Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Books: Michael Jarrett - Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Diana Krall

This book takes a look at how jazz albums were made, beginning with a few examples of the pre-LP era and then continuing though the advent of the long playing record and analog tape to the use of digital technology in the present day. Along the way the reader learns a lot about the personalities of the record producers of different eras and some of the musicians that they helped to make famous. Different producers have their own manner of techniques when putting together a recording session. Some are very hands-on doing everything from choosing the sidemen for a particular musician and the songs they would record, while others are much more laissez-faire, allowing the musicians to take charge, only stepping into the fray to resolve personality disputes and other squabbles things that might keep a session from running smoothly. Certain musicians are willing to cede some control to the producers, notably Miles Davis, who trusted his producer Teo Macero to make some radical edits that led to electronic jazz masterpieces like In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Different record labels had different approaches to recording as well, whereas the Prestige and Verve labels feeling that music is best heard in an off the cuff jam session format, while Blue Note Records actually paid musicians to reverse before the final session in order to flesh the music out and be fully prepared for the main event. Overall this was an interesting and well presented book with the author staying out of the way and allowing the producers and musicians freedom to tell their own stories and keeping the narrative moving forward at a snappy pace. Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Diana Krall - amazon.com

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Krokofant - Krokofant III (Rune Grammofon, 2017)

This is a very exciting Norwegian power trio consisting of Axel Skalstad on drums, Tom Hasslan on guitar and Jorgen Mathisen on saxophones and synthesizers. The group opens the album with the song "Tommy Synth" which has some snake-charmer soprano saxophone, slithering its way between the powerful electric guitar and drums, while buzzing electric guitar takes advantage of an opening to add some filling-rattling fills. Then the saxophonist moves to tenor on "Clazz" for a darker, starker tone and the group falls in with some of their most scalding playing, particularly from electric guitar which is thrilling and very nearly over the top. For the aptly named track "Juice" there is a choppy theme for soprano, guitar, bass and fractured drumming. The music develops some fine waves of dynamic energy, easing in and out of focus, creating full bodied improvisational sections which use their distinct musical personalities which graft together jazz rhythm and driving rock beats. There is a very nicely played saxophone solo, with the beat gradually getting louder and the drums driving the music forward, making for a killing collectively improvised section with everybody leaning into the music. "Double Dad" develops a percussive onslaught with snarls of guitar and saxophone pulling into a driving forward motion that is complex yet accessible. The music moves into an ominous grind, incorporating aspects of metallic sludge and early 1970's King Crimson with stark guitar sparking against the slabs of electronics and powerful percussion, making for an imposing and inspiring combination. The album is wrapped up by the epic "Wrong Turn" with waves of raw saxophone abetted by strong guitar and drumming. They develop an interesting theme and then proceed to use it as a springboard for a fine lengthy improvised section. Smears of grinding electronics, jagged drums and raw guitar create a haunting mid-section, keeping the power harnessed and under control, and using dynamics to raise and lower the ferocity as necessary. The music snaps back into focus with hard charging saxophone, and pummeling drums, leading to a very exciting conclusion. The group plays highly energetic and exciting jazz-rock that uses both freedom and structure, which should appeal to both rock audiences and open-eared jazz fans. Krokofant III - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sun Ra - Singles: The Definitive Collection 1952-1991 (Strut Records, 2016)

The legendary composer, arranger and keyboardist Sun Ra carved a unique path though music for nearly fifty years, releasing scores of albums on platforms ranging from major labels to self pressed rarities. In addition to the LP format, he also released dozens of limited edition seven inch singles that covered a massive range of material from doo-wop to spoken word and instrumental jazz. Most of these 45s were only pressed in small runs and were sold at concerts and have since become extremely rare. There was a two-CD collection released in the mid-1990's by the Evidence Label, and this new release adds additional recordings, a new remastering of the music as well as new liner notes, interviews and photographs. The breadth of the music is astonishing with Ra and the band backing vocal ensembles like The Nu Sounds on the sugary sweet "Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lies" and the saccharine "It's Christmas Time" by The Qualities to an extended version of his epochal "Nuclear War" where Ra sings the unforgettable refrain "If they push that button, your ass gotta go! Whatcha gonna go without your ass?" In between there is classic Sun Ra Arkestra material like "Saturn," "Velvet" and "Medicine for a Nightmare" which showed not only Ra's skill as a composer and arranger, but the brilliance of the band and their ability to take the leaders raw material and shape it into indelible performances. As the group moved into the late sixties and beyond, Ra begins to incorporates a battery of electronic instruments, which bumped up the tempo on the thoroughly bizarre "I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman" and the futuristic synth and saxophones of "The Perfect Man." If you are a Sun Ra fan or a partisan of outsider music, this collection is a blast to hear. It is extraordinary that the diversity of this music could come from just one man, but considering that the man in question is Herman "Sonny" Poole Blount aka Sun Ra, the man from Saturn, it's not surprising at all, just inspiring. Singles - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Interesting Links

