Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sam Rivers Trio - Emanation (NoBusiness, 2019)

NoBusiness Records is inaugurating a series of releases by the great multi-instrumentalist and composer Sam Rivers with this album, recorded on June 3, 1971 at the Jazz Workshop in Boston. Rivers cycles through his full complement of instruments: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano in the company of Cecil McBee on bass and Norman Connors on drums. They play one seventy-six minute collective improvisation that is split into two parts on the title track “Emanation” with Rivers beginning on tenor saxophone, at first unaccompanied but soon joined by the rhythm team in fast and free interplay. The music is strident and exciting with the leader playing his instrument in a coarse and powerful manner, while still allowing shorter and more melodic sections to shine through, supported by Connors crashing drumming and McBee's subtle bass playing which create an excellent atmosphere for collective improvisation. McBee is featured in a lengthy and well articulated bass solo showing fluid and graceful technique, with Rivers returning on flute, skipping in a nimble fashion across the surface of the music of deft cymbal play and taut bass. This section of the album is played in a lighter and more delicate manner with the exquisite flute and bass (bowed and plucked) at times met by heavy handed drumming. Rivers moves to piano, creating music that is influenced by the Cecil Taylor Unit, whom he was a member of from 1969-71. His piano is rich and colorful, flowing with ideas and drama and creating a space for dynamic group improvisation as Connors adds bells to further the texture with McBee's swirling bowed bass bringing the initial track to a beautiful conclusion. “Emanation Part 2” Opens with Rivers on soprano saxophone, showing a wonderful exotic tinged tone as the bass and percussion fold into the music. They establish a tight connection and then lift off into a very fast paced performance, with McBee's bass as the anchor and Rivers and Connors shifting their volume and speed around it, even developing some interesting funky motifs at times, creating one of their longest sections at over twenty minutes. Rivers shifts back to flute, with the group at a medium tempo, soon building to a quick and nimble swirling improvisation that is very impressive to hear, with shimmering cymbals and fleet fingered bass supporting his excellent flute playing. He incorporates a slide whistle or a piccolo along with loud vocalizations, taking the music in an entirely new and unexpected direction, before returning once again to piano. Wide ranging chords and open ended notes create a wide soundstage for the final section of the performance, adding thundering chords and vocal screams and bellows from all three members of the group as they conclude this remarkable performance. Emanation - NoBusiness Records

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Joel Ross - KingMaker (Blue Note, 2019)

Vibraphonist Joel Ross broke through in 2018, playing in well regarded albums by the likes of Makaya McCraven and Walter Smith III, before releasing his debut album this year. This is a strong modern mainstream outing which also features Harish Raghavan on bass, Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Jeremy Corren on piano, Benjamin Tiberio on bass, and Jeremy Dutton on drums. "Prince Lynn's Twin" has a gentle opening, with a spacious and soft full band sound, bouncing up about a minute in to ripe full band playing. They develop a medium tempo featuring an interesting rhythm with vibes and percussion interweaving, aligning with rippling piano and taut bass. Ross solos, achieving a confident metallic tone that is crisply played, leading to an interesting section where the vibes sounding nimble and fast, trade phrases with the saxophone at high speed over tight bass and drums support. A yearning mid-tempo melody, "The Struggle Against Fear" develops haunting piano and feather light drums, along with vibes which have a crystalline quality, and saxophone sounding skittish and anxious, all of which add to the emotional quality of the performance. Ross' vibes have a sharper sound, playing fast as the band builds to an waxing and waning emotional feeling. "Ill Relations" ushers in a light toned theme from the group, but one that is nimble and quick in step, because the musicians can shift very quickly, in tempo or overall feeling, with Ross adding flurries of notes, then stepping back for the others to add their thoughts. Melding stronger drums and blustery saxophone with replies of lightning fast vibes in a call and response manner keeps the music moving briskly before downshifting to feature thick resonant bass which drives the group hard to the conclusion of the piece.There is a fast vibes led theme on "Is It Love That Inspires You?" with tight bass and drums in a nimble trio setting, developing a complex improvisation that is very interesting to hear. They are playing at a very fast speed and improvising on rhythmic interactions, allowing for freer drum play, soloing at length with hints of vibes, and the trio coming together for a fast finish. "KingMaker" Builds slowly with Ross' vibes resonating for a change instead of having that hard metallic sound, taking the band into a medium tempo setting, gradually building up emotion with the saxophone adding squalls of stark sound juxtaposed against the cleaner vibes and piano. The music sways nicely from melodic to deeply improvisational and clears space for solo features and an inspired full band conclusion. This was a strong debut from a talented musician; Blue Note has a history of breaking top flight vibes payers from Bobby Hutcherson to Stefon Harris, so hopefully they will provide Ross with the same well deserved support. KingMaker - amazon.com

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Teodross Avery - After the Rain: A Night for Coltrane (Tompkins Square, 2019)

Saxophonist Teodross Avery was one of the “young lions” who made a big splash in the early 1990's recording a couple of albums for Impulse before lending his horn to a number of hip hop stars then turning to academia. His return to acoustic jazz is a very impressive one, playing music by or associated with John Coltrane in the company of Adam Shulman on piano, Jeff Chambers on bass and Darrell Green on drums. The opening track, “Blues Minor” has a classic diamond hard post bop sound, with a crisp melody launching into improvisation. Backed by bounding bass, Avery's dark raw tenor saxophone tone punches hard into atmospheric squeals of fiendish intensity, framed by heavy swinging drums and piano comping. Midway there is a shift to the rhythm section featuring tight piano, bass and gentler drums, followed by an exciting section of saxophone trading phrases with drums, then the band returning to the melody to conclude the performance. “Bakai” has a raw unaccompanied saxophone opening, before the group collapses into the rhythmic theme with excellent percussion meeting passionate saxophone playing to construct a firm foundation for this lengthy exploration. The group led by Avery builds a strong and majestic improvised statement, scaling higher and higher, then breaking out for an intricate trio section, and a thunderous drum solo. Avery returns for the remainder of the tune restating the melody, and guiding them in for a safe landing. There is another hard charging opening on “Afro Blue” with Avery playing soprano saxophone over some wonderfully heaving rhythm playing, featuring superb interplay between the piano, bass and drums. The swirling, exotically tinged saxophone returns leading to an intense collective improvisation with Avery like a whirling dervish playing in a trance of speed and excitement. The haunting ballad “After the Rain” is played with restraint, Avery returning to tenor saxophone with a deep enveloping tone, and patient, spacious rhythm framing of bowed bass gentle piano notes and cymbals. “Africa” is an epic with a foundation of strong bass and drums, and deep tenor saxophone and percussive piano, creating a powerhouse sound that drives forward leaning into stoic bowed bass and deeply honed tenor saxophone creating a wonderful sound, and the band is just playing lights out. Strong piano playing leads the rhythm section into their feature, a memorable one with deeply felt bass and deft cymbal play keeping the pace quick, and including a stellar bowed bass feature. “Pursuance” is taken at light speed with a short saxophone intro torrential outpouring of piano, bass and drums. Avery weaves in and out of the performance, playing very fast and articulating very well at high speed, then driving the band full bore including an excellent drum solo in a thrilling performance that encapsulates all of their energies on this excellent recording. After the Rain: A Night for Coltrane - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Sun Ra - Space is the Place: Music for the Film (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2019)

