Friday, August 17, 2018

Mia Dyberg Trio - Ticket! (Clean Feed, 2018)

Danish alto saxophonist Mia Dyberg is a bracing and exciting musician who uses the influence of William Burroughs to create a memorable and thought provoking album of free jazz. She is in fine company with Asger Thomsen on bass and Dag Magnus Narvesen on drums. "Ticket" begins the album with raw saxophone and bass in open space, probing the silence for an opening. The drums crash in and the music lunges forward in a predatory fashion, building to an exciting collective improvisation of thick elastic bass, ripe saxophone and drums. The music becomes very exciting with gales of saxophone pushing the band forward relentlessly amidst thrashing percussion and stoic bass. There is a swooping and free sounding nature to "Wil's Swing" with long tones of saxophone against deft bass playing, though the entry of the drums is the cue to unleash the full power of the trio, with Dyberg's rending howls approaching Pharoah Sanders territory, and her inventive use of sounds that are released from restraint makes this track particularly thrilling. There is a rattling, clanking drum feature akin to controlled chaos that is tethered to the saxophone by the unflappable bass planing. "Mia's Pulse" continues mining this vast sound the trio achieves, as she leaps with abandon along with the bowed bass and drums creating waves of sound that course forward from the band. Another short track, "Claws Out" is a potent collective improvisation that gives each member equal footing in a sharp blast of concentrated energetic free jazz. "Topical" builds its own majestic pace through strong interplay between deeply toned alto saxophone, tight bass and drumming that opens a subtle pocket which is perfect for exploration. The longest performance on the album, "The First Track," is among its most memorable, with the group developing a firm rhythmic foundation that allows for unrestrained expression by each member and the trio as a whole. Dyberg gets a rich and emotional tone from her instrument which gives her a unique sound while the bass playing is thick and powerful, and the drumming free ranging and unpredictable. The music gradually builds becoming faster and stronger as the group whips up a frenzy of resonant improvisation, dynamically moving between full out blowing and abstract improvisation. The album ends with the blistering act of free fun called "How Do You Know When You Are Through?" where they through caution into the wind for an all out blast that abruptly cuts off as if they had reached orbital velocity and slipped the bonds of Earth entirely. Ticket! - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

JD Allen - Love Stone (Savant, 2018)

After a well regarded series of exploratory jazz albums in the trio format, tenor saxophonist JD Allen switches to a new project, a quartet album focused on memorable ballads. Accompanied by Liberty Ellman on guitar, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, they take a subtle song based approach with a band that complements each other well, playing with patience and subtlety. The album opens with "Stranger in Paradise" beginning with an open guitar theme, which becomes even more haunting as the remainder of the band eases in. The group stays true to the melody of the song, with romantic nods to the original as light brushes of guitar eases into the midsection, before the lonely saxophone returns to usher in a languorous ending. "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" follows, a quiet ballad that is filled with longing and hints of the old time ballad masters like Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon. Gentle guitar and cymbals shadow the saxophone, weaving into a short feature of their own before the sultry and classy saxophone returns to take things out. Slow moving and fluttering percussion engages with Allen's saxophone on "Why Was I Born," easing into a beautiful tone that is classical and enduring. Ellman's layered guitar and the soft percussion keep the music easing forward. "You're My Thrill" has long tones of saxophone accentuated by slight guitar chords that gives the music a lonely and heartbroken late night sound. The bass and ghostly brushes keep the music even more atmospheric. Allen caresses the melody with gentle drumming echo through "Come All Ye and Tender Ladies" as bare cymbal taps and shy guitar filter through the scene, adding each note with the utmost precision. "Put on a Happy Face" is guided through its paces in a kind and tender manner, engaging with the song with flurries or saxophone developing from the theme of the song, leaving room for a light guitar and percussion interlude, adding bright chords and notes to the proceedings. Lighter toned saxophone moved through the melody of "Prisoner of Love" with guitar and bass rolling like a gentle fog, as quick filigrees of saxophone keeps everyone on their toes. The languid melody of "Someday (You'll Want Me To Want You) drifts in a classy and unhurried manner over the lightly feathered rhythm section, leading into to concluding "Gone With the Wind" where the soft air wafts over the music with a relaxed gait as guitar chords arc over the fading sound. Love Stone - amazon.com

