Monday, July 22, 2019

Arashi - Jikan (PNL Records, 2019)

Amazingly, the great free jazz saxophonist and clarinet player Akira Sakata was born in Hiroshima in 1945. An essential figure in Japanese modern jazz from the 1960's onward, he has become an elder statesman, working with his countrymen as well as musicians from around the world. This album was recorded live in concert at Pit Inn in Tokyo during September of 2017, with the group Arashi, containing a powerhouse Scandinavian rhythm section of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Johan Berthling on bass. Sakara grabs you right from the get go on the opening track "Saitaro-bushi Arashi" when instead of using one of his instruments, he uses his voice. This is a feature of each of his album, a track of guttural moans, scat singing, and growling invective that are as focused as any instrument in his arsenal and riveting to hear as the bass and drums fall in, supporting him every step of the way. He lets his saxophone take flight on the following track "Jikan" producing great gales of scouring alto saxophone which are unaccompanied at first, and then aligned perfectly with the free flying bass and drums to create a soaring collective improvisation. The music has open space to breathe and allow its emotion to come to the forefront through rolling percussion and upper register saxophone playing. At the midpoint of the performance, the music becomes very intense with great throbbing bass and pulsing drums pushing and pulling against the gales of Sakata's saxophone and then taking a duet space for themselves, leading to an awesome Nilssen-Love drum solo. Sakata rejoins the fray and they have a white hot burnout for the finish line which is thrilling to hear. At over sixteen minutes long "Yamanoue-no-Okura" is the centerpiece of the album, with Sakara probing the open space solo on alto saxophone to begin, weaving in and out with bass and drums, building a soft/loud dynamic for the music to expand upon. Building louder and faster, the music grows in excitement as Nilssen-Love's drumming becomes a force of nature, cascading around the blazing saxophone and stoic bass playing. Their all out collective improvisation is completely in the moment and thrilling to hear, with everyone just going for it at peak intensity. The saxophone steps aside for a riveting, multi rhythmic drum solo that seems to be coming from all directions at one, soon joined by hyper fast bowed bass that adds further layers of texture to the music. Not to be outdone, Sakata takes to the microphone again, belting out bellowing screams and vocalizations showing outstanding breath control as he moves through the other instruments, whether using words or sounds. This was a fascinating album, and shows how jazz and free music can move across all cultural borders, as long as the performers and listeners have an open mind. Sakata has a wonderful approach to the reeds and a unique way of making vocals sounds and pairing him with this top notch bass and drums team ensures that spars will fly throughout the album. Jikan - PNL Records Bandcamp

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019)

Fire! began as a trio with Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werlin on drums, and this core group has released some excellent records, also with invited guests like Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi. Expanding to the large ensemble Fire! Orchestra allowed the group to broaden the texture of the music even further, leaving the constraints of jazz or free improvisation behind to develop their own unique music that drew from a wide range of sounds like progressive rock, contemporary classical, film scores and more and the wide scope of the band's remit allowed for plenty of experimentation. This album has a newly transformed collection of musicians, fifteen strong, turning their focus to an acoustic centered sound that features a strong attention on vocals, strings and clarinets.  The voices of Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg are at the front of the band and the weave in and out creating beautiful sounds as the instruments create layers and textures of sound that surround and frame the vocals, and then achieve liftoff for powerfully arranged segments of their own. The album is opened by the track “(I am a) Horizon" where dark strings and horns set the mood, leading to keyboards and vocals setting a mellower yet haunted vibe. The two vocalists work well together achieving an aching, yearning feeling aided by spare horns and electric piano. Strings swoop in to give the music a wider almost cinematic scope, as the singers step aside allowing for some abstractions from the reed players taking the piece to a eerie and unresolved conclusion. “Silver Trees” also see the horns creating an open space for interpretation with bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and upright bass creating an evocative soundscape. The vocalists enter gracefully with sparse instrumental accompaniment, their voices filling the available space along with organ and graceful brass. Strings arc across the ceiling of the performance, and the blending of the vocal and instrumental voicing is patient and thoughtful, as the piece develops at its own pace in an organic fashion. Low toned reeds and punchy brass with tight bass and drums up the tempo and the vocalists trade phrases quickly, and the stings sting dramatically, allowing the band to build to an epic collective improvisation. The closing track, the Chic song “At Last I Am Free” has voice and keyboards in an emotional beginning, filled with yearning and loss, further instruments gathering and both singers using wordless vocals to invoke a sense of freedom over a drumbeat and keyboard, leading to a mysterious and nebulous ending. This was a very well done album, the arrangements and performances on the album are first rate and the musicians make up some of the finest of the contemporary scene in Europe. Using vocals and lyrics to center the music also gives the instrumentalists freedom to experiment, and they embrace the new dynamic to create a cohesive overall work. Arrival - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Josh Berman / Paul Lytton / Jason Roebke - Trio Correspondences (Astral Spirits, 2019)

This is an excellent meeting between three talented improvisers, Josh Berman on cornet, Paul Lytton on percussion And Jason Roebke on bass. The recording is a combination of two sessions, in Oslo and Padova, Italy in April of 2018.

The middle three tracks are the core of the album, and the music develops a deep textural interplay on the piece "Short Piece From Cafe Mir." Playing the cornet allows Berman to balance his unique and personal approach between brittle lines of sound and warmer, more fluid playing. The bowed bass and percussion are light and nimble, and that stretches the fabric of the music in an elastic manner, intertwined with the cornet, keeping the music in a constant state of heightened activity. Berman with spark sounds across the sky with the bass and drums quietly picking their spots, leading to a taut dynamic flow. "Ringing Out The Room" is a fine collective improvisation building out of some stoic bass playing, where each of the three instruments have a hand in developing a spontaneous composition in such a way that it plays to each of their respective strengths. Berman can call out long arching tones of puckered brass, adding emotional weight and heft to Lytton's percussion that is in constant motion, never overwhelming but pushing and pulling at the rhythm along with the the bass, that whether plucked or bowed adds texture and integrity to the music. Lytton is the focus of "Percussion Introduces the Theme" and his drum work is very interesting to hear, making the most of his whole drum kit and developing a multi-layered rhythm, sometimes sounding soft like the rustling of fall leaves, then ringing bells to call forth new ideas and leading Roebke and Berman into the performance. The music builds gradually from the bottom up, from the percussion to the bass and the cornet, building a solid foundation for the group to embark into a colorful and inventive improvisation, as the instruments dovetail with each other in a very impressive fashion. Berman is particularly effective sputtering and then punching through the rhythm with aplomb.

This is a brief album that works very well, the three musicians are well attuned to one another, and are able to construct improvisations that are both technically impressive and listenable. Trio Correspondences - amazon.com

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mark Dresser - Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup and You (Clean Feed, 2019)

Master bassist Mark Dresser convenes an excellent septet featuring Nicole Mitchell on flutes and piccolo, Marty Ehrlich, clarinet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Keir GoGwilt on violin, Michael Dessen on trombone, Joshua White on piano and Jim Black on drums and percussion to interpret a swathe of original compositions.

