Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Rich Halley 3 - The Literature (Pine Eagle Records, 2018)

Veteran saxophonist Rich Halley pares his group down to the essentials on this vibrant trio recording that also features Clyde Reed on bass and Carson Halley on drums. The music is full of energy and enthusiasm, displaying a passionate intensity and deep commitment to forward thinking jazz. "Little Willie Leaps" opens the album in brisk fashion with burly tenor saxophone stretching out over a gruff melody in the company of rolling drums and taut bass. The music becomes raw, hinting at freedom with a tightly coiled saxophone solo and then turns inward with a strong bass solo and a reciting of the memorable theme. Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" is taken at a respectful mid-tempo pace with the memorable theme stated, before the group makes use of the openness of Monk's music and the trio format to reconstruct the music according to their own whim. A raw and stark tenor saxophone solo rips across the soundscape, astride bass and drums which take their own moment to extrapolate upon the music, before the group reconvenes to peruse a fine collective improvisation that ripples with energy. "Chano Pozo" sets the drummer free for a deeply rhythmic and impressive opening solo, with bass and saxophone falling in line as the drums create an ever changing foundation, and the saxophone weaves in and around the percussion in a very immediate manner. The music recalls the deeply rhythmic trio music that Sonny Rollins made in the fifties and his trio encounters with Elvin Jones, Shelly Manne and more. There is a bright and bouncy theme to "Broad Way Blues," and tight bass and drum playing keeps the music moving briskly forward and their crisp interplay supports the burly and strapping saxophone feature. The trio fearlessly tackles Monk's notoriously labyrinthine composition "Brilliant Corners" barrelling through the melody and launching into a very exciting improvised section with the saxophone leaping around the skittering bass and drums. The band really locks in on a deep and intuitive level, making for a very impressive performance which also incorporates a deep and resonant bass solo. "Kingdom of Not" has a deep and danceable groove, with heartfelt and bluesy saxophone adding to the ebullient attitude with some extra hand clapping for good measure. The saxophone solo is deep and soulful, but played with enough grit to keep everybody on their toes. This was a very good album of modern jazz, with excellent musicianship with an interesting and wide ranging selection of compositions, well chosen selections from the masters. The Literature - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Peter Brotzmann Octet - Machine Gun (Cien Fuegos, 2018)

One of the most famous recordings in all of free jazz, or all of jazz for that matter, was recorded for saxophonist Peter Brotzmann's own Bro label in 1968. From that small beginning, the legend grew with each re-issuing: first on FMP in 1971 and 1990, then Atavistic's Complete Machine Gun Sessions in 2007, and most recently on this excellent re-issue of the original album with the cover art and photographs faithfully restored, and the music pressed beautifully on thick vinyl. The album features a veritable who's who of European free jazz talent at the beginning of their careers with Brotzmann on tenor and baritone saxophones, Evan Parker on tenor saxophone, Willem Breuker on tenor saxophone, Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall on bass, Sven-Ake Johansson and Han Bennink on drums and Fred Van Hove on piano. The ferocity of the opening track, Brotzmann's own "Machine Gun," still kicks like a mule even after fifty years. The group takes the scalding spiritual new thing of American free jazz of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders and filters it though a European sensibility and achieving immortality with raw and rending gasps of saxophone over unfettered percussion and skittish piano that was the sound of creation in progress. Parker takes the first solo statement, already developing out of his original Coltrane influence and showing signs of the massively influential player he would become. The interlude for Van Hove to shine gives a brief breather but still is still intense as he moves relentlessly over the length and breadth of the keyboard, clearing a path for the back to back solos of Brueker and Brotzmann, that are just simply explosive. It's a wonder they don't spontaneous combust, given the heat that the band is producing and the levels and gradations of energy that is being expelled simply beggars belief. After seventeen minutes plus of the title track, the second side of the album begins with Van Hove's "Responsible (For Jan Van der Ven)" and while most people discussing this album talk about the explosive nature of the music, an rightly so, this track supplies the light that allows those towering sections to cast their shade. The sound is more open and rhythmic, with a thicket of dual bass and percussion bubbling constantly beneath the surface, and the saxophonists following the pianist into further uncharted territory where swathes of open space are met with splashes of color and vibrancy. The final track on the album is "Music for Han Bennink I" composed by Breuker, displaying how important the percussionists were to this album, and the impish nature of Benink's playing and personality keeps the music fresh and continually moving forward. The whole band drives the music forward in a constant incessant forward push driving to the spectacular finish of an album which would in time come to be regarded as a landmark in jazz history. Machine Gun - amazon.com

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

David Murray - Ming's Samba (Portrait Records, 1988)