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Matt Lavelle and Reggie Sylvester - Retrograde (ESP-Disk, 2018)

Matt Lavelle on trumpet, fluegelhorn and alto clarinet and Reggie Sylvester on drums have been active in the NYC avant garde jazz scene for years, playing in the late guitarist Bern Nix's Quartet and other groups. On this disc, they take their inspiration from the classic duo album Interstellar Space by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali. Their music explores the planets that that weren't mentioned in that album, and meditate on the message and the music of that record from the vantage point of fifty years on. This album works quite well, whether the pair are blasting through loud and powerful sections of free jazz or quieter passages of abstract improvisation. They open on "Uranus" with Sylvester keeping the rhythm opens with cymbals ebbing and flowing, and Lavelle probing at the available real estate, before diving in on trumpet, leading to a fluid and dynamic trio improvisation. The pace of the conversation gradually increases, as Lavelle is fleet and potent at speed while Sylvester both accents and accentuates the growing musical adventure. "Neptune" has bursts of powerful percussion juxtaposed by areas of mysterious quiet. Jabs of clarinet, and curls of quieter sound allow the jagged dynamism of the piece to really take hold. Branching even further out to the dwarf planet "Pluto" and moving though a spare and enigmatic improvisation that makes use of the available space with light clarinet and restrained percussion painting a deft picture. Lavelle returns to trumpet on the powerful "Mercury" with strong blasts of brass meeting equally powerful percussion creating an exciting and relentlessly cascading free improvisation. The trumpeter sits out for a very interesting drum solo that takes the track to its conclusion. Uncertainty and ambiguity is at the heart of "The Sun" with shimmering cymbals opening the way for the clarinet to enter, allowing the music to emerge in a creative evolution, with cries of reedy clarinet framed by cymbals and percussion. The finale, "Earth" is a mid-tempo duet, hanging in the air and played with mutual respect as the improvisation grows into its full flowering. It's fitting that this album is released on the ESP label, home to the early work of iconoclasts like Albert Ayler, Sonny Simmons and Frank Lowe, given the unfettered nature of the interplay between Lavelle and Slyvester. The hearken back to those heady days while remaining completely modern and as fresh as tomorrow's news. Retrograde - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kenny Burrell - Five Original Albums (Blue Note, 2018)

