Friday, June 30, 2017

Jaco Pastorius - Truth, Liberty and Soul (Resonance Records, 2017)

Electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius and his Word of Mouth Big Band, which for this gig included jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans, were recorded in New York City in June of 1982, as part of the Kool Jazz Festival, and some of that performance was broadcast on NPR at the time. This package contains the whole concert, beginning with "Invitation" which opens the album in a warm and ingratiating fashion with Jaco's bass developing a thick and inviting tone and the rest of the band filling in with him. Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer anchor the horn section and the band's secret ingredient is the steel drums of Othello Molineaux, which is one of the most distinguishing aspects of this band. He is playing an instrument rarely used in jazz, but sounds right at home in this setting. "Soul Intro/The Chicken" casts a glance back at the leader's rhythm and blues roots. The band riffs hard and Jaco's bass underpins a wicked groove and a powerfully built string of solos. Jazz standards play a role in the album as well, whether it is a blistering run through the bebop standard "Donna Lee" or sensitive ballad treatments of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" or Toots Thielemans taking the lead on his own subtle and intricate composition "Musette." Disc Two takes even more risks, like on the blistering medley "Reza/Giant Steps" with Pastorius taking the lead solo. The electric bass had been played in jazz before, but rarely with the speed and facility that is shown here, as evidenced by the lengthy "Bass and Drum Improvisation" where he folds in some credible Jimi Hendrix into the mix. "Fannie Mae" is a blasting move to the finish line, as Jaco introduces the band and the concert ends with a flourish. The result of a delicate dance between the Pastorius Estate, Warner Music Group and NPR Music was worth it, and this is highly recommended. Truth, Liberty and Soul - Live In NYC -

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Raoul Björkenheim Triad - Beyond (Eclipse Music, 2017)

American born guitarist Raoul Björkenheim spends most of his time in his ancestral homeland of Finland where he has recorded in a wide range of settings as a leader and sideman. His new trio is called Triad, with Ville Rauhala on bass, Ilmari Heikinheimo on drums. They work very well together, leavening some scalding guitar workouts with spacey musical exploration that makes the most of the trio format. "Act of Will" opens the album with a raw and ominous smear of sound and broken beat, gradually building into a more frenetic feel, one that can barely contain the energies within. There is a piston like rhythm and shrieks of guitar as drums thrash and bass and guitar swoops and snarls, leading to a powerful conclusion. A strong backbeat anchors "Move On" that is soon joined by thick bass, setting up a deep pocket and groove. Bjorkenheim comes blasting in, heaving shards of electrically charged guitar playing into the potent mix. They develop a scalding improvised section, with rockish guitar wailing against the fast rhythmic backdrop, building to an abrupt ending. There is an understated jazziness to "Petals" which still manages to retain an undercurrent of menace, with fractured rhythm and intertwining guitar and bass interplay. The group comes together in a taut and nimble improvised section in which the bass and drums take control for a bit, adding subtle brushes to good effect, contributing an eerie overall feeling to the music. A huge scalding guitar riff introduces "Katarsis" along with heavy bowed bass and sharp drumming. Developing a provocative near metal vibe, the music lashes out with lines that slash and parry, enveloping the listener into a three-way tangle of riotous and resonant improvisation. "Beyond," the title track, is aptly named because it falls out of any readily identifiable category, with echoes of sheer sound waxing and waning creating chilly, and haunting music that defies genre conventions. Electronic distortion wavers in the background, framed by supple percussion, further adding to the mood of the performance. Sharp, potent guitar along with thick bass and drums rip into "Arise" which displays a ripe, swaggering interplay of instruments. The leader solos in a very impressive manner as the drums are encouraging him every step of the within a scalding performance that is anchored by deep bass.  "Blunt Stunt" has a choppy funk rhythm, with guitar ripping across the jumpy bass and drums. This the most fusion like setting on the album and it suits the band well, with a bouncy bass and drums interlude in the middle, enveloped by unusual sounds. "The Rain Is Over" has riotous guitar focused by bowed bass and rolling drums. The music is very intense and exciting with waves of guitar feedback echoing around the soundscape, then echoing into a spacey section to end the album. Beyond -

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Silke Eberhard Trio - The Being Inn (Intakt Records, 2017)

