Saturday, March 31, 2018

Miles Davis and John Coltrane - The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 (Legacy, 2018)

Saxophonist John Coltrane had already released his first masterpiece Giant Steps and was looking forward to putting together a band of his own to go out on the road. Trumpeter Miles Davis had employed Coltrane on and off since 1955 and was in a pinch, needing a saxophonist for a scheduled JATP tour of Europe in the early spring of 1960, gaining grudging acceptance from Coltrane. This was the band that made several classic Davis recordings, including the immortal Kind of Blue with a superb rhythm section including Paul Chambers on bass, Wynton Kelly on piano and Jimmy Cobb on drums. These recordings have been in the grey market and bootleg circles for years, but they have never sounded this good. The remastering cleans up the sound which were originally radio recordings, with two sets from Paris’s L’Olympia Theater on Monday, March 21; and two from the next night at Stockholm’s Konserthuset; and one from Copenhagen’s Tivolis Koncertsal three days later, on March 24. The music is enthralling, Davis is the leader and at the top of his game, but it is Coltrane whose lengthy, searching solos are the main event for many on these records, his solos leaving perplexed and divided audiences in his wake. Special attention should be given to the rhythm section, who is ready for anything, whether it is the short pithy solos of Davis or the long searching Coltrane features. They are there with crisp rhythmic accompaniment and confident soloing throughout the recordings. The concerts included follow much of Davis's usual repertoire from the period, "So What", "All Blues" and "Walkin'" are some of the highlights where Miles plays with the refined grace that was his hallmark. He discouraged his bands from rehearsing, instead wanting them to be fresh on the bandstand, taking chances and allowing the material to be reexamined every night. John Coltrane made the most of this, along with the freedom and latitude that Davis allowed him. looking at the source material from every conceivable angle from which is might be improvised upon and then building layer upon layer of relentless music. He's not out of control however, although he may be way out there on performances like "All Blues" from Stockholm, trying out every conceivable method of playing. He's like a scientist, experimenting and then refining the results and casting aside what doesn't belong. Although the audiences, particularly at the Paris concert are flummoxed by this approach, his quest was all consuming and genuine and this attitude would continue for the remainder of his all too brief life. This is a fascinating release and fans of historical mainstream jazz are well advised to pick it up. It shows two two of the most important figures in jazz history performing for the last time before departing for vastly different paths. The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 -

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mary Halvorson - Code Girl (Firehouse 12, 2018)

Guitarist Mary Halvorson put together this experienced quintet to play her original music, with members from different musical backgrounds focused on bringing her compositions to life. The rest of the band consists of Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums and the music was recorded in mid December of 2016 at Firehouse 12. “Pretty Mountain” evolves into some powerful wordless, near operatic vocal improvisation framed by sharp drumming, and Kidambi solos with the impressive confidence equal to any of the instrumentalists. Halvorson really catches fire on “Possibility of Lighting” where she takes a scalding guitar solo, flinging notes outward as if possessed by a whirling dervish, focusing on dark, intense squalls, used to punctuate her solo. “Off the Record” a purely instrumental performance has a sense of loping swing, and a bright and colorful trumpet opening. Halvorson’s guitar is witty and pointed, sending out sparkling notes that tumble together amidst the solid foundation of bass and drums. There is a gradually evolving process to “In the Second Before” where the music dramatically grows as if of its own accord, before coming to a head an an epic all out free jazz conclusion of squalling sound and passionate playing. An excellent trumpet solo enlivens “The Beast” along side thick and resonant bass, soaring vocals and restrained drumming. There is a sparkling guitar solo at the center of “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon” with stoic bass and drums in firm support as the guitar notes stretch and warp like taffy in the sun, building a blindingly intense fantasia that is soon joined by briskly played trumpet as the band lifts off of their own inertia, incorporating a fantastic drum solo framed by sparkling trumpet, and heading to a corrosive collective finish. There is a crisply played full band intro to “Thunderhead” that moves to an exploratory yet melodic brass interlude. Guitar notes hang in space like a gentle snowfall, twirling amidst the eddies of musical flow, whereas “Deepest Similar” is a feature for towering vocals gradually rising into artful streams that recall Linda Sharrock. “Drop the Needle” has declaratory vocals and the leader develops a quavering and watery guitar solo, with a post-modern psychedelic flair, one that is open minded in mood but without too much strangeness, which is a perfect setting for the restrained trumpet and bass to flourish. This was a very successful project, with Halvorson’s daring compositions and soloing combining jazz with an arty post rock sensibility to create a sound that the is genuinely unique and memorable. Code Girl -

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Frode Gjerstad Trio with Steve Swell - Bop Stop (Clean Feed, 2018)