This budget five disc collection covers some of the highlights from the early recording career of the legendary jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. While is doesn't contain arguably Burrell's finest album, the incomparable Midnight Blue, there are five albums he recorded for Blue Note Records in the 1950's with him performing in jam sessions, studio takes and a live album for considerable variety within the Blue Note hard bop format. Opening appropriately enough with Introducing Kenny Burrell, we see the guitarist as confident and fully formed as a musician and as a quick thinking improviser, playing standards and originals with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. They plow with abandon through "This Time the Dream's On Me" as Burrell demonstrates his fluid and flowing tone on the instrument. He generously sits out in his own session to allow the great Latin percussionist Candido to engage with the bebop pioneer Clarke in a drum and percussion duet called "Rhythmorama" which is a very exciting track that shows these two great musicians using their unique approaches to their instruments to create a volatile and pulsating improvisation. The self titled second album keeps the same personnel as to the first, adding a beautiful version of "Get Happy" that puts a spring in everyone's step, along with the galloping rhythm of "Cheeta." None of these albums contain any extra tracks, but the whole session that comprises the above albums and more can be found on the 2000 Blue Note double disc collection Introducing Kenny Burrell: The First Blue Note Sessions. Burrell was no stranger to the studio jam session, having taken part in many for the Prestige including the LP side long slabs "Al Day Long" and "All Night Long" so he was perfectly suited to lead a range of hard bop luminaries that would create the next two albums included here, Blue Lights Vol. One and Two. This open ended format suits the music quite well, allowing the group to use standards and blues as vehicles to explore the hard bop and soul jazz sub genres in detail, creating a wide range of solo space for the leader and sidemen like Sam Jones on bass and Art Blakey, who create a wonderful pocket for the musicians to explore, and unheralded players like the trumpeter Louis Smith and the saxophonists Tina Brooks and Junior Cook to ply their wares. As with the introductory session, these two albums are available on a double disc set that brings all the music from these sessions into a convenient package. Finally, there is a stellar live album called On View At The Five Spot, that has a primo band featuring Tina Brooks on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons or Roland Hanna on piano, Ben Tucker on bass and Art Blakey on drums. They tear with wonderful abandon through jazz standards like Dizzy Gillespie's "Birk's Works" and the Gershwin favorite "Lady Be Good" rounding things off with an emotionally sound version of "Lover Man." Overall, this collection presents sound value for the money, with five strong albums for the budget price. Costs had to be cut somewhere, so there are no bonus tracks and the packaging is on the flimsy side. The cover art and liner notes for each disc replicates the original LP's, however the notes are in a microscopic font. 5 Original Albums - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Live At The Village Vanguard Vol. 1 The Embedded Sets (Pi-Recordings, 2018)

The Village Vanguard in New York has been the host of some of the most momentous live jazz recordings from the likes of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, and alto saxophonist, composer and conceptualist Steve Coleman carves his name into that legacy with this excellent live album. He is accompanied by his band featuring Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Anthony Tidd on bass and Sean Rickman on drums. Their performance opens with "Horda (First Set)" with Coleman's saxophone heralding the music's emergence into a fast paced, rhythmically charged track. The saxophone and trumpet whirl and dive, focusing on Coleman's tart alto sound that slices through the deep bass and drum foundation. The musicians coalesce for quick bursts of collective sound before spiraling out again into a feature for trumpet as the rest of the band percolates in support. The music stretches and flexes according to need, confidently pushing their unique brand of jazz forward. There is a crisp groove to "DJW (First Set) that the musicians lock into, providing the forward thrust necessary to push the horns out over some stellar guitar, bass and drums accompaniment. The trio bubbles rapidly, engaging with the horns, as Coleman launches a tightly wound and angular solo statement, in a powerful and exciting manner. Sturdy drumming, simultaneously soloing and supporting, pushes the rhythm into deeper and more complex territory, then leading to a rapid and powerful conclusion. "TWF (First Set)" is another potent and strong performance, with the musicians playing with grace and dignity, as crisp drumming accentuates Coleman's citrus flavored alto sound. The band plays together in a very clean fashion, never getting in one another's way or stumbling despite the complexity of the music. Finlayson's trumpet feature picks up on this spark to deliver a confident and declamatory solo statement of his own before handing off to the rhythm section for a short area of tightly interwoven sound, leading to a quintet collective improvisation and closing. Saxophone probing introduces "Figit Time" before the rest of the band comes tumbling into the sound in a madcap and exciting way, blooming into a wide ranging alto saxophone feature over undulating accompaniment. The drumming is spectacular along with the taut bass, providing the needed accelerate for Coleman's fire. "RM / Figit Time" keeps this flame alive on the second set, providing a medley that stretches for over sixteen minutes, beginning with subtle percussion and trumpet, playing with patience and fluidity. The rest of the band folds in and the music begins to gain sense of forcefulness with Coleman muscling into a solo setting, demonstrating his particular skill in creating high quality music in the moment. These are just some of the highlights of a lengthy and exciting double album that captures this band at the height of their powers, playing forward thinking and emotionally resonant modern jazz to a very lucky and appreciative audience. Live At The Village Vanguard Vol. I (The Embedded Sets) - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Golia / Kaiser / Moses / Smith / Walter - Astral Plane Crash (Balance Point Acoustics, 2018)