Silke Eberhard is a saxophonist, clarinetist and composer based in Berlin, and on this album she focuses on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, in the company of Jan Roder on bass and Kay Lubke on drums. This is the trio's third album, and it also marks ten years as a working group. The conceptual inspiration of the album is of an an imaginary inn that the saxophonist pictured as she composed songs for this project, which vary between a lengthy suite and short vignettes. "Ding Dong" begins this album and opens the door, creating an appealing performance that takes into account the historic music of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman with ripe alto saxophone building a taut and exciting improvisation in consort with flexible bass and drums. The most ambitious piece on the album, "Willisau Suite," is a lengthy and episodic performance that takes melodic sub-themes and uses the them as the basis for an ever evolving collective improvisation that stretches out to nearly twenty minutes. The remainder of the album alternates between short three to five minute songs interspersed by even briefer improvisations lasting thirty to fifty seconds. The most noteworthy of these are the spacious "Minatur" which has Lubke deftly using brushes and creating a soft rhythm that is made whole with the addition of subtly played saxophone and bass, creating a melodic and mellow performance. "Kanon" mines the Dolphy influence, making a bass clarinet feature that is supported by bass and drums. The music created has a thoughtful forward looking approach, allowing much open space to permeate the sound allowing for a wide range of possibilities. The short but very urgent "Towels" leads to "In Drei" which has very taut and impressive bass and drums setting the foundation for the music. Eberhard's saxophone weaves in an out of the accompaniment creating an upbeat and infectious sound, with the improvisation developing its own inner logic. "8915" is another saxophone based piece, an uptempo and pithy performance, with a fine feature for bass included, and the musicians reacting to one another in a very creative fashion. This was a very good album, one in which, the musicians take their influences and internalize them, and then create their own music, stretching language of jazz in new and interesting ways. The Being Inn -

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Heads of State - Four in One (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

Heads of State is a group of veteran jazz musicians consisting of Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Larry Willis on piano, David Williams on bass and Al Foster on drums. The group plays strong and swinging hard bop, ballads and mainstream jazz, beginning with the title track "Four in One," a Thelonious Monk composition, creating a fast paced version of the memorable tune. The band plays the theme quickly, then moving into a round of solos, and Bartz is particularly fluid in his playing. "And He Called Himself a Messenger" looks back on time spent as part of Art Blakey's band, and they are able to explore a deep groove akin to the music that was made by his groups. Foster sets the pace with an excellent beat and allows the group to anchor a string of potent solos. The music takes on a more subtle focus on Wayne Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" with another excellent solo segment from Gary Bartz, one that is well constructed and makes excellent use of the source material before moving into the Charlie Parker bebop flag-waver "Moose the Mooche" with a fast and pithy performance. The group keeps the music compact and bright sounding, allowing it the room to move while keeping a tight hand on the reigns. A deeply rhythmic drum solo opens "Aloysius" with Foster making the best of the space before the rest of the group comes crashing in for a driving theme and improvisation. The music is joyful sounding and very accessible, and there is a palpable sense that the musicians are very happy playing together and are completely engaged by the material.  After the ballad "The Day You Said Goodbye," the band doesn't skip a beat revving into the Miles Davis “Sippin’ at Bells.” After a springy reading of the melody, a deep pocket is developed for ripe interplay of the instruments including a sparkling piano trio section and another impressive drum solo. Foster also leads them into the finale of the Eddie Harris composition "Freedom Jazz Dance" which develops a lightly funky groove and mines it for a lengthy and exciting improvisation with further solos for saxophone and bass. This band began as the Larry Willis All-Stars, assembled to pay tribute to the pianist McCoy Tyner, but gradually grew into a collective ensemble. They play a wide variety of post-bop jazz, and everything is performed in an enthusiastic and exciting manner. Four in One -

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield - Hudson (Motema Music, 2017)