This is a crackling album of modern and free jazz featuring Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, Steve Swell on trombone, Jon Rune Strom on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion, recorded live in performance in September of 2017 at the Bop Stop in Cleveland. This album is raw and unfettered modern free jazz with hints of the aforementioned bop (Albert Ayler and Joe Lovano both got their starts playing bebop in Cleveland, so the well runs deep here) with long stretches of abstract improvisation keeping the music unpredictable and fresh. This is clear from the opening selection "Bop Stop" where the playing can be strong and fierce, but like the rest of the album, there are places for smaller units to break out of the larger whole for solo statements and duo conversations. "Pop Bop" is an ample demonstration of this with saxophone and trombone painting swathes of impressionistic sound colors in the open space ceded to them when the bass and drums lay out. When the bass returns to action it develops a low and grinding bowed sound that adds a gritty texture along with depth and heft to the music with the punctuation of percussive slapping. The drums enter at last, developing a rattling and clanking rhythm, supporting Gjerstad's unique saxophone voice which is a salty mixture of the European free improvisation and American free jazz approaches. Dynamism and contrasting textures are important to the success of this performance as it builds to a crushing drum solo which takes the music in an exciting new direction. Everyone then comes together for an epic blowing session of collective improvisation, with trombone and saxophone blasting over roiling bass and drums. The conclusion of the album is "Post Stop" which features raw and rending sounds from the alto saxophone and trombone providing a sense of alarm and anxiety that adds further light and shade to the music. Brief touches of melody sit astride strong a strong rhythmic foundation, and leads the band into a powerful and frenetic finish. The members of the group communicate in a very meaningful fashion, from harsh and grating to soft, abstract and subtle. This was a very well done album of music that ebbs and flows in a very affecting manner and leaves the listener with the feeling of having experienced an exciting and immediate performance. Bop Stop -

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Matthew Shipp - Zer0 (ESP-Disk, 2018)

Pianist Matthew Shipp's most recent solo album is an excellent distillation of his approach to the instrument as well as his conception of composition and improvisation. There is an album of eleven crisp, pointed selections and an added bonus of a disc containing the spoken word lecture that he gave at The Stone in New York City, which provides fascinating insight into the man behind the music, as does poet Steve Dalachinsky's stream of consciousness liner note essay. He opens with the title track, "Zero" which features sharp, stabbing notes and chords that create a latticework of sound, evolving to chime like sounds hanging in open space, before gradually re-filling the available volume of the music. This gives way to the haunted soundscape of "Abyss Before Zreo" with its cold and spectral crystalline notes and slow evocative movement, that builds to a sense of uneasy resolution. Deep charges of low end chords, juxtaposed against higher pitched notes power "Pole After Pole" with a depth and gravitational sensibility pulling the music in on itself, leading into "Piano Panels" which has a full and potent sound that ranges from percussive chords to fast runs covering the length of the piano. "Zero Skip and a Jump" has the pianist moving quickly around the keyboard deploying a lighter touch that is punctuated by abrupt stabbing notes the push the music forward. The longest track on the album is the exploratory "Zero Subtract From Jazz" which evolves episodically, with eddies of high pitched notes running into stronger currents of darker chords and crashing notes. The music is a very impressive piece of improvisation, incorporating powerful technique and nimble execution. The talk that Shipp gives at The Stone called "On Nothingness" is a wide ranging meditation on the nature of music and the way that it pertains to science, spirituality and economics and the expression of sound in the modern age. Shipp is a powerful thinker, and to hear him in this context, removed from the music, or even words on a page is a very thought provoking experience. This album is a diverse and complete package, with the music, spoken word and poetry all playing an integral part to demonstrating how Matthew Shipp remains one of the most vital artists on the creative music scene. Zer0 -

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tim Daisy - Animation (Relay Records, 2018)

Percussionist and composer Tim Daisy delivers another excellent album with a crack band that includes James Falzone on clarinet, Steve Swell on trombone, Josh Berman on cornet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophones. This album was recorded at the Elastic Arts Foundation in Chicago in 2017, and it presents three long and meaty tracks that really allow the band to dig in and explore the terrain, with in depth collective improvisations and also solos and features for smaller groupings of instruments within the larger whole. The compositions on this album are inspired by a wide range of modern musical concepts like the improvisation and composition ideas that were developed in Chicago from the mid sixties to today by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. AACM musicians like Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton and many others developed powerful ideas of foundation and texture that connects them to modern composers and improvisers like Daisy and his colleagues. The group is called the Fulcrum Ensemble (this is their second album) and their music evolves from the assimilation of these historical influences and many others from a wide variety of music, developing a forward thinking music that focuses on creating something personal and thoughtful. The group has every intention to keep creating these unique collaborative sounds together well into the future. By making use of some of the finest musicians in today’s creative improvised music world, the conception of these compositions and their resulting improvisations makes the most of their strong manner of playing, their holistic experience reflected upon the nature of the music, incorporating graciousness, assertiveness and spirit of adventure that the ensemble members provide. The music on this album is quite diverse, running the gamut from jazz to free improvisation and beyond, providing a wide range of musical color and structure. This is a very exciting group that really thrives on the unexpected and develops their music accordingly. Animation -

