Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Charles Mingus - Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden (BBE, 2018)

2018 has given jazz fans a wealth of interesting historical performances, from a long lost John Coltrane studio session to stellar live sets from Milford Graves and David S. Ware. This is a sprawling 5-CD collection of the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus, selected radio broadcasts drawn from a week long residency at the Strata Concert Gallery in Detroit recorded during February of 1973. The Mingus band at this time was made up of John Stubblefield on tenor saxophone, Joe Gardner on trumpet, Don Pullen on piano and Roy Brooks on drums. Mingus had gone through an intense period of personal hardship and mental illness in the late 1960's and early 1970's, but was on the comeback trail, recording with Columbia and Atlantic before finally passing away far too young from ALS in 1979. He sounds tired and somewhat subdued in his spoken introductions for the band on these recordings, but belies that with the stamina that still existed in his performing ability, as his thick and resonant bass is the fulcrum around which the band revolves, remaining as massive a presence as he had been since the 1950's. Pullen is a joy to hear on these recordings, and a perfect selection for the group (his confederate George Adams would replace Stubblefield on the Changes One and Two Atlantic LP's.) His knowledge of and ability to tap into the entirety of of jazz history with an unusual technique made him something of a modern update of Jaki Byard's post in the classic 1964 Mingus band. Another surprise is that longtime confederate Dannie Richmond had temporarily split from Mingus, so the talented hard bop drummer Roy Brooks (who is also interviewed at length) keeps the rhythm percolating. The repertoire that the band plays over the course of the recordings draws predominantly from Mingus original material, with two versions of his groundbreaking composition "Pithecanthropus Erectus" which musically depicts the rise and fall of mankind. The two versions here clock in at twenty five and nearly twenty minutes apiece and allow the musicians to explore the arrangement, and allow for excellent solo space for Stubblefields's gruff tenor and Pullen's cascading piano. Two takes of the Gillespie nod "Dizzy Profile" show the group experimenting with waltz time and feature stellar and patiently constructed trumpet features. "C Jam Blues" takes the Ellington piece into the stratosphere, playing off of the famous riff and developing into a series of explosive improvisations and developments, particularly a brawny section for Stubblefield and Brooks to throw down with Mingus and Pullen framing the action, before Brooks takes over for a hell raising drum solo. Overall, this is an excellent collection, the music may be familiar in its melodies, especially for Mingus fans, but the musicians relentlessly improvise and explore creating creating new ground as they grow. For a brief time you are a fly on the wall at a small club gig from one of the music's finest ever practitioner's. It's hard to turn that down. Jazz In Detroit / Strat Concert Gallery / 46 Selden - amazon.com

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Monday, December 10, 2018

John Zorn - Salem 1692 (Tzadik, 2018)

One of the darkest yet most fascinating eras of American history was the brief, incandescent burst of mass hysteria known as the Salem Witch Trials. Composer John Zorn taps an excellent quartet consisting of Trevor Dunn on bass, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg and Julian Lage on guitars to play his evocative music based on this event. "The Devil Bid Me Serve Him" opens the album with a rush of barbed wire guitar and bass and explosive percussion, the music thrives on the tension that it can build and resolve with fast paced and complex music that is intricate yet still carries the heaviness of the most powerful fusion or progressive rock. Scalding guitars meet relentless drumming which takes the performance unto overdrive, in a very exciting and passionate manner. "Tituba" was one of the first women to be accused of witchcraft, race hatred and misogyny represented by powerfully heavy riffs, and slashing drums, that evoke some of the madness of the period. Fast and very complex interplay between the four musicians take the guitars showering sparks as  they cut through the thicket of bass and drums. Blasting drums solo and in consort, erupt into a mind bending dialogue with the other musicians take the music into psychedelic overdrive. "Witness to an Invisible World" keeps the pace fast and frenetic as the music plows relentlessly forward. Scalding fast guitar over bubbling bass and overloaded drums push everything into the red, and the music will shrift into different sections with a beat of silence between each one, but the main theme of the performance remains faster, harder and it is very impressive to hear. A witch hunting manual, "Malleus Malleficarum" is led by ferocious drumming and a domineering and vicious overall attack by the musicians at their loudest and most brutal. The amps may be cranked, but there are still interesting sub-themes and riffs that are present throughout the performance that give the group energy to burn as they roar through the short but memorable track. Tracks like "Dark of the Moon" and "Spellbound" show the band creating quieter, ethereal and appropriately haunting music evoking specters and creatures from realms beyond, while, "Under and Evil Hand" is a blistering jazz-metal track that shows the harsh and often arbitrary punishment given to the accused. The band builds monstrous riffs along with slashing cymbals, with guitar that sounds like the rending of souls. A memorable line from witness deposition is the title of the final piece, "I Will Not Write in Your Book Though You Do Kill Me!" and the trio echoes the this defiant statement with crashing, deeply focused waves of sound that seem to break upon a rocky shore like a tempest, with cyclonic drumming and layer upon layer of guitar riffing. Salem 1692 - amazon.com