In the early 1970's Sun Ra and the Arkestra were quite popular on the west coast, playing many gigs in California and points beyond and this culminated in two cultural landmarks. The University of California was under enormous pressure to diversify its classes and this led to Ra being given the opportunity to teach the course entitled Black Man in the Cosmos, the other was the Oakland based production of a feature film entitled Space is the Place. Most of the music on this album (originally released by Evidence in 1993) was not heard in the finished movie except in short clips, and confusingly, there is music in the film which is not on this album. Regardless, it is a crackling album, recorded at an unidentified San Francisco studio in early 1972 with the band in full flight, playing some of Ra's most well known tunes and some new classics as well. This is a fine edition of the Arkestra with Ra armed with a battery of electronic keyboards, and flanked by lifers Marshall Allen on alto saxophone, John Gilmore on tenor saxophone and June Tyson on vocals. Tyson is really the linchpin here acting not only as a foil to the instrumentalists, but leading the band on their "space age chants" like "Outer Spaceways Incorporated," "Satellites are Spinning," and "Space is the Place." There are a couple of excellent blowouts for the instrumentalists as well, "Blackman/Love In Outer Space" opens with Tyson singing a call to arms followed by an intense interlude of free jazz and percussion. A battery of percussion also fuels the exciting "Watusa" before opening into a fine Gilmore solo. This is a fascinating album, and one of the key records Sun Ra made in the seventies, touching on all of his high points, lyrical melodies, science fiction chants, and exploratory free jazz. Dabblers can dismiss the film and music as afro-futurist, blaxploitation camp at their own peril. Many of the themes in the film and the music that was recorded around the time of the filming were ones that Ra had been repeating for decades. The themes of discipline and self reliance, the understanding of the person as part of a greater whole have been part of the Arkestra message since the 1950's. They are given a particularly powerful boost in this case by the superb arrangements, ensemble playing and soloing. Space is the Place: Music for the Film - amazon.com

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Sun Ra - Monorails & Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vol. 1, 2 and 3 (Cosmic Myth Records, 2019)

While the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was primarily known as a bandleader who much like Duke Ellington "played the orchestra" in terms of writing and arranging, it is also clear that when it came to the piano he was a formidable player. This contemporary re-release pulls together all of the solo recordings that Sun Ra made for his Saturn Label in 1966 and were later released piecemeal over the years. It's a fascinating collection in which to hear with Ra hinting at piano styles ranging from stride to free, as well as the manner in which he builds his compositions and then reconstructs them via improvisation. On "World Island Festival" he has a clear and patient approach, allowing the notes and chords to ring, developing a loping theme that is pleasant, balancing bright notes against darker bass chords, then allowing everything to meld together. Developing a medium up pace, Ra deftly builds from the source material into an interesting improvisation, never staying still, always evolving the texture and pace of the music in interesting ways. Open space greets "Calundronius" with some lush and nearly ornamental playing that gains a deeper and more entrenched momentum, expanding things and moving in unexpected directions. There is a narrative depth to this performance like Ra is performing in conjunction to a silent movie or theater play, he gives the music weight and heft and a visceral presence. Developing areas of fast cascading notes, with rumbling bass beneath them and creating a kaleidoscopic two handed performance that carries on to the conclusion. "Space Towers" has a bouncing heavy chord introduction, developing the sound of the music even further, building a very intense, emotional quality with thick booming low end piano, and quick repetitive phrases, that are folded into his improvisation. This strong manner of playing is continued on "Cognition" melding the sound of the recording to his will and developing a thoughtful arc from composition to improvisation sounding very free, using clipped notes from the highest part of the piano. Experimental opportunities present themselves as the music flows ever deeper into the unknown, with Ra investigating life through the medium of the piano, with the results ever changing, and never quite what they seem to be. "Monorails and Satellites" probes the available space, with deep thick notes that are firmly placed, and gradually gather momentum, maintaining the clarity and focus of the piece even as he begins to deconstruct it. Ra diligently moves forward creating a fast complex improvisation that uses the entirety of the instrument and draws on substantial technique as a pianist and as a musical thinker, using bursts of notes and unexpected pauses to create a living performance, completely of the moment. Monorails and Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vol. 1 2 3 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Kuzu - Hilajiasuus (Aerophonic/Astral Spirits, 2019)

Kuzu is a wonderful free jazz band consisting of Dave Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, Tashi Dorji on guitar and Tyler Damon on drums and percussion. Damon and Dori have toured widely together over the past few years forming a tight bond, and the adding powerful horn style of Rempis to the mix pushes this music to the next level. The massive thirty-minute improvisation “Fontanelles 1 and 2” begins gradually, with spare echoing strums of guitar and then the full trio comes together and begins to take flight. Long tones of strong saxophone playing and massive high pitched squeals are met with cymbal crashes and fragmented guitar chords, creating a fraught but fascinating texture. The waves of intensity will wax and wane, but never for long as scalding feedback from the guitar and pummeling drums meet torrid squalls of saxophone in a very exciting and excoriating free improvisation that surely peeled the paint from whatever building they were recording in. The music has a stark sheer quality, as if everything that was inessential has been shorn from the music leaving only the core, transmitting morse code like sounds into the void and then following up with a pummeling bursts of sharp, piercing, and biting sounds, chopped guitar and tribal percussion with jets of high velocity saxophone billowing outward at relativistic speeds, creating a collective free improvisation of otherworldly wonder. Throughout the long performance there are cells of quiet, where bells can be heard against soft horns, with spare guitar notes shooting off into the distance, these provide context for the sections of the performance that channel pure energy. Excellent percussion is built past the twenty-minute mark, a complex but exciting rhythm that pulls in the saxophone and guitar and sets up a very exciting improvisation, where everybody is really bringing it with massive clanging guitar sounds, hypersonic percussion and scalding hot saxophone playing. The movement and progression of the improvisation is relentlessly forward, played in the most uncompromising manner. The second and final track is “Gash” which keeps the energy level high, with lean shards of guitar and bellowing saxophone performing an intricate dance, as ominous rumbling percussion and bells are felt underneath. They dig into this fertile soil deeply, playing music that is gradually built to a raw and harrowing all out free jazz imposition that is thrilling to behold, with scouring saxophone, crushing drumming and scorching guitar playing all taking place simultaneously, and then cruising to an excellent finish. This was an excellent album, free jazz played at the highest level by a group of like minded musicians with no egos involved. The music flows organically, in a stream of pure sound. Hiljaisuus - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Monday, May 06, 2019

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord - Harder on the Outside (Hot Cup, 2019)

Harder on the Outside is the ninth album by guitarist Jon Lundbom and his band Big Five Chord, featuring Justin Wood on alto and soprano saxophones, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto! saxophones, Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. The album was recorded live in studio in New Jersey during the summer of 2018, marking Big Five Chord’s fifteen year anniversary as a band. The opener “People Be Talking” has squalls of windy saxophone evoking the title of the album, as the instruments thrust and parry making statements and asking questions. Lundbom's guitar solos over subtle bass and drumming with a quieter neon hued tone that glides through the music in a nimble fashion. There is a slow and guarded opening to “Basic Bitches” before one of the saxophones breaks out to take a raw solo over elastic bass and a bare drum pulse. Honking, burbling and dealing some raw funk, the horn's guttural drawl gives way to the guitar, whose solo develops and builds faster over tight bass and drums, never sounding flashy, yet seriously impressive as he really digs into a deep earthy groove. “Prednisone” shows the band swirling colorfully at medium tempo over a basic beat. After a saxophone probes the setting, Lundbom emerges, employing a much rougher and rockier tone to his guitar than before, using a grinding texture though a cool sounding fusionish solo accompanied by crushing drums and thick bass. One of the jazzier tunes on the album, “Booberonic” has a twin saxophone theme with the horns intertwining in a complex fashion, and the band improvising well with a tight, rippling saxophone solo with guitar comping and bass and drums simmering. Things get a little wilder with the guitar feature, beginning with sharp edged notes and developing through a fast and hard solo that really puts the boot in. “Fussing Blues” is a fast and hard full band free improvisation that is very exciting to hear, with snarling guitar and rending horns really tearing into their sound, reminiscent of the legendary band Last Exit at times. It is a short and sweet, almost punk like performance that is collective improvisation at its thrilling finest. Funky drums and slow saxophones build up “Three Plus” with guitar breaks adding a slinky tone to the proceedings, as the saxophones add fire by climbing in ascending patterns. Lundbom's guitar is slow and patient building to a strong statement of his own, placing each of his notes with care and and developing an epic solo framed by the channel carved by the rhythm team. Harder on the Outside - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 05, 2019