The great tenor saxophonist and bass clarinet player David Murray was riding high in the late 1980's recording albums for a number of labels including Black Saint, DIW and more. Some really great albums kind of got lost in the shuffle, and this is one of his best small group albums of the period. This set has a great ensemble featuring Ray Drummond on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums and John Hicks on piano and they revolve around a combination of compositions by Murray and Butch Morris. Dedications abound in this swinging and mainstream recording starting with the the Murray original title track "Ming's Samba" dedicated to his wife which is a nearly eleven minute joyride that allows the rhythm section considerable freedom to push and pull the rhythm, keeping the performance fresh even at this length and giving Murray the opportunity to take an expansive and powerful tenor saxophone solo swooping up into the higher registers and bellowing into the depths with a free and fierce spirit. They swing hard and true on "Remembering Fats (For Fat's Waller)" and original that taps into the rhythmic passion of Waller's music and the populism of the 1930's building to a bright and exciting performance. Hicks is particularly potent on this performance, he had the agility like the masters akin to Jaki Byard of playing in any form from stride to free and he makes the most of this opportunity with a brisk and sparkling solo. This is followed up with a couple of compositions by one of Murray's closest confidants the great composer, arranger and cornet player Butch Morris who was a linchpin of Murray's great octet and big band recordings of the period. The unique and influential nature of Morris's writing is on excellent display on the short track "Nowhere Ever After" and the longer "Spooing" that allows the group to enjoy the freedom of the angular theme and the allowances for some excellent solo statements. This highly recommended album concludes with a dedication to Murray's father, the beautiful "Walter's Waltz" where the leader turn's to bass clarinet, developing a deep and hollow sound that provides excellent texture for a deep and moving performance. Ming's Samba - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Binker and Moses - Alive in the East? (Gearbox, 2018)

Binker and Moses are one of the hottest groups on the burgeoning London jazz scene and this LP presents the principals, Binker Golding on tenor saxophone and Moses Boyd on drums in the company of some interesting guests like: Yussef Dayes on drums, Tori Handsley on harp, the legendary Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxophones and Byron Wallen on trumpet. They work together very well, and the results are modern jazz that melds the mainstream and avant-garde into a very interesting tapestry. After the cool drum introduction, "The Birth Of Light," things truly kick in on "How Land Learnt to Be Still" where the choppy rhythm gives way to tenor and soprano saxophones dueling in the air. The crisp beat and shards of harp ground the performance, but the saxophones are willing to take flight and bring the improvisation to the next level. The different tones deliver fine grains of texture, stretching out and creating the longest track on the album and one of the most memorable, with a stellar tenor saxophone section weaves through the middle part of the track leading to a crisp trumpet interlude. "How Fire Was Made" incorporates abstract saxophone squiggles and an anxious beat into a fast paced and edgy repetitive section that gains energy by spinning madly before lifting off into a raw and impressive collective improvisation. There is a brief saxophone feature for circular breathing on "How The Air Learnt To Move" that is very impressive, gradually moving into "Children of the Ultra Blacks" a song which develops complex drumming with evocative harp chords and trumpet to create an admirable display of skill. The group creates a cohesive sound of their own, incorporating unexpected rhythms and stoic saxophone into the overall performance forming a storming full band improvised section that barrels relentlessly forward. "The Discovery of Human Flesh" opens gracefully with spare trumpet and percussion, before the music evolves to a textured weaving of saxophones and brass adding interesting hues and colors to the groups palette developing an Ayler-ish urgency that drives the music through the home stretch. Alive In The East - amazon.com

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Downbeat Readers Poll 2018

Downbeat Magazine finally had the good sense to stop inviting me to take part in its Critics' Poll, so I'll make do with the proletariat, in the Readers' Poll. Voting is open to anyone, subscriber or not: here.

Hall of Fame - Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist - Henry Threadgill
Jazz Group - Cortex (Write-In)
Big Band - Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album - Daniel Carter / William Parker / Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University (Write-In)
Historical Album - Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6
Trumpet - Wadada Leo Smith
Trombone - Steve Swell
Alto Saxophone - Francois Carrier
Tenor Saxophone - Chris Potter
Baritone Saxophone - Mats Gustafsson
Clarinet - Anat Cohen
Flute - Nicole Mitchell
Piano - Matthew Shipp
Keyboard - Matt Mitchell (Write-In)
Organ - Greg Lewis
Guitar - Mary Halvorson
Bass - Michael Formanek
Electric Bass - Linda May Han Oh
Violin - Mark Feldman
Drums - Gard Nilssen (Write-In)
Vibes - Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion - Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument - Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello)
Male Vocalist - n/a
Female Vocalist - Amirtha Kidambi (Write-In)
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: n/a
Record Label - Clean Feed
Blues Artist/Group - Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album - Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy in This Land
Beyond Artist or Group - Richard Thompson
Beyond Album: Angelique Kidjo - Remain in Light

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Chad Taylor - Myths and Morals (Ears and Eyes, 2018)

Chad Taylor is one of the most well respected drummers on the modern music scene with credits far beyond the traditional jazz setting branching out into world music, rock and pop. This album was very interesting, it's ostensibly a solo percussion album, but the use of electronics and a delay pedal makes the overall soundcscape considerably wider, occasionally cinematic or overtly experimental in scope. This moves the music out of any definitive genre and into exciting ephemeral territory, with a diverse range of drum and percussion instruments brought together and melded with impressive technique hinting at many influences while taking a fresh and unique approach to the project as a whole. "Island of the Blessed" clocks in at over nine minutes and it is the most fiercely independent track on the album using pure noise to frame percussion patterns and motifs, taking on a progressive and psychedelic path while falling into the tropes of neither. The bonus cut at the end of the album, "Simcha," has Taylor joined by Elliot Bergman on electric kalimba and this excellent closer perhaps points the direction that Taylor will take next in his solo recordings, as the multi-rhythmic world music that the the two musicians combine to create on this brief snippet leaves the door open for an interesting collaboration. This album worked very well, Taylor is much more than a drummer, he is a musical conceptional artist that can build, adapt and process a wide range of rhythms in the search of interesting and invigorating music and in doing so create a compelling narrative all his own. Myths and Morals - amazon.com

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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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