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Matthew Shipp Trio - Piano Song (Thirsty Ear, 2017)

Piano Song is a trio album with Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums, and it may very well be pianist Matthew Shipp's last album, though he will continue to curate the Blue Series for Thirsty Ear Records. This is an excellent recording, where his unique percussive and dynamic style is on full display during "Cosmopolitan" and Shipp is excellently accompanied by Bisio's elastic and imaginative bass playing and Baker's open ended and thoughtful percussion. Both of these men take excellent solos on this selection, and it makes for a modern jazz powerhouse, accessible as the best mainstream jazz while as unfettered as the most vanguard avant-garde music. Soft and repetitive percussion becomes unnerving on "Blue Desert" as you get the sense of time running out and droplets of piano and subtle bass add to the atmospheric tension. You can imagine this performance accompanying a impressionistic noir film, where the dark wet streets are filled with a sense of dread. "Silence Of" develops a definite sense of space with gentle brushes and deft bass work offsetting Shipp's carefully chosen notes. The music is impressive in its restraint, making for something which is under control or within carefully chosen limits as it develops a cohesive narrative. There is a tight groove to "Flying Carpet" with thick bass and drums and explosive dark piano chords that ratchet up the tension and the dynamic structure of the music. "Scrambled Brain" has deep seated bass and cymbals setting the pace, intertwining together, and developing a tight and powerful groove. Shipp lays out completely and allows the other two musicians to create in real time, and allowing his accompanists to shine. He returns with a vengeance on the jaunty "Microwave" which mixes Monk with a march with exciting results. The trio improvises collectively in a very exciting fashion, and everyone is at the top of their game. The connective tissue of "Links" is a haunting solo piano excursion, where the notes seem to hang in space as if suspended there, and it exemplifies the nature of the music on this album, which creates thoughtful and mature sounds made by three musicians with great compassion and dignity, which is a generous gift in these uncertain times. Piano Song - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Jim Black - Malamute (Intakt Records, 2017)

Drummer Jim Black leads a subtle and interesting new band by adding electronics to his arsenal in the company of Oskar Guojonsson on tenor saxophone, Elias Stemeseder keyboards and Chris Tordini on electric bass. Despite the amped up potential of this group, most of the music is actually quite reserved and understated, with long breathy tones of saxophone, and discreet use of electronic instruments and percussion. The music came into focus during a recent European tour where the band experimented with structures and song forms, looking to develop their own sound.  "Almost Awake" opens the album with some appropriately dreamy textures, before things start to grow organically and develop a stronger rhythmic foundation. Their sense of forward motion really begins to pick up and powers them through the rest of the performance. A splashy percussive sound in found during "Into the Pool" where Guojonsson's lighter toned saxophone weaves in and around the nervous rhythm and electronic shadings. The squiggles of the electronics are at the forefront on this selection, making for an interesting sound stage. "Just Turned Two" develops an atmospheric sensibility with ominous sounds swirling, before building to a sci-fi cinematic groove and the pace of the song waxes and wanes dynamically and unpredictably. There is an alluring choppiness to the rhythm of "Full Dish" with keyboards and bass swirling mysteriously around it, along with a soft breeze of saxophone. The music slowly gains momentum, with a galloping percussive sound juxtaposed against languid saxophone. "Plugged" has a funky groove that works well with some slashing drums and electronics and grounded saxophone that shows the band at their most effusive. The group came up with the idea of emulating mix tapes and playlists during their tour, taking an approach where the music would evolve rapidly, allowing them to structure improvisation and composition in a way that keeps the listener engaged and the band excited about the music. Malamute - amazon.com

