Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Renee Rosnes - Beloved of the Sky (Smoke Sesssions, 2018)

Renee Rosnes is an accomplished pianist and composer with many albums as a leader and a side person playing insightful modern jazz. This album sees her employing a crack band of Chris Potter on saxophones and flute, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Peter Washington on bass, and Lenny White on drums. "Elephant Dust" opens the album in a vibrant fashion with an edgy melody, on that engages the musicians, and climbs in volume and speed. Potter's tenor saxophone is powerful, cutting through the band like a lance, and scouring the soundscape, aided by powerful rhythmic support. The music grows in a very exciting fashion, with sandpapery saxophone leading the charge, before stepping aside for a crisp and well articulated piano led section and a spritely vibraphone solo. Potter returns and there is a very impressive drive to the finish of the performance. Elegant piano sets the mood for "Mirror Image" with an evocative melody, which allows musicians much room for improvisational interpretation. There is a nimble part for vibraphone with bass and drums, adding a cool and fresh feeling to the music, leading to an eloquent, well-organized piano solo played with fluid grace. Potter steps out, again on tenor saxophone developing tension in his improvisation that is resolved with a flurry of propulsive notes, leading to an excellent collective improvisation to wrap up the performance. "Black Holes" develops an restless motif, aided by thick, elastic bass and crisp drumming that dances on the cymbals. Rosnes takes a complex and invigorating piano solo before Potter enters, surveying the landscape and offering a variety of fast paced ideas, in an agile and brisk fashion. His robust playing soars above the music, hinting at the avant-garde with steely grit and passion, before resolving the melody. Potter moves to flute for the gently swinging "Rhythm of the River" which has Return to Forever overtones of amiable bass and percussion and bright piano chords. There is a beautiful solo piano opening to "The Winter Of My Discontent" that is richly melodic, evoking an emotional response within the ballad format. The notes and chords hang like crystals, glinting in the light, then allowing the rest of the band to glide in. Potter is a masterful ballad player, and he caresses the music with a velvety tenor touch, echoing the old masters like Ben Webster, sounding timeless and not at all dated. A mellow sounding bass interlude with ghostly brushes continues the mood, before the band returns to the melody and slowly eases out. The brawny performance "Let The Wild Rumpus Start" takes the album to the finish line with a witty interplay for vibes and piano trio, with the saxophone gradually entering and making its presence felt. Potter digs in with a fantastic tenor saxophone solo, playing with blinding speed and momentum, before stepping aside for a taut bass section and choppy drumming. This was an excellent album of modern mainstream jazz, with excellent ensemble playing and exciting soloing and it is highly recommended. Beloved of the Sky -

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Sound Prints - Scandal (Greenleaf Music, 2018)

Saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas use the enigmatic mid nineteen sixties acoustic music of virtuoso saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter to create an album that embraces freedoms of both the past and the future. They are aided in this endeavor by an excellent accompanying unit that includes Linda Oh on bass, Joey Baron on drums and Lawrence Fields on piano. The group nods to Shorter directly on  their renditions his compositions “Fee Fi Fo Fum” and “Juju” with the former coming from Shorter's mysterious and influential album Speak No Evil, and where the band makes the most of the atmospheric nature of the music, playing together on the alluring melody while also branching out for solo statements which allow for several possible meanings or interpretations of Shorter's theme. The latter performance is the title track to my favorite Wayne Shorter album, one where he is at his most direct and pointed, playing in a quartet setting. This group peels back the layers of the melody like an onion making their own slower and spacier subjective take on the source material, before breaking out into a powerfully improvised section. "Dream State" is the opening original composition (by Douglas) and it shows that he is containing to absorb and direct his music since his first Shorter inspired album, 1997's Stargazer, allowing the master's laconic but always questioning sensibility to seep into his own work. The group allows itself to become unmoored from their thematic statement and drift through clouds of improvisation and interpretation. Going in their other direction, the band is at there most straightforward on "High Noon" (by Lovano) with it's crisp drumming and bright piano chords pushing Lovano's soprano saxophone and Douglas's pithy trumpet into the fast lane. Linda Oh's bass playing is an excellent fulcrum, anchoring the group to the surface, but allowing enough slack in her playing to encourage exploitative improvisation. Overall, this album was quite solid, with the influence of Wayne Shorter informing but never overwhelming the music. Each of the musicians has a profound gift for their instrument, but also use their talent in the development of a refined whole, through tight ensemble playing and quality soloing. Scandal -

