Monday, July 16, 2018

Dexter Gordon - Tokyo 1975 (Elemental Music, 2018)

Recorded in Tokyo during October of 1975, during the great tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon's first ever appearance in Japan, this is a great live album where he has a talented band featuring Kenny Drew on piano, Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass, and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums. They open with "Fried Bananas" which is an upbeat and swinging tune that has bright rhythmic accompaniment to Gordon's strong and vibrant saxophone. This elastic sounding bass powers the improvisation, giving the leader plenty of room to stretch out and treat the crowd to a very impressive solo, playing in a fast paced and exciting manner. Gordon lays out and the rhythm section takes over, demonstrating sparkling interplay until he re-enters, trading witty passages with Heath in the end. "Days of Wine and Roses" is taken at a medium tempo with Gordon's steely toned tenor saxophone cutting through the rhythm trio, who give him plenty of room to dig in and really blow. The piano, bass and drums unit are featured, leading into an excellent bass solo and strong full band finish. "Misty" is a well known standard, and this ballad is tailor made for Gordon's gorgeous approach to songs with a slower tempo. He plays with patience and great lyricism, bathing the band and audience with his luxuriant sound. The sound opens up for a trio interlude led by lush and romantic piano, before Gordon returns to corral everyone, closing the performance with a stoically beautiful finishing statement. He shows no ill effects of travel on the riotous "Jelly, Jelly, Jelly" as he sings the lyrics amidst the audience's enthusiastic hand claps, and taking the populist approach with a fresh as paint saxophone solo, bringing the fun of jazz to all assembled, even quoting Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and hamming it up in the best way possible by scatting the blues. If this seems a little frivolous (it's not) the following track is Gordon at his most powerful, deconstructing Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm a Ning" over the course of fourteen minutes. He carves up the tricky theme with scientific precision, pushing hard through a complicated improvisation and producing a thrilling solo statement, relentlessly pouring out emotionally charged waves of sound. He is deeply engaged with Heath on this performance, and the two veterans push and pull at the fabric of the song, trading quick and inventive bursts to bring the amazing performance home safely. After that bracing jolt, Gordon ends the concert on a magnanimous note, with the standard "Old Folks" where he recites the lyrics to the crowd and then takes a beautifully patient and sultry solo supported by ripples of piano and subtle bass and drums. His melodic and thoughtful playing on this track encapsulates this excellent album, as well as his titanic stature within the history of jazz. Tokyo 1975 - amazon.com

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Rodrigo Amado - A History of Nothing (Trost Records, 2018)

This excellent album of free thinking jazz was recorded in Lisbon during March of 2017 featuring leader Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Joe McPhee on alto saxophone and pocket trumpet, Kent Kessler on bass and Chris Corsano on drums. Mixing interesting patterns with powerful free improvisation, the music is deep and invigorating. Beginning with the track "Legacies" the music opens with horns harmonizing with bowed bass in a quiet and texture based manner. Their combined sounds resonate in open space, slicing through the encroaching silence as rolling percussion adds depth and breadth to the performance, leading all instruments to coalesce in a delicate formation. Horns flutter with percussion on the title track "A History of Nothing" as the bass swells forth to carry the band into its improvisation. They build a fast paced and choppy motif, framing their excursion into the unknown with a raw tenor saxophone that sweeps the slate clean, making way for McPhee's soprano saxophone. He plays with great vigor, ratcheting up the pace even further, and his interplay with Corsano's drumming is simply stellar. Amado reenters the fray and the band embarks on a very impressive collective improvisation that carries them through to the conclusion. "Theory of Mind II (For Joe)" has bass and percussion probing the soundscape and laying foundation stones for the saxophone glide in upon, carving a space of its own amidst the rhythm of sawing bowed bass and splashing cymbals. Tenor saxophone joins in adding rough notes and runs to the proceedings, along with the avalanche of brass, bass and drums which evolves into an exciting, unfettered and fearless improvisation. There is a very interesting opening to "Wild Flowers" with quick flurries of brass, drifting in space and time with feathered percussion making for a fast and light performance, that gradually turns to plucked bass and sharp, angular soprano saxophone. The music swirls and gains speed in a colorful manner with the saxophones differing in light and shade, responding to one another and to the powerful rhythmic notions of the bass and drums. The excitement the band achieves is palpable, with the full group forming a sound that has a true physical presence which brings the listener into direct and instant involvement with the music, giving rise to a sense of urgency and excitement. Finally, "The Hidden Desert" follows the mysterious sounding bass and drums in developing a unique pattern that is well attuned to long tones of saxophone which soar overhead. Spare tones and beats are held in the open air, and time seems to slow down and stretch across the surface of the band's improvisation. Moody tones of saxophone and brushed percussion emerge, leading to a spare and patient resolution. This was an excellent album and it is evident that the four musicians have deep empathy for the music and one another. To play in a free fashion as they do requires a great amount of confidence and trust and that is rewarded with consistently engaging results. A History Of Nothing - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