While the record may focus on politically oriented material, it leads with “Black Arthur's Bounce (in Memory of Arthur Blythe) which is a wonderful memorial to the great alto saxophonist, opening with a crisp bass and drums back beat and swinging clarinet and trumpet. Flute, violin and bass cavort in open space, with the full band coming together for a joyfully swinging section. There's a wonderful stratified nature to the music with the flute fluttering over horns and violin while the bass and percussion hold up the bottom. A wonderful flute solo from Mitchell emerges over darker flavored piano comping and some rambunctious horns, driving home the fact that this is a wonderful, ever changing performance, like something that Blythe himself might have imagined for one of his masterpieces like Lenox Ave. Breakdown or Illusions. Another lengthy and continuously interesting performance is “Let Them Eat Paper Towels” opening for solo bass and slowly setting the scene by adding further instruments in an abstract format that is heavy on texture and allegory. Sad piano and violin focus the sounds with drums adding a steadier pulse, eventually building a heartfelt and compassionate theme with the music flowing gracefully along crosscurrents of flute, clarinet and piano. Brass adds a further level of depth to this ever evolving mix of sound, one that is gentle, yet firm in its convictions, giving way to flute and percussion in a complex and lovely conversation, leading the music to a fully fledged conclusion. The title piece, “Just a Little Cyber Coup and You” opens with darkly hued and ominous piano, with scalding bowed bass and violin creating a wonderful soaring sound, leading to a flute solo over bubbling percussion and piano that is powerfully performed with stellar improvisation bravado. Bright and nimble clarinet interacts with the sweeping violin creating a wonderful sound statement of creativity in the face of chaos, leading to a trombone feature that is ripe and potent powering the music forward, and a lights out section for the rhythm section.

The music takes on the politically charged nature of Charlie Haden's Revolutionary Music Orchestra, slims it down and repackages it for the modern American dystopia. Dresser's writing is witty and thoughtful, refusing to take rote answers to important questions and also provides ample space for his very talented group to make their voices heard. Ain't Nothing but a Cyber Coup and You - amazon.com

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Ed: (7/18/2019) Fix title (duh.)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

2019 Downbeat Readers Poll Ballot

I have grown increasingly skeptical of lists and polls, but with the lack of anything else to write about I decided to take a swing at the Downbeat Readers Poll (vote here) doing my best to shine a little light on the musicians that I have been listening to recently. I had to use a lot of write-in ballots, most of the nominees provided tend to focus on the mainstream and leave many worthwhile progressive musicians on the outs.

Hall of Fame: Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist: Dave Rempis
Jazz Group: Sun of Goldfinger
Big Band: Angles 9
Jazz Album (Released 6/1/18 - 5/31/19): Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness (Hopscotch Records)
Historical Album: Sam Rivers Trio - Emanation (NoBusiness Records)
Trumpet: Jonathan Finlayson
Trombone: Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Francois Carrier
Tenor Saxophone: Rodrigo Amado
Baritone Saxophone: Alex Harding
Clarinet: Peter Kuhn
Flute: Nicole Mitchell
Piano: Matt Mitchell
Keyboards: Jamie Saft
Organ: John Medeski
Guitar: Jon Lundbom
Bass: William Parker
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Percussion: Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument: Jason Stein (bass clarinet)
Male Vocals: James Blood Ulmer
Female Vocals: Leena Conquest
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: Moppa Elliott
Label: Pi-Recordings
Blues Artist: Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: Willie Farmer - The Man From the Hill (Big Legal Mess Records)
Beyond Artist: King Crimson
Beyond Album: Paal Nilssen-Love - New Japanese Noise (PNL Records)

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

JD Allen - Baccaroon (Savant, 2019)

A barracoon is a type of barracks used to confine slaves, and choosing this word for an album title reflects JD Allen’s understanding of history in these troubled times, reflecting on the first arrival of slaves in the American colonies. Allen is aware of past and and present struggles which inform his music but never overwhelm it. The trio of Allen on tenor saxophone, Ian Kenselaar on bass and Nic Cacioppo and drums play music that is challenging but accessible, an up to the minute modern jazz that is shorn of any finery and played in a lean and unfettered manner.

“Barracoon” fast and loose with a deep and true tone from the saxophone intertwined with simmering drums and bass. Collective improvisation builds a strong and unflappable infrastructure for their music, which has an urgent forward motion. The heavy rolling drums and thick elastic bass of “G sus” create a deep foundation, with Allen picking his spots and then developing a wonderful solo statement, which is well integrated into the undulating rhythm. He boosts the speed, soloing with alacrity, turning on a dime and improvising with great dexterity. The full band plays together wonderfully with a great sense of timing and alertness, attuned to their band mates and their surroundings. “The Goldilocks Zone” has a fast theme allowing the group to get right into the action with a hard grooving track that makes the most of its short run-time by packing in a lot of information. Thick layers of bass and percussion are given room to move accentuated by bursts of saxophone.

“Beyond The Goldilocks Zone” takes things even further, allowing for a collective, nearly free improvisation to develop right from the start, with a fast and nimble sound that is very exciting to hear. The group seems unmoored from the firmament, and able to build an enormous amount of energy, particularly from drums and saxophone, with the bass being the glue that holds the thing together. “Communion” develops a long mid tempo bass and drum pocket groove, soon joined by rich sounding authoritative saxophone, patiently building a solo with architectural precision. The group comes together to take the music to a plane of higher volume and deeper intensity, with Allen digging in for a stoically beautiful solo, and the bass and drums are with him every step of the way.

Taken as a whole, this album was a wonderful performance, the trio steps outside of the theme and solos structure of most of today's mainstream jazz to to embrace pure improvisation, yet do it in a way that is accessible for both fans of that style or adherents of hardcore free jazz. Barracoon - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bob Dylan - The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Legacy Recordings, 2019)

The music itself is released as a fourteen disc box set with a nice booklet, that provides a wide angle view of the tour. The first two discs give you a fly on the wall view of the group trying to bang together arrangements of the songs at S.I.R. Rehearsals in New York City. It can be a bit of a slog as they work through new songs from the upcoming Desire LP like the unwieldy “Joey” and complex tunes from Blood on the Tracks such as “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” But it is fascinating to hear behind the scenes content, and see the confidence of the group grow as the performances tighten, finally coalescing into a well played no breakdown set entitled Seacrest Motel Rehearsals.

Then comes the main event: ten discs of live performances, in small theaters November – December 1975, performed in Worcester, Cambridge, two shows from Boston and Montreal. The music is all good and frequently excellent, and Dylan keeps things interesting by constantly tinkering with the set list and playing songs from the length of his career as well as some traditional folk songs. The Montreal concert may be the best example of the live music and it is particularly energetic, beginning with a yearning acoustic version of the beautiful Basement Tapes track, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” before bringing the electric group around and playing some surprisingly amped up versions of  “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Scarlet Rivera's swooping and swaying violin is the centerpiece of some of his more recent narrative based music like “Hurricane” and “One More Cup of Coffee” and they even end with a singalong of Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land.” The final disc consists of rarities recorded during the tour, like the biographical song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” performed at the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” recorded during a fundraiser for the Rubin Carter defense fund.