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed (Verve, 2018)

When one hard fought survivor plays the music of another, sparks can fly. That is definitely the case on this album, because vocalist Bettye LaVette is a gifted interpreter, having performed soul, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll over a lengthy career. Bob Dylan hardly requires an introduction, save that his songs have inspired legions of interpreters from The Byrds to Michael Moore's progressive jazz band Jewels and Binoculars. LaVette has a powerful voice, and dry wit, amply demonstrated on the opening track "Things Have Changed." This song had a noir sensibility in it's original format, but LaVette just owns it, changing the gender of the protagonist, spitting profanity and making a true statement of purpose that she may have been down, but she is by no means out. A crushing drumbeat and snarling guitar solo drive the music forward relentlessly, but it is the singer's force of spirit that makes it so memorable. Keith Richards guests on "Political World," but this song, as appropriate today (if not more,) than it was in 1989 when Dylan originally recorded it, is actually quite understated with subtle percussion and bass, and LaVette alternatively speaking and singing the thought provoking lyrics. Richards's solo is short and pointed leading to an organ drenched outro, feeling a bit tacked on and unnecessary. LaVette is a superb ballad singer and the song "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" seems tailor made for her, imploring the lyrics over a soft and sympathetic backdrop, with melodic piano at the center of the accompaniment. There's a slinky and soulful groove to "Seeing the Real You at Last" with the leader's voice stretching across the accompaniment, holding notes and syllables effortlessly, and declaring the lyrics with a steely eyed defiance. "Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" puts the pedal to the metal with swirling bluesy power, guitars chopping a stern rhythm as the bass and drums lock in as LaVette powers through the lyrics with ferocity. This album was quite successful, partly because they cover some material that are not the most obvious compositions in the Bob Dylan songbook, but mostly because Bettye LaVette is such a powerful and talented singer and interpreter that she is a force of nature that makes each of these songs her own. Things Have Changed -

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dan Weiss - Starebaby (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Drummer and composer Dan Weiss is one of the leading lights of the progressive jazz scene, recording widely as a sideman, and often as a leader, whether it's with a piano trio, a large ensemble and now a very exciting quintet featuring Ben Monder on guitar, Trevor Dunn on electric bass, and Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell on keyboards and piano. What makes this group so interesting is Weiss's goal to bring musicians together to create music that combines the improvisational nature of jazz with the enormity of heavy metal and electronic music. The result works very well, creating music that is edgy and powerful without falling into any jazz fusion cliches. They open disarmingly enough with the subtle acoustic guitar of "A Puncher's Chance" which gradually fills in with heavier sounds, creating an early 70's King Crimson vibe. "Depredation" adds organ an keyboard textures to create a mysterious sound backed by an ominous drumbeat and snarls of guitar flashing like heat lightning in the distance. Short motifs bubble up and are expanded upon before falling back into the overall stew, and thick sludgy bass and keyboards take over from below, punctuated by grinding guitar feedback. They shift back to a spacey and haunting sound on "Annica" with large droplets of piano hanging in space and dropping into the void, before the sound gradually fills in with bass and drums resonating though the overall sound. The interplay of the acoustic and electric instruments creates some very exciting and ominous tension within the music's structure, especially when drifting back unexpectedly to solo piano improvisation, before the music electrifies into a skull crushing conclusion. Electronic keyboards frame a pulsating bass and drum groove on "Badalamenti" with shards of neon toned electric guitar shooting through the soundscape. The band builds a collective improvisation that is cohesive and powerful, with a killer guitar solo from Monder, and a wonderful rhythmic foundation and drum solo from the leader, with warped keyboard sounds taking the music to the outer realms before gracefully evolving to an acoustic piano finish. Heavy piano plays off against thick bass and electric keyboard on "Cry Box" creating an eerie and cinematic atmosphere, becoming quite complex with the addition of stinging electric guitar soaring over the strong rhythm and leading to a scouring full band improvisation, dynamically shifting back into open space with subtle brushwork and melodic piano and guitar. "The Memory of My Memory" is spacey, with haunting and reverberating sounds creating an auditory funhouse, gradually creating stratified layers of music that meld and blend with massive slabs of bass and punishing drums kicking the music into an entirely new direction, imposing a harsh and bracing manner of playing that is more at home in post-rock experimentalism. Crisp drum rhythms are the focus of the lengthy concluding track "Episode 8" with manic keyboard playing and slashing percussion cutting the music to ribbons. The music unfolds episodically with nuanced waves of guitar and keyboard leading into a vicious percussion and bass led power rock extravaganza. Although perhaps better described as improvised progressive rock than heavy metal, this album is groundbreaking and forward thinking, allowing the musicians unfettered access to their own creativity and providing a wide screen canvas upon which to display it. Starebaby -

