Monday, November 18, 2019

Marc Edwards and Guillaume Gargaud - Black Hole Universe (Atypeek Music, 2019)

There is a charming story behind this impressive recording, where seasoned free jazz and experimental rock drummer Marc Edwards was contacted via social media by a hitherto unknown French guitarist named Guillaume Gargaud who asked out of the blue if they could perform and record together. Edwards was skeptical, but after learning that the guitarist was coming to New York soon and seeing a youtube clip of him in action, he decided to give it  a shot. It was a wise decision, after playing a live performance together that went well, a recording date was scheduled as they locked in well together, the live session flowed smoothly for the duo and they transferred their energy to the studio creating spontaneous creative improvisations, harvesting that energy they had discovered playing together live a few days prior. The music comes out white hot, beginning with "Volcanic Eruptions on Io" as the duo creates an exciting amalgam of free jazz and progressive rock that is played at a very fast tempo and demands great stamina and technical expertise from the performers. Both musicians are more than up to the task and engage with each other completely, exploring the available territory as Gargaud extends the playing field with guitar effects and rapid fingering and Edwards uses a wide range of percussion instruments in addition to a traditional drum kit to vary the texture and granularity of his sound. The title track "Black Hole Universe" takes us even further out moving from modern psychedelia to the spiritual jazz realms and resolving to a pummeling duet performance that doesn't let up. Eventually, the sound opens up and they played music using softer dynamics, on the track "Supernova Aftermath" which allows more space into the music and gives the musicians a chance to take their improvisation in a different direction, one that involves gradation of sound rather than full out squalls of noise. This works well as a change of pace, allowing this section to be characterized by constant change and progress, allowing them to set up for the final push to the finish line. "Electrical Acoustic Synapses" ends the album in excellent fashion, with increasingly developing music that is complex and intricate, inhabiting outer and inner space, gradually unfolding like a time lapse flower, with pulsating rhythms around the guitar and drums that evoke a sudden storm. The duo plays with frenetic abandon, in a wildly excited and enthusiastic whirling dervish like maelstrom of sound, creating magic seemingly out of thin air. This album worked very well, and it's hard to believe that the musicians had only played together once before heading into the studio to record this album. Things went so smoothly that their spontaneous performances from the recorded session are presented here in their entirety, without any editing. Fans of avant garde jazz or experimental rock music should definitely make time to check this album out, the music is fresh, the performers are deeply engaged and the results are very impressive. Black Hole Universe - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

David S. Ware New Quartet - Theatre Garonne, 2008 (AUM Fidelity, 2019)

This entry in the David S. Ware Archive Series shows the great saxophonist at a crossroads. His legendary quartet had dissolved after a seventeen year run and he was also managing health difficulties, neither of which would keep him from making the music he loved. He convened a new group, keeping stalwart bassist William Parker and adding guitarist Joe Morris and percussionist Warren Smith. They recorded the music for the album Shakti on May 9, 2008, and then flew to France to present this concert of new material on May 24. “Crossing Samsara, Part 1” has a saxophone led theme with the guitar following Ware building into a collective improvisation with Smith and Morris adding a fresh approach and exciting new dimension to the Ware quartet. The music is potent and flexible, and the saxophonist mixes long bellows and quick filigrees of notes. Ware drops out, leaving space for the guitarist’s well articulated and prickly approach to combine with bass and drums playing fast but not very loud. The intricate mix of guitar, bass and drums allows complex rhythms to build back to the theme and conclusion. Ware develops an urgent new theme on “Crossing Samsara, Part 2” taking a long and unaccompanied solo that is very impressive, before the rest of the band returns to say their piece, playing faster and more complex, creating an intricate web of sound that constructs its own unique infrastructure. “Durga” is a slower paced performance that probes forward, gradually increasing in pace with subtle guitar, bass and shimmering cymbals. Ware uses a more raw and course tone on his instrument to excellent effect, weaving through Smith’s powerhouse drumming, digging in and wailing and leading a confident improvisation that pulls the band in on his coattails. Parker uses his bow wonderfully on this particular performance, adding an excellent sense of texture to the music as well. The drums and bass carry on their intuitive interaction on “Namah” with their communication building suspense in a subtle and deep manner. Saxophone and guitar enter, growing progressively more strident, Ware unleashing provocative and long piercingly held tones through circular breathing that are wonderful to hear. The performance wraps up with “Samsara (Reprise)” where Ware introduces the band and leads theme through a brief but enthusiastic instrumental finale. This was another wonderful entry in the Ware Archive Series, a timely reminder of what a titan the saxophonist was, and how he was always reaching for new sounds, new experiences and new ideas. Theatre Garonne 2008 - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Nick Dunston - Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Heads Records, 2019)

Nick Dunston is a bassist and composer of some renowned, having received grants that have allowed him to compose the unique and genre-combining music found on this album. He is able to interweave intricate melodies with spots of freedom, full band interludes with exposed solo locations for each member of the band, and in doing so, craft a thoughtful and successful album that pulls disparate pieces into a cohesive whole. Aiding him in this endeavor are: Louna Dekker-Vargas on flute, alto flute and piccolo, Ledah Finck on violin and viola, Tal Yahalom on guitar and Stephen Boegehold on drums. The album is an intriguing mix of jazz improvisation, new music / contemporary classical and even some rock like passages. It opens with a spare section for violin or viola and percussion really building a mysterious and melancholy composition that takes this motif and uses it to explore different areas of slow, gradual progression. Other sections of the album see bowed bass or viola and flute in scouring sections of collective improvisation with free sounding percussion creating a whirling and kaleidoscopic soundscape, and other parts where gritty electric guitar can elbow in to the performance, carving sharp peaks and valleys into the flow of the music while also flaring out  long lines of neon hued sound. The sound of electric guitar and flute is unusual and creates a very appealing texture, reminiscent of certain iterations of King Crimson, weaving into a section for solo unaccompanied electric guitar, morphing into a complex improvisational section where the individual instruments and their notes and sounds reflect and refract like inside a funhouse full of mirrors, and culminating in a solo colorful and vibrant violin feature. Dunston sings on a track, developing a very effective vocal tone, low and laconic, keeping his tone and lyrics succinct amid the low violin and spare percussion. The final track is a full band blowout, very exciting and having effective and varied musical color and tone, with the musicians coming together to achieve a churning, writhing mass of improvisational excitement. Atlantic Extraction - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Entr'acte - Soigne Ta Droite (Audiographic Records, 2019)

