Monday, April 30, 2018

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Oneness (Leo Records, 2018)

Tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp have had a longstanding musical partnership, one which has become even more intense over the past few years, culminating in last years seven volume series The Art of Perelman - Shipp on Leo Records. The original idea for this album was more modest, they would so into the studio and just play, gathering the best performances that could be placed on a single disc. But their musical partnership had reached such a simpatico level that the music developed organically within the studio and before they knew it, there were three discs worth of outstanding duet performances ready for release. What is most impressive is the seeming ease with which the music flows forth, freely improvised but developing ideas and thoughts that develop in real time, allowing for conversation and a back and forth sharing of ideas and motifs. There is a great deal of space and patience at play in the music, and neither Perelman nor Shipp sees the need to force anything, rather allowing the music to flow in a very natural manner, with the saxophonist using everything from peals of sharply angled sound to long tones of breath, allowing space where the pianist can lay down a series of notes or chords that frame, balance or challenge the saxophone. Playing together in tandem they can fill as much or as little of the available space as they choose, patiently developing improvisation that can follow its own path. Many of the performances on this album are short, pointed tracks, that show the musicians saying only what was necessary, and then paring away the unnecessary sound that allows them to reach their goal in a brief and pithy manner. At times there can be a squall of notes from Perelman's saxophone that takes the music to an even more advanced level with strong accompaniment on the piano that can power the music while also dynamically allowing it to soar in space and time, in an organic and natural manner. The music is at turns darker and harsher with the saxophone lashing out in an unexpected manner, like a sudden jolt, evolving in a massive downpour of sound that is one of the most thrilling aspects of this album. These moments are used sparingly, and much of the music is actually quiet and beautiful. Music fans looking for an entry to free jazz without being overwhelmed may find a good starting point here. Perelman and Shipp play at an elevated level, but the conversational nature of the music and the compassion and thoughtfulness that is imbued within it offer a sense of patient exploration that is very appealing. Oneness -

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Jim Snidero and Jeremy Pelt - Jubilation! - Celebrating Cannonball Adderley (Savant, 2018)

Veteran saxophonist Jim Snidero and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt pool their talents for a grandly swinging tribute to the great saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of his birth by playing his compositions and songs associated with him. They are joined in the endeavor by David Hazletine on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. All together they make for an excellent band that is tailor made to playing flag-waving, no excuses hard bop in the Cannonball mode. "Party Time" starts the music off in fine fashion, with the front line of Snidero and Pelt strutting in a splendid fashion through the uptempo melody and then breaking out for fine solo statements. They rhythm section cooks as well, working together in a selfless manner to keep the music moving inexorably forward while making short and pithy comments of their own. Two of the most well known Cannonball Adderley songs come toward the end of the album with excellent performances of his own "Sack 'o Woe" and his brother Nat Adderley's "Work Song." Both of these compositions have entered the jazz canon, with their riff laden melodies perfect for jam sessions and interpretation. Both of these songs are presented with style and grace on this album with the former gaining its energy from the ebullient playing of the punchy theme that launches the members of the group into memorable solo statements. The latter is one of the most famous songs of the hard bop era, both a statement of protest in The Civil Rights Era ("Work Song" was given excellent and poignant lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr.) and as a powerhouse jazz vehicle on its own. This is where the group latches on to it, playing the familiar melody straight up, after a fine solo drum intro, and then using the force inherent it that theme to move into a round robin series of short but impactful solo statements, conversing with members of the group and offering the listener a swinging and upbeat performance to catch on to. Their own composition "Ball's 90's" is an appropriately balls to the wall performance that gives everybody the chance to stretch out and have a good time, trading ideas and building in a gritty trumpet solo that sounds fine in this context. Cannonball Adderley was an excellent ballad player, and they nod in this direction with "Stars Fell On Alabama" which offers open space for the musicians to play slowly and thoughtfully, gently stating the melody and then offering a respectful reinterpretation of the song in the improvised section. Overall this was an enjoyable and accessible album of mainstream jazz. The group tips their collective hat to a jazz legend while making their own way through the music. Jubilation! - Celebrating Cannonball Adderley -

