "Poles" begins the album with some reflective piano, before the full band bounds up, kicking things into gear. The horns lead the way forward at a strong clip, playing with a profound angular momentum that propels the band onward including a taut saxophone solos, with the band tightly in sync, clearing the way for a declamatory brass feature which slows the tempo. "Far From Over" has percussive piano leading a rhythmic foundation which supports the strong multi-horn theme. Haynes more rounded sound is nicely juxtaposed by the sharp tones of the saxophonists, making for invigorating front line playing. Iyer's light but very fast touch is firm yet flowing, providing a perfect counterweight to the horns. The full band comes together as a seriously powerful unit, driving to the finish line. There is an openness to "Down to the Wire" with rippling piano, bass and drums gradually gathering pace and evolving to a vibrant improvisation. The horns don't enter until nearly the three minute mark, after the piano trio has built some excellent tension and they are met by vigorous and powerful horn statements. There is a forceful collective improvisation that is very impressive, with a fine drum solo folded in. "Into Action" develops a strong rhythmic foundation and a string of potent horn statements into a deep and moving performance. There is an engaging exchange of musical ideas, as strong and percussive piano with melds with the bass and drums for a more impressionistic bent and a soft controlled landing. They roar out of the gate on "Good On the Ground" with a punchy and exciting rhythmic feel constructing a steaming and powerful performance that pulls back to offers an opening for a particularly for an epic tenor saxophone solo from Shim, dovetailing into a colorful exchange for piano, bass and drums, and another sparkling Sorey solo. This was a superb state of the art modern jazz album, with every aspect hitting the marks from the compositions and arrangements through to the ensemble playing and solos, it is a brilliant and spirited performance. Far From Over - amazon.com

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Neil Young - Hitchhiker (Reprise, 2017)

It goes to show how prolific Neil Young was in the mid - to late 1970's that he could record an entire album of original music just to shelve it and then cannibalize the songs on his later albums. So these are essentially demos that were recorded by his producer David Briggs with Young on guitar and vocals with no backup. Recorded in 1976, but finally released in 2017, it's a fascinating and essential release for fans, one that connects some of his earlier singer/songwriter music through to his blistering Crazy Horse enhanced rock 'n' roll. Three of the songs would be re-made on Rust Never Sleeps, one of the finest albums in rock 'n' roll history (IMHO.) "Pocahontas" and "Ride My Llama" are narrative based music with evocative grounded imagery of nature and history as well as fantastic thoughts that link indigenous peoples, Marlon Brando and the Astrodome, which is as strange as it may sound flows beautifully as stream of consciousness poetry. "Powderfinger" would be radically reworked in its released form, becoming an electric dirge melding a snarling guitar solo to a coming of age narrative. On this album, it becomes more fragile with the acoustic guitar focusing the attention of the listener on his quavering vocals. "Captain Kennedy" would surface on the obscure Hawks and Doves LP, with ruminations about the sea and the nature of war making for an interesting song. "Hawaii" and "Give Me Strength" are previously unreleased, with the former song building a mysterious aura and the latter is a straightforward plaintive ballad. The title track "Hitchhiker" is a captivating one, which would emerge on the underappreciated LeNoise LP, and it is another coming of age song, but one that is connected to narcotics, emotion, and regret. "Campaigner" was on the excellent Decade compilation, and I've always had a soft spot for the goofy "Human Highway" which would be released on the Comes A Time LP. This was an excellent album and one of the best reissue/historical albums of the year. Fans will justifiably be thrilled, but I think the album can be appreciated by anyone who is looking for songwriting of the highest quality. Hitchhiker - amazon.com

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Eric Revis - Sing Me Some Cry (Clean Feed, 2017)