This bracing album is the first from a new large ensemble led by multi reed instrumentalist Ken Vandermark. It features some of the best improvising talent from America and Europe, including Nate Wooley on trumpet, Mette Rasmussen on alto saxophone, Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass and guitar, Terrie Hessels on guitar, Joe Williamson on acoustic and electric bass, Elisabeth Harnik on piano, Steve Heather and Didi Kern on drums and Dieb13 (Dieter Kovačič) on turntables and electronics. The music that this group creates over three long performances is a rich and exciting mixture of electric and acoustic music, blustery gales of reeds and brass, imposing squalls of guitars and electronics and abstract, spacey interludes for piano and reeds. "Perpetual Desk (For Ikue Mori)" dedicated to the no-wave drummer turned laptop pioneer comes barreling out of the gate, allowing the group to make a statement right away, mixing piano with raw sound and allowing the music to unfold gradually. Guitars intertwine to build a different texture and the music shifts, with the horns building in on top. Bright and immediate saxophone solos amid feathered percussion and bowed bass sounding wonderful, building to squalls of vividly colorful sound. The horns riff before letting loose another saxophone with exemplary rhythmic accompaniment, constructing raw and rending sounds. There is a spacey interlude, as synth sounds slink around in the dark, cut off by massive chunks of full band sound. Spare sounds open "Foundry (For Richard Serra)" growing into an imposing web of guitars and electronics, then drums crash in taking things way out in a thrilling and uncompromising manner. Horns fold in, filling out the sound to a massive gale, relaxing to allow piano to improvise with guitar and percussion. Invigorating and blustery horns fall in toward the middle of this lengthy presentation, playing together in a fine formation, before disgorging a saxophone for a powerful solo flight over vivid computer electronics and powerful drumming, creating an all out improvisation that is enjoyable to hear. Horns trade ideas with Harnik's piano in a witty section leading to her remarkable solo section, then the spaciousness comes back with bowed bass and long tones in eerie near silence, then adding instruments slowly as they close the performance. "Telegram (For Francis Picabia)" has ripe and passionate horns with thick bass and drums, and electronics adding further texture. The music is brash and swaggering, moving confidently forward, with a saxophone branching out for a piercing solo cutting through the accompaniment and sounding excellent with a penetrating tone and outstanding presence. The drummers take center stage with a laudable feature, stretching and pulling the rhythm to the breaking point, resolving to a full collective improvisation, praiseworthy and a lot of fun to hear. This album worked very well, it was exciting and deserving of respect and support. The compositions were well designed, allowing the band along with smaller sub-units and soloists excellent opportunities to shine and they made the most of it, deserving approval and admiration. Soigne Ta Droite - Audiographic Bandcamp

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Miles Okazaki - The Sky Below (Pi Recordings, 2019)

This is guitarist Miles Okazaki's fifth album of original compositions, coming after his ambitious 2018 project where he recorded the Thelonious Monk songbook for solo guitar. He is accompanied by Matt Mitchell on piano, Fender Rhodes and Prophet-6, Anthony Tidd on electric bass and Sean Rickman on drums. "Rise and Shine" houses nimble guitar, subtle bass and piano, and as the drums enter the band kicks into gear with the full group developing a complex interaction. Mitchell moves to electric keyboard to interact with the bass and drums at a fast pace, and the guitar returns for a tight and well controlled feature, with Mitchell deftly moving back to acoustic piano and anchoring the closing section. Funky electric bass opens "Dog Star" with keyboards and slinky guitar creating an interesting groove, and the music drives forward with Okazaki's guitar leading the charge with the drums providing powerful accents. The band is really locked in and playing very well together, supporting the leader who is pushing headlong through the performance in a very impressive manner. "Seven Sisters" has acoustic guitar sounding bright and clear amid muted but active percussion, with Okazaki then moving to electric guitar in conjunction with electric piano, creating abstract sounds that seem to hang in the air. The music builds from the nebulous nature to something more solid with stronger electric guitar lines meeting crisp bass and drums. "Monstropolous" uses heavy drums, electric bass, manic electronic keyboards and guitar going all out in a collective fusion improvisation, which is very exciting and free sounding. The music is wild and rambunctious, and Mitchell and Okazaki t stretch out, reveling in the interplay and the freedom that the enhanced instruments allow. "The Castaway" mellows the mood a bit, medium tempo blending ideas from each of the instruments, with the guitar developing a more piercing, laserlike tone. This gives the performance focus and the guitarist crafts a fine feature, leading into a section of acoustic piano, bass and drums. There is a bouncier feeling to "The Lighthouse," with the band playing together closely on the theme in a very intricate pattern, Okazaki breaking out for a well articulated guitar solo and building it slowly and patiently creating an architectural marvel. Mitchell plays a lush and rippling piano feature over bubbling bass and drums, and the band returns together closing a wonderful modern jazz performance. "To Dream Again" is the closing piece that uses guitar and drums creating an atmospheric sound that gradually develops in unexpected ways. Sounds bend and twist with the guitar eventually becoming more prominent, with a pinched stinging tone cutting through the keyboards and muscular drumming. This was a very good album of modern jazz played by a band of thoughtful, open minded musicians. The music is complex but compelling and the performances that the band develop are consistently interesting and worthy of merit. The Sky Below - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Wes Montgomery - Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance, 2019)

This new collection of recordings by the famous jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery is a series of previously unissued sessions recorded both live and in studio from his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. These recordings were made during the in the middle to late fifties by local piano player and arranger Carroll DeCamp. The first section of the collection features Montgomery with a pleasant piano, bass and drums trio, the perfect setting with which to display his talents. They play fine versions of some of his best known original compositions, "Four on Six" and "West Coast Blues." These are short and concise versions, with short statements of the theme and brief solos. Also recorded during this session were two Miles Davis songs, "So What" and "Tune Up," and a lengthy and moody performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" with some spacious patient playing using skeletal guitar lines. The next session covered places Montgomery among a Hammond B3 organ sextet with saxophone and trombone. The sound is a little cramped but the arrangements work pretty well, with a lengthy jam on the Montgomery original "Jingles" that stretches out well with horn riffs and brief solos and a fine feature for the guitarist. Also included are nicely soulful tracks "Ecaroh" by Horace Silver and "Whisper Not" by Benny Golson. The band develops a nice groove that percolates well with the guitar weaving between the horns and drums. The final session is from what they call a "Nat King Cole Style," a drummerless setting with Montgomery playing with just bass and piano. This chamber jazz group works well, with intricate interplay but still able to swing like mad, and these recordings make up the bulk of the overall compilation. This session consists of jazz and popular music standards, allowing for long developing performances of "It's You or No One," "Summertime" and "The Song Is You." This is a fine format for Montgomery, and it's a shame that he didn't get a chance to explore it more during the course of his truncated career. The extra space allows him to solo at length, clearly demonstrating the unique approach that he was developing to the instrument that would go on to influence generations of musicians. Resonance goes all out as usual in the packaging, with lengthy essays from scholar Lewis Porter and guitarists George Benson and John Scofield, along with excellent photographs and discographical information. It's a fine collection and fills in a gap in the recorded development of Montgomery's discography, presenting enjoyable music in the process. Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings - amazon.com

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Thursday, November 07, 2019

Jamie Branch - FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise (International Anthem, 2019)