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Brad Mehldau - After Bach (Nonesuch Records, 2018)

I must admit that I know very little about classical music. My dad used to play it on the radio in the car when I was growing up, and I’ve read many interviews with musicians who speak about classical composers as inspirational figures. Like Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau is a musician the has the talent and inclination to co-exist in the jazz and classical realms, and this album comprises the pianist and composer’s recordings of compositions by Bach with each followed by an “After Bach” response piece written by Mehldau and inspired by each composition he covers, allowing him to develop a very interesting call and response format. Apparently Bach was an improviser in his own right, and this gives Mehldau license to state the original Bach composition, and then follow up with his his own original performance that allows him to improvise, not necessarily in the jazz tradition, but improvising in the European art music continuum. After Bach began with the work Mehldau first played a few years ago, when he was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, The National Concert Hall, and Wigmore Hall. He called his commission Three Pieces After Bach, and then entering the recording studio, he forged an album that is bookended by two original compositions. The album begins with and original composition  “Before Bach: Benediction” and ends with his own “Prayer for Healing” which provide a meditative and thoughtful intro and outro and gives the music as a who a powerful emotional resonance. Overall, this album worked well, the piano is recorded beautifully and the music rings out and resonates, with an excellent sense of touch and feel in Mehldau’s piano playing. The music is quite pretty and enjoyable to listen too, for both jazz and classical fans. After Bach -

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky (Sony Legacy, 2018)

Guitarist, singer, songwriter, Jimi Hendrix is a galvanizing presence in rock 'n' roll, even nearly fifty years after his death. Like many famous people who died all too young, he left mountains of half-finished studio recordings and reams of bootleg and legitimate live recordings that belie the short time he spent on this planet and the even shorter time he spent as a rock 'n' roll star, flashing across the sky like a short lived but brilliant comet. After his death on September 18, 1970, there was a frenzy of activity, and with no clear line of succession, posthumous releases flooded the marketplace, and with the advent of the compact disc plus the progression to downloading and streaming, the frenzy became a veritable tsunami. Posthumous releases were both unauthorized and legitimate, often confusing the consumer. Executor Al Hendrix eventually licensed recordings to Sony through the family-run company Experience Hendrix LLC, and an effort was made to clean up some of the most egregious indulgences which resulted in a recent trilogy of recordings: Valleys of Neptune, People, Hell and Angels, and Both Sides of the Sky. This most recent album compiles music from 1968 to 1970, mixing released and previously unreleased recordings. It catches Hendrix in flux, moving away from the original Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, into a funkier out fit that included Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, called the Band of Gypsys, who would develop a deep funk workout here called "The Power of Soul" that became a linchpin of their resulting 1970 live album. He shows his blues roots on this album with very nicely done covers of the muddy Waters classic "Mannish Boy" which kicks off the album, and an emotional version of Guitar Slim's testimonial "The Things That I Used to Do." These two tracks along with an epic deconstruction of the blues classic "Hear My Train A-Comin'" which consists of a complete take rather than the composite track that was Frankensteined together on the 1994 album Jimi Hendrix: Blues. These particular tracks really inspire the musicians and ground the music deep in the fertile soil of the blues which create an excellent foundation for what it to come. Other tracks like a blistering "Lover Man" which represents the summation of Hendrix's attempts to mold the song (a live staple) into a studio version he was satisfied with. Steven Stills was a frequent jamming partner of Hendrix's after they met at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. They had each become enthused about the Joni Mitchell song "Woodstock" and in late September of 1969 they worked on the song until Stills moved to organ and vocals when the performance quickly took shape. They stayed in this configuration while cutting another Stills led piece, "$20 Fine." There are some interesting curios, like the duet performance between Hendrix (even incorporating some electric sitar!) and Mitchell that resulted in the atmospheric instrumental "Cherokee Mist" Overall this album works quite well, there are informative liner notes and some excellent photographs which round out a well designed set that will be a boon to Hendrix obsessives and classic rock fans in general. Both Sides Of The Sky -

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The Yardbirds - Yardbirds '68 (Jimmy Page Music, 2017)

