Sunday, March 24, 2019

Van Morrison - The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition) (Legacy Recordings, 2019)

The Healing Game was a very good, but somewhat forgotten album, released a little over twenty years ago. This deluxe edition is composed of a remastered version of the original LP, bonus material from the studio sessions, particularly some fascinating duet material, and his set at the 1997 Montreux Jazz Festival. The album itself consists of all original compositions, and they are wide ranging and interesting in their depth, beginning with the opener, "Rough God Goes Riding" with its evocative spiritual imagery and lyrics about plight of victims and refugees. He comes out punching on "Fire in the Belly" asking for his driving wheel, and cutting a suave rhythm and blues groove as the horns riff over tight bass and drums. "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" moves back into spiritual territory, evoking Pan and adding flutes and acoustic guitars, showing that he is still a seeker, thirty years after Astral weeks. They bounce the tempo way up with the stomping "Burning Ground" which has an excellent arrangement for the horns that really carry the excitement of the song, before breaking in the middle for a spoken word exchange about the metaphorical dumping of sadness and personal weight before a strong and driving conclusion. "Sometimes We Cry" sheds a proud man's tear in a very striking way, with some excellent background vocals that frame the leader's own gruff mannerism, invoking singer Johnnie Ray in what turns into quite a devastating performance. The bonus tracks to disc one culminate with a fantastic acoustic version of "St. Dominic's Preview" with fiddle, acoustic guitar and harmonica giving the song a beautiful rustic feeling. Disc two is titled Sessions and Collaborations, delivering an interesting mixed bag of tracks, "The Healing Game (jazz version)" among the early ones showing the road not taken as it presents a few tracks from the album in a cabaret setting rather than the rhythm and blues one of the finished product. Some fun performances of ancient tracks like "Mule Skinner Blues" and "Didn't He Ramble" lead to the main event, the collaborations. "Don't Look Back" and "The Healing Game" with John Lee Hooker are mannered but never develop a spark, but Van and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins really hit it off. "Boppin the Blues'" "Matchbox," and "Sittin'" on Top of the World" are banged out with real feeling, and devil may care bonhomie. Perkins died not long after and more's the pity, because an duet album would probably have been spectacular. The live album on disc three is a fine demonstration of Morrison's live show of the period, but the music never takes flight like it did a few years previously when he recorded the A Night in San Francisco LP. That said it does present some highlights of the new album along with some nice medleys of earlier material like "Tupelo Honey/Why Must I Always Explain" and and epic set ender that culminates with a very slow "Burning Ground" then vaults to a horn driven finish. The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition) - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ivo Perelman / Mat Maneri / Nate Wolley - Strings 3 (Leo Records, 2019)

Well regarded tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman's first group of recordings of the year 2019 constitute four discs of encounters with different string instrument players. I was interested to learn from Neal Tesser's excellent liner notes that Perelman's original instrument as a child was the cello, of which he was regarded as a prodigy, and that he carried a particular affinity for instruments like this as he moved to tenor saxophone and developed his unique personal manner of improvisation. For this album he chose the viola player Mat Maneri who has a considerable reputation as a improviser and an open minded musical thinker as a leader and a collaborator. In the past, Perelman often shied away from using brass instruments in his projects before coming acquainted with trumpeter Nate Wooley, who rounds out the group for this album. The trumpeter's level of malleability and focus on the needs of the music over any showmanship quickly won over the saxophonist upon their meeting. It's good that these players are wired this way, because Perelman records in a very impulsive method, booking studio time and bringing the players together with no prepared music or arrangement. With certain musicians would certainly be a recipe for disaster, but these three are clear headed free improvisers who can make use of a blank slate and compose music spontaneously and create a lasting work of art. These three particular instruments are capable of taking notes and tones and carrying them over a long period, weaving within one another or clashing against one another, and this makes the the lengthy "Track 1" very interesting as the tones rise and fall and build complicated structures within the overall group sound. The group is able to get a wide variety of color and hue from their instruments and this is a theme that moves steadily and continuously as a current throughout the record, whether they are playing flat out ripping up section of "Track 9" or weaving together like a multi colored ribbon on a particularly well wrapped present on the deep and beautiful "Track 7." It will be interesting to see where this music will go forward, because as Tresser notes, Perelman has become more aware of exploring not just combinations of instruments, but combinations of people, or as he's quoted as saying "So I've been fooling myself, thinking that I'm experimenting with instrument types. "I've really been experimenting with individuals." It will be fascinating to see which individuals come together for the next project. Strings 3 - Leo Records

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse, 2019)

The London jazz scene is truly having a moment. While the avant garde regiment explores the outer limits at Cafe OTO, the modern mainstream section moves in a different direction adding elements of hip-hop, electronica and krautrock to modern jazz, creating a sensual, searching music in the process. The Comet Is Coming consists of scene regulars King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) on saxophones; Danalogue (Dan Leavers) on keyboards and synthesizers and Betamax (Max Hallett) on drums and percussion. Fans of straight ahead jazz have little to fear, if you enjoy the groovier side of Sun Ra or Archie Shepp, you will feel right at home here. On "Summon the Fire" electronic textures and rhythm are picked up by the saxophone and hard pummeling drums. Jabs of electronic hooks meet them in a pugilistic squall adding to a collective improvisation that is tight and powerful as peals of raw saxophone solo cover a crisp beat. Electronics frame the band going full bore, with a huge and all encompassing sound leading to repetitive saxophone figures over shifting beats and electronics. Featuring guest vocalist Kate Tempest, "Blood of the Past" begins with shimmering electronics swooping and grinding a crushing beat, meeting heavy saxophone and creating an oppressive atmosphere. After three minutes the sound opens up and Tempest's proud and declarative spoken word performance adds further fuel to the fire with meaningful lyrics focusing on "the scar on the soul of the world." After she steps away there is a torrid saxophone response leading to an excellent full band conclusion. This builds into "Super Zodiac" where soft, slightly wavering electronic textures seem to blow in the breeze, then break into a fast dance beat, soon met by powerful drumming and strutting saxophone playing that builds up the tension of the performance through repetition and release. The music is hot and fast, building to blinding speeds, sort of an EDM jazz that uses the virtuosity of the musicians to take the sound to unfathomable places. "Timewave Zero" works from an eerie cinematic soundscape, as fast percussion morphs into the mix and saxophone guilds in developing his statement block by block. The drummer cooks up a quick and alluring rhythm allowing the group to engage in a choppy improvised section playing together at a very impressive speed and showing the band has a firm grasp on their concept and use it to create vibrant and powerful music. Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery - amazon.com

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Sun Ra - Pathways to Unknown Worlds (Modern Harmonic, 2019)