Trumpeter Jamie Branch announced her arrival on the modern jazz scene last year with an excellent debut album. She extends on that foundation here adding spoken word and vocals to her quiver and the participation of an excellent band, including Lester St. Louis on cello and percussion, Jason Ajemian on bass, percussion and vocals and Chad Taylor on drums, mbira and xylophone. On the track "prayer for amerikkka pt. 1 and 2" they are joined by special guests Ben LaMar Gay and Marvin Tate on vocals and Matt Schneider on 12-string guitar. The track itself is a very impressive piece of musical social commentary, with Branch alluding to the faltering nature of contemporary race relations in America by bursting out with the words "they've got a bunch of wide eyed racists!" The rest of the group fills in with call and response vocals and further asides, while Branch and the band build the music to a loose yet powerful format that is reminiscent of some early work from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. "twenty three n me, jupiter redux" uses subtle electronics and bowed cello to set the tone, before the rest of the band bursts in with colorful trumpet, drums and keyboards. They work up an exciting fanfare, then open the floor for some collective free playing for trumpet, cello and drums that is thrilling to hear. Deep cello is also used on "bird dogs of paradise" harmonizing with Branch's horn for a stoic sound, that resonates deeply. The assertive drums move in and add motion as the piece really begins to take off. Vocalizations from the band up the ante and everything falls into place with punchy trumpet leading the band into "nuevo roquero estereo" where the core trio develop a wonderful rhythmic sensation between them. Branch's playing sounds great, bold and brassy, carving up the space between the locomoting cello and drums, as Dan Britney and Scott McNiece adding extra percussion and synth to this epic and explosive track. The concluding "love song" is an absolute riot, with Branch clearing the the decks with a scouring burst of brass while dedicating the song to "assholes and clowns" and adding some invigorating trumpet soloing over roiling drumming and tight cello playing, it ends the album on the perfect bite of anti-sentimentality. This was an excellent album, Jamie Branch consolidated the successes she made with the last record and continued to make progress by asserting herself and creating a compelling and powerful statement. FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Stefan Aeby - Piano Solo (Intakt Records, 2019)

The first solo piano album by Swiss pianist and composer Stefan Aeby isn't quite what you might expect from a young musician. It's an audacious melding of the acoustic piano (played inside and out) and inventive use of electronics that can move the music in exciting new directions. Erroll Garner's "Misty" is soft and spacious, with notes hanging in space and the melody gently hinted at, gradually developing into a patient and thoughtful improvisation. The music develops some more propulsion from the lower end, filling out the performance as the sound grows wider before fading back into the finale. Prepared piano and electronics come into play on "Dancing on a Cloud," where the sound of the instrument becomes radically changed, almost harp like at times. Electronics offer opportunities for delay and modification of the pitches and lags of the notes, creating an alien and fascinating soundscape, where acoustic piano can improvise over prepared or evolving electronics. "Flingga" has a bouncy piano opening, feeling lush and decorative, with percussive chords meeting lighter runs of notes, then diving deeper into a harder and faster segment before letting up on the gas for a pleasant parlor-like finale. The electronics and altered instrument return for "Singing Witches," a deeply atmospheric track, with the sounds oscillating and varying in pitches and frequencies and creating a disorienting effect. The overall sound is haunting and alarming, like something you might hear upping the anxiety level in the soundtrack to a suspenseful film or video game. "Subway Run" delves into the guts of of the instrument and then uses the computer to alter the sound even further to create large slabs of sound, that come zooming in from different angles. Lending the music to a late night dystopian vibe, trapped underground in the tunnels and frantically moving with this suspenseful music as company. Darting jabs of laser toned sound compete with the larger blocks of deep bass rumbling behemoths. Chattering electronics and plucked strings are used on "Mr. Pong" creating a unique and unusual electro-acoustic effect. Burbles of electronic sound, repeat and refract, as the sharp plucked notes come into play followed by the use of the altered keyboard like a mad scientist at work trying everything and getting a fascinating result. "Running Deeper" is a short track of frightening dark repetitive electronics with the occasional hammered piano note adding to the anxiety of the performance. The liner notes state that Aeby’s first this album is the product of three and half years of hard work. You can hear why when you imagine what would have been necessary, composing for the piano and the computer and combining the two organically in the studio. Piano Solo - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 03, 2019

Bob Dylan - Travelin' Thru, 1967 - 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 (Sony Legacy, 2019)

Combining unreleased tracks, outtakes and false starts, this edition of Bob Dylan's seemingly bottomless Bootleg Series covers a brief period, 1967-1969, where he returned to action from some much deserved time off. This collection is a svelte three discs, much more easily digestible than the previous entries that have run near or over double digits. There is still plenty to pick over as well for veteran Dylanologists or casual fans alike, beginning with some fascinating outtakes from the John Wesley Harding album, where he plays with the word choice and arrangements of that subtle and beautifully enigmatic album. "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" is particularly poignant today as the ghostly guitar and bass frame Dylan's voice, very strongly declaring lyrics that mix spite and compassion. The spiritual nature of that album's material also shines through on strong alternates of "I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine" and "Drifter's Escape." The alternates and outtakes of Nashville Skyline that follow show Dylan taking a radical departure in his approach to singing, opting for a much smoother tone for the eventual hit "Lay Lady Lay" as well as tracks like the haunted "I Threw It All Away." The focus of much of the remainder of the collection is the session that Dylan did with Johnny Cash during February of 1969, where Cash sounds excited and eager during the sessions suggesting song after song while the pensive and perhaps nervous Dylan tries to keep up. At times the music get pretty fragmented since the two don't exactly share the same repertoire, causing Cash to call out for lyrics to be written out for songs, or for songs to just stumble to a halt. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right / Understand Your Man" is an early highlight, two men singing different lyrics to the same music, leading Cash to exclaim "we both stole it from the same song!" They play a mix of material, some ballads like "Careless Love" and a couple of versions of "I Still Miss Someone" along with rockabilly that tries to take off on "Matchbox," "Big River" and Cash's own classic "I Walk The Line" and Cash has a power hitter in fellow Sun Records veteran Carl Perkins on lead guitar. Later on, the scene shifts to the Johnny Cash Show, and while the audio from the old television program is not so hot, it is good enough to hear Dylan play strong versions of "I Threw It All Away" and "Living the Blues" and perform a solid duet version of "Girl from the North Country" with the host. This is followed by a couple of very interesting studio tracks, where Dylan takes an electric bass heavy rock band through Cash's "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues" taking them far away from their austere beginnings. The collection is rounded out by Dylan sitting in with bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, slotting in well on "East Virginia Blues" and then listening as Scruggs rips his banjo across "Nashville Skyline Rag." All in all it is an interesting set, shedding light into some darkened corners, particularly the Dylan-Cash meeting, which had long been a desired collectible. Travelin' Thru, 1967 - 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 02, 2019

Gerald Cleaver & Violet Hour - Live at Firehouse 12 (Sunnyside, 2019)