Baba Andrew Lamb Trio - The Night of the 13th Moon (LFDS Records, 2019)

Saxophonist Baba Andrew Lamb led this excellent and exciting album accompanied by Yoram Rosillo on bass and Rafael Koerner on drums. Recorded live in Paris in June of 2018 the group played two sets of highly charged and stimulating free jazz beginning with "Set 1 A" which opens with subtle drumming and cymbal playing, before the bass player and saxophonist enter enter creating a sound that is strong and supple. They gradually pick up speed to a fast and powerful free jazz improvisation, playing in a vigorous and robust fashion, really hitting their stride with brilliant saxophone and deep rhythm. The group downshifts and Lamb sits out to give the bassist and drummer space for an intricate feature before returning with long held notes that call out and build an emotional solo statement which engages with his partners and drives for the finish line in an exciting manner. "Set 1 B" Opens with a long bass solo, and Rosillo plays with a great tone and control, soon aided by the drummer Koerner who adds further texture expanding the rhythmic base and providing a firm foundation for Lamb who enters several minutes in, bringing all of the disparate threads of the music together for a fine three way improvisation. He digs in deep and really sets out to explore the available territory, taking nothing for granted, soloing over fast and complex drums and bass and developing a collective improvisation at a very high level, as the saxophone and windswept rhythm sound unstoppable. Saxophone and rhythm churn right out of the gate on the finale, "Set 2 A," creating a very exciting performance. Their speed is very fast and the group tears through a complex improvisation with ease as Lamb's saxophone breathes fire and the percussion dances on cymbals and the bass stretches to accommodate all. As the improvisation reaches its peak, Lamb reaches for the upper register of his horn in a thrilling manner, then repeating small cells of notes to gather energy and burst out into another energetic and original solo. This album worked very well, and it is very inspiring to hear musicians courageous enough explore music to in its most raw and unfettered format, performing live and free without a net. Night of the 13th Moon - LFDS Records Bandcamp

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Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Art Ensemble of Chicago - We are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi-Recordings, 2019)

This is a double album commemorating the foundation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and their groundbreaking trip to Paris to perform and record in 1969. Only two of the original members remain, multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell and drummer Famoudou Don Moye, but on this album they are joined by a excellent group of fifteen fellow musicians who share the Art Ensemble’s principles. The music is jazz, certainly, but cut with contemporary classical, rhythm and blues, minimalism and world music, and this is especially brought to the fore on the title track “We Are on the Edge” where a spare and open beginning evolves into repetitive strings and the poetry of Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) who has a wonderful voice, laying down declarative statements that fit in well with the music. She is also key to the following track “I Greet You with Open Arms,” developing a narrative about freedom and unity in the face of adversity that is well framed by the dramatic and skittish backdrop provided by the strings and percussion with occasional brass and reeds. “Chi Congo 50” is the centerpiece of the first disc, evolving from a patient opening section into a wonderful collective improvisation for hand percussion and flutes. This massive percussive eruption is bound by excellent bass playing, that carries the group onward and captures this large version of the ensemble at their best, pulling together a summation of their history and conception as a unit. “Saturday Morning” also uses the strength of the percussion section to excellent effect, building to an improvisation that is akin to something the Sun Ra Arkestra may have developed, interwoven with strengthening threads of bass. Moor returns on “Mama Koko” where her spoken word soloing is accompanied by spiritual sounding flute and drums. Her lyrics are quite moving, as she speaks about the search for lost names and meaning leaning into aspects of afro-futurism while gentle percussion bubbles. Disc two consists of a live recording from the 2018 Edgefest, in Ann Arbor, Michigan and begins with a very long classically tinged piece “We are on the Edge/Cards” before moving into the quite beautiful “Oasis at Dusk.” This performance features alluring drums and percussion along with basses and other strummed instruments and flutes developing and exotic atmosphere. The music echoes throughout the concert hall, developing a voice like quality, building to a spirited flute and bass duet, and then a fine section for flute, percussion and bass framed by nimble strings. The cascading percussion of “Chi-Congo 50” leads into the epic “Tutankhamun” building from flute (Nicole Mitchell is an absolute superstar on this recording) and drums framed by riffing horns and tight bass, leading to nimbly plucked bass and cellos as the long performance takes on a suite like structure with improvisational cells opening up for moaning and chirping strings and expressive saxophones. “Mama Koto” balances sampled voices with mbira and trumpet over a light drumbeat, demonstrating that the group has always had its ear to the ground for worldwide sounds that could be incorporated into its mission statement of “great black music, ancient to the future.” Massive and loudly played percussion usher in “Saturday Morning” yoked together with thick bass, and horns which fall in for an epic free collective improvisation that makes for an exuberant performance. Roscoe Mitchell leads the group out with band introductions and and concluding statement of “Odwalla/Theme” which returns the group back to nearly the beginning. Although this celebrates the past, the music found here is no victory lap, and looks clearly toward the future. By inviting members of different generations of musicians influenced by the group to take part in this project, the surviving members are assured that the influence of the Art Ensemble of Chicago will reach far into the future. We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Seamus Blake - Guardians Of The Heart Machine (Whirlwind Recordings, 2019)

Saxophonist Seamus Blake has had an extensive career which has included collaborations with well known jazz musicians and the recording of eight albums as a leader. This album places Balke in the company of some younger, up and coming French musicians: Tony Tixier on piano, Florent Nisse on bass and Gautier Garrigue on drums. The group toured through France and Spain and then recorded their album in Paris, combining elements of European and American styles of jazz in Blake's compositions. The opening title track "Guardians of the Heart Machine" builds gradually, with the rhythm team setting the pace and then Blake entering and patiently taking the music onto higher planes of improvisation. After leaving room for the trio to retrench, Blake plants his feet and firmly delivers an exciting and well articulated saxophone solo that moves through a logical narrative and makes for an excellent opening performance. "Sneaky D" also builds a strong melodic statement, joining forces with his rhythm section to create quite a thematic earworm. Percussive piano with crisp bass and drums keep things moving, with Blake returning to present a robust and steely toned tenor saxophone solo of his own, stretching out and really making his voice heard. The ballad "I'm OK" is quite beautiful and haunting, with Blake showing great restraint in using the the space to solo in an graceful manner. The rest of the band is up to the task as well with fine brushed percussion and dignified piano and bass playing. "Lanota" gets things moving quickly again, with a fast paced collective exploration right out of the gate. Blake is at his freeist here, opening up over bass and drums to a wide ranging and investigative saxophone solo, with quick flourishes of notes darting up and down the instrument. This is followed by an interesting samba, "Betty in Rio" which has some well played percussion setting Blake up for some wonderful sounding saxophone, where he achieves a bright and sunny tone that swoops and sways majestically in an splendid manner. Tixler provides excellent support, framing and trading sections with the leader, before uncorking Garrigue for a taut drum solo before everyone returns together for a dramatic and swinging conclusion. This was a very solid modern mainstream jazz album, Blake's themes and solos were fresh and interesting and his new French colleagues proved to be quite impressive. Playing with younger musicians and developing a cross cultural exchange can only enhance the music, so hopefully this will be a trend that continues. Guardians Of The Heart Machine - amazon.com

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Eric Alexander - Leap of Faith (Giant Step Arts, 2019)