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 1: Stone (Audiographic Records, 2016)

In early 2016 at the behest of John Zorn, multi-reedist Ken Vandermark curated a week long series of concerts at the experimental music landmark The Stone, in New York City. Calling his residency New York/United States/Europe, Vandermark gathered a group of old friends and a few new faces, and this boxed set gathers six of the twelve sets presented during this series. This collection focuses on the groups that were brought together for the occasion beginning with a set featuring Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Chris Corsano on drums and Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones. It is an inspired meeting, with two lengthy improvisations allowing Vandermark to move to clarinet at times, and his tone is nicely complimented by Laubrock's tenor and soprano saxophone. The piano and drums work wonders, pushing and framing the music which is well paced and thoughtful. The trio of Vandermark, Joe McPhee on tenor saxophone and Mat Maneri on viola struck out for more abstract terrain by moving away from a set pulse and allowing their music to develop freely and organically over the course of six spontaneously improvised pieces. The heat is turned back up, at times way up, on the following set where Vandermark is joined by Ned Rothenberg on saxophones, Havard Wiik on piano and Tom Rainey on drums. Theirs is a three part set, each progressively shorter than the last, and there is a lot of fiery and exciting interplay between the musicians as the reed players streak across the sky and the piano and drums alternate between torrential bursts and moody streams. The concert featuring Vandermark with Ikue More on electronics, Joe Morris on guitar and Nate Wooley on trumpet moves in a different direction. Over the course of one long improvisation, the musicians explore a wide range of territory with the unpredictable sounds of live electronics adding tone and shading and the always interesting guitar of Morris skittering and scurrying into the nooks and crannies of the music. Wooley is the ideal partner for this music, complementing Vandermark's statements with short bursts and long tones of sound. The powerhouse quartet of Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Steve Swell on trombone and William Parker on bass makes for thrilling improvisational music that breaks down any differentiation between front line and rhythm section, by melding into a very exciting collective unit that has decades of experience in situations like this and makes the most of it. The final group was a fascinating one with the leader in the company of Christof Kurzmann on ppoll and electronics, Marina Rosenfeld on turntable and electronics and Okkyung Lee on cello. Over one long improvisation, the musicians develop a sound that waxes and wanes with the electronics and cello making for a great canvas for Vandermark to solo over as well as engage with as a whole. Each disc on this collection has its own distinct feel, presenting six individual journeys within the whole. All of the musicians are acutely aware of their surroundings, and the inspiration that they drew from one another was palpable. Momentum 1: Stone - Audiographic Records.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Simon Nabatov - Monk 'n' More (Leo Records, 2017)

Originally from the Soviet Union, pianist Simon Nabatov has built a very successful career, with many interesting projects as a solo pianist, collaborator and educator. This album  consists of two solo recordings made eighteen years apart, the first a selection of Thelonious Monk compositions from 1995, the second a concert from 2013 in which Nabatov first employed electronic instruments in performance to create a doppelganger of the piano. There is an interesting dichotomy with the pieces from different instruments and time periods interspersed within one another. Nabatov has a natural and rich approach to the piano, beginning with an infectious version of Monk's "Skippy" that dances and sways, easing the listener into the pianists conception of music. There are four untitled tracks called "Electroacoustic Extension" which are his experiments into electronics. These can vary from using the electronics to develop a clipped rhythm, to selections that offer the sounds of a player piano in outer space. Nabatov isn't afraid to experiment, and if those selections start to intimidate the listener, he is quick to add further Monk interpretations, whether the more obscure "Oska T" to the familiar compositions "Epistrophy" and "Pannonica" where he draws on the melodic strength of the source material to create very appealing improvisations of his own. Monk warped space and time with his unique musical interpretations, and Nabatov does the same on his electronic experiments, bending and warping the fabric of the music and looking for new ways to approach sound. Moving back and forth with each approach can be startling, but it jars the listener out of complacency forcing them the take stock of Nabatov's approaches to both the familiar and the challenging sides of music. Monk 'n' More - amazon.com