This collective group refers to itself as Hudson, because they all live near to one another in New York's Hudson River Valley. Consisting of Jack DeJohnette on drums, Larry Grenadier on bass, John Medeski on piano and organ and John Scofield on guitar, this veteran band plays a variety of jazz versions of well known classic rock songs and a few original compositions. "El Swing" is aptly named, setting a neat groove accented with shards of electric guitar. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" gets a slightly funky groove with an almost reggae beat and pushes it forward with melodic waves of organ over tapped percussion as sharp spokes of guitar emerge, building to a nice series of solos over a more insistent rhythm. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is their second Dylan cover, developing a crisp rhythm with Scofield's guitar spelling out the melody. They develop a lyrical collective improvisation framed by washes of organ, gliding into a tumbling and cascading performance. The group's take on the Jimi Hendrix chestnut "Wait Until Tomorrow" comes with some fast and choppy guitar featured over funky drums and bass. Scofield develops a snarling guitar feature over keening organ which builds to a driving conclusion. Chimes or bells lead the band into the ballad "Song For World Forgiveness" with Medeski adding gentle acoustic piano which imbues the music with a gentle and meditative feel. "Tony Then Jack" becomes one of the straight up jazziest selections on the album, moving into a full throttle uptempo section allowing each of the members to take a short solo in round-robin fashion. Their final cover of the album is The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" which begins with some rolling piano and organ setting the stage for bouncy guitar, bass and drums easing into the country funk feel of the melody. The group plays variations of the theme without straying to far from the familiar melody. This is a pleasant well-played album, with the accessible repertoire and melodic nature of the improvising assuring that it will have wide ranging appeal and will  be a sure fire festival draw. Hudson -

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thelonious Monk ‎– Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records, 2017)

In what must surely be acknowledged as one of the most important archival issues of the year, this album consists of two discs of the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk adapting his own personal music for film, accompanied by an excellent group featuring Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Sam Jones on bass and Art Taylor on drums, with saxophonist Barney Wilen also sitting in on a few tracks. 1959 was a pivotal year for jazz and Monk was in the thick of it, while he didn't compose any new music for this project, he powers through some of his own most widely known songs with great vigor and passion. Two versions of "Rhythm-a-Ning" are included and both the master and alternate are muscular performances, with ripe saxophone playing, fast paced bass and drum accompaniment, and Monk's unique percussive piano playing that sounds truly inspired, rippling across the keyboard and stabbing at individual notes. There are also two versions of the ballad "Crepuscule With Nellie" included, with the much longer master version making excellent use of the two saxophone front line for texture, and the alternate dropping out after a few minutes. There were even plans to issue some of this music on 45 RPM records, with separate versions of a dreamy "Pannonica" and gently bouncing "Light Blue" cut for this purpose. "Well You Needn't" is heard in a concise edited form and then later in the full unedited version, both of which are worthy, with Rouse demonstrating how attuned he was becoming to Monk's music, which he would play for the next decade as a member of the pianist's group and then continue to interpret as a solo musician and in the underrated group Sphere. Monk is as spiritedly impish as always on both version, with his piano instantly identifiable and sounding like on one else. The final track is a fly on the wall version of "Light Blue" as the band works through the tune and Monk instructs the musicians on how to play their parts. With Monk explaining the time and rhythm, it's a fascinating look behind the curtain at the man and his music. Much of Monk's music has a cinematic or narrative feel to it, so the lack of any new music for the film hardly matters. The band came into the studio and laid down over an hour of jazz of the highest quality, and fans of Monk or classic jazz in general will be very pleased with the results. Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 -

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ned Rothenberg and Hamid Drake - Full Circle: Live in Lodz (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2017)

This is an intimate and varied duet album featuring Ned Rothenberg on alto saxophone, clarinet and shakuhachi and Hamid Drake on drums and vocals which was recorded live in Poland, in July of 2016. Both men have quite a bit of experience in playing jazz and improvised music in various downtown settings and they bring this into a sympathetic meeting. They begin their performance with the lengthy "Full Beams Dazzling" which has strong and powerful saxophone playing met by muscular drumming that creates a flexible and vibrant combination. Rothenberg moves to clarinet for the succeeding piece, "Tupuri Gifts," which takes a more subtle approach with Drake developing an ever-shifting rhythm on drums and percussion, one that suits the music perfectly and allows the instruments to intertwine in a natural and organic manner. "Lotus Blooming in the Heart" takes the music in a more spiritual direction with Drake adding soulful vocalizing to soft and reverent percussion. Rothenberg adds the exotic shakuhachi to the mix creating a very charming and continuously interesting performance. They return to more traditional free jazz with "Full Circle" with the music unfolding gradually and episodically, without forcing anything. They finish the concert with another spiritual, playing a rich and vibrant version of the traditional standard "Wade in the Water" with Rothenberg's deep and rich saxophone met perfectly with Drake's gentle groove. This concert was very successful with two very talented and individual musicians meeting on common ground and creating spontaneous and memorable music. Full Circle: Live in Lodz -