Pathways to Unknown Worlds was one of the albums that eventually came through on a highly anticipated deal with ABC/Impulse that was doomed to fail. Released in a truncated format in the early 1970's with less then thirty minutes of music, this reissue presents restored tracks and additional selections from the session that was recorded in New York City in 1973. It's also the full Arkestra of the period with Ra playing a raft of electronic keyboards and featuring a horn section anchored by stalwarts John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, anchored by Ronnie Boykins on bass and Clifford Jarvis on drums. "Pathways To Unknown Worlds," the title track is a spacey Ra special, with the leader playing Yamaha YC-45D combo organ which allowed increased pitch and tone control, making this a long and droning space jazz track with bowed bass and mellophone, giving the music an unusual and fascinating sound. “Extension Out” has it's complete version on record for the first time, including the opening five and a half minutes that were inexplicably culled from the Impulse version. It's a wonderful performance, allowing the saxophonists to really stretch out with Danny Davis joining Marshall Allen on alto saxophone for raw and exciting solos and duos, as the band rumbles beneath them, and bass clarinet and oboe add further color to this vivid and exploratory performance. The last two tracks on this album originally came out on the Of Mythic Worlds LP, included here because they were recorded at the same session. “Intrinsic Energies” develops long tones of shimmering keyboard, drums and percussion, soon joined by stark and wrenched horns which play out over the sound stage, with ripe alto saxophone tart and citrus against the pastel toned keyboards. The juxtaposition of raw reeds and subtle keyboards is especially moving, while stoic bass (Ronnie Boykins in the secret sauce on this whole album) and drums keeps the music from flying off into infinity. Really interesting textures of percussion are at play on "Of Mythic Worlds,” with jabs of Ra's space organ and wonderful tenor saxophone playing from the incomparable John Gilmore. Seriously, imagine and organ and tenor jam session that instead of a Prestige blowing date (nothing wrong with those, mind you) it's a Sun Ra and John Gilmore free jazz blowout, and it's just as remarkable as you can imagine. After that mindblower, Ra takes a skittish caterwauling solo with wonderful bass support, before handing back off to the horn players who carry the group to a righteous conclusion. Pathways To Unknown Worlds - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Paal Nilssen-Love - New Japanese Noise (PNL Records, 2019)

Epic drummer and musical explorer Paal Nilssen-Love brought an incredible crew to the 2018 Roskilde Festival, including Akira Sakata on alto saxophone, Bb clarinet and vocals, Kiko Dinucci on electric guitar and Kohei Gomi and Toshiji Mikawa on electronics. The sound they created was staggering, a triumphant amalgam of free jazz, noise rock and unrecognizable chaos that is an absolute joy to hear. "Stiff Upper Lip Jeeves" opens the album with savage drums and raw scouring saxophone, a massive sonic outpouring with electronic squiggles framing the over the top bombardment as the guitar adds further sparks to the developing vortex of pure sound. At times the noise stratifies into layers, while during others, it mixes into a mad psychedelic free for all, with Sakata playing in typically excellent fashion wailing saxophone atop the tumult. Spaciousness opens on "Up the Line to Death," where the saxophone improvises freely supported by crashes of percussion and clanks of guitar. The sound of the piece will fill and fall back in a manic fashion hinting at dynamic power around a madly strummed guitar feature. "Eats, Shites And Leaves" initially throws a feint with Sakata moving to clarinet backed by brushed percussion. The group plays a quieter, more abstract improvisation through the first half of this lengthy performance before turning up the heat in a major way. The overall sound grows through smears of electronics, plus some all encompassing drum set playing which are then enveloped by fierce and violent guitar squalls leading the piece to conclude as over the top noise rock. Sakata takes to the vocal mic for "The Bone People," vocalizing in growls and barks and speaking in Japanese, as roaring guitar and powerful drums fly around him. It's just mad stuff, he's howling, the entire band is erupting his gruff deep vocals are just so heavy - he could be singing about teddy bears riding unicorns and it would still sound like a man trying to open a portal to hell with just the power of his bowels. Sakata is 73 years old and this track sounds like a group of next level free improvisers is playing My War era Black Flag. I Love It. Where can they possibly go from here? "Birdsong" is a three minute finale that works pretty well encapsulating what makes this band so great, Sakata back on saxophone, at his free jazz best, PNL crushing the drums as shards of deadly saxophone and guitar battle it out while being strafed by drums and electronics. New Japanese Noise - PNL Bandcamp

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Larry Grenadier - The Gleaners (ECM, 2019)

There have been innumerable solo albums by every conceivable instrument in jazz, most notably piano, but the acoustic upright bass, despite (or perhaps because of) its unwieldy nature has seen relatively few. But those have been quite memorable, career milestones from the likes of William Parker, Dave Holland and Peter Kowald have expanded the role of the instrument in jazz, taking it far from the role of timekeeper into the world of improvisation and composition. Larry Grenadier is a veteran bassist, who came up in the explosion of modern mainstream jazz talent of the early 1990's developed over a longtime collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau among many other talented musicians. This album is a thoughtful and impressive album for solo double bass, mixing originals by Grenadier, along with well thought out interpretations of numbers by George Gershwin, John Coltrane and Paul Motian. On tracks like the centerpiece "Compassion - The Owl Of Cranston" he appears to ask himself questions like how do you interpret a person through music? How do you evoke their being through sound, timbre and feel? Putting together compositions by legendary figures like John Coltrane and Paul Motian is an audacious idea but it works very well, creating a medley that is challenging and stimulating, while presenting itself to be worthy of careful consideration and attention. He is able to inhabit the whole of the instrument, playing the length and breadth of it and keeping the music continuously interesting. There is an introspective aspect to the music as there would be with any solo performance, but it never devolves into an exercise in navel gazing or playing for its own sake, but the music is constructed to engage the attentive listener as well. Aspects of classical music and jazz appear at times, as he displays a great deal of technique without trying to be overwhelmingly flashy, like on the wonderful bowing on "Vineland" which flows continuously without a break from beginning to end. The fascinating mixed version of Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" brings everything together, with a fraught bowed introduction and a deep plucked improvised middle section, giving the timeless standard a fresh and supple reading. All things considered this is a humble and well played offering, displaying all of the talents that Grenadier has developed over the course of has career, distilled into distinctive and commanding album. The Gleaners - amazon.com

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Interesting Links

Dave Douglas invites Tomeka Reid to his most recent podcast.
Drummer Dan Weiss's band Starebaby was featured in Bumhuis Radio.
Bandcamp Daily profiles NoBusiness Records.
Issue 66 of the web journal Point of Departure is available.
The New York Times asks: Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy interview with Buddy Guy.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Cecil Taylor - Silent Tongues (Org Music, 2019)

Silent Tongues is one of Cecil Taylor's most compelling albums, which is saying something considering his wide ranging and voluminous discography. A tremendously well received live solo piano recording from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974 drew widespread critical acclaim, including Downbeat's album of the year the following year. This album release has gone through several iterations from Arista Freedom to 1201 Music, and this particular one is a vinyl version remastered at Infrasonic Mastering and pressed on audiophile-grade vinyl at Pallas Group in Germany. The release was previously available as Vinyl Me, Please exclusive via ORG Music. The music itself is an explosive five section suite along with two encores. Listening to this recording is best if the listener gives themselves over to it, as the music comes in waves of complex chords and lightning fast runs of notes. Taylor's famous notion of the piano as a set of "eighty-eight tuned drums" can really be heard on this recording which is clear and vibrant with a you-are-there kind of feeling that can be nearly overwhelming at times. While Taylor played with many ensembles ranging from duet settings to the largest big bands, it is his solo work that has always has the emotional resonance for me with works like For Olim, Live in Willisau and others developed a lifelong thread of continuous exploration on piano. Some of the more accessible sections of the suite will be mixed with bracing and cascading cells of freely improvised piano, and the dynamic nature of these yin and yang opposites provide the locomotion that drives the music relentlessly forward, whether this can be considered spontaneously composing, or freely improvising Taylor is using the length and breadth of the instrument to create thunderous and vibrant waves of sound that is full of energy and boundless enthusiasm. His skill and technique are at the highest level, but he carries the listener with him and the music remains completely original throughout the album, with a sense of connected events which seems to fuel the sound, texture, and shading of his music. Taylor is a conduit for the sound and amazing technique to flow, where he refines and channels his music as unique concept and a language. The two encores are met with rousing and rapturous applause, as short cells of improvisation, they are the icing on the cake the and a perfect ending to a recording of rare skill and energy that stands as one for the ages, a recording of great significance and value. Silent Tongues - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Matthew Shipp Trio Invites Nicole Mitchell - All Things Are (Rogue Art, 2019)