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Saturday, December 08, 2018

Fred Hersch Trio '97 - @ the Village Vanguard (Palmetto, 2018)

Pianist Fred Hersch had played at the Village Vanguard as a sideman since 1979 but it wasn't until the summer of 1997 that he led a group at the famous venue with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This trio had been playing together for five years at that point and that experience shone through beginning with "Easy to Love," which opened the set at a nimble and fast pace, with deft brush work and strong bass playing grounding Hersch's dynamic leaping from loud flourishes to softer asides. The melodic nature of the music really takes hold, and however far they may roam in their improvisations, the melody remains the guidepost for the performance. The excitement developed by crashing, cascading chords and lightning fast runs down the piano is not to be underestimated, and the crisp play of the bass and drums is the perfect accompaniment and partnership. The bass and drums take a subtle bow of their own during the middle of the performance a subtle dance with light piano comping shifting the attention toward the rhythmic end of the performance. Surprisingly powerful drumming leads the group back into the melody and the final push to the conclusion of a delightful performance. Unfolding at a brisk clip, "Three Little Words" has a sense of lightness and danceability aided by the gentle percussion and pulsating bass and the careful way Hersch picks out the notes he chooses, even at high speed. The improvisation unfolds in a bouncy and bright manner, very accessible and forthright, the band playing very well together as they deconstruct the song and leave their own imprint upon it. Hersch bounds joyously over the upper register of the keyboard, trading phrases with the ever inventive Rainey, like two old friends having a witty conversation. "I Wish I Knew" has a subdued piano opening, solo is but soon joined with bass and drums which quickly liven up the emotional nature of the music, settling into a stately medium tempo. The trio swings grandly, gradually working the music into their own shape with the piano developing a deeper and more resonant sound, with elasting bass and drums allowing their trio improvisation to evolve in an impressive fashion. Hersch tumbles into "You Don't Know What Love Is" as the sets finale with wonderfully fractured sounding drumming allowing the music to stretch and breathe but keep its thematic center at the same time. Rainey is a wonder, subtly twisting the rhythm and changing things up, while the piano and bass charge ahead in a very exciting manner. There is a fine bass solo backed by fast light cymbal play, then the band coalesces once more before charging for the finish line. Trio 97 @ The Village Vanguard - amazon.com

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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser (Columbia 1967, 1996)

Composer and pianist Thelonious Monk's Columbia Records recordings are occasionally disparaged as not being quite as vital as the records for Riverside and Blue Note that came before them. This is unfortunate, as it was Columbia that allowed Monk's stature to increase beyond musicians and die hard fans, gave him a chance to tour the world and appear on the cover of prominent magazines and add a stable income to what his heroic wife Nellie was bringing in. This album, not to be confused with the Monk documentary of the same name (which is well worth watching) this is the 1996 extended edition of the album originally recorded in November of 1966 and January of 1967 with his stalwart group including Larry Gales on bass, Ben Riley on drums and Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone. The 1996 version is markedly different than the original LP that was released in 1967, at that time, significant editing needed to be done to the performances to have them fit into the LP format. With the technological and format advances of thirty years later re-issue producer Orrin Keepnews (Teo Macero produced the original album) restored three titles to their unedited length and added two extra contemporaneously recorded performances to fill this compact disc to it's 1996 limit. The booklet contains a few period photographs of Monk, but it mostly given over to Keepnews' original 1967 liner essay and a new set of 1996 reissue liner notes. The music is a joy to listen to, being a mix of Monk originals (he wasn't writing as much new material at this stage, but was still producing) and his unique take on the music of Duke Ellington, some well worn standards and a very interesting extended exploration of a Japanese folk song. A lot of Monk material, notably on the live albums, but also studio sessions fell under the editor's blade, none more than "Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki)" which is restored to a near seventeen minute running time with the bass and percussion interludes included. It's necessary to hear the performance as a whole, to understand the organic level in which the whole group worked together to create their music. "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and the brief "This is My Story, This is My Song" are lovely unaccompanied Monk performances, Monk's angular approach makes even the oldest standard fresh, while keeping the melody and thematic story well in mind. Of the Monk compositions, one of his last, "Green Chimneys" is included as a bonus track, while the band delivers wonderful treatments of "Locomotive," "We See" and the title track, playing at an inspirational level as they as they are on the two takes of the Ellington number "I Didn't Know About You." There's a lot to unpack on this album, one of his last for Columbia and not long before he would fade from public view altogether. It's definitely worth checking out, the CD can be had for a song or through your streaming service of choice, and Monk's music is the gift that keeps on giving. Straight, No Chaser - amazon.com