The legendary rock 'n' roll band The Yardbirds were on their last legs in early 1968 when these recordings took place. Jimmy Page, last in a long line of heroic guitarists in the group's employ had taken command of the music and it began to move away from the blues/pop foundation the group had been working on since their formation in 1963. Page wanted to move the band into a more confrontational heavy riff based music that he would eventually perfect with his next band, Led Zeppelin. (see also the Goldmine article about the Yardbirds to Zeppelin transition) Regardless, this is a very interesting collection, consisting of one disc of live material recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York City and a second disc entitled Studio Sketches, consisting of demo material recorded during this period. In addition to Page on guitar, the band consisted of Keith Relf on vocals, harmonica, percussion, Chris Dreja on bass guitar on backing vocals and Jim McCarty on drums, percussion and vocals. This music had been released very briefly on LP before being pulled, making this version curated under the auspices of Page himself with input from the other surviving band members the first official re-mixed, re-mastered release of the music. They may have been fraying at the edges, but the group remained a powerful live act, as seen by strong performances of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" which motors along relentlessly with raw drumming and soaring harmonica. A couple of their earlier singles follow, "Mr, You're a Better Man Than I" and "Heart Full of Soul" which develop dynamically within the traditional framework the band had built over the years. The first surprise comes in the form of an embryonic version of "Dazed and Confused" soon to become an exercise on self-indulgence as Page wowed arena sized crowds with his guitar bowing technique and performances would stretch out over fifteen minutes. They are still feeling their way through these songs, but you can sense Page chafing against the familiar patterns of the band. This all comes together on the concluding track, a ten minute blowout of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” including a few sub themes to boot. Everybody digs into this performance with a tough chugging groove with slashing guitar and taut bass and drums. They also rip through a few more of their popular singles, taking a fast packed and action packed approach to fan favorites “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes of Things.” The following disc of demos is short, but contains some treasures, such as the two versions of acoustic experiments like “Spanish Blood” and "Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)" another track that would find another life gets shortly. Overall, this is a valuable historical collection showing that the band was functioning at a high level and experimenting right up to the end. Yardbirds '68 -

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk, 2018)

This is an excellent album of modern jazz from the quartet of Matthew Shipp on piano, Mat Walerian on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and clarinet, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The group will re-configure itself throughout the album, opening up interesting sections for solos, duos and trios within the full band framework. The album begins quietly with "First Step" as Shipp provides deep blue chords in open space for the saxophone to weave around amidst gentle bowed bass and cymbal play. The spare and beautiful piano that opens "Blues Addition" has a sense of melodic grace, as notes and chords ring and resonant in the air. After two minutes, the bass and bass clarinet are featured, keeping the meditative nature of the music intact, as piano and drums are absent, while "The Station" has long tones and quick swirls of clarinet unaccompanied in space, layering interesting textures in a solo statement, that is a great feature for Walerian's playing. The full band comes together at a faster pace on "Lines of Energy" which has a skittish and nervous flow to it. Their collective improvisation is rapidly streaming and exciting to hear, with raw saxophone weaving in between the taut rhythm and with pungent piano. Shipp's deep and strong piano playing is center stage for "Easy Flow" gaining volume and resonance as the music evolves through percussive jabs and lightning fast filigrees, creating a great solo piano performance. Tight bass playing lays the foundation for "The Problem of Jazz" which quickly adds short cells of slashing drums and saxophone, creating a very compelling narrative that is based on propulsive bass playing and bursts of free jazz noise. After the ringing introduction of "The Note," the piano, bass and drums unit takes command with a forceful "3 by 4." The music is fast paced and alert, careening forward in a compelling fashion, with Shipp's muscular piano colliding with the active bass and drums building deeply coherent energy where the three musicians play steep and fast, energetic, before the saxophonist joins them about halfway through and takes things to a thrilling new level with an explosive collective improvisation. "Cell in the Brain" returns to a more open ended feel with clarinet and subtle percussion carving a channel through the air with interjections from piano, plumbing the low end of the piano for a deeper atmosphere. The longest track on the album is the concluding "Sonic Fiction" which brings together all of the aspects of the prior performances into one long summation. The quartet plays thoughtfully, carving space within which to improvise, at times dense and passionate, while also blooming into open space, with the saxophone and piano leading the way, adding some excellent adding further depth and variety to the music, even dropping into some deeply swinging freebop sections as the piece develops. Sonic Fiction -

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bad Plus - Never Stop II (Legbreaker Records, 2018)

