Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raoul Bjorkenheim's Ecstasy - Doors of Perception (Cuneiform, 2017)

Finnish/American guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim's band Ecstasy is a tight and exciting jazz fusion outfit featuring Markku Ounaskari on drums, Jori Huhtala on bass and Pauli Lyytinen on saxophones and flute. The band has been together for over six years and the experience shows on this crisply played album. The album opens with "The Ides of March" which has an apprehensive air, with grinding guitar, thick bass and skittish saxophone. The group's collective playing develops a groove that moves about vigorously, making for a murky but alluring full band sound. "Answer It" on the other hand has shards of prickly electric guitar, sparking across the soundscape like heat lightning, with a fractured rhythmic beat from the drummer. It has a tight and claustrophobic feature for guitar and drums that works well, with added heft from the bass that enters into the mix. Raw saxophone makes the music even more potent and the musicians are patient enough to allow their improvisation to develop organically. "Buzz" develops an ominous repetitive groove that is framed by strange sounding saxophone and insistent cymbal playing. The music is alarming and arresting, with some overcaffeinated interplay that builds through a number of short cells. Lyytinen moves to flute for "Surf Bird" with subtle rhythm in support with the band allowing a lot of open space to envelop the the performance. They move into a mysterious and interesting performance that has an exotic tinge to it. "Elemental" has guitar chording that moves gracefully forward with dancing cymbals and bass in support. Light and airy soprano saxophone joins the group as they develop a sleek full band improvisation, with the saxophone taking flight in a nimble fashion and the leader slashing bright groups of notes behind him. The music progresses in a twisting or spiraling pattern that works quite well and holds the listener's attention. Popping and hooting saxophone and crashing drums add swagger to "Talkin' to Me?" which is met by gnarly electric guitar lurching forward in a harsh and grating fashion. They develop the dirty and raw Taxi Driver vibe even further, developing strong and undisguised jazz fusion. There's a break into a section of savage saxophone over cruising bass and drums before Björkenheim’s guitar screams back in, creating some delightful mayhem. Light bass and drums usher in the title track "Doors of Perception" which seems to refers more to Huxley than a certain LA rock band. The quartet makes interesting music with low toned strings and light cymbals creating a unique feel, as the saxophone gradually folds into the proceedings. The music is being created spontaneously, with the sense of an ongoing conversation which develops into an intriguingly disorienting sensation. "Jitterbug" is an uptempo track that has a fun and frolicking feel to it as the group plays with a tight groove and making short work of the themes that percolate, and sharp strident guitar and saxophone leading the charge. There is a subtle flowing sensation on "Sunflower" with the gentle taps of Ounaskari's cymbals meeting the shimmering guitar and low toned saxophone, to create a colorful almost psychedelic performance, leading to the expansion of consciousness that the album's title alludes to. The album concludes with "Ecstasy Dance" which is an exciting, highly charged performance with a driving tempo and soprano saxophone that has an intense, vivid color or a swirling abstract pattern. Bjorkenhem's snarling guitar then takes the lead and performs a very exciting solo backed by driving bass and drums, leading the band into the home stretch. This album worked quite well, with the experienced and polished ensemble stretching the textures and rhythmic and melodic narratives in an exciting and enthralling manner. Doors of Perception - amazon.com

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Borderlands Trio - Asteroidea (Intakt Records, 2017)

Borderlands Trio is a very interesting new group featuring Stephan Crump on acoustic bass, Kris Davis on piano and Eric McPherson on drums. The album was recorded in December of 2016, in Queens, New York City, and it starts out in an audacious fashion with the twenty-six and a half minute track "Borderlands" which begins with cool percussive piano and bowed bass. The drums and percussion slide in and conjoins with the bass which is both bowed and plucked as the performance develops, deepening and allowing more resonant sounds to come to the forefront. The group plays with great nuance and subtlety, creating space for the music to take both form and freedom as it develops, and allowing for the use of prepared piano throughout the evolution of the performance which helps the trio develop a unique feel of a percussive ensemble as they use varying types of rhythm throughout their improvisation. Davis uses fast shards of sound that develops into a creative mixture of different forms or styles of piano, played both inside and outside the instrument. The group is able to repeat a hypnotic percussive pattern like some kind of progressive musical number station. The remainder of the album is composed of shorter pieces, which continue the percussive nature of the music and continues the group's willingness to take risks and playing the totality of their chosen instruments which makes tracks like "Clockwork" and "Ocre" so memorable. They are able to develop a wide ecology or ecosystem of sounds, and react and improvise with them in real time, mixing tenderness and strength, and presenting a mysterious performance that is very attractive to listeners. The name of this group is apt, because they do investigate the borders in their music, whether that is between composition and improvisation, volume and silence, or darkness and light. This is a true trio, and everyone uses their energies to further the greater whole, making for a memorable and thoughtful album. Asteroidea - amazon.com