For dabblers there's a selection of tracks on the streaming services that give a glimpse of the music in the box set, and there's also an overpriced three LP collection that could have been a fine budget CD release, but I digress. Apart from getting bogged down a bit in the rehearsals, the music soars, Dylan is in fine mettle, with something to prove he sounds focused and pure, and the addition of guests adds variety to the mix without diluting its punch. Dylan fanatics can buy the big box without shame, the music within will pay for itself time and again. The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings - amazon.com

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Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Bob Dylan's personal life may have been a mess in the mid 1970's but his professional life was at a peak not seen since the burst of creativity he put forth in 1965-66. He met one of the finest albums of his career in Blood on the Tracks with a bootleg trumping archival release The Basement Tapes. He toured arenas with The Band, and while the tour was successful and produced another excellent album, Before the Flood, he felt distant from the audience playing in the impersonal arenas. This led to the idea of The Rolling Thunder Revue, where Dylan can winkingly call himself “a song and dance man” and led a group of fellow travelers like Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Alan Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell among others. He also had a crack band of his own, poaching the excellent Mick Ronson from David Bowie's band for lead guitar, and sharing the front line with the violinist Scarlet Rivera who is a superb foil for the new material that was emerging on the tour like “Hurricane,” “Isis” and "Romance in Durango." So you have the makings of a really interesting story, it is very strange that the narrative is presented in such a strange way, adding fictional characters, presenting actors like Sharon Stone spooling out a script placing her amid the tour and linking the face paint the group used to the band Kiss, who was just emerging from the primordial muck of Long Island. There's also a mini thread of a actor trying to make a documentary within the documentary, creating an odd meta narrative that further bifurcates the story unnecessarily, as clips from Dylan's Rolando and Clara are dropped in apropos of nothing. It's a shame we can't bet the straight dope in the interviews, because there are sections where Dylan is sitting like a wizened sage, talking about how a person will only tell the truth while wearing a mask, while Baez glares at the camera with her bullshit detector in overdrive. What redeems the film is the concert footage, with a gritty seventies tinge and often using extreme closeups, zeroing in on Dylan in his strange white makeup and broad brimmed hat laden with flowers. He sounds great, singing with gusto, playing strong rhythm guitar and with the theater settings he does not having to strain his voice, allowing the band to sound organic and free. Apart from that, it is the little things that really stand out, like Joni Mitchell, looking absolutely stunning, playing a wonderful version of her then new song “Coyote” for Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot, Dylan and Baez playing some of their older songs that they used to play together and proving that they could be just as powerful ten years later. So the film is a mixed bag with the narrative and interviews darting around in different directions, not all of them true, several articles online do the trainspotting, but Bob Dylan fans are encouraged to watch the film for the concert footage alone, because Dylan is in rare form, recorded well and it's a trip watching those ice blue eyes framed by pale white makeup, showing that he had sure come a long way. Rolling Thunder Revue - Netflix

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Abdulla Ibrahim - Balance (Gearbox Records, 2019)

The Balance first new album in four years from pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim and it is a memorable one. This features his long-time group Ekaya, whom he has been recording with since 1983. This particular collection was recorded in one day at London's RAK Studios during November of 2018. Apart from Ibrahim on piano, the group consists of Lance Bryant on tenor saxophone, Cleave Guyton Jr. on alto saxophone and piccolo, Andrae Murchison on trombone, Marshall McDonald on baritone saxophone. Noah Jackson on bass and cello and Will Terrill on drums.

The song "Nisa" has a gentle piano opening, with a fine baritone saxophone solo taken at a medium tempo framed by patient drums and bass. This is followed by a mellow feature for trombone, where the well arranged brass really shines, as the horns weave in and out of the center of focus along with occasional encouragement from the bright piano chords of the leader. Jackson chips in with a well thought out and performed bass solo, then the full group comes together for more willfully swinging conclusion to a fine all around performance. Potent and expansive bass and drums power "Jabula" along with the Ibrahim's piano and a warmly riffing horn section making for a colorfully upbeat performance as the drums and piano bounce buoyantally lending the music an airy vibe that is fun to hear. There are no solos to speak of but the interplay of the rhythm section is first rate. "Tuang Guru" has thick strong bass and fast cymbal play underpinning nimble piccolo to create an exotic and exciting sound. The music darts and bursts through the air, soon joined by Ibrahim's spare piano chords and some earthy baritone saxophone to provide further texture. Brass enters to add a further layer to this multidimensional performance that is in continuous motion, allowing each member of the band a short section of solo space within the larger group dynamic. The music coalesces into a fast collective improvisation, before falling back into the quiet beauty of its opening theme to close. Thelonious Monk's "Skippy" get's an inspired performance with piccolo on one end and baritone saxophone on the other bracketing a little big band that achieves a wonderful sound. Both Guyton and McDonald respond with truly inspired solo sections along with short features for bass and drums. Surprisingly, Ibrahim lays out, but he speaks through his arrangement of this classic song which is excellent.

In the liner notes of this album Ibrahim states that the group was looking to go beyond their comfort zones, striving for excellence in breaking down the barriers of ego. Listening to this album, it is clear that they have accomplished all of these goals, no one was resting on their laurels and the mindful nature of their jazz transcends any egotism. The Balance - amazon.com

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Monday, July 08, 2019

William Parker In Order to Survive - Live/Shapeshifter (AUM Fidelity, 2019)

Bassist and composer William Parker and his longstanding group In Order to Survive recorded this double disc collection of a very impressive linked suite and other new original compositions at the Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. Parker is joined by longtime colleagues Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Cooper-Moore on piano and Hamid Drake on drums. This group has been an ongoing concern since 1993, with a variety of drummers (Drake has been on hand since 2012) and their near telepathic ability to improvise and support one another takes the music on this album to a very high level.

Disc one consists of the five part suite “Eternal Is the Voice of Love,” a set of instrumental compositions, played in succession leaving plenty of room for improvised flights. “Part One” is the lengthiest at twenty minutes, beginning gracefully and gaining unpredictable motion from Drake's rolling drums and Cooper-Moore's jagged piano. Parker's elastic bass is the fulcrum around which all this moves, and Brown adds peals of raw scouring saxophone as the music reaches further out. Their collective improvisation is bracing and very exciting to hear, as all four dig deep into the music and drive it relentlessly forward. There is a wonderful solo section for Cooper-Moore, whose idiosyncratic piano style is on full display, framed by excellent bass and drums. “Part Three” has a quiet swinging section, played by sensitive spare piano and brushes evolving into soft flute over fluttering percussion giving the music a haunting beauty. The music has an exotic sense of a processional scene or of a nature setting for a performance of restraint and pastel hued artistry. This flows into “Part Four,” where the quartet flexes and builds strength with percussive piano and biting citrus flavored alto saxophone chasing each other playing freely and creating a very exciting section. Parker's thick authoritative bass returns as does Drake's powerhouse drumming taking this performance into the stratosphere, creating a collective improvisation of dizzying speed and facility. Drake is given space for a solo and it is a dazzling one, using the entire depth and breadth of the drum kit to create a sparking percussion improvisation.

Disc two begins with another massive performance, the twenty three minute “Demons Lining The Halls Of Justice” which is initially given a bouncy sarcastic swing, moving from the theme to bombastic drumming and cries of saxophone. There is a complex section for piano, bass and drums after Brown's saxophone drops out, and Cooper-Moore adds Don Pullen like swaths of piano to Drake's towering drumming and Parker's stoic bass. The two of them get a couple of features and the results are magical with Parker's bass as the glue holding everything together as the piano and percussion continuously strike out for new vistas to explore. “Drum and Bass Interlude” is a logical extension and a perfect encapsulation of the music these two great players have been making together during the course of their careers. The rhythm is deep and wide and it is just something that a listener would just want to luxuriate in as these two masters create a groove for the ages. Parker will sing the words like a mantra throughout “In Order to Survive” in which they develop a powerful and soulful sound with tinges of deep blues and small group Mingus. Brown plants his feet and solos powerfully amid the piano chords and crushing drumbeat, and Parker provides a much needed message of hope and freedom for all.