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Live The Spirit Residency Presents Young Masters - Coming of Age (Live the Spirit Residency, 2016)

The Chicago jazz scene has a wonderful history of mentorship, whether via the AACM or venues like The Velvet Lounge and the Empty Bottle; the city's experienced musicians take the young ones under their wing and the music grows because of it. Alto saxophonist Ernest Dawkins founded the nonprofit Live The Spirit Residency to encourage young musicians to share improvised music with economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.  On this album he is joined by four of his musical progeny: Isaiah Collier on tenor saxophone, Alexis Lombre on piano, James Wentzel on bass and Jeremiah Collier on drums.The music is a joy to listen to, running the gamut from blues and ballads to outre exploration, beginning with "Blues in Tyne" which has a soulful rhythmic foundation supporting ripe saxophone which becomes fast and emotional. Everyone gets a turn in this long performance and the music never lags. Taken at a subtle medium tempo with lush piano playing, "Before You Go" features a deft bass solo which anchors a solid swinging tune. The saxophones pick up the pace, leading the music to a great slashing conclusion. "June 11" has some raw, fast saxophone leading the charge, building to a white-hot fervor. After a fine drum solo for Collier, the band returns to take this steaming performance out. They channel the spirit of John Coltrane on "Crash" with raw boned saxophone and lightning fast rhythm accompaniment. The music quests relentlessly forward with scalding interplay between the reeds and rhythm section. "Heath's Groove" is brash and open with the band developing coiled potential energy, and the saxophones and drums develop a deep groove before the piano, bass and drums unit calms before everyone returns for the final flourish. Finally, "Racing Minds" opens with a quiet meditation before some rattling percussion kicks things into gear. The full band develops a strong collective improvisation, ending the album with a vibrant and epic crescendo. This was an excellent album of modern jazz, and Dawkins is to be commended for bringing these excellent young musicians to our attention. Coming Of Age - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts (ECM Records, 2017)

Craig Taborn plays exploratory jazz in a subtle and intricate fashion, whether in the solo piano format or this quartet recording where he adds subtle electronic shadings to his keyboard along with Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Chris Lightcap on bass and Dave King on drums. Each player draws from a diverse history, influenced by a wide array of music in addition to jazz improvisation. Dynamic change, and haunting ambiance and electro-acoustic sounds that hint at subtle grooves and thoughtful melodies are all are melded into the crucible of this album. The music rewards group improvisation over traditional solo and accompaniment, beginning with the opening track "The Shining One" which features taut bass and drums, slithering saxophone and spare shards of piano. The music is fast and nimble, tightly woven  and very impressive, making for a seamless sound world of transparency, where all the elements are considered patiently, so that the layers of the music unfold like a kaleidoscope, opening up a vast world that they can explore. The music is driven by Taborn’s energetic piano playing and King’s unpredictable  percussion. His imaginative drumming further influences "New Glory" and the rest of the band falls in nicely with an interesting improvised section. Driving piano meeting the strong bass and agile drumming makes for a strong foundation and speed weaves though the music at will. “Ancient” builds slowly and patiently, developing pulsations of bass and rhythm that are at the foundation of the music. The piano and saxophone are gradually folded in and the music becomes more fleshed out, adding enthusiasm and energy. Powerful piano pushes the music forward as it continually develops at an exciting rate, while Lightcap adds strong, solid bass lines. The concluding "Phantom Radio" is a mysterious track with Speed’s forlorn saxophone calling out long tones over Taborn’s unusual electronic palette. This album is a thoughtful and well paced set of acoustic jazz tempered by a veneer of electronics. The music is subtle and patient with a cryptic edge that keeps it from unfolding too quickly. Daylight Ghosts - amazon.com

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Friday, February 03, 2017

Angles 9 - Disappeared Behind the Sun (Clean Feed Records, 2017)