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Mike Moreno - Three For Three (Criss Cross, 2017)

Mike Moreno is an accomplished modern mainstream jazz guitarist originally from Houston. Joined on this album by Doug Weiss on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, they develop a very interesting program of music that runs the gamut from Wayne Shorter to Radiohead with many stops in-between. "The Big Push" is the opening track and it opens with some nimble guitar chords before the bass and drums join in, making for a pleasant medium up-tempo performance. Moreno strikes out on a solo with an enjoyable and flowing tone from his instrument which is met by faster paced swinging bass and drums. The group works together nicely, building an exciting improvised section that has real legs. There is an interlude for a well articulated bass solo, framed by light percussion and spare guitar chords. The drummer offers up a deeply rhythmic solo of his own, trading phrases with Moreno's guitar to excellent effect, then everyone falls back in line to end a fine performance. There is a slightly restrained feel on "For Those Who Do" with liquid toned guitar playing off against restrained bass and drums. The group takes a lyrical approach to this performance, elaborating upon themes and confidently improvising on the source material, with clean sounding lines of guitar reaching out to envelop the music's progress, and keeping a firm hand on the throttle. "Clube da Esquina No. 1" has a very pleasant feel to it with acoustic guitar along with subtle and atmospheric bass. The song unfolds gradually as a lilting ballad that is steeped in romance and mystery. The music moves fluidly in and out of different sections with electric and acoustic guitars in space that works in an immediate and engaging manner. The standard "April in Paris" gets a fine workout, with the group hinting at the familiar melody in an oblique fashion, before stretching out in a lengthy improvised section. The trio works together very well, advancing the music by gradually increasing the volume and pace, and developing a dynamic narrative which the musicians can work off of. There is a taut bass solo, stretching out nicely with gentle guitar and percussion hanging back. The drummer takes subtle and shaded mini-solos against the bass and guitar, trading ideas as they go before Moreno resumes the lead and guides the performance to a stately conclusion. "Perhaps" is a brisk and bright tune, setting the pace for the ensuing improvisation, where the music they play was is melodic and swinging, crisply articulated and performed with panache. The musicians throttle down to a quieter section encompassing a thick well recorded bass solo which was quite impressive, and another feature for the drummer developing crisp solo with a wealth of rhythmic ideas. This album worked very well, and will hopefully garner some much deserved attention. The music is excellently played and the songs and their accompanying improvisations are thoughtful and interesting. 3 For 3 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 2: Artacts (Audiographic Records, 2017)