This is a wonderful and overdue meeting of the minds between Matthew Shipp on piano and Nicole Mitchell on flute and alto flute, with Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Recorded one hot summer day in Brooklyn it's a masterful session, each recording a first take and demonstrating the unique symmetry of this group of musicians."Elements" has spare piano with bass and percussion with spacious flute entering and gradually integrating itself within the performance. There are dark undertones to the music, and the pace picks up with percussive piano playing, whirling flute and crashing drums before dynamically downshifting to crystalline piano and flute weaving through trills and full breaths leading to a cascading improvisation finale for the full quartet. Piano and flute converse in a mid tempo dialogue on "Well Spring" and Mitchell's flute flutters as Shipp hits bass end chords on the piano, leading to an organically evolving improvisation, adding long tones of flute and gentler keyboard resonance. "It" has flute holding notes in space, amid slight percussion and bowed bass, developing a very affecting and appealing sound. The piano sits out allowing the sound to open further, giving room for the evocative bowed bass and free sounding drumming, and the long tones of flute and arcing bowed bass compliment each other particularly well. "Void of Ground" features bounding piano, bass and drums tempered by a hint of darkness. The flute blends in and works from a repetitive figure, and Shipp alternate between crushing low end chords and urgent comping, creating an explosive dynamo which helps to power a fast paced flute improvisation. The juxtaposition between the lighter sounding flute and the heavier piano, bass and drums is very present, and one of the driving factors in the success of the performance. Quiet tones of flute with piano are at the center of "Water and Earth" as Shipp's notes just seem to hang in the air. The music is very free sounding, adding the slightest brushed percussion, the group plays with great patience communicating gracefully together. "Fire and Air" develops from ripples of percussion and mysterious sounding flute, jumping and diving in a bird like fashion, and building to a spellbinding solo with melodic elements. Full bodied piano with thick bass move in tandem on "Blossom" driving forward and pushing the tempo further upward as Shipp's piano becomes more percussive and develops a more linear approach, leading to a wonderful conclusion. Finally, "All Things Are," features bowed bass with flute and piano in a dark and ominous yet fascinating improvisation, building ever stronger through the application of muscular drums and piano, Mitchell is undeterred, flying through and around, finding spaces in the huge structure and soaring right through them leading to a righteous unaccompanied flute conclusion. All Things Are - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 09, 2019

Jim Snidero - Waves of Calm (Savant, 2019)

Humbled by his father's battle with Parkinson's Disease, the veteran alto saxophonist Jim Snidero delivers a thoughtful and contemplative album, split between tender acoustic ballads and medium to uptempo hard bop songs. Joining him are veterans Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Orrin Evans on acoustic and electric piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums. The opening track, "Waves of Calm," is a ballad for gentle saxophone, brushed percussion, subtle bass and piano accompaniment, creating a brief melodic track that moves into "Truth" which is much stronger and heavier. The configuration shifts to electric piano with some ripe trumpet playing developing an extended and well constructed solo aided by forceful drumming. Snidero's own solo leaves room for the rhythm section, building fast and true into an excellent four way conversation of bright and ringing sound. "Old Folks" has spare acoustic piano, and beautiful ballad saxophone entering around anchoring bass. The cries of the saxophone lend a sense of warmth, but also one of sadness framed by soft droplets of piano and touches of bass, as they group plays at a quiet level. Electric piano and drumming change the pace again on "Visions" developing a different texture as the saxophone and percussion develop a choppy beat that keeps things moving nicely, and the leader alternate quick flurries of notes with long peals of air alongside the heavy and insistent drums to give the music some real emotional heft. This is the longest track on the album and it also includes an explosive trumpet break and drum solo. "I Fall In Love" returns to the land of ballads, with yearning saxophone supported by deftly brushed percussion in a well paced performance. The music is melodic and thoughtfully presented, led by wistfully toned saxophone that works well within the spare accompaniment. Saxophone and trumpet harmonize over a tough boppish beat on "Dad Song" with the saxophone peeling off to solo at a medium pace, sounding fine with elastic bass and drums in support. Pelt takes the baton and continues the medium boil, building a fine statement and rippling across the sound stage. "If I Had You" has bright, sharp toned saxophone which immediately gains attention, falling back on a bed of swirling brushes, deep bass notes and subtle piano chords. The overall feeling is patient and warm and the sharpness of the horn doesn't effect the overall vibe. Finally, "Estuary" closes the album, a mid tempo quartet performance with a snappy theme, and a strong trumpet statement from Pelt as the electric piano glides over bass and drums. The leader's saxophone takes a nuanced and well rounded solo including a fine bass and drums section before leading everyone in for a safe landing. Snidero's father passed away shortly after this recording was completed, making it all the more resonant, but you are able to hear the music as a celebration rather than an elegy. The mix of ballads and hard bop keeps the set nicely varied and the band is more than up to the task of creating both a fine jazz album and a heartfelt personal statement. Waves of Calm - amazon.com

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Friday, March 08, 2019

David Torn / Tim Berne / Ches Smith - Sun Of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019)

This explosive band consists of Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Ches Smith on drums, electronics, and tanbou and David Torn on electric guitar, live-looping and electronics. They created three spontaneous group compositions with live electronics by Torn and Smith expanding their palate. On the composition "Spartan, Before It Hit," they extend the ensemble with two extra guitars, keyboards and a string quartet. The opening track is "Eye Meddle" which unfolds in layers of sounds and almost tribal sounding percussion, developing an alien atmosphere and soundscape. Breathy saxophone and alternatively heavy and light percussion creates a wide sound stage and allows Berne's saxophone to move sneakily among the thicket as the volume and tension rises. The trio creates a collective improvisation the seems to curve spacetime around itself, altering relativity at will, and Berne is particularly excellent here, playing with a wonderful sense of tone and pacing, building to raw squeals over powerful beats. The group incorporates massive squalls of electronics, hammering beats and stoic saxophone as they drive relentlessly forward with Torn invoking epic snarls of electric guitar over bracing percussion creating a mirage as if they are shimmering in the distance on a hot day. The extra instruments come into play on "Spartan, Before It Hit," which develops gradually, forming long beams of sound, that are used as a foundation to build a deep texture as the group suddenly blasts off in an explosion of vivid color. Strong saxophone with surging percussion and guitar creates a tsunami of potent and fearsome sound, in an attack where all the forces are truly engaged. Including a massive blowout for full bore saxophone, Berne's raw and immediately identifiable playing from both the heart and the gut, with long piercing tones of sound added that threaten to shatter eardrums. The long tones become alien transmissions, eerie soundscapes haunted cinematic post-apocalyptic drones that gradually just end. "Soften the Blow" builds from horns swirls, with electronic echoes that slowly take on a grittier or more gravelly element. Soundscapes drawn from the imagination and tinted with hint of loneliness. This soon changes with the introduction of tart and loud saxophone and mighty drums and electronics kicking in to boost it into orbit with a sense of mystery and intrigue. A torrid full band improvisation ensues, taking the music to unimaginable levels of volume and intensity, as massive waves of pure sound emanate from the group consisting of squalls of electronics, complex drum rhythms and saxophone scouting the territory. Torn's guitar is astonishing, using pedals and electronic manipulation to sculpt his sound to an extraordinary degree as drums slash and slap and Berne's saxophone crawls through the maelstrom like a soldier on one final mission. They come together in the final act for a collectively improvised blowout that seemingly goes beyond what is feasible. This is a dangerous group. If they can commit something this jaw dropping to disc, imagine what else could be done. It is said that Larry Young's group Love Cry Want was denied a permit to play in DC for fear of "levitating the White House." With the talent and the ability that this group has? The sky is the limit. Highest possible recommendation. This is it. Sun Of Goldfinger - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 07, 2019

Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research - Impromptus and Other Short Works (WhyPlayJazz, 2019)

The most current lineup of Basement Research is leader Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Steve Swell on trombone, Julian Argüelles on baritone saxophone, Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. They recorded eleven Ullmann compositions, blending modern jazz and contemporary methods of composition. "Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5" has abstract sounding horns with saxophones swirling about like predatory birds as the bass and drums kick in. They build an uptempo five piece improvisation with trombone and one saxophone in each stereo channel, and the bass, drums and remaining saxophone in the middle, making for a wide sound stage for a powerful collectively improvised section. Ullman takes a nice tenor saxophone solo supported by sturdy bass before leading the full band to a rousing conclusion. Fading in already in progress, "29 Shoes" finds the band chugging away with slashing drums and strong horn riffs. There is a fine use of tension inducing loud / quiet dynamic sections, pulling into a faster and meatier section for tenor saxophone and taut bass framed by the other horns and leading to an exciting full band section taken at high speed. Space opens up for a crackling drums and bass duet section, with the horns re-entering in a brawny fashion to help ease the tune out. "Lines - Impromptu #2" has choppy horns and and rhythm in a tight formation, alternating with spacey sections that have an edgy, uneasy calm. The horns and percussion stomp mightily, playing in a highly reactive manner, while the hushed quiet will fall for an instrument, in this case puckered trombone, nudged by spare percussion and bowed bass. Strong horns try to wrestle away the moment but are they are denied as the piece closes with a sense of quiet abstraction. A tight, fast thematic statement opens "Sticks - Impromptu #4" with the bass and drum developing from the expansive theme to a powerhouse drum solo that slaloms around jagged horn interjections, and the horns harmonize together achieving a deep and weighty sound, allowing the drums and bass freedom to roam. "Almost Twenty-Eight" closes the album with a swirling horn theme, as crisp bass and drums drive forward the angular but exciting formation. The rhythm section will occasionally cut out to allow the horns to soar, particularly Ullman's dramatic bass clarinet playing, which provides a vividly colorful solo over bass and drums while the remainder of the horns keep pace. This was a well done and exciting album, the group's eighth over the course of twenty five years with little sign of fatigue. Inspired by the likes of Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and Charles Lloyd the band uses their accomplishments as a challenge to explore the unknown and carve out their own path. Impromptus and Other Short Works - amazon.com

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Monday, March 04, 2019

Heroes Are Gang Leaders - The Amiri Baraka Sessions (Flat Langston's Arkeyes, 2019)

Heroes Are Gang Leaders was co-founded by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and they are joined by a wide range of instrumentalists, singers, readers and rappers to pay tribute to the legendary poet and activist Amiri Baraka. The vocalists interpret that work into new ways to challenge and explore the material as much as their musical counterparts improvise accompaniment. "Superstar" opens with female vocals shifting to spoken a word riff between two men about  basketball as the female vocalist chants, interjecting names of ESPN programs, and the instruments play in the background. Basketball is used as a vehicle for social commentary, and the female vocalist rhymes impressively with the words and the instruments well integrated into each other. The long performance shifts to singing about the nature of stardom and the effects it has on people, framed by fine saxophone and piano. "Land Back" features solo trumpet, then bass and drums with male and female singers and strong saxophone. Confident female spoken word about the racist treatment of African Americans in the United States, the flow of words and their stinging meaning is very impressive. The performance stretches out with instrumental interludes, scatting vocals with improvising jazz band, mocking the stand your ground ideal that killed Treyvon Martin, as male vocals asked if African Americans were better off as outsiders, a provocative question in a country where black men are routinely gunned down by the police. "Amina 2" is an excellent solo saxophone interlude, short but eloquent improvisation of raw beauty, reaching for the dark places and shining the light of music into them, it's a wonderful piece. "Leautoroiograghy" develops stark piano and female vocals, with the extraordinary refrain "if capitalism don't kill me, racism will." Adding more singers, male and female but coming back to this theme, of the dissolution of race relations, leading into "Forensic Report" an interlude for jazz band with supple trumpet and drums, building fast and loose as a male voice deconstructs the words. "The Tender Arrival of Outsane Midget Booker (Ts Who Kill Drums Runnin' da Voodoo Down)" has soulful vocals and electric bass, asking if hope as an illusion, crisp drum accompaniment, gospel feeling, full band blasting in driving the music forward and then acting as framing mechanism for the vocalists, storming hip hop rhymes as singers repeat phrases in the background, the whole formation of the performance is very deeply affecting. Album finishes with a wonderful solo saxophone performance, "Anima 3" where Lewis really bares his soul, allowing for a brief free improvisation that reaches into the territory of David S. Ware or Archie Shepp at their most inspired. It is a fine way to end a fascinating experimental album that was very successful in melding poetry and song to first rate modern jazz improvisation. The Amiri Baraka Sessions - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 03, 2019

Jessica Pavone - In the Action (Relative Pitch, 2019)

Composer and milti-instrumentalist Jessica Pavone is well known on the downtown music scene as a formidable performer and collaborator. This is her third album for solo viola, playing the instrument and interfacing with a small group of pedals and electronics. On this fascinating album she takes a variety of tones that she can create on her instrument and use them as starting points for improvisation either solo, or incorporating the pedals and loops she has at her command. "Oscillatory Salt Transport" begins with one such lengthy yearning tone, sweeping through the silence that surrounds her, doubled, by a loop which can be played with or against, giving the music a piercing emotional resonance. It is a sound that patiently builds, the construction of which is architectural in nature, adding pieces, bit by bit, and drifting back into stark solo cries. She uses short, staccato jabs to increase the speed of the performance gathering motion and powerful kinetic energy that seems to lift from the strings. "and Maybe in the End" opens with gentle plucking and bowing, giving the music a folkish tint, thought one modified that is by electronics and pedals. The more ominous bowed sounds, altered by the electronics are juxtaposed against the gentle guitar like strums, creating a rich and uneasy dynamic flow. "Look Out - Look Out - Look Out" is an amazing piece for viola and extreme electronics, sounding like a wonderful mashup of Metal Machine Music with Tony Conrad and Faust's Outside the Dream Syndicate. The music is pummeling in its industrial beauty, forming harsh, uncompromising music that is absolutely compelling, strafing the ground in waves of sustained fire and then flying off into the sky to prepare for another sortie, and leaving on the wings of a massive sustained drone. The final piece is "In the Action" with almost country flavored opening sounds, patiently developed and gradually extrapolated upon through repetition and rumbling looped sounds that gradually develop in the background. Repeating figures through the loop and the viola are fascinating and attention grabbing, creating and focusing the music in this experimental manner is quite successful, and encapsulates the nature of the album as a whole which is filled with exciting ideas and deserves to be widely heard. In the Action - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Paal Nilssen-Love - New Brazilian Funk (PNL Records, 2019)

Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love is a relentless explorer of improvised music, whether playing in a collective group like The Thing, or as a sideman on literally hundreds of records. On his own label, this adventurous spirit has led him to form his own big band, the Large Unit, and explore the music of different cultures. This album is a glorious mashup of free jazz and electric Miles funk all with a Brazilian tinge. He is supported on this quest by Felipe Zenicola on electric bass, Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, Kiko Dinucci on electric guitar and Paulinho Bicolor on cuica. "Biggles and the Gun-Runners" opens the album with raw saxophone and heavy bass and guitar taking the music to the brink of maelstrom, adding squeals of saxophone and pummeling drums to a jaw dropping opener. Massive slabs of pneumatic bass and drums keep this rattling and clanking edifice in motion, with some vocalization adding a human element to the music. The saxophone returns into the mix adding further depth to the complex interplay, while remaining locked in and true as they barrel into "Beating Back Pain" which develops a very cool vibe though inventive use of drums and percussion, laying down the beat as storming bass coalesces the group into a roaring collective improvisation. The full band howls like a jet engine where all the parts of the turbine are in overdrive as thick bounding bass, saxophone and guitar trade madcap phrases. "Rural Rides" backs vocalization with shards of electric guitar, leaving music hanging in space before thick, all encompassing bass seethes in, punctuated by injections of jagged saxophone, before delving into a unique sludge metal jazz improvisation. A funky feeling pervades "Five Dollars and a Jug of Rum" with wild rhythm established from the drums and percussion, driving the music forward in a ravishing and alluring manner, with Gjerstad's alto taking on an Ornette Coleman tint that gives the whole operation the feeling of a massive Prime Time jaunt where there are no limits. A swirling vortex of bass and drums creates an event horizon while raw, breathless saxophone orbits just beyond the void. "Fruit of the Lemon" features percussion the slowly builds over the fascinating rubbing sound of the cuica (which was also used to great effect in some of Miles Davis's electric bands) which is joined by PNL's drums to develop a complex rhythm. The rest of the band delves in, building a wonderful musical layer cake from the ground up with percussion, then deep heavy bass, scratchy guitar and finally saxophone, allowing everyone to mix well and bake into a massive improvisation of slashing guitar and drums and bubbling bass and saxophone powering though to the conclusion. Finally, "Pick a Time" again uses the cuica to develop an exotic sounding rhythm, laying the foundation for the band to pile into in a cacophonous free improvisation that is over the top in terms of volume and excitement, the perfect ending for this excellent album of joyous music, which sounds like it has the energy to go long into the night. New Brazilian Funk PNL Records Bandcamp

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sun Ra - Crystal Spears (Sundazed / Modern Harmonic, 2019)

Released as part of a multi-pronged attack to re-issue the music of the great composer, bandleader and keyboardist Sun Ra, this album finds the great man in full on mid seventies experimental mode, not long after the filming of the Space Is the Place movie. Ra is dealing from a stacked keyboard deck that includes rocksichord, marimba, minimoog, electronic vibraphone and gong and he has a powerhouse medium sized unit of Arkestra lifers and new blood making up the band such as John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, Danny Ray Thompson on baritone saxophone, Danny Davis on alto saxophone, flute and percussion, Marshall Allen on flute, piccolo flute and oboe, Kwame Hadi on trumpet and percussion, Eloe Omoeon bass clarinet, Clifford Jarvis on drums and Atakatune and Odun on percussion. "Crystal Spears" opens the album with some savage keyboard panned hard into the right channel in a disorienting fashion creating swathes of sound that are eventually met be percussion, then the horns glide in giving the music a further exotic and unexpected feeling. All of these levels come together quite well for a full group improvisation that a quite interesting with Ra inserting science fiction theremin like sounds into the mix, as they approach for landing. "The Eternal Sphynx" uses horn riffs and percussion to recall earlier Sun Ra performances from the classic Jazz in Silhouette album as the drums and multiple percussion set out an interesting grove for an angular and taut saxophone solo improvisation, with the leader taking over for a short keyboard excursion of his own, playing with tact and patience, then yielding to the horns to restate the theme. "The Embassy of the Living God" evolves slowly with organ like keyboard tones and horns weaving a complex theme and improvisation. Again the keyboard is panned hard right, while the horns and percussion are jammed in the left speaker, with solos gradually filling in the middle of the sound stage. Gilmore's lush tenor saxophone, and some sharp toned trumpet playing off against Ra's long drones. Horns take over unaccompanied by improvising in space, raw saxophones, pinched oboe, hollow bass clarinet, fascinating stuff, with Ra re-takes command for a cascading section of electric keyboard led improvisation. The massive twenty minute "Sunrise in the Western Sky" uses oboe and percussion to set a reflective mood, gradually evolving through tones and hues, especially tenor saxophone, framed by gentle keyboard effects. Long peals of saxophone sent into space like an intergalactic probe, with epic tenor saxophone from John Gilmore, and a strong bed of percussion and drums create a memorable long form performance. Crystal Spears - amazon.com

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Bloor - Drolleries (Astral Spirits, 2019)

Bloor is a trio consisting of Sam Weinberg on tenor and alto saxophone, Andrew Smiley on electric guitar and Jason Nazary on drums. They develop their unique approach through the use of repetition within their performances, which are constantly changing and progressing into improvisations based off of the composed themes. The album opening "Blast" shows the trio playing fast and upbeat right out of the gate, repeating ideas, and then shifting gears, with raw sounding saxophone, wiry guitar and slashing drums keeping the music very fast and exciting and at the edge of sensory overload. Fast strumming of the guitar and manipulating of the strings astride longer peals of saxophone leads back to a madcap theme for a fast paced conclusion. The short burst that is "J1" is a fast drum solo leading into the adroit collective playing on "Mollycoddled" which shows the trio fully integrated together and building a full head of steam with massive blasts of saxophone above the edgy sound keeping the feel fast and tight. The music unfolds gradually, revealing a little more of itself each time, and building a sense of hypnotic cross pollination between composition and improvised interpretation. "The Croy Hours" takes a more abstract approach, the music sounding wide and unmoored, seemingly the freest piece on the album, open to more than one interpretation and delving into ferociously loud and wild squalls of collective playing that are thrilling to hear. This sudden violent gust of sound works in the bands favor and allows them to develop a performance spontaneously forming a shock wave that is wonderful to hear. "Defacer" is fast and true, almost nearing a tightly wound Prime Time groove, with the emphasis on heavy rhythm, and staccato drumming. It is impressive that they can play such complex music so cleanly, and then use it as the springboard for improvisation flights, led by the saxophone that soars with a deep gritty tone, as the heavily strummed guitar and crashing drums threaten to burrow the groove into the earth. It's a massive and superb performance of powerhouse music, everyone working together to create an overwhelming beast of a track. There is a lighter and nimbler sensibility to "Liber Scivias" with guitar and percussion cleaving open space for the saxophone to exploit, and engage into a powerful three way split. Tumbling drumming drives the momentum forward with shards of electric guitar and longer tones of saxophone paving the way. They lower the sound then ratchet back up the dynamism and the tension playing off each other and achieving sparks to further an inspired improvisational flight. "Spice (For Arthur Blythe)" is a wonderful tribute to the master saxophonist, you can hear his influence as the group develops a theme that has echoes of Illuminations or Lenox Avenue Breakdown, and then take it in their own personal direction. They dig really deep into their unique style of playing, developing an immense amount of energy and power that sees them through the the end. (You Tube) Bloor at The Glove - Feb 7 2019
Bloor - Drolleries Bandcamp

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Chris Potter - Circuits (Edition, 2019)