This is another fine inside/outside album from bassist Eric Revis, keeping some heavy company with Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Kris Davis on piano and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion. Each one of these musicians is a leader in their own right, but they work as a finely drilled team with Revis pointing the way forward. The group is very open minded, experimenting with both form and freedom while developing solid ensemble play and vivid soloing. The title track "Sing Me Some Cry" opens in a very atmospheric fashion, with thick bass and Davis strumming inside the piano. Skittish drums and saxophone add to the emotional content of the music wheeling through a series of variations. "Good Company" develops a percussive foundation, as Taylor sets the pace from the drum kit with a muscular bent. Piano fills in adding to the percussive feel, and the rest of the band joins in with a grandly swinging feel, that builds a very good up tempo collective improvisation, with powerful ensemble playing. Things stretch out quite nicely, allowing the musicians to really buckle down and play hard and true. Vandermark's raw and incisive playing is a real treat on this track, which is one of the album's highlights. There is another percussion intro with the bass on "Pat. 44" as the rest of the band fills in at a spacious medium tempo. Davis adds colorful chords, while Vandermark probes for an opening, which he finds and exploits with another interesting solo, with a strong rhythmic feeling set up along with him. Things change on "Obliogo" with a nice rhythm coming into focus and tight group interplay, especially in Vandermark's rich and meaty tone chewing up the available real estate and performing a high-quality feature. Revis takes a well-earned bass solo backed by some choppy percussion that works well before the group comes together to stick the landing. Another imaginative bass solo begins "Rye Eclipse," opening vistas for the group to explore, with Taylor folding in some nice percussion and Vandermark adding long gales of pure sound, causing the music to further develop episodically with the percussive piano of Kris Davis, meeting Vandermark's stark, rending cries. They all come together in a very exciting fashion, setting a fine sense of dynamism in their sound. "Rumples" opens with a nimble rhythm section interlude soon joined by saxophone developing a nice up tempo feel punctuated by sharp drumming, and tasteful piano notes and chords adding a provocative sound. Vandermark creates pithy saxophone statements that fit in very well with the overall sound of the track. A subtle bass and percussion pulse open "Drunkard's Melody" before Vandermark weaves in with slurs of saxophone, making a counter argument like the drunkard in the title. The rhythm section plays in an insular manner, carefully setting things out for Vandermark to come and bully through making for an excellent push-pull dynamic. "Glyph" is the album's final song, free and patient in its development, a collective improvisation performed at a low boil, underpinned by the leaders well-articulated bass. Gentle ripples of piano move across its surface before the music takes on a more balladic tone, developing a hue of understated grace. This album worked out very well. All of the musicians are at their highest level of their collective instruments, and they use this talent to work together in creating a memorable performance. Sing Me Some Cry - amazon.com

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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Tommy Smith - Embodying the Light: a Dedication to John Coltrane (Spartacus Records, 2017)

John Coltrane has long been a guide star to Scottish tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, on his own solo albums and his albums leading the Scottish National and Youth Orchestras, as well as his excellent work with bassist Arild Andresen. This album is a heartfelt tribute to the master, on not only the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane's passing, but Smith's fiftieth birthdate as well. The group also includes Pete Johnstone on piano, Calum Gourlay on bass and Sebastiaan de Krom on drums and they play a pleasing mix of original and Coltrane covers, from all aspects of his career. Smith's own "Transformation" leads off the album, setting a deep spiritual vibe, before breaking into a tight swinging quartet improvisation with crisp rhythmic support to Smith's ample soloing. He stretches out at length, showing a great deal of stamina and passion that drives the music forward. After a rippling feature for the rhythm section, Smith comes storming back in to conclude an impressive performance. There is a brief version of Coltrane's "Dear Lord" taken at a reverent ballad pace, before turning into the bright, grooving original "Embodying the Light." There's a fine bass solo, with Gourlay making a excellent statement, and there is quite a bit of space for the rhythm trio to percolate before Smith returns and builds a fleet solo spot of his own. The tempo relaxes for the ballad "Naima," one of Coltrane's most famous compositions. Smith plays the melody beautifully, with a thoughtful and graceful approach, carrying that feeling into a nicely blended full band improvisation. "Resolution" is on the of the anchors of the A Love Supreme suite, and Smith comes out hard with a steaming tenor solo over supportive rhythm accompaniment. A strong and elastic section for piano, bass and drums keeps the energy high, then Smith takes control again, spooling out some more passionate saxophone playing. The group moves into some of Coltrane's freer music with "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" where they ratchet up the intensity slowly, reaching further and further into the music, allowing it to develop of its own accord. Gershwin's "Summertime" was a composition that Coltrane recorded, and the version included here matches some steely saxophone to the familiar melody, adding some grit to the mix, with a strong uptempo group performance as a result, and adds a bouncy trio section and drums solo good measure. "Embodying the Darkness" is another Smith original that takes Coltrane's modal work as a jumping off point, building a knotty and fast paced setting. Smith blows hard, playing some scalding solos over crushing piano and percussion. They conclude the album in style with the Coltrane track "Transition" where Smith demonstrates his interpretive abilities making the most of this track with potent saxophone playing, building a steaming lead solo with the rhythm section nipping at his heels. They are awarded with an excellent trio improvisation, before Smith returns with another strident concluding solo. This was a very good album, an impressive mix of original tunes and classics, with the band more than up to the task. Smith is particularly emboldened by this setting and makes the most of it. Embodying the Light: a Dedication to John Coltrane - amazon.com