Drummer Gerald Cleaver's band Violet Hour was first assembled a decade ago and features some of the finest musicians he had encountered, many having links to his hometown of Detroit. This talented group includes J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Andrew Bishop on bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophone, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Ben Waltzer on piano and Chris Lightcap on bass.  "Pilgrim's Progress" shows the full band playing a quick and exciting theme, with a fast rhythm section, spitfire trumpet and forceful drumming talking short solos in between features for the other instruments, especially trumpet and piano. Pelt's trumpet feature is excellent, flying high with rolling drum support, then Bishop's saxophone takes over equally fast paced, over the boiling piano, bass and drums, with the full band returns for the landing. Subtle rhythm section at low boil with horns building begins "Silly One," with trumpet at medium tempo moving deftly over piano, bass and drums. Soprano saxophone takes over, sounding, gaining a light and charming sound moving through the music and developing a complex solo in a featured section. Piano challenges him with rippled textures leading to interesting exchanges, then Allen takes over on tenor saxophone and gradually builds a complex interchange with the trumpeter and pianist, leading the group into a more exciting collective interplay. "Tale of Bricks" has a subtle opening for the piano, bass and drums unit with the music sounding deep and forming a wide pocket. Horns come in with a wide range from bass clarinet to trumpet, creating a taut theme and running with it. Pelt creates a golden toned trumpet solo over taut bass and drums, building to a scorching peak, leading to a bass clarinet solo that works very well playing off the light bass and drums and developing compelling patterns and waves of sound. Allen slides in on tenor saxophone which weaves through heavier more aggressive drumming, providing a sleek and powerful feature. Cleaver leads with a heavy, powerful drum solo on the closer "Detroit," deep and rhythmic, joined with bass and drums for an unbreakable unit, and horns pile on stating a strong theme, and working together well, creating a true band sound. Saxophone is played at a medium up tempo, taking strength from the elastic bass and tight cymbal play, creating a fine improvised statement. Trumpet weaves long lines of well articulated sound in a lengthy feature, and the rhythm section takes over with some fine piano playing, before the horns move back in. There is a swirling and lovely interaction between all of the instruments in a collective showcase, leading to a epic section of tenor saxophone and drums. A lot of people identify Cleaver as a free jazz musician, but he is much more rounded as his efforts as a bandleader and composer on this performance demonstrate. This album retains the energy of a free performance but is tightly focused into a theme and solos showcase that works very well. Violet Hour - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Gebhard Ullmann - mikroPULS (Intuition Music, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann's latest album was conceived as way to connect to the blues, the roots from which jazz grew, and to which all four members of the band feel connected. Those members are: Hans Lüdemann on piano and virtual piano, Oliver Potratz on bass and Eric Schaefer on drums. The album opens with "Flutist with Hat and Shoe," a midtempo track, featuring saxophone, leading patient quartet jazz, and incorporating a short graceful piano solo, then sterner full band improvisation. Collective improvisation then becomes more open and free, opening to a bass and drums interlude which develops interesting rhythmic ideas. Unaccompanied bass playing opens "Enge Bewegung," allowing spacious piano and percussion build in, before the saxophone enters late, sounding haunted and bruised. The music becomes dramatic, with flourishes of piano and saxophone, lush piano solo heavy chords and strong drum backing. Finally there is a full band ending sounding off kilter and stressed. "F.J.D." has Ullman employing an lonely and hurt sounding saxophone tone, until the band enters and picks up the pace, with rich supple bass playing and a crisp drumbeat provides a firm foundation. The saxophone sound echoes, and musicians are trading ideas freely and without judgement, interweave spontaneous thoughts, building a fresh creating a powerful collective improvisation that really strides forward with purpose. Quavering saxophone and piano create a soft and delicate duo on "Human Body Upgrade" before the bass and drums enter and stoke the fire of the performance. There is a choppy dynamic between sections where the drums pushing things inexorably forward and areas of space and drift, but the Schaefer really takes center stage, playing very well, and creating propulsion and drive that also encourages the saxophonist to take flight. "Tanz der Mikroben" hits the ground running immediately with urgent tenor saxophone and passionate drumming, pushing rhythmic boundaries, aided by strong piano comping and elastic bass holding everything together. Ullman's saxophone is blazing punctuated by overblowing and then winding down, leaving an opening for piano and percussion to develop a strong sense of swing, with the bassist getting in on the act as well. The finale "Zeit Lupe" is a beautiful ballad with lush saxophone, gentle piano, soft brushes and delicate bass developing a deep timeless groove. The band is weaving their instruments lightly together, and their sounds effortlessly coalescing into one gently flowing groove. Ullman and the group are using a microtonal approach to develop different sounds and approaches to their improvisations, as an experiment and intellectual challenge. This helps them to keep their music fresh and ensures that they are engaged in their music, which works well and is compelling to hear. Mikropuls - amazon.com

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Made to Break - F4 Fake (Trost Records, 2019)

Made to Break is a very exciting modern jazz band that mixes electric and acoustic instruments in new and compelling ways. The current version of the group features Ken Vandermark on saxophone and clarinet, Christof Kurzmann on electronics, Jasper Stadhouders on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. Whether they are working funk and groove rhythms into their music or delving into electronic tinged free jazz, this album remains a compelling and exciting edition to the bands catalog. "Aaton (For Orson Welles) begins fast and funky with electric bass and saxophone with drums. Sparks of electronics add elements of randomness to the music, as their collective improvisation gets more outre as the music evolves, and the electronics is the wildcard throwing glitches into the mix. After a few beats of silence, there is a quieter repetitive sound in open space, with Vandermark's clarinet moving cautiously, building a quiet complex free improvisation with electronics, bass guitar and percussion building and intense conversation. There is space for a rolling drums solo, met by ominous electric bass, lurking like a predator and bringing the full band back together, with Vandermark returning to tenor saxophone. The music here is raw and exciting, with deeply felt saxophone backed by dense slabs of bass guitar and deeply rhythmic percussion, before open electronic tones and quieter acoustic sounds lead to a spare and softer conclusion. An interesting bassline is woven through "Meccano Number 7 (for Julio Cortazar)" with light percussion and thematic saxophone working together very well at a medium up tempo. The playing gets fast and tight, and the band is locked in with electronics coming in along side the bass to add color and hue, splashing light and sound around the music and sending the other band members off in an entirely new direction. The music becomes more free and stoic, bass and saxophone driving forward relentlessly, with smears of electronic sounds and noise burrowing their way in to the music, changing the genetic code of the performance. With a few seconds of quiet, the the approach shifts to probing clarinet and percussion, with longer tones of electronic sounds rising and lowering in pitch as the bass moves in, developing a piercing and hypnotic sound. "Agora (For Zelia Barbosa)" is anchored by heavy distorted bass guitar with tenor saxophone leading to full out free jazz improvisation that is fierce sounding with electronics and acoustic instruments melded together. The music is visceral and potent, but dynamic in its uses of silences and open spaces. With an advanced technique bass solo slashing and scorching the air around it, the band builds back in and develops a more atmospheric sound. Clarinet and skittish electronics use the instruments as building blocks of sound in a constructive process. Stadhouders really shines on this track, anchoring, soloing, doing it all. Vandermark comes back on tenor saxophone, digging in deep and pushing the sound, as trumpet like electronics emerge adding to the overall quality of the musical sound. Electronics with bass and drums full band tenor electronics glitches, creating a soundscape that is unique to this group. F4 Fake - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Efflorescence Vol. 1 (Leo Records, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp have collaborated in many configurations during their careers, but on this four disc set, they really seem to have reached a new plateau in their performances. While Perelman states that they never have a concept beforehand, other than just going for it, and trying to be mindful and one hundred percent in the moment, the music captured here has a very lyrical and natural flow to it, where nothing is forced and they seem particularly well attuned to one another, allowing the music to evolve with an organic grace and symmetry. Each musician brings a unique approach to the recording, whether it is Shipp's powerful use of the lower end of the keyboard or Perelman's stoic flights into the upper register of his horn, but these are just parts of the tapestry that is woven over the course of the music. The duo makes use of a wide range of approaches, continuously varying the feel, appearance, or consistency of the surface or substrate of their improvisations. Creativity, in the way in which the textures, techniques and emotional resonances play out over the course of the four discs keeps the music from becoming stilted or stale and in fact this is one of the most listenable of the mutli-disc Perelman projects, with each of the relatively short pieces flowing logically and seamlessly into the next one, creating a synthesis that is easy for the listener to follow and be swept up in as they develop ideas and concepts that evolve in real time, allowing for conversation and a back and forth sharing of ideas and motifs. Originally, it was thought after the success of the Oneness album Perelman and Shipp released in 2018, there would be a break in action for the duo while they explored other projects. Fortunately, this was not the case, and the creative instinct struck hard and fast, leading these two musicians back into the studio for several days of recording, the remainder of which will be released shortly. They have a simpatico musical relationship where each complements the other in this duo setting, leading to one of their finest statements yet. Efflorescence, Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Matana Roberts - COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation, 2019)