This is another very exciting collectively improvised performance by a powerhouse group consisting of Didi Kern on drums, Elisabeth Harnik on piano and Ken Vandermark on reed instruments. This album was recorded live in concert at the Artacts Festival in Austria during March of 2017, and it is the second part of a trilogy of albums falling under the broader Constructs mantle. These musicians have been performing together quiet a bit, beginning with Vandermark's residency at the Stone in New York City and in other festivals and club settings, and use the camaraderie they have developed to excellent effect. The music on this album consists of a three-section improvisation, beginning with "Xerox Collage" which opens with some initial probing, followed by everyone focusing on the music and building a very compelling performance, drawing upon a combination and collection of various ideas from music and art and using them as guideposts from which to build the performance. The drums and piano are freed from keeping a strict time or pulse and this allows Kern and Harnik to play in an unpredictable manner and really engage with Vandermark's saxophone in a raw and powerful performance. Vandermark drops out entirely for a section of expansive piano and drums and then uses peals of loud repeated and reverberating sound to embrace the other two instruments. This music has the ability to weave together quieter passages, and juxtapose them against great bursts of sound, using sections of solos and duets in addition to the full trio. The rhythmic conception of the music is full of surprises and open minded shifts, dropping to silence at some points. Vandermark moves through a range of reed instruments to develop a ever changing sound that is met by his partners, and it is turned into an exciting focused performance. A thrilling section of trio improvisation closes the first section of the performance in a memorable way. "Paper Tongues" gives the musicians more room to work with, developing a wider canvas for them to create upon. The music is dynamic and very active, it's energy bubbling just below the surface, creating a tension that powers the performance. It is music that patiently gains volume around the piano, building potential energy all the way, and then releasing it at just the right time. The music has a agitated nature that is quite interesting to hear and everyone in the group has an wide range of sounds to add to the interplay and the overall structure of the music. There is a short coda entitled "For the Birds" a taut and spirited improvisation that sums the entire performance up nicely. The DEK Trio seems to be one of Ken Vandermark's go-to ensembles, and it is easy to see why. The musicians are well matched for each other and have the ability to take composed or freely improvised material and make the most of it. Construct 2: Artacts - Bandcamp.com

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Paint (Hot Cup, 2017)

It is hard to imagine the venerable modern jazz band Mostly Other People Do the Killing as a hornless piano trio, but they pull it off in style, using their trademark wit to carry them through a stressful period of lineup changes. Pianist Ron Stabinsky joined the group in 2014 for the Red Hot album, and he has a Jaki Byard like ability to call upon the whole of jazz history in his playing, or to quote a Beaver Harris album title, the ability to play "From Ragtime To No Time." Group co-founders bassist and composer Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea round out this version of the band and they are very tight making for music that is uniformly excellent, beginning with  "Yellow House" which has a gracefully strutting rhythm, building to a kaleidoscopic improvisation that moves through several interesting sections that are linked together by a memorable melody. They weave in percussive accents of Latin jazz within a bright and bouncy hard bop structure, with cascading ripples of piano pouring forth from Stabinsky and thick bass and drums providing a firm foundation for the band. There is a fast opening for "Black Horse" which sees the trio sprinting forward with a light and nimble theme and improvisation. The interplay between the members of the trio is excellent and allows them to shift the tempo and intensity of the music on a dime. The trio keeps the fast paced groove and builds different statements off of that foundation, like an excellent bass solo which is framed by bursts of piano and percussion. "Plum Run" has a gently swinging opening, developing the music slowly and dramatically, with Elliott stretching out with another excellent bass solo and the piano and drums adding filigrees to his firm handed improvisation. Stabinsky's piano solo builds to a very exciting climax before concluding with a return to the mellow and relaxed theme. "Green Briar" has an impressive fast pace which serves as a opening for Stabinsky to improvise some very stylish piano over ever shifting bass and drums. Finally, "Whitehall" has a subtle theme that allows the band to mold it into a very interesting improvised section, using dynamic loudness and abrupt pauses with dramatic swells of volume that make for an exciting and unpredictable performance. This was an excellent album that melds jazz tradition with a modernist edge. I was a little skeptical about the changes to the band's lineup, but those concerns turned out to be groundless, and everything works in a thoughtful and interesting manner. Paint - CDBaby.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith is no stranger to the electric guitar, having joined forces with Henry Kaiser to make two stellar electric Miles Davis styled jazz fusion albums under the name Yo Miles! This, however, is an album of entirely original compositions in the company of Kaiser, Michael Gregory Jackson, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith on guitar, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Pheeroan akLaff on drums and Adam Rudolph on percussion. They made the music by recording a session and followed up by re-recording some of the music, which Laswell and Smith edited and remixed it to further strengthen the overall sound of the group. There is never a danger of having too many cooks, because the band is a powerhouse unit and they make a wonderfully unique sound, beginning with "Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms: A Resonance Change In The Millennium" which echoes the music of Coleman's Prime Time bands and especially the early electric music he made with James "Blood" Ulmer on guitar, creating extraordinary albums like Dancing in Your Head and Body Meta, recorded in 1976. Thrashing drums and percussion push the music relentlessly forward as the guitars smear neon light and Smith ignites the music with sparks of flinty trumpet. To my knowledge John Coltrane never recorded with an electric guitarist but his massive influence was felt far and wide and it imbues "Ohnedaruth John Coltrane: The Master Of Kosmic Music And His Spirituality In A Love Supreme" with a spiritual fervor that allows the guitarists and percussionists to drive the music forward as Laswell's buoyant electric bass glues the whole thing together. The great drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson was force of nature in Coleman's groups as well as his own band, The Decoding Society. "Ronald Shannon Jackson: The Master of Symphonic Drumming and Multi-Sonic Rhythms, Inscriptions of a Rare Beauty" looks into the free funk that Jackson was best known for. The percussionists really get a chance to shine here, creating complex settings for the rest of the band to interact with. "The Empress, Lady Day: In A Rainbow Garden, With Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded By Exotic Plants And Flowers" is a spare and thoughtful tribute to Billy Holiday with ghostly guitar and percussion framing Smith's golden arcs of trumpet which carve the silence around him. Overall the album worked very well and it makes a perfect counterpoint to the solo trumpet record he released simultaneously with this one. Smith has been on an unstoppable roll lately as a bandleader and collaborator and this is yet another feather in his cap. Najwa - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Matt Wilson - Honey and Salt (Palmetto Records, 2017)