The brilliant saxophonist Chris Potter has built a remarkable career as a leader and a sideman for the like of luminaries like Dave Holland, Dave Douglas and Red Rodney. After stints with Verve and ECM, this is his first album for the Edition label, and he plays ​tenor and soprano ​saxophones, in addition to clarinets, flutes, sampler, guitars, keyboards, and percussion. Joining him are James Francies on​ keyboards, Eric Harland on​ drums and Linley Marthe on​ electric bass for about half of the tracks. This is more of a groove based album, melding the raw electric nature of his Underground band with the ethereal electronics of his wonderful Verve album Traveling Mercies, and using the energy of his new sidemen to push him to create new compositions to meet this mandate. By using the possibilities inherent in synthesizers and electronics, Potter is able to craft an album that has memorable themes, unexpected improvised sections and create music that is accessible while remaining exciting and forward looking. "Hold It" uses light saxophone and electronic tones, with crisp percussion and bubbling bass, gradually developing the layers of electronics to build a larger sound than seems possible from just a few instruments. The saxophone solo is complex, but Potter builds his work with with an architectural sensibility, brick by brick until an impressive edifice is built. He fits this powerful and passionate solo snugly between the electronics and the dynamic percussion, creating a track that is progressive and approachable at the same time. "The Nerve" grows from spare sounds, weaving in electronics, samples and flutes, which set the ground floor for the saxophone and percussion to enter the performance, with Potter achieving an appealingly dark tenor sound and stretching out for a solo over skeletal accompaniment of electric bass and drums with occasional keyboard chords. This gives him ample room to develop an excellent solo statement that is exciting and free wheeling while being filled with unexpected twists and turns. The title track "Circuits" has a swirling electronic undertow abutted by bass and drums, building a fast and funky theme that is complicated and potent in its musicality. Potter breaks out with a rhythmic and exciting solo improvisation that is aided and abetted by some excellent electric bass and drumming that keep driving the music forward and making for a very compelling performance on the whole. Slashing cymbals clear a path for a section of drums, bass and synth exploration, with everyone coming together finish the track with a flourish. "Green Pastures" is successful in building medium tempo funk behind the saxophone playing an unhurried theme that is then developed into a strong solo statement over a steady and crisp repetitive beat with some great flourishes to keep things interesting. Shimmering keyboards take over the middle section of the performance evoking a dreamlike state and engaging well with the drumming, leading to a strong and yearning saxophone conclusion. Wild keyboard textures break out on "Exclamation" giving the music a full sound with thrashing drums and saxophone adding to the exciting din, and leading to a tenor saxophone solo complemented by supple electric bass and nifty drumming, developing a progressive funk vibe that is taken to another level as the saxophone really stretches out. Circuits - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Anna Webber - Clockwise (Pi Recordings, 2019)

Saxophonist and flute player Anna Webber has been a band leader and in demand side person for over a decade in New York City. For this project, she studied some of her favorite classical composers, gleaning ideas that became her original compositions on this album. Employing a crack band including Jeremy Viner on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Christopher Hoffman cello, Matt Mitchell on piano, Chris Tordini on bass and Ches Smith drums, vibraphone and percussion, the results are a superb meeting of forward thinking structural sensibility and sharp-witted improvisational creativity. "Kore II" opens the album as bass and saxophone probe, and instruments gradually fill in around the theme, bouncing gleefully around and developing a powerful forward motion, with colorful interplay between the instruments, swirling around in a fascinating improvised formation that leads to excitement and dramatic extemporization. Saxophones interweave with each other on "Idiom II," creating an interesting ripe texture interrupted by beats, and it is a very unique sound with the saxophones comprising one level of the sound. The consistency of the instrumentation and improvisation remains in flux, keeping things dependably interesting during this long and unfolding composition. "King of Denmark I / Loper" has complex fractured piano and crimped horns, coalescing into a melodic theme that is quiet and thoughtful. Elegant and refined interplay among the instruments becomes an arresting arrangement, which leads to a very intriguing tenor saxophone and cello section with their particular tone colors focusing and contrasting with one another in interesting ways. The well articulated saxophone solo continues at length developing a very imaginative improvised solo joined by the remainder of the band, and this seems to act as a big band performance in miniature, and the band gains blustery strength to push through to the the conclusion of an excellent performance. With bass, spare and slow flute and trombone the music loops and whirls mysteriously on "Clockwise," recalling Eric Dolphy's scope and vision, quietly folding in piano and vibes. The drums enter, creating a faster pattern of sound, adding further depth and causing the music to the intertwine about itself in a captivating way. "Array" features flute, piano, and deft brushes forging a light and airy feeling, as brass and flute trade phrases and ingratiate themselves, playing with dignity and discretion, leading the band to a collective improvisation where colorful brass and bowed bass, bright piano chords, collide together in order to create an interesting effect of chamber jazz with classical tones, and a wonderful piano feature for Matt Mitchell, whose playing is just lights out. Finally, "Kore I" has a repeated tone as a pulse or heartbeat, with piano building around it, gradually developing as the other instruments enter, including neat vocalized trombone, the group grows toward a progressive instrumental formation and filling out the exciting ensemble sound. Clockwise - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Matthew Shipp Trio - Signature (ESP-Disk, 2019)

This is a beautifully rendered trio album with pianist Matthew Shipp performing with Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Their music covers a wide range of territory, hinting at the post bop and free areas of jazz while remaining true to their own personal approaches to music and improvisation. The album opens with "Signature," featuring patient spare piano, with subtle bass and brushes gliding in, developing nicely textured trio interplay which has a quiet intensity of its own, without needing to shout. The improvisation gradually becomes more complex but never obtuse, allowing space to breathe throughout the performance. There are darker storm clouds on "Flying Saucer" which give the music a heavier and more foreboding feeling, where skittish bass and percussion meet the piano in a frenetic amalgamation. Shipp's piano style is a wonderful combination of light and darkness, building to strong powerful chords and fast runs through the keyboard that drive the music forward. Everyone meets for an excellent collectively improvised section that has an elasticity that allows the music to move in whatever direction is necessary, while not being at risk of flying apart. The music moves excellently in terms of volume and tempo, making this track one of the highlights of the album. "Snap" is a solo percussion piece, one with an excellent narrative, accomplishing much in a short period of time. Newman Taylor Baker moves around the whole drum kit and keeps up a crisp rhythm while adding a wide range of accents to it, creating a brisk and fun solo section. There is a hint of mystery to "Speech of Form," with the form itself being open to interpretation by the musicians, abstract and angular, gradually flowing through eddies and formations that shift the current and flow of the sounds. This leads into "Zo #2" which has bright and bouncing piano notes, frolicking with bass and drums, giving the group a spirited and excited sound, building a fast but light momentum. The collective improvisation is fast and fleet with Shipp returning to the theme occasionally, and then quickly sprinting off in another direction as if playing a enthusiastic game of tag not only with the melody by with his musical partners, dashing to the conclusion of an excellent and compelling performance. The epic sixteen and a half minute "New Matrix" concludes the album, unfolding an episodic fashion, beginning with taut uptempo trio improvisation, with percussive piano accents, building faster and more complex with the trio tumbling relentlessly forward into hammering piano chords juxtaposed against fast flurries of notes. A little past the halfway point the piano and drums retreat in favor of an excellent bass solo which has a lot of depth and resonance, and gentle piano and brushed percussion return giving the music a ballad feeling. This section of the track is quite lush and beautiful, carrying them through to the conclusion of what is a highly successful concluding track and album as a whole. Anyone who thinks that Mathew Shipp's music is too avant-garde should really take this album under consideration. This is an excellent balance of freedom and accessibility and the playing from all three musicians is just to top notch. Signature - amazon.com

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Albert Ayler and Don Cherry - Vibrations (ORG Music, 2019)