This is a brilliantly performed set of music, which is highly recommended for all jazz fans. The compositions and improvisations are deeply felt and intense and the musicians are tight and  in tune with one another, showing great insight, understanding and creating modern jazz of profound wisdom. Live / Shapeshifter - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Al Foster - Inspirations and Dedications (Smoke Sessions, 2019)

Drummer Al Foster is a longtime veteran of the jazz scene, having served stints in the bands of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins in addition to having a vibrant career as a bandleader. This particular album offers thanks to family and colleagues in the company of Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Dayna Stephens on saxophones, Adam Birnbaum on piano, and Doug Weiss on bass. The great Herbie Hancock tune "Cantaloupe Island" leads off the album with its memorable melody leading into a fine saxophone solo that is nicely dug into the firmament of the groove, followed by Pelt's trumpet shooting sparks across some splashing drums. The section devoted solely to the rhythm section develops nicely between the heavy sounding piano and percussion and the thick ligaments of bass that bound them. "Ooh, What You Do To Me" uses heavy low end piano and horns to build a fast pace, with strong cymbal accented drumming pushing the horns even higher and encouraging the saxophone to develop a fast and raw sound that fits in well with the groups overall immediate punchiness. The trumpet has a bright and fluid sound and the rhythm section is loose and fast led by a rich and flowing piano solo before forming back up and heading out. This group is equally adept at playing ballads as can be heard on "Kierra" where lush ornamental piano is met by gentle brushes, whispered saxophone and melodic and easy going trumpet. Slotting in a section for restrained saxophone and brushed percussion was a great idea, the two musicians work with tact and wisdom developing excellent textures and a graceful improvisation. Another ballad, the brief "Our Son," features Pelt's trumpet and the leaser's very soft and tactful brushes playing beautifully as spare droplets of piano notes frame their dialogue. Picking the pace back up is the longest track on the album, the wonderful uptempo blowout "Aloysius." Opened with Foster's unaccompanied drumming providing a fluent but heavy and deep presence and is wide use of space, light and shade. The band soon rolls in on top of his welcome, building a performance for high speed undulating rhythm section and pumping horns. Stephens lays out an excellent solo for tenor saxophone with the drums hard and fast, then Foster changes on a dime to a nimbler touch to support the piano on a bouncing solo with a light Latin tinge. This is the band at their peak hitting on all cylinders, churning out epic post bop with some killing solos. Inspirations and Dedications - amazon.com

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Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Tom Rainey Trio - Combobulated (Intakt, 2019)

Tom Rainey is one of the most active drummers on the modern jazz scene, playing as a sideman and a leader with a host of top flight musicians, two of which are joining him on this album, which was recorded live at Firehouse 12 during September of 2017. With Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mary Halvorson on guitar and David Torn providing "mastering and post production wizardry" it is clear that this is a special jazz album. Leading off with the massive near nineteen minute "Combobulated," the trio gradually builds into the performance, probing the available space, with gentle waves of guitar and drums and filigrees of saxophone. The music gradually fills in and becomes stronger while still retaining its overall sense of mystery, Rainey never plays a straight pulse, adding geometric angles and planes to the shimmering guitar and blustery saxophone. The interactivity of the group is fascinating, they seemingly emerge from different locations in time and space but meld very well, combining for a collective improvisation that is compelling to hear. They use dynamic  movements that keep the music interesting with Halvorson using edgy repetitive sounds, while Rainey is chameleon like, changing  his  sound  and  approach ever so slightly to keep everyone on edge. Two thirds of the way through he turns up the volume adding heavy beats under Halvorson's pedal rich guitar sounds, and the raw and earthy saxophone Laubrock produces. This section of the improvisation is fascinating and at odds with what came before it, the group playing raw and unfettered with wrenching saxophone, swirling guitar tones and slashing drums creating a maelstrom of sound pushing them relentlessly through to the conclusion of the piece. "Fact" has swirling and free sounding guitar and saxophone interacting gleefully in open space, soon joined by strong drumming leading to a wild configuration, guitar feedback bursts of percussion, leading to a more melodic setting. Mixing the loud with the soft in a dramatic fashion particularly from the drums and guitar makes this performance memorable, leading into a three way improvisation with slabs of raw guitar meeting fluttering saxophone and crisp cymbal play. They create an excellent collective improvisation with grinding guitar sounds abetted by jabs of saxophone and relentless percussion. Questioning saxophone opens "Splays Itself" playing unaccompanied and looking outward in a free and open manner, with Laubrock playing in a very impressive way. The guitar and drums join, jacking up the tempo considerably and creating a trio performance that is a powerhouse. Halvorson's guitar pops and sizzles, while Rainey is completely engaged in providing an ever changing percussive aspect to the music and Lubrock adds expertly timed bursts of saxophone that complete this excellent track. The expressive nature of the music has everyone at their most engaged, and all three of these musicians are at the top of their game here, playing completely in the moment and using the extent of their instrumental prowess on this finely wrought album. Combobulated - amazon.com

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Monday, July 01, 2019

Noah Preminger - After Life (Criss Cross, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger has been recording regularly recently for the venerable mainstream label Criss Cross and a number of other independent outfits. For this album he has pulled together a a talented band consisting of Jason Palmer on trumpet, Max Light on guitar, Kim Cass on bass and Rudy Royston drums to interpret a suite of compositions he wrote imagining a world that humans may inhabit when we leave Earth. “World Of Twelve Faces” opens the album with strong and supple acoustic bass playing, crisp drumming and mysterious sounding guitar. The horns arrive, filling out the sound, building a questing theme for the performance with Royston's deft percussion driving and then ebbing as the horns lift off over the rhythm section. Preminger glides out for a solo statement, taking his time and gradually building his ideas over thundering drums punctuated by cymbal crashes as the guitar gently frames the action, before taking the center stage. Light has a cool and well articulated tone, slotting in well with the bass and drums and providing context apart from the brass. The full band reconvenes for a group setting as the performance wanes to conclusion with sparks of trumpet lighting the way forward. There's a bright and upbeat melody to “World of Hope” with intertwined saxophone and trumpet and chiming guitar, but it is the dug in bass and drums that provide the launch pad for the horn players hitting the atmosphere, twisting and turning like a couple of stunt pilots, sounding like they are having a ball, trading spitfire phrases with one an other. Royston is playing all over the kit at great speed and the saxophone and trumpet respond with showers of notes before stepping aside and allowing the guitar to join the locomotive bass and drums in a muscular yet musical featured section. The horns retrain with their twisting, turning double helix sensibility to lead the performance to a close. “World of Hunger” has a strong opening right out of the gate with the group playing an urgent theme, one that demands attention. Horns push ahead and Preminger opens up for a passionate tenor saxophone solo over slashing drums that keep the emotional level of the music high. The two lock into each other driving faster and louder in a very exciting manner, leading to an intricate guitar solo played with speed and facility over undulating drums and bass. Royston is a master drummer, knowing when to dial things down just a little bit and when to drop the hammer. Palmer's trumpet is articulate and burnished, in his short feature playing fast in a controlled and intelligent manner. Everyone meets for the final push through to the end at high speed, true believers going the extra mile to make sure they are understood. This is a solid and memorable mainstream jazz album, Preminger's compositions and tenor saxophone playing are thoughtful and the drumming of Rudy Royston was simply herculean. The band as a whole played very well both as a unit and during individual solo sections. After Life - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Steve Baczkowski / Brandon Lopez / Chris Corsano - Old Smoke (Relative Pitch, 2019)