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Friday, April 27, 2018

The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations (Blue Note, 2018)

Paring things back a bit after last year's surprising large band album Lovers, guitarist and composer Nels Cline convenes a new group, the Nels Cline 4, featuring Julian Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This configuration grew out of the duet album (live video) he made with Lage a few years ago, and their curiosity about what would happen if they added a rhythm section. The results are quite impressive, giving the group the opportunity to be free and adventurous, while maintaining a melodic framework. "Furtive" opens the album with a blast of guitar and solo drum treatment, with the bass building a foundation for the guitars to follow. Those guitars flutter and occasionally sting like a cloud of wasps, and the interplay between all of the musicians is complex and exciting building to a fast paced conclusion. There is a dynamic shift between bright and dark on "Swing Ghost 69" with the bouncy guitar interplay and choppy bass and drums driving the performance forward motion. Thick and elastic bass is the glue holding the improvisation together, with sharp pinpricks of guitar notes fluttering around the bass and drums. That strong focus is also at play on "Imperfect 10," where the group builds a strong and powerful momentum that is throttled back for a more open and breathing section. One guitar melds with the bass and drums for a stoic rhythm while the other rides high, soloing in a spirited fashion, before everyone comes back together for a powerhouse finish. "Amenette" has a rich dynamic range, moving from jolts of fast paced modern jazz to stretches of solo bass, the music alternates between open and closed, coming together with a memorable collective improvisation. The music never shrieks or howls, yet it develops a fierce intensity all it's own, enveloping a short crisp drum solo, and effects enhanced guitar playing in a surprising and interesting performance. Unfolding episodically, "River Mouth (Parts 1 and 2) opens with a majestic and rejoicing series of guitar chimes that builds in a naturalistic fashion like the rising sun, hinting at early Metheny like shininess. The bass and percussion gradually come in, filling out the sound as the pace gradually increases. The weaving of the instruments is very impressive, creating a whole cloth in the process of their full band improvisation. Currents, Constellations -

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Dexter Gordon - Gettin' Around (Blue Note, 1965/2005)

Gettin' Around was recorded at Van Gelder Studios in New Jersey during 1965, part of the extraordinary run of albums tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon made for Blue Note Records in the mid nineteen sixties. Remastered by Rudy Van Gelder forty years later, this excellent sounding disc also features Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. It is a wide ranging program that includes bossa-nova jazz fusion, ballads and uptempo swingers beginning with "Manha de Carnaval" which has a subtly exotic beat from Higgins, that moves the song ahead at a stately and unhurried pace. Vibes and piano weave through the music with an insistent bass groove that sets the stage for Gordon to produce a languid and thoughtful saxophone solo, caressing the melody and the subsequent improvisation. Gordon was always an excellent ballad player and this is evidenced by his patience in constructing his solo statement on "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)." His playing is measured and cool, but retaining the heartbreaking emotion of the song while being shaded by piano and vibes. "Heartaches" allows the band to stretch out, with Gordon building his saxophone solo from a whisper to a full throated strong toned performance over the course of the improvisation, while short and swinging solos for vibes and piano add further rhythm to the motion supplied by Cranshaw and Higgins, creating an impressive performance. An easy going groove is developed for "Shiny Stockings" creating a taut medium tempo performance, with the rhythm section laying down a soulful and direct foundation for Harris and Hutcherson to offer pithy statements and Gordon to respond with a tight solo and then a return to the melody for the conclusion. "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" is another melodic ballad selection, with Gordon supplying a wistful and romantic solo statement, playing the heartbroken character for all it is worth. The lyricism of his playing is at the forefront here, he never says more then is necessary, but conveys the maximum of emotion with the minimum of notes. A rare Gordon original, the bouncy "Le Coiffeur" has a light and nimble feeling that allows the band to take flight in a gently uptempo formation, playing together nicely and drifting through the proceedings without touching the ground. The CD has two extra tracks from the same sessions, the Gordon feature "Very Saxily Yours" and the lengthy slow burning "Flick of a Trick." Overall, this was a very solid hard bop album; and while it may not reach the heights of Go or Our Man in Paris, the pillars of Gordon's Blue Note tenure, it is well worth hearing. Gettin' Around -