The great avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler performed his most memorable music in a state of spiritual ecstasy. Like fellow seekers John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, he looked to use music as a Buddhist might use meditation or a Baptist might speak in tongues: to make contact with something greater than himself. Recorded in Copenhagen on September 14th, 1964, this may be the finest group Ayler ever led. Featuring the trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, they were playing collective music at an extraordinarily high level. Ayler would compose a fragment of melody, usually taken from a folk song or spiritual and then transform it into an near human sculpture, with long, raw saxophone lines evoking the grief of the modern world. On this album, the most explosive composition is "Children" with an abrasive saxophone interlude of potent emotion, echoing the pain of growing up in the age of uncertainty and fear. "Ghosts," one of Ayler's most well known compositions appears here twice. The first version leads off the album with a short mournful melody, almost as a statement of purpose for what will follow. The second longer version takes the (literally) haunting theme into the netherworld for a long exploration. Ayler may not have the immediate familial connection with Cherry as he did with his trumpeter brother Donald, but Cherry was a kindred spirit, tested and tempered by many performances and recordings with Ornette Coleman and he is in many ways Ayler's ideal front line partner. Peacock and Murray are glorious, providing and every shifting bottom to the music but also collaborating and creating in real time as a fully realized unit. This is a very special album and should be heard by all listeners with open ears, hearts and minds. The remastering on this new edition is excellent and the music sounds as good as one can expect considering its age. 1964 was an extraordinary year for jazz and for Ayler in particular, he had an explosion of creativity producing the epochal Spiritual Unity album that summer in addition to wonderful music that would be collected on Witches and Devils, New York Eye and Ear Control and Bells/Prophecy. Vibrations - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

John Raymond - Real Feels Live Vol. 2 (Sunnyside, 2019)

The band Real Feels is comprised of leader John Raymond on flugelhorn, Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Colin Stranahan on drums. They organized an extended tour for over four months that led them to refine their approach to the group's music, culminating in this recording of the final show of the tour at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles. On the track "Minnesota, WI" the guitar probes as delays and pedals play with time and space, while the flugelhorn glides in with a full broad sound as the drums kick in and provide a firm foundation. Guitar and drums work well with the strong and supple brass element, electric guitar stretches out over pulsing rhythm, providing neon tones that retain the dreamlike quality of the composition and expand upon it, developing a stellar questing solo, taken at length and incorporating some stinging rock tinged elements with exploratory improvisation in a very impressive fashion. Raymond's flugelhorn re-enters and flies high, taking advantage of the ground furrowed by the guitar and drums to deliver a punchy and echo enhanced statement of his own. "Be Still, My Soul" has gradually building horn and guitar tones along with subtle brushwork, and long arcing lines giving the music a pastel hue, as they gradually fill in the available soundstage, increasing in volume and intensity. Stranahan moves to drumsticks and pushes things further along, developing complex rolls and goading the guitar and horn to greater flights, as they move into a successful collective improvisation that stays true to accessible melody while reaching for power and freedom. The lengthy track "Joy Ride" follows with light touches of guitar skittishly played, along with naked and unadorned fugelhorn in open space. Spacious percussion is added as the track gradually takes shape, and the group builds a jaunty tune. Raymond's tone is smooth and tasteful, moving pleasantly among the guitar and drums at a deliberate pace, with a strong improvisational mind. They move into a nicely spirited collective improvisation that draws on everyone's talent equally before allowing for a quality duet between guitar and percussion that is full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination. Raymond then rejoins them as they make a strong move for the finish line after an excellent performance. Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'" is the finale, played as a subtle and respectful ballad, where the melody hinted, and then used as a springboard for a delicately complex and understated improvisation and performance. This was a very good album of mainstream jazz, The band reached a fine balance between songform and improvisation oriented material which worked as well on disc as it did in person. Real Feels Live Vol.2 - amazon.com

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Gerald Cleaver / Nels Cline / Larry Ochs - What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed, 2019)

A trio of three of the most imaginative and in demand improvisers currently playing, Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Nels Cline on electric guitar and effects and Gerald Cleaver on drums deliver an astonishingly colorful and satisfying album which was recorded in Richmond, Virginia in December of 2016. The epic "Outcries Rousing" opens the program gradually gathering form and pace with drums and saxophone lending their vice to the formation of the track, with Ochs' sounding raw and immediate and Cleaver's drumming is crisp and true. Cline joins the action, adding accents at first, then becoming enmeshed in the collective interplay. He uses his pedals and effects very well adding interesting colors and textures to the music, before pushing forth with rending chords against primal drumbeats which take the performance in another slightly unnerving direction. Ochs rejoins and the groups becomes an all encompassing sound beast, with massive slabs of  overdriven guitar, ripe saxophone and hammering percussion, their collective improvisation takes things to a stratospheric level that overwhelms the senses in an ecstatic way. Cline and Cleaver develop an interplay of buzzing, whirling wonder with brilliant percussion to keep the momentum going, slipping the Earth's gravity to enter the cosmos. Ochs provides the afterburner as their performance reaches extraordinary heights beyond my ability to describe them, then during the last few minutes of the performance the band powers down and glides peacefully off into the void. The shorter track "A Pause, A Rose" gives the group and the audience a much needed respite between epiphanies, as it is is a spacey and graceful improvisation that uses some wonderful electronic manipulation from Cline, and gentle flutters of saxophone and percussion. "Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend" is the final epic on the album and it nearly eclipses the first piece in power and majesty, with tight drumming and saxophone playing framed by spikes of guitar. They build their improvisation slowly and confidently, as the volume and speed of music rises with stark calls of saxophone and passionate drumming and guitar leaving a shower of sparks its wake, with Cline using massive grinding sounds and gales of electronic pedal work. When they come together as a whole though, the power and authority that they have over their music is unmatched. Ochs' sopranino saxophone adds a exotic and fascinating tone to the music, when played off against an explosion of colorful electric guitar and percussion the effect is nearly overwhelming. This group is a true collective, the respect they have for the music and for each other and for the music makes this one of the best discs of this young year, and an absolute lifeline amid the chaos. What is to Be Done - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Human Feel - Gold (Intakt, 2019)

Human Feel doesn't record very often, but when they do it is an event. The band members are all leaders and teachers in their own right, Andrew D’Angelo on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar and Jim Black on drums, and this is their first album in twelve years. "Alar Vome" begins quietly as the reeds gently probe open space, then guitar and drums come crashing in making for a very exciting performance. The full group is a powerful unit, developing the theme into a complex collective improvisation, one that leaves open space for the trading of phrases between saxophone and guitar. The saxophones have a yearning tone as the music surges to its conclusion. There is an enticing sound of dark percussion and guitar leading "Imaginary Friend" into the fray with the saxophones stating a processional like theme, breaking out into a more complex improvisation with powerful seething tones from the saxophonists and primal accompaniment from the rhythm team, creating a very exciting and powerful collective improvisation. "Stina Blues" comes out with grinding guitar and drums in a fun and addicting way, leading to a light toned counter melody from the horns, creating a wonderful sense of light and shade that works very well. Rosenwinkel's guitar is primal and rock like, an excellent counterpoint to the reed instruments which have to reach to be heard making everyone come together in a tight formation for a smashing conclusion. There is a light and bountiful melody fluttering though "Eon Hit" as the saxophones succeed in moving the air with ample guitar grounding it and the band is very tight and able to fly in close formation quite beautifully. The percussion is fast but light, matched by one of the saxophone, while another flies free on an imaginative solo flight, the musicians trade places between leading and supporting so quickly and easily it becomes one gleefully tumbling improvisation, before an unexpectedly slow and haunted ending. "Lights Outs" opens with spare tones from the horns building to squeals, framed by electronics and the deeply atmospheric nature of the music builds slowly through eerie guitar tones, overblown saxophones and the freedom from melody or rhythm. Their improvisation is vibrant and wide ranging, the most experimental of the album for sure, but played with vision, and a need to see what lies over the next hill. Gold - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Daniel Carter / Tobias Wilner / Djibril Toure / Federico Ughi - New York United (577 Records, 2019)