This album might surprise some people who have tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander pegged as someone whose comfort zone only lies within bebop or hard bop. On this trio recording, he incorporates shades of avant garde into his playing, allowing his playing to fly in an unfettered fashion. Playing in an open setting with Doug Weiss on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums definitely helps in this endeavor, because they are equally supportive and challenging in helping Alexander achieve his best possible performances. Recorded live at the Jazz Gallery in New York City, the album begins with the exciting, brawny “Luquitas,” which is a composition that is based upon a built upon and opened up from an previous Alexander original dedicated his son, “Little Lucas.” You get the sense that they had been listening to the classic Sonny Rollins trio recordings from the Village Vanguard, because the music that the trio gets works well in the same format, as the leader's saxophone has a gruff and arresting tone, taking an angular approach to the music that works well with the elastic bass and crisp open ended drumming. The performance is statement of intent displaying the nature of the trio’s limitless energy, lunging forward with fast paced momentum and keeping the narrative of the music interesting for a lengthy period of time. In an album that is filled with gritty burners are heard wrenching ballads, Alexander shows his lighter side on the track “Mars” which borrows the musical structure of a the Bruno Mars hit song “Finesse,” a favorite song of his children. So, in the great jazz tradition of taking a pop song and reinventing it as vehicle for improvisation, Alexander creates a mid-tempo swinging track that can appeal to adults as well as kids. While “Hard Blues” doesn't seem to allude to the Julius Hemphill performance of the same name, it does share something with that fellow saxophone master,  an impetus to push into some of the most raw and emotional playing, pouring a lot of heat into a short and sudden burst of great excitement. There are a couple of more excellent blowouts that really make this album one to remember. Label mate Blake’s powerful rumble provides the foundation for the blistering, volatile “Frenzy,” where Alexander tears down his tune to its base essence and allows the group to really take the music into a another gear where they experience a sudden feeling of excitement that allows the collective three way improvisation to meld together as Alexander's steely tone, Blake's slashing drums and Weiss's enduring bass create an excellent vision. They evoke the spirit of John Coltrane on the closing track, “Second Impression,” which invokes “Chasin' the Trane” and “Impressions,” tracks which Coltrane opened up and explored in the fashion that Alexander's group does here. The trio builds to a fast speed, playing confidently as Blake's open ended swing melds with Weiss's thick bass to create a powerful rhythm which Alexander can soar over or interact with at will. This album worked quite well, with Alexander and his band playing strong and powerful jazz that should appeal to a wide ranging audience. He is one of the first musicians to signed to Giant Step Arts. This is an non-profit group formed by Jimmy Katz dedicated to presenting unique performances and giving musicians total control of their artistic projects. Alexander owns his master tapes as well as rights to how the music will be distributed in digital and physical formats. Leap of Faith - ericalexander.com.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Angelika Niescier - New York Trio (Intakt Records, 2019)

Highly lauded alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier is based on the European continent, but she has made excellent albums with American musicians that have borne fruit, creating consistently good small group modern jazz. This is another fine entry in her discography, where she is joined by Chris Tordini on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson on several tracks. Opening track “The Surge” has fast alto saxophone and drums with trumpet sounding good, with a choppy melody led by keen and fun saxophone and drumming, leading to a fast paced and lively performance. There is some swift saxophone and drum dialogue that sounds really hell-bent for leather, with thick bass in-between holding things together. This evolves into a collective improvisation with the addition of trumpet, then a short and powerful drum solo. They drive to the finish in a strong form led by the leader's excellent saxophone playing that can swoop from sounding like a clarinet to a buzzing saxophone. There is quieter and more intricate interplay on “Cold Epiphany,” using bowed bass and smeared percussion, adding a dark and foreboding sensation to the rhythm play. A light cone of saxophone opens up and spreads across, gaining speed with bowed bass and shimmering cymbals. "...ish" comes crashing in with cutthroat full group improvisation with saxophone, bass and drums playing at high speed the group does speed up even further, into bright and forward thinking jazz with wonderfully ripe sounding alto saxophone, active drumming generating power into a wide branching improvisation at a boiling speed. They race to the finish line, playing gutsy and spicy improvised music. Long yearning tones of saxophones open "Ekim" with a distinctive touch echoed by bowed bass and trumpet, playing emotional and patient music. The music matures from this opening tranquility, into a trumpet solo that emerges over plucked bass and cymbal play that is respectful to the end. "Push / Pull" has tough bass and drums with sharp alto saxophone that is brash and strong, tearing at the very air around it. A powerful three way improvisation develops with everything moving like clockwork with percussion and elastic bass leaving plenty of room for the saxophone and drums to drive the music forward, with Finlayson's trumpet entering late for shrill, yet exciting commentary. The trumpet solo is over bounding bass and crisp drumbeats sounds great, building complex and enjoyable improvisation. The musicians are excellent navigators, never lost, no matter how strong the storm. Drums crash in hard and unaccompanied on “5.8” soon joined by thick bass and light sounding alto saxophone creating a tight sounding performance that circles the music's event horizon. Faster plucked bass and energetic drumming and alto gain speed, and reach out into a powerful music that is energetic or highly spirited, digging deep and using varying rhythmic approaches that keep the music interesting. The album is closed by "A Truck Passing a Clock Tower" where soft saxophone and bass intertwine in open synthesis adding percussion, developing cells of freedom and a quick sprint to the finish. This album worked quite well, she has a unique and personal approach to jazz that has begun to integrate Niescier's interest in the American composer John Cage which will make her music very interesting to follow going forward. New York Trio - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Boneshaker - Fake Music (Soul What Records, 2019)

Boneshaker is a wonderful free jazz aggregation featuring Mars Williams on reed instruments and toy instruments, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion and  Kent Kessler on bass. The group has been together for eight years and this marks their fourth release, recorded live in January of 2017 in Chicago. The opening track, “Miakoda” has raw saxophone, taut bass and slashing drums sounding strong and righteous. The group develops collective improvisation at a fast speed and everybody all-in creating remarkable forward motion. Williams' saxophone sounds harsh and gritty, perfect for producing the squeals and squawks that punctuate his playing. Thunderous drums and grounding bass are perfect for the occasion, goading Williams to reach way up into the upper register of his instrument, barreling forward like an unstoppable force. They break out into a section of bowed bass with light percussion, a brief respite from the maelstrom, and Williams plays softly, before shockingly launching into high register screams and dropping back to the slow tempo as if nothing happened. The band builds back up to their former passionate improvisation with massive bellows of saxophone, before stepping aside and allowing the bass and drum team to develop and interesting rhythmic formation. “Lovin' the Buzz” shows saxophone and drums probing the open space around them, building to swirling saxophone with rolling drums as the bass enters to beef up the sound, and they are off on an intricate and complicated improvisation. The music sounds good: fast and well controlled with Williams developing a nasal tone to his playing that is striking, adding whinnying and laughing figures that add to the emotional value of the music. After a break for quiet bass and percussion meditation, the trio once again takes flight with excellent sounding bass launching the saxophone and drums into another daredevil improvisation. Everyone is really digging in and playing with an earthy hard won freedom before getting rowdy and truly caffeinated toward the end. The closing performance “Echo Clang” is something of an outlier, at least at the beginning, which is marked by spacey long tones of saxophone and percussion with some unidentified strummed instruments added for texture. The sounds resonate and gradually build as the musicians begin to improvise gently at first, then with greater fervor, as they fall into their accustomed roles. The music grows deeper and stronger, with the improvisation simply wailing out before adding a brief element of funk into the mix, before a blowout conclusion. The music of the band is bracing and highly successful, balancing roots in the American tradition of free jazz, as well as European freely improvised music. They walk a fine line, and they do it well. Fake Music - amazon.com

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Yves Theiler - WE (Intakt, 2019)