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sons of Kemet - Your Queen is a Reptile (Impulse!, 2018)

The signing of saxophonist and composer Shabaka Hutchings to the legendary Impulse! imprint was an inspired choice, his bands The Comet is Coming, The Ancestors, and this group, Sons of Kemet are infused with the spiritual jazz of that label's heyday. Hutchings is joined by tuba player Theon Cross and a trio of percussionists and guests on this album, dedicated to great women in history, beginning with "My Queen is Ada Eastman" which has some heavy percussion and tuba holding down the low end, creating a thick and tight rhythm that Hutchings weaves through on saxophone. This is tight and focused music that responds well to pressure and the spoken word / rap section by guest Joshua Idehen unfolds organically adding lyrics about race, politics and social justice. It's great to hear the tuba in jazz and Cross's playing lends texture to "My Queen is Harriet Tubman" as fast drumming and saxophone turn up the heat even further. The music has a tough and realistic urban feel, with just the right amount of grit in the music to keep the edge. "My Queen is Angela Davis" again features the growling tuba amidst the saxophone and percussion thicket. Hutchings was quoted in Jazz Times as stating that he wanted to move away from the dependence on soloing, and indeed it is the group interplay that really stands out here and on the album as a whole. He'll develop small motifs and then use repetition to build the tension raising the music to a full boil in an exciting fashion. Hand percussion and an extra saxophonist (Nubya Garcia) keep "My Queen is Yaa Asantewaa" moving forward in a propulsive fashion. Horns weave above and around the tuba and drums ground assault, developing a tight groove that comes together as a deeply rhythmic and full sound. "My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu" show the saxophone and brass really doubling down, with a skittish rhythm being developed on drums adding to the tension. The drums and percussion are bright and vibrant, resulting in a ripply, galvanic performance. The album ends with "My Queen is Doreen Lawrence" where the uneven rhythm keeps everyone on their toes, adding bellows of tuba and the tenor saxophone burrowing within the full band. The uneven foundation provides the perfect launching pad for Idehen to provide some more defiant lyrics about identity and inclusiveness, before the band takes the music home with emphatic playing. This was a really good album, drawing on a wide range of ideas from hip-hop to dub and Caribbean music, but with an overarching modern jazz conception. The musicians were very talented and the compositions memorable, do check it out, it's well worth your while. Your Queen Is A Reptile -

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jared Gold - Reemergence (Strikezone Records, 2018)

This is a fine album of accessible modern jazz, incorporating standards, pop songs, ballads and blues, in the classic organ jazz tradition of the music made by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Brother Jack McDuff. Jared Gold has made a name for himself on the Hammond B3 organ playing as a sideman for many prominent leaders, along with a developing a series of fine albums as a leader for the likes of Posi-Tone and other labels. He is joined on this album with an excellent support unit featuring Dave Stryker on guitar, and Billy Hart on drums with Jeremy Pelt sitting in on trumpet for three tracks. The setlist is nicely developed between standards like the George Gershwin compositions "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "How Long Has This Been Going On," pop song covers such as Stevie Wonder's "Lookin' for Another Pure Love" and "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles. This is balanced by original compositions "Reemergence" and "One for John A" which is dedicated to the great guitarist John Abercrombie and a progressive jazz song in Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation." The album comes together quite nicely and it is an enjoyable hour of grooving, soulful jazz. Gold locks in quite well with the drum legend Hart and guitarist Stryker and they work the melodies of the songs with passion and the resulting improvisations are quite strong, both in terms of full band playing and individual solo statements. So, for those interested in modern mainstream jazz that is friendly and easy to listen to, they will find a lot to enjoy here. Reemergence -

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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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