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Friday, June 16, 2017

John Lee Hooker - The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62 (Acrobat Records, 2016)

The discography of the great blues guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lee Hooker is a perilous trek for the uninitiated. Hooker not only recorded for a vast array of labels, but he also recorded under a variety of pseudonyms which allowed him to record for several labels simultaneously taking cash up front in an era that did not see paying royalties to African-American musicians a priority. Hooker was part of the great migration during the second world war, moving from the deep south to Cincinnati and then eventually Detroit where his career began in earnest. This is a budget four-disc collection that tries to cut through the confusion of Hooker's early career by focusing on sides that were released under his own name for a selected few labels during the first phase of his career. In so doing, it hits most of the high points, beginning with the immortal "Boogie Chillun'" with its primal guitar and massive foot stomping beat became an unexpected hit on the rhythm and blues charts and set the mold for his music during these first few years. The hugely overamped guitar, and pounding beat that Hooker employed would be massively influential not only on fellow blues artists, but also to a wide audience of white musicians in the decades to come. Also recorded for the Modern label at this time was the stark "Hobo Blues" and another of his signature works, the extraordinary "Crawlin' King Snake." Chess began legal action against Modern, so Hooker's music was split between those two labels, ensuring that there was plenty of Hooker music in the bins during the early 1950s. Memorable titles like "Louise" and "Bluebird" came out of these sessions, and this success led some producers to try to alter the Hooker formula resulting in some ill-fated experiments like double-tracking and speeding up his vocals, adding roller rink quality organ and even xylophone on "Cold Chills." The move from to the Vee-Jay label in the mid-fifties thankfully did away with that, and added one of Hooker's most successful collaborators, guitarist Eddie Kirkland. Hooker recorded many sessions for this label, released as singles and then packaged for the blooming LP market. Notable tracks during this period include the memorable "Dimples" and "I'm In the Mood" as well as full-band remakes of some of his earliest solo recordings. One of his final hits, the swaggering "Boom Boom" comes at the end of the collection, finishing on a solid note. This collection is well done, and would best suit those that are a little familiar with Hooker's music and looking to dive deeper. There is a fine booklet with recording information and liner notes that help the listener digest the music. John Lee Hooker was one of the titans of post-war American popular music, and this set will show you the reason why. The Modern, Chess and Vee-Jay Singles Collection 1949-62 -

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound - Not Two (New Amsterdam Records, 2017)

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra is a seventeen member improvising big band that weds music of the Middle East to jazz with excellent results. This generous double album shows the band tearing down cultural divides and creating a unique hybrid, beginning with "Iftitah" which has a slow droning opening, creating music that is patient and low in tone. Stringed instruments and piano enter and develop an exotic sound. Horns build in like a heraldic announcement, with the brass becoming loud and powerful and accompanied by a piano flourish. The music is episodic in nature with the sound flowing naturally, leading to brash waves of horns accompanied by insistent bass and percussion. Guitar and percussion usher in "Penny Explosion" which has a broad array of sounds that create an unusual and beguiling structure with music which builds and swirls hypnotically. The music is spacious and breathes easily, sounding light and mobile with a wide vocabulary of sound. Horns gradually build in, rising gracefully and creating a large group sound that is very interesting and multi-faceted. ElSaffar's trumpet breaks out for a short solo before the music drops out to bass and hand percussion. They are joined by some quiet and nuanced saxophone and the volume rises to a percussion feature that is fast and fluid. There is a slow opening for percussion and horns to open "Ya Ibni, Ya Ibni (My son, my son)" with Eastern tinged horn solos showcasing the richness of their instruments, with subtle vibes shading the music. The music gradually evolves and other instruments fill in, broadening the sound. There is a patient and rich feature for piano, which develops a lush rhythm with bass and percussion. "Layl (Night)" has dramatically played strings, both plucked and bowed, swooping and swelling dramatically leading to a section of powerful vocals and vocalizations, with the music crashing like the sea with a single saxophone soloing gently against the heavy music in a beautifully subtle manner. A complex and appealing rhythm sets the mood for "Hijaz 21/8" with fine interplay among the musicians especially subtle guitar and percussion. Horns swirl and whirl dizzily, making for fine company with the strings and discreet horns that join the percolating rhythm. Trumpet arcs over deep seated accompaniment of shimmering vibes and percussion creating an alluring sound. The longest performance on the album is "Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy" which begins with light horns interacting with strings and percussion. Saxophones and trumpet are playing in space, in and out of phase, shifting over the vibes and rhythm. The music becomes faster and more strident, with the horns moving in tandem and a shifting rhythmic center creating excitement as instruments collide, merge and emerge. There is great collective playing as suite like interconnected sections of music show different aspects of the ensemble. Vocals are framed by strings and percussion, further communicating the drama of the music, which is restlessly creative. The band builds a powerful edifice, with saxophones blasting forth powerful sound concluding with a light fanfare. The album finishes with "Bayat Declamation" a travelogue of strings and percussion with a sound that is mobile and variable. Strong horns frame this cinematic music with a flavorful full band featuring expressive hand percussion strings and glistening vibes. This was a very successful album, and it is highly recommended to fans of jazz and world music. The performances are strong and varied and this marks a triumph for Amie ElSaffar and his exciting blend of music. Not Two -