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sun Ra - Of Mythic Worlds (Philly Jazz, 1980 / Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2018)

Recorded during Sun Ra's tenure in Philadelphia, and now getting a much needed wider release after originally coming out on a very small label in 1980, this might be one of the albums which is perfect for enticing a neophyte into Ra's particular universe. It has a well known melodic standard, free jazz, ballads and blues, vocals and chanting, basically encapsulating Sun Ra ethos in one excellent album. They open with a blast of Ra exotica called "Mayan Temples" that begins in ritualistic fashion with organ, flute and low reeds creating a hypnotic medium tempo groove. Swirling flute and organ obit a slow tribal beat, with thick grounding bass keeping the proceedings from flying off into the ether. The music is continually atmospheric and impressive in its patience as it is exploring the upper regions of air beyond the clouds. The standard "Over the Rainbow" is the perfect vehicle for Ra to explore, ostensibly cheese, but with the kernel of an idea that he can use for his own ends. Like opening with a massive blurt of drums and horns, before dropping back into solo piano where he incorporates stride like elements which provide the momentum for the music to move inexorably forward. He can move from abstract to melodic at the drop of a hat, ranging from a haunting melodic statement to the howl and clang of pure freedom. "Inside the Blues" showcases Ra absolutely romping around the piano, with some of his most joyful playing on record. Bass and drums fall into line, building an epic foundation for the leader to ripple the keys over, urging everything forward and communicating his worldview through the form of the blues. Things get a little more outside with the medley "When There Is No Sun / Space Is The Place," with Sun Ra's piano developing an oriental tinge to it, and then gradually folding in vocal harmonies like a master chef. The horns riff and the vocals grow until the Ra showstopper "Space is the Place" is in full bloom. High pitched trumpets and vocals create a wonderful refrain, dropping out to feature waves of piano that gives the whole performance a rhapsodic feel. Finally, there is another melody which closes the album in fantastic fashion, melding "Door Of The Cosmos / Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here / We Travel The Spaceways" in a kaleidoscopic manner, with the band chanting to open the door moving beautifully into a call and response section of lighter voices answering the lower ones. Bright piano notes and rumbling bass chords restate Ra's authority, moving improbably to the shout about the gang being here before finally falling perfectly into one of his finest space chants "We Travel the Spaceways." This was an absolutely stellar Sun Ra album, one of many good ones he made in Philadelphia, and one that also focuses one his excellent piano playing. This one is a keeper, don't pass it by. Of Mythic Worlds (Remastered 2018, download only) -

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Aruan Ortiz - Live in Zurich (Intakt Records, 2018)