With the repeated motifs of running like the wind, and memory being an unusual thing, composer and saxophonist Matana Roberts places the fourth entry in her ambitious Coin Coin series of albums in Memphis, city of contradictions. While the city had deep roots for African-American music, it had even deeper roots for slavery, racism and white nationalism which are explored on this timely album. She leads an excellent band, playing alto saxophone, clarinet and speaking and singing the dialog. “Trail of the Smiling Sphinx” is a fine example, with some wordless vocals and increasingly strenuous music becoming very powerful, with Roberts's saxophone taking charge over strong percussion and free sounding accompaniment. Dropping out to a spacier section of bass and guitar in a skittish duet, there are bursts of loud and chaotic free jazz from the full band bursting through in an exciting fashion, based around excellent violin playing. This leads them into a wonderful improvised section that gradually winds down, leading back to spoken vocals and narration about youth and spirituality. The narrative leads directly into “Pidding” a short burst of vibrant sound, with a torrent of percussion and violin joined by prickly guitar and saxophone, and the music is akin to something Alber Ayler developed at the Village Gate in the mid 1960's with an urgent and robust sound. “Shoes of Gold” adds vibes which shimmer in an almost hypnotic or disorienting manner amid shards of guitar and bass, taking the music in a new direction entirely. Saxophone and drums lean into “Wild Fire Bare” with the violin joining to give the music a fast and lean sound with a taut and true improvisation creating stoic and beautiful music, giving their music a spacious and free sound. Roberts saxophone is capable of harsh free playing as well as melodic turns of phrase, and she uses this talent wisely, playing wonderfully, reminding listeners of her talent as a saxophonist as well as a storyteller. Scatting, her loud voice urgent amid drumming, then a percussion and saxophone dialogue builds full band into “Fit to Be Tied,” a looser band segment, vague overtones lurching forward into cacophony then order is restored for saxophone and brass over an excellent drum rhythm, with voice. “All Things Beautiful” contrasts the beauty of the natural world with the narrated horror of a Klan attack and “In the Fold” the aftermath, the death and destruction. She ends the album on a defiant note, asking people to “live life out loud” and leads the band through a thoughtful and expressive section of the music that encapsulates the sound and the spirit of this poignant and brilliant album. COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Kneebody - Chapters (Edition Records, 2019)

Kneebody is a modern jazz band that also draws liberally from pop and world music. On this album, the core band consists of Ben Wendel on saxophones and effects, Shane Endsley on trumpet and effects, Adam Benjamin on keyboards and Nate Wood on drums and bass, and the group is joined on a number of tracks by guest musicians and vocalists. This fresh modern approach is shown on "The Trip," where guest Gerald Clayton makes his presence felt on piano and the group anchors a crisp, fast drumbeat with trumpet developing a fast and jaunty full band swing. The complex rhythm takes a step down for a spacier interlude, making way for a saxophone solo, and Wendel makes the most of it, developing a hard edged and steely tone and driving the full band forward over rippling piano. Keyboards build focus over ominous bass lines on "Hearts Won't Break" building a heavy electronic tinged groove with soulful vocals from Josh Dion who also adds synth bass and extra percussion. The music evolves into a horn driven motion, with hard riffing and a rhythm and blues tinged saxophone section backed by slashing drums. "Chapters" is given over to the core quartet with the horns playing along with urgent bass and drums, where the musicians deeply locked in together, so they can step back and push forward dynamically, led by keyboards and bass and a deeply punchy trumpet solo. The group is also able to develop an interesting texture on "Spectra" where the electronic keyboards lead the full band into a fast performance that also involves vocalizations, creating interesting and varied textures. The band is pushing hard with trumpet and electronics, allowing the waves of disparate sound to come together in one cohesive identity. The title Chapters refers to a reinvention and retrenchment of the Kneebody aesthetic marking a new beginning with a new line-up and a record label, but the commitment to the music remains the same. The addition of the guests and vocals provides a diversity of selections under the umbrella of their overall sound, showing the diversity and malleability that is inherent in their music. Chapters - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Crosscurrents Trio - Good Hope (Edition Records, 2019)

Crosscurrents Trio is an excellent group consisting of veteran musicians Dave Holland on bass, Zakir Hussain on tabla and Chris Potter on saxophones. Holland and Potter have been playing together for many hears now in different configurations, and the addition of Hussain is a wonderful idea, jolting the music in a different direction, and giving each member of the band the freedom to try new ideas and concepts. The trio plays with a loose and elastic sound, grounded in jazz, but infused with near eastern music that allows them to go in many unique and interesting directions. The compositions are split nearly evenly between the band members, and solo flights are de-emphasized, in turn placing the focus of the recording on rhythm and the grooves that the players lock into together, digging into deeply and creating fascinating collective improvisational flourishes. Each of these musicians is a leader in their own right, but ego is placed aside for deeply hewn explorations, and subtlety is the key to many of the performances with Holland's deep and rich sounding acoustic bass is able to stretch and pull around the swirling hypnotic tablas which develop fast complex ever changing rhythms. All of these ideas and concepts come together to create a cohesive musical language, one that is inspired by creative good will, drawing each member of the band into the other one's orbit, until you have a Venn diagram of sound and projection. There is no ego at play here, the album as a whole is executed with high spirits, respect and goodwill, exploring disparate sonic territory with heartfelt bonhomie, bringing together creative musicians from different backgrounds and traditions in an open minded and thoughtful environment. Good Hope - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reid Anderson / Dave King / Craig Taborn - Golden Valley Is Now (Intakt, 2019)

This is a veteran group of improvisers stepping away from their normal settings and letting loose into a wider palette of sounds, with Reid Anderson on electric bass and electronics, Dave King on acoustic and electronic drums and Craig Taborn on synthesizers, electric and acoustic piano. With the wide range of instrumental possibilities on hand the band is able to draw from particular shades of jazz and fusion along with progressive rock, electropop and synthpop from the late seventies and eighties that give their compositions and improvisations a interesting sound, creating a fusion of acoustic and electronic elements, and building themes and extrapolations that are uniquely characteristic to this band's sound. "Song One" has the dreamy slightly dour keyboards backed by a growing drumbeat and shards of synth, finally coalescing into a crushing heavy section with driving drums and highly pressurized bass about a third of the way in. The heaviness competes with with melancholy air that had pervaded on the earlier tracks, and provides a much needed kick and injection of bass and drum infused energy. The excitement is front and center on "High Waist Drifter" with some snazzy video game like keyboard sounds and locked in bass and drums powering the music forward. This song is short, catchy and memorable something that would have been played on the radio during a kinder time, with a spacey break toward the end, allowing the track ends with a graceful fade. "Polar Heroes" works as a nimble and tight trio improvisation with electronic drums providing an unusual brittle slapping and sound and off kilter beat while the electric bass is kneading its way through the song. Bass and drums also provide a rock solid beat for "You Might Live Here," with Taborn's synths and electric piano adding color and texture, he is a master of these instruments, using them to develop moods and synergies for the trio to groove on while not being heavy handed or overwhelming the overall feel of the music. The group develops a tight pocket, and uses the electronics to both enhance the groove but also provide themes and atmosphere. Overall, this album worked well, and it is something that will grow on listeners over time if they are not immediately put off by all of the electronics. Think maybe Lanquidity era Sun Ra meets Ultravox minus the vocals, it's really interesting stuff, probably music that could draw a wider audience if people knew if it was out there, and that's not a bad thing. Golden Valley Is Now - amazon.com