Pianist Orrin Evans was an inspired choice (and if the Downbeat interview is accurate, the only choice) to replace founding member Ethan Iverson in The Bad Plus. Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King remain as the bedrock of the group, and the trio continues as before, creating witty compositions and pairing them with pithy improvisations. Leading off with the haunting and melodic “Hurricane Birds” which leads the group into the album, one that has a sense of melancholy that reflects the age. This sensibility is bookended by two bonus tracks that end the album, "Kerosene" and "Seems" which take on a floating fluidity that moves gracefully through their improvisations with a group nature that eschews soloing for an overall band sound. "Trace" kicks the pace up a notch with crisp drumming and thick sounding bass providing a firm foundation for Evans's piano to glide over. The music is not overtly loud, but it is played with a sense of urgency that keeps the tune moving along briskly. Their collective improvisation is very solid, and the trio works well as a group, interacting and sharing opportunities to support one another, and building to an exciting and satisfying conclusion that keeps the melody at the forefront. There is a sample of the bouncy wit that this group has been long known for on "Safe Passages" with Evans providing percussive piano chords over churning bass and drums that drive the music rhythmically forward. The music moves at a fast and interesting pace, with a high level of listening and empathy between the musicians resulting in a consistently interesting performance and album highlight. "Commitment" is one of the more dynamic pieces of music on the album, starting with a sense of velocity as all three members lean into a crashing, rhythmically dense configuration, with some excellent drumming taking the lead, and then everyone diving deep into a headlong improvised section. Rippling piano notes and deep muscular bass further develop the track, until there is an abrupt shift in tempo to a ballad configuration, with much open space and light touches on the instruments. This is a jarring change, but works to keep the listener off guard and apprehensive about what is to come. They return to the fast pace on the tumbling "Lean in the Archway" anchored by some stellar bass playing and thoughtfully challenging piano playing. The music develops a madcap cinematic feel, like the postmodern equivalent to instrumental accompaniment of silent films. The choppy rhythmic nature and ever changing consistency of the music keep it interesting and exciting. This was another fine entry in the discography of The Bad Plus. Evans is a superb instrumentalist and composer and deserves the wider attention he will find in this band, and he fits in seamlessly with King and Anderson and their musical conception. Never Stop II -

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (Tri-Centric / New Braxton House, 2018)

Multi instrumentalist Anthony Braxton performing here on alto and soprano saxophone, flute, contrabass clarinet and piano put together a great band including Ari Brown on tenor and soprano saxophone, Paul Smoker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Misha Mengelberg on piano, Joe Fonda on bass and Pheeroan akLaff (most tracks) or Han Bennink on drums to interpret the music of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker in 1993. Although he is most widely known as a composer, teacher and ardent experimentalist, Braxton's roots lie in classic jazz (he is also an avowed admirer of the late alto saxophonist Paul Desmond) and has explored the music of Parker, Andrew Hill and others live and on record for many years. This monumental collection is the expansion of a two disc HatHut Records release and really shows how the band grew while playing this music over time. Some of the pieces are repeated in multiple versions such as the Parker composition "Klactoveedsedstene" which demonstrates how the band is able to take the source material and interpret it in many different ways, and that may be the key to understanding this set, as the band explores the freedom of bebop as an artform and the potential it offers for improvisers to this day. With Braxton's array of instruments and a unique approach to the repertoire the music is never the same way twice and he has a perfect foil on the person of Ari Brown, who has a more traditional approach to the saxophone allowing for the formation of interesting and intricate textures within the context of their improvisations. The iconoclastic Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg is an inspired choice for the group, his deep knowledge of the history of jazz and willingness to subvert it are the perfect qualities for this band. The strong brass playing of Smoker and the rhythm section of akLaff and Fonda offer another dimension to explore the music as the rhythms and pulses of the music push and pull as the past meets the present. They play excellent versions of Parker compositions like "Parker's Mood," "Koko" and "Scrapple from the Apple" while also exploring period pieces like Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night in Tunisia" and Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" and the music ranges from pithy and short treatments of the melodies and themes to lengthy explorations on tracks like a nineteen minute version of "An Oscar for Treadwell." But there is little flab on any of these recordings, and the pithy nature of the performances and the familiarity of many of the tunes go a long way toward increasing the accessibility and approachability of the music as a whole. An eleven disc set is a whopper to absorb, but the quality of the music remains excellent throughout and this is a band that deserves attention as one of Braxton's finest, so the idea of expanding to this length is valid. The quality of the music is excellent throughout and the playing is inspired with superb ensemble passages on the well known themes and a wide range of stellar soloing from each member of the group. Sextet (Parker) 1993 -

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Azar Lawrence - Elementals (High Note, 2018)