This album is an exciting and very interesting collaboration between Vinny Golia on saxophones, clarinet and flute, Henry Kaiser on guitars, Damon Smith on amplified double bass and Ra-Kalam Bob Moses and Weasel Walter on drums and percussion. (Promo video here) There are two very long tracks of inspired collective improvisation, the trio of Kaiser, Smith and Walter has played together for years, producing some excellent albums, but the addition of the west coast reedman Gloia and drummer Moses kicks this performance up to an even higher level. Golia is reminiscent of the great Sam Rivers, switching instruments in mid flight to add just the right texture to the improvisation. The opening track "Fountain of Dreams" is nearly forty five minutes in length and the epic nature of the music gives the musicians ample room to stretch out as the twin drumming unit creates deep and moving rhythms that are continuously in motion, with the bounding bass cuts through the thick sound to add additional rhythmic heft as well as an individualistic voice contributing to the collectively improvised performance. The guitar and drums alternate between skittish pointillism and snarling roar with the sound of Kaiser's electric guitar bursting out at time to spray colorful shards of sound across the musical landscape. The album's other track, the thirty five minute excursion "Mysterious Journey" lives up to its title with the opening played by delicate acoustic guitar and flute, Golia's flutes are a wonder and he incorporates a technique that uses overblowing, vocalizations and growls to create an individual and memorable sound. The music takes flight soon after with the drums gradually increasing the momentum of the performance, Golia moving to a variety of saxophones, primarily soprano and sopranino, which soar over and cut through a powerful psychedelic freakout of electric guitar and drums that sets the pace for a very impressive performance of exploratory and far reaching free improvisation. This was a very impressive album, and deserves the attention of open eared jazz fans. The group is a dynamic powerhouse that can move from a whisper to a scream and create a musical landscape that is ripe for exploration. Astral Plane Crash - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 04, 2018

Otomo Yoshihide and Paal Nilssen-Love - 19th of May 2016 (PNL Records, 2018)

This is an excellent and intense duet album between Otomo Yoshihide on electric guitar and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. The music is broken up into two lengthy improvisations, "Cat" and "Dog" which give the great guitarist and drummer plenty of room to stretch out and play some extraordinary sounds that run the gamut from free jazz to post rock and industrial noise. "Cat" open with raw and scouring soundscapes, feeding back into silence and invoking quick bursts of drums. The music is purely in the moment with massive blocks of guitar crashing up against dexterous percussion, blasts of feedback is punctuated by rolled drumming, colliding as if in a particle accelerator, creating new sub-atomic particles of sound and motion. The music ebbs to an ominous quiet, with skittish percussion and ever changing tones of electric guitar. This spare section, the eye of the musical hurricane, shows that these musicians are not just out to destroy, but also to create with the utmost restraint, spare tones, chimes and rings. The speed of their interactions begins to rise despite the subtlety, soon regaining the original intensity with whip cracks of electricity meeting barreling drums, bringing the music to a concluding section of beautiful violence. "Dog" is simply over the top, ending with a squall of guitar feedback and slash and burn percussion the needs to be heard to be believed. The dynamic nature of the music is also on display throughout the performance, with the music moving from the aforementioned tempest to periods of relative calm. At one point Oshihide holds a brain scrambling tone on his guitar almost begging the question, what will happen first, will he move on after this gleeful blast of noise, or will the listener blink first and lunge for the stereo to turn down that withering burst of pure energy? Although there are solo sections on this album, it's when the two musicians are working together, completely free from any preconceptions that the music truly shines. They will push each other further on with the Oshihide's limitless technique on the electric guitar which is met by the drummer's massive and bottomless idea about the role of a percussionist. 19th of May 2016 bandcamp.com

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Grant Lee Buffalo - Mighty Joe Moon (Slash Records, 1994)