This is a very talented trio consisting of Yves Theiler on piano, Luca Sisera on bass and Lukas Mantel on drums. All of the music are original compositions by Theiler, and he creates music that is well versed in modern jazz while looking forward, with an explorer's curiosity to see what's beyond the next hill. “Slush in Thaw” opens the album with a bouncing, bubbling theme and bright piano notes balanced with lower toned chords and tight drums. Some dramatic flourishes keep everyone on their toes, and the dark and light shadow tones of the keyboard are equally appealing. The group shifts into a three way improvisation, where thick bass and skittish drums free the wide ranging piano to explore with percussive jabs and quick runs. After a well articulated bass solo with percussion and spare keyboard framing, the group moves back into the original theme and it's dynamism, ending with more fine bass playing. A dramatic introduction of bowed bass leads the group into “No Rank, No Hill” which is spacious and haunting with bass swoops, brushed percussion and the group coming together for a fast paced trio section. Using hard charging dynamic shifts, this complex music is continuously interesting, rippling and cascading in an exciting manner. “Beauty in Space” uses soft piano chords, opening the music in a quiet ballad formation, as the group gradually fills the available space, gaining posture. Things really change as drums and huge piano chords crash and then leave windows of space in their wake held together by anchoring bass and little percussion instruments. The music develops a suite like formation as the trio evolves into a melodic cell for brushes, bass and piano, gradually developing a more muscular bent before falling back into a more meditative form. Thick sounding bass, dark toned piano set the stage for “The Visit of Mr. Lev,” also including clattering percussion which builds an interesting rhythm that the band builds upon, gaining speed and momentum at a thrilling pace, finally breaking out into a freer form with some very impressive drumming. The percussive nature to this improvisation is key as slashing piano and drums clear the thicket before them like explorers in the wilderness taking on a near manic bent. The music undulates as it moves forward, nearing the conclusion, building the speed and power indicative of the confidence the musicians have in their talent and the improvisation they are constructing, and a much deserved drum feature takes them out with a mighty slam. This album worked well, the band is a formidable unit, combining interesting compositions with open minded improvisations to excellent effect. WE - amazon.com

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Michael Gregory Jackson Clarity Quartet - WHENUFINDITUWILLKNOW (Golden Records, 2019)

Something of a legend among fellow guitar players, Michael Gregory Jackson's interests go beyond jazz to include funk, rock and experimental music. All of these elements are at play on this fascinating album where he plays in the company of Niels Praestholm on bass, Simon Spang Hanssen on saxophones and Matias Wolf-Andreason on drums. “Clarity 6 (Dedicated to Fred Hopkins)” features funky bass and hyper active drumming which supports the heavy lifting as the guitar takes off and explores. The overall feeling is fast paced and exciting with guitar and saxophone jousting over the thick rhythm, building into a driving, squalling full band improvisation that is quite enthralling, blowing into a brief wicked fast shed section before retreating ever so slightly into brief cells if fast improvisation and then to the theme to close. “Spin (Dedicated to Baikida Carroll)” has thick bass and hollow drums setting the groove for Jackson's laser focused guitar to extrapolate a thematic statement, the guitar digging deep, while the drums and bass mine a pneumatic groove, and the guitar and saxophone perform an elaborate improved dance of funky jazz that recalls the seventies, but blasts them firmly into the Afro-futuristic realms of tomorrow. Hand percussion and slabs of bass keep the music simmering, and snarls of electric guitar bring it all back home. “Clarity 3” blasts off with all of the instruments setting a choppy and complicated theme, and then gradually picking it apart, as crisp drumming and well articulated bass playing supports Jackson's neon toned guitar as he spools out an impressive improvised statement. He adds further bite to the tone as the drums keep up an ever shifting and thoughtful narrative and the soprano saxophone enters the scene a little late, but providing an excellent foil for the guitar to grind and sting against, building to an excellent freewheeling full band improvisation as the group takes the time to really stretch out and play and ply their skills in a most productive manner. “Souvenirs (Dedicated to Jessica Hagedorn)” has another excellent full band introduction, before the guitar and saxophone emerge to swirl and fly in the air, doing daring maneuvers like stunt pilots at an airshow, supported by strong cymbal play and tight bass. Jackson lays it on the line playing his heart out and the group responds with some of their gutsiest playing on the album, creating a short but emotionally resonant track. This album worked quite well, Jackson honors his formative years playing with members of the BAG and AACM collectives with his commitment to fearless improvisation, tempered by solid teamplay and compositional forethought. Whenufindituwillknow - amazon.com

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Johnathan Blake - Trion (Giant Step Arts, 2019)

This is an exciting live recording led by drummer Johnathan Blake in the august company of Linda May Han Oh on bass and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone. The music is alternately muscular and nimble, at once recalling the classic live trio recordings Sonny Rollins made in the 1950's while at the same times sounding completely modern and as fresh as paint. “Synchronicity I” is a re-imagining  of the music of The Police, arranged by Potter, led by his evocative saxophone playing, solo at first, finding the band gradually folding in for what becomes a grand exploratory improvisation. Crisp drumming and dark hued stoic saxophone playing revolve around deeply rooted bass playing in an arresting manner, and their collective improvisation, pulling together in the direction of sheer performative power is amazing, this is top tier acoustic jazz playing at its finest. Taking something as banal as The Police (sorry Sting fans) and turning it into a seventeen minute powerhouse of imagination is a major accomplishment for this group. There's a beautiful bass solo, deft and nimble in the playing of the instrument, and an explosive trading of phrases between Blake and Potter. Quick bass and drum work opens “One for Honor,” soon joined by saxophone, creating a solid medium uptempo three way theme. Blake's cymbal accents frame the bass and saxophone well, keeping the music clean and centered, as Oh makes bounding leaps and Potter is a man possessed, playing quick successions of notes with a steely grace that is very impressive. Everybody just goes for it, upping the tempo even further and playing a music that is just out of sight in terms of speed and volume and the amount of control and trust that three people can have when they are this talented. Blake breaks out on a very intricate drum solo, loud and incredibly complex, but still accessible and fun to listen to. “Good Hope” gradually builds from an intricate drum rhythm, building to a trio performance that is quick and light in movement or action; and agile in nature. Potter's tone has a pinched element to it adding further texture, over Blake's complex rhythms and Oh's acrobatic playing. There was a deeply collaborative spirit on this double disc set, indicative of the albums title referencing atoms combining to form a single compound, which is an apt description for this highly attuned group where the spiritual tenets of mindfulness and being completely in the moment meet the science of sound and cognition, and result in exciting and powerful music. Trion - Bandcamp

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Dave Rempis / Brandon Lopez / Ryan Packard - The Early Bird Gets (Aerophonic Records, 2019)

Recorded in March and June of 2018 at Elastic Arts in Chicago, this is an excellent document of the working trio consisting of Dave Rempis on saxophones, Brandon Lopez on bass and Ryan Packard on drums and electronics. Beginning with “Crypto Vo Lans” the music quickly develops around the bass and drums, with the saxophone and drums whirling around the center of taut bass with squeals of saxophone and crisp drumming. They develop a fast and propulsive improvisation with a whirling dervish of sound, leading to a fine interlude of bass and crushingly rhythmic percussion. Rempis comes back with a tart, arresting tone from his saxophone, leading all three off into the sunset. Deep tuned saxophone saxophone with rumbling bass and skittish percussion open “Raho Navis” which drifts into a spacey slower section of plucked bass and cymbals. The pace changes with a snap as they burst into collective improvisation with sharp interplay of strong saxophone and cruising bass and drums. The trio's sense of dynamism allows them to be potent at any speed including a heavy hitting drum solo. “Archae Opteryx” uses long breathy tones of saxophone to set a mood, aside bowed bass and brushed percussion creating and abstract and haunting setting. Electronics add to the music developing huge slabs of sound that fly by framed by the quieter sections of brushes and spare bass. Heavy bass, crashing saxophone and drums usher in “Confucius Ornis” breaking out into a strong, virile and fast paced performance. After that statement of intent, they downshift, opening space for bass and spare cymbals before the pace picks back up and the gruff saxophone piles on at mid tempo. What's amazing about this group is how they can start and stop on a dime, with fast cymbals and driving bass pushing the saxophone to new heights, leading to powerhouse collective improvisation at its best. “Yan Ornis” has bowed bass scraping long tones soon met by squeals of deeply held saxophone tones creating an arresting sound that moves farther into freedom as the percussion enters. The dark toned tenor saxophone, sweeping bass and percussion work very well, building to a scouring three way improvisation that peels paint with searing saxophone and pummeling drums creating over the top goodness. The concluding track “Gansus” opens with excellent bass playing, soon joined by a swirling vortex of saxophone and drums. Their full band improvisation is out of sight and the band is like a fine automobile shifting through the gears. This is another example of the group's limitless power as the cascading drums, soaring saxophone and nimble bass playing becomes the hallmark of the trio and the music they makes. This was an excellent album from wire to wire, the musicians are at the top of their game and this album is sure to be under consideration when the best records are tallied up in December. The Early Bird Gets - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy (ECM, 2019)

Guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan had an excellent run at the Village Vanguard in New York City in December of 2016, playing as a simpatico duet, performing standards, popular songs and originals before an appreciative audience. This part of the recording is based around the classic Thelonious Monk composition "Epistrophy," and they play a beautiful version of it, gradually easing into the familiar melody, and then unhurriedly branching out into a knotty improvisation, bobbing and weaving in a congenial manner. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is a medley that consists of "Wildwood Flower / Save The Last Dance For Me" where a gentle spacious melody is effortlessly stated at first before moving into the rhythm and blues cover that is unexpected but quite welcome. Frisell's guitar carves up the tune expertly, adding just the right amount of emotion and longing to an expertly performed suite of music. With everything on the table, part of the fun is the wide ranging setlist, where they can develop well articulated jazz standards like "Pannonica" and "Lush Life" into quietly blossoming melodic gems, and juxtapose them against a quirky yet very enjoyable romp through the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice." It wouldn't be a Bill Frisell album if they didn't dip into Americana themes on "All in Fun," "Red River Valley," before quieting down once again and wrapping up the album with a delicate and beautiful version of "In the Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" where their intricate interplay works well, as they can play slowly and quietly allowing the individual notes to hang in the air like tears from a broken heart. As a whole, his album worked quite well, and Frisell and Morgan are a formidable team, developing a close sense of empathy that allows them to create delicately spun music in this intimate environment. There may not be many sparks flying, but the melodic and thematic development of these songs and the craft on display in their performance more than makes up for it. Epistrophy - amazon.com

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Cecil Taylor - Great Paris Concert (ORG Music, 2019)

Originally recorded in The City of Light during November 1966, this concert has been released on a number of labels over the years. This most recent one has been remastered by Infrasonic Mastering, and is presented across two 180 gram white color LPs, with photos and new liner notes. Regardless, it's an extraordinary entry into the great pianist Cecil Taylor's discography, including a great band featuring Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Alan Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums and percussion. “Student Studies Part 1” finds the group playing against type, not quite the all destroying free improvisation behemoth that they were made out to be. The music is choppy and intricate with extraordinary bass playing that when plucked provides extra propulsion to an already powerful unit, but when bowed is done in a virtuoso fashion echoing that of a viola or a cello. There is space in this performance for Lyons to blow unencumbered and he adds thoughtful notions to this powerful piece of music. This is immediately followed by “Student Studies Part 2” which keeps the energy moving briskly with swirling bowed bass and lush piano playing, alternating between crushing chords and ripping runs up and down the keyboard. The saxophone muscles in about half way through, pushing hard and helping to develop a true full band improvisation that is wonderfully exciting. “Amplitude” is the most percussion focused track on the album, with a spare opening that uses a whistle and Art Ensemble like “little instruments” to set the mood. Soon lashing drumming takes effect with booming deep end piano and saxophone yearning for release in the cracks between the harrowing energy being developed by the piano and drums, but try as Lyons might it is the stark fascinating interplay between Taylor and Cyrille that is the centerpiece of this section of the concert. Finally “Niggle Feuigle” is the track that could be called “free jazz” in the expected sense, as the four members of the group collide right off the bat for a superior blowout that is a wonder to hear, as Lyons's horn wails alarmingly and Taylor kneads the piano with a great sense of urgency. As the piece develops, the piano and percussion cascade in a magnificent fashion, creating an epic sound world that is all encompassing and unflinching in its willingness to infuse all of their power and majesty into their music. Great Paris Concert - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

David Berkman - Six Of One (Palmetto, 2019)

For several years now, pianist and composer David Berkman has been investigating the musical possibilities of a medium sized jazz band. The colors, hues and rhythms are  achieved in conjunction with his excellent band, consisting of Danya Stephens, Billy Drewes and Adam Kolker on saxophones, Chris Lightcap on bass, Kenneth Salters on drums with Tim Armacost on saxophone and Rogerio Boccato on percussion sitting in. This album begins with “Blowing Smoke” which has a classy and warm theme, with subtle piano playing and understated bass and percussion creating a nice pocket. Tenor saxophone glides in an builds a solo around the foundation built by the earlier sounds, soon joined by a second saxophone and crisply articulated drumming,then the group reconvenes to develop the robust theme around Berkman's piano outro. There is a more urgent melodic statement developing on “Cynical Episode” as the music undulates around deep bass clarinet and the horns riff before an electronic wind instrument drifts out unexpectedly, moving amid the bass and drums adding texture and depth to the performance. Deftly adding piano, Berkman leads the rhythm team though their paces at high speed, playing with grace before the horns return and split into solo sections first for clarinet and soprano saxophone swirling high in the sky as an exotic hand percussion rhythm develops beneath him. “Blue Poles” has a probing solo piano opening, leading the other instruments into the song as they develop a theme using ribbons of sound. There's a warm alto saxophone opening up over some fast paced drumming keeping the music fresh and foreword facing, and soon the whole band is playing very quickly and Berkman takes center stage with an excellent piano feature, building and cascading with waves of notes in a very impressive manner. There is a drum solo of merit, before the rest of the band cruises in for a mighty finish. Light and swirling horns are featured on “Billy” along with supple bass playing, meeting some jaunty support from the remainder of the band with well played soprano saxophone giving this springtime like ditty real lift. The leader takes over with a spirited piano solo framed by supple bass and drums allowing the music to grow in an organic manner. Darker saxophone takes a more pointed solo over the furrowed ground before coming back to the fold and helping to close out this short and sweet tune. “Kickstopper” has a swaggering melody right out of the gate, building intricate modern hard bop, then letting loose sweet saxophones to solo over supportive and fast rhythm which give the music a warm feeling. There's excellent contrast between the deep toned tenor and the light soprano as they joust for supremacy, finally fleeing the field for an authoritative piano feature set up with no nonsense support from the bass and drums. “Restoration” sets the theme on piano, and the saxophones glide out of the shadows adding to the narrative of the performance, lighter toned soprano saxes reach for higher vistas, and a fully formed piano feature that adds further emotional content to the song. This album worked very well, providing a wide variety of colorful compositions and spirited playing on behalf of the band. Six of One - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Prince Lasha / Eddie Gale / Marcus Shelby / David Boyce / Howard Riley / Darrell Green - 6x6 (Unsound, 2019)