John Zorn - In a Convex Mirror (Tzadik Records, 2018)

Most of John Zorn's output these days comes as a composer or facilitator, so it is always exciting to hear him pick up his alto saxophone and blow in an unfettered and free environment. His playing has lost nothing of the bracing power that has been a guiding force in his music, but wisdom and experience have taught him to temper the howls of raw emotion with moments of grace and humility. He also adds some fender rhodes electric piano textures to the album which finds him in excellent company with Ikue Mori on electronics and Ches Smith on Haitian tanbou, bells and cymbals. The first track is an exploratory eighteen minute improvisation called "Veve," that opens with meditative percussion and electronic soundscapes providing further textures to frame Zorn's unique and biting saxophone tone. He rips out peals of raw and rending sound that fit in well with the unusual percussive accompaniment and the unpredictable electronic flourishes. Their collective improvisation is free and unfettered with Zorn's nimble saxophone at the center of the maelstrom punctuating his longer runs with sharp squeals and bellows. The tanbou produces an natural, elastic sound that works well in this configuration, adding an ever shifting rhythmic center for the saxophone and electronics to orbit. Zorn is just ripping through his solos with great gusto, and the sound is harsh and mesmerizing, primal, yet fully controlled. Mori is the wild card in this setting, adding swoops and swirls of sound that amplify and uplift the improvisational setting, leading to a viscerally satisfying trio sound that achieves a unique identity. "Through a Glass, Darkly" moves in a more atmospheric direction, with electric piano chords setting the tone, ringing out in space with accents of gentle percussion. When Zorn moves to saxophone it is in a more reflective and melancholy vein, and his playing is melodic and quite beautiful. The music is moody and cinematic, analogous to a late night film noir, as the music develops a haunted elegiac tone, with restrained sadness at its core.  Smith's rhythmically charged percussion turns ever faster, against the languid saxophone and electronic sounds creating a rich ebb and flow between the music, providing a catalyst for further exploration. Zorn's saxophone returns to it's piercing, laserlike quality on "Le Tourbillon" in conjunction with insistent percussion that develops a hypnotic rhythm, perfectly suited for Zorn's long foghorn like blasts of sound and fast flutters of notes. The incantation like nature of the performance is furthered by the manner in which Mori can produce sounds from her instruments, adding just the right touch to this bubbling caldron of sound. This group creates an unusual amalgam of free jazz, experiential electronica and world rhythms that is very successful. Each of the musicians has a relentlessly inquisitive nature, and by combining their efforts they create riveting and very successful results. In A Convex Mirror - amazon.com

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Monday, July 09, 2018

Barker Trio - Avert Your I (Astral Spirits, 2018)

The Barker Trio is a very powerful free jazz band consisting of Michael Foster on tenor and soprano saxophones and electronics, Tim Dahl on electric bass and Andrew Barker on drums, synthesizer and percussion. They create a truly mighty sound that combines fearless improvisation with elements of post rock to create an interesting and compelling mixture beginning with the massive sixteen and a half minute title track "Avert Your I" which develops from fast and raw saxophone, pummeling drumming, building a hell for leather attack. The dynamism of the band allows the intensity of the music to ebb and flow, creating space and just as quickly filling it up with flutters of saxophone and bass. Drums provide further spark as the whole band is enveloped in a crackling collective improvisation that doesn't let up. "Ageist" has a raw and open ended feel to it, with long snarling smears of saxophone and slashing drums developing a harrowing interplay that lays waste to all standing before it. Electric strings lash out with bolts of power, as the drums use a violent sweeping movement leading to a tenacious full band improvisation that is over the top in its excitement. Shaken percussion adds a different texture to "Spatial Needs," soon joined by fluttering saxophone, and raw guttural sounds that carry over into "Enthusiasm Gap" which features snarling bass guitar shooting across the soundscape in an abrasive and loose manner. This leads to a section of pure noise, pounding heavily and insistently as if they are trying to make the harshest elements of The Velvet Underground's "European Son" come alive in an improvised context. The saxophone eventually breaks loose to fly with powerful drums to a blistering and enthusiastic conclusion. "Outer Body Image" has gales of drums and saxophone developing a free and open sensibility with space between the instruments. The saxophone is launched into the air with rattling drums in support and bass joining for a bellowing trio section that exudes great enthusiasm and eagerness. Finally, "Circus Bender" introduces a complex rhythm, with gritty saxophone providing an angular momentum for the track, with ripe squeaks punctuating the musical sentences. Sparks of electronics and towering saxophone swirls with slashing drums put an exclamation point on an exciting and well played album. Avert Your I - Bandcamp