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Jon Irabagon - Invisible Horizon (Irabbagast Records, 2019)

Saxophonist and Jon Irabagon's newest release is a challenging and very successful two disc set that represents an adventure into composing for contemporary classical music as well as a disc devoted to him playing the a solo recording of the unusual mezzo-soprano saxophone. Never one to stand on his laurels, he dives right into the first disc, entitled Invisible Guests, inspired by the game of Mahjongg. There is a six movement performance called The Invisible Guests Suite for the Mivos String Quartet and pianist Matt Mitchell, and then Irabagon performs on sopranino saxophone during bracketing opening and closing unrelated "Vignettes." The music is very impressive and moving, it is sweeping in scope with dramatic waves of strings moving through the suite giving the music a true narrative arc that is only improved when Irabagon or Mitchell add their distinctive musical personalities to the overall sound of the music. They never overwhelm the strings, but give the proceedings a little kick or nudge that make things even more interesting. Overall the music on this disc is quite beautiful but also provocative, with a lot of information being provided by the musicians and the distinctive arrangements. Irabagon's album of solo saxophone called Dark Horizon: Live from the Mausoleum is equally compelling, as he is able to pull so many distinctive sounds out of the instrument whether through long menacing growls, lengthy bellows or urgent peals of sound that reverberate with echo, and it is fascinating to hear him take the instrument and truly make it his own. The echo that is used in the recording is another key element in giving the saxophone its distinctive sound, allowing him to solo against or with the ghostly echo of what had just come before, and create a new and convincing approach to the instrument. The album was recorded in a Norwegian mausoleum which gives a natural reverberation and lengthy decay to the sound of the saxophone. He has recorded in a solo context before, but this is the most unique and personal setting to date. Overall this album was very impressive, demonstrating the boundless imagination and enthusiasm of Jon Irabagon, and his desire to ceaselessly push the boundaries of progressive jazz ever forward. jonirabagon.com

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Matthew Shipp - Invisible Light: Live Sao Paulo ((ezz-thetics, 2019)

Pianist Matthew Shipp was recorded in a solo setting live at the 2016 Jazz at the Factory Festival in Sao Paulo, and he sounds very inspired, playing with a great deal of fire and agility. The music is a mix of original compositions and a few standards that have been completely re-arranged for this performance. The opening track “Symbol Systems” has a fascinating loud and soft dynamic tension, with fast and fluid stark sounding chords being hit hard, giving the music a relentless push to the edge. The concert is played without breaks and the music comes like a breathless rush with “Angel Eyes” adding lighter passages to the overall narrative flow, and using more space in between the fast run of notes. “Whole Movement” features heavy low-end percussive chords rumbling and sustaining their sound balanced by light and almost delicate high-end flourishes. This is the contrast at the core of the music that provides the fuel as does the almost orchestral use of the entire length of the piano. The standard “On Green Dolphin Street” is anchored by more thunderous low-end depth charges and lighter touches that create a dynamic juxtaposition that can be jarring. “There Will Never Be Another You” has bounding sounds from everything in reach as fast, racing lines of piano send notes forth in rolling waves, with the touch and feel of the instrument seeming just right, and completely dialed in. The epic performance “Blue in Orion” is almost twice as long as any other track from this concert and makes use of the extra space and time by playing long graceful medium tempo tones that have a beautiful crystalline sound and structure. The music is patient and reserved, gradually unfolding to build in more development like darker and moodier chords which brilliantly mix the power of Shipp’s left hand with the dexterity of his right. The remainder of the album consists of short capsule performances beginning with “Yesterdays” where he is powering though the beginning and then letting up into a series of bounding and descending chords. “Gamma Ray” feints with a light and almost bouncy opening before the percussive resonating takes over only to lead us to the concluding track, “Summertime,” which kneads and pulls at the familiar song, offering a hint of the melody before stripping it for parts. This was an excellent concert, with Shipp offering his unique take on a few standards and his own original compositions, and his fresh and bold technique on the piano, while the music was very well recorded and rewards careful listening. Invisible Light: Live in Sao Paulo - Squidco

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Tomeka Reid Quartet - Old New (Cuneiform Records, 2019)

The Tomeka Reid Quartet consists of the leader on cello, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jason Roebke on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums. The group is an electro-acoustic hybrid with electric guitar alongside acoustic bass and cello, which creates a lot of very interesting textures and soundscapes beginning with “Old New” which has a fast and edgy energy with rapid drums, swaying cello and supersonic guitar. The music has a very upbeat and exciting pace, with thick and insistent bass and drums, which drives the music forward. Bowing cello creating swirling patterns along with nice drum work sets the pace on “Wabash Blues” as the band develops a nice medium tempo groove. There is a guitar solo that has Mary Halvorson's unique nimble and spidery approach, followed by a solid drum solo. “Niki's Bop” has bouncy rhythm supplied by the bass and drums, and swinging cello and guitar soaring over that cool beat. They separate, and fly about, creating a kaleidoscopic improvisation of color and hue. Chattering bass and cello play in an abstract and esoteric manner on “Aug. 6” eventually coalescing into a complex rhythm with guitar playing through and pushing the band to stretch out on a compelling collective improvisation. Nimble plucked cello opens “Sadie” with deep bass and light percussion, making way for a beautiful neon toned guitar solo snaking through the bass and drums with great agility. There is a bass feature that is played with a very appealing tone, and then a wonderful plucked cello conclusion. “Peripatetic” has cello with bass and drums and shards of guitar creating swathes of sound, very free sounding with thick bass and drums, snapping back to the theme and then whipping back into a wild full group improvisation in fascinating fashion. The final track, “RN,” has fast and mobile strings building a melody with a repetitive cello theme and some well played reflecting, reverberating guitar. This was a very good album; the music may have drawn its influences from places as far afield as early jazz, string band music and progressive rock, but Tomeka Reid sets her own identity on this album, and her band is with her every step of the way. Old New - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Chris Lightcap - Superbigmouth (Pyroclastic Records, 2019)