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Lean Left - I Forgot to Breathe (Trost Records, 2017)

Lean Left is an inspired combination of guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels from the legendary Dutch punk band The Ex with free jazz luminaries Ken Vandermark on saxophones and clarinet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. This is their seventh album together, and it was recorded in Amsterdam in 2015, beginning with "Coastal Surface" which opens with heavy grinding as all of the band's gears engage in a very cool fashion. This is a high impact balls to the wall conflagration, pushing the music to the outer limits before they pull back to allow some open space leading to a delightfully skewed portion of extended techniques then to a graceful conclusion. "Margo Inferior" has some rattling and clanking percussion with squeaks and pops which turns into a budding collective improvisation that is fast and forceful. The juxtaposition of the fast, hard exciting section and the open spaced areas comes forth like an invitation to dance. The epic "Groove for Sub Clavian Vein" is the centerpiece of the recording beginning with probing saxophone and guitar zig-zagging through the available space. They begin to slash and burn at a boisterous high volume which has an exhilarating impact. The music is wide open and unpredictable, moving massive blocks of sound becoming alarming and imposing while still thrilling the listener with strong pummeling drumming that keeps everything focused as Nilssen-Love builds a creative solo from his cymbals inward. There's a dynamic downshift for electronics and then Vandermark's blazing saxophone re-enters creating a thick sound that charges forward making a full band improvisation that is exciting and well articulated before moving to a quieter more nuanced conclusion. The spacious and abstract vibe is continued on "Oblique Fissure" beginning with choppy guitar and muddy saxophone then developing gradually to a stark and potent collective improvisation which kicks and tears at the firmament with spring loaded intensity bursting forth with dizzying excitement. "Pleural Lobe" has some alarming and imposing sounds, with music that opens and closes like breathing. Shards of electric guitar and percussion leading to a scalding improvisation that is unpredictable and exciting. The album closes with "Cardiac Impression" which takes abstract sounds and builds them into a powerful improvisation that takes the band to an over the top finish. This was another excellent album from this band, their first new release in three years. Hopefully this will rekindle the excitement in this group, leading to more performances and albums. I Forgot to Breathe -

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

JD Allen - Radio Flyer (Savant Records, 2017)