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals (ECM, 2017)

Alto saxophonist Tim Berne has been a leading light on the creative music scene since he studied with master musician Julius Hemphill in the 1970s. This is the fourth album on ECM for Berne's Snakeoil band which includes Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Ryan Ferreira on guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano and electronics and Ches Smith on vibraphone and percussion. David Torn sits in on guitar for a few tracks as well. The music has a deeply woven textural context with floating unmoored sections balanced by areas of bracing improvisation."Hora Feliz" opens the album with spacey and atmospheric piano and percussion building a ambient sound, then after four minutes saxophone and fuller full band sound erupts, building a medium uptempo strident sound with biting saxophone as the focal point. Clarinet and strong currents of piano, bass and drums punctuated by shrieks of clarinet and waves of rhythm makes for a propulsive and exciting performance, as saxophone and clarinet play off one another strong collectively improvised finish. Deeply textured full band with undercurrents of guitar and subtle vibes are the setting for "Stingray Shuffle" which evolves into Berne's saxophone in subtle space, with his fine grain sandpaper tone playing off against scrapes of guitar creating an ominous soundscape. There is a haunted house feel to the unusual sounds and textures, which are alarming and exciting simultaneously. The epic twenty-six minute "Sideshow" opens quietly with spritely solo piano and swirling saxophone and guitar building in, creating an energetic and complex full band improvisation with multiple layers and textures to the development of the music. There is an excellent spirit of collaboration as the musicians meld their sounds and ideas spontaneously by trusting their instincts, leading to a dynamic downshift to reeds and piano in space, with harmonized saxophone and clarinet giving the music structure and a solid foundation. Music rolls on in waves lapping or crashing against the shore, with smears of electric guitar arcing out across percussive piano maturing to a complex weaving of group improvisation that becomes fast and furious. Pockets of near silence are also part of the music, with percussion or vibes giving it a suspended sound, before the music comes crashing through in conclusion. "Incidentals Contact" has a dense and exciting full band introduction, with individual instruments bubbling up and then sinking down in the music. A patient saxophone solo breaks out against vibes and spikes of electric guitar, then leading to a fast and volatile full band cascade of sound, which is muscular and exciting. There is a storming piano feature for Mitchell, who plays with great depth and resonance, concocting a wild and thrilling avalanche of notes and chords. Noriega's clarinet swirls in against a stark backdrop of heavy drums, ringing in the soundscape. Light and nimble reeds fluttering, framed by vibes set the stage for the concluding track "Prelude One / Sequel Too." The music is patient and eerie, with dark piano moving amidst the music and setting a foundation which allows Berne's saxophone to fly above it, while subtle bass and percussion keep the music from flying apart. This was a fascinating album with the music never resolving quite the way you might expect. Improvisations are often without a clearly defined shape or form allowing for a wide range of freedom and possibility that is subtly shifting throughout. Incidentals - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Book: Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay-Z edited by Jonathan Letham and Kevin Detmar (Library of America, 2017)