Although he may be most well known as a sideman for McCoy Tyner (see Phil Freeman's podcast with Lawrence and excellent series about the 1970's LP's by Tyner for more information) and Elvin Jones, saxophonist Azar Lawrence has released several albums as a bandleader, first in a funky fusion mode in the mid-seventies, and most recently with a strong series of modern mainstream jazz albums. This is a fine LP that continues that trend with Lawrence playing tenor and soprano saxophone in the company of Benito Gonzalez on piano, Jeff Littleton on bass, Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. "La Bossa" is a strong and swinging opener with the bassist and percussionist providing a deep rhythmic foundation and Lawrence playing in a bittersweet fashion, with the piano grooving at a solid medium tempo. The group cooks together quite nicely, never forcing the pace with Lawrence soloing in a sleek and shiny fashion before stepping aside and letting the rhythm section say their piece which they do in grand style before the leader returns on soprano saxophone the lead the group to the finale. He stays on soprano for "Eye of the Needle" developing an appealing tone as the group takes a stronger stance, developing a faster and more strident pace, leading to an excellent section of collective improvisation, with the group developing a full rich sound, building to an exciting climax of powerful percussion and saxophone held fast by piano and bass. The title track "Elementals" is one of the most powerful on the album with strong piano comping and tenor saxophone over brisk rhythm accompaniment. There is a fast paced and muscular interlude for the band without saxophone, then the leader returns with a raw and deeply rooted solo statement of his own, taking the music into a personal and unique space. "African Chant" opens with a yearning unaccompanied tenor saxophone statement before the music jumps into a fast full band mode, adding some scatting vocals to further deepen the rhythmic sensibility of the sound. They develop a potent collective improvisation that swings very well, while allowing the band members to express themselves fully within the music. There is a fine piano solo, set up by undulating drums, percussion and bass, before the full band comes together for a fast conclusion. This upbeat nature continues on the fast paced "Sing to the World" where Lawrence develops a strong melody on soprano saxophone as the remainder of the band churns beneath him. He uses this theme as the basis for a strong solo, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape like a bird in flight. The group is really in their element with this brawny improvisation that is rooted in tradition, yet soaring to break free. This was a very good album, and continues a strong renaissance for Azar Lawrence, who has been making a habit of releasing one strong modern jazz LP a year for the past ten years with no sign of letting up. Elementals -

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Jon Lundbom Quartet - Live at Monks (MonksLive, 2018)

After a run of several superb albums with his group Big Five Chord, guitarist and composer Jon Lundbom takes a different approach in a quartet format, playing a series of live dates in the company of Russell Haight on tenor saxophone, Sam Pankey on bass, and Jeff Olson on drums. The music they create is as fresh as ever, turning in stellar ensemble passages and white hot solos that would be sure to attract any progressive jazz or rock fan who might have the good fortune to hear this music. The music that the group plays is partly new compositions, warhorses from the Big Five Chord days and a few jazz classics thrown in for good measure. The band is more then up to the task of this wide range of material, embracing the challenging music head-on and pushing forward into the deep until a truly personal statement is made. Lundbom has recently relocated to the fertile Austin, Texas music scene and is sure to gain a swift following once his thoroughly modern jazz is unleashed upon the denizens of the city's music clubs and festivals, Keep Austin Weird, indeed. The venue Monk's is a DIY project providing pop up concerts and guerrilla art statements that are needed more then ever in these dark times. The music develops in a grand fashion, pulling in diverse aspects of modern jazz and progressive jazz as evidenced on the opener "So Sue Me" which was originally composed by John Scofield with aspects of groove that he is known for, but the music is subtly changed by this band. They incorporate a powerful and immediate guitar sound from Lundbom, before the hands the baton to Haight who plants his feet and really digs into a gritty and potent statement. Lundbom developed the original composition "Cereal" in collaboration with Bryan Murray (a.k.a. Balto Exclamationpoint) which takes the music in a much different direction. It is a deeply atmospheric performance, developing a unique soundscape, with an open endlessness that accentuates the slight echo and reverberation is provided by the venue. Originally recorded on Lundbom's previous live album, the very successful Liverevil album from 1993, "These Changes" opens with some subtle funky grooves from the rhythm section before Lundbom enters and pushes the intensity forward and locking in with the drummer to make sure the sparks are flying. They dip back into the Big Five Chord book for the composition "Trick Dog," which begins with a length solo guitar opening, presenting a statement of mission for the group to follow and they respond enthusiastically, inserting changes in time and allowing for excellent solo spots for tenor saxophone and bass. The Ornette Coleman composition "W.R.U." is an unexpected delight, where Height takes the reigns on a fast and fluid tenor saxophone feature, and Olson provides some thunderous rhythmic responses. The group breaks, and then opens their concluding set with the Joe Lovano composition, "Blackwell’s Message," dedicated to the great drummer. Olson has just the right approach for this, adding percussive accents that leads the group into their approximation of Latin jazz, "People Be Talking," which develops a slinky groove before Lundbom breaks out with a scalding guitar solo, keeping everyone on their toes. They hit another Ornette Coleman composition, "Law Years" which features some excellent bass playing from Parley before a meaty tenor saxophone solo returns us to the Earth. Clearly moving from strength to strength, this is another excellent album from Jon Lundbom, marking him as one of the most creative guitarists and bandleaders on the modern jazz scene. Hopefully there will be regular installments from this group as they continue to expand and grow. Live at Monks - MonksLive bandcamp