Bassist Chris Lightcap is one of the most interesting and thoughtful musicians on the current scene, with his last record with his band Bigmouth being my album of the year for 2015. Now he's back with a larger group, Superbigmouth, loaded with talent, including Craig Taborn on keyboards, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone, Jonathan Goldberger and Curtis Hasselbring on guitar and Gerald Cleaver and Dan Rieser on drums. “Through Birds, Through Fire” opens the albums with brisk momentum as the guitars keep and upbeat and positive motion along side nimble bass and drums. The sound of the music is fresh and invigorating, and the work between the instruments is intricate, developing a thick woven texture. Rippling keyboards shimmy across the surface of the music followed by the horns and the full band moves into a collective improvisation, with groove undercurrents. “Queenside” has a heavier and more urgent approach, with the guitars and horns really leaning in and the groove from the bass and drums sounding more insistent. The group creates a very vibrant and powerful sound, allowing Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone to break out and build a raw toned solo over thick electric bass and a heavy drum pulse, before handing off to guitarist Jonathan Goldberger who provides an explosive interlude blasting off into a scalding solo section, before returning to the fold as the the group pushes hard to the finish line. “Deep River” unfolds gradually over keyboards and persistent bass and drums. The guitars and horns play well together developing a theme and establishing an identity for the performance. Chris Cheek's saxophone breaks out of the pack back, supported by nicely feathered percussion, and develops a patient and narrative driven solo, gradually guiding and focusing the pace of the music like a master craftsman. The drummers are top notch, adding cymbal accents to an interesting keyboard interlude, powering the group as it comes back together, with everything running smoothly, keeping the tempo at a steady boil, and adding a drum solo/duo at about the three quarter mark of the performance, juggling multiple rhythms. “Quinine” has a slightly slower tempo, with a dreamy soundscape that gradually focuses with the horns working into and inviting theme, and then guitarist Curtis Hasselbring, steps out, testing the waters and then adding passionate flurries of notes over crisp drumming. The band plays together in a collective fashion in a very impressive way, allowing a variety of colors and rhythms to come to the forefront and then be subsumed as the music continuously replenishes itself with new ideas. This was a very well done album, the musicianship is out of sight, but there is no ego involved, everybody is playing in the service to the music and that is its greatest asset. The compositions are well written and continuously interesting, allowing for great opportunities for soloing but also for full band playing, as they make the most of the opportunities given to them. SuperBigmouth - amazon.com

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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell - Common Practice (ECM, 2019)

The Village Vanguard is one of the most hallowed venues in the history of jazz, so it is is the perfect place to convene a band that wishes to explore the history of genre in a small group context. Led by Ethan Iverson on piano, and featuring Tom Harrell on trumpet, Ben Street on bass, Eric McPherson on drums, this group developed a wide ranging program of standards, blues and a few Iverson originals. In the liner notes to the album, he states that part of the impetus of the session was to “support and challenge Tom Harrell in standard repertoire,” giving him space to express himself by improvising on familiar jazz compositions at a variety of tempos. (EPK) This setting bears fruit immediately with a beautiful ballad version of "The Man I Love" where you hear the decades of experience that Harrell has playing jazz, building a thoughtful and intricate solo alongside hushed and thoughtful accompaniment. The Iverson original "Philadelphia Creamer" is an exciting performance, taken at a medium tempo, with a great powerful and riveting trumpet solo that is rewarded with much deserved applause. McPherson provides classy drumming alongside Iverson's cool piano chords, and the whole thing just swings deeply. There is an even faster pace to the the Denzil Best bebop standard "Wee" with the band flying through the theme in a quick and punchy fashion, anchored by excellent bass and fast paced cymbal playing which keeps the rhythm boiling. There is an intricate percussion feature, and great trumpet led intros and outros, leading to a wonderful overall performance. The standard "I Can't Get Started" has the leader playing some thick, dark velvety piano creating a moody atmosphere. Harrell lightens the mood as he adds a more golden toned trumpet solo backed by soft and tasteful brushes. There is also room for a trio section of spacious piano with elastic bass and brushed percussion. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” has an emotionally resonant piano intro, perfect fodder for Harrell to pick up upon and build into a graceful woven solo feature. Iverson picks his notes with care, every one shines like crystal, and the trumpeter floats above it all with a light, pleasing approach. After starting at a bouncy medium tempo, the band turns over its motor for “All the Things You Are,” moving into a breezy fast paced full band improvisation that is a delight to hear, Iverson is sparse, letting the trumpeter play over the cooking bass and drums and Harrell sounds excellent in this format. He stands aside, letting the piano, bass and drums unit get a rippling feature that glides the performance in for a safe landing. This was an excellent  mainstream jazz album, Iverson's choice of songs and arrangements builds a compelling narrative arc through the set. The band as a whole was spot on, but Harrell stepped up as a featured soloist delivering some genuinely beautiful trumpet playing, which was warm and thoughtful and full of spirit. Common Practice - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 05, 2019

Kris Davis - Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic Records, 2019)

Inspired by the natural world and it's dynamic nature, pianist and composer Kris Davis convened an all-star cast for her latest album. Drawing not only on jazz, but spoken word, hip-hop and experimental music, she has created a fresh and challenging album, developing relationships with fellow musicians, who build off of the music she created during her week long residency at The Stone in 2018. Inviting this large group of multifaceted musicians allow the proceedings to go in unexpected directions as the sparks fly in this excellent album. The opening track "Diatom Ribbons" uses the recorded voice of Cecil Taylor, backed by the dark and percussive piano of Davis. Taylor talks about the value of music and how it can save you, and the spiritual aspects of the sound. Horns by JD Allen and Tony Malaby frame the middle section, and then split off for some fine tenor saxophone solo statements. "Rhizomes" has the guitar of Nels Cline on deck, with some rhyming and scratching in the background along with excellent bass playing. Cline breaks out over a crushing Terri Lyne Carrington drumbeat and lays down some snarling tones, developing a deep and gnarly solo. Ches Smith is at the heart of "Stone's Throw" which is taken at a medium tempo with percussion, bass and piano along with Smith's subtle vibraphone. It is a subtle and restrained performance that works very well; Smith sounds great on that instrument and the rest of the group works very well with him. Esperanza Spalding adds spoken word to "Certain Cells" as a fast drum and bass rhythm grows, piano cords chime in as the music develops adding a mysterious air to the performance, and Nels Cline's quavering guitar moves uneasily just below the surface. "Golgi Complex (The Sequel)" has Marc Ribot upsetting the apple cart, throwing lightning bolts of electric guitar from the start in a thrilling fashion, along with a taut rhythm section, he is just scorching the earth. The music calms, held together with electric bass and excellent piano playing, and solid drums making for a fine three way improvisation. Ribot bursts back in like an unwelcome house guest, and is in rare form playing wild and unfettered guitar over the rest of the band. With both Cline and Ribot on hand, "Golgi Complex" starts out even wilder, with a free opening as everyone does their thing, creating glorious cacophony, from slashing guitars to bounding piano chords. This is free jazz of a higher purpose as everyone is working together to form a collective improvisation that is going to push the boundaries of what can really be done, and their creativity and imagination seal the deal. "Reflection" closes the album with a long jam, at twelve minutes at length easily the longest track on the album, with gracefully rising horns from Allen and Malaby and lush beautiful piano playing. The music develops episodically and gracefully building in solos for each of the horn players and allowing the full band to make its mark as well. This was a fascinating album filled with diverse sounds and approaches to composition and improvisation. But the music still remains accessible and lively, flowing well and making a coherent statement as an album. The CD itself is quite impressive too, with a full color booklet complete with excellent pictures, lengthy liner notes and discographical and scientific information. Diatom Ribbons - amazon.com