Tenor saxophonist JD Allen releases about one album per year, and it is always an event. There's little fanfare but those in the know wait with baited breath. This year's album has a quartet setting with Allen accompanied by Liberty Ellman on guitar, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The music revels in the twilight world between the mainstream and the avant-garde, making exploratory jazz that draws from many sources. The opening track "Sitting Bull" has a dark and rich vein of emotion running through it, with deep toned saxophone and free ranging drums framed by guitar and bass. There is a stern feel to the music that begins to lighten as the improvisation takes shape with Allen's raw saxophone lightening ever so slightly and beams of guitar poking through, and leading a fine full band extrapolation. A fine opening for guitar, bass and drums allows the rhythm team makes the most of it. Everyone comes back together at a simmer, directing the music to a carefully considered conclusion. Strong and supple playing lays the groundwork for "Radio Flyer" with stoic saxophone and resonant bowed bass leading the way with humility and maturity. The music is taken at an open-ended mid-tempo, with sparks of guitar providing juxtaposition within the heavy atmosphere. Drums gain in power providing a jumping off point for Allen's saxophone and Ellman's waves of shimmering guitar, and provoking a tight collective improvisation, and a well played guitar solo. "The Angelus Bell" has the trio barreling out of the gate at high speed, and with a lot of mass behind that velocity. The boiling bass and drums support the leader admirably, as quieter guitar accompaniment adds color to the proceedings. There is an opening for the trio with subtle percussion and guitar, slowly rising in intensity for a quick finishing move from Allen. There is a return to medium tempo on "Sancho Panza" featuring some fine and patient bass playing and subtle percussion. The music develops into a dark toned ballad approach with occasional piercing sounds of saxophone. Gentler percussion with brushes and guitar make the most of some open space, then Allen's melancholy saxophone return to guide them to the conclusion. "Herueux" has the band playing at a medium pace, allowing for maximum movement within the music, building to a tight and powerful full group improvisation. The band flexes and moves through their paces in an impressive manner, eventually making way for a well played guitar solo,and  building to a robust improvised section for guitar, bass and drums. A choppy rhythm opens "Deadalus" led by some fine drumming and angular saxophone, coming together for a very interesting quartet improvisation, buoyed by thick bass. Ripe and powerful saxophone surges through the music with touches of guitar and rolling drums keeping pace. There is a nice fluid guitar solo included, and a powerful drum solo. "Ghost Dance" slows things down considerably, with bass and drums laying the groundwork, building in suspense with the addition of a moody guitar line, creating edgy interplay between the musicians. Allen's pinched saxophone startles upon entry, his acidic tone burning through the music that surrounds him, driving the music into further unexplored territory before an abrupt finish. This was another excellent album from JD Allen, who is one of the most consistently capable performers on the modern jazz scene. Each of his albums has been a unique gem, and this is no exception. Radio Flyer -

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Thursday, June 08, 2017

Jamie Branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem, 2017)

Jamie Branch is a trumpet player and composer who has spent quite a bit of time in the fertile Chicago jazz scene. Like most of the best music from this city, her music is neither avant-garde nor straight-ahead, but a sophisticated amalgam of accessible themes and open ended improvisations. On this album she is joined by fellow city alumni Tomeka Reid on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Sitting in at various times on the recording are by Matt Schneider on guitar and Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman on cornet. The record they create is short, but packs quite a wallop on tracks like "Theme 001" where scraping cello and thick bass create an excellent launching pad for a strident trumpet solo framed by subtle sparks of sharp and crisp percussion which creates a complex rhythmic environment that provides fertile ground for improvising. Branch's trumpet solo has a strong physical edge to it, with weighty power and dignity propelling it. The music is energetic and kinetic, containing the mass of a full, ripe sound that allows it to be quite effective. "Theme 002" takes up where that piece leaves off with memorable bass and drums rhythmic structure, and Branch moving into a solo that adds long tones of higher pitched sounds, building the power of the music carefully, establishing an interesting melody and then using this as the basis for a pithy improvisation. The music Branch leads is confident and proud, and capable of it's own unique genetic signature. The musicians bond tightly over the music and this leads to some very interesting collective playing. There is a clarion call of trumpet on "Theme Nothing" which is met with immediate support and encouragement from the rest of the band, and again they develop a rhythmic foundation for the music that allows for its development with shards of trumpet flashing amidst the open groove that the overall music establishes. There is an irresistibly funky section for cello, bass and drums before Branch returns and helps drive the music home with passion and grace. The music on this album worked quite well and the band plays with a great deal of rhythmic imagination, allowing the music to go from lyrical to abstract and back without a hitch. Jamie Branch is definitely a young talent on the rise, and her future is bright. Fly Or Die -

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Monday, June 05, 2017

Books: Bob Dylan - Chronicles Vol. 1 (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