This album meant the world to me nearly twenty-five years ago. I was at SUNY Oneonta doing my level best to have a complete breakdown, flunking out spectacularly despite really loving some of my classes and professors, and having met some good and reliable friends. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder wouldn't come until many years later after I had crashed and burned from the only job I ever loved and felt like I was making a difference in. Some albums are time locked. As much as I love Bob Dylan's masterpiece Love and Theft, I will always flash back to it's release date: September 11, 2001. I had planned to get up early and go to the Borders Books and Music (remember those?) to get the new album before going to work that afternoon. Turning on the radio and then the TV that morning and watching the world crumble, people walking in shock, fighter jets screaming across the blue New Jersey skies, twelve people from my town dead.

Mighty Joe Moon brings back different memories, wandering around Oneonta, a small college town in a daze of depression and anxiety that I didn't have a name for, missing classes for no reasons, pushing my friends and family away. Walking around town listing to that album endlessly on cassette tape (remember those?) it seemed timeless, incorporating rock, folk, even gospel in its mix of lyrically resonant music, the sound of the album was purely American. "Lone Star Song" opens the album with a feint, crushing rock 'n' roll guitars feeding back and recalling Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their most unhinged. The next two songs tug in the opposite direction, with "Mockingbirds" showing the range in Grant Lee Phillips' voice as he goes into an impossibly high and delicate falsetto, while "It Is the Life" is an acoustic lament with beautiful heartfelt lyrics that pierced my lost soul like a dagger:

If the life you have created
Has buried you with luxuries out-dated
And you ask what is the purpose
Too weak to claw your way up to the surface


With no room left in that direction, they tack into the wind with the blustery electric rock song "Sing Along" which is an arena rock lighter-waver in some alternate dimension. The music becomes hallucinatory and flies over America in a fever dream:

Man built an empire out of ocean and earth
Man built the prisons of Joliet San Quentin Leavenworth
And man built a market for Muhammad Ali (oh oh oh oh)
Evel Knievel and the legacy of John Wayne Gacy


The title track "Mighty Joe Moon" leans into the nascent sub-genre of Americana, alluding to the green in the map and fishing for trout. "Demon Called Deception" may be the song that hit me the hardest, I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn't know what. My brain was telling me to skip classes to go for long walks into the woods, that my friends and classmates were against me, and these words hit like a brick to the face:

I'm in tight with a demon called Deception
It's alright he's a-treatin' me quite well
I'm in tight with a demon called Deception
He's right beside me when I fail


"Drag" teased Van Morrison in a hazy fog:

Sing me Morrison would ya kizza-my-eyes
Sing me Morrison would ya kizza-my-eyes
Singing it low
Singing it high
Would ya kizza-my-eyes...

My roommate during my first year at Oneonta was a huge Van Morrison fan and I have him to thank for my life long love of the man's music, another thing that connected me to this album. The album ends on a bloodied by unbowed note with "Side By Side" and "Rock of Ages" melding the various strains of American music into one cohesive desperate cry into the darkness. I couldn't listen to this album for years, connecting with with failure. After a couple of successes it was another massive personal failure that brought me back to the album, buying a cheap used CD copy, startled at the power and the majesty of the music and the fact that it still resonates so deeply with me. Grant Lee Buffalo made a few more records before breaking up around the turn of the millennium, and Phillips has had a solid solo career with about a dozen solo albums including this years' Widdershins. They are all good, but none pack the visceral punch that Mighty Joe Moon had which was at the right place at the right time even if that time was dark and lonely and frightening. Mighty Joe Moon - amazon.com

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Woody Shaw - Tokyo '81 (Elemental Music, 2018)

