Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Jonathan Finlayson - 3 Times Round (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson is a well known band leader and a sideman of note for luminaries such as Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara and Vijay Iyer. On this album he brings together a stellar group to play an album of his original compositions, dedicated to the late composer Muhal Richard Abrams: Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and flute, Matt Mitchell on piano, John Hebert on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums. "Feints" is a strong opening track for the full band with a complex and interesting theme, intricate horn playing and reactive rhythmic support. There is a section for rippling piano with tight bass and drums, playing cohesively as a tightly wound unit. Horns trade solo areas, alto, tenor, trumpet offer short thoughtful bursts of sound that act as witty rejoinders to one another and further amplify the excitement of the music as a whole. The tart sounding alto, raw tenor and crisp trumpet each offer gradations of tone and texture that make this performance a pleasure to listen to. There is a slightly darker feel to "Grass" with its bubbling percussion, and the horns weave a theme that will ebb and flow in both volume and intensity, and the horns punch outward and then break out into sections for individual expression. The saxophones develop a sweet and sour dichotomy swirling around one another before making way for a well articulated trumpet statement, playing along with percolating piano, bass and drums. Angular piano takes the rhythm section for a brief spin before the horns return to close another excellent performance. "The Moon Is New" is the longest track on the album, nearly a suite in its own right as the composition goes through several semi movements beginning with celestial piano adding beautiful and lonesome bowed bass before the full band crashes in at high speed, playing a complex statement together. Finlayson applies a light and appealing tone to his trumpet for a solo feature backed by lush piano and crisp percussion, then the music becomes more forceful and gallant, striding purposefully into near silence. The mantle is taken up by Lenman's instantly recognizable alto saxophone tearing across the music at light speed, big piano chords marking the way as he slaloms through an epic solo performance. Tenor saxophone billows forth, powering the music over a very interesting drum rhythm, keeping the music fresh and allowing it to continue to evolve, the saxophone pushing the sound relentlessly faster and more harshly forward, Then there is a surprising jolt to a swinging piano, bass and drums unit playing your basic jazz improvisation, and then proceeding to take liberties with it as they choose. This performance was fascinating, pieced together in a cellular manner with seemingly limitless possibilities. The final song on the album is "Tap-Tap," which begins with a sense of urgency from the rhythm section and the memorable theme which is presented with the horns. Things are fast, but everybody is on point and hitting their marks expertly. Settles breaks out on tenor saxophone, building his solo carefully while keeping the sense of forward momentum the track had already built. A tightly wound piano solo follows, notes cascading like a waterfall as the trumpet emerges and stakes its claim with a bold and memorable statement, before the horns begin to weave together with some more torrential alto saxophone and powerful drumming, leading the full group into a memorable conclusion. 3 Times Round - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Jacob Sacks - Fishes (Clean Feed, 2018)

This is an interesting album of jazz music that is confident enough to be free and also swing, led by Jacob Sacks on piano with Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophones, Michael Formanek on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. "Saloon" opens the album with an interesting dual saxophone trade off, and the two instruments have a clear delineation in tone, before the rhythm section muscles in and creates full band improvisation that begins to swing with the full bodied rhythm section leading the way with rippling piano, before raw saxophone and biting drums return to keep the music exciting and passionate. Thick propulsive bass is at the core of "Carnegie the Sketcher" where soprano saxophone and tenor saxophone shadow each other, creating an interesting contrast where the music is fast and nervous, filled with an anxious energy. The pace waxes and wanes with fresh dynamic energy, and the two saxophones complement and contrast within the framework of the performance. "The Opener" has an interesting cascading theme that breaks out, allowing for more space between the instruments, vigorous tenor saxophone, and quick nimble soprano paint contrails across the musical sky, with an athletic rhythm section churning beneath them. Fine solo sections for soprano saxophone, piano and drums make this one of the highlights of the album. There is a patient opening as the instruments gradually bloom on "Five Little Melodies" like a free ballad, the percussion is subtle but pointed as the saxophones gradually begin to fill in the available space with more urgent cries, developing into a pulsating collective improvisation as the track draws to a close. "Carnegie Chutes Fork" is a faster and more ominous free improvisation, a short film trying to squeeze it all in, saxophones kneading the air, around fluttering piano, bass and fluctuating percussion, as if it had no beginning or no end. A worrying solo bass opening by bowing long tones and sounds into the silence ushers "Chopped In," followed by piano which tip toes in, ringing loud notes that sustain, then developing a melody almost like an incantation as the band comes together to play. The music weaves an intricate tapestry at a slow pace and relatively low volume, soft, breaths of saxophone and light chords of piano. "Carnegie Stock Thew" a bit jarring after the previous track with jagged bits of saxophone and percussion and bowed bass amidst flutters of piano, creating a raw and unfettered sound. The full band comes steaming in for the "Ill Blues" melody, a sauntering swing with a tight tenor saxophone solo over heavy piano comping and swaying drums. The raw tenor sounds great, powering through, then stepping aside for a mighty piano interlude showing an individual approach to the instrument, succeeded by the second tenor saxophone mixing the airy with the gruff, leading to a quiet and classy conclusion. Fishes - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Hearts and Minds - Electroradiance (Astral Spirits, 2018)