This album is the result of the powerful trio consisting of Steve Baczkowski on saxophones, Brandon Lopez on bass, and Chris Corsano on drums performing live in Buffalo, New York during 2018. Over the course of several tight collective conversations they move confidently as the music dynamically shifts between torrid free jazz improvisations and sections that are constrained and reserved in feeling and technique. The opening performance is “Iron Ore” and they use this fuel to stoke their fire right off, developing a tense three way conversation with harsh and grating saxophone that is capable of getting a really withering and deep sound meeting thick edgy bass and booming drums playing in a dramatic fashion. They spool the improvisation outward without a hitch, keeping the excitement level high, before slowing as the trio moves into the following track, “Blast Furnace.” Building quieter and more ominous long tones from bowed bass and saxophone, the group creates drones that evolve hypnotically as the drums join edging the volume ever higher, devolving to solo bowed bass finale. “Bend in the Shore” has a spare and abstract beginning, with the instruments interacting quietly, before dropping into a fast paced trance inducing collective improvisation with rattling drums, elastic bass and saxophone that plays in rips and tears. There's an exotic reed tone to “Open Hearth” that is bracing, and gives the music a new sound, urged on by fast and compelling bass and drums, and lending a mesmerizing Middle Eastern shamanistic quality to the whole performance. Smears of disorienting sound are present in “Slag Heap” where bowed bass, flurries of percussion and massive gales of saxophone soon hit their stride in a powerful improvised section, one that has the group developing a multi layered sound environment that is very impressive. “Steel Wind” opens with a propulsive drum solo, evolving into a section of raw saxophone and drums in constant motion, playing at high volume and speed, creating a collective identity of sheer unadulterated power and providing free jazz overdrive at its most compelling. After a strong and physical bass solo, percussion joins in light but manic, along with weeping Ayler like saxophone, continuing into “Smoke Creek” which sounds like a Spiritual Unity outtake, with raw saxophone joined by rolling bass and drums driving hard and fast on this short coda like finale. The crucible of this music melts down the three members individual approaches to sound into a unified group path that is an unstoppable force. They harnessed this force to create one of the most compelling free jazz albums of the year so far. Old Smoke - amazon.com

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Friday, June 28, 2019

OGJB Quartet - Bamako (TUM Records, 2019)

This collective of four improvisers with lifetimes of experience takes their acronym from their first names: Oliver Lake on alto saxophone, Graham Haynes on cornet, Joe Fonda on bass, and Barry Altschul on drums. They are well known as bandleaders and collaborators who push the limits of modern jazz, and each member of the group brings decades of experience to this recording. Opening with "Listen to Dr. Cornel West," dedicated to the author and activist, there is a dramatic opening, with the full band playing fast and loose, delving into a free sounding collective improvisation, getting a wonderful Ornette on Atlantic kind of feeling, before a lengthy bass solo emerges, ranging far and wide. The full band reconvenes, playing with a lighter touch and allowing sunlight in, leading to a strong section featuring cornet and swinging cymbal heavy drumming. The saxophone and bass come back in for a restatement of the theme and gradual glide to the finish line. "Be Out S'Cool" has sparks flying from the beginning, with a complex rhythm developing from the bass and drums, and Haynes gamely building a solo statement along side. Lake comes in with a raw and vibrant sound all his own, punctuating his feature with deep growls and high pitched bleats, using the full range of his horn to excellent effect. The horns burst loose on "Stick" with bowed bass and tight percussion, developing into a churning, roiling collective improvisation that is very exciting to hear. The music is very passionate with layers of percussion and long tones of bowed bass and swooping and diving horns. There is a more patient exploration based mode to "GS #2" with deft playing on the cymbals and collaborative horns building the tension. Lake's ripe and original sounding alto saxophone emerges to solo over medium tempo accompaniment, carving his way through a short statement leading back to the full band including someone adding whistle to liven things even further. "OGJB #2" is one of two spontaneous collective improvisations that end the album, starting out spaciously as they probe the openness, patiently developing the music and allowing it to breathe. The music flows naturally, with no one instrument forcing the issue, and everyone listening intently to one another. They burst into flame half way through the performance, developing a torrid free collective improvisation that is very exciting to listen to, leading to a frantic and exciting conclusion. This is the very model of a democratic group, with all four musicians respectfully leaving plenty of room for the others to react and respond in their own way towards resolving each composition or improvisation. Bamako - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Be Known Ancient/Future/Music (Spiritmuse Records, 2019)

Kahil El’Zabar began the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble over forty years ago, showcasing the wealth of talent on the Chicago music scene. The most current version of the group features  El’Zabar on drums, percussion, voice and composition, Corey Wilkes on trumpet and percussion, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone and Ian Maksin on cello. Combining jazz with African rhythms and percussive instruments gives the group its unique sound. "Little Sunflower - Percussion (For Freddie Hubbard)" features hand percussion and processional horns, sounding nicely layered as they develop a strong theme with along side scatted vocals. Nicely articulated trumpet and baritone sax mesh well with crisp percussion, creating a fine sound, developing into a baritone solo over percussion and chanting wordless vocals, giving the performance a hypnotic vibe, and the trumpet rejoins, appropriate for a Hubbard tribute as Wilkes plays with reverent spirit. Paying tribute to another great baritone saxophone player, "Blew It (For Hamiet Bluiett)" develops from crisp drumset playing and taut cello, with horn section riffing and setting up a fine propulsive melody. Baritone saxophone breaks out with a rich and lively solo, tearing at the fabric of the music with strongly swinging cello and drums providing ample support. A bowed cello solo enters, adding further texture, sounding lively and supple, leading to an excellent cello and drums interlude. Wilkes spirited trumpet joins the fray, adding quick bursts of color, leading the fill group back together for the conclusion of the piece. "Black is Back" mines a vein of deep and heavy hand percussion and cello with horns easing in, adding some scatted vocalese and baritone saxophone, and strong using a beat from a woodblock, they develop a fascinating sound. Bright and fresh trumpet arcs across the sky completing the sound, which is wide and proudly fresh, their collective improvisation draws deep from the well of jazz history, and also looks forward into the future of music. Percussion and plucked and bowed cello frame the vocals and scatting, echoing the title of the song as a mantra. Eddie Harris' classic "Freedom Jazz Dance" gets a fresh coat of paint, with some strong drumset playing and Wilkes intoning the familiar melody. They group riffs hard, building up momentum with the horns making grand statements and El’Zabar swinging mightily from behind the drumset while Maksin adds a wonderful sense of color sawing on the cello creating an expressive solo feature. This was a well done and accomplished album, and the most recent version of the EHE proves themselves to be a most accomplished band. With well written compositions and excellent performances they deserve to be heard widely and will hopefully gain an audience. Be Known Ancient/Future/Music - amazon.com

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Henry Kaiser / Anthony Pirog / Tracy Silverman / Jeff Sipe / Andy West - Five Times Surprise (Cuneiform, 2019)

Prolific guitarist and recording artist Henry Kaiser is not one to let a good thing go to waste and when series of precipitous meetings led to the opportunity to make an album, he jumped at the chance. Pulling together a high octane group to explore the netherworld between jazz fusion and progressive rock, the band includes Kaiser on guitars and effects, Anthony Pirog on guitar, Andy West on bass, Tracy Silverman on violin and Jeff Sipe on drums. It's a lengthy and muscular album, a treat for electric guitar aficionados and those who appreciate the intricate nature of their craft. The music ranges from the powerhouse take no prisoners fusion of "Haboob" where the two guitars go for broke, taking as much ground as they can in tandem and in combat, like a couple of fighter pilots showing off everything they and their machines can do. "Slicer" throws a head fake, starting slowly before turning in its heel and going into overdrive with science fiction affects and snarling attitude to spare. Starting in the form of a ballad, "Earthshine" grows heavier by the minute as the guitars beat out sparks and bursts out long tones amid the dynamic shifts. "Twenty Four Liars" layers the strings in a manner that is quite effective, with thick bass and varying tones of guitar and violin, sending flashy coded messages that twist and grind, finally dropping into a spacier proggy section abutted by a drum solo. There's some great bass playing underpinning "Why Starfish, Why?" as jabbing guitars trade phrases that are short and scrappy, split into the two stereo channels as the drums carve right down the middle. At less than three and a half minutes, its one of the shortest tracks on the album and one of the most memorable. The album closer, "Maneki Neko" is jacked up to manic speed at takeoff, with taut bass and lightning fast drumming in support before the long track moves into a dynamic suite like formation of wide open ambient soundscapes with drums filling in, to burnout all-in areas for scratching violin and scathing guitars. Actually, that's not quite the end, there's also a bonus track that’s available to people who purchase the album directly and is also a part of the digital release. “Twilight of the Space Gods” is a forty minute long-form instrumental experiment, a performance with more jagged shifts in tone and volume and yet more hedonistic guitar playing. Five Times Surprise - Cuneiform Records Bandcamp