In San Francisco during late October 2008, two of unsung heroes of progressive jazz entered a studio and met four up and coming members of the local scene. Each musician came up with their own piece of music for the group to collaborate on, with one full take, no overdubs or retakes. The band consists of Eddie Gale on trumpet, flute and piano, Pince Lasha on reeds and percussion, David Boyce and Howard Wiley on saxophones, synth and percussion, Marcus Shelby on bass, and Darrell Green on drums. Gale was prescient, predicting the upcoming election and providing a respectful nod on the opening track “This is for Obama.” He opens and closes the track with a chant honoring the president to be and in the middle is a very impressive and lengthy performance. The rhythm section is strong and true keeping this fast paced composition in constant motion and providing a launching pad for the solo flights. The horns work well together providing waves of deep sound, and then individual members take flight for logical and memorable solos, on tenor and soprano saxophones and Gale's trumpet plus a wonderful section for bowed bass and drums. “Kennedy's African Playground” is by bassist Marcus Shelby, with a warm sound incorporating thick bass and flute and delicate percussion, creating an alluring sound. The saxophones come in, deepening the sound of the music as a fine tenor saxophone emerges and patiently develops a scouring and enlightening statement over deep percussion and trilling flute. All of the instruments come together for a colorful and potent collectively improvised section, and then dropping out for some excellent bowed bass and flute framed by bells and percussion setting a deeply spiritual atmosphere. Shelby is a powerhouse here, plucking or bowing he is the engine a the core of this performance's success. “Sub Atomic Musik” offers bird sound like flutes and saxophone creating a unique atmosphere, settling into a series of tones, electronic synth playing off against the saxophones and drums with ominous vocalization leading us into uncertain and nervous territory. The music builds to a breakout free improvisation, with the saxophones wailing handsomely and Gale's trumpet powering though it all as the rhythm section chugs mightily. “Howard's Hues” kick's off with a blast as the full group comes out swinging with crisp drums and bass, and the horns building ever higher creating a solid edifice of golden sound. Gale takes a potent and strutting trumpet solo over surging bass and drums, handing off to tenor saxophone for a swirling, snaking turn in the open space, then the relay moves to a snake charmer soprano saxophone solo. It's a great blowing vehicle and everyone comes together with a strong full band statement, before there is another big tenor breakout leads the horns into a cacophonous jam that is very exciting to hear, before pulling it together for a fine conclusion. Sadly, Prince Lasha would pass away a few months after this recording, but he went out on a very high note because this is an excellent and highly recommended recording, everyone plays well, and it is wonderful meeting of the older masters and younger musicians on the rise, finding common ground in open minded jazz music. E-mail Eric M. for details.

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Sunday, April 07, 2019

Jon Lundbom / Bryan Murray - Beats by Balto! Vol. 1 (Chant Records, 2019)

This album is the result of a lengthy partnership between guitarist Jon Lundbom and saxophonist Bryan Murray. Murray acted as a modern day Teo Macero, sampling albums by Lundbom’s Big Five Chord band and building beats to which Lundbom composed new music. They then sent the tracks back and forth to record live performances of the new music, improvised solos, and accompaniment, with the final group consisting of Bryan Murray (aka Balto Exclamationpoint) on tenor, alto, soprano, and balto! saxophones, Jon Irabagon on alto, mezzo soprano, and slide saxophones, Jon Lundbom on guitar and beats by Balto Exclamationpoint. Leadoff track "Booberonic" has funky bass and drum beats which build with saxophones joining at a quick paced tempo, creating music that is complex but fun to listen to, with one of the saxophones breaking free to solo over bowed bass and choppy percussion developing a raw and real sound. The band really stretches out around the blowing, creating a very cool sound that is fresh and invigorating, with strong peals of sharp saxophone set against a buoyant backdrop. The saxophone drops out as the guitar glides in, building patiently and fitting into the rapid groove offered by the bass and drums. Lundbom digs in on a very impressive improvisation, shooting out sparks and beams across the entrenched rhythm team, adding high speed flurries of notes as they drift off into the fade. There is a loose groove on "Basic Bitches" with juicy saxophone weaving through it, then fluttering freely, taking to tune in a different direction, where loops are juxtaposed against raw scouring horn play. The pinched tone of the saxophone is arresting, taking a repetitive figure and then extrapolating from it with quick bursts of notes and raw sound, as the looping sounds inject a disorienting and psychedelic tinge. "Prednisone" develops a gentle opening with saxophones and guitar accenting the basic drumbeat. Horns playing together get an interesting texture that diverges in the mix as the horns separate, and the guitar arcs a golden tone across the top of the performance. Lundbom's sound is strong but accessible, performing a guitar solo that is powerful but not overly flamboyant, building a crunchy and searing sound that is a standout performance and one of his most memorable. After that, there is a searing saxophone solo, stark and potent, with a nasally sound that cuts through the relatively spare accompaniment leading to a looped finish. This process worked very well and produced an album of real value, regardless of the way in which it was produced. Hopefully this success will spur the musicians to further volumes and even more daring experiments. Beats by Balto! Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 06, 2019

Book: Jazz in the 1970s: Diverging Streams by Bill Shoemaker (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017)

This was a very interesting book, one that will particularly pique the interest fans of free jazz or free improvisation, because it looks at the music through that lens, eschewing mainstream jazz and fusion almost completely. Shoemaker breaks the book down by year, with an introduction giving a thumbnail history of jazz to that point, focusing on the innovations of the 1960's, and a coda at the end which deals with the repercussions of the retrenchment of neo-conservativism in the music and the fractious nature of mainstream vs. avant-garde in the 1980s. In between are ten chapters, one for each year of the decade; and each will be centered upon a particular artist or group. After stating his intention to focus on a musician, for instance Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath for the chapter on 1970, the author will tell the subjects story regardless of time frame. While the first concert by the Brotherhood of Breath may have occurred in 1970, McGregor's mixed race group The Blue Notes fled apartheid South Africa in 1965, and they would be a vital force in jazz for decades to come. Chapters will alternate between European and American music as the cleft between "free jazz" and "free improvisation" continues to deepen, and Europeans, particularly Britons like Derek Bailey develop the belief that only unprepared, in the moment free improvisation is the true music. Meanwhile, in the United States, musicians like Archie Shepp were turning to music like rhythm and blues and gospel to create strong statements of civil right and racial unity on the albums Attica Blues and The Cry of My People. Multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton became a critical darling and nearly developed a following with some well distributed records through the Arista / Freedom imprint. A couple of accessible small group albums set him in good stead before the oil crisis crashed the record business and Braxton insisted on release of some of his most difficult music for multiple orchestras and two pianos (neither played by Braxton) saw budgets being slashed and him eventually let go. Shoemaker's work on the loft scene and particularly Sam Rivers (one of my heroes) was very interesting, as he talks about how the DIY scene took shape and became a real competitor to the bloated mainstream jazz festivals. Overall this was an excellent book, and whether describing how the music is made and the nature of the improvisations being performed by the musicians he's covering, or looking at the societal implications of the music, Shoemaker is a fine writer, composing an excellent narrative that is valuable to the overall history of jazz and improvised music. Jazz in the 1970s: Diverging Streams

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Friday, April 05, 2019

Miles Davis / Gil Evans ‎– The Best Of Miles Davis and Gil Evans (Columbia / Legacy, 1997)

Miles Davis made several albums with the arranger Gil Evans during the 1950's and 1960's, placing his beautiful and evocative trumpet and flugelhorn sound into lush backdrops and emotional arrangements that led to some of his most popular and critically regarded work. During the 1990's, Columbia/Legacy re-released reams of Davis material on compact disc, including Miles Davis and Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, a lavish slab of six discs with a nearly 200-page booklet that had an eye-popping price tag to match (since been re-released in a long box format, much cheaper but possibly OOP.) The budget option is this placeholder, a nicely chosen sampler from the sessions, giving you a wide range of selections from the Davis / Evans collaborations along roughly chronological order, beginning with "My Ship," "Blues for Pablo" and "Miles Ahead" from the album of that name, with the large band containing heavy hitters like Lee Konitz, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. The Davis / Evans reading of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess is quite beautiful, represented here by Davis's handsome overdubbed flugelhorn solo on "Gone," "My Man's Gone Now," an absolutely heartbreaking version of "Summertime" and "I Love's You Porgy." The two collaborators next built the album Sketches of Spain around their epic reimagination of the composition "Concierto de Aranjuez," an enormous performance of over sixteen minutes in length. It tasked their particular talents to the limits, in terms of taking this classical piece creating an epic jazz tone poem, but also the epic soloing of Davis on both flugelhorn and trumpet. Musically and personally Davis and Evans began to drift apart as the sixties dawned, but with the boom in Brazilian music and the bossa-nova craze hitting the USA they were able to cobble together enough music to build the album Quiet Nights, and "Wait Till You See Her," Jobim's "Corcovado" are represented on this disc. They are rather moody and quiet, exotic and alluring in their own way as is the final track, and excerpt from the lengthy track "Time of the Barracudas." Whether this is really the "best of" the music that Davis and Evans made during their period of close collaboration is a matter of individual interpretation. This disc does serve its purpose however, as a palate whetter for the curious and a stopgap for those who prefer Miles Davis small group and fusion outings. Best of Miles Davis and Gil Evans - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Michaël Attias - echos la nuit (Out Of Your Head, 2019)