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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette - After the Fall (ECM, 2018)

When pianist Keith Jarrett traveled to Newark, New Jersey in November 1998, it was an auspicious occasion, marking his return to live performance after a two-year battle with debilitating chronic fatigue disorder. He joined by his longtime partners in the so-called Standards Trio, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They had been a group for fifteen years at this point, and had amassed a wide ranging book of popular songs and jazz standards which they delved into on this recording, beginning with a nearly sixteen minute version of "The Masquerade Is Over" which answers any questions of Jarrett's health with a powerful performance, combining texture, dynamics and the trust this band has built up over the years to rip though a lengthy high wire improvisation without missing a step. Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" is a joy to hear, as the revels in some storming bebop, making this a highlight of the recording, and creating a blasting trio improvisation which incorporates strong bass and drum solos. "Old Folks" is a ballad that features beautiful brush work from DeJohnette, creating a subtle and dreamy feel, and he is equally at home supporting a sublime bass solo. The melody of "Autumn Leaves" gets the crowd excited  and the band responds with a fast paced collective improvisation spinning their own textiles from the threads of the familiar song. This is rapidly swinging improvisation that only a profoundly talented group can achieve, akin to driving a luxury car as they cruise through a lengthy performance. Peacock's throbbing bass is the heart of the performance, the point of gravity around which the trio moves through space. But they really hit their stride with another bebop flag waver, Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" and they swing effortlessly at high speed from the melody as the piano sprinkles drops of gentle notes like a summer shower, leading the band to rip through the song at high speed slaloming through the tricky bebop in a very exciting manner. Jarrett fades back allowing a classy bass solo over a quiet but insistent cymbal beat before coming back to lead the group to a massively swinging conclusion. The Sonny Rollins composition "Doxy" has a jumping theme that the group embraces, with loping bass and bright piano and a foundation of crisp drumming. They drop into a medium tempo and swoop grandly throughout the performance. "I’ll See You Again" begins as a ballad with a bass feature backed with brushes, but the piece evolves into a mid-tempo performance with thick bass balancing the rippling piano and swaying drums. "Late Lament," however is a proper ballad, played with open space and symmetry, while "One for Majid" has a bright and bouncy medium percolation but can be a little grating on the ears as Jarrett's infamous vocalization becomes quite audible. A late highlight to the set is a performance of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" as the band creates an exciting and fast paced joyride with strong rhythm and keyboard driving the music forward with the drums swinging mightily as DeJohnette puts his indelible stamp on the proceedings. This album is another fine entry into the catalog of the Standards Trio, and Jarrett's discography as a whole. He was clearly inspired after regaining his health and this sense of inspiration led to a memorable concert. After The Fall -

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Saturday, March 03, 2018

Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton - Music for David Mossman Live at the Vortex London (Intakt Records, 2018)

Saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Barry Guy, and percussionist Paul Lytton have been playing together for nearly forty years and this particular album is dedicated to David Mossman who was the proprietor of the Vortex Club in London where this album was recorded in July of 2016. They develop a four part suite of collective improvisation beginning with "Music For David Mossman I" starts with a quiet bass and percussion section that builds a massive power as Parker's tenor saxophone folds in, gaining momentum for a fearsome collective improvisation. Taut and sharp bass plucking with a tightly wound sound opens "Music For David Mossman II" that is spacious and open, and then begins to coalesce round saxophone and scattered percussion. The improvisation develops in a patient manner with a passionate three way improvisation building pacing and structure and towering tenor saxophone looming over undulating bass and percussion, then the wave crests to a spacious, stoic and steady saxophone and feathery percussion. They are dark and close as the pace rebuilds over slashing saxophone to a scalding free improvisation, creating a thrilling ride that is locked in and barreling forward. "Music For David Mossman III" is the longest track, clocking in at over twenty four minutes, popping and squeaking and building to a powerfully rhythmic foundation, with the dark and mahogany sound of Parker's tenor saxophone that is so well honed moving with blazing speed toward a more abstract section as the bass solos and the percussion develops skittish patterns. The saxophone re-enters with the waxing and waning nature of the music that keeps the tension and suspense high with the saxophone developing a circular pattern that gets faster and faster seemingly with centrifugal force, and a rattling and clanking drum solo  that is very impressive, developing a spontaneous rhythm that is complex and exciting, before returning to a collective improvisation for a ravishing conclusion. This album concludes with "Music For David Mossman IV" with deep and resonant tenor saxophone breathing in a circular pattern in magical patterns as if casting a spell. Bowed bass and percussion glide in aiding and abetting scalding saxophone building back to a frenetic three way improvisation racing forward and incorporating another quality drum solo. This was an excellent album and will appeal to fans of free improvisation. This unit has played together for many years and this experience has forged a hard won unity between them that is unique and special. Music for David Mossman -