The title of this album refers to people who have been jailed in solitary confinement, and this emotion and coiled energy of that circumstance imbues this excellent modern jazz album by this nine piece ensemble led by saxophonist Martin Kuchen. "Equality and Death (Mothers, Fathers, Where Are Ye?)" opens the album with raw scalding unaccompanied saxophone, then deeper bass builds in with forceful drums and horns framing the proceedings. Robust and vibrant horns build majestically, with the rhythm section setting a deep pocket to support the riffing horns. The music develops into a very broad and loud intensity with strong drumming and potent horns, before a rhythmic drum solo emerges. The full band builds back in to wrap things up, flexing its muscles as the music gains grandeur. There is a powerful intro for horns and deep bass on "Ador," making way for a fine patient trumpet solo over subtle rhythm. The full bands bursts into bloom with dynamic interplay, proclaiming itself to be a great progressive big band, producing a choppy theme before launching into a cool vibraphone solo. The full band comes back, sounding even larger then nine pieces, cruising to the center of the music and making swirling and kaleidoscopic waves of sound in an excellent collective improvisation. They throttle down a bit at the end to conclude the performance with a flourish. "Pacemaker" features horns that poke and joust, developing a cool theme for the percussion to burst in on and make funky. Meaty chunks of music are marinated with shades of vibraphone and ripe saxophones, as the horns riff merrily, making for pure exciting fun. There is a horn fanfare to open "Disappeared Behind The Sun," ebbing and flowing on the longest track of the album from a sad yearning theme for trumpet and piano duetting in open space, followed by brisk and vigorous full band playing in a forceful manner. A nice percussive section follows for heavy drumming and vibes, soon to be engulfed by the rest of the band as they swell forward led by bass, drums and baritone saxophone, in a torrential improvised section. The full band swells dynamically again to absorb this smaller cell, and develop stronger riffs to the conclusion. "Love, Flee Thy House (In Breslau)" concludes the album, led by subtle tenor saxophone and vibes which call the band to order, gradually building to powerfully beating bass and drums which provide the heart of the music and the wild fantasia of horns providing the soul. Mad riffing and pummeling and raw brass with jacked up trumpet and drums make for a very exciting price of music. This is superb modern jazz that is very compelling, The themes of the compositions are very simple and very memorable, and the improvisations are complexity yet accessible, with the band's fireworks matched by their subtlety. Disappeared Behind the Sun - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

CP Unit - Before the Heat Death (Clean Feed Records, 2017)

Alto saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos leads this particular unit, enlisting Brandon Seabrook on electric guitar, Tim Dahl on electric bass and Weasel Walter on drums and creating an outrageously powerful band that plays scorching electric jazz which can take paint off the walls at high volume. For this project, the group plays improvised music which uses the structure of jazz but embellishing and melds it with their own experiences from a wide range of music ranging from punk to classical. "Fried" is an apt description of the music, coming on like gangbusters with ferocious guitar, bass and drums enveloping squalls of saxophone, and everything tumbling merrily along, which the group playing as a living, breathing organism, evolving into choppy saxophone and drumming which gives the music a nervous edge. The band displays fine group interplay on "Quantized" with the leader's pinched saxophone weaving through intricate accompaniment, before launching into a fine solo statement, and leading unrelenting cascades of fluid sound. They play with an outward bound edge and motivated collective improvisation, with the guitar, bass and drums unit shining of their own, bridging the jazz tradition, fusion and free music. "Death in the Afternoon" moves massive blocks of sound, with a loud and scouring tone. They play with a sense of explosive dynamism, egging on one another to even greater heights. Torrid gales of saxophone are met with relentless drumming and stoic bass and guitar, powering the music relentlessly forward, punching beats of time like an alarm and punctuating that with scorching improvised flights. Taking the group's strength to it's logical conclusion, "Guillotine" is a full out free improvisation with the noise and volume cranked up as far as possible. It's a short piece, but a bracing reminder of how extreme the group can be if they set their mind to it. The music of "Wet Brain" comes grinding in with a sense of malice aforethought, and raw, wounded noises arcing across the soundstage. Walter's rattling drums lead the music into a powerfully complex section, underpinned with excellent bass playing. Pitsiokos is a whirlwind of sound and fury amidst it all, and Seabrook's piercing guitar taking the music into exciting and unexpected directions. The music on this album is wild, fierce and raw, and the unique playing styles of the band members make massive gravitational waves of sound marking some adventurous music that has blurred the frontier between styles of music. Before the Heat Death - amazon.com

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