This was a very interesting album that combines the power of modern free jazz with the flexibility of electronic music and hip-hop. The group consists of Daniel Carter on alto and tenor saxophones, flute and trumpet, Tobias Wilner on electronics, synth and beats, Djibril Toure on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. They collectively improvised brand new compositions in the studio that were later re-mixed by Wilner. You wind up with a fascinating sound collage of acoustic jazz and electronic beats, the idea of which might send traditionalists running for the hills, but this project was done with style and grace and deserves wide attention. The album opens with “Canal Street” which has urgent sounding electronics bouncing between channels and securely developing a rhythm. Carter enters on flute, with a longing and lonely emotionally resonant tone, swirling to mix with the accompaniment and then using long tones as the drums kick in loud and heavy with an ominous beat that is nearly overpowering. Carter moves to trumpet, better to cut through the din, slicing through the heavy, sluggish setting, he completes the scene perfectly, adding just the right brass to the electronics and percussion. “125th Street” shows the electronics and drums entering first, building a grinding gritty feel as Carter comes in playing trumpet playing patiently, the antithesis of the chaos around him, twenty first century Dark Magus, playing with a beautiful tone as the drums and machines attempt to tear open the sky. Carter is unflustered by anything around him, in perfect opposition to the rattling and clanking beats. He moves to saxophone on “Nostrand Avenue,” playing spare lines against an angry drone, developing long tones of sound along the swirling electronics then pausing to take stock. The volume builds and with tension and repetition giving way to heavy beats and strong playing from the drumset creating a large and filling sound. The music develops like pieces within a longer suite, with Carter playing within a quiet and mysterious backdrop, developing a dialogue with the unpredictable drumming, they forge the jazziest portion of the album, playing an open and free dialogue that works very well. “Flatbush Avenue” is a short burst of fun, with tenor saxophone and a fast danceable groove from the electronics that works surprisingly well, with the drums acting as a bridge between the electric and acoustic, approaching a Prime Time aesthetic with peals of saxophone met by crisp drumming and beats. A bonus track on the digital version, “East Flatbush” may be the most experimental track of them all. Ominous electronics tries to envelop Carter’s flute, as the beats and drums fill in creating a dangerous and quite avant garde sound. The electronic tones engage with Carter’s flute in a complex yet fascinating manner, before the drum set comes in to ground the performance, creating a free duet for drums and flute that is powerful and exciting. The electronics re-emerge and everything mixes together well, leading to a fine drum solo, bass heavy beats, flute and electronics. New York United - Bandcamp

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Afro-Blue Persuasion - Live at Haight Levels Vol​.​1 (Tramp Records, 2019)

This is exciting unreleased SF bay area Afro-Cuban jazz from 1967, with scant information to go on. Rotating members of the band consisted of John Miller on piano, Harald Haynes on congas, Robert Belinksy on drums, Ulysses Crockett on vibraphone, and Robert Bing Nathan and possibly Paul Jackson on bass. The saxophone player is unknown. The group opens with "Philadelphia Mambo" which is a bright and bouncy uptempo number, focused on percussion and shaded by vibes. The band mines a tight groove that is propulsive and forward thinking, with bounding piano and hand percussion swirling and swaying in a very exciting manner. The saxophonist enters, taking his time building a confident solo, slotting his sound in perfectly amid the percussion and the general theme of the performance and turning up the heat for a full band improvisation that really cooks. The band simmers between excellent hand percussion and cymbal focused drum set playing with strong piano chords and anchoring bass keeping the group tightly focused and white hot, with the vibes rejoining to add some texture and usher the performance out. "The Girl From Ipanema" is taken at a lighter tempo, with gentle saxophone stating the melody and embellishing upon it, while spare percussion and piano keep the groove subtle and spare. There are chime like vibes over gentle piano comping and quiet bass and percussion. Someone gets lost and another band member calls out the chords, but the groove is steady and the reading of the familiar track is comforting and pleasant. "Ave Maria" has the rhythm section setting a deep pocket with a splash of vibes that is a fast paced theme laden with possibilities. These are picked up by the saxophonist, who takes a freer approach using the undulating rhythm as fuel for a wider ranging solo. Piano comes to the fore through the mid section, dancing smoothly over the bass, drums and extra percussion and working well with all three instruments, building power and a soulful strut as he goes, leading back to the full band and showing deserving respect to the bassist whose full sound roots the band to the ground. The standard "Dear Old Stockholm" has a strong and supple reading of the theme from the group, as the saxophone launches into a well articulated spiraling solo statement over strongly comped piano and vibes. He stretches out quite well, adding a biting tone to the situation, charging though his feature with a daredevil grace, followed by a sparkling cell for vibraphone, played briskly and shooting sparks across the sound stage. Piano plus rhythm keep the burner hot as they allow the keyboard and vibes some come complex interplay and bring everyone back together for a brisk conclusion. The set ends with Monk's "Straight No Chaser" which has some excellent bass featured alongside spirited vibes and percussion, opening the throttle with the help of the pianist and drummer. Wonderful texture is achieved, truly taking a familiar composition and making it their own as the saxophonist enters and adds a gruff and blustery toned solo that fits like a glove. The band is really cooking and hitting their marks, with a killing saxophone solo on top of an already towering groove, as they finish up their set on a truly high note. Live at Haight Levels, Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Sun Ra with Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2018)

This particular Sun Ra album is notable for the inclusion of the soon to be famous tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (temporarily replacing Arkestra regular John Gilmore) and the enigmatic Black Harold (Harold Murray) who played flute and log drum. There's some debate about the date and location (and personnel) of this live recording with this issue listing it as taking place on December 31, 1964 at Judson Hall in New York City. A partial recording was released in 1976 on Sun Ra's Saturn Label, and ESP released a version of the concert in 2009. Regardless, Ra leads a fifteen piece band as part of “Four Days in December” for the ill-fated Jazz Composers Guild. Poor sound quality is the thing that holds this release back the most, because there are some real highlights of powerful music to be found here. The massive near twenty minute long track "The Other Worlds" is key, which includes a fiery overblown Sanders solo and a lengthy interlude for several band members in percussion. The horns are loud and brash, and the weight of the crushing percussion is palpable, and must have been overwhelming in person, because Ra usually had everyone who wasn't playing add in percussive sound making this overwhelming cacophony. The chant of "Second Stop is Jupiter" is off mic, but the horns are fresh, followed by "The Now Tomorrow" with a section for piano and flutes, quiet and spare followed by bowed bass and reeds with raw rumbling piano leading to great audience applause. "Discipline 9" finds Ra on alone on piano, before the horns blend in yearning layers of saxophone and subtle percussion enters and the band takes up the "We Travel the Spaceways" chant in a slow laconic manner. The music stretches out in a lush and dreamlike manner, hypnotic or narcotic, a prelude to psychedelica, before the band shakes to life with a horn fanfare and cogent conclusion. The leader opens "The Shadow World" with medium tempo piano, sounding quite beautiful as the band fills in and the heavy percussion and horns make things most exciting. They really lift off as the band takes to the sky in a roiling free improvisation with a great Sanders solo showing his nascent power and there's a trumpet feature over rumbling drums and percussion leading into the "Rocket Number 9" space chant. Ra throws down some fast and intricate piano playing, instigating the drum and percussion section to take flight in a thrilling blowout. They follow with some distinctly atmospheric performances, "The Voice of Pain" where echoey and shrill flute meets bass in an arresting manner with drums and hand percussion. Shrieks of flute and some adjoining reeds could be seen as an a analogue for pain, and the following track, "Dawn over Israel" continues the contemplative mood with chimes, bowed bass and low toned reeds. Ra enters playing melodic rippling notes, that shower down then turn into a storm of thunderous bass chords. Sun Ra with Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold - amazon.com

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