Michaël Attias is very impressive on this album, playing both alto saxophone and piano simultaneously, with no overdubs. He is performing everything on the album live and the music is completely improvised. The reverberation of the room and the resonance of the piano strings also set a sympathetic environment for this ambitious project. “Echoes I: Mauve” opens the album, with piano and saxophone in a spare swirling formation, working together in space and providing a lonely late-night feeling. There is an attractive yearning tone to the saxophone, and it is capable of great emotional depth. Saxophone and piano probe together on “Trinite” gradually building blocks of notes, as the two instruments closely echo each other side by side, and Attias will also hold a lengthy saxophone note while playing piano underneath it, to excellent effect. “Autumn II” features sad sounding saxophone and piano becoming more open and brisker, as sound moves in the open air and provides a great deal of color, while adding touches of piano that are more reflective in nature. Piano notes in outer space open “Fenix III” where they are joined by breathy sounding saxophone that begins a loping solo, moving in a free and appealing manner, with an excellent tone that is punctuated by piercing tones and quicksilver flurries of notes, building an excellent narrative structure that is one of the highlights of the recording. Breathy saxophone builds a hypnotic repetitive feeling on “Circles” gradually building in volume and varying in textures of light and shade within the tone of the saxophone itself. “Rue Oberkampf” explores light and nimble saxophone movement, you are so close that you can hear the pads and keys moving adding an aura of quiet intensity to the proceedings. Attias is playing quite fast, but not loud and in complete control, extrapolating small motifs for further improvisation, adding louder and deeper tones for balance. The longest piece on the album is “Song for the Middle Pedal” which has soft saxophone playing long lines of sound, patiently allowing the music to develop and creating emotional shades that are accessible and approachable. Piano enters later in the performance, adding a further dimension to the music which is wistful but never maudlin. “Sea in the Dark” is awash in heavy sustaining piano, contrasted by lighter toned saxophone played at a slow pace. These long tones can match the sustaining low rumble that is continuously moving and developing. The album concludes with “Echoes III: Night” where haunted saxophone and barely touched piano offer up a noir-ish atmosphere, and the music gradually builds upon the opening structure to become more wide ranging and variable. This album would have been very impressive from a duo, but considering it came from one person it is remarkable. Attias draws on many threads from classical music to jazz and free improvisation, melding them creatively to create an album that is fresh and unique. Echos la nuit - amazon.com

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Monday, April 01, 2019

Alexander Hawkins - Iron Into Wind (Pears From An Elm) (Intakt, 2019)

Pianist Alexander Hawkins is another one of the game-changing musicians on the burgeoning London jazz scene. He is a veteran of encounters with musicians like with Evan Parker, Wadada Leo Smith and Shabaka Hutchings, and has a number of recordings under his own name. This is a solo album that was recorded in Zurich in September of 2018, and it begins with “Song All the Way” which has droplets of medium tempo crystalline piano notes, sounding clear and crisp as they explore and probe the sound space. The music on “Congregational” is dark toned, slow and balanced against heartier chords that develop, allowing a dynamic to build and power the music forward. The tension that develops along with the percussive low-end chords resonates throughout the song. “Tough like Imagination” is open and spacey, with cascading light notes invoking thoughts of a spring shower, though the music grows gradually stronger and harder as Hawkins drives the piano into deeper and more intense territory, hammering the notes as the piece continues to evolve. Deceptively spare in its opening “Pleasant Constellation” gradually develops a low rumble, foreshadowing the tumult to come. Strong chords crash from the top down in a very dramatic fashion, where colliding slabs from the crushing bottom end meet cascading runs from the upper end of the piano. The music eventually breaks apart into free sounds that drift in space like wreckage from a cosmic collision. “Strange Courage” is a heavy tune from the beginning, with deep and loud notes and chords gathering pace and volume, and building block by block. The music rings in a strong and resonant fashion, vibrantly pushing a proud and strong message. Chords in space push “It Should Be a Song” down deep as skittish light notes rise up in response creating a broad and ravishing sound. The expansive nature of the piano creates a velvet curtain that hangs across the music which has a scent of classical music within. “Hard as Threads” comes on strong, heavy and fast like a rampage on the keys with hints of Cecil Taylor as Hawkins moves very quickly, developing rapid clusters of notes and swirls of dark low-end. They dynamic gusts of low concussions are the key foundation of this short but excellent piece of music. Light notes of quiet near whimsy are at play on “Tumble Mono” before things slowly grow louder and darker, and Hawkins develops a huge deep pulse, playing hard and heavy as the improvisation evolves. The way the music unfolds on this track shows a great control of narrative flow, taking the listener on a powerful and unpredictable voyage as it emerges. The concluding track “Etude” is a very impressive performance of high-speed technique, as waves of sound move out rapidly creating an anxious feeling, developing an over top pace that is powerful and ends the album with a flourish. Iron Into Wind (Pears From An Elm) - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Joshua Redman Quartet - Come What May (Nonesuch, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman's most recent album features his regular touring band of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. There is no overriding theme or concept other than four musicians who have performed together for nearly twenty years gathering to play a set of seven Redman originals beginning with "Circle of Life." This track has piano setting the pace with light sounding saxophone, bass and drums arriving on the scene. The music is not loud, but the band achieves a full presence by united playing and strong improvisation. Even when Redman's saxophone is ostensibly soloing, the rhythm team is very active, lending a hand to his churning, cascading solo statement. After the leader steps out the the rhythm section simmers around earthy bass with rippling piano and percussion that welcome the return to of the saxophone and return to the theme for a sound melodic finish. "How We Do" features a brisk full band opening, leaning right into this short but powerful performance. The group pushes forward in a more physical manner, with bass and drums firing hard and the piano moving like a piston, as they drop into their own well earned feature. Goldberg's bouncing piano solo keeps things moving very well leading to Redman returning and a quick roundup of the proceedings. A fast swirling theme with cool sounding saxophone ushers in "DGAF" while the drums play tight rhythmic patterns. The music downshifts to quieter piano, bass and drums sounding very melodic and classy, before Redman returns and develops a choppy motif along with his light and nimble sound signature. The fast and exciting theme leads them to an interesting closing section that features some very interesting saxophone and percussion interplay. "Stagger Bear" opens with piano as drums and bass fold in creating a nice medium tempo pocket that is mobile in nature, allowing the tone of the music along with the tempo and volume to shift at will. Hutchinson really shines on this track, offering some grandly swinging drums, moving into an Art Blakey like swagger at times to really give the music the boot. The music is open an and accessible, with an easy melody and sections of sunny swing that should make this very appealing to audiences. Overall, this album worked well, the group has been playing together for a long time and can intuit what is needed to keep the music flowing in an easy going and professional manner. Redman's compositions are direct and varied, giving the musicians room to explore but also providing solid melodic and thematic guideposts. Come What May - amazon.com

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