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Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Book: All the Madmen by Clinton Heylin

It is often said that genius is close to madness and that is something that Heylin (author of many books dealing with Bob Dylan among others) delves into deeply. He looks into the careers of some of the most famous and in one case nearly forgotten British rock and folk musicians of the late 1960's and 1970's to see how their psychological trauma, both past and present affected their work when they were at the height of their careers. Beginning in 1967 with Syd Barrett, briefly on top of the world as the front man, lead guitarist and songwriter for Pink Floyd who had just released an excellent debut album and clutch of fine singles. Heavy LSD usage was making him undependable, but he has also the victim of in-group power plays that saw bassist Roger Waters kick Syd to the curb and take the helm of what would become a multi-platinum behemoth. After a few solo LPs Syd did succumb to schizophrenia, quietly living out his days until 2006. David Bowie made the most of the mental illness that ran in his family, referencing it in seemingly every interview of the period. But he became so infused by his on stage characters, Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke predominantly, amplified by massive amounts of cocaine, that it nearly lead him to dissociative identity disorder. Nick Drake is the least well known of these musicians, a stellar acoustic guitar player and songwriter who made three albums during his lifetime that barely left a dent in the collective consciousness due in part to his crippling shyness and inability to play live, part of the severe depression he suffered from. Drake would take his own life only to surprisingly reach a whole new legion of fans decades later when the title track of his Pink Moon LP was featured in a Volkswagen commercial. Pressure, both self inflicted and from record companies and fans drove the two remaining rock stars to the brink. Ray Davies of The Kinks was riding high after a series of hits in the mid 1960's, but when tastes changed and the rock world went down the psychedelic path, Davies went in a different direction with songs that began to celebrate the joys of home and hearth, and eccentric Britishness. As brilliant as these late sixties albums were, the hits dried up, and Davies moved to the bottle, and a series of breakdowns began that would carry through the mid 1970's as his grandiose ideas fell by the wayside. Finally, Pete Townshend of The Who became a victim of his own success, when the rock opera Tommy became a massive success both in the record shops and on tour around the world. He felt that he had to go further, developing the Lifehouse project, a science fiction extravaganza that would encompass an album, film and live performances. But nobody could understand the story he was trying to tell, and Townshend drove himself to near madness before finally relenting and cherry picking the best of the songs for the Who's Next LP. This was an interesting and well written book that is well researched and uses a wide range of sources to support its thesis. The pressure and stress of being a popular musician would be enough to make anyone feel the the strain, but looking at these cases show when things truly got out of hand. All the Madmen - amazon.com

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Marion Brown - Capricorn Moon to Juba Lee Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2019)

Alto saxophonist and composer Marion Brown was coming into his own in the mid 1960's when these invigorating tracks were recorded. He played as a sideman in critical albums like John Coltrane's Ascension and Archie Shepp's Fire Music, and had recorded as a leader for Impulse! and ESP. Meeting a fellow traveler in trumpeter Alan Shorter, brother of Wayne, Brown made thinking man's free jazz, imbued with his interest in art, philosophy and architecture. The first two tracks, from November 1965 have Brown with Shorter on trumpet, Reggie Johnson and Ronnie Boykins on bass (first track only,) and Rashied Ali on drums. “Capricorn Moon” opens the album with excellent rhythm from the two basses and percussion which give the music extra drive, perfect for Brown, whose saxophone sounds tart, bright and alive. He mixes long tones and flurries of notes with the churning rhythm creating a supple improvised performance. The trumpet's soloing is strong and cogent over the hypnotic bass and drums, projecting a strong deep tone played with great control. The basses are featured in solo and duo adding some excellent bowing, leading to a storming drum solo and the return of the theme for full band that gradually fades out. Fast bass and drums urge on the horns during “Mephistopheles” with the band sounding a little more harsh, and Brown developing a more shrill tone at times. The rhythm team is pushing the tempo hard and the horns respond well, building a massive rolling improvised section. Shorter takes the lead, with more edge to his sound than the prior track, playing long stark sounds that come off as advanced hard bop rather than free, but works well nonetheless. An impressive bowed bass section for Johnson leads to a pummeling drum solo, and a brief restatement of the theme before a squalling end. The final two tracks, from November 1966, have a larger group of Brown with Shorter on trumpet, Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone, Dave Burrell on piano, Reggie Johnson on bass and Beaver Harris on drums. “Juba Lee” has a pretty, song like introduction for the full band at a medium up tempo featuring thoughtful trumpet and and drums. Shorter's trumpet sounds sunny and bright, calling out for Brown's saxophone to join in on the fun. The group collaborates well, with nobody forcing the action, when the saxophones join up with the brass the music becomes much freer, engaging with the bass and drums allowing a bass solo to bounce everyone back to the theme. The final track is “Itidus” which is slower and slightly ominous, with the horn section developing extremely loud or powerful in their sound, long tones willowy and withering evoking stark emotions of sad longing. The brass keeps the low flame alight with subtle drums underneath, and the energy seems subdued as space opens up for piano with light bass and drums leading back to the heavy and imposing theme. This was an excellent disc, reminding up what a protean force Marion Brown was in the music. A quiet, thoughtful man, perhaps he never got the due of some of the other musicians of the period, but he left a significant legacy that starts with these recordings. Don't miss the wonderful Instagram account carried out by the Brown family as well. Capricorn Moon To Juba Lee: Revisited - amazon.com

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

George Coleman - The Quartet (Smoke Sessions, 2019)

Tenor saxophone legend George Coleman has built an enviable multi-decade career as a leader and in-demand sideman. On this recording, he is joined by Harold Mabern (who has since passed away) on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. This was the group's first recording together, but they sound very tight and locked in, playing a nice selection of standards and occasional swinging original composition. "I Wish You Love" is a bright and nimble performance all around, with Coleman sounding excellent and receiving support from a bouncy and buoyant piano solo from Mabern, which soon returns to a lengthy and turbulent jam for the entire band. Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" is played as a fine ballad with an appropriately old-timey feel, with brushed percussion and a bed of lush piano chords and notes. The music evolves gradually, with the drummer moving to sticks and Coleman developing the pace into a more spirited performance. "Lollipops and Roses" is a well articulated medium tempo tune with the band playing a tight theme and swinging grandly over brushes and allowing time for very well played piano and drum solos. Clocking in at over twelve minutes, "East 9th Street Blues" is the longest track on the album, a strong mid-tempo swinger with cymbal accents that frame the action and heavy piano comping that keeps the forward motion in check. This pace seem perfect for the band and they are very comfortable, with a rolling section for the piano, bass and drums and a thick and fibrous bass feature. This is followed by a wonderful area where Coleman and Farnsworth trade phrases in an excellent and witty fashion. "When I Fall in Love" is a counterweight ballad with light saxophone and brushes setting a melancholic air, but Coleman's slightly acerbic tone and attack on his instrument keep things from getting maudlin, slowly building the tempo and bouncing the feel up a bit to its conclusion. This is very solid mainstream jazz, where you take a couple of distinguished elders who are still playing top flight jazz and hook them a malleable bassist and drummer a few decades younger and let the sparks fly. And they do. BTW, Mabern sounds great - he was playing tip-top to the end. The Quartet - amazon.com

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