Trumpeter Woody Shaw was still riding high after a stint as straw boss for Dexter Gordon's popular group and his own exceptional run of albums at Columbia Records when he landed in Tokyo for a performance with Stafford James on bass, Tony Reedus on drums, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Steve Turre on trombone and percussion. After a spoken introduction, the group opens with Shaw's "Rosewood," and the trombone and trumpet harmonize together with the rhythm team stating the brawny theme and staking out space for a stellar bowed bass solo. The horns trade excellent features before the group comes together for a tumultuous conclusion. There is a very long version on Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" that doesn't waste a note, as Shaw plays an aching version of the melody framed by spare piano, building his solo in an open and patient manner. Turre's trombone statement is poised and thoughtful along with subtle brushed percussion, soon making way for Shaw to take an unaccompanied trumpet solo that is spellbinding in its beauty. "Apex" returns to the storming uptempo format, with the full band swinging right out of the gate and the strong rhythm section playing with slashing cymbals supporting scorching trumpet from the leader which gives the music a relentless feeling. The piano, bass and drums unit have a sparkling feature, cascading and tumbling forward leading to a quick and nimble full band outro. They return to ballad territory on "From Moment to Moment" where gentle trumpet and brushes add just the right touch to the music, leaving an opening for growling trombone and the music is accented with yearning and pathos. "Song of Songs" is a lengthy closer to the Shaw quintet's set, stretching out with lush piano and bowed bass creating interesting textures. Shaw enters, playing in a stoic fashion, nodding to some swirling trombone as he reaches out with a towering trumpet solo. The group roils beneath him, creating first rate post bop jazz, and Shaw climbs down from the mountaintop, handing the baton to Turre who seems stunned by his boss's solo, sounding tentative at first, but gradually regaining confidence because the rhythm section just won't quit and things pull together as Shaw returns for an epic full band closing. There is an extra track on this disc, "Sweet Love of Mine" by the Paris Reunion Band of which Shaw was a member. They play bright and punchy septet swing with some powerful trumpet moments for Shaw and an interesting section where he trades phrases with drummer Billy Brooks. Overall, this is an excellent and valuable release, the sound quality isn't exactly pristine, but the standard of the music overwhelms those concerns and makes this a must have for any Woody Shaw fan. Tokyo '81 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell - The Maid With the Flaxen Hair (Tzadik, 2018)

This is a fascinating multi generational meeting of the minds featuring two of the most interesting guitarists in modern music, Mary Halvorson, whose music has ranged from free jazz to noise rock, and Bill Frisell whose Americana based music also incorporates experimental and progressive music. On this album they join forces to explore the music of guitarist Johnny Smith, an innovative jazz musician and a studio artist quite popular in the 1950's. They play ballads that are associated with Smith in the duet format, creating a melodic and accessible album that will hopefully be widely heard. Opening with one of Smith's most famous interpretations "Moonlight in Vermont," the attitude is spare and patient, with the guitarists playing the lilting melody and and then using that as a guidepost for their improvised section. The music has spiky sparks of life that bring it clearly into the modern world while hinting at the nostalgia of the past, as the duo uses their wit and energy to keep the music fresh. The title song "The Maid With the Flaxen Hair" stretches over eight minutes allowing for the guitarists to really stretch out and explore, shooting neon tones into the darkness as the notes are bent and echoed, sparkling in an abstract yes accessible manner and weaving the melody into a more expressive improvisation. "Scarlet Ribbons in Her Hair" is a shorter and more fluid performance, elegiac and somewhat melancholy and played with delicate grace, moving into "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" which makes use of the spaciousness of the setting to develop an atmosphere of subtle elegance and refined playing while maintaining the the quality of being spontaneous and sincere. Frisell has played "Shenandoah" regularly, and they are able to touch on the roots based approach that he takes while subtly tweaking it with sustained slightly altered guitar tones. The familiar standard "The Nearness of You" is given a much needed makeover with choppy and prickly sounding guitar fragmenting the melody into a kaleidoscope of color while maintaining the context of Smith's version. This leads to a spare and haunting version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" with the notes hanging in the air with crystalline clarity, and the gradual weaving of the two distinctive guitar approaches in a form that allows them to flow naturally. Maid With The Flaxen Hair - amazon.com

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