Drummer Matt Wilson has long been fascinated with the poetry of Carl Sandburg, as evidenced by one of his earlier solo albums, As Wave Follows Wave, which was named after a Sandburg poem. This album focuses on the poems, with sections of spoken word and singing backed by an excellent group that features Christian McBride, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Carla Bley, Joe Lovano and Rufus Reid speaking the words of the poet, in addition to Dawn Thomson on vocal and guitar, Ron Miles on cornet, Jeff Lederer on reeds, harmonium and voice, Martin Wind on bass and voice and Wilson himself on percussion and voice. The vocals/spoken word and the instrumental play mesh well, beginning with "Spoon" whose slightly goofy lyrics are sung with a wry wink to a gently swinging beat and rhythm. "As Wave Follows Wave" is reprised with a stoic multi voiced reading, and the moody "Night Stuff" has room for an excellent extended cornet solo from Miles, leading the band through dark and noir scented passages. "We Must Be Polite" has a bright and swinging feel, and the improvisation tumbles joyously forward, and the off-kilter rhythm and strongly riffing horns framing the spoken recitation, and then uncorking a raucous saxophone solo. They use Sandburg's own voice juxtaposed against Wilson's light and rolling percussion on "Fog," perhaps one of the poet's most well known creations (the fog rolls in on little cat feet...) Wilson's martial drumming launches "Choose" into a rattling clanking full band march, with chanted vocals leading the music forward, making for one of the most exciting pieces on the album, as thick bass and ever-shifting drums pushing the tempo faster and Lederer's flute bubbling up from the mix. Wilson's drum solo is excellent, and the other instrumentalists fall back into line crisply leading to a pinpoint conclusion. There is a backporch acoustic country song called "Offering and Rebuff" with Dawn Thomson's beautiful voice and acoustic guitar leading the band though a respectful performance, before heading to deeper waters on "Stars, Songs, Faces," where the stoic instrumental passages include brushed percussion framed by horns and lilting vocals. "Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz" has the gravelly voice of Jack Black intoning the lyrics, before the band crashes in with taut drumming and soprano saxophone leading the way. Lederer and Wilson duet in a raw and exciting fashion, making the most of the improvisational space to inject some exciting modern jazz into the proceedings. This album was clearly a labor of love for Matt Wilson, and that comes through in the attention to detail paid to both the rendering of the poetry and lyrics and the arrangements for the instrumentalists. Honey and Salt - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl Records, 2017)

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

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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

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

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Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

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

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

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind Recordings, 2017)

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

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

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

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

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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

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

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Monday, October 09, 2017

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

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

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Friday, October 06, 2017

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

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

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Thursday, October 05, 2017

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

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

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

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

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

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