This is a wide ranging survey of American rock 'n' roll criticism from the early 1960's to the present day. When the music first took hold of the American (and then the world's) imagination in the 1950's it was beneath contempt from the leading newspapers and magazines of the day, which tended to report on the payola scandals and the purported rise of juvenile delinquency rather than the aesthetic merits of the music itself. This began to change in the late 1960's when The Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and other groups and artists proved that rock music could be genuine art. The book begins with a nod to the earlier generation with socially charged criticism from Nat Hentoff and Amiri Baraka. Some of the leading lights of rock criticism begin to emerge like Stanley Booth, who is best known for writing about The Rolling Stones, but in this collection he is looking into the signature sound of his hometown of Memphis. Lenny Kaye would go on to fame with the Patti Smith group and his curation of the Nuggets compilation, but here he presents a look at doo-wop and acapella. Blowhard Richard Meltzer is represented with a section from his self-important book Aesthetics of Rock, while they hold the estimable Robert Chruistagu for the middle of the book, which is loosely chronological, printing several of his Consumer Guide capsule reviews about the music of Prince. Paul Nelson is plucked from obscurity to report on the New York Dolls, while his contemporary Lester Bangs writes about the death of Elvis Presley. To the editors credit, they do include several women writers in the anthology like Donna Gaines on Lou Reed, Ellen Willis' superb article on Janis Joplin and Eve Babbitz's epic send up of The Doors and Jim Morrison in particular. Most of the articles are enjoyable to read, and if one doesn't strike your fancy then there are many others to choose from. One wishes that more non-caucasian writers could have been represented, but the paucity thereof may be due to the lack of opportunities for non-whites in journalism rather than any overt racism on the part of the editors. Overall, this was an enjoyable book and encourages readers to dig more deeply into the writers that they are interested in, by providing capsule biographies and suggested reading for each of its entries. Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z - amazon.com

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Interesting links 9/6

Popmatters profiles bassist Ben Allison after the release of his latest album.
The seminal L.A. punk band X celebrates their 40th anniversary.
The latest 5049 Podcast features pianist and blogger Ethan Iverson.
The Chicago Reader profiles drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo.
Trumpet player Kirk Knuffke is profiled by Francis Davis in the Village Voice.
Bandcamp profiles the Eremite Records label.
Coastal Jazz presents an interview with saxophonist Tim Berne.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Peter Bernstein - Signs LIVE! (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

The group consisting of Peter Bernstein on guitar, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Gregory Hutchinson have played on various configurations for over twenty years. They have all grown into successful band leaders in their own right, some of the leading lights of modern mainstream jazz, but here they reconvene under Bernstein's name for this celebration of their music which was recorded live during January of 2015 in New York City. The musicians are truly present and cognizant to the possibilities of the live setting, and you can tell that they have a lot of experience playing together, and great respect for each other, considering the egoless nature of the music and the support each musician pays to the others and the group as a whole. All of the music stretches out, ten of the eleven tracks are over ten minutes long, and Bernstein's compositions allow for a wide range of expression, beginning with "Blues for Bulgaria" which gives a bright and accessible approach to the blues and it allows the musicians to really jump right in and play, with fine results. Bernstein has a "classical" jazz guitar tone, coming out of the likes of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery, and he has superb control over his instrument. Along with Bernstein's original songs, the group takes on two Thelonious Monk compositions which also work quiet well. Mehldau really shines during these performances, comping and soloing with wit and grace, sounding freer and more engaged than on some of his own records, since he is among longtime friends and without the burden of leadership or the expectation to do anything but play well. The individuality of the Monk tracks, "Pannonica" and "Crepuscule With Nellie / We See" allow for varied approaches of tempo and volume and also makes great fodder for the musicians to improvise on in a knotty and intricate manner. The former has some particularly excellent bass playing, while the latter has Bernstein playing the first half of the medley unaccompanied, before the reminder of the band get intelligent and lyrical solo features as the performance moves along. Tracks like "Jive Coffee" and "Let Loose" give this album the exciting feeling of a blowing session for a jam session between friends that the listeners are eavesdropping on. Gradually working up the dynamic pace, the playing fast and fluid, and each of the musicians is more than up to the task whether taking generous solos, playing as a complete unit, or supporting one another. Overall, this album worked very well and those that are interested in making mainstream jazz will find a lot to enjoy. The musicians are at the top of their game and make music that is fresh and accessible. Signs LIVE! - amazon.com

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