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz (Atlantic Records, 1961)

Subtitled A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, this remains on of the most contentious of Coleman’s early Atlantic Records catalog, inspiring the pre “hot box” Downbeat Magazine to print simultaneous five star and zero star reviews. It remains a bracing and thrilling album to this day and the Jackson Pollock painting that originally graced the cover is the perfect visual analogue to music contained within. Bringing together a jaw-dropping group of musicians, Coleman split them into two quartets, recorded in a such a way that their music would come from one of two channels in the stereo format. In the left channel there was Coleman himself on alto saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Scott LaFaro on bass and Billy Higgins on drums; while in the right channel are Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. The original album consists of one continuous track, “Free Jazz” which had a fade in the middle in order to fit the music onto a standard LP. Modern digital versions of the album has that track presented seamlessly in addition to “First Take” a valuable addition to the Coleman canon showing that the more famous piece didn’t develop in a vacuum, but was was one that evolved in the studio over time, allowing soloists to be cued and ensemble passages to be worked out. Each of the musicians in the ensemble gets a solo section, in addition to collectively improvised full band sections that take surging sub-themes and use them as launching points for the group collaborations. The first side of the original LP focuses on ensemble passages and solo sections for the horn players, led off by Dolphy’s unmistakable bass clarinet, and the leader’s own blues drenched searing alto saxophone. The brass players are contrasted between Cherry’s pinched pocket trumpet and Hubbard's powerful blowing, proving that he was equally at home in the avant-garde as he was playing swinging hard bop. The second half of the original LP has ensemble passages connecting solos from the bassists and drummers, showing the nature of rhythm and pacing with a free context. It’s fascinating to compare the doomed virtuoso Scott Lafaro with Coleman mainstay Charlie Haden, and Higgins and Blackwell would alternately hold the drum chair until the leader’s son Denardo was ready to take over in the late sixties. They have unique yet complementary approaches to to music which are fascinating to hear and provide further fuel to the fire of the group’s extraordinary sound. Much of Coleman’s Atlantic Records output has been so fully absorbed into the language of modern jazz to the extent that they don’t seem all that revolutionary in retrospect today. No so this masterpiece, with an octet of hall of fame worthy talent set loose an atmosphere of supportive freedom, the results are seismic, and would echo through the ages to landmarks like John Coltrane’s Ascension, Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun and beyond. It is a towering achievement and one of the most important albums in jazz history. Free Jazz -

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Thursday, March 01, 2018

Daniel Levin / Chris Pitsiokos / Brandon Seabrook - Stomiidae (Dark Tree, 2018)

Stomiidae is a devastating and thrilling avant-garde jazz album from Daniel Levin on cello, Chris Pistiokos on alto saxophone and Brandon Seabrook on electric guitar. All three of these men are well known in jazz and free improvisation circles, so their coming together under one banner is a cause for celebration. This music was collectively improvised and recorded in April of 2016 at Firehouse 12 in Connecticut. The results produced by this group is a caustic and bold melding of sound and body, but in the best manner possible. The swirling scouring action provided by the cello and guitar lock horns and provide a powerful jolt that can be ridden or joined by the acidic toned saxophone. These episodes of arch freedom are matched by sections of eerie calm where the instruments arc across a larger soundscape where the saxophone can mine circular motifs as on the opening track "Photonectes Gracilis" and the guitar and cello can add pointillist commentary gradually filling in the available space, building to a section of alarming sounds before dynamically dropping down to near silence. This is followed by  "Eustomias Trewavasae" which has raucous fast paced chirping that develops into a frantically bowed and blown improvisation. The group uses their instruments to make sounds that you would not normally associate with them, creating a wide range of textures and hues that are very impressive to hear. There is a very exciting and frenetic collective improvisation developed on "Neonesthes Capensis" with extremely fast paced bowing and picking met by flurries of saxophone, not necessarily at high volume but with a sense of forward motion brought about by the speed of the playing. Wild sounds that are akin to a mis-tuned radio open "Opostomias Micripnus" throwing the music into varying degrees of light and shade with ominous squeals and clicks adding to the overall atmosphere of the music, before moving into a more conventional if not any less intense conclusion to the piece. The finale "Echiostoma Barbatum" pulls together all of the aspects of the recording with raw and unfettered free improvisation broken at times with spacey open interludes. This is a fine conclusion to a very good album of challenging free improvisation. The playing of the instrumentalists is first rate and they are completely locked in and engaged with the material at hand. Stomiidae - Dark Tree Bandcamp

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