Bob Dylan's autobiography is a wonder of wordplay and storytelling, which is as compelling as some of his best lyrics. He subverts the normal architecture of biographies by jumping ahead to when he first moved to New York City and his description of early sixties New York as a frozen winter wonderland where he was struggling and scuffling to make it as a musician, also shows him seemingly overloaded, drunk on literature, music, film and other stimulants. From there we flash forward to 1968, and Dylan is now world famous, but in his own mind infamous. He is trying to take a break from music and desperate to try to create some space for himself and his family. From Woodstock to New York and beyond, he is relentlessly chased by seekers who believe he has the answers to everything and the press who wants to know what the "voice of his generation" has to say. We flash forward again to 1987 and a very intricate and in-depth recollection of the recording of the Oh Mercy album, a powerful and under appreciated comeback produced by Daniel Lanois. It was a difficult birth, beginning with Dylan having a moment of clarity about performing and writing, and then the recording sessions in New Orleans which stretched over a long period of time. From there, we end where we began, back in an icy cold New York City, with some detours to his formative years in Minnesota. He signs a contract for albums and songwriting, and the rest is history. This was a fantastic book, with many idiosyncratic twists and turns, and details of a unique and fascinating life. Chronicles: Volume One -

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Friday, June 02, 2017

Sun Ra - Discipline 27-II (Saturn 1973; Strut/Art Yard 2017)

This is a welcome reissue of a rare album from the great cosmic bandleader, keyboardist and composer Sun Ra came which was recorded around the same time period that the film and associated soundtrack to Space Is the Place was recorded. This was a purple patch for the Arkestra with some of their most powerful soloists on board and Ra setting some of his most memorable themes, beginning with "Pan Afro" and "Discipline 8" which have done very intricate ensemble playing with strong percussion, framing keyboards and some really happening horns. Featured is some excellent alto saxophone, presumably from Marshall Allen, that takes the ideas and characteristics of early 1960's Eric Dolphy as a starting point and then constructs a driving improvisation that stretches and pulls at the musical space and time in a very exciting manner. Things start to get a little further out on the track "Neptune" as the band gets into a deeply spiritual and cosmic groove, with chanted vocals from some of the male members of the group giving listeners a news update from the eighth planet along with some solid instrumental accompaniment. The main event is the twenty-four minute long medley "Discipline 27 (Parts 1-4)" which shows Sun Ra and June Tyson both singing, doing some great call and response vocals, beginning with the theme to "Life is Splendid" and then moving into some more social commentary where they rap about laughter, and the music becomes quite unnerving, and you're not sure whether the group is laughing with you or at you. It is a curious arrangement and one that really makes you think and respect Sun Ra for creating music that works on so many levels. This is a very memorable album that definitely deserves the belated recognition that it is receiving. Discipline 27-II -

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

Aruan Ortiz - Cub(an)ism (Intakt Records, 2017)

Coming hard on the heels of last years superb trio album, Hidden Voices, Cuban born and Brooklyn based pianist Aruan Ortiz moves into even more deeply personal territory with an angular and fiercely played album of solo piano. This album is the result of an interesting convergence of musical ideas and styles, which draws upon the variety of musical and personal experiences of Ortiz’s life, as a musician and a world traveler, and as one who is relentlessly curious and humanistic musician and individual. On this album, Ortiz’s compositions are derived from well developed thoughts and sensations, and they course along synaptic constructions which are shot through with the unexpected, allowing the music to flow naturally and organically. He plays the length and breadth of the instrument, with blasts of powerful lower end bass notes and chords that ring and resonate with astonishing clarity throughout the music. While he has a definite stylistic approach to the music, the music on this album remains diverse at all times. Using clear but flexible approaches, the music engages through structure and surprise, as well as tension and release. Clear and shimmering musical constructions are abruptly altered as the deep rhythmic nature of the music asserts itself. Each of the performances has a unique mood of their own. Ortiz makes carefully structured music into a compelling mix of sounds, rhythms and improvisation. All these elements combine to make a very unique sound. Musical forms converge like eddies, swirls and whirlpools of sound in a grand current, but Ortiz maintains the vision to keep the music under control. This album works quite well, with the music ranging widely in the traditions of jazz piano while keeping melodic structure at the forefront. The Cuban influence infuses Ortiz’s music with further drama that jolts the proceedings like a burst of electricity, creating interesting structures that allow for flowing improvisations and continually interesting music. Cub(an)ism -

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