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit - April is the Cruellest Month (Blank Forms, 2019)

This album has a fascinating history: Masayuki Takayanagi, who began his career as a straight ahead jazz guitarist in the 1950’s before turning to free jazz and then uncategorizable free improvisation in the 1960’s and 1970’s was contracted to record an album in 1975 by the infamous ESP-Disk label. But the label went bankrupt before releasing it, and it only saw the light as a Japan only release in 1991. This remastered version should finally get the attention it deserves, because it is a walloping album combining the freest jazz, nascent noise rock and excellent musicality into a thirty seven minute sucker punch. Takayanagi’s New Direction Unit featured Kengi Mori on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, Nobuyoshi Inoon on bass and cello and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums and percussion. Opening with “We Have Existed” with scraping cello and skittish percussion, adding flute and sheer breezes of guitar the group creates a strange and compelling landscape of sound. Scratching guitar and sawing cello develop a marked contrast to the soaring flute, as the drums roll between them. They create a fully formed performance from these elements, free but not too outre, with almost chamber like in some qualities. "What Have We Given" becomes louder with bass clarinet, thrashing percussion, bowed bass and guitar feedback. They weave in abstraction, crashing cymbals, clanging guitar, raising the volume and leaving Mori straining to be heard. Melding into a strong collective improvisation, wielding the volume like a tactile substance, before moving into the towering epic "My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart." This is just simply stunning, the speed and power of the group is astonishing, and Takayanagi's guitar relinquishes all ties to any past alliances and absolutely shreds in a manner it's hard to imagine anyone save Sonny Sharrock or Pete Cosey were approaching in 1975. Mori moves to alto saxophone and tries to get a word in edgewise breaking through occasionally, but it's only Yamazaki's manic drumming that can keep pace with the onslaught. Their collective improvisation is a thing of savage, overwhelming beauty, performed at a speed and volume that must be heard to be believed. There is depth and texture within the noise, gradations of sound and granularity in the way that it pummels into you so relentlessly, leading to a stark beauty that only true freedom can provide. April Is the Cruellest Month - amazon.com

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Moppa Elliott - Jazz Band / Rock Band / Dance Band (Hot Cup, 2019)

This is an audacious and successful project from bassist, composer and arranger Moppa Elliott, leading three bands on this triple album, all linked with high energy playing and top notch performing from the musicians involved. Elliott explores aspects of his musical personality that have only been hinted at in past releases, beginning with disc one, Jazz Band. “Oreland” develops a funky and soulful hard bop groove, with some free ranging brass over bouncing piano and drums. This is followed up by a strong and architecturally sound tenor saxophone solo and the rhythm section itself getting a chance to expand on the source material. They also set a strutting style to “St. Mary's Proctor” with an excellent syncopated groove and New Orleans feeling, as the horns orbit around the kinetic drumming. "Punxsutawney" and "Stone Hill" epitomize the Rock Band side of the equation found on the second disc, adding some booting saxophone to snarling electric guitar and pounding drums. Of course there is much more at play than some kind of Boots Randolph meets modern jazz, and it's Elliott's bass that is able to yoke these disparate elements together. The concluding disc, Dance Band, brings the intricate improvisation based sounds of the jazz band with the brashness of the rock band. So it is his arrangements that are the secret weapon here, allowing tracks like "Sparks" and "Bangor" to pack a large amount of musical information into compact nuggets, with powerful swinging rhythms and memorable themes. This collection worked very well overall, showing Elliott's multifaceted nature, equally comfortable performing overlapping genres, and creating an overarching narrative that exceeds the sum of it's already excellent parts. Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet - John Coltrane 50th Memorial Concert At Cafe Oto (Confront, 2019)

Over the past several years British saxophonist Paul Dunmall has taken a deep dive into the music of John Coltrane, particularly the freer or more avant garde music that he recorded toward the end of his life. For this album he formed a group to interpret the music of the Coltrane album Sun Ship, which was recorded in 1965, but released posthumously in 1971. The music was recorded live at Cafe OTO in London on July 17, 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane’s passing. Opening the album is the trio of Danish flutist Julie Kjær with two drummers, Mark Wastell and Ståle Liavik Solberg, taking inspiration from the from the 1967 Coltrane album Expression on "May There Be Peace and Love" beginning with a mantra of Coltrane's own recorded voice, leading into the trio who builds a beautifully imaginative lengthy improvisation. The concert may be dedicated to Coltrane, but it is the spirit of his confederate and dear friend Eric Dolphy who receives equal homage in this performance. After a much deserved round of applause, the opening group takes a bow and the core Sun Ship Quartet is introduced, containing Paul Dunmall and Howard Cottle on tenor saxophone, Olie Brice on bass and Tony Bianco on drums. They open their performance with "Amen" relishing in the freedom offered by the composition, further opened by their decision to have a second saxophonist instead of a pianist. Diving in fearlessly to the brief theme, and then a seething saxophone emerges to solo over roiling bass and drums. The volume and passion of the music is high and the emotion and excitement is palpable. The second saxophone has a darker and heavier tone, mining the depths of the massive pocket hewn by the bass and drums, placing the emphasis on group sound and collaboration. The urgent theme of “Sun Ship” is like a clarion call for their most unique approach to melody and rhythm, with Dunmall’s raw and scouring saxophone slashing brilliantly though a towering thicket of bass and drums. There is an intricate percussion solo, before the saxophones take hold of the sound again ripping at the very fabric of the music. After a set break, tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore joins the quartet, for a massive version of “Attaining.” Opened by a deft bass solo, leading to a strong section of steely saxophone interaction with crisp bass and drums, slowly easing the out toward the outer limits, handing off to a higher pitched saxophone who glides over the heavy Elvin like drumming, then slyly quoting the theme from A Love Supreme before moving into a more abstract direction. The three saxophone front line works well adding squalls and gales to abut the imperturbable rhythm section. The full ensemble including the opening group comes together for the encore of John Coltrane’s towering “Ascension,” playing quite grandly. Stating the short theme, and then stretching out from there into a massive group improvisation, and some wonderfully coherent solos emerge, especially from the flute and saxophones. The group keeps it short and sweet, reeling the music back into an introduction of the musicians, humble thanks to Coltrane and conclusion. This was a wonderful album, played throughout with compassion and dignity, ferocious energy and deep desire to honor the source material and use it as a launching pad for the musicians own personal artistic goals. John Coltrane 50Th Memorial Concert At Cafe Oto - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

John Zorn - The Hierophant (Tzadik, 2019)

