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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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! -

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Nate Wooley - Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry for Aram Saroyan) (Clean Feed 2017)

Trumpeter and composer Nate Wooley is a student of jazz and improvised music in all its forms. Taking the ideas and cadences of a famous poet and developing them into a wide open free jazz palate is an interesting and thought provoking idea. On this album, he is accompanied by Chris Pitsiokos on alto saxophone, Brandon Lopez on bass and Dre Hocevar on drums. The album is a varied one where lengthy portions of open space or quiet instrumental playing is offset by bash steamrollers of brass and saxophone, thick bass and rolling drums. Snatches of melodies, motifs and themes bubble up and then mark a point where the band or smaller sections of it can begin another thoughtful improvised section, taking the smallest nugget of an idea and transforming it into a spontaneous composition in its own right. The idea of trumpet or cornet with saxophone backed by bass and drums with no other instrument like a piano or guitar has supplied the context for some great moments in jazz. Groups like Ornette Coleman's classic quartet of the late 1950's and early 1960's, whose trumpet player Don Cherry would jump ship and join another saxophone hero, Sonny Rollins in a short lived quartet that made some of the most exploratory music of both men's careers. In the early 2000's trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Chris Potter made two stellar albums in the format, demonstrating that this sense of openness and possibility is the lingua franca of modern jazz, allowing the soloists, rhythm team and band as a whole great opportunities for self and group expression. The early parts of "Knknighgh-6" show this particular group at their most unfettered, with a walloping collective improvisation and some particularly vivid free saxophone playing. The band allows members to break out into solo sections as needed, and Wooley builds a statement of his own leading into a portion of relative quiet. Emerging from this open space is a well woven bass solo, knitting the band a foundation that they can further create from. This shifting dynamic range is originally presented in "Knknighgh-3," the opening track. Running over sixteen minutes in length, we get a powerful demonstration of the abilities of each member of the band and their ability to create together as a unified whole. "Knknighgh-7" uses some raw drones to develop a setting of emotional unease, one that the musicians carefully probe and explore. They are able to grow from these musical seeds a followthrough of faster cells punctuated by short bursts of pinched and puckered brass. The concluding track "Knknighgh-8" waxes and wanes through sections of dynamism, comparing and contrasting structures that bring the album to a compelling and logical conclusion. Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry for Aram Saroyan) -

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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Mette Rasmussen / Tashi Dorji / Tyler Damon - To the Animal Kingdom (Trost, 2017)

Mette Rasmussen is a Danish alto saxophone player currently making her base of operations in Norway. She builds off of a wide range of influences, and demonstrates all of them on this album moving from free jazz to abstract soundscapes with equal facility. This is a very exciting album with Rasmussen joined by Tashi Dorji on guitar and Tyler Damon on drums, beginning with "To The Animal Kingdom" which plunges right in at the deep end with raw and guitar and saxophone met by pummeling drums. The music is very exciting with blistering shards of guitar sparking off against gale force saxophone and drums. Rasmussen has a very raw and appealing tone to her instrument, playing with a heart on her sleeve emotion that is very powerful, and leads the group into some over the top full band interplay. Torrential sounds burst forth with deep and guttural saxophone illuminated by flashes of guitar and the epic rhythm set of the drums. The trio breaks into a section of uneasy calm, as if pausing for breath before long tones of saxophone branch out and begin to howl as the maelstrom returns and carries to group to the conclusion. "To Life" is the second track and there are raw scrapes of guitar and ominous breathy saxophone meeting choppy sounds to form an uneasy opening. The group coalesces into a tight organic unit that builds the volume and intensity back up with thrashing drums and frantic morse code sounding notes from Rasmussen's saxophone, segueing into a thrilling collective improvisation of all out passion from the three musicians. This massive twenty minute plus track is consistently engaging due to the dedication of the musicians to ceaseless exploration, building to a full on assault with deep rhythmic drive underpinning the proceedings. The music opens up to evolve into a spacious section that is yearning and present, creating interesting textures as they build back up to the end of the track, playing with urgent physical power. The final track, "To the Heavens and the Earth," begins with pointillistic guitar and low tones of saxophone and percussion. They develop scratchy music that gradually folds in some more harrowing sounds that unite the group into a cohesive whole. The volume increases as great slabs of sound are conjured with blustery saxophone leading to a scalding trio improvisation. Bleats of saxophone with choppier guitar and drums lead the music into a more open and abstract section, with subtle saxophone framed by spacey and haunted guitar and drums that gradually build in as the track concludes. This was an excellent album of very exciting free jazz, with three very talented and focused musicians meeting on common ground and creating spontaneous and powerful music. To the Animal Kingdom - Bandcamp.

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Friday, September 01, 2017

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Not Bound (For Tune, 2017)

The trio of Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums have recorded very successfully together in many configurations and they do here as well. The wild card on this particular album is the inclusion of the iconoclastic Daniel Carter who comes equipped with an arsenal of instruments including flute, trumpet, tenor and soprano saxophone and clarinet. This makes for a wide ranging and exciting set of music that was recorded during June of 2016 in New York City. "Soul Secrets" opens the album in a subtle and thought provoking manner with Carter playing light and nimble flute that moves through the music very cleanly while the piano, bass and drums keep the music pointed forward. Switching to trumpet, Carter takes "Is" even further out, playing golden brass tones and clearing the way for some dynamic piano playing, contrasting light and dark tones. Thick bass and waves of percussion join them in a thoroughly present collectively improvised section that encapsulates all of the possibilities of modern jazz. "Totality" is the focal point of the recording, ideally so in this year of the eclipse, with Carter transitioning to tenor saxophone and Dickey's rattling and rumbling drum solo setting the pace for the recording. The group circles and probes the music's surface, with Shipp's deeply percussive piano playing providing just the right counterweight to Carter's saxophone filigrees and the agile bass and percussion playing. The music dives deeply only to surface with occasional calm patches of nearly romantic quietude. Carter glides over the rippling trio playing, skating over their sounds and adding sly commentary as he goes. He then moves to soprano saxophone, with a lithe and sweet sound that contracts nicely with some of the darker piano chords that Shipp favors. "This Coda" has a quiet and slightly sombre opening for just piano and clarinet, and the bass and drums holding out until the halfway point. Caret then moves back to tenor saxophone as the tempo of the piece increases and fills out. This was a very successful album, with all of the music continuously engaging and flush with inventiveness, fitting for four of the most imaginative musicians on the modern jazz scene. Not Bound -

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