An interesting manifestation of the ever evolving Chicago jazz scene, Hearts and Minds takes the experimentalism of the progressive wing of that scene and melds it seamlessly with the gritty blues foundation of the city's music. The band consists of Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Paul Giallorenzo on synthesizer and keyboards and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion."Back and Forth" melds grinding electronics with horn and crisp drumming, moving sharply forward, electric piano shading and filling the sound stage with color. Rapid fire drumming keeps things moving, with the softer and pastel hued bass clarinet adding wounded accents to the overall sound of the music, building to a free jazz improvisation that is very impressive and empowering. There is a quieter beginning to "Treeline," with instruments engaging in a hide and seek pattern before the bass clarinet and drums enter a raw sounding section, framed by subtle electronics. The music enters a supple collective improvisation, with twisting and turning bass clarinet and tight back beat and drum solo, with pulsating electronics. "Step'n" mines a tight groove with repeating figures, gradually building volume with the addition of synthesized sounds, giving everything an interesting and slightly off kilter vibe. The pace of the improvisation increases, growing more intricate, with a deep and resonant bass clarinet feature. A short fast blast of music, "Rivet and Roll" has a fast strong drum beat and ripe horn playing that spools out on a soft carpet of keyboard playing, and a collective performance that is short, sweet and memorable. "Electroradiance" has arcs of electronics and bass clarinet in space, with dark and ominous smears of sound evoking dystopian futures and frightening rough edges. This track leads directly into "Slowly Drifting Outward" which has more direct emotional feel for straight ahead drumming accessible electronics and swirls of airy bass clarinet. "Future Told" has a tightly wound approach to improvisation from a coiled theme, Stein plants his feet and delivers a riveting solo followed by a section for synth and drumming, with squiggles of electronic sound meeting strong drumming head on. When they all come back together to drive the performance home is when the real magic happens, as it does on the forceful "Relativistic" where the band plays a rousing three way free improvisation with scouring bass clarinet and drums, and oddly quiet electronic piano comping. "Slippery Slope" is a wonderful finale with strong electric piano comping and a crisp drum and cymbal beat inching this closer to the mainstream while Stein's angular bass clarinet blows in from all angles and directions keeping the music vibrant and visceral. Hearts and Minds - Electroradiance - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Chris Lightcap - Superette (Royal Potato Family, 2018)

Bassist and composer Chris Lightcap is one of the most exciting young musicians on the jazz scene today (his album Epicenter was my 2015 album of the year) and here he moves to bass guitar, deftly mixing jazz, rock and world music along with Curtis Hasselbring and Jonathan Goldberger on guitars and Dan Rieser on drums. The opening track, "Selector," has a fast paced forward moving groove of drums and bass with bright guitar playing giving the music an appealing sound, hinting at the motorik groove of krautrock. They improvise together mightily, getting a taut full sound, where no instrument dominates, but everyone contributes to an insatiable forward drive for this excellently polished nugget. This is followed by "She Walked In," one of a few tracks that seems to have a subtle west African influence, one that suits the music well, allowing it to establish a drone with some keyboards from special guest John Medeski (Nels Cline also pops up from time to time to add even more guitar goodness to the proceedings) and then orbit around that fulcrum, exploring the possibilities inherent in the music as they go. "Far Away Planet" uses thick bass and keyboards to establish a sludgy foundation with jabs of higher pitched organ and guitar staking out territory. The music burrows into a deep pocket but remains exploratory, as the guitars increase in volume and texture, pushing the music farther afield, and breaking free for brief solo sections. The music becomes very fast with powerful drumming and lightning fast guitar playing amidst waves of organ and pulsations of electric bass. The exotic influence returns on "Djali" with the guitars locked in tightly with the bass and subtle percussion weaving it all together, while smears of feedback change the consistency of the performance in subtle ways like a stone skipping across a still pond. The music remains at the same high level throughout with subtle tweaks to the formula keeping the melody at the forefront in a fresh and interesting manner. "Ace of Spades" has some Link Wray style guitar feedback to open before the bass and drums establish a beautiful through line that the guitars can use to rock out on to their hearts content. It's a fun track that gives everyone a chance to get loose and have a good time, with the guitars weaving together and reaching for the stars like the multi-guitar bands the Miles Davis led in the mid-1970's. An interesting outlier is the cover of Neil Young's evocative ballad "Birds," where the group is really able to bite into the melody and then, set the guitar players free for short pointed improvisations. Superette - amazon.com

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Endangered Blood - Don't Freak Out (Skirl Records, 2018)

Endangered Blood is a very interesting collaborative unit featuring some of the best players on the modern mainstream jazz scene, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Oscar Noriega on alto saxophone, Trevor Dunn on bass and Jim Black on drums and this album was recorded at the very end of last year. “Passion Fruit Birthday Cake” opens the album with a buoyant and happy sounding theme with nimble percussion and bass supporting the horns, both the lithe sounding alto and the soft tenor which seemingly has the corners rounded off, giving it an appealing gliding sound. The horns engage each other and the tight rhythm as well, making for a very interesting and warmly inviting track. There is a relaxed and informal sensibility to “Easy Blues” with the bass and drums setting an inviting pocket and the horns making the most of the open ended setting. There is a bit more dirt and grit in the approaches of the saxophones, which adds to the tone and texture of the performance, made more present by the strong drums and supple bass. The saxophones trade solo sections, each with something interesting to say within this timeless American form, allowing warmth and soulfulness to be tempered by sharp minded improvisation. Snappy bass and drums are the foundation of “Varmints” with the saxophones weaving though and interesting theme, the tricky melody keeping everybody on their toes, and providing a great jumping off point for improvisation. The saxophones play together through a complex pattern and then split apart into fast paced solo sections, punctuated by squeaks and howls of emotion, and pushed ahead by strong and agile drumming. “Complimenti” has an airy and gently swaying feeling to it as the saxophones play light tones and the bass and drums are reserved and floating across the sound. A saxophone breaks free, ably supported by well grounded bass and the solo is probing and poignant in tone, then it’s partner picks up the pace turning faster with rattling drumming hot on his heels, and the group shows their versatility moving through varying moods and modes. There’s a short section for the duet the bass and drums, then the group returns to the melody and the conclusion of the song. There is an appealing excitement to “Diego Partido” with the quick harmonizing saxophones and cruising rhythm growing ever faster, and the stellar solos for the saxophonists, off the leash and romping wild through the tall grass. The sound is affirming and emotional, bringing the whole band together for an excellent series of improvisational cells built around the lightning fast reflexes of the bass and drums and fertile imaginations of the saxophone players. Endangered Blood -Bandcamp

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Dave Sewelson - Music for a Free World (FMR Records, 2018)

Dave Sewelson arrived in New York City from the west coast just in time to participate in the loft scene, playing with a host of forward thinking jazz luminaries in addition to leading his own bands over the years. On this album he plays baritone and sopranino saxophones in the fine company of Steve Swell on trombone, William Parker on bass and Marvin Bugalu Smith on drums. “Music for the Free World” has the horns together playing the loud theme in a brash manner, it being one of the few themes composed for the session, the remainder being completely free. Fast bass and drums hold down the foundation for free sounding saxophone as the horns square off against one another in a brawny sounding duet before leaving off for improvising bowed bass with percussion shading. The horns ease back in with the trombone playing alongside the bass and drums, adding growling effects, and the saxophone wails, ratcheting up the intensity with a raw and scalding improvisation over bass and drums. This is followed by the epic twenty one minute “Tensiana,” where thick elastic bass and flurries of drumming give way to baritone saxophone and trombone as the full band digs in deeply. They develop a collective improvisation, one that gets faster, near frantic and very exciting as a trombone solo moves through the bass and very active drumming. The sound of the track continues to evolve through the use of very high pitched saxophone and the constant movement of all of the instruments in the band whether playing in a rough and ready collective manner or more thoughtful solo or duet sections. “T.B.” is a short interlude, with saxophone and trombone squeaking and jousting as the bass and drums lay out and the two musicians use long tones and breaths to add texture and substance to their improvisation, before moving to honks and toots in space as they play off of one another. The horns, bass and drums sound heavy and full on “Calm Pose” with raw scouring baritone saxophone against the trombone who offers more stoic support. The saxophone continues to probe, and builds a grinding solo with trombone, bass and drums in support. Swell’s trombone arcs and sputters across the nimble bass and cymbal play, drawing the full band back together for a collective improvisation and well executed conclusion. Dedicated to the memory of the group’s friend Bill Horvitz, “Bill,” begins with yearning saxophone and spare percussion, before delving into the longer tones of sound that reach out over the drumming, punctuated by bursts of activity which are blended into the quieter passages of the performance. Music for a Free World - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring - Live in San Francisco (Abstract Logix, 2018)

Guitarist John McLaughlin has had a long and influential career from playing the blues in swinging London to helping to lay down the foundational texts of jazz fusion by playing in the bands of Miles Davis and Tony Williams and finally forming his own band Mahavishnu Orchestra, an extremely influential electric jazz outfit, and releasing scores of solo albums. This particular album was recorded at the tail end of what McLaughlin declared to be his last tour of America, and it is a collaboration between with McLaughlin's group The 4th Dimension band and fellow guitarist Jimmy Herring's band The Invisible Whip. The album was recorded at The Warfield Theatre in December of 2017, and focuses on classic Mahavishnu Orchestra compositions of McLaughlin. "Meeting of the Spirits" blasts right out of the gate, building steam with short bursts of power before settling into a tight groove, with a sparkling guitar solo erupting from the mix, backed by a crisp rhythm and evanescent keyboards. The guitar is lightning fast lashing out with great energy, before folding back into the group, leaving room for the second guitar which has a heavier and slightly more leaden tone, but is still playing with impressive facility, aided by driving percussion and elastic bass guitar. Everyone returns for a powerful collective improvisation and comes back to the original theme and out. There is a spare opening to "Birds of Fire" with mysterious percussion evolving to driving drumming and insistent full band playing. The guitars slash and burn, playing together briefly before separating, with the thinner toned guitar (presumably McLaughlin's) sending out sharp shards of sounds, very well articulated and at an impressive speed. A violin takes a short solo, trading phrases with guitar in an interesting manner, at very fast speeds. Everyone finally untangles and spirals back into the original theme with grace and power. "The Dance of Maya" builds gradually, setting a choppy theme into motion, sending shards of guitar arcing out over the deep bass and drum groove, before lurching back into a funky blues section of snarling guitar and heavy drumbeats. Building to a very fast and muscular section the music seethes with sweaty power as it grinds ever faster then snaps back to a twin guitar groove. Herring's guitar gamely tries to fight off two drummers in a good natured joust, before leading everyone back into formation. This has a rich melody to "Trilogy" which gives the players much grist for their collective improvisational mill. Strangled sounding guitar breaks out of the pack, lashing out with waves of fast paced notes moving ever faster, aided by supportive drumming and bass as he whips the music into a frenzy, then handing off to the other guitar who probes for an opening, jabbing and weaving like a boxer, returning to the fold as synths engulf him and this lengthy track continues to unfold. A crushing drum duet, and rapid fire scatting before the full band comes in hard leading to some cosmic keyboard interludes, trading phrases of their own before everyone returns, leading to a stalwart and much appreciated conclusion. Live In San Francisco - amazon.com

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Marc Ribot - Songs Of Resistance 1942 - 2018 (Anti, 2018)

As the culture of Washington D.C. sinks deeper into a miasma of nihilism and hatred it is important and life affirming that artists and musicians are able to respond with poetry and song. Guitarist Marc Ribot has always worn his heart on his sleeve, whether playing the music of Cuba, Albert Ayler or John Zorn, so he is perfect to lead this collection of collaborative protest music from the past and present some proceeds of which proceeds will be donated to The Indivisible Project, a group that helps people in their local area. Vocalist Fay Victor his two performances on this album beginning with "We Are Soldiers in the Army" backed with raw wounded electric electric guitar and saxophone, she pulls no punches by singing that lives will be broken and lost in the quest for freedom. Along the same lines she recounts the story anti-slavery abolitionist John Brown, backed by jazzy guitar and horns that frame her cry for freedom, following Brown through pre Civil War Misouri, Bloody Kansas and then to the fateful raid at Harpers Ferry. Many of the songs evoke creeping fascism and the necessity of knowing history and learning from the past, like on the Tom Waits fronted anti-fascist Italian folk song "Bella Ciao." Waits' voice is gravely and heavy with emotion and Ribot is spot on with spare accompaniment, just enough to frame his indelible voice. Outlaw country legend Steve Earle joins Ribot for two performances, "Srinivas," recounting the hate crime murder of two Indian men in Kansas, hammering it home with the epic line “madman pulled the trigger / Donald Trump loaded the gun." They also contribute "Ain't Gonna Let Them Turn Us Around" which at first seems like a boilerplate yearning western ballad, but quickly surprises with stoic and heartfelt speaking out  against hate filled government policies concerning race and ethnicity. Syd Straw joins Ribot for the short and pointed "Knock That Statue Down" which recounts that horrible night and day in Charlottesville, Virginia which saw Nazis and white supremacists marching on American soil, murdering an American citizen all because people had come to their senses and decided that a statue honoring a man (Robert E. Lee) who rebelled and waged war against the United States, was on the losing side of that war and was a slaveholder to boot, needed to be taken down. The madness of the country I live in has become numbing, whether it is people left stranded by a hurricane, a journalist tortured and murdered, the morally bankrupt shell of a man calling himself president threatening to deploy US troops to attack migrants desperate for hope or the rejection of science and reason. Seemingly all roads lead to lead to overwhelming despair. Songs Of Resistance 1942 - 2018 - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Brom - Sunstroke (Trost Records, 2018)

Brom is an exciting Russian free jazz group in the tradition of such bands as The Thing or Full Blast. They consist of Anton Ponomarev on saxophones, Dmitry Lapshin on bass guitar and Yaroslav Kurilo on drums and the album was recorded in Moscow in 2017. "Plunge Into An Ice Hole" is as bracing as its title suggests, with blasting drum phrases and scouring saxophone that threatens to take the skin off of your bones. The taut bass folds it all together and acts as the glue when some space opens between the instruments, before the speed rebuilding to punk/hardcore levels of lashing drums and slashing saxophone and they carry the tune out. This hell for leather approach continues on "Tuna" with a tight, repetitive theme clearing the way for some funky bass and drums and predatory saxophone. Jacking the tempo back up increases the intensity of the music, saxophone and drums improvising around a stoic bass riff, then everybody enters crushing a collective improvisation with the dynamic push and pull of melody and chaos really drives the music home. The title track "Sunstroke" is almost overpowering at the start, with the crushing weight of the instruments slowly piled upon the listener, before they jump into a breakneck improvisation that is unsafe at any speed but especially the warp speed at which they are travelling. There's a ferocity to their music at this stage that is very impressive, way out on they edge before suddenly snapping back to a melodic quieter section, where everyone is paying close attention and staying tight. "Queue" has crisp drumming setting the pace, with raw screaming feedback from the electric bass and harrowing saxophone pushing the improvisation into the deep end. Allowing the music to ebb and flow dynamically gives the group the opportunity to make the most of the sonic environment, taking enough time to develop a thread through all of its switchbacks that's really going somewhere. Raw doom laden sounds are at the core of "Urtica" with metal electric bass and heavy drums meeting scorching overpowered saxophone, for a nasty and brutal opening. Raw and rending sounds billow through the music, creating and exciting and unique sound. "Hematoma" keeps the hard line coming with clattering bursts of machine gun fire drumming and intertwined electric bass and squealing saxophone. They develop an of the cuff sound, but one that is grounded in thought and method, melding narrative with maximum freedom, by lowering the volume while keeping the level of intensity high, before returning to the blast furnace volume level at the end. The final track is "Mingus 30C" which has a low and bracing sound to it, akin to the blues, getting faster with intricate bass and drums, which develop a strong foundation hinting at Mingus melodies and themes, gaining speed as the saxophone joins them. It is a reverent and thoughtful performance, with powerhouse electric bass at its core, leading to a fast and furious conclusion. Sunstroke - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness (Hopscotch Records, 2018)

This is a fresh and intuitive live album with Assif Tsahar on tenor saxophone, William Parker on bass, and Hamid Drake on drums. The album opens with "In Between" with its withering Albert Ayler like tenor saxophone met by thick bass and skittish drumming. It's a massive improvisation, clocking in at over thirty five minutes, but it is a journey that is fresh and exciting, with Tsahar's emotional cries met by a consistently evolving bass and drum partnership that encourages risk taking. Drake's crisp drumming, via mallets or sticks is mesmerizing and keeps the music moving consistently forward while staying in direct communication with his fellow musicians. The music is consistently interesting with each member of the trio adding different inflections as they proceed to keep the music fresh. The saxophonist sits out, and allows the bass and drums to carry on a brilliant conversation, rooted in jazz but reaching for the furthest stars, just like the trio as a whole creates a connection between the avant garde and the jazz tradition. He returns leading them into a softer more spare section giving the music a grounded and earthy tone. "The Tumbling" has ferocious bowing from Parker and insistent cymbal work from Drake, which creates a potent atmosphere for the saxophonist to enter, his horn whinnying amidst blasting drums and stoic bass. The improvisation turns nearly feral in its excitement before righting itself around Parker's anchoring bass, a guiding light for the performance to follow, his manner of playing is a tether to the history of jazz and this group makes the most of this knowledge. Tsahar takes the best aspects of mid sixties Ayler and brings them into the post modern future with his arresting tone on the tenor saxophone which is simultaneously gritty and fluid, raw, spontaneous and completely unafraid to leap into the improvisational void. Drake is seemingly everywhere, supplying just what the music needs, speeding up or slowing down the pace, framing and accenting the beat, adding cymbals and Art Blakey esque drum rolls, it's all part of his irrepressible tool kit. The short piece "A Stillness" acts as an encore and a summing up, with the musicians forming obtuse soundscapes, approaching from different angles, before meeting in the middle with longer and quieter tones. This was an excellent album of spontaneous jazz that was a meeting of three master musicians that were at the height of their collective powers. But what was heard here was ego-less, everyone came together collectively to lend their virtuosity to a greater good making this a stellar and very highly recommended album. In Between The Tumbling The Stillness - Hopscotch Records

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Full Blast - Rio (Trost Records, 2018)

Full Blast is the powerhouse trio of Peter Brötzmann on multiple reed instruments, Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums. This band is an absolute free jazz juggernaut which takes no prisoners, they have been playing together for nearly fifteen years and this shows in their nearly telepathic interplay on this record. "Rio One" opens the album at full roar with the scouring tenor saxophone plowing the earth and elastic bass guitar and frenetic drumming hot on its heels. The collective improvisation between the musicians is very powerful and one can imagine the audience being knocked back in their seats by the auditory onslaught. The speed that the sound is presenting is astonishing, with gales of saxophone, notes of bass that become a blur and lightning fast drumming. Brotzmann lays out for some mighty bass and percussion interplay before charging back into the fray and driving the track to its conclusion. Powerful drumming ushers in "Rio Two," before the other shoe drops and the remained of group joins with absolute squalls of electric bass and Brotzmann overpowering his  instrument, creating a flying edifice of sound that destroys all that comes before it. The music is more than raw noise however, there is depth and breadth to it and it exists in three dimensions plus time, enveloping the stage with its relentless power and glory. "Rio Three" has the bass and drums supplying an ominous opening feeling, pouring on the speed and energy until they burst forth as Brotzmann joins them on a sharper pitched saxophone or clarinet. He is driving right into the center of your skull on this track (wear headphones for the full effect) and the power and righteousness that he achieves is very impressive. The band coalesces for a molten collective improvisation, leading one to wonder how they didn't spontaneously combust on the stage, with the relentless bass playing and great bursts of drumming, including a great slashing solo, in addition to Brotzmann's extraordinary flights of imagination. There is a little more space available to the drummer's opening of "Rio Four" which builds into a towering solo statement which invites the bass guitar and saxophone to add their own input in a scouring spontaneous improvisation. As we see on "Rio Five," Brotzmann uses different reeds as the drummer pummels relentlessly and the bassist adds feedback and other asides, pushing the music over the top toward madness. The never succumb, however, pulling back from the void at the last second to deliver a lashing and thrilling trio improvisation. Far more than Peter Brotzmann with a rhythm section, this is a fully functioning band that is a group of equals, they play together as comrades without ego and as such produce one of the best albums of the year. Rio - amazon.com

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Thelonious Monk - Monk (Gearbox Records, 2018)

The story behind this wonderful live album is almost too good to be true: It was recorded by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation in 1963 and broadcast a few days later before being shelved. Gearbox Records owner Darrel Sheinman bought the tapes from dealer who was going to throw them away! There are many Monk live albums, but I think this one should make people sit up and take notice, he was at one of his peaks and playing with one of his longest lasting bands with John Ore on bass, Frankie Dunlop on drums and Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone. The play the regular Monk repertoire with wit and verve starting with "Bye-Ya" and its wonderful flag waving melody leads to a bright and shining improvisation that everyone puts their backs into. This group had been playing together for four years at this point and they had reached sublime levels of familiarity with Monk's music and the surprises contained within. Rouse's solo is stoic and gritty with crisp bass and drums behind him and Monk adding huge chords to further light the path. Monk's own solo is nimble and filled with graceful jabs and runs down the keyboard carving his own unique way through the music with thick bounding bass and subtle percussion framing him. "Nutty" has a memorable thematic statement, one that allows the band to move forth confidently and explore the terrain with Rouse out front playing in an elegant and unadorned manner with a delightful tone and wonderful pacing and narrative to his solo. Monk carries the weight with Ore right beside him and they intertwine beautifully with Dunlop shading them with spare drumming. Everyone returns for a breezy and upbeat return through the theme. Monk takes a deceptively old-timey solo piano introduction to "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" before the band crashes in and modernizes it in a hurry with sandpapery tenor saxophone cutting through the sentiment like a lance propelled by taut bass and drums. He makes way for Monk to take a bouncing and percussive solo, leaning heavy on the keys and driving the music and the band relentlessly forward. "Monk's Dream" closes out the album with a wonderful performance, the band playing the dynamic melody and using its complexity to inform their own playing, like Rouse's steely bop based solo, over Monk's hard, slashing piano comping, which the leader carries over into his own feature, with a fleet command of the piano that allows him to go wherever he wishes and making it work with wit and grace. Monk - amazon.com

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Jon Irabagon - Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (Irabbagast Records, 2018)

Recorded while touring South America, the great jazz iconoclast Jon Irabagon sticks to tenor saxophone on this album of his own original compositions. The remainder of his band includes Tim Hagans on trumpet, Luis Perdomo on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. "The Demon Barber of Fleet Week" has a deceptively subtle opening for unaccompanied tenor saxophone before the rest of the band crashes in dramatically after about two minutes. The muscular full band playing opens up for an impressive bass feature, building a choppy and swelling group improvisation that has bite size chunks of melody embedded within it. Rolling and crashing rhythm section playing takes the music further afield while the leader plays short repetitive bursts which builds energy for his own solo. Bright and choppy playing leads "Emotional Physics/The Things" into play with soaring trumpet over grinding rhythm and saxophone. The music is clever and fun and the musicians run with it, making the most of the possibilities, allowing pockets of open space to develop and the tempo of the performance to flow naturally, with a gritty saxophone solo sounding free against powerful drumming and rippling piano. Perdomo gets an excellent spot to shine on the second half of the performance along with loping bass and swinging drums before the horns take flight once again and turn this track into a very powerful and bracing modern jazz performance. "You Own Your Own" has a bracing hard bop sense to it with strong horns and crisp piano, bass and drums building passionately. The horns riff and play off each other smartly, and it is like watching stunt pilots dueling high in the sky at an airshow. The music continues to evolve and develops a larger improvisational field of view, returning to the original theme for a little recharging and then heading back out to explore, creating a compelling narrative that each member of the group can add to in solo or ensemble passages. Tight rhythm section playing grounds "The Bo'ness Monster" as the horns blast out glaring sound, allowing shades of texture to develop and evolve as the horns scramble for traction on the ever changing foundation of fast and nimble drumming and piano that drive the music ever forward. "Pretty Like North Dakota" is a sparse ballad that begins with droplets of piano like crystals in space, with soft bass and spare fifties Miles like trumpet painting along the edges of the performance, with the leader's saxophone coming last and adding a subtle grace to the music. The music develops gradually, over fifteen minutes in length, growing more powerful as the time goes by with lush sections for the full band and ear catching solo statements as well. The finale "Taipei Personality" is a witty and thoughtful performance that begins with chunky rhythm and saxophone carving out space amidst longer arcs of trumpet, leading to a classy and stylish conclusion. Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics - amazon.com

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Wayne Shorter - Emanon (Blue Note, 2018)

Wayne Shorter’s career encompasses the breadth of modern jazz, whether through his associations with Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Weather Report or his solo career that stretches back to 1959. This is a deluxe package that has three discs (and three LP’s in the supreme edition) along with a graphic novel co-written by Shorter. The leader plays his own compositions on soprano and tenor saxophone with his longstanding band of Brian Blade on drums, Danilo Pérez on piano, and John Patitucci on bass. On the first disc the band plays with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra which creates a sweeping and cinematic sound to Shorter’s compositions as the strings swoop and dive while still leaving openings for the quartet to make their mark. The music develops like a four part suite with the compositions rolling into one another. The quartet and the orchestra seem at odds on a few occasions, but overall the musicians and the performances mesh very well. Discs two and three of the collection quartet live in London, playing the repertoire without the orchestra including a lengthy version of “The Three Marias” where the rhythm section really allows the music to breathe with space as celestial soprano saxophone soars punctuated by the occasional bursts of sound. They piece together two earlier Shorter pieces “Lost/Orbits Medley” before moving into a breezy version of “She Noves Through the Fair” and finally wrapping up the performance with a momentous version of “Prometheus Unbound” ending the collection on an epic note. This collection worked well, the quartet has been together for nearly twenty years and Shorter is one of the great iconoclastic figures of the music, with a unique approach to composition and improvisation. Emanon - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Akira Sakata / Simon Nabatov / Takashi Seo / Darren Moore - Not Seeing Is a Flower (Leo Records, 2018)

According to Google, In Japan, the phrase "not seeing is a flower" means things will never be as you imagine, so you're better off not seeing them, making it an interesting allegory to freely improvised music. The talented band on this album consists of Takashi Seo on bass, Akira Sakata on alto saxophone, clarinet, vocals and percussion, Darren Moore on drums and percussion and Simon Nabatov on piano. The music unfolds gradually almost like a ceremony that is improvised in that very moment, beginning with "Surge" which has spare piano, bowed bass and percussion.  The music gains a faster pace quickly, with a rolling collective improvisation that Sakata gradually joins a few minutes in with his trademark gruff and powerful saxophone playing, and this pushes the music over the top into a stellar free jazz blowout that is very exciting. The music moves dramatically into open space, allowing for raw saxophone to flourish, gradually moving into the track "Retreat" with delicate piano creating an evocative mood, picking up speed and dancing through the short piece with bass and drums. Sakata returns for "Uncoil" with subtle brushwork and taut bass nearby, turning darker with scouring bass and saxophone swooping in. The music swells with intensity as the band comes together to become a near physical force of power and grace. Their playing is able to wax and wane, with Moore deftly weaving quiet brushes in with powerful pummeling. Thick tones of bass alternate with ripe bowing, leading to amazing textures that pull in the whole group, with dexterous and propulsive piano to boot. Sakata's startling vocalizations are at the heart of "Ritual" with percussion, piano and bass creating a phalanx behind him, the music seethes coiled power and energy, while at the same time evoking a solemn and ceremonial sensibility. "Resolve" has Sakata moving to clarinet, the light nimble sound seemingly at odds with his gritty saxophone and vocals. The rhythm sections pushes relentlessly and the music develops a unique drive and sense of motion, sounding stark and pungent. This leads the to impressive finale, "Abscond" which develops over fourteen minutes to strong statement of this group's prowess. Sakata's raw and stoic saxophone is quite affecting and the musicians around him are no less potent, creating a collectively improvised tapestry of considerable color and vividness, which is also an apt description of this excellent album as a whole. Not Seeing Is A Flower - amazon.com

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Monday, October 08, 2018

Brian Marsella Trio - Outspoken: The Music of the Legendary Hasaan (Tzadik, 2018)

Hasaan Ibn Ali was born in Philadelphia in 1931, and became a legend on that scene, playing with all the post bop era stars as they came through town. His style was unique and uncompromising, and that combined with a prickly personality, led to few recording opportunities save The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan on Atlantic. This album was recorded by a very talented trio of Brian Marsella on piano, Anwar Marshall on drums, and Christian McBride on bass, all of whom have deep with that city and its musical legacy. "Three-Four vs Six-Eight Four-Four Ways" opens the album with thick propulsive bass and nimble drums supporting the exploratory nature of the piano, played with speed and power, crashing chords and delightfully fast notes. The music has wonderful shades of light and darkness, never tipping its hand and the trio plays it in a manner that is full of surprises, with bass and percussion sections as well. There is a bright and buoyant feeling to "Per Aspera Ad Astra" which has some sparkling piano playing and deft bass solo giving the overall sound a pulsing and emotional lifeline, while the drummer and the pianist trade agile phrases. "Pay Not Play Not" explodes to life with a madcap energy of towering piano, which wouldn't be out of place supporting a silent film, but for the complexity of the music, and the abrupt shifts in tempo and tone. The three musicians are more that up to the task, enjoying the possibilities the composition offers. The bouncing and percussive "Almost Like Me" is very appealing in the speed and fluctuation that the musicians bring to the forefront. It's a wonder these songs aren't more widely played, because they are fascinating to hear, especially given the intuitive interplay this trio brings to the music. "Off My Back" begins as a solo piano feature for Marsella, and he makes the most of it, performing the tricking sounding composition in an appealing and accessible manner, adding aspects of breakneck stride and riveting bebop for good measure, before the bass and drums enter to add further asides and flourishes. There is a dramatic aura to "Din-Ka Street," a track that develops episodically over eight minutes, bouncing into a breezy uptempo section with excellent bass and drum features. This album succeeded grandly as a piece of work highlighting the skill and tenacity of the musicians involved, but also in piquing interest in Hasaan Ibn Ali as a composer, and it is deserving of high praise on both accounts. Outspoken - The Music Of The Legendary Hasaan - amazon.com

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Friday, October 05, 2018

Ivo Perelman and Rudi Mahall - Kindred Spirits (Leo Records, 2018)

Recorded at Parkwest studios in Brooklyn during June of 2018, this is a matchup of two heavyweights from the free jazz/improvisation realm, Ivo Perelman on tenor saxophone and Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet. They produce a lengthy two disc set of duet improvisations that are inspired and well articulated. The tracks are un-named so we begin disc one with "Track One" which has a bubbling improvisation of original forward thinking music, with cries of sound increasing the dynamic range of the music. Their music is quite personal and the musicians interact at a very high level, and complementing each other as music becomes more high pitched and frantic. Loping around each other in constant motion, "Track Two" is reminiscent of two hummingbirds fluttering around searching for nectar. Darting to and fro, the musicians affirm and encourage, using short repetitive figures to support and provide leverage. "Track Three" has spare textures played in a quieter manner, longer cries of sound employing a crying tone give the music emotional resonance. This is a long and evolving improvisation that gains in pitch and intensity as it develops, leading to fast paced flurries of sound that have volume and synergy. Swirls of sound usher in "Track Four" as the musicians engage in the sharing of short crisp phrases of high pitched reedy sound, becoming raw and winding over a long time span. The approach evolves to the use of longer tones which make excellent dynamic use of available space by gaining and lowering the overall intensity. The first disc is concluded by "Track Five," a slow developing improvisation allowing space for the gradual development with hollow sounds and pinched accents gaining momentum and branching out into longer ribbons of sound punctuated by screams and ominous growls, like a mini suite all its own with self-contained movements. Moving on to the second disc, "Track One" has a softer approach setting the foundation for subterranean bass clarinet providing ground support for the tenor saxophone soaring overhead, before both instruments lift skyward for more energetic interplay flashing in the sky. "Track Two" has alarming and exciting cries of saxophone over bass clarinet, both achieving a free sound that makes the most of the openness, while "Tracks Three and Four" offer dramatic undulating improvisation, with sudden changes in attack keeping things interesting by adding choppy smears of sound. The long and gritty sounds emanate from the instruments, echoing the raw cry of instinctual fear and the sadness of being truly alone. Kindred Spirits - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 03, 2018

New York All-Stars - Burnin' In London (Ubuntu Records, 2018)

New York All-Stars are a seriously talented mainstream jazz group featuring Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Harold Mabern on piano, Darryl Hall on bass and Bernd Reiter on drums. Recorded at the The Pizza Express in London, the music is mostly fast (and sometimes furious) but never leaves its grounding in the traditional hard bop vocabulary. "Almost Like Falling in Love" begins the album at a tight medium up tempo, the band is locked in with the beginning thematic statement that Alexander accents with some raw peals amidst his quicksilver soloing. The rhythm section takes a turn, steering though their segment like a luxury car, as Mabern adds some ripples to the mix, but nothing can shake this crew, then a crashing drum break leads to an interesting trading of phrases between the drummer and the resto of the band. They really dig in on "I Could Have Danced All Night," strutting through the melody and then surging into some breakneck improvisations, Alexander leading the way, cruising through an impressive and mighty fast saxophone feature, with the rhythm section bounding along beside him as they romp through the possibilities presented by the tune. The piano bass and drums unit keep the pressure on playing at a mighty clip, leading to a savage drum solo that is very exciting. Alexander's "Nightlife in Tokyo" has a Mabern solo opening that eventually sets the full rhythm team to a percolating simmer, and the saxophonist joins in with some tough and gritty playing over Mabern's towering piano chords. The music is a lengthy episodic improvisation, incorporating a crystalline piano solo buoyed by tight bass and drums and making space for a small but well earned bass feature. The group finally drops down into ballad territory on "It's Magic" which opens up more space for the piano to be played in a sensitive and thoughtful manner accompanied by brushes and soft tenor saxophone, using openness and restraint to their advantage. Bright sounding piano and saxophone are the focus of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" where the pace is quick, but not frantic and Mabern stokes the fire with muscular piano comping along with crisp bass and drums bringing things us to speed. Alexander again salts his solo with harsh bleats keeping everyone on their toes. Sparkling piano playing and the swapping of phrases with the drummer ease the tune out. The group finishes with the timeless standard "Summertime," anchored by storming piano, bass and drums and soaring saxophone feature to send the audience off with happy memories of a powerful night of music. Burnin' In London - amazon.com

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan Records, 2018)

The Brooklyn-based drummer Devin Gray made his debut album as a leader in 2012 on Skirl Records with Dirigo Rataplan, and this sequel reunites that band with Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, Michael Formanek on bass and Dave Ballou on trumpet. "Congruently" opens the album with a nice mellow collective groove with thick bass and interesting drumming which creates rhythms that are pleasing to the ear and serve as a foundation for the performance as a whole. Fine sounding and well articulated saxophone and trumpet are in step, developing the medium tempo performance as a multiple layered improvisation of full group playing and short spaces for individual solos. As the percussion becomes more insistent, the interplay between the saxophone and trumpet becomes stronger, and they joust and parry appealingly as the rhythm section percolates underneath. The following track, "Rollin' Through Town" has a choppy feeling at the beginning of the performance, allowing more space for the music to develop, with buttery sounding trumpet and softer toned saxophone threading their improvisation through the interesting rhythmic foundation. As the speed of the drumming and bass playing gradually increases, the overall forcefulness of the music waxes and wanes, kneading the time and space of the music in a dynamic fashion, as the bass grounds the performance in a steady foundation and allows the drums and horns to develop interesting turns of phrase in their improvisations. "Trends of Trending" encourages as lightness of bass and purity of rhythm, setting the stage for the horns to glide in, soaring overhead with grace and subtlety, releasing short arcs of unbridled trumpet playing. The music is bass focused and Formanek's playing is stellar, creating strong patterns of movement and sound, allowing the music to evolve and move forward without constraints, lashing out unpredictably and getting quite intense, incorporating thrashing drums and percussion with pulsating saxophone and trumpet. There is a disjointed or wavelike quality to "Texicate" with percussion and saxophone trading short little phrases that provide the forward momentum for the track, and quiet measured movements from the bass which provide stability and confidence in an uncertain improvising situation, leading to the creation a longer performance that has all four musicians coming together with a an intricate performance. This was a very good album from a group of established and powerful musicians who have evolved consistently during the intervening years, and the music is fluid and melodic while still retaining its penchant for memorable improvisation. Dirigo Rataplan II - amazon.com

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