This album is a new collection of compositions from John Zorn inspired by the allegorical tradition of the Tarot. Written for jazz piano trio, the music is performed by Brian Marsella on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. The performances are thoughtful and varied, developing upon a wide range of approaches, themes and atmospheres. The album opens with the title composition “The Hierophant” which is fast and urgent as the three instruments bob and weave around one another and develop wonderful rhythms, particularly from the drums which take an impish delight in moving things along. The bass is taught and strong, playing the straight man between the bounding piano and whiplash drumming, but sounding just right. Marsala is a perfect fit, because he has interpreted Zorn before and is able to burrow deeply into these compositions and find nuggets that can be used for fine exploratory improvisations. “The High Priestess” follows with a touching introduction for piano sounding haunting and distant, and aided by subtle brushwork and fine bass playing. The music is nimble and thoughtful, swinging gracefully and encompassing a compassionate bass feature during the middle section of the performance. There is a splashing and wild atmosphere to “The Devil” with manic bowed bass and cascading piano and drumming creating a fantastic scene. Short stop and go passages twist tempo and time as the music curls back upon itself in trickster like ways before bowing out with an air of mystery. “The Hermit” is a piece for solo piano, carving out sound from the lower end of the of the instrument and allowing it to hang in space, contrasting those figures and phrases with short flourishes of brighter notes gives the music and emotional bent and fulfilling a cohesive whole. Sizzling bass and drums lead “The Hanged Man” into play with piano quickly following as the trio takes a very exciting and fast paced improvisation that flows with energy running with leaping strides as the music develops under their fingertips. Dynamics come into play with quick bursts of silence, and ever-changing cells of speed and volume. “Death” is appropriately sinister and a wonderful feature for bowed bass, played with dark tone and evil intent, yet the centerpiece of this performance and exquisitely played as the skittish piano and percussion move around the bass and act as a framing device. Percussive piano and drums are at play on “The Tower” sending out coded messages before embarking on another very fast and well played midsection of crisp bass and drums and rapidly flowing piano. They reach light speed, collectively improvising in a dazzling manner, bouncing back to the theme and then to the improvisation like acrobats performing spectacular feats. This was a very good album, the compositions from Zorn were very interesting and the playing and improvising from the band were excellent. The Hierophant - amazon.com

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Alice Coltrane Sextet ‎– Live At The Berkeley Community Theater 1972 (BCT Records, 2019)

Five years after the death of her famous husband John, there could be no doubt that Alice Coltrane had grown into a unique seasoned performer with a voice all her own. She had a commanding presence on piano, harp and organ, a unique skill in crafting arrangements that hinted at the spiritual psychedelia of the time without pandering to the remaining hippies and was producing a series of memorable records. This album is a previously unreleased soundboard recording of her band which contained Charlie Haden on bass, Ben Riley on drums, Aashish Khan on sarod, Pranesh Khan on tabla and Bobby W(?) on tambora and percussion. It is a very powerful performance and one that definitely deserves attention from fans of Impulse era spiritual jazz or jazz / world music crossover. Alice Coltrane is particularly impressive on the Wurlitzer electric organ, which strikes a remarkable balance between the more mellow Hammond B3 favored by most jazz musicians and the Farfisa organ sound made famous by garage rock bands worldwide. This gives her the power to cut through the ensemble and make her presence felt throughout these lengthy performances (each of the four an equivalent to a side of vinyl.) They begin with "Journey In Satchidananda" which was the title track of the record she had released the previous year. Influenced by her travels in India and what was then called Ceylon, the music has an exotic and beguiling sound to it as the drums and percussion develop cross hatching rhythms and the bass and sarod offer a droning counterbalance, leaving a perfect setting for Coltrane to launch into a lengthy eastern tinged solo on the electric organ. They develop a raucous performance, a collective improvisation that stretches at the very boundaries of the piece without ever losing the overall plot, Alice herself laying out at one point for a hypnotic section of tabla and sarod playing at a whirling speed, and leading to her returning on harp which she plays a brief solo upon before finishing the performance on the organ. The perform a fascinating interpretation of the “A Love Supreme” suite, teasing the melody from a distance, then stating it on the organ with percussive flourishes, they gradually beginning to meld the familiar music in their own way with this interesting array of instruments, setting a deep groove and allowing sparks to fly. The music is fascinating, evolving into a wall of drums and percussion along with the rolling organ and strings creating an unstoppable improvising force, until the band steps aside for a massive seven minute bass solo from Charlie Haden, showing dazzling technique and endurance under the spotlight. “My Favorite Things” becomes a feature for the sarod, employed slightly like a guitar, but giving the music an unusual characteristic that when employed with the tabla creates a very exciting and powerful sense of flow. After this scintillating introduction, the organ, bass and drums charge in creating a fantastic full band setup driving the music forward and you can just barely begin to pick out parts of the familiar melody in their extrapolation. They end with an epic version of John Coltrane’s “Leo” beginning with a phantasmagoric opening sequence, really pushing for the expansion of consciousness with kaleidoscopic organ sounds, and wave upon wave of percussion and bass creating undulating rhythms and astonishing speed. Drums and percussion get a section of their own with Riley leading the way, very exciting and displaying great power and strength in his execution. There is another fine section for sarod and tabla playing with amazing speed and dexterity, everybody is getting generous feature time during this last track and making the most of it. The band comes together for a fantastic blowing section, doubling down on the free jazz intensity they had built previously and wailing with the utmost intensity and conviction. This is an excellent album and well worth tracking down if you can find it, Discogs lists it as an unofficial release, with a limited edition 750 LP copies from Germany, and there are grey market versions floating around the Internet. Regardless, this music is hot and deserves a well remastered official release, because this is the real deal.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Le Rex - Escape of the Fire Ants (Cuneiform, 2019)

Le Rex is an up and coming Swiss jazz quintet with an interesting lineup of reeds, brass and drums: Benedikt Reising on alto saxophone, Marc Stucki on tenor saxophone, Andreas Tschopp on trombone, Marc Unternährer on tuba and Rico Baumann on drums. This may put you in the mind of a New Orleans marching group, and that is a strand of their DNA, but they run the length and breadth of jazz leaning into progressive and free sounds as well. The opener “Escape of the Fire Ants” muscles in with strong riffing horns and crisp drumming, with the tuba admirably developing a bass like sound and the other musical instruments becoming stratified above it. The horns play together in an admirable manner, developing call and response sequences and solo flights that are enthusiastically supported. The drummer develops a nasty funk beat under one of the soloing saxophones that is very exciting and propels the performance forward. The group allows dynamism to come into play with a more open section that allows for spacious and thoughtful playing, bouncing up to the opening riff to give the performance an exciting conclusion. “Alimentation Générale” is whimsical in nature, developing a colorful weave of instruments, and the sound is very nice with individual instruments emerging from each channel of the stereo, creating an immersive sound that is compelling to hear as the trombone and drums develop some really interesting rhythms for the other instruments to solo over, creating sparks between the players that lead to excellent improvised sections. “Harry Stamper Saves the Day” hits with raw and exciting tenor saxophone and splashy drumming that is quite enthralling, the rest of the group comes in with strong and invigorating riffs and motifs that take the music in a little more light hearted and swinging direction. A ripe and brash trombone solo framed by drums and tuba holds down the middle section of the performance. There is a low and burrowing groove on “The Funding,” with quick bursts of fanfare popping off and leading into a sweaty club scene where the band is digging in deep and playing with style. “Ballad for an Optimist” begins in a forlorn manner with the horns paying their respects in a humble manner, gradually picking up the pace to another fine trombone solo at a medium up pace with the tuba and drums nipping at his heels and saxophones framing the action. Everyone is working together well to build an exciting performance with a memorable melody and well structured arrangements and playing. Overall, this was a very enjoyable album by a band that bears watching. There is a fine consistency in the quality of their playing, creating music of substance that is capable of wide gradations in sensation and texture. Escape Of The Fire Ants - amazon.com

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Great Voice of UGMAA - Why Don't You Listen? Live at LACMA, 1998 (Dark Tree, 2019)