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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Michael Musillami Trio + 2 - Life Anthem (Playscape, 2018)

Guitarist Michael Musillami survived a serious health crisis recently, and that experience has informed his most recent work, where he adds two talented guests to his already potent and road tested trio. He writes honest and compelling music and the act of composing and improvising seems to be a healing one, using the skills he's developed over the course of decades as a jazz musician to adapt to his changing circumstances. He's gathered a cracking band featuring his regular trio mates Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums, while adding Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Jason Robinson on tenor and soprano saxophone and alto flute. "MRI Countdown" is a crisp and urgent performance, with riffing horns and harmonizing guitar setting the pace with a complex melody, and the band is more than up to the task with excellent interplay. The leader solos in opposition to the horns, keeping the momentum of the piece going before breaking free to play with thick bass and subtle percussion. His solo is knotty and complicated, and the band supports him fully, especially through an energetic saxophone counter solo which runs throughout this excellent track. Paying tribute to his physician, "Dr. Mohamad Khaled, Neurosurgeon" has a strong and vital approach, with brisk percussion and tenor saxophone setting a compelling improvised opening that lays the groundwork for the entry of the remainder of the band. Knuffke's cornet is well suited for this format and his solo over bass and drums is fresh and invigorating. The music alternates between lengthy exploratory performances like "Visions" where the music gradually evolves through several sections of composed and improvised areas, coming together for an excellent collective improvisation that shows the strength and experience of the band. There are also shorter pieces like the sparkling "Think of Something Beautiful" and the closing "Life Anthem (Full Ensemble) which work well as short concentrated bursts of sound. Michael Musillami's music is a treasure, and we are fortunate that he came through his recent crisis unscathed. This music for his trio plus two is very well composed and arranged, allowing a solid framework for the music while encouraging adventurous ensemble playing and soloing. Life Anthem - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Dennis Coffey - One Night At Morey’s 1968 (Omnivore Recordings, 2018)

Guitarist Dennis Coffey was a very busy session musician during the late 1960's but he still took time out to perform in an improvised jam session at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge in Detroit with organist Lyman Woodard and drummer Melvin Davis. They actually performed under Woodard's name, but the guitarist gets the top billing here as he did on last years fine release Hot Coffey In The D. This is an intimate club performance, with the groove front and center, beginning with "I'm a Midnight Mover" which has a very crisp drumbeat in addition to swelling Hammond B3 organ and shards of choppy electric guitar. Their version of The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" is a highlight of the album, as they jump right into their improvisation with the melody not surfacing until three minutes into the performance. The trio takes this well known composition into interesting and unexpected territory, carrying on their improvisation for over thirteen minutes. The Meters' "Cissy Strut" is the perfect kind of track for musicians associated with The Funk Brothers, and they take the New Orleans beat in stride, creating a solid rhythmic foundation and leaving plenty of room for Coffey to stretch out with some snarling, gnarly guitar lines. "Burning Spear" finds them branching out to the thirteen minute mark again, allowing the alluring and insistent organ groove to carry the music along in a fluid fashion, with Coffey popping up to spray sharp bursts of hot guitar notes at anything in their path. Effects laden and over driven guitar marks "It's Your Thing/Union Station" with a raucous and dirty sensation that meets wailing organ and a strong beat to excellent effect, getting even wilder on the appropriately titled "Mindbender" where showers of psychedelic organ take the music on a shape-shifting journey, soon matched by Coffey's blues based electric guitar solo, which rocks ferociously. The group wraps up this fine album with a surprise, a quick run through of the Charlie Parker bebop classic "Billie's Bounce" proving their jazz chops in grand fashion with an insightful Jimmy Smith / Grant Green type of groove. One Night At Moreys 1968 - amazon.com

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