Pianist Aruan Ortiz was in Zurich to record his solo piano album Cub(an)ism when he appeared at the November 2016 Unerhört! Festival. Hearing a truncated version of the concert on Swiss radio a short time later, the producers at Intakt Records were knocked out and immediately knew what Ortiz's next album would be. In the company of Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira they make for a mighty unit, opening with the improvised "Part 1 (Analytical Symmetry / Fractal Sketches)" with low bass tones droning across the soundscape of the stage, while the rhythm team gives Ortiz his lead to take the music in whatever direction he chooses. The music comes at a slow boil over the course of thirty-four minutes, with each musician exploring the breadth and depth of their particular instrument. The music is wide open to any possibility that they can imagine, without necessarily being free jazz. The thick bass and ever shifting drums meld with Ortiz for a thirty four minute exploration where he applies his earlier compositions such as “Fractal Sketches” and “Analytical Symmetry”, which were first heard on the studio album Hidden Voices, and they are taken up in a keen fashion pulling the audience along with them as they gradually start to realize that they are witnessing a special performance. The pace really picks up during the second half, "Part 2 (Bass improvisation / Etude #6 op 10 / Open or Close & The Sphinx)" where the interplay between the musicians becomes lightning fast and their improvisational acuity is really brought to the forefront. Ortiz leans in hard on the keys producing a propulsive and exciting sound that really drives the music forward, resulting in an interesting convergence of musical ideas and styles, which is part and parcel of the personal journey he has taken from Cuba to the United States and then around the world where he is recognized as a master pianist and improviser. The variety of musical and interpersonal interactions between Ortiz and the bassist and drummer is revealed by the nature of the performance and improvisation. They come together to wrap things up with "Alone Together," a composition that they can use to recap their approaches to tempo, volume and melody which they have been investigating throughout this concert. This was an excellent album of exploratory modern jazz, and Aruan Ortiz is a musician of boundless imagination whose co-conspirators make for a fine accompaniment and continually interesting music. Live in Zurich -

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Kris Davis and Craig Taborn - Octopus (Pyroclastic Records, 2018)

A few years ago, pianist Kris Davis began her own record label with the album Duopoly, an ambitious CD/DVD set of her in duets with musicians as diverse as Bill Frisell, Tim Berne and Don Byron. But the most interesting collaboration was with a fellow pianist, Craig Taborn. They clicked so well that they went on tour together, recording selections from their concerts for this collection. "Interruptions One" opens the album beginning in deep space, with quiet drops of notes and light touches on both keyboards. The pace gradually picks up with nimble and fast playing of high pitched piano, with occasional low end punctuation, leading to the rapid trading of interesting ideas before dropping back to quiet spaciousness for the conclusion. Presumably inspired by the town north of New York City, "Ossining" shows the duo playing inside and outside the piano, and developing an alluring West African influenced sound in the process. This adds a mysterious tinge to the music, which becomes slow and patient to the point where there are single notes hanging in the air. Like wind chimes caressed by the slightest breeze, they softly push back against the silence. "Chatterbox" is aptly named, as the musicians produce rippling eddies of piano that gab away merrily while improvising using volume and speed in an exciting manner. They turn to heavier, more percussive playing, as if sending messages encoded within the notes, as waves of keyboard create light and shade in the current of the music. There is a return to the quieter and meditative form on the medley of "Sing Me Softly of the Blues / Interruptions Two" which opens with a slowly building foundation developing into more full bodied playing with a ripe and infectious sound. Quickly moving into a lashing four handed lift off, with strong percussive technique that is well articulated. There's a dynamic drop off, a feint in another direction, before Davis and Taborn dive back in to a finishing statement of muscular notes and chords that mesh together perfectly. The album is concluded with Sun Ra's "Love in Outer Space" which begins like a quiet transmission from the beyond, enveloping the music with an aura of the unknown, as they gracefully explore the quiet and meditative terrain. Patiently researching the inner and outer workings of their instrument, they develop a fully cohesive reimagining of this song building a memorable rhythm and conclusion. With the passing of Cecil Taylor leaving a gaping hole in the world of progressive jazz, Davis and Taborn are prepared to step up and lead. This excellent album shows that both musicians have the skill and imagination to guide the music forward toward whatever destiny it may meet. Octopus -

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