Pianist, arranger and composer Horace Tapscott is one of the great unsung figures in jazz history. A bandleader and community activist in Los Angeles with a career that spanned the late fifties to the late nineties he founded the large ensemble The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra which featured future legends like Arthur Blythe, David Murray and Butch Morris. This particular album shows the group in performance with a vocal chorus, The Great Voice of UGMAA.. The opening track “aiee! The Phantom” was also the title of a trio album that Tapscott cut for the Arabesque label, but here it is a deeply swinging large group track. There is a deep earthiness and connection to blues and gospel at hand throughout this album, on the instrumental tracks as well as the vocal ones, with three bass players, drums and hand percussion developing a sumptuous rhythm that will percolate and shift throughout the performance. Tapscott has a powerful touch to the piano, in addition to conducting the group that also includes saxophone and trombone making this a powerhouse track that just doesn’t let up. Their approach to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” is particularly interesting, perfect for the leader to add just the right touches from the keyboard as the maestro did, and it’s the basses and percussionists that provide the textures and exoticism that Duke (and Juan Tizol) hinted at and allow them to develop slowly, as the reed and brass stretch out over the massive rhythm section that is ebbing and flowing like the sands of the desert. The death of the great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti led to the composition of “Fela Fela” and this invigorating piece envelops the chorus and the band singing lyrics in short riffs that are integrated into the band, leading to an opening for an excellent solos for soprano saxophone and trombone alongside crashing drums. “Why Don’t You Listen” has a beautifully melodic introduction for piano and choir, before moving into very impressive intertwining of voices stating the names of many of the greatest jazz musicians of all times and imploring that people listen to their sounds. There are short instrumental breaks for saxophone and drum features, leading into the finale, “Little Africa.” Opened by some thoughtfully spare piano and solo male voice performing quite movingly for several minutes, then joined by the remaining voices, basses and percussion instruments. There is an excellent midsection for the instrumentalists, and solos once again for soprano saxophone and trombone before everyone returns to conclude the concert on a classy and joyous note. This is a wonderful recording and an important one, shining much deserved light on this unjustly ignored master. There is a first rate booklet included with the CD version of the album that has informative liner notes, song lyrics great photographs, making this an exemplary package all around. Why Don't You Listen? Live at LACMA, 1998 - Dark Tree Records Bandcamp

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Feldman - Time Gone Out (Intakt, 2019)

Sylvie Courvoisier is an award winning pianist, composer and improviser, and her husband Mark Feldman is no slouch either, playing violin in every imaginable setting, particularly when associated with the Tzadik label and the works of John Zorn. This duet album is quite interesting, investigating the melding of American and European forms and styles of music from a new angle at the intersection of improvisation, composition, tradition and modernity. The album was recorded at the Oktaven Audio Studio in New York during September 2018 and the music itself strikes a remarkable balance, shrugging off familiar references and searching for new forms of communication and expression. "Eclats for Ornette" has swooping and diving violin met by nimble and impish piano, in a light and delicate performance that develops short cells of ideas and strings them together into thought provoking phrases. They resolve into a fast and lithe collective improvisation, like a chase scene, building drama as the performance develops. The dedicatee, Ornette Coleman played violin at times during his concerts and on record, and Feldman retains some of the heart on the sleeve emotion that the Texan brought to his music. The title track, "Time Gone Out," is a massive, nearly twenty minute long performance, a trapeze routine where each musician having absolute trust in the other is required because there is no net below. The length of time allows the music to evolve gradually and explore a wide range of ideas and motifs, with notions from contemporary classical music and free improvisation, and patches of wide open space allowing for careful thought and spontaneous connectivity. It is clear by listening to how this performance develops that the two musicians have developed a unique and intuitive way of playing together, adapting to each other's style of improvisation and sense of dynamics along the way. "Cryptoporticus" evolves in a more abstract manner, with long lines of violin interacting with deep bass notes of piano, with sections of near silence, allowing the music to find its own level in a completely free manner, with a bright and swarthy section for solo violin, then icy tendrils of keyboard slowly growing like frost as the piano begins to dominate the performance, using shades of light and darkness to further carve out its own space. "Not a Song, Other Songs" has some of the most powerful piano heard on this album, chords blasting out and sustaining in a shocking manner, as the violin steps wearily around, like a fencer looking for an opening. The dynamics of the nimble midsection of the improvisation is fascinating with showered of piano notes and swaths of delicate violin, then Courvoisier drops one of those massive chords, just when the listener is getting complacent. This was a very well played and fascinating album, it doesn't seem to fit anywhere, is it jazz, or it it some type of amorphous improvised music? Once the idea of labels of released and the music is approached on its own terms does it really open up to the listener and present its gifts, and those are well worth the struggle necessary to get there. Time Gone Out - amazon.com

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Elephant9 - Psychedelic Backfire I (Rune Grammofon, 2019)

The first of two live albums from the band Elephant9, consisting of keyboard player Ståle Storløkken, bassist Nikolai Hængsle and drummer Torstein Lofthus and guest guitarist Reine Fiske, with the music being recorded during a four day residency at the Kampen Bistro in Oslo. This is an excellent melding of open minded jazz and groove based psychedelic rock. Their use of loud drones and storming keyboards and rhythm work well, beginning with "I Cover the Mountain Top" featuring graceful keyboard and bass and subtle percussion, finally breaking out in a shocking manner driving the volume into the red and adding the guitar scouring across heavy drumbeats. The dynamism works in their favor, moving from moody and cinematic to overt rock quickly, and their psychedelia is not the incense and peppermints hippie variety, but a post-modern smearing of sound and technique to alter perception in a wholly different way, blasting the version of the Tony Williams Lifetime with Jack Bruce fifty years into the dystopian present. Heavy, slamming chords introduce "Farmer's Secret" using some dirty and raw organ playing and funky bass and drums to excellent effect, grinding out a deep and gnarly Root Down era Jimmy Smith groove. "Habanera Rocket" keeps a subtle ground level beginning, throbbing and bubbling along, flowing and pulsating as the music gradually gains volume and tempo in a trance inducing manner. The music becomes harsher and heavier of beat, flirting with progressive rock, but never giving into cliche. Laying massive keyboard chords and showboating runs, they have turned the formerly introspective piece completely on its head, to joyous crowd approval. Adding some cool echo effects to a guitar and keyboard feature keeps this eighteen minute monster from bogging down, driven with consistently excellent drumming to a mighty conclusion. This leads directly into "Skink/Fugl Fonix," played fast and loud, very powerful and brawny, with no nonsense muscular drumming and swirling keyboards and throbbing bass. The music played at this speed is quite thrilling, and even more impressive is that they are able to develop varying textures and hues from within the maelstrom, adding touches of exotica and calliope sounds for variety. "Actionpak1" hits hard with massive industrial bass and drums pulverizing moving into buzzing electronics and crisp beats at a very high speed, swooping and diving with cells of harshly driven keyboard playing against a relentless drumbeat. Closing with "Dodovoodo" the band unites to create a free and frenetic soundstage, with motoring bass and drums laying down a thick carpet for the keyboards and choppy guitar to explore at will. Long droning tones build atop one another shimmering over the percolating percussion, with shards of guitar accenting the sound. Psychedelic Backfire I - amazon.com

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Hat in Hand

Apologies for taking a time-out for a bit of seriousness. As you might be able to tell from reading the last few months worth of posts, I have been going through a particularly difficult time. Financial difficulties have made it difficult for me to keep up with my regular visits to my health care professionals and timely renewing of prescriptions, and unwise juggling of bills have made my living situation precarious. I deeply regret being on the treadmill of shame, but if anyone is able to make a small donation, I would be greatly appreciative. (palpal.me link) Regularly scheduled blogging to resume shortly, hopefully with more coherent reasoning, not to mention grammar, syntax and structure. All the best -- Tim.