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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Daniel Carter / Patrick Holmes / Matthew Putman / Hilliard Greene / Federico Ughi - Telepatia Liquida (577 Records, 2018)

This is a fascinating and well executed album by the collective group of Daniel Carter on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones plus trumpet, Patrick Holmes on clarinet, Matthew Putman on piano, Hilliard Greene on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. Recorded at the 2017 Forward Festival the concert opens with "Deluxe Light," which has a patient beginning where the musicians are getting their bearings, and developing a balanced and clear sound. The music is brought forth with passion and skill, with clarinet and trumpet balancing the crisp playing of the rhythm section. Carter is a wonder, cycling through his instruments as the music calls for them gracefully and playing each one with natural dignity, alongside cells of slashing percussion and vivid piano. There's a quiet open spot for clarinet and bass in a delicate duet, joined by spacious drums and saxophone that invoke the joy of the rising sun as droplets of piano notes complete the scene. They establish aspects of melody and then explore from there, ranging quite far afield, but never at the expense of creative expedience, as they approach the finish, the pace quickens, with cascades of notes and a subtle exhale. "Shine-a-Town" has a drum led beginning, with squalls of free jazz saxophone soon joining and the rest of the band falling in for a thrilling all out collective improvisation. The music adds space but maintains its freedom, the players invoking different shades of sound and volume, gathering like layers of cloud before an impending storm. Bowed bass along with the horns adds a sense of rawness and propulsion to the music which drives it forward, with propulsive piano and skittish drumming, they creating a very interesting and memorable overall sound. There is a yearning sound to open "Throne," with a relatively sedate piano trio flanked by crying horns, developing emotionally resonant music. Clarinet and saxophone meld well together creating a fine texture with the rhythm team to bring forth a beautiful collaborative feeling. The group is very patient, allowing the music to develop though its own fundamental means, and their resulting improvisation is compelling and enchanting, especially when listing to the way each instrument makes up a much greater whole. The music is fast and complex, but played with great refinement and poise, every note or passage has a meaning, and each is part of the crucible of creation. Telepatia Liquida - bandcamp.com

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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Myra Melford's Snowy Egret - The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12, 2018)

Taking inspiration from creators in fields from art to spirituality, pianist and composer Myra Melford wrote ten original pieces for her Snowy Egret group which features Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The intricate and thought provoking music works very well, and the sense of group dynamics and trust between the musicians is palpable on this very successful album. "Attic" has a wonderful percussion introduction with complex rhythms soon joined by bright piano, guitar and cornet. They move to a more complex abstract percussion led section which is quiet but still urgent, with the group alternating between these freer cells and more melodic, thematic material. The music begins to tumble and cascade faster and faster in a madcap and exciting collective improvisation that gradually ebbs as the group's loud/soft dynamic keeps the music fresh and allows space for a poignant cornet solo. The rhythm section develops a complex and ever shifting series of patterns as the track comes to a crisp and impressive conclusion. "Small Thoughts" has enticingly bouncy piano with a jaunty theme developed by the group at a quick pace with buoyant bass guitar and nimble drumming. Tight guitar notes and cornet add further color amid with cymbal splashes making this a continuously interesting and compelling track. The tempo of the music gradually increases to a simmering boil, where no one instrument dominates, but everyone is really pulling in the same direction and creating a fascinating sound landscape. Stretching over ten minutes "Living Music" unfolds slowly with percussive piano, drumming and choppy cornet setting the pace, as the group gradually fills in their sound which is nimble but not especially loud, with a spidery guitar feature, moving around the shape shifting percussion where the music flows in an organic fashion like a stream meeting the contours of the landscape. The group is capable of producing abundant variations of the themes they choose, allowing for a wide variety of sound and rhythm, untethered to traditional jazz roles, they can vary the pulse, hide it and play freely, creating and excellent and powerfully affecting performance. "Dried Print on Cardboard" has an undulating rhythm and with subtle cornet, creating a fine thematic statement, the music drops to near silence, where a dynamic pause that throws the performance into stark relief. Carefully gathering volume and speed the band's improvisation works well, and consistently deals surprises and a sense of the unexpected. The